James Hansen, the famous climate scientist and author of Storms of my Grandchildren, talks about the possible role of nuclear power in addressing climate change, and in particular, reducing the release of fossil carbon into the atmosphere.
I think he is far to pessimistic on the use of solar and wind energy than he needs to be and notice that he, and no one else ever, seems to mention geothermal, which could reduce our release of carbon by double digit percentages using existing technology in a few years. Having said that, there is probably no way to solve our energy problem without implementing next generation nuclear power to some degree.
THE Gandalf of science, archeologist Mike Morwood, who helped find a new species of tiny humans dubbed the Hobbit, died yesterday after a year-long battle with cancer.
Professor Morwood’s legacy will be linked to the Indonesian island of Flores, where in 2003 he was part of a team that discovered Homo floresiensis, which rewrote the history books and changed our understanding of human evolution….
I dislike Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s, that dislike contingent on his guilt yet to be proven (but very likely, it seems). His picture on the cover of Rolling Stone makes a point that struck me during the mayhem in Boston, and it is a good point. Those who reacted to this photograph negatively are seeing this situation in the first order, missing the point, missing the nuance. They are operating at the bodice-ripping romance novel level of thinking, not even the semi-complex Hercule Poirot level, of thinking. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts cop who released the “real” pictures of Tsarnaev violated the rules of his job, and he’ll presumably take some heat for that (though I couldn’t possibly care less about that) but more importantly he acted poorly and in a way that sets us back, as a country, in our thinking about terrorism.
Consider Adolf Hitler. I went looking on Google Images for a picture of Adolf Hitler to see if I could find a picture in which he didn’t look like the absolute monster that he was. There were a few photos of him chatting with his fellow monsters, uniformed, being Nazis, but they weren’t very good photos. I found a picture of him as a toddler and a picture of him wearing bunny ears (which I assume is a fake, but do correct me if I’m wrong because that would be interesting). But only the toddler picture counts. Yes, folks, any toddler could ultimately become Adolf Hitler (probably by never growing out of the Terrible Twos, but that’s another story.) And yes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be anybody.
My daughter, just a bit younger than the Tsarnaev brothers, headed off to Boston one day and was actually in the air not yet landed at Logan when the bombs went off at the marathon. For the entire day, I kept in touch with her via text messaging. She and her mom made it to their hotel in South Boston after hackney services were restored, though they had to spend a fair amount of time in the airport first. Over the next couple of days, the drama we all know about unfolded.
Somewhere during this time, Julia noted that had she been in the same high school with the Tsarnaev’s, she’d probably be their friends. This is not because she hangs around with terrorists. Rather, she has a long history, since early childhood, of association with the part of the world they come from, having lived in west/central Asia and gone to school there. Also, she lived in a country that, like Tsarnaev’s native land, was oppressed by the Soviets and since by the Russians. There would be many connections between them and they’d probably attend each other’s graduation parties. When I heard about the Rolling Stone cover, I thought of that, and thought it important to make the point that the Tsarnaevs are American Terrorists and emerged from our culture just as much as form somewhere else (though obviously it is more complicated than that).
We live in a culture where the visual trope rules. If a famous beauty is found by photographers with tussled hair, cellulite, or some food spilled on her shirt, that’s news. If a teabagger wants to depict Obama as a bad guy, he darkens the image because that racist trick works on a lot of people. They say (though I don’t assume it to be true) that Kennedy beat Nixon because Nixon had a bad five o’clock shadow. And so on. Massachusetts Trooper Sgt. Sean Murphy saw a picture of a bad guy that didn’t make him look like a bad guy and felt the need to risk his own career and violate the rules of his job, and probably violate his profession’s ethics, in order to “correct” that so the rest of us could go on hating Tsarnaev properly. He was wrong to do that. Nobody decided that it was OK to blow up people at the Boston Marathon because Tsarnaev looks like a hipster when he’s not all shot up lying in a boat in Watertown.
Also, this: If we insist that how you look has to match what you do, what you’ve done, what you might do, the kind of person you are, then we are fully subscribing to the worst in human nature. Think about it. If you are a woman and you wear certain cloths … If you have a certain color skin … If you seem to have a certain expression on your face …
Get over it, people. There is nothing wrong with Tsarnaev’s face. There is something wrong with Tsarnaev. These things are both true. Embrace the complexity that is reality.
When the Royal Baby is born, any time now, it will be a girl, according to about 67% of some 50 psychics recently surveyed. If the psychics were guessing randomly, we would assume that about half of them would say “girl” and the other half would say “boy” but with a full 2/3rds saying one thing, we have to assume they are on to something. And, the lead psychic apparently said that one of the girl’s names will be Diana. At least one of her names. So possibly two of her names. She might be Diana Diana Diana Windsor. Apparently, this is a possibili…
…wait, what? The baby has already been borned? Excellent! Now we can find out what she will be named?
What? The Royal Couple has not named the child yet, or a t least, not released the name? Well, no matter, we know one of the girl’s names will be Dia….
… wait, what? What’s that you say? The baby is a BOY? Not a girl? Are you sure? Let me check on that.
Whoa, you are right, it’s a boy!
Huh. The psychics were mostly wrong. About everything!
It has been said that global warming has stopped over the last several years. Some say it has not been happening for 17 years, some say for ten years, some say for 12 years. Let’s test these hypotheses
Hypothesis: June, the most recent month with full data, was an average year, not a warm year.
Now that July is nearly over, we can look back at the data for June and see how warm or cool June was.
According to data from NOAA and NASA, summarized here,
June was one of the hottest such months on record globally…The month extended the unbroken string of warmer-than-average months to 340, or a stretch of more than 28 years. That means that no one under the age of 28 has ever experienced a month in which global average temperatures were cooler than average (based on the 20th century average)….Last month featured unusually wet conditions in the eastern U.S., and tragically wet conditions in northwest India, where rainfall that was 200 percent of average inundated parts of the state of Uttarakhand, killing nearly 6,000 and causing widespread destruction. Areas that experienced higher-than-average temperatures during the month include north-central Canada, most of Alaska — which had its third-warmest June on record — and the Western U.S., where about 80 percent of the region was in some stage of drought by the end of the month.
Well, OK, so when we look at June we have to reject the hypothesis. But what about the entire year, so far, from January to June? If global warming has stopped, this should be an average year, right?
Hypothesis: Global warming has stopped, therefore this year is not warm.
Again, from NOAA and NASA, there is evidence that this year so far is the seventh warmest year on record so far. So, if this year is average for the last 14 years, than the last 14 years including this one are very, very warm. Sounds like global warming. However, the jury is still out on this one. There is evidence that certain climate effects that were keeping the atmosphere cooler than it otherwise might be are reversing or changing in a way that may make the rest of the year warmer. So, we are reasonably likely to rise from the 7th warmest year on record to a higher rank. But, in the meantime, here’s a nice graphic for you:
But what about the Arctic? I’ve heard tell the sea ice melting started out average this year. Therefore, global warming is not real.
Arctic ice melt is average this year
There is really good data for a period of some 30 years or so in the Arctic. The first ten years of that period had ice melting at a certain rate, and the last ten years of those data had more ice melting, such that none of the last ten years were as icy as any of the first ten years. That suggests a trend. Last year the ice melted even more than ever observed, continuing the trend. But early this year, the ice seemed to be tracking average for the last 30 years, so everything is fine!!!!
It is true that a very rapid increase of sea surface and atmospheric temperatures that happened a decade ago was much greater than the rate of increase in heat in these areas over the last ten years, but the earth is still warming. More importantly, the deep ocean seems to be heating at a higher rate, and since 97% of the sun’s extra heat goes into the ocean anyway, we expect the atmospheric temperatures to fluctuate more randomly.
Also, if you live in the US, this has been an exceptionally warm period. Interestingly, US based denialists are screaming about how “global warming has stopped” while at the same time atmospheric warming is catching up in the US where in the past it was not as severe in some other areas of the world.
So, in the end, the evidence that global warming has stopped is … lacking.
Michael Mann initiated a defamation lawsuit agains t the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute some time ago, and it has been trudging along int he courts. Two very important decisions came down in the Washington DC Superior Court in Professor Mann’s favor. I’m not going to try to describe this to you because there are others who know much more about these things than I do, but I encourage you to read Climate Science Watch’s summary and update here: DC Court affirms Michael Mann’s right to proceed in defamation lawsuit against National Review and CEI
It is interesting to see the climate change science denialists launching an attack on Climate Science Watch’s post on defamation. They really seem to have no filter. More importantly, however, is that they, the climate science denialists, have no future. I think we are moving past that phase pretty quickly.
