Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

10 December 2009

EEdiocy Part 1

Son of a bitch. Why does crappy science get into newspapers? I was pretty disappointed by the coverage I found on the 150th Anniversary of "Origin of Species", but this... this takes the absolute cake.

I follow occasionally read PvP, an online comic strip. Yesterday they released a clip of Neil Adams inking Santa's demise for the strip. This got me to wondering, what has Neil been doing with himself since last year. I found this lurid post on his website [comment and link added by me]:
Jeff Ogrisseg a feature reporter for the Japan Times newspaper decided Neal’s views on tectonics were worth a major story...

...He worked on the story for 6 months and presented a fair and balanced overview of the Growing Earth Theory.

Little did he know what a fracas it would cause apparently there are some Geologists out there that are P.O.’ed that a (Eyuch) "comic book creator" should read 100 science books and agree with a long over looked theory that disagreed with THEM, ... That the reason a whale sized Sauropod could walk around upright 90 million years ago, was that the Earth was smaller then and gravity less [Neal, you are an EEdiot]. Is that the whole discussion? Oh no, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Is he working on a Graphic Novel on this besides the video? You bet ! Neal just has to [sic] much fun.
The Japan Times, from a country that kinda depends on a decent understanding of Earth processes, came out with a series of articles.... on Expanding Earth (EE)! The quality of the research (and the writing) is appalling. Since the newspaper ran a 3 article series, I might as well break it up into 3 posts. Let's hit some of the highlights of the first article:

First up is Jeff Ogrisseg's article "Our Growing Earth". It is a basic summation of the buffoonery that is EE. It starts with this wonderful attention grabber:
Put aside that stuff about continental drift and tectonic plates explaining the world as it is, and consider a globe that may be getting bigger all round like a pumpkin on a vine
I like the logical fallacy of stacking the deck. I also like the idea of putting aside reason. Reason tends to get in the way of EE advocacy. However, let's get to the meat of the article proper:
Plate Tectonics Theory assumes the Earth has been about the same size since it was created some 4.5 billion years ago out of material thrown across space in the so-called Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
This is a dishonest tactic some creationists use, so it comes as no shock when it is appropriated by others who oppose reality. The Big Bang has nothing to do with plate tectonics. The creation of the Earth has nothing to do with plate tectonics. The age of the Earth has nothing to do with plate tectonics. The only thing this statement gets correct is that plate tectonics makes the assumption that the conservation of matter/energy is valid. [sarcasm] I know, those free-wheeling geologists making rational assumptions, harshing the EEdiots buzz (pun definitely intended).[/sarcasm]

Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that provides a unifying framework for all of geology. It provides a mechanism that explains many of the features we see on Earth today. For instance, it explains why mountains are where they are, why volcanoes are where they are, why earthquakes occur where they do (and at what depths they will likely occur), why we have ridges in the middle of oceans, why landmasses currently separated by oceans have the same paleo-flora and paleo-fauna, why we have oceanic trenches, why trenches are associated with deeper earthquakes, why we have an unexpected horizon in the mantle where material appears to be colder, etc.

Moving on. Jeff makes a beautiful argument on antiquity. An argument of antiquity basically asserts that people formerly accepting something as factual is evidence that it is factual. It is a fantastic logical fallacy. Following this line of reasoning, we better all grab the nearest goat, because I am certain that the myriad of deities people worshiped are getting mighty tired of no sacrifices [comments added].
That assumption [conservation of matter/energy] has gained further traction due to a lack of evidence that our planet may have been smaller or may be growing [I know, if it was smaller that implies it's growing, this is a redundant 'either-or' statement] according to the 18th-century Kant-Laplace nebular hypothesis about the formation of our solar system in an ever-expanding universe.
Yes, there is an astounding lack of evidence of nonsensical ideas. Scientists don't have to go around proving 'what is not', there is far more of 'what is not' than 'what is'. Unfortunately, the facts don't stack up well for EE. If planetary bodies in our solar system were growing, we would have detected eccentricities in the orbits of their respective satellites. Keep in mind Astronomy has an ~2600 year history (~400 years with telescopes tracking satellites orbiting other planets). No curious wobbles of this variety have been recorded.
The problem with Growing Earth Theory, mainstream scientists say, is that it would require the creation of brand new matter — a mechanism for which they claim has not been confirmed and therefore is not accepted as happening.
I would like to add that a testable mechanism has not even been proposed, let alone confirmed, it is very difficult (read "impossible") to rigorously test something that hasn't been stated. Near as I can tell, EE advocates could be invoking the power of pixies.
However, it probably doesn't help that it also leads to a reassessment of the planet's very evolutionary nature and, with it, humankind's rise to dominance.
... So... plate tectonics is now being conflated with paleoanthropology and evolutionary biology... wow... Jeff's grasp of science makes me weep for his former teachers. He continues:
All that aside, Growing Earth Theory, summarized in detail from here, is really quite simple and even explains a number of paleontological mysteries.
Technically he is correct. Zero is a number.

The next several paragraphs I will leave to the reader to beat their head against. Mostly, it is the supposition of a kook. Statements to the effect of 70% of the smaller Earth was covered with water, but somehow there was minimal topography (wouldn't all the Earth be under water then?). This, of course, implies that not only are rocks being made by magic, but so is water. The evidence for this? Enceladus (somewhere, I hear an Australian grad student screaming). Because Enceladus has water coming out of the 'tiger stripes' around the Southern Pole, EEdiots claim it is proof that water can be generated from nothing. It can't possibly be that the water was already there. No, that flirts dangerously close to parsimony and reason.

This is perhaps the greatest statement in the whole piece:
In terms of mountain building, too, it's interesting that none of the large, nonvolcanic mountain ranges on our planet, such as the Alps, Andes or Himalayas, are more than 100 million years old.
Apparently mentioning the Appalachians is taboo. Or the Urals. Or the Ancestral Rockies. Or any of a myriad of other ancient and eroded mountain ranges that we will never be able to identify. Also, by "nonvolcanic", I assume Jeff means 'presently nonvolcanic' as all these ranges had periods of volcanism in their pasts as oceanic crust was subducted under continental crust prior to a continent-continent orogenic event. And the Andes are ACTIVELY volcanic today(nice of it to line up near a trench, but then again the Andes are part of the global conspiracy known as reality).
This has the effect of flattening the Earth's curvature, but — because the Earth's granite crust is so thick — it tends to retain its curvature as it can't bend or stretch. Then as gravity tries to recurve it to the flattening surface of the growing planet, it cracks and breaks and throws up mountain-range-size ripples such as today's Himalayas.
I have never heard the Himalayas described as 'ripples'. True Jeff states Mountain-range-size ripples, but still 'ripples'. This portion of Jeff's tribute to the cretinism that is EE boggles the mind. Here is what I think he is saying. A smaller Earth has greater curvature. Thick crust won't flatten out easily. Therefore, it stays bent and you get mountains. This is dynamically unworkable within EE's own framework nonetheless. Any protuberance above the geoid will preferentially erode and subsequently be deposited in topographic lows. This results in smoothing out the surface, not the generation of mountain ranges. Additionally, this doesn't account for flat lying portions of continental crust (they should be bent into mountain ranges too).
For 160 million years until 65 million years ago, dinosaurs were the dominant species and roamed this planet unhindered by oceans, often migrating much as birds do today, Growing Earth Theory posits. Indeed, fossil evidence of like dinosaur species continue to be found on multiple continents now separated by oceans too vast to traverse.
I see Jeff ascribes to the Yoda school of sentence structure. Or as Jeff would write: I see the Yoda school of sentence structure, Jeff ascribes to. I gather that Jeff is making the claim that the dinosaurs didn't invade the marine realm because there was no marine realm. This must come as a shock to individuals who study Mesozoic Marine Reptiles. Those lizards could get fairly sizable.

If you are familiar with EEdiots, and their arguments, you should already know what bringing up dinosaurs has to do with anything [emphasis added]:
From the fossil record it has also been learned that the bones of dinosaurs had about the same density as animal bones do today, yet many dinosaurs were three or four times larger than any existing animals, yet were probably just as maneuverable. The reduced gravity on a smaller planet with less mass could well account for this, growing Earth theorists propose, as well as accounting for the significantly larger flora of that time.
It's the "Earth was smaller, gravity was less, things got big" argument. Too bad nobody's taken the time to disembowel this faulty view of gravity. Oh wait!!!!
So the "terrible lizards" simply did not adapt fast enough as the Earth grew, and that is what killed them off — not some CG-like impact from outer space. There it is. We are growing from the seams as new crust is added at the undersea volcanic ridges. No need for giant rocks from outer space, runaway continents or credulity-straining subduction zones to consume and recycle epic masses of material.
Again with this routine. The bolide-impact hypothesis is not plate tectonics. Extinction studies are not plate tectonics. Maybe Jeff should look up what Plate Tectonics is. The first sentence says it all: "Plate Tectonics is a theory which describes the large scale motions of the Earth's Lithosphere". Just in case that goes over his head, here is Plate Tectonics for kids. The 'bath-toy' analogy is particularly clever.

Additionally, I don't know what he thinks "CG-like impact(s)" are. The Earth, from time to time, does experience impacts from outer-space. Denying impacts is about as sensible as denying the existence of oceans. And I like 'credulity-straining' subduction zones, I find them less dubious than the magical generation of matter.
Few theories are without their flaws, but Growing Earth Theory certainly has a way of growing on you.
Clever. However, you might want to refrain from analogies about 'growing on you' to a group of scientists that are at a high risk for skin cancer. They are more likely to cut it off before it becomes malignant. Oh wait, that is what EE is. Very apt then.
Edit: Steven Novella (of SGU, Neurologica, and Skepticblog fame) also ran across this story.

05 December 2009

'Febrile Nitwits' Would be a Good Band Name

You know all the dust that is being raised about the hacked emails regarding climate change? Well here is a nice succinct Youtube video about all that. Specifically, how a certain group of individuals (denialists) are using some (by which I mean 2) emails to claim climate change is a conspiracy. So without further ado, here is a repost of part 6 of potholer54's climate change series: "Those Hacked E-mails"

My only beef with this, is the use of the term 'skeptic' to describe 'denialists' (around 9:38). Skeptics aren't denialists. Skeptics will accept conclusions supported by sufficient evidence, denialists won't (the evidence is part of the conspiracy after all). Other than that little detail, it is a good summation of this non-story.

28 November 2009

How To Get Your Student's Attention

One of Lockwood's recent Sunday Funnies segments had me laughing hysterically. So I figured I would re-post a slightly modified version which I think makes it all the better. It is a re-captioned Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic originally about the joys of mathematics.

24 November 2009

Origin 150th Anniversary

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species". I figured I would be able to quickly find a story and post a link and be done with it. Sadly, it is not that easy. Doing a quick news search yielded a top hit titled "Darwin Debate Rages on 150 Years After Origin". Of course the media has to trot out this canard.
Even 150 years after it first appeared in print, Charles Darwin's "On The Origin of Species" still fuels clashes between scientists convinced of its truth and critics who reject its view of life without a creator.
Really? This is a sad day for journalism indeed. I feel it is important to note that 'critic' must have been redefined to 'any boob pushing superstition'. I know that our media has this odd notion that objective journalism must include both sides of an issue, but that presupposes that reality has more than one valid view. Evolution says nothing about religion, nor should it attempt to. Science stays strictly in the natural world. Any attempt to move beyond the natural world moves beyond the realm of science.

The article moves on:
[N]o consensus is in sight, probably because Darwinian evolution is both a powerful scientific theory describing how life forms develop through natural selection and a basis for philosophies and social views that often include atheism.
Natural Selection is not synonymous with Social Darwinism or Atheism (and Atheism is also not synonymous with Social Darwinism, nor is Atheism 'evil'). This is a logical fallacy known as 'Poisoning the Well'. Essentially, the author is attempting to blame science for people abusing science. Science can make no moral judgment. Science is merely a self-correcting examination of the natural world. Science takes no philosophical position, but ignores philosophy by and large.

The rest of the article moves further away from the anything relevant to "On the Origin of Species". It begins to talk about Islam and Intelligent Design. They don't even quote an evolutionary biologist, or historian of science in this article. What? Were they all on vacation? How about a neat article on how Natural Selection is as important (maybe more important) to Biology as Plate Tectonics is to Geology.

All this pandering to insecure superstitious saps seems to have made me a bit glum. Since I want to end on a positive note, here is a beautifully elegant image to complement Darwin's sketch of the Tree of Life. I, and I assume many other bloggers, saw Evogeneao's booth at the GSA conference in Portland, OR. It is an amazingly cool conceptualization of the tree of life.
Happy 150th Anniversary Origin.

23 November 2009

A Quick Joke

Well would you look at that. "Blog" is an increasingly popular buzzword in the published literature.You gotta feel bad for all those postmodern, pico-cybernetics, that run on cold-fusion though.

16 November 2009

Hiatus post

I've been extremely busy recently getting ready for AGU, applying to PhD programs, finishing off my thesis, etc. So I apologize for not keeping up to date on the blogging side of life. I've got some vague ideas of what will be coming down the pipe, but nothing really worth posting yet. So this is an apology of sorts.

On something to contribute to the world. It has snowed quite a bit here. The city has done their usual bang-up job of not plowing anything so that snow on the roads, and the few sidewalks we have, just gets packed down into a thick sheet of ice. Moreover, for the first few days people were driving around with big mounds of snow all over their cars. While following behind these yahoos, I was just waiting for the impeding road hazard resulting from their car calving a 'snowberg' in the middle of the road (I gave them extra space just in case). I thought I was the only one who gets annoyed when people don't clear off their ENTIRE car (roof, hood, trunk,... everything), but I guess I was wrong.

So, next time it snows in your area, think about people behind your car as well. Do a proper job of cleaning of your car.

01 November 2009

Belated Halloween Post II: The Return of Narf!

Once again I am posting my Halloween costume after Halloween. Same reason as last year. Both years have been fun. However, this year spoke to the fact that I may, or may not, be a lab mouse involved in an intricate scheme to take over the world.That is me on the left (The Brain, most of the people downtown thought Pinky was the short smart one... dunderheads), and YES the tail is shaped like a lightning bolt. Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween. For my part, I must make plans for tomorrow night. "Why? what are you doing tomorrow night?" you might ask. The same thing I do every night... Try to GRADUATE!!!

19 October 2009


I didn't think I would be blogging about GSA, but I saw a presentation that I thought was quite good. Ian Jackson, whom I first met last year when I visited the BGS, gave a couple of talks on a relatively new project called OneGeology (it's been going for 1.5 - 2 years now, maybe more).

The goal of OneGeology is to make geologic maps from around the world freely accessible to anyone who wants them. I am fully in favor of open access to all data, as this is the best way for science to function. The driving point of Ian's talk was the vast discrepency between fully industrialized data who can zip about 'holodeck' representations of datasets and developing nations which might not even have a steady supply of electricity.

The need to understand geologic processes is a global concern. In some cases, it may even be more important to developing nations to have the access to high quality data sets than it is to industrialized nations. This project continues a theme I was picking up in several of the sessions I have attended thus far. There is a growing need for earth scientists to reach out to the general public and engender an appreciation for the role that the earth plays in our everyday lives.

I am certain that this goal is appreciated by anyone who might stumble onto this blog. However, of all the talks that touched on this need, Ian Jackson's talks were one of the few that actually proposed a means to achieve this objective.

06 October 2009

Mirror Mirror on the wall, what's the most bad-ass planet of them all?


Attached is a copy of the press release on this utterly bizarre planet. My advisor sent me a copy of this last night, along with his impression of this planet (which was, and I quote: "WTF"). All you need to know is there is indeed a place in the universe where it RAINS rubies and sapphires.... FROM THE SKY!

Cloudy with a chance of pebble showers: Simulation suggests rocky exoplanet has bizarre atmosphere

(PhysOrg.com) -- So accustomed are we to the sunshine, rain, fog and snow of our home planet that we find it next to impossible to imagine a different atmosphere and other forms of precipitation.
There is a word for planets like this. That word is awesome.
Edit: Discovery Channel, the channel that is ostensibly about science, premiered its new show, "Ghost Lab", tonight as well. Out of curiosity, I tuned in to see how bad it would be. The best piece of evidence presented thus far is a door... opening... off camera. How did they know it was closed to begin with? Anecdotal evidence*. The close runner up, detecting an increased electromagnetic field, when you hold a flashlight next to the EMF detector...


So for those keeping score: Today, real science provided us with evidence of an exoplanet that rains sapphires. Pseudoscience provided us with a door... Science provides us tangible awesomeness. Pseudoscience provides us intangible lameness.

*This video is based on the work of Prof. Daniel Simons on Sustained Inattentional Blindness. It basically shows how worthless anecdotal evidence really is. Here's the paper on this.

05 October 2009

Crickets, Sitcoms, and the Scientific Method

I am a fan of the Big Bang Theory. Recently, CBS aired an episode where Sheldon makes quite the blunder. Typically, Sheldon will just throw out little science factoids (and the group either assumes he is right or doesn't care enough to object). However, in this episode Sheldon makes a hasty hypothesis, and is called on it. Namely, that the cricket chirping is a snowy tree cricket.

The snowy tree cricket's chirp does, in fact, vary with ambient temperature.
~T = C+40
~T is the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit
C is number of chirps in a 13 second interval
(Although, the number of chirps I counted would mean Sheldon's apartment is about 50 degrees. Which doesn't really bother me, because the writers got the basic science correct. Even if they flubbed it on the sound effect).

The mistake Sheldon made was in an inadequate test for his hypothesis. To properly discount the possibility of the common field cricket, Sheldon needed additional data. Namely, he needed to (at the very least) change the ambient air temperature of the room and observe whether the number of chirps per second changed by an appropriate margin before he made any determination. If the chirps changed, it could likely be a snowy tree cricket. If the chirps remain constant, it is not a snowy tree cricket. If the chirps changed, but not according to the known relationship, it is inconclusive.

It seems, from my perspective, that the writers compared/contrasted how the public perceives science to function and how it actually functions. The public perception was portrayed by Sheldon's haphazard application of a factoid of science. The actual process of science was portrayed by Howard challenging Sheldon to provide sufficient data to make such a claim. The public perception of science seems to be centered on science as a body of facts, rather than science as a crucible for reality. All too often, scientists are portrayed as dictating what is reality. When in actuality, scientists are only constantly coming up with tests to disprove (or add further support) some notion of what reality is.

One small gripe with the episode. Once they caught the cricket, the game was over. The two types of cricket don't look anything like each other. Jiminy the Snowy Tree Cricket:And Toby the Field Cricket:I really enjoy this show overall, and I think it is (generally) a good spokesman for science. I am glad that Sheldon was called on his poor methods (and ended up losing the bet). Hopefully, this subtle display about the scientific method, and the importance of peer review, is appreciated by the public consciousness.

29 September 2009

Jere Lipps For The Win (and Introductory Geological Concepts 2)

I just received one of those mass emails from SEPM. Turns out that SEPM is honoring Jere Lipps with the 2010 Moore Medal. This is a well deserved honor. Here is the announcement:

SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology announces that Dr. Jere Lipps (University of California, Berkeley, CA) has been awarded the 2010 Moore Medal for excellence in the study and application of paleontology.

Dr. Lipp's contributions to paleontology range across many fields, including micropaleontology, molluscan paleocommunities, general paleobiology (including organism responses to climate change), and temporal assessments ("temporal smearing") of extinction events owing to incompleteness of the fossil record (termed the "Signor-Lipps Effect"). He also has served the paleontological community as President of the Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research, President of the Paleontological Society and Chair of the Association of North American Paleontological Societies, among others.

An added bonus to this is I get to reiterate how awesome the Signor-Lipps effect is and once more suggest people read about it. It is, probably, the preeminent study in regards to extinctions. So here is the link to the paper, and here are some links previous posts (wow, these look like my first posts) gushing about the effect.

A brief synopsis of the Signor-Lipps effect goes a little something like this. When an organism dies, varying factors influence whether or not the organism will be preserved as a fossil. The potential that an organism will be, in whole or in part, fossilized can be referred to as 'preservation potential'. The preservation potential varies between species. For example, a clam lives its life buried in sediment. If it dies while still buried, it has a very good chance of becoming a fossil. A bird that lives in trees and flies around in the sky, will need to die and get transported to a location that is likely to be preserved. So the bird in this example has a lower preservation potential than a clam. Now expand this concept to discuss populations, rather than an individual. We see that rare species with relatively low preservation potentials aren't going to be fossilized as often as abundant species with high preservation potentials.

Now if we apply this concept to the study of extinction events (this is where the Signor-Lipps effect comes into play), we would expect to see certain species disappearing from the fossil record before other species. Regardless of the cause of the extinction. So rare species with low preservation potentials should disappear lower, in the stratigraphic record, than abundant species with high preservation potentials. This will give the appearance of a gradual extinction (where species diversity is declining over a period of time) even if the extinction event is catastrophic (where all the species disappear at once). The implication of this is that gradual extinctions are indistinguishable from catastrophic extinctions in the stratigraphic record. Here is a visual representation of this idea (from Williams, 1994):The larger the symbol the more rarely a species is preserved. The black box on the right is a representation of a stratigraphic column showing where each specimen was found. The lines leading to a symbol on the left give an approximate range of a species' duration. Rare species disappear from the rock record first, abundant species should disappear from the fossil record last. At this point, due to variable preservation potential within the fossil record, it is not possible for us to distinguish between a fast or slow extinction event. Jere Lipps was one of the first people to say it, so he deserves our congratulations.


Signor, P. W., and Lipps, J. H., 1982, Sampling bias, gradual extinction patterns, and catastrophes in the fossil record, Geological Implications of Impacts of Large Asteroids and Comets on the Earth: Special Paper - Geological Society of America, p. 291-296.

Williams,M.E., 1994, Catastrophic Versus Noncatastrophic Extinction of the Dinosaurs: Testing, Falsifiability, and the Burden of Proof: Journal of Paleonotology v.68 p.183-190.

28 September 2009

Fun with Optical Illusions

Bad Astronomy has a link to an awesome illusion. I recommend it... unless you are prone to visual epilepsy or possibly those who easily become motion sick. Not much else to say about it.... why are you still reading this? Go to the illusion.

Edit: I just showed it to a friend in the grad office, he said it was like a mild version of the illusions he had while he needed to use pain medication. After a day of it, he decided the pain was more tolerable. I can see why, the effect lasts less than a minute (and is thus fun), but if it went on a whole day it'd get old real quick.

22 September 2009

A Honest Argument

Finally, there is an argument out there, against the public option, that doesn't rely on inflating crowd numbers, making up 'death panels', or failing to read a bill before shouting at the president during a joint session.
Unfortunately, honesty is not in the insurance company executives best interest.

21 September 2009

Quiz Time

Bad Astronomy found a quiz from the Pew Research Center on the topic of science literacy. 12 questions in all (the last four are True/False). The focus of the questions is on basic science that has been in the news recently. And a majority of the questions stem from science that has recently been the center of public policy.

So how did I do? Well, let's go to the graph: This chart shows how many questions (out of 12) each group answered correctly. I assume they took the mean, but they just say the results are averaged.

12 questions, 12 correct answers. Hot Damn.... I.... pay attention to the world...

In all honesty, these questions were not hard. Sadly, my age group isn't very informed. Originally, I was optimistic about the steady upward trend you can see regarding education level. However, it just occurred to me that the people who are most likely to graduate from college are probably the most likely to pay attention to basic science in the media. There is definite room for improvement here, but it doesn't look insurmountable.

14 September 2009

The Makings of a Talk: a Former Debater and Frequent Audience Member's Perspective

It is presentation season again. That means many people are getting their data and interpretations together in preparation for an upcoming conference. And it also means geobloggers are talking about presentations (BrianR and Tuff Cookie's entries into the subject, I will add others that I have missed as I find them). Now, I don't have as much experience as some people giving talks, but I have sat through enough talks to know what works and what doesn't work. So here I present what I think are the makings of a good talk. I have added a bit of spin to them. I was in CX debate for several years in High School, it was my first significant experience in how to set up a presentation that both educates and makes an argument. So, ever since, when I have to make a presentation I tend to go back to the model of presenting my case as if it were a CX debate (though obviously with slightly different objectives).

Introduce a Problem

First, and I can't emphasize this enough, tell the audience what the purpose of the talk is going to be about. I have sat through countless presentations where it is assumed that the audience gets all this information from the ether. Commonly, the only slide dealing with the purpose is the title slide. It is the speakers job to educate the audience, this can't be done without introducing them to the problem at hand. Now sometimes this requires very little introduction on the background (say, in a committee meeting presentation), however most times you will need to explain a little bit about what it is you are going to be talking about. Along parallel lines, think about your intended audience's background. If you are presenting at a national meeting, assume you are going to have a more general audience. If you are presenting at a regional technical session, assume you are going to have a specialized audience.


Secondly, you need to tell the audience WHY your project is important. This is, perhaps, the most important piece of a presentation. It is also almost always excluded from the talk. This is the portion of the talk that tells me why I should devote 15, 20, or 50 minutes of my time to hear what you have to say (times vary depending on setting). This isn't necessarily something that should eat up most of your time, a single slide will do nicely. In forensics (of the high-school debate variety) this would be referred to as significance. Going back to the debate analogy, many debates I have been a part of (either as a participant, or as a judge) have been won or lost on this point alone. Now this doesn't have to be paradigm shifting, it could be something as simple as nobody has looked at this area before, or nobody has applied a certain model to this setting. Or, "Jack Sprat" looked at this outcrop in 1937, but we've learned a thing or two since then so let's see if "Sprat's" interpretation works with modern understanding.

If there is no reason why you did your study, then why did you do your study? Every study has some significance behind it. Otherwise, you are just collecting facts. As Poincare once put it:
Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.
-Henri Poincare
Or as Charles Darwin once quipped:
About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I well remember some one saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!
-Charles Darwin
On a side note, "Counting Pebbles" would be an awesome name for a geoblog... or a rock band.


