Category Archives: Earth

How Do Underwater Oil Plumes Form? (video)

3D Google Earth Tour of NC Maps (video)

Do you know how people of Pompeii died when Vesuvius erupted?

You may have heard some hypotheses. But you may be wrong. Go here to read the most current explanation.

Amateur Video Of Gulf Oil Slick – Worse Than BP Admits


Science Cafe Raleigh – Geological Forces in North Carolina

Our May Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 5/18 at Tir Na Nog on S. Blount Street. This year there has been an incredible amount of geologic activity around the world. During this cafe we will be talking about volcanoes and earthquakes and how these and other forces have shaped North Carolina. Our café speaker for the evening will be Dr. Kevin Stewart from the Geology Department at UNC. It should be an interesting evening for all of us to learn more about the earth, how it changes, and how those changes can affect our present world. Dr. Stewart will have some of his books on hand for those who may be interested in getting a copy.
Geologic Forces in Our State and Beyond
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
6:30-8:30 p.m. with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, 833-7795
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, rising seas! These geologic events have been making the headlines lately, but did you know these same events have shaped the North Carolina landscape for the past billion years? We tend to think of our state as being far from the geologic action, but we once had Himalayan-scale mountain ranges and exploding volcanoes. Join us as we discuss the geologic history of North Carolina as well as the global geologic events that are occurring today.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Kevin Stewart has been a professor of Geological Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill for the past 24 years. Stewart’s research focuses on the deformation of the earth’s crust and the tectonic history of mountain belts. He has worked in the southern Appalachians, the Rocky Mountains, and the Apennines in Italy. He recently co-authored a book published by UNC Press titled Exploring the Geology of the Carolinas.
Please RSVP ( if you are able to come. Tir Na Nog’s owner will be there that night to help make sure all goes well.

Science Cafe Raleigh: Clash of the Titans; Energy, Environment, and the Economy

Our April Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 4/20 at the Irregardless Cafe on Morgan Street. Our café speaker for that night is Rogelio Sullivan, Associate Director of the Advanced Transportation Energy Center and also of the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center (FREEDM) at NCSU. Come and learn how our country is dealing with our ever-increasing energy consumption, and of ways that we may be able to reduce our dependence on foreign oil using a combination of innovative alternative energy cars and changes in our daily transportation habits.
Clash of the Titans; Energy, Environment, and the Economy
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Time: 6:30 – 8:30 pm with discussions beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 833-8898
There are approximately 250 million cars on U.S. roads today, fueled primarily by imported oil, and demand is growing. The electric utilities are in the midst of a “Smart Grid” revolution, driven by new technology, increased demand, and need for higher reliability and security. The U.S. government, along with the auto and electric utility industries, are currently striving for electrification of the transportation sector by way of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. All-electric vehicles can provide significant oil savings, improved air quality, reduced energy costs to consumers, increased energy diversity, and support for the electric grid. But are U.S. drivers ready to go all electric?
About the Speaker:
Rogelio Sullivan is the Associate Director of the Advanced Transportation Energy Center and also of the Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management Systems Center (FREEDM) at NCSU. The two research centers are working in partnership with industry to develop technologies that can effectively create the “energy internet”; which will support widespread utilization of renewable energy, plug in electric vehicles, and greater consumer participation in the energy marketplace. Mr. Sullivan is an engineer with more than 20 years of research and development management experience in advanced transportation systems such as hybrids, batteries, lightweight materials, advanced combustion engines, and vehicle auxiliary systems.
PS. Please RSVP if you can come – it is very helpful for restaurant preparations if my estimate for them is as accurate as possible:

Cooling the Planet with Geoengineering

At World Science – listen to the podcast and join the online discussion:

Our guest in this Science Forum is economist Scott Barrett of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Chat with Barrett about the science and politics of geoengineering, the emerging field of science aimed at cooling the planet.
Barrett is an expert on international environmental agreements. He is currently studying the politics and economics of geoengineering. He says countries are more likely to geoengineer climate than reduce their carbon emissions. Read his paper on The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering.
Barrett is the author of Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making. (Here’s a review of the book.) Barrett also blogs for Yale Global Online.
Bring your own questions and comments for Scott Barrett. He’s here in the forum through April 19th. The conversation is just to the right.

Can Genetically Engineered Crops Help Feed the World?

