Will the world end with a bang?

Enjoyed this recent update from Roper polls in which they asked what would be the most likely scenario for the end of the world.  The winner?  Nuclear war.

most fear will bring end to humanity

I do like that that rapture ties global warming and beats out an asteroid.  Given the choices myself, I think I’d go with deadly virus.

Bill Nye and GMO’s

Never been a particularly big fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy.  He’s alright, but, whatever.  Anyway, I had not been aware that he was opposed to GMO’s until learning yesterday that he has changed his mind on the issue after, you know, paying attention to the actual science.

But on another hot-button issue involving science — genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — Nye has actually angered many scientists. Over the years, including in a chapter in his 2014 book “Undeniable,” Nye has suggested that there’s something fundamentally problematic with foods containing GMO crops. He has argued that GMOs may carry environmental risks that we can never rule out with certainty.

Now, Nye seems to have changed his mind. Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs. “I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”

In love?  Okay.  Zeal of the convert.  Anyway, Bill Nye, now actually the Science Guy.  But what I really appreciated was how nicely Puneet Kollipara summed up the core issues:

The mere fact that something is a GMO doesn’t tell us all that much, however, about how the plant actually functions. Rather, the way a GMO plant works stems from the new genes and traits themselves, whether they were inserted by scientists or came from the same species. So scientists assess GMOs’ safety based not on whether they’re GMO, but on what their new genes actually do and the resulting changes in the plants.

And since GMOs cover such a wide range of traits, we have to assess them one by one. [emphasis mine]

Yes!  I’m not some sort of GMO pollyanna, it’s just pretty obvious that we need to rationally analyze each of these products based on what they bring to the table (metaphorical and literal) and their potential risks.  And, when we do do that, the science is pretty clear on the vast majority of these products:

Over the years, as peer-reviewed scientific studies on GMOs have piled up, scientific organizations ranging from the National Academy of Sciences to the World Health Organization have analyzed them and reached similar conclusions: GMOs on the market today are no riskier for your health than their non-GMO equivalents.

A recent analysis of the scientific literature also found that GMO crops haven’t been worse for the environment than their non-GMO counterparts and, in some cases, have been better, for instance by reducing pesticide use. That finding echoes a 2010 NAS report that said GMO crops, generally speaking, “have had fewer adverse effects on the environment than non-GE crops produced conventionally.” …

And Kollipara’s conclusion is right on:

I’m not saying GMOs are a silver bullet to end world hunger or that I love Monsanto. And I’m not saying that there aren’t cases where individual GMOs might result in environmental issues, such as pest resistance. Debating GMOs’ benefits and risks is healthy. But making GMOs the bogeyman while giving other crops a pass isn’t.

I also find it interesting though, how he has to assert his credibility by being not in the tank for Monsanto.  Why should he or I, or anybody have to do this?  Can’t we just follow the science?!

Video of the day

This animation of an asteroid destroying the earth is so cool.  More here.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  Freaky!

Picture of a constellation of orbs, rings, and halos hanging above the Greenland ice sheet

Icesheet #4727

Photograph by Murray Fredericks, National Geographic

A constellation of orbs, rings, and halos hangs above the Greenland ice sheet in this picture by Murray Fredericks, who spent months photographing the island’s remote beauty. The optical phenomena seen here occur when ice crystals—suspended by powerful winds called piteraqs—refract sunlight.

ICESHEET #4727, 22° AND 46° HALO, TANGENT ARC, PARRY ARC, CIRCUMZENITHAL ARC, AND PARHELIC CIRCLE

Quick hits (part II)

1) A better way to prevent young Muslim men in the West from being radicalized?

2) Republicans are all about how state and local government is better.  Except when the local government wants to do something the radical conservatives in charge of state governments disapprove of.

3) Give your babies some peanuts!  Among other things, a really interesting case on what has been the conventional medical wisdom for a number of years appears to have been 180 degrees wrong.

4) So, maybe the universe had no beginning at all?  Sure, I can wrap my head around that.

5) Personally, I’m so annoyed at all the feminists picking on Patricia Arquette for making a statement for equal pay for women at the Oscars.  Amanda Marcotte’s complaints strike me as exactly what’s wrong with feminism.  For one, I agree with Arquette’s implicit complaint that liberal politics has been too focused on identity politics and not enough bread-and-butter economic issues.

6) I had no idea China was trying to fund a canal through Nicaragua.  Sounds like an absolutely epic boondoggle.

7) Excellent piece from Nate Cohn reminding us that Republicans in blue states are actually really important.

The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.

It’s easy to forget about the blue-state Republicans. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats, and so officials elected by states and districts that supported Mr. Romney dominate the Republican Congress.

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama.

8) I didn’t know about the Siberian crater problem and it’s connection to global warming.  Fascinating.

9) Speaking of Russia, enjoyed this take on the murder of Boris Nemtsov.

10) We all take spreadsheets for granted these days, but they really are a pretty amazing invention.  Loved this Planet Money story.

11) The Republican plan for fighting ISIS is amazingly similar to…. what Obama is actually doing.

12) Great Jon Stewart clip on all the hate from Fox on the announcement of his leaving the show.

13) Maria Konnikova on the dangers of leaning in.

14) Ezra Klein once again reminding us that moderates are not actually moderate at all.

15) On how the color blue is actually a recent innovation.  Seriously.  Loved the Radiolab referenced in this post.

16) All the evidence you need for the existence of white privilege.

17) I so hate the Food Babe.  I’ve been meaning to write my own post disparaging her, but I’ve fallen short.  These two do a great job.

18) I was quite amused at how shocked my stepmother was at Christmas-time when we explained we don’t bathe our kids every night.  You would have thought we said we have them sleep outside in the winter.  Of course, there’s absolutely no reason you need to bathe children every day.  (Of course, now that David is a teenager he will definitely develop a smell if he goes too long).

19) Lolita is one of my favorite books ever.  Enjoyed this piece on it for being one of the Guardian’s top 100 novels.  I came across it when “Vladimir Nabokov” surprisingly posted the link in my FB feed.

Quick hits

1) While everybody has been complaining about the silliness of the dress being black/blue or gold/white, the truth is, this really is a fascinating case of the ambiguities of human color perception.  David Pogue’s take was my favorite.  And a good one in Wired, too.

The really crazy part for me is that on Friday morning this was totally white and I could not even imagine how it could be blue.  Then Friday afternoon when I showed my kids, it was blue.  Friday night, it was white again.  As of this later Friday night writing, it’s back to blue again.  Try as I might, I cannot see it as the dingy white I did just two hours ago.  Argh!  Crazy and awesome.

2) Not generally a big fan of Maureen Dowd, but she’s exactly right to question Jeb’s decision-making in relying on all his brother’s worst advisers.  Paul Wolfowitz– seriously?!

3) Our nation’s way over-reliance on solitary confinement truly is a national shame.

4) Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members is literally one of the funniest books I’ve read in years.  I read it in a day (can’t remember the last time I did that) and laughed out loud a bunch while I was reading it.

5) Really liked this take on David Carr’s death and the stigma of lung cancer.

6) I so hate the twitter guardians of decency who seem to take such pleasure in ruining lives.  Absolute worst part of the Lindsey Stone case was how the morons basically had no sense of humor or context.  Horrible and pathetic.

7) How twin studies show that whether you believe in God or not, is significantly genetic.

8) Enjoyed this story on Dianne Rehm’s advocacy in the Right to Die movement.

9) I think Scott Walker’s moronic comments that he’s ready to face down ISIS because he faced down public employee unions mostly just show that he’s not ready for primetime (of which we’ve had ample evidence of late).  Plus, there’s something about the set of his eyes that just seems wrong to me.

10) Will Saletan on how Obama should more forthrightly call out Republicans.  Not going to happen, but it’s nice to think about:

Please. If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.

11) Found this NYT story utterly fascinating about two French babies switched at birth and how they stayed with their non-biological families when the error was learned many years later.

12) St Louis is a great example of what goes wrong when a metropolitan area has too many local governments.

13) I’ve only watched three episodes of House of Cards and that’s all it will likely ever be.  As Alyssa Rosenberg writes, it insults our intelligence.  Also, from what I’ve seen it has basically no sense of humor (which is decidedly not the case from other great dramas of recent times).

14) If the Supreme Court actually makes the transparently political and nakedly partisan decision to strike down Obamacare subsidies, this could actually put Republicans in a real jam.

15) Our system of elected judges is truly one of the worst parts of the American system of government.  Easy pickings, of course, for John Oliver.

Video of the day

So, what’s the deal with things being reversed right-to-left in mirrors, anyway?  This video does a really cool job explaining it.  More on Physics Girl here.

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