Monday, October 31, 2022


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Sustainability, Global Change, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife

Ed Hessler

The September 12 The New Yorker has a feature article by D. T. Max on Florida Keys ocean diver Rachel Bowman, an exceptional specialist "in the hunting, catching, and killing of lionfish, a species native to Indo-Pacific waters," where. "many countries" do not allow spearing "without a permit." 

The differences between Asian water lionfish and their American counterpart
are profound and this essay is about what happened when lionfish became "Americanized."

--This popular saltwater aquarium species - "shimmery white bodies overlaid with bold red or orange stripes, a Mohawk of spikes on the their back, and clashing patterns on their finds and faces" - were probably introduced by their owners unhappy with their "insatiable appetite," i.e., they cleaned the tanks of other fishes.

--"The first recorded sighting was in 1985, off Dania Beach, a community just north of Miami" and "have succeeded mightily in their new environment--there are now many millions of them in the Western Atlantic. This includes Bermuda, Cuba, Yucatan Peninsula, Brazil, Gulf of Mexico and "seen as far north as Rhode Island" where, so far, winter kills them.

--Lionfish disrupt reef life, "(vacuuming), larvae, diminishing the variety of future generations. Max calls attention to a "2008 study in the Bahamas calculated that lionfish arriving at a new reef can eliminate more than eighty per-cent of other species within five weeks." 

Lionfish have the ability to expand their mouths (they can eat fish "more than half (their) body size which can reach 19," larger than their Asian relatives which can reach 12", expand (their)  stomach "up to thirty times its normal size," so they can also gorge but they can also exist on nothing for three months. Their life span is up to 15 years and they "can descend a thousand feet or more." Furthermore, they can live in brackish water.  And in our waters they have no natural predators; the reasons are not understood which led to some interesting  behavioral experiments in potential predator training. It failed.  In addition, "Americanized lionfish...behave differently," too,  unafraid "of other fish or of divers." They are, in two words, formidable predators.

--Spearing them is wide open wide open with "no bag limits, sex limits, seasons, boat limits, (or) gear limits."  It has become a team tournament activity with substantial cash prizes based on numbers caught). Because lionfish are edible; tournament catches  "are marketable," so can be sold.

--Early on Bowman learned that selling them to restaurants  "was breaking the law--restaurants can serve only fish acquired from authorized providers. (That way, if there is an illness, the source can be traced." In what I thought was remarkable on the part of a state agency, "the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (F.W.C.) when informing her that it was illegal also said to her "'what you're doing is awesome.'" They didn't fine her but "encouraged her to sell her fish through proper channels, and with proper paperwork."  When she "started making real money...she bought a boat (the Britney Spears)...and became an important source of harvest data and fish samples" for scientists. The latter activity has resulted in acknowledgments in peer-reviewed publications.`` She also "became the first person to sell lionfish to Whole Foods. She is Florida Keys' only female commercial lionfish harvester.

--Max discusses  the toll spearfishing can take on divers including  being jabbed in the hands by the venomous spines (In Bowman's decade of diving about 3 times a week this has happened about 30 times which she describes as "misery"),  decompression  from ascending too quickly (not unusual to spear at 200 feet and at tournaments  dives can average 18/day), sinus strain, nasal air passage narrowing, ruptured nasal capillaries. Bowman also told Max that spine-proof gloves do not exist.

--On cleaning up yet another human-made mess, Max notes a unique American problem, the creation of artificial reefs which creates many small spaces for lionfish to inhabit, thereby concentrating their numbers. Another is that dragnetd can't be used since they would become continually snagged "on the reefs where lionfish live. It is presently "one lionfish at a time" (although a spear can hold man more at a time with no effect on the behavior of free swimming lion fish). Spearfishing's effects are small in scale compared to lionfish distribution and numbers. However, it has noticeable local beneficial effects to reef habitat (and is fun). It is endorsed by Reef Conservation International in Belize. 

On a larger scale traps traps are being use and on which work has occurred for half a dozen years. Traps also have another plus because they can be used at depth.  Alex Fogg, the coastal -resource manager for Destin-Fort Walton Beach cut directly to the chase when he told Max "'You've got to get the commercial fisherman to slaughter the hell out of them."

--Education can play a role as well. Alex Fogg who coordinated the Emerald Coast Open "gave top Destin restaurants free lionfish, in return for their training servers to explain to customers why the species is an invasive pest (and how tasty one can be). He "also set up an information booth on the waterfront. A veteran sea captain explained the lionfish problem to passersby" to other attractions. Ecology is becoming a tourism draw.

--Education also includes collecting specimens for research and Rachel Bowman and friends makes a yearly trip "to cull lionfish for scientific study. (The fish are dissected on the boat and then sent to a lab in Galveston.) The goal, in part, is to determine the impact of lionfish on other species at a remote site.

Max's essay includes more details and his spearfishing trip. "The artificiality of my spearing experience," he writes "only underscored the artificiality of the entire reef ecosystem. The Destin reefs had been created by humans--and, if you got rid of them, you'd get rid of most of the lionfish. But, at another point in the day I stared down toward the submerged modules of a different fake reef. I I see all sorts of native life swirling around" grouper and snapper, tomtate and angelfish/ If you wanted to keep all this around, maybe you had to treat the Florida coast like an aquarium."

The essay is on-line. For a picture of lionfish reflected on a diver's goggles see here.  By the time this is published you may have to scroll down to find it. And here is a YouTube video (8m 58s) from the 2018 Florida Spearfishing Competition.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Spins and Tilts

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Solar System, Earth & Space Science, Cosmology, Models, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler 

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has a short video (40s) showing the tilts and spins of the planets of our solar system side-by-side. It shows the angles of the tilts and the time for a complete spin for each. You can also examine the illustration as a still. It is in color with each planet in an appropriately matched color. The variety is amazing--slow, fast,  vertically, horizontally, backwards.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Mosquito Predation Perhaps Like You've Never Imagined or Seen

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biodiversity, Biological Evolution, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Susan Milius, Science News, reports on a research paper about hunting strategies used by three species of mosquitoes. The paper is available in two forms, non-PDF and PDF. The link is to the journal article where you can choose the PDF format but find the photographs clearer on the non-PDF form. One of the authors is a middle school teacher. 

Here I call attention to a video filmed of one of them perhaps because it is dramatic...jack-in-the-box behavior. Milius writes  "a kind of teenager mosquito can suddenly shoot its head forward from its body — stretching its neck into a skinny cord — to bite into another youngster. And that’s just one of the ways young mosquitoes kill other mosquitoes, a new study shows.

"Over decades, scientist-cinematographer Robert Hancock and colleagues have filmed attacks by these Psorophora ciliata and two other kinds of predatory mosquito larvae in unusual detail. Launching heads evolved independently in two of the kinds, he and colleagues say in their new study.

"The third predator... uses its other end. Hanging head down in water, it needs only 15 milliseconds to grip prey with a hooking sweep of the breathing tube on its predatory butt." *

Milius reviews the behavior of mosquito larvae, other findings,  Hancocks' long-term fascination with the behavior as well as his frustration of investigating it- this is where high-speed cinematography made the difference, and includes comments on why we continue to invest in mosquito control given these natural predators.

This quote Milius includes from Robert Hancock is a fitting way to close. This link to Hancock is from a student newspaper which has more information and includes a photograph of him with a student as well as separate videos of the two behaviors--head grab and butt grab. His faculty web page lists only his courses.

“'If there’s any mosquito for all the mosquito haters to actually maybe not love but like, it’s Toxorhynchites. As iridescent adults they’re vegans, feeding largely on flower nectar. For larvae, it’s all meat, mostly other mosquitoes. They’re large, and they’re gorgeous.'”

There you have the biological sciences in a nutshell. Pursued for scientific reasons and also for love of the organisms. Science is a human enterprise.

*Depending on when I post this you may be able to see this predatory behavior which Milius links. Right now, because it is from a pre-publication paper it is not linked because it is not a pre-publication paper.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Do Birds Grieve?

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

Ed Hessler

"Do Birds Feel Grief?" was the headline of the birding column by Val Cunningham for the StarTribune, October 5. The article is protected by a subscriber's paywall.
Cunningham was asked whether birds mourn after a cabin owner told him that following the death of one of a pair of barn swallows, "the other swallow then seemed to be holding a vigil, sitting halfway between its dead partner and its nest for some time."

It is now known that bird brains are not simple but complex and more "human like than once thought," e.g., see this article in Scientific American for a review of two scientific papers. In the essay, Cunningham calls our attention to Tim Birkhread's book "Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird" and also draws attention to one species in particular before returning to the behavior of the barn swallow: crows.

Crows are sometimes seen to congregate around a dead crow, a behavior that many of us have observed. What's up? Attributing grief or other motivations to crows is difficult to investigate scientifically if the aim is to collect empirical data strong enough to provide evidence of a behavior.

So, I take a sharp turn, deviating from the question of grief, and turn to a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The theme was "Evolutionary Thanatology: Impacts of the Dead on the Living in Humans and Other Animals. The entire issue is accessible with PDFs for each paper. 
There you will find a research article about crows and the other research articles are diverse and fascinating. John Marzluff, quoted by Cunningham (see below), is a co-author of the research paper which is not about grief but about the somewhat common behavior of crows gathering around a crow corpse.Here is the last paragraph but I urge you to look at--there are pictures, graphs, etc., as well as a description of experiments. I think you'll appreciate the challenge of planning and carrying out the experiments, designed to provide evidence. I subdivided this paragraph for easier reading.

"This study is the first to demonstrate that American crows occasionally make contact with dead conspecifics. The nature of contact in crows can be exploratory, aggressive or sexual.We show that such behaviours are both atypical and, with respect to sexual and aggressive behaviours, seasonally biased. We suggest that rather than information acquisition,food or territoriality, contact with crows is attributable to an inability among some birds to process conflicting stimuli resulting in inappropriate or conflicting displacement activities. 

"Similar aggressive and sexual behaviours have been anecdotally observed among cetaceans, non-human primates and elephants. It remains unknown, however, whether our findings apply to these animals. A crucial distinction between our study and the vast majority of observations among mammals is that most interactions involving mammals were between familiar individuals. The potential myriad ways this may affect the response of either mammals or birds are unknown. Given that crows maintain permanent pair bonds that can span over a decade, it is possible that responses to familiar individuals contrast with our findings, particularly with respect to affiliative behaviours. 

"Understanding whether these differences exist and what form they take (which may be investigated in experiments employing sedation) will help us better elucidate the significance of death on group members and partners, and help guide best practices when we are confronted with animal death in captive settings."

FYI: Raw data associated with this manuscript are available.

The Marzluff quote in Cunningham is worth repeating for two reasons. It notes the complexity of the bird's brain/nervous system and is an insight into biological evolution. "'Birds certainly possess the capacity to mourn -- they have the same brain areas, hormones and neurotransmitters as we co, they can feel.'" To which Cunningham added "but that doesn't mean we know when it's happening."

The human habit of projecting motivations and behaviors onto other humans as well as non-humans is almost a default response. I appreciated what Laura Erickson had to say; it bears ourclose attention. "'The complexities of how our own species feels grief are hard enough to tease out. It must be very complicated for scientists to break down grief into its components for any other species.'"(My emphasis)
Thanks Val Cunningham for another provocative, informative column.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Neanderthal Family Tree: A Beginning

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology, History of Science, Nature of Science.

Ed Hessler

A report published in the October 19, 2022 British journal Nature has received considerable media coverage. The short title provides the reason, "Genetic Insights into the Social Organization of Neanderthals."

It is the subject of a briefing of the study by Ewen Callaway for a less technical audience in Nature News.

Southern Siberia is becoming a treasure trove for learning more about our early ancestors: humans, Neanderthals, Denisovians, and even a Neanderthal - Denisovan hybrid "all who lived (there) intermittently over some 300,000 years."

Callaway describes what the research revealed "when DNA was extracted, including 17 other ancient human remains from Chagryska" as well as Okladnilkova Cave (nearby). These remains included what turned out to be a surprising finding. Two closely related Neanderthals - a father, teen-aged daughter and two other, more distant relationships, plus seven others and two from the nearby cave. And this opens new research territory providing insights into kinship and social structure.

The scientific paper, one with few illustrations, includes a map showing the locations of the caves. The research was led by paleogeneticist Laurents (Laurits) Skov and population geneticist Benjamin Peters of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. This opens a new research territory, promising the ability to gain insights into kinship and social structure.

Callaway continues, "With this trove, the researchers confirmed that Chagyrskaya’s residents were more closely related to Neanderthals living in Europe around the same time than to those who occupied Denisova Cave tens of thousands of years earlier.

"The glut of Neanderthal genomes — which nearly doubles the number now available — has allowed researchers to look at other aspects of Neanderthal life. The genomes of the Chagyrskaya Neanderthals all had low diversity between maternal and paternal copies, a sign that the interconnected population of breeding adults was low. Researchers have uncovered similar patterns in mountain gorillas, which typically live in communities of fewer than 20 individuals, and other threatened species."

Skov said “'It makes you wonder what the familial relationship between these individuals were and how they were interacting with each other. It is a little glimpse into a Neanderthal family.'” By the way it is not known how the father and daughter died - no evidence.
Callaway includes two quotes that tell us a lot about science and which reminded me of physicist Sean Carroll's definition of science. "1. We have ideas. 2. They could be right. 3. Or they could be wrong. 4. But sometimes we fall in love with them anyway. 5. How do we guard against that?" Here is the quote.
"“I think we can say this social structure was present in most Neanderthals,' stated palaeogeneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox, director of the Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona, Spain. A decade ago, his team analysed 12 Neanderthals buried in a Spanish cave and found diverse mitochondrial DNA in women, but not in men, which they interpreted as evidence that females had left their communities. This makes Lalueza-Fox wonder whether it was mobile Neanderthal women who encountered — and mated with — Homo sapiens in other parts of Eurasia." 
However, "other scientists caution that Neanderthal groups living elsewhere or at other times might have adopted different social customs. 'Until you get more (data) points on the board, you can’t tell,'” says Krishna Veeramah, a population geneticist at Stony Brook University in New York. More research --  evidence (multiple lines even better), data is how you guard against the first idea.

Callaway points out that it is hoped that the cave will yield more information since only one-third of it has been fully excavated and less than one-quarter of the remains have been examined.
A feature of Chagyrskaya Cave that plays into the research writes Callaway is that it "is also chock full of bison and horse remains, and Skov and his colleagues think that the site served as a hunting camp of sorts during these animals’ seasonal migrations. These hunts could have created opportunities for disparate Neanderthal communities to meet and mix," according to "Rebecca Wragg Sykes, an archeologist at the University of Liverpool.  “'I don’t think Neanderthals were planning to meet up with each other, but it offers that opportunity.'”

I urge you to read Calloway's full report for additional information and also to scan the original paper for details on the techniques, background and the discussion. The original research report includes a table with full information on the Neanderthals from both caves included in the study. In addition, as you will notice the paper included a slew of authors and you may find their affiliations of interest *.

* One of the co-authors is Svante Paabo who was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine of Physiology. He "succeeded in sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal. He also discovered the previously unknown hominin, Denisova" as well as for his research "on gene transfer and flow to present-day humans."

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Pseudoscience and Science

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

Ed Hessler

Theoretical physicists Sabine Hossenfelder introduces the video, "How I Learned to Love Pseudoscience," with these words. "On this channel, I try to separate the good science from the bad science, the pseudoscience. And I used to think that we’d be better off without pseudoscience, that this would prevent confusion and make our lives easier. But now I think that pseudoscience is actually good for us. And that’s what we’ll talk about today."

It is a wonderful video (13m 14s) and begins with her definition of pseudoscience, the relationship between pseudoscience and science--Hossenfelder notes "You can't have one without the other," and as you will see pseudoscience often leads to improvements in methods. She discusses the work of Franz Mesmer and homeopathy in some detail then closes with some short examples of how pseudoscience "resulted in scientific and societal progress, including philosophy of science. Hossenfelder closes with some comments on the continuing fight against pseudoscience.

Here it is, the talk and the transcript which you can also access on YouTube.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Northern Cold Water Lakes Under Global Change

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Watersheds, Global Change, Climate Change, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Sustainability, Models, Nature of Science.

Ed Hessler

More attention is being paid to large landscape ecology and conservation rather than on single lakes or a small sample. And this involves science with a basis in modeling. An example is a new study led by Dr. Gretchen Hansen of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, UMN). It was published in  Ecosphere (2022), an Ecological Society of American Open Access Journal. What follows is f although I've added some subheads.

Why large studies? Managing ecological systems for resilience can increase their capacity to maintain key functions even under global change. Oxygenated cold water(oxythermal) * habitat in lakes is an important ecological resource that is threatened by both climate change and eutrophication. 

Quantifying resilience: Here, we quantify the resilience of oxythermal habitat in ~10,000 glacial lakes in the upper Midwestern United States to climate change and watershed disturbance and classify lakes for conservation prioritization based on their current conditions and resilience. Oxythermal habitat was predicted by lake morphometry, July air temperatures, and watershed land use. 

The introduction includes information on sample size which consisted of 9688 dissolved oxygen profiles from 2168 lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan collected between 1995 and 2018.

What the current future holds.  Temperatures are projected to increase by mid-century, and the magnitude of warming, its effect on oxythermal habitat, and the uncertainty surrounding that effect varied among lakes. Under mid-century climate conditions, the number of lakes containing suitable coldwater habitat was predicted to decline by 67%, while the number of lakes with unsuitable habitat was predicted to increase by over 200%. Lakes varied in the amount of temperature increase that they could sustain without a resultant change in habitat tier (i.e., their climate resilience). Median climate resilience was 4.3 degrees C, with some lakes capable of remaining in their habitat tier even with temperature increases up to 14 degrees C. Changing watershed land use was predicted to influence oxythermal habitat in 24% of lakes (n=2391). (My underline).

The first prediction is bleak, the consequences dire. The second prediction is more optimistic and points to the role of interventions in the lands surrounding the lakes such as restoration where needed and also to the role of preserves in maintaining suitable oxythermal habitat.. 

 Lake management classes. We classified lakes into seven management classes based on their current oxythermal habitat conditions and the resilience of oxythermal habitat to climate and watershed disturbance. 

Use of study in making management decisions. By quantifying the resilience of lakes and how it is influenced by local action across a multistate region, we can prioritize conservation action across multiple scales to maintain the critical habitat and ecosystem function of glacial lakes.

Methods, results, discussion, including study limitations are freely accessible and while the details may appear daunting, there are some useful summaries provided in charts and maps. To deal with the complexity of these lakes the authors divided the lakes into three tiers noting, " We defined three tiers of oxythermal habitat quality based on observed TDO3and its relationship to cisco presence. Our focus was on all glacial lakes in the region,not just those containing cisco. However, we used cisco as an indicator species for classifying oxythermal habitat as suitable (Tier 1), marginal (Tier 2), and unsuitable (Tier 3). This decision was based on previous research (cited).

*Refers to oxygen and temperature. In the northern midwest cold-water fish are susceptible to climate change because suitable oxygen and temperature habitat is limited in the summertime (see Madeline R. McGee for a discussion.).


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Arecibo Observatory: It's Future

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Astronomy, Cosmology, Astrophysics

Ed Hessler

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made a final decision not to rebuild Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico. You may recall that the main reflector dish, which was constructed in a natural sinkhole, partially collapsed two years ago.

Nature News has a short report on the decision with a photograph of the badly damaged dish.  It appears collapsed to me but under the photograph "partially collapsed'' is used while the reporting uses "collapsed."

The report by Alexandra Witze who said that the NSF "has announced that it will establish an educational center for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at the site. The revised plan might wind down or drastically alter the remaining research being done at Arecibo." The focus will be on education but what the nature of that education will be is to be decided.

A recent call for proposals asked for "ideas on setting up and running an educational center at Arecibo, at a cost between US $1 million and $3 million a year for five years, starting in 2023. That money might or might not include the funds needed to operate the research facilities at Arecibo that are still in use, such as a 12-metre radio antenna and a lidar system that uses lasers to study Earth’s atmosphere."

The NSF request is for a re-imagining of this facility, necessary, if in the development of a "world-class educational facility," a comparable group of scientists, engineers, and equipment to do research is necessary. And then what should the emphasis be? No discipline focus is ruled out, e.g., it could be in the life sciences. I know little about scientific budgets but the budget the NSF aims for strikes me as small when the aim is "world class" unless this is being treated like a start-up.

Arecibo is well known for its important scientific contributions and Witze points out several examples. "The 305-metre-wide (330 yards) radio telescope that collapsed in 2020 had a key role in many scientific fields for more than half a century, including the search for extra-terrestrial life, the discovery of the first exoplanets and of gravitational waves, and the study of near-Earth asteroids and of fast radio bursts."

Witze includes a link to the forensic investigation on the causes of the collapse which included the design of the cable system supporting the massive dish, earthquake and hurricane damage, and the one that most struck me, "deferred maintenance." Infrastructure, again.

I was interested to learn that "research has continued at the observatory’s smaller facilities" which will be allowed to be completed. The NSF noted that scientists can ask to continue their use under the scope of the proposed educational center.

And Arecibo Observatory will be renamed becoming instead the Arecibo Center for STEM Education and Research.

Please read the report which includes more information about that nebulous future and research done at Arecibo Observatory.


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Backyard Wildlife Selfies

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Carla Rhodes is a wildlife conservation photographer who was isolated at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. She used this time to pay attention to the animals in her backyard without interfering with them

The technique - camera trapping - is explained in this Science Friday video (5m 23s) where Rhodes discusses her project it and some of the results.

Rhodes's hope is "that by getting to see animals 'on our level' we learn to love, respect, and protect the wildlife we normally see from a distance."

The video was produced by Luke Groskin, Science Friday's video producer.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Keatings's Four Questions About the Meaning of Life Answered by Sean Carroll

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Philosophy

Ed Hessler

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll produces a popular science podcast Mindscape where he interviews the world's most interesting thinkers, not restricting his guests to physicists.

Here, after an interview about his new book, The Biggest Ideas In the Universe: Space Time, and Motion, cosmologist Brian Keating interviews him regarding the "fantastic final four questions about the meaning of life."

Here is the interview (12 m 50 s). Carroll  always delights and informs me as well as invites me to think. I hope you enjoy his infectious enthusiasm and joy. His world view is informed by knowing, questioning, wondering thinking about ideas and seeking answers to questions.

So I declare Carroll as one of the world's most interesting thinkers, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Smash Worked Because Physics Works

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, Astrophysics, Nature of Science, History of Science

This update on the DART - Double Asteroid Redirection Test -mission to the asteroid Dimorphos is of a NASA news conference. You recall that DART involved an intentional collision with the target asteroid.

The video is long (1 h 01 s)  but includes NASA and Italian Spcae Agency leaders, a panel of scientists. The orbit, the period, of Dimorphos around Didymos has changed - from 11 h 55 m to 11 h 23 m or by 32 minutes. I suspect that this number will become more refined as more data are collected, e.g.,The impact introduced a wobble. Furthermore, this mission isn't over. In 2026 and other mission - Hera - should arrive to make further observations, e.g., the aftermath of the impact. You may find the panelists and the questions they are asked of more interest and information than the early segment of this program.

There is a very good Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) discussion of the DART science which includes animations, illustrations, photographs and sections to which you can jump on the importance of the mission, how it works (Newton's Laws rule, basic physics), on following the mission, teaching it and more explorations. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Xi Jinping"s Potatos

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Agriculture, Sustainability, Science & Society, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

This BBC video titled Is Xi Jinping's Potato Miracle All That It Seems? (3 m 26 s), an example of Betteridge's Law of Headlines.

The BBC description of the video is useful before viewing it.

"China’s leader Xi Jinping will soon be given a historic third term in power, at the country's Communist Party Congress, which opens at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. (This event -a coronation? - has already occurred.)

"In the run up to the meeting, the propaganda effort – boosting the president's image – is in full swing, with state media describing the almost miraculous transformations said to have taken place in poorer towns, following a visit by Mr Xi.

"The BBC's Stephen McDonell visited Zhangbei in Hebei Province, northern China - an area said to have been lifted out of poverty after President Xi suggested farmers change the type of potatoes they were planting."

McDonnell reporting is from the ground, with farmers who are very much affected by this massive attempt in changing their lives. The depth of their poverty is way beyond my experience. There was a deeply moving moment when a mother talked about the choices she has made in educating her sounds, hoping that this will give them a chance for a different way of life. I found the witnesses very powerful and honest voices.

I post it because I knew nothing about it and thought you might be interested.


Monday, October 17, 2022

MacArthur Fellows 2022

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

Meet the recently announced 2022 MacArthur Fellows. 

I list the categories I devised which are very rough: sociology, history (2), engineering, ecology, demography, music including composition (3), chemistry, astrodynamics, health justice, ornithology, computer science, physics, medicine, mathematics, writing, art, demography. Each recipient of these is better described in the headline behind the photograph of each of the 24 awardees.

There are short descriptions of each winner at the MacArthur Foundation Fellows site where you may learn more about them - the short version, each recipient has a much longer video, and how the MacArthur Foundation describes them.

The links at the top top of the MacArthur Fellow page provide access to information about the MacArthur Foundation, the fellows, the program and FAQs. One of the unique features of this program is the awards are substantial, are disbursed over a five year period, and with no attached strings. The awards are often referred to as the "genius awards."

University of Minnesota scientist Steven Ruggles is one of the recipients.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Meteor Showers Collection

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD) has posted six photographs of what can be described as a labor of love and a commitment to astrophotography. The project took "8 long years," said photographer Petr Horalek. 

He photographed the 6-major meteor showers "from around the globe." The results are beautiful. There is an explanation, related links including one to his website and a description of his attempts at keeping all things the same for each image -same cameras, lenses, post-processing methods (with a link for more details about this aspect).

What an effort and it is a treat to to be able to view the result.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Miscellaneous, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

The Natural History Museum (NHM), the UK has chosen the 2022 Wildlife Photographer of the Year. There are many categories so use your mouse to find them. 

There is information about the competition at the NHM website above. DiscoverWildlife has all the winners of the categories, too (scroll down to find them) as well as winning and highly commended images 2019 - 2022.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"A Letter to M.A. Who Lives Far Away" was written by Gary Snyder.

Thank you to Jim Culleny, 3QD for posting it as a Thursday Poem selection.

We had a first snow - covered all the surfaces cold enough - early this morning a second poem, First Snow, Kerhonkson by Diane Di Prima

Wiki has information about Kerhonkson, a hamlet in New York.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Science Is Self-Correcting

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

In their research and its reporting, scientists think a lot about and spend time trying to get the science right. This is the goal.  For those of us who are not scientists this can be a daunting task. When this doesn't happen scientists  make the proper corrections, i.e., science is a self-correcting process.

An interesting example is reported in NatureNews on data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). and has to do with the "limitations of early data from Webb." It is about calibrating this new instrument available to space scientists. Ensuring that the JWST provided accurate results had occupied the work of scientists for many years,  e.g., John Mather in a 2010 technical paper written for a workshop considering JWST calibration drew attention to this issue and closed his presentation with why. It is because of its "ability to observe sources that are far fainter than any calibration standards." Many of the problems were resolved.

However, as Alexandra Witze nicely puts it in the Nature article, the current calibration  issue includes a difference from one that is technical. It is human. She writes "Astronomers have been so keen to use the new James Webb Space Telescope that some have got a little ahead of themselves. Many started analysing Webb data right after the first batch was released, on 14 July, and quickly posted their results on preprint servers — but are now having to revise them. The telescope’s detectors had not been calibrated thoroughly when the first data were made available, and that fact slipped past some astronomers in their excitement."  

