Jul 26, 2018
We’re coming up on that silly season again, but this time around it seems so much more urgent because so many of us failed to see the reality that we faced during the last election. Part of that reality is that the anti-science and alternative-truth segment of our society have seized power. And folks, they’re making the most of it to roll back scientific progress and education.
[caption id="attachment_1215" align="alignright" width="263"] Shannon Hader[/caption]
However, in November we have a chance to slow them down. If we can elect candidates into Congress who understand the importance of science and critical thinking in good government then that will go a long way toward slowing down the damage to our nation and the world that is current happening unabated.
So this election season the Blue Streak Science Podcast will be endorsing candidates who hold true to the values of science, equality, long-term economic progress, and the preservation and restoration of our natural heritage, both in America and worldwide.
The first candidate we’re endorsing is Dr. Shannon Hader who is running to represent the state of Washington’s 8th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. Dr. Hader is the former director of the Division of Global HIV & TB at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Do you want to know what the Trump administration is doing to the CDC? Their 2018 budget slashed its funding by $1.2 billion. That a 17% reduction.
Dr. Hader also worked for three years as director of the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration at the District of Columbia Department of Health.
In making her announcement Dr. Hader said, "Science-based decision-making is under assault at NASA, at the EPA and the CDC, where I felt its effects directly.”
Well, we can turn this around by supporting Shannon Hader in her run for Congress. If you live in District 8 of Washington state I strongly urge you to vote for Dr. Hader in the primary on 7 August. If you don’t live in the district then you can show your support for science and good government by contributing to her campaign at: www.drshannonforcongress.com
I have Christmas come early, but not as we know it. For most of us, Christmas presents come in boxes and nice wrapping, with little bow on top. But if you are a paleontologist then Christmas present come wrapped in amber. And things have come along a bit since Jurassic Park and John Hammond’s preserved mosquito on his walking stick since now we’re starting to get fossilized vertebrates, mostly from Myanmar. So far we’ve had a bird wing, a chick, a lizard and even a feathered dinosaur tail!
This time it’s a snake. Rather tragically it is a baby snake that didn’t get a great run at life, but the upshot of this is that a lot of the animal has been preserved inside.
Remains like this are like russian dolls: a fossil within a fossil, as the amber itself is a fossil of tree resin. The fact that it started life as a thick sticky tree sap is how creatures come to be trapped in it in the first place, preserved in a stone considerate enough to be transparent and so beautifully that it could make a pharaoh blush!
Although the head is missing, there is enough animal left for it to be identified as a new species. (Xiaophis myanmarensis). It would have lived about 99 million years ago and appears to be a very primitive member of the snake lineage.]
You might wonder - anyone can subdivide the time of Earth’s existence in periods entirely up their will and imagination. But that’s not how official geology works! Also, dividing the Earth’s history into eons, eras, periods and ages is much less arbitrary than you might think, and …. well… much more scientific! Go figure!
So how does it work, you ask? It rocks! A new geological period is defined when significant chemical trace different from the period before is found in the rock deposits of the Earth’s crust. Deposition of such chemicals usually relates to some pretty major climatic event on the planet, which is naturally worthy of marking the start of a new geological period.
The newly categorised period we live in now is called Meghalayan. The name comes from Meghalaya, a northeastern state in India, whose name means "the abode of clouds" in Sanskrit. And a rock scientists analyse from there actually made them consider updating their historical nomenclature for earth’s periods. By analyzing a stalagmite growing on the ground of a cave in the Indian state, geologists found that each layer had different level of oxygen isotopes (versions of oxygen with different numbers of neutrons). This change marked the weakening of monsoon conditions from that time. And the change they estimated was significant - between 20-30 percent decrease of monsoon rainfall, so that def qualifies as a new era, I’d say! It apparently started about 4200 years ago and some scientists think it’s still too soon to start classifying it as a new era, since it’s not well established how widespread the effects of these changes are, but if we have evidence for something for 4200 years, why not take it as rather established.
