What We’re Reading

First evolve a duck, then teach it to read Here are some of the stories that caught NCSE’s eye this week. Feel free to share articles that crossed your screen in the comment section, or e-mail us directly during the week with things that caught your eye. We’ll add the best to our weekly posts.

  • When It Rains, It Pours: Historic Drought and Atmospheric RiversBay Nature magazine, July–September 2015 — We all know that weather and climate are different, but there are intersection points. This article in Bay Nature magazine explores the idea that climate change can affect weather variability—specifically, that the alternating droughts and deluges that characterize California’s weather may be exacerbated by climate change. Plus in a related article you’ll get to learn all about something called the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.
  • Signs of Intelligent LifeNatural History, October 2015 — Squee! Or should I say, squeal? Christina M. Colvin and Lori Marino describe their research on pig behavior, and—no surprise here—note that “evolutionary history holds one of the keys for interpreting current research on their capacities.”
  • The 4 Kinds of People Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids: And How to Change Their Minds, The Atlantic, October 6, 2015 — Research indicates that people fail to vaccinate their kids for four different reasons: complacency, inconvenience, misplaced confidence, and risk calculation. Persuading these folks to vaccinate their children means overcoming the specific obstacles that are holding them back. No surprise that the ones who have misplaced their confidence are the toughest nuts to crack.
  • Competition Between Global Warming and an Abrupt Collapse of the AMOC in Earth’s Energy Balance, Nature, October 6, 2015 — The title needs help from the marketing department, but the upshot of this research report is that the doomsday scenario depicted in the horrible movie The Day After Tomorrow contains a kernel of truth. The scenario is this: freshwater influx from melting glaciers in Greenland changes oceanic circulation in the North Atlantic, leading to abruptly cooler temperatures. We already knew it had happened before; this paper says it could obliterate “global warming for a period of 15-20 years” and keep temperatures lower decades longer. 
  • Teaching the Truth about Climate Change, The New York Times, October 10, 2015 — The New York Times editorial board calls for kids to learn about climate change. Do the arguments sound familiar? Maybe that’s because NCSE’s Minda Berbeco was interviewed on background.
  • Searching for the Genes that are Unique to Humans, The Atlantic, October 13, 2015 — Are genes that act like “inverse Oreos” the key to what makes us human? (Mm ... creamy filling.)
  • Bubble Plumes off Washington, Oregon Suggest Warmer Ocean May be Releasing Frozen Methane, Science Daily, October 14, 2015 — As Scooby-Doo would say, “Ruh-row.” Methane is more than twenty times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2, and there is isotopic evidence that previous large methane releases from ocean sediments may be linked to climate shifts. The warming of permafrost may also be causing releases of methane. This is all worrisome.
  • Teeth from China Reveal Early Human Trek Out of Africa, Scientific American, October 14, 2015 — Homo sapiens reached China around 100,000 years ago, long before we had previously thought humanity’s range expanded out of Africa. No wonder: this was before Chinese restaurants started to deliver ...
  • Fort Bragg’s Paper-Plate Mandate for Restaurants off the Table, San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 2015 — In a worrisome sign of how bad the climate-change-worsened drought here in California is, one city thought to save water by forcing restaurants to use paper plates instead of washing dishes. This is at once funny and sad. Highlights how things we don't think much about—how much water and energy does it take to clean your dishes when you eat out?—are coming to the forefront in our era of making do with less.
  • New Spiky-Haired Mammal Roamed During Dinosaurs’ Heyday, National Geographic, October 15, 2015 — Oh, what’s this? Just a mammal from 125 million years ago, with beautifully fossilized internal organs and hair. Paleontologists aren’t quite sure how it happened, but hair and soft tissues were preserved—at the cellular level—in a newly discovered mammal from the Cretaceous of Spain. For context, it lived nearly as far before the Chicxulub meteorite ushered in the Age of Mammals as we are past that mass extinction. But we know that it had hair not unlike modern mammals, a diaphragm for breathing, and an external ear that we’d all recognize.

And in the category of Not Exactly What We’re Reading but Fun to Explore Anyhow …

  • Check out this tool (click on Risk Zone Map on the right side of the page) that allows you to explore how much sea level is likely to rise anywhere in the U.S. depending on how good a job we do reducing carbon emissions. Hint: we’d better get cracking.
  • Can You Evolve Into a Duck? This irresistible game at Clickhole—the site that satirizes the internet’s love of clickbait—brilliantly illustrates the randomness, unpredictability, joy, and frustration of evolution.