Curious Rebels

Science is a new endeavor, being around 400 years old. It’s assumptions are simple, but limited.

1. Nature can be understood. 2. Science can be verified.  Under the same circumstances, nature can be perceived in the same way by all observers. Repeatability is important to science. Measurement allows for duplication of results. 3. Human reason is adequate to understand nature. 4. Every effect has a natural cause.

The word “science” is based on the Latin word for “knowledge”. Science searches for order in nature.Science is a body of knowledge based on OBSERVATION. It’s dynamic, meaning that it is ever changing in content. It is a quest for understanding requiring Curiosity—asking questions, Creativity—ability to solve new problems, reasoning ability, and more recently Team work.

It’s certainly changed the world and killed superstition. However, Stripped of its glamor, day to day science can be routine and even boring. Or perhaps, at the best of days, familiar. Why does a person undertake being a scientist? Scientists are often driven by having outsider status.

In the book The Scientist as Rebel (2006) Freeman Dyson makes this statement.  “There is no such thing as a unique scientific vision.  Science is a mosaic of partial and conflicting visions.  But there is one common element in these visions.  The common element is rebellion against the restrictions imposed by the locally prevailing culture.”

Michael Strevens, a philosopher at New York University, supports this notion. He aimed to identify that special something that drives people to collect data. The something special, he says, is that they want to produce new evidence to argue with. He maintains, it is “the key to science’s success,” because it “channels hope, anger, envy, ambition, resentment—all the fires fuming in the human heart—to one end: the production of empirical evidence.”

I was a curious little girl, always asking why and what if. And science suits me. The routine is a comfort and the new is a thrill.But I might not have become a scientist at all if I hadn’t been told I couldn’t do it.

Thus,it should come as no surprise that the most recent winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry are two women. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. The two are noted for their development of a bacteria based gene editing technique known as CRISPR.

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPRs, are repeating sequences found in the genetic code of bacteria. Bacteria use specific CRISPR associated genes as a defense mechanism against viruses. Viruses are as dangerous to bacteria as they are to us. In the CRISPR process, a protein is produced. It cuts viral genetic material, and the bacteria pockets it as a mug shot to use to identify the virus. Thus, the technique can cut and store bits of DNA in a cell’s strand.

For more information, watch this.

Fanciful Illustration of crispr gene engineering

Scientists are curious rebels. They don’t accept the limitations of society and those with something to prove are among the most successful. It can be argued that to teach conformity and acceptance is to snuff out the scientific spirit.

Freeman Dyson warns, “If science ceases to be a rebellion against authority, then it does not deserve the talents of our brightest children…We should try to introduce our children to science today as rebellion against poverty and ugliness and militarism and injustice.”

Scientists are inherently skeptical and require a lot of proof for a new idea.  They are also curious and like new ideas. This creates a tension. Most scientists enjoy and celebrate this tension.

And with this new Nobel, I have something to celebrate, since the CRISPR technique is used in my latest novel Lost in Waste. Catch the Crispr fever! For a copy click here, or comment.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And thanks to Curious Rebels forty years ago, the default for scientist is no longer a man.

A COVID treatment for the powerful

The president’s COVID treatment seems to have worked, or so he claims.

At its heart, it was made from Designer antibodies from humans who have recovered from Covid and from mice who have been designed to have a human immune system.

What are antibodies? To understand them we need to review how viruses work.

Viruses are bits of genetic material that come in coatings that are covered with protein bits with a unique shape. These protein bits are called antigens. Antigens are how scientists identify viruses. They are like the calling card of a virus. Each one is unique to that type of virus. Technically anything that produces an immune response is an antigen. In COVID-19, the “spike protein” sticking out all over like a crown is considered the antigen. Proteins elicit an immune response, unlike the fatty lipid blob that contains the rest of the virus. The spike protein allows the virus to interact with our cells, penetrate them, and inject the viral material into our cells where it uses our cell mechanisms to reproduce itself. Yes, the viral infection is a lot like our cells getting raped and impregnated with a virus.

