Scientists Just Found What May Be Canada’s Largest Cave

❝ A helicopter team counting caribou in British Columbia, Canada, recently made an unexpected discovery during an aerial survey: Crewmembers spied an opening to a massive cave that had never been seen before and which might be the largest cave in the country.

❝ A biologist with the helicopter crew that spotted the sizable opening dubbed it “Sarlacc’s Pit,” after the lair that housed the predatory sarlacc in the “Star Wars” movie “Return of the Jedi,” according to the CBC. The deep and wide cave was probably hollowed out by glaciers over tens of thousands of years, and it gradually became exposed to the sky after the glaciers receded…

❝ After rushing water tumbles over the precipice into the cave’s depths, it likely flows into a subterranean river that emerges above ground 6,890 feet (2,100 m) away, at an elevation that’s about 1,640 feet (500 m) lower than the water’s entry point, archaeological surveyor John Pollack told Canadian Geographic. This hints at the length of the underground chambers in the cave, he explained…

❝ While the unofficial name “Sarlacc Pit” certainly holds appeal for “Star Wars” fans, British Columbia province representatives will be working closely with First Nations people in the region to find out if there is an existing indigenous name for the cave

Wow! How I’d like to spend a summer exploring that cave.

Grants to US climate scientists to move to France and “Make Our Planet Great Again”

❝ French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to award a number of US based climate scientists, multi-year, all-expenses-paid grants to relocate to France.

The “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants are part of Mr Macron’s efforts to counter US President Donald Trump on the climate change front.

❝ Mr Macron is unveiling the first winners at a start-up incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies are announcing projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

They are aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders were in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the United Nations and the World Bank. Mr Trump was not invited.

Idiots like Trump and the fools who vote for his policies never recognize that the world moves on regardless of counter productive blather and ignorant policies set in motion by dying cultures.

World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity — This is Your Second Notice!

❝ Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”…These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world. They expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. They proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse…

❝ As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life…

Read it and weep, folks. But, I’d rather you get angry, get active. More than 15,000 scientists signed on, this time. There is no shortage of principled avenues of opposition to this crap.

The fact about climate change that must be repeated

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists — over 97 percent — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change. This is one of the central facts about human-caused climate change that any climate communicator needs to keep repeating, for several reasons.

First, it’s true, as Politifact detailed on Monday. The scientific literature is clear on this.

Second, the ongoing disinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry (together with false balance by the media) has left the public with the impression that there is considerable scientific debate on a subject where there isn’t.

When people are informed about the reality of the overwhelming consensus they naturally are more inclined to want to take action, as social science research has shown.

The thing is, by 2013, the IPCC’s summary of the science — which are notoriously conservative in part because they require line-by-line approval by every major country in the world — concluded. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The IPCC defines “extremely likely” as 95 to 100 percent certainty. That is comparable to the confidence the medical and public health community have that cigarettes are dangerous to your health.

When push comes to shove, how much of your life do you want to spend arguing about whether or not the Earth is round with some Flat-Earther who’s been pulling the Republican Party lever on Election Day ever since their grandfather said they wouldn’t go to heaven otherwise?

Just sayin’ – pick who you have this conversation with.

Scientists who pee plutonium


A ring of refined plutonium

There is a club among atomic scientists who have worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Known as UPPU, it’s a strange, informal organization that began in 1951 and includes scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project and brought nuclear weapons to the world.

It’s a small club, and only 26 people had joined as of the mid-1990s. Membership isn’t easy to obtain, and there are few benefits. First, an applicant must expose themselves to a high dose of plutonium, then they must volunteer to allow the U.S. government to monitor their health for the rest of their lives.

How much plutonium in the body does it take to join the club? Enough so that it comes out in your urine. The members of the UPPU club pee plutonium … and some of them ship it back to the government for study…

The members of the UPPU club are some of the most studied cases of plutonium poisoning in the world. Which is important. Many news stories about the substance focus on its toxicity and danger. Both scientists and journalists have sparred over the past half-century about the potential dangers.

It may be a surprise to learn that the members of the UPPU club have all done well, especially when compared to national averages.

“They’ve fared pretty well as a group,” George Volez and expert on plutonium exposure told Los Alamos Science in 1995. “Of the original 26, only seven have died, and the last death was in 1990.” Since the publication of this interview, more of the original 26 have died, including both Magel and Dallas in 2008 and 2007, respectively.

“One was a lung-cancer death, and two died of other causes but had lung cancer at the time of death. All three were heavy smokers. In fact, 17 of the original 26 were smokers at the time,” Volez continued. Others died due to heart disease, some to car accidents. But overall, “the mortality rate for the group is about 50 per cent lower than the national average.”

But Volez was quick to point out “that doesn’t mean that plutonium isn’t very hazardous. It is.”

RTFA for individual stories, how scientists and techs acquired the plutonium in their bodies.

I can more than sympathize. I get a note or a phone call every decade from folks “just checking in…”. I worked in a research lab in the 1950’s previously used by the company to produce some of the first zirconium-clad fuel rods for nuclear power plants. We were told they did an exceptional job of cleanup – and apparently they did.

I forget about that part of the job, nowadays. I’d rather recall a couple of the amazing scientists I worked with.

Most scientists agree – Americans don’t know much about science


Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Americans’ purported cluelessness about science has led to wide gaps in how the general public views the world compared to how scientists perceive it, according to a new study released…by the Pew Research Center.

Some 98 percent of scientists polled rated the general public’s lack of science knowledge as a problem, with 84 percent of them calling it a major issue.

One result: Regulations on land use, the environment and food safety aren’t generally influenced by the best science, according to a recent poll of 3,748 scientists conducted by the Pew Research Center in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The spread between what scientists think and what the general public thinks about a dozen science-related issues varied, but there were some noticeable gaps…

There was a 51 percentage point difference in views about whether genetically modified food is safe to eat. Some 88 percent of scientists were for it while less than 40 percent of the public agreed.

Sixty-eight percent of scientists think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides compared with 28 percent of the public.

Almost all of the scientists believe in evolution. Just 65 percent of the general public feels the same way, according to Pew polling…

There was one notable — if sad — area on which everyone polled appears to agree: Americans need to improve the science, math and technology education available to students across the country.

Historically, we have a consistent if backwards track record on improving any aspects of education. If there is potential benefit to our war machine – we’re all for it. Go America! Rah, rah.

Though a lesser influence, reflect upon our teacher’s unions which have adopted the sort of protectionist policies characteristic of AFL craft unions. Treating schoolteachers – and teaching – like plumbers with city contracts is not my idea of building useful education, a nation of bright young kids stepping out of school to create a positive, progressive world.

Worse than that – is the tradition that we seem to have acquired in the late 1950’s that moved the core responsibility of school systems to keeping our little darlings safe from hurt feelings – at the expense of standards of learning. And how to learn.

Nope. The creeps at the top of our economic pyramid would like a small improvement in meat machines capable of a slightly higher level of technical performance – where they can’t be replaced by a robot on the assembly line. That’s all, folks.

Why should ANY scientist cave in to anti-science, Luddite fears?

By Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief and head vegetable chef of VOX

I once asked Twitter to name the liberal equivalent of conservatism’s climate change denial: that is to say, an issue where the weight of liberal opinion had swung hard against the weight of scientific evidence. The most common candidate was liberal mistrust of genetically-modified foods:

This conversation came to mind when I saw this clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson slamming anti-GMO hysteria:

GMOs are actually an example of liberalism resisting the biases of its base. Though there’s a lot of mistrust towards GMOs and fury towards Monsanto among liberals, the Democratic Party establishment is dismissive of this particular campaign. You don’t see President Obama or Democratic congressional leaders pushing anti-GMO legislation…

Part of the reason comes down to people like Tyson. Political scientists will tell you that parties, and the ideological movements that power them, are composed of much more than officeholders and electoral strategists. They’re driven by interest groups and intellectuals and pundits and other “validators” that partisans and politicians look to for cues when forming their beliefs.

When it comes to environmental issues, one of those validators is the environmental news site Grist. It would’ve been easy for Grist to simply cater to the biases of their audience and go on a crusade against GMOs. Instead, they had journalist Nathanael Johnson do a huge series exploring the science, practice and controversy over GMOs. His conclusion? GMOs are basically safe, though their benefits are overstated by proponents. Grist could have spun the issue, or ignored the issue, and profited off the resulting traffic. But they didn’t. They pushed against the biases of their base.

When it comes to scientific issues, Neil deGrasse Tyson has emerged as a key liberal validator. But given the opportunity to cater to his base and send a clip viral by whipping up anti-GMO hysteria, Tyson does just the opposite. “We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals, that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It’s called ‘artificial selection.’ That’s how we genetically modify them.” His basic advice to those worried about GMO foods: “chill out…”

The difference, at least for now, isn’t between liberals and conservatives. It’s between the liberal and conservative establishments…In that way, GMOs are actually an example of how differently the Republican and Democratic parties and their allied ideological movements have been responding to scientifically contested issues. Just as many conservatives distrust science that tells them the earth is warming and government needs to regulate private enterprise to stop it, many liberals mistrust science that says genetically manipulating seeds or injecting chemicals into children will lead to a better world.

