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Long time coming: African-American Civil Rights Organizations embrace Environmentalism

When I started blogging 8 years ago, the blogosphere like a lonely place. I hadn’t yet met another Black Science blogger (and I wouldn’t come across another one for 2.5 years), so when I rolled out the Green Carpet for Earth Day, I felt my voice was puny.

This wasn’t a revelation. I seemed to be that only nagging long-suffering voice at my local Urban League Young Professionals meeting insisting that we recycle our beverage containers. I was one of very few who would ask the affiliate leadership about how and where does environmental issues fit into the 5 point agenda that involved addressing economic, education, and health disparities. However, the answer I often got was that the environment wasn’t a ‘Black issue’.  There were higher priority issues, all social and civic justice matters, and environment would have to get in queue.  Despite being seen as tangential, the environment (and lack of environmental education, agency and stewardship) was at the very heart of all of the high priority Black Community Issues.

It’s not that Black communities lacked concern or interests or even leadership in the environmental and conservation movements, collectively regarded as the Green Movement. No, it’s that the popular perception of blacks being disinterested persisted. And frankly, I place the bulk of that blame to the so-called Black Agenda power players from organizations like the National Urban League, NAACP, National Action Network, Congressional Black Caucus, and various African-American Christian churches.  The leaders, all representing the Baby Boomer Generation, seemed completely oblivious to their own mortality (and dying influence on everyday African-Americans). My generation, Generation X, was largely left out of conversations about next steps in the Black Agenda – as if there was no mantle to pass on or no one was ready and willing to take up the cause – and power players in African-American Environmental Activism came to fore by paths and support mostly outside of the civil rights organizations that inspired and nurtured them.

Me with Majora Carter

It’s taken longer than I or any other African-American Environmental Activists would have desired, but it seems that tide has turned, and with gusto. And by tide, I mean African-American civil rights organizations and media are giving environmental issues their due on the docket. Just as the star and influence of Van Jones and Majora Carter began to rise, Black Agenda power players began to include topics related to the environment to their education, economic, political, and health civil rights and social justice agendas. (Yes! about time, Top 10 environmental issues affecting urban America from the Grio April 22, 201)

And with the negative impacts of Climate Change looming ever nearer, the message has finally been heeded.  Urban communities are especially vulnerable to the climate change impacts. (Are African-Americans More Vulnerable to Climate Change? from EBONY February 11, 2013)

I’m especially happy the attentions of the Hip Hop Caucus have focused on environmental issues lately.

Communities of color suffer significantly higher rates of cancer, asthma, and other heart- and lung-related diseases due to environmental pollution being concentrated in our communities. It is not well understood by our communities that many of our health issues are tied to pollution. This pollution is the same pollution that is causing climate change, which is increasing extreme weather patterns resulting in natural disasters like Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, as well as extreme heat waves and droughts worldwide. It is our communities who are being hurt the most by climate change and pollution.

They get it and as a result they have completely embedded environmental issues and environmental justice into their entire platform -  political action, service, and addressing human and civil rights. In fact there is an entire plank on Environmental Justice and Climate Change.

The Hip Hop Caucus is wrapping up a Climate Change Tour visiting several HBCU* and MSI** universities on the east coast and mid-west.  I’m looking forward to the amazing energy and environmental activism they inspire in this Millennial Generation.

Happy Earth Day!

* HBCU: Historically Black College or Univerisity
** MSI: Minority Serving Institution

Gardening Tips

Oldest Footprints Outside Africa

Archaeologists working on the eastern coast of England have found a series of footprints that were made by human ancestors sometime between one million and 780,000 years ago. Pressed into estuary mudflats now hard with age, these prints are the oldest ones known outside of Africa, where humanity arose.

Scientists discovered the prints in early May 2013, at a seaside site in Happisburgh. High seas had eroded the beach sand to reveal the mudflats underneath. The team had to act quickly to record the tracks before they, too, eroded. The researchers used a technique called multi-image photogrammetry and laser scanning to capture the prints in three dimensions.

In a paper published this past February in PLOS ONE, Nick Ashton of the British Museum and his colleagues reported that analysis of the footprints—which show impressions of the arch, ball, heel and toes of several individuals—suggests they were left by a party of five as they walked south along a large river. Based on the apparent foot lengths, they ranged in height from 0.93 to 1.73 meters, evidence that the group was composed of both adults and youngsters. The researchers estimated the body mass of the adults at 48 to 53 kilograms.

Exactly which species of early human left the trails is unknown because no human remains have turned up at the site. Yet judging from the antiquity of the prints, a likely candidate is Homo antecessor, a species known from the site of Atapuerca in Spain that had body dimensions similar to those reconstructed for the largest Happisburgh footprint makers.

Happisburgh is the oldest known site of human occupation in northern Europe. Previous excavations there have turned up dozens of flint tools that these ancient people may have used to butcher animals or process their skins. Where had the track makers come from, and where were they going? Perhaps continuing erosion of the coastline will reveal more clues to the lives they lived.

Gardening Tips

SciAm & Read Science! Chat with Neil Shubin

I am very pleased to announce that Neil Shubin, author of “Your Inner Fish” and host of a PBS program by the same name, currently airing over the past several weeks, will be joining myself and co-host Jeff Shaumeyer for a chat in another SciAm/Read Science! collaboration. Additionally, Kalliopi Monoyios, a member of SciAm’s blogging community on her team blog, Symbiartic , and Neil’s illustrator, will also be joining us!

I hope, if you haven’t read his amazing book, you at least have been keeping up with the program.

[embedded content]

Please join us April 22, noon EDT, 11 CDT right here at this post for our Google Hangout on Air or at the Google Plus event page.

Gardening Tips

How Does IQ Relate to Personality?

Personality and IQ have traditionally been viewed as distinct domains of human functioning. However, research over the past three decades suggests that IQ is a personality trait. In an excellent book chapter, personality neuroscientist Colin DeYoung points out that many personality traits involve cognitive processes and abilities. It’s just that IQ is primarily measured with ability tests, whereas personality tests are primarily measured with questionnaires. But this is more a reflection of a lack of ingenuity on the part of psychologists than a real difference in domain of human functioning.

It’s theoretically possible to measure personality traits through ability tests. For instance, agreeableness could be measured through tests of perspective taking, conscientiousness could be measured through tests of self-control, and neuroticism could be measured through measures of emotional self-regulation. Viewing IQ as a personality trait is helpful because it puts IQ in perspective. We can take a birds eye view of all the many fascinating ways we differ from one another in cognitive processing, emotion, and motivation, while seeing where IQ fits into that bigger picture.

To help us see that picture, I analyzed data from the Eugene-Springfield community sample, which consisted of 478 mostly White participants from Eugene and Springfield, Oregon. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 85 years, and spanned all levels of educational attainment. The sample consisted of 200 males and 281 females. While the sample isn’t ethnically diverse, it does have a pretty good range of IQ and personality, so we can get some sense of how IQ relates to personality in the general population. The IQ test that participants took consisted of 15 multiple-choice items that measured knowledge and abstract reasoning. The personality test measured 45 dimensions of human personality.

Consistent with prior research, IQ was most strongly related to openness to experience. Out of 9 dimensions of openness to experience, 8 out of 9 were positively related to IQ: intellectual engagement, intellectual creativity, mental quickness, intellectual competence, introspection, ingenuity, intellectual depth, and imagination. Interestingly, IQ was much more strongly related to intellectual engagement and mental quickness than imagination, ingenuity, or intellectual depth, and IQ was not related to sensitivity to beauty.

Out of 45 dimensions of personality, 23 dimensions were not related to IQ. This included gregariousness, friendliness, assertiveness, poise, talkativeness, social understanding, warmth, pleasantness, empathy, cooperation, sympathy, conscientiousness, efficiency, dutifulness, purposefulness, cautiousness, rationality, perfectionism, calmness, impulse control, imperturbability, cool-headedness, and tranquility. These qualities were not directly relevant to IQ.

8 dimensions of personality outside the openness to experience domain were positively related to IQ, including organization, toughness, provocativeness, leadership, self-disclosure, emotional stability, moderation, and happiness– although the correlations were much smaller than with intellectual engagement and mental quickness. IQ was negatively related to orderliness, morality, nurturance, tenderness, and sociability, but again, the negative correlations were much smaller than the relationships among IQ, intellectual engagement, and mental quickness.

Given this data, where does IQ fit into the personality puzzle? While this is just a single dataset, it is consistent with other studies suggesting that the most relevant personality domain is openness to experience, particularly the dimensions that reflect the ability and drive for conscious exploration of inner mental experience. This is certainly an important slice of personality, but at the same time these findings illustrate that there are many more ways we differ from each other in cognition, emotion, and motivation that are not well measured by IQ tests.

© 2014 Scott Barry Kaufman, All Rights Reserved.

image credit: istockphoto

Note: Thanks to Colin DeYoung for providing me with the Eugene-Springfield dataset. For more correlations between IQ and personality, see the supplementary data [1, 2] for the paper “From madness to genius: The openness/intellect trait domains as a paradoxical simplex“, authored by Colin DeYoung, Rachael Grazioplene, and Jordan Peterson.

If you’re interested in the finer details of my analysis, see below. Correlations with IQ in parentheses. * = p < .05; ** = p < .01. Note that I changed some of the IPIP AB5C facet names to better reflect the content of the items.


+ keyed Am the life of the party.
Talk to a lot of different people at parties.
Start conversations.
Love large parties.
– keyed Don’t talk a lot.
Keep in the background.
Am quiet around strangers.
Don’t like to draw attention to myself.
Bottle up my feelings.
Keep my thoughts to myself.

+ keyed Make friends easily.
Am open about my feelings.
Act comfortably with others.
Radiate joy.
Warm up quickly to others.
– keyed Am hard to get to know.
Am a very private person.
Avoid contacts with others.
Keep others at a distance.
Reveal little about myself.

+ keyed Automatically take charge.
Can easily push myself forward.
Try to lead others.
Turn plans into actions.
Stick up for myself.
Am always busy.
Come up with a solution right away.
Do a lot in my spare time.
Know what I want.
– keyed Let myself be pushed around.
Am not highly motivated to succeed.
Need a lot of time to do things.
POISE (.052) 

+ keyed Feel comfortable around people.
Am comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
Have a lot of fun.
Am not embarrassed easily.
Love life.
– keyed Often feel uncomfortable around others.
Find it difficult to approach others.
Retreat from others.
Give up easily.
Only feel comfortable with friends.

+ keyed Take charge.
Know how to captivate people.
Express myself easily.
Am the first to act.
Never at a loss for words.
– keyed Have little to say.
Have difficulty expressing my feelings.
Wait for others to lead the way.
Am afraid to draw attention to myself.
Let others make the decisions.

+ keyed Dare to say anything.
Am not afraid of providing criticism.
Boast about my virtues.
[Know no limits.]
[Know how to get around the rules.]
[Can take strong measures.]
[Don't mind being the center of attention.]
[Make demands on others.]
– keyed Can’t stand confrontations.
Wait for my turn.
[Hate to seem pushy.]

+ keyed Act wild and crazy.
Am open about myself to others.
Let myself go.
Disclose my intimate thoughts.
Laugh my way through life.
Express childlike joy.
Joke around a lot.
Like to amuse others.
– keyed Seldom joke around.
Prefer to deal with strangers in a formal manner.

