‘Greatest mission NASA ever pulled off was saving your butt’

November 28, 2018

Image of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, screen capture from Big Think short film on NASA's averting an ozone apocalypes.

Image of the ozone hole over the Antarctic, screen capture from Big Think short film on NASA’s averting an ozone apocalypes.

Why do we trust the scientists at NASA and NOAA when they talk about climate change?

Because they saved all of humanity. And then didn’t brag about it.

Did you even know?

From Big Think:

Pop quiz! Which NASA mission has been most critical to humanity? It’s not the Moon landing. It’s not the Apollo 8 mission, with its iconic Earthrise photo. It’s not even spinoff tech like cell phones, baby formula, and GPS. “All those kind of fall flat, to tell you the truth,” says Michelle Thaller, NASA’s assistant director of science communication. “I think that people don’t understand.” Thaller says the greatest mission NASA ever pulled off was saving your butt. While conducting blue sky research—curiosity-driven scientific investigation with no immediate “real-world” applications—that scientists in the 1980s discovered that the ozone layer was being depleted. Realizing the danger this posed to life on Earth, scientists—and NASA’s crack team of science communicators—mobilized the public, the U.N., and governments to get the Montreal Protocol signed, and to ban ozone-depleting chemicals for good. “We’ve since done atmospheric models that show that we would have actually destroyed the ozone layer, had we done nothing, by the year 2060…” says Thaller. “That would have destroyed agriculture. Crops would have failed all over the world. You couldn’t have livestock outside. People couldn’t have lived outside. We very nearly destroyed civilization, and your grandchildren would have lived through that.” The value of blue sky research is severely underestimated—especially when budgets are being drafted. But it has led to the best NASA spinoff Michelle Thaller can think of: grandchildren.

Ozone hole information just started coming into formed questions when I worked in air pollution research, and most of the best stuff here came after I was off into laws. But having watched hard debates among the scientists, in the field when we were measuring other stuff, in the libraries, over dinner, I watched this issue as it grew up, as the scientists collected the information, devised ways to determine how big a problem it was, invented ways to fight it, and then backed the politicians and statesmen who made the treaty that, literally, saves our butts.

If you didn’t have my experience, did you even know this history?

That’s why it’s here, to remember the right stuff.

And when some yahoo claims he doesn’t trust NASA scientists, I can link to this post before blocking the idiot on whatever platform he decided to be stupid on.


Global warming changes local bird populations, matching scientists’ predictions

April 3, 2016

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Phys.org caption: The American robin, a familiar species across much of continental USA, has declined in some southern states such as Mississippi and Louisiana, but increased in north-central states, such as the Dakotas. Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp

Most serious birdwatchers can tell you about global warming and climate change, just from watching the birds at their feeders, and when those birds migrate.

Now comes a study to confirm with data and controlled observation what the birders have been saying all along. Phys.org reported:

Scientists have shown for the first time that common bird populations are responding to climate change in a similar pronounced way in both Europe and the USA.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published in the journal Science.

It is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world, the researchers said.

Among the species showing pronounced effects of climate change are common woodland and garden birds such as the wren, in Europe, and the American robin in the USA.

(Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-strong-effects-climate-common-bird.html#jCp)

Biologists especially work to predict effects of warming on plants and animals, both to help plan changes in activities such as farming and hunting, and to protect species that are endangered now, or are likely to become so due to changing climate factors.

This study shows scientists can predict with accuracy some of the wildlife effects.

These changes are consistent with changing climate suitability within those areas, the researchers said.

Other factors, such as the size of the birds, the habitats they live in and their migratory behaviour, all affect , but did not differ systematically between groups advantaged or disadvantaged by climate change.

Therefore, only climate change could explain the differences between average population trends in advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the researchers said.

The study’s lead authors, Dr Stephen Willis and Dr Philip Stephens, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said the findings showed there was a large-scale, consistent response by bird populations to climate change on two continents.

The study was published in the April 1, 2016 issue of Science, “Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.

Science  01 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858

Tip of the old scrub brush to Svein T veitdal:


September 23, 1858: DON’T wash your hands!

September 23, 2015

Ignaz Semmelweiss

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis

This is one of the classic stories of public health, an issue that most U.S. history and world history texts tend to ignore, to the detriment of the students and the classroom outcomes.

This is the story as retold by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky in The Experts Speak:

In the 1850s a Hungarian doctor and professor of obstetrics named Ignaz Semmelweis [pictured at left] ordered his interns at the Viennese Lying-in Hospital to wash their hands after performing autopsies and before examining new mothers. The death rate plummeted from 22 out of 200 to 2 out of 200, prompting the following reception from one of Europe’s most respected medical practitioners:

“It may be that it [Semmelweis’ procedure] does contain a few good principles, but its scrupulous application has presented such difficulties that it would be necessary, in Paris for instance, to place in quarantine the personnel of a hospital during the great part of a year, and that, moreover, to obtain results that remain entirely problematical.”

Dr. Charles Dubois (Parisian obstetrician), memo to the French Academy
September 23, 1858

Semmelweiss’ superiors shared Dubois’ opinion; when the Hungarian physician insisted on defending his theories, they forced him to resign his post on the faculty.

Gotta wonder what Dr. Dubois would make of the suits and sanitation procedures required today for health professionals who treat Ebola victims.

More: 

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Recent photos of peppered moths

August 5, 2015

Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Creationists deny such photos can exist, a peppered moth actually resting on a living plant. Peppered moth, from Lepi-Photos: Geometridae : Enomminae; Peppered Moth; BISTON betularia (Linnaeus,1758)

Look, Mother Creationist: No glue!

Collection of recent photos of peppered moths found on Twitter:

It appears moth trapping is a favorite nature-observing activity in parts of Britain. One may find naturalists showing off their captures on Twitter during the non-winter months, now. Dozens of photos, made by digital cameras Thomas Kettlewell could only dream of in some science-fiction fantasy; moths captured in-situ, bearing witness against creationism, and for natural selection.

More:


Millard Fillmore resources, from the Library of Congress

August 20, 2014

Found this wonderful page with a list of resources on Millard Fillmore, available on line from the Library of Congress.  The list was compiled by Library of Congress’s Virtual Services, Digital Reference Section.

Completely cribbed from that site:

Millard Fillmore: A Resource Guide

Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States
Millard Fillmore: whig candidate for Vice President of the United States.
1 print : lithograph.
New York : Published by N. Currier, c1848.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:
LC-USZ62-7549

American Memory Historical Collections

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

The complete Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consist of approximately 20,000 documents. The Lincoln Papers contain more than fifty items to, from, or referring to Millard Fillmore. To find these documents, go to the collection’s search page, and search on the phrase Millard Fillmore (do not put quotation marks around the words).

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related materials are:

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text option to find items related to Millard Fillmore.

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains a large selection of congressional material related to Millard Fillmore’s political career as a member of the House of Representatives, vice president, and president. Search this collection by date and type of publication to find materials related to Fillmore.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909

The collection consists of 397 pamphlets, published from 1824 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics, including two items that reference Millard Fillmore.

“I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations

This collection contains approximately 400 items relating to presidential inaugurations, including a lithograph of Millard Fillmore from 1850.

Map Collections

The focus of Map Collections is Americana and the cartographic treasures of the Library of Congress. These images were created from maps and atlases selected from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. Millard Fillmore’s personal collection of printed and manuscript maps is represented by sixteen maps.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 & 1870-1885

This collection contains more than 62,500 pieces of historical sheet music registered for copyright, including three songs related to Millard Fillmore.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals

This collection presents twenty-three popular periodicals digitized by Cornell University Library and the Preservation Reformatting Division of the Library of Congress. Search the bibliographic records and the full-text options to find articles that discuss Millard Fillmore.

Among the collection’s Fillmore-related articles are:

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division’s First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division’s centennial, its staff selected approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The following items reference Millard Fillmore:

Happy researching! Teachers, be sure to make your students aware of these sites (I presume other presidents are covered, too).


Annals of DDT: Study implicates DDT in human obesity and diabetes

August 2, 2014

Press report from the University of California at Davis (unedited here):

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

White mouse looking at camera

Caption from UC-Davis: The study is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

The study, published online July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

The study found stark gender differences in the mice’s response to DDT. Females were at higher risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cholesterol, but in males, DDT exposure did not affect obesity or cholesterol levels and caused only a minor increase in glucose levels.

A high fat diet also caused female mice to have more problems with glucose, insulin and cholesterol but was not a risk factor for males. The sex differences require further research, the authors said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Co-authors include Emma Karey and Michael La Frano of UC Davis; John Newman of UC Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Erin Moshier, Claudia Lindtner, and Christoph Buettner of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

Additional information:

In the past five decades, the case that DDT and its daughter metabolites damage human health in subtle but extremely destructive ways constantly mounted. Perhaps Rachel Carson was right to urge much more study of the stuff, in Silent Spring.  Perhaps the National Academy of Sciences was right when it called for a rapid phasing out of DDT use in 1970, after noting it had been one of the greatest lifesaving pesticides ever known.

In 1972 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited use of DDT in agriculture.  Use in day-to-day indoor extermination had ended earlier; bedbugs had become almost wholly immune to DDT by 1960.  The U.S. ban was predicated on damage to wildlife, not human health.  The order allowed U.S. DDT manufacturers to continue to make the stuff for export to other nations.  Exports continued from 1972 to 1984, when the Superfund required manufacturers to clean up any pollution they may have caused.


It’s a desert out there: Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 – Jason Ching film

March 6, 2014

Sitting in a hot trailer out on the northern New Mexico desert, Arizona State’s great soil scientist Tom Brown tipped back his cowboy hat, and asked me if I had been lonely over the previous week.  Classes at BYU started up in August, and our other field workers on the project, with the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, for EPA and New Mexico Public Service, had gone back to class.  My classes at the University of Utah didn’t start for a few more weeks — so I was holding down the fort by myself.

Dr. Brown’s expertise in reading air pollution damage on desert plants propelled a good part of the work.  He showed me how to tell the difference between sulfur dioxide damage and nitrogen oxide damage on grasses and other plants, and how to tell  when it was insects.  He had some great stories.  As a Mormon, he was also full of advice on life.

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

Between Farmington where our hotel was, and Teec Nos Pos where our most distant (non-wet) sampling site was, radio reception was lousy most of the time.  The Navajo-language AM station in Farmington played some of the best music, and sometimes it could be caught as far west as Shiprock .  Most of the time, driving across Navajoland, I had nothing but my thoughts to accompany me.  Well, thoughts and the all-too-frequent Navajo funeral processions, 50 pickups long on a two-lane highway.

“No, not lonely.  There’s a lot of work, I’ve got good books, and sleep is good,” I told him.

“Enjoy it,” Brown said.  “The best time for any researcher is out in the field.  And when you’re young, and you haven’t seen it all, it’s better.”

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Brown spent a couple of days.  Within a couple of weeks I turned everything over to other Ph.Ds to shut down the wet sampling for the winter, and caught a ride back to Provo (closer to where I lived) in a Cessna with a pilot who loved to fly low enough to see the canyons along the way.  Get a map and think of the possibilities, with a landing in Moab; if you don’t drool at the thought of such a trip in the air but not too high, if your heart doesn’t actually beat faster thinking of such a trip, go see your physician for treatment.

By that time I was out of film, alas.

My few summers out in the desert chasing air pollution stay fixed in the surface of my memory.  Indian rice grass still excites me in the afternoon sun (Oryzopsis hymenoides) — one of the more beautiful of grasses, one of the more beautiful and soil-holding desert plants.  When hear the word “volcano,” I think of the Shiprock.  When I read of air pollution damage, I think of all the pinon, aspen, cottonwoods, firs and other trees we gassed; when I see aspen in its full autumn glory, I remember those dozen  or so leaves we caused to turn with SO2 (slight damage turns the leaves colors; greater damage makes them necrotic, a bit of a mirror of autumn).

All of that came back as I watched Jason Ching’s film, “Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013,” a simple six-minute compilation of shots taken with modern electronic cameras, including the hardy little GoPros, and with assistance from a DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone.  Wow, what we could have captured with that equipment!

Ching’s description of the film:

This video showcases the scenery of Iliamna Lake and shows some of the 2013 research of the Alaska Salmon Program’s Iliamna Lake research station, one of four main facilities in Southwest Alaska . Established in the 1940’s, the Program’s research has been focused on ecology and fisheries management relating primarily to salmon and the environment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Check out our program at: fish.washington.edu/research/alaska/

Filmed and edited by Jason Ching
Additional footage provided by Cyril Michel

Song:
“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” by Ending Satellites (endingsatellites.com)

Additonal Information:
Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II, Canon T3i, GoPro Hero 2 and GoPro Hero 3
DJI Phantom Quadcopter

JasonSChing.com

I am very grateful to be a part of such a long standing, and prominent program that allows me to work in the field in such an incredible setting with fantastic folks. This is the second video I created, the first one in 2012, to merely show family and friends back at home what I’ve been up to during the summer. This video was often shot between, or during field sampling events so a special thanks goes out to all those who supported me by continuing to work while I fiddled with camera gear.

Do you really want to get kids more interested in science?  Show them this stuff.  Scientists get the front seats on cool stuff — and they often get paid to do it, though they won’t get rich.

Researching life, and rocks, geography and landscape, and water resources, one may be alone in a desert, or a desert of human communication.  Then one discovers just how beautiful the desert  is, all the time.

More:

  • Yes, I know; Indian rice grass has been renomenclaturedAchnatherum hymenoides (Roemer & J.A. Shultes) Barkworth, or Stipa hymenoides Roemer & J.S. Shultes, or Oryzopsis hymenoides (Roemer & J.S. Shultes) Ricker ex Piper.  It is the State Grass of Utah

Texas researchers tease out correlation between DDT exposure and late-onset Alzheimer’s

February 12, 2014

Press release from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas:

Research finds elevated levels of DDT metabolite in Alzheimer’s patients

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry

Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry – UT-Southwestern photo

DALLAS – January 29, 2014 – Exposure to DDT may increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life, a study with researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center suggests. While previous studies have linked chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes to DDT, this is the first clinical study to link the U.S.-banned pesticide to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published online in JAMA Neurology, found elevated levels of the DDT metabolite, DDE, that were 3.8 times higher in patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to control subjects. The studies were conducted in partnership with researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We have additional studies underway that will seek to directly link DDT exposure to Alzheimer’s disease,” said co-author Dr. Dwight German, Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “If a direct link is made, our hope is to then identify the presence of DDE in blood samples from people at an early age and administer treatments to remove it.”

The study found elevated levels of DDE in blood samples of 86 patients with Alzheimer’s disease as compared to 79 control patients from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Researchers made the link between DDE and Alzheimer’s by measuring three components – blood serum levels, severity of the patient’s Alzheimer’s disease as measured by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and its relation to serum DDE levels, and the reaction of isolated nerve cells to DDE. Treatment of human nerve cells with DDE caused them to increase the production of the amyloid precursor protein that is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants in the study underwent preliminary testing to ensure that they didn’t have symptoms of other dementia-related diseases, and were an average age of 74, while the control subjects were on average 70 years old. These findings may help lead to the development of early biomarkers that can determine whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life due to DDT exposure.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide and is expected to increase three-fold over the next 40 years, according to the researchers.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was used extensively as an insecticide in the 1940s, but has been banned in the United States since 1972 after scientists linked the compound to wildlife health and environmental concerns. DDT is still used in other countries to combat the spread of malaria.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.

###

Once again, research seems to demonstrates the wisdom of Rachel Carson, who warned us that we could not know the long-term damage done by untested pesticides applied with abandon in great abundance as if it were a solution to everything.

Carson’s book indicting pesticides regulation, Silent Spring, was published in 1962, with more than 50 pages of footnotes and citations to scientific studies.  In the 52 years since, none of that research has been rebutted by any further research.  Instead, more harms have been discovered, greater questions raised about the damage done by pesticides applied indiscriminantly.


Voyager I becomes Earth’s first interstellar object

September 14, 2013

Can you recall what you were doing on September 5, 1977?

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lif...

The Voyager 1 aboard the Titan III/Centaur lifted off on September 5, 1977, joining its sister spacecraft, the Voyager 2, on a mission to the outer planets. Wikipedia image, from NASA

That’s the day NASA launched Voyager I, on a trip to photograph planets in our solar system more close up than we can get with Earth-bound telescopes.  The Hubble Space Telescope was not even on the drawing board then.

After completing its mission, Voyager I continued on its path.  Scientists thought it would survive to leave the solar systems, and a few forward-looking thinkers hoped to learn more about just how far the influence of our Sun really extends.  At some point, Voyager I would leave space where the chief gravitational and wind influence is the Sun, and move into truly inter-stellar (“between the stars”) space, where gravity and particle emissions are dominated by other objects in our galaxy.

Last week NASA announced that time came in August of 2012, confirmed by data transmitted back to earth by Voyager’s primitive capabilities, over the last year.

Space.com explains it well:

Interesting to think of the investment in thought, money, effort and patience by scientists and policy-makers to wait more than 35 years for such a research result.

More:

Voyager I, artist's interpretation.  NASA image

Voyager I, artist’s interpretation. NASA image


Immigration policy: Surprise answers from the Dallas Branch, Federal Reserve

August 30, 2013

Did you miss this interview last spring?

Pia Orrenius knows more about the economic effects of immigration on the modern U.S. than almost any other person alive — her job is to study immigration economics for the Dallas Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.  As a dull economics researcher, she can be quite lively — in a bank of economics presentations, Orrenius will deliver the goods and keep you wide awake.  To deserved astonishment, Orrenius’s work is occasionally published by the right-wing generally isolationist American Enterprise Institute.

Pia Orrenius, Dallas Federal Reserve economist, Photo by David Woo, Dallas Morning News

Caption from the Dallas Morning News: Dallas Federal Reserve economist Pia Orrenius co-wrote a book on immigration reform with economist Madeline Zavodny. (Photo by David Woo/DMN)

Last spring the Dallas Morning News interviewed Dr. Orrenius, with a short version published in the Sunday “Viewpoints” section.  You could learn a lot from her.  In its entirety, for study purposes, the interview  from June 21, 2013 (links added):

Prepare to have your preconceived notions about immigration challenged. Pia Orrenius, 45, was born in Sweden and raised and educated in the U.S. She is a labor economist with the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank who has been studying the impact of immigration for two decades. Orrenius sees immigration through the prism of research, resulting in views that buck much of today’s accepted political dogma. She supports relaxing immigration restrictions for high-skilled workers and extending portable work visas to low-skilled workers, and warns of the unintended consequences of increased border enforcement.

It seems when we talk about immigration from a political perspective, much of the focus is on border enforcement. How important is border enforcement?

In terms of the immigration debate, border enforcement — while it’s very necessary and an important component of immigration policy and national security policy and defense policy — has unintended consequences. I know some people like to argue that border enforcement is not effective. It is, actually, effective. It’s just that you need a lot of it for it to be effective. And it’s very expensive. So you put all this costly border enforcement in place, and what happens? Fewer people get in. When fewer people get in, the wages of illegal immigrants go up. So if you’re lucky enough to get in, the reward is higher. That’s one unintended consequence.

I’ve heard you speak before about cyclical migration patterns and how, by making it so difficult to get in, people who once came alone now bring families. And families are what create the negative economic impact, because they use up education and health care dollars.

It reduces the circularity [of migration patterns] so people stay here longer. And they are also more likely to try to reunify with their families by bringing them here. So you actually have this unintended consequence of initially increasing the permanent population of illegal immigrants when you implement tough border enforcement. Whereas people before were more likely to leave their families in, say, Mexico and just migrate for work and then migrate home.

Last week, the Senate killed John Cornyn’s amendment to the immigration reform bill, which would have required raising the current 45 percent apprehension rate to 90 percent. What do you think a 90 percent rate would do?

If you put a border patrol agent every other meter on the border with Mexico, yes, you will not have any illegal immigration because they will be standing there in the way. But the question that’s not being asked is: At what price? At what cost to the taxpayers? And what else could you do with that money?

Then what do we do about illegal immigration?

Interior enforcement. Interior enforcement policies are, in so many ways, superior. They’re not nearly as expensive and are more efficient. If you have sensible interior enforcement policy, like universal E-Verify, then you’re really going to reduce the pressure on the border and save resources.

What’s the impact of illegal immigration on U.S. workers?

For native workers who compete closely with low-skilled immigrants, there is an adverse wage effect. But it’s quite small, smaller than you would think. And you don’t really find any adverse effects with high-skilled immigrants. Other forces drive wages to a much greater extent. Labor economists generally agree the most detrimental force on low-skilled wages, especially blue-collar men, is technology. And globalization — the offshoring of jobs that were traditionally high-paying. There are other things like the decline of unionization and in the real value of the minimum wage.

There have also been changes in the U.S.-born workforce — the aging that people talk a lot about and the increased education levels. The supply of U.S.-born workers who have less than a high school degree has been falling over time and is continuing to fall. These workers coming from Mexico and other countries are filling a niche.

Demographer Steve Murdoch has often said that, because of the graying of the U.S. workforce, we need a significant in-flow of immigration.

Does the economy need immigration? Do we need faster economic growth, do we need a more efficient, productive economy? Do we need it, or do we want it? That’s the distinction. If we want the economy to grow at potential, if we want to continue to rely on the services we’re accustomed to at a cost we’re accustomed to, if we want to continue living the way we have been living, yes, we need these workers. It’s just that the word need is tricky in this context.

A lot of the back story to what’s happening in Washington today has to do with what happened with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. There’s a feeling that we gave illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and now we have three or four times as many.

What happened with IRCA is that we legalized 2.7 million undocumented immigrants and then, 25 years later, we have 11 million more. But there are several reasons why what happened under IRCA is not going to happen again. First, look at the supply. Look at where people were coming from. They were overwhelmingly coming from Mexico. Well, that supply push has gone away. Mexican fertility has fallen from six to eight children per woman down to two to 21/2 per woman. (Don’t ask me how you can have half a child.)

