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

27 February 2009

Happy Blog-day ITV!!!

Inexplicably the earth has completed one whole circuit around the sun since I started this blog. Huzzah and hoorah! So what better way to celebrate than to give a breakdown of what this blog covers in its 85 posts (Blogistics, if you will).

Let's see, first my current top google search that finds (and then links to me) is :
"What scientist named the terradactyl [sic]"
Okay, I know exactly where that links. It links to The Fatal Law of Gravity. I am very fond of this post, but for that to be the search that finds it most often is disheartening. Especially since "terradactyls" had nothing to do with the post, except some EEdiot claiming they needed less gravity to fly (thus implying a smaller earth). However, if you read the post, dutiful internet user, you would realize that a smaller earth imparts a GREATER force due to gravity. You also would realize "terradactyl" is a typo, and it is spelled pterodactyl. Which, to answer your original question, was described in 1794 by the Italian Naturalist Cossimo Collini (thank you wikipedia).

I also receive a fair amount of traffic (a few hits... ok, one or two) regarding the "veritas tree". This most likely linked to my Obligatory Tree Post. And just combined my title with the word tree. Speaking of the title, In Terra Veritas is rough latin for "Upon the Earth is Truth". A good friend of mine came up with the slogan while we were in a quarry. We were bandying latin phrases back and forth at each other. I yelled In Vino Veritas at him, and he responded In Terra Veritas. We both like the sound of it and since then, we have both used it. I decided it would be a good name for a geoblog. He decided it would be a good name for his memoirs. Though I prefer his original memoir title "Stuff and Junk".

Other cool things to note. A search for "GSI3D" finds me clocking in around #5. This is for my visit to the British Geological Survey and attending, then subsequently blogging about, the GSI3D conference. To sum up, it was great fun, I recommend everyone visit the BGS. And speaking of the BGS, I am apparently anomalously high for people doing a search for "the BGs" (bee-gee's). Which are some sort of musical troupe I gather, sorry not too musical here... Well, I like music, but this blog isn't about it.

Now for the content of my blog. I consider this to be, primarily, a geology blog. But I sometimes find myself talking about ancillary topics to geology. So, here is a breakdown of all my posts divided into specific categories. Note: some posts fit multiple categories, like a geologic themed meme for example.

Geology: 36 (42%)......................... The Thesis: 2 (2%)
Other Science: 10 (12%)................ Internet: 6 (7%)
Memes: 13 (15%)............................Other: 14 (17%)
Politics: 13 (15%)

Or you can just look at the poorly colored pie chart straight out of Excel:

Now, the more attentive of you will realize that I have more than 100% there. It actually totals 110%. That is because I bring 110% to this blog EVERY POST!!! Actually, it is because certain posts were counted in multiple categories. Anyway, Happy Birthday In Terra Veritas!

16 February 2009

Book Meme redux

I've got writer's block on the thesis. So I am going to respond to a meme. Chris over at Highly Allochthonous got tagged in a book meme (by Grrl Scientist), and graciously tagged the entirety of the internet (on that token I also tag anyone interested in this meme). PZ was compiling a list of science books every book store should have on its shelves, and I copied over the geology list at some point in the thread's development. An interesting list to be sure. This meme has some different rules though:
Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from.
I'm not sure what is meant by excluding text books. I have had courses which use popular literature as the text book (such as Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Prothero). So I am making the assumption that if I don't consider it a text book, it isn't. Without further ado, here is my half-dozen list or so (with appropriate links):
  1. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: What more needs to be said. This is just a book that everyone should read, especially considering the "controversy" that is going on today. Plus from a geology perspective, there are two chapters dedicated to the subject of geology (Chapters IX and X). And two chapters dedicated to geography, well biogeography, (Chapters XI and XII).

  2. Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell: The book that laid out the priniciple of uniformitarianism. Which is a fundamental principle to ALL science. Without an appreciation for uniformitarianism, it isn't possible to practice science. Please don't confuse uniformitarianism with gradualism, this is a recent trend in the sciences. It is a straw-man used to discredit the concept. Lyell was not advocating a uniformity of rate.
    As the present condition of nations is the result of many antecedent changes, some extremely remote and others recent, some gradual, others sudden and violent, so the state of the natural world is the result of a long succession of events, and if we would enlarge our experience of the present economy of nature, we must investigate the effects of her operations in former epochs.
    -Charles Lyell
    Note: the abridged version is acceptable, seeing as how it is considerably cheaper.

  3. Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan: The baloney detection kit is brilliant, I attribute that chapter alone to my high GRE essay score. More than anything this is a great book for showing the framework of critical thinking, and how to avoid nonsense.

  4. To Interpret the Earth Ten Ways to be Wrong by Stanley Schumm: I haven't finished this one myself (I just got my copy recently), but so far I have had a majority of my earth science professors tell my class to read it.

  5. Evolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie Scott: Not specifically a textbook, though it could easily be one. The first chapter discussing the "scientific hierarchy" of ideas is brilliant and could very easily correct the incorrect world view that "theories" are unimportant. And that all ideas can eventually become "laws".

  6. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: A fun non-specific, non-technical, general overview of the history of science. And, unlike a LOT of general history of science books, it doesn't kiss off geology as irrelevant. Nothing like opening up something titled the "100 greatest scientific advances in history" and seeing not one reference to geology.

  7. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards: Not particularly sciencey, but relevant in how people observe the world around them. And unless you have a camera with you, whether attached to a microscope, telescope, or just while out hiking, you will probably need to accurately sketch what it is you are observing so that someone else can see what you are seeing. Even if you have a camera, you won't be able to immediately include it in your notes... unless it is a polaroid.

  8. Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen: I have often thought about how fun it would be to introduce students to the scientific method by using fair play mysteries as an example. As far as Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen go, they are just my favorites (Queen recently more than Holmes, but that is because I finished the canon with the weak Holmes adventures and they left a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, when the mystery is resolved by Holmes figuring out the culprit is becoming a monkey it is time to choose a new detective mystery). The particular adventures I can't recommend highly enough are:
    • Ellery Queen (haven't read all of the adventures yet, so this is an incomplete list. To be honest I have only read the first collection of short stories, some of the novels are next on my list):
      • The African Traveller: shows the problems of making assumptions and having a favored hypothesis.

      • The Bearded Lady: An example of a "dying message", but following the inferences lead to extraordinary conclusions

      • The One Penny Black: Another great example of following the evidence to extraordinary conclusions, very much akin to Holmes' at his greatest.

      • The Three Lame Men: An example of Parsimony (Occam's Razor).

    • Sherlock Holmes:
      • Sign of the Four: The BEST of the novels.

      • Red-Headed League: A better example of red-herring is hard to find.

      • Boscombe Valley Mystery: Attention to detail, and the concept of multiple working hypotheses are addressed.

      • Man with the Twisted Lip: Follow the evidence, no matter where it leads.

      • Blue Carbuncle: Once again, multiple working hypotheses and determination

      • Silver Blaze: Events that should occur in a given situation, but don't, also need to be explained (i.e. the dog that didn't bark).

      • The Naval Treaty: Avoid having a favored hypothesis

      • The Adventure of the Norwood Builder: The importance of being attentive to details, no matter how minor.

      • The Problem of Thor Bridge: Don't make assumptions before you have accounted for all the evidence available. Though Holmes was very sloppy in this one.
  9. I'm going to wrap this up by giving myself an escape clause. Any other book I find that may be relevant. I can easily see myself walking home and giving myself a facepalm at some book I forgot. Classic Feynman is brilliant. Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions are great. Medawar's "Advice to a Young Scientist" is interesting so far (another in the myriad of books I am reading). Throw in Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolution" and now you're talking. Flim Flam, by James Randi sounds interesting. Several of Michael Shermer's books would fit the bill (The borderlands of science and Why people believe weird things for example). Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies sound like an adventurous read as well. Let's not overlook Death by Black Hole, Annals of the Former World, The Seashells on the Mountaintop, The Man Who Found Time (note this is weirdly priced I think), Beyond the hundredth meridian, Galileo's Daughter and Longitude by Dava Sobel are also good. This list could go on forever, so I am just going to stop now.
Facepalm: Arggh, I knew it would happen... How To Lie With Statistics by Huff and Geis should be in there somewhere. Okay... NOW... I am going to stop.
Edit: Suvrat over at Reporting on a Revolution has put up his list.