A new forum at World Science is up. As always, listen to the podcast first, then ask questions in the forum:

This week, India rejected what would have been the country’s first a genetically modified food crop, a transgenic eggplant.
The company that developed it, an Indian subsidiary of Monsanto, claims the crop would reduce pesticide use and boost yields. But the Indian government has decided to do independent assessments of the crop’s potential impacts on consumer health and the environment.
What does this mean for the future of GM crops in India and elsewhere? And does this technology have a role to play in feeding the world’s hungry?
We put these questions to Dr. Lisa Weasel. She’s a professor of biology at Portland State University, and the author of Food Fray: Inside the controversy of genetically modified food. She writes that GM crops are more of “a condiment than a main course” in solving the world’s food shortage.
Now it’s your turn to chat with Lisa Weasel. Join the conversation — it’s just to the right.
* Human beings have been altering plants ever since the beginning of agriculture. Why is genetic engineering any different from the older, more traditional ways of tinkering with crop varieties?
* Is there any scientific evidence of harm to human health from eating GM food?
* Why are small farmers in developing countries especially concerned about GM crops?

Big Question: Feast or famine? (video)

The Story of Cap & Trade (video)

The Story of Stuff (video)

Science Cafe Raleigh: Boom ‘n’ Doom: Volcanoes, North Carolina and North Carolina Volcanoes

Boom ‘n’ Doom: Volcanoes, North Carolina and North Carolina Volcanoes
November 18th; Acro Café on the fourth floor of the Museum of Natural Sciences
8:30-10:00 am with discussion beginning at 9:00 followed by Q&A
Volcanic activity half a world away can affect us in our own state. When Indonesia’s Mount Tambora erupted over about 4 days in 1815, the resulting debris cloud led to the “Year Without Summer” in 1816, which was marked by massive crop failures from Europe to North Carolina. Join in a discussion of recent and historical world-wide volcanic events, and find out about old North Carolina volcanoes. Learn about the new Mineral Spectroscopy Laboratory and how Museum research is helping understand and ameliorate the effects of large scale volcanic eruptions.
About the Speaker: Dr. Chris Tacker has been the Research Curator in Geology for the Museum of Natural Sciences since 1996. His work involves mineralogy and its application to understanding geologic processes, especially those that involve fluids and big explosions. Recently, the National Science Foundation awarded him two grants for mineral spectroscopy. He also writes on North Carolina geology for the general public, and appears on the Museum’s PBS program Exploring North Carolina.
RSVP:; or call 919-733-7450 ext.531

American Scientist’s Pizza Lunch speaker: Thomas J. Meyer on alternative energy sources

From Sigma Xi:

Greetings everyone. Here’s hoping that summer treated you kindly and that you are ready to dive back into American Scientist magazine’s annual Pizza Lunch speaker series. We begin this year at noon, Thursday, Sept. 24 at Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society here in Research Triangle Park.
Come hear UNC-Chapel Hill chemist Thomas J. Meyer discuss efforts to develop alternative energy sources that are safer than greenhouse gas emitting fuels. Meyer leads a new research center that this year landed $17.8 million in federal funding to try to develop solar fuels and next-generation photovoltaic technology. The center’s vision is that solar fuels one day could use the sun’s energy to make fuels from water and carbon dioxide for heating, transportation and energy storage. The center also expects that next-generation photovoltaics could generate electricity by inexpensive “solar shingles” on the roofs of buildings.
American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma Xi:

Happy birthday, Milutin Milankovic

MilutinMilankovic.jpgToday is the 130th anniversary of the birth of Milutin Milankovic, a Serbian geophysicist best known for Milankovitch cycles that describe periodicities in Earth’s climate.
Vedran Vucic is in Dalj (near Vukovar, Croatia), Milankovic’s birthplace, today for the birthday celebrations. He says that the house in which Milankovic grew up has been renovated for the occasion. I am assuming it has been turned into a museum. As I will go to Serbia again this summer, perhaps Vedran and I can take a trip to Dalj, where a group of science popularizers are interested in hearing about Open Access publishing, science blogging and other developments in science communication.
[Image Source – Portrait of Milutin Milanković by Paja Jovanović (1859-1957)]

Global Warming: Is the Science Settled Enough for Policy?

July 24, 2008 presentation by Stephen Schneider for the Stanford University Office of Science Outreach’s Summer Science Lecture Series.
Professor Schneider discusses the local, regional, and international actions that are already beginning to address global warming and describe other actions that could be taken, if there were political will to substantially reduce the magnitude of the risks.
The Stanford Summer Science Lecture Series is a set of informal lectures about cutting edge research from four of Stanford’s most esteemed professors.

Hope, Hype and Communicating Climate Change


Tuesday, March 17
7 p.m.
“Hope, Hype and Communicating Climate Change” The Asheville SCONCs welcome nationally prominent science writer Rick Borchelt to speak on making climate change information intelligible to the lay public. This is the first in a series of three public education lectures on climate change to be held in April and June. Diana Wortham Theatre, Asheville.
Details Here (PDF) More Info: Pamela McCown, Education & Research Services, Inc.

Wet or Dry, it’s our Earth

Carnival of the Arid #2, the blog carnival about deserts, is up on Coyote Crossing.
Related to lack of water is, well, lack of water and how it affects people, leads to wars over water, etc. So for the World Water Day on March 22, the blogosphere will write about transboundary water. Send your entries to Daniel for this one-off carnival (or is this more properly called Synchroblogging?).

Daniel, welcome back to the blogosphere

Those of you who have been following the science blogosphere for a while may remember that excellent old blog Down to Earth which, sadly, went dormant back in 2006.
I am happy to announce that Daniel Collins has now started a new blog, focused on water, hydrology and other All Things Wet, at Cr!key Creek (with the cool sub-heading: “Water cycle meet Media cycle”). One to check out and bookmark!

A very brief history of plagiarism

Archy does an amazing detective job on who stole what from whom in the old literature on mammoths, going back all the way to Lyell!
Then, as much of that literature is very old, he provides us with a history and timeline of the ideas of copyright and plagiarism so we could have a better grasp on the sense of the time in which these old copy+paste jobs were done.

Carnival of the Arid – call for submissions

Did you know that the largest desert on Earth is Antarctica? And the second largest is Arctic? And only then comes Sahara!
Well, I knew that because Hal Heathwole taught a Desert Ecology course that many of my buddies in grad school took. But if you don’t believe me, check out the Wikipedia page about deserts.
And then, don’t stop at that. Do you have a blog? If not, start one. If yes, sit down and write a post about a desert. Then send it to the very first edition of the Carnival of the Arid:

Submissions should have something to do with a desert somewhere in the world. (If you’re not sure whether your work is desert-related, check out this definition at Wikipedia, and if you’re still not sure, send it in anyway.) Submissions can be scientific in nature, or history, or travelog. Images are welcome, photographic or otherwise. Discussions of culture and politics are welcome if they’re desert-related. The one restriction, other than geographical, is that — at least when I’m compiling it — paeans to destroying the desert probably won’t make it. (Developers and ORVers take note.) Paeans to preserving or protecting the desert are fine, as are alerts of current pressing issues.

If you are not sure about participating in a carnival, read this first. Then tune in on Saturday for the session Blog carnivals: why you should participate at ScienceOnline’09 and you may change your mind.

Ships and Spaceships

Yes, this has been in the works for a long time, and a few hints have been planted here and there over the past months, but now it is official – NASA and The Beagle Project have signed a Space Act Agreement and will work together on a host of projects including scientific research and education. You can read the details on The Beagle Project Blog – space, oceans, biology, science education, history of science, exploration and adventure: all at once. How exciting!
The text of the agreement is under the fold:

Continue reading

27 Best Deep-Sea Species

About half have already been posted:
#27: Brachiopods
#26: Pig Butt Worm
#25: Crawling Crinoids
#24: Tube Worms
#23: Dumbo Octopus
#22: Xenophyophores
#21: Phronima
#20: Swimming Sea Cucumbers
#19: Black Devil Anglerfish
#18: Venus Fly-trap Anemone
#17: Tripod fish, Bathypterois
#16: Chaunax, the red-eyed gaper
#15: Spookfish, Rhinochimaera pacifica
#14: Alviniconcha, the Hairy Vent Snail
Keep checking for others….

Maps, maps, maps…

Lots of stuff happening locally at Community Cartographies Convergence:

OCTOBER 16: DURHAM, 5:30pm-7:00pm
Talk by Berkeley-based radical cartographer Trevor Paglen at the Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University
in conjunction with the Visiting Artists Series of Duke’s Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, and the 2008 Conference ‘Scenes of Secrecy’
OCTOBER 17: DURHAM, 7pm-10pm
Evening refreshments at Golden Belt for open studios and mapping exhibitions on Durham’s traditional ‘3rd Friday of the month’ celebration.
North Carolina Counter Cartographies Convergence Main Event and closing. All day at the Golden Belts Arts studio building (building 3), east of downtown Durham
Also late afternoon reception in conjunction with the 2008 Conference ‘Scenes of Secrecy: Interdisciplinary Inquiries on Suspicion, Intelligence, and Security’

Will the rich save the planet?

Save the planet? Buy it:

Millionaires are purchasing entire ecosystems around the world and turning them into conservation areas. Their goal? To stop environmental catastrophe.

But will they know how to do it well? Will they inject some of their own incorrect ideas into their projects? Who will they listen to when designing these? Will their kids continue?

Re-framing ‘Save The Planet’?

