Monthly Archives: May 2015

This Scientist Is OK- Jessa Watters

Jessa Watters is the collections manager of herpetology for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. She works in the Cameron Siler lab studying reptiles and amphibians.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with her and some student researchers recently as they collected lots of little creatures..

Watters tells me she has always had a fondness for biology, especially turtles, so it’s no surprise she’s made a career in a field that studies them. She’s not a native Oklahoman but Watters is definitely an OK scientist.

Booster Seats Saves Lives

Booster seats save lives. I know that first hand. I’ve seen it. I’m thankful that my wife and I continue to put our 9-year old son in a booster seat.

Climate change is important to me. Helping promote a better understanding of evolution is important to me. But this is the most important story I have ever written. See that picture below? My wife and son were in that car when it was struck last week.

Two people inside this car survived because of a seatbelt and a booster seat.

Two people inside this car survived because of a seatbelt and a booster seat.

My wife was wearing her seatbelt and my 9-year old son was in a booster seat (CARS theme, you know Lightning McQueen and friends). The firefighters at the scene, the paramedics, and his doctor all said it would have been a very different story had he not been in a booster seat. The point of the booster seat is to raise the child up so the seatbelt does not go across their neck or face and that it rests in the lap, not on their stomach. I’ve known some parents of similar aged kids who do not use a booster seat. I can’t say why. Maybe they think their child is too cool for it, maybe they think their child is too old for it, maybe they just don’t know better.

Well, this should help. Go to this link. It’s from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and has all kinds of advice for using a booster seat or car seat for the younger kids. My son is nine, this is what they say about his age:

8 – 12 Years

Keep your child in a booster seat until he or she is big enough to fit in a seat belt properly. For a seat belt to fit properly, the lap belt must lie snugly across the upper thighs, not the stomach. The shoulder belt should lie snugly across the shoulder and chest and not cross the neck or face. Remember: your child should still ride in the back seat because it’s safer there.

Here’s more. These come courtesy of the CDC.

Restraint use among young children often depends upon the driver’s seat belt use. Almost 40% of children riding with unbelted drivers were themselves unrestrained.

More of the older children (45% of 8-12 year olds) were not buckled up compared with younger children (one-third of 1-7 year olds; one-fourth of infants under 1) in 2011.

Booster seat use reduces the risk for serious injury by 45% for children aged 4–8 years when compared with seat belt use alone.

In the United States during 2011, more than 650 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes.

Of the children who died in a crash in 2011, 33% were not buckled up.

Look at these pictures, imagine what happened inside this car during the wreck. I can’t even think about what could have happened had my son not been in a booster seat or worse, been sitting in the front seat.

Put your child in a booster seat. Put your child in the back seat. Don’t think, ‘It won’t happen to me.’ Don’t pretend your child is too good for a booster seat. Don’t fool yourself. 

Your child’s life depends on it.

 

Rising CO2 Levels Not Good for Grasslands

Rising CO2 levels are not good for grasslands, that’s the result of a four decade study in Montana. Researchers with Montana State University have been studying the same meadow near Bozeman for more than 40 years. They recently published the results of their study in Nature Communications.

The study ran from 1969 to 2012. When it began the concentration of carbon dioxide was at 327 parts per million. 42 years later it had risen by 20% to 402ppm.

So what were the results? Not surprisingly at all, not good. As reported by  The Daily Climate,Dryness over the last several decades is outpacing any potential growth stimulation from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen deposition,” said Jack Brookshire, one of the study’s co-author. He added, “Our results demonstrate lasting consequences of recent climate change on grassland production.”

One of the big arguments for climate change deniers is that rising CO2 emissions are good for plants. Our own illustrious Senator with the snowball has made that argument several times. He most recently said it earlier this month on the Senate floor. Here’s the video courtesy of Raw Story.

So basically more CO2 makes plants greener. In a way, that’s correct. But when looking at climate change you have take into everything into account…that includes less rainfall. So more CO2 and less rain means less productivity in grasslands.

Maybe next time the Senator with the snowball will bring a clump of grass to the Senate floor to make his case.

Herpetology Field Trip

The Cameron Siler Lab is based at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Researchers there study herpetology, which means they know just about everything there is to know about reptiles and amphibians.

They just started the first year of a three year grant to study the diversity of those creatures in Oklahoma. They’re also looking to see if any of them show signs of certain diseases that could have a major impact on the populations.

Special thanks to Jessa Watters, the herpetology collections manager, for letting me tag along on one of their field trips. We went to the James Collins Wildlife Management Area in Latimer County. It’s not know if any of the animals you see in this video suffer from those diseases. The researchers take what they’ve collected back to their lab to perform the tests.

If you know of a group of scientists doing field work in Oklahoma please let me know. I’d love to go out there with them. Drop me a line at scienceisok (at) outlook (dot) com.