+ keyed Do most of the talking.
Talk too much.
Speak loudly.
Make myself the center of attention.
Like to attract attention.
Never stop talking.
Make a lot of noise.
Demand to be the center of interest.
– keyed Speak softly.
Dislike talking about myself.

+ keyed Can’t do without the company of others.
[Enjoy being part of a loud crowd.]
[Enjoy being on the go.]
– keyed Like to be alone.
Seek quiet.
Enjoy silence.
[Don't like crowded events.]
[Dislike neighbors living too close.]
[Amuse myself easily.]
[Go my own way.]

+ keyed Sympathize with others’ feelings.
Respect others’ feelings.
Take others’ interests into account.
Like to be of service to others.
Appreciate the viewpoints of others.
– keyed Feel little concern for others.
Am not interested in other people’s problems.
Am indifferent to the feelings of others.
Take no time for others.
Can’t be bothered with other’s needs.
WARMTH (-.042) 

+ keyed Am interested in people.
Make people feel at ease.
Know how to comfort others.
Inquire about others’ well-being.
Take time out for others.
Make people feel welcome.
Show my gratitude.
Make others feel good.
Feel others’ emotions.
– keyed Am not really interested in others.
Rarely smile.
MORALITY (-.131**) 

+ keyed Would never cheat on my taxes.
Respect the privacy of others.
Like harmony in my life.
[Try to follow the rules.]
[Respect authority.]
– keyed Don’t care about rules.
Turn my back on others.
Only talk about my own interests.
Overestimate my achievements.
Scheme against others.
[Act at the expense of others.]
[Break rules.]

+ keyed Am easy to satisfy.
Have a good word for everyone.
Am on good terms with nearly everyone.
Trust others.
Respect others.
Trust what people say.
– keyed Am hard to satisfy.
Am quick to judge others.
Insult people.
Find it hard to forgive others.
Contradict others.
Criticize others’ shortcomings.
EMPATHY (.087) 

+ keyed Anticipate the needs of others.
Sense others’ wishes.
[Love to reflect on things.]
[Try to stay in touch with myself.]
[Work on improving myself.]
– keyed Pretend to be concerned for others.
[Don't have a soft side.]
[Treat people as inferiors.]
[Am not in touch with my feelings.]

+ keyed Value cooperation over competition.
Listen to my conscience.
– keyed Impose my will on others.
Love a good fight.
Seek conflict.
Think too highly of myself.
Tell tall stories about myself.
Play tricks on others.
Enjoy crude jokes.
[Comment loudly about others.]
[Enjoy being reckless.]
[Do dangerous things.]
SYMPATHY (-.071) 

+ keyed Am concerned about others.
Am deeply moved by others’ misfortunes.
Feel sympathy for those who are worse off than myself.
[Take an interest in other people's lives.]
[Like to do things for others.]
[Reassure others.]
– keyed Demand a lot from others.
Don’t fall for sob-stories.
Listen to my brain rather than my heart.
Tend to dislike soft-hearted people.
Try not to think about the needy.
Look down on any weakness.
Believe people should fend for themselves.
TENDERNESS (-.166**) 

+ keyed Suffer from others’ sorrows.
Listen to my heart rather than my brain.
Love children’s movies.
Want to please others.
Remember my friends’ birthdays.
Cherish mementos.
Want to mean something to others.
[Believe crying helps me feel better.]
[Show my feelings.]
– keyed Don’t understand people who get emotional.
[Don't get excited about things.]
[Don't call people just to talk.]
[Don't care about dressing nicely.]
NURTURANCE (-.193**) 

+ keyed Have a soft heart.
Go out of my way for others.
Think of others first.
Will do anything for others.
Like to please others.
Wouldn’t harm a fly.
– keyed Make enemies.
Oppose authority.
Believe that I am better than others.
Seek danger.
Put people under pressure.
Try to outdo others.
Believe only in myself.

+ keyed Accomplish my work on time.
Do things according to a plan.
Am careful to avoid making mistakes.
Keep my checkbook balanced.
Like to plan ahead.
Return borrowed items.
– keyed Often forget to put things back in their proper place.
Neglect my duties.
Take tasks too lightly.
Leave my work undone.
Do not plan ahead.
Put off unpleasant tasks.
Am often late to work.

+ keyed Am exacting in my work.
Make plans and stick to them.
Get chores done right away.
Follow through with my plans.
Finish what I start.
– keyed Waste my time.
Find it difficult to get down to work.
Postpone decisions.
Have difficulty starting tasks.
Need a push to get started.
Frequently forget to do things.

+ keyed Follow directions.
Keep myself well-groomed.
Check over my work.
Behave properly.
[Stick to the rules.]
[Appreciate good manners.]
– keyed Do improper things.
Disregard rules.
Do the opposite of what is asked.
Pay no attention to my appearance.
[Don't think laws apply to me.]
[Make rash decisions.]
[Say inappropriate things.]

+ keyed Am always prepared.
Carry out my plans.
Get to work at once.
Am not easily distracted.
Handle tasks smoothly.
– keyed Make a mess of things.
Am easily distracted.
Mess things up.
Shirk my duties.
Don’t see things through.
Do things at the last minute.
Can’t make up my mind.

+ keyed Pay attention to details.
Complete tasks successfully.
Have an eye for detail.
Demand quality.
Set high standards for myself and others.
Make well-considered decisions.
Follow through on my commitments.
Detect mistakes.
Think ahead.
– keyed Seldom notice details.
Put little time and effort into my work.
Don’t pay attention.

+ keyed Purchase only practical things.
Tend to dislike impulsive people.
Take precautions.
[Never splurge.]
[Never spend more than I can afford.]
– keyed Do crazy things.
Often make last-minute plans.
Am easily talked into doing silly things.
Laugh at the slightest provocation.
Like to laugh out loud.
[Like to act on a whim.]
[Jump into things without thinking.]

+ keyed Do things in a logical order.
Come straight to the point.
Believe in a logical answer for everything.
Get a head start on others.
Dislike imperfect work.
Believe in an eye for an eye.
[Have no sympathy for criminals.]
[Reason logically.]
– keyed Sympathize with the homeless.
Am not as strict as I should be.
Let people pull my leg.
[Do things in a half-way manner.]
[Let my attention wander off.]
[Believe that criminals should receive help rather than punishment.]

+ keyed Continue until everything is perfect.
Want every detail taken care of.
Want everything to be “just right.”
Want things to proceed according to plan.
Demand perfection in others.
Keep a sharp eye on others’ work.
Expect dedicated work from others.
– keyed Am not bothered by messy people.
Am not bothered by disorder.
ORDERLINESS (-.180**) 

+ keyed Like order.
Follow a schedule.
Work according to a routine.
Like to tidy up.
Do things by the book.
Take good care of my belongings.
See that rules are observed.
– keyed Leave my belongings around.
Leave a mess in my room.
Dislike routine.

+ keyed Seldom get mad.
Am not easily bothered by things.
Am not easily frustrated.
Seldom take offense.
Keep my cool.
– keyed Get stressed out easily.
Get upset easily.
Am easily disturbed.
Change my mood a lot.
Get caught up in my problems.
HAPPINESS (.116*) 

+ keyed Seldom feel blue.
Feel comfortable with myself.
Adapt easily to new situations.
Look at the bright side of life.
Am sure of my ground.
– keyed Often feel blue.
Worry about things.
Feel threatened easily.
Dislike myself.
Am filled with doubts about things.
CALMNESS (.034) 

+ keyed Rarely get irritated.
Am not easily annoyed.
Take things as they come.
Accept people as they are.
– keyed Get angry easily.
Am often in a bad mood.
Get furious.
Snap at people.
Lose my temper.
Have days when I’m mad at the world.

+ keyed Remain calm under pressure.
Easily resist temptations.
Rarely overindulge.
Am able to control my cravings.
– keyed Am guided by my moods.
Am not sure where my life is going.
Don’t know why I do some of the things I do.
Get out of control.
Can’t concentrate.
Do things I later regret.
TOUGHNESS (.200**) 

+ keyed Am calm even in tense situations.
Don’t lose my head.
Know how to cope.
Can stand criticism.
– keyed Take offense easily.
Panic easily.
Am easily hurt.
Am easily offended.
Feel crushed by setbacks.
Become overwhelmed by events.
Am easily frightened.
Am easily confused.

+ keyed Keep my emotions under control.
Let others finish what they are saying.
– keyed Demand attention.
React intensely.
Talk even when I know I shouldn’t.
Often make a fuss.
Shoot my mouth off.
Am easily excited.
Blurt out whatever comes into my mind.
Barge in on conversations.
Like to gossip.

+ keyed Seldom get emotional.
Am not easily affected by my emotions.
– keyed Get overwhelmed by emotions.
Cry easily.
Burst into tears.
Am easily moved to tears.
Cry during movies.
Wear my heart on my sleeve.
Have crying fits.

+ keyed (No positive items.)
– keyed Want everything to add up perfectly.
Demand obedience.
Keep up an appearance.
[Love order and regularity.]
[Am attached to conventional ways.]
[Want things done my way.]
[Am a creature of habit.]
[Try to impress others.]
[Can't stand being contradicted.]
[Want to be told I am right.]

+ keyed Experience very few emotional highs and lows.
Tend to feel the same every day.
Am always in the same mood.
Rarely notice my emotional reactions.
[Am relaxed most of the time.]
[Am not easily stirred.]
[Am not disturbed by events.]
– keyed Experience my emotions intensely.
[Have frequent mood swings.]
[Am swayed by my emotions.]
[Can be stirred up easily.]

+ keyed Have a rich vocabulary.
Use difficult words.
Make insightful remarks.
Show a mastery of language.
Enjoy thinking about things.
Try to understand myself.
– keyed Am not interested in abstract ideas.
Will not probe deeply into a subject.
Have a poor vocabulary.
Dislike learning.
Skip difficult words while reading.
INGENUITY (.200**) 

+ keyed Am full of ideas.
Have excellent ideas.
Carry the conversation to a higher level.
Come up with bold plans.
Quickly think up new ideas.
Am good at many things.
– keyed Do not have a good imagination.
Have difficulty imagining things.
Can’t come up with new ideas.

+ keyed See beauty in things that others might not notice.
Take time to reflect on things.
Make beautiful things.
Enjoy the beauty of nature.
Enjoy discussing movies and books with others.
[Like music.]
[Love flowers.]
[Love beautiful things.]
– keyed Do not like concerts.
[Do not enjoy watching dance performances.]

+ keyed Learn quickly.
Use my brain.
Excel in what I do.
Look at the facts.
Meet challenges.
Seek explanations of things.
Need things explained only once.
[Know how to apply my knowledge.]
– keyed (No negative items.)

+ keyed Can handle complex problems.
Am quick to understand things.
Catch on to things quickly.
Love to read challenging material.
Am able to find out things by myself.
Can handle a lot of information.
Quickly get the idea of things.
– keyed Avoid difficult reading material.
Try to avoid complex people.
Don’t understand things.

+ keyed Spend time reflecting on things.
Enjoy spending time by myself.
Live in a world of my own.
Enjoy my privacy.
Don’t mind eating alone.
Do things at my own pace.
[Enjoy contemplation.]
[Prefer to be alone.]
[Have a point of view all my own.]
[Want to be left alone.]
– keyed Can’t stand being alone.
Don’t like to ponder over things.

