What if you don’t know enough even to cheat on the chemistry exam?

January 15, 2014

Brilliant work from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

This cartoon is witty and funny — and it is a wonderful illustration of how people need to know enough to see the humor, or cheat.

Don’t catch the gags?  See here.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner:  The exam on the Periodic Table of Elements

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner: The exam on the Periodic Table of Elements

You may discuss the cartoon at the SMBC blog:

August 26, 2011

Well, this record may stand for a while. 57 panels, baby.

Also, Phil and I figured out some extended periodic table elements. Who can tell me the abbreviation for Element 5885?

Discuss this comic in the forum

Or discuss it here at the Bathtub.

The cartoon reminds me of so many lazy or not-up-to-par students who would stay up late inventing ways to cheat on an exam, when a bit of study would have paid so many more dividends.

It’s harder to cheat, most of the time, that to be honest and learn the stuff.

Typewriter of the moment: Ava and Linus Pauling, 1957

December 8, 2012

Can you identify the typewriter?  Update: In comments, Ed Ackerman said it looks like an Olympia.  Agree?

Linus and Ava Pauling, 1957

Caption from the Oregon State University Library: Linus and Ava Helen Pauling working on “An Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World”. 1957. Original held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Libraries.

Linus C. Pauling won distinction for his science work with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1954.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1954 was awarded to Linus Pauling “for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances.”

In 1957, Chemistry Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling turned to other issues.  Having been beaten in the race to confirm the form of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, Pauling turned to peace activism.  He opposed atomic weapons and wars.

In this photo, posed, Pauling and his wife who partnered with him in his campaigns for peace, worked on a statement to be issued later, to be known as “An Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World.”

Note the tools of editing of the day:  Cellophane tape, glue, scissors, pencils and pens.  The typewriter’s output could be cut into strips and rearranged on a separate sheet of paper, to be retyped later in order.  This was manual, analog word processing.

An online exhibit of Pauling’s work and photos at the Oregon State Library explained the document being worked on, and its use:

While the debate raged, Pauling continued to keep a high public profile, speaking widely and appearing often in newspapers and magazines through 1956 and into 1957, garnering attention by positing shocking estimates of fallout-related damage to human health. By the spring of 1957 it appeared that his and Russell’s efforts were yielding fruit. Alarmed by the dangers of fallout, Japanese, British, German, and Indian politicians began urging a halt to H-bomb tests, as did the Pope and the World Council of Churches.

In May, after delivering a fiery anti-Bomb speech at Washington University in St. Louis, Pauling conferred with two other scientists, Barry Commoner and Edward Condon, about next steps. They decided to mount a scientists’ petition to stop nuclear testing as a way to draw attention to the concerns of a growing number of anti-Bomb scientists. Their “Appeal by American Scientists to the Government and Peoples of the World,” mimeographed and hand-mailed, garnered more than two dozen signatures within a week. Pauling took the project back to Pasadena, where he and Ava Helen, along with some volunteers, mailed hundreds of additional copies to researchers in more American universities and national laboratories. Within a few weeks they had gathered some two thousand signatures, including more than fifty members of the National Academy of Sciences and a few Nobel laureates.

On June 3, Pauling released his signatures to the world, sending copies to the United Nations and President Eisenhower. The petition made national headlines — and spurred an immediate attempt to isolate its primary author. Even the president took a shot at Pauling. “I noticed that in many instances scientists that seem to be out of their own field of competence are getting into this argument about bomb testing,” said Eisenhower, “and it looks almost like an organized affair.” This thinly veiled allusion to Communist backing for Pauling’s effort was echoed by a number of other critics of the ban-the-Bomb movement. The head of HUAC blasted Pauling on the floor of Congress for spreading Soviet propaganda. A few days later Pauling was subpoenaed to appear before a Senate investigatory committee (although those hearings were delayed, then canceled). Through it all, he continued to broaden the distribution of his petition through the end of 1957, expanding his mailing list to scientists around the world, including many in Communist countries. By the beginning of 1958, he and Ava Helen counted more than 9,000 signatures. When the expanded petition response was submitted to the United Nations, it once again made headlines worldwide.

