Posted on June 09, 2015 * Comments

Recently delegates from around the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, for a UN conference to discuss how the nations of the world can reach a “new, universal agreement on climate change.” This agreement is meant to outline how nations will work together to reduce greenhouse gases and limit, to the degree still possible, the worst effects of global climate change. These are good, laudable goals. But as you may suspect, there is a catch.

Posted on June 08, 2015 * Comments

In Part 1, I told you about my work with the 1918 influenza virus, and promised to tell you more about why the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N2 (HPAIH5) influenza strain that is currently rampaging through chicken farms in the Midwest is unlikely to jump to humans.

Posted on June 08, 2015 * Comments

For our last Fossil Friday, we took a look at a particularly graceful little specimen rising out of the rock:

But what was it? A crinoid, as many of you probably guessed, but not just any crinoid. This particular fossil is a holotype specimen for the species Cupulocrinus crossmani, as published in the Journal of Paleontology.

Posted on June 05, 2015 * Comments

This week on Fossil Friday, we have a beautiful little specimen collected in Stewartville, Minnesota. Dating from the Middle Ordovician, this specimen is 460 million years old—give or take twenty million. What is it? Guess right and win bragging rights for the week!

Posted on June 04, 2015 * Comments

Ralph Cudworth (via Wikimedia Commons)

A few months ago, I devoted a two-part post (part 1; part 2) to a particular argument and counterargument concerning the age of the world in David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779). I’m returning to the Dialogues now to discuss a different passage, with two aims in mind. I want to identify, first, what may be a previously unnoticed influence on the passage, and second, what may be a previously unnoticed—and certainly is a fairly amusing—typographical error quoting the passage.

Posted on June 03, 2015 * Comments

A friend asked me recently why I kept calling out scientists on their public comments. They’re scientists, my friend said, they’re on your side, so stop being so nitpicky and mean!

Am I being mean?

I certainly don’t intend to be mean, so perhaps it is worth a few lines to reiterate the point of these “Say What?” posts.

Posted on June 02, 2015 * Comments

Those are pretty shocking words to read in a classroom, and even more so when coming from a student. But that is exactly what S.K. saw scrawled across the last page of a biology exam she graded last year.

Posted on June 02, 2015 * Comments

Karen James, with Charles Darwin.On May 22, Maine governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill which would have implemented the Next Generation Science Standards in Maine.

Posted on June 01, 2015 * Comments

Back in the day, whenOutdoor flu ward, 1918, Walter Reed Hospital 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 Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) 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?

Posted on June 01, 2015 * Comments

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: