Did You See This?

Earth’s Magnetic Field

Listening to NPR, I was blown away by the fact that our magnetic North Pole is moving at the rate of 30miles per year. Holy GPS systems! That same day I saw an NY Times article, no doubt from the same source. NOAA, funded by the federal government, had just adjusted GPS systems, which depend on magnetism and the distance the magnetic poles are from the geographical  poles.

Years ago, I found it mind boggling that the magnetic poles of our planet have traded places several instances over time. It has been 780,000 years since the last shift, and some scientists think we are due for another. Scientists speculate on the consequences of the shift. Many birds and animals are sensitive to magnetism and know their locations relative to our magnetic field for migration. Cows at rest align themselves with the N/S direction of the magnetic poles. Animals can get spooked before an earthquake, no doubt due to changes in magnetism. James O. Berkland predicted the Loma Prieta earthquake due to strange animal behavior.

The geographical poles are the ends of the axis about which Earth rotates. A compass is governed by the magnetic poles. The locations of the magnetic poles are governed by the hot fluid center of the Earth. The composition is not uniform and heavy iron deposits slosh inside with the turning of our planet. I’m reminded of a rubber ballooned sized ball called a crazy ball. Sand had been inserted, and when you threw it, the sand moved independently of the ball, shifting it unpredictabley off course. The speed and direction of the change in the magnetic poles’s position is equally unpredictable.

That magnetic field is crucial to the  livabilty of our planet. Without it, the solar winds would blow away our atmosphere. Magnetism and its relation to electricity seems to me one of the strangest aspects of the physical world.

 

Just When I Thought Things Could Not Get Worse

As an author of speculative fiction whose current books are set in the deep ocean, my research has led me to understand the dire threats to the health of our ocean life by warming and pollution. Now there is a third threat, namely sound, which travels better in water than air and is being fired by air guns into our oceans.

Thanks WikiVividly

Increasing trade ship traffic, sonar and seismic air gun blasts for offshore oil and gas exploration—now that the offshore drilling ban has been lifted— threaten the vitality of our oceans, which produce 70% of our oxygen via its plankton. Even scientific efforts to map ocean floors are adding to the din. There is another option for this, namely satellite imagery for mapping the shape of the ocean floor. I don’t know if this is adequate for predicting good drilling sites.

According to an NYTimes article  “Slow-moving, hulking ships crisscross miles of ocean in a lawn mower pattern, wielding an array of 12 to 48 air guns blasting pressurized air repeatedly into the depths of the ocean. The acoustic patterns form a three-dimensional map of where oil and gas most likely lie.”

“They fire approximately every 10 seconds around the clock for months at a time,” said Douglas Nowacek, a professor of marine conservation technology at Duke University. “They have been detected 4,000 kilometers away. These are huge, huge impacts.”

We humans stay away from buying homes under flight patterns, near stadiums or other sources of noise, and wear ear plugs at some concerts to avoid ear damage. Fortunately, the noise we experience is not life threatening, although we can’t survive without the life in the sea.

In order to save every other living thing.

2017 study, found that a loud blast, softer than the sound of a seismic air gun, killed nearly two-thirds of the zooplankton in three-quarters of a mile on either side. These tiny organisms provide food  for everything from great whales to shrimp. Krill, vital to whales and other animals, were especially hard hit.

“Researchers saw a complete absence of life around the air gun,” said Michael Jasny, director of marine mammal protection for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several environmental groups suing the federal government in an effort to stop the seismic surveys. I just sent them a donation.

In order to end on a  positive note, I am impressed by the large number of organizations out there fighting for the planet and human race, suing and winning through the courts, our bastion of hope. And Arkansas schoolchildren raised $400 to save starfish from warming oceans near Alaska.

Here’s the cover of my first novel in the Oceans Trilogy. Click on the cover for more information.

A society of human-like beings under the sea floor

Why I Should Not Be Surprised

Preparing  for my career in mathematics I took numerous exams. As a mathematics professor I routinely administered tests and quizzes. I should be an expert on test anxiety.  In my experience, a little anxiety is good. Exams are often long, and if you are too casual you’d never finish. However, I’ve known students who were so freaked out, they couldn’t think. Goldilocks style, one needs the right amount.

I advised students how to prepare mentally: enough sleep, daily study vs cramming, and so on. A single mom told me that other students writing busily around her made her anxious so I allowed her to sit in the hall.

When my university required that students with special needs be given extra time for exams, I paid more attention to keeping the length of my exams reasonable for everyone. After all, I didn’t intend to test their speed. However, I never considered how economic conditions might affect anxiety and more importantly confidence.

Now, Christopher Rozek, a Stanford professor—aware that low-income students have low confidence associated with higher test anxiety— has studied the effect of lowering anxiety before taking exams as reported by a NYTimes article on a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—week of 1/14/19. “At a large Midwestern high school, almost 40 percent of low-income biology students were poised to fail the course. Instead, thanks to simple measures aimed at reducing test anxiety, that failure rate was halved!” (I added the exclamation point.)

In one study, a group of 285 low-income students and an even larger number of high-income students were broken into four groups. One, a control group, was merely told “Don’t be anxious.” A second group wrote for ten minutes about their fears. The third read a description of the physiological responses to stress, such as a racing pulse or sweaty palms, along with the fact that such responses can  be beneficial and help with attention. The fourth participated in both activities.

The students in the three proactive activities passed at a rate of 82% compared with 61% who just received a warning pat on the back.

On the flip side, the research of Robert Tai, a science education expert at the University of Virginia has shown  “interest” in math or science matters more than grades in choosing a career. This ignores the fact that many career choices outside of these areas require a basic understanding in statistics, mathematics, or particular areas of science. I recall a section in a calculus text on economics. When I covered that section, several economics students said it was the first time they understood marginal cost.

Just another reason why poverty can become entrenched.

Establish Good Habits Using Science

When many people hear the word ‘science’, they think of the hard sciences such as  physics and chemistry  rather than psychology and sociology often referred to as the soft sciences. A research psychologist may take exception to the term ‘soft’, but it doesn’t mean squishy. It means the results using scientific methods are not hard and fast — human beings are all distinct.

With that in mind, here are interesting, possibly surprising results that hold for most of us. According to an NYTimes article, our health and well-being can be improved by remembering four words: Move, Nourish, Refresh, and Connect.

Connect

Move: Evidence continues to mount that a sedentary lifestyle changes the shape of neurons in the brain and heart not in a good way, while physical activity is good for the brain—as well as the body. It’s easy to find short workouts. Take the stairs and the grocery cart back.

Nourish: Eating unprocessed healthy food nourishes our well-being.  We eat less when we eat mindfully and enjoy our food. And yes, it includes savoring a delicious chocolate truffle, just not a boxful.

Refresh: The article specifically talks about the value of meditation to happiness, but if that’s not your glass of wine consider what calms you and takes your mind away from  work.

Connect: Again, scientific studies establish the value of social connections of the face to face variety. Join a club. Get out there.

If these sound like New Year’s Eve Resolutions,science has tips on how to implement them without using brute will power according to another NYTimes article.

Here are seven science-based strategies for making sure your new habits endure. I’ve relabeled them.

Think about the ultimate goal: “Less stress” rather than meditation, e.g. and find what works for you. Be patient in this process. If you’re trying to stop a bad habit,  find what need it serves and replace it with a healthier habit.

Break down a goal into manageable smaller ones: Want to walk a mile a day? Begin with a block,. Then reward yourself with a pat on the back. Don’t go down the block and buy a milkshake. Celebrate your successes often.

Prepare a conducive environment: DeclutterAccording to studies, clutter or rather the perception of clutter causes stress. Do it easily.  Use post-it note reminders. Remove temptation. Schedule activity according to your internal clock.

Don’t expect to be completely diligent. Hey, you’re human. Start again tomorrow.

Share your goals with friends. I hate this one for fear of failure, which is the point. However, sign up for a class that matches your goal works for me.

And here’s what surprised me. It’s not a list. Related to connecting above, it’s about your emotions. Dr. Kelly McDonigal was most quoted in the science-based article.

Compassion

“Gratitude and  authentic pride, along with hope, social connection and compassion, are the most effective emotions for promoting long-lasting behavior change,” according to Dr. McGonigal. The least effective are shame, guilt and fear.

“Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.

If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.”

This gives a whole new meaning to Nice guys finish last.”

 

Value of the The Sound of Silence

We all know that music and other sounds can affect our moods and call up memories, but what does silence do for us?

It seems intuitive, but science has confirmed that silence is conducive to thinking, but other benefits discovered in the last couple of decades are unexpected. “Science has begun to pipe up on the subject. In recent years researchers have highlighted the peculiar power of silence to calm our bodies, turn up the volume on our inner thoughts, and attune our connection to the world.” Quote from Nautilus article republished  by Daniel A. Gross. This entire blog is based on the article. (Nautilus is an award-winning online Science magazine.)

Oddly, some discoveries were made studying effects of different sounds. It turned out that the silent passages between them had more impact than the sounds themselves. Mice brains grew more neuron cells from silence.

Finland capitalized on its reputation for being quiet. In this noisy world, they were successful with the market campaign titled “Silence, Please.” Tourists responded.

Noise cancelling headphones and earplugs are hot items today. I’ve gone on guided walks in the forest where the guides instructed us to not speak at all and listen carefully. We heard the wonderful silence broken by faint rustling of leaves and different bird calls.

We adapt to background noise, but the article states that there is a positive correlation with high blood pressure and heart disease. In fact, we humans have so adapted that a hotel  near Chicago O’Hare had to pipe in white noise after they constructed their building to be too sound proof,. Visitors found the lack of noise disquieting—irony intended.

“Freedom from noise and goal-directed tasks, it appears, unites the quiet without and within, allowing our conscious workspace to do its thing, to weave ourselves into the world, to discover where we fit in. That’s the power of silence.” Joseph Moran

 Hospitals are not known for places of rest. I believe the primary reason is, ala the grinch, the noise, the noise, the noise, noise, noise: the beeping, the loudspeakers, and the sounds of frequent disruption. Florence Nightingale long ago made the observation of the importance of quiet during the healing process.

Thanks to fellow blogger, Julaina Kleist Corwin, for recommending the article. I always welcome suggestions.

I bid you a Silent Night for Christmas and a Peaceful NewYear,

Shhh, Eloise

After Christmas sale on e-version of Lower World 50% off! Sale begins Christmas Day and runs through New Years Day only. Click on the title above or go to Smashwords  and do a title search.

Also 50% off are Inhabited and A Foster Princess. Check out a funny story that made my day yesterday about Inhabited on my Inhabited website page.
Anyone can get the discount on Smashwords End of Year Promotion, but I’m only notifying my email list and blog followers.

Should Congress members take a basic science test?

 

Scientists are making astounding advances, advances that have significant consequences for the human race. They are the first to acknowledge that they are not the ones to determine policies related to the use of their discoveries. We the people are responsible by electing those of the people who will make responsible choices for the people. Those making the decisions need a basic understanding of the science involved. I listened to Dr. Dean Edell on radio as my daughter, Heather, produced it. He often touted the proposal that in order to become a member of Congress, one should pass a science test.

Climate Change:  That it exists is not a political issue. How we should prepare for the future is, and not all of our politicians are prepared to make good decisions. I watched an executive of NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration) speak on a panel about her experience testifying before Congress in order to prevent cuts to their agency. When she spoke of NOAA’s importance she mentioned their weather prediction service. Like a child saying chickens come from grocery stores, one unnamed Congress creature actually said, “If I want to know what the weather will be, I just turn on TV.”

Fires, hurricanes, floods, droughts are increasing not only in number but in their destructive capacities. Are we prepared to assume the enormous cost of reconstruction? Shouldn’t we be thinking of mitigation and prevention?

An NPR’s Science Friday guest speaker stated that a sea level rise of ten meters will affect 600 million people if they remain living where they are.

Some coastal cities are looking at building walls because they already experience flash floods from the ocean through residential neighborhoods.

Putting electricity underground is expensive, but I have to think not as expensive as repeated reconstruction of lines to say nothing of the impact on affected families.

Some efforts to reduce human’s carbon footprint may have done the opposite. Use of biofuel is one example. One must consider the total impact. In fact, there is likely nothing humans do without an impact. Early windmill design didn’t consider birds flying into them.

Because we haven’t done enough to reduce climate chaos, scientists are looking for ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but again there could be unintended consequences with science following the path of the woman who swallowed the fly, and then the spider to get the fly, and then the bird to get the spider and the cat to get the bird on ad infinitum.>

PS to this section. I’m tempted to add a logic test to Dr. Dean’s recommendation. Another congress creature brought a snowball to the Senate floor to “prove” the globe is not warming. I guess he’d also dispute this country has an obesity problem by pointing at a thin person.

Designer Jeans

 Designer Genes:  I doubt anyone objects to using DNA modification to deal with serious disease or disability, but if it’s done to an embryo the resultant human will pass on its altered genes. What if some unintended alteration is passed on?

Many scientists say that once gene editing is perfected, there is not a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. The Chinese scientist who altered twin embryos to be resistant to HIV has been criticized as the procedure may not be safe and there are other means of prevention and cure.

I personally worry that if there is no policy about use of gene editing, greater inequality will result as parents begin to design their children for intelligence and beauty. These procedures are likely to be expensive.

Self Driving Cars and autopilot on planes: Not only has at least one death been attributed to a self-driving car proving they aren’t perfect , their programming must involve decisions of whom to avoid and who not to in difficult situations. Does the car manufacture make that decision? A recent airplane crash was attributed to a navigation system that went Frankenstein. The pilots lost the battle.

Scientists will do what scientists do, namely research to better understand the world and to improve life on earth. However, they understand that what they discover demands responsible use and also understand that they are not the ones who can inform but should not make final decisions.

In fact, it is the general public that needs basic science to understand the import of scientific discoveries.