Another way of looking at this is that science is very much a human enterprise. Who doesn't want to use a new instrument right "out of the box"?  And now the corrections have begun.  Redoing the work, according to astronomer, Marco Castellano is both "'thorny and annoying.'"

Witze notes that "the STScI  made it clear that the initial calibrations to the telescope were rough and that it is a new telescope whose details are still being worked out." She describes how telescopes are calibrated  and points out that "working with Webb data involves several types of calibration, but (that)  the current controversy is around one of the telescope’s main instruments, the Near Infra Red Camera (NIRCam). 

Because of early demands on the use of the JWST, researchers only had "enough time to point it at one or two calibration stars, and to take data using just one of NIRCam’s ten detectors. They then estimated the calibrations for the other nine detectors." Martha Boyer who is working on calibration efforts, told Witze “That’s where there was a problem. Each detector will be a little bit different.'”

In late July, "STScI released an updated set of calibrations that were substantially different from what astronomers had been working with." In what struck me, a stereotype, as a typical British understatement, Nathan Adams said "'This caused a little bit of panic.'"  He also added this, “'For those including myself who had written a paper within the first two weeks, it was a bit of — ‘Oh no, is everything that we’ve done wrong, does it all need to go in the bin?’” It turns out "no" and that things were not as bad as feared. 

New calibrations for the Webb are forthcoming which Witze indicates "should shrink the error bars on the telescope’s calibrations from the tens of percentage points that have been bedevilling astronomers in some areas, down to just a few percentage points. And data accuracy will continue to improve as calibration efforts proceed over the coming months."

This is a story of science-in-action and I hope you will read Witze's story for the full picture she paints. I've taken only a few snapshots with little attention to richness. It is short, ~5 m read, and has a great title, too.

Science works!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Ways We Use Language

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Brain

Ed Hessler 

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker "talks about the subtle way human consciously, and subconsciously wield language as a means to influence, control, and determine each other."

The discussion is 12m 50s long and may be viewed here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

For The Birds

Environmental & Science Education, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Nature, Are & Environment

Ed Hessler

I've wanted to post something about an exhibition titled "For The Birds," at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden since I first heard about it. A visit to the website didn't provide enough information.

CBS Sunday Morning Correspondent Martha Teichner took a visit. The multidisciplinary exhibition is a collaboration of more than 200 artists, musicians, actors and writers and also for The Birdsong Project, a collection of recordings to benefit the National Audubon Society. There is a video at the Birdsong website about the project. 

Teichner's video made me wish I could be there to visit the installation but I was glad to be able to learn more about it and see some of it.

This Sunday Morning segment is 5m 20s.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Short Video with Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi (Nobel co-awardee in chemistry 2022)

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Miscellaneous

Ed Hessler

Standford's Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi is a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry. One of her co-winners has now been awarded the Nobel Prize twice. This makes my head spin. The Nobel Foundation press release describes each of them and briefly describes their work, including three PDFs for more information, two about the reactions.

Here is a 3m 31s video with her talking about her background, the work, her students she has mentored (and will) from Stanford University. 

Dr. Bertozzi coined the term and originated/initially developed the field of bioorthogonal chemistry which is described in this Wiki entry.

The video shows us a scientist who enjoys her work and her students. She also describes what turned her to organic chemistry in the first place. She started with different career aspirations.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

All Water on Planet Earth

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Geology, Sustainability, Global Change, Climate Change

Ed Hessler

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) published a telling graphic showing all water on, in, and above the Earth, dividing it into two categories: liquid fresh water and fresh-water lakes and rivers with the planet as background. It includes the usual explanation below the illustration.

Like so many of the planet's resources we treat it so casually and badly. There are reasons to keep water clean and to use it carefully even more so as the climate is changing which will affect its distribution worldwide.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Nature's Photo Museum is Open

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

The British journal Nature Gallery is  now open, all day, all night, all hours which you may visit as many times as you like. There you will see what their photographers thought were the best science images for September.

What a diverse opening: zebra fish embryo development, at-risk reptiles, part of a solar-photovoltaic power plant (Chile), images of first part of the solar cycle, and Fairview fire, CA.

Great photos and explanations.

Hope you enjoy them. This world. What a place.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Bivalent Booster Shot

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler 

Dr. Alex Lickerman has a new post, #16, in his informative series on the coronavirus discussing a question that is quite common. "Should you get a bivalent booster shot? " 

Bivalent refers to the protection against the original COVID-19 strain and the newer Omnicron variant. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) variant classifications and definitions.

Dr. Lickerman's short answer: "It depends, again, on how likely you are to have a bad outcome if you contract COVID-19 as well as your specific goals."

The post is divided into two parts. The first is about the evidence - how the conclusions were reached, e.g., there are no data on human subjects but from that all purpose surrogate: mice. (my underline)

Dr. Lickerman always includes the statement, "if you're less interested in how we  got to our conclusions than you are in the conclusions themselves, feel free to skip to the CONCLUSION at the end" which I've chosen to do here but please read the entire essay.

In the second part is Dr. Lickerman's conclusion. "Should you get the bivalent booster? In the absence of human trial data, we might think about this question as follows: We can be reasonably certain that the bivalent booster will produce a level of neutralizing antibodies that diminishes the risk of infection from COVID. We don’t know how long that protection will last, but a fair guess would be from 3 to 6 months. If there is some reason you feel the need to reduce your risk over the next 3 to 6 months, say, for travel, getting the bivalent booster would seem reasonable. On the other hand, if in addition to being vaccinated, you’ve had COVID recently (meaning you’ve been infected with an Omicron variant), likely the same level of protection accrues, obviating the need for the bivalent booster. If your main concern is dying from COVID and you’ve already received the primary series and one or two boosters, your risk is so low that getting another shot would seem superfluous. If you are at high risk for dying from COVID, while there is no data to suggest the bivalent booster might further reduce your risk beyond levels afforded by the primary series and one or two boosters, there is also likely little risk of getting it. In the absence of data to guide us, this would then be a personal decision."

And if you want to know more about Dr. Lickerman and his Chicago clinic, the banner at the top of his post includes a variety of information.

I got the bivalent booster before reading Dr. Lickerman's comments and still would after reading it although I'm more informed. I knew when I got the boost that it might not help me much but also that it couldn't hurt me. I did have a very vigorous reaction, though, the most of the entire series --sorer arm and aching shoulders, pelvis, and knees. It made me think my body was at work making antibodies! I also thought I had an elevated temperature.  At the same time I got a flu injection and that seemed to be about the usual upper arm soreness. It was considerably less sore compared with the boosted arm.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Annual Fat Bear Week Contest

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

It is "Fat Bear Week, 2022 October 5th - 11th. 

All the details may be found here with more information about the contest, the Hall of Champions, the Bears and the Junior Bears and information, news, links and press materials.

If you are new to the annual contest, viewers "Choose the fattest bear of the year! Some of the largest brown bears on Earth make their home at Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Brown bears get fat to survive and Fat Bear Week is an annual tournament celebrating their success in preparation for winter hibernation." (My emphasis)

Matchups are open for voting between 12 noon - 9 pm Eastern and 9:00 am - 6:00 pm Pacific. 

Here is a Brooks Falls Live Chat, Katmai National Park about the event hosted by Mike Fitz. It starts at approximately minute 23:00. It is a good talk.


Tuesday, October 4, 2022

2022 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology

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

Ed Hessler 

I think that the award of the Nobel Prize to Svante Paabo  in Physiology or Medicine (2022), is the first time an evolutionary biologist has been honored. Others have been nominated, e.g., Theodosius Dobzhansky but he died before the nomination was submitted. (Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously). He was certainly deserving. Many of us know the famous epigram, "Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." It was published in The American Biology Teacher, 1973.

This essay from Quanta Magazine is by staff writer Yasemin Saplakoglu describes his pioneering work includes sequencing the entire Neanderthal genome and discovering a new ancient human group, the Denisovans. As a result of his work we have a fuller understanding of our evolutionary history and it also provided more evidence for the fact of evolution.

Here are the main divisions following a splendid introduction, next to which is a timeline of Paabo's findings.

--Why is studying ancient DNA so difficult?

--How did Svante Paabo revolutionized the field.?

--When did modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans diverge?

--Why did Neanderthals go extinct?

--How were the Denisovans discovered? (There are two photographs of an excavation of Denisova Cave Siberia, including the bone fragment. Note its size, i.e., it was small, perhaps 2 cm (~ 0.79) long)

--What can ancient genetic variants teach us about modern physiology? (includes a diagram of our revised family history).

--Who won the Nobel Prizes in Physiology of Medicine in recent years? (from 2017 to present, which includes the discoveries).

The scientific background for Paabo's discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution is linked in Saplakogu's essay but important enough that I highlight it again. It includes many details and will give you further appreciation for the scientific work.

Here are two videos, one of the prize announcement (44m) and the other an interview about the awarded work (5m 27s).

Here is the press release which opens with "The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has today decided to award the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Svante Paabo."

And finally, the summary

The bar topping these pages includes links to Nobel Prizes & Laureates, Nominations, Alfred Nobel. News & Insights, Events, Educational.

And as a matter of general interest and information, STAT's Megan Molteni added a note about this year's list of predicted front runner -the mRNA technology behind Covid-19 vaccines. Thomas Perlmann, secretary of the Nobel Assembly  responded to the expected question saying “'That is a very good question that I’m not going to answer. We only talk about people who get the Nobel Prize.'”