Back in the day, when I was the kind of scientist who worked in a lab, I spent seven years deciphering the genetic sequence of the 1918 influenza virus at the in Washington D.C. The pandemic caused by this virus, which erupted in three distinct waves beginning in the late summer of 1918 and ending in the spring of 1919, killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million people worldwide. Never before or since has an influenza virus killed so many, nor returned in so many waves so quickly. Could it happen again? Could the outbreaks of avian influenza (subtype H5N2) currently devastating chicken farms in the Midwest lead to 1918-scale disaster?
Last week we looked at a pretty old, pretty big fossil. I suppose if you think on the dinosaur scale it wasn’t that big. But I’m more of a microbiologist, so bear with me—to me, any organism you have to measure in meters is huge. Readers had lots of ideas about what this creature might be, but only one person came close. That's because pinpoint identification of this critter continues to elude even the experts. Let's take a closer look:
This week on Fossil Friday, we have a pretty sizable fossil from the Silurian period—about 430 million years ago. This specimen was collected in Eastern Iowa. It’s an unusual soft-bodied fossil from a site with many unidentified fossil organisms. The first person to identify this specimen wins bragging rights for the week!
Last month on the Friday Flicks, I got a little help from my friend Max, who recommended a Big Think video by Bill Nye. It turned out to be so wildly popular that I asked Max to give us another video suggestion. This time, Max went from Big Think to the entire Earth, offering a video by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Kate Heffernan is interning this summer at NCSE, where she is working with Minda Berbeco on teacher outreach activities. A recent graduate of the University of Florida, her undergraduate studies focused on environmental policy and education.
We talk a lot about the dismal state of science education in America. Students in our country don’t do well on international science tests, a quarter of American adults think the sun revolves around the earth, and major political figures deny the validity of scientific consensus on a more or less daily basis. We’ve got a major problem in America with science literacy, and when we see students not doing well, we often blame teachers. Teachers are easy to blame; they’re generally too busy teaching to defend themselves.
If we’ve seen one thing over and over again in this series of stories about influential teachers, it’s that a little personal attention and encouragement from a teacher can change the course of a student’s life.
The phrase “arrival of the fittest” is seen and heard from time to time, often contraposed with the phrase “survival of the fittest” (due to Herbert Spencer, but adopted by Darwin in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin). Typically it is used in making the claim that natural selection cannot by itself account for evolution because selection must have variation upon which to act. Thus natural selection (it is claimed) explains the survival but not the arrival of the fittest. The rhyme between “arrival” and “survival” is catchy, and it’s not surprising that Google Scholar lists almost six hundred articles containing the phrase “arrival of the fittest,” with eighteen articles containing it in their title. There are also at least three books with the phrase in their title, of which the most recent is Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle (2014), by Andreas Wagner.
Let me start this post with this declaration: the Natural History Museum in Knightbridge, London, is awesome. Where else does a marble statue of Darwin sit serenely atop a grand staircase overlooking “Dippy,” a magnificent Diplodocus? Nowhere.
“Greenhouse gases” and “the greenhouse effect” are terms used to describe some of the most basic concepts related to global warming. If students learn anything about climate change, they usually learn about these first. This is good in some ways, because these are the fundamental concepts in scientific explanations of how climate change works and why the earth is warming. But the specific metaphor here, comparing the Earth to a greenhouse with carbon dioxide and water vapor cast in the roles of panes of glass, has been criticized on the grounds that it may engender a misunderstanding of the science.