blueollie

Nature Friday: GMOs, Chernobyl animals, energy, frogs, exercises and fisheries….

Exercise There is some evidence that exercise can clear unnecessary stuff in the short term memory. Tests on mice have shown that treadmill running helps them forget electric shocks. But there is more in this article:

Adult mice that exercised on a running wheel after experiencing an event were more likely than their inactive mates to forget the experience, according to a paper from researchers at the University of Toronto, published in Science today (May 8). The results suggest that the production of new neurons—neurogenesis—prompted by the exercise wiped out the mice’s memories. They might also explain why human infants, whose brains exhibit abundant neurogenesis, do not have long-term memories.

“In general, hippocampal neurogenesis has been thought to be the basis for memory and they’re suggesting that it’s the basis for amnesia,” said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “That’s a very controversial and provocative concept.”

Infantile amnesia is common to all humans. Children typically do not develop long-term memories until age three or four. But why is that? Sheena Josselyn and her husband Paul Frankland, who are both neuroscientists at the University of Toronto, pondered precisely that question after noticing that their two-year-old daughter could easily remember things that happened within a day or two, but not several months in the past.

More specifically, they wondered whether it might have something to do with neurogenesis in the hippocampus—a brain region involved in learning and memory. Hippocampal neurons are produced rapidly during infancy, but neuronal generation in the region slows to a trickle in adulthood. “This inverse relationship between the levels of neurogenesis and the ability to form a long-term memory got us thinking that maybe one is due to the other,” said Josselyn.

Surf to the link to read more.

Energy: this photo was captioned: “How windfarms RUIN landscapes – shocking illustration of the destruction wrought by wind industry fanatics” (via @Jonathan_Leake on Twitter)

windmillsruinlandscapes

Government intervention and fisheries: Via Paul Krugman:

Brad Plumer tells an important, little-known tale. It begins with things going badly:

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, many fisheries in the US were in serious trouble. Fish populations were dropping sharply. Some of New England’s best-known groundfish stocks — including flounder, cod, and haddock — had collapsed, costing the region’s coastal communities hundreds of millions of dollars.

So the government got involved. But we know that government is always the problem, never the solution; so you know what came next.

Or maybe you don’t. In fact, government intervention has been a big success. Many fisheries have rebounded, to the benefit of the fishermen as well as consumers.

Fighting climate change isn’t really all that different from saving fisheries; if we ever get around to doing the obvious, it will be easier and more successful than anyone now expects.

Frogs
There are types of frogs whose males dance to attract mates (surf to the page to see the video) but, unfortunately, these frogs are endangered. These are small, walnut size frogs.

dancingfrog

Animals of Chernobyl
Since background radiation is too high for humans to live there, the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is like a wild habitat. So, scientists are seeing some interesting developments in the animals of the region.

GMO issues Here is a guide to looking at some of the anti-GMO stuff that is out there.

May 9, 2014 Posted by | biology, energy, environment, frogs, nature, science | , , , , | Leave a comment

Climate Change Report and those spunky fossil fuel companies…

Ok, the National Climate Assessment was issued and yes, we are already experiencing some of the effects of climate change.

Thankfully, big fossil fuel energy companies (e. g. Big Oil) are sticking up to those “alarmist” scientists as are some Congressional Republicans.

And even better, some who are told “that isn’t what the science says” accuse those mean old scientists of “bullying”.

Count me in the “bullying” crowd: I happily bully my students into accepting that the vector space of solutions to y'' + y = 0 is spanned by the linearly independent functions sin(t), cos(t) and I do not accept “alternative mathematics” such as \int e^x dx = \frac{e^{x+1}}{x+1} + C .

There really is a time and place for “you are wrong so just STFU” and “you don’t know what you are talking about so STFU”.

Of course, while this issue finds Republicans on the side of woo-woo, other issues finds liberals on the side of woo-woo. In general, people are happy to accept science to the degree it confirms what they already believe.

May 7, 2014 Posted by | environment, science, social/political | | Leave a comment

This tough winter…and the why….

Now there is a dispute as to the role that the diminishing sea ice and warming arctic air has in the erratic behavior of the jet stream.

