Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Weighing in at over 1,500 pages, surveying the results from thousands of journal articles, and written by 259 experts from fields including meteorology, physics, oceanography, statistics, engineering, ecology, social sciences and economics, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis is the single most thorough, most comprehensive, and most accessible document in existence for understanding what we know and how well we know it concerning the subject of Anthropogenic Climate Change. The IPCC will publish four reports this year, but this first is my favorite. Any discussion on the subject of Climate Change should orbit this document.
More importantly, anyone wanting to understand the science and understand what constitutes good science, should pay attention to this document. How do we define “good science?” Let’s see how it applies to this latest report:
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This book is another tool in the myriad strategies we parents use to teach our children. The ebook format allows something print books don’t: an alphabet book with 10 examples of each letter. This means there are 260 images in this book. That can be quite overwhelming, but that’s nothing compared to the Earth’s actual biodiversity.
Want to get closer to your primal beginnings? Have kids. During nine-months of pregnancy, you will learn about all the evolutionarily-influenced mechanics of giving birth, from the fetal acrobatics involved in maneuvering an enormous head required to house our big brains through a birth canal constrained in size so that human females can walk upright. Next time you look at a newborn baby, take a moment to appreciate these many echoes to our primitive origins.
Friday Night Magic at Earth 383
20 years ago this month, I introduced my college friends to a new concept, the collectible card game (CCG). Magic the Gathering was instantly addictive for all of us, a game one part role-playing, one part exploration and discovery, and ten parts ingenuity. I’ll never forget when my friends confronted me after a few weeks of play, demanding, “Why did you keep this from us for so long?”
Truth is, I had just discovered Magic a few months earlier when I found a couple of friends playing in their apartment. A game where you play a Wizard (excuse me, “Plainswalker”) collecting spells and creatures into your spellbook to use against other opponents? Sold.
“Examples of animals exhibiting maladaptive responses to evolutionary novel objects and becoming trapped. (A) A Cuban tree frog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) ingesting a decorative light that mimics the bioluminescent qualities of its insect prey. (B) A black-footed albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) killed by the ingestion of small, often colorful, floating garbage that mimics food items. (C) A giant jewel beetle (Julodimorpha bakewelli) attempting to mate with a beer bottle that produces supernormal strengths of coloration and reflection cues associated with female conspecifics . (D) Mayflies blanketing, mating, and ovipositing on a storefront window that strongly reflects horizontally polarized light, their primary habitat selection cue in locating natural water bodies.”
) Images by James Snyder (A), Chris Jordan (B), Darryl Gwynne (C), and Will Milne (D) (Copyrighted, reproduced here as fair use).
Carl Zimmer has an article summarizing the research presented by Robertson, Rehage, and Sih concerning evolutionary traps, when “rapid environmental change triggers organisms to make maladaptive behavioral decisions.” In other words, we change the environment in ways that cause animals to exhibit behaviors harmful to themselves.
Zimmer gives the example of the albatross, which “will peck at brightly colored pieces of plastic floating in the water, for example. It’s a response that used to give them energy but now can fill their guts with trash.” Witherington gives the example of sea turtles, which “have evolved the tendency to migrate toward the light of the moon upon emerging from their sand nests. However, in the modern world, this has resulted in them tending to orient towards bright beach-front lighting, which is a more intense light source than the moon. As a result the hatchlings migrate up the beach and away from the ocean where they exhaust themselves, desiccate and die either as a result of exhaustion, dehydration or predation.” Sea turtles also mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume them. In 2011 Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz won an IgNobel for their research on the giant jewel beetle, which attempts to mate with a certain brand of beer bottle because they exhibit “supernormal strengths of coloration and reflection cues associated with female conspecifics.”
For 106 hours (24 ME1, 33 ME2, 59 ME3) over the last six months, I have been exploring the epic science fiction worlds of Mass Effect (ME). I could have easily only spent 60 hours there, since that’s enough time to get through the game, but I was genuinely engaged with the universe and eager to explore every little detail. I’m not a hardcore video game player, but occasionally, I come across one that I simply cannot pass up.
So I decided to spend the weekend redesigning/modernizing my lifetime project, a citation-management tool memexplex, because the site is old and ugly looking and I wanted to play with some of the shiny new toys in CSS:
The 00s Called, They Want Their Website Design Back
So hundreds googlings and SOings and two sugar-driven all-nighter’s later, I’ve got the new “placeholder” tags in my inputs, nifty-gradient backgrounds in my divs, my inputs are modern-ish looking, and my checkboxes, buttons, and selects are all replaced with images. Yay!
Shiny New Website
My article Never a Magic Bullet: The Personal and Public Dimensions of Gun Ownership and Gun Violence is appearing in the March/April edition of the Humanist. Much of the article is an appeal for rational, civil discourse on the subject, but I did have one dimension where I have a strong opinion. Not surprisingly, it has to do with scientific integrity:
In 1996, Congress stripped the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of funding for research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” In 2010 the NRA successfully lobbied to have restrictions placed on the ability of doctors to gather data about patient gun use into the Affordable Health Care for America Act. In 2012 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was prohibited from spending money “to advocate or promote gun control.” Most egregiously, a 2011 bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it illegal for doctors in the state to ask patients if they own guns, preventing even pediatricians from asking parents if their guns are stored safely away from children.
I love love love The Big Bang Theory (BBT). I love the intelligent science references, the highly-debatable geek-culture references, and the cameos only a nerd would enjoy. Most of all, the portrayal of idiosyncratic individuals who bare an incredible resemblance to people I’ve had to deal with for decades working in IT and hanging out at Cons and Comic shops.
So it comes as a shock to me that there is a lot of hate for BBT in geek culture. Many geeks seem to loathe the way the show portrays geek mannerisms, habits, and argue that the show invites normal people to laugh at geeks and encourages belittling them. The show is simply a televised extension of the bullying we had to endure in high school. Geeks see it as validating that abuse through the reactions of the “hot girl” Penny, who lives across the hall from the geeks and whose reactions to the geeks are a source of amusement for the audience.
I don’t see it, and I’m honestly offended at some of the opinions and parochialism being exhibited by some of my fellow geeks. Defending an opinion isn’t like defending a scientific position, I can’t cite journal papers and research to back it up, but I can use logic and anecdotal evidence. So here it goes…
I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday dinosaur this Thanksgiving, and thank you joining me in this delightful excursion out into the wide wonderful world of ideas and expressions in evolution.