Antibodies may also be able to treat cancer. Image from cancer.gov

White blood cells recognize a virus as dangerous and cover the anitigens with antibodies to neutralize them. Other white blood cells can then eat the virus. Antibodies have to be tailored for each virus. Vaccines work by teaching white cells how to make the right antibody so they can leap into action without the learning curve. Keeping away from the virus and wearing a mask is like an abstinence only class while a vaccine is more like sex education with a pregnancy prevention compoenent.

In general, antibodies look like Ys under a microscope and you can buy antibody pins, lanyards, phone grips and facemasks. In the latter, the antibodies are shown with weapons–an axe, an arrow, and magic.

The president got a dose of these antibodies equal to three to four times the amount a human needs. Should the rest of us expect such treatment to be available soon? In a word, NO.

Supplies are limited because, in part, because Operation Warp Speed is more show than go when it comes to investment. Yes, it is a cheaply funded program which means most of us won’t able to afford this treatment.

The cost of monoclonals, especially for the higher doses needed for treatment, could split the world into the haves and have-nots. “It’s unlikely that that treatment will get down to a price point in the near future that it would be easily affordable globally,” says Seth Berkley, who leads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and also heads an international COVID-19 vaccine effort.

A deadly virus which may cause sterility in males and a cure only available to some. Doctors are stuck saving the very person who got us into this mess, a man they condemn. I guess for most of us, it’s going to be abstinence only.

Labor’s unappreciated benefits

I was surprised that a friend recently didn’t know what the UAW sticker on my car meant. Sadly, there are many people who probably don’t appreciate what organized labor has done for us. The UAW, or United Auto Workers, has been around since 1915. Its president had this to say in a recent statement :

“Labor Day is the day that we celebrate and recognize the spirit, strength and life-changing contributions of working men and women across this nation. It is the voice, the sacrifice and the unwillingness to give up that defines our labor movement and our union.

So, I would like to remind all of us that it is labor that built America and America’s middle class. It is labor that has brought us fair wages, health care benefits, retirement, health and safety standards, a voice in the workplace and so much more. It is labor that stands up to social and civil injustice and it was the working men and women of this nation that stepped up when our country was in need of critical life-saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Our brothers and sisters were among the first to go to work to make PPE, to make ventilators, to staff food banks and help out in countless ways in communities from coast to coast. But then, that is what we do — and what we have always done.”

Organized labor has always been there for the working class.

In 1961, the UAW at GM, union won the” first fully paid hospitalization and sick benefits, and agreement for no discrimination on basis of race, creed, color or national origin.”

The UAW has lobbied for a Civil Rights Law, formation of OSHA, an Election Day paid holiday for auto workers, and to protect workers in numerous industries.

Before the labor movement gained steam in the 1800s, workers were overworked, underpaid, and not protected from workplace dangers. Children labored beside adults and were often victims of workplace safety lapses.

Strikes, protests, and riots were effective in getting organized labor some concessions from the rich overlords. Wealthy women such as Jane Addams supported the labor movement in its infancy. Child labor was ended in 1881, although not for farm workers. In 1938, the work week was dropped from 100 hours to 40 and a minimum wage was established.

President Reagan was a notorious union-buster and closed down OSHA offices to make conditions less safe. Since his election in 1980, wages have remained stagnant except for the wealthy. The decline of unions has been cited as a contributing factor for flat wages. Inequality and deregualtion, especially in other countries, also take a share of the blame for our huge wage gap, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. A more progressive tax structure would help solve the problem of income inequality.

Meanwhile, “labor unions have proven to be the only consistently effective mechanism for enabling workers to express their concerns and exert significant influence in the workplace..unions have benefited not only members, but the workforce as a whole.”

Labor Unions and workers have been significantly beaten up by politicians as of late. Even if, like most of us, you aren’t in a labor union, it’s time to give them, and workers, respect and to pay attention to the damaging policies enacted over the past few years by politicans who claim to represent the working class but favor the wealthy instead. President Trump even indicted Ronald Reagan into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Fame. We workers have paid the price for one bad president long ago. Let’s hope there isn’t more price to be paid.

