Saturday, April 17, 2021

7th Inning Stretch

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler 

Professor emeritus Jerry Coyne (University of Chicago) has a feature on his site--Why Evolution is True or WEIT--titled "Readers' Wildlife Photos." The photos are splendid, the topics diverse--birds, mammals, travel, people, insects, spiders--and more than occasionally include black & white images. The shooters usually include comments about the images.

The feature for April 11 is simply wonderful and I don't want to let the opportunity for you to see these images pass by (Professor Coyne is prolific).  The images are devoted to avian stretching. Ah, the variety of poses--all in the interest of comfort.

With thanks to Professor Coyne and the photographer.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

Hello and good morning from the Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE), Hamline University April 16, the 106th day of the year, 29.04% of the year (2544 hours).

Sunrise is at 6:25 am and sunset is at 7:59 pm providing us with 13h 34m 08s of sunlight..

And Foodimentary notes that it is National Eggs Benedict Day with five food facts about different recipes, three yummy images and some food history.

Quote. It was devastatng. One of the most difficult moments of my life. (Arecibo ) was a place of unity for everyone who loves science on this island, and all of us who truly love Puerto Rico.--WAPA TV-Puerto Rico Meteorologist Ada Monzon on hearing Arecibo's Radio Telescope had just collapsed. She was just about to go on air. (The New Yorker, April 5, 2021) 

Today's poem is by Gregory Djanikian.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Palliative Care

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

There can be confusion about two medical approaches to caring for seriously ill patients with care for those who are dying. Physicians and patients/families of patients often don't quite have the details straight.

Palliative care according to R. Sean Morrison and Mireille Jacobson in a recent STAT First Opinion, is "a team of specially trained doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains who focus on improving quality of live and reducing the disease burden for seriously ill individuals and their families." Hospice, on the other hand, is "care for those who are dying, which focuses on comfort." The link describes hospice care in detail and you can see why there might be some confusion between it and palliative care.

Palliative care works, i.e., it has been found in several studies to have beneficial results, notably in cancer but also other studies. And it the authors note is an endorsed plan of action from the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. So why is it not used more frequently? The writers ask that we simply "follow the money." 

Morrison and Jacobson note two reasons which are greatly shorthanded below.  As usual take a look at the essay for details.

--To provide palliative care requires "an upfront investment by hospitals and health systems."

--Palliative care reduces "unnecessary hospital admissions or emergency department visits due to better symptom management, along with reduced spending due to better care coordination."

The result is clear. Physicians and health care systems are unlikely "to act against their own financial interests."

So what can be done?

--Medicare "needs to incentivize physicians and financially reward health care institutions for providing high-quality palliative care." In addition, reporting methods to Medicare must provide data to "capture reductions in symptom burden" to ensure that hospitals that meet these standards are paid for their services.

--Changes in the curriculum of  medical education need to be made, e.g., "adding questions about palliative care into medical student and physician board exams," and of course continuing education on palliative care for both the licensing of physicians "and hospital credentialing."

The authors note that in 2034, the United States will have more of its residents age 65 and over, a "group at highest risk for cancer and other illness--than under the age of 18." This age group will "develop one or more serious illnesses they will live with for many years." Palliative care is a proven treatment option "that can increase quality of life and longevity." Everyone must have access to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Finalists: Bird Photographer of the Year 2021 Contest


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art and Environment, Biodiversity, Nature

Ed Hessler

Bird Photographer of the Year (BPOTY) is the world's leading bird photography competition. The Overall Winner of this annual competition takes home a cash award of 5000 pounds (~$6,900) and the title, Bird Photographer of the Year.

The photographers are from73 countries and the number of submissions was 22,000. The finalists were just announced and may be seen here. The overall and category winners will be announced in September 2021on the Bird Photographer of the Year (BPOTY) website. The finalists--and other images from the 2021 competition--will be included in a fine art book available on the BPOTY website

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

First Man in Space: 60 Years

Environmental & Science Education, STEM 

Ed Hessler

Sixty years ago CosmonautYuri Gagarin completed a single orbit of the Earth (April 12, 1961) becoming the first man in space. It was both "a huge achievement and propaganda coup"

A little girl and her Grandmother were planting potatoes in the field where he landed. The Soviet plan did not include a landing in the Vostok 1 capsule so at 20000 feet (6096 meters) he ejected and glided to the ground. Vostok means east.

The BBC recently interviewed the little girl who witnessed the event  may be seen here (2m 57s). Both she and her Grandmother were frightened at first. The film was made at the site which now includes an impressive monument marking the achievement.

The woman recalls that his "First words upon returning to Earth near where his capsule landed  The woman asked:  'Can it be that you have come from outer space?' to which Gagarin replied: 'As a matter of fact, I have!'"

Monday, April 12, 2021

Food Waste


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Pollution, Children, Students

Ed Hessler 

There are increasing reminders reported on the problem of food waste and local solutions.

Project 17, a BBC World service series produced with the Open University, provide a perspective on the achievement of the United Nations's 17 Sustainable Development goals through the eyes of 17-year- old youngsters.

In this video (4m 02s), Shan finds out about possible solutions to the problem of Singapore's food waste (740,000 tonnes-~820,120 tons US--was wasted in 2019).

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Bald Eagle Numbers in the Lower 48: Great News

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biodiversity 

Ed Hessler

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) numbers are up across the contiguous United States according to a new estimate reported by Gustave Axelson in All About Birds (March 24, 2021; updated March 26). 

The new number from the USFWS Bald Eagle Population Update report is 316,708, writes Axelson, "is more than quadruple the eagle population reported in the 2009 report. The rising number of Bald Eagles undoubtedly reflects the continuing conservation success story that stretches back to the banning of DDT in 1972."

And it also in some measure represents better survey data, "a major advance by the USFWS in using citizen-science powered supercomputing to generate better estimates for the eagle population."  However, Brian Milsap, the raptor coordinator for the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management noted in the press conference that "'the vast majority of this increase really is attributed to Bald Eagle population growth." (my emphasis). Axeslon's report has a great graphic illustrating where the eagles are found across large regions of the United States and a bar graph showing the number of nests with breeding pairs from the low in 1963 to the number in 2020.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed animations of relative species abundance to show movements throughout the year. Here you may watch how this changes throughout the year for the Bald Eagle.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Leo Trio

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmos, Earth and Space Science, Earth Systems 

Ed Hessler

Around Spring, northern hemisphere spring that is, can be seen a famous trio of galaxies known as the Leo Triplet. They are all spiral galaxies but appear dissimilar because of the tilt of their galactic disks.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a beautiful image of the "crowd pleasers" and some comments about them.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From the Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University good morning on this 9th day of April, the 99th day of the year, 27.12% of which is now gone. Where did those 8,553,600 s go?

Today the sun rises at 6:38 am and sets at 7:50 pm, providing us 13 h 12 m 55 s of sunlight.

April 9 notes Chinese Almond Cookie Day which one Chinese declared "as Chinese as blueberry pie." Foodimentary has the facts, things to know and some food history for the 9th of April. 

Quote. States make war and wars make states, the sociologist Charles Tilly once argued. (Linda) Colley offers this corollary: wars make states make constitutions.--Jill LePore (The New Yorker, March 29, 2021)

Today's poems are from the Park Bugle, the community newspaper of St. Anthony Park / Falcon Heights / Lauderdale / Como Park. The poems--three of them--are found on p. 13 so prepare to scroll down.

The poems mark the Bugle's 11th annual contest. They were judged this year by Michael Kleber-Diggs who provides some thoughtful comments on each of the  poems. Kleber-Diggs is a poet and literary critic from Como Park.

Thursday, April 8, 2021


Environmental & Science Education, Health, STEM

Ed Hessler

National Public Radio's Terry Gross spoke with Daniel Lieberman, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology (Harvard) about exercise. You may listen (36-minutes) or read a summary here.

Lieberman "says says that the notion of 'getting exercise' — movement just for movement's sake — is a relatively new phenomenon in human history.

'Until recently, when energy was limited and people were physically active, doing physical activity that wasn't necessarily rewarding, just didn't happen.When I go to these [remote African tribal] villages, I'm the only person who gets up in the morning and goes for a run. And often they laugh at me. They think I'm just absolutely bizarre. ... Why would anybody do something like that?"

"Lieberman has spent a lot of time with indigenous hunter-gatherers in Africa and Latin America, cataloging how much time they spend walking, running, lifting, carrying and sitting. He writes about his findings, as well as the importance of exercise and the myths surrounding it in his new book, Exercised. The subtitle adds some information: "Why something we never evolved to do is healthy and rewarding". I almost always choose the Amazon site because it allows a peek inside. 

The interview includes highlights: on the demonizing of sitting as "the new smoking," on the importance of "interrupted sitting," on how chairs with backs have contributed to our back pain, on the idea that running is bad for your knees, on becoming frail with age, and on the stress around getting eight hours of sleep each night.

This interview was the work of many people, all of whom are acknowledged.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

"The Science"

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

We'd all like certainty on whether it is safe for governments to "reopen" what has been closed--schools, restaurants, gymns, sporting events, government name it. However there is no certainty. And it has led to considerable tension and shouting and certainty depending which side people are on, adding more fuel to partisan politics.

One of the fallbacks used in thinking about this and in making such decisions is science, "the science"  is the phrase of choice.Another, of course, is to dismiss what science is known.

It is even more complicated now that more and more Americans have been vaccinated and will be as age limits are lowered semeingly almost weekly and eligibility for vaccine injections becomes wider. Some people who have been vaccinated appear to think that they are fully protected and that they are no longer able to get COVID-19 or transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. I've heard a few of them appear to say either after the full round of two vaccinations +14 or the single round of one + 14 days: I'm off to the airport or driving to my relatives right now to see my grandkids.

Bloomberg's science writer Faye Flam, in another widely reprinted and perceptive column, titled "Policy choices about reopening? Wouldn't call 'em science" has something to say about this.

Almost at the outset, Flam quotes Peter Sandman, a risk consultant, on what "the science" tells us. He said to her "'I am simply not interested in an epidemiologist's opinion on whether schools should be reopened. I'm interested in an epicemiologist's opinion on how much more the virus will spread if schools are reopened. Whether schools should be reopened--that's not their field.'" 

Sandman's website is a treasure trove and leads with this box: Risk = Hazard + Outrage.

Ms. Flam writes, "It's fine to warn people that the crisis isn't over; we don't know whether the new, more transmissible variants will cause a new wave. But we're seeing a more dysfunctional relationship in which scientists suggest untenable rules and people get called selfish for failing to follow them. It could be driving people toward indifference, fatigue, distrust and suspicion that rules are being imposed with ulterior motives."

Flam doesn't deny at all that science can tell us a lot about the science of the virus, indeed more and more is learned it seems almost daily AND that it is important citizens are informed on risks following vaccination or as new variants appear but she writes "it's time (for public health officials) to stop  disguising their preferred goals and trade-offs as 'the science.'"

Government officials have to make the final call under decisions of uncertainly.

I read Flam's complete column on the opinion page of the March 22, 2021 Star Tribune but it has appeared other places, e.g., the  Richmond Times Dispatch.  

Please read it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Project 17: Another Look on Meeting the UN Sustainability Goals

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Literacy, Education, Society, Children

Ed Hessler

The following BBC video is part of Project 17, a BBC World Service series produced in partnership with the Open University, in which 17-year-olds look at progress on the UN's 17  goals.

Yolanda who is 17 attends school in a "rural area of East London, South Africa. Note that the Wiki entry is in need of citations). She's been campaigning for better standards of education in her country, starting with her own school. She says it lacks basic resources, such as electricity in classrooms and clean toilets."

So she "visited the Department of Education to ask what could be done about the toilets. The answer was short and terse: students should clean them (my bold).

"'Quality education'" is goal four of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets announced in 2015 to transform lives around the world by 2030. The UN wants access to quality education for all by 2030.

This video is part of Project 17, a BBC World Service series produced in partnership with the Open University, in which 17-year-olds look at progress on the UN's 17 goals.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Alfred Russel Wallace: An Animated Film

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science, History of Science 

Ed Hessler

It is well known that Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin arrived at the same theory of evolution independently. The question of priority was resolved when Thomas Hooker and Charles Lyell read the following before the Linnean Society of London, the world's oldest active society for natural history.

These gentleman, having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry. This was followed by reading two brief papers by Darwin (1844 and 1857) and then Wallace's paper of 1858. Therefore, these two were co-proposers of  evolution by natural selection. 

So what happened to Wallace and why don't we refer to it as the Darwin-Wallace theory? In his book, Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist wrote "Essentially it was because of the impact of The Origin of Species," Darwin's now famous book published in 1859.*

To give you an idea of the regard in which Wallace was held at the time, this quote by Thomas Huxley who was known as Darwin's bulldog for both his vigorous defense and offense of Darwin's evidence-based theory, is powerful.**

Once in a generation, a Wallace may be found physically, mentally, and morally qualified to wander unscathed through the topical form magnificent collections as he wanders; and withal to think out sagaciously the conclusions suggested by his collections. (Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature, D. Appleton, New York)

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson, includes a chapter on Wallace and it reminded me of a short animated film about Wallace. In that theft, Edwin Rist, took several birds of paradise that Wallace had collected more than a century ago. Unfortunately, I could think of only one of the producers and then just her first name. I knew she had worked on NPR's Science Friday and that the production company was in Brooklyn. All my searches led nowhere because of the search terms but finally I found it. It is on both You Tube and also is a biological interactive (7m 45s) on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website

The film is beautifully animated with paper puppets. It is narrated by two experts on the life of Wallace.

And the producers are Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck; the multimedia production company is Sweet Fern Productions. 

I probably posted a reference to this video long ago but like re-reading a good book, it is worth a second viewing and posting.

* Also see this short article published in Nature (2008) for why "Alfred Russel Wallace's achievements" were "overshadowed by those of Charles Darwin" as well as what can be done to restore a proper balance.

**Kirk Wallace Johnson included this quote in his book, The Feather Thief.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Red Filaments in the Sky

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a dazzling image of an atmospheric event few of us have ever seen or will. 

Red sprites are rare and even when they occur are rarely seen depending on where and when.

The image includes the usual accurate explanation about them.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

What Happens When a Bird Population Does Not Know Its Song?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Endangered Species, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

The Regent Honeyeaters (Anthochaera phyrgia) are critically endangered birds in Australia. One reason appears to be that they are not learning their songs which are used to announce territory and in their courting behavior. These birds learn their songs from others but populations of these birds are now so small that they are imitating the songs of songs of other species.

And confusion reigns. Who is no longer who.

The Guardian has a story by Graham Readfern, a video and a link to the study about this bird "once seen in flocks of hundreds across south-eastern Australia" but "now thought to be only a few hundreds of the songbirds left in the wild." Ecologist Ross Crates says that this is one of the first examples of the "loss of vocal culture." 

According to Readfern's reporting, honeyeaters are "known to imitate the songs of other birds, but" the reason for this was not known. It was once thought "that this mimicry might" be be a "male's show of skill that would be attractive to a female." Now researchers are not so sure of this. In the study recordings of birds in the wild and in captivity were analyzed. "The complexity of the songs appeared to be diminishing."

In a captive breeding program "juveniles have been played recordings of regent honeyeater calls from speakers inside their aviaries." Now "two wild-caught adults in neighbouring aviaries" have been added "to see if this can also help the young males to learn the right song before they're released into the wild."

Friday, April 2, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From Hamline University's CGEE good morning on this first friday of April 2021, April 2nd. Time is starting to fly and now 25.21 percent of the year has passed or 2208 hours. Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 7:42 pm. Day length is 12h 51m 15s. 

Today's quote. I would see people, but this is literally a trail that nobody else was thru-hiking. Soe comng back was tough. The world out here is lot more complicated. -- Emily Ford (Minneapolis Star Tribune March 28). Ford is both the 2nd person and first women to complete the 1200 mile Ice Age Trail in winter. The numbers tell part of her story: 69 days on trail, 15-20 miles per day on average, 3 "zero days" (rest days) and 1 sled dog on loan (Diggins). She loves to walk; always has.

It is National Peanut Butter & Jelly Day. Foodimentary has the usual details. Made me think about my favorite combo: simple, plain, classic nutty peanut butter; harder is the jelly but marmalade is high on my list.

And April is National Poetry Month.

Today's poem is by Hayden Caruth.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Cherry Blossom Time: 2021 Marks Japan's Earliest Date

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

It's cherry blossom time in Japan and this year a record was set--the earliest peak since 812 CE (March 26). It is one day earlier than the previous peak on March 27 in 1409 CE.

In a report the BBC notes that  "Yasuyuki Aono, a researcher at Osaka Prefecture University, has tracked the data back to 812."


He wrote that "'I have searched and collected the phenological data for full flowering date of cherry tree (Prunus jamasakura) from many diaries and chronicles written by emperors, aristocrats, governors and monks at Kyoto in historical time.'"

Such studies are known as "Phenology, the study of seasons and recurring biological events."


The reporting concludes with a note on Hiroshima's season which "began on 11 March, eight days earlier than the previous record, which was set in 2004." 


The link includes photos and links to more information. a graph of peak blooms from 812 before present to the present.I learned that in the species name above, "sakura" means blossom.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pack Hunting in Electric Eels

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biological Evolution, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

The headline to an essay by Sofia Moutinha about a recently published finding in the scientific journal Science was irresistible: Shocking discovery: Electric eels hunt in packs in Amazon rivers.

Pack hunting is found in a range of species: orcas or killer whales, tuna, and wolves. Moutinha writes that The finding, a first among electric fishes, may open the way for new studies to investigate when social predation evolved among fishes. Moutinha quotes Douglas Bastos, a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (Manaus. Brazil) who first saw a group attack in 2012. Usually the eels, which can grow as long as a broomstick and weigh up to 20 kilograms, prey alone at night, targeting single resting fishes.. This behavior is unprecedented for electrical eels and also rare among freshwater fishes.

A very short AND impressive video (10s) accompanies Moutinha's introduction to this behavior. There is a longer clip in this BBC story on this behavior. The story which contains more information includes a picture of the two main scientists involved, one of whom, Dr. Carlos David de Santana, is holding an electric eel. They are not small--in length or circumference!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

I Am A Lariat

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Wildlife, Nature, Biodiversity, behavior

Ed Hessler

Guam's venomous brown tree snake, Boiga irregularis, uses a mode of locomotion new to researchers and human technology. In this video, the snake, an invasive species to Guarm, ties its body into a lasso, using it to shimmy up poles designed to protect bird nests. This species is rear-fanged and not considered poisonous to humans.

Not all snakes are equally successful. Tess Joosse who wrote the comment about this newly found behavior notes "Not all of the snakes—which ranged in length from 99 to 193 centimeters—actually climbed, notes Julie Savidge, an ecologist at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and a co-author of the study. Some made the lasso, but couldn’t move themselves up the poles, whereas others just hung out on the ground below. And the snakes that did lasso their way up did so slowly, at rates of less than 1 centimeter per second, and they seemed to be huffing and puffing as they rippled upward." You gotta' love that last phrase no matter the cautionary "seemed."

To give you an idea of the ecological menace they represent since they were introduced to Guam more than 70years ago they have managed to consume almost all the native birds. Researcher thought they had developed a solution when nests were placed on top of smooth poles, confident that the snakes could not climb them.

The video is at the top of a short written comments (~4m read)

Monday, March 29, 2021

On the Move Again

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous, Society

Ed Hessler

The Ever given (operator Evergreen Marine Corporation) became lodged diagonally in the Suez canal one week ago Tuesday. 

 The 400 meter long (1300 ft) ship, fully loaded, is free at last to ply the seas and re-open this vital canal to ship traffic. According to the report, an average of 51.5 ships passed through the 193 km (120 miles) canal per day.

Here in stills from the BBC are photographs showing the ship stuck and finally moving again.

Trees and Bogs: Carbon Storage

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Climate Change

Ed Hessler 

Cutting down trees can be good for the environment is the title of this BBC News video which describes a "massive tree felling operation that has been going on in the vast Kielder Forest of Northumberland for the last few weeks."

The idea is not cutting down all trees but trees that were planted over a particular kind of ecosystem, bogs or mires as they are called In England. The carbon storage capacity of bogs is large as you will learn.

Here is the BBC's Justin Rolatt's report. The video is 3m 02s long.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Pie Charts: Names

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Maths, Mathematics Education

Ed Hessler

The Wiki entry on "pie charts" (aka circle charts) describes them as a "circular statistical graphic, which is divided into slices to illustrate numerical proportion." Most of us have made at least one.

I never knew that there was such a cornucopia of names for them world wide. The search for them began when "public-policy researcher Eric Hittinger learnt that in France, the term for a pie chart is a 'camenbert,' he was rightly compelled to created a pie chart of pie-chart names."

See it here on Twitter which includes a fascinating thread of comments and pictures. How about  "bracelet chart" for starters?

h/t Nature, Daily Briefing, 2/16/2021

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Origin of Mammals


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Animals, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution 

Ed Hessler

This Nature video (4m 50s) is about a fossil that may push back the origin of mammals many millions of years. 

The fossil, Vilevolodon diplomylos, was a glider living during the mesozoic era. It is the earliest known glider, "winged" if you will but these are membranes not flappers (think of flying squirrels). It was mouse-sized.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Ed Hessler

From CGEE, Hamline University, welcome to March 26 2021, day 85. Percentage-wise 23.29% has been spent which is equal to 122,400 minutes. Sunrise is at 7:03 am and sunset at 7:38 pm and in between those times there will be 12h 29m 19s of sunlight. There is light here but it is overcast and the wind makes it chilly.

Foodimentary says it is National Nougat Day about which I knew nothing. There you will learn how it is made, some facts and some food history. I never knew that it was made to resemble: ice cream, and the candy bars were once commonly served cold. It is a staple of several traditional candy bars. The photographs are always mouth-watering.

Today's Quote. Shobita Parthasarathy, writing for Slate, If the past year has taught us anything, it's that broad social trust is crucial to successful public health initiatives and, ultimately, to our survival."

On Monday poet Billy Collins celebrated his 80th birthday. The Writer's Almanac posted this poem by Collins for the occasion. And if you scroll down you will find more information about Collins, a great gift to American poetry.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Was the COVID-19 Pandemic Peak the Final Summit?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society

Ed Hessler

For many of us the question on whether the COVID-19 pandemic has peaked is much on our minds. Cases have fallen world-wide since they peaked in January.

But questions and lingering concerns remain, amplified somewhat by the slight rise of cases.

British journal Nature science writer Smriti Mallapaty has a story about several uncertainties that is well-worth reading. There is a great graph in the beginning of his article on the rise and fall of COVID-19.

On the encouraging side are surveys that show "the hidden scale of outbreaks by including asymptomatic people who are overlooked in official counts based on testing." However an unknown is the lockdown and social distancing effect. What happens when people start mixing again?  U. S. epidemiologist Rachel Baker, Princeton University "'worries that the US is taking a strong step back from controls." Many people are susceptible to infection. Another unknown is how long immunity lasts whether it was acquired from vaccination or infection.

As more and more variants are found such as the highly infectious B.1.1.7. there is deep concern on whether a new wave of infection will result.  Mallapaty notes that "this might have already happened. There are some signs that a variant called P.1., currently sweeping Brazil, could evade pre-existing immunity and facilitate the virus's resurgence."

And in all of this is variation which can be large "within communities, says Marm Kilpatrick, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Immune protection could explain the fall in some communities where people have been very highly exposed to the birus, but the drop in other communities is probably dud to people hunkering down since the holiday period in November and December. ... As some states lift restrictions, people could start to socialize again." The same is true for national variations.

As Rachel Baker notes in the closing paragraph of Mallapaty's report, "'We're in this race against time. Can we vaccinate people fast enough to that we can aboid that future peak from these more transmissible variants.'" 

That is, the race is between the variants and the vaccine. So far we (US) aren't doing so good. Too many Americans are refusing the vaccine and too many refuse to don a mask or practice social distancing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Dire Wolf

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Extinction, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

You are familiar with the scientific tradition in a multiauthored research paper--main authors followed by et al. I'm not going to name or count contributors (authors/institutions ) who are cited as authors of "Dire wolves were the last of an ancient New World canid lineage" escept to cite the author citationthis is the author citation: Perri, A.R., Mitchell, K.J, Mouton, A. et al. It was published in Nature, behind a full fire wall but some details, including the above as well as a few maps and tables, if you are interested in the effort this research required.

David Grimm, a writer for the journal Science (US) has a summary although there are other choices if you want to check since the research has been widely reported on.. He writes,

"One of North America’s most famous ancient predators—and a favorite of Game of Thrones fans—emerged as mysteriously as it disappeared. Dire wolves (Canis dirus), which died out with mammoths and saber-toothed cats at the end of the last ice age, were long thought to be close cousins of gray wolves. Now, the first analysis of dire wolf DNA finds they instead traveled a lonely evolutionary path: They are so different from other wolves, coyotes, and dogs that they don’t belong in the genus that includes these animals. Instead, researchers argue, they need an entirely new scientific classification."

I've no idea of what Game of Thrones is, having never seen it, but I knew a little about the dire wolf thanks to the La Brea tarpits. The common name seems kinder than the Latin meaning "terrible wolf" but both names suggest you'd not like to meet one face to nose on a dark night. That's enough to interest a schoolboy. Ah, the power of mythology. 

It turns out these wolves were quite likely to be distinct, a loner in more ways than one, not closely related to what occurred as obvious to most: the gray wolf (Canis lupus). The Wiki entry on the dire wolf notes that it was paleontologist John C. Merriam who in a paper published in 1918, "proposed consolidating (specimen names) under the separate genus Aenocyon (from ainos, ‘terrible’ and cyon, ‘dog’) to become Aenocyon dirus,but at that time not everyone agreed with this extinct wolf being placed in a new genus separate from the genus Canis."

What held up progress in determining who it is and its lineage was a lack of corroborating evidence: DNA. The work of the researchers was to recover usable DNA who "recovered about one-quarter of the nuclear genome and the full mitochondiral DNA across five individuals ranging in age from about 13,000 to 50,000 years old" (samples from dire wolf remains at universities and museums). The team suggests a reclassification that "dire wolves would become Aeonocyon dirus" once more.

Dire wolves were not as large as presented today in popular culture--maybe 20% larger than today's gray wolves but noticeable in skeletal remains (and it could be they weren't gray either--Grimm discusses this possibility). We all want to know what contributed to their seeming abrupt extinction They were successful on this continent from about 250,000 to 13,000 years ago--perhaps it was the disappearance of their preferred prey and then later human hunting. 

Grimm closes with a quote from Angela Perri, the lead author, "These animals were not mythological beasts. They lived among us, not that long ago, the world was full of creatures we will never see again."

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

What Does Philosophy Have to do with the Science of Clmate Change?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Climate Change, Global Change, Sustainability, Earth Science, Earth Systems, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Many scientists have little to do or regard for philosophers of philosophers of science.

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder thinks it should be otherwise. You may not have heard of  Karl Popper but have certainly heard of his claim: "falsifiability is both necessary and sufficient to make a theory scientific...." It all seems so easy to distinguish one, science, from the other, non-science.

In another of her blog posts * on science she writes that she "wants to clarify just when it is scientifically justified to amend a theory whose predictions run into tension with new data." And again you've heard of how this is done:  Occam's razor. Hossenfelder writes that the shaving is done when "two theories ...describe nature equally well you should take the simpler one." And this "means you must discard superfluous assumptions." She continues that "without it we would be "allowed to add all kinds of unnecessary clutter to a theory just because we like it."

And Hossenfelder cites one of the distinguished philosophers of science, Larry Laudan who put it as she says "politely." He wrote, using Popper to distinguish the good from the bad, separate the wheat from the chaff, that it has "'the untoward consequence of countenancing as "scientific" every crank claim which makes...false assertions." Popper can be used "to make arbitrary statements about the future" to make them "scientific.

A common climate denier's complaint is that climate modelers in what they would describe as willy-nilly fashion "adapt models when new data comes in."  Hossenfelder writes that this is a clear example how little deniers know "about scientific methodology".

Revising a hypothesis when new data comes in is perfectly fine in science. In fact, it is what you" must do when you have "more and better data." These data make "higher demands on your theory. Sometimes this means you actually need a new theory. Sometimes you have to adjust one or the other parameter. Sometimes you find an actual mistake (deniers no doubt chortling all the time) and have to correct it. But more often than not it just means you neglected something that better measurements are sensitive to and you must add details to your theory. And this is perfectly fine as long as adding details results in a model that explains the data better than before, and does so not just because you now have more parameters."  And to help in the decision-making are statistical processes and methods which assist in determining which data fit better than other data.(parens mine). 

In response to a reader's comment Dr. Hossenfelder points out that statistics "will not tell you...which parameters are superfluous, but just give you a weight for how relevant they are.

*Take a look for her more extensive discussion and the comments.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Ten Years Later: Fukushima Daiichi, Japan

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Pollution, Technology

"On 11 March 2011, an earthquake cut power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and a tsunami wiped out emergency generators. Three reactor cores exploded, releasing the highest amount of radioactivity in the environment since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Although cleanup in Fukushima has been in progress for 10 years, many years remain before all the melted fuel debris will be removed from the damaged reactors."

This  video (4m 38s) shows the nuclear power plant today and also the impact of this disaster on the adjacent community.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Volcanic Eruption Near Reykjavik, Iceland.

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth and Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

A couple of days ago I posted a short story on the rash of earthquakes in Iceland which are forerunners of a volcanic eruption. By now you know that it happened.

Here is a short video (1m 39s) showing flowing lava from the volcanic eruption on the Southern Peninsula near the capital of Iceland. The last eruption was around 800 years before the present.

And here is a short story about the eruption about this from NPR with some stills, including one taken in daylight which provides the lay of the land.

And here is a livestream of this event from Iceland.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Last Shepherds of the Himalaya

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Culture

Ed Hessler

Ways of life change over time and as education and technology influence choices we make. 

In a short BBC film (3m 42s) Yak herders in the Himalaya (Sanskrit: snow dwelling, abode) talk about their lives and the reality that they are the last members of their families to practice this long standing profession.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Good morning from CGEE, Hamline University, Saint Paul on March 19 2021, the 63rd day of the year of which 2 months 4 days or 17.26% have passed.

Sunrise is at 7:17am, followed by sunset at 7:24 pm giving us 12h 07m 04s sunlight.

We have another spring to celebrate, March 20 tomorrow at 4:27 am. It is the one rooted in the cosmos. The last announcement I made for spring was meteorological spring on March 1. They are different. Viva!  This is what the Farmer's Almanac has to say about them.

It is National Oatmeal Cookie Day and the photo at Foodimentary looks like a yummy favorite: soft not crispy, good with or without raisins. In addition to the photo are the usual facts about the food of the day, a quote, fun facts and today's food history.

The Quote. No matter what, a nurse will be at your bedside doing everything they can to save your life while risking their own lives as well as their families. Let our sacrifices become well worth the effort.--Nurse Raymond Joe on COVID-19  (Letter Navajo Times, Read it if you have time. It is in hands, hearts, commitments and expertise like his that nurses continue to care for us when we are sick. Unfortunately, Mr. Joe died in December from COVID-19.

Today's poem is the first poem to be published in American Life in Poetry as Kwame Dawes assumes editorship of this column. See here for information about him and the poem, one that had been published years earlier in that weekly column. Some scrolling and clicking required.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Waiting for a Volcanic Eruption in Iceland

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth and Space Sciences, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

The BBC reports that Iceland "has recorded more than 50000 earthquakes in the past three weeks. This unusual activity indicates a volcanic eruption is on the way." Iceland experiences frequent earthquakes but this is way out of the ordinary.

BBC's Jean McMacKenzie visited and this video (2m 38s) shows the area and includes comments by government officials and scientists. This time is, as the Prime Minister said, almost in understatement, "stressful." I can only imagine. The eruption is not expected to be explosive. And with respect to a warning: minutes is what will be given by the volcano.





Wednesday, March 17, 2021

A Tale of the Tail of Comet NEOWISE

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Astronomy, Cosmology

Ed Hessler 

Wiki tells us that Comet NEOWISE is known as the brightest comet in the northern hemisphere since Hale-Bopp in 1997. 

The comet's astronomical name is C/2020 F3 but because it was first seen by the Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) in March 27, 2020 it was renamed.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a photograph of its gorgeous tail with an explanation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Sharks That Glow in the Dark

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Ocean, Biological Evolution, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

An article in The Guardian by Elle Hunt calls our attention to yet another species--no, three--that glow in the dark. One "is now the largest-known luminous vertebrate." 