This is the meat of the talk, and should take the most time. How will you address this significant problem? This is where you lay out your methods, assumptions, field area, and your data. Speakers tend to not have a problem with material for this portion of the talk. The only thing I would add is make sure your data is legible. If you have scale bars (on a stratigraphic colum for instance) make sure they are readable from the back of the room. If you have a cluster diagram, make sure it is easy to distinguish one cluster of points from another. I once sat through a talk with a cluster diagram where location 1 used a blue color, location 2 used purple color, and location 3 used a purple-blue color (they were a part of a gradient color scheme). I was so focused on figuring out which point was which color, I wound up ignoring the speaker.


Solvency is your interpretation and conclusions. Does your data support your hypthesis? Does it refute your hypothesis? Does it fail to say anything about your hypothesis? Also, be sure to include what implications this has for future studies (this is where significance comes back into play). If previous studies overlooked some subtle trait, it might mean that these previous studies have to be redone.

Note that interpretation is separate from the data. This is important. If you intermix your interpretations and your data, the audience can become confused. You want them separate because, as my advisor once put it: It is one thing for a colleague to say you are wrong, it is another thing for your colleague to say you can't look at rocks correctly. Nobody should argue with your data, the rocks are the rocks, you can't change it. Your interpretation, on the other hand, is potentially falsifiable (if it wasn't, it wouldn't be science it would be dogma).

Following this general outline, in my experience at least, is a good way to propagate your point among your audience members. At the very least, they won't end up confused as to what your talk was about.

12 September 2009

Wendell Potter and the Health Care Modus Operandi

I am just floored by this. This links to a segment of Bill Moyer's Journal where he interviews a former health insurance executive. The executive, Wendell Potter, is explaining how the insurance firms operate, especially when they feel that their profits are being threatened. Here is a telling quote from the transcript:
Wendell Potter: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.
The interview is about 40 minutes (I think. My apartment has pretty low bandwidth, so after about 7 minutes of intermittent playback, I read the transcript). However, within the first 7 minutes you get treated to several insurance executives telling congress, point blank, they will not stop rescinding coverage of patients for unintentionally withholding medical information (as would be the case if the patient didn't know they had gall stones).

It goes on to tell how the insurance industry threatened members of congress during the Clinton years that endorsing the message that health care should be reformed is a "one-way ticket back to minority party status". The interview also talks about the ease of gaining access to policy makers that these insurance firms enjoy. They have a level of access out of reach of most Americans. I've emailed my senators once or twice (even called them on one occasion), but I've never phoned them up and dictated we will have a meeting.

I will return to talking about Geology later. But right now, this is something that everybody should watch and share. I will finish this post with another quote from Wendell Potter:
WENDELL POTTER: That we shouldn't fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it's been proven in the countries that were in [Sicko].

You know, we have more people who are uninsured in this country than the entire population of Canada. And that if you include the people who are underinsured, more people than in the United Kingdom. We have huge numbers of people who are also just a lay-off away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, or being purged by their insurance company, and winding up there.

And another thing is that the advocates of reform or the opponents of reform are those who are saying that we need to be careful about what we do here, because we don't want the government to take away your choice of a health plan. It's more likely that your employer and your insurer is going to switch you from a plan that you're in now to one that you don't want. You might be in the plan you like now.

But chances are, pretty soon, you're going to be enrolled in one of these high deductible plans in which you're going to find that much more of the cost is being shifted to you than you ever imagined.

09 September 2009

Haleakala National Park

As promised, I am continuing my brief travelogue of my trip to Hawaii. Part I is available by clicking on the appropriate link. This post summarizes my trip, complete with some pretty pictures, to Haleakala National Park (pronounced EXACTLY as it is spelled, and it is very fun to say).

When we set off in the morning, it was quite cloudy. We were worried that it might not be a good day for it, but we decided we at least made the good decision to sleep in a bit. The evening beforehand we debated getting up early and watching the sunrise from the summit. Though we did run into groups that made that adventure (these groups all looked very tired and shared their story of woe). Here is a shot of one of many clouds that came rushing past us on our way up the volcano.And here is the same cloud a moment laterFortunately, for the purposes of photography, the wind was gusting around 40-50 mph (enough to almost hold me up when leaning into the wind). So any clouds that came into the area were not going to be sticking around for long. But they did lend themselves to some neat shots up near the vent.I don't know what it is about this next shot, but I really like it.and as an inaccurate demonstration of the wind speed, here is the same shot less than a minute later (and zoomed out a bit so I could get more of the vent):Here is a shot taken of Mauna Loa from Haleakala. The thought of taking a picture of the largest volcano on Hawaii from the largest volcano on Maui was too tempting to pass up. Interestingly, Haleakala is LARGER than Mauna Loa, but since it is older it has undergone more subsidence. If you account for the entire volcano, Haleakala is the largest volcano in the chain. Haleakala is a little over 10,000 feet high. Considering that most visitors started their morning, more or less, at sea level I guess a little cautionary signage is a good idea:It threw me for a loop when I realized I was at an elevation almost twice that of Denver, CO and was still within sight of the ocean. Growing up firmly landlocked might have had something to do with that, but I still get a kick out of seeing the ocean from 10,000 feet up with my feet on solid ground. I am pretty sure that island in the background is Lanai:The keen observer probably caught sight of the high tension wires running up the volcano. They are there for the benefit of the Haleakala Observatory. They tend to focus on studying solar flares and track man-made objects:Phew.... That is a lot of pictures.... and I haven't even started on the photos I took as we were leaving the park. I think this post will have to end with the phrase that tended to haunt my youth. To be continued...

03 September 2009

Facebook Status Meme

As most people are probably aware by now, there is a common thread among many facebook statuses today. People are updating their status to read:
No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick.
I have also tweeted this line a little bit ago, but Lockwood's post reminded me there was one more place I could put this message with ease. He, in turn, was reminded by Matty Boy. I also saw the Greg Laden had something up about this earlier as well (along with a link to a Facebook poll regarding whether it is okay for the President to address the nation, or should he get parents permission). As I find other sites with this message, I will add them to the list.

I only wonder if there is some easy way to check how many facebook statuses (or should it be "stati") have been updated to this message.

30 August 2009


As I mentioned previously, I had the opportunity to go to Hawaii this summer. My brother was presenting at a conference in Waikiki and my parents thought the whole family hadn't spent enough time together recently so they insisted we all go (fortunately, they did the heavy financial lifting to get me there... Yay Parents!). So here are some pretty pictures I took from the 50th state (which according to the birther crazies isn't a state at all... go figure).

The first island we visited was Maui where we stayed at Wailea. Wailea is on the East lobe of Maui, and a convenient distance to the most recent eruption on Maui, La Pérouse Bay. The best guess for the age of the most recent eruption is around 1790. There has been some minor controversy about this. The reason why 1790 is an approximate age is French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse landed in Maui in 1786 and made a map of the bay, when George Vancouver landed in 1794, there was a basaltic peninsula that wasn't on La Pérouse's map.

The controversy lies in the dating of the eruption and general cartography. Reported radiometric dating of the basalt suggest it is closer to 1490 (however, I wasn't able to find a paper on this, just a brochure from a tourist kiosk). Some scientists have also questioned the quality of La Pérouse's mapmaking skills (apparently, some claim, you wouldn't recognize ANY of the islands from his maps). Though I did find this quick blurb in GSA Bulletin by Oostdam (1965). He argues that that La Pérouse's maps were, in fact, very reliable for their day. Below is a shot looking back towards Haleakala of one of the most recent flows on Maui. In any event, these eruptions lead to the existence of black sand beaches. It was one of my goals to find such a beach just so I could collect a small vial of black sand (which now sits prominently upon my bookshelf). Here is a photo overlooking just such a beach near La Pérouse Bay. And I might as well wrap up this post with a picture of Pu'u Ola'i which is the remnant of a cinder cone on the island of Maui that was active about 0.1 Maa.That should do it for this post. I will probably discuss visiting Haleakala National Park in my next post, unless I think of something else to talk about.
Oostdam, B. L., 1965, AGE OF LAVA FLOWS ON HALEAKALA, MAUI, HAWAII: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 76, no. 3, p. 393-394.

26 August 2009

Jurassic Ink

Holy Crap!

A friend of mine posted a link to this article from the telegraph. They found a 150 Ma old belemnite that still had its ink sac. What's more the paleontologists, being the witty characters they are, used some of the ink to draw the animals portrait and write its name!!!
Move over Bic:

"Belemnites. Writes first time, every time."

The specimen now resides with the BGS in Nottingham. Truly, an awesome find. And a pretty spiffy drawing. I wonder if the BGS will sell prints of that image....

21 August 2009

Getting Back in the Swing of Blogging

It has been quiet around this corner of the ol' intertoobz for a couple of weeks. What can I say, I've been busy. During this time I've also inexplicably managed to get out and about a bit. My family had a quick reunion over on Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii (I will post a series of pictures when I get the chance), I also attended a friend's wedding in Portland, OR (Powell's is AMAZING, GSA attendees should plan a visit), and helped my mom with her recovery from surgery (bone spurs on the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae, and also the reason we had a family reunion in HI before the surgery).

Right now, I am waiting to get access to a large scanner that can scan in several figures that are 3.5 m long. So I figured I would peruse the blogosphere. This post on early geology, and how it influenced Charles Darwin, caught my attention over at Pharyngula. It skips over Steno, but it is a decent summary just the same.

I'm sure if you follow my humble blog you probably are already familiar with Iconic Science Blog Pharyngula. So why the cross-post you may ask. Well, it is purely for selfish reasons. I wanted to place the link somewhere that I wouldn't lose it. The options were to either email it to myself or post it on ITV. Since my mail inbox is becoming increasingly difficult to sift through, ITV wins out. Enjoy (if you haven't already)!

20 July 2009

We Chose to Go to the Moon

Forty years ago today, mankind first walked on another celestial body. It was the result of a decade of dedicated work from countless scientists and engineers. It was the result of government sponsored science. And it has been 36 years 7 months 1 day since we've matched that endeavor. Here's to returning to the moon by the 50th anniversary.
But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
-Excerpt from JFK's 'We Choose to go to the Moon' speech

16 July 2009

BOINC for Science

I saw 'Contact' on TV the other day and it got me curious about how those astronomers over at SETI are doing these days. One of the first hits on the internet is a link to a project called SETI@home. It is an interesting idea, SETI has acquired a MASSIVE amount of data over the years (and they are still collecting it). It will take them some time for them to comb through all their data on their own, so they've joined a program that allows individuals to 'donate' their idle computer time to running tedious calculations. The result is that SETI now has a computer that can process >500 TeraFLOPS (faster than most of the world's computers).
The group that set up this operates out of Berkeley and is called BOINC for short (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). SETI is only one of a list of potential projects that take advantage of grid computing. You can help model protein folding, the N Queens problem (for the math and chess lovers of the world), or even the universe. Now that I think about it, I remember Eric donating his laptop's idle time to modeling climate change.

09 June 2009

Summer Reading List Meme

Still getting back in the swing of things. Fortunately, there exists a summer reading list meme to help out. Suvrat started it, passed it to BrianR, who was joined by Eric, and the party then gained Silver Fox, and now me. Rules are straightforward. What are you reading/planning to read this summer?

And Go:

Well, the ole pile of books by the bed (on the bedstand and on the floor) suggest I am currently plowing my way through:

-The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen: I am a big fan of mysteries, and this is Ellery Queen's first adventure. All of them are, apparently, fair play whodunnits which happen to be my favorite subgenre of mysterys.

-The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen: I finally found this in a local bookstore (they keep selling out, I assume). So now I get to finally read about island biogeography.

-A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin: I borrowed this from my sister about a year and a half ago. I should probably get around to reading it.

-The Canon by Natalie Angier: I try to avoid science books with too broad of a theme (think 'how to fossilize your hamster'), but this one is enjoyable thus far.

-Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku: I have a friend who constantly makes my head implode by explaining physics at the bar, so I've set out to try and get a better understanding of the stuff. This book deals mostly with cosmology, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

-The Planets by Dava Sobel: I've enjoyed her previous books, so I figured why not read about the planets.

-His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman: Jeannette (from 10 Ma of Solitude) suggested I read this series, so I think I will.

-Sand by Michael Welland: Yep, joining in with most other people on this one

-Beyond the 100th Meridian by Wallace Stegner: And joining Eric on this one.

And, like a Vogon making a request to save his mother from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, these books will be lost, found, lost again, subjected to public inquiry, and most likely buried in soft peat for several months before I actually get around to finishing them.

08 June 2009

Save the Museum!!!

The University of Wyoming is planning on cutting their budget. On the chop is the Geological Museum located on its campus [For more, ReBecca has been covering this here and here]. There is a petition that is being put together to save this institution. The text reads:
Due to budget cuts at the University of Wyoming, the president and provost have decided to close the Geological Museum and let the two staff positions there be terminated (museum director Brent Breithaupt and a part-time secretary). The University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie functions to support both public education and scientific research.

The University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie functions to support both public education and scientific research. Wyoming is rich in geologic treasures and the Museum presents to the visitor some glimpse of this geologic diversity. Housing more than 50,000 cataloged fossil, rock, and mineral specimens, it is an important source of information for researchers throughout the world.

Please feel free to write the following people regarding these job cuts and the potential loss of the museum:

Tom Buchanan
Office of the President
Dept. 3434
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071

Myron Allen
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dept. 3302
1000 E. University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071
This act of anti-intellectualism is astonishing to me. The University of Wyoming's Geological Museum is one of the few places where you can see an actual Apatosaur skeleton on display. If I recall, it is also the largest near complete example (A. ajax if memory serves me). They also were involved with 'Big Al' which was made into a 'Walking with Dinosaurs' special. Plus it is a superb public outreach program offered by the University of Wyoming. Smaller museums, like the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, are far superior at interacting with the public than giant institutions like the AMNH. It won't look good for the University of Wyoming to destroy such a positive public face.
Disclaimer: Brent Breithaupt is a friend of mine. However, I imagine he is a friend of the ENTIRE paleo-community as well, so one lone seds guy shouldn't disrupt the balance too much. I still think closing museums, like the UWGM, will damage the local community, and the University's reputation, in ways that aren't being considered.

Accretionary Wedge: Time Warp

Lockwood at Outside the Interzone is hosting the June Accretionary Wedge. The rules are simple:
“Where and when would you most like to visit to witness and analyze an event in Earth’s history?” Suppose you have a space-time machine to (safely and comfortably) watch an event unfold; which event would you most like to see? Why? What do we already know or hypothesize about that event that appeals to you, or that you would like to test? What would be the result, the upshot, of knowing more about this event? You do not necessarily need to limit yourself to Earth, nor to the past. You do not need to limit yourself to a particular instant if peeking several times over a period of minutes or ages helps you envision the evolution of something. You do not need to limit yourself to environments that could support life as we know it... imagine being able to take a time-sampling of magmatic composition from 10 miles below the surface as a nascent mid-ocean ridge opens up, or examining the circumference of the vent during one of Yellowstone's mega-eruptions! I'll tell you, this technology is basically magic. (See the third law here.) Feel free to toss in a few "also-rans" of your favorite day-dreams, but please develop one.
So, just like the mainstay of the best Star Trek movies (excluding Wrath of Kahn of course), we will be time traveling. My first impulse is to say "I want to see the KPg extinction, because nobody really understands anything about it". There are lots of correlations, but there is no evidence, beyond circumstantial, for a causative agent. I could broaden this out to mass extinctions in general for the same reason. There are a good many geomyths propagating in the field of extinction studies, and it might be nice to get some answers to move the conversation forward. I would expand on this further, but volcanista beat me to the punch. Also, since this is tangential to what I am working on, I would like to expand my horizons.
I think I will take advantage of the non-limitation to Earth clause and couple that with the time-lapse clause. It might be fun to observe how Martian tectonism quieted down over time, and collecting data from that event would advance our current understanding of tectonics and planetary geology. We know that Mars has been, for all intents and purposes, tectonically quiet for quite a while. One line of evidence comes from the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons. This volcano is thought to have formed as the result of a hot spot. However, since there is no hot spot trackway, like we see in the Hawaiian islands, it is unlikely that the 'plate' that contains Olympus Mons has undergone any motion. Events of Olympus Mons have been dated at ~115 Maa, so Mars has been tectonically quiet for at least that long.

One idea as to why Mars is tectonically quiet is it no longer has a sufficient heat engine to drive tectonism. Tectonics happening on Earth is a side effect of several mechanisms, one of which is the Earth is cooling down (there are multiple inputs into the system, so it is not a simple linear heat decay as has been proposed in the past). However, if you were to fast forward the Earth cooling down, hypothetically the lithosphere will thicken. If this rigid zone becomes too thick, the plates will lock up and the Earth will become a tectonically quite body.

Similarly, it would be fun to observe Venus' runaway green-house effect from the beginning. Would Venus have initially experienced tectonism similar to the Earth, or did it always have a 'funky' form of tectonism? Venus is very similar to Earth in mass and, to my understanding, composition. However, it is a green house with no liquid water remaining. And with the surface temperatures capable of melting lead, we are currently restricted to observing Venus from orbit. Venus also experiences Global Resurfacing Events (The last one ended ~300 Maa). The Earth cools primarily via convection which manifests itself as Plate Tectonics. Venus, on the other hand, does not seem to have an analogous mechanism. So it is hypothesized that heat builds up in Venus' interior until it is sufficient to initiate global volcanism, which resurfaces the whole planet and the process of heat building up starts over.

These two transitions would be quite helpful in figuring out the dynamics behind tectonics and the evolution of terrestrial planetary bodies.

27 April 2009

Death of Print... Dead?

I just stumbled upon an interesting article in my Blog roll, click here for the link (original article here). The primary thrust of the article is the biased source of information pertaining to the 'printed journalism is dead' theme that recurs fairly frequently in the blogosphere. Most individuals who report the end of newspapers are looking at few studies of newspapers, with actual data, and rely on their own anecdotal evidence. such as:
"This is total bs. The only printed publications I read (outside of books) is when I travel on planes. Crap, my 80 year old dad only reads on-line newspapers. This story is a total industry plant. If this was the case why has the size of my local paper shrunk down to "high school" paper size in the last couple years?"
This individual is essentially attacking the problem by using anecdotal evidence, without realizing that he may not be a representative sample of the overall population. The article (linked above) even points out that individuals with this personality are NOT the norm, and dubs them 'information junkies'. Instead the author takes a more detached approach to the problem and discovers that the phenomena that we are observing in the media today is much more nuanced than the 'information junkies' are willing to sit through.

In a more relevant aspect, to this blog at least, science-bloggers have commented that they have no wish to replace science journalism (even if it bungles the story more often than it should). Instead many bloggers tend to view what they do as ancillary to science journalism. In other words, we rely on science journalism to report the stories, then we report, with commentary, on the reported stories (wow, THAT is a confusing sentence that I would hate to diagram).

But in a positive light, this story posits that there may be considerable good coming out of this 'death of print' phenomenon that we are observing. It's argued that the primary result of this process will be to free print journalism from deadlines, because it will be impossible for them to be faster than the internet and cable news outlets. Essentially, step back and let everyone else talk about the new and hip story (and waste hours of coverage on 'nothing news' where all you see is shots of some building and wild speculation about the media not having anything to report). Meanwhile, conventional print journalism, can track leads and bring together a more nuanced product that is of higher quality.

Imagine the benefit this will bring to science journalism. Instead of scientists having to correct journalists for shoddy work thrown together without any subtlety, you get the potential for scientists to educate the public on a larger, more detailed, scale. I imagine if newspapers stopped trying to rush to print, and let stories mature properly, the quality of the reporting will go up and the readership will maintain itself at some new level of equilibrium. I'm not arguing it won't be chaotic, and potentially scary for people financially involved, but this is the first argument I've seen that has something positive to say about the situation without resorting to the canard "let's charge people $0.99 every time they click on a link". Which, judging by the quality of most journalism as it is done in this current 'rush to publish' setting, is going to keep me away from 'pay for news' sites.

22 April 2009

Oh, Good thing I checked in... Happy Earth Day

Stress is still high, and my computer is still of limited utility. Fortunately, I have access at the school to the internet. So I swung on by to check out the place. Checking out the blog world (via the Blog rolls) reminded me it is Earth Day. I don't have anything planned except reading many papers, which are printed on... you guessed it... paper (at least I double sided them) so my carbon footprint is quite sizable right now.

Well here is a picture of me enjoying some of the Earth's amenities (air, gravity, sand dunes, etc.):
(Sand Dunes National Monument, CO. Summer 2004)

13 April 2009

Forced Hiatus

Hi all,

I am experiencing technical difficulties with my computer and am under some pretty substantial pressure regarding real-world (i.e. Damnable Tome of Arcane Knowledge) stuff, so I am going to be away from ITV for a little bit. I have turned on comment moderation for my posts, to keep spamming to a minimum while I am on this hiatus. I will turn it off when issues calm down a bit, to workable levels. Thanks for your patience.

10 April 2009

Time on Earth

I've been catching up on Skeptics Guide to the Universe during the more mundane tasks I have to perform (oh correct citation format, how you drain my motivation). On their Apr. 1 show, they have a plug for a relatively new geo-podcast. Time on Earth (you can also subscribe via iTunes). It is updated once a month, and the episodes are ~30mins each. So, there we have it. Two geo-podcasts, that I am aware of, the other being Podclast. Geosciences are getting out into this new-fangled media quite effectively (blogs, twitter, and now podcasts).
Edit: Eric beat me to the punch, so this post is rather redundant if you read both of our blogs. If you don't read both of our blogs, you really should. You should also read the other geoblogs that are readily acessible over in the right hand column there ->
Note: if you don't see your blog there, and would like me to add it, just shoot me a comment. I will rectify the situation.

08 April 2009

Bad Astronomy to Bad Ass

Phil Plait is getting a tattoo. And he is opening it up to suggestions from the peanut gallery (so long as they are sciency). This post has nothing really to do with anything (we will return to geology shortly), except for a way to put a visualization along with the suggestion I gave, the Doppler Effect:The added benefit of this image is it remains scientifically accurate as the skin sags!!! It just emphasizes the principle!

06 April 2009

Stick Figure Meme

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy is passing the word about a contest from the Florida Citizens for Science. I don't care much about the contest, but I think it could make a reasonably funny meme. Especially since this seems to be a majority of geologists "stick" [rimshot] when it comes to drawing things other than outcrops or block diagrams.

The rules are simple:

Contest for ages 13 through adult (I imagine most of us geobloggers are in this category):
Your job is to create a cartoon that can be used to educate the general public and especially decision makers (state legislators, school board members) about the truth behind one false argument. Choose an argument… and create a cartoon that corrects the record.

Contest for ages 12 and under (for the precocious jr. geobloggers of the world):
Your job is to create a cartoon that tells everyone “why understanding science is important.”

Here is my entry into the meme (sorry I don't think it is very funny, unless you think something like Crime and Punishment is a great basis for a sitcom. Click to enlarge):

03 April 2009

Shai-Hulud Discovered to Hate Coral

Or for those who aren't geeky enough to know a Dune reference when they see one, I am talking about the Great Worms of Arrakis. In all seriousness though, there was a problem at an aquarium in Cornwall recently (click here for the Daily Mail article. Near as I can tell, this isn't an AFD prank, but it is also from a paper referred to as the "Daily Fail"). At night, the coral reef displays would be torn up, and occasionally some of the fish in the exhibit would become injured. The staff of the aquarium set to the task of identifying the culprit, but none of their traps were successful.

Eventually, they resorted to dismantling the exhibit to unearth the culprit. That's when they found it. Meet Barry:s/he (I can't tell which it is, or if it is both...) is a four foot long (!!!!) polychaete, that was responsible for breaking 20lb fishing lines and probably digested (or at least passed) the associated hooks, and in some cases ripping the coral in half!!! More terrifying is the fact that workers at the aquarium discovered Barry is capable of inflicting permanent localized numbness in humans (at least that is what the article said).

So to conclude. Big ass annelid, breaks 20 lb fishing line, eats hooks, rips through coral, AND causes permanent localized numbness is found in a tank. What would you do? Run from the room screaming? Grab a gun and keep squeezing till the trigger goes click? Abandon the aquarium and let the rule of the giant sea worm begin? Well, the aquarium moved Barry to his/her own tank.

hat-tip to Baziak on this one.

Edit: Apparently, this is my century post. Yay....

02 April 2009

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I know I probably will. Callan has a post at NOVA Geoblog that did as he claimed it would. Which is good, because today was rather rough.

31 March 2009

Intro Geology Concept #1: Superposition

Geology grad students end up doing a lot of grading (I imagine the other sciences are the same). In the course of grading, we come across some answers that make us step back and re-evaluate our life choices. This series won't go into repeating these misconceptions, instead I will try and cover some aspect of geology that I (and other geologists I imagine) consider common knowledge. Hopefully this prevents the spread of geology grads with red palm shaped impressions on their foreheads. First few posts will focus on Steno's principles of stratigraphy. No reason to start here, I just am fond of stratigraphy.


The best thing about some of the introductory concepts in geology is how practical and sensible they are. Superposition is no different. Superposition states that in an undisturbed section, younger material rests atop older material. How awesomely simple is that? Very.

To put it another way, in a section that has not been flipped upside-down (via tectonics), the oldest material will be at the bottom and the youngest material will be at the top. Or "stuff won't float in mid-air waiting for material to be deposited under it", which is how my TA phrased it.

The implications for this principle is that it is a tool that allows us to make relative statements about a sequence of events. If we have a mudstone at the base of an undisturbed section, and a sandstone at the top, we can make the statement that the mudstone was laid down before the sandstone. More importantly, we can talk about the depositional environment changing between two time periods, from one that favored deposition of mud, to one that deposited sand. We can't say anything specific about the timing of the events yet (except to say the mudstone is before the sandstone), but this relative sequence of events is a start to understanding a locations geologic story.

Here is a basic figure of the concept (click to animate): The first, and oldest layer, is the gray layer. This is overlain by the blue layer (the second oldest). And the overlying purple layer is the youngest. See, geologic concepts are, generally, very practical.

Edit: On a similar note About Geology has many excellent posts along these lines. Most recently, one on How to Look at a Rock.


All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

Lectio Liber