Meanwhile, we can thank the UAW for providing protective equipment such as masks and gowns and equipment such as ventillators for healthcare professionals and workers during the pandemic when our elected officals couldn’t seem to get it done because, they didn’t want to.

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What’s the spread?

The pandemic brought out the urge for comfort foods and panic eating in many people, including me. One thing I indulged in was butter on homemade bread. But with all of the discussion on the relationships between fat, covid complications and obesity, I grow concerned about my new eating habits. I asked myself, how bad is butter?

Some studies have said that butter isn’t all that bad for you.

The alternative, margerine, is syntheic and at one time was made from laboratory created trans fats. Trans fats, along wih their identical twin saturated fats, in simple terms, are solid at room temperature as opposed to unsaturated fats, which are liquid. Trans fats are hard on blood vessels and can damage the inner lining.

We all need some fat. Fat is needed for brain function. It’s needed for hormones and reproduction. (although too much is detriental to fertility). In fact, fat and cholesterol are important starting materials in making sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. However, too much of some fats can increase the damaging LDL (Low-density lipoproteins ) form of cholesterol. This type of cholesterol packs a choleresterol punch and provides an excess and even worse, it doesn’t move around in your body easily. It plugs up your arteries instead of doing much good. HDL, however, contains more protein, which is used to help move cholesterol to the proper spots.

With this in mind, I read an interesting study from the Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine published in March 2018. Men and women between 50-75 years old were divided into three groups and given 50 g of one source of fat to eat as a suppliment or use instead of other fat in their normal diets. Their blood serum chloresterol, weight, and body measurements were taken before the study and after four weeks.

The three fats were

butter- an animal derived saturated fat (solid at room temperature)

coconut oil -a plant derived saturated fat (solid at room temperature)

olive oil -a plant derived unsaturated fat liquid (although it also is high in saturated fats as well).

All of the fats were organic.

After the results were reviewed four weeks later, the participants had not gained weight or body mass. All groups had slightly higher total cholesterol, with olive oil showing the least change. However, the butter group had the highest increase in cholesterol and less good cholesterol and much higher bad cholesterol. The other groups, coconut and olive oil, had mostly increased good chloresterol, with coconut oil increasing the most.

This study only examined three fats and only for a short amount of time. It was enough to jolt me back into healthier eating habits. Only four weeks of butter eating made a big impact, adding 30% more bad cholesterol. As for margarine, most no longer contains trans fats, which have been banned. However, I don’t like the taste. I for one am going switch to olive oil and when it comes to fat, I’ll read the label with an eye towards less saturated fat and no trans fat.

Which one will it be?

Is it the hand sanitizer?

You go through your day in a fog. You’re tired all day but jazzed at night. You get in the car and can barely drive. You have a headache and congestion and maybe a cough due to post nasal drip but no fever. You ask yourself, is it covid? Ask a second question: how much hand sanitizer did I use today?

In these times, I find myself drifting between normalcy and hypochondria. If I have a period of time when I can isolate, I am at peace, but if I have to go out, I might not be able to sleep afterwards. Yes, it could be anxiety. Or is it the hand sanitizer? Today, I got in the car for a grocery pick up. A delivery driver pulled up. I didn’t want to leave the package sitting on the porch. I put on a mask, got out, retrieved the package, got back into the car, and generously used hand sanitizer.

The grocery pick up involved popping the trunk for the grocery delivery, closing it, and driving away. But I felt bad, like I had stumbled in a hole. In fact, I got out of the car in the garage and I almost did stumble. Worried, I took my temperature. It was normal. Then, I thought through the chain of events and took a moment to review the hazards of the active ingredient in my hand sanitizer, ethanol. Here it is:

Do not breathe mist, spray, vapors
Wash exposed skin thoroughly after handling
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product

I had the sanitizer in my hot car even though another hazard reads: Store in a well-ventilated place. Keep cool.

From another site:

Inhalation: Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. Causes respiratory tract irritation. May cause narcotic effects in high concentration. Vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation. 

As a chemist, I should have known better than to use hand sanitizer in a hot car with the windows rolled up. It’s basically booze.

