Posts tagged with Science

The World Bank and Global Warming

The World Bank isn't known historically as an environmentally friendly institution in terms of the sorts of development projects it has funded. So when the World Bank gets concerned about the possible affects of global warming perhaps even the skeptics ought to pay attention.

Check out the World Bank's climate change site here:



Location of Gale Crater - from Google Mars

Location of Gale Crater - from Google Mars by Paul Decelles

If you are up, one of the most important space exploration events is happening now through early Monday morning (August 6), the landing of Curiosity. Media coverage is pretty spotty. Fortunately there is NASA TV for us night owls.

CNN is covering this at least on line but they are getting their feed from NASA, so go right to the source.

Closer view of Gale Crater-landing site is in the upper left hand area of the crater

Closer view of Gale Crater-landing site is in the upper left hand area of the crater by Paul Decelles

Update! Curiosity has landed..first photos.

Low res image from Curiosity. If I understood correctly the rover landed 232M from the landing target.

Low res image from Curiosity. If I understood correctly the rover landed 232M from the landing target. by Paul Decelles

Reply 13 comments from Kirk Larson Tbaker Riverdrifter Snap_pop_no_crackle Paul Decelles Blue73harley Roland Gunslinger Cait McKnelly Ken Lassman

Pieces of Flowers

Floral pieces

In lab today we saw creatures
From two of the three domains-
Identified cocci and bacilli,
Paramecium and Amoeba swimming
or streaming under cover glass.

Then the plants-mosses green,
With diploid sex brown and erect;
Fern's hidden gametophytes
Androgynous creatures dwarfed
By cozy sitting room fronds.

Finally we consider the lillies-
Pink and spotted petals,
Orange pollen shed from anthers,
Little orange creatures slithering tubes
Down the style for sperm swim to the eggs.

Linnaeus glimpsed the flower's
Blindness to our conceits
Though his colleagues spun around
In their shrouds, screamed:
"No proper plant does this!"

Lab over, petals and sepals and ovaries
Are wings pulled from flies-
Pieces of flowers diced and swept away-
All the bone white facts collected,
Objectives checked for the next quiz.

We return to our cages and sit,
Peeling our soft triploid carpels,
Blind in our shrouds.

In addition to science I also write poetry. This poem originated with my biology lab this week which is supposed to give students at least some exposure to the major groups of organisms on Earth. One of the activities was dissecting a flower. We had these wonderful lilies to dissect. As I was pulling the petals off and then cutting into various parts of the flower I had this feeling like the little boy pulling the wings off of the fly and maybe being a bit guilty-in this case of destroying such beauty. But that feeling was mixed with the desire that my students get some feel for the idea the way sex and gender work in our species doesn't apply to most of the major groups of organisms.

Linnaeus was one of the first if not the first scientists to understand that many types of flowers have both male and female reproductive structures on the same plant, often in the same flower. This actually did upset his contemporaries who argued that God would not create such a thing. Even today of course people haven't entirely accepted that within our own species there is extensive variation in the expression of sex and gender and that the little boxes we want to stuff people into don't work for everyone, and so some of us are blind in our shrouds.

Hopefully the reference to bananas is not too obscure.


Science from Multiple World Views?

Recently I stumbled upon a small publisher of home school materials called Gravitas Publications. This publisher's main product is called Real Science 4 Kids by Dr. Rebecca Keller. I have no expertise in home school curricula, and from what I have seen some aspects of her approach look interesting.

What bothers me is her claim that science can be taught from the point of view of multiple world views in a strictly neutral sort of way.

She writes:

"Yes! Real science doesn’t choose sides. So when teaching science, it’s important that the lessons let kids explore all sides. Otherwise, choosing one side can get in the way of understanding the real science. Darwinism, creationism, intelligent design theory, and all the other “isms” are simply paradigms (or “lenses”) through which science is viewed. The “-isms” are philosophies based on perceptions for how science is interpreted. Students need to learn how “-isms” play a role in science."

Ok, science doesn't choose sides in that is ideologically neutral there is no conservative science, or Christian science, or Buddhist science. There ideally is just science. She is also right, our world view does affect how we interpret science. But is science really neutral in terms of the world view it admits?

Personally I think not. For example I don't see much support in science for the notion that the Universe or the Earth is say 10,000 years old or that the goal of a liquid is to seek its lowest level, or that magic is real. At the very least science since it is empirical forces scientific explanations and tests of scientific ideas to be mechanistic and transparent.

At any rate, check out Dr. Keller's video discussing the issue of multiple world views and see what you think:

Also if you home school for whatever reason, what is your reaction to this? I'd also be interested in hearing from any one who has experience with this curriculum.


Global Warming Forces Major Change in Behavior of a Common Animal.

Normally I don't get alarmist about climate change, but this is a real serious though unintended consequence of climate change that we all need to be aware of.

Climate change pushes Groundhog Day to January

The town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania has announced that it is pushing Groundhog Day forward eight days to January 25, in recognition of the impact climate change has had in western Pennsylvania. The change is based on analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), whose scientists have determined that spring has come an average of eight days earlier to the region since 1997.

Check it out!


A New Word

Picked up a new word today courtesy of an article in Scientific American on Freeman Dyson. The word is "bunkrapt." The neologism coined by Peter Medawar in the 1980's means, to according to the article, to be "infatuated with bunk." So I guess it is from bunk + rapture. I can't wait to use this on my favorite intelligent design hipster or anti-vaccine fanatic.

The article's author John Horgan notes referring to what he sees as some of the wacky beliefs of Freeman Dyson that:

"The gleeful rebel Dyson, it seems to me, embodies our bunkrapt era, when the delineation between knowledge and pseudo-knowledge is becoming increasingly blurred; genuine authorities are mistaken for hucksters and vice versa; and we all believe whatever damn thing we want to believe."

I do promise to be nice and NOT use bunkrapt to refer to any of my readers!

I have also posted on Dyson and global warming at:


Last night’s sky.

Last night was the harvest moon and I hope everyone got to enjoy it. I got home from teaching at around 9:30 and thought about eating supper and going to bed. Instead I ended up taking my camera outside-not so much to take pictures of the moon but rather pictures of Jupiter, the largest planet in our system.

So here is the best picture I got:


Jupiter is the bright object in the lower left of the photo. Click through to my flickr page and you will see three faint objects very close to Jupiter-those are three of Jupiter's moons. All and there is an added bonus. Up and to the left of Jupiter is a very faint bluish point of light. Turns out that is Uranus, a planet I have never seen. So an interesting first for me.

I expected to be able to get Jupiter since that planet is close-OK relatively speaking- to the Earth, but I thought light from the moon would prevent me from getting a good exposure.

In fact the moon was so bright it cast very pronounced shadows. Just for a lark I shot this picture of plants in my front yard and driveway:

By the light

As you can see the moon's light rivaled that cast from the street light just down from our house-one of the few times something in the night sky is able to break through the light pollution that keeps us cut off from the Universe unfolding around us in deep time.



Mayfly Imago This is an adult mayfly from near Mary's Lake in Lawrence. Mayflies are not flies but belong to the insect order Ephemeroptera. The name refers to the fact that adults are short lived, typically living only a few days. The adult mouthparts are vestigial; the adult lives just long enough to mate and release eggs.

There is nothing ephemeral about the order Ephemeroptera since the order is the oldest known group of insects still around today. Fossil mayflies are known from the Permian, around 300 million years ago. The nymphs are aquatic and generally feed on algae and plant material. As is the case with dragonflies the immature mayflies are nymphs meaning that the immature comes to more closely resemble the adult with successive molts. One interesting tidbit is that mayflies are the only winged insect where there are two winged stages.

The first winged stage is called a subimago and it is produced when the mature nymph crawls out of the water. The subimago is not brightly colored, and the wings appear cloudy. Almost immediately the subimago molts or sheds again to give the final adult form called an imago.

Mayflies are important food for fish. In fact many artificial "flies" made for fishing are modeled after mayflies.

Mayfly Links on the Web:

Here is a short video showing the nymphs and emergence of subimagos of a European mayfly. You'll see that the subimagos really don't do much flying but seem to climb to the top of plant stems where they molt into the imago. The video says it is about the hatching of the mayfly where what is meant is the emergence of the subimago so don't get confused.