+ keyed Like to solve complex problems.
Ask questions that nobody else does.
Know the answers to many questions.
Challenge others’ points of view.
Can easily link facts together.
– keyed Have difficulty understanding abstract ideas.
Avoid philosophical discussions.
Am not interested in theoretical discussions.
Consider myself an average person.
Am not interested in speculating about things.

+ keyed Have a vivid imagination.
Prefer variety to routine.
Believe in the importance of art.
Enjoy wild flights of fantasy.
Need a creative outlet.
– keyed Do not like art.
Do not enjoy going to art museums.
Do not like poetry.
Seldom get lost in thought.
Seldom daydream.

+ keyed Look for hidden meanings in things.
Like to get lost in thought.
Think deeply about things.
Need to understand my motives.
[Tend to analyze things.]
[Tend to think about something for hours.]
[Enjoy examining myself and my life.]
– keyed [Rarely look for a deeper meaning in things.]
[Never challenge things.]

Gardening Tips

Telescope Apps Help Amateurs Hunt for Exoplanets

Editor’s note: The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.The Conversation

People around the world are being invited to learn how to hunt for planets, using two new online apps devised by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and UC Santa Cruz.

The apps use data from the Automated Planet Finder (APF), Lick Observatory’s newest telescope. The APF is one of the first robotically operated telescopes monitoring stars throughout the entire sky. It is optimised for the detection of planets orbiting nearby stars – the so-called exoplanets.

Systemic is an app that collects observations from APF and other observatories and makes them available to the general public. Anyone can access a simplified interface and follow the steps that astronomers take to tease a planetary signal out of the tiny Doppler shifts collected by the telescope.

Students and amateurs can learn about the process of scientific discovery from their own web browsers, and even conduct their own analysis of the data to validate planet discoveries.

The second app, SuperPlanetCrash, is a simple but addictive game that animates the orbits of planetary systems as a “digital orrery”. Users can play for points and create their own planetary systems, which often end up teetering towards instabilities that eject planets away from their parent stars.

First catch
Despite only being in operation for a few months, APF has already been used to discover new planetary systems.

Night after night, the telescope autonomously selects a list of interesting target stars, based on their position in the sky and observing conditions. The telescope collects light from each target star. The light is then split into a rainbow of colours, called a spectrum. Superimposed on the spectrum is a pattern of dark features, called absorption lines, which is unique to the chemical makeup of the star.

When a planet orbits one of the target stars, its gravitational pull on the star causes the absorption lines to shift back and forth. Astronomers can then interpret the amplitude and periodicity of these shifts to indirectly work out the orbit and the mass of each planet.

This method of detecting exoplanets is dubbed the Doppler (or Radial Velocity) technique, named after the physical effect causing the shift of the absorption lines. The Doppler technique has been extremely productive over the past two decades, leading to the discovery of more than 400 planet candidates orbiting nearby stars – including the first exoplanet orbiting a star similar to our own Sun, 51 Pegasi. To conclusively detect a planetary candidate, each star has to be observed for long stretches of time (months to years) in order to rule out other possible explanations.

The APF has now found two new planetary systems surrounding the stars HD141399 and Gliese 687.

HD141399 hosts four giant, gaseous planets of comparable size to Jupiter. The orbits of the innermost three giant planets are dramatically more compact than the giant planets in our Solar System (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

Gliese 687 is a small, red star hosting a Neptune-mass planet orbiting very close to the star: it only takes about 40 days for the planet to complete a full revolution around the star.

Team leader Steve Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz has dubbed both of these almost “garden variety” planetary systems, and indeed, they are quite similar to some of the systems discovered over the last few years. However, what look like distinctly unglamorous planetary systems now can still pose a puzzle to scientists.

The new normal
The planetary systems discovered so far are typically very different from our own solar system. More than half of the nearby stars are thought to be accompanied by Neptune-mass or smaller planets, many orbiting closer than Mercury is to the Sun. In our solar system, on the other hand, there is a very clear demarcation between small, rocky planets close to the Sun (from Mercury to Mars) and giant planets far from the Sun (from Jupiter to Neptune). This perhaps suggests that planetary systems like the one we live in are an uncommon outcome of the process of planet formation.

Only further discoveries can clarify whether planetary systems architected like our own are as uncommon as they appear to be. These observations will need to span many years of careful collection of Doppler shifts. Since the APF facility is primarily dedicated to Doppler observations, it is expected to make key contributions to exoplanetary science.

The two apps produced by the APF team make amateur scientists part of the hunt. These applications join the nascent movement of “citizen science”, which enable the general public to understand and even contribute to scientific research, either by lending a hand in analyzing massive sets of scientific data or by flagging interesting datasets that warrant further collection of data.

Stefano Meschiari does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Broadcast TV Streamer Aereo Fights For Legal Life

60-Second Tech

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Aereo can keep streaming live broadcast TV to mobile gadgets and other devices. Larry Greenemeier reports.
Apr 18, 2014
|By Larry Greenemeier


You don’t own a TV, yet you still want to watch The Good Wife and Dancing with the Stars live. Or you have a TV, but no cable and no antenna access to local channels. The solution could be the streaming video service from the company Aereo. It sends over-the-air channels to anything from your smartphone to your TV monitor.
Well, that’s if the broadcasters suing Aereo don’t put the company out of business by the end of the month.
Aereo’s existence hinges on an April 22 Supreme Court hearing, when the justices will decide whether the company’s service violates copyright law. Aereo argues it lets people watch and record broadcast TV via a cloud-based antenna and DVR for their own personal use. Broadcasters counter that Aereo is using their content without paying the retransmission fees that cable and satellite providers do.
Although Aereo operates in 13 U.S. cities, lower courts have shut the company out of several western states, including California. And whether you have Aereo or not, you still can’t watch the Supreme Court hearing—the justices still don’t allow their proceedings to be televised.
—Larry Greenemeier
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast]

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Climbing Mount Everest: Base Camp Bound, After a Glacial Detour

Editor’s Note: Ulyana Horodyskyj and her team of scientists and Sherpas were scheduled to reach Mt. Everest base camp this morning, just when a massive avalanche occurred above the camp, killing 12 Sherpas who were already working there. She sent us a message at 9:01 EDT today saying she and her group were all okay, and that they had actually been delayed by one day because of illness. Thus far they have learned that a friend of one of the Sherpas who is assisting them was killed. Horodyskyj had just sent us a new post, below—the second in her series—before starting the trek up to the camp.

