March 15, 2013

Scientific American: 2012

Scientific American

Todd Akin (1947) [US Representative (R) for Missouri (2001-2013); Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology]:
[If] it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
(Shawn Otto, Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize US Democracy, 1 November 2012)

Michael Mann (1965):
[On the prospects for action on climate change.]
If we look to history, in the end, science and honesty won out …
We acted later than we should have with tobacco [and ozone depletion.]
We presumably suffered far greater damage and loss of life because we delayed action.
But we did take action.
(March, p 70)

Board of Editors [1862]:
[Abraham Lincoln] proposes to inaugurate the great jubilee with the year 1900, by payment of the owners of slaves as a mutual concession on both sides, and as a matter of justice to those who are owners of this species of property.
It being quite evident that the war between slavery and freedom will continue to waged with increased vigor the President hopes to modify its intensity, by fixing upon a certain period, when the institution shall forever cease.
He thinks this policy will shorten the war, and secure justice to all concerned; while, at the same, the country will be saved from the effects of violent and sudden changes in its domestic arrangements.

This view of the case strikes us as humane, and if the more radical portion of the two sections would but accept it, as a ground for settlement, peace would again bless us …
[But] so intensely bitter have these contending elements become, that we fear no such compromise would be acceptable or satisfactory.
(December, p 71)

Euan Nisbet [Professor of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London]:
What we're doing at the moment is [a climate] experiment comparable on a geological scale to the big events of the past, so we would expect the inputs to have consequences similar to those in the past …
(p 41)

Ken Caldeira:
Global warming may not decrease overall food supply, but it may give more to the rich and less to the poor.
(September, p 81)

Contents


More Severe Winters

Antiscience in America

Beyond Bad Philosophy

The Great Climate Experiment

Casualties of Climate Change

Elite HIV Controllers

Protecting Women's Health

Of Mice and Men

Triumph of the Titans

Mann with a Hockey Stick

The Coming Mega Drought

Healing Kansas


SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN


December 2012

  • The Winters of Our Discontent.
    Charles H Green: Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University.

    The loss of Arctic sea ice during the summer has not been gradual or linear.
    [When] ice measurements by satellites began in 1979 [summer sea-ice extent was about 7 million kilometers.]
    [Until] 2000, losses in sea-ice [were not] obvious.
    From 2000 to 2006 the rate of decline accelerated …
    [In 2007] the minimum summer sea-ice extent dropped by 26%, from about 5.8 square kilometers in September 2006 to about 4.2 million in September 2007.
    (p 38)

    Since 2007 losses have increased dramatically [reaching a] record low of 3.5 million square kilometers on September 16, 2012.
    (p 39)

    Based on date collected prior to 2007 [the IPCC AR4] had projected that the first ice-free summer would most likely occur toward the end of the 21st century.
    Most studies now project that [this] could happen … between 2020 and 2040. …
    [Average] temperatures in the Arctic have warmed by more than double [the global average] over the past 50 years.
    This rapid warming has altered Arctic weather patterns and melted vast areas of permaforst.
    (p 38)

    [These changes in atmospheric conditions] lead to invasions of Arctic air into the middle latitudes, increasing the likelihood of severe winter outbreaks [such as] occurred in the eastern US and northern Europe in 2010 and 2011 and in eastern Europe in January 2012.
    (p 37)


November 2012

  • Global Warming: Faster Than Expected?
    John Carey: Freelance Writer; former Senior Correspondent, BusinessWeek.

    Scientists thought that if planetary warming could be kept below 2°C, perils such as catastrophic sea-level rise could be avoided.
    {However, ongoing data] indicate that three global feedback mechanisms may be pushing the earth into a period of rapid climate change even before the two degree "limit" is reached:
    • meltwater altering ocean circulation;
    • melting permafrost releasing carbon dioxide and methane; and
    • ice disappearing worldwide. …
    (p 37)

    The Ice Effect


    The dramatic shrinking of [Arctic sea ice] in recent summers … was not predicted by many climate models. …
    On Greenland … a lake of meltwater suddenly drained through a crack in the 900-meter thick … ice.
    The torrent [lifted] the massive glacier off the underlying bedrock and [increased] the speed at which it was sliding into the ocean.
    In Alaska [the] Columbia Glacier's slide into the sea has accelerated from one meter a day to 15 to 20 …

    In Antarctica and Greenland, large ice shelves that float on the ocean … along the coast are collapsing …
    Warmer ocean waters are eating [them away] from below while warmer air is opening cracks from above.
    The ice shelves act as buttresses, holding back the ice that is grounded on the ocean bottom and adjacent glaciers on land from [sliding] into the sea …
    Although the loss of floating ice does not raise sea levels, the submerging glaciers do.
    Ice reflects sunlight back [into] space.
    Take it away, and the much darker land and seas absorb more solar heat …
    This change in albedo (reflectivity) of the earth's surface [explains] how small forcings in the paleoclimate record could be amplified …

    Forest for the Trees


    A recent analysis … shows that heat waves like the one that devastated Russia in 2010 are five times more likely because of the warming that has already occurred …
    (p 40)

    [New] work pins the record-breaking warm 2011-2012 US winter (and record-breaking cold spell in Europe in that same season) on the loss of Arctic sea ice [combined with a La Nina event]. …

    [Then there] is the potential for ecological feedbacks.
    Warmer temperature in the western US and Canada … helped unleash an epidemic of mountain pine beetles.
    The insects killed hundred of thousands of hectares of trees, threatening to turn forest from carbon sinks … into carbon sources (dead trees decomposing).
    A hot spell in 2007 [resulted in] the first fire on the North Slope's tundra in 7,000 years, accelerating permafrost melting and its carbon emissions …
    Warming in Siberia is starting to transform vast forest of larches into spruce and fir …
    Larches drop their [needles] in winter [allowing solar radiation] to reflect off the snow [back into] space.
    Spruces and firs keep their needles, absorbing the solar heat …
    Feedbacks from vegetation changes alone could give the planet a 1.5 degree C kick …

    [The] uncertainties do not justify inaction …
    On the contrary, [they] bolster the case for [immediate action] to reduce … emissions because they reveal how substantial the risk of rapid change really are …
    (p 41)

  • America's Science Problem.
    Shawn Lawrence Otto: Cofounder, ScienceDebate.org; Author, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.

    A Call to Reason


    Science denialism among Democrats tends to be motivated by unsupported suspicions of hidden dangers to health and the environment. …
    Republican science denialism tends to be motivated by antiregulatory fervor and fundamentalist concerns over control of the reproductive cycle. …
    Of these two forms of science denialism, the Republican version is more dangerous because the part has taken to attacking the validity of science itself as a basis for public policy when science disagrees with its ideology. …

    My family founded the Minnesota Republican Party.
    But much of the [party] has adopted an authoritarian approach that demands ideological conformity, even when contradicted by scientific evidence, and ostracizes those who do not conform. …
    [This] drives diverse thinkers away …
    [Thinkers] we need to solve today's complex problems. …

    Newt Gingrich … supported doubling the budget of the National Institutes of Health and … Science Debate.org …
    Newt Gingrich:
    [Stem cell research is] killing children in order to get research material.
    (p 51)

    [Studies] suggest that women are perhaps twice as likely to become pregnant from rape …
    Todd Atkin [Republican Senatorial Candidate, Missouri]:
    [If] it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
    (p 52)

    In North Carolina this year the state legislature considered [a bill] which prohibited using estimates of future sea-level rise made by most scientists when planning to protect low-lying areas. …
    The proposed law would have permitted planning only for a politically [acceptable] rise of eight inches instead of the three or four feet that scientists predict for the area in 2100.

    Virginia Republicans [banned] the use of the term "sea-level rise" from a government-commissioned study [because it was] considered a "a left-wing term" …
    (p 56)

    The Evolution of American Science Denialism


    Industrial money and religious foot soldiers … formed a new basis for the Republican Party:
    Ronald Reagan:
    In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem …
    Government is the problem.
    (Inaugural Address, 1981)
    (p 56)

    This antiregulatory-antiscience alliance …. helps to explain why, according to a 2009 survey, nine out of 10 scientists who identified with a major political part said they were Democrats.

    Tennessee, South Dakota and Louisiana have all recently passed legislation that encourages unwarranted criticism of evolution to be taught in the states' public schools.
    Evangelical state legislators and school board members mounted similar efforts this year in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Alabama …
    (p 57)


September 2012

  • The Great Climate Experiment.
    Ken Caldeira: Climatologist, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University.

    A Desert in Italy


    Earth is a planetary-scale heat engine.
    The hot sun warms equatorial air, which then rises and cools.
    The cooling condenses water vapor in the air, which falls back to Earth as rain ‒ hence, the belt of torrential rains that occur near the equator.

    [As the water condenses it] heats the surrounding air, causing it to rise even more rapidly.
    This hot, dry air reaches as high as jets fly, then spreads laterally toward the poles.
    At altitude, the hot air radiates heat [into space, cools and sinks] back toward the … surface.
    The sun's rays pass through this dry, cloudless air, [heating the] surface.
    Today such dry air sinks occur about 30 degrees north and south latitude, thus creating the great belts of desert that encircle the globe.

    With greenhouse warming, the rising air is hotter.
    [It] takes more time … to cool off and sink back to Earth.
    As a result, these desert bands move toward the poles.

    The climate of the Sahara Desert may move northward.
    Already southern Europe has been experiencing more intense droughts despite overall increases in precipitation globally …
    [It] may lose the Mediterranean climate that [is] one of the most desirable in the world. …
    (p 80)

    {[In] the northern midlatitudes, growing season are getting longer. …

    [Plants] absorb CO2 via little pores in [their] leaves known as stomata.
    When the stomata are open wide … a lot of water evaporates through these … holes.
    Higher concentrations of [CO2] mean a plant can get the CO2 it needs by opening its stomata slightly or [by] building fewer stomata …
    In a high-CO2 world, plants can grow more using the same amount of water.
    (This decrease in evaporation … also leads to a further decrease in precipitation, and because evaporation causes cooling, the decrease in evaporation causes further warming.) …

    In the tropics, high temperatures already compromise many crops …
    This will likely get worse [as] global warming [increases.]
    [Overall, the] increased crop productivity … in the north [may exceed] the reductions near the equator.
    (p 81)

  • Beyond the Quantum Horizon.
    David Deutsch: Physicist, University of Oxford.
    Artur Ekert: Director, Center for Quantum Technologies, Singapore; Professor, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford.

    Philosophy and fundamental physics are [closely connected.]
    [When] the philosophical mainstream took a steep nosedive during the first decades of the 20th century, it dragged parts of physics down with it.
    The culprits were …
    • logical positivism [‒] "If it's not verifiable by experiment, it's meaningless" …
    • instrumentalism [‒] "If the predictions work, why worry about what brings them about?" [and]
    • philosophical relativism [‒] "Statements can't be objectively true or false, only legitimized or delegitimized by a particular culture: …

    [What] they had in common [was the] denial of realism …
    It was in that philosophical atmosphere that … Niels Bohr developed [the Copenhagen] interpretation of quantum theory that denied the possibility of speaking of phenomena as existing objectively.
    One was not permitted to ask what values physical variables had while not been observed (such as halfway through a quantum computation). …
    The most advanced theory in the most fundamental of the sciences [contradicted the] existence of truth, explanation and physical reality.

    Not every philosopher abandoned realism.
    Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper were notable exceptions.
    [Among physicists,] Albert Einstein and David Bohm bucked the trend, and Hugh Everett proposed that physical quantities really do take on more than one value at once (the view we ourselves endorse) …

    Things have been gradually improving for a couple of decades …
    [Physics] is dragging philosophy back on track. …
    We are finally sailing past the supposed limits that bad philosophy once taught us to resign ourselves to.
    (p 89)


July 2012

  • Secrets of the HIV controllers.
    Bruce Walker: Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

    [Mark (former chairman of Goldman Sachs (Asia)) and Lisa Schwartz made the initial] commitment of $2.5 m … to launch our study of elite HIV controllers. …
    The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation [subsequently gave us] $20 m to complete the studies. …

    For each of the 974 elite controllers and 2,648 progressors in our study, we measured about 1.3 million [single-nucleotide polymorphisms] with an automated chip system. …
    By 2009 we had [identified] 300 SNPs that were significantly different in elite controllers compared with people who were [more susceptible to] AIDS.
    Further analysis whittled these [down to] four that were independently highly correlated with control of the infection. …

    The major genetic difference … came down to a change a amino acids that affected the shape in a groove of the [human leukocyte antigen] receptors that sat on the surface of infected cells.
    This … groove held the bits of HIV proteins that are displayed by the HLA receptor.
    Something about this shape made the HLA-HIV combination [highly visible to] killer T cells, which then destroyed the infected cell. …

    [By] keeping viral levels low, these highly efficient killer T cells protect the remaining helper T cells from infection.
    [These] foot soldiers guard the generals, allowing the immune system to fight the virus to a standstill. …
    [The next step is to] figure out how to re-create the elite controllers' immune response in most infected people.
    (pp 36-37)


June 2012

  • Protect Women's Health.
    Board of Editors.

    Political attacks of Planned Parenthood pose a threat to the well-being of millions of women in the U.S.


    [Amost half of Planned Parenthood's] $1b budget comes from federal [sources. …]
    [Mitt Romney has] vowed to end [it] if elected.
    This is a worrying prospect for both women and public health.

    … Senator John Kyl of Arizona declared … that abortion accounts for "well over 90%" of what Planned Parenthood does.
    The actual figure is 3%.
    (Planned Parenthood clinics perform one in four abortions in the U.S. but use no federal funds for this practice.) …

    [Gutting the organization] would drive women once again into back alleys, without necessarily decreasing the number of abortions.
    [It] would also sacrifice the 97% of its public health work that has nothing to do with abortion …

    One in five American women have used the group's services, and three out of four of its patients … have low incomes.
    In 2011 it
    • carried out tests and treatment for more than four million individuals with sexually transmitted diseases …
    • supplied 750,000 exams to prevent breast cancer, the most common cancer among U.S. women [and]
    • performed 770,000 Pap tests to prevent cervical cancers [-] a leading cause of death [before it] became widely available.

    Planned Parenthood is one of the most important public health care institutions in the country …
    Family planning has .. saved lives, opened new horizons for women, and kept populations from soaring.
    Since 1965 [access to contraceptives] contributed to a 60% decline in maternal deaths [in Connecticut.]
    By 2002 … only 9% of births were unwanted, compared with 20% in the early 1960's.
    As a major provider of contraceptives …
    [Planned Parenthood serves as] America's largest abortion preventer …
    (Chicago Tribune)
    Access to birth control in the U.S. … helped narrow the income inequality gap between men and women by … 30% during the 1990s alone. …
    By 2009 women procured more than half of all U.S. doctoral degrees, compared with 10% in 1960.
    The health and well-being of a society correlates highly with status of its women.
    (p 7)


May 2012

  • Real Males Eat Yogurt.

    [Research into] the effects of yogurt on obesity. …

    On measuring the males, they found that the testicles of the yogurt consumers were about 5% heavier than those of MICE fed typical diets alone and around 15% heavier than those of junk-eating males. …

    [Yogurt-eating males] produced more offspring [and] females that ate the yogurt diets [had] larger litters and weaned those pups with greater success.
    [The researchers] think that the probiotic microbes … help to make the animals leaner and healthier, which indirectly improves sexual machismo. …

    [Other researchers have] looked at the association between yogurt intake and semen quality in men.
    [Our] preliminary findings are consistent with what they see in the mice …
    (p 13)

  • Triumph of the Titans.

    Baby sauropods were less than half a meter long and weighed less than 10 kg.
    As adults, the largest … attained body lengths of 30 m and body masses between 25,000 and 40,000 kg or more.
    [The] average baby African elephant weights around 120 kg at birth and reaches an adult weight of 2,268 to 6,350 kg.
    (p 37)


March 2012

  • Hit Them with the Hockey Stick.
    Michael Mann: Climate Modeler, Pennsylvania State University.

    You started [out] studying natural variability in temperature …

    Think of the [Atlantic multidecadel oscillation] as a really long-term cousin of El Nino.
    This oscillation … takes several decades to go from one phase into the other.
    [That's what] got me interest in proxy data [such as tree rings.]
    [If] you're trying to tease out a 50- to 70- year oscillation and you've only got 100 to 150 year of instrumental observations, you run into obvious problems. …

    By combining …. lots of different proxy data … you can immunize yourself from the danger of relying … on any one type of proxy.
    Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. …
    (p 69)

    The e-mails stolen in 2009 included some of yours …

    [An] influential Republican [state] legislator … threatened to withhold funding from Penn State if [they] didn't take some sort of action against me …
    We've lost three years to do something about climate change, and that's a huge opportunity cost.
    Every year we wait, it gets that much more difficult to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations below levels that might … be dangerous. …

    How do you respond to claims that there was a "trick to hide the decline?"

    That was taking two different parts of an e-mail and merging them together in a way that completely [changed] the sense of what [was being] discussed. …
    It was [written] on the heels of, by far, the warmest year we had ever seen, 1998. …
    If anything there was an apparent acceleration of warming tacking place.
    The "decline" simply referred to some bad tree ring data. …

    Are the impacts of climate change showing up faster than predicted?

    Changes have been taking place faster than the models projected.
    With respect to sea-level rise, [temperature change,] carbon emissions, and in just about every case. …
    (p 70)

    Would you like to know more?


January 2012

  • The Coming Mega Drought.
    Peter Gleick (President) and Matthew Heberger (Research Associate): Pacific Institute, Oakland, California

    Australia experienced the worst and most consistent dry period in its recorded history over much of the past decade.
    The Murray River failed to reach the sea for the first time ever in 2002.
    Fires swept much of the country, and dust storms blanketed major cities for days.
    Australia's sheep population dropped by 50%, and rice and cotton production collapsed in some years.
    Tens of thousands of farm families gave up their livelihoods.
    The drought ended in 2010 with torrential rains and flooding. …

    Evidence is mounting that climate change is playing a role in Australia's water woes.
    Since 1950 average rainfall has decreased 15%, and researchers found average temperatures over southeastern Australia from 1995 to 2006 were 0.3 to 0.6°C higher than the long-term average.
    The combination of higher evaporation and lower precipitation depletes soil moisture and reduces runoff making droughts more intense and more frequent.
    Australian scientists forecast a 35 to 50% decline in water availability in the Murray-Darling river basin and a drop in flows near the mouth of the Murray by up to 70% by 2030. …

    Australians responded to these extremes with a wide range of technical, economic, regulatory and educational policies.
    (p 8)

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