23 November 2010


SEXY SCIENCE. I love Andrea Kuszewski. She is brilliant, witty, and takes no crap off anyone. She is also a behavioral therapist, a prolific blogger and Facebook presence, and an enthusiastic proponent of science literacy and science communication. Oh yeah, she's also a former cheerleader. Her blog post The Sexing Up Of Science (I'm Coming Out! And So Can You!) makes the indisputable point that science would benefit from the enthusiasm of sexy and smart cheerleaders in attracting public understanding and support. Who says we have to be black or white, sensual or intelligent, PhDs or ignorant drones?

The post is fairly long, but brimming with Andrea's signature style -- informative, engaging, funny, and guaranteed to induce you to think. The video on the Science Cheerleaders (all of whom are themselves active and accomplished scientists) is not to be missed. Who says science can't be fun?

VEGAN. Thanks to my Chicago friend Bill for sending me the link to this post from the blog Voracious, titled A Vegan No More. You know how you sometimes see certain people who adhere to strict, limiting diets which are purported to be super healthy, and these same people look emaciated and sickly, like refugees from a gulag? Some (not all) vegetarians carry their beliefs to extremes -- among them vegans. It turns out that people on such radical diets are actually sabotaging their own health by depriving themselves of essential vitamins and minerals. The resulting feelings of weakness and malaise which they experience can be traced directly to their self-neglect.

As described in the post, a physician who is highly knowledgeable about human nutrition asserts that "humans are healthiest when eating a large amount of varied plant foods, but we would be wrong to ignore the small amounts of animal products that many of us so essentially need -- eggs and bits of meat every so often are small but very important parts of a healthy diet."

I'm always cautious about the claims of fringe elements in any human behavior, whether it is politics, religion, science/ecology, or human health. Not that all those farout ideas are wrong. They merely need to be tested repeatedly over time, to prove their worth. That is precisely how all good science works, and human nutrition is a science, not a faith cult.

WATERSHED STATES. Not in the sense of political influence, but more literally the mapping of political boundaries based on geographic features like watersheds, and the mountain ranges which define them. In How the West Wasn't Won: Powell's Water-Based States, Frank Jacobs makes a compelling case against our predilection for choosing arbitrary straight lines to form state and national borders, and a correspondingly compelling case for the suggestions of geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell. In 1890, Powell produced his "Map of the Arid Region of the Unites States, Showing Drainage Districts" (see map below, click to enlarge). He argued that the borders of states-yet-to-be in this region should be decided based on the boundaries of natural watersheds, not on lines of longitude or latitude. "Powell was convinced that only a small fraction of the American West was suitable for agriculture. His report proposed irrigation systems fed by a multitude of small dams (instead of the few huge dams in operation today), and state borders based on watershed areas. The bulk of the arid regions should be reserved for conservation and low-intensity grazing."

Talk about a man ahead of his time. Although powerful railroad interests were able to subvert his ideas, Powell presciently warned that "you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land." His words have become reality, especially in the desert Southwest. States, metropolitan areas and agriculture compete for increasingly scarce water resources, so much so that the mighty Colorado River no longer completes its journey to the Gulf of California. In fact, the river essentially has been sucked dry before it even reaches the U.S.-Mexico border. Water table levels all over the region are falling yearly, with deeper and deeper wells needed to reach increasingly mineralized water. Our demands outstrip the ability of nature to resupply water through annual rainfall and snowmelt. One more example of the wages of human excess, and our myopic inability to think ahead.

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