Interesting idea:

“Save It” Global Warming message by 10 yr old from 1skycampaign on Vimeo.
[Via – read the post as well]

Science Cafe: Monster Storms – Hurricanes in North Carolina

Science Communicators of North Carolina:

Tuesday, August 19
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Science Cafe: Monster Storms – Hurricanes in North Carolina
Dr. Ryan Boyles, State Climatologist and Director of the State Climate Office at NC State University with Dr. Anantha Aiyyer, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine, Earth, Atmospheric Sciences at NC State.
Tir Na Nog 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, (919) 833-7795

Global Warming, Media and Politics

Robert Grumbine has a series of posts with thoughts about climate change and what a non-expert can do to get properly informed:
Climate is a messy business:

Climate certainly is a messy business. One of the things that makes it interesting to those of us who work on it is precisely that. Wherever you look, you find something that affects climate, regardless of whether you look at permafrost, sea ice, forests, farms, rivers, factories, sunspots, volcanoes, dust, glaciers, …
So certainly we have a complicated science and certainly few people are going to understand enough of it to argue the finer points. This is true within the science as well, as few who study volcanoes and their climate effects are going to be able to argue the finer points about the role of sea ice in climate, or vice versa.
What does an honest and interested person do then? Two things as I see it. First, not all the science involved is difficult. For those parts of the science, learn the science. Anybody who can get through normal life, cook a recipe, balance a checkbook, etc., can understand the basics. One source is Jan Schloerer’s summary at Jan was not a climate scientist, but, as I said, you don’t need to be one to understand the basics. One thing he did do (see his acknowledgements, for instance) is check with people who were to ensure that he’d gotten the science right (or at least correct given the limits of writing a general audience description). I’ll come back to basics in a minute.
Second, for things that aren’t elementary, start looking to expert opinion. No different than if your car is acting up and you can’t figure out why, or you’ve got something like a cold but it isn’t going away like one should. You go find an auto mechanic or doctor and use their expertise. If your concern is, instead, about climate, then find some climate scientists. While there aren’t that many (even counting worldwide) they do exist. And it’s not that hard to find their professional understanding. You’ll see it more directly in journals like Science and Nature than Scientific American or Discover. But both can be gotten fairly easily, and both include summaries of the science which are written for laymen.

Science not politics:

Many people have vested interests relating to climate change and thoughts about what, if anything, to do about it. That does produce politics, in that groups of people with interests act politically.
But the science is the science, and respects no party, no nation, no religion, etc.
This does make for the problem that groups with interests other than explaining and discussing the best science also establish web sites, write editorials, produce shows, etc. to propagandize their views, distorting and lying about the science along the way. So if you’re interested in the science, you have to work harder to find it than in something which doesn’t scare people. You also have to work harder to disentangle the parts of an article that are science from those which are opinion, wishful thinking, and such.
One thing which I think is helpful in deciding about sources is to, first, hold your nose about their political viewpoints. This can be hard when the politics are greatly different from yours, but bear with it. As you read through, look for scientific claims, or claims which the author thinks are scientific. As you find them, go hit the literature on the topic and see if the author has represented the point correctly. It may sound like a lot of work, but in practice, most web sites which are more concerned about their politics than the science display this fairly quickly by lies and distortions, and some are at an extremely basic level. Basic enough that you can check the truth of it by looking at a textbook from 30 years ago (before the topic was getting nearly as much press, but well after the scientific basics were understood). If not an outright lie, very often what you’ll see is a quote selected from a scientific article and removed from its context. Once you find the context, you see that the original author’s intent was quite different than the bit quoted.

Climate confusion:

Agreed about the media thing. It’s one of the things which irritates the scientists who are trying to communicate accurate, careful, correct information. People hear wild claims in the media, and then when we discuss what we really know and how well, we don’t get believed (since we’re not as extreme as the media reports, it’s no story). (‘we’ by the way doesn’t exactly include me. I haven’t talked to the media for a long time, and it wasn’t about this. Still, I do know folks who get quoted.)
One thing for you to do, with the 27,000 on either side of you, is to start looking at what they’re scientists of. It turns out that the 27k saying that climate is changing and part of the reason is human activity are climate scientists, while the 27k disagreeing are doctors, chemists, nuclear physicists, … But do the checking yourself. There’s a petition, for instance, with over 17,000 signers, but very few of them are in climate sciences (but check me on that). If your mechanic says your car needs a new belt, as do the several other mechanics you take the car to, while a bunch of doctors you know say that it doesn’t, do you get the belt or not? I get the belt. Being knowledgeable (about something) isn’t sufficient; you have to be knowledgeable about the thing at hand.


