All posts by Greg Laden

Michael Mann Scores 2018 AGU Climate Communication Prize!

Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, and one gazillion scientific papers on climate change, won the prestigious Climate Communication Prize, awarded by his peers earlier today at the American Geophysical Union meeting.

From the PR:

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, is the 2018 recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize.

The prize was established in 2011 to highlight the importance of promoting scientific literacy, clarity of message, and efforts to foster respect and understanding of science-based values as they relate to the implications of climate change.

The AGU Climate Communication Prize is given annually to one honoree in recognition of “the communication of climate science.” The award honors scientists who have made a significant contribution in promoting scientific literacy and fostering understanding of science-based values, according to the AGU website.

Mann conducts hundreds of media interviews and appearances every year and directly reaches public audiences via social media. His op-eds and commentaries have been published in dozens of outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde.

Mann communicates about the effects of climate change through a variety of media, including his third book, “The Madhouse Effect,” published in 2017. For this effort, he teamed up with Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles to explore public perception of climate change. Mann also was a featured speaker during the 2017 March for Science in Washington, D. C., and has testified before Congress.

Mann also collaborated with author and illustrator Megan Herbert on a children’s book titled “The Tantrum that Saved the World.” He has appeared in numerous documentary films, including a feature role in “Before The Flood” starring Leonard Di Caprio.

In addition to outreach efforts, Mann continues to conduct and publish research. His areas of interest are in climate science, including climate change, sea level rise, human impact on climate change, climate modeling, and the carbon budget. He is the author of more than 200 peer-reviewed and edited publications.

In February 2018, Mann received the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences Public Engagement with Science Award. In 2017, he was recognized with the Schneider Award from ClimateOne and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers’ James H. Shea Award. He was also inducted into the Green Industry Hall of Fame. Mann was elected an AAAS fellow in 2015.

He completed his doctorate at Yale University in 1998.

Congratulations Mike!

LBJ, 1968, Vietnam

I’ve been thinking about, and reviewing history of, the Vietnam War. I don’t have a lot to say about this right now, but there are a few items I’d like to bring up.

First, a small thing. People often talk about the Vietnam War as a war that involved the French. Someone will say, something about how the Americans really screwed up with the Vietnam War, and someone will reply, “well, it was really the French first, then the Americans.” That is technically true. But, the war fought by the French in Vietnam and the war fought by the Americans in Vietnam were really two different (and of course, related) wars. Sometime the French war is called the First Indochina War, and the American war is called the Second Indochina war. The first war ended with the partitioning of Vietnam into North and South. Before that partition, things were a certain way, with respect to who was fighting who, where, and for what reason. After that partition, things were a different way, with respect to who was fighting who, where, and for what reason.

The American War version of the Vietnam War started in the mid 1950s, but for several years was not really America fighting in a war. It developed in the early 1960s and ran into the 1970s. The American war was a futile act from the beginning, and that futility was recognized by most of the people directly involved. But it could not end because of honor, or a sense of fear of damaging perception. Kennedy said that he should end the war now, at one point, but could not get re-elected if he did. Johnson could not allow the United States to lose a war, and withdraw was consider a loss. The whole thing was blindingly stupid.

And 1968 was a key year in that war, both in Vietnam and in American society. A recent book, LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval, looks at that one year from an interesting perspective:

1968 was an unprecedented year in terms of upheaval on numerous scales: political, military, economic, social, cultural. In the United States, perhaps no one was more undone by the events of 1968 than President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Kyle Longley leads his readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of what Johnson characterized as the ‘year of a continuous nightmare’. Longley explores how LBJ perceived the most significant events of 1968, including the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy, and the violent Democratic National Convention in Chicago. His responses to the crises were sometimes effective but often tragic, and LBJ’s refusal to seek re-election underscores his recognition of the challenges facing the country in 1968. As much a biography of a single year as it is of LBJ, LBJ’s 1968 vividly captures the tumult that dominated the headlines on a local and global level.

I’ve only read about 20% of it, skipping around, but it is confirming and enlightening in various ways.