Calling all my fellow Brits, this is an urgent call to action; Sir David Attenborough needs you. I get two stories this week and I get to mention a different Attenborough brother in each, fantastic!
The legendary Sir David is calling people to take part in the Great British Butterfly Count. This is a massive citizen science survey of British butterfly populations. It’s been happening seasonally since 2010 and this year it is running from the 20th of July to the 12th of August, so it really isn’t too late to get involved.
The reason that this year in particular is so important is because the conditions at the start of this year means that we should be having a bumper year for butterflies, but in case you haven’t noticed; it’s recently been very hot and very dry. Drought really isn’t a friend of butterflies and with hose pipe bans starting to be seen we could be running into tricky conditions for caterpillars. This means that this could be a really important year for monitoring how conditions affect these beautiful lepidoptera.
You don’t need to be a lepidopterist to take part. If you get over to bigbutterflycount.org then they have all of the information that you need there for you to help out. It’s also a great thing to do with your kids, I intend to get out there with Matilda.
But this does remind me of a question that I’ve never found an answer to, so if anyone listening can help, please get in touch. Why do caterpillars get a fancy name when all other larvae just get called a “whatever it is” larvae?]
Now first I gotta say a big thanks to Amrita for alerting me on this story because I have missed it and to JD for letting me talk about it.
Since I live in Belgium for 6 years now, this feels like home and I’m dying to cover interesting science from around here cause for such a small country the universities and research centers are doing pretty darn well!
Anywho! To the story! Once upon a time, there was a very observing climatologist, who was also a passionate cyclist (for the record half of Belgium (the northern half, closer to the Netherlands are) called Pieter De Frenne. He works in the department of water and forest management in the Gent University.
He had the brilliant idea to use archive footage of Tour of Flanders from decades back to do a comparative study on the changing climate of the region through the years. This race is one of the most regular ones - always taking place early April each year and always in the same area if not exactly the same route.
So he and his colleagues went through more than 2000h of footage since 1981 until today and selected several landmarks that appear in all the footage through the years and compared them. They mostly settled for trees as these are most easily traceable/recognisable.
What they noticed is that the majority of the trees in the early 80 had barely any leaves yet in early April. Compared to back then, now almost every year most of the trees were well leafed up, meaning that spring is consistently coming much earlier than just two decades ago.
While this might sound like a pleasant thing, it’s not necessarily a good thing on a big ecological scale. The consistent changes in the tree part of the ecosystem has a significant effect on all other parts too - insects, birds and other animals in the area whose life is somewhat related/dependant on the trees. For migratory birds for example it can have quite dramatic effects - if they arrive to the usual destination after trees have bloomed, they might be unpleasantly surprised by the fact that their food (larvae or eggs of insects) have already matured/hatched and are either completely gone or much harder to catch and feed the bird’s hatchlings.
Also, all vegetation which grows under the trees will be affected - if the tree crown is already in full bloom by the time gras, bushes and flowers show up, they might have much less access to light to be able to complete their life cycle which in turn affects other animals relying on them for food and so on and so forth - the whole ecosystem can change quite dramatically, quite fast.
The scientists then went on to compare their results with other already published scientific data for the ecology of the region and established that they are in fact right and that this “out of the box” method is actually valid and working. They published their own data in the Methods of Ecology and Evolution.
Today’s story time feature in the lounge is sure to Tickle you brain. It will certainly help you tick off things on your “To-Learn” lists. It definitely won’t have you bored listening to the tick tock of the clock. This story is about ticks.
I’m not a big bug person so you’ll excuse me if I don’t paint an incredibly intricate picture of what a tick is. But it’s a small arachnid whose big fame in the United States is as a carrier for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States and found generally throughout the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast United States (Think Washington DC to Boston) as well as around the Great Lakes. I grew up in New York and can attest to the fear of lyme’s disease. Short story, my older brother was at a soccer tournament when we were young and I, being a dick, hid and scared him into some woods. The rest of his 10 year old boy teammates when in after him. And we never saw him again...No of course not, he walked out the other side and was back to the team in 3 minutes. But in those three minutes in the woods, 4 or 5 kids came back with ticks on them. So knowing what’s going on with ticks is sorta important. Lyme disease can be a debilitating bacterial infection affecting the joints, heart and nervous system.
Enter Nathan Nieto and his lab at Northern Arizona University. From August 2016 to January 2017, his lab ran a pretty cool deal. If you found a tick, you could send it to his lab and he would give all the info you need on the little evil thingie (I’m adding irrational personal feelings here so don’t yell at me…). For tick research, they normally get 100 ticks at a time by pretty basic methods like dragging a piece of fabric behind a truck, any adrenaline loving ticks hop on.. TO THEIR DOOM for science. For this public science effort, they budgeted for 2400 ticks, yet received nearly 16,000! They just published their results in PLOS One.
Dr. Nieto’s lab were sent ticks from 49 states (no Alaska) and Puerto Rico. Once received they tested them for 4 pathogens including Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. They found some rare ticks but also ticks capable of carrying Lyme disease in 83 counties where they hadn't been recorded before.This really shows the power of citizen science as tick research can be incredibly difficult. A study of this size could never have been done without public involvement.
How does this tie to climate change? Ticks occur on earth.
Moving on… No really, ticks rely on warm temperatures to live. As
temperatures warm, as winters shrink, as spring comes earlier and
fall lasts longer, ticks can be out there for longer. Plus, warmer
temperatures can enhance the rate at which a baby tick becomes
fully developed. Tick development rates have increased by two times
in the US and 5 times in Canada.
Not surprisingly, the rate of Lyme disease has doubled since 1991, from about four cases per 100,000 people to eight.
And where does the name come from, since I’m sure you’re wondering? Well Lyme Regis in southern England, indirectly. The first case diagnosed as lyme disease occurred in Old Lyme, CT, named after Lyme Regis. Not to go off too far on a tangent but it’s interesting so here we go. The northeast US is scattered with town names in reference to England (I grew up in a town called Smithtown inNY) but things get really weird near new york as english settlers ran into dutch settlers who founded New Amsterdam (after stealing land from the native population) which later became New York after the dutch lost to the english in 1674. But the dutch left a legacy in New York as many neighborhoods still bare dutch names. Brooklyn, Bronx, Coney Island, Harlem are all dutch. And even common words used in the US like boss come from the dutch. Ever wonder why Americans call them cookies and the english call them biscuits. THE DUTCH. Fascinating stuff. Tangent over.
Donald Trump, President of the United States
In 1962 when I was a year old, Rachel Carson published her landmark book on environmental science called “Silent Spring”. That lit a fire in the American consciousness about the environment.
In the 1960’s the air in our cities was awful. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire in 1968. Seriously, it caught fire!
I remember hearing about how birds of prey were disappearing because of pesticide pollution. In particular, the pesticide DDT (or more accurately its breakdown product DDE) would move up the food web getting more concentrated with each step, until it was consumed by apex predators such as California Condors, ospreys, and peregrine falcons. The effect of DDT on these raptors was that it caused them to lay eggs with very thin shells, or no shells at all. Those thin shells would crack under the weight of incubation. And this caused their populations to plummet. The iconic bald eagle was nearly extinct in the contiguous states in the 1960’s and 70’s, as was the peregrine falcon and many other birds.
As a result of increased environmental awareness we made real progress with the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
This is the single most important piece of legislation in the United States for conserving biodiversity and slowing down the extinction of species. The Act was passed in 1973 with overwhelming bipartisan support (the House voted 355-4 in favor of the law), and it was done so at the urging of a Republican president, Richard Nixon. How times have changed.
Since its passage, the Endangered Species Act has helped reverse the impending extinction of species from the magnificent Grey Wolf to the Schaus’ Swallowtail Butterfly of the Florida Keys. Still, over the decades the law has been criticized by big business and agricultural interests who feel that the Act limits their ability to generate a profit, and to do whatever the want with their property.
Enter the Trump Administration. Last week they proposed to severely restrict the scope of the Endangered Species Act.
This led to Congressional hearings on the Act and has raised the alarm nationwide that one of the nation’s best ideas is about to be eviscerated.
Seriously, 92% of Americans don’t agree that the sky is blue on a sunny day! Yet the same number actually agree that this is a decision that should be made by scientists, and not politicians. There are some issues like gun control and reproductive rights which are terribly partisan, but the Endangered Species Act is not one of those issues.
So, for going against the will and interest of the American people, and for selling out our country’s natural heritage to special business interests for a profit, Donald Trump, you are the the Blue Streak Science Asshole of the Month.
Joining us today are the Chris MacAlister, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto.
Here’s how it works. I ask a science question and our team of science dweebs offer up their witty answers.
For the answers to today's Pub Quiz just have a listen to the podcast! Ain't we sneaky that way?
Tom: It’s not science but it’s still fascinating. If you are curious to learn more about the Dutch influence on New York City and on thus on the United States, I highly recommend reading The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. Even as a New Yorker, the history of New Amsterdam is glossed over in our history books, but the legacy of dutch culture, you could argue, has given New York City the identity it has to this day as a cultural melting pot. Plus, it’s crazy to see a place as terraformed as Manhattan depicted as it likely was to Native Americans when the first European colonizers reached it.
Chris: I’ve been to a roundabout in Chester. I little bit random I’ll grant you, but I’m afraid that it gets no less random when I say that I went there to play a gig to a guy on a treadmill!
What’s actually going on is that a guy called Steve Hughes is on a mission to raise funds to build the UK’s first supertrees. They have some magnificent ones in Singapore.
They are essentially big hollow metal trees and they can be used a frame for plants to grow up, they create habitats for all manner of flora and fauna in the middle of city, returning some biodiversity to places where it has been all but eradicated.
The ones that Steve are trying to fund are nowhere on the scale of Singapore but they will also provide an space for people to come and learn about the trees and what they do, as well as containing weather stations.
So far Steve has run 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 countries and last weekend he ran 100km in 10 hours on a treadmill. He made an event of it, this why I was playing.
If you want to know more or support him the you can check him out on chestersupertrees.org.
Nevena: Just coming from a panel discussion on cities and urban life beyond growth - how can cities be drivers of change in production practices and consumption patterns.
Tom: If you find yourself in Washington DC you might catch me in an improv comedy show with the Washington Improv theater.
JD: I attended another lecture at Bodega Marine Lab. This one was titled “Saviors of the reef? Context-dependent control of algae by coral reef fishes”. The speaker was Mike Gil, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Science and Policy. He is working on coral reef ecology projects in Thailand.
Nevena: Going to a bi-weekly civic hack night - organised by the Civic Hack lab BXL. This edition will be about InfluencAir - citizen science project to measure air quality in Brussels. Never been part of a citizen science project so I’m very curious and excited to see what’s it about!
Tom: So on Saturday August 4th at 6pm, my science improv comedy team The Hypothesis will be performing at the 12th annual Baltimore Improv festival. We’re a team made up of all different types of scientist and science enthusiasts who like to walk on the funnier side of science and the sciencier side of comedy.
JD: It’s back to the Bodega Marine Lab for me. “Phototaxis and phototropism in symbiosis” by Dr. Shawna Foo of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I’d like to thank our newest Patreon supporter, our friend Sam Danby from Norway! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
And that concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.
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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.
Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, Nevena Hristozova, and Tom Di Liberto.
I’m JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us. And remember...follow the science!