Where is a text of the document?  I found one image of the document in holdings of the National Institutes for Health.  It’s indexed under “petitions” in the papers and documents of Linus Pauling in the Profiles of Science section.

For his work against war, Pauling won the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1962 (awarded in 1963).  Pauling is the only person to have won two Nobel awards alone, undivided with anyone else.

Does that typewriter survive today?  Is it in the collection of Oregon State University?


The unbearable lightness of climate denialist thought

December 28, 2009

Maybe “emptiness” would be a better description.

Carbon dioxide’s greenhouse gas functions were discovered in the 19th century.  The physics are beyond dispute by rational people.

But that doesn’t stop the hard-core denialists from searching for a way to deny the undeniable.  Anthony Watts hosts a guest post from a guy who says that because the atmosphere is complex, the physics of global warming do not apply.

The guest poster is Willis Eschenbach.  His argument?  Well, rivers don’t run straight to the sea; they meander.  Ergo, water doesn’t run downhill in a complex system.   Consequently, no global warming.  In another place he argues that humans are not metal, therefore, no global warming.

I mean — sweet Mother of Pearl! —  this guy even denies the existence of the Army Corps of Engineers, and river straightening:

The results of changes in such a flow system are often counterintuitive. For example, suppose we want to shorten the river. Simple physics says it should be easy. So we cut through an oxbow bend, and it makes the river shorter … but only for a little while. Soon the river readjusts, and some other part of the river becomes longer. The length of the river is actively maintained by the system. Contrary to our simplistic assumptions, the length of the river is not changed by our actions.

No wonder they place all their bets on stealing e-mails from scientists.  Somebody show that man the South Platte River through Denver, Colorado, or the Los Angeles River through Los Angeles, or the Mississippi from Arkansas to the Gulf.  Somebody give that man a paddle!

Here are a couple of clues:  First, water always runs downhill — capillary action being the exception.  Eschenbach doesn’t propose capillary action as a driver of river meandering.  Any hydrologist will tell  you, however, that even a meandering river runs downhill.  Second, human beings don’t conduct heat like metal blocks.  Even a dead human won’t conduct heat like a copper block, but especially a living human will radiate heat away through several different paths, so that heating the feet of a human will not cause a concomitant rise in temperature of the head.  But, heck, if you soak the human’s head in hot water, it won’t warm like a block of steel, either.  The examples offered in this piece get pushed past the brink of absurdity.  It’s impossible for me to believe that Eschenbach — or Watts — fails to understand the physics so greatly.  I can only imagine that they are driven by a fanatic devotion to an idea of the result they hope to see, and that blinds them to the errors they make.

Finally, water’s flow, downhill or up with capillary action, doesn’t negate global warming.  Human conductivity affects warming not at all, also.

(No, “constructal theory” doesn’t have much to do with itConstructal theory generally doesn’t apply to atmospheric conditions, since the air is, technically, not alive, but a dynamic fluid system already highly evolved for these purposes.  Even for those cases in which contructal ideas apply to non-living systems, constructal theory does not claim that laws of physics are suspended or held in abeyance, as Eschenbach claims at Watts’s blog.  The idea of constructal theory is that systems not in equilibrium, will, over time, figure out (evolve) more efficient means to get into equilibrium.  This has nothing to do with the fact of CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas.  Constructal theory would only suggest that, over time, the atmosphere would develop systems to get heat distributed better despite CO2, which means that warming would not be held in abeyance at all, but spread out further and farther.)

Watts is already hot that I posted science links at his place on another post.  Go see what other commenters can get away with.  Can the camel’s nose of real science push into the WUWT tent?

Share the lightness:

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Polluted waters near your home, 6-legged frogs, and you

April 19, 2009

It was a reference to the “environmental movement” in government and politics — seniors take the class in Texas.  “What does that mean?”

We have maybe ten minutes in the block to stray.  No time for discovery learning to get this point across in government.

