An intense blizzard, appropriately named Hercules, is blanketing the Northeast. Antarctic ice locked in a Russian ship containing a team of scientists -- en route, no less, to do climate research. Record low temperatures have been seen in parts of the U.S., and in Winnipeg, temperatures on Dec. 31 were as cold as temperatures on ... Mars.
So as is their seasonal wont, here come the climate skeptics. Exhibit A:
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of what the year 2013 meant for climate and energy. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" shows on iTunes -- you can learn more here.
For Mark Ruffalo, environmental activism started out with something to oppose, to be against: fracking. It all began when the actor, perhaps best known for his role as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) in Marvel's The Avengers, was raising his three small children in the town of Callicoon, in upstate New York. At that time, the Marcellus Shale fracking boom was coming on strong and was poised to expand into New York, even as the area also saw a series of staggering floods, each one seemingly more unprecedented than the last.
"That was alarming," remembers Ruffalo on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream below). "Not only alarming to me, but also alarming to all the farmers who used to make fun of me for talking about climate change and global warming."
For more than a decade, the question of how global warming is affecting the scariest storms on the planet -- hurricanes -- has been shot through with uncertainty. The chief reason is technological: In many parts of the world, storm strengths are estimated solely based on satellite images. Technologies and techniques for doing this have improved over time, meaning that there is always a problem with claiming that today's storms are stronger than yesterday's. After all, they might just be better observed.
That's why, despite expectations that global warming will make hurricanes stronger -- as well as massive societal consequences if more powerful storms are slamming coastlines -- scientific authorities like the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have demurred on the hurricane/climate question. Most recently, the IPCC earlier this year said it had "low confidence" that global warming is worsening hurricanes.
Where did your political and religious opinions come from? How did you come by them? What made you who you are?
If you're like most people, you're probably inclined to answer this question by citing two main influences: your upbringing and your life experiences. But according to a growing body of science, such an account leaves out a major factor: your genes.
"The basic idea of a heritable component to political beliefs has been around for at least a quarter of a century," says University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist John Hibbing, coauthor of the new book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. "It's shown up too many times, in too many different places, with too many samples. So there's something there."
The science dates back at least to 1986. In that year, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper using a classic "twin study" design to try to determine the heritability of a variety of political attitudes, such as views on the death penalty. The researchers concluded that genes could explain a substantial percentage of the variation in responses to an oft-used political questionnaire called the Wilson-Patterson conservatism scale.
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, alsofeatures a discussion of the surprising reasons that U.S. students are so bad at math (just 26th in the world, in a recent study). Plus, Indre takes apart a highly controversial new study purporting to show that male-female gender stereotypes are rooted in different wiring of our brains.
It's flu season. And we're all about to crisscross the country to exchange hugs, kisses, and germs. We're going to get sick. And when we do, many of us will run to our doctors and, hoping to get better, demand antibiotics.
And that's the problem: Antibiotics don't cure the flu (which is viral, not bacterial), but the overprescription of antibiotics imperils us all by driving antibiotic resistance. This threat is growing, so much so that in a recent widely read Medium article, Wired science blogger and self-described "scary disease girl" Maryn McKenna painted a disturbingly plausible picture of a world in which antibiotics have become markedly less effective. That future is the focus of McKenna's interview this week on the Inquiring Minds podcast:
In a just-released report, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has taken an extensive look at the scary side, the dramatic side … let's face it, the Hollywood side of global warming. The new research falls under the heading of "abrupt climate change": The report examines the doomsday scenarios that have often been conjured in relation to global warming (frequently in exaggerated blockbuster films), and seeks to determine how likely they are to occur in the real world.
So here's a list of some of the most dreaded abrupt changes (where abrupt means occurring within a period of a few decades or even years), and the probability that they'll happen — even if nothing like the Hollywood version — before the year 2100:
Disruption of the ocean's "conveyor belt"
As seen in: The scientifically panned 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow.
What would happen: The great overturning circulation of the oceans, driven by the temperature and the salt content of waters at high latitudes, transports enormous amounts of heat around the planet. If it is disrupted or comes to a halt, there could be stark changes in global weather patterns.
Chances it will happen this century: Low. For future generations, however, The Day After Tomorrow might be slightly less laughable (if still wildly exaggerated). In the longer term, the NAS rates the probability of a disruption as "high."
All across the country — most recently, in the state of Texas — local battles over the teaching of evolution are taking on a new complexion. More and more, it isn't just evolution under attack, it's also the teaching of climate science. The National Center for Science Education, the leading group defending the teaching of evolution across the country, has even broadened its portfolio: Now, it protects climate education too.
How did these issues get wrapped up together? On its face, there isn't a clear reason — other than a marriage of convenience — why attacks on evolution and attacks on climate change ought to travel side by side. After all, we know why people deny evolution: Religion, especially the fundamentalist kind. And we know why people deny global warming: Free market ideology and libertarianism. These are not, last I checked, the same thing. (If anything, libertarians may be the most religiously skeptical group on the political right.)
And yet clearly there's a relationship between the two issue stances. If you're in doubt, watch this Climate Desk video of a number of members of Congress citing religion in the context of questioning global warming:
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of some of the science behind Thanksgiving: Why thankfulness is good for us, and what kinds of food safety issues you should know about when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers.
Simon Singh may not sound like your average fan of The Simpsons. He has a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge and made an award-winning documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem. Let's be frank: He's a math geek.
"There are lots of mathematicians on the Simpson's [writing team] … and they still have a great affection towards numbers and geometry," says Singh in this week's interview on the Inquiring Minds podcast (listen below).
NOAASuper Typhoon Haiyan as it made landfall in the Philippines. Earlier this month, Super Typhoon Haiyan stunned the meteorological community. The Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which tracked the storm, estimated its maximum one-minute sustained wind speeds at more than 195 miles per hour based on satellite imagery. If confirmed, that would exceed the official wind speed estimates for all other hurricanes and typhoons in the modern period. (Prior to 1969, some Pacific storms were recorded as stronger, but these measurements are now considered too high.) But here's the thing: Haiyan isn't the globe's only record-breaking hurricane in recent years. …
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of the myth that left-brained people are logical and right brained people are creative, and the legacy of Carl Sagan and its lessons for today's science wars.
For climate researcher Michael Mann, the last few weeks have hardly been average ones in the life of a scientist and university professor.
On Oct. 30, Mann introduced Bill Clinton at a campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe in Charlottesville, Va. A few days later, he listened as President Obama, also campaigning for McAuliffe in Virginia, brought up Mann's high-profile struggles with McAuliffe's gubernatorial opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Not exactly average — but then, as MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it when interviewing Mann back in August, "You didn't come to politics, politics came to you." The story of how Mann, a self-described math and computer nerd working in an esoteric field known as paleoclimatology, wound up front and center in a nationally watched political campaign is told on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast: