Monthly Archives: May 2014

"Science education should be based on our economy" Wut?

Republican lawmakers and their kin are opposing the acceptance of National Science Standards. Why? Because those standards are based on science. What they prefer is that the standards we use to guide curriculum in America’s public schools be the hobgoblin of the Koch Brothers and the rest of the petroleum industry. Way to ruin the country, man. Civilization too. Nice move.

As Chris Hays points out (see below) the anti-science industry in America is leaving Creationism behind and shifting towards the denigration of Climate Science, much to our detriment.

The following interview from All In covers this, and includes Mary Mazzio, documentary film maker, and Michael Mann, climate scientist. Watch it. Then get mad and do something about it.

While you are at it, have a look at this All In segment on the GOP ordering the Pentagon to ignore climate change. Including the Navy, which will be losing ALL OF ITS BASES if they ignore sea level rise.

500,000 people evacuate massive 2-week long flood; 40+ dead.

Excessive warmth attributable to global warming and a stalled weather system, also attributable to global warming, have caused a weather system in over southeast China to dump rain since May 12th. A million people are in the impacted area, ahlf of them have had to move or have been rescued, and the 2-6 inches of daily rain continues. 25,000 homes have been destroyed.

This area has recieved huge investments over the last few decades, since a huge 1998 storm killed thousands and caused 26 billion dollars in damage. They now fear that the present flooding will be as bad.

Here’s some video (with some out of date information on casualties and damages):


Massive, Two Week Long China Flood Sends Half a Million Fleeing, Destroys More Than 25,000 Homes

Half a million evacuated as China braces for more flooding

The Amazing, Impressive, Powerful Amanda

Usually when I make a sentence like that it is about my wife, Amanda. But this time we’re talking about Hurricane Amanda, the first hurricane of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season.

Amanda reached maximum winds of 155 mph on or about 8:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time on Sunday morning. That make Amanda the strongest Eastern Pacific May Hurricane on record. There are usually very few hurricanes in the Eastern Pacific in May, and the few that occur happen late in the months. Here’s the historical distribution of Eastern Pacific hurricanes, form 1966-1996:


Amanda is the earliest on record Eastern Pacific Category 4 hurricane.

The hurricane date for the Eastern Pacific is not well organized and accessible (without working hard) as far as I can tell. Wikipedia is shamefully badly organized and out of date, and the NWS focuses much more on Atlantic hurricanes because they are far more likely to menace the US (though Eastern Pacific storms of course can end up in Hawaii, and occasionally hit the US West Coast … and one actually slammed into Texas!).

So I can’t say much more about Amanda. The extra intensity and early date is certainly related to enhanced sea surface temperatures in the region, but the relationship between that and the possible coming El Niño can not be established at this time. Putting this another way, we can ask the question, is the Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season going to be affected by El Niño, the answer is clearly: We’ll see.

Amanda has weakened since, and is expected to continue to weaken as she moves north and turns into a tropical storm.

Axon Growth Possible in Central Nervous System

I don’t have time to read the original or make much comment on this, but since this topic has come up here before, I thought I’d pass on the press release from Burke REhabilitation and Research:

Burke Medical Research Institute Scientists Show Axon Growth Possible in Central Nervous System

White Plains, NY – May 21, 2014 –Recent findings by Burke Medical Research Institute scientists could one day pave the way for new treatments for spinal cord injuries. The study, published as a cover story, with commentary, in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine, found, for the first time, that activating a protein known as B-RAF promotes the regeneration of injured axons in the central nervous system of mice. Until now, it was thought that axons—which conduct signals between neurons—could not re-grow or be restored after an injury in higher animals such as mice, or in humans. Injuries, such as those affecting the spinal cord, can damage these axons, making their regeneration an important first step towards possible recovery.

Since earlier studies found that axon growth can be blocked by disabling B-RAF, the researchers wanted to find out if activating B-RAF could—in contrast—help promote axon growth and regeneration.

The team, led by Jian Zhong, Ph.D., director of the Molecular Regeneration and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Burke Medical Research Institute in White Plains and assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, found that axon growth was promoted in three distinct scenarios. These were: in a developing mouse embryo that didn’t have an important normal axon growth signal, in injured sensory neurons whose axons grow into the central nervous system, and then in an injured optic nerve, which is part of the central nervous system.

“Not very long ago, we were not sure if neurons in the mammalian central nervous system could ever regrow axons to any useful lengths at all,” said Dr. Zhong. “Now, we see that by activating the B-RAF protein, the possibility is there. And that possibility could lead to exciting progress in the field of spinal cord injury treatment and rehabilitation.”
While there is no conclusive data on spinal cord injury at the moment, the optic nerve data makes it very likely that the B-RAF activation will also stimulate regeneration after spinal cord injury—though additional research needs to be done, said Dr. Zhong.

“These significant findings represent the importance of basic research for rehabilitation and the effects it will continue to have on how we approach treatment and help patients with various injuries, including those to the spinal cord,” says Rajiv R. Ratan, M.D., Ph.D, executive director of Burke Medical Research Institute and professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Scientists from the Burke Medical Research Institute included Dr. Zhong as well as Kevin J. O’Donovan, Ph.D., Kaijie Ma, B.M., and Hengchang Guo, Ph.D. Also contributing to the study were scientists from Harvard Medical School, Temple University School of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Quebec in Canada. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Whitehall Foundation and the Burke Foundation.

A Call To Arms about Climate Change

Tens of millions of red blooded Americans, Tea Partiers, were called to Washington DC the other day to overthrow the government. A few hundreds or so showed up.

Now, Bill McKibben, of, is calling Americans to New York City, not to overthrow the government but to talk some sense into it. I’ll bet more than a few hundred people show up!

McKibben wrote an item for Rolling Stones that you should read HERE.

This is an invitation, an invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who’d like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.

My guess is people will come by the tens of thousands, and it will be the largest demonstration yet of human resolve in the face of climate change. Sure, some of it will be exciting – who doesn’t like the chance to march and sing and carry a clever sign through the canyons of Manhattan? But this is dead-serious business, a signal moment in the gathering fight of human beings to do something about global warming before it’s too late to do anything but watch. You’ll tell your grandchildren, assuming we win. So circle September 20th and 21st on your calendar, and then I’ll explain. has a page devoted to the march, HERE. Please click through and get busy!

The Facebook Page is HERE.

The image above is from an earlier march, details here.

Forum: Science, Democracy, and a Healthy Food Policy

I recently wrote a post called “Did you ever wonder how you are going to die?” which was my response to a forum at the Humphrey Center, University of Minnesota, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists called “Science, Democracy, and a Healthy Food Policy: How Citizens, Scientists, and Public Health Advocates Can Partner to Forge a Better Future“.

It was a great forum, with sessions moderated by my friend Don Shelby, and including an absolutely excellent group of speakers and discussants. Every single one of the talks was excellent, and the panel discussions were amazing.

It is a little long, 2 hours and 47 minutes, but it is worth watching every bit of it. The Surgeon General couldn’t be there but he beamed himself in via satellite, and gave a great big-picture talk on the effect of food systems and the public’s health. Richard Salvador, director of the UCS Food and Environment program (30:20) gave a great talk in which he made a very important point about the recent evolution of our food supply system, and touched on points I often make when teaching about the evolution of human diet. I plan to use his talk in class in the future. RT Rybak, (53:30) Mayor of Minneapolis until the last election (he did not run for re-election) is one of the best mayors anyone ever had anywhere, and while he was in office spent considerable effort supporting and developing local food growing programs. Following his talk, during the session and later on during post-forum conversations at the reception and dinner, it was often re-stated that “the first thing you need to do as a city concerned with healthy food supplies is to get a mayor like RT Rybak.”

The forum discussion started around 1:10, and there is too much there for me to summarize. Paula Daniels said some stuff that compelled me to hunter her down and ask more questions after the event. Pakau Hang was the audience’s favorite, with her discussion of dealing with the food supply from the point of view of a community that provides much of our locally grown food in the Twin Cities. Edward Ehlinger, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Health blew me and everyone else away with his high level of discussion and clear and present inspirational competence. Shawn Otto, who was not part of the forum but with whom I was sitting, noted later in conversation that Governor Mark Dayton had done an excellent job putting truly outstanding people in important positions in the Minnesota government, Ehlinger being an example of that. But it was all good, just watch it. Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy (UCS) gave a great summary at the end.

I also enjoyed meeting my internet friend Michael Halpern, and having a long and engaging conversation with UCS senior analyst Pallavi Phartiyal.

Background information on the forum is HERE. A video of the entire thing is at that site as well as below, watch it!

Then, GO HERE and join or donate to the Union of Concerned Scientists!

Wheel of Fortune #Fail UPDATED TWICE

You have probably already seen the cringworthy Youtube Video of the famous Wheel of Fortune Fail in which a college student makes three awful blunders and loses the game. Well, I’m here to tell you about another Wheel of Fortune Fail that is even worse. Pat Sajak, the famous host of the long running game show, turns out to be a rabid Climate Change Science Denialist.

Here’s a recent tweet by Pat:

Here’s a screenshot of the same tweet showing some of Pat’s loyal followers telling you, dear reader, what they think of you:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 10.37.18 AM

Apparently, Sajak is well known (to everyone but me, until just now, apparently) as a science denialist. Get Energy Smart has some coverage of this, including references to blog posts Sajak has written about climate change. For example (see GESN’s post for context):

  • Is it just me, or is it warm in here? which focuses on the old canard that global cooling was predicted 30 years ago so why should we trust scientists about Global Warming along with arguments that it’s all natural. (For ammo to shoot this down,Grist’s quick Sajak slapdown references two items of their great Skeptics’ Guide: Global Cooling and natural cycle arguments.)
  • Global Warming: What Are You Willing to Do? In this, with a lot of arrogance and disdain, Sajak actually strongly states an ethical and moral dilemma that faces all who believe in Global Warming. More on this one below.
  • Sajak has taken down these posts.

    No more Wheel of Fortune in my house, I can tell you that. Unless it is to watch the show to see who advertises on it. So I can not buy their products!



    Here is a petition to sign from Forecast the Facts.


    Other posts of interest:

    Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

    April 2014 tied April 2010 as Warmest April on Record

    A few days ago I noted that April 2014 was one of the warmest Aprils on record. This morning, NOAA has released its data showing that April was actually a bit warmer than I had suggested.

    NOAA has already stated that “The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was the fourth highest for March on record, at 0.71°C (1.28°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F)” and “The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–March period (year-to-date) was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.3°C (54.1°F), the seventh warmest such period on record.”

    Moments ago, NOAA stated: “The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for April 2014 tied with 2010 as the highest on record for the month, at 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F).”

    And, it has been tweeted:

    So, 2014 is turning out to be quite a warm year, and this is before the effects of a very likely El Ninño have kicked in (see also this for more on El Niño). Should the El Niño develop to a high level of intensity, as many think may happen, 2014 may end up being the warmest year in the instrumental record (going back to the late 19th century).

    Jeff Masters has more here on Wunderblog.

    Meteorologist Paul Douglas on Atheist Talk This Sunday

    This Sunday morning, on Atheist Talk radio, I’ll interview Paul Douglas, America’s favorite meteorologists (at least when the weather is good).

    When I first moved to Minnesota, which happened to be during a period of intense Spring and Summer storminess for a few years in a row (including this event which wiped out Amanda’s dorm long before I ever met her), I spent a bit of time while searching for a place to live watching the local news, to get a feel for the place. Coming from the Boston area, where the main local news stations aggressively compete with each other using their meteorologists, I found it interesting that there was a huge range of variation in the weather reporting in the Twin Cities. One weather team stood out above the others, led by Paul Douglas, who at the time was on WCCO (CBS). That station quickly became my go-to place for news and weather because of the quality of Paul’s weather reporting.

    At the time, climate change was on the minds of relatively few people, but it was very much an interest of mine because of my research in palaeoclimate connected to my work on the New England coast and in Central Africa. Also, soon after moving here I was added to the faculty of the Lakes Research Center, a globally recognized paleoclimate facility that focuses on fresh water proxyindicators (mud in ponds and lakes). So, it was rather annoying to see at least one of the Twin Cities meteorologists implying now and then that global warming was some sort of hoax, and in contrast, refreshing to see Paul Douglas speaking of the weather in scientific but understandable terms, and taking note of, and not dismissing, the extreme weather we were having at the time.

    Paul got into the broadcast business while still in high school, where he worked for WHEX-AM in Pennsylvania. Later he was to develop a series of weather related and other businesses, earning the appellation “entrepreneur extraordinaire.” He has degrees and certifications in meteorology, worked at KARE-TV in theTwin Cities, WBBM-TV in Chicago, and as mentioned, became chief meteorologist for WCCO-TV. He left that position a few years ago, and weather reporting in the area has not been the same since.

    Have you seen the movies Jurassic Park and Twister? Paul’s company Earth/Watch Communications produced the weather visualizations for those films, and Paul appears in a cameo in Twister.

    Paul is the author of Prairie Skies and Restless Skies.

    If you live in the Twin Cities you know that Paul writes a daily weather blog at the Star Tribune, and this blog is mirrored with a more national version at Weather Nation, which is the company Paul is currently most involved in. Those blogs are unique. A typical post includes a detailed narrative of current weather conditions and weather over the next few days, allowing the reader to get the sense of an expert meteorologist thinking out loud, going through several models, evaluating them, balancing the conflicting data, throwing in a bit of gut feeling, to produce a typically accurate (insofar as it is possible to be accurate) scenario for upcoming weather. Following this, a typical post by Paul Douglas will include a summary of the latest research and findings on global warming, often linking climate change to current weather observations.

    Over the last few years, it has become apparent that a phenomenon known as Weather Whiplash, likely a result of climate change, has become the predominant driver of significant weather events. Paul is one of the people who first notice this phenomenon, and his advocacy of the science of climate change and responsible meteorology had certainly helped drive research in this direction.

    Readers of this blog and listeners of Atheist Talk will also be interested to know that Paul is a Reasonable Republican (a rare breed) as well as an Evangelical Christian. He has written and spoken about the need for conservatives to embrace climate change, because it is real, and to address it with the assumption that it costs more to ignore it than to tackle it. He is also involved with faith-based activities advocating for applying good science to developing good policy regarding climate change.

    I’ll ask Paul about the weather (perhaps he will give us an exclusive forecast!), weather whiplash, his approaches to communicating about climate change, why he got into weather to begin with (I believe there is an interesting story there) and more. See you Sunday Morning!

    HERE is how to listen live, which can only be done from Minnesota, so you’d need to have a zip code such as 55344 or something. In case you are asked.

    The show will later be posted as a podcast here.

    If you have a question you’d like to ask, email it in during or before the show or call during the show at (952) 946-6205.

    Chobani Yoghurt's Anti-Science Stance is Annoying UPDATED

    I have nothing against Chobani Yoghurt. In fact, I like it. Even more importantly, Huxley likes it.

    But the image above annoys me. It says “Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists. #howmatters”

    This is in accord with their latest ad, here:

    OK, I have three challenges for Chobani Yoghurt.

    First, demonstrate how science is not related to your yoghurt production AT ALL. Chances are you use methods of ensuring that your product does not contain harmful bacteria, or that the bacteria is killed off or removed during the processing cycle. Almost all food manufacturers use various methods to do this. These methods are the product of food safety science. Yes, that is a science. I’ve even been to an international conference of those scientists (it was very interesting). Chobani Yoghurt, do you use NONE of the methods developed by food safety science in producing your product? I doubt if very much. It is essential that you produce a safe product, and #howmatters.

    Second, I would like to see verification that all of your product does not fall into the category of products that includes artificial sweeteners, monoculture big-ag produced corn sugars, or use bee-colony-killing pesticides during the production of any of the ingredients, etc. etc. That all may well be true, but I doubt it. I’m looking at a container of Chobani Pineapple Yoghurt. The milk from which the yoghurt is made is pasteurized. That is science. Germ theory. #howmatters. You use pineapple and evaporated cane juice. Was the pineapple from Hawaii? Did you know that Hawaii produces less food than they need to eat because the agriculture there is industrialized, even though the population today is similar to pre-colonial times when they used less land to produce an abundance of food? Chobani Yoghurt clearly does not support locivory! #howmatters You use pectin. Here is what Wikipedia says about how pectin is produced:

    The main raw materials for pectin production are dried citrus peel or apple pomace, both by-products of juice production. Pomace from sugar beet is also used to a small extent.

    From these materials, pectin is extracted by adding hot dilute acid at pH-values from 1.5 – 3.5. During several hours of extraction, the protopectin loses some of its branching and chain length and goes into solution. After filtering, the extract is concentrated in vacuum and the pectin then precipitated by adding ethanol or isopropanol. An old technique of precipitating pectin with aluminium salts is no longer used (apart from alcohols and polyvalent cations, pectin also precipitates with proteins and detergents).
    Alcohol-precipitated pectin is then separated, washed and dried. Treating the initial pectin with dilute acid leads to low-esterified pectins. When this process includes ammonium hydroxide, amidated pectins are obtained. After drying and milling, pectin is usually standardised with sugar and sometimes calcium salts or organic acids to have optimum performance in a particular application.

    Pectin is great, but it is not produced without science. #howmatters.

    Third, your label on the yoghurt is simply anti-science. Hey, I love the fact that you guys are anti-big ag, even though you ARE big ag, and I think we need to totally redo how we produce our food. But your claim to be all natural and stuff smells a lot like Greenwashing to me. That itself is bad, but not terrible. But throwing science under the bus is appalling. We are having enough trouble in our society with people throwing science under the bus … climate change science denialism, anti-evolution activism, anti-vaxxers, etc. … that we don’t need a major yoghurt company adding to the mix. So, my third challenge to you is to do something constructive with your presumably massive profits to support science in some way. STEM programs, climate science legal defense fund, NCSE support, something along those lines.

    I’m sure you can figure out a way to do this, and use the results positively in your marketing. But remember, #howmatters.

    I’ve received the following note from Chobani’s Customer Loyalty Team:

    We apologize about the confusion! No offense meant to the scientific community. This lid is simply an ode to no preservatives or additives.

    We thank you very much for your feedback and will pass along your comments.

    So, that’s good. We look forward to Chobani kissing and making up to science in some appropriate way!

    Is Curious George an Ape or a Monkey?

    Curious George is called a “little monkey” in all of the Curious George literature, TV shows, and movies. But Curious George has no tail, and generally, that means you are an ape. But, there is one monkey with no tail, or at least one that is vestigial and not visible: The Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus). For this reason, some have suggested that George is a monkey, specificaly, a Barbary Macaque or perhaps a close previously undiscovered species.

    However, one of the main features distinguishing between monkeys and apes is the intermembral index. This is simply the relative proportion of the forelimbs and hind limbs. Apes have short legs and long arms (unless you are a Man in a Yellow Hat variety of ape) while monkeys have more even length limbs. This image compares a young Chimpanzee to stand in for the apes, a Barbary Macaque, and Curious George, with the limb lengths marked off with a red line.

    This seems to indicate the George is an Ape.

    Also, note that the Man in the Yellow Hat originally kidnapped George in a Jungle that appears to be in Central Africa, to which he returns in later episodes.

    Curious George returns to a jungle with gorillas (and, not pictured, a number of other African mammals).

    There is another possibility, that Curious George is an undiscovered type of primate that is technically a Monkey but with certain Ape features. We are not certain of the genetic heritage of the mysterious ape Sungudogo, so perhaps George is one of those.

    Note that these comparisons are being made among Old World Primates. If New World Primates are included in the mix, there may end up being more questions than answers.