Global warming? First, get the facts

February 28, 2009

In a move that is likely to panic climate change denialists (and others who claim not to be denialists, but oppose acting because they claim to be “skeptical”), federal agencies working under the new Obama budget might actually do some of the necessary research.  Bob Parks told the story in his weekly missive.

First there was the Bush Administration’s shameful cancellation of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) launch in 2000.  The only fingerprints on the cancellation belong to Dick Cheney.  It would by now have settled the critical issue of the role of solar variation in global warming.  Then, on Tuesday, the $278 million Orbital Carbon Observatory, designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions, crashed shortly after launch.  The good news is that the Omnibus Appropriations Bill that passed on Wednesday provides $9 million for NASA to refurbish DSCOVR, which has been shut up in a Greenbelt, MD warehouse for 9 years.

Synesthesia? In every school

February 28, 2009

Do the math:  930,000 U.S. kids with synesthesia, out of 60 million students.  (Okay, “synaesthesia” for the British search programs.)

You might have one. A pyschologist in Britain did the research.

For the first time, psychologists have documented the prevalence of a form of synaesthesia – the condition that leads to a mixing of the senses – in a large sample of children. Over a twelve month period, Julia Simner and colleagues tested 615 children aged six to seven years at 21 UK schools and conservatively estimated that 1.3 per cent of them had grapheme-colour synaesthesia, in which letters and numbers involuntarily trigger the sensation of different colours.

“[This] implicates over 170,000 children age 0–17 in the UK alone, and over 930,000 in the USA,” the researchers said, “and suggests that the average primary school in England and Scotland (n = 168 pupils) contains 2.2 grapheme-colour synaesthetes at any time, while the average-sized US primary school (n = 396 pupils) contains 5.1.” Inevitably, the prevalence for synaesthesia as a whole, considering all the sub-types, would be even higher.

A hall-mark of grapheme-colour synaesthesia is that the colour triggered by a given letter or number is always the same – a fact the researchers exploited to identify the condition in school children.

Indeed, when asked to associate letters with colours, the children identified as synaesthetes showed more consistency over a 12-month-period than the other children did over a ten second period!

Researchers calculated about 5 such students in the average U.S. school, assuming a student population of about 400.

400!  In Texas that’s a tiny high school that may have difficulty fielding a football team.

In Brain, a journal of neurology (abstract available, full text with subscription).

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. Simner, J. Harrold, H. Creed, L. Monro, L. Foulkes (2008). Early detection of markers for synaesthesia in childhood populations. Brain, 132 (1), 57-64 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awn292

Tip of the old scrub brush to Research Digest Blog.


George Bush goes to school

February 27, 2009

Well, visits, anyway.

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas ISD, via Dallas Observer

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visiting John J. Pershing Elementary in Dallas, February 25, 2008. Photo from Dallas Independent School District, via Dallas Observer

This is from the press announcement by the Dallas Independent School District:


Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush made a surprise visit Wednesday to their neighborhood school, Dallas ISD’s John J.Pershing Elementary. Mr. Bush visited every classroom at the school and stayed for more than an hour.

“He and Mrs. Bush were very warm and inviting and they stopped and acknowledged every person in the school,” said Pershing principal Margarita Hernandez. “This is an experience that our children will never forget.  President Bush made several students pledge and commit themselves to read more instead of watching TV. He told students that reading is the key to everything, including to being president.”

Pershing Elementary has an enrollment of 482 students and is located at 5715 Meaders Lane in Dallas. This past school year, it received the Recognized ranking from the Texas Education Agency.

No interruptions this time.


Bobby Jindal: Dumb about rocks

February 27, 2009

I couldn’t believe it either.

Remember all the flap about a flurry of earthquakes in the Yellowstone Caldera over the Christmas holidays?  Volcano monitoring is critical to safety in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska — not to mention Hawaii’s special circumstances — and to all neighboring states or those within downwind striking distance of a volcanic event.

A volcanic field now in southern Idaho erupted a few millions of years ago, spreading ash that killed creatures as far away as Nebraska.  “Neighboring state” covers a lot of territory.

So, Bobby Jindal, in his response to the Obama budget proposal speech, said the U.S. should get out of the volcano monitoring business.  It was not clear whether there were no rocks in his head, but neither was there knowledge about rocks where it should be in his head.

Green Gabbro, a real geologist, couldn’t believe it either.


Ignoring for the sake of argument the value of the basic science that always results from the data collected during routine monitoring – ignoring the general function of increased spending as an economic stimulus to the nation’s earth scientists, instrument manufacturers, etc., – even ignoring all that, volcano monitoring is still a very sensible investment in national security. A $1.5 million investment in monitoring at Pinatubo (near a U.S. air force base) earned a greater than 300-fold return when the volcano erupted explosively in 1991: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property (mostly airplanes) was saved, as were thousands of lives. That 30,000% figure comes before you attempt to put a value on human life.

But then, Sarah Palin is in one of those areas where a failure to monitor volcanoes might lead to huge disaster.  It’s an unusual way to knock out a political rival, and not certain, but were Sarah Palin to disappear into a volcanic cloud, Bobby Jindal’s path to the Republican nomination for president might be less cluttered.  He’s a Rhodes Scholar — surely he can’t be that stupid about volcanoes, so the evil alternative, that he hopes to get rid of Palin, is the only thing that makes sense, isn’t it?

Is there no one in the Republican Party who will stand up for science and reason?


Declaration and Constitution – sources

February 26, 2009

Cross posted from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine, with permission, with minor edits.

Everybody needs to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence and  U.S. Constitution close at hand.

Original rought draft of the Declaration of Independence written out in longhand by Thomas Jefferson, featuring emendations by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams - Library of Congress Manuscripts Division

Original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written out in longhand by Thomas Jefferson, featuring “emendations” by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams – Library of Congress Manuscripts Division

Too often I’ve been in classes where textbooks didn’t have them, though in some cases the course clearly required it (especially irritating in high school texts, but not unheard of in college texts).  The two documents are covered in depth in the requirements for Texas 10th grade social studies (world history), but not in the texts.

Both documents provide a foundation for analysis of events following, through the 19th and 20th centuries.

Where is the student of world history to find them?


Declaration of Independence

Constitution of the United States of America

Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Declaration and Constitution are kept on display - National Archives photo

Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where the Declaration and Constitution are kept on display – National Archives photo

All study for the tests and no play makes Jack and Jill perform worse on standardized tests

February 26, 2009

The old classroom teachers knew it.  The new, test-the-hell-out-of-the-little-brats administrators need to learn it.

Kids need physical activity to be good students.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education.

The article in the science section of the New York Times put it well:

The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

A convicted murderer in prison gets an hour a day for exercise.  But our kids, the high-performing ones we depend on for our nation’s future?  We treat them worse than convicted felons?

Nota bene: Even just a little movement worksIt works for adults, too.


  • PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 2 February 2009, pp. 431-436 (doi:10.1542/peds.2007-2825) (subscription required for full text),  “School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior,” Romina M. Barros, MD, Ellen J. Silver, PhD and Ruth E. K. Stein, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore and Rose F. Kennedy Center, Bronx, New York

    OBJECTIVES. This study examines the amount of recess that children 8 to 9 years of age receive in the United States and compares the group classroom behavior of children receiving daily recess with that of children not receiving daily recess.

  • See this year-old post at The Elementary Educator
  • Post in agreement from the venerable Trust for Public Lands, one of the best and best respected non-profits in America

Still not Bobby Jindal

February 25, 2009

Did you listen to the Republican response to President Obama’s speech last night?

Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered the response — and “delivered” is a pretty good description of the style of the thing.  My wife and I had sarcastically predicted the Republicans would call for taxcuts as a cure for everything, from broken legs to global warming — and Jindal did just that.

Is Bobby Jindal running for president?  Then, just as he was not the guy the Republicans should have picked for vice president in 2008, he’s not the guy for 2012, or 2016, or any other time.  I was right the first time:  “Not Bobby Jindal:  The parable of the idiot candidate.”

It’s still not Bobby Jindal.  Nor was it, nor is it, Sarah Palin.  Will Republicans figure that out?

(Yeah, he’s a Rhodes Scholar.  He’s also a creationist.  Sometime between getting selected for Oxford and running for governor he appears to have volunteered for a lobotomy.  We don’t know yet the extent of the impairment to his judgment, but it probably isn’t limited to science, and even if it were, that’s enough to disqualify him.)


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