2 Minutes to Midnight

I felt compelled to make a short blog post after the announcement today from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that we have moved closer to midnight.

Let’s start with what the Bulletin is, for those who don’t know.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by scientists (such as Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein), engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. They knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them. Over the 70+ years since its inception, it has also started to gauge other treats such as climate change and other technological threats like AI as a part of it’s analysis. Once a year, they take all these existential threats into consideration and set the time on the Doomsday Clock. The clock is a symbol representing the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. It is meant not only to educate and inform on serious issues that threaten human life on Earth, but to spur people to action by setting the tone for how serious those situations really are.

What does midnight represent on the clock? It represents the end of civilization.  When the clock was first set in 1947, it was 7 minutes to midnight. It has been as far away from midnight as 17 minutes in 1991. But this is the closest the clock has been to midnight since 1953, the height of the Cold War.

The statement about the 2018 clock is here: It is now two minutes to midnight

Followup article by Lawrence Krauss and Robert Rosner: We’re as close to Doomsday today as we were during the Cold War

I’ve been getting a lot of pushback about this. “There are bigger issues.”, “This is bs meant to scare people.”, “This is just made up by leftist scientists.”, “Get over it, nukes aren’t a threat. No one is going to use them.”

Really? There are bigger issues than the ones being discussed by a board of experts in areas of public policy, security, nuclear issues and all areas of science (including climate science) plus the 15 Nobel laureates that advise the board? And you think that everyone that is concerned about these issues is strictly on the left wing?  As for it being “made up” to scare people…you should be scared.  Since 1962, there have been 13 times that nuclear weapons have come close to being launched. It only takes once.  And even though the number of these weapons have gone down, more countries than ever now possess them.

Risk of nuclear accidents is rising, says report on near-misses

World War Three, by Mistake

Nuclear Arsenals of the World

But the setting of the clock is about more than just nuclear weapons, though that is a definite concern.  There definitely are more concerns that take part in the setting of the clock. Climate change, biological threats, cyber threats, AI and other forms of emerging technological threats.  We should all be aware that there are significant dangers in the world. Part of being a scientifically literate citizen is the need to be fully educated.  When the Bulletin sets the clock, it’s a call to arms for all of us to be engaged and to step up and do our part in making sure that the world we one day leave behind, is a better and safer one for those that will inhabit it.

Be Aware – The Doomsday Dashboard

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Science Notes

Here’s what I’ve found most interesting in the world of science lately…

How much do I love this crazy dinosaur?

Strange new dinosaur is a Velociraptor cousin with flippers

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Another first from SpaceX
SpaceX Launches First Recycled Rocket to Space Station

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We now have almost a sister solar system with number of planets orbiting a home star.
Scientists Use AI To Discover 8th Planet Orbiting a Distant Star

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Scientists have found this amazing penguin fossil.

Ancient giant penguin was as big as Sidney Crosby

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There is a bit of a fight happening in the world of science over gene editing, but it’s not likely the one you thought.

Scientists mobilize for a fight over powerful gene-editing technology

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And we’ll end on new real estate in the universe

72 New Galaxies Found By European Telescope

Waves and Light

This morning I woke up to an alert that there was big science news being announced this morning, and boy they weren’t kidding.  Over 100 years ago, Einstein presented his General Theory of Relativity. One of the predictions that was part of his theory was that two orbiting masses that collide would send a sort of shockwave through spacetime. But Einstein never thought we would ever be able to detect them.

It’s truly amazing what a global effort in the pursuit of science can achieve. In this era of political dumbing down and divisiveness  – the announcement of the greatest detection coming from the LIGO/VIRGO network is incredible. While there have been detections of gravitational waves over the last couple of years, those came from the collision of binary black holes. What was detected today was not *just* gravitational waves but the light as well from binary neutron stars that collided 130 million light years away from Earth.

It has long been theorized that the heavy elements in the universe came from the collision of these stars. We now know that this is indeed the case as it showed creation of elements like silver, platinum, gold and uranium. There are also a few hypothesis about what would be created when neutron stars collide, would it be a heavier neutron star or a very light black hole? That is also now unfolding.  This event crossed from waves to every form of electromagnetic radiation — including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves were all involved in collecting data.

