Earth: This is Our One Shot, Don’t Blow It

Tomorrow morning, early tomorrow morning, my wife and I are heading to the hospital for a scheduled C-section. I’m going to meet my son. Over the next 20 years or so, my duty as a father is to mould and shape him into an honourable and respectable human being. This is something I do not take lightly for it is one of the purest legacies we leave.

I found myself watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Episode 13 this evening entitled: Who Speaks for Earth?. I was in awe of the profound and prophetic words and some points stuck with me. First, Sagan spends some time crafting an image of past civilizations with a comparison between the Greeks and Egyptians. With his explanation that Aristotle believed in two groups; Greeks and Barbarians, this concept rationalized the practice of slavery. There was no sense of a collective community to Aristotle. Sagan also explained the city of Alexandria as the first true cosmopolitan city. It was the heartbeat of innovation and discovery. Its library held invaluable volumes detailing observations and methods. It was not until the mob mentality of the religious deemed the library and its possessions as pagan that the library was razed to the delight of local politicians. It was at this point one of the most poignant statements I have ever heard was uttered…

History is full of people who out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.

Let that sink in….

My first instantaneous thought was of the Koch Brothers. Scientific discoveries do not belong to any one party or country. These discoveries belong to all of us because they tell of our shared kindredship. We are all in this together.

My second thought deals with the conviction Carl Sagan has to calm the rising nuclear storm among world powers, and he does it in blaring subtlety.  He could see the big picture; how all civilization could end within a short, short period of time. Thankfully, these tensions seem to have died down enough that it is not an imminent threat. But, it does remind me a very real, current threat in climate change. Perhaps, this is one reason the Cosmos series was revived.

In my opinion, the threats of climate change are much more dangerous. The outcome would be the same, total destruction, but the impacts are so subtle most don’t catch the trends. Even when all factual evidence points toward environmental collapse in the mid-range future, many do not see it as imminent or requiring even short-term mitigation.

Earth. We were given a beautiful home. Let’s not blow it.

Mother Nature’s Chuckle: The Language of the Universe is not English

Miraculous opportunity for self-reflection.

 

There it is. Our home. To us it seems like such a huge place where we will never meet all our neighbors. A place where we live our daily lives consumed with news and opinions from all directions. We work. We play. We do silly stuff like fight wars or think we are the best at this sport or that.

Now look at the picture. Could you spot ‘us’ without the circle? As the dominant species on our planet, we think we are on top. We can explore our Moon. We can travel to our neighbor planet with robots. It is said the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe.

All Mother Nature can do is chuckle.

As the above image easily shows, it is all about perspective. Our grandeur is self-inflated. Despite the best efforts and actions of us on Earth, Mother Nature will always have the upper hand. She gives us room to explore. She allows us to make strides, great and small. But inevitably, she always reminds us we can not walk confidently on our journey. Stellar threats are all around; invisible until the time of their death in our black or blue sky. Prehistoric mass extinctions to modern day injuries and destruction in Russia last year.

Mother Nature does not speak any of our earthly language. She only speaks the language of the universe. The language we wish to learn through our research and study. The language we long to understand for it will tell us our true history…from the beginning.

On this International Women’s Day, remember, we are all very important to ourselves. However, our great Mother still laughs at us.

 

 

 

How to Submit to Abstract 2.0

I’m very glad to finally initiate Abstract 2.0. I hope this resource will be of great help to anyone willing to utilize it.

For now, I have set up a separate website for the submission and archiving of abstracts by those who contribute. The website is  http://abstracts.sciofrelief.com.

Here is an example of a re-written abstract:

Colleen T. O’Loughlin, Laura C. Miller, Albert Siryaporn, Knut Drescher, Martin F. Semmelhack, and Bonnie L. Bassler (2013) 110:17981–17986, doi:10.1073/pnas.1316981110

 A quorum-sensing inhibitor blocks Pseudomonas aeruginosa virulence and biofilm formation

 Quorum sensing is a way a bacterium communicates to the cells around it to regulate behavior of the community as a whole. This process occurs in harmless bacteria as well as pathogens. One such pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, uses quorum sensing to attack its host in a concerted effort by all the cells present and to control how the cells ‘stick’ together once infecting the host. In an effort to prevent P. aeruginosa attack and infection, researchers tested synthetic molecules to identify those which block cells from receiving the attack message. One such molecule, meta-bromo-thiolactone (mBTL), succeeded in blocking the message and protected a roundworm model system and human lung cells from dying due to infection. The paper also discusses how mBTL works at the molecular level. The results from this study could help control complications in cystic fibrosis and hospital infections due to contaminated equipment.

Abstract 2.0 Is On: Help Wanted

I have sat on this long enough. It’s not like a have anything else going on right now (except the birth of a son in a  month, syllabus to write, classes to prepare, evaluations to do, data to journal, …). Introducing:

Abstract 2.0

Here are the details presently. I and anyone willing to help will scour the journals of our respective fields and choose those we feel need to be disseminated to the larger public. In a short synopsis (abstract if you will), an overview of the article and why it is important will be written and deposited here. Details will be worked out on how to submit the abstracts in the near future.

Now is the time to act (or later if now is not convenient)!

The Science Bubble

The following link is profound. The current issue of EdgeScience takes a brilliant look at how the current era in science is more about rushing technology to market to benefit society than the underlying universal truths that must first be studied. The consequences have been strikingly similar to the ‘Housing Bubble’ and may not have fully burst yet.

Please take a look:

www.scientificexploration.org/edgescience/edgescience_17.pdf.

Dolly Parton’s Best Assets: Compassion and the Imagination Library

Dear Imagination Library Graduate,

My, how time flies. It seems it was only yesterday when your family and friends read you your first story. You were just a baby. Now you’re five years old and about to go to school. How exciting!

This may be your last book from my Imagination Library but you have to promise me you will keep on reading. If you go to your local public library you will find a great number of books just for kids your age. Every book is a treasure and every time you open one up you will meet new friends and take wonderful journeys to magical places.

I hope you have a great time in school. I bet your school will even have a library where you can check out books. You and all of your friends are very special. There is no limit to what you can do or how far you can go. Just remember the lessons my family taught me – dream big dreams; learn everything you can learn; and care for all those who care for you. You do all of these things and you can be anyone you want to be.

You are terrific, and remember…

I Will Always Love You,

Dolly

This is the letter from Country Music Legend Dolly Parton on the first page of the 60th and last book given to each child from her Imagination Library. Most of us know Dolly Parton from her decades of music, books, and films, but Dolly comes from very humble beginnings in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Her life story is a true Cinderella story and is nothing short of amazing; one of twelve children born to a tobacco farmer living in a one room cabin. A replica of this cabin resides at Dolly Parton’s themepark, Dollywood, the largest employer in the county and host to over 2.5 million visitors each year.

Dolly never forgot her home and her family. I live in Knoxville, TN; about an hour from Dollywood thanks to traffic. Having worked at a local hospital, I know Dolly is known to regulary visit hospitalized family members (which there are many). Perhaps much less known, Dolly gives back to her community in many ways mostly through the Dollywood Foundation. This includes the largest bald eagle sanctuary in the country located at Dollywood.

Dolly’s Imagination Library started small with a simple goal: give each child in her home county a free book each month from birth to age 5. The idea quickly took off. In 2000, the program was opened up to any community willing to support it. In 2004, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen started Books from Birth, expanding the Imagination Library statewide. Within a couple of years, research began to accumulate showing the impacts Imagination Library has on families and the learning skills of the children (check here).

My daughter has looked forward to each new book each month and I know many children feel the same way. Through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, children’s dreams, imagination, and creativity are nurtured and celebrated while increasing each child’s love of reading and learning. These combined give me hope these children can do much more with their lives than us.

Thanks, Dolly.

Imagination Library
Imagination Library (Photo credit: United Way of Greater St. Louis)
2013 Imagination Library Launch
2013 Imagination Library Launch (Photo credit: United Way of Greater St. Louis)

Part 2: Oh the Sad Irony; Thoughts on a Report to President Truman in 1945

The Bush Report as it is known was proposed before the end of World War II so specifics were not the objective of this particular report. This report was more ideological than would be delivered to the White House any other time in history. Here are some more quotes from the report (bold added by me to emphasize important parts).

The Importance of Basic Research

Basic research is performed without thought of practical ends. It results in general knowledge and an understanding of nature and its laws. This general knowledge provides the means of answering a large number of important practical problems, though it may not give a complete specific answer to any one of them. The function of applied research is to provide such complete answers. The scientist doing basic research may not be at all interested in the practical applications of his work, yet the further progress of industrial development would eventually stagnate if basic scientific research were long neglected.

From my time on the inside (assisting DOE’s Office of Science), I know one of the highest priorities of our government is to move the knowledge discovered through basic research into applications that are attractive to industry. The Executive Branch understands that future economic growth is intimately tied to research being conducted today. Any short-sighted moves by the Legislative Branch to make our R&D funding stagnate will have grave consequences for the country in the future when innovations attractive to industry come from overseas.

This is reiterated later in the report section:

A nation which depends upon others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.

What are we to do when industry looks to capitalize on innovations from countries such as  India or China? Please don’t make me say I told you so…