| || |
| || |
|Scot Bastian Ph.D.||
A few weeks ago I gave a talk to The Seattle Skeptics about Elephants. I also blogged about theses magnificent beasts here and here. A recording of the talk is available through the previous links. The talk was really directed at a general discussion about some of the skeptical issues surrounding elephant biology, such as, are elephants capable of artistic creation? Do elephants show altruistic behavior? Are they really afraid of mice? What I didn't really discuss is how endangered these magnificent animals are. Sadly, according to this article from the Smithsonian, "The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 470,000 to 690,000 African elephants remain in the wild...
[but]...elephant poaching began picking up in 2008 and peaked in 2011, with around 40,000 animals killed that year alone." The war on poaching continues. The problem of poaching of rhinos is even more dire.
Most of the poaching is a response to the black market demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn, primarily in Eastern countries. This demand is completely nonsensical, since there are ample plastic substitutes for elephant ivory. Heck, there is even a plant substitute in the form of "vegetable ivory," which is derived from the endosperm of palm seeds. Poaching of rhinoceros makes even less sense. Rhino horn, which is used as a folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments (primarily cancer), but also, of all things, hangovers, is composed mainly of keratin--the same stuff in nails and hair. It would be a tragedy to lose African elephants and rhinos for such ridiculous reasons.
But, my intent in this blog entry is not to provide an exhaustive treatise about elephant or rhinoceros biology. I want to provide publicity for the Global March For Elephants and Rhinos which will take place this Saturday October 4th. The above link has more info about events that might be near you. There will be protests in many locations. The local Seattle event, which I intend to attend, will take place in the International Children's Park beginning at Noon. I urge you to attend. The Facebook Event page, lists the following speakers and events:
Tom Skerritt, Actor and Conservationist
Lisa Kane JD, Lawyer, Co-Author and Co- Editor of An Elephant in the Room
Wendie Wendt, Lawyer, Executive Director of Big Life Foundation. Former Board Member of PAWS, Former Vice President and Director of Fundraising for U.S Friends of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Comedian Cathy Sorbo will be Emceeing the event!
We are excited to announce that we will have African Drummers!
So, I hope to see you Saturday. Let's do what we can to prevent the hunting to extinction of these magnificent animals.
Today I watched the very last episode of the very last season, of "Enterprise," the last Star Trek series on television. I have now seen ALL of the episodes of every series: Star Trek (the original series), The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. (No, I haven't watched the cartoons). It's been a great ride. All of them I acquired over the last several years from the Seattle Public Library, the greatest library in my world--so I could watch them without commercial interruption. I will say this, Star Trek is not (IMO) the "best" television fiction in history (Many others, including Breaking Bad, Slings and Arrows, Twilight Zone, Downton Abbey and West Wing, vie, in my mind, for that distinction.) But, I can say, without reservation, that Star Trek has been, by far, the most personally inspiring. I dream of a day when we can all live in harmony, independent of class and race distinction, and monetary slavery, exploring the universe, boldly going where no one has gone before. Someone once defined the difference between science fiction and fantasy. They said sci-fi (which they preferred to call speculative fiction) describes what possibly could happen, whereas fantasy, although imaginative and fun, can't possibly happen. I think this is a pretty blurry distinction, but it is evident that Star Trek has featured some concepts that have become true, even commonplace (think cell phones, computer tablets, and flat screen televisions). Star Trek also explores the human psyche, frequently exploring ethical dilemmas that are resonant today and promise to continue to be challenges in the future. I really don't know, and I have considerable doubts, that we will ever overcome the barriers of physics, making interstellar travel, or transporters possible--but I hope so. I also don't know, but I have have hopes, that one day humanity will overcome petty differences that divide us, making a Star Trek-like future possible. Quoting Langston Hughes,
“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
Below, left, is a nice video that summarizes some of the prescient story Star Trek story elements that we see in the real world today. On the right is a collection of the inspiring openings and credits for each series. No, you're not going to watch all of the second video, but I just wanted it here.
Let me add one more item. A couple days ago I saw a fantastic Nova documentary on the search for extra-terrestrial life. Chock-full of original NASA footage. Almost two hours long, and worth every moment of your time. When I write "fantastic," this is only an adjective, every bit of this is the real thing. Check it out here.
Thank you Gene Roddenberry, for sharing your vision with the world.
This is likely my last blog entry before I take my annual journey into Black Rock Desert for the amazing festival known as Burning Man. I wrote an article that I submitted to the Black Rock Beacon, one of the more popular publications on the Playa. Below is the article submitted, but I have no way of knowing whether it will be accepted or modified.
A TRIBUTE TO MARTHA: THE LAST PASSENGER PIGEON
By Scot Bastian
Lost in the turbulence of history, overshadowed by the beginning of the “Great War” known as World War I, was a momentous event in the chronicles of ecology: the extinction of the last known passenger pigeon, The last known individual of her kind, named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago on September 1st 1914, exactly 100 years ago on the last day of this year’s Burning Man.
Passenger Pigeons were a force majeure in the Eastern landscape. Once numbering in the billions, they were quite possibly the most numerous bird species in the world. When Europeans arrived in North America, population estimates ranged from 3 to 5 billion, approximately 25 to 40% of the total North American birds. They traveled in huge flocks, one of which was described as a mile wide and three hundred miles long, and taking 13 hours to pass overhead. The flocks were so dense in number that they were said to eclipse the sun. Passenger pigeons were named for the French word passenger, which translates as “passing by.” They were half again as large as their cousin the mourning dove, and resembled its Western relative, the band-tailed pigeon. The range of the passenger pigeon extended north into Canada and west to Eastern Texas and Eastern Montana. When these immense flocks roosted hundreds of millions of birds would leave a swath of destruction, scouring the landscape for food, and crushing trees with their collective weight. The largest recorded nesting colony was 850 square miles. In spite of their enormous numbers they are gone. Gone forever. Why did they disappear? The basic problem was that they were delicious. The young birds, called squabs, were particularly prized. Their undoing was the density of their flocks and their propensity for colony breeding. The density of the nesting communities made them easy prey—a discharge from a double-barreled shotgun blast could kill dozens of birds. They were collected by the thousands using nets.
The last confirmed wild passenger pigeon was observed in Indiana in 1902. Martha, was named after the First Lady, Martha Washington. After the death of her cage companions (including George) a reward was offered for finding a potential mate—but none was ever found. Martha, the last of her kind, an endling, died of natural causes at the probable age of 29 years. Her remains are on display at the Smithsonian Museum.
Other than the fortuitous date marking the centenary since the extinction of passenger pigeons, what does this have to do with Burning Man? I think that Burners have a special appreciation for the transience of all things. Our “roost” on the Playa can be compared to the crowded passenger pigeons that are now gone. Many do not realize that, for most species, extinction is the norm. Nearly 99% of all the species that ever lived are believed to be extinct. Humans are the most prolific primates on the planet, but as evidenced by the passing of the passenger pigeon and the dinosaurs, being multitudinous provides no guarantee for survival. Burners, like passenger pigeons, live a bold, noisy existence, thriving in groups, and like Martha and her kin, Burning Man will vanish without a trace. Let’s hope the same fate doesn’t await the human race.
More information is available about Passenger pigeons and Martha from Wikipedia, and from Project Passenger Pigeon. There is an excellent new monograph about the species A Feathered River Across the Sky, by Joel Greenberg.
A couple of vids for your enjoyment.
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot" Joni Mitchell.
A few weeks ago I blogged about a new word, along with some other interesting words, that I coined, newsvertising. Well, interestingly, John Oliver has had some commentary on the concept, which he calls "native advertising." I still like my term better, but I have to admit that his take on the concept is pretty dang funny.
Oh, and then there's James Dobson.
Dr. Dobson has something to say! "He's a MAN, who is making a difference!"
Soccer is not important. Football is not important. Neither basketball nor hockey are important. Yes, some are thinking, I am that clueless, or arrogant,or whatever. (Now there's some fine writin' for ya, I'm "whatever.") But, DYT Blog reader, before you categorize me as hopelessly out-of-touch, let me say this: tribalism, now THAT is important. Yes, I both get it, and I don't get it, and no, I'm not a normal guy. Professional sport is the true opiate of the masses. I have been to a few folks houses to see major sporting events, like the Superbowl, but the main reason I go is because I like people, not the sporting event. Personally, I root for the advertisers--they always win.
Buuuut, I do remember watching a sports event many years ago that I really enjoyed. It was an Olympic competition in women's volleyball. One team was the Soviet Union (Yeah, it was that long ago). They were astonishingly tall, amazonian, women. Any one of them could have been a model. They had legs that were up to my ear. The embodiment of statuesque. Greek goddesses, every one. On the other side was the South Korean team. It seemed the Korean women were the polar opposites of the Soviets. Snarly, short, squat, and fiercely determined. They could have bit me in thigh without bending over. I fell in love again (Forgive the hyperbole, but everything seems magnified by the kaleidoscope of time and memory.) This match would seem to have all the signs of an imminent slaughter. It wasn't. For every towering spike smashed by the Soviet team there was a headlong dive by one of the Koreans, who defiantly, and deftly, dug out the ball and saved it from the floor. It looked like David might actually have a chance against Goliath. The Koreans were everywhere! They had ten hands each! They dove! They sacrificed! They would NOT let the ball hit the floor! The Soviet Amazons redoubled their efforts, jumping higher, smashing harder and harder, trying desperately to break the resolve of the Korean team. The contest was brutal but the Soviet Union team won. Someone had to win. But, there were no losers here.
The whole contest reminds me of Darwin. What? Where did that come from? Charles Darwin in his youth took a long voyage of discovery on the HMS Beagle. His experiences on this trip, particularly when visiting the Galapagos Islands, formed the basis for his development of the theory of evolution by natural selection. What does this have to do with women's volleyball? Everything. Darwin took several samples of what came to be known as Darwin's Finches. The Galapagos Islands are composed of several islands and atolls. Darwin collected many specimens on this voyage, including 14 different species of finches, 12 of which proved to be new to science. When Darwin returned to England, with the help of the ornithologist John Gould, who was sort of the John Audubon of Europe, it was noted that there were obvious differences in beak shape from island to island corresponding with what food the different species ate. Below is a chart illustrating this.
Note that all of the different species are believed to evolve from one ancestral form. This is a fine example of evolutionary adaptive radiation. Researchers continue to study these fascinating birds. A book entitled The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, published 20 years ago documents continuing changes in Darwin's Finches, by an evolutionary process called punctuated equilibrium, which was championed by Stephen Jay Gould. Basically, punctuated equilibrium demonstrates that evolution can progress in rapid bursts over short periods of time, rather than the more gradual incremental process that Darwin envisioned.
What does this have to do with women's volleyball? Everything. Although, it would be incorrect to say that the South Korean and Soviet women are different species, it does demonstrate how variant forms can lead to success (although it's a bit of a stretch to compare volleyball success with reproductive success.). So, when did this contest of volleyball stars happen? Well, after a little searching, I discovered that it took place in 1976, and actually, The South Korean ended with a bronze medal and the Soviet team earned a silver medal, losing to the Japanese team who took the gold. That escaped my memory.
So, in summary, I have found a new way to enjoy sports, I'll just try to think about it as a metaphor for evolution. Well, that and the fact that the women were absolutely stunning. Hmm, maybe this could lead to reproductive success--and maybe I'm not such an abnormal guy after all.
TV Pilot for the Hallmark Channel: A drug lord swears off his criminal past to volunteer to teach inner-city disadvantaged kids how to read. The name of the the show? "Breaking Good." (Sorry, had to type it.)
TV pilot for the Cooking Channel: Mild-mannered high school teacher quits his job to "cook" highly-addictive GMO-laden, gluten-containing bread. Second season preview: Dave's Killer Bread muscles in on his territory, leading to an ever-increasing spiral of violence The problem is GMO foods and gluten are found to be harmless. Nobody dies. Canceled after first season due to the absence of drama. The name of the show? "Baking Bad." (You may unfriend me now.)
TV pilot for Animal Planet: A disgruntled dog leaves obedience school and teams up with an unlikely partner, a streetwise punk known as Hepcat to extract and sell 99% pure catnip crystal, noted for its slightly green tinge. The cat population becomes so addicted they entirely stop making videos, thus threatening to bring the Internet to a screeching halt. A pack of rival dogs moves in on the action. Hepcat, hopelessly addicted to crystal catnip, is no help in repelling the turf invasion, forcing Head Dog to take matters into his own paws. After several fruitless days of marking territory Head Dog contracts rabies followed by a maniacal slaughter of the invading pack. Alas, Head Dog, foaming at the mouth, expires due to a combination of inflicted wounds and disease. Hepcat disappears into the night, nowhere to be found. The name of the show: "Barking Bad." (Are you still there?)
TV pilot for Arts and Entertainment: Mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher quits to become a rogue poet and playwright, feeding the masses what they really crave: addictive quality entertainment. Alas and alack, much to his surprise, his sonnets and plays (all in diabolically tempting iamabic pentameter) prove to be irresistible to intellectuals everywhere, threatening to crater the entirety of academia. The rogue, shadowy, figure, known by the street pseudonym Heisenspeare, now in full control of the public mind, segues into the truly addictive and banal reprogramming: Pawn Stars. Duck Dynasty, Bigfoot Hunters, The Long Island Medium, The Dr Oz Show. Millions are transfixed, and drift into brainwashed catatonia. PBS attempts to mount a counteroffensive, but lacking in funds, all they can do to repel the attack is broadcast thinly-disguised infomercials, Yanni concerts, and "Lords of the Dance" reruns. Several Downton Abbey actors resign in protest and have to be "eliminated." Heisenspeare, now a media kingpin, feeling the walls closing in, screams "My kingdom for a horse!" and "To be, or not to be!" It ends with Heisenspeare, killing himself with a self-inflicted knife wound. His last words: "Remember my name." The name of the show? "Breaking Bard" (You really want to remove this blog from your bookmark list now, don't you?)
I have at least ten more of these. Hang on a second, there are a couple of guys ringing my doorbell. They're wearing white coats. I wonder what they want. I'll be back in a minute.
Recently I told a true story about a housemate of mine from Nigeria who was visiting Seattle for a couple months. The story was told a coffee shop open mic called Fresh Ground Stories. Here is a link to the 8 minute audio on Soundcloud. Here is an article with more about Fresh Ground Stories, and other story-telling opportunities in Seattle. FGS is hosted by the incomparable Paul Currington.
Hi-Ho skeptoids! The recording of a lecture that I gave I gave a couple weeks ago to a Seattle Skeptics Dinner is available. The major topic was elephants, and a blogged about this a few days ago, and included links to some of the sources and videos which were shown at the dinner.
But before the main presentation, I discussed a few other topics related to skepticism. Let me say first that, particularly in the beginning this talk, was really more of a conversation than a lecture. Here is a link to the recording, if you want to check it out.
So, while you're listening to the recording, I thought I'd clarify a couple of my statements and offer a couple of corrections.
Here is the link for "Friday night at the Meaningful Movies," in Seattle.
The film was called "How to Make Money Selling Drugs." Here is the trailer:
Here is a link for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Take 'im off the shelf, should have been "Talk 'im off the ledge."
Below is a link to part 1 a video of the "Best of Sam Harris," I admire the clarity and calm demeanor with which he delivers his arguments.
The Unpersuadables (The full title is The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science) by Will Storr can be purchased from from Amazon at this link.
Boy, I really garbled this one. What I was trying to say is that in an unbiased test that you will get false positives or false negatives, simply because of statistical probability. An example is that if you flip a coin five times in a row, there is a statistical possibility that you will get five heads in a row. Actually, the exact probability, in a fair coin, of getting "heads" is 1 in 2X2X2X2X2 trials--or only once in 32 groups of 5 coin tosses--a pretty unlikely event. The way to obviate this is to increase the sample size. For example, if you toss a fair coin 6 times in a row the probability shrinks to once in 64 tosses. So, applying this to the highly-selected homeopathic studies, the higher the sample size, the less significant the data were. My statement that "for a percentage of the time you would expect your data to not support your hypothesis" was erroneous, very sloppy, logic. What I was trying to say is that "for a percentage of the time, you would expect your data to not support the UNDERLYING REALITY--just like the coin tosses. Sorry about that. I'll try and be more accurate next time. BTW, here is a link to the definition of type I and type II statistical errors if you want to learn more.
Here is the text of the quote from Will Storr's book:
Stories work against truth. They operate with the machinery of prejudice and distortion. Their purpose is not fact but propaganda. The scientific method is the tool that humans have developed to break the dominion of the narrative. It has been designed specifically to dissolve anecdote, to strip out emotion and leave only unpolluted data. It is a new kind of language, a modern sorcery, and it has gifted our species incredible powers. We can eradicate plagues, extend our lives by decades, build rockets and fly through space. But we can hardly be surprised if some feel an instinctive hostility towards it, for it is fundamentally inhuman.
Here is the short "preview" of an epigenetics lecture that I might give in the future:
The discussion was a little hard to hear, but what it was about was a comparison between Lamarckism and epigenetic change. If you're interested, here is a link that explains the differences.
The discussion was about the limits of scientific "proof." Actually, science doesn't really "prove" anything, it just leads to increasing liklihood of identifying truth. Here is a good video from Qualia that explains this concept clearly.
Here is a link to Phil Plait's arguments against the idea that the Apollo Program was a hoax.
This is where the actual talk about elephants began. For links related to this I refer you to my previous blog post. And, as I made clear in the audio, I don't know a dang thing about elephants. I am in no way am I an expert. So, feel free to disagree with everything I say.
In fact, feel free to disagree with anything I say EVER! What do I know? Do ya think?