Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Evidence-Based and Eminence-Based Science

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

Ed Hessler

Late again. I apologize but still doing some clean-up from the Internet failure.

There is a difference, a large difference, between what Joe Schwarz of the Office for Science & Society, McGill University, refers to as "eminence-based medicine" and "evidence-based medicine."

In his video column, The Right Chemistry, Dr. Schwarz explains (4m 46s), using a variety of images.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Spring Bird Migration

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

Ed Hessler
I had problems with Internet and it took some time to resolve them so I'm later than usual. I regret this.

When will the spring birdies arrive?

Gustave Axelson and Pat Leonard of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology report on the answer given Cornell's BirdCast.

Great essay and map with links to four BirdCast tools and some suggestions on how you can help.

Keep in mind that BirdCast is about "peak periods of spring bird migration -defined as when the nightly average of birds in the night sky was highest...with each radar measuring aerial bird densities every 10 minutes."
While this tool is not (yet) about individual species that appears to be a coming feature of BirdCast. The research is described in the essay.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Reports of Organ Transplant Recipients Also Receiving the Organ Donor's Personality

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

Ed Hessler

Obviously, I'm not paying attention or missing news or perhaps it's because I haven't watched movies for a long time. Although in thinking about my movie days I recall some hints about what follows. 
Jonathan Jarry begins by reporting on a paper that "is an  attempt to document real-life cases of a trope common enough in movies: that organs contain the personality of their donors, and this personality can transform their recipient."

Jarry notes that "we know that memories reside in the brain. But do other cells in our body also retain a memory of who we are?"

Jarry discusses and comments on immunological memory, a fascinating non-brain memory of Stentor, an organism you may have seen in a biology course - the mechanism is still not understood, our tendency for "selection bias" when we read stories about how the "transplant patient suddenly matches their donor", the possible role immunosuppressant drugs - used to ensure that the transplanted organ isn't rejected, the beliefs patients bring to transplant, a paper found on the website Better Help about an article on cellular memory in which the author observes that "there is no scientific evidence behind any of this, but isn't it 'interesting to entertain?'" to which Jarry responds with important critical comments, and ends with his signature box of take-home messages.

The Jarry essay is from the Office for Science & Society, University of Montreal (includes links, one added above). 
The article opened another window into the world of pseudoscience.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Medicine Shows and Exploitation

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

Ed Hessler

This is a story about sordid medicine shows and the exploitation of plant-based medical knowledge of Indigenous Peoples by Joe Schwarz, Director of the Office for Science & Society at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Schwarz begins with Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, a 1990s television program (never seen or even heard of). Of course, he begins with one of the medicines--willow bark tea which contains salicin. It has fever -and pain- reducing  properties but also can irritate the lining of the stomach. Salicin has also been used by other cultures globally.

Schwarz discusses modern aspirin, the history of using plants for various ailments, the traveling medicine shows of the 1800s, the formation of the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, the method of distribution of one of the products, Sagwa during shows, the decline of such shows after the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act in the U. S. and mentions the call in Canada for noting Indigenous contributions, closing  with a comment about what science is.

Schwarz  notes that white willow bark can still be purchased as a powder or in whole pieces. If you are interested a search engine found more find suppliers than I thought. If you do a search it will provide you some idea of the scale of this business.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

A Face, a Cup is by Molly Peacock.

This is a one-stop link: poem + publication information + bio of poet.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Deer Hunting In The Big Ten: First Ever Power Rankings

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Wildlife, Science & Society, Culture, Society

Ed Hessler

In the opening to an article for the Star Tribune (April 5, 2024), outdoor writer Tony Kennedy asks:  "Ever wonder how Minnesota stacks up against its peers in deer hunting?"
It is accompanied by a table - color coded by highest, middle and lowest rankings - compiled by the Star Tribune's C.J. Sinner and Joe Rull in which the rankings are parsed "across six metrics."

And finally, the methodology is described.

I've returned to it several times and expect to continue doing that. This story is fascinating not only for hunters and non-hunters and I strongly commend it.  Disclosure: I am no longer a deer or other game hunter, stopping when I moved here.

And I'm deeply grateful to the writers and to the Star Tribune for making it available to subscribers who might want to take another look or who have already recycled the paper and to non-subscribers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Colonoscopy Research

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

Ed Hessler

STAT First Opinion Editor Pat Skerret (filling in for a colleague on maternity leave) chose an essay on colonoscopy, "the preventive measure everyone loves to hate." My reason for posting it is because is about evidence-based medicine - commonly used phrase today. It helped me understand that the idea is not always as clear as it sounds.

The essay is by Benjamin Lebwohlgastroenterologist and director of clinical research at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. The title is "A liquid-only diet before a colonoscopy is unnecessary," First Opinion March 19, 2024.
The heading under which it was published is First Opinion. Keep that idea - opinion - in mind as you read it.

Lebwohl discusses the following:

--colorectal cancer is on the rise for people under 50 in the U.S. so it is important to convince people of the procedure

--the preparation procedure for a colonoscopy is rated by patients as the most difficult aspect. One of these is unavoidable - the purgative; the other, avoiding solid food for 24 hours before is, although diet during that period is important as Lebwohl explains.

--in 2013, a "large, randomized trial compared the results of two diet instructions the day before the colonoscopy. ... Clear liquids only, or a diet that permitted solid food." The foods allowed and the results are compared on "clean-outs" (colon free of food). Access to the study mentioned above is provided.

Lebwohl reviews similar studies in following years and his experience using the internet for searches on recommendations from respected institutions, patient advocacy groups and "obstacles in the diffusion of information." He also asked his colleagues.
Once again, this entry was written to illustrate the vexing issue of evidence-based medicine.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Short History of Eclipse Prediction

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, Earth & Space Science, Maths, History of Science, Astronomy

Ed Hessler

Quanta Magazine has a short video (9m 16s) on the prediction of solar eclipses - when and where. It is posted on You Tube.  The chapters are shown with their beginning times after the brief video description.

"Nearly 3,000 years ago, ancient Babylonians began one of the longest-running science experiments in history. (ul added) The goal: to predict eclipses. This singular aim has driven innovation across the history of science and mathematics, from the Saros cycle to Greek geometry to Newton’s calculus to the three-body problem. Today, eclipse prediction is a precise science; NASA scientists predict eclipses hundreds of years into the future. (Featuring Stephen Wolfram.)"

The link to Stephen Wolfram includes an essay about it. It is also a resource for terms, some of which may be new. In the video most of these slip by quickly and reading them may help.

It is mathematical but the maths are not discussed in depth although equations are shown, etc. I post it because it includes the details of this "longest running science experiment in history." I was surprised by the records (data) that have been preserved for such a long period.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Thunder Eggs

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

Ed Hessler

The following was aired on CBS Sunday Morning, March 31, 2024. It is about another kind of egg hunt than a traditional Easter Sunday would offer.

CBS Correspondent Conor Knighton takes a look at the history of thundereggs, Oregon's state rock. The episode is 4m 11s long.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sense of Direction in Humans

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Science & Society, Culture, Biological Evolution

Ed Hessler

It is no secret that people have different navigational abilities but the reasons why have not been studied as much as showing that they do.
In an article by Bob Holmes in "Knowable Magazine" (4/10/2024) he discusses recent research that "suggests that to some extent, navigation skills are shaped by upbringing."

The use of new technology, the evidence of nurturing v. innate ability, association with cultural factors, whether there is a  gender gap, cognitive factors, how we use mental maps, pros and cons of GPS, limitations of current research and directions for further research are discussed in enough detail to give you a good sense of the research field. 
In addition, the widely used navigation research instrument, the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction Scale is shown.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

An Internist Comments on GLP-1 Drugs In The Treatment of Obesity

Friday, April 19, 2024

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Fig Agriculture In A Changing World

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Quirks & Quarks for April 13, 2024

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks with Bob McDonald for April 13 offers the following topics: canned salmon parasites, Mars & ocean currents, Medieval pennies, bonobo aggression, Covid 19's "long tail" and answers a listener's question about eclipse temperatures.

The segments are listed with beginning times and described - these overviews are really good - so you can pick and choose based on your interest. The length of the segments may also help you decide whether you want to listen now or later. The length of the full program is 54:00 minutes.

See here for the description and a link to the radio program.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

How One University Career in Research Science Ended

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

Ed Hessler
I've referred you to videos by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder many times so she isn't new to you. This is a much different entry from her and covers many issues of interest on a career in research science at the university level.

