Tag Archives: Bewley

Someone has to love bugs

Dr. Katrina Menard is an entomologist, so she studies bugs (someone has to, right??). She was in Black Mesa this summer as part of the ExplorOlogy program. She was teaching the students how to develop a scientific study by taking a census of the local insect population.

So why entomology and why insects? Well at the 1:10 mark she explains what led her to a career studying the tiniest of creatures. At the 1:48 mark she talks about the importance of funding for scientific research and why the decision makers need to look at the long term results.

(For more on ExplorOlogy click here, here, here, and here.)

OK Researchers Study Plant Development

Some Oklahoma scientists are teaming with a Michigan State University scientist to study if plants can overcome a nutrient-poor environment. Here are the three scientists who are heading up the project. Be sure to click on page 2 for a news release from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore with a detailed explanation of the project.

Noble Foundation researchers Wolf Scheible, Ph.D. (center), Michael Udvardi, Ph.D. (left), and Patrick X. Zhao, Ph.D. (right), in collaboration with Michigan State University recently received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Noble Foundation researchers Wolf Scheible, Ph.D. (center), Michael Udvardi, Ph.D. (left), and Patrick X. Zhao, Ph.D. (right), in collaboration with Michigan State University recently received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This Scientist is OK- Dr. J.P. Masly

Dr. J.P. Masly is an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma. He studies how genes evolve over time to form complex organisms (like you and me!!).

He recently received an award from the National Science Foundation that will allow him to continue with his research and build educational outreach programs in the community.

He talks, in this video, about why he studies the genes of fruit flies (here’s a hint, we’re a lot a like) and at the 2:15 mark about why he thinks science and religion do not have to conflict.

Ancient Dental Plaque

A University of Oklahoma scientist is perfecting the art (and by art I mean science) of studying ancient dental plaque. We’ve highlighted Dr. Christina Warinner before when her research gained national recognition. Now she’s featured in a fantastic video produced by Illumina. The company describes itself as, “a leading developer, manufacturer, and marketer of life science tools and integrated systems for large-scale analysis of genetic variation and function.” 

Dr. Warinner likes to say she’s an “archaeologist of the invisible”. She studies the dental plaque from teeth that are thousands of years old. Bacteria covers that dental plaque, from that she’s able to learn all kinds of things about the person who once used that tooth. Where they lived, what they ate, whether they were healthy or not, etc…

This video is an amazing look inside the process.

What’s a Graptolite?

Remember that Golden Spike? (Click here or scroll down one story.) It marks a boundary between two geologic time spans. In a nutshell, it’s where and when (geologically speaking) a  species makes its debut in the geologic record.
The Oklahoma spike is where Diplacanthograptus caudatus was found. It was a small aquatic animal called a Graptolite that floated around thanks to ocean currents.
Kyle Hartshorn with Dry Dredgers sent along some pictures of Graptolites that were found in Oklahoma. They’re tiny and look like pencil marks in the rock. Hartshorn told me, “Graptolites came in a variety of shapes: long and thin, short and wide, wishbone shaped, spiraled, and more.  There were quite a few forms at the places we went.”
Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

This pic below is of a conodont. It was an small creature that kind of looked like an eel. The conodont below is the yellow-orange speck inside the circle. That circle is about the size of a dime and was drawn around the fossil to help spot it. Conodonts are extremely hard to spot with the naked eye.

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

Courtesy: Kyle Hartshorn

These images are why I can’t help but examine rocks when I’m outside. You never know what you’re going to find, fossils can be all shapes and sizes!!

A Golden Spike in Oklahoma Marks the Spot

A Golden Spike in Oklahoma marks a geologic boundary that has the attention of scientists across the world. The picture below shows what’s called the Katian Golden Spike. It’s been placed near Atoka (about 45 miles southeast southwest of McAlester).

The Katian Golden Spike near Atoka. Courtesy: Dry Dredgers

The Katian Golden Spike near Atoka. Courtesy: Dry Dredgers

So what’s up with a big gold spike being hammered into the rocks? Well, long story short- it marks the beginning of a span of geologic time. This particular spike represents the start of the Upper Ordovician Katian Stage. The Ordovician Period is a span of time that lasted from about 485-million years ago to 443-million years ago. The Katian Stage was the second to last stage of the Ordovician. It lasted about 8-million years.

The spike marks a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point or GSSP. The location for a spike is determined by the first appearance of a particular species in the geologic record. In the case of the Katian Golden Spike, it marks the first place where Diplacanthograptus caudatus was found…a small aquatic animal that just floated around.

Kyle Hartshorn is with Dry Dredgers, “the oldest continuously-operating fossil club in North America”. He was also part of a group that recently toured Oklahoma’s geology and placed the spike in Atoka. He says these kinds of fossils look like little zippers or feathers, “These floating colonial animals were widely distributed by ocean currents, making them excellent tools for stratigraphic correlation.  Other wide-ranging planktonic fossils are also found at the site, including conodonts (teeth-like structures from tiny lamprey-like primitive fish) and chitinozoans (little sac-shaped fossils of unknown origin).”

The placement of a Golden Spike is mostly ceremonial, according to Hartshorn, but it does help scientists who do research there in the future. There are Golden Spikes placed around the world but only six , including the Katian Spike in Atoka, are in the United States.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.