Yes, I am one of many SciBlings and other bloggers who got offered to pre-screen Randy Olson’s new movie “Sizzle” (check the Front Page of for links to all the others). I was reluctant at first, but in the end I gave in and agreed to preview a copy. Why was I reluctant? As a scientist, I need to start my piece with a bunch of neatly organized caveats, so here are the reasons why I thought I would not be a good person to review the movie:
– I am just not a good movie critic. Of the thousands of movies I have seen in my life, I disliked perhaps three. I am terribly uncritical of movies in general. When I go to the theater, I go with a blank mind, no expectations and, just like any Average Joe, I sit back with a bag of popcorn and ask the Director “Entertain me”. And I am usually quite entertained. I do not have the willpower to watch a movie critically – I just go for the ride. I want to enjoy myself, so I do.
– Ïn the past couple of years (and this may have to do with my internet “addiction”) I have found it increasingly more difficult to focus. It is hard to read a book – I need to deliberately remove myself from the vicinity of the computer for this task, so I mostly manage to read books on airplanes and at the pool. The same with scientific papers – I find it hard to focus and read the thing from beginning to end unless I print it out and take it somewhere away from the lure of the Web. It has come to the point that I have the same problem with movies. Sometimes kids drag me to the theater, but if my wife gets something Netflixed, I usually watch a few seconds and leave the room. A person who has the requisite training and the official license to diagnose people, unofficially suggested I would need Ritalin to go through a book, and he knows me pretty well.
– I am not a climate scientist, but I am a scientist and think like one. I am not the intended audience for this movie. Am I able to watch it through the eyes of an Average Joe?
– I am firmly in the camp of Global Warming believers. But it is not because I would know how to make a climate model. Or because I studied the issue deeply. It is because people I trust say so. Good science bloggers (and a couple of good journalists) explained the models in ways I can understand. They explained the issues in ways I can understand. But most importantly, I believe it because of people who say GW is not a problem – their backgrounds, their corporate and political ties and their sources of income make me deeply mistrustful of them. In a way, my view of GW is political: I see who the people on the two sides are, see how nicely the two sides divide between the people who genuinely care and have no reason to lie, and the people whose financial and political interests led them to lie on many other issues before, and the conclusion is clear.
– I have zero background or even context to watch this in. Nothing to compare. I never saw The Incovenient Truth. I never saw Al Gore’s slideshow presentation. I never saw Randy’s other movie The Flock Of Dodos. I never saw Borat (though I saw a couple of older Michael Moore’s documentaries). I never read a book that is specifically about Climate. The only related thing I saw was that action movie in which GW arrives in hours and traps some kids in a library in the frozen NYC (which I, of course, enjoyed, as I always do, despite of obvious scientific flaws). So, my mind is less prepared for this than either scientists or the Average Joes.
– I am weary of the Framing Wars in the blogosphere and I am afraid that a bunch of blog reviews of the movie will start off another round. This time, I am not sure if I want to participate…
– I am such a stupid Luddite! Knowing that my DVD player can’t do anything with a CD-ROM, I unthinkingly assumed that the reverse is also true, i.e., that my computer would not know what to do with a DVD. So, this stupidity resolved, Sizzle was the very first movie that I ever watched on my computer. I usually watch movies with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine, in a comfortable chair or bed, like most people will watch it. But this time I watches it crouched over my laptop, with my earphones on, the way only geeks will see it. I do not know if that is good or bad.
So, I got the DVD and watched the whole thing in one sitting. Normally, I would have quit after the first few minutes, but I persisted because a) I promised to do it, b) I heard that the second half is better than first, and c) because I could not believe that Randy would really be that bad, so I wanted to see more, to see how I was played by Randy in the beginning. It appeared too bad to be genuinely bad – there must have been a catch!
So I put myself into my typical inert film-watching state of mind: my idiotically zen-like, blank-slate, “entertain me”, uncritical, unscientific, impressionistic mode. And through the first half of the movie I was frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated!
The first half is so over-the-top awkward. There are totally shallow gay and Black stereotypes. Randy looks and acts like a doofoos and a jerk. The critique of the Star-Obsessed movie-making culture was painful, especially since I had my own experiences with it: younger and more “have-something-to-prove” the movie-makers, more shallow, self-centered, ignorant and arrogant they are. But they needed horses (and people who can ride them, in costumes) and they paid well, so we did try to survive their torture.
For the scientists, the first half (heck, the whole movie) is frustrating because there is very little data and very little explanation of the science of climate change. For the politically minded, like me, the first half is frustrating because it looks like a typically “balanced” He-said-she-said piece, where both sides are given equal time and equal merit. Heck, if anything, the Bad Guys were given more time – there are interviews in there with six sweet-talking GW deniers whose political and financial ties are not put up front for all to see, versus only two climate scientists and one environmentalist spokesperson, none of whom was as eloquent as the deniers. Randy’s occasional angry assertions that denialists are lying are weak and off-putting and make you like the denialists better, especially since the “Average Joe” – Marion, the cameraman – is cool and hip and easy to identify with and yet he swallows all the denialist crap bait, hook and sinker.
I hope people do not get up and leave during the first half.
Because it is subtle. And the second half shows how. The whole movie has to be seen to the end.
The first half is frustrating to us because it shows us our own view in the mirror. Many of us in the sciences, or in the “reality based community”, will find it uneasy and uncomfortable to see that view, but many of us are just like Randy: too serious, too controlling, blind and deaf to the “regular” people’s ways of looking at the world, and overconfident that “truth will set you free”. Yes, it is a caricature, but not too far from the reality of how many of us try to communicate to people who do not think like us.
When we try to explain something and the person we talk to does not believe us, despite of all our years of study, we get frustrated and try to persuade them the same way we try to persuade our scientific peers: by throwing more data at them. But they are not our scientific peers – the data do not hold such a large sway on them. You need to persuade them to believe you, not to understand the graphs. And that is where the professional PR hacks do better – they do the PR tricks: they smile, and bribe, and compliment, and talk like “regular folks” and appeal to emotion. And it works. We know it works. I believe in GW because people who study it persuaded me to believe them, not because I understand their science, or even have any interest in the details of their data. They earned my trust in other ways, and the opponents earned my distrust in other ways. Even for me, a scientist, data had no effect on my current belief – it is the way two sides present the data, or manipulate the data, and explain “what it really means” that one side earned my trust.
And that is exactly what is shown in the second half of the movie. Randy’s mom, and his crew (mostly the sound man, until then pretty silent, even refusing to talk) pretty much sit Randy down and give him a lesson. Now we see some other, previously unseen snippets from the interviews: how well the climate scientists explain stuff when asked by laymen in regular language. And how sleazy the denialists are in their sweet-talking, but can be derailed by a straightforward, direct question.
We are shown a simple graphic of how the six denialists disagree with each other. Oooh!
Then we see two superb examples of scientists who are great communicators, chatting and bantering, at ease with answering questions from skeptical lay audience, putting it all very plainly yet very effectively. While watching the polar bears play. Just before going to New Orleans to see the devastation still there two years after Katrina, and what people who live there have to say.
Every sympathy for the denialist side you could have gathered in the first half disappears after this. No need to show any data, to present any facts, to get angry in the face when screaming that the denialists are lying. You clearly see who is honest and who is not. Who is compassionate and who is a sleazebag. You easily choose who to trust and who not. Without any additional information, you grasp that GW is real, is man-made and should be fixed by us, humans, and soon.
Then you realize that the frustrating over-the-topness of the first half is subtle and there on purpose, to give us contrast, to show us how we keep trying to do it wrong, and then how to do it right.
I noticed how many times I laughed during the second, “serious” half of the movie. I was overjoyed. And I never even chuckled during the first, “comedic” half. The joke was on me. Us.
That is powerful.