What isn’t in dispute is that the jet stream is behaving erratically and that the planet is warming:

This is an interesting article in Mother Jones:

Just when weather weary Americans thought they’d found a reprieve, the latest forecasts suggest that the polar vortex will, again, descend into the heart of the country next week, bringing with it staggering cold. If so, it will be just the latest weather extreme in a winter that has seen so many of them. California has been extremely dry, while the flood-soaked UK has been extremely wet. Alaska has been extremely hot (as has Sochi), while the snow-pummeled US East Coast has been extremely cold. They’re all different, and yet on a deeper level, perhaps, they’re all the same.

This weather now serves as the backdrop—and perhaps, as the inspiration—for an increasingly epic debate within the field of climate research. You see, one climate researcher, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory suggesting that winters like this one may be growing more likely to occur. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream—in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we’ve all been experiencing. “There is a lot of pretty tantalizing evidence that our hypothesis seems to be bearing some fruit,” Francis explained on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The current winter is a “perfect example” of the kind of jet stream pattern that her research predicts, Francis added (although she emphasized that no one atmospheric event can be directly blamed on climate change). [...]

So why don’t scientists like Kevin Trenberth accept it?

On Inquiring Minds, Trenberth outlined a number of scientific criticisms. One of them is simply that there is a great deal of change in the jet stream anyway, and more wavy patterns just happen from time to time. “The main counterargument to Jennifer at the moment is that a lot of this can simply happen through natural variability,” Trenberth explained. As he noted, there have been winters in the past with wavy jet streams and very cold mid-latitude “polar vortex” excursions. “In some years, the Arctic air gets bottled up, and it doesn’t penetrate into middle latitudes much,” says Trenberth, “and in other years, it has more waviness, outbreaks of cold occur.”

“A lot of this can simply happen through natural variability,” according to Trenberth.
And there’s an additional reason for skepticism. Trenberth thinks that if a process as important as the one described by Francis were occurring, then climate models—complex computer simulations of the atmosphere under climate change—would have picked it up. But when scientists run these models, he says, “it takes a really long time, 50 years or something like that, to see a big change in the atmospheric circulation in association with climate change.” Francis is thus postulating a change much more rapid than what the models show.

This is a legitimate science debate and not the bogus “it is cold here ergo global warming is a hoax” nonsense you hear in some media outlets.

February 22, 2014 Posted by | environment, science | , , | Leave a comment

Yes, it WAS a warm January 2014…..globally….

verywarmdespite

Yes, we got pounded with snow; even if it doesn’t snow another flake for the rest of the season (yeah right) we have had the 3′rd snowiest winter; the snowmaggedon of 2011 is still a bit ahead. But we are just at 50 inches (probably over given today) and we’ve been cold too.

But….globally:

The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for January was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record at 12.7°C (54.8°F), or 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). The margin of error associated with this temperature is ± 0.08°C (± 0.14°F).

The global land temperature was the highest since 2007 and the fourth highest on record for January, at 1.17°C (2.11°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F). The margin of error is ± 0.18°C (± 0.32°F).

For the ocean, the January global sea surface temperature was 0.46°C (0.83°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.5°F), the highest since 2010 and seventh highest on record for January. The margin of error is ± 0.04°C (± 0.07°F).

I know; if you live here it seems hard to believe. But it is a big planet and we are just a tiny bit of it.

February 22, 2014 Posted by | environment, science | , | Leave a comment

Tribalism, values, philosophy and what science you accept….

I can say that one of the hardest things to do is to give up a preconceived notion based on new data and science.

So, I am seeing all sorts of “oh, hah, hah, where is your “global warming now” posts and articles.

(side note: here is an interesting article about so called “wind chills”. Yes, 10 F with a strong wind feels worse than 10 F with no wind, but I’ve always thought the wind chill stuff was a bit bogus. Remember that the wind makes it feel colder as this enables heat to be transferred from out of your body; in engineering class you learned that \frac{dQ}{dt} = k \Delta T \frac{dm}{dt} where \frac{dm}{dt} is the mass flow rate of the fluid and the \Delta T is the difference between the ambient temperature and the temperature of the object. You know this if you’ve taken a hot bath: in the tub if you are still, you might be ok, but you feel hotter if you move…..because if you move you are increasing the flow rate of the water around your body.

