Saturday, March 7

What's The Deal With Dayight Savings

Daylight savings time (DST) was originally adopted as a measure of conservation, but what exactly is being conserved? It all depends on who you ask, and possibly where you live.

A 2006 study in Indiana (2006 was the first year the whole state adopted DST!) found that the implementation of DST actually led to a 1% increase in residential electricity usage (suggesting increased demand for cooling on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings could be responsible). In 2007, a California group used the four-week increase in DST to study the effect on energy use in California, and the differences were considered insignificant (within statistical margin for error). However, a nationwide analysis conducted by the US Dept. of Energy and presented to congress in 2008 concluded that the four-week extension of DST saved about 0.5 percent of the nation’s electricity per day, or enough to power approximately 100,000 households for a year.

All of this is all very interesting - but energy conservation is no longer the driving force behind DST. The biggest proponents of DST today are retailers, especially those involved in sports or outdoor recreation. Who is against DST? Farmers. Other effects of DST: reduction of traffic fatalities due to extra evening light, and possible affects on health and crime.

Friday, March 6

The Invention of Air

If you have any interest in American history or biology and evolution this interview is a must see (there's even something for you theologians!). Extremely interesting, and Colbert actually lets the guy talk.

Wednesday, March 4

Mark Bittman on the Colbert Report

We discussed his blog in class the other day, and the interview (about his book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating) is actually less about food and more about conservationism - e.i. the effect of what you eat:

And he only talks about half of the story - it also takes a lot more energy to feed a family of four meat than it does to feed that same family with agricultural crops.

"That's not good"

2/3 of Americans can't name the 3 branches of the gov't, but 3/4 can name at least one American Idol judge! What a sad fact. Find out more from Sandra Day O'Connor in this interview with John Stewart:
Isn't she just awesome? She reminds me of my Grandmother.

Here is the rest of the interview in case you're interested:

Tuesday, March 3

Slow Jammin' the News

Jimmy Fallon slow jams the news on his first episode as Late Night host with The Roots as back-up. Short clip, worth watching:

The Politics of Science

Here is a great interview from The Daily Show yesterday with Harold Varmus, nobel prize winner, former director of the NIH, and a co-chair on the Council of Advisers on Science and Technology for Obama. Varmus explains the political side of science, very interesting and informative - including an explanation of how Bush set back progress in science, and how the financial meltdown will affect the future of science.

Hypocritical "Planet F**kers"

The two main tenets of 21st century culture could very well be an obsession with technology and environmentalism, but according to Saul Griffith of, a website that allows individuals to calculate their energy consumption, these two things don't exactly go hand-in-hand. Griffith has calculated that the technology addicted American consumes twice as much energy as the average American, who might not be addicted, but still has a serious habit - consuming more than 20 times more energy than individuals in some less technology obsessed countries.

And although computer makers are trying to find more environmentally friendly materials from which to build their machines, there continues to be a demand for speed. The problem is, speed requires smaller chips, and a smaller chip equals a greater demand for energy. That is why Griffith has come up with a new name for tech junkies: the "planet f**kers" (and yes, he does admit that he is one himself - as do I).

"Nobody Likes Science"

People on the far right don't believe in evolution, global warming or stem-cell research. Most of their opposition is rooted in the fact that these ideas challenge the Bible, which is the oldest book they know...

But...I've discovered that liberals hate science just as much as conservatives, and they talk about it a lot more. They'll reject any study that contradicts their Mother-Nature-is-perfect myth, which is oddly similar to the conservatives' thesis: Both sides think the past was purer than the technologically corrupted present. Except the liberal vision of the idealized past is a pre-insecticide, pastoral paradise where loving animals ran free and people had shameless sex. So, basically the same as the conservatives' version, plus untainted apples and some gay stuff.

Liberals have an irrational fear of inoculation and genetically engineered food, no matter how conclusive the science is on these topics. They believe that the body needs to be detoxified with foot pads, colonics, mud wraps and maple-syrup-and-cayenne-pepper fasts. They take echinacea and Emergen-C, heal themselves with crystals and magnets, and believe that energy flows through different "centers" of their bodies. They practice, I swear, a form of healing massage called reiki in which the masseuse usually doesn't even touch you. I believe my wife and I have a reiki marriage.
It is a truth that many of us ignore: many of the most hard-core liberals are possibly kookier than conservatives when it comes to their beliefs. Case in point: Scientology (do you realize what they actually believe?).

But the bigger danger is a belief in organic production. The term organic has been championed by liberals who see organic as a return to a more sustainable lifestyle and for the reduced environmental impact of organic practices. In reality, although organic production unquestionably reduces the negative impact on the environment compared to traditional agriculture, sustainability is another question. A much more practical solution to minimizing the use of pesticides in traditional agriculture is IPM. If you are wondering what IPM is, you are not alone. According to Wikipedia:

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a pest control strategy that uses a variety of complementary strategies including: mechanical devices, physical devices, genetic, biological, cultural, and chemical management. These methods are done in three stages: prevention, observation, and intervention. It is an ecological approach with a main goal of significantly reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides while at the same time managing pest populations at an acceptable level.

For many of the reasons highlighted in article, IPM gets no love in the media. It seems to have taken on the role of the ugly stepchild - it may be a smarter solution but lacks the glamor of organic, and therefore gets ignored. Conservatives and liberals come together in their resistance to genetically engineered food, and liberals don't want to see any chemicals used, even if it means that 50% or more of the harvest is unsellable/inedible - talk about wasteful! But all studies I've seen show the effects of IPM on the environment to be comparable to the effects of organic production. The advantage of IPM is that it is much more economically sustainable; indeed, if we were to rely on organic agriculture, millions of people would likely starve. On the other hand, the yields from IPM crops can be equal to, or superior to, yields from traditional agriculture. So as we are trying to find ways to feed an ever increasing population, organic agriculture is really more like one step forward and two steps back.

I could go on and on about the benefits of IPM over organic agriculture, but for the sake of time and space, I'll let you find out more for yourself:

Monday, March 2

This Blog Rocks!

At least that's what my sister thinks. In a rare post on her blog, Serendipity, she recently wrote a very complimentary review of this blog. I know what you're thinking: how could a sibling possibly be objective? - and indeed they probably can't. However, as she is a theologian and I am a scientist, our interests could hardly be more divergent - so if I can make science interesting for my sister, I figure I must be doing something right (plus she's older, meaning she's that much more critical). OK, enough self-adulation for one post, and I'm not supposed to be using the first person anymore anyway. (sorry Frank!)