Next Generation Energy

There is a new (temporary) blog on – Next Generation Energy:

For the next three months, Seed editors and a hand-picked team of guest bloggers will delve into energy policies of all kinds–from carbon capture to windmills.
Every Wednesday, we’ll post a new topic or question about alternative energy on the blog. In the days following, our expert guess bloggers will post their answers to the question, and respond to questions and comments from readers.
So without further ado, here’s our first week’s question:
Our oil supplies are down. And with rising concerns of global food supplies, the loudly touted ethanol now seems to be a no-go, too. So, in the coming years, what do you think will become the world’s most viable alternative energy solution?

You can get acquainted with the bloggers here. Join the conversation.

The coolest picture of the year, I predict

Last night I thought I had fun, hearing both thunder and fireworks, but these guys could not just hear but also see not two but three spectacular things simultaneously – fireworks (left), comet McNaught (center) and lightning (right). And this was all captured in one of the most exciting photos I have seen recently, bound to win all sorts of “Picture of the Year” contests come December:
Comet Between Fireworks and Lightning, picture taken by Antti Kemppainen:
Click here to see it really big!

In January 2007, people from Perth, Australia gathered on a local beach to watch a sky light up with delights near and far. Nearby, fireworks exploded as part of Australia Day celebrations. On the far right, lightning from a thunderstorm flashed in the distance. Near the image center, though, seen through clouds, was the most unusual sight of all: Comet McNaught. The photogenic comet was so bright that it even remained visible though the din of Earthly flashes. Comet McNaught has now returned to the outer Solar System and is now only visible with a large telescope. The above image is actually a three photograph panorama digitally processed to reduce red reflections from the exploding firework.

