Monthly Archives: December 2009

Surely Rachel Maddow can’t be making this (fossilized) shit up!

Wow! What an incredible tale this is, from tonight’s “Moment of Geopolitical Geek” segment of the Rachel Maddow show.

Its a tale that has everything: international geopolitical intrigue, fossilized bird poop, international money-laundering scams, overexploitation of natural resources, Russian mobsters, failed musical theater investment scams, international fugitives… er… asylum seekers from Australia, political corruption all the way up to the UN, the seamy underbelly of globalization, all set on a tropical Pacific island nation that went from having one of the highest per capita incomes to desperately broke within a decade!! Oh, and did I mention fossilized bird poop?!

Tell me that isn’t a tale with a little bit for everybody – even the masala grinders of Bollywood would be hard pressed to cram so many ingredients together into such a juicy package! So why isn’t this story in the movie theaters? Or on our televisions in serialized form? Is there at least a bestselling book with all the sordidly entertaining details? One hopes… but for now, we have a gem of an under-five-minute news report thanks to the brilliant Rachel Maddow, who is giving the Daily Show a run for their money, not with fake news, but real news! Remember that concept? No wonder she’s rapidly become the brightest star in TV news. So, without further ado, let me share with you: “Poop Dreams

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Beautifully complex information, skepticism, and the challenge of understanding climate change

via Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog, comes a link to this beautiful information graphic pitting the data and the interpretations on both sides of the global warming “debate” against each other face to face, and in a jargon free way. The original graphic is on a black background, but I find this version more readable, and have posted it here below the fold.

Apart from the visual beauty and simplicity of this poster, what really strikes me is how difficult it is to wrap our heads around the complex datasets underlying the scientific consensus on global warming, and the projections that have the “alarmists” so, well, alarmed! This poster does a really nice job presenting both sides in a point-counterpoint manner that may help clear some of the confusion – but it also illustrates the daunting task of understanding the data and discerning the patterns, which is why we need real expertise – and we need to trust the experts when most of them tell us that we have a real problem on our hands! It is therefore worth reading the accompanying notes from David McCandless, the creater of this graphic:

I researched this subject in a very particular way. I deliberately chose not speak directly to any climate experts or leading scientists in the field. I used only publicly available web sources.

Why? Because I wanted to simulate what it’s like for people trying to learn about climate change online.

My conclusion is “what a nightmare”. I was generally shocked and appalled by how difficult it was to source counter arguments. The data was often tucked away on extremely ancient or byzantine websites. The key counter arguments I often found, 16 scrolls down, on comment 342 on a far flung post from three years ago. And even when I found an answer, the answers were excessively jargonized or technical.

Most of the info for this image is sourced from It’s an amazing blog staffed tirelessly by some of the world’s leading climatologists.

Unfortunately, the majority of the writing on there is so scientific and so technical, it makes the website nigh on useless to the casual, curious reader.

The scientists (my people) clearly need to make a better effort at communicating what they know and find in as jargon free a manner as possible! If it is a nightmare for someone as motivated as the creator of this infographic to find and make sense of the data, I can only sympathize with the journalists and more casual readers (even reasonably informed ones, let alone those under the sway of Faux news) who find the arguments confusing. If even a public communication portal like is too technical for a motivated reader, it shouldn’t surprise us that so many fall prey to the much simpler spin from the “skeptics” who deny any human role in exacerbating global warming.

Heck, even a professional skeptic like James Randi put his foot in his mouth about this a couple of days ago when he wrote (finally, after having avoided the topic for years) that he was skeptical not about global warming itself, but about our species’ role in accelerating it. Considering he is a leading professional skeptic who has always wielded Occam’s razor most skillfully in debunking all manner of pseudoscience (with complicated explanations), perhaps it is not surprising that he felt the climate models were too complex to point to humans as a primary cause. Although, while acknowledging that our measurements of climate had become much more accurate with modern technology, Randi should have realized that our methods of analysis of complex data have also come a long way, lending much greater confidence to the assertion that much of the recent rise in global temperatures is, indeed, anthropogenic. Of course, many including his closest supporters immediately jumped on him to set him straight – read in particular these blog posts by James Hrynshyn, PZ Myers, and Phil Plait [UPDATE: also, Orac, whose post I’d missed earlier]. Randi has, appropriately enough for a skeptic, acknowledged his error in a new posting yesterday making it clear that he is emphatically not a “denialist”. But as PZ points out (a bit too harshly), Randi’s stance as a “skeptic” still leaves him open to exploitation by professional denialists who routinely twist the meaning of “skepticism” by cherrypicking words and data to raise dust clouds of doubt around the real science which overwhelmingly indicates strong anthropogenic forcing of recent climate change. Which brings us back to the challenge of communicating that science more effectively and dispelling those doubts.

Look below for the beautiful information graphic – and spend some time with it – for it is a great start towards understanding this complex issue. And I also hope it spurs more climate scientists to make a better effort at communicating the complex data and how they go about making sense of it. McCandless has also made the datasets he used to produce the graphs in his poster and their sources available for download so you can play with them yourself if so inclined. Then head on over to for an archive of all the data that they are now making available to the public!

And of course, click on the image for the much larger version!


[From Climate Change Deniers vs The Consensus | Information Is Beautiful]

An invitation to a winter solstice carnival of Scientia delights!


For this, indeed, will be the location for the Winter Solstice edition (#18) of the Scientia Pro Publica blog carnival! If you haven’t heard of this fortnightly carnival, then you better pop on over to the HQ and tour through the previous 17 editions for a sampling of good science and nature writing. I have participated in Scientia in the past by having one or two (ok three or four) of my posts included in previous editions. Now I get a chance to play host.

I’ll try not to overindulge myself in hosting this carnival like I did with Oekologie a while ago, when I compiled a rather monstrous collection that also turned out to be a farewell edition for that carnival! Hmm… so the first carnival I hosted ended its run after 17 editions. And… let’s see… my next attempt at hosting was at the beginning of this year when I was getting ready for the Tangled Bank #121, when it too disappeared!!

Uh oh!!!

And right now I only have a couple of submissions that have come in for Scientia so far, with 5 days left before the publication deadline. I’m getting a bad feeling about this… get a grip Madhu, for surely you know enough about large numbers to not be superstitious about coincidences… and remember that Scientia Pro Publica is actually a reincarnation of the Tangled Bank! That’s true, I think; at least, Scientia certainly has become the rightful heir of the Tangled Bank in providing a broad sampling of science, nature, or medical writing. So let’s not panic yet, for there are still a few more days to go, and there is more being written about science in the blogosphere than ever.

So, with your help, I hope to share with you another good collection in 5 days, just in time for your holiday: if you read science, nature, or medicine related blogs, or indeed write one yourself, please send me links to any good writing that has caught your eye or flowed from your keyboard. Here’s the protocol, as described by GrrlScientist, the real wizard behind the curtain of this carnival:

To send your science, nature or medical writing to Scientia Pro Publica, email the link directly to its email address (the blog form we used in the past hasn’t been working): Be sure to include (1) the URL or “permalink”, (2) the essay title and, to make life easier for the host, (3) please include a 2-3 sentence summary.

You can also leave this information right here in a comment below this post, or email me directly. I look forward to some interesting reads. (And I hope you will keep me from killing another carnival!)

Is that Antarctica’s delegate to the Copenhagen negotiations?

If so, I’m afraid they may be a bit too late, as they are moving rather slowly, and are also apparently lacking in GPS technology, being headed towards Australia rather than Denmark!! And that’s a real pity. Because the world’s leaders gathered in Copenhagen this week to collectively twiddle their thumbs about global warming could really use a frakking 115 square kilometer (that’s 44 sq. miles for you Americans) iceberg shoved into their midst just about now! Don’t you think?

What a way to crash a party that would be, eh? A real ice-breaker, even, perhaps, between the global warming activists and the denialists! Much more effective than poor old Al Gore. Quite the message from the ice continent, indeed the planet itself, that would be, to its human children gone astray!

But as so often happens with politicians (and indeed the rest of us), this ‘berg too seem to have lost its enthusiasm for the cause. deciding instead to head for the beaches of Australia! I can hear its growing murmur, “Aw… fuck it, I’ve been freezing my ass off here for centuries, stuck between the penguins and the krill, so why shouldn’t I make a break for it? Why can’t I just spend one last glorious summer on the beach? I hear the surfing can be quite something around Australia this time of year… so watch out: SURF’S UP!!!”

Hat-tip to the Bad Astronomer, who has more on the incredible voyage of freedom for this little iceberg!

Are the arguments more important than the solutions?

That’s the question, really, isn’t it, that we should be asking ourselves and our so-called leaders as they continue to talk in Copenhagen on our behalf. Regardless of how much you believe human activities have contributed or not to global warming (and regardless of the empirical evidence supporting said warming which is still questioned by denialists), why would you not want to take the precautionary principle and make some changes in the way we do business? Just so we can at least try reduce our ecological footprints, breathe easier, and generally make life more amenable to our own future generations and those of many other species sharing our world? Al Gore challenged the world leaders in Copenhagen yesterday on behalf of said future generations, who might wonder why our generation is putting the arguments ahead of the solutions right now!

While raising the questions our grandkids might well ask, it seems Gore was also channeling (and I’m not helping his cred with the denialist crowd any by bringing this name up!) Karl Marx, who famously wrote, The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it. You can sit around all day arguing about your interpretations of climate data, or you can go out and do something to address the real problems we all face. What’ll it be, world leaders?

Oh, the perils of a multi-cultural classroom!

Thankfully, Danae is on a roll this week, taking on the evils of my profession in her inimitable style, in the surprisingly sequential Non Sequitur:


That was on Monday – not too long after someone named Patrick left a comment on slideshare in response to my posting of Eugenie Scott’s talk on that site, chastising us scientists for allowing our beliefs to be shaken by new information!! I guess we do tend to do that, don’t we? Guilty as charged, sir! And I suppose science and faith are therefore very different cultures indeed!

But let us follow Danae’s spirited fight against such cultural bias in the classroom some more, shall we?


I just hate when that happens – when the cultural bias of my profession (teaching) towards imparting new information shows up in the classroom impinging upon the poor students like that! Whatever shall I do?


Uh-oh – looks like I shall really reap a whirlwind now, from the ACLU!! Stay tuned

World of Warmcraft

Amid all the media coverage and hot air (from all sides) surrounding the COP15 negotiations ongoing in Copenhagen this week, where the world’s leaders are converging right now to dither collectively about what they will or will not do about global warming, even as icebergs melt and activists ratchet up the rhetoric – on both sides – we should all be thankful for the sanity-restoring coverage provided by Jon Stewart and his minions at The Daily Show! So if you want to clear your head a bit, look below the fold for a couple of samples of their recent coverage:

Last night, they had World of Warmcraft:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'World of Warmcraft
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

And last week, they addressed the so-called climate-gate email leak scandal, pointedly and concisely capturing my own ambivalent frustration with the incident.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Scientists Hide Global Warming Data
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Roots and Shoots: Moyers interviews Goodall

I somehow missed this on Bill Moyers’ Journal a few weeks ago: his excellent extensive interview with Jane Goodall, along with a profile of her wonderful program Roots and Shoots. Fortunately (and unlike so much other good stuff on PBS that is not on YouTube or embeddable – why, PBS, why?), the entire interview is available, so I can share it here – watch and get inspired!

Let’s start with Roots and Shoots:

And here’s the interview, in two parts:

Why all the fuss about Darwin and Evolution? – Eugenie Scott Redux

Here’s a slidecast of Dr. Eugenie Scott’s talk at Fresno State last week, which includes her entire powerpoint presentation along with audio I was able to record during her talk with my iPhone.

This is also my first attempt at embedding a slideshare presentation in a blog post, so if you notice any glitches, please let me know! I also have a podcast version (m4a/quicktime) of this talk which I will post here shortly, and Scott Hatfield has posted video on YouTube as I’ve noted in an earlier post. I hope to do more of these slide/podcastsas we continue our series of evolutionary biology lectures on campus.

We love you too!

A short and sweet exhortation from Oscar Fernandez (Biol 110, Human Ecology) for all of us!


What you and I do to each other is fair game because we belong to the same gene pool. But did you ever think at some point that all of our infighting is effecting everything else? CO2 emissions are endangering species such as the Emperor penguin, koalas, arctic foxes, and many other not so well known organisms stowed away in the Arctic and Antarctic. Emperor penguins, like the adorable ones pictured above, have less space to, uhm, procreate because global warming is melting away ice platforms that act as their habitat. Arctic foxes are being out-competed by the warm climate adapted Red foxes. Lets not forget about the Koalas either. Global warming is reducing the availability of the euphoric and very intoxicating Eucalyptus leaf that keeps them dizzy and feeling o.k.! Come on people, we need to become better managers of this planet.