Thursday, July 2, 2020

Isaac Asimov Centenary

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
History of Science
Culture
Miscellaneous
Edward Hessler

I don't read much science fiction but know that Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992) was one of the giants. 
This year is the centenary of his birth. Not only was he a writer, he was a great explainer but also a scientist (a chemist/biochemist) as well as a professor of biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine. He wrote or edited more than 500 books during his life as well as numerous essays. The word total is some 20 million words.

There is an essay about him and his career in Nature on the occasion of the centenary. Here is a quote from the article by David Leslie, which was published in his "gemlike essay 'Art and Science' the artist's work suffers if knowledge is deficient; the scientist's subbers if leaps of intuition, which so often outpace the leaden trot of rationality, are ignored. Advance in these arenas is often synergistic, and scientists can 'make great leaps into new realms of knowledge by looking upon the universe with the eyes of artists.'"
Asimov is well-known for his three laws of robotics. The Wiki entry includes a link to a famous cartoon by Randall Monroe, creator of XQCD on why Asimov put them in the order he did.

Asimov Online has a comprehensive collection of resources to all things Asimov.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A 2020 Survey on Evolution Education: Improving

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biological Evolution
Education
Literacy
Edward Hessler

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and The Pennsylvania State University recently  announced the findings of  a new national poll on evolution education.  Public high school biology teachers today are more likely to teach evolution — the conceptual core and organizing principle of the life sciences — as settled science than they were twelve years ago. (my emphasis)

Conducted in 2019 among 752 public high school biology teachers by Eric Plutzer, a political scientist and polling expert at Penn State, the survey was designed to replicate a similar national survey that Plutzer and his colleagues conducted in 2007.
The results may be read in the open access, peer-reviewed journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, "Teaching evolution in U. S. public schools: A continuing challenge and was written by Erick Plutze (PSU), Glenn Branch (NCSE) and Ann Reid (NCSE).  

From the abstract:

Background

Over a decade ago, the first nationally representative probability survey concerning the teaching of evolution revealed disquieting facts about evolution education in the United States. This 2007 survey found that only about one in three public high school biology teachers presented evolution consistently with the recommendations of the nation’s leading scientific authorities. And about 13% of the teachers emphasized to their students that creationism was a valid scientific alternative to modern evolutionary biology. In this paper, we investigate how the quality of evolution teaching, as measured by teachers’ reports of their teaching practices with regard to evolution and creationism, has changed in the intervening 12 years.

Results

We find substantial reductions in overtly creationist instruction and in the number of teachers who send mixed messages that legitimate creationism as a valid scientific alternative to evolutionary biology. We also report a substantial increase in the time that high school teachers devote to human evolution and general evolutionary processes. We show that these changes reflect both generational replacement—from teachers who are new to the profession—and changes in teaching practices among those who were teaching in the pre-Kitzmiller era. 

Conclusion
Adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, along with improvements in pre-service teacher education and in-service teacher professional development, appears to have contributed to a large reduction in both creationist instruction and mixed messages that could lead students to think that creationism is a scientific perspective. Combined with teachers devoting more hours to evolution—including human evolution—instruction at the high school level has improved by these measures since the last national survey in 2007.
Co-author Ann Reid who is the executive director of NCSE wrote about this study in a column for Nature (June 18, 2020) for which see here. In it she writes about her use of evolutionary theory in working on the team sequencing the 1918 influenza virus from preserved lung samples, how that work influenced her to make a career change, becoming he executive director of the NCSE, the 2005 federal court case on intelligent design (that it is religious not scientific), the credit due to the Next Generation Science Standards in the changes observed in evolution education, the work of scientists who ensure accurate coverage of evolution in science text books, as well as the current need for defense against the dilution/distortion of climate change states have and continue to try to make.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Models: Some Tips

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Society
Edward Hessler 

Computer modeling of COVID-19 has captured considerable public attention and is reported on regularly.

A June 24 report in the British scientific journal Nature discusses five ways models can serve rather than confuse us. The authors refer to their essay as a manifesto. In other words "strong stuff."

They make use of the Brit term "mind" as in the automated train warning phrase "Mind the gap"--to pay attention, take caution, note the space when crossing from train or to platform or reverse. For full details see the essay.

--Mind the assumptions, especially the associated uncertainties.

--Mind the hubris. It is not easy to develop models that are useful and capture reality but it is easy to think that we have. The trade-off is one between the breadth and complexity of the model. 

--Mind the framing. Models are influenced by the choice of tools the model builders use as well as their disciplinary interests. The authors note that "Existing guidelines for infectious-disease modelling reflect these concerns (stakeholder involvement, multiple views, transparency, analysis of uncertainty) but have not been widely adopted. Simplified, plain-language versions of the model can be crucial. When a model is no longer a black box, those using it must react to assess individual parameters and the relationships between them."

--Mind the consequences. We like numbers and tend to trust them sometimes more than judgements. Numbers have a tendency to stop us thinking further about other relevant issues.

--Mind the unknowns. Models can hide our ignorance. The authors cite a trusted American expert and hero. "Experts should have the courage to respond that 'there is no number-answer to your question', as US government epidemiologist Anthony Fauci did when probed by a politician."

And finally a wise observation, a piece of advice. "Mathematical models are a great way to explore questions. They are also a dangerous way to assert answers. Asking models for certainty or consensus is more a sign of the difficulties in making controversial decisions than it is a solution...." (My emphasis).




Monday, June 29, 2020

Virus Hunter Who Caught Covid-19

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Most of you probably know that one of the world's leading infectious diseases researchers, Peter Piot, whose career has been spent working with dangerous viruses was finally caught by one, the corona virus (SARS-CoV-2).

He recovered.

The BBC covers this story in this short video (3m  26s).

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Baboon's Tail

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Biodiversity
Nature
Culture
Society
Edward Hessler

Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) featured a plant on June 26, I'd never heard of or seen, Baboon's Tail (Xerophyta retinervis). It didn't look alive but its blackened color was due to veld (also veldt) fires.

This is a tough, resilient plant and can exist, ready to bloom, in a state of dormancy for years. According to the EPOD entry, "after a rain, it can resume its metabolic function within 48-72 hours," becoming a very lovely plant.

This plant didn't escape the notice of the early bushman who found that the stems were resistant to burning, could be fanned open and that hot coals could be stored within, left to smolder for transport from one village to another as shown in this short video (1m 04s).

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Tree the Size of a Small Forest

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

The banyan tree, Thimmamma marrimanu, thrives in one of India's driest regions where it has "become an enduring symbol of eternal life." According to the Wiki entry "its canopy covers 19,107 m2 (4.721 acres), and it was recorded as the largest tree specimen in the world in the Guinness Book of Records in 1989."

This short film ( 2m 36 s) from the BBC is about the tree and its cultural significance. You will notice the measurement, 846 m (2775.59') which is one dimension of its measure, probably diameter. No matter, it is a huge umbrella.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Greetings from St. Paul on the 178th day of the year. Five months and 26 days have passed (46.63% of the year) or 4272 hours. Today there will be 15 h 35 m and 45 s of sunlight with the sun rising at 5:27 am and setting at 9:03 pm.

There are 27 days between the first sunset at 9:00 pm (june 12) and the last 9:00 pm sunset on July 8 at 9 pm (7.38 % of the year).

In 68 days it will be Meteorological Fall (September 1) and in 89 days the Autumnal Equinox (September 22) arrives (8:30 am here). But whose counting?

Today's quote is from Poor Richard's Amanack, published 1732-1757: It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.

Today's poem is by Anne Porter.