In this 13m 40s video titled "I Failed," theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, tells us how her academic career ended. She no longer has a research position at university (see below). During her time in academia she relied on her ability to support her research and herself.

As you know, she is not without work. She has a very successful YouTube channel from which this video comes.    

At the end of her comments she states "I'm not sure if I'm going to post this video. It is a bit over the top isn't it.." 
I'm glad she did; I think her experience is worth knowing about. 
And as you would expect she makes clear that this is her experience and that she is not speaking for others as she discusses her discontents -personal, with the state of theoretical physics, its funding and life in academia.  
As usual, I recommend you read the responses. 
ADDITION: Over at Dr. Peter Woit's blog, Not Even Wrong, April 5, 2024, Dr. Hossenfelder responded to Woit's entry titled, "How I fell out of love with academia," for April 5, 2024. She wrote,

"Hi Peter, thanks for the link. Yes, that was the first of those projects, lots of buzzwords about AdS/CFT and quantum simulations and strange metals and so on. Worked like a charm!

"Just one correction. I haven’t left academia, I am affiliated with the University of Munich (the Center for Mathematical Philosophy), it’s just that I’m not employed by them (partly because I don’t live in Munich and have no intention of moving there). I haven’t entirely abandoned the idea to apply for another grant again in the future — mostly because I’d like to have a team to work with — but at the moment I’m rather sick of it."


Monday, April 15, 2024

Recognizing Medical Misinformation

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Nest Watching

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

Ed Hessler

It is a special occasion when you discover a bird's nest, especially one that is being used. 

Even finding a used bird's nest in trees stripped of their leaves in fall or in the winter can be a pleasant surprise. Such nests offer opportunities for further observation (are there nests in nearby trees or bushes, elevation above ground, nest placement) personal research and developing evidence based hypotheses of your own.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology offers a program that may be of interest to you. It is called Nest Watch. The web page describes the who, what and why of nest watching. There you can sign up to become an official nest watcher by following the directions.

The short introductory homepage is found here.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Journal Nature Podcast for April 10, 2024

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society

Ed Hessler

Here is the Nature Podcast for April 10, 2024. Below is a guide to the features.

00:46 Mapping ‘ghost roads’ in tropical forests

Across the world, huge numbers of illegal roads have been cut into forests. However, due to their illicit nature, the exact numbers of these roads and their impacts on ecosystems is poorly understood. To address this, researchers have undertaken a huge mapping exercise across the tropical Asia-Pacific region. Their findings reveal over a million kilometres of roads that don’t appear on official maps, and that their construction is a key driver for deforestation.

10:44 Research Highlights

How climate change fuelled a record-breaking hailstorm in Spain, and an unusual technique helps researchers detect a tiny starquake.

Research Highlight: Baseball-sized hail in Spain began with a heatwave at sea.

Research Highlight: Smallest known starquakes are detected with a subtle shift of color. 

13:02 Briefing Chat

A clinical trial to test whether ‘mini livers’ can grow in a person’s lymph node, and the proteins that might determine left-handedness.

Nature News: 'Mini liver' will grow in person's own lymph node in bold new trial.

Nature News: Right- or left-handed? Protein in embryo cells might help decide

Nature Video: How would a starfish wear trousers? Science has an answer.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Poems

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

April is National Poetry Month and the local community newspaper, the Park Bugle, conducts a poetry contest. So there are four poems this week.

Here are the first, second, third place winners poems and the poem that received an honorable mention in the Park Bugle's 14th annual poetry contest, April 2024.

Here are the comments of this year's judge on judging the poems.

And here are the rules for this year's contest.
A batch of good poems.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Space Weather

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, Earth & Space Science, Astrophysics, Science & Society, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Job/Organizational Title: Space Weather Forecaster

What do they do?  How is that different from what their earth-oriented colleagues do in their weather forecasts.? Why do organizations hire them?

These are among the questions that Kathryn Schulz discusses in an 8-page essay (one of those pages is an illustration) in the March 4, 2024 The New Yorker.

The job title is real and "is shared by not more than a few dozen Americans." Schulz makes great use of the career of two of them, Ken Tegnell, as an organizer for the essay and a)," Ken Tegnell and Bill Murtagh. If you belong to LinkedEd you can read his full profile.