The difference is that conservatism’s mistrust of climate science has taken over the Republican Party — even politicians like Mitt Romney and John McCain have gone wobbly on climate science — while liberalism’s allergy to messing with nature hasn’t had much effect on the Democratic Party. And part of the reason is that the validators liberals look to on scientifically contested issues have refused to tell them what they want to hear.

That may be how conservatives want scientists to behave; but, they don’t. Liberals asking the same of scientists are on a fool’s errand and most of them realize it. I hope.

The abuses of science by corporations are no less criminal than abuses by governments. Monsanto’s greed is no less evil than the destruction visited upon Hiroshima by a government run by the Democrats in 1945. Neither example makes a case for rejecting humane and beneficial use of the same technologies.

Unless you prefer ignorance, superstition and ideology over rational opportunity.

A chance to fight for oversight and the right to control direction of implementation of scientific discovery trumps smashing machines and setting fire to crops – every time.

FDA spied on their own scientists

A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama…

What began as a narrow investigation into the possible leaking of confidential agency information by five scientists quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process, according to the cache of more than 80,000 pages of computer documents generated by the surveillance effort.

Moving to quell what one memorandum called the “collaboration” of the F.D.A.’s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, Congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and “defamatory” information about the agency.

F.D.A. officials defended the surveillance operation, saying blah, blah, blah, bladitty-blah

The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter dispute lasting years between the scientists and their bosses at the F.D.A. over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.

A confidential government review in May by the Office of Special Counsel, which deals with the grievances of government workers, found that the scientists’ medical claims were valid enough to warrant a full investigation into what it termed “a substantial and specific danger to public safety…”

Other administration officials were so concerned to learn of the F.D.A. operation that the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a governmentwide memo last month emphasizing that while the internal monitoring of employee communications was allowed, it could not be used under the law to intimidate whistle-blowers. Any monitoring must be done in ways that “do not interfere with or chill employees’ use of appropriate channels to disclose wrongdoing,” the memo said…

But Stephen Kohn, a lawyer who represents six scientists who are suing the agency, said he planned to go to federal court this month seeking an injunction to stop any surveillance that may be continuing against the two medical researchers among the group who are still employed there.

The scientists who have been let go say in a lawsuit that their treatment was retaliation for reporting their claims of mismanagement and safety abuses in the F.D.A.’s medical reviews.

RTFA. Seems pretty clear FDA bureaucrats behaved like the worst model favored by corporate barons. I realize there always is a certain amount of interchangeability between the breeds; but, one would hope a measure of ethics – both by choice and requirement – might have ruled behavior in a federal agency.

Perhaps not.

I wish the whistleblowers good luck in their lawsuit.

Vatican cancels stem cell forum when they learn real stem cell scientists might show up


Pope would rather have a conference on cowboys with no Indians invited
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

The Vatican has abruptly cancelled a controversial stem-cell conference that was set to be attended by the Pope next month.

The Third International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research, scheduled for 25–28 April, was to focus on clinical applications of adult and reprogrammed stem cells. But a number of the invited speakers, including Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in San Francisco, and keynote speaker George Daley, a stem-cell scientist at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, are involved in research using human embryonic stem cells, which the Catholic Church considers unethical…

The Catholic News Agency…quoted an unnamed academy member who called the cancellation an “enormous relief to many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who felt that the presence on its program of so many speakers, including the keynote speaker, committed to embryonic stem cell research, was a betrayal of the mission of the Academy and a public scandal”.

I think the only interpretation is that we are being censored. It is very disappointing that they are unwilling to hear the truth,” says Trounson. He had hoped to provide a “balanced perspective” on the potential clinical applications of stem cells, both adult and embryonic.

Meanwhile, some European scientists, who had called for a boycott because they believed the conference unfairly maligned embryonic stem cell research, cheered its cancellation…

RTFA for all the thorny details. It reminds me of nothing more than that crap Congressional committee meeting called by Darrell Issa where a clot of backwards old men sat around and decided what women should – and mostly shouldn’t – have access to for birth control choices.

When the pope realized there were real scientists showing up who wouldn’t accede to limits placed on research by superstition – he took their marbles and went home to the Vatican.