It’s a desert out there: Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 – Jason Ching film

March 6, 2014

Sitting in a hot trailer out on the northern New Mexico desert, Arizona State’s great soil scientist Tom Brown tipped back his cowboy hat, and asked me if I had been lonely over the previous week.  Classes at BYU started up in August, and our other field workers on the project, with the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, for EPA and New Mexico Public Service, had gone back to class.  My classes at the University of Utah didn’t start for a few more weeks — so I was holding down the fort by myself.

Dr. Brown’s expertise in reading air pollution damage on desert plants propelled a good part of the work.  He showed me how to tell the difference between sulfur dioxide damage and nitrogen oxide damage on grasses and other plants, and how to tell  when it was insects.  He had some great stories.  As a Mormon, he was also full of advice on life.

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

Between Farmington where our hotel was, and Teec Nos Pos where our most distant (non-wet) sampling site was, radio reception was lousy most of the time.  The Navajo-language AM station in Farmington played some of the best music, and sometimes it could be caught as far west as Shiprock .  Most of the time, driving across Navajoland, I had nothing but my thoughts to accompany me.  Well, thoughts and the all-too-frequent Navajo funeral processions, 50 pickups long on a two-lane highway.

“No, not lonely.  There’s a lot of work, I’ve got good books, and sleep is good,” I told him.

“Enjoy it,” Brown said.  “The best time for any researcher is out in the field.  And when you’re young, and you haven’t seen it all, it’s better.”

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Brown spent a couple of days.  Within a couple of weeks I turned everything over to other Ph.Ds to shut down the wet sampling for the winter, and caught a ride back to Provo (closer to where I lived) in a Cessna with a pilot who loved to fly low enough to see the canyons along the way.  Get a map and think of the possibilities, with a landing in Moab; if you don’t drool at the thought of such a trip in the air but not too high, if your heart doesn’t actually beat faster thinking of such a trip, go see your physician for treatment.

By that time I was out of film, alas.

My few summers out in the desert chasing air pollution stay fixed in the surface of my memory.  Indian rice grass still excites me in the afternoon sun (Oryzopsis hymenoides) — one of the more beautiful of grasses, one of the more beautiful and soil-holding desert plants.  When hear the word “volcano,” I think of the Shiprock.  When I read of air pollution damage, I think of all the pinon, aspen, cottonwoods, firs and other trees we gassed; when I see aspen in its full autumn glory, I remember those dozen  or so leaves we caused to turn with SO2 (slight damage turns the leaves colors; greater damage makes them necrotic, a bit of a mirror of autumn).

All of that came back as I watched Jason Ching’s film, “Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013,” a simple six-minute compilation of shots taken with modern electronic cameras, including the hardy little GoPros, and with assistance from a DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone.  Wow, what we could have captured with that equipment!

Ching’s description of the film:

This video showcases the scenery of Iliamna Lake and shows some of the 2013 research of the Alaska Salmon Program’s Iliamna Lake research station, one of four main facilities in Southwest Alaska . Established in the 1940′s, the Program’s research has been focused on ecology and fisheries management relating primarily to salmon and the environment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Check out our program at: fish.washington.edu/research/alaska/

Filmed and edited by Jason Ching
Additional footage provided by Cyril Michel

Song:
“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” by Ending Satellites (endingsatellites.com)

Additonal Information:
Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II, Canon T3i, GoPro Hero 2 and GoPro Hero 3
DJI Phantom Quadcopter

JasonSChing.com

I am very grateful to be a part of such a long standing, and prominent program that allows me to work in the field in such an incredible setting with fantastic folks. This is the second video I created, the first one in 2012, to merely show family and friends back at home what I’ve been up to during the summer. This video was often shot between, or during field sampling events so a special thanks goes out to all those who supported me by continuing to work while I fiddled with camera gear.

Do you really want to get kids more interested in science?  Show them this stuff.  Scientists get the front seats on cool stuff — and they often get paid to do it, though they won’t get rich.

Researching life, and rocks, geography and landscape, and water resources, one may be alone in a desert, or a desert of human communication.  Then one discovers just how beautiful the desert  is, all the time.