Tunguska explosion

Something happened in Siberia 100 years ago – exactly, on this day. I always found the event very intriguing. If you want to learn everything one needs and wants to know about the event, written in a way that will make you excited – go and read Archy’s latest masterpiece (hmmm, anthology-worthy?).


There is a huge forest fire raging in Eastern North Carolina, unfortunately affecting the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The smoke has now moved more than 100 miles to the west, which means right here. It’s been stinking of smoke all day, getting worse and worse as time went on. And it appears it will not get any better soon.

Belgrade Is The World

There were quite a lot of events and actions in Belgrade for the Earth Day last week. I came in on that day so I did not have time to see anything. But I loved the balloon they placed in the center of the Slavija square: it was a globe with recognizable outlines of the continents. But the parts of the world were labeled with the names of main streets, parts and neighborhoods of Belgrade (with some effort to match “characters” of the places):
The balloon was supposed to be set free on Earth Day, but, just as I was speaking at the Pediatric Center, a huge storm started outside and broke the balloon lose:
[Pictures stolen from Ana]

Happy Leap Day

Though, at some times and places in history, February 24th was considered to be the Leap Day. For the more science-oriented folks, Phil Plait explains why we have leap days.

Food and Guilt – questions about some extraordinary claims

There is a lot of stuff one hears about food, sustainability, environment, etc., and it is sometimes hard to figure out what is true and what is not, what is based on science and what is emotion-based mythology.
For instance, some things I have heard over the years and have no means to evaluate if they are even close to plausible:
Claim #1: if we used every square inch of arable or potentially arable land, clearing the rainforest, turning deserts into fields, removing cities, malls and highways, killing all the animals, destroying all natural ecosystems, moving all humans to the Moon and planting all of the Earth’s landmass (except, perhaps Antarctica and Mt.Everest), there would still not be enough grain, fruits and vegetables to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #2: if we used all the available technology to maximize the production of fish, shellfish, sea-weed, etc., the entire production on the oceans would still not be able to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #3: if all of the suitable (and unsuitable but convertable, e.g,. cities, deserts) land was converted into small farms where chickens really freely roam and peck around the yard, there would not be enough chicken meat to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
I guess if any or all of those are even close to true, the idea is that we have to trade-off and compromise: we cannot eat just plants, or just seafood, or just free-range chicken, but have to combine all (plus farm-raised animals of several species raised as humanely as possible, plus a little bit of game meat) of these in some way that can feed all of us without destroying the environment.
So, anyone know any answers, or at even educated guesses as to the veracity of any of the three above claims?

Presidential Candidates on the Environment

The League of Conservation Voters has issued a comparison of all the Presidential candidates of both parties on the topic of conservation and global warming. Look at the Chart and watch the Video. Then decide.

Ten Years Since The Kyoto Agreement….

Indy has the entire issue devoted to the topic of Global Warming, with some excellent articles:
10 years after Kyoto: You’re getting warmer by Bill McKibben
10 years after Kyoto: Winners and losers by Sena Christian
James Hansen won’t be quiet by Lisa Sorg
Ryan Boyles, state climatologist by Matt Saldana
Energy interests fund Duke University’s research on climate change policy by Matt Saldana
State senator parades dubious ‘global warming experts’ before commission by Mosi Secret

How It All Ends

Now is time for us to help

Cyclone Sidr has hit Bangladesh. The number of casualties, though not as large as predicted, is still large and growing. More importantly, millions of people are displaced and have lost the sources of their livelihoods. The best way to help is to send money.
Red Cross/Red Crescent is probably in the best position to help fast. Or you may choose some other organization. Track the relief effort on the ReliefWeb. And donate today.


The cyclone Sidr looks ominous and scary. It will make landfall tomorrow. More than ten million people live in the river delta of Bangladesh where Sidr is headed. Shelters have a capacity for about half a million. Others are, I guess, evacuating on foot, if there even is a place to go and hide. Some may have decided to stay put beause they cannot travel or there is no place to go. The rains brought by the cyclone are likely to lead to flooding, endangering lives even more. All we can do right now is wait and hope that the cyclone and its aftermath do not kill as many people as some are estimating: 100,000! And we should be ready to immediately spring into action to help the survivors in whatever way is deemed most effective, most likely cash so Red Cross and other organizations can go in and start to rescue and take care of millions of displaced people.

Which Single Intervention Would Do the Most to Improve the Health of Those Living on Less Than $1 Per Day?

Since I was gone to two meetings and nobody else can walk the dog as regularly as I can, the dog spent the week at Grandma’s in Raleigh. Today I went to pick her up (the dog, that is) which placed me in the car at precisely the time of NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday (OK, I intentionally timed it that way). And lo and behold, there was Gavin Yamey on the radio! Hey, I thought, I know this guy! We had lunch together and we exchange at least a dozen e-mails every week.
Gavin is editor at PLoS Medicine and, as part of the Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development, he interviewed 30 experts on poverty (from economists like Jeffrey Sacks, through biomedical researchers focusing on the diseases of the poor, via medical staff working in the trenches, to the greatest experts on the topic – the poor themselves) and asked them the same question (the one in the title of this post). The answers are collected here.
You can hear the NPR interview here. Twice you can hear a faint jingle in the background. Apparently, a friend of his tried to text Gavin to tell him he was on Science Friday – as if Gavin was not acutely aware of the fact at the time! Talk of the Nation is a call-in show, thus it goes live. It is not pre-recorded. Please do not call your friends when they are On Air!
Gavin also gave a similar interview for Voice of America (find transcript through that link). I think he did marvelously.
The main points of the survey:
1) Doing something about poverty is not expensive or high-tech.
2) No single intervention is sufficient – a number of things have to happen simultaneously.
3) The rich countries reneged on their promise from the past to devote a certain percentage of their GDP to the eradication of poverty.
4) Getting the rich countries to do what they promised would go a long way.
One of the things Ira Flatow tried to do during the interview was to paint the picture as “haves versus have-nots”. I think Gavin did a nice job of deflecting this notion. The idea that the word “versus” should be between the words “haves” and “have-nots” is outdated and dangerous. The thinking that this is a zero-sum game in which the two “sides” compete, and if one side “wins” the other one “loses” is devious and wrong. The two groups are interconnected and interdependent. Either both win or both lose, and it is the haves who have the power to decide which outcome they prefer.

Check the NYTimes Election Guide on Climate Change

What all the candidates are saying.

The F-word

After Fran and Floyd, hurricanes that start with F make me quite nervous. And now Felix, in less than a day since it formed, went from Category 2 to Category 3 to Category 4 to Category 5. It is a monster! Honduras is in for a bad thrashing soon!

Obligatory Reading of the Day – Global Warming

Naomi Oreskes, the author of the 2004 paper in Science about the scientific consensus on global warming, recently had her work attacked by regressive denialists (including on Senator I-hate-science-Inhofe’s blog). Her full response is now available on Stranger Fruit. Go and read it. Now.

Lunar Eclipse tonight

Here is the time-table if you want to watch the eclipse in the Eastern time zone:
As you can see, it is very late at night, and much of the good stuff is happening after dawn. Perhaps in other time zones, the eclipse will look better, so check out the timelines here.

114.8 Fahrenheit in the shade!

People have been cooking in Belgrade, Serbia, for weeks now. Last time I am aware of that the temperature was this high was when I was in pre-school. Today’s pictures:

The Great Flood

Apparently, Great Britain became an island due to a big flood (not gradual erosion). Don’t let the Old Earth Creationists hear about this…

A cool nerdy video about Global Warming

Mindy discovered a cool series of videos on YouTube, done by a physics teacher.
The first one is called The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See:

Then, to respond to questions and comments, he added Patching Holes #1, Patching Holes #2 and Patching Holes #3, also well worth watching. This is certainly no Al Gore!

Exclusive: Interview with Senator John Edwards on Science-Related Topics

I had a great pleasure recently to be able to interview Senator – and now Democratic Presidential candidate – John Edwards for my blog. The interview was conducted by e-mail last week.
As I am at work and unable to moderate comments, the comment section is closed on this post, but will be open on the previous post (here) where I hope you will remain civil and stay on topic. You are also welcome to comment on this interview at several other places (e.g,. DailyKos, MyDD, TPMCafe, Science And Politics, Liberal Coalition, the Edwards campaign blog as well as, hopefully, your own blogs).
I cannot answer any additional questions for Senator Edwards, of course, but there are likely to be other opportunities in the future where your questions can be answered so feel free to post them in the comments thread on the other post and I’ll make sure he gets them. The interview is under the fold:

Continue reading

Storm World

stormworld%20cover.jpgUnfortunately, I will still be out of town for this, but if you are in the area on July 12th, you should go to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh (it is in Ridgewood Shopping Center, 3522 Wade Ave.) at 7pm and meet my SciBling Chris Mooney. He is touring the country reading from his new book Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (website).
Last year, when he was touring with the “Republican War On Science” we had a grand time at his reading/signing and afterwards we, of course, had Miller Lite (at least he had, I chose something a little more beer-like). So, mark your calendars now and go and say Hi to Chris on the twelfth.