I first read this poem only a short time ago where it was mounted on a post with several other poems and parts of speeches--protected from the elements by a cover--in a lovely garden I pass nearly every day at least once but seldom walk directly through. One day I took the dividing sidewalk. Ms. Porter lived an extraordinary life.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

APOD: Silver Anniversary

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Astronomy
Cosmology
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) was 15 years old June 16. APOD posts photographs from the territory that surrounds us, near and far, real far, really far, sometimes edging close to...well, way out there somewhere.

An anniversary video (12m 42s), one made in 2015, provides an oral history of the site from 2015 and a birthday greeting.

A silver anniversary for which I'm grateful.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Society
Edward Hessler

Included in the Washington Post's publicly accessible series on the coronavirus is a transcript of a wise conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

 Fauci comments on the meaning of corona virus infection waves (he thinks we are still in the first wave), models (skeptical but finds them helpful "in some respects"), state, mayoral, community leadership, the limitations of general statements rather than specific statements, the risk of congregations of large crowds (obviously the risk increases) and finally our obligations to one another, "we are in this all together. We're not just separate individual components. We're in this together."

The conversation was edited and reported by Washington Post reporter Allie Caren.




Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BearCam 2020

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Nature
Wildlife
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

"They're back."

"Who?"

The bears, the big brownies, the fishers of salmon at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park (AK) to ready themselves for another winter, raise their young and mate, participating in another cycle of the seasonal round. 

A week ago I checked the site to learn that all the camera equipment had made it through the winter undamaged and that the technicians were checking and adjusting them for another season. 

Today, June 22, a neighbor told me that she had seen Mama #138 and her three cubs.

Resident naturalist Mike Fitz writes, "Bearcam is live for the 2020 season! The Bristol Bay salmon run has only recently begun and bears are just arriving to feast on their most important food. The bears are hungry and their mating season is near its peak. It is a great time to watch the greatest show on the internet.

"Ranger Brooklyn, Ranger Naomi, and I will host dozens of live events this summer including play-by-plays, text chats, and our classic live chats. Please join Naomi and me for our first text chat on Tuesday, June 23 at 5 p.m. Eastern (2 p.m. Pacific) in the comments section on the Brooks Live Chat Channel. Stay tuned for us to post an updated live event schedule later this week. You can also ask your bearcam question in advance and we’ll do our best to answer them during a live event."

Take a look when you have a chance. Comments are beginning to accumulate, too.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Opening Schools Fall 2020

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Children
Early Childhood
Schooling
Society
Edward Hessler

A dilemma facing school administrators and policy makers who influence their decisions is on re-opening schools this fall, not only when but how and consider mixed modes of instruction. Other considerations come into play, too which I lump here under all the extracurricular activities and services that schools provide.

From the beginning of the pandemic, "when it became clear," according to an article in STAT by Helen Branswell, " that a new coronavirus was transmitting with ease among people in central China, one of the top questions scientists who study disease dynamics wanted answered was this: What role are children are children playing in the spread of...COVID-19." (My emphasis)

The answer may surprise you given the certainty with which so many politicians speak but who don't ever cite evidence is that "Five months later they and the rest of us would still like to know." (My emphasis."

Sure as Branswell points out "there is some evidence that kids are less likely to catch the virus and less likely to spread it," but what is not clear" is just how good is that evidence. Do we have it all? Are there other interpretations? What do we know for sure? What if...?

The reality is a policy-makers nightmare, one of those very wooly problems. Branswell writes "In reality, it may take reopening schools and returning children to closer-to-normal life for the picture to come into clearer focus."

So is calm ahead or more disruption?

Branswell discusses in this important reporting.



Sunday, June 21, 2020

Cheetahs: In Pictures

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Wildlife
Biodiversity
Nature
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Pictures of cheetahs from award-winning photographs may be found in the BBC's In Pictures.

These will be published in Remembering Cheetahs, a volume in the picture book series Remembering Wildlife.

The aim of this series is "to create awareness of the threats to wildlife." The short accompanying introduction reminds us that there are "slightly more than 7000 cheetahs left in the wild."

Not many left nor enough.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Fairy Gardens

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Children
Early Childhood
Play
Edward Hessler

For several years I've walked by a miniature community perched atop a bluff--a retaining wall--that I've come to refer to as Cliff Township. It includes beautifully made buildings--a barn with hay, attached silo, a variety of animal sheds/housing two lovely houses, a stately church, several small ponds, windmill, a swing for two, a birdhouse, bridge,chairs and table for an afternoon tea, animals (horses, sheep, rabbits, a kangaroo!, a building with a "green" roof, a few garden tools, a variety of people (a young woman with a shepherd's crook, whimsical chaaracters, a fenced in building shed, a couple of wagons, wind chimes, windmill and just north, across the chasm of the entrance to the real house, a shed with some shelves in it.

I stop and look at it almost every time I pass trying to see everything and discover new items. Only once have I seen the homeowner in front long enough to tell her how much I like it. 

This small community reminds me of the village my mother used to make beneath the Christmas tree each year with its card board homes and a church, a skating pond and small mounds of snow (cotton fluff). Each building had a hole in the back in which a Christmas tree light could be inserted. I loved sitting/laying on my stomach in the darkened living room the days before Christmas imagining what this place was like.

Spring 2020 is the fourth season a seven year old in a nearby neighborhood has had a fairy garden. In the story about her and another fairy gardener in the Park Bugle, reporter Sarah CR Clark was told by her, “I put furniture in the hole in the backyard tree for the fairies. I put food out for the fairies, like blueberries and strawberries—they are their favorite!”  This all started when she was given a fairy house from her grandparents.

The other fairy gardener is twelve years old and started gardening five years ago. She told reporter Clark that“The big oak tree in our front yard has an opening in the bottom, right by the sidewalk. It seemed perfect for a little door, so my mom bought a door for it. I started putting little things inside the door, tiny furniture or little messages. I believed there were fairies that might get my messages.”

Preschool teachers know the educational value of play without direct instruction. One said that: "tending a fairy garden is an ongoing adventure." The children also have advice based on their experience.  "'You can't just set it up and leave it. You have to check in on it, weed and get things our of the water and stand up things that have tipped over. You have to place the buildings and things in a way that works with the shape of the yard. Things break every year and you have to fix them or throw them away."
The story which includes a photograph of one of the fairy gardens may be read here.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Greetings from St. Paul on day 171 of 2020 during its 24th week. Behind us is 46.45% of the year or 119 working days. Given the pandemic it is hard to know what this phrase means.

It is World Refugee Day and also marks a truly historic event, Juneteenth (aka Jubilee Day, Freedom Day), the ending of formal enslavement in 1865. It was announced by Major General Gordon Granger who read the court orders in Galveston, Texas.

The sun rises at 5:25 am and sets at 9:02 pm or to put this in terms of sunlight there are 15 h 36 m 58s delicious hours.  Summer Solstice which marks the beginning of astronomical summer is in one day (tomorrow) at 4:43 pm, the longest day of the year--15 h 37m 01 s. That second is lost the following day--not that we'll notice it--and gradually, very gradually more seconds, then minutes and eventually hours of daylight will succumb to our yearly trip around the sun. June 20 is Ice Cream Soda Day, a good way to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

Friday Quote. The Star Tribune had the first of its growing food at home series featuring two gardeners June 14 (may be behind a pay wall) by Kerri Westenberg. one who ia a first timer. LeAndra Estis purchased a home last fall and among the first things she did was create two garden plots and just recently she introduced her children to vegetable gardening which made her happy when she was a child. After the last plants were in the ground one of them remarked "'I'm glad we're done.'" To which Ms. Estis responded "'Done doesn't happen.'" Westenberg wrote that this is a "fundamental truth and perhaps the ultimate tip."