“The movement, the grass-roots political organizing to express concern for clean air, clean water, preservation of green space, preservation of endangered species, protection from toxic chemicals and poisons.  Things really took off after Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. ”

“That’s a funny title.  What’s it about?”  I pause.  It’s dangerous territory to ask what high school kids don’t know these days.

“Is there anyone here who does not know about DDT and its role in threatening our national symbol, the bald eagle?”

Every hand went up.

How can children get to their senior year and not know about Rachel Carson, DDT, or “environmentalism?”

Comes Frontline on PBS this week.  Government and politics teachers, your students should watch and report.


This Week: “Poisoned Waters” (120 minutes),
April 21st at 9pm on PBS (Check local listings)


For years, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Hedrick Smith has reported from the corridors of power in Washington, on Wall Street, and overseas.  But these days, he’s worried about something that he’s found much closer to home — something mysterious that’s appeared in waters that he knows well:  frogs with six legs, male amphibians with ovaries, “dead zones” where nothing can live or grow.

What’s causing the trouble? Smith suspects the answers might lie close to home as well.

This Tuesday night, in a special two-hour FRONTLINE broadcast –“Poisoned Waters”– Smith takes a hard look at a new wave of pollution that’s imperiling the nation’s waterways, focusing on two of our most iconic:  the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound.  He also examines three decades of environmental regulation that are failing to meet this new threat, and have yet to clean up the ongoing mess of PCBs, the staggering waste from factory farms, and the fall-out from unchecked suburban sprawl.

“The environment has slipped off our radar screen because it’s not a hot crisis like the financial meltdown, war, or terrorism,” Smith says.  “But pollution is a ticking time bomb. It’s a chronic cancer that is slowly eating away the natural resources that are vital to our very lives.”

Among the most worrisome of the new contaminants are “endocrine disruptors,” chemical compounds found in common household products that mimic hormones in the human body and cause freakish mutations in frogs and amphibians.

“There are five million people being exposed to endocrine disruptors just in the Mid-Atlantic region,” a doctor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells Smith.  “And yet we don’t know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia that are happening at a broad low level so that they don’t raise the alarm in the general public.”

Can new models of “smart growth” and regulation reverse decades of damage?  Are the most real and lasting changes likely to come from the top down, given an already overstretched Obama administration?  Or will the greatest reasons for hope come from the bottom up, through the action of a growing number of grassroots groups trying to effect environmental change?

Join us for the broadcast this Tuesday night.  Online, you can watch “Poisoned Waters” again, find out how safe your drinking water is,  and  learn how you can get involved.

Ken Dornstein
Senior Editor


Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support  of PBS viewers. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation. Major funding for Poisoned Waters is provided by The Seattle Foundation, The Russell Family Foundation, The Wallace Genetic Foundation, The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, The Merrill Family Foundation, The Abell Foundation, The Bullitt Foundation, the Park Foundation, and The Rauch Foundation.  Additional funding is provided by The Town Creek Foundation, The Clayton Baker Trust, The Lockhart Vaughan Foundation, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, The Chesapeake Bay Trust, Louisa and Robert Duemling, Robert and Phyllis Hennigson, Robert Lundeen, The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, The Prince Charitable Trusts, Ron and Kathy McDowell, Valerie and Bill Anders, Bruce and Marty Coffey, The Foundation for Puget Sound, Janet Ketcham, Win Rhodes, The Robert C. and Nani S. Warren Foundation, Jim and Kathy Youngren, Vinton and Amelia Sommerville and Laura Lundgren.


FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of the WGBH Educational Foundation.

See a preview, and read more, here.  Another preview below.  You can watch the entire program online after April 21.

Creationist success: Thermodynamicophobia strikes climate change denialists

August 17, 2008

Every once in a while we get a glimpse of what the future would be like if the creationists ruled education and could teach some of the fantastic things they believe to be true as fact.

For example, creationists have for years complained that the basic chemistry of life somehow violates what chemists and physicists know as the “laws” of thermodynamics. Patient explanations of what we know about how photosynthesis works, and how animals use energy, and what the laws of thermodynamics actually are, all fall on deafened ears.

