Daily Archives: January 9, 2013

Very interesting things and a quiz.

The Best Argument to Eliminate the Tenure System comes from Atlantic University, Florida, where Professor James Tracy has asserted that the Sandy Hook shootings in Connecticut either did not happen or were staged. Asking if the deaths, if they happened, were part of a training session, he further asks “Was this to a certain degree constructed? … Was this a drill?” Read the story of the crackpot professor here.

Rush Limbaugh’s latest accomplishment:

The StopRush Project has announced that over 2,200 sponsors have pulled ads from Limbaugh’s show, via documented messages/statements. Many other sponsors have left his show quietly, bringing the actual amount of sponsors who have left, to a higher, unknown total.

The Governor of Massachusetts will have to appoint someone to replace John Kerry as Senator from the Bay State if he is in fact appointed to the position of Secretary of State. Did you know that Barney Frank is interested in that job? That would be so cool.

I write a monthly post on birds, usually about some scientific thing like evolution, at the blog site 10,000 Birds. A while back, that site was attacked by internet attackers and they had to remove a lot of functionality for a while, then rebuild the site to new specs. That herculean task is now over, and the site is redesigned and downright crispy. Go visit 10,000 Birds!

Today’s quiz: Which key on your keyboard is the “house” key?

Fighting Over Hobbit

The Hobbit is a book by JRR Tolkien, a just released blockbuster movie, and a hominid from Indonesia. Here, we are speaking about the hominid from Indonesia.

A while back I wrote a review of a book by Dean Falk, for American Scientist. You can find that review here, and you can find a different review of the same book here on my blog.

Falk’s book is about endocasts and brains her area of specialty and she goes into the study of two specific hominids in particular, Taung, and LB1. Taung (pronunced “Tah oong,” roughly) is the type specimen of Australopithecus africanus, the first described Australopith and probably the first early hominid recovered in Africa, which by the way was in 1924. LB1 is one of the diminutive Homo found on the island of Flores, Indonesia, sometimes called “Hobbit” that shook things up a bit a few years back. Assuming this is what most experts say it is, this is a new species in the human family, Homo floresiensis. Go and read the reviews cites above to find more, or better yet, read the book. A cool feature of Dean’s book is that she is a scientist writing about the research she knows about, but it is NOT a general “here’s what happened in human evolution” book, but rather, focuses much more on a smaller subset of issues.

My old friend Maciej Henneberg and Robert Eckhardt have a very different opinion of this fossil than Dean Falk does, and as far as I know, different from the broader consensus. Henneberg and Eckhardt (and some others) view Homo floresiensis as a previously existing species (ie., Homo sapiens) but pathological. They may be right, but they probably aren’t. And, the whole story of who has done what with these fossils, and to each other, is one of the more rollicking adventures in paleoanthropology. If this drama was playing out in the 18th century, there would have been a few duals by now.

Anyway, I just found out that Maciej and Robert wrote an extensive comment on my book review, and sent it to American Scientist who did not want to publish it because it was too long. Subsequently, the’ve published their original review on a blog and sent American Scientist a shorter version, which has been placed on the American Scientist web site. The blog post is: Response to American Scientist Review – Longer Version and the American Scientist version is A letter regarding Greg Laden’s review of The Fossil Chronicles. I invite you to read them both, but I’d start with the American Scientist version because the longer one is very long.

NOAA: 2012 Warmest Year on Record for the US 48

Looking just at the contiguous 48 states of the US, NOAA has determined that 2012 was the warmest year on record. It was also ranked second in “extreme” weather events including fires, major storms, and drought. Tornado activity was less than average.

The report came out yesterday and states:

In 2012, the contiguous United States (CONUS) average annual temperature of 55.3°F was 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and was the warmest year in the 1895-2012 period of record for the nation. The 2012 annual temperature was 1.0°F warmer than the previous record warm year of 1998. Since 1895, the CONUS has observed a long-term temperature increase of about 0.13°F per decade. Precipitation averaged across the CONUS in 2012 was 26.57 inches, which is 2.57 inches below the 20th century average. Precipitation totals in 2012 ranked as the 15th driest year on record. Over the 118-year period of record, precipitation across the CONUS has increased at a rate of about 0.16 inch per decade.

On a statewide and seasonal level, 2012 was a year of both temperature and precipitation extremes for the United States. Each state in the CONUS had annual temperatures which were above average. Nineteen states, stretching from Utah to Massachusetts, had annual temperatures which were record warm. An additional 26 states had one of their 10 warmest years. Only Georgia (11th warmest year), Oregon (12th warmest), and Washington (30th warmest) had annual temperatures that were not among the ten warmest in their respective period of records. A list of the annual temperatures for each of the lower-48 states is available here. Numerous cities and towns were also record warm during 2012 and a select list of those locations is available here. Each state in the CONUS, except Washington, had at least one location experience its warmest year on record. One notable warmest year record occurred in Central Park, in New York City, which has a period of record dating back 136 years.

Here’s a scary graphic:

Figure 2. Temperatures for the contiguous U.S. in 2012, compared to the previous record warmest and coldest years in U.S. history. The annual U.S. average temperature was 3.3°F above the 20th century average, and was an astonishing 1.0°F above the previous record, set in 1998. It is extremely rare for an area the size of the U.S. to break an annual average temperature record by such a large margin. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC, caption from Jeff Masters.

You can see the entire report here, and a summary here. A report on Fox News coverage of the report is here. Jeff Masters as Wunderblog discusses it here.

Debunking climate change denialism

Climate change science denialism has pretty much run its course. We’ve been experiencing a large number of climate change related events (see this list for a brief summary) lately. It may well be that the number per year of such alarming events will go down and up over time. It may be that we will forget that some of them are happening because we grow used to them. But they are happening at a larger rate than just a few years ago, the years are getting warmer and warmer, and the effects predicted by the science have been manifest as predicted, but for on thing: They are happening sooner, faster, and worse than predicted in many cases.

But even tough climate change science denialism is now being moved aside (rightfully so) it is still out there an you may encounter it. Many of the active denialists can’t really back down because they are so invested in the denialism that doing so would require that they admit that the effects of denialism on policy have been deadly. Science denialists do, in fact, kill people indirectly whether it be in the form of anti-vax denialism, climate change science denialism or some other form.

There is a web site that specializes in addressing the various questions denialists raise in order to cast doubt on the real science. We are no longer at the point where pro science people need to have the answers ready when the denialsts show up, because that just gives them more credit than they deserve. Rather, the appropriate response is to point them to this site: Skeptical Science

Oh, and guess what. There’s an app for that! Here: Skeptical Science on the iPhone or iPad
icon. If you want the app for Android or some other platform, click through to the site and look in the sidebar.

More information on global warming and climate change HERE.