Archive for April 8th, 2009

Geoengineering is "On the Table" in Obama Administration

By Chris Mooney | April 8, 2009 2:53 pm

I’m stunned, but according to this report by Seth Borenstein–who’s highly trustworthy–Obama’s science adviser John Holdren has said that the prospect of geoengineering the climate has “got to be looked at. We don’t have the luxury of taking any approach off the table.”

A while back, I mused about when the geoengineering issue would “tip” and begin to draw more mainstream attention. This is certainly the biggest opportunity yet for that to happen. I’m not aware of any more high level figure in U.S. government ever raising this issue before in such a serious way, or indeed, in any way at all.

Reserves Effective at Reducing Fires in Brazilian Rainforests

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 8, 2009 1:25 pm

waterfall-in-amazon-forest-080801.jpgAn encouraging article just published in PLoS ONE shows that reserves in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest serve to provide an important buffer against fires.  Why important?  Fires can be devastating to the region since the trees have no natural protection.  It’s a primary cause of deforestation which also contributes to climate change.  According Dr. Marion Adeney of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment:

“reserves are making a difference even when they are crossed by roads.  We already knew, from previous studies, that there were generally fewer fires inside reserves than outside – what we didn’t know was whether this holds true when you put a road across the reserve.”

Along with co-authors Stuart Pimm and Norm Christensen, she has analyzed ten years of satellite data from the entire Brazilian Amazon.  Together they found that location and timing were much more important factors than type of reserve in terms of where fires occurred.  Highly impacted areas experienced more disturbances than those in remote locations which is not surprising since fires in humid tropical forests are mainly caused by people.  Today’s accelerated pace of road-building in the region has caused concern given ninety percent of fires occur within 10 kilometers of a road. This study matters because it demonstrates reserves are effective at protecting forest cover even after you account for roads and rainfall variation.

On March 26, the Brazilian government announced plans to establish a series of reserves covering 23,000 square kilometres along BR-319 from Manaus in the state of Amazonas to Porto Velho in Rondônia.  This road is currently unpaved and often impassable so fires are rare (as you can see on the map below), but it will be developed over time.  The good news–as Nature reports–is that roads or not, efforts to protect parts of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest appear to be working…and will continue.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Global Warming

What Does This Generation Think It Means to be a "Scientist"?

By Chris Mooney | April 8, 2009 11:36 am

This is the subject of my latest Science Progress column, in which–following on this important editorial by Bruce Alberts in Science–I celebrate the rich diversity of career choices that young scientists seem to be making–a diversity that could ultimately redefine the term “scientist” itself. An excerpt:

I agree with Alberts that there appears to be a paradigm shift out there, a generational change in the science world. It’s not merely that science grad students and postdocs don’t want to grow up to become their professors or advisers; it’s also that in many cases, they simply can’t. The academic opportunities just aren’t there; there has been a marked constriction of opportunity in the ivory towers. Furthermore, many students don’t see a life of academic specialization as the best way to employ their scientific talents. They recognize that specialization’s disadvantages go hand in hand with its advantages. They want to do something more, to bring science to the rest of America.

And America needs them.

You can read the full column here, where you’ll notice that it also celebrates my coblogger as the epitome of this new trend…

On Vaccination And Autism: Don't Believe The Hype

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 8, 2009 10:07 am

Until today, I have not discussed the anti-vaccination hullabaloo because there’s not a serious argument from the dark side worth time and attention.  There’s no ‘debate’ on this–our children must be protected.  But the issue finally hit home last week when a good friend and new mom decided not to get her daughter immunized because she’s afraid the infant might contract autism.  I’m furious Jenny McCarthy and her entourage have been fostering a state of panic that promotes the resurgence of preventable infectious diseases.

Look, yes Jim Carrey’s a good actor and Singled Out continues to wow audiences in its latest incarnation: The Bachelor.  In fact, my former co-blogger Chris Hardwick at Wired Science was McCarthy’s on camera sidekick back then.  But parents, please, for the sake of our kids, do not confuse entertainment with the ability to provide sound medical advice.

I’m reminded of the 32nd President’s inaugural address. Make no mistake that with regard to autism and vaccination, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Embedded video from <a href=””>CNN Video</a>

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Education, Media and Science

I Made an Error. I Now Correct It.

By Chris Mooney | April 8, 2009 8:15 am

So, it turns out that a lot of us got so wrapped up in debunking George Will’s serious errors about climate science that we were blinded to a much more mundane error, and thus unwittingly repeated it.

In his original controversial column, “Dark Green Doomsayers,” Will referred to an organization called the “Arctic Climate Research Center” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Problem is, there’s just no such thing. Yeah, there are Arctic ice experts there, and a website and everything–but no center.

But many of us didn’t imagine this kind of mistake possible and so repeatedly referred to the same nonexistent organization. Whoops.

Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room was the first to catch the error, which apparently originates with one Michael Asher. Carl Zimmer has already run his own correction. I now join the crowd. Sorry folks, we try to avoid these things…and when something like this slips through, we correct it promptly.


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