05.06.2016

What We’re Reading

Reading + mosquito netting + ancient Japan: booyah! A hallmark of science, of course, is that new data may always emerge that challenge accepted conclusions (why, just last week, we discussed such “unknown unknowns”). However, the more robust the conclusion, the more likely that new and unexpected data will serve to reinforce, not discredit it. And we find that here, with the longest known citizen-scientist record to date being found to be entirely consistent with all the other evidence for anthropogenic climate change. Also some nostalgia, and a few examples of the crazy coolness (and potential power for good) of evolutionary thinking.

  • Japanese Monks Recorded the Climate for 700 Years, National Geographic, April 26, 2016 — Most human-recorded documents of interest to climate scientists are fairly young, dating back only to the mid-1800s. The sources described here go back much further—as far as 700 years—providing a dramatic illustration of how much our climate has changed in recorded human memory.
  • The Kids’ Show That Taught Me to Ask “Why?”, The Atlantic, April 30, 2016 — This celebration of the classic kids science show 3-2-1 Contact goes beyond (justified) Gen-Xer nostalgia to consider what it takes to make a great science show, and how they make a difference. Watching the opening credits and hearing the theme song brought back plenty of fond nerd-child memories, but I’m better prepared now to understand the producers’ bold choices that made science into an enticing adventure. LaFrance notes, “I didn’t grow up to become a scientist,” but deems the show a success since “I did shape my life around asking ‘why.’ And my expansive views of science and technology today mirror the far-reaching views of science and technology that were at the heart of 3-2-1 Contact.”
  • Exodus 2100: Due to Climate Change, Science 2.0, May 2, 2016 — Conflict in the Middle East is likely to be worsened by climate change in the upcoming decades.  Over three times more very hot days per year are forecast with a global temperature rise of 2 degrees C, and more frequent and severe dust storms are likely to dramatically decrease air quality in the region.
  • Why is Simpler Better?, Aeon, May 3, 2016 — Discussing themes from his recent book, Ockham's Razors: A User's Manual, philosopher of  science (and member of NCSE's Advisory Council) Elliott Sober asks why and when is the more parsimonious theory to be preferred.
  • Humans Paid for Bigger Brains With Gas-Guzzling Bodies, The Atlantic, May 4, 2016 — "A new study shows that we burn many more daily calories than other apes," Ed Yong reports. Be sure to read to the end for Herman Pontzer's admirable attitude toward the temptation to sensationalize research on human evolution.
  • Bacteria Infected Mosquitos Could Slow Spread of Zika Virus, The New York Times, May 4, 2016 — How do you fight one microbe? With another, natch. Mosquitos that carry certain strains of the bacterium Wolbachia don’t live as long, and are resistant to infection with certain viruses such as dengue—facts that have been used to block dengue transmission in Australia. The Zika virus is closely related to dengue and is carried by the same mosquito, so the strategy that worked for dengue may work for Zika as well. Be on the look-out for an upcoming post on why this approach is so much more evolutionarily satisfying than strategies based on eradicating mosquitos.