I’m reading, in detail (and there are a lot of details) Michael Beschloss’s Presidents of War, and while I’m still on the Spanish American War, I have some news for you vis-a-vis the Vietnam war. I heard it said a while back, by a historian, that before Vietnam, America was seen to have always engaged in moral wars, and done so honorably. But that really does not seem true. At the time of the War of 1812, the Mexican war, and the Spanish American War, there were plenty of voices asking about the morality of those wars. In all three cases, what might have been a response to some sort of aggression or international slight turned at one point or another into a pure land grab, with the fact that American hostilities abroad were such a land grab being loudly pointed out and complained about by some, denied by the White House and others, and eventually, lauded as having been a great idea post hoc. I suspect World War II was a sort of moral cleansing war for America. It wasn’t a land grab, and the bad guys were really extra bad. And yes, we got a little land, but not too much.

People dealing with Trump today, but too young to have experienced Nixon, probably have learned recently that Trump was worse. But, the late 1960s and early 1970s were worse in a different way: We had Vietnam going on. That was not the kind of conflict Afghanistan or Iraq are. I’m not sure what difference this makes exactly, but it might be too easy to equate, or contrast, Nixon and Trump and make mistakes. The tenor of society was different than compared to now in many ways.

Also, a final bonus thought. It is said that the cover-up is worse than the crime. That is almost never true. It was not true of Nixon, it is not true of Trump. What might be true is that you get caught for the cover-up more easily than the crime in some cases. But mostly, that is a thoughtless irrelevant saying that is singularly unhelpful.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Astronauts: The History of Unmanned Space Exploration

Not that astronauts necessarily stink. Well, actually, they probably do after a while, but I suppose one gets used to it.

Anyway, we are all faced, or at least those of us who live in countries that have rocket ships all face, the question of personed vs. un-personed space flight as a way of doing science abroad and related quests. I’m not sure myself what I think about it, but considering the huge cost and difficulty, and the physical limitations, of using humans to run instruments on other planets or in space, and the sheer impossibility of human space missions really far away, the best approach is probably to use a lot of robots.

But wait, you say, a simple mission to Mars, by humans, would reinvigorate the space program, etc. etc. It might. But I strongly suspect that the cost of such a mission would reinvigorate budgets (which is, after all, what we are talking about) less than the extra cost, long term, because human society and culture has the memory of a star nosed shrew, on a good day.

And besides, “unmanned” space flight is cool. Very cool. Want to find out how cool it is? Check this out:

Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration describes the unmanned space missions that have opened new windows on distant worlds. Spanning four decades of dramatic advances in astronomy and planetary science, this book tells the story of eleven iconic exploratory missions and how they have fundamentally transformed our scientific and cultural perspectives on the universe and our place in it.

The journey begins with the Viking and Mars Exploration Rover missions to Mars, which paint a startling picture of a planet at the cusp of habitability. It then moves into the realm of the gas giants with the Voyager probes and Cassini’s ongoing exploration of the moons of Saturn. The Stardust probe’s dramatic round-trip encounter with a comet is brought vividly to life, as are the SOHO and Hipparcos missions to study the Sun and Milky Way. This stunningly illustrated book also explores how our view of the universe has been brought into sharp focus by NASA’s great observatories–Spitzer, Chandra, and Hubble–and how the WMAP mission has provided rare glimpses of the dawn of creation.

Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration reveals how these unmanned exploratory missions have redefined what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet in a vast cosmos.

This is a fantastic, much read book, and if you don’t read it, your opinion about manned vs. unmanned spaceflight would not be very well informed.

Great new kids’ science book

Don’t Mess With Me: The Strange Lives of Venomous Sea Creatures by Paul Erickson is part of a series that is currently small but hopefully growing by Tilbury House. I previously reviewed One Iguana Two Iguanas (about iguanas).

Like the Iguana book, Erickson’s book for third through seventh graders (8-12 or so years of age) contains real, actual, science, evolutionary theory, and facts about nature, along with great pictures. The key message is that toxins exist because they provide an evolutionary advantage to those organisms that use them. Why are venomous animals so common in watery environments? Read the book to find out.

Species mentioned includ the blue-ringed octopi, stony corals, sea jellies, stonefish, lionfish, poison-fanged blennies, stingrays, cone snails, blind remipedes, fire urchins.

Highly recommended as a STEM present this holiday season.

Build A LEGO Neighborhood

There are two LEGO Neighborhood books, The LEGO Neighborhood Book: Build Your Own LEGO Town! and The LEGO Neighborhood Book 2: Build Your Own City!, both by Brian Lyles and Jason Lyles. The latter of the two is just out.

These are LEGO idea books, that require you to have a pretty good collection of LEGO bricks, or willingness to buy some, if you want to follow the builds closely. But what you really want to do is to use the build instructions to guide your thinking about what is possible, likely, or difficult, and how to approach the overall problem of building a small village right now that you can put under your holiday tree next week. Most of the creative energy in these books is in display of galleries of great builds photographed very nicely.

The books are sensitive to architectural style (Ameroican Colonial, Art Ceco, etc.) and how they might be combined to make a realistic urban landscape. The second volume has a section on microcities, where you build at the smallest possible scale.

Brian Lyles is a professional videographer who runs Brick City Depot, an online repository of over 50 detailed LEGO building instructions. When not running Brick City Depot with his brother Brian, Jason Lyles works as a software developer. The brothers live in Richmond, VA.

New dinosaur discovered in Arizona!

Don’t worry, they are still extinct.

Scientists from the New Mexico Musum of Natural History, and the Archaeology Program of the Maryland National Capitcal Parks and Planning Commission (no, archaeologists normally do not look for dinosaurs) report the discovery of Crittenden krzyzanowskii, which means “critter that will bite your face off”*, in southeastern Arizona.

Figure 3 from the origional paper. Generalized stratigraphic section of the lower Fort Crittenden Formation in Adobe (the Canyon, not the software) Canyon, showing the location of tetrapod localities.
This creature, uncannily Land That Time Forgotesque in appearance, is a centrosaur, the group of horned dinosaurs that includes the famous Triceratops, found in the Upper Cretaceous, almost all found in North America (there are as many as three localities in Central and East Asia with similar forms).

This newly discovered dinosaur was about 11 feet long, ate plants, and lived in a region of a large lake. By comparison, the more classically known Tricerotops ran between 25 and 30 feet in length.

This is seen as a new species, as is the case with this type of dinosaur, because of details of the “frill” part of the back of the skull. According to the researchers, the “parietosquamosal frill of C. krzyzanowskii had a broad medial ramus and at least five epiparietal loci situated around the margin …, a typical characteristic of Centrosaurinae. The epiparietals are pronounced triangles that are dorsally concave and ventrally convex.” And, as if that wasn’t enough, two large, triangular hook-like flanges, nearly the size of the epiparietal loci, are situated along the dorsomedial margin of the parietal ramus. The left squamosal has a pronounced dorsal ridge with a single dorsal squamosal process and large episquamosal undulations, a typical characteristic of Centrosaurinae.” I know, TMI.

In an important note on timing, the researchers also note that “the presence of C. krzyzanowskii in Arizona indicates that the nasutoceratopsins persisted into the late Campanian. The temporal and paleobiogeographic distribution of Nasutoceratopsini further weakens the hypothesis of distinct northern and southern Laramidian provinces.” I’m pretty sure I always thought this, and I’m happy to see it finally supported in the fossil record.

Full citation: Lucas, Spencer, Sebastian Dalman, Asher Lichting, and John-Paul Michael Hodnett. 2018. A new ceratopsid dinosaur (Centrosaurinae: Nasutoceratopsini) from the Fort Crittenden Formation, Upper Cretaceaus (Campanian) of Arizona. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 79. You can probably see the original paper HERE.

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*Only joking. From the press release, “the name Crittendenceratops is for the Fort Crittenden Formation (the rock formation that yielded the dinosaur fossils) and Greek ceratops, which means horned face. The species name krzyzanowskii is for the late Stan Krzyzanowski, a NMMNHS Research Associate who discovered the bones of the new dinosaur.”

Democratic Candidates for President: Round Two, The Bottom Tier

I recently completed a Twitter based poll to rank the 35 or so potential Democratic Party candidates for president. Since who was paired with whom had a lot to do with determining the exact percentages, I chose to divide the results, most of which were triads of candidates in a single poll, into three tiers. The bottom tier includes the candidates who came in third in a given three way comparison. You can vote for them in the latest of my Twitter Polls.

The purposes of this project are two fold. One, to help us all educate ourselves on who these people are. So, along with this and other polls are information about the candidates. Not much information, but a little, and you can expand from there.

The second is to help us, somehow, and I’m not sure how we are going to do this exactly, have conversations about these potential Democratic POTUS candidates in a way that does not make us look like a bunch of simpering six-year-olds with teeth coming in. In other words, respectfully and intelligently. I know, that is asking a lot, but still, let’s try.

Here is a short YouTube clip for each of these candidates. This is your chance to go through them and make the argument that one or more of them should be left in the running. I’ve divided them arbitrarily into three groups, and only one from each group will go forard to Round Three

The three twitter polls are here:

Oprah Winfrey

Michael Bloomberg


John Delaney


Val Demmings

Tulsi Gabbard

Mitch Landrieu


Mark de Blasio


Claire McCaskill


Jeff Merkley

Tim Ryan


Sheryl Sandberg

By the way, in a straw poll reported by NBC News today, this happened:

Someone else/DK/other: 28.8 percent

Beto O’Rourke: 15.6 percent

Joe Biden: 14.9 percent

Bernie Sanders: 13.1 percent

Kamala Harris: 10 percent

Elizabeth Warren: 6.4 percent

Sherrod Brown: 2.9 percent

Amy Klobuchar: 2.8 percent

Michael Bloomberg: 2.7 percent

Cory Booker: 2.6 percent

Democratic Candidates for President, 2020

I’m starting a list, I’ll check it twice. Or more. The is the list in rough form. Please suggest who should be removed (for reasons of death or clear declaration that they are not running, not because you don’t like them, not just because you don’t like them) and who should be added?

After your comments and more research by me, I’ll clean up and refine the list. Meanwhile, I’m doing an initial informal bracket poll on Twitter. Go ave a look. Continue reading Democratic Candidates for President, 2020

This year’s biggest ripoff is also this year’s best gift idea

Here’s an idea. You have an old beat up computer running, say, Windows. You want to make it faster, crisper, more secure, and generally, better.

What can you do short of buying a new computer? Well, install Linux. Linux is so much more efficient as an operating system, your computer will simply run better. Guaranteed. Continue reading This year’s biggest ripoff is also this year’s best gift idea

A really good computer setup

I’ve reached a very nice resting point in the ongoing effort to develop a very useful, powerful, stable, and cool computer setup.

This started a while back when I built a computer. In particular, this computer. There are several advantages to building a computer. You can save money or get more bang for your buck even if you don’t pay less. On the saving money side, maybe you have components on hand that you don’t have to buy. I did, mainly mass storage. The case I had, thinking I’d save money there, ended up not working out. You get more bang for the buck because the parts you buy will be better than the ones in the equivilant off the line but cheaper computer, and you’ll have more control over what happens in future upgrades. Continue reading A really good computer setup

One Iguana Two Iguanas: Children’s evolutionary biology book, with lizards!

The land and marine iguanas of the Galapagos Islands are famous. Well, the marine iguanas are famous, and the land iguanas, representing the ancestral state for that clade of two species, deserve a lot of credit as well. The story of these iguanas is integral with, and parallel to, the story of the Galapagos Islands, and of course, that story is key in our understanding of and pedagogy of evolutionary biology, and Darwin’s history. Continue reading One Iguana Two Iguanas: Children’s evolutionary biology book, with lizards!

Can we talk about ladder pulling for a minute?

In light of the Kevin Hart backlash. Or maybe the Joy Reed controversy. I do not refer here to the metaphysical roots of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I refer, rather, to all those Irish white guys in America, whose ancestors were used as target practice by Tammany Hall Toughs in 19th century New York, who are now just fine, and from this position above a repressed and exploited past, say really bone-headed things like “All Lives Matter, #!” They climbed the ladder, and the first thing they did was pull it up so the next group could not. And I refer to all the other ladder pullers out there. You know who you are. Or, maybe, you don’t, and that could be a problem.
Continue reading Can we talk about ladder pulling for a minute?