From a study in 2017 “Inhaled alcohol may be associated with enhanced behavioral effects including increased risk of addiction. “:

The study includes this chart:

From Alcohol Clin Exp Res
 2017 Feb;41(2):238-250.
 doi: 10.1111/acer.13291. Yale based reserch group

In other words, not much is known about inhalation of alcohol, but it does get into your blood more quickly and at a higher concentration than if you drink it. Alcohol can cause covid-like symptoms such as a headache and stuffy nose. Alcohol can make anxiety worse and cause sleep problems.

The bottom line is NOT that you should not use hand sanitizer. COVID is a dangerous virus. You must protect yourself. However: USE SPARINGLY AND IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA!

And of course, the best protection is quarantine, followed by masking. Hand sanitizer should not be used as an excuse to allow gatherings or to force workers into dangerous situations. It’s not a panacea, only a caution, and it has its own drawbacks. A better alternative to school situations is probably to have hand washing stations with soap and water in classrooms, similar to what you find at outdoor concerts and music festivals.


How important is natural hair?

The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, is one year old. The social implications of being able to wear your hair as you please are enormous but from a scientific standpoint, there’s even more reason to support going all natural. Some hair products, especially black dye and hair straightener, have recently been linked to breast cancer.

Eighty per cent of all women dye their hair. Dyes can be permeant or semi-permeant (last for 6 washes or so). Semipermanent dyes coat the hair and most are harmless. However, a few such as Grecian Formula, may contain lead based products and should be avoided.

Permanent dyeing opens and swells the cuticle, knocks out any color, and adds a large dye molecule. The first permanent dyes were made from coal tar in 1907. Hair dye has been around for a while and studied extensively. It’s known that only 1% of the dye gets into your scalp and if you get highlights or low lights, it’s even less since the dyes are applied away from the scalp in most cases. The dyes are not thought to be toxic or cancer causing, and yet, epidemiological studies have associated their use with breast cancer –a 7% rise in white women and 45% to 50% rise in black women who used dark hair dye. The risk was greater for those who dyed their hair at home. A chemical abbreviated PPD is found in greater amount in black hair dye. Dyes marketed to black women contain more endocrine disrupting chemicals as well.

Hair straighteners, used by 80% of black women to get a “European” look, are associated with an 18% rise in breast cancer by women of all colors.

Adana Llanos, a pioneer in this study, points out that the correlation does not prove that any type of hair dye or straighter causes cancer, only that there was previously no data looking at black women.

Researchers at Northwestern University have been looking at ways to make hair products safer, including developing dyes using pigments from black currents. In any case, hair style should not be one more arena where people have to fight for their lives. Celebrate natural hair!

From a display at the Charles H. Wright museum

This article is the basis for today’s blog.

In the bag: tips for the perfect coffee

Recently, the act of grinding coffee beans for the days’s cup struck me as pleasantly normal. Back when I was rushing off to an office and classroom, even something as small as grinding coffee was just one more obstacle to getting out the door. Whole bean coffee was in the “not worth it ” category, along with, at times, ironing. The semester from hell was over. Now, suddenly, I had a moment to appreciate the freshness and aroma of newly ground coffee. But what helps make coffee fresh? What keeps it fresh? And why does ground coffee smell so good?

Coffee beans undergo chemical reactions when roasted. This process creates hundreds of new chemicals.

Many of these chemicals are are good for you and and a few are bad. The good ones can “protect against gout (by lowering uric acid levels), tooth decay and gallstones… there is mounting and strong evidence for coffee providing some protection against type 2 diabetes.”  Coffee might even prevent Alzheimers disease.  Acrylamide is one of the few bad chemicals and more is found in in light roasts.

One thing that happens during roasting is the beans get lighter and more porous. The pores hold both carbon dioxide and the chemicals which give coffee its aroma. Of the many chemicals in coffee only a few are responsible for the aroma. Of these, a furan-2- methanethiol gets the most attention. Its odor has been described as a combination of nutty and burnt match. Clearly, the full range of aromas combine to give coffee its good smell. Medium roasts are most aromatic.

The good smell is created by less than 1% of the gases in coffee beans. Most of the gas trapped in the pores of a roasted bean is carbon dioxide. It makes up 1-2% of the weight of the roasted coffee.

Fresh coffee when brewed will have a delightful white foam called crema. This is made from carbon dioxide.

The way the coffee is roasted has a large effect on the gases trapped in the beans. Dark and medium coffees are highly impacted by roasting temperature and high temperatures release more gas–which you do not want. In the case of coffee, we want gas. Darker roasts are more porous and hold more gases to begin with. But the pores break down quickly when ground.

Keeping oxygen away is an important part of keeping coffee fresh. Carbon dioxide is found in highest concentrations in freshly roasted coffee. In a bag of coffee, carbon dioxide forms a protective atmosphere to keep oxygen away. Always close up your bag or canister of coffee to keep out oxygen and keep in carbon dioxide.

Grinding coffee will release up to half of the carbon dioxide within a few minutes and the grind will slowly lose the carbon dioxide over the course of days. Course ground coffee will lose the least carbon dioxide and fine ground the most. Keeping the bag closed will help prevent further loss.

An issue to be aware of when buying and drinking coffee goes further than the bag. Many coffee plantations are human rights violators, especially in Brazil. Many large suppliers of coffee have purchased coffee grown and picked using slave labor. Although coffee is originally from Africa, it was stolen and imported to South America and Haiti, along with Africans captured to tend it. Native people, particularly the Mayans, were also enslaved to bring us coffee.

This means that besides grinding beans before use & keeping the bag closed, the ideal cup of coffee will be Fair Trade.

Bulletproof is one such brand and here’s my favorite.

This company will let you select country of origin, are Fair Trade, and send you a clip to keep the coffee closed. They also advocate putting coffee in the freezer and I agree. The gases will be lost from the coffee pores much more slowly when cold.

There are plenty more to choose from should you do a search. Like grinding my coffee, paying attention to Fair Trade has not been a priority of mine. However, it will be in the future.

Thanks to this article for information on carbon dioxide in coffee:

Time-Resolved Gravimetric Method To Assess Degassing of Roasted Coffee, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018, 5293-5300. Corresponding author is Chahan Yeretzian

Got you covered

The cover for Lost in Waste was in a contest for books published by independent/small publishers.

http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest

Once my second novel clearly identified the theme and tenor of the series, Book One got a cover make over. It looks less romantic, doesn’t it?

Likewise, the cover of my first novel, a Victorian romanic satire, was simplified over time, as shown below,

When I started out writing novels, I wasn’t sure of my path as an author. As this becomes more established, so do my covers.

What do experts say makes a good cover? Most will say it should be something simple and easy to take in right away with a clear focal point and an easy to read font. It needs to give a quick, big picture overview of what the book is about and catch attention.

Here are some all time great covers.

I didn’t have much to do with designing the cover but it’s been a well-received one. I asked City Owl CEO, Tina Moss, what makes a good cover. She replied as follows:

“The biggest thing with covers is to see the what’s working in the genre. What are readers gravitating toward? Covers like trends change. And some of the top indie authors will actually change their covers yearly or more often. I don’t think that’s necessarily correct as you want to create a brand and not chase trends. But having a brand that aligns with consistency in the genre is key. 


For example, your author name should be the same font on your cover, your website, your social media headers, your business cards, your swag, etc. The cover is a tool for marketing and branding.”

Following my CEO’s advice, I attempted to match fonts for this site with my books. How did I do?

Is technology making us stupider and what can we do about it?

I’m lucky I can work from home, very lucky. As I finish the semester, I wonder how student learning changed once courses went on-line.

Grading on-line papers is difficult for me. Reading from a screen is neurologically different than from a page. We read faster and with less depth on a screen. This is fine for an exciting novel, but when grading, I wonder how much I let slide. Add in the extra key-board steps it takes to correct or comment and it makes on-line paper grading slow going.