15 February 2009


This Scientific American headline caught my eye in Google Reader:

At AAAS, Al Gore urges scientists to get involved in climate change debate

I thought to myself, surely there is more to this story. This is just some sort of ploy to get higher readership. No, apparently Al Gore, who uses SCIENTIST'S data to demonstrate climate change is happening, thinks scientist's are just sitting this one out. The article goes off on crazy tangents toward the end, but the relevant bit to the title is quoted below:
CHICAGO--Fresh from adding a Grammy to his mantle Sunday, former vice president Al Gore told scientists gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to push administration officials and the general public for solutions to climate change.

Scientists can no longer in good conscience accept this division between the work you do and the civilization in which you live," Gore said.

"Keep your day jobs, but get involved in the debate," he added.

Now, I appreciate Mr. Gore making himself the political spokesman for the climate change movement, but telling the scientists to get off their asses and start carrying their own weight in this debate seems a bit bizarre. Especially since scientists were the ones to raise the alarm about the climate change movement. It wasn't tree-hugging, hemp-wearing, environmentalists, it was Charles Keeling (a SCIENTIST who apparently was one of Gore's teachers) who first raised awareness of climate change (see the Keeling Curve).

However, he may have a point. Scientists don't take enough awareness of what goes on in their communities. Under our watch creationism has run rampant to the point that nobody has ever heard of evolution. If only scientists would have helped the legal system to realize creationism isn't science. Under our watch flood geology is being taught in public schools at the expense of plate tectonics. Really scientists, we have got to start talking to the public about the things we figure out. You know, if scientists started talking to the general public we could eliminate smallpox!!! At the very least, I wouldn't walk out of a doctor's office covered in leaches and concerned about the demon that apparently took up residence in my trachea. C'mon scientists we should do our part: we've only found the data, tested the hypothesis, documented the change, educated the general public, published study after study that demonstrates climate change from a variety of different lines of evidence. Clearly, we have been complacent.

12 February 2009

Happy Darwin Day!!!

It's Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday today (where I'm at this time). Happy Birthday! To celebrate further, I found a youtube of "malignant narcissism" by Rush. Enjoy!

boo. YouTube took the video down. Oh well, here it is from Dailymotion:

11 February 2009

To commemorate Darwin

I know what you are thinking. It isn't Darwin's birthday yet. However, as Doc Brown once said, "You aren't thinking 4 dimensionally". It is now midnight in Downe, England. The town where Darwin did his seminal work on natural selection. So from a certain point of view it is Darwin's B-day. That point of view just happens to be the UK right now. So, Happy Birthday Darwin!

To celebrate, here is a link to Darwin's work on Geology during his voyage on the Beagle. Plenty of nifty maps and drawings, and excerpts of text. Here is an example of some of his geology. This is a stratigraphic section of the banks of Santa Cruz, in Patagonia.Happy birthday Darwin. The celebrations, I'm sure, will continue.
Edit: Looks like I was beaten to the punch. Chris M. over at Pools and Riffles posted a similar idea weeks ago.