I am in awe of discoveries such as this. Against all odds, faced with those who said they could never accomplish this…scientists from all over the world collaborated on a project that required insane amounts of precision and verified something that Albert Einstein knew was real but never thought it could be proven out.  Now, LIGO is shutting down for a year to increase its sensitivity. With this discovery at its current level, what will the next few years mean to our understanding of the universe?

Humans evolved from our great ape ancestors only a few hundred thousand years ago and stood to walk upright. It was only a little over 400 hundred years ago since the telescope was first invented and in 1610, Galileo used that creation to view the moons of Jupiter the first time.  And just think of how long light takes to reach us and how far back into time we are now able to peer.  Imagine the possibilities of the future in our journey to understand the past.

Read more about the discovery here –  LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars

And here – LIGO Detects Fierce Collision of Neutron Stars for the First Time

This one is really good too – Astronomers strike cosmic gold, confirm origin of precious metals in neutron star mergers

And the published scientific paper for the more adventurous is here – Multi-messenger Observations of a Binary Neutron Star Merger

 

 

The Annual Week o’Science

Vacation time again! And naturally once again this year I volunteered for the World Science Festival in New York City. I wish that I could just be the kind of person that could do nothing for a whole week and just go lay on a beach somewhere but I’d go insane without something to do.

It’s really a wonderful event to be a part of. Let’s face it, Orillia is not exactly a town full of readers and especially not readers of science. There are way too many people who believe the woo that is on Oprah and the like. There are the few that have watched things like Cosmos and who watched Bill Nye in school…that’s really as far as it goes.  So it is really a cool experience to be able to go to an event like this, where you can have an *actual* conversation with people who know the same authors and communicators, all speak the same lingo and to meet all these new people. And to also see all those in charge of not only the festival, but also the venues every year!

That being said….I am not taking Greyhound to NYC anymore. Never have I experienced two more uncomfortable bus rides in my life as the trip down and back this year. Amtrak next year I think. Twelve hours crammed into full capacity buses was not my idea of a good time. And the border going down was awful. I — am not exactly high on what could be considered the “list of suspicious people to profile list”. Hi, over forty Canadian and pretty much as Caucasian as you can get. Here’s how my border experience went down this year:

Border Guard: Why are you traveling to the States?

Me: I’m seeing some sights and volunteering for The World Science Festival

BG: Are you getting any remuneration for that?

Me: No, they throw a volunteer party at the end of the week. I have all my information for my stay and my itinerary right here…

BG: *stares at me* You’re traveling from Canada to do this? What did you say it was called?

Me: Yes…The World Science Festival.

BG: *typing on a computer* And who runs it.

Me: The World Science Festival…..

BG: I don’t know…this sounds a little borderline. I think you need a visa for this.

Me: I haven’t had an issue before with coming down for it.

BG: Before you come down to do this again, you had better look into this more.

It felt really tense, but they let me across the border. I was uncertain for a minute if that was going to be the case.  Can’t be sure if it was the volunteering he took issue with or the science part. lol. And missing the festival would have sucked. Finally made it to the city at around 7:30am on Wednesday morning and I was fairly exhausted. Got checked in at the hostel at 103rd and Amsterdam, a short nap and hot shower later I felt like heading up to Community Food & Juice for a really good breakfast. Afterwards, a bit of wandering about and then the subway down to volunteer headquarters to get my credentials. Then a light supper and early to bed and watching a bit of the WSF live stream before I couldn’t stay awake anymore.

Thursday was museum day for me so I spent the vast majority of the afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Earth and Space (NdT’s hood). Saw Dark Universe again and the short thing in the Hayden Big Bang theatre that Liam Neeson narrated. Spent as much time there as I could before my first volunteer shift which was a conversation between Alan Alda and Tina Fey. Alan runs a centre teaching scientists to be better communicators using things like improv. They brought Brian Greene up on stage for a “spontaneous” to explain scientific concepts to Tina and she’d buzz him when he said something he did not understand.

I have to digress for a moment for those people who might not know who Brian Greene is (and what is wrong with you?). One of my favourite authors and speakers, wonderful communicator of difficult concepts in science, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and co-founder of The World Science Festival with his wife, Tracy Day.  He’s brilliant. I took his online class at World Science U and he’s one of those people who even through the screen, you feel like you are having a conversation. I don’t get fannish very often but Professor Greene is one person I’ve wanted to meet for ages. Side story — I made one of my funny little Twitter jokes to him indicating he should really hire me as his PA, random dude thought that I worked for him already. I advised him that while I run the profile for him, I have never met Professor Greene. At that moment, the man in question tweeted me that if I were volunteering this year, he and I would definitely meet. 🙂

We’ll come back to that.

Friday morning was an early day working the Pioneers of Science event with a room full of incredibly smart teenagers. Gives one a great deal of hope about the future. The event featured Jane Lubchenko (head of NOAA during the Deepwater Horizon disaster) and Aprielle Ericsson (the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in Engineering at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Both were incredibly inspiring. I had gotten caffeined up and worked some lighting cues for the experiment portions of the event (had one or two totally unexpected ones thrown my way as well so that was bumpy) and wrangled people in the lobby.  Mike, Jack and Kim that worked the NYU Global Center were *amazing*. Hopefully, I get to work with them again next year. And you know that no matter what I say, I’m going to at least *some* of the festival every year that’s possible.

Had the rest of the day free so I thought I’d go back to the museum, was there for a bit and in the Cuba special collection when I got an email that there was availability to see Sylvia Earle’s keynote. Really short notice so I hopped a cab to get there. Made it just in time to get seated. Turns out that Brian Greene was introducing her and then he came and sat in the row behind me. Not distracting at all, lol. And for the 2nd day in a row I did not have the opportunity to introduce myself to Brian.  Since I wasn’t far away, I spent some time at The Strand book store (nerd Disneyland) and went to Joe’s for some NY pizza. Yum!  🙂

Saturday….I came down with a bit of a sinus cold which happens when I get really sleep deprived sometimes. Had some momentary guilt over lazing about in bed until I reminded myself that I am on vacation. I had a ticket to Brian’s event that night “Science in a Polarized World”. Paid a visit to the drug store for tissue and drugs so that I wouldn’t sneeze my way through the night. The panel really made me think and it might result in a new site going up on some of the topics. It gave me a great deal to think about. After the event I stopped near the stage because I had to finish the questionnaire in my program. And…Brian stopped at the stage edge to answer a couple of questions. But right at the exact moment there was a break in the conversation and I was going to say hi, he had to dash off.

Sunday was a BIG day. Got up at around 5:30 am so that I could get checked out, stow my bags in a locker downstairs and head downtown as my shift started at 8am.  Went to volunteer command and got handed a clipboard then went in search of the freight elevator and loading dock to advise vendors what floor to go to for Ultimate Science Sunday. Then floated the floors for an hour making sure everything was ok. At 11am that shift was over but volunteer command needed help with lunches so I put in time there after getting coffee. Scarfed down some lunch with some volunteers from the city and then went to my next scheduled shift back at the Grand Hall with Jack and Kim.  This one was a Salon and I went out to stand on the street, directing people around to the entrance. It was *cold* and rainy so I added a slight cough to my mild cold….yay.

Headed upstairs when the event had started and went in to watch. About 10 minutes after I got there…guess what. Yeah, Brian Greene came in and sat down pretty much in front of where I was standing. Being the last day…I was not going to allow this opportunity to elude me.  I knew he would leave when Q&A started so I left just before he did to have the opportunity to say hello and introduce myself. He thanked me for volunteering and we talked briefly about his profile and a few other things. I have to say this…he is incredibly sweet to take a moment out of what is probably a crazy schedule. And he takes a legitimate interest while  talking. It’s that quality that translates right through the screen when he’s teaching on World Science U. (He’s also very charming and incredibly handsome. And yes…perhaps he is the subject of a little nerdcrush on my part.)

Finished up at the Salon at around 3pm so I had time to walk outside to a coffee shop for a tea and doughnut break before heading to Skirball to work with Julianne and Suchan again as Front of House/Hospitality.  Was ushering this year, watched most of the neuroscience panel but ducked out early to go to help out in the Green Room. We tidied up a bit and waited for the event to end and I escorted some of the speakers to their cars. Once that got taken care of, it was time for the volunteer party!

While I did not win anything in the raffle, got to eat pizza and chat with some of the volunteers I worked with like Cassie and Winnie. And we all got little swag bags.  Brian and Tracy dropped in to thank the volunteers so I could finally go a little fan girl and get my picture taken with Brian. He then asked me jokingly if he’d kept his promise.  🙂

After the party, I went to collect my bags and head to the Port Authority to hang out for a couple of hours, waiting for my 12:30 am bus (someone remind me to NEVER do that again).  The bus was packed the whole way and I have never been so happy to see Toronto in my life. Checked in at the hostel and was able to have a shower and a little nap before heading out to dinner and then to see Lawrence Krauss give a talk and then a conversation with Matt Dillahunty.  Those who know me, know my long standing love for Professor Krauss.  Brilliant, funny, patient and incredibly nice. I don’t think I would have ever developed an interest and passion for science had it not been for him. Waited around and got my copy of my book signed and exchange a few words with him. By then I was completely devoid of energy and could not wait to go to bed. Shame…I keep wanting to take him out and get him drunk.  🙂  Was not to be this time however.

Whew…almost as tiring to blog about than it was to actually do. And yet, I can’t wait to do it again!

 

Closer to Midnight

It is now two and a half minutes to midnight. That’s what was announced today by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Who are they and what does that mean?

The organization was started in 1945 by scientists from the Manhattan Project who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work”. Check them out here – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

As for what it means…the clock is a representation of how close we are to catastrophe. The board takes into account real and existential threats that effect humanity’s future.  This is the first time since 1953 that the clock has moved closer than three minutes to midnight and the first time in 70 years that it has not moved a full minute. Optimistically, they are allowing for the fact that the new American administration was just put in and all have not been confirmed yet.

For the last two years, the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock stayed set at three minutes before the hour, the closest it had been to midnight since the early 1980s.

We’ve been as far away as 17 minutes to midnight back in 1991. And while the Bulletin keeps warning about these threats such as nuclear proliferation, climate change and other emerging technology…politicians seem to be taking them less and less seriously. There is now a man in the highest office in America who carelessly tosses around remarks about nuclear weapons and sets other nuclear powers on edge.

Both his statements and his actions as president-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.

Every day there are more statements coming out of the White House about the removal of environmental policies and the muzzling of scientists. This was a big enough issue when happening in Canada under the previous Conservative government, it is a massive issue when it begins happening in the U.S. and this cannot be taken lightly. But it is hardly the only threat we fact in the future and I encourage you to read the entire Doomsday Clock statement for this year.

I find the closing of the statement something that should be focused on.

In 2017, we find the danger to be even greater, the need for action more urgent. It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

We must not stand idly by and allow facts to be distorted and the scientific method to be ignored. We must all speak out in whatever forum we have at our disposal. We must educate and we must all, every one of us, be involved. The time for silence is at an end.

Read the entire statement here – 2017 Doomsday Clock Statement

F*** Bigotry.

This has been one of those weeks where people in general, really annoy me. Granted in most weeks I rather be around my cats than most humans, but between all the stuff going on in politics and the utter stupidity of online trolls…it’s just been a lot this week.

Now most of the time, online trolls are just ridiculous and amusing. I’ve been collecting some haters for a YouTuber I know for a future “love letters” video ala Richard Dawkins. But in the process I came across a comment from a teen who said she was gay but her mother wanted no part in hearing about it. When she tried she got, “Oh, so you don’t wanna have any kids?”. She feels the need to lie about her sexuality and wants to come out.

THIS shit breaks my heart. No one should have to lie about who they are because they have parents that are completely closed-minded. This is the sort of shit you get from the religious. You’re a parent and you’re making your kid miserable. Does that make you happy in some sort of twisted way? You really think that you can make a child be straight that way? Or do you think if you ignore it, it will just go away? I hear this from kids who are gay, transgender…even atheist. Whatever a parent considers “not normal”.

Granted…I don’t have kids of my own. But my volunteer work over years has brought me into contact with a lot of young people. And you know what your fucking JOB is as a parent? It’s not to force your views on your kids and to try and make them fulfill some failed ambition that you were too inadequate to do yourself. It’s not to make them into some sort of carbon copy of yourself. Your job is to make sure they are happy and healthy. You are supposed to make sure they are educated and independent. Make sure they can think for themselves and contribute to society. You are supposed to do whatever you can to make sure they can succeed in life – in whatever way THEY want to.