Namche Bazaar village located at 3,440 metres (11,286 ft) above the sea level in Khumbu region, northeastern Nepal. / Photo courtesty of Steve Hicks via Flickr.

NAMCHE BAZAAR, NEPAL—Greeting from the Sherpa capital of the Mt. Everest region, known as the Khumbu Himal. For the past 10 days Jake St. Pierre, a former police officer turned climber-scientist volunteer, and I have been working in the Gokyo valley, the next valley over from Mt. Everest. It is home to Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world. From its slopes flows one of Nepal’s largest glaciers, the Ngozumpa. As you read this we will have just departed for Mt. Everest base camp, but before leaving Jake and I had to take a detour to Ngozumpa that lasted several days.

Why? First, we wanted some extra time to acclimatize (get accustomed to the higher altitudes) before heading over to base camp. The elevation at Namche Bazaar is about 11,500 feet, and climbing around on the glacier would get us higher, a good practice because Everest base camp itself is already at 17,600 feet.

Second, I had left research stations up on Ngozumpa earlier in the year, and I wanted to check on them. They have been tracking air temperature, relative humidity and albedo (reflectivity) changes during snowfall events throughout the winter. This information provides insight into how quickly the glacial snow and ice melts during the coldest time of the year.

Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world, viewed from the Gokyo valley. / Photo by Ulyana Horodyskyj.

I’ve been working on Ngozumpa since 2011, tracking how supraglacial lakes change. These lakes reside on the surface of glaciers, and given enough time, gradually “eat away” at the exposed ice, melting it or calving (collapsing) it, sometimes in chunks that are more than tens of feet thick during the summer melt season. I had installed a combination of time-lapse cameras on slopes looking down at the lakes, put thermal buoys in the lake waters, and staked meteorological stations on the adjacent rocky land. Over the past three years the cameras have captured spectacular lake fills, drains, and refills, as well as large calving events that have continued into the present winter (you can watch some video here). It seems that there really is no “quiet” season on the glacier.

I’m happy to report that the stations recorded good data and imagery that I will be processing after we return from Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse. One station is still up on the glacier and will continue to record data on the supraglacial lakes through the spring and summer thaw. I should make it back to the instruments in June, for some final data downloads and resets for the subsequent 2014 monsoon season. It is important to get a continuous data set over multiple years, some of which will be wet and some dry, to start to look for patterns. Jake and I took apart a second station and carried it back down, so we can use it on Everest.

There is no trail to get to my research stations. We create it as we go, and the route changes every month. To give you an idea, imagine walking for about a mile. Now imagine walking, or scrambling, that distance on large, unstable boulders that move underfoot every step of the way. And do all that at higher than 15,000 feet. It is incredibly tiring and sometimes dangerous, especially when carrying heavy loads. This time of year the snows come in the early afternoon. Getting caught out on a glacier in the heavy snow bursts can be very disorienting. It takes extra vigilance and caution to stay safe when working out there.

We are currently back at Namche Bazaar. The journey back down the valley was in a spring blizzard, with each of us carrying about 40 pounds of equipment. Thankfully we had some porter support from Thamserku Trekking. We had a quick rest, but the rest of the Mt. Everest–Mt. Lhotse team had already arrived and we were set to head off for base camp on the morning of April 15, lugging hundreds of pounds of scientific equipment and climbing gear.

The route from base camp to Mt. Everest.

We are scheduled to arrive at base camp on April 18 or 19, depending on the weather, which is looking a bit unsettled at the moment. To get a sense of the base camp location see the rough map at right, or plug the following coordinates into your favorite online mapping program: 28 0′ 26″ N, 86 51′ 34″ E. We will spend a few days at the base adjusting to the new altitude before climbing on to Camp 1 at 19,600 feet. After that, we will make a push to Camp 2, at over 21,000 feet, where we will have to spend even more time adjusting to the rarified atmosphere. Camp 2 will be our science staging area. From there we will set out on the glacier to put up a weather station and to measure snow reflectivity over the next month. All the effort is to help figure out how much soot is settling on the mammoth glaciers of this region, which could greatly affect how fast they could melt in the future, or not. For more on that, see my first post in this series.

More to come.

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Japan Will Conduct Pacific Whale Hunt in Wake of Court Ruling

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan said on Friday it would conduct a sharply scaled down form of its annual Northwest Pacific whaling campaign this year despite an international court ruling last month against the mainstay of its whaling program in the Antarctic.

The decision to proceed with the hunt was certain to provoke international anger and promptly drew the fire of environmentalists.

Tokyo’s decades-old and disputed “scientific whaling” program suffered a blow last month when the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in a surprise ruling, ordered a halt to its annual hunts in the Southern Ocean. That prompted Japan to cancel whaling there for 2014-2015.

The Pacific hunt, not as widely known internationally, was not specifically mentioned in the ruling, which did call on Japan to re-examine its overall whaling program. Yet in the 2012-2013 campaign, the Pacific hunt took three times as many whales as the Antarctic hunt, including three sperm whales.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the ruling upheld the notion of “the sustainable use of whales as a resource”.

“Based on this … and in line with international law and scientific principles, our nation will carry out research whaling to get the scientific information essential to manage whales as a resource,” he said.

Japan has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and began what it called scientific whaling in 1987, a year after an international moratorium came into effect.

