I am not slowing down with age…and the globe isn’t warming either.

No, I am not slowing down with age.


1. Tracy Trot 4 miler: 2013: 33:07. 2014: 32:59.
2. Turkey Trot 3 miler: 2013: 24:56. 2014: 24:53
3. River Run: (Certified course) 2011: 26:56. 2012: 25:03 2013: 24:56 2014: 24:42
4. Race for the Cure: 2012: 25:13. 2013: 25:48. 2014: 25:27
5. Run to Remember: 2012: 24:34. 2014: 24:17
6. Best 4 5K runs: 2011: 25:43. 2012: 25:01 2013: 25:04 2014: 24:56

So, by all but one metric (Race for the Cure), I am getting faster with age!

Is that absurd?

Of course it is; in 1998 I ran a few 5Ks under 20 minutes; from 1997 to 1999 I was typically under 21 and my last sub 21 was in 2001; last 7 minutes a mile pace or faster was 2002.

What the mild “local improvement” represents is my improving after knee surgery in 2010; in 2009 I was running mostly 24:00 to 24:20 or so.

Why I bring this up: you see similar absurdities in climate change denial.


November 27, 2014 Posted by | climate change, environment, science, statistics | , , | Leave a comment

Climate change: the wrong and right

Actually, climate science is NOT settled. What is settled is that:
1. the globe is currently warming and
2. humans are having a direct negative effect on this warming.

But we aren’t sure as to what will happen in the future. THAT is hard to predict. That human activity is warming the globe is settled and reducing carbon emissions is indeed a good thing.

And if you think that you know what is what, take this quiz. Or sure, I missed one question when I hit the wrong button and cringed, but I got a couple of guesses too. There are a lot of “metric” questions (e. g. “how much”), and I only got 65 percent (better than average, but still).

Now there is no excuse for ignorance on this level (in Congress, no less).

But conservatives have a point when they point out that preserving the environment starts at home, and large, liberal gatherings generate a ton of trash left behind, even when the gathering is supposed to be about the environment. That irritates the heck out of me too.

Hey, if you want to point the finger at me: I drive a Prius (when I drive) and walk to work everyday, so I don’t drive that much!

September 23, 2014 Posted by | environment, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

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)


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.

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.


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….


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.


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:


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!


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?


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:



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