Well, wind does the same thing.

Back to the main argument:

So, people say “we’ve had record cold; how can the earth possibly be warming up?”

Well, for one, “global warming” is talking about a long time trend of average temperatures:

Fig.A

You can see the upward trend, but there are also ups and downs. For example, the next several years after 1998 were cooler years compared to 1998, mostly because 1998 was so blasted hot.

In fact, I took a similar graph, and started it in 1998 to “show” that the earth is really cooling!

fakegraph

I can easily see this being convincing to some.

Then one has to understand that warming means only small change in temperature per year and that how cold we are in winter largely depends on where the jet stream is, as it holds back that arctic air mass. And even if the arctic air mass is a degree or two “warmer”, it is still brutally cold (by our standards).

So, as you can see, the issue is a bit complicated. And yet, many conservatives deny it, just as they deny evolution.

Part of it is tribalism in action.

But part of it is philosophical; conservatives desperately want to believe that their deity is in charge:

They deny evolution for similar reasons: how can one believe that “every hair on your head is numbered by God” if you are the outcome of a stochastic process? (NOT a purely random process!)

So, one might say that philosophy matters. It certainly does to liberals; just look at the so-called “pro-science” liberals (so they tell you) who foam and the mouth about GMOs though, on the science issue part (whether the GMO foods are safe or not), they are dead wrong (more here)

Question them and once you get past their nonsense (IF that is even possible), you’ll find out that what they are really objecting to is the business practices of companies like Monsanto…and some are bound to an appeal to nature. Hey these mushrooms are natural; maybe we can get these woo-woos and crackpots to eat them?

poisonmushroom

So my frustration grows. It is ridiculous to resist facts (as currently understood) due to some philosophical point of view…..or is it?

This made me think of my post about Copernicus and the scientific objections to the Copernican theory of heliocentric astronomy.

My first reaction: why in the world would we view the earth as being special or different from the rest of the universe?

Oh oh…that is a PHILOSOPHICAL point of view. That is, the “null hypothesis” should be that the laws of science are basically the same everywhere; there are no “special” areas.

Yes, there is evidence that suggests that this is true, but why should this be the “null hypothesis”??? In fact, there is evidence that an aspect of this might not be true (albeit with tiny variations in our observable horizon)

I suppose that I should rethink my disdain for philosophy and point of view (lens of viewing things, if you will).

Of course, an expression of humility (we only know a little) does NOT open the door to wholesale crackpottery, woo-woo and nonsense.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | cosmology, environment, evolution, nature, science, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Some halftime stats and science

Yes, I am blogging at halftime of the Oklahoma versus Alabama game. OU leads 31-17 but Alabama has the type of team that can overcome adversity…and I remember the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl where Duke lead 38-17 at the half only to lose to the (ugh) Aggies.

The quality of this blog has suffered recently due to…well, increasing business. First it was the super busy semester and then it was vacation.

Hopefully, I can talk about a few things of substance this time.

Weather: yes, it is very cold in Illinois this “winter”. The jet stream has dipped and we are paying the price as the Jet Stream holds back the Arctic Air Mass.

Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 9.42.12 PM

Now of course, Republicans deny global warming…and now an increasing number are denying evolution:

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.

Paul Krugman says that this reflects increasing tribalism (“what does a good conservative believe?”) which, of course, has consequences in other public policy matters (e. g. macroeconomics). Hence Republican candidates have to be very careful not to present the unvarnished truth if they want to keep their base (e. g., Mitt Romney walking back his statements about cutting spending during a recession limiting growth)

Now, there is peril for liberals here too: this is one reason those of us who are scientifically literate must speak out for science, even when it goes against what many of our liberal political allies might think:

What this tells us is that elite opinions matter a lot in public discourse. The gap between liberals and non-liberals is not really there on this issue (GMO) at the grassroots. That could change, as people of various ideologies tend to follow elite cues. This is why the strong counter-attack from within the Left elite is probably going to be effective, as it signals that being against GMO is not the “liberal position.”

The same applies to woo-woo, “alternative medicine”, the irrational attacks against “fracking” (some attacks about it being improperly or inappropriately used ARE legitimate), etc.