Yeah, the poor mother. Actually, the figure you cited in your report is 2.2.

OK, 2.2. So you don’t have that demographic pressure coming from Mexico.

Another reason is technology. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was so hard to enforce the border because we didn’t have the technology to process these people. We couldn’t take their fingerprints and keep them in a database. It was a revolving door. Nowadays, we know exactly who they are, who’s getting caught two, three, four times. And we can implement interior enforcement as well. And pretty cheaply, like an E-Verify program. That was not possible 20 years ago. With technology, we will never go back to where we were before, where a half a million or a million undocumented immigrants were coming in, on net, in a given year. We’ll never go back to that.

This Q&A was conducted and condensed by editorial writer Ralph De La Cruz. His email address is rdelacruz@dallasnews.com. Pia Orrenius’ email address is pia.orrenius@dal.frb.org.

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Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Pearl Street (...

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Pearl Street (Uptown), Dallas, Texas; Wikipedia image. The Dallas FRB has a wonderful collection of regional art — all unfortunately out of public view.


Annals of global warming: 2012 hits top 10 hottest years

August 6, 2013

NOAA’s article on the State of the Climate released today:

2012 was one of the 10 warmest years on record globally

The end of weak La Niña, unprecedented Arctic warmth influenced 2012 climate conditions

August 6, 2013

State of the Climate in 2012 - report cover.

The 2012 State of the Climate report is available online.
(Credit: NOAA)

Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The peer-reviewed report, with scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., serving as lead editors, was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries (highlights, full report). It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice, and sky.

“Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate — carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place,” said Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. “This annual report is well-researched, well-respected, and well-used; it is a superb example of the timely, actionable climate information that people need from NOAA to help prepare for extremes in our ever-changing environment.”

Conditions in the Arctic were a major story of 2012, with the region experiencing unprecedented change and breaking several records. Sea ice shrank to its smallest “summer minimum” extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. In addition, more than 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet showed some form of melt during the summer, four times greater than the 1981–2010 average melt extent.

Temperature in 2012 compared to the 1981-2010 average.

Temperature in 2012 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov, based on NCDC data. See more.

The report used dozens of climate indicators to track and identify changes and overall trends to the global climate system. These indicators include greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature of the lower and upper atmosphere, cloud cover, sea surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean salinity, sea ice extent and snow cover. Each indicator includes thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets.

Highlights:

  • Warm temperature trends continue near Earth’s surface: Four major independent datasets show 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record, ranking either 8th or 9th, depending upon the dataset used. The United States and Argentina had their warmest year on record.
  • La Niña dissipates into neutral conditions:  A weak La Niña dissipated during spring 2012 and, for the first time in several years, neither El Niño nor La Niña, which can dominate regional weather and climate conditions around the globe, prevailed for the majority of the year.
  • The Arctic continues to warm; sea ice extent reaches record low: The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate compared with lower latitudes. Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September and Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in June each reached new record lows. Arctic sea ice minimum extent (1.32 million square miles, September 16) was the lowest of the satellite era. This is 18 percent lower than the previous record low extent of 1.61 million square miles that occurred in 2007 and 54 percent lower than the record high minimum ice extent of 2.90 million square miles that occurred in 1980. The temperature of permafrost, or permanently frozen land, reached record-high values in northernmost Alaska. A new melt extent record occurred July 11–12 on the Greenland ice sheet when 97 percent of the ice sheet showed some form of melt, four times greater than the average melt this time of year.
  • Antarctica sea ice extent reaches record high: The Antarctic maximum sea ice extent reached a record high of 7.51 million square miles on September 26. This is 0.5 percent higher than the previous record high extent of 7.47 million square miles that occurred in 2006 and seven percent higher than the record low maximum sea ice extent of 6.96 million square miles that occurred in 1986.
  • Sea surface temperatures increase: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2012 was among the 11 warmest on record.  After a 30-year period from 1970 to 1999 of rising global sea surface temperatures, the period 2000–2012 exhibited little trend. Part of this difference is linked to the prevalence of La Niña-like conditions during the 21st century, which typically lead to lower global sea surface temperatures.
  • Ocean heat content remains near record levels: Heat content in the upper 2,300 feet, or a little less than one-half mile, of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012. Overall increases from 2011 to 2012 occurred between depths of 2,300 to 6,600 feet and even in the deep ocean.
  • Sea level reaches record high: Following sharp decreases in global sea level in the first half of 2011 that were linked to the effects of La Niña, sea levels rebounded to reach record highs in 2012. Globally, sea level has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades.
  • Ocean salinity trends continue: Continuing a trend that began in 2004, oceans were saltier than average in areas of high evaporation, including the central tropical North Pacific, and fresher than average in areas of high precipitation, including the north central Indian Ocean, suggesting that precipitation is increasing in already rainy areas and evaporation is intensifying in drier locations.