Since when did being gay automatically mean you don’t want kids? And it’s 2017…there are lots of ways for gay couples to have kids. And if you live in a country where that’s not a thing…we all need to fix that. It is well past time that we stopped catering to religious bigots that want to keep anyone they see as “the other” from being full members of society. Time to get rid of blasphemy laws, time to make everyone a full 100% part of society — regardless of religion (or lack of), sexuality, gender…whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. We are all humans and equality should not have fine print.

Don’t let anyone keep you in a closet. Do you and be proud of who you are. Be strong and know that you are never alone.

The Price of Ignorance

There was a time in the not too distant past, when one could not be considered civilized if you could not carry on a conversation on topics like literature or scientific topics. When exactly did that stop being the case? When did ignorance become a point of pride? A lot of people like to trace this phenomenon back to the Bush administration. There seemed to arise this attitude that reality was whatever you thought it was and that facts depended on perspective.  We started to see more and more appearances of the thought that *every* fact and scientific opinion had two sides. But as Lawrence Krauss is want to point out, usually one of those sides is just wrong. But when everywhere you turn, there are paid lobbyists and their organizations spending millions of dollars to cast doubt on reality and research – does the average person really have the capacity any more to separate fact from fiction?

An argument could be made for the rise of a video culture over the last few decades that exalts athletics and the superficial over the intellectual.  When you couple that with the increase of highly religious people entering into American politics and helping to shift political discourse further to the right, you could see it as a rising tide that is very difficult to turn back. How do your reverse a culture that puts people like the Kardashians on a pedestal over people like Einstein or Darwin? Science isn’t just the domain of scientists, it should be the domain of everyone. Science affects every single part of our lives, more so now than ever and not only because it has afforded you the ability to read this blog.  🙂

Have you ever gone through your day and actually thought about how everything you touch has been impacted by science? From the engineering of the home that you live in, the science behind your electric lighting, there’s that car that you drive, the chemistry of your morning coffee or the modern medicine that you have access to – there is nothing in your life that modern science has not had a hand in. But if there was a disaster, would you understand any of it enough that you could help to rebuild society? Would you even be able to find food? To build a structure to protect yourself? How would your ignorance of basic science serve you if all of that were taken away? And science does more than that. It helps us to not only understand ourselves better, but to understand the world and universe that we live in.

Religion likes to work from the assumption that all the answers that you need are in whatever holy books is ascribed to that faith. It strives to indoctrinate as many as possible into antiquated belief systems that date back to before we even knew the Earth revolved around the sun.  It takes the end assumption that “God did it” to every question and warps the evidence to fit that conclusion instead of arriving at a conclusion based on the evidence. Despite all advances in our understanding of everything from evolution to astrophysics and cosmology, those who have a faith-based view of the world continue to fight against an evidence-based view of the world. And evangelical politicians continue to help blur the line by weakening education and trying to allow impressionable children to be taught religion as though it was fact. Even allowing things like the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter to function as though they were educational attractions is incredibly detrimental to the intellectual future of upcoming generations.

The price of ignorance is literally, lives. Religious interference in stem cell research costs lives. Such research could extend your own life or the quality of your life as you age. It could cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and alleviate suffering. Those who try to stop it, fail to understand science fully because they operate on a faith-based view of the world. Religious interference in women’s heath choices takes away the rights of women to make educated decisions on their reproductive health. This stance reduces the health and quality of life of both mothers and children under the guise of being ‘pro-life’, but in reality just an excuse to control and subjugate women. The price of ignorance is the cost of lives at the hands of climate change. In addition to the people who will die from rising sea levels, flooding, tsunamis and other extreme weather events, this is also a security issue. You think there’s an immigration issue now? What happens when humans can no longer live in areas like the Middle East?

I recently read an article from President Obama where he talked about the value of books to his terms in office. I will link to the article at the end, but this part struck me as it relates another article I read recently.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.”

There was an article that has made the rounds again recently as President-Elect Trump has likely never read a book before. Research shows that those who read literary fiction have greater empathy. Given the disdain that those on the conservative right show for ‘intellectual elites’ and the equal disdain that they have for the poor, the disabled and anyone else that is struggling in today’s society, I don’t find this a stretch. This wave of ignorance that we MUST fight against is causing real harm to real people in the forms of everything from the climate to income inequality. We must ensure that there is an educated electorate that fully understands the consequences of their actions and their votes.

Ignorance is not a virtue, and we must stop treating it like one.

 

Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy