Get To Know Daniel Dennett’s Ideas, Take A Deep Breath Of Fresh Air


Daniel Dennett’s naturalistic account of consciousness draws some people in and puts others off. “There ain’t no magic here,” he says. “Just stage magic.” PHOTOGRAPH BY IRINA ROZOVSKY FOR THE NEW YORKER

Joining colleagues for a conversation about how to make sense of the post-2016 world provided me strong motivation in recent weeks to return to philosophy, something I had not done since graduate school 2+ decades back. With all the hyperventilation, there is a clear need for calm reflection. I recently listened to this man on one of the best podcasts out there; and by virtue of his voice, his ideas, his science of the soul (thanks to Joshua Rothman and the New Yorker for illumination on this science), he offers the perfect antidote to the current crescendoing chaos:

Four billion years ago, Earth was a lifeless place. Nothing struggled, thought, or wanted. Slowly, that changed. Seawater leached chemicals from rocks; near thermal vents, those chemicals jostled and combined. Some hit upon the trick of making copies of themselves that, in turn, made more copies. The replicating chains were caught in oily bubbles, which protected them and made replication easier; eventually, they began to venture out into the open sea. A new level of order had been achieved on Earth. Life had begun. Continue reading

For Consideration, On Climate Change


This post on the New Yorker website from some months ago caught our attention but we resisted linking it here for some reason now forgotten. But it should be read by anyone interested in conservation and climate change. The title is provocative, no doubt attractive to deniers but instead meant to raise attention on an issue we are sure most people of all walks of life, and all around the world have reason to be concerned about:


By Michelle Nijhuis

In January of this year, James Watson, an Australian scientist who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, noticed an image that had been tweeted by a friend of his, a physician in Sydney. With a chain of progressively larger circles, it illustrated the relative frequency of causes of death among Australians, from the vanishingly rare (war, pregnancy and birth, murder) to the extremely common (respiratory disorders, cancer, heart disease). It was a simple but striking depiction of comparative risk. “I thought, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done something like this for the rest of nature?’ ” Watson recalled.

The answer was that, until recently, nobody had the data. While many scientists have studied the vulnerability of individual species or groups of organisms (corals, say, or birds) to extinction, only in 2010 did ecologists, conservationists, taxonomists, and naturalists begin to more comprehensively assess the threats posed to species of all kinds—an effort to assemble what the biologist E. O. Wilson has called a “barometer of life.” Continue reading

Healthy Prairies & Space Cowboys

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

Space Cowboys: A New Generation of Prairie Keepers

Continue reading

Love Your Seagrass


Seagrass meadow © Rich Carey /

Thanks to Cool Green Science:

New Science Shows Seagrass Meadows Suppress Pathogens

NatureNet Fellows Science Update

It was a rough bout of illness while she and her colleagues were studying corals in Indonesia that first focused Nature Conservancy NatureNet Science Fellow Joleah Lamb’s attention on the disease-mitigating possibilities of seagrass meadows. Continue reading

Lost & Found, Continental Edition


Mauritius sits on part of an ancient continent. Keystone USA-ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock

Long-lost continent found submerged deep under Indian Ocean

An ancient continent that was once sandwiched between India and Madagascar now lies scattered on the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The first clues to the continent’s existence came when some parts of the Indian Ocean were found to have stronger gravitational fields than others, indicating thicker crusts. One theory was that chunks of land had sunk and become attached to the ocean crust below.  Continue reading

Two Minutes On Advancing Coffee’s Future


Thanks to Wired for this (click the image above to go to the video) informative brief on the next wave of scientifically improved coffee:

Get Ready for a Coffee Renaissance. Thanks, Genetics!

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the coffee plant and made the data public. That means we’re about to see a coffee renaissance.

Model Mad, Canada


Canadian scientists were not allowed to talk to the media on certain topics during the premiership of Stephen Harper. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to the Guardian for reporting on the decision by some Canadian scientists to model mad in that distinctly polite, mild-mannered and highly effective way they have of doing things up north:

Canadian scientists offer support to muzzled US counterparts

For nine years under Canada’s previous government, science suffered harsh restrictions. Now US scientists may be facing a similar fate

by Ashifa Kassam in Toronto

Canadian scientists – who were muzzled for nearly a decade by the country’s previous Conservative government – have been making contact with their counterparts in the US to offer their support and solidarity amid mounting fears that Donald Trump’s presidency will seek to suppress climate science.

For nine years, scientists with Canada’s federal government grappled with what many described as an all out assault on science. Continue reading

Nanowire & Swamp Surprises


An artist’s rendition of Geobacter expressing electrically conductive nanowires. Credit: UMass Amherst

Thanks to Anthropocene for a great title to this summary of important recent research finding:

From the swamps of the Potomac, new hope for green electronics

Protein filaments just 3 nanometers wide that are produced by certain species of bacteria could be a key to environmentally friendly electronics manufacturing, according to microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Scientists discovered the filaments, dubbed “nanowires,” about 5 years ago. Bacteria use them to make electrical connections with other bacterial cells or to generate reactions with metals in the environment. Continue reading

Protecting Species With DNA


Biologist Shaun Clements counts down the seconds before emptying a vial of synthetic DNA into a stream near Alsea, Oregon. Jes Burns/Oregon Public Broadcasting/EarthFix

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA):

Can New DNA Science Help Keep Our Fish Safe?

by Jes Burns

Biologist Shaun Clements stands in the winter mist in a coastal Oregon forest, holding a small vial of clear liquid. Continue reading

Prioritizing The Key Variable In Tomato Breeding

28tomato-blog427We always wondered why, with the selective breeding of tomatoes, experts favored appearance over flavor. We have an answer in “A Genetic Fix to Put the Taste Back in Tomatoes” by Kenneth Chang:

Over the decades, taste has drained out of supermarket tomatoes.

Harry J. Klee, a professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida, thinks he can put it back in within a couple of years. Continue reading

Scientist, Illustrator, Forgotten Metamorphosist



Any story with Metamorphosis in it is bound to get our attention, but a long-forgotten scientist getting her due is the intrigue that makes this story by JoAnna Klein–A Pioneering Woman of Science Re‑Emerges After 300 Years–coinciding with the republication of this book below, worthy of the read:metamorph

Maria Sibylla Merian, like many European women of the 17th century, stayed busy managing a household and rearing children. But on top of that, Merian, a German-born woman who lived in the Netherlands, also managed a successful career as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.:

“She was a scientist on the level with a lot of people we spend a lot of time talking about,” said Kay Etheridge, a biologist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania who has been studying the scientific history of Merian’s work. “She didn’t do as much to change biology as Darwin, but she was significant.” Continue reading

Spanish Speleological Speculation


Raul Perez Lopez peers into the darkness of CJ-3, a cave that’s mysteriously losing its oxygen. (Credit: Antonio Marcos Nuez)

Discover Magazine’s blog has a post by Anna Bitong, who offers a few clues to help us understand what is happening in the deep recesses of a cave in Spain:

…A sign at the entrance warns visitors not to enter. Continue reading

Where Were You, Natalie Angier?


By using gene knockout techniques, the researchers made some raider ants display asocial behavior. Credit Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times

We had a long run of links since 2011 to her wondrous science reporting, and then we had not seen her since this past September; suddenly she has come back on our radar, unexpectedly but predictably awesome:

Whether personally or professionally, Daniel Kronauer of Rockefeller University is the sort of biologist who leaves no stone unturned. Passionate about ants and other insects since kindergarten, Dr. Kronauer says he still loves flipping over rocks “just to see what’s crawling around underneath.”. Continue reading

Patagonia, Geological Time & Food History


Two fossils of a newly discovered species of tomatillo that are 52 million years old. CreditPeter Wilf

They had us at Tomatillo. But mention fossils, geological timeframe, discovery and Patagonia all in the same headline and there we go:

Tomatillo Fossils, 52 Million Years Old, Are Discovered in Patagonia

By Nicholas St. Fleur

The nightshades have an ominous reputation, but this large plant family is more than just its most poisonous members, like belladonna. It contains more than 2,400 different species, including some of the most widely consumed fruits and vegetables in the world, such as potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Continue reading

Walden Pond’s Enduring Lessons


Kevin Hooyman

When a professor does years of research and teaching on a topic related to this particular pond, and then takes the additional effort to share his observations in cogent form as an op-ed, we believe it is worth at least 5-10 minutes of reading time:

What the Muck of Walden Pond Tells Us About Our Planet


In 1845, Henry David Thoreau repaired to a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond “to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach.” During the last two years, my students and I have come to that same pond to see what we could learn from the sediments beneath it. Continue reading

Urban Environments & Evolution



Header image: Street art in London by Aida. Credit: Maureen Barlin via Flickr.

Anthropocene is back, after a brief holiday break, with a good summary of findings on urban-influenced evolution:

Cities are the new laboratories of evolution

Keeping The Science Moving Forward, Rather Than Sideways or Backwards


James Cresswell, a professor at the University of Exeter in England, has turned to less controversial areas of research on bees. Here, a bee is mounted on a wire in a wind tunnel, for research designed to estimate normal bee density. CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times

It is a bit of a mystery story, worthy of the time if you care about bees (a minor character here) and especially if you care about the moral character of scientists while under pressure:

Scientists Loved and Loathed by an Agrochemical Giant

With corporate funding of research, “There’s no scientist who comes out of this unscathed.”


EXETER, England — The bee findings were not what Syngenta expected to hear. Continue reading

The State Of Great


Gov. Jerry Brown at his 2,514-acre family ranch in Colusa County, Calif. “I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction,” he said. “Yes, we will take action.” Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This article, by Adam Nagourney and Henry Fountaindec, gives climate-concerned citizens everywhere hope that recent tectonic shifts on the political landscape in the USA will not result in complete abandonment of reason within all the states of that union:

LOS ANGELES — Foreign governments concerned about climate change may soon be spending more time dealing with Sacramento than Washington.” Continue reading

For the Birds: a Message to North American Policymakers


The State of North America’s Birds 2016

The State of North America’s Birds 2016

We continue to laud the importance of eBird on this site, gaining special importance as it becomes more and more clear that wildlife doesn’t acknowledge political borders. The data gleaned from tens of thousands of Canadian, Mexican and U.S. citizen scientists who contribute to eBird indicate that more than 350 species in North America migrate up and down Canada, the U.S.A, and Mexico over the course of a calendar year.

And according to the recently released State of North America’s Birds 2016 report, those three countries—their governments, and their societies—need to step up and do more to preserve our continent’s spectacular and shared natural heritage of birdlife. This report is the first-ever scientific conservation assessment of all 1,154 bird species in North America, and it was only possible because of the tremendous scale and big-data capabilities of citizen-science….

Among the many takeaways from eBird maps and models includes one of relevance to our property, Chan Chich Lodge, located on 30,000 acres of Belizean forest in the Yucatan peninsula.

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of North America’s most vital bird habitat regions

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of North America’s most vital bird habitat regions

Not only is the Yucatan rich with endemic birdlife, it’s a critical wintering area for more than 120 birds species that migrate from Canada and the U.S.A. In winter, the entire population of Magnolia Warblers relies on an area of tropical forest in Mexico only 1/10 the size of its boreal forest breeding range, with the Yucatan as the bull’s-eye of their wintering range.

Continue reading