Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On The Up And Up

According to the World Meteorological Organization ("WMO"), 2013 was a record year for atmospheric greenhouse gases.  On September 9, 2014, the WMO GREENHOUSE GAS BULLETIN reported the following:
The latest analysis of observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme shows that the globally averaged mole fractions of CO2, CH4 and N2O reached new highs in 2013, with CO2 at 396.0±0.1 ppm, CH4 at 1824±2 ppb and N2O at 325.9±0.1 ppb. These values constitute, respectively, 142%, 253% and 121% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels. The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 ppm, which is the largest year to year change from 1984 to 2013.
The climate is an extremely complex and dynamic system, so reasons for this recent rapid rise in measured atmospheric greenhouse gases remain poorly understood.  Hypotheses could include limits on the capacities of the oceans or forests to absorb additional carbon dioxide.  Determining the causes of this greenhouse gas spike is devoutly to be wished.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Franklin Finally Found

No one expressed it better than Stan Rogers:
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage,
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea,
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage,
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
On September 9, 2014, just as the snow began to fall in earnest in Resolute, Nunuvut, the government of Canada announced that one of the ships from the ill-fated Franklin Expedition had finally been located.  Although the precise identity of the ship - HMS Erebus or HMS Terror - is unknown as yet, this discovery marks huge progress in solving the mystery of what happened to Sir John Franklin and his crews after they set sail from England in 1845 to find and navigate the Northwest Passage.  They were lost in 1846.  Now we may discover why.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Organ Transplant Crisis

A group of concerned scholars has written "An Open Letter to President Barack Obama, Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Attorney General Eric Holder and Leaders of Congress" on "HOW TO END THE WAIT FOR ORGAN TRANSPLANTS."  I am one of the initiating signers of the letter, which
calls for action to increase kidney donations by implementing pilot studies that will evaluate whether government regulated and provided benefits to donors will result in more kidneys and do so in ways that safeguard the rights and health of donors.
 We hope this initiative may be a step towards helping alleviate the current crisis in organ donation.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Okie Joe's No More

The best barbeque restaurant - Oklahoma Joe's BBQ - in the best barbeque town - Kansas City - is going native.  The home of the Z-Man, named by Anthony Bourdain as "One of Thirteen Places to Eat Before You Die," and third on Yelp's list of the top 100 places to eat, Okie Joe's announced it will become Joe's Kansas City by the end of 2014.  Subtle signs of this transition have been around for several years, including the expurgation of "Oklahoma" from the names of the sauce and fries seasoning.  To paraphrase the Bard,
O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rib
By any other name would taste as sweet;
So Okie Joe's would, were it not Okie Joe's call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which it owes
Without that title.
Even so, many will lament the tossing of the original moniker onto the dustbins of history.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Who

The most venerable television science fiction series, Doctor Who, renews itself again on BBC Television on August 24, 2014.  Fan from the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, and brilliant portrayer of political vulgarian extraordinaire, Malcolm Tucker, Scottish actor Peter Capaldi dons the mantle of the most famous Time Lord in the 242nd canonical television Doctor Who adventure, entitled Deep Breath.  I will attend a première party of the Twelfth Doctor's first episode dressed as my favourite Third Doctor, who was played by Jon PertweeDaleks, beware!  The Doctor is back.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Significant Conservation

In response to a new federal government interpretation of the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"), Profs. John A. Vucetich (Michigan Technical University) and Michael Paul Nelson (Oregon State University) published an interesting critique on August 20, 2014, of how the ESA phrase "throughout all or a significant portion of its range" should be understood.  In their view, the proposed new conservation approach by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service could result in isolated relict populations of once-widespread species instead of protection and restoration of species across their historical ranges.  Vucetich and Nelson suggest that the new statutory interpretation "falls far short of the conservation aspirations the law once embodied."  The ESA has long been beloved of the public, regardless of political stripes, so wise and effective implementation of its goals remains sound public policy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remix Species

Tions and ligers, and pizzlies, oh my!  The August 17, 2014, New York Times Magazine features a timely article about hybridization among species, entitled "Should You Fear the Pizzly Bear?". Although there is little coverage of the raging scientific debate over what "species" are, and whether they even exist, the discussion of how habitat alteration, overhunting, and climate change may be driving widespread genomic remixture across previously-divergent phylogenetic lineages.  As Dr. Peter Venkman exclaimed in Ghostbusters, "dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rise Of The Science Ph.D.

Few doctoral graduates in biology, physical sciences, and engineering become tenure-track professors.  In fact, very few - ~15% - apparently do.  In Ph.D.'s Come out of the Closet, the journal Science discusses where doctoral scientists actually do end up.  What makes this article rather remarkable is that it avoids the usual lamentations of this phenomenon as a loss or waste of talent.  Instead, it portrays an anonymous doctoral student's trajectory towards harnessing his Ph.D. for attractive and fulfilling work outside academia.  Indeed, science doctorates are increasingly seen as highly-desirable indicia of merit in places like Silicon Valley and the Route 128 necklace.  The day may be approaching when the prevailing assumption is that one seeks a Ph.D. in computer science, mechanical engineering, genetics, analytical chemistry, or physics not to become a professor, but, rather, to pursue one of the myriad other careers for which a science doctorate is superb preparation. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has produced a wonderful short film about Caribbean Anolis lizards, which elegantly illustrates the principles of micro- and macroevolution.  Watch it here:

No one who explores the biodiversity of Caribbean islands can help but marvel at the myriad anoles - stout, slender, long, and short - scurrying through leaf litter and performing arboreal acrobatics to catch insects, find mates, chase off competitors, and evade predators.  The film, Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree, features the research of Professors Jonathan Losos (Harvard University Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology) and Sean Carroll (University of Wisconsin Laboratory of Cell and Molecular Biology), and portrays Caribbean anoles to be poster children for Charles Darwin's poetic description of evolution by natural selection in On The Origin of Species (page 490 in the First Edition):
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Substantial Simianilarity

The Celebes Crested Macaque (Macaca nigra), whose original range encompasses parts of Sulawesi and nearby Indonesian islands, spends most of its waking hours foraging to fruit, leaves, and small animals, pursuing mating opportunities, raising offspring, and socializing with conspecifics.  This would seem to leave little time for copyright litigation.  However, one Celebes Crested Macaque precipitated an infringement furor by grabbing a photographer's camera to take full-body and close-up selfies.  The owner of the camera, Briton David Slater, has laid claim to copyright in these primate photos, though he faces an uphill battle convincing a court that he - not the macaque - is the rightful author of these primate pics.  Shakespeare may have thus far avoided having his works replicated by troupes of monkeys on typewriters.  However, Slater will likely find it challenging to get this one particular monkey off his back.  In fact, perhaps these simian selfies suggest a lucrative new monkey business.