I don’t want liberal leaning media to be at the point where it makes the reader more ignorant than before; here is an example of the Wall Street Journal doing exactly that (on income inequality).

Aging and time to failure curves
It is well known that as we age, the probability of dying in a given year goes up. In fact, the probability of dying in a given year doubles with every 8 years of life. Example: if you are married to someone who is 16 years older than you are, they are 4 times more likely to die in a given year than you are.

This article discusses the various mechanisms of why this might be true; it makes for interesting reading.

The bottom line: the model of the attacks on the body being produced at a constant rate, but the body’s ability to fight those attacks being reduced at a linear rate DOES fit this model.

Now as far as the bathtub curve, the lead in to this reliability engineering blog post gives a nice introduction to it, though this article deals with how current reliability engineering deals with “burn in failures” and how “time to obsolescence” affects the curve.

January 3, 2014 Posted by | economics, economy, environment, evolution, Illinois, political/social, republicans, science, statistics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hunger, sea ice and ACA

The Affordable Care Act: detractors say that businesses are dropping insurance for some of their employees. Here is the OTHER side of that story:

Last week I wrote about Trader Joe’s decision to cut health insurance benefits for employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week. After that, one reader forwarded along a response received from Trader Joe’s after inquiring about the matter. It’s one of the more thorough explanations I’ve seen from a company cutting in benefits, so I’ve posted it here. It acknowledges, surprisingly bluntly, that some employees will be worse off for the decision and that others might benefit. Here is the full response:

Thank you for writing to us. It’s possible you have been misled, at least to some degree, by the headlines in some articles regarding our reasons for implementing the [Affordable Care Act] in January. We’d like to take this opportunity to clarify some facts.
For over 77% of our Crew Members there is absolutely no change to their healthcare coverage provided by Trader Joe’s.
The ACA brings a new potential player into the arena for the acquisition of health care. Stated quite simply, the law is centered on providing low cost options to people who do not make a lot of money. Somewhat by definition, the law provides those people a pretty good deal for insurance … a deal that can’t be matched by us — or any company. However, an individual employee (we call them Crew Member) is only able to receive the tax credit from the exchanges under the act if we do not offer them insurance under our company plan.
Perhaps an example will help. A Crew Member called in the other day and was quite unhappy that she was being dropped from our coverage unless she worked more hours. She is a single mom with one child who makes $18 per hour and works about 25 hours per week. We ran the numbers for her. She currently pays $166.50 per month for her coverage with Trader Joe’s. Because of the tax credits under the ACA she can go to an exchange and purchase insurance that is almost identical to our plan for $69.59 per month. Accordingly, by going to the exchange she will save $1,175 each year … and that is before counting the $500 we will give her in January.
While we understand her fear of change, at her income level this is a big benefit that we will help her achieve.

The Republicans are interested in cutting SNAP (food stamps) in the name of…freedom?

The right’s definition of freedom, however, isn’t one that, say, F.D.R. would recognize. In particular, the third of his famous Four Freedoms — freedom from want — seems to have been turned on its head. Conservatives seem, in particular, to believe that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.

Hence the war on food stamps, which House Republicans have just voted to cut sharply even while voting to increase farm subsidies.

In a way, you can see why the food stamp program — or, to use its proper name, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) — has become a target. Conservatives are deeply committed to the view that the size of government has exploded under President Obama but face the awkward fact that public employment is down sharply, while overall spending has been falling fast as a share of G.D.P. SNAP, however, really has grown a lot, with enrollment rising from 26 million Americans in 2007 to almost 48 million now.

Conservatives look at this and see what, to their great disappointment, they can’t find elsewhere in the data: runaway, explosive growth in a government program. The rest of us, however, see a safety-net program doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: help more people in a time of widespread economic distress.

The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak. Multiple careful economic studies have shown that the economic downturn explains the great bulk of the increase in food stamp use. And while the economic news has been generally bad, one piece of good news is that food stamps have at least mitigated the hardship, keeping millions of Americans out of poverty.

Nor is that the program’s only benefit. The evidence is now overwhelming that spending cuts in a depressed economy deepen the slump, yet government spending has been falling anyway. SNAP, however, is one program that has been expanding, and as such it has indirectly helped save hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Not only does this program provide “upward” stimulus to the economy (from the economic bottom), it also helps future generations become more successful and productive.

