J.C. Moore Online
Current Events from a Science Perspective

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

A Tribute to Stephen Hawking

Tue ,27/03/2018

In the wake of Stephen Hawking’s death, many are remembering him for his renowned intellect and his great accomplishments. Diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, which few survive more than a few years, he lived to the age of 76. Though he became increasingly paralyzed and was confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, he explored the universe with his mind and imagination. Though he had great difficulty communicating, he wrote dozens of scientific papers, gave hundreds of lectures, and wrote A Short History of Time, one of the most popular books of this century. Though his book was understandable by nonscientists, many of Hawking’s theories on the nature of the universe, black holes, and time are understood only by our greatest theoretical physicists.

Stephen Hawking stands among the great scientists, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Madame Curie, and Einstein. Aristotle gave us a stable universe governed by the laws of nature, which could be understood by observation and reason. Galileo showed that when there was a conflict between science and religious dogma, we should follow science. Though theologians insisted that the Earth was at the center of the Solar System, Galileo  showed with scientific evidence that God made the Solar System with the Sun at the center. Newton discovered the force that held the planets in place and the laws that describe motion. Madame Curie developed  our understanding of radioactive elements, nuclear radiation, and x-rays.

Einstein showed that matter could be converted to energy, and he developed the interrelation between mass, time,  and distance. Einstein may have also save democracy. Though he was a pacifist, he realized the dangers of letting Nazi Germany be first to develop atomic weapons, and he convinced Roosevelt that we should do it first. Stephen Hawking also applied his great mind and his heart to man’s condition. If we’re going to honor him as one of the world’s greatest minds, then we should to pay attention to the lessons and values he spoke about during his time on this planet as noted by Care2Causes:

Climate Change: In Hawking’s later years, no topic seemed to stir him more than climate change. “We’re close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible,” he said. “The solutions are already known…  We must counter corporate greed and corrupt politicians NOW to give humanity a fighting chance.”

Public Health Care: Diagnosed with motor neurone disease, few survive as long as Hawking did. He credits his longevity to the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK for giving him the care that would have been unaffordable in systems like those that exist in the United States.

Feminism: “I have always supported women’s rights,” said Hawking in an interview. When asked whether science had dictated his outlook on gender equality, he argued that it’s not a matter of science but “general acceptance that women are at least the equals of men.”

Assisted Suicide: Though Hawking seriously considered ending his own life in his young years, he ultimately decided to hold on. Still, that doesn’t mean it made him opposed to euthanasia altogether. He recognizes it as an important option to those who are at the end of their lives.

American Politics: Asked if his brilliant mind could explain how Donald Trump could ever get elected to lead the free world, he simply said, “I can’t.” Some things just defy logic.

Nuclear War: Hawking considers nuclear weapons one of the biggest threats to the survival of the human race. “Technology has advanced at such a pace that this aggression may destroy us all by nuclear or biological war,” Hawking warned.

Scientific Funding and Advancement: It’s not surprising that a scientist would advocate for better scientific funding or to utilize research in public policy.  The future is uncertain, and the best we can do is to gather as much information as we can to best face the challenges of tomorrow.

Though our leaders once based their decisions upon science and evidence, there is a disturbing trend now among our politicians to ignore science. Stephen Hawking believes that if the human race is to survive and prosper, we must base our political decisions on science and reason. He gives us a way to proceed, not only in science, but in national policies. We should honor his ideas.

(C) 2018 J.C. Moore

 

Teaching Ethics in The Professional Curriculum

Fri ,11/08/2017

Many schools introduce introduce ethical principles into the curriculum.  For those entering into professional studies, there are also ethical principles particular to their chosen profession which the student needs to understand and practice.

Below is an outline of how professional ethics may be introduced into a professional curriculum. This presentation was developed during The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions Workshop taught by Dr. Michael Davis and Dr. Bob Ladensen  and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The workshop was designed to encourage instructors in professional fields to introduce ethics into their curriculum and attempts to answer the following questions:

* What are Professional Ethics ?

*Why Teach Professional Ethics ?

*Who Should Teach Prof. Ethics?

*Why Not Teach Professional Ethics ?

*What Methods Might Be Used?

 

*What are Professional Ethics ?

   “Professional Ethics are a set of rules everyone in the profession wants kept even if that means they will also have to keep the same rules.” …Davis

 o Professional Codes of Conduct:

  • Standardize profession’s work.
  • Are based on common sense.
  • Define a particular type of professional judgement.
  • Are modified based on experience.
  • Should be used on a continuing basis.
  • Apply to all who practice.