I hope I'm not alone in never thinking that there is weather in space. Planetary weather I know a little bit about. The space weather Schulz focuses on is one "that had no appreciable effect whatsoever on human activity," until "certain technologies --electricity, telecommunications are two --became "central  to our lives." 

There are significant "potential consequences." "The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) concluded, writes Schulz: there are "only two natural hazards that "have the capacity to simultaneously affect the entire nation. One is a pandemic. The other is a severe, solar storm, the subject of her reporting.

I was interested to learn that in 1859, the date of the publication of Charles Darwin's monumental On The Origin of Species and the coincidence with the first troublesome solar storm to strike the planet planet. British astronomer, "Richard Carrington happened to be outside, another coincidence, sketching a group of sunspots when he saw a burst of light, on the surface of the sun: the first known observation of a solar flare." It became known as the Carrington Event.

Schulz then describes two such events following: and their effects which eventually led to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to assess "the nation's capacity to endure the terrestrial effects." Later, the "White House came knocking to ask if it should be concerned about the N.A.S. report." Because he was familiar with the ideas of space weather and earth weather, FEMA director "Craig Fugate was in a position to offer an emphatic yes."

Schulz reviews differences between interstellar weather and planetary weather. There are two concepts we need to know about interstellar weather: solar flares and coronal mass ejections. She reminds us of the importance of the Earth's magnetic field and life. The sun has a magnetic field which is not as "tidy" because the sun's results from its composition. It is known as the fourth state of matter.

It results in a messy rotation of the sun. The solar-magnetic field lines "twist and criss-cross" leading to sunspots. These are what Ken Tegnell watches. A storm may come. Coronal mass ejections are enormous and can "mark the beginning of a major solar storm."

Schulz describes her visit to the forecasting room of Space Weather Prediction Center where Tegnell interprets, looks for the unusual and reports watches and warnings twice daily. She also discusses prediction. You may recall that the sunspot cycle is eleven-years from solar-minimum to solar maximum. We are nearing the peak (2025) but powerful solar storms do not necessarily follow.

Tegnell's colleague Bill Murtagh's job is on minimizing effects. Many organizations and individuals are interested and Schulz tells us why.

Schulz describes solar storms, their two phases, the special case of astronauts who may be in their path, the peril to the 8000 satellites in space on which we depend and take for granted. Many processes on Earth require "ultra-sharp positioning data"and "temporal information." These are what make possible for all the parts of an advanced technological system to operate. Murtagh thinks none of them are ready for a major space weather event.

Coronal flares are like cannonballs, "slower but more destructive" than solar flares - taking from 15 hours to several days to reach the planet. They can result in a geomagnetic storm. One of the most feared effects is on the power grid, what we know as a blackout. Earth's geological structure can offer some protection but it is not even around the planet." The electricity from an ejection and that found in the grid and when the two collide the damage is cascading. Schulz discusses some of the economic concerns.

We have no experience with storms before the power grid and space weather experts are troubled about what will happen the next time a Carrington Events strikes. Schulz quotes Daniel Baker who said --I should let you read this for your self - but hope this is an incentive to read Schulz's standard high level of reporting. '"On our power system.  I do not want to be unduly alarmist. But I do want to be duly alarmist'."

Schulz closes with some of the problems we face in updating the grid, the likelihood of cascading malfunctions, the possibility that one  malfunction could bring the whole thing down, the study of "attribution---"determining whether a given anomaly was caused by bad weather in space rather than by a technical malfunction or deliberate interference." Currently, both the Army and Navy have returned to teaching some ol practices. Some of this has been figured out and might include a return to old practices.

Solar storms are sometimes called "low frequency, high-consequence events. Murtagh, Schulz reports looks at people who tell him "I've never seen a problem''  and says "'I don't know what to say to you. The Carrington Event happened one second ago. And it will happen again."'   

There is a lot of science yet to be learned about the sun and effects here on Earth. The question, as always, is about the infrastructure to reckon with them.  

"What a Major Storm Could Do to our Planet" is the source of these notes and clumsy extractions. It is the one you should read for the full story. If you have not exceeded your free site use - two times and out -- you can read it. It is well worth looking for and reading. It can be found on the web in various places, all of which so far require a subscription - one was a temporary use which required signing in. Worth searching for, including your local library for a print copy.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ideas For A COVID Commission