Just like we read left to right, most weather systems move left to right (West to East). Right now however, the weather pattern is out of whack, moving East to West, creating a monster tropical heatwave for a big chunk of the U.S. WeatherNation Chief Meteorologist Paul Douglas has more on the rare retrograde weather pattern and why it’s important to take the heat seriously, but not lose your sense of humor.
Within a few decades rising world temperatures will create food shortages in Sub-Saharan Africa and leave some parts of Asia flooded while other areas will not have enough drinking water. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim says the world must mitigate climate change as he reveals key findings of Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and Case for Resilience, a scientific report on the expected rise of global temperatures by 2 degrees by 2040.
It seems to me that the science of epidemiology is a lot like being in shoe sales in a country on the pacific rim. You never know when the other shoe is going to drop, but you know it will. Our species (humans) is numerous, contiguous, and dense (in more ways than one). This means that a highly virulent pathogen could spread across the globe and kill a gazillion people before we could do anything to stop it. Yet, such a thing has not happened in modern times, meaning, since the widespread and easy flux of population provided by the airline industry at several scales of space.
At the present time we (humans) are faced with yet another threat of pandemic disease, this time from the coronavirus MERS-CoV. Spoiler: It is very unlikely that MERS-CoV is going to be a major pandemic because it does not seem to be all that virulent, in the sense that it does not seem to spread easily from one person to another. When it shows up in a population, it does not seem to spread around quickly. On the other hand, it is human-spreadable, similar coronaviruses are virulent so maybe this one could evolve to be so, and the mortality rate is so far an alarming ~50%. And, there is another complication. MERS-CoV is very likely to be carried from its homeland in the Middle East to several other countries by the mass movement of pilgrims returning from The Haj.
A recent study in PLoS Currents Outbreaks (yes, that’s a clumsy phrase, not a typo) looks at the situation. Researchers use reasonably good (but limited) data on air travel to estimate the number of people who will return-travel form the major Middle Eastern pilgrimage sites between June and November. They look at relative rates of return-travel to each area, and at health care expenditures per capita as a way of estimating the ability to address an influx of deadly disease-carrying return visitors, in each country.
16.8 million travelers on commercial flights departed Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and UAE for an international destination between June and November 2012. 7.5% had final destinations in countries that were low income, 47.4% lower-middle income, 17.3% upper-middle income and 27.8% high income. 51.6% had final destinations in just eight countries: India (16.3%), Egypt (10.4%), Pakistan (7.8%), the United Kingdom (4.3%), Kuwait (3.6%), Bangladesh (3.1%), Iran (3.1%) and Bahrain (2.9%; see Table). Individual cities with the highest travel volumes include Cairo, Kuwait City, London, Bahrain, Beirut, Mumbai, Dhaka, Karachi, Manila, Kozhikode, Istanbul and Jakarta, each of which received more than 350,000 commercial air travelers from MERS-CoV source countries between June and November 2012. Furthermore, an estimated 8.7% of foreign Hajj pilgrims in 2012 originated from countries that were low income, 56.4% lower-middle income, 27.3% upper-middle income, and 7.6% high income. 60.7% of foreign pilgrims originated from just eight countries – Indonesia (12.4%), India (10.1%), Pakistan (9.9%), Turkey (7.8%), Iran (6.5%), Nigeria (5.7%), Egypt (5.5%) and Bangladesh (2.9%). A bubble plot depicting the volume of international travelers departing Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and UAE from June to November 2012, the estimated number of foreign pilgrims performing the Hajj in 2012 and estimated healthcare expenditures per capita in 2011 is shown in Figure 1.
The researchers note that MRS-CoV has the potential of being a pandemic disease, and that understating population movements that could underly its spread is essential. The key points here seems to be that there is an intersection between countries that have a lot of pilgrims returning from MERS-CoV source areas and a low probability of detecting and containing cases of international spread because of inadequate health care systems. Related to this, they also identify possible blind spots in the global health care industry. For example:
The four countries with confirmed cases in returning travelers…the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Tunisia…account for an estimated 7.1% of the final destinations of all international travelers departing the MERS-CoV source countries since September 2012 (each of which are high or upper-middle income countries). By comparison, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh represent the final destinations of an estimated 27.7% of all international travelers over the same time period (each of which are low or lower-middle income countries), but have not reported cases of MERS-Co. Although not definitive, these findings could indicate the presence of epidemiological “blind spots” to MERS-CoV as a result of limited infectious disease diagnostic and surveillance capacity.
So, we’ll see how this goes.