Today's poem is by Tess Taylor.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

NPR Asked, Young Children Responded: Life During the Shutdown as Seen by Children in Art and Writing

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Early Childhood
Children
Art and Environment
Schools
Edward Hessler

I missed the request from NPR a few weeks ago asking parents to have their children send a post card or drawing about life in the shutdown. 

NPR's LA Johnson and Steve Drummond brought us up-to-date on Tuesday (June 16), posting some of their favorites (12). You can not only see and read them but also see all the post cards they received.

NPR intends to continue during the summer and the topics are wide open. Johnson and Drummond provide full details about how children may send them a postcard.






Wednesday, June 17, 2020

An Environmental Novel

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Society
Culture
Edward Hessler
It has been 13 years since Shoemaker & Hoard released Ann Pancake's environmental novel, Strange as this Weather has Been. Bant, one of the main characters, is the source of the title. It was something people would say about current weather patterns compared to the past. "And I knew Lace (her Mother) believed the weather was linked to the rest of this mess, but I wasn't sure how." (101)

I recently read this book for the first time, never having heard of it! And I found it in a Little Library, not even looking for it.  How different it is from another kind of environmental report in which people are summarized in charts of numbers--victims, casualties, communities affected, risk calculations, amelioration in the case of accidents (so sterile and straightforward that one sometimes thinks a roll or two of wipe-ups will do the trick), remediation (to what?) and economic impacts. That report might be titled The Environmental and Economic Effects of  Mountain Top Removal (MTR) on...." 

The conclusion though would not be surprising. It can be done safely and with minimum effects, one often given with re-assurance through ads, community meetings, etc.. Company X is responsible and care about you, your children and the environment, etc.

Pancake focuses on the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly reality of a couple, their four children and a few others who live in West Virginia's mountaintop-removal strip mining country. Their first names appear interwoven throughout as chapter headings. We start at a much different scale. People with names and lives to live.

And what a story it is, one beautifully told. Pancake is a powerful and moving writer. Two characters are featured and serve to sew the novel and its characters and various threads together. Lace, a mother and her daughter Bant. At once the book is heartbreaking and sprinkled throughout with ineffable beauty of life in the hills. 

It includes a monster shovel (30 stories tall), the shovel large enough to hold a number of large haul trucks, massive draglines, slurry ponds, dams made of the rubble removed and floods. The descriptions of the latter, often a result of cloudbursts which create flash floods--black floods--on the remodeled mountain sides, have a realness that is frightening. You can feel them.

It is a story, too, of the budding and growth of environmentalists, most of whom have only a high school education or lack one but who have learned to read arcane company reports, newspaper postings, learned the chemistry of massive fish kills and the pollutants of the holding ponds high up in the mountains. One of them comments to Lace who wonders how they did this, "You'd be surprised how quick you can learn about something that's on the verge of killing you." (268)

There is a tension that often leads to domestic conflict between the men who work the mines and their fear of losing their jobs, not being able to put food on the table and being permanently blackballed--"'Coal's all we got here'"--and their wives who want a better life for their children, one that is safe, healthy and economically viable. This scars and/or tears some families apart.

And we learn about the all too familiar and cozy, at times backroom relationship between big coal, politics at all levels, sometimes ministers are a part, too are included. Some of these people are not fictional.

Why don't they leave? Power of place and I think closely related but hard to put your finger on, as Lace puts it, generations of "blood and memories," including how in hard times you can make a living from what the hills offer: veggies ( must mention ramps), nuts, berries, Christmas decorations. The family does leave for better pastures and opportunities but returns after a short and difficult stay, one that changes Lace and Bant.

I often find myself copying sentences or phrases and keeping them in a notebook. Deciding what to copy was a challenge. I soon began keeping page numbers as placeholders for sentences and phrases I liked and would use to take a look at when I finished. Here is a very small sample.

