Worst 4 years ever

28 02 2007

I got a chance to check out the documentary Go Tigers! tonight and it brought back a lot of memories of high school (no, not good ones). This Green Day song, being released in October of my senior year, essentially sums up my feelings on that time in my life

Now, my school was nowhere-near as football obsessed as Massolin, but football players did have a certain privalege and I could recognize all the same “characters” of the documentary from my own high school; classic football jocks, airhead cheerleaders, parents who buy beer for their kids to puke up on Friday nights, that crazy fat kid who thinks he’s funny but really looks like he’s going to have a heart attack, the young football coach who prays with his team just before cursing them out, etc. To put it mildly, I really hated high school; it was the worst 4 years of my life. Granted, I didn’t go to football games or take an interest in getting drunk on weekends (I had integrity), but in general it was just not a happy time. I was a dork, classes were boring, girls ignored me, the popular kids made fun of me nearly daily, and even amongst my friends I felt somewhat second rate. College hasn’t fared much better (although I don’t have to be at school all day every day now), the same high school drama just changing faces. Indeed, everyone here at RU makes a big deal about football but who can be bothered to protest yet another tuition increase or decisions to change the name of my school (Cook College)? Hell, when I graduate I don’t even really want to go to commencement because I don’t have much of a connection with this school; why should I sit and listen to people gab on about this being the “first day of the rest of my life” when I don’t really care? I just want to get out and start learning about the world and making a difference in it, and I guess the only reason I’m still in college is because the piece of paper is the first step to getting there, even though it doesn’t really say much about who I really am. *sigh* I want a do-over.

Screw Japanese culture, whaling is wrong!

28 02 2007

After fights with the likes of Greenpeace and an engine fire, the Japanese whaling fleet is headed home “hundreds of whales short” of their goal. While the news reports go along with Japan’s claim that their whaling practices are somehow scientifically motivated and important to our understanding of whales, the truth of the matter is that Japan wants to continue to hunt whales and sell the meat for profit, which typically goes right back into hunting more whales the next year. While this years murderous cull was indeed cut short, 508 whales were killed, the original goal being 860 (the article does not mention what species were taken). We’re likely to see a replay of the drama in May when the fleet is scheduled to take 350 whales in the Pacific northwest, all of this is allowed by the International Whaling Commission according to the Yahoo!News article. If this is indeed true (no mention of Japan’s whaling practices is mentioned on the IWC website), then perhaps the IWC should take down all the beautiful pictures of whales jumping and swimming and replace them with what’s happening on the deck of the Nisshin Maru.

What really pisses me off is this line from the article

Tokyo maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture, and argues that whale stocks have sufficiently recovered since 1986 to allow a resumption of limited hunts of certain species.

Perhaps whaling was a part of Japanese culture at one time but to the best of my understanding, the people of Japan did not starve in 1986 when whaling was outlawed. Indeed, the attitude of “Well, it’s a cultural tradition, so who are we to tell them they can’t do it” helps no one and is downright daft. There is no reason that whales should be harvested, even if certain populations have rebounded. Beyond ecology, there is a strong ethical component that the Japanese have not responded to; whales are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet and have emotions, family groups suffering from emotional stress when members are lost. Is it ethical to continue hunting and killing animals that certainly feel pain and perhaps even understand they are dying when they’re being killed? The hunt is certainly not humane and there is no reason for it other than some people want to eat whale, similar problems still existing with the practice of shark finning because of the status eating shark find soup brings. The pseudoscientific medicinal culture does not help either, nearly everything being an aphrodesiac or making he who consumes a powerful animal embued with its power; such beliefs must be abandoned if we are to conserve wildlife.

The Japanese can continue to pay lip service to the rest of the world and say the hunt is for scientific purposes, but it doesn’t appear to be the case at all. The Yahoo!News article states that the hunts help identify population size, location (duh), and feeding habits of the animals, but couldn’t much of the data come from (gasp) not killing the whales? I guess these gives have never heard of the “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” philosophy to ecology. If this is really a scientific excercise, the boats would be outfitted with the best scientific equipment and scientists from around the world would get together to study cetaceans, but instead we find commerical whaling boats dedicated only to the hunting of these animals. I don’t know why countries that oppose whaling continually turn a blind eye to Japan or why the IWC allows this; what’s Japan going to do if other nations put their foot down? Cry like a baby? As mentioned before, this is not just a question of ecology but of ethics as well, and I think we know enough to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hunting of cetaceans is barbaric to the individual being killed and the family they leave behind (if there’s any family left). Much like other ecological problems, there is a moral imperitive to do what’s right regardless of what was permissable in the past or certain cultural beliefs. How long are we going to continue to commit sins against ourselves and nature simply because it’s comfortable to do so?

We need to wake up

28 02 2007

I hadn’t heard the song before Dan put it up on the ever-wonderful Migrations, but I love this song. It’s good to actually hear something with some substance (unlike the HUGE disappointment the new Ataris album, Welcome to the Night was). I have to agree with Dan, however, in that just “waking up” is not appropriate at this stage of the game. He writes;

I understand focusing on one issue, but I’m not content with just “waking up” on the issue of climate change. The issue is larger than that – we as a society need to operate less on superstition and magical thinking, and more on facts and reason. Yet we still live in a society where the popular discussions of science are dominated by global warming skeptics, creationists, and Right-wing (for a lack of a better term) bioethics (e.g. the stem cell issue); about one in six Americans is scientifically literate. Why is this situation tolerable?

