“Australia’s biggest ever environmental disaster”

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. We’re killing it.

The corals are bleaching. When stressed, They lose their symbiotic algae, and then they starve and die. What’s stressing them? Rising ocean temperatures. What’s making the ocean temperatures rise? Fossil fuel consumption.

So this was a bit ironic.

As news of the bleaching spread around the globe, the Australian government granted more approvals for what could be Australia’s largest ever coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee basin.

This isn’t just Australia’s fault or Australia’s disaster, though. We could point to the exploitation of oil shales by Canada, or the US’s eagerness to suck in more oil pipelines and blow out more CO2, or China’s enthusiastic conversion of coal into smog. It’s a world-wide catastrophe.

We seem bound and determined to destroy ourselves, do we really need to take out every ecosystem on the planet on our way out?

Who is the big bad stressor?

You could argue that humans were more impactful than the radiation.

You could argue that humans were more impactful than the radiation.

Boxplot has been running this comic series on the science behind the video game Fallout — basically its about the reality of radiation. You know it’s not good for you, right? It doesn’t give you superpowers, and mutations in somatic tissues are called “cancers”?

But at the same time, there are a couple of places where radiation drove people away — Fukushima and Chernobyl come to mind — and we’re currently seeing a remarkable rebound, as nature comes rushing in to flourish. There’s the temptation to wonder if maybe radiation isn’t as bad as the scientists say it is.

Rather, though, we should be making the point in the panel above and to the right. Humans are much worse for the environment than we think.

Say it isn’t so

There are reports that Prince has died.


It’s true, he’s dead. Now I’m going to have to put Raspberry Beret on repeat on the iPod.

It’s a shame that his life was poisoned by bad religion, but man, he had so much talent that it all came shining through anyway. Watch this video to the end; there’s a bunch of nobodies making some noodling noises for a while, but then Prince steps in with a guitar solo and humbles the universe.

Let’s talk about science education this weekend

I’ll be at the West Metro Critical Thinking Club on Saturday morning to talk STEM. Come on down and tell me what you think — I’m aiming to set up the issue and then try to get opinions from the audience, so the more the feistier.

TOPIC: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the Liberal Arts: How do we teach science?

There is a constant push to change education from an experience that broadens the mind to one that focuses students on a vocation. We’ve got universities hiring business people with no educational experience to make them more profitable, and people seriously questioning the value of disciplines like philosophy, psychology, sociology, or anything that others disparagingly call “soft” subjects. At the same time, there are advocates of reform who think algebra is useless, and that we waste too much time teaching mathematics that, they think, no one will ever use.

P Z will be presenting an interdisciplinary, liberal arts perspective on science education — we need all facets of human knowledge if we are to adequately comprehend our own narrower fields of interest. I’ll be interested in getting a discussion going about what attendees expect from a college education.

Bring back Pangaea!

Everything was better in the good old days.

Unfortunately, being in the middle of a continent means I’m still stuck in the middle of a continent.

Bring back the Western Interior Seaway! We only need to rewind the clock to the Cretaceous, rather than the Permian, to give me some oceanfront property.


Infantilization and brutality


Jezebel does it again. They’ve gone rummaging through film archives and compiled a collection of clips that expose the mainstream attitude towards women: they are like children, and deserve to be spanked by a strong man.

With the camera rolling or not, stories coming from Hollywood studios presented a consistent message that spankings were a healthy part of a woman’s life. At the same time, all across America women were getting spanked by their husbands—and taking them to court.

To many American women, a spanking was the fruit not of charming adoration but domestic tyranny. Sometimes these spankings were precipitated by violent behavior on the part of the wife—but just as often it was for her failure to be a docile servant.

It got me wondering…was there ever a scene in an old movie in which a man gets rude or uppity or deserving of discipline, and another man grabs him, flings him over his knee, and starts walloping his butt with a hairbrush? Ever? And wouldn’t the public have been horrified at the impropriety of such a scene, with all its implications of ownership, disrespect and disregard, and sexuality?

World’s most popular spot for racists, creationists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, and Christians


You know what I like about Twitter? Everyone lets it all hang out. It’s humanity without the filters, where people say precisely what’s on their minds without trying to second-guess whether it might offend someone. And it reveals the ugly truth: a lot of people actually are world-class assholes.

Take the announcement that Harriet Tubman will be honored on the $20 bill. As expected, some people on Twitter are raging over it. Cynics, rejoice: the ugliness of humanity is on naked display in one easily accessible place. I mean, look at this:

That’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t normally see outside of Twitter, or a Ku Klux Klan rally, or Thanksgiving with your relatives, or some such similar venue outside the bounds of civilized society.

Here’s another example. I am not a sports fan, but even I have heard of Curt Schilling, but not because of baseball — it’s because he’s an astonishingly ignorant jerk on Twitter. He’s a creationist, he’s a homophobe, he’s simply a disgraceful human being. Without Twitter, though, people might still think of him as a guy who was really skilled at playing with a ball and stick. But no, he happily exposed the rotting, maggot-filled black pudding that constitutes his brain to everyone, and now ESPN has fired him. ESPN has never been at all coherent on their policies on these things — they suspend contributors over far more trivial offenses than Curt Schilling routinely committed — but he made some sneering transphobic comment about bathrooms that finally was enough, and the just plain fired him. About time.

So he wasn’t humane enough for a sports network, but you’ll be pleased to know that he still has his Twitter account, where he’s currently representing Christianity and weeping over his martyrdom. Twitter has no expectations of decorum or intelligence.