Science Corner

Miscellaneous points of interest transcribed by me from recent issues of the estimable science journal, Nature. They don't put much out for free. I type pretty fast (with occasional typos).

Polish scientists fight creationism
Fifty leading scientists in Poland have signed an open letter in protest against an aggressive anti-evolution campaign launched by the League of Polish Families (LPR), the ultra-right-wing coalition partner in the conservative Polish government...

[Maciej Giertych], is an LPR member in the European Parliament and is lobbying for obligatory inclusion of creationism is Polish biology curricula. Maciej, who holds a PhD in tree physiology from the University of Toronto, Canada, claims darwinian evolution is refuted by scientific evidence...

Sigh. On a related note, elsewhere in the same issue, a favorable review of Sean Carroll's book, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution.

Also reviewed, the new Richard Dawkins book:
[T]he strategy of focusing on telling people what not to believe is less compelling than positively demonstrating how the wonders of nature can suggest a world without God that is nevertheless both complete and wonderful--an argument that Dawkins reserves for the final few pages of the book.

Other book reviews that catch my eye: Lee Silver's Challenging Nature: the Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life and Marion Nestle's What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating.

About that one, the reviewer writes:
Like other areas of science, nutrition is framed by political realities. Whose interests are being served? Will this or that power bloc be affected if we tell people to cut down on sugar or meat? In a world where food is very big money, and where nigh on a billion starve while a billion overeat, we are seeing a bizarre globalization of 'pork-barrel politics' in which particular consituencies benefit while everyone pays. Land that should be producing food for health is producing food for wealth.

That's a book I should probably spend some time with. But maybe at the library. Once in awhile I like to take an inventory of my nutritional situation. Sort of like taking a financial inventory, or going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. Just to sort of touch bases with myself and be self-aware about important things I otherwise don't care to think about.

The writer repeats that one-egg-a-day rule to keep your heart healthy. How am I supposed to limit egg consumption to one egg at a time? That rules out eating all kinds of things I like to cook. I would need some help implementing egg-discipline in my life.

I am careful with breakfast eggs. I like them scrambled, and scrambled eggs for me means two whole eggs + one egg white scrambled with 1% milk. I figure the addition of one egg white means I fill up with extra protein minus the yolky cholesterol; it also makes the eggs lighter--I highly recommend it. I guess I could have one egg + one egg white and add in something else. But I'm a hungry guy. I eat a lot of food. Aaanyway...back to Science Corner.

Pollinators in peril
In a report issued on 18 October [2006], the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that pollinators such as bees, birds and bats are declining rapidly in North America....

The agricultural bee-keeping industry will probably ensure the honeybee's survival, but populations have still dropped by 30% over the past 20 years in North America, mainly due to the varroa mite...

Physiscist retires to work on 9/11 conspiracy theories
University [of Utah] officials had placed Steven Jones on paid leave last month while reviewing his work on 9/11 conspiracy theories. On 20 October [2006], the university announced that Jones had reached an agreement to take early retirement. Jones says he plans to continue his 9/11 research...

Antarctic ozone hole is bigger than ever
As ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons fade from the atmosphere, the ozone hole over the Antarctic continues to fluctuate in size. And this year it was the biggest it has ever been.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency documented the size of the 2006 ozone hole and found that, in late September and early October, it had broken records for both size and depth, previously set in 2000 and 1998...

The Christmas Invasion [a three-page article about poinsettia-vectored whitefly infestation]
In the 1990s, the B-biotype whitefly swept through North American crops, inflicting more than $1B worth of damage on farmers in the US and Mexico; it had hitchhiked from Israel to Florida to California, and from there it seems likely to have been spread nationwide via the imported poinsettias...

Now the spreading of whitefly by poinsettia is at risk of repeating itself in an even more devastating way. The Q-biotype, orginally observed in Spain in 1997, "is resistant to every pesticide we've tested", says [Timothy] Dennehy who co-chairs a scientific panel on the pest convened by the USDA.

Q&A with congressman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), in line to become chair of House Committee on Science.
Q: You've talked about censorship of scientists at agencies and politicization of science. Do you plan any hearings on that issue?

A: We hope that we can have some oversight hearings that are going to find out what was really going on. My goal is not to embarrass the [Bush] administration but to shed some light on this problem so that people will be embarrassed to do it again.

Embarrass the Bush administration?

Meanwhile, across the pond...
The cross-party group of 11 [British] MPs takes ministers to taks for labelling policies "evidence-based" when no relevant research exists, and criticizes the civil service for its poor interpretation of research results. Perhaps most worrying, concludes Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat member who chairs the committee, is the fact that government-commissioned studies regularly go unpublished when they conflict with a department's policy.

Life goes on...for now.

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