10 February 2009

Last thing on the stimulus... I promise

I was flipping through news broadcasts last night when I stumbled on Rachel Maddow talking with Ben Nelson (D[kinda]-Nebraska). I found his "pretzel logic" fantastically entertaining. At least until I realized he isn't just some kook, but an actual senator with actual power. If you ever wondered what reasons senators use to cut funding to public works projects, it is apparently because they don't want the government interfering with special-ed programs. We'll catch up after the clip.
Welcome back. Now I realize that I laid out a straw-man above, but to seriously argue that building a school will lead to the government dictating how to run a special-ed program is a slippery slope (I just countered a logical fallacy with a weak argument in order to mock Nelson's position). After all:
"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."
-Thomas Jefferson
I also enjoyed the lead-in to the interview. Especially since I had been pointing out to anyone who stood still long enough all week that it was large amounts of spending that was getting us out of the Great Depression. True WWII had a positive effect, but FDR's New Deal was working. And the RNC chairman splitting hairs about "work" and a "job" was priceless. Speaking of that, Colbert had a good clip about that. I might as well link to that as an exit to this post. Enjoy!

08 February 2009

Update: NSF

The compromises have been made. It was looking bleak last I checked, Friday afternoon. Arguments from conservative democrats and republicans that funding science, and the arts for that matter, is a waste of money seemed to be taking hold.

However, in the mean time the funding situation has been firmed up. Science didn't take too much of a hit, but the NEA lost its proposed funding increase. The stimulus package is scheduled for a vote on Monday. The final figures for science look a little something like this.
Science $300,000,000
Aeronautics $250,000,000
Shuttle Replacement $500,000,000
Cross-Agency Support (Construction) $250,000,000
Office of the Inspector General $2,000,000
Total = $1,302,000,000
National Science Foundation
Research and related activities $1,000,000,000
Major equipment and facilities construction $150,000,000
Education and human resources $50,000,000
Office of the Inspector General $2,000,000
Total = $1,202,000,000
So that is what it looks like. Bad Astronomy has more information than I have, including a link to the spreadsheet with it all broken down by Subcommittee, Department, or Agency. If you contacted your senator to encourage funding science, it is probably a good idea to contact them again and thank them. Though I think I will wait to see how my senators vote on this before I thank them.

05 February 2009

Help the NSF

I received this email from an office-mate. And since I have a small corner of the interwebs to myself, I figured I would post it up here [modified slightly to appeal to anyone not within my department]. Keep in mind this is not the entire NSF budget on the chopping block, just an increase in their funding (as far as I can tell). To me, it doesn't really matter. I think the NSF has been woefully underfunded for a while, and investing in new science and technology is generally a good thing (creates jobs and promotes innovation and education). Anyway, enough of my blather:
Dear Faculty/Students,

As some of you may know, Senators Collins (Maine) and Nelson (Nebraska) are leading a proposal to cut back the Senate stimulus bill. Their proposal includes eliminating the entire 1.4 billion dollar allotment to NSF. You all know how important NSF is to science and this department. Please take a moment, if you are willing, and call the offices of your Senators to urge them to protect the NSF portion of the stimulus bill. Phone numbers are below. You may get a live person, or you may get voice mail - both are worth it. The more constituents who call, the better the odds one or both of our senators will fight against this proposal. Emails are also a worthwhile endeavor.

The key, though, is to do this as soon as possible - this is being hammered out right now, so time is of the essence. Please forward this to anyone who may be affected by this.
you can find your senators contact information here. Here is a New York Times article on it. And there are scores of blog posts about it.

02 February 2009

Areological sinkhole

Bad Astronomy is reporting Mars is depressed. NASA has found what appears to be a sinkhole on Mars. It looks pretty sweet, especially if you have access to 3-D glasses.
It probably is not a crater because it is lacking certain features (no raised rim, for example). HiRISE is interpreting this to be a result of magma-water interactions. I'm not an expert (so take what I say with the appropriate skeptical position), but I will reserve judgment on what caused this feature until there is more data than a picture.

I can't find any information on the exact scale of the object, but those are DUNES in the center of the depression! I also am a fan of the pull-apart features lining the rim of the depression. It reminds me of a project in my undergrad where we mapped a landslide along the local reservoir. Well, enjoy tracking down a pair of red-green glasses, and staring at your monitor like a little kid. Science is rad.


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