Some of my students turned in hand written lab reports and exams (via photo), as we did before we were so rudely interrupted. Writing by hand helps people remember and since it is slower than typing, it forces people to condense ideas and helps a learner transcribe knowledge onto their own words. It’s good for our dexterity. The pen helps us to see in a different way. When I found myself struggling to describe a sculpture in my novel in progress, I picked up a pen and sketched what my mind was visualizing. This helped me put my mind’s eye it into words.

Sadly, I will no doubt rely on screen submitted assignments more next semester because of health concerns. During my last week of in-person labs, as covid-19 crept up and all of us were either sick or scared or both, I had each general chemistry student show me their notebook as I graded the hand-written labs on the spot and gave each notebook back to its owner. I didn’t want a stack of them smoldering in my office, even though paper isn’t a huge source of transmission.

As we face an era of typed answers, we need to be aware of what we are giving up. Despite it being easier to type than hand write, answers are becoming shorter and less detailed, as if we are developing a universal impatience that may be here to stay. There is a pushback against learning cursive and many people don’t know it and can’t read it. However, it can’t be beat for efficient note-taking which helps you to remember. I compose on a keyboard and thank goodness for editors who then push me to expand. And as courses and compositions have moved on-line, I find a need to push my students to expand as well.

Teaching is only part of my job. This is the excuse given for paying adjuncts so terribly. However, if I attend one more Zoom meeting, it might toss me over the edge and I’ll run screaming outside without a mask. Yes, Zoom fatigue is the latest digital plague. Zoom brings us together in impossible times. It also makes us sadly realize what we’ve lost and can provide irritating distraction. Watching my hair grow ever longer is one of those distractions. Like most of us, I mute myself and block the screen.

Some educators blame the ubiquitous cell phones for creating a generation which is poor scholastically because they can no longer focus. People who once loved to read can no longer read books. Former voracious reader Josephine Tovey of The Guardian writes of her struggle to read. “Almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing…as I get older and spend more of my life online, reading books has become harder.”

Smart phones could be making us dumber and are also addicting. People check their phones around once every twelve minutes, and first thing in the morning. This cuts down on the ability to begin the day focused since checking a phone in the morning is distracting. Abundant smart phone and television use has been linked to depression, especially in teens.

Computer addiction has been defined as “A disorder in which the individual turns to the Internet or plays computer games in an attempt to change moods, overcome anxiety, deal with depression, reduce isolation or loneliness, or distract themselves from overwhelming problems. The elderly, as well as children and adolescents, are particularly vulnerable.” As we turn to on-line schooling, will we increase this, or will computers be used less during out of class hours because they are associated with work?

Signs of this addiction can be found on the link.

After the invention of the printing press, unscrupulous folks churned out books filled with misinformation. The populace, who had mostly associated a book with the Bible, fell prey. No doubt, in the 1450s, people probably wondered if books were making us stupider. Now days, memes are the spreader of bad info and have created a “new world disorder.” The saying with a picture has been called a form of psychological infection and a source of prejudice. Older people are particularly vulnerable.

However, at least we have a way to connect in times like this. How can we do it better?

A few tips are:

  1. Use your computer only in specific areas and turn it off when not in use.

2. Store your smart phone in your purse or pocket.

3. Limit time on social media. Restrict yourself to x number of comments per day.

4. Find something new to occupy your time. Many people have learned fresh skills from on-line courses. Common hobbies during these times are tv watching (be careful not to binge as binging causes depression), reading, working out, and arts and crafts. So many people are baking these days that stores have run out of many ingredients. (Here’s what to substitute.)

5. Give yourself a time limit. Use a Nanny App or set browsing free days or hours.

6. Don’t believe those memes.

7. To improve focus and help organize and slow down your distracted mind, take a break and write by hand.

𝓣𝓱𝓪𝓷𝓴𝓼 𝓯𝓸𝓻 𝓻𝓮𝓪𝓭𝓲𝓷𝓰!

Earth Day: all the stuff we cannot see

We are running out of places to store our oil. Farmers can’t get their pigs slaughtered because the meat plant workers are sick and can’t kill them fast enough. Economies are toppling because of one little virus. Which brings us to the reminder: our life here hangs in a fragile balance.

Earth Day is 50 years old. It was launched by Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and the date was chosen to be just before finals week at colleges. Problems with the oil industry were thought to have inspired him–both the deadly used of lead in gas and an oil spill off the coast of California.

Environmentalism has long been in the fabric of our nation.

Environmentalism embraces  the Pragmatic Utilitarian perspective (hunting, fishing, hiking are worthy pastimes) and Idealist Naturalist (every species is important) perspectives. Most scientists are Idealists.

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), a utilitarian and the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, saw conservation as being for the good of the greatest number of people and saw businesses as selfish exploiters of resources.  He felt that the government was a representative of the People and should manage our natural resources.  The Utilitarian approach can be found in the Izaak Walton League and the  National Wildlife Federation.

Many events lead up to the formation of Earth Day:

•1930s  The Dust Bowl showed the need for soil conservation.

•1962 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson linked DDT use and bird death. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring connected DDT use with the disappearance of the bald eagle and other birds in the US.  (When I was a girl, most people in the US had never seen an eagle and its mysterious vanishing alarmed patriots as as well as nature lovers.)  Like Galileo and Paracelsus, biologist Carson wrote for a general audience, achieved nearly instant fame, and rattled authority figures.  Yet she had the admiration and backing of other scientists and  some politicians so her environmental movement took hold.

1968 First photo of Earth from space was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Earthrise shows our planet rising over the moon. The Earth’s beauty contrasted with the dead surface of the moon helped people fall in love with it and see how precious it is and for the photographer, William Anders, human conflict and loyalty to divisive causes looked so petty. “This is the only home we have and yet we’re busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war, and wearing suicide vests,” he said. “It amazes me.”

1969 Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted with industrial wastes that it caught fire and burned.

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill causes by inadequate safety regulations, spilled 21,000 gallons of oil off the coast of California, killing thousands of animals. The explosion it caused cracked the sea floor!

By 1970, people in the US had had enough. In 1970 , the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was created. Environmental laws increase from 20-120.

•1970 First Earth Day on April 22 was celebrated.

•A major advancement in environmental science came when the field of analytical chemistry (testing for chemical composition) was developed in the US in the 1960s and 70s.  This new branch of chemistry revealed  that small amounts of synthetic chemicals persisted in the environment.  Before this time, they were undetectable and assumed to be broken down when put into the air and water. I’m an analytical chemist and perhaps my love of environmentalism is at the core of it.

  In 1989 75% of people in US identified themselves as environmentalists. Recently, this has fallen to 42%, in part because it has been wantonly politicized and partly because the problems are less obvious.

•Astroturfing is a big problem for our environmental awareness these days and can be blamed for the lack of support and politicization. Here’s how it works: if scientific evidence points to a consensus but it could harm your profits,  a group of “scientists” will  be formed and they will refute the evidence. They will often not use the scientific method and rarely publish in peer reviewed journals. Sometimes they will get a letter to the editor published in a peer reviewed journal and then they will use it as a citation, as if they had published an article in the journal. Astroturf groups pretend to be “green”. If they employ scientists, the scientists are not working in their area of expertise. There are also social influencers who roam the internet with their name calling ex: saying environmentalists are hippies or earth worshipers, & calling good science “junk science. ” To oppose this, Scientists have had to march and speak out.

Science can be powerful. It’s hopeful yet skeptical–hopeful that problems can be solved but skeptical of the influences of power and money on science. With this, scientists are reacting with alarm to political and financial pressures more than ever before.  Companies are spending money to publicly refute accepted science and regulatory agencies are underfunded.  We even have a president pushing medical cures that don’t work! (Watch the Movie: Thank You for Smoking). These forces aren’t always able to be seen, yet, like a virus, they damage scientific progress and integrity. They damage democracy as well.

Science and Democracy, ideally, are a lot alike. Shared values include –openness to critical scrutiny –a skepticism toward claims that too neatly support reigning values –a willingness to listen to countervailing opinions –a readiness to admit uncertainty and ignorance –a respect for evidence gathered according to the sanctioned best practices of the moment.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road / the one less traveled by / offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson.

These words stand true today, more than ever. Please, celebrate Earth Day today.