The confusing world of nutrition

Fats? Carbohydrates? Protein? It’s hard to tell what I’m supposed to eat anymore, because the recommendations seem to change every few years. Jerome Groopman does an excellent job of reconciling the confusion…or, at least, politely explaining that none of the answers are definitive, yet.

Science is an accretion of provisional certainties. Current research includes much that is genuinely promising—several groups have identified genes that predispose some people to obesity, and are studying how targeted diets and exercise can attenuate these effects—but the more one pays attention to the latest news from the labs the harder it becomes to separate signal from noise. Amid the constant back-and-forth of various hypotheses, orthodoxies, and fads, it’s more important to pay attention to the gradual advances, such as our understanding of calories and vitamins or the consensus among studies showing that trans fats exacerbate cardiovascular disease. What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.

I would add, though, that there won’t necessarily ever be an answer. Your physiological response to food is a product of your genetics, your fetal environment, your early childhood exposure, and your overall nutritional history, which means that everyone will have a unique set of needs and reactions. But moderation and a balanced diet sounds like a safe approach — just pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel dizzy and hyper and experience stomach distress when you eat that slice of chocolate cake, stop eating it.

Aaaaaargh.

A Republican, Scott Wagner. Running for governor of Pennsylvania. Has some novel explanations for climate change.

I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the earth moves closer to the sun every year–you know the rotation of the earth, Wagner said. We’re moving closer to the sun.

But…but…but the Earth is moving around the sun in an elliptical orbit — its distance from the sun varies over the course of a year (and seasons are a product not of that, but of the axial tilt). What does the rotation of the earth have to do with its orbit around the sun?

He hasn’t been in science class in a long time, and I suspect he didn’t understand it even when he was taking classes.

We have more people, he said. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.

Yes, heat is coming off, but it’s not enough to affect global temperature.

If he really believes that, is he one of those rare conservative Republicans who is going to endorse birth control and family planning to prevent climate change? That would be nice, but for some reason I’d rather this klutzamaboob did not get elected.

I guess science is going to pay for that wall

When your president is an idiot on a quixotic mission to build a pointless, stupid wall between us and one of our allies, the money has got to come from somewhere. And when the Republicans in general are elected by the ignorant to go on a crusade to destroy the government and promote even more ignorance, there’s an easy target: take the money away from science.

Look at what Trump has announced that he’s going to do to science funding.

President Donald Trump, who had just proposed slashing the National Institutes of Health’s budget for next year by 20 percent, suggested an immediate $1.2 billion cut to the agency Tuesday.

It’s hard to get an NIH grant now, and it’s going to get worse. This is also the kind of cut that does long term damage, since established researchers tend to get supported first; I wouldn’t want to be a new investigator right now. There are also other deep cuts all over the place.

  • Take $350 million from the National Science Foundation’s $6.9 billion budget
  • Cut $37 million from the Department of Energy’s $5.3 billion worth of science programs
  • Excise $48 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s research and development budget of $483 million
  • Cut in half the $101 million Teen Pregnancy Prevention program
  • Reduce Food and Drug Administration staff spending by $40 million
  • Cut domestic and global HIV/AIDS programs by $100 million plus cut the Presidential Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) $4.3 billion budget by $242 million
  • Completely delete the $72 million Global Health Security fund at the State Department and cut other global health programs by $90 million and $62 million for global family planning

More evidence that this administration wants to outright kill American science: putting Lamar Smith as head of the science committee in congress, and — this is the most ridiculously petty thing — dictating what words bureaucrats are allowed to use.

A supervisor at the Energy Department’s international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told POLITICO.

One subdivision of the Energy Department is the Office of International Climate and Clean Energy. Boy are they gonna get a shock when they discover that even the name of their office has become anathema. It’s also going to be magical — the climate won’t change if you’re not allowed to say “climate change”!

Morris March for Science details

Make your plans! Saturday, 22 April, meet near campus:

We will be meeting at 12:30pm at the UMM Sign on the corner of College Ave & E. 4th Street. There will be some brief comments from various people and participants are welcome to check out the posters in the Campus Center that Students have created as part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium. At 1:00pm we will begin our march down 4th Street, crossing Atlantic at 5th we will march up to Snap Fitness and cross back over ending our march at the Morris Theatre. MPIRG, CURE & The UMM Office of Sustainability are hosting a free showing of the ecological documentary “Before The Flood” at 2pm with a Q&A to follow the film. Bring your family and friends and join us in taking a non-partisan stance for Science!

The Undergraduate Research Symposium will be that morning; come early and tour UMM, stopping by the student center to see the research posters. The movie Before the Flood will discuss the evidence for and consequences of climate change, and it’s free to the public. Come spend the whole day celebrating science in Morris!


Mano posted about the Cleveland march about the same time I posted this — they look like they’ve got lots going on, too. If those aren’t close enough for you, check out the huge list of satellite marches.

A lovely futility

Ben Santer, Matthew England, Ed Hawkins, Michael Mann, Gerald Meehl, Yu Kosaka, and Shang-Ping Xie sent a polite and informative letter to Lamar Smith. Smith had misused a paper they had published to claim that there was a global warming “pause”, and to claim that their work had somehow invalidated the observations of another climate research group — it was a crude attempt to pit two groups with subtle differences in interpretation against one another to cast doubt where there is none.

What’s nice about the letter is that it carefully explains that scientists can disagree about some things without losing respect for one another, if the work is done well, and that they can agree completely on issues that Lamar Smith does not like.

Finally, we would like to emphasize that Karl et al. and Fyfe et al. agree on the most important scientific points. We agree that human influence on climate is real, is large, and is ongoing. We agree that this influence is primarily due to fossil fuel burning, and to the resulting human-caused changes in atmospheric levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. We agree that human-caused changes in greenhouse gases should lead – and do lead – to global-scale warming of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land surface. We agree that we have identified large global warming signals in the observed surface temperature changes from the late 19th century to the present, in the satellite atmospheric temperature data that have featured prominently in recent Congressional hearings, and in ocean heat content measurements.

And we agree with Karl et al. that on top of the underlying global-scale warming trend over the past 150 years, we should see – and do see – natural, decade-to-decade ups and downs caused by internal variability, volcanic activity, and changes in the Sun’s energy output. These decade-to-decade fluctuations in warming are not a scientific surprise. They have been discussed at length in every national and international assessment of climate science. Sometimes the “ups” act in the same direction as human influences, leading to accelerated warming. Sometimes the “downs” lead to a short-term decrease in warming. Our disagreement with Karl et al. about the size of the most recent short-term fluctuation does not call into question the reality of long-term human-caused warming.

Unfortunately, this case is being made to Lamar Smith, darling of the Heartland Institute, a lawyer with zero training in science who wants to redefine the scientific method, who has demonstrated his impenetrability to science over and over again. It’s important to continue to try and educate our Republican dingleberries as well as possible, but I have no confidence at all that this approach will sink in.

Maybe the rest of us can learn from the letter, though.

You call that a footprint? This is a footprint!

Dinosaurs are big. Really big. So it’s news when they find the biggest dinosaur footprint ever, together with a diverse population of other footprints.

“The tracks provide a snapshot, a census if you will, of an extremely diverse dinosaur fauna,” Steve Salisbury, the study’s lead author, told Gizmodo. “Twenty-one different types of dinosaurs all living together at the same time in the same area. We have never seen this level of diversity before, anywhere in the world. It’s the Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti! And it’s written in stone.”

It was found in Australia, so pardon the cheap Crocodile Dundee joke in the title.


On a completely different note…do not read the youtube comments. I was surprised. This is a simple science report, and the comments are a horrible worthless cesspool of idiots ranting about “fake news” and, for some reason, bringing up Trump. Really, Google, get it together. The quality of youtube commentary has almost hit bottom (and I only say “almost” because I know they can get worse.)