Above I note that despite the obvious risk of a global pandemic of something spreading across the human population there really hasn’t been one, but I think this should be put in context. We have had widespread and multi-layered (in terms of economic and other strata) air flight for less than fifty years, but that air travel has probably not penetrated all regions of the world until the last 25 years or so. Pandemics with really large death tolls, however, are very rare. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a slower moving but very deadly one, and is the largest in modern times, and it started in 1981 and was certainly facilitated by the ability of humans to travel. The previous large pandemics that could possibly have been facilitated by air traffic in a major way were two flue pandemics, in 1968 and 1957, each very small compared to HIV/AIDS but effective at a much higher temporal rate. The previous pandemics that were very large, but prior to major air travel effects, most likely spread internationally with boat traffic, were the famous 1918 flu pandemic and the less famous 1889 flu pandemic, and a handful of near-million death level cholera pandemics, in 1899, 1881, and the 1850s.
So, during the 163 years from 1850, worldwide pandemics that killed 6 figures and above happened about 8 times. That’s about every 20 years. So, when we look back at the history of air travel, which has allowed the ready movement of large numbers of people across a wide range of social and economic categories living in most populated areas, we should not be surprised at the number of pandemics. It is hard to put a year on when humans became as internationally mobile as they are today, but the east-west divide was a major factor dampening movement until the 1990s. One could say that the current highly mobile situation dates to about 1990, and is thus, just over 20 years long. In other words, the rough time scale of the emergence of diseases with the ability to spread widely and quickly, using cholera and flu as a proxy for “disease” is once every 20 years, and the situation in which the Giant Killer Pandemic in which human population is measurably reduced because of a disease we can’t control for several years could occur is recent. I quickly add that Cholera is a lousy proxy for such disease because it is readily treated these days and its initiation and spread is only partly related to human movements. It may well be that the frequency of the evolution of a spreadable pandemic disease is much longer than 20 years.
There are shoes. They can drop. They seem to drop slowly, infrequently, but as time has passed over the last few decades the potential severity of such an event has clearly gone up in some ways while our ability to control disease through treatment and vaccination has probably stabilized or even gone down.
MERS-CoV is probably not the next pandemic. But the idea of there being such a pandemic, and even a pandemic with previously not seen qualities because of our denser than ever, larger than ever, and more connected than ever population is nothing to sneeze at.
Khan, Kamran, Jennifer Sears, Vivian Wei Hu, John S Brownstein, Simon Hay, David Kossowsky, Rose Eckhardt, Tina Chim, Isha Berry, Isaac Bogoch, Martin Cetron. 2013. Potential for the International Spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Association with Mass Gatherings in Saudi Arabia. PLoS Curents Outbreaks. July 17, 2013. Full Text here.
A panel of reproductive rights activists come together to discuss access to abortion in current events , clinic escorting and some common religious and non-religious arguments against abortion. Our panel consists of clinic escorts – including one panelist who volunteered before FACE laws went into effect (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances), health care professionals, an author and several bloggers who write about reproductive rights. Our panelists hail from Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia and Ireland.
Climate Scientist John Abraham and I just finished a session of FtBConscience on Climate Change and during that session we promised to provide some useful links. We also used some graphics during the session. Below are the links and the graphics!
First, here is the video of the session:
Climate Change Science Twitter List
I created a twitter list of people (or organizations) that tweet about current climate change science. If you check this list at any given moment you’ll know the latest climate science news. If you have a suggestion as to who should be added to this list, send me a tweet!
I’ve written a few hundred posts on Climate Change over they years on this blog, which are HERE.
I have a question about climate change …
If you have a question about climate change, one of the best places to find out a good answer is the web site Skeptical Science. John mentioned this during our session. Pretty much any question you’ll ever hear from anyone about climate change is addressed here, often at multiple levels.
Arctic Sea Ice melt interactive graphics
The really cool interactive graphic we used during the session, showing arctic sea ice melt (surface area) over several years, is HERE. I also talked about this graphic in a blog post HERE.
Other climate change links of interest (please add your favorite non-denialist sites in the comments section below if you like!)
There are a lot of sites, here is just a sampling.
We also showed the jet stream and orital geometry driven delta–18 cycles but those were randomly drawn from the internet and not vetted so I’m not going to include them. To get a jet stream graphic, just google “jet stream” but also, check out this post on the nature of the jet stream and weather: Why are we having such bad weather? which also has a video with Jennifer Francis, mentioned during our session.
