What Science Lost

Since Sputnik in 1957, there have been a total of 5,341 manned and unmanned launches, and 453 of them failed.

via What Science Lost in the Antares Rocket Explosion | WIRED.

Lots of experiments:

Most of the lost experiments belonged to students from around the country. One, from Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston, was going to study how pea shoots grow in space. The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program also sent a group of 18 student projects. The experiments would have tested the effects of microgravity on seeds, Chia plants, houseflies, shrimp, and mosquito eggs. One project was going to study how crystals grow in space and another wanted to find out what kind of milk is most susceptible to spoiling in microgravity.

Fortunately no people injured or killed, but there are surely some disheartened scientists who now have to start over.

Mapping the News

The Speedy Cartographers Who Map the News for The New York Times | WIRED.

The Times has the luxury of having both a map department and a graphics department that includes several cartographers. The map department specializes in making reference maps in no time, Wallace says, like when there’s an explosion in Baghdad and the story is going live in 10 minutes. Every once in a while, something happens in a remote part of the world, where even Open Street Map has no data. In those cases, the map department will work from satellite imagery and draw a map from hand, Wallace says. “That’s something they’re very good at, and fast.”

We don’t just teach – geographers have cool jobs, too.


Ebolanoia: The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Ebola Fear Itself | WIRED.

Since Friday, there has been at least one instance a day of fear-based nuttiness:

  • A North Carolina school district forced an assistant principal to stay home for 21 days because she visited South Africa
  • Several universities cancelled talks by people from Africa or those who had visited lately
  • A Congressional candidate called for a citywide “no touching” edict in Dallas
  • People who happened to take the same cruise as an uninfected lab worker for the Texas hospital were denied jobs and told to stay home from school
  • Mississippi parents pulled their children from school because the principal had attended a family funeral in a part of Africa where there is no Ebola
  • An airline locked a vomiting passenger in a bathroom, and a subway station was closed on a claim of a “hemorrhaging Liberian woman” who turned out to be Haitian, and vomiting.
  • A GOP Congressman predicted that terrorists would use Ebola as a weapon, by allowing themselves to be infected in Africa and then smuggling themselves across the Mexican border.

Read the whole article – and calm down.  You’re not going to get Ebola.

BBC – Earth – Your life on earth

BBC – Earth – Your life on earth.

Enter your age, and this interactive site tells you how much the world has changed since you were born.  In my case, over 4 billion people!

It’s Columbus Day. Let’s talk about geography and Ebola. – The Washington Post

Today we commemorate Columbus Day, an American holiday observed in some states, perhaps for Christopher Columbus’s perseverance and bravery rather than his geographical knowledge. In light of recent scares involving “potential Ebola cases” and air travel involving individuals who had been nowhere near the Ebola outbreak zone, it seems we all could use a little geography lesson.

via It’s Columbus Day. Let’s talk about geography and Ebola. – The Washington Post.

Face it, many places in Europe are closer to the Ebola outbreak than many places in Africa.

Greenland is actually about 1/14 the size of the African continent, but the misunderstandings perpetrated by old maps — plus cultural and media norms that often refer to Africa as one entity rather than an 11.7 million-square-mile land mass comprised of 54 countries and over 1.1 billion people who speak over 2,000 different languages

perpetuate many misconceptions.

Hopefully geography classes will do their part in educating students about the continent.

Africa is big. Really big. As this resource from Boston University’s African Studies program shows, the combined land masses of the United States (including Alaska), Europe, and China are all smaller than the African continent.  The United States — including Alaska — would fit into Africa three times.

So although 3 tiny countries in West Africa are going through untold horrors, most of the massive continent is unaffected by Ebola.  Except economically.

Safari bookings are way down, because ignorant people have no idea how far Kenya is from the outbreak zone.

These actions are based in fear, not reality. We are faced with risk every day, and would be better suited to understand our relative risks if we appreciated where in the world some places are.

What are you most at risk for?  I bet it’s not Ebola.

Ebola in graphics

Ebola in graphics: The toll of a tragedy | The Economist.

Ebola still barely rates among the continent’s big killers. Far more deaths are attributable every day in west Africa to malaria, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS. But the spread of infections means that death rates are rising fast: from four a day in August to 13 now.

Should you be worried – no.  Statistically you’re much more likely to be in a car accident, and you don’t even think about that.  But Ebola is disrupting all kinds of things within the countries of West Africa, especially farming and trade.  This could lead to seriously destabilized governments.

The major problem is the lack of healthcare, the poor infrastructure, and the fact that these are really poor countries.

Besides the awful toll in human lives, orphaned children, and starving people, it is also taking a (much less terrible) toll on the Western world.  We are implementing screening at major airports, a waste of money since infected but asymptomatic people will be passed through.  We must spend hundreds of thousands of healthcare dollars on potentially infected people who end up not having Ebola, and we increase the fear factor through ignorant media  pieces by people who have no idea of the consequences of what they are talking about.  Some people have called for a complete travel ban, which would make things worse, according to health officials.

Hopefully we’ll soon have a vaccine or a treatment that can stop Ebola in its tracks.  Until then, wear your seatbelt.

Waste Not, Want Not

Why our environmental obsession with plastic bags makes no sense - Vox

Why our environmental obsession with plastic bags makes no sense – Vox.

Plastic bags are certainly harmful to the environment; but we are doing other things that are much worse.

Plastic bags are

 a pretty small percentage of the total amount of plastic we throw away: 31.8 million tons annually. And this total is still smaller than the amount of food waste we throw away — 36.4 million tons per year.

And the most effective thing we can do is not only eliminating waste, its changing what we buy.  Climate change is a much bigger threat to our way of life.

Why our environmental obsession with plastic bags makes no sense - Vox

Banning plastic bags is a start, and it would help decrease some garbage in the great oceanic garbage patches, but

 it would be extremely hard to find a marine biologist willing to argue that garbage patches are more of a threat to ocean ecosystems than acidification.

If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to reinvent our energy systems and make other big, structural changes. An environmentalism that focuses on personal choices and visible, superficial steps is not one that leads to it.

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