Every profession has its code of professional ethics. One example is the ABET code of ethics for engineers:

ABET CODE OF ETHICS OF ENGINEERS

   General principle: Engineer; uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of the engineering profession by: using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare; being honest and impartial, and serving with fidelity the public, their employers and clients; striving to increase the competence and prestige of the engineering profession; and supporting the professional and technical societies of their disciplines.

General Canons:

Engineers should hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties.  (That is particularly important as we all must rely for our safety on the work of engineers.)

  • Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.
  • Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Engineers shall build their profes­sional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others.
  • Engineers shall act in such a manner as to upheld and enhance the honor, integrity and dignity of the profession.
  • Engineers shall continue their pro­fessional development throughout their careers and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision.

*Why Teach Professional Ethics ?

  • Emphasizes importance of ethical behavior.
  • Creates awareness of ethical issues.
  • Teaches Code of Profession.
  • Defines fairness.
  • Protects the Public.
  • Protects the Professional.

.            >Less likely to engage in unethical practices.

.            >Not liable – if code of ethics is followed.

.            >Not easily replaced – if every engineer follows a code.

*Who Should Teach Professional Ethics?

o The Philosopher?

  • Has the knowledge.
  • Is skilled at teaching ethics.
  • May feel overwhelmed by all the requests.
  • Students may have difficulty applying general theory to specific professional problems.

o The Professional?

  • Lacks knowledge of moral theory.
  • May feel unsure of methods.
  • Knows the special conduct required by profession.
  • May serve as a role model.

     ” The workshop’s goal is for the Philosopher to teach the instructor who will then teach the classes.”… Davis

*Why Not Teach Professional Ethics ?

“Seven Worries” …Davis

o The professional worries about:

  1. Being value neutral.
  2. Relativism.
  3. Subjectism.
  4. Lack of knowledge.
  5. shades of gray.
  6. Indoctrinating.
  7. Seeming Holier-than-Thou.

 If you narrow the task to teaching Professional Ethics as defined by your Profession’s Code of Conduct, these worries will not be insurmountable.”  … Davis

*What methods can be used and when?

o Increase Ethical Sensitivity (1st year)

  • Raise ethical issues.
  • Brief case studies.
  • Use stories.

o Increase Ethical Knowledge (2nd year)

  • Use Professional Code.
  • Raise easy issues.

o Improve Ethical Judgment (3rd year)

  • Use case studies.
  • Make it personal. What would you do?
  • What might happen then?

o Enhance Will Power (4th year)

  • Create peer pressure to be ethical.
  • Increase awareness of institutional support.
  • How to defend oneself based on Code.
  • Discuss how organizations work.

* Tips on Using Case Studies.

o Finding Ideas

  • Your experiences. (or colleague’s)
  • Current news. Science fiction.
  • organizations or journals.
  • The Internet.
  • CSEP library.
  • Challenger disaster. Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Many disasters are the result of a failure of ethics.”  … Davis

o Using Case Studies.

  • Acknowledge all comments.
  • Don’t argue with students.
  • Encourage spontaneity.
  • It’s OK to express your opinion.
  • Try dividing into groups. Leaders report back.
  • Try structuring the discussion.

o Structuring the discussion.

  • What are facts?
  • What standards apply.
  • Who should decide?
  • How should decision be made?
  • What action should be taken?
  • Was action effective?
  • Should anything else be done?

o Miscellaneous Ideas.

  • Put section on ethics in courses.
  • Attach Professional Code or College’s Ethical Code .
  • Have Co-op students include ethical issues in journal.
  • Evaluate impact.

Evaluation:

I introduced professional ethics into my chemistry seminar course. Below is a form used to evaluate its impact. The student comments are particularly interesting.

Course Impact Survey

1. Did this course increase your awareness of ethical issues likely to arise in your profession or job?

Yes: 10              Yes and No: 2

2. Did this course do anything to change your understanding of the importance of professional or

business ethics?

Yes: 9               No: 3

3. Did this course increase your ability to deal with the ethical issues in your profession?

Yes: 12              No: 0

4. Was time spent on ethics in this course to little,

about right, or too much ?

Too little: 2          Right amount: 10            Too much: 0

5. Did you have business or professional ethics in a class before this one?

Yes:  5          No: 7

Selected Student Comments:

“The course increased my awareness and helped me get some things straight with the people I work with.”

“I saw how it was important to be honest in your work and with others who work with you.”

“I learned that ethical issues usually involve difficult solutions … and that sometimes we must speak about them to people not directly involved in them.”

“…. helped me become more aware of how many people or facets of society are affected by unethical choices.”

The case studies presented a realistic picture of possible situations that may arise.”

You have a responsibility not only to your work but

to society and the people who are, or could be, potentially affected by your work.”

 

© Not copyrighted. Please use and share freely.

Beans to Beef: How Diet Affects the Climate and Your Health

Wed ,15/03/2017

This guest article is a PowerPoint presentation given by Jane Byrnes to the March Citizens Climate Education meeting. Jane is a Licensed Dietitian and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. It is a balanced presentation encouraging you to eat more locally grown fruits and vegetables and encouraging you to eat less meat, particularly beef and lamb.

Though you will miss some things without Jane’s guidance, the slides are mostly self-explanatory. You will need a PowerPoint program to view the slides –  you may  download a free viewer here. The slides will display as set in your viewer. Please click on the link below to start the program.

Beef to Beans 3-11-17

 

The Psychology of Internet Trolls

Sun ,05/04/2015

If you have a website, or post comments on blog sites or newspaper articles, you have likely run into trol0trollls. Trolls are the bane of the Internet as their main goals  are to shut down reasonable discussions or spread misinformation. Free from editors or peer review trolls can, and do, distort information for ideological reasons or because they are paid. Then, there are trolls who do it just for fun.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.

sadism

It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

Trolling and Denialism: Trolls often use the same tactics as those who deny scientific evidence.  A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers (and trolls) as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics trolls employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.” However, that may not work with trolls of the dark tetrad.

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with paid trolls, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Comments from those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2015  J.C. Moore

 

 

Academic Freedom and Democracy – ALEC Style

Sun ,23/06/2013

Academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of our educational system, so who could be against it? Representive Gus Blackwell introduced into the 2013 Oklahoma legislature HB 1674, called the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act”. But there was something strange about the bill, as science teachers in Oklahoma already have a system ensuring  academic freedom. And, the bill only insured Academic freedom in four areas which Representative Blackwell deemed controversial, specifically “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”. Mr. Blackwell’s education and expertise is in religion and business administration, so it’s unusual that he knows what is controversial in science. Oklahoma scientists and science educators were almost unanimously opposed to the bill as it is their opinion that there is virtually no scientific controversy on the core facts of global warming and evolution.

The bill allowed “teachers to help students understand certain information about scientific theories; disallowing State Board of Education, district boards of education, and certain administrators from prohibiting teachers from helping students understand certain information about scientific theories.”  Perhaps the bill would have been more aptly named the “Freedom from Accountability Act”. Apparently Mister Blackwell had not thought this through. It would also shield any science teacher, no matter of what religion, who wished to introduce their beliefs into their science classes. The bill even had an emergency clause providing that it be enacted immediately with a letter sent to school officials informing them of the decision. And, why is this now an emergency? The bill passed Oklahoma’s education committee by one vote, but fortunately for the quality of science education in Oklahoma, the 2013 session ended without it coming up for a vote. But, you can be sure it will be back.

The unusual nature of this bill can be understood as similar bills, with almost exactly the same wording, have been introduced in about 20 states. It is one of the “model bills” being promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is composed of over 300 special interest groups and corporations such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, pharmaceutical companies, and Koch Industries. They sponsor conferences where their representatives  meet with state legislative members to collaborate on “model bills” and to draft legislation favoring their special interests. ALEC now has over 1000 “model bills”, many of which seek to limit workers rights, limit corporate liabilities, oppose environmental regulations, cut taxes, oppose universal health care, and to privatize such things as education, workmen’s compensation, and the prison systems.

Though mainly supporting corporate interests, the legislation often gives a nod to religious groups and to conservatives to win their support. The state legislators take the “model bills” back to their respective states, often as their own work. It also carries an understanding that by sponsoring the bill, they will receive support for their reelection campaigns. ALEC has 501(C)(4)status as a charity, which makes it tax exempt and hides its motives and the identity of its donors. Although ALEC claims it is not a lobbying group, it is directly lobbying our state Congressmen while getting around laws that limit lobbying and require disclosures of lobbying activities.

Representative Blackwell is a member of ALEC and, according to Source Watch, used state funds to attend their meetings. His interest in the bill was probably to introduce creationism into science classes, but adding climate change to the “controversy” list aligns with the interests of the fossil fuel companies. A leaked document from the Heartland Institute, a Libertarian think tank funded by fossil fuel interests, showed that introducing doubt about climate change into science classes was one of their goals.

Bill Moyer recently had a program on how ALEC is undermining American democracy. Although ALEC claims to promote capitalism, it is actually the citizens who pay. Not only do many politicians attend their meetings at state expense, members of ALEC get a big tax break for their lobbying activities and our taxes still pay for privatized state functions.  Sourcewatch lists 25 Oklahoma legislators as members of ALEC and Governor Fallin was once ALEC’s woman of the year, which means she favored the needs of large corporations and of the wealthy long before she became governor. We just saw a number of ALEC sponsored laws make their way through the Oklahoma Legislature, much to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

 

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore

Those Amazing Hummingbirds

Sat ,12/01/2013

This is a guest post written  and filmed by Barbara Moore.

When I come back in another life, I want to come back as a Hummingbird. Well, that’s if I did believe that was possible. I mean, what could be better than to look like a beautiful petite fairy and sip sugar all day at feeders or beautiful flowers! Not to mention zipping around in elusive bird flight.  Anyway, I have had a fascination with Hummingbirds since seeing my very first one.

With that fascination, I have become a faithful feeder and watcher, never tiring of their fascinating behavior. Watching has naturally led to photography and I have many hummingbird photos and am always trying for one more. I have never been able to get a picture of one of the most interesting things I have observed.  Sometimes a hummingbird will fly in a downward arc,  then turn  and repeat the arc in the other direction and continue doing that  for a dozen or more times in the same path, as if  they were pendulum on a string.   Experts are divided on why they do that, but since it’s only the males and in the Spring, it is likely either a territorial or a mating behavior.

Shortly after we moved to our new house which backs up to a wooded area, I hung out my hummingbird feeder. After a few weeks I started to experience an odd phenomenon; every morning the hummingbird feeder was totally empty even though I had just filled it. As I wasn’t seeing more than a few hummingbird during the day, I decided to investigate. One morning I happened to get up before sunup and just happened to look out the window. Ah ha! I found my thief. There was a good sized raccoon sitting on the deck rail where he could stand on his back legs, reach the hummingbird feeder and guzzle to his heart’s content. I tried to get a picture of that but there just wasn’t enough light and as soon as I opened the door he took off like a rocket!  I have also caught squirrels hanging upside down and out from the tree, as this one, sipping from the feeders. Needless to say I came up with a way to hang my feeders away from rails and branches.

 

This Fall we had an exciting hummingbird event; about 15 hummingbirds came to our feeder all at the same time. We have lived at the same location for five years and never had this happen. It was kind of strange as we have had maybe one male who occasionally would allow a female a brief visit to the feeder all summer long. Then this happened all in one day.  For next  several days  there  were many hummingbirds  that came to the feeder, but not 15 all at one once. It was very exciting to be out on the deck with them as they were much less skittish. The sound is pretty amazing too.

This is a video of my best ever hummingbird experience. Hummingbirds must have been what inspired the idea of “fairies”.    The video is about four minutes long but if you watch it all you will see some very interesting behavior, especially at  about 1:40. The male usually tries to drive the others away but there were too many. And, turn up the sound a little and you will be able to hear them:

Amazing Hummingbirds

What Happens When the Earth Is Full?

Mon ,05/03/2012

 

The photo at the right, shot from Apollo 11 as the Earth rose over the moon, reminds us of how beautiful the Earth is.  It also reminds us, that though the Earth seems large to us, our space is limited and our resources are finite. What will happen when the Earth is full?
 
 The human population just reached the milestone of 7 billion people. Our population has been growing at the rate of about 2% each year which means that the population will double about every 35 to 40 years. If we do not reduce our birthrate or experienced some great catastrophe, the population will reach 14 billion by 2050 and 28 billion by 2090. It is rather hard to imagine what the Earth would be like with that many people and is almost assured that that will not happen. Estimates are that the number of people who can live comfortably on the Earth is around 9 billion. That estimate may be off a few billion if you include advances in food production and measures to reduce our rate of pollution. However, it should be clear that at some point the human population will grow larger than the Earth’s ability to support it. The graph in the article Limits to Growth and Beyond, Part 1, shows that may happen within the next generation. What will happen then?
 