--The end times (Avery's) mother obsesses about won't arrive with a Trumpet and Jesus come back all of a sudden and everybody jump out of their graves. No. It is a glacial-pace apocalypse. The end of the world in slow motion. A de-evolution, like the making of creation in reverse. The end times are in progress right now, Avery is walking on them...(240)

--Our love for land not spectacular. Our mountains are not like Western ones, those jagged awesome ones, your eyes always pulled to their tops. But that is the difference, I decided. In the West, the mountains are mostly horizon. We live in our mountains. It's not just the tops, but the sides that hold us. (173)

--The sides of the hollow, as we got further in, more naked and scalped, more trees coming down, and up above mostly scraggly weeds, the ground deep-ribbed with erosion, and I told myself, yes, this is where the floods come from. From the busted ponds and the confused new shape of the land. From how the land has forgot where the water should go, so the water is running off every which way. That's all it is, I told myself, Lace is stretching things again. But after what I'd seen three weeks ago in May, I wondered if it wasn't as bad as Lace thought. (16)

At the end  of the book you find another reason they stay. An uncle says to Bant, "I've learned something about times like these. In times like these, you have to grow big enough inside to hold both the loss and the hope. (356-357)

The book is a result of considerable legwork: interviews and conversations with people in  southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky coalfields and, of course, research based on reports, newspaper reporting, articles and knowledgeable readers of earlier versions. 

Here is an organization the author recommended, a recent PBS video on mountaintop removal mining and also information about Ann Pancake. When I see these denuded hills I'm reminded of the stumps of clear-cut forests but these are huge table topped hills once the stuff called overburden is removed

I returned the book to a Little Library in the neighborhood, not to the one where I found it with the hope that someone else will read it.  I'd describe it as dog-eared if I could but my copy had been bitten by a dog, playfully I hope.Seemed like something a puppy might do.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Music Inspired by Fermi Particles

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Cosmology
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Neutrinos are strange, those ultra small elementary particles, millions of which blast right through earth and us every day. At first they were thought to be without mass and also stable but it is known that they have mass and the curious behavior of changing form--there are three kinds as they move through time and space.

In December 1960, The New Yorker published John Updike's poem about the neutrino titled Cosmic Gall. In 2011 Symmetry Magazine published both the poem and a line-by-line analysis of the  physics known about them. They are sometimes referred to as "ghost particles."

Fermi Accelerator Laboratory's current guest composer David Ibbett has written a musical score for them for soprano, violin, viola, piano and electronics "titled, appropriately, "Particles of Doubt." The video (3m 38s), a preview of the premiere, is more than the performance and includes "scenes from an animation of the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment hosted by FermiLab."

There is also a "second feature" (2m47s) a video titled, "Liquid Argon  live at Fermilab ICARUS Detector."

Minute Physics has a short video (1m 24s) about neutrinos. You may still be left wondering what they are!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Face Masks: Oh, the Difference They Make in COVID-19 Cases

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Health
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Those masks.

What a difference they make.

In the June 10 issue of Morning Rounds, Shraddha Chakradhar directs attention to this new analysis of the value of face masks which showed that there were "78,000 fewer infections between early April and early May. In New York City, a face covering mandate was associated with 66,000 fewer Covid-19 infections between April 17 and May 9. The authors of the analysis conclude that this inexpensive measure "corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission" of Covid-19." 

The scientific paper on which this is based is found was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 11, 2020).

It begins with a statement about the significance of the research. The last sentence refers to how essential sound science in decision-making. It is!

We have elucidated the transmission pathways of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by analyzing the trend and mitigation measures in the three epicenters. Our results show that the airborne transmission route is highly virulent and dominant for the spread of COVID-19. The mitigation measures are discernable from the trends of the pandemic. Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic. This protective measure significantly reduces the number of infections. Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public. Our work also highlights the necessity that sound science is essential in decision-making for the current and future public health pandemics.

The paper has a section on policy differences which you may miss based on the abstract. It is at the end and discusses the two main protective measures, social distancing and face masks. There are real  differences when they are made together or alone or when implementation times are different between them as well as first beginning them.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Journal Nature Picks Favorite Images for May

Environmental & Scienbce Education
STEM
Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

It is June which means that the photography team of the journal Nature have picked their favorites from last month.

As usual each photo is accompanied by a thumbnail about it, one of which is a deep-sea worm given a scientific name, Peinaleopolynoe elvisi acknowledging Elvis Presley for the flamboyant clothing he also wore.

The critter has been recovered by both a crew and remotely operated research submarines from the deeps of the eastern Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and an area near Costa Rica.

The name fits!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Octopus Doing What Octopuses Do

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature
Biodiversity
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.”--Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

The adaptations of this octopus are an example of one of those "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful (which) have been and are being evolved."

Amazing.

h/t Molly

Friday, June 12, 2020

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education
Poetry
Art and Environment

Greetings from St. Paul on the 164th day of 2020 and the 24th week. The percentage of the year that is in the past is now 44.81% and in 9 days it will be Summer Solstice 2020, another of the great celestial quarterly markers.

Today is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day and it also is and much more importantly Loving Day.

On this day in 1967, the U. S. Supreme Court landmark decision Loving v. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation law banning interracial marriage as violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution remaining in sixteen U. S. states.

Mildred and Richard Loving's nine-year fight to live as a family in their home town was released as a movie in 2016.

A quote to note. Real epidemiologists don't shake hands.--Epidemiologist T. Christopher Bond, NYT We are all epidemiologists now! which means that masks, social/physical distancing, etc. are what we do as a matter of routine.

June 6, 2020, a Saturday, I posted last Friday's poem was Applesauce Cake Day. Today's poem by poet, novelist and writer Marge Piercy is about her childhood, an apple cake, and her hard working mother.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

What About That Overdue Dental/Medical Appointment: Is it Safe?

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Healath
Medicine
Edward Hessler

Like some of you I'll bet, I've missed a dental cleaning or other regularly scheduled appointments.
After having two appointments cancelled and being asked to stay in place for several weeks, I've not been actively rescheduling either.

I'm surprised by my wariness about going to the clinic! I finally scheduled the injection my Doc has been urging me to get, found a way to get there and know the procedure once I'm there. Still...a worry or two.


Is it safe to get check-ups and other routine procedures, e.g., an injection that your Doc says you should get monthly? "I'm not exactly happy you (me that is) aren't doing this," she says. "It is not life-threatening that you aren't but there is a good medical reason to get back on this preventative care routine schedule again."

Alan Yu of NPR discussed some of the considerations in a recent report. He includes recommendations from a couple of sources, one of which, I include below. Physicians are concerned about the growing number of people not coming in for what they consider as routine problems but could be symptoms of more serious problems (cancer, heart disease), check-ups (mammograms, colonoscopies, regular immunizations--especially for children).

Dentistry, in particular, receives considerable attention and the experts say that its practice will be different in future with much more attention paid to what we have come to think of as simple, standard, safe procedures--routine cleaning and the simplicity of filling a cavity, a procedure that has changed considerably since I was a kid. I don't look forward to going to the dentist but it is now much less painful and quick than in those days of my yesteryear--not the golden age of dentistry! The drills and the fillings are so much better, too.

Yu includes a list of specific precautions from two epidemiologists, Dr. Neal Goldstein (Drexel University) and Dr. Aimee Palumbo (Temple University) "that concerned patients can ask medical and dental staff about when scheduling appointments." Here they are:

  • Do the staff and patients wear masks at all times?
  • Do the staff have enough masks and protective equipment?
  • Will there be a limit on how many people can be in a waiting room?
  • Are the staff being tested for COVID-19?
  • How often are staff cleaning the waiting rooms and offices?
  • If you don't drive, can you take public transit while keeping your distance from other people and washing your hands before and afterward?






Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Matter-Antimatter Inequality: Short Film & Comment

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Cosmology
Edward Hessler

The universe is dominated by matter, the "stuff" of everything.

A puzzle to physicists is why the absence of antimatter. Current theory says both matter and antimatter should have been produced by the Big Bang in equal amounts. An experiment in Japan may contribute to our understanding of this difference. (my emphasis)

It is all explained by reporter Elizabeth Gibney in a short video (3 m 55 s) from the science journal Nature.

Physicist Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder takes exception. She published a post on her blog Back Reaction April 28 about those recent T2K results, writing that it is for aesthetic reasons that we want equal amounts of matter and antimatter, at least at the "beginning." By this she means "physicists...trying to prettify the laws of nature"think  that"it would have been nicer if there was an equal amount of matter and antimatter in the early universe.An assumption.


Here's the deal: There are two hypothesis on the table. About them she writes “The universe started with a ratio X of matter to anti-matter and the outcome is what we observe.” The other explanation is “The universe started with a ratio Y of matter to anti-matter, then many complicated things happened and the outcome is what we observe.” Neither of these theories explains the value of X or Y. If anything, you should prefer the former hypothesis because it’s clearly the simpler one. In any case, though, as I said, this type of theory cannot explain their own initial value."


What we are doing, according to her, is stop asking theories to explain the initial values themselves, something they can't do.

Read it here.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Bumblebees Damage Plant Leave to Hasten Their Flowering

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Behavior
Biological Evolution
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

The natural world still holds a surprise or two, something never before observed. Bumblebees delivered one of those surprises.

They can force plant to flower by puncturing their leaves with one of their inimitable bites. A brief summary can be found in Scientific American (May 21).

Jim Daley, who wrote the article reports that "Study co-author Consuelo De Moraes, a chemical ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), says she and her colleagues were observing one species of bumblebee in an unrelated laboratory experiment when they noticed the insects were damaging plant leaves and wondered why. “Initially we wanted to see if they were removing the tissue or feeding on the plants or taking [leaf material] to the nest,” she says. And because previous research had shown stress could induce plants to flower, De Moraes and her colleagues also wondered whether the bees might be creating blooms on demand."

So they did a study in which "pollen-deprived bees" were placed in cages with tomato and mustard plants. The bees bit; the researchers used tools to bite plants as well. And then they waited and watched. Those flowers nipped in the bud so to speak bloomed several weeks earlier than those nipped artificially.

The laboratory is one thing but the great outdoors another so the researchers moved to the field. This time they selected a place where blooming plants were available but farther way than non-blooming plants closer to bee nests.

The findings suggest the bees’ behavior is an adaptation that maximizes pollen-foraging efficiency, but they do not definitively confirm that hypothesis, study co-author Mark Mescher says. Neal Williams, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study, says the possibility is compelling and warrants more research. “'In order for something to be really defined and clearly understood as adaptive, we would want to be able to say the behavior was evolving because it contributed some relative fitness benefit to the colony,'” he says."

Daley's reporting may be read here. It is short and well, it is wonderful, too. In addition there are some photographs that show the bees at work, inflicting their "hurry-up" bites.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Bird's Foot Violets

Environmental & Science Education
STEM
Nature
Biodiversity
Edward Hessler

This photograph slipped right by me but it is never too late to post a photograph of a plant. This one is sometimes referred to as the queen of the violets.

Bird's-foot violets (Viola pedata)have a wide distribution in the eastern United States, including Minnesota. The UBC Botanical Garden's Botany Photo of the Day recently showed one of its color morphs and links to the other.  The first is lilac colored, the second's upper two petals are colored a deep purple with the other three retaining their lovely lilac hue.

If this flower is new to you I hope you can get to meet it in person someday. The photographs will tell you why the name is apt as well as why it is referred to by many as the regal head of violets. Here is a plant biography for bird's foot violets from The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. (Eloise Butler Garden and Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis.)