"Bioluminescence--the production of visible light through a chemical reaction by living organisms--is a widespread phenomenon among marine life," Hunt writes, but this is the first time it has been documented and analysed in the kitefin shark (Dalatias licha), the blackbelly lanternshark (Etmopterus lucifer), and the southern lanternshark  (Etmopterus granulosa). The sharks were collected...from the Chatham Rise off the east coast of New Zealand. ... The Kitefin, which can grow to 180 cm (5.7 feet) , is now the largest-known luminous vertebrate: what the research team referred to as a 'giant luminous shark'".

The researchers have some ideas about how this luminosity may be used by the glowing sharks. For two of them it may be as camouflage "against the bright surface of the water. The kitefin shark is not known to have any predators, is slow-moving so the glow might be used "to illuminate the sea floor while it searches for food, or to disguise itself while approaching prey." All three inhabit what is known as the "'twilight' zone of the ocean, between 200 (~ 656 feet) and 1000 meters (~3280 feet) deep, beyiond which sunlight does not penetrate."

Hunt's article includes a photograph as well as a link to the original paper in which the findings were reported.


Monday, March 15, 2021

Studies of the Long Game

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Children, Early Childhood, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

Cohort studies in people are long-term research programs that collect empirical data regularly over decades. 

Barbara Maughan, writing for Nature, reviews a new book, The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life (Harvard University Press) written by four leaders in this research field: psychologists Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt & Richie Poulton. The work on which they report was done in New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom. So far children have been tracked "from birth into their teens, twenties, thirties or forties."

The review is short and includes discussion of how such studies are conducted, what has been found in studies that focus on particular development periods, the study of continuites that were found between childhood and later well being (one emphasis: life is probabalistic not deterministic), the power of such studies and how they "are now revolutionizing our understanding of the determinants of health and social capital, and, in the case of the longest-running studies, of ageing and decline."  

If you've seen and watched and or all of the Up series which the Wiki entry describes as "documentary films...that follows the lives of fourteen British children since 1964 (age 7)...has had nine episodes--one episode every seven years"(so far 56 years), you may find this book of interest. The series had a working hypothesis and you can follow the status of that hypothesis over time. It was that class structure is so strong in the United Kingdom that it acts as a determinant of a person's life. 

Here, in a film made at Spotlight on Documentary, New York Film Festival, the director of the Up series, Michael Apted, discusses this decades long project. The participants were age 63 at the time.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Lies Plants and Animals Use to Protect Themselves and Catch Others

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biological Evolution, Predators, Behavior, Nature

Ed Hessler

I must start keeping a checklist which would include a reminder to check whether there is a new ZeFrank video.

Fortunately, two biologists do, one tells the other and then one of them posts the latest on his website. The advantage of this is that the latter is a first rate evolutionary biologist so you get informed commentary as well.

Jerry Coyne, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago posted the most recent one in the ongoing series True Facts. It is about the ways animals and plants play pretend and is known as mimicry. These adaptations, as Professor Coyne points out that there are several kinds of mimicry: visual, vibrational, audible, and smell mimicry. He also thinks that there are other mimicries to be found.

So click on this entry from Professor Coyne's website which by the time you get there will have even more responses, now including a couple from Zefrank. Dr. Coyne includes a link where many of the images ZeFrank used to make this video are found.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Two Pandemic Anniversaries: 10 People Respond to Their Realizing When he World Had Caved In

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Society 

Ed Hessler

STAT's Paul Skerret calls attention to "two pandemic 'anniversaries' —1) the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and 2) former President Trump  declared it a national U. S. emergency two days later.

Skerrett asked a wide range of people including writers, frontline clinicians, virus experts, vaccine makers, and public health specialists this question: 'What was the moment last year when you realized we were in real trouble?'

Here are their responses.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art and Environment

Good morning from CGEE, Hamline University in St. Paul on March 12, 2021, the 63rd day of the 9th week of the year (17.26% of the year is gone).

Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 6:15 pm, providing us with 11h 45m 7s of sunlight. The amount of sunlight increasing at about 3 minutes/day is adding up.

Sunday, March 14, you may want to sleep in because we "spring forward" at 2:00 am in the morning, switching to Daylight Savings Time. For the umpteenth time, it seems, a few Senators have introduced a bill to make this change permanent, something overdue and which many would welcome.

Foodimentary notes that today is National Milky Way Day, the first commercial candy bar to have a filling. The entry includes five facts about this candy as well as people and events associated with March 12 in food history.

Potent Quote. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to haggle with a fishmonger and you'll feed him for a lifetime.--Siddhartha Mukerjee, The New Yorker, March 11,2021 (writing about a retired civil engineer who shops at a wet market in India who became ill with COVID 19, recovered and by now has returned to haggle again)

Today's poem is by the late C. D. Wright who died much too early from thrombosis after a long flight.




t's early death is a great loss.