It has also said it hopes for the eventual resumption of commercial whaling, a view Hayashi said was unchanged.

“We will stick to a basic plan that aims at a resumption of commercial whaling,” he told reporters. Japan, he said, had made “substantial accommodations” to the court ruling.

The ministry said quotas for the Pacific hunt would be reduced in consideration of the court ruling. One proposal, still to be finalized by scientists, would cut the number from 380 whales to 210 in activity extending from Japan’s coastline out into a broad swathe of the Pacific.

In the 2012-2013 season, the fleet killed 319 whales in the Pacific. The Antarctic hunt took 103 whales out of a quota of more than 1,000, partly due to the sometimes violent attempts by environmental groups, such as Sea Shepherd, to disrupt it.

According to the proposal, no sperm whales will be taken and the quota of minkes will be reduced to 100 from 220.


The ministry said it would submit a new plan for Antarctic whaling to the International Whaling Commission in 2015 for the purpose of resuming whaling in that area later in the year.

“We will also consider measures against anti-whaling activists,” the ministry said.

Japan says eating whale is a cherished cultural tradition, but costly whale meat now rarely appears on Japanese tables.

Fears of complaints from key allies such as the United States, as well as the cost of maintaining Japan’s ageing whaling fleet, prompted some observers to say Tokyo might cancel the Pacific hunt this year.

But a vocal lobby pressed for it to continue, citing economic benefits to the Pacific hunt’s home port of Ishinomaki,

devastated by the 2011 tsunami.

No details were given about when the fleet would depart. It was originally set to leave on April 22, the day before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Japan for a state visit, but media reports said its departure would be delayed until April 26, the day after Obama leaves.

Environmental group Greenpeace said the decision to proceed with hunt was a disappointment.

“This defiant announcement, mere days before President Obama’s visit to Japan, will damage Japan’s international standing,” said Junichi Sato, at Greenpeace Japan.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

Gardening Tips

Uniter of Sperm and Egg Is Found

Scientists have identified a long-sought fertility protein that allows sperm to dock to the surface of an egg. The finding, an important step in understanding the process that enables conception, could eventually spawn new forms of birth control and treatments for infertility.“It’s very important, because we now know two of the proteins that are responsible for the binding of sperm to the egg,” says Paul Wassarman, a biochemist and developmental biologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The work, published today in Nature, was led by Gavin Wright, a biochemist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK. He and his team were looking for a counterpart to a protein called Izumo1, discovered in 2005 on the surface of sperm cells.

Scientists knew that Izumo1 allowed sperm to join to an egg to begin the process of fertilization. But nobody knew what protein on the surface of the egg attached to Izumo1.

Identifying the proteins involved in the joining step has been difficult because the molecules tend to bind quite weakly to each other. So Wright and his team devised a way to cluster Izumo1 proteins, then searching for the egg-cell proteins that would bind to the clusters in cell culture. Wright compares the technique to constructing a Velcro fastener out of many individual fabric loops: “Each small hook adheres weakly, but when [they are] clustered in an array, even the most fleeting interactions are stabilized and can therefore be detected,” he says.

Using this method, the team hooked a protein called folate receptor 4 that is found on the surface of the mouse egg cell. Wright’s team propose renaming the egg protein Juno, after the Roman goddess of fertility and marriage. Izumo1 is also named after a cultural symbol of reproduction — a Japanese marriage shrine.

The team found that Juno also exists in mammals, including humans, and that without it, human eggs and sperm cannot fuse. They also found that female mice lacking Juno are healthy, but unable to reproduce. This makes the Juno–Izumo1 partnership the first discovered in any organism to be essential to reproduction, the researchers say.

Wright and his team also found that Juno has another important job — blocking other sperm cells from joining to the egg once it has been fertilized. After one sperm cell joined to the egg, Juno disappeared from the egg surface within 30–45 minutes.

The findings could be used right away in fertility treatment, Wright says. Women who are having trouble conceiving could be tested to find whether they have missing or defective Juno proteins. If they do, they could try intracytoplasmic sperm injection, in which a single sperm cell is injected into an egg. But the number of women who would benefit is unknown, because Juno has not yet been studied in connection with fertility.

The discovery also points to potential ways to block the fusion of sperm and egg to prevent pregnancy. Scientists could now study the structure of the Juno–Izumo1 complex, and perhaps develop a new class of contraceptive drugs that interfere with this junction, Wassarman says.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on April 16, 2014.

Gardening Tips

4 Years after BP’s Gulf Oil Spill, Compensation Battle Rages

By Jemima Kelly

(Reuters) – Four years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil is still washing up on the long sandy beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and some islanders are fed up with hearing from BP that the crisis is over.

Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on an island dotted with colorful houses on stilts, says he has not found a single oyster alive in his leases in the area since the leak and relies on an onshore oyster nursery to make a living.

He and others in the southern U.S. state say compensation has been paid unevenly and lawyers have taken big cuts.

The British oil major has paid out billions of dollars in compensation under a settlement experts say is unprecedented in its breadth.

Some claimants are satisfied, but others are irate that BP is now challenging aspects of the settlement. Its portrayal of the aftermath of the well blowout and explosion of its drilling rig has also caused anger.

“They got an advert on TV saying they fixed the Gulf but I’ve never been fixed,” said Melancon, who was compensated by BP, but deems the sum inadequate.

The oil company has spent over $26 billion on cleaning up, fines and compensation for the disaster, which killed 11 people on the rig and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days after the blast on April 20, 2010.

That is more than a third of BP’s total revenues for 2013, and the company has allowed for the bill to almost double, while fighting to overturn and delay payments of claims it says have no validity, made after it relinquished control over who got paid in a settlement with plaintiff lawyers in March 2012.

The advertisement that most riled Dean Blanchard, who began what later became the biggest shrimp company in the United States in 1982, was the one first aired by BP on television in late 2011 that said “all beaches and waters are open”.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoOfIR4Vk1o)

At that time almost 50 square miles of water in Louisiana were closed to fishing, according to the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Seven fishing areas are still closed, three where Blanchard says he would usually get his seafood.

Asked about the discrepancy, BP, which made the cleanup advertisements to help the affected states bring visitors back, said there was no scientific basis for the water closures and that all studies had found that seafood was safe to consume.


Perceived injustice, between those who got payouts and those who did not, has divided the small community on Grand Isle, 50 miles south of New Orleans. Within sight of a line of deep sea oil rigs, it was one of the worst-affected areas.

Long streaks of oil marked the sand where a couple of tourists walked barefoot and small tarballs, which environmentalists say contain the most toxic form of oil, had collected on part of the beach when Reuters visited in October to report on the legacy of the spill.

The Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group which monitors spilt BP oil, says it is still appearing in Grand Isle. The group saw what it called “thousands of tarballs” there on April 9th and collected some of them for testing.

A BP spokesman said only very small quantities of material from the Macondo well were washing up and they did not threaten human health.

Under the settlement, claims for lost income or property damage have been easier for individuals and large businesses than small companies or start-ups without detailed accounts.

“People are really upset here because a lot of people got a lot of money but many people didn’t,” said waitress Jeanette Smith at Starfish Restaurant, the only eatery in Grand Isle to have managed to stay open seven days a week since the spill.

Melancon said his claim for economic damage was rejected as a lot of transactions were in cash. He was offered more than a million dollars for property damage but says he lost more than six times as much and has so far only received around $400,000 of the compensation money he was allocated.

Some islanders, however, say compensation has been fair.

Terry Pazane, 48, a shrimper on Grand Isle since he was 15, found out in late January that he will be compensated just over $300,000. “You got your paperwork together, they got you paid,” he said. “If you can’t prove nothing, you don’t get nothing.”

The oil company said it could not comment on individual claimants but that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans had found the settlement scheme was “fair, reasonable, and adequate to all”.

BP has maintained, both via the media and the courts, that the settlement has been too generous in some cases.

Along with video images of its clean-up, BP regularly runs full-page advertisements in U.S. newspapers highlighting what it says are flaws in the handling of the settlement it had agreed to avoid having to fight costly individual lawsuits.(https://www.thestateofthegulf.com/bp-advertisements/)

In one, concerning a claim by a shrimp fisherman, BP said a lawyer within the settlement program, which is responsible for deciding the amount of payouts, took a cut. The office of claims administrator Patrick Juneau declined to comment.

Businesses of all kinds in New Orleans said they suffered from the spill because visitors stayed away due to concerns over the city’s signature Gulf seafood, even though the oil that flowed into the ocean near the mouth of the Mississippi did not reach New Orleans itself.

The settlement does not compensate everyone. Just 20 out of over 3,000 claims for failed business have been paid so far, according to the settlement website.(http://www.deepwaterhorizoneconomicsettlement.com/docs/statistics.pdf)

But BP has argued in the New Orleans court that claims administrator Juneau should prove losses were caused by the spill. The court threw out that argument, but the company has asked for its case to be heard again.

Blaine LeCesne, a professor at Loyola University College of Law in New Orleans, said BP’s actions were understandable but possibly counter-productive.

The settlement it had agreed to was “more than fair … virtually assuring that every individual or business affected by the spill may be compensated for their actual losses and beyond”, LeCesne said. But he said BP was losing goodwill by retroactively challenging the settlement’s validity because of its unanticipated cost.

BP said its “efforts to assure the integrity of the claims process” had been misrepresented and that it continued to be committed to the Gulf while defending its interests “in the face of absurd awards made to claimants whose alleged losses have no apparent connection to the spill”.

BP has argued that it is not the claimants but rather the lawyers, who can charge big fees for negotiating claims, who are the biggest winners from the spill.


In the aftermath of the spill, oysters have been among the biggest losers. They have fared worse than any other seafood, partly because their immobility made them unable to swim away from the oil and partly because they could not survive the fresh water diversions opened along the Mississippi to protect Louisiana’s precious wetlands from oil seeping in.

Owners of oyster leases can claim $2,000 per acre for property damage in the most affected areas, whether or not they have been using the leases.

Al Sunseri, who, with his brother Sal, runs the oldest oyster company in the United States – P&J Oysters, in New Orleans’s French Quarter – said processors like them had been dealt a bad hand in comparison with the oyster farmers.

The Sunseris reckon they are handling just 55-60 percent of the oysters they used to. Before the spill they employed 11 oyster shuckers to take off the shells, now they have just one, working part time.

“BP ruined our business,” said Al. “All the money they’ve spent on this marketing thing, and it’s like, we don’t even have anything to market.”

Blanchard says he is handling 15 percent of the local shrimp that he did before the spill. The shrimps, he says, either swam away from the oil or were killed or mutated by the spill and its aftermath. He is suing BP for $111 million.

BP said all tests had shown that Gulf seafood was safe to consume and there had been no published studies demonstrating seafood abnormalities due to the Deepwater Horizon accident.

But a study published on March 24, led by the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, found the spilt BP oil caused “serious defects” in the embryos of several species of fish, including tuna and amberjack.(http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1320950111)

In response, BP said the concentration of oil used in the experiments for the study was “rarely seen in the Gulf during or after the Deepwater Horizon accident” and that the paper provided no evidence for a “population-level impact” on fish.

In one of its latest advertisements, the oil major said the outcome of what it said was its fight to return the settlement to its intended purpose would affect future decisions by other companies in similar positions.

“Will they accept responsibility and do the right thing? Or will the lesson be that it’s better to deny, delay, and litigate – with victims potentially waiting decades for compensation?”

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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