Get news updates from WGBH
Fri July 20, 2012
Week in Review: Heat, Gluttony and Flukes
Wow. What a week for science news. I’ll start with the big stuff, but stick around for my favorite reads toward the end of the list.
BP subpoenaing the private emails of scientists involved in Gulf oil spill research made a splash a couple of weeks ago, but this really takes the case:
“A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists used an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show.”
You’ve no doubt noticed that it’s hot outside. The question on many tongues is whether or not this heatwave, and the disastrous drought conditions gripping more than half the U.S., are manifestations of climate change. There are too many articles and commentaries out there to even begin to list them (this is one of those times when I’m thoroughly grateful to no longer be a full-time climate blogger). I will say that I’d skip Bill McKibben’s commentary in Rolling Stone in favor of this quick post from Andy Friedman at Climate Central, the highlight of which is the above set of pie charts.
You’ll save fifteen minutes (depending on how fast you read) and come away with a better grasp of the science connecting climate change to daily weather. If you want any more explanation of my anti-recommendation of Bill McKibben’s piece, you’ll have to pester me in the comments.
As I noted earlier this week, climate change is just one of the factors likely contributing to a three-decades-long increase in Gulf of Maine lobster harvests, culminating in three consecutive years of record harvests. But warmer-than-average temperatures over the past three months are almost certainly responsible for the arrival of soft-shell lobsters nearly six weeks early. Likewise for the first blooms of spring, and red tide in Nauset Marsh, by the way. But I digress. Portland Press Herald has become my go-to source for coverage of the economic impacts of too many lobsters. Their “Glut Check” is one of the more recent examples.
Now on to the fun stuff – psychology. NPR’s Alix Spiegel reports on a fascinating study that suggests talking not just about whether or not you plan to vote, but exactly when you intend to head to the polls and what else you’ll be doing at that moment, can double the chances that you’ll actually go vote. Perhaps most interestingly, Spiegel notes that this is one of the first examples of science working its way into campaign strategy.
Then there’s this total gee-whiz science moment, brought to you by The Physics arXiv Blog via MIT’s Tech Review. Germain Rousseaux at the Universite de Nice-Sophia Antipolis in France has gone beyond the simple “It’s turbulence” to actually explain why diving whales’ tails leave behind circular patterns on the ocean surface.
“As the whale submerges, its flukes generate powerful vortices in the water. In the centre of the vortices, water is forced upwards hitting the surface from below, like a jet. This creates the jump, which is the circular rim around the flukeprint.
One of the curious properties of hydraulic jumps is that they are 'white holes', the time reversed equivalent of black holes.”
Just what are white holes and why are they special? Check out this earlier post.
Finally, if you’ve got some time on your hands this weekend, check out blogfather Bora Zivkovic’s history of science blogs. He never managed to track down the first science blog, but his reminiscences about the origins of blogging are priceless.