Comes Jennifer Marohasy, an Australian blogger at The Politics and Environment Blog, with this fantastic explanation about how the well-established notion of radiative equilibrium, simply doesn’t work.

“For the Earth to neither warm or cool, the incoming radiation must balance the outgoing.”

Not really.

No, really. Go read the post. And see these critiques, at Tugboat Potemkin, where problems with the rules of the principle of Conservation of Energy are noted, and Deltoid, where LOLCats makes a debut in explaining physics to the warming denialists.

Then go back and read the comments at Marohasy’s blog.

It’s not just the confusion of terms, like treating watts as units of heat. There’s an astonishing lack of regard for cause and effect in history, too:

Conservation of energy: it’s not just a phrase. The theory of radiative equilibrium arose early in the 19th century, before the laws of thermodynamics were understood.

Probably didn’t mention it here before, but Marohasy is also one of those bloggers who suffers from DDT poisoning. Among other things, she and Aynsley Kellow (whose book she recommends) use an astounding confabulation of history to claim DDT wasn’t harming birds at all, completely ignoring more than 1,000 research studies to the contrary (and not one in support of their claim).

Suggestion for research: Is the denialism virus that affects creationists, DDT advocates, and climate denialists, the same one, or are there slight variations? A virus seems the most charitable explanation, unless one wishes to blame prions.

Creationist physics, denialism in meteorology, physics, chemistry, and history. It makes a trifecta winner look like he’s not trying.

See also:

Chemistry Nobel: Reactions on solid surfaces

October 10, 2007

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded this morning, went to Gerhard Ertl of the Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (Max Planck Institute, in English), Berlin, Germany, “for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces.”

One more win for Europeans this year — another guy not the product of U.S. public schools. So much for my predictions, so far.

These awards for 2007 seem to be very practically oriented. The press release puts the Chemistry award in focus quickly:

Modern surface chemistry – fuel cells, artificial fertilizers and clean exhaust

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2007 is awarded for groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry. This science is important for the chemical industry and can help us to understand such varied processes as why iron rusts, how fuel cells function and how the catalysts in our cars work. Chemical reactions on catalytic surfaces play a vital role in many industrial operations, such as the production of artificial fertilizers. Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer, as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surfaces of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere. The semiconductor industry is yet another area that depends on knowledge of surface chemistry.

Even the technical, scientific explanation seems easy to follow:

The Nobel Prize in chemistry for 2007 is awarded to Gerhard Ertl for his thorough studies of fundamental molecular processes at the gas-solid interface. When a small molecule hits a solid surface from a gas phase there are a number of possible outcomes. The molecule may simply either bounce back or be adsorbed. It is the latter case that carries the most interesting possibilities. The interaction with the atoms of the surface can be so strong that the molecule dissociates into constituent groups or atoms. The molecule can also react directly with surface groups and change the chemical properties of the surface. A third possibility is that the adsorbed molecule encounters another previously adsorbed one and there is a binary chemical reaction on the surface.

There are very important practical situations where these scenarios are the key chemical events. Heterogeneous catalysis has been a central process in the chemical industry for a century. The agriculture of the world has been supplied with fertilizers rich in nitrogen since 1913 due to the Haber-Bosch process, where the nitrogen of the air is converted to ammonia using an iron-based catalyst. Today every car produced has a catalyst system that converts carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide in the exhaust gases. Also the content of nitrous gases is reduced through the action of the catalyst. Thin semiconductor layers are produced by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) in large quantities in the microelectronics industry. Currently large resources are devoted to the development of efficient fuel cells that would enable the use of hydrogen as a standard vehicle fuel. Corrosion, which is caused by chemical reactions at surfaces, is a major problem both in everyday life and in more sophisticated industrial contexts such as in nuclear power plants and airplanes. Damage by corrosion may be reduced by adjusting the composition of the surface so that it is protected by an oxide layer formed in air. It is clear that chemical processes at surfaces play a central role in wide span of economically highly significant applications of chemical knowledge to the solution of practical problems.

Has globalization already hit so hard, and has U.S. education fallen so far, that the U.S. dominance of Nobels is already at an end? One year does not make a trend. We can hope.


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