Cutting SNAP: penny wise but pound foolish.

Climate Change
Yes, sea ice area IS up this year over last year, but that was because last year was so bad. The general direction is still downward.

September 24, 2013 Posted by | climate change, economy, environment, health care, republicans, science | , , , , | 1 Comment

Intellectual narcissism, woos, whack jobs, protesters and reptilian corporations

These two internet “broadsides” made me chuckle:

960110_611657175514249_400375868_n

954707_467132440032660_1761665068_n

Note: the upper picture is about the recent IRS scandal of targeting groups that had “conservative sounding names”. While what the IRS did was wrong, I think that no political group should have tax-exempt status, and that includes groups that I like (such as Priorities USA).

The lower photo lampoons the louder, more scientifically ignorant anti-GMO protesters by playing upon this true incident in which Christine O’Donnell said that US companies were “cross breeding humans and animals” and breeding mice with “fully functional human brains” (in reality, the companies grew a human “progenitor cell” into a mouse where it developed into a fully functional MOUSE BRAIN CELL.)

This reminded me of two incidents a long time ago.
The first occurred at a mathematics conference. Some mathematics professors asked me if I’d sign a petition protesting a female mathematics professor not geting tenure at the University of California, Berkeley. I declined to sign and gave the following reasons:
1. Her field of research was NOT mine and
2. I am in no way qualified to judge scholarship at such a level. Any objective search committee would throw out my CV well before any “short list” was made for a job opening at that institution.

So, absent some sort of evidence that said “she is qualified but she is getting turned down due to her sex”, I couldn’t sign such a petition. That does NOT mean that the petitioners weren’t right; they might have been!

The second incident occurred at a Unitarian Universalist church camp. Some teenager had a “clipboard” petition asking the government to devote “more money to….” (AIDS research, I think).

So I asked: “what is the current funding level, why would that be optimal, and what do you proposed be cut in its stead, or how would we raise the money?” The person holding the clipboard gave me a look of astonishment…as if “why would these be pertinent questions?” Frankly, I would have settled for an answer of the following type: “this was budgeted by the President but the House cut this and added X instead” or “Senator X proposed this but the GOP filibustered due to pressure from….” or even “I don’t know the details but Scientific American has a good article on why this research is currently underfunded…”. But of course, I got NONE of that.

And so it goes with Monsanto and anti-GMO protesters. I am NOT saying that there aren’t issues with Monsanto’s business practices (I’d like to educate myself on these). I am not saying that there aren’t GMO-crop related issues (such as such crops needing more pesticides due to their sending out stronger pollination signals, or due to the POSSIBLE rushing into new technologies before they’ve been conservatively tested).

But one has to be careful as to how one educates themselves. For one: mainstream outlets are notorious for being fooled (example) Yes, it sometimes happens that a non-renowned scientist/mathematician comes up with a genuine groundbreaking result (example) but in this case, the results were submitted to and verified by the editors and referees at Annals of Mathematics, the top journal in mathematics.

And frankly, much of the “science” that comes from the mouths of the loudest activists is either gibberish, or unfounded opinions or fears. It is almost as if people of this sort think that their confidence in their own opinion constitutes “evidence”.

I’ve seen this “from the other side”, so to speak.

Back in the early 1980′s, I was in the nuclear Navy. We did class room training, and then had training at prototype nuclear reactors. Outside of these reactor complexes, you had protestors (sometimes Catholic nuns) passing out leaflets which were designed to…well…I guess convince us that what we were doing was dangerous, wrong or harmful.

So I was polite and I took them. I read them. And they were hilariously wrong; it was clear that whoever wrote those had no understanding of science or engineering.

This is NOT to say there aren’t legitimate issues concerning nuclear power (storage of waste, mining, possibility of natural disasters (Fukushima), antiquated plants and designs (Fukushima again), industries taking money saving safety shortcuts, regulation (those who know most about nuclear power and are most qualified to oversee it are those who worked in it…huge potential for conflict of interest).

But I have no interest in listening to someone who has no better qualifications than confidence in their own opinions and in their own abilities to digest pop-level science.

This is why I followed the Fukushima incident via Scientific American and via the MIT nuclear science and engineering sites.

The same applies to the GMO stuff. There are science issues, and I don’t trust large corporations to properly balance public safety with the pursuit of maximum profit. I am for educating myself, but listening to some “activist” website or listening to some woo rant, rave and make bad analogies isn’t education. It is an irritating waste of time.

There are times when I grumble about there being “no difference between liberals and conservatives” when it comes to uninformed people trying to obtain a captive audience for their quackery and being offended when they are blown off.

But there is one difference: on the whole, liberals have a bit more freedom to say “ok, in this instance, most conservatives are saying X and they are right on this issue”; conservatives who do the same tend to be labeled as “no longer being conservative” (e. g., think of a conservative who admits that there is human caused or human aggravated climate change; how do other conservatives react to that person?)

May 25, 2013 Posted by | energy, environment, political humor, politics/social, science, social/political, technology | , , | Leave a comment

Floods, internet taxes and other topics

Taxes: we are seeing some cracks in the Republican caucus. Some businesses are putting pressure on Republicans in Congress to back the internet sales tax laws. I agree with the business types who say that this will level the playing field.

Infrastructure
Michael Reuter wrote an interesting op-ed in the Peoria Journal Star about preparing for flooding. The gist: these big floods ARE more common and by making some changes (e. g. giving the river some wetlands where it can spread out a bit in places and therefore take up some of the water volume) we will be better off in the future and, perhaps, even same money in the long run:

[...]2. It’s time for a different, coordinated, system-wide approach that reduces losses while improving the health of great rivers like the Illinois. In the future we must be proactive and innovative. There is a payoff: A study by the National Institute of Building Sciences estimated that for every dollar we spend on hazard mitigation efforts, we save $4 in future damages.

3. Work with nature, not against it. We need dams and levees but nature is an essential part of the solution, too. Large cities are demonstrating how to use nature to slow stormwater runoff with less money than required for hard infrastructure. On the Lower Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened floodplains and floodways to create room for the river during catastrophic events – an approach that avoided devastating losses to farmlands and urban areas in 2011.

4. Demonstrate potential solutions. While The Nature Conservancy is focused on developing and maintaining critical fish and wildlife habitat at Emiquon, part of our plan is to provide room for the river to help curtail damages during major floods. Every flood is different, but in general, by allowing floodwaters to spread out onto this vast area, Emiquon can help lower flood levels in nearby communities, including Peoria some 40 miles upstream. Even a few inches can prevent millions in damages, but ultimately additional floodplain areas along the Illinois and other rivers are needed. Farsighted public policies would provide fair economic incentives to those farmers and landowners who want to be part of the solution, potentially saving taxpayers substantial money.

Note: the economic calculations aren’t that easy, given that flooding is a stochastic event and we have to take the time value of money into effect: spending X now to prevent damage in the future (thereby saving repair and recovery costs) might save us money in the long run, but how much (if at all) depends on how long it is before the next major flood.

Speaking of disasters: Matthew Yglesias caught a lot of heat by suggesting that not every foreign country have their businesses and factories held up to the same safety standards of the United States. Yes, extra safety can be thought of as a luxury and one can overdo it. But his piece was related to the collapse of a Bangladesh factory which killed 100′s. Here he explains himself and what he was thinking. And yes, the factory in question didn’t follow local codes.

On the other end
A Texas member of the House of Representatives wonders if windmills will lead to more warming of the earth? His reasoning: windmills take energy out of the wind, which cools the planet. Or something.

My beef: why didn’t he run his idea past an engineer or scientist first? Yes, windmills take energy from the wind (and energy to the wind is being supplied by the sun) and it is nice to see what the potential “upstream” and “downstream” energy effects are. But people will look a lot smarter if they consult an expert prior to opening their mouths. Instead, they don’t feel the need to consult.

President Obama: 2013 Correspondence Dinner:

My favorite parts:

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday night gave President Barack Obama a chance to take humor-laced shots at those things in Washington that rub him the wrong way — Republicans in Congress, the media, his critics — and he also directed plenty of friendly fire at himself.
“I look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,’” Obama quipped at one point, reflecting on how he’s aged into a second term. [...]

“Some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress. ‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask,” Obama said. “Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” The line earned Obama one of his loudest applauses of the evening from the 2,700 in attendance at the Washington Hilton.
Along the same lines, Obama vowed to take his “charm offensive” on the road to “a Texas barbecue with Ted Cruz, a Kentucky bluegrass concert with Rand Paul and a book burning with Michele Bachmann.”

Senator McConnell had a sense of humor and posted this photo:

mcconnell-beer-obama-twitter

Some Paul Krugman
There is a difference between cherry picking facts that support your cause and ignoring ones that don’t and picking what you write about:

One criticism I face fairly often is the assertion that I must be dishonest — I must be cherry-picking my evidence, or something — because the way I describe it, I’m always right while the people who disagree with me are always wrong. And not just wrong, they’re often knaves or fools. How likely is that?

But may I suggest, respectfully, that there’s another possibility? Maybe I actually am right, and maybe the other side actually does contain a remarkable number of knaves and fools.

The first point to notice is that I do, in fact, perform a kind of cherry-picking — not of facts, but of issues to write about. There are many issues on which I see legitimate debate, from the long-run trend of housing prices to the effects of immigration on wages. And in happier times I would probably write more about such issues than I do, and the tone of my column and blog would be a lot more genteel. But right now I believe that we’re failing miserably in responding to economic disaster, so I focus my writing on attacking the doctrines and, to some extent, the people responsible for this wrong-headed response.

But can the debate really be as one-sided as I portray it? Well, look at the results: again and again, people on the opposite side prove to have used bad logic, bad data, the wrong historical analogies, or all of the above. I’m Krugtron the Invincible!

Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy. Too many influential people just don’t want to believe that we’re facing the kind of economic crisis we are actually facing.

And Krugman really doesn’t think highly of President Bush:

I’ve been focused on economic policy lately, so I sort of missed the big push to rehabilitate Bush’s image; also, as a premature anti-Bushist who pointed out how terrible a president he was back when everyone else was praising him as a Great Leader, I’m kind of worn out on the subject.

But it does need to be said: he was a terrible president, arguably the worst ever, and not just for the reasons many others are pointing out.

From what I’ve read, most of the pushback against revisionism focuses on just how bad Bush’s policies were, from the disaster in Iraq to the way he destroyed FEMA, from the way he squandered a budget surplus to the way he drove up Medicare’s costs. And all of that is fair.

But I think there was something even bigger, in some ways, than his policy failures: Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.

Think about his two main “achievements”, if you want to call them that: the tax cuts and the Iraq war, both of which continue to cast long shadows over our nation’s destiny. The key thing to remember is that both were sold with lies.

I suppose one could make an argument for the kind of tax cuts Bush rammed through — tax cuts that strongly favored the wealthy and significantly increased inequality. But we shouldn’t forget that Bush never admitted that his tax cuts did, in fact, favor the wealthy. Instead, his administration canceled the practice of making assessments of the distributional effects of tax changes, and in their selling of the cuts offered what amounted to an expert class in how to lie with statistics. Basically, every time the Bushies came out with a report, you knew that it was going to involve some kind of fraud, and the only question was which kind and where.

I do object to the phrase: “rammed through”: this is what people say when they are on the losing side of a vote. On these issues, President Bush was a good enough politician to sell this deal (the economic one).

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/the-ignoramus-strategy/

April 29, 2013 Posted by | bush-era, climate change, economy, environment, political/social, politics, politics/social | , , | Leave a comment

Some science: good stuff…and bad…

The good:babyoctopi

Baby octopi hatching.

Evolution About that fish to land animal transition:

In the hope of reconstructing a pivotal step in evolution — the colonization of land by fish that learned to walk and breathe air — researchers have decoded the genome of the coelacanth, a prehistoric-looking fish whose form closely resembles those seen in the fossils of 400 million years ago.

Often called a living fossil, the coelacanth (pronounced SEE-luh-canth) was long believed to have fallen extinct 70 million years ago, until a specimen was recognized in a fish market in South Africa in 1938. The coelacanth has fleshy, lobed fins that look somewhat like limbs, as does the lungfish, an air-breathing freshwater fish. The coelacanth and the lungfish have long been battling for the honor of which is closer to the ancestral fish that first used fins to walk on land and give rise to the tetrapods, meaning all the original vertebrates and their descendants, from reptiles and birds to mammals.

The decoding of the coelacanth genome, reported online Wednesday in the journal Nature, is a victory for the lungfish as the closer relative to the first tetrapod. But the coelacanth may have the last laugh because its genome — which, at 2.8 billion units of DNA, is about the same size as a human genome — is decodable, whereas the lungfish genome, a remarkable 100 billion DNA units in length, cannot be cracked with present methods. The coelacanth genome is therefore more likely to shed light on the central evolutionary question of what genetic alterations were needed to change a lobe-finned fish into the first land-dwelling tetrapod.
[...]
Another helpful preadaptation is a snippet of DNA that enhances the activity of the genes that drive the formation of limbs in the embryo. The Amemiya team focused on the enhancer DNA sequence because it occurred in the coelacanth and animals but not in ordinary fish. They then inserted the coelacanth enhancer DNA into mice.

“It lit up right away and made an almost normal limb,” said Neil Shubin, meaning that the coelacanth gene enhancer successfully encouraged the mouse genes to make a limb. Dr. Shubin, a member of the team, is a paleontologist at the University of Chicago.

Surf to the New York Times article to read more. Note: Neil Shubin wrote a couple of good books on evolution: Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within. I highly recommend both.

The not so good
See a GIF that shows, in graphic form, how each individual state’s obesity rates went up with the passing years. Read the accompanying article at Slate.

130417-MOTW-obesity-map

Pesticides: it is no secret that bees are dying. Part of the reason is the weather. It sure appears that part of the reason is new pesticides:

In the last half century, the domesticated honeybee population has declined by about 50 percent. In the United States, this year marks the highest losses of honeybee populations, with some of the biggest beekeepers losing more than 60 percent of their insects. But identifying the culprit has proved daunting. Pathogens, parasites, pesticides, and habitat loss are likely involved. Recently, the potential role of neonicotinoid pesticides has taken center stage, as a flurry of studies has yielded conflicting findings—and the controversy is getting political.[...]

Neonicotinoids—“neonics”—are systemic pesticides broadly used in Europe and the United States. Absorbed by plants from the soil, they eventually reach the pollen and nectar, which is ingested by bees and other insects. Last year, research demonstrated that even low levels of neonics can strongly affect bee behavior. In one study, bumblebees that were exposed to the neonic imidacloprid in the lab, then allowed to forage in the field, had sharply reduced colony growth rates and produced 85 percent fewer queens to found new colonies in the spring. In another study, more than 30 percent of free-ranging honeybees exposed to the neonic thiamethoxam got lost, failing to return to the hive.

The papers were “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said David Goulson of the University of Stirling in the U.K., a coauthor of the bumblebee study. Previous research implicating neonics in bee decline had been done entirely in the lab. “We wanted to see what happens when the bees have to navigate over realistic distances, find patches of flowers, and bring the food back to the hive,” he said. “We found really striking results.”

So striking that the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) decided to reevaluate existing publications. But the agency concluded last month that “the risk to bee populations from neonics, as they are currently used, is low.” Moreover, DEFRA’s own research, also released last month, stated that “laboratory-based studies demonstrating sub-lethal effects on bees from neonics did not replicate realistic conditions, but extreme scenarios.”

But many researchers disagree. “We used exactly the levels found in a treated crop in the field,” said Goulson. Suggesting that the experiments linking neonics to bee decline use doses that are unrealistically high is “part of the smoke screen of lies and confusion that have been thrown up by the agrochemical industry” to defend the use of neonics, he added.
[...]
Independently, the European Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to also review the existing literature on neonics, specifically Syngenta’s thiamethoxam and Bayer’s clothianidin and imidacloprid. EFSA’s report, released this January, concluded that neonics pose an unacceptable risk to bees and that they should not be used on flowering crops. This prompted the E.U.’s ban proposal and fevered campaigning from both sides of the debate.

Now I know some GMO “activists” are concerned about this. The problem here is that the GMO crop isn’t the culprit but rather the pesticides used on those crops. There really is a distinction.

Of course, this area of science is beyond my professional expertise (way beyond it) so I’ll be following this dust up closely.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | biology, environment, evolution, nature, science | , , | Leave a comment

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