I want to revise/modify something I said during the session. I referred to the fact that we have yearly data over the last several hundred thousands of years. Most of the data that we use that goes back over long periods of time averages many decades or centuries, or is look at at 1,000 year intervals. Even if we had annual data for every year, we’d probably average it out over centuries of time anyway. What I was referring to, however, is the fact that for many time blocks over this period we have segments of data that can be looked at on a year by year basis, or often, on a quasi seasonal basis with a nearly year-long signal and a smaller winter or spring signal (depending on the data source). This includes lake varves and tree rings as well as other data sources.
I have other questions about global warming!?!!?
If you have other questions, just put them in the comments below.
Reproductive Success (RS) is defined in many ways in different places by different people, but one of the most common definitions is simply the number of offspring an individual produces. This definition is further modified in most cases to mean only those individuals that will be fertile, i.e., capable of producing further offspring. RS is important in understanding Natural Selection (NS). In the simplest model, a heritable feature that increases RS will be selected for over time in a population because individuals with higher RS will contribute more offspring to future generations and this, in turn, causes the frequency of the RS-enhancing allele (gene variant) to become more common over generational time in that population.
Fitness is a property of an allele that refers to its relative likelihood of representation in future generations in a population. An allele with higher fitness will be more likely to be represented in future generations within a population than an allele for the same gene with lower fitness. The important thing here is that the likelihood of future representation has to be due to a feature of that allele, and not random effects.
At first glance RS and Fitness are the same, or similar, but one might immediately notice that RS is a feature of an individual (that has offspring) while fitness is a feature of an allele. So, it is possible that a given individual will have a relatively high RS but contain a particular allele with low fitness. Presumably the higher RS of that individual is due to high-fitness alleles of other genes. In this way, fitness and RS are different, but when considering large scales of time and large populations, the two can be (perhaps) safely conflated because things average out over time and the different alleles are being independently assorted over generational time, so each allele gets to have its day, sometimes, independently of other lower-fitness alleles. By this way of thinking, RS and fitness can be safely considered as measures of roughly the same thing, but with caveats.
RS is usually measured, in actual experimental work or field observations, as the number of offspring observed for an individual, but to make sure that RS is correlated with fitness, one might measure grand-offspring in order to factor out infertile offspring and other factors that may affect one generation but that do not apply over the long term. Again, RS and fitness are then, it would seem, equatable but with caveats.
RS is the number of offspring or grand-offspring but kin selection may apply as well. This is where an individual foregoes some of its own reproduction for the benefit of a relative, causing indirect fitness, a measure of this contribution devalued by the probability of the two individuals sharing the same allele by common descent. One can state that a measure of RS is still a measure of fitness because over the long term, again, things average out, but equating fitness and RS is done, again, with caveats.
There may be an optimal number of offspring an individual may have, above which longer term reproduction is reduced. A litter that is too large may result in a set of adults that are smaller than ideal and will thus have fewer offspring, or in the case of serial reproduction, if parental investment is spread out over several offspring, having too many offspring in a row may cause a deficit for all of the offspring, or for the later offspring that get less care because less energy is available, or earlier offspring may get short changed by being left on their own sooner. Putting this another way, the ultimate long-germ fitness strategy may be to have X offspring, where having more or fewer than X results in a suboptimal outcome. In this way, increasing RS from zero towards X increases fitness, but increasing RS beyond X decreases fitness.
So, RS equals fitness except:
RS is a measure applied to an individual while fitness is ideally applied to alleles for a gene or some other genetic construct;
The offspring-fertility link can be misleading. A queen bee with an allele that allows her to produces more sterile offspring may also produce more fertile offspring;
RS is fitness plus or minus random effects;
RS usually does not consider indirect fitness;
RS is selected to be optimized while fitness is selected to be maximized.
Equating RS and fitness is therefore only a rough approximation. When initially learning about Natural Selection students are often led to believe that RS and fitness are the same, which is only true with these (and possibly other) caveats. Equating RS and fitness in pedagogy risks skipping past and perhaps never understanding the caveats, and these caveats are very far from trivial. They are, in many cases, the point of specific evolutionary research projects.
This week we’re looking at threats to science and critical thinking, and how you can sort fact from fiction. York University science librarian John Dupuis joins us to discuss what he calls the Canadian government’s War on Science. And Chris MacDonald director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Program at Ryerson University, joins us to talk about his textbook The Power of Critical Thinking, which can help you navigate the hyperbole and misinformation that happens when the media looks at science news.