This Scientist is OK- Dr. James Shaffer

Dr. James Shaffer is a physicist at the University of Oklahoma. He recently created a new molecule that could lead the way for quantum computing. He loves science and the scientific process because, he says, it’s always on the edge of uncertainty.

A couple of items from this interview…at the 1:08 mark he talks about why he likes the sitcom The Big Bang Theory and at the 2:18 mark he explains why politicians are sometimes misguided when they evaluate scientific research.

 

Rush in Tulsa

It’s a great week here in Tulsa, America…at least for fans of the rock band Rush. I’ve been a lifelong fan of this amazing trio. Their lyrics, their musicality, and their ability to stay together for more than 40 years is inspirational.

They have a number of songs with a science themes…Cygnus X 1, Countdown, and 2112 (okay, so that’s more science-fiction).

But my favorite is Natural Science. It’s a doozy at more than nine minutes. It’s about not forgetting the natural world despite all of our modern technology. The song shows off Alex, Geddy, and Neil’s musical ability with three different movements and several odd time signatures. Enjoy.

How to Spot the Woo

It seems every day a news organization is doing a story on the latest health craze. That wonder drug to give you more energy, get rid of the cricks in your knees, or even fight off cancer. So how do you know if it’s real or some form of woo? The Skeptic’s Dictionary defines woo, by the way, as “…ideas considered irrational or based on extremely flimsy evidence…”. 

Headline Is A Trap

First off, ignore the headline. “Doctors say it’s a Miracle Cure”, fat chance. “Wonder Drug Stops Cancer”, uh-no. The headline is just a sexy invitation to get you to read or watch the story. Clickbait is what the kids call it these days.

Patient Doesn’t Know Best

Next, take a look at who the story is about. Is it about the patient who suffered some ailment or is it about someone with a vested interest in the product? If the story is focused on the patient pay close attention to what they say was wrong. Do they have a specific name of the problem or are they just saying that even their doctor didn’t know what was going on? Chances are if they can’t say exactly what was wrong…”I was tired all the time” or “my back was sore in the morning” or “I just felt icky”…then they possibly never even went to a medical doctor. If they say their doctor didn’t know what was wrong…well, that’s a possibility. Contrary to popular opinion doctors do make mistakes and can misdiagnose. The question is what did the patient do after that? Did they go see another doctor or did they go straight to the wonder drug? While one doctor might overlook something, the chances of others doing it are slim. If the patient went straight to the wonder drug then you know they didn’t give medicine a chance.

Expert or Pseudo-Expert?

Now let’s look at the so-called expert in the story. The person who, on the surface, knows all there is to know about this amazing treatment. Are they a real doctor? Not a doctor of chiropractic medicine. Not a naturopath. Not a homeopath. Not an acupuncturist. A real, honest to goodness, doctor of medicine. An MD. If they’re not, take everything they say with a grain of salt. (Actually, a grain of salt may do just as good what they want you to do.) I encourage you to click the links and read for yourself from people much smarter than me about why those so-called treatments are bogus.

Cha-Ching

But wait there’s more…does anyone in the story have a vested interest in the product? Are they trying to sell you something? Do they say the drug changed their life so much that they’re now selling it themselves. If so, giant red flag. I think it’s easy to see the conflict here.

Just cuz someone “says” something doesn’t make it true

Another question to ask, is there anyone in the story who takes a critical look at the treatment? The story must have an outsider, someone not connected with the wonder drug who also has a credible science-based medical background. If that person is not part of the story then the reporter either didn’t think to examine the treatment to see if what’s being claimed is true or they just didn’t want to include any critical information. Think about it like this, say a reporter does a story about you. They talk to your neighbor who says you’re a drunken slob and accuses you of going on midnight crime sprees. What does the reporter do next? They should talk with you and police to confirm or disprove the claims. The key word is “says”. Your neighbor can say anything they want but that doesn’t make it true. If the reporter doesn’t mention whether they tried to confirm what is said about the treatment you should question all of those claims.

Research, Research, Research

The best thing after reading such story is to do some research yourself. Below are some websites I use to wade through the woo.

Science Based Medicine

QuackWatch

What’s the Harm

Finally, here’s a fantastic song by the talented Tim Minchin that should help put it all into perspective.

Another New Dino

I’ve been busy working on a project but there’s always time to talk about the latest dinosaur find. That illustration above is Yi qi. It was found in China and dates back to 160 million years ago.

It’s unique because it’s a theropod that has wings similar to a bat. You can see its long bones in the hand region used to support the wing membrane.

Dr. Jerry Coyne has a great write-up on it on his blog at Why Evolution is True. (Which is also the name of his outstanding book on evolution. It’s a great read to help you get a better understanding of evolution.)

This is what I love about science. It seems everyday a new discovery is made which brings up more and more questions, which spurs more and more research.