That has never happened before to the human population, but there are examples in nature where population is limited to a small area, such as bacteria in petri dish. When the nutrients are gone, so are the bacteria. There are a few examples of mammalian populations where the species is confined to a small area and the natural predators are eliminated, such as a Moose population established on Isle Royale in Michigan, where there were no wolves.  The moose population grew rapidly until almost all the vegetation on the island was depleted and then the moose population declined dramatically due to starvation and disease. One of the best examples is this case study of the deer population on the Kaibab Peninsula in northern Arizona.

In 1907 the deer population was unusually low with only 4,000 head. The carrying capacity was 30,000 at this time, so a massive campaign was waged against the natural enemies of the deer. Between the years of 1907 and 1923, the natural predators of deer (mountain lions, wolves and coyotes) were eliminated by hunters in order to increase the deer population. As the following graph shows rather dramatically, the deer population increased rapidly to 100,000 by 1924, but then died off rapidly to a mere 10,000 by 1939. Because of severe overgrazing by excessive populations of deer, the carrying capacity of this region was reduced to approximately 10,000 in 1939, and the deer population was reduced accordingly.

 

Deer Population on the Kaibab Plateau

The graph at the right shows what happened to the deer population during this period. When the carrying capacity of the environment is exceeded, natural populations do not reach an equilibrium point and stay there.The result is a massive die off, and the population is decreased below their original carrying capacity. The Earth has a carrying capacity for man, and though we are not exactly sure when we will reach it, it will undoubtedly be within this century. What will happen then?

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore

Bits and Pieces 12 : Should We Tax Unhealthy Foods?

Mon ,03/10/2011

Would people be more likely to avoid unhealthy foods if they received a tax incentive to do so? A few countries think so, and have enacted laws to increase taxes on fat, sweet and salty foods. The outgoing conservative Danish government has passed a “ fat tax” on foods high in saturated fats. Hungary has also introduced a new tax popularly known as the “Hamburger Law” that involves higher taxes on soft drink, pastries, salty snacks and food flavorings.  

Denmark now has a life expectancy much lower than other surrounding countries. “Higher fees on sugar, fat and tobacco is an important step on the way toward a higher average life expectancy in Denmark,” health minister Jakob Axel Nielsen said, because “saturated fats can cause cardiovascular disease and cancer.”  The “fat tax” would help curb the country’s obesity problem and estimates are that it will increase the average life expectancy of Danes by three years over the next 10 years.

 Denmark’s and Hungary’s efforts to tax unhealthy foods might not be such a bad idea. While it seems that many people will not act to protect their own health, they might be a little more likely to eat healthy foods if they receive a financial incentive to do so. I doubt that the United States would ever have the political will to raise taxes on unhealthy food. We will just wait and pay the health costs. However, perhaps we could do it by lowering taxes.

Since many state legislatures have exhibited a passion for cutting taxes, they could encourage people to live longer and lead healthier lives by removing the sales tax on healthy foods. There are a number of resources such as Harvard’s Nutrition Source  that could provide the information that would be necessary to do that. Even without the financial incentive, it would be a good idea for everyone to become familiar with Nutrition Source, or even Dr. Oz’s list of 100 healthy foods.

(c) 2011 J.C. Moore

Research Credit: Barbara Moore

Bits and Pieces 9: The Arctic Ice and the Inuit

Mon ,22/08/2011

“Pictures of the polar region from 1979 and 2003 clearly show that about 30% of the Arctic  ice has melted. This has greatly affected the way of life of the native Inuit who live and hunt on the Polar ice.  While some may adapt, their way of life and culture, which sustained them for centuries, will be destroyed.”

Although arguments still rage about whether the Arctic sea ice is disappearing, the disappearance is a fact of life for those who live near the Arctic Ocean.   The photos clearly show that the Arctic Sea ice is disappearing. A recent TulsaWorld article described how the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice has affected the lives of the native Inuit people in Greenland. Ice which used to be 2 meters thick in the winter, now grows only a few centimeters thick, far too thin to allow dogsleds to go to the nearest town, 50 miles away across the bay. They can no longer venture onto the ice to hunt for seals or walrus, a mainstay of their diet,  nor can they go out on the ice to fish. The Polar bears they sometimes hunt have no fat, as the bears cannot swim to the ice packs to hunt, and they sometimes prowl the villages looking for food.

Drilling for oil has picked up in the area as the ices disappears, but so far little oil has been found. Exploration continues, and if oil is eventually found, it carries the possibility of  economic development. But it also carries  the possibility that an oil spill, almost impossible to clean up in the icy  environment, would destroy much of the ocean life the natives now depend on for food. The sad thing is that they are being forced to change a way of life that sustained them for centuries. While some may adapt, their way of life and culture will be destroyed, and many will likely end up among the poor and unemployed.

Note added on 03/22/ 2018: A recent article from the American Geophysical Union Journal EOS highlights the health risks to native Alaskans and describes the plight of the Inuit from climate change. Here are the words of one of their elders:

” Charles Sollie Hugo, a Native elder and oral historian with the North Slope Borough in Barrow, grew up hunting with his family. However, as the times when rivers freeze has shifted to later in the fall and their thawing has begun earlier in the spring, the window of time when it’s safe to traverse the land has narrowed, making caribou hunting less of a part of his life, he said.

Traditional permafrost cellars that Hugo once used to preserve meat have thawed, flooded, and become inaccessible.Traditional permafrost cellars that Hugo once used to preserve meat have thawed, flooded, and become inaccessible. “They are full of water right to the top,” he said. “They are no longer usable. They are contaminated because the permafrost is thawing out.”

(c) 2011 J.C. Moore

Science, Global Warming, and the Ice Age Mystery

Fri ,31/12/2010

In the early 1800’s, scientists began a search for the cause of the ice ages. That search has led to a discovery of the factors that affect the Earth’s temperature, an understanding of the current global warming, and the solution to the mystery of the ice ages. *

The Data: Science is a way of understanding nature by using observation and reason. Man has always been keenly interested in the weather, but temperature records before 1850 were mostly historical accounts of storms, heat waves, or when bodies of water froze. Thermometers came into use in about 1850, allowing more accurate temperature records. One of the most useful records is NASA’s graph of the Earth’s annual mean temperature, which was compiled from ships logs, weather stations, and satellite measurements. It serves as a scorecard for telling whether the Earth is getting warmer or cooler. NASA’s data has small random variations from year to year because of factors such as sunspots, weather events, ocean currents, and particulates from volcanic eruptions. However, NASA’s graph shows that the Earth’s temperature has clearly trended upward since 1880 – with the exception of a curious plateau from 1945 to 1975 followed by a steeper rise in temperature. The Earth’s mean temperature is now 1.3 F higher than in 1880, and the last decade has been the hottest on record. Any theories or causes put forward to explain the global warming trend must be consistent with the temperature observations.

Possible Causes: Nineteenth century scientists realized from geological evidence that the Earth had gone through many ice ages that alternated with ages of warmer climate. Much of the early research on global warming was a search for the cause of the ice ages. Scientists found that many small variables cause the Earth to warm and cool, but the main three causes are the Sun, particulates, and greenhouse gases.

The Sun’s output seems to have been reasonably stable over the last several million years. Satellite measurements over the last 30 years have shown that while solar radiation has declined ever so slightly during that time, the Earth continued to warm – so clearly changes in the Sun’s output is not the cause of the recent warming. The amount of sunlight the Earth receives does, however, depend on the Milankovitch Cycles. These cycles are small variations in the eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession of the Earth’s orbit that cause the solar insolation, the amount of sunlight the Earth receives, to vary slightly in predictable cycles. Ice core data shows that ice ages tend to occur in roughly 100,000-year cycles that match the timing of the Milankovitch cycles. The temperature between the ice ages and the warm periods, however, are much greater than would be caused by the changes in solar radiation alone. Though a clue to the cause of the ice ages, the Milankovitch Cycles are not the cause of the current warming. They predict a minor cooling trend, which began some 6,000 years ago, will continue for the next 23,000 years. The current warming trend is too rapid and in the wrong direction for the Milankovitch Cycles to be the cause.

Particulates cause the Earth to cool by reflecting incoming sunlight back into space. The role of particulates in cooling the Earth became apparent in 1816 when ash from the explosive eruption of Mt.Tambora caused that year to be called “the year without a summer”, worldwide. The curious plateau in NASA’s temperature record from 1945 to 1975 was primarily caused by particulates from sources such as WW II, atmospheric nuclear testing, and increased industrialization. Research during the early 1970’s showed a huge increase in aerosol particulates from power production, factories, and vehicles – and some alarmists even speculated that we might cause another ice age. Particulates are visible and cause immediate health problems, so by 1980 most industrialized countries had restrictions on particulate emissions. Particulates cannot be the cause of global warming, but reducing their sources can cause the temperature to rise as can be seen in the temperature record after 1980.

The Greenhouse Effect was discovered in the early1800’s when scientists realized that the Earth was kept warm at night because the atmosphere trapped invisible heat rays rising from the surface. Around 1860, John Tyndall identified the invisible rays as infrared radiation and found the main gases that trapped the heat rays to be water vapor and CO2. The amount of water in the air remains relatively constant because of the water cycle. When the humidity is low, water evaporates, and when the humidity gets too high, it rains. However, CO2 has no such restrictions. Since CO2 makes up only a few hundredths of a percent of the air, it was at first dismissed as a possible cause of warming, especially since it was thought that plants and the oceans would absorb any excess.

In 1896, Svante Arrhenius, while still pursuing the idea that variations in CO2 might be the cause of the ice ages, laboriously calculated the effect of cutting the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by half. He found that doing so would lower the temperature of Europe by 4-5 C, perhaps enough to bring on an ice age. He also found that doubling the amount of CO2 might raise the temperature of the atmosphere by 6-7 C. No one was concerned as Arrhenius’ model of the atmosphere was very crude and it was inconceivable that the amount of CO2 in the air could ever double. Some scientists speculated that man should intentionally add more CO2 to the air to ward off another ice age.

As models of the atmosphere improved, a number of scientists tried to get a better estimate of the effect of doubling the amount of CO2 on the Earth’s temperature, but the increasing complexity of the models made the calculations daunting. A breakthrough came with the development of computers. In 1956, G.N. Plass calculated that doubling the concentration of CO2 in the air would cause a 3 to 4 C increase in the Earth’s temperature. ** Many dismissed his work, as it seemed impossible that CO2, which made up only 0.03% of the air, could have such a large effect on temperature. However, in 1997, J.T. Kiehl found that, under clear sky conditions, CO2 accounted for 26% of the greenhouse effect – with water vapor accounting for most of the rest. More recent research has confirmed their work . Clearly, CO2 could have a significant effect on the Earth’s temperature if it was increasing. But was it?

CO2: In 1900, Arvid Hgbom calculated the amount of CO2 emitted by industrial sources and, surprisingly, found that man was adding CO2 to the atmosphere at roughly the same rate as volcanoes. No one thought much of it as, at that rate, it would take centuries for the amount of CO2 to increase significantly. However, after a protracted heat wave during the 1930’s, Guy Callendar re-examined previous temperature and CO2 measurements and found not only that the Earth was getting warmer, but also that atmospheric CO2 concentrations were increasing rapidly. Callendar’s work was mostly ignored, but a few scientists began monitoring the concentration of CO2 more closely. Their results were sporadic but, by 1958, Charles Keeling had established accurate procedures for measuring atmospheric CO2. His lab was eventually moved to the Mauna Loa observatory, far away from most CO2 sources. His graph showing how CO2 varies with time, now called the Keeling curve, proved to be an important piece of evidence. It showed that the oceans and plants were not taking up CO2 nearly as fast as man was producing it. Over the last century, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 385 ppm, a 38% increase, and the Earth’s temperature has risen by 0.8 0C, well in line with Plass’ prediction. The role of CO2 as the major cause of global warming had been convincingly established. There is yet one more piece of evidence that confirms that conclusion.

Ice Ages: It was now possible to solve the mystery of the ice ages. The Milankovitch cycles alone cannot explain the changes in the Earth’s temperature during the cycles, but the process becomes clear if CO2 is included. The ice core data shows that the concentration of CO2 falls to about 180 ppm during an ice age and rises to about 280 ppm during the warm part of the cycle. The changing CO2 concentration happens because the solubility of CO2 in water varies with temperature. In the part of the cycle where the Earth is warmed by the increasing solar radiation, the oceans release CO2, which further amplifies the warming by the greenhouse effect. In the part of the cycle where the solar energy decreases, the oceans cool, the CO2 dissolves again, and another ice age begins. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the “control knob” for the Earth’s temperature – and we have now turned the knob up to 380 ppm and are moving it even higher. The Earth will surely get warmer.

* Much of the historical data came from this excellent AIP article.

 **  Recent research in the Journal of Climate, covering the last five ice ages, has experimentally confirmed Plass’ estimate of the climate sensitivity.

(C) 2010 J.C. Moore