I won a Quarkie!

By Phil Plait | June 22, 2009 11:00 am

Charm Quark award winner

I am pleased and a bit surprised to learn that a blog post from Bad Astronomy was awarded third place in the 3 Quarks Daily science blog contest! A couple of my posts were submitted, but there were a lot of really good essays entered from other blogs (I spent a couple of hours reading that I should have spent on other things, but man, there was a lot of interesting stuff there) and I didn’t expect to win.

But Steven Pinker chose my Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble post as third place, with the first and second place spots going to Bands of Iron at Daylight Atheism (a beautifully-written piece on life and the ancient Earth) and The Ecological Disaster That Is Dolphin Safe Tuna (an interesting take on saving one species versus many) at Southern Fried Science.

As promised when I mentioned this contest a few weeks ago, I am donating the $200 prize money to the James Randi Educational Foundation (of which, in the interest of full disclosure, I am President). Besides being a fine non-profit charity dedicated to bringing the light of science and reason to the world, this also will ease any residual guilt I might have for plugging a contest for which I was a candidate. And, hint hint: the JREF does accept donations through the web.

I hope all my BABloggees out there will go over to 3QD and the other contestants’ sites and add them to your feed reader. There are a vast, vast number of good science blogs out there. Those are great places to start.

My thanks to everyone for this, especially to whoever submitted the Hubble post, and of course to Steven Pinker and 3 Quarks Daily.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Cool stuff, JREF, Science

Comments (30)

  1. BigBadSis
  2. Dan I.

    Congratulations Phil


    Phil Plait:

    … this also will ease any residual guilt I might have for plugging a contest for which I was a candidate.

    Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #169: Competition and fair play are mutually exclusive. 😉

  4. Phil,

    I noticed the strange coincidence that you won the prize whose logo is the only one of the three with a heavenly body in the logo!

    Congratulations, and thanks for participating. I’ll be publicising the James Randi Foundation at 3QD as well.

    Good on ya’ mate!



  5. rob

    congrads on the win!

    OT: where is the post about the bad science in last nights showing of Impact?

    or is your brain still oozing out your ears like mine is?

    i tried counting the bad science events, but ran out of whole numbers to use.

  6. Sili

    Congrats. I’m afraid I voted for Derek Lowe.

    Not a good format, though – too many entries. Too easy for people to just vote for the guy they know and then leave it at that.

    Glad to see that a proper selection made to the final, though.

    (And that is a good post.)

  7. Bigfoot


    BTW, I hear the theory that earned the Bottom Quark prize has developed a huge crack.

  8. So now this is a ‘quarky’ blog?


  9. T.E.L.

    Three of those and you’ve got yourself a Baryonie.

  10. Navneeth

    Great news! Congrats.

  11. CJA

    Congrats on the recognition Phil. But I just read the dolphin safe tuna piece, Phil, and your compliment of that is one of the more foolish things you’ve ever written on this blog. I just posted this over there, but it’s deep down in the comments so it will probably go unnoticed.

    This is nowhere close to a fair analysis. Parts of it are true, but it’s just not the right comparison. I assume that the purpose of tuna fishing is to catch x number of tuna, not to throw x number of nets into the water. The real comparison we need to make is how many dolphins/other sea animals are killed in the effort to catch x number of tuna, not how many dolphins are killed in the effort to throw x number of nets into the water.

    Look at the facts cited. Using the dolphin method, 10,000 sets of nets only catches 70,000 small tunna. Using the floating debris method, 130,000,000 small tuna are caught (1,857 times more tuna per set of nets). So you really need to multiply the entire dolphin method dat set by 1,857.

    I’ve scaled the result to show animals caught per every 10 million small tuna caught, you also catch:

    Floater (dolphin safe) method:
    2 dolphins
    39,528 mahi mahi
    10,737 sharks
    9,128 wahoo
    2,312 rainbow runners
    975 other small fish
    496 billfish
    229 yellowtail
    15 other large fish
    78 sea turtles
    4 triggerfish

    Dolphin method:
    570,000 dolphins
    14,000 mahi mahi
    0-57 sharks
    0-57 wahoo
    57 rainbow runners
    429 other small fish
    74,286 billfish
    57 yellowtail
    4,286 other large fish
    14,286 sea turtles
    0-57 triggerfish

    So the real economic impact on the ecosystem is drastically different. The reduction in caught dolphins is drastically larger than you make it look with your comparison—570k vs. 2. So basically, we have can completely eliminate catching dolphins while tuna fishing and still catch the same amount of tuna each year. The increase in how many other animals we catch is also drastically smaller.

    Using the dolphin safe method, we do catch drastically more sharks, mahi mahi, wahoo, rainbow runners, other small fish, and a bit more yellowtail. However, we actually catch drastically less sea turtles and bill fish, contrary to your analysis.

    Also, the real reason we are concerned with catching dolphin is that we don’t eat them. At one point, we were just catching 500,000 dolphin a year and leaving them to rot. The fact that we catch more yellowtail or mahi mahi using the dolphin safe method is not really a problem, as we will still eat those fish (and thereby reduce the need to catch them using other means).

    That leaves the fact that we catch a lot more sharks with the dolphin safe method as the only potential ecological problem with the method. We catch 15,000 more sharks per every 10 million tuna caught. I’m not sure if there is enough consumption of sharks in the world to really make use of 15,000 sharks. I frankly have no idea, but let’s assume there is not. Then it is a negative tradeoff. And that’s unfortunate.

    However, it is not even close to offsetting the fact that we catch 14,000 less sea turtles and 70,000 less billfish using the dolphin safe method (on the assumption that like dolphins, people don’t want to consume the sea turtles or billfish, catching less of them is a very nice externality). That’s not even to mention the >500,000 reduction in how many dolphins we catch—which trumps the increase in caught sharks any day of the weak.

  12. Thanks, Phil, and congratulations to you, too!

    “CJA”, I noticed your post on my blog and will comment on it there. Calling someone foolish for congratulating a fellow winner just because you disagree with something that fellow winner wrote is more than a little rude and inappropriate.

  13. Thanks, Phil, and congratulations to you, too!

    “CJA”, I noticed your post on my blog and will comment on it there. Calling someone foolish for congratulating a fellow winner just because you disagree with something that fellow winner wrote is more than a little rude and inappropriate.

    I won’t fill the comments of an astronomy blog with bycatch calculations, but if anyone is curious as to why “CJA” is completely incorrect, in addition to being rude and inappropriate, you are welcome to read my response on my blog.


  14. Sorry CJA, but the entire premise of your analysis is flawed. Small Tuna are also bycatch – they are not the target of the fishery and the capture of small tuna actually damages the tuna fishery and the ecosystem. Adult tuna are the target species. More small tuna caught = worse for the fishery, environment, basically everything. Not catching juvenile fish is one of the few things environmentalists and fishermen agree on.

  15. !AstralProjectile

    IMO, it would have meed more fitting to have given the prize away on Bloomsday.

  16. JoeSmithCA

    Isn’t Quark also a kind of cheese? 😉

  17. 18. JoeSmithCA Says:

    Isn’t Quark also a kind of cheese? 😉

    Uh, oh.. making this a ‘cheesy’ blog?



  18. Calamity Janeway

    Yay! Congrats.

  19. dhtroy

    OMG! Make sure you guys watch the John Hodgman video … it’s a riot.

  20. MadScientist

    Congratulations, Phil!

    I think I’ll get back to my dolphin sandwich now. Uh … I mean tuna – yeah, that’s it – tuna. The turtle does add to the gastronomic delight though, and I’ll forgive the stench of the shark because the shark oil is alleged to be healthy.

    By the way, while we’re having tuna with this post, I’ve always wondered how the schemes to catch only mature fish are meant to work. Doesn’t that decimate the egg-laying population?

  21. Wayne

    Congrats, that was indeed the best “you don’t know” list you’ve done.

    CJA’s comment nicely demonstrates that the only thing worse than being rude is being rude and wrong.

  22. Nice one Phil…well deserved…and congratulations!

    Just a query…but is publication of donations always necessary? I know it kinda highlights the need for donations for particular charities, projects that need support (and that’s great), but annoucement of donations made, and by whom, has never been a favoured practice for this observer. I would have preferred them just saying that “a contribution was made”, or that “the charity/project is open for contributions”.

    If one gives something for free, helps someone for the sake of helping, then it should just be that — no recognition, and no payback is always necessary. The givee and acceptee both benefit!

    Congrats again :-)

  23. Stone Age Scientist

    Yay, Phil won the Charm, Quirk, I mean, Quark, Award. 😀

  24. Stone Age Scientist

    My eyes, they hurt!! I hope the table below soothes them.

    Marine life caught per ten thousand sets of purse seine nets

    Marine Life Caught Floating Object Dolphin Associated
    Dolphins 25 4,000
    Small Tunas 130,000,000 70,000
    Mahi Mahis 513,870 100
    Billfish 6,540 520
    Sea Turtles 1,020 100
    Sharks 139,580 ~
    Wahoos 118,660 ~
    Rainbow Runners 30,050 ~
    Yellowtails 2,980 ~
    Triggerfish 50 ~
    Other small fish 12,680 3
    Other large fish 200 30

    *Not really sure what the difference between “purse seine nets around immature tuna” and “purse seine nets around mature yellowfin” is. Maybe WhySharksMatter could clarify.

    Hope the table helps.

  25. Stone Age Scientist

    As per CJA’s entry, the table becomes:

    Marine life caught per 10 million small tunas caught

    Marine Life Caught Floating Object Dolphin Associated
    Dolphins 2 570,000
    Mahi Mahis 39,528 14,000
    Billfish 496 74,286
    Sea Turtles 78 14,286
    Sharks 10,737 0 ~ 57
    Wahoos 9,128 0 ~ 57
    Rainbow Runners 2,312 57
    Yellowtails 229 57
    Triggerfish 4 0 ~ 57
    Other small fish 975 429
    Other large fish 15 4,286

    CJA @ #13, are you sure it’s 570K dolphins? Please confirm.

  26. Both types of tuna fishing need to be banned. This stuff is like hunting deer with a 15 megaton nuke. This is why the oceans are dying.

  27. Katie H

    I submitted the hubble post! I wasn’t sure if it had been accepted as it didn’t appear on the comments though.

  28. khms

    I read the tuna piece and much of the debate, until I gave up in disgust. I might have been interested in a debate about how to improve tuna fishing – what works, what doesn’t, and why – but I cannot find it in me to be interested in a debate for debate’s sake, which is exactly what artificially restricting the debate to the choice between two equally unacceptable options is. This is not really about science at all.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t eat tuna, and in fact nothing that lived in the water with the exception of rice – I hate the taste, and at least to me all that water life does have a common taste (or more probably smell).)

    As to the iron bands thing, I didn’t manage more than the first paragraph or two; I really dislike talk about stuff like man being reunited with the past – sounds more like religion to me than like science. But as I haven’t read the rest, I can’t really say anything more about it than that this, too, won’t make it into my feeds list.

    As for Phil, well, while the Hubble thing certainly wasn’t bad, I’d probably have chosen something else had it been up to me – I don’t think it’s exactly his best. But then, that’s just me. And I think it’s already clear that my ideas about what’s good differ from those that decided on the ranking.

    After all this, you won’t be surprised to hear that I really didn’t manage to scare up any interest in looking at the 3Q site …


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