    Sea ice concentration reached a new record low in mid-September 2012.

    Sea ice concentration reached a new record low in mid-September 2012. Credit: NOAA Climate.gov, based on NSIDC data. See more.

  • Tropical cyclones near average: Global tropical cyclone activity during 2012 was near average, with a total of 84 storms, compared with the 1981–2010 average of 89. Similar to 2010 and 2011, the North Atlantic was the only hurricane basin that experienced above-normal activity.
  • Greenhouse gases climb: Major greenhouse gas concentrations, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, continued to rise during 2012. Following a slight decline in manmade emissions associated with the global economic downturn, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached a record high in 2011 of 9.5 ± 0.5 petagrams (1,000,000,000,000,000 grams) of carbon , and a new record of 9.7 ± 0.5 petagrams of carbon  is estimated for 2012. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations increased by 2.1 ppm in 2012, reaching a global average of 392.6 ppm for the year. In spring 2012, for the first time, the atmospheric CO2concentration exceeded 400 ppm at several Arctic observational sites.
  • Cool temperature trends continue in Earth’s lower stratosphere: The average lower stratospheric temperature, about six to ten miles above the Earth’s surface, for 2012 was record to near-record cold, depending on the dataset. Increasing greenhouse gases and decline of stratospheric ozone tend to cool the stratosphere while warming the planet near-surface layers.

The 2012 State of the Climate report is peer-reviewed and published annually as a special supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This year marks the 23rd edition of the report, which is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, the business sector, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making. The full report can be viewed online.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on FacebookTwitter and our other social media channels.

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For the birds, scientists at work

July 2, 2013

A scientist at work:

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Amanda Holland with one of her research subjects, in South Carolina

Kathryn’s cousin, Amanda Holland, moved from researching condors in California, to buzzards in Georgia and South Carolina (for the University of Georgia, I think).

Here she is with one of her research subjects.  Much lore is out there about handling carrion-eating birds for research — they vomit on you only if they like you, for example — but wholly apart from that, how great is this photo of a scientist at work?

I told her to copyright the photo (it is), and to hand on to the meme.  Can’t you see a character in Game of Thrones, or some other fantasy, who carries her own vultures to clean up after she devastates some other army in battle?

Eagles and falcons and owls are okay, but what other bird could conceal the results of the battle, so the warrior princess could move on in stealth?

Science field work looks like great stuff.  My experience is that it’s tiring, and sometimes lonely (though in very beautiful locations) — but the psychic rewards of actually increasing knowledge keep a lot of scientists going.  There’s not a lot of money in it.

Look at the friends you could make!


Annals of global warming: No, polar bears are not “fine” — suffer from loss of sea ice

March 20, 2013

Press release from The Journal of Animal Ecology (links added here):

For polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest

One of the most southerly populations of polar bears in the world – and the best studied – is struggling to cope with climate-induced changes to sea ice, new research reveals. Based on over 10 years’ data the study, published in the British Ecological Society‘s Journal of Animal Ecology, sheds new light on how sea ice conditions drive polar bears’ annual migration on and off the ice.

Led by Dr. Seth Cherry of the University of Alberta, the team studied polar bears in western Hudson Bay, where sea ice melts completely each summer and typically re-freezes from late November to early December. “This poses an interesting challenge for a species that has evolved as a highly efficient predator of ice-associated seals,” he explains. “Because although polar bears are excellent swimmers compared with other bear species, they use the sea ice to travel, hunt, mate and rest.”

Polar bear and two cubs wait for ice to reform

Caption from EurekAlert: An adult female polar bear wearing a GPS-satellite linked collar with her two 10-month-old cubs waits for the sea ice to re-form onshore in western Hudson Bay, Manitoba, Canada. Photo Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Polar bears have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice by migrating onto land each summer. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns.

Dr. Cherry and colleagues wanted to discover how earlier thawing and later freezing of sea ice affects the bears’ migration. “At first glance, sea ice may look like a barren, uniform environment, but in reality, it’s remarkably complex and polar bears manage to cope, and even thrive, in a habitat that moves beneath their feet and even disappears for part of the year. This is an extraordinary biological feat and biologist still don’t fully understand it,” he says.

From 1991-97 and 2004-09, they monitored movements of 109 female polar bears fitted with satellite tracking collars. They tagged only females because males’ necks are wider than their heads, so they cannot wear a collar. During the same period, the team also monitored the position and concentration of sea ice using satellite images.

“Defining precisely what aspects of sea ice break-up and freeze-up affect polar bear migration, and when these conditions occur, is a vital part of monitoring how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles may affect the bears,” he says.

The results reveal the timing of polar bears’ migration can be predicted by how fast the sea ice melts and freezes, and by when specific sea ice concentrations occur within a given area of Hudson Bay.

According to Dr. Cherry: “The data suggest that in recent years, polar bears are arriving on shore earlier in the summer and leaving later in the autumn. These are precisely the kind of changes one would expect to see as a result of a warming climate and may help explain some other studies that are showing declines in body condition and cub production.”

Recent estimates put the western Hudson Bay polar bear population at around 900 individuals. The population has declined since the 1990s, as has the bears’ body condition and the number of cubs surviving to adulthood.

Young polar bear challenged by lack of sea ice, Andrew Derocher photo

Caption from EurekAlert: This is a subadult polar bear on a lake on the shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada in November waiting for the sea ice to re-form. Copyright Andrew Derocher, Univeristy of Alberta.

Because polar bears’ main food source is seals, and these are hunted almost exclusively on sea ice, the longer bears spend on land, the longer they must go without energy-rich seals. “Climate-induced changes that cause sea ice to melt earlier, form later, or both, likely affect the overall health of polar bears in the area. Ultimately, for polar bears, it’s survival of the fattest,” says Dr. Cherry.

He hopes the results will enable other scientists and wildlife managers to predict how potential climate-induced changes to sea ice freeze-thaw cycles will affect the ecology, particularly the migration patterns, of this iconic species.

###

Seth Cherry et al (2013). ‘Migration phenology and seasonal fidelity of an Arctic marine predator in relation to sea ice dynamics’, doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12050, is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on Wednesday 20 March 2013.

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CERN press conference: Discovery of the Higgs boson

July 4, 2012

Here is the complete press conference held today, July 4, 2012, at the CERN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Alas, the press conference was not held in Cedar Hill, Texas, making it a monument to the dangers of saying “we can’t be great in America any more” and refusing to appropriate money for science, or anything else good.)

This may be the biggest discovery of the decade for particle physics; it’s incredibly exciting, despite the appearance of calm.  It may be the biggest discovery of the century.  (We have 88 years left in the century, too.)

Description from the poster:

Published on Jul 4, 2012 by

This is the full press conference update on the search for the Higgs boson at CERN in Geneva Switzerland. This press conference followed the 2-hour Seminar that you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAlgX4FNiyM

This original CERN webcast recording was officially published at https://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1459604 but I re-uploaded it here because YouTube is best. The CERN Copyright notice seems to say doing something like this may be ok http://copyright.web.cern.ch/ but if they release this video on the official http://youtube.com/cerntv YouTube channel, I may remove this copy from my YouTube account.

So, if the video above goes dark, check the official CERN YouTube site.

Especially for middle school and high school teachers, More:


Wegman Report plagiarism doesn’t bother George Mason University officials

March 18, 2012

Over at Desmogblog, John Mashey details problems with George Mason University’s conclusions that plagiarism did not really occur in  a report written for Congress that plagiarized several different sources.

If true, not only did GMU violate its own policies on duration, but on process, because they have ignored numerous well-documented complaints, including about 4 papers with Federal funding.  This process involved VP Research Roger Stough, Provost Peter Stearns and President Alan Merten, so it was certainly visible inside GMU.

See No Evil,

Hear No Evil

Speak No Evil … except about Ray Bradley [the fellow who filed the plagiarism complaint], who has yet to receive any report.

The attached report enumerates the problems that GMU managed not to see, shows the chronology of a simple complaint that took almost 2X longer than specified by policy and finally produced an obvious contradiction. People may find GMU’s funding and connections interesting, including similarities and relationships with Heartland Institute.  Finally, readers might recall the WR was alleged to be an attempt to mislead Congress, so this is not just an academic issue.

No e-mails stolen to expose the problem, but still no action against those who deny climate change occurs and will plagiarize papers to make their point.  It’s a not-pretty pass.

I suspect reporters get MEGO syndrome reading the stuff, but Desmogblog points to real problems, real difficulties in science, that deserve to be covered better than they have been.

Go read Mashey’s report and follow the links.

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