Indeed, just being aware there is a problem is no different from being complacent. Even so, I think there are plenty of people in the scientific community not pulling their weight to communicate how important ecology is to everybody, and the popular media constantly fumbles the ball through error or giving cranks and crackpots “equal time.” A free press is not about making sure everyone has equal time; it’s about reporting honestly and accurately. Anyone can criticise any given point, but not all criticism is equal. When it comes to climate change (and ecological destruction, which has been going on for far longer in general terms) no one is innocent, and people need to hear how we are at a critical time when it comes to preserving ecology. Perhaps one of the most striking images from Gore’s film had less to do with climate and more to do with population; there are more than 6 billion people on the planet, the result of a tripling of global population in one generation. Such fast growth does not come without consequences, especially when many of us require far more resources than we need to survive (we may be small in relative terms, but in terms of the resources an individual consumes we have no equal in all of history). Hence, not only does the public and government officials need to “wake up,” but more and more scientists need to speak out about important issues like global climate change, evolution, etc., otherwise we’ll simply be left to lament our own complacency.

It’ll make you feel like you should probably do something

28 02 2007

For those of you (like me) waiting for Futurama to come back on the air via Comedy Central and give a damn about global climate change, here’s a promotional clip for An Inconvenient Truth that I somehow missed whenever it aired;

Who’s driving the car?

28 02 2007

I hadn’t heard about it previously, but my wife told me about a book entitled Survival of the Sickest she caught wind of via an NPR interview today. While I’ll do my best to reserve judgement until I read the book (my wife told me one of the authors described themselves as a neo-Lamarckian, *shudder*), I think the effects of disease, insects, and other often-overlooked factors should be researched more thoroughly when it comes to evolution. Evolution is the unifying concept of biological science and there is simply too much more any one person to know, but sometimes I get the feeling that species are viewed as distinct from their environment, almost as if they were in a vacuum or held in constant conditions. We know this is not the case, of course, and I firmly believe that there needs to be a greater integration of ecology and evolution; you can’t fully hope to understand one without the other. How can you understand how an ecosystem forms and behaves (be it energy cycling, who eats whom, etc.) without evolution? How can we understand how creatures evolve without understanding the resources available to them and pressures put on them by the surrounding ecology? Lab tests and coming up with theoretical intermediates is certainly interesting, but I personally think that evolution cannot be fully comprehended apart from understanding ecology. Even in general, I think science would be far better-off if at least some scientists were more skilled in interdisciplinary research, or at least kept up with what has been happening in related fields. Granted, I’m just a young start-up who isn’t really a part of the “scientific establishment” yet, but I think scientists in all disciplines need to do a better job talking to the public and talking to each other.

Sean B. Carroll podcast

28 02 2007

If you haven’t already, check out a podcast featuring an interview with Sean B. Carroll over at the WSST Lab Table blog. I’ve been bad an haven’t had a chance to read either of his books yet (shameful, I know), but I’ve definitely been impressed with everything I’ve seen from him so far (i.e. a chapter on “fossil genes” in Natural History magazine last October). The interview goes over his books (and why you should definitely pick them up ASAP), icefish blood, the popular vs scientific understanding of DNA, the importance of evolution in the classroom, the scientific vacuity that exists in America today amongst the public and government officials, potential economic ramifications of denying evolution, and much more. It’s not the most exciting interview I’ve ever heard, but it’s definitely worth the 1/2 hour I spent listening.

One of the most interesting points one of the hosts brings up is very relevant and important to the discussion of evolution; animals do not choose to adapt a certain way. To take the hosts example, a walking stick was not once some other bug that thought “Hey, it’d be advantagous if I looked like a stick” and designed itself to develop adaptations to camoflage itself. This is the standard explanation I remember from grade school, and even last night one of my professors here at Rutgers attempted to explain the mimicry of Monarch butterflies by Viceroy butterflies by suggesting the Viceroys chose to change, almost like they were in on the “secret” that Monarchs taste terrible to birds. Now, it’s easy to explain how such mimicry comes about via natural selection (elimination of most Viceroys that don’t naturally have a variation that makes them look like Monarchs), but for some reason so many teachers mess up when it comes to how adaptations arise, almost as if evolution doesn’t apply.

Hat-tip to the Panda’s Thumb for the story

And it’s not even Shark Week!

28 02 2007

According to news blurbs on Yahoo!News and LiveScience, approximately 20 new species of sharks and rays have been found in Indonesian waters. Rather than scouring every inch of ocean in hopes of finding new specimens, the researchers visited fish markets over 5 years, such markets often getting to the fish before scientists can. Indeed, the past month has produced headlines featuring colossal squid, goblin and frilled sharks, and a slew of new critters from Antarctic seas, so it’s definitely been an exciting time for all those interested in marine biology. I have to wonder, however, if more deep sea species are being caught as a result of environmental changes. As for the new sharks and rays, even though they are newly discovered they may already be in deep trouble, Indonesia being hard on fish of all types and notoriously difficult to regulate when it comes to anti-poaching and conservation measures. Hopefully scientists will have a change to observe the animals in their own habitat, rather than adding a brand new species to the endangered or extinct list.