More:

  • Yes, I know; Indian rice grass has been renomenclaturedAchnatherum hymenoides (Roemer & J.A. Shultes) Barkworth, or Stipa hymenoides Roemer & J.S. Shultes, or Oryzopsis hymenoides (Roemer & J.S. Shultes) Ricker ex Piper.  It is the State Grass of Utah

Texas researchers tease out correlation between DDT exposure and late-onset Alzheimer’s

February 12, 2014

Press release from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas:

Research finds elevated levels of DDT metabolite in Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry – UT-Southwestern photo

DALLAS – January 29, 2014 – Exposure to DDT may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a study with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests. While previous studies have linked chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes to DDT, this is the first clinical study to link the U.S.-banned pesticide to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published online in JAMA Neurology, found elevated levels of the DDT metabolite, DDE, that were 3.8 times higher in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to control subjects. The studies were conducted in partnership with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We have additional studies underway that will seek to directly link DDT exposure to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “If a direct link is made, our hope is to then identify the presence of DDE in blood samples from people at an early age and administer treatments to remove it.”

The study found elevated levels of DDE in blood samples of 86 patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 79 control patients from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Researchers made the link between DDE and Alzheimer’s by measuring three components – blood serum levels, severity of the patient’s Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and its relation to serum DDE levels, and the reaction of isolated nerve cells to DDE. Treatment of human nerve cells with DDE caused them to increase the production of the amyloid precursor protein that is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the study underwent preliminary testing to ensure that they didn’t have symptoms of other dementia-related diseases, and were an average age of 74, while the control subjects were on average 70 years old. These findings may help lead to the development of early biomarkers that can determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to DDT exposure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide and is expected to increase three-fold over the next 40 years, according to the researchers.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used extensively as an insecticide in the 1940s, but has been banned in the United States since 1972 after scientists linked the compound to wildlife health and environmental concerns. DDT is still used in other countries to combat the spread of malaria.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.

###

Once again, research seems to demonstrates the wisdom of Rachel Carson, who warned us that we could not know the long-term damage done by untested pesticides applied with abandon in great abundance as if it were a solution to everything.

Carson’s book indicting pesticides regulation, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, with more than 50 pages of footnotes and citations to scientific studies.  In the 52 years since, none of that research has been rebutted by any further research.  Instead, more harms have been discovered, greater questions raised about the damage done by pesticides applied indiscriminantly.


Voyager I becomes Earth’s first interstellar object

September 14, 2013

Can you recall what you were doing on September 5, 1977?

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lif...

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lifted off on September 5, 1977, joining its sister spacecraft, the Voyager 2, on a mission to the outer planets. Wikipedia image, from NASA

That’s the day NASA launched Voyager I, on a trip to photograph planets in our solar system more close up than we can get with Earth-bound telescopes.  The Hubble Space Telescope was not even on the drawing board then.

After completing its mission, Voyager I continued on its path.  Scientists thought it would survive to leave the solar systems, and a few forward-looking thinkers hoped to learn more about just how far the influence of our Sun really extends.  At some point, Voyager I would leave space where the chief gravitational and wind influence is the Sun, and move into truly inter-stellar (“between the stars”) space, where gravity and particle emissions are dominated by other objects in our galaxy.

Last week NASA announced that time came in August of 2012, confirmed by data transmitted back to earth by Voyager’s primitive capabilities, over the last year.

Space.com explains it well:

Interesting to think of the investment in thought, money, effort and patience by scientists and policy-makers to wait more than 35 years for such a research result.

More:

Voyager I, artist's interpretation.  NASA image

Voyager I, artist’s interpretation. NASA image


For the birds, scientists at work

July 2, 2013

A scientist at work:

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Kathryn’s cousin, Amanda Holland, moved from researching condors in California, to buzzards in Georgia and South Carolina (for the University of Georgia, I think).

Here she is with one of her research subjects.  Much lore is out there about handling carrion-eating birds for research — they vomit on you only if they like you, for example — but wholly apart from that, how great is this photo of a scientist at work?

I told her to copyright the photo (it is), and to hand on to the meme.  Can’t you see a character in Game of Thrones, or some other fantasy, who carries her own vultures to clean up after she devastates some other army in battle?

Eagles and falcons and owls are okay, but what other bird could conceal the results of the battle, so the warrior princess could move on in stealth?

Science field work looks like great stuff.  My experience is that it’s tiring, and sometimes lonely (though in very beautiful locations) — but the psychic rewards of actually increasing knowledge keep a lot of scientists going.  There’s not a lot of money in it.

Look at the friends you could make!


Annals of global warming: No, polar bears are not “fine” — suffer from loss of sea ice

March 20, 2013

Press release from The Journal of Animal Ecology (links added here):

For polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest

One of the most southerly populations of polar bears in the world – and the best studied – is struggling to cope with climate-induced changes to sea ice, new research reveals. Based on over 10 years’ data the study, published in the British Ecological Society‘s Journal of Animal Ecology, sheds new light on how sea ice conditions drive polar bears’ annual migration on and off the ice.

Led by Dr. Seth Cherry of the University of Alberta, the team studied polar bears in western Hudson Bay, where sea ice melts completely each summer and typically re-freezes from late November to early December. “This poses an interesting challenge for a species that has evolved as a highly efficient predator of ice-associated seals,” he explains. “Because although polar bears are excellent swimmers compared with other bear species, they use the sea ice to travel, hunt, mate and rest.”

Polar bear and two cubs wait for ice to reform

Caption from EurekAlert: An adult female polar bear wearing a GPS-satellite linked collar with her two 10-month-old cubs waits for the sea ice to re-form onshore in western Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada. Photo Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Polar bears have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice by migrating onto land each summer. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns.

Dr. Cherry and colleagues wanted to discover how earlier thawing and later freezing of sea ice affects the bears’ migration. “At first glance, sea ice may look like a barren, uniform environment, but in reality, it’s remarkably complex and polar bears manage to cope, and even thrive, in a habitat that moves beneath their feet and even disappears for part of the year. This is an extraordinary biological feat and biologist still don’t fully understand it,” he says.

From 1991-97 and 2004-09, they monitored movements of 109 female polar bears fitted with satellite tracking collars. They tagged only females because males’ necks are wider than their heads, so they cannot wear a collar. During the same period, the team also monitored the position and concentration of sea ice using satellite images.

“Defining precisely what aspects of sea ice break-up and freeze-up affect polar bear migration, and when these conditions occur, is a vital part of monitoring how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles may affect the bears,” he says.

The results reveal the timing of polar bears’ migration can be predicted by how fast the sea ice melts and freezes, and by when specific sea ice concentrations occur within a given area of Hudson Bay.

According to Dr. Cherry: “The data suggest that in recent years, polar bears are arriving on shore earlier in the summer and leaving later in the autumn. These are precisely the kind of changes one would expect to see as a result of a warming climate and may help explain some other studies that are showing declines in body condition and cub production.”

Recent estimates put the western Hudson Bay polar bear population at around 900 individuals. The population has declined since the 1990s, as has the bears’ body condition and the number of cubs surviving to adulthood.

Young polar bear challenged by lack of sea ice, Andrew Derocher photo

Caption from EurekAlert: This is a subadult polar bear on a lake on the shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada in November waiting for the sea ice to re-form. Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Because polar bears’ main food source is seals, and these are hunted almost exclusively on sea ice, the longer bears spend on land, the longer they must go without energy-rich seals. “Climate-induced changes that cause sea ice to melt earlier, form later, or both, likely affect the overall health of polar bears in the area. Ultimately, for polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest,” says Dr. Cherry.

He hopes the results will enable other scientists and wildlife managers to predict how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles will affect the ecology, particularly the migration patterns, of this iconic species.

###

Seth Cherry et al (2013). ‘Migration phenology and seasonal fidelity of an Arctic marine predator in relation to sea ice dynamics’, doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12050, is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Wednesday 20 March 2013.

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The Presidential Library that isn’t a Presidential Library

March 9, 2013

Campaign poster showing William McKinley holdi...

Campaign poster showing William McKinley holding U.S. flag and standing on gold coin “sound money”, held up by group of men, in front of ships “commerce” and factories “civilization”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Things you learn looking for documents:  The U.S. National Archives now manages the presidential libraries and museums — except for one:  The William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum.

President William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum, in Niles, Ohio.

President William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum, in Niles, Ohio. McKinley was born in Niles. Photo from the LIbrary’s website.

To be more accurate and fair, National Archives manages the documents for the presidential libraries starting with Herbert Hoover, though there are usually special arrangements with each of the libraries.

Separately, the Ladies of Mount Vernon Association manages the research facilities at Mount Vernon, Virginia,  (and the rest of the grounds) associated with George Washington, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, is operated by a separate foundation, too.  The Teddy Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in North Dakota stands apart from the National Archives system, too (much TR material can be found at Harvard, too).

The idea of a specific library to hold papers from a president’s term is a mid-20th century idea.  Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover were the first, with the idea coming about the same time.  Private foundations built and operated them until after the Nixon library, and since then Congress authorized the National Archives to get into the act and coordinate the work, and then made the links official, for libraries from here on out.

For presidents prior to Hoover, papers generally became the property of the outgoing president.  Collection was spotty.  The idea of library dedicated to one president is such a good one, though, that private groups have gone back to set them up for Washington and Lincoln.

And McKinley.

Modern texts don’t show well the high regard McKinley had from Americans before he was assassinated.  Within a few years after his death, the people of Ohio and his birthplace, in Niles, got Congress to approve a memorial.  Eventually the local library moved into the memorial building.

The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association was incorporated by a special Act of Congress on March 4, 1911.  The purpose of the Association was to erect a suitable structure marking the birthplace of President William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. The result was the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.

McKinley was born in the city of Niles, Ohio on January 29, 1843. The city donated the site for the Memorial which consisted of an entire city square. The architects were McKim, Mead & White of New York and the erection of the Memorial was done by John H. Parker Company, also of New York. Groundbreaking began in 1915 with the corner stone being laid on November 20, 1915.

The building was dedicated on October 5, 1917.

The cost was more than half a million dollars, all of which was donated by the American public.

The 232 foot by 136 foot by 38 foot monument is constructed of Georgian marble with two lateral wings–
one wing houses the public library called the McKinley Memorial Library, and the other wing houses the
McKinley Museum and an auditorium. The Museum contains artifacts of the life and presidency of McKinley.

In the center of the Memorial is a Court of   Honor supported by 28 imposing columns. It features a heroic statue of McKinley sculptured by John Massey-Rhind. Surrounding the statue are busts and tablets dedicated to the members of    McKinley’s cabinet and other prominent men who were closely associated with him.  These bronze busts, mounted on marble pedestals, weigh between 800 and 1100 pounds each.

As a presidential library, the McKinley Memorial Library in Niles is unique.  While it does not offer the vast research resources of the National Archives, it does offer a memorial from the people of Ohio and the U.S., a more down-home look at  reverence for presidents and the keeping of the history of our heroes.

Memorial to President William McKinley in Niles, Ohio

The memorial to President McKinley in Niles. Photo from the McKinley Memorial Library and Museum.

The “official” list of other presidential libraries and museums in the National Archives’ network, listed at the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara:

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Digital Archives
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
Richard Nixon Library and Museum
Richard Nixon Library Foundation
Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum
Jimmy Carter Library
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Clinton Presidential Center
George W. Bush Presidential Library
George W. Bush Presidential Center

More:


CERN press conference: Discovery of the Higgs boson

July 4, 2012

Here is the complete press conference held today, July 4, 2012, at the CERN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Alas, the press conference was not held in Cedar Hill, Texas, making it a monument to the dangers of saying “we can’t be great in America any more” and refusing to appropriate money for science, or anything else good.)

This may be the biggest discovery of the decade for particle physics; it’s incredibly exciting, despite the appearance of calm.  It may be the biggest discovery of the century.  (We have 88 years left in the century, too.)

Description from the poster:

Published on Jul 4, 2012 by

This is the full press conference update on the search for the Higgs boson at CERN in Geneva Switzerland. This press conference followed the 2-hour Seminar that you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAlgX4FNiyM

This original CERN webcast recording was officially published at https://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1459604 but I re-uploaded it here because YouTube is best. The CERN Copyright notice seems to say doing something like this may be ok http://copyright.web.cern.ch/ but if they release this video on the official http://youtube.com/cerntv YouTube channel, I may remove this copy from my YouTube account.

So, if the video above goes dark, check the official CERN YouTube site.

Especially for middle school and high school teachers, More:


One more time: Recognizing bogus history

May 14, 2012

2012 is an election year, a time when we make history together as a nation.  Potential turning points in history often get tarred with false interpretations of history to sway an election, or worse, a completely false recounting of history.  Especially in campaigns, we need to beware false claims of history, lest we be like the ignorants George Santayana warned about, doomed to repeat errors of history they do not know or understand.  How to tell that a purported piece of history is bogus?  This is mostly a repeat of a post that first appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub six years ago.

Recognizing bogus history, 1

Robert Park provides a short e-mail newsletter every Friday, covering news in the world of physics. It’s called “What’s New.” Park makes an art of smoking out bogus science and frauds people try to perpetrate in the name of science, or for money. He wrote an opinion column for the Chronicle of Higher Education [now from Quack Watch; CHE put it behind a paywall] published January 31, 2003, in which he listed the “7 warning signs of bogus science.”

Please go read Park’s entire essay, it’s good.

And it got me thinking about whether there are similar warning signs for bogus history? Are there clues that a biography of Howard Hughes is false that should pop out at any disinterested observer? Are there clues that the claimed quote from James Madison saying the U.S. government is founded on the Ten Commandments is pure buncombe? Should Oliver Stone have been able to to more readily separate fact from fantasy about the Kennedy assassination (assuming he wasn’t just going for the dramatic elements)? Can we generalize for such hoaxes, to inoculate ourselves and our history texts against error?

Bogus science section of Thinkquest logo

Perhaps some of the detection methods Park suggests would work for history. He wrote his opinion piece after the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in which the Court laid out some rules lower courts should use to smoke out and eliminate false science. As Park described it, “The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.” The Court said lower courts must act as gatekeepers against science buncombe — a difficult task for some judges who, in their training as attorneys, often spent little time studying science.

Some of the Daubert reasoning surfaced in another case recently, the opinion in Pennsylvania district federal court in which Federal District Judge John Jones struck down a school board’s order that intelligent design be introduced to high school biology students, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Can we generalize to history, too? I’m going to try, below the fold.

Here are Park’s seven warning signs, boiled down:

Park wrote:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs — even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate. [I have cut out the explanations. — E.D.]

  1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
  2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
  3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
  4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
  5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
  6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
  7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

Voodoo history

Here, with thanks to Robert Park, is what I propose for the warning signs for bogus history, for voodoo history:

  1. The author pitches the claim directly to the media or to organizations of non-historians, sometimes for pay.
  2. The author says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.  Bogus history relies more on invective than investigation; anyone with an opposing view is an “idiot,” or evil.
  3. The sources that verify the new interpretation of history are obscure, or unavailable; if they involve a famous person, the sources are not those usually relied on by historians.
  4. Evidence for the history is anecdotal.
  5. The author says a belief is credible because it has endured for some time, or because many people believe it to be true.
  6. The author has worked in isolation, and fails to incorporate or explain other, mainstream versions of the history of the incident, and especially the author fails to explain why they are in error.
  7. The author must propose a new interpretation of history to explain an observation.

Any history account that shows one or more of those warning signs should be viewed skeptically.

In another post, I’ll flesh out the reasoning behind why they are warning signs.


Wegman Report plagiarism doesn’t bother George Mason University officials

March 18, 2012

Over at Desmogblog, John Mashey details problems with George Mason University’s conclusions that plagiarism did not really occur in  a report written for Congress that plagiarized several different sources.

If true, not only did GMU violate its own policies on duration, but on process, because they have ignored numerous well-documented complaints, including about 4 papers with Federal funding.  This process involved VP Research Roger Stough, Provost Peter Stearns and President Alan Merten, so it was certainly visible inside GMU.

See No Evil,

Hear No Evil

Speak No Evil … except about Ray Bradley [the fellow who filed the plagiarism complaint], who has yet to receive any report.

The attached report enumerates the problems that GMU managed not to see, shows the chronology of a simple complaint that took almost 2X longer than specified by policy and finally produced an obvious contradiction. People may find GMU’s funding and connections interesting, including similarities and relationships with Heartland Institute.  Finally, readers might recall the WR was alleged to be an attempt to mislead Congress, so this is not just an academic issue.

No e-mails stolen to expose the problem, but still no action against those who deny climate change occurs and will plagiarize papers to make their point.  It’s a not-pretty pass.

I suspect reporters get MEGO syndrome reading the stuff, but Desmogblog points to real problems, real difficulties in science, that deserve to be covered better than they have been.

Go read Mashey’s report and follow the links.

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Annals of Global Warming: Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

March 14, 2012

Understanding the physics of the Earth’s atmosphere poses great problems — it is an astonishingly dynamic, fluid environment.  Understanding the relationships between species in ecosystems is no less complex, and no less vexing.

Wise followers of science recognize that when findings in biology, chemistry and physics, point the same direction, something powerful creates the convergence, and is not to be ignored.

So it is with these findings from the University of Montana and the U.S. Geological Survey, demonstrating clear links between climate change and the changing life patterns of large animals like elk, small animals like birds, and the plants the animals live in and consume.  This study is so complex that climate denialists haven’t figured out which part to deny, yet.  (This press release came out in January.)

From the USGS, with no adornment from the Bathtub, a press release on a letter in Nature Climate Change:

Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

Released: 1/9/2012 11:30:00 AM

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing

In partnership with the University of Montana

Missoula, MT – Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.

Red-faced warbler in Arizona, photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Red-faced warblers are one of the species affected by climate change in the form of reduced snowpack in the Arizona Mountains, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, May 1998, in the Coconino National Forest

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

Hermit thrushes in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona - 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Hermit thrushes are a songbird species that was strongly affected by plant community changes in mountains because of reduced snowpack and cascading ecological effects, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in the Coconino National Forest

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”

The study demonstrates  a classic ecological cascade, added Martin. For example, he said, from an elk’s perspective, less snow means an increased ability to freely browse on woody plants in winter in areas where they would not be inclined to forage in previous times due to high snowpack. Increased overwinter browsing led to a decline in deciduous trees, which reduced the number of birds that chose the habitat and increased predation on nests of those birds that did choose the habitat.

Elk excluded, aspen growth increases - photo by Tom Martin, USGS, Coconino National Forest

When elk are excluded, aspen growth dramatically increases - Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in montane plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants. Here, you can see an example of the difference in aspen growth inside versus outside a fence that excludes elk. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in Coconino National Forest

“This study demonstrates that the indirect effects of climate on plant communities may be just as important as the effects of climate-change-induced mismatches between migrating birds and food abundance because plants, including trees, provide the habitat birds need to survive,” Martin said.

The study, Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal-plant interactions, was published online on Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

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SkepticGate II: Fizzled assault on science

December 19, 2011

Skepticgate cartoon from the Houston Chronicle, 2009

This Anderson cartoon from the Houston Chronicle in 2009 gets the facts right, but sadly, is still accurate

Remember the pathetic, disgusting attempt to derail the climate talks in Durban, just a few days ago?  The “climate skeptics”™ dumped a bunch more private e-mails from the scientists who work on climate. (Stolen e-mails, here; be prepared to be bored, with no smoking guns, no cold guns, no guns at all.)

Unless one thinks the self-proclaimed skeptics are James Bond nemesis enough to actually hope for the end of the world (as opposed to just being monumentally, stupidly misled), their train still can’t get back on the tracks.  Revealing that someone among them has stolen more e-mails than previously known, didn’t help.  Here is a list of just how bad the derailment has been for the denialists:

  1. No great world-changing agreement, but the climate talks in Durban, South Africa, produced a consensus that a massive treaty is not coming soon, and that action to save the planet can’t wait for guys in suits who defer by people like Ralph Hall to do the right thing.  Generally, the comity at Durban is bad for the denialists — Christopher Monckton went into full panic mode, suggesting the language of the agreement available isn’t the whole story and something else — something sinister — is really going on.  (One wonders how Monckton can stand to turn out the lights at night.)  They can’t tell the difference between their burro and a burrow, and with Ralph Hall leading them they’re likely to find the edge of the cliff and leave it before they realize just how far up they are and how far they have to fall.  (Skeptic/denialist Judith Curry carried a rundown of headlines from Durban, with links — remember her bias.)
  2. British authorities raided the digs of a skeptic blogger, seizing his computer upon which he got the first round of stolen e-mails.  It’s unlikely the raidee is guilty of much beyond making the stolen stuff public (is that a crime in Britain?), but one hopes Britain’s crime fighters have access to cyber trackers who may be able to learn more from the signatures on the posts.  Searches have been noticed for other bloggers, including Jeff Id at the Air Vent, but warrants and actual searches haven’t taken place yet.
  3. One paper in climate science was officially retracted — alas for the denialists, it was one of theirs.  Plagiarism and rank error in the so-called Wegman Report to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives prompted the call-back.  John Mashey’s gumshoe work in the libraries of academe lent a new shine to the word “scholarship.”  Republicans have yet to admit the paper’s errors.  (
  4. Texas Congressman Ralph Hall granted a rare interview, and spoke out about climate change.  He revealed that he doesn’t know much about one of the hottest issues facing the committee he chairs, and what little he knows, is wrong.  Cue the Kin Hubbard/Mick Jagger duet.
  5. Skeptics actually completed a research project and prepared it for publication.  A group at Berkeley, with funding from conservative warming denialists like the Koch brothers, and featuring the work and cooperation of leading anti-science people like Anthony Watts, took on the challenge of looking at temperatures reported from weather stations, especially in the U.S., and especially those Anthony Watts had targeted as providing unduly warm and inaccurate readings that skewed all of the science of global warming.  The not-loudly-mentioned target, of course, was the “hockey stick” graph.  Alas for the skeptics, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) study produced results that verify the accuracy of measurements that show warming, and which suggest the IPCC-published hockey stick is accurate enough that it deserves credence.  Anthony Watts promptly disavowed all his own work on the project.
  6. Meanwhile, warming continued unabated by almost every measure.  Galileo could say:  Eppure, lei si scalda!

One question we need to be asking is why the incidents around the stolen e-mails are known as “Climategate” in the circles of warming denialists.  The thieves in this case came from the ranks of the so-called skeptics, and the release of the e-mails was done on the blogs of those who deny warming, or human causation, or human ability to mitigate at all.  (Fox News got it bass ackwards, of course — wondering whether the government is somehow complicit in hiding information, while all the information is public and almost all of the private communication is public.  At Fox, they don’t even get Homer Simpson doh! moments of understanding — that’s how bad it is in Denialville.)

Not climategate, but skepticgate -- follow the money cartoon

So far no one's listening to the bear on this one -- follow the money, and bring the criminals to justice.

It’s really SkepticGate, with a more-than two-year coverup and continuing, and the recent release is SkepticGate II.

Denialists, and even those who question global warming on legitimate grounds, must be frustrated.  Nothing they do stops the world from warming.  As the massive wave of evidence demonstrating the Earth warms and humans share the blame turns to a tsunami, even policy makers (Ralph Hall excepted) look for solutions to warming problems.  It’s so bad for the skeptics that even the old trick of stealing e-mails from the scientists, the trick that helped fog up the Copenhagen proceedings, did almost nothing to the Durban talks.  While no treaty came out, none was expected — but the sudden action in the last couple of days of the conference to get action despite the continued interference by climate skeptics  and their political allies, must have caught them off guard.

Now the cops are after them, too.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Cool KWAANZA, Ebullient Edwin Hubble Looking Up Day, Happy New Year!


Bright idea day, October 21 – Edison’s demonstration of the light bulb

October 21, 2011

GE cartoon on Edison's light bulb, by Maki Naro

Cartoon by Maki Naro, for GE - Click for larger image

GE’s release said:

Perhaps there should be a bumper sticker: “If you love doing stuff at night without a kerosene lantern, thank Edison.” Okay, it doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue. Still, today is the anniversary of Thomas Edison’s 13-and-a-half-hour test of the carbon filament lightbulb that made electric light a practical reality for the world. As we’ve discussed before, Edison was one of many inventors of the lightbulb, but his designs proved to be transformative for the technology. Maki Naro marked the occasion with a short comic (replete with Alexander Graham Bell, who’s hoppin’ mad).

Too commercial for classroom use?  Not with proper attribution, I think.

Meanwhile, earlier at the Bathtub:


Annals of Global Warming: Arctic ice at second lowest level ever measured

October 12, 2011

Two years ago warming denialists claimed the Earth is actually cooling, and they predicted dramatic cooling by late 2010.

Instead, warming continues, overcoming the temporary mediation caused by increased particulate and sulfate emissions from coal burned in uncontrolled fashion in China, as evidence by things like the continued shrinking of Arctic ice below 20th century averages.  See this press release from NASA:

RELEASE : 11-337 – October 4, 2011

 Arctic Sea Ice Continues Decline, Hits Second-Lowest Level

WASHINGTON — Last month the extent of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean declined to the second-lowest extent on record. Satellite data from NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado in Boulder showed that the summertime sea ice cover narrowly avoided a new record low.

The Arctic ice cap grows each winter as the sun sets for several months and shrinks each summer as the sun rises higher in the northern sky. Each year the Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum extent in September. It hit a record low in 2007.

The near-record ice-melt followed higher-than-average summer temperatures, but without the unusual weather conditions that contributed to the extreme melt of 2007. “Atmospheric and oceanic conditions were not as conducive to ice loss this year, but the melt still neared 2007 levels,” said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier. “This probably reflects loss of multiyear ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as well as other factors that are making the ice more vulnerable.”

Joey Comiso, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said the continued low minimum sea ice levels fits into the large-scale decline pattern that scientists have watched unfold over the past three decades.

“The sea ice is not only declining, the pace of the decline is becoming more drastic,” Comiso said. “The older, thicker ice is declining faster than the rest, making for a more vulnerable perennial ice cover.”

While the sea ice extent did not dip below the 2007 record, the sea ice area as measured by the microwave radiometer on NASA’s Aqua satellite did drop slightly lower than 2007 levels for about 10 days in early September, Comiso said. Sea ice “area” differs from extent in that it equals the actual surface area covered by ice, while extent includes any area where ice covers at least 15 percent of the ocean.

Arctic sea ice extent on Sept. 9, the lowest point this year, was 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles). Averaged over the month of September, ice extent was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). This places 2011 as the second lowest ice extent both for the daily minimum extent and the monthly average. Ice extent was 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.

This summer’s low ice extent continued the downward trend seen over the last 30 years, which scientists attribute largely to warming temperatures caused by climate change. Data show that Arctic sea ice has been declining both in extent and thickness. Since 1979, September Arctic sea ice extent has declined by 12 percent per decade.

“The oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic continues to decline, especially in the Beaufort Sea and the Canada Basin,” NSIDC scientist Julienne Stroeve said. “This appears to be an important driver for the low sea ice conditions over the past few summers.”

Climate models have suggested that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover by 2100, but in recent years, ice extent has declined faster than the models predicted.

NASA monitors and studies changing sea ice conditions in both the Arctic and Antarctic with a variety of spaceborne and airborne research capabilities. This month NASA resumes Operation IceBridge, a multi-year series of flights over sea ice and ice sheets at both poles. This fall’s campaign will be based out of Punta Arenas, Chile, and make flights over Antarctica.  NASA also continues work toward launching ICESat-2 in 2016, which will continue its predecessor’s crucial laser altimetry observations of ice cover from space.

To see a NASA data visualization of the 2011 Arctic sea ice minimum as measured by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer – Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) on Aqua, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2011-ice-min.html  [I have changed the link to one that works for me.]

Here is that visualization, presented by Cryosphere Program Manager, Tom Wagner:

On Sept. 9th, 2011, Arctic sea ice most likely hit its minimum extent for the year. On Sept. 20th, NASA’s Cryosphere Program Manager, Tom Wagner, shared his perspectives on the ice with television audiences across the country.

On the top of the world, a pulsing, shifting body of ice has profound effects on the weather and climate of the rest of the planet. Every winter as temperatures dip, sea ice freezes out of cold Arctic Ocean waters, and every summer the extent of that ice shrinks as warm ocean temperatures eat it away. Ice cover throughout the year can affect polar ecosystems, world-wide ocean currents, and even the heat budget of the Earth.

During the last 30 years we’ve been monitoring the ice with satellites, there has been a consistent downward trend, with less and less ice making it through the summer. The thickness of that ice has also diminished. In 2011 Arctic sea ice extent was its second smallest on record, opening up the fabled Northwest Passages and setting the stage for more years like this in the future. In this video, NASA’s Cryosphere Program Manager, Tom Wagner, shares his perspectives on the 2011 sea ice minimum.

More data and animation versions here, at Goddard Multimedia.

 


Sky islands in Yosemite National Park

September 19, 2011

Nature Notes #16 from the good people at Yosemite National Park:  Sky Islands.

Throughout the Sierra Nevada, high flat plateaus are found at elevations around twelve and thirteen thousand feet. These isolated sky islands are the home to unique plant communities that are found nowhere else.


Make this man president? Neil de Grasse Tyson indicts America’s failure to spend to dream

August 17, 2011

P. Z. Myers said he’d vote for Tyson for president.  Tyson’s point, made on Bill Maher’s program,  is certainly something that should be part of our political discussions today.

This is not a new idea by any stretch, that doing great things and dreaming great things to do is one of the things that makes America what it is, in its better incarnations.

Robert R. Wilson at the 1968 groundbreaking of Fermilab

Physicist Robert R. Wilson at the 1968 groundbreaking of Fermilab - Fermilab photo via Wikimedia

Physicist Robert Wilson — who had been the youngest group leader at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project — gave a brilliant defense to a Congressional committee about the value of pure research, while working on the project that eventually became Fermilab.  Wikipedia has a good, concise description of the event, and an account of Wilson’s words:

In 1967 he took a leave of absence from Cornell to assume directorship of the not-yet-created National Accelerator Laboratory which was to create the largest particle accelerator of its day at Batavia, Illinois. In 1969, Wilson was called to justify the multimillion-dollar machine to the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Bucking the trend of the day, Wilson emphasized it had nothing at all to do with national security, rather:

It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.

Thanks to Wilson’s leadership—in a full-steam ahead style very much adopted from Lawrence, despite his firings—the facility was completed on time and under budget. Originally named the National Accelerator Laboratory, it was renamed the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab for short) in 1974, after famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi; the facility centered around a four-mile circumference, 400 GeV accelerator. Unlike most government facilities, Fermilab was designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Wilson wanted Fermilab to be an appealing place to work, believing that external harmony would encourage internal harmony as well, and labored personally to keep it from looking like a stereotypical “government lab”, playing a key role in its design and architecture. It had a restored prairie which served as a home to a herd of American Bisons, ponds, and a main building purposely reminiscent of a cathedral in Beauvais, France. Fermilab’s Central Laboratory building was later named Robert Rathbun Wilson Hall in his honor.

It’s time to dream, America.  It’s time again to make America worth defending.

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