Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Science

Climate change advancing faster than scientists previously thought

Naomi Oreskes, Michael Oppenheimer, and Dale Jamieson write: Recently, the U.K. Met Office announced a revision to the Hadley Center historical analysis of sea surface temperatures (SST), suggesting that the oceans have warmed about 0.1 degree Celsius more than previously thought. The need for revision arises from the long-recognized problem that in the past sea surface temperatures were measured using a variety of error-prone methods such as using open buckets,

Trump’s politicization of climate science poses a threat to the future of agriculture

Politico reports: One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is quitting the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Lewis Ziska, a 62-year-old plant physiologist who’s worked at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for more than two decades, told POLITICO he was alarmed when department officials not

White House ‘undercutting evidence’ of climate crisis, says analyst who resigned

The Guardian reports: A former senior government analyst has accused the Trump administration of “undercutting evidence” of the threat to national security from the climate crisis after his report on the issue was blocked by the White House. Rod Schoonover, who worked as an intelligence analyst for the federal government for 10 years before resigning earlier this month, submitted a written testimony on the “wide-ranging implications” of global heating over

How Arab scholars preserved scientific texts serving as the foundations of modern knowledge

In a review of Violet Moller’s new book, The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found, Katie Hafner writes: While religion dictated the cultural winds of the Western world, ideas flowed freely through the Middle East, traversing religions and cultures. Knowledge began flowing into Baghdad from every direction as scholars translated Greek manuscripts into Arabic. Book production soared as texts were read aloud

NASA should focus on saving Earth

Lori Garver, former deputy NASA administrator, writes: In a July Pew Research Center study, 63 percent of respondents said monitoring key parts of Earth’s climate system should be the highest priority for the United States’ space agency — sending astronauts to the moon was their lowest priority, at 13 percent ; 18 percent favor Mars. The public is right about this. Climate change — not Russia, much less China — is today’s existential

‘Culture of fear, censorship, and suppression’ in Trump administration is undermining science

Think Progress reports: There is a “culture of fear, censorship, and suppression” within the Trump administration that is impeding government scientists from doing their best work, former Interior Department policy director and scientist turned whistleblower Joel Clement warned on Wednesday. Speaking to lawmakers on the House Science Committee, scientific experts spoke about the need for stronger rules to support the integrity of their research and ensure that political agendas don’t

Trump’s relentless war against science

The Hill reports: President Trump is directing all agencies to cut their advisory boards by “at least” one third. The executive order issued Friday evening directs all federal agencies to “evaluate the need” for each of their current advisory committees. The order gives agencies until Sept. 30 to terminate, at a minimum, one-third of their committees. Committees that qualify for the chopping block include those that have completed their objective,

‘Recycling is like a Band-Aid on gangrene’

 

Influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch: The Anthropocene

Nature reports: A panel of scientists voted this week to designate a new geologic epoch — the Anthropocene — to mark the profound ways in which humans have altered the planet. That decision, by the 34-member Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), marks an important step towards formally defining a new slice of the geologic record — an idea that has generated intense debate within the scientific community over the past few

Yes, determinists, there is such a thing as free will

In an interview with Nautilus, Christian List says: I think the mistake in the standard arguments against free will lies in a failure to distinguish between different levels of description. If we are searching for free will at the fundamental physical level, we are simply searching in the wrong place. Let’s go through these arguments one by one. What do you say to those who consider the idea that humans

What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world

Ross Andersen writes: Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital. On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk

Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

Nature reports: Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move. On 15 January [postponed to 30 January due to the ongoing US government shutdown], they are

Emergence: How complex wholes arise from simple parts

John Rennie writes: You could spend a lifetime studying an individual water molecule and never deduce the precise hardness or slipperiness of ice. Watch a lone ant under a microscope for as long as you like, and you still couldn’t predict that thousands of them might collaboratively build bridges with their bodies to span gaps. Scrutinize the birds in a flock or the fish in a school and you wouldn’t

The periodic table is 150 – but it could have looked very different

Theodor Benfey’s spira table (1964). DePiep/Wikipedia By Mark Lorch, University of Hull The periodic table stares down from the walls of just about every chemistry lab. The credit for its creation generally goes to Dimitri Mendeleev, a Russian chemist who in 1869 wrote out the known elements (of which there were 63 at the time) on cards and then arranged them in columns and rows according to their chemical and

The blind spot of science is the neglect of lived experience

Adam Frank, Marcelo Gleiser, and Evan Thompson write: The problem of time is one of the greatest puzzles of modern physics. The first bit of the conundrum is cosmological. To understand time, scientists talk about finding a ‘First Cause’ or ‘initial condition’ – a description of the Universe at the very beginning (or at ‘time equals zero’). But to determine a system’s initial condition, we need to know the total

The importance of knowing you might be wrong

Brian Resnick writes: Julia Rohrer wants to create a radical new culture for social scientists. A personality psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Rohrer is trying to get her peers to publicly, willingly admit it when they are wrong. To do this, she, along with some colleagues, started up something called the Loss of Confidence Project. It’s designed to be an academic safe space for researchers to