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What makes a tree a tree? Scientists still aren’t sure…

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Broccoli Tree

In Knowable Magazine, Rachel Ehrenberg writes about the tricky business of understanding what a tree is. Trees are tall, woody, long-lived and have tree-like genes, right? Not always…

If one is pressed to describe what makes a tree a tree, long life is right up there with wood and height. While many plants have a predictably limited life span (what scientists call “programmed senescence”), trees don’t, and many persist for centuries. In fact, that trait — indefinite growth — could be science’s tidiest demarcation of treeness, even more than woodiness. Yet it’s only helpful to a point. We think we know what trees are, but they slip through the fingers when we try to define them.

Ehrenberg then suggests that we should think about tree-ness as a verb rather than a noun.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking of tree as a verb, rather than a noun - tree-ing, or tree-ifying. It’s a strategy, a way of being, like swimming or flying, even though to our eyes it’s happening in very slow motion.

This reminds me of one of Austin Kleon’s strategies for How to Keep Going: “forget the noun, do the verb”. Hey, it seems to be working for the trees. (via @robgmacfarlane)

Tags: Austin Kleon   biology   language   Rachel Ehrenberg   science
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pinksquirrel
172 days ago
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American teens have had it with this authoritarian crap

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Dina Leygerman is a high school teacher who teaches George Orwell’s novel 1984 to her students every year. Before she does, with the assistance of other teachers and the school’s administration, she turns her classroom into a totalitarian regime to give the kids a taste of life in Oceania. Rules are strict and favor is given to students who report on rule-breaking by their classmates.

I tell my seniors that in order to battle “Senioritis,” the teachers and admin have adapted an evidence-based strategy, a strategy that has “been implemented in many schools throughout the country and has had immense success.” I hang posters with motivational quotes and falsified statistics, and provide a false narrative for the problem that is “Senioritis.” I tell the students that in order to help them succeed, I must implement strict classroom rules.

However, when Leygerman tried the experiment this year, the students weren’t having it. They rebelled. They protested. They fought harder as the rules became more onerous.

The President of the SGA, whom I don’t even teach, wrote an email demanding an end to this “program.” He wrote that this program is “simply fascism at its worst. Statements such as these are the base of a dictatorship rule, this school, as well as this country cannot and will not fall prey to these totalitarian behaviors.” I did everything in my power to fight their rebellion. I “bribed” the President of the SGA. I “forced” him to publicly “resign.” And, yet, the students did not back down. They fought even harder. They were more vigilant. They became more organized. They found a new leader. They were more than ready to fight. They knew they would win in numbers.

An upcoming book edited by Cass Sunstein asks if authoritarianism can happen in America. The experiment in Leygerman’s classroom and the inspiring movement started by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL suggest perhaps not. The nation’s youth, raised on The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, are reminding the baby boomers that considering what their own parents went through in the Great Depression and World War II, they should fucking know better than to slam the door on succeeding generations.

Tags: 1984   books   Dina Leygerman   George Orwell   politics
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pinksquirrel
215 days ago
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3 public comments
tedgould
205 days ago
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A limited case study, but perhaps a window of hope.
Texas, USA
TimidWerewolf
215 days ago
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This is some wonderful news!
HaveABeer
215 days ago
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Hope.

Solar eclipse myth busted: it’s perfectly safe for kids to be outside during an eclipse

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Throughout history, total solar eclipses have been unnerving. To ancient cultures, they signified bad omens, the apocalypse, or that the Sun was being eaten by a sky creature.

There were a tumult, and disorder. All were disquieted, unnerved, frightened. Then there was weeping. The commonfolk raised a cup, lifting their voices, making a great din, calling out shrieking. People of light complexion were slain as sacrifices; captives were killed. All offered their blood.

But even in modern times, a lack of scientific understanding of what happens during a solar eclipse can cause apprehension and panic. Until hearing the same story from two different people in the past week, I had no idea that during solar eclipses, it is routine for schoolchildren to be kept inside until the “danger” has passed. Charles Fulco, a NASA and AAS 2017 U.S. Eclipse Educator, is trying to allay these fears by addressing common eclipse misconceptions.

“The Sun is more dangerous during an eclipse.” This is utter nonsense and for some reason, has persisted into the 21st Century. An eclipsed Sun is no more dangerous than the “everyday” Sun, but for some reason, some districts still keep teachers and students in their rooms with pulled shades, watching the eclipse on a screen, rather than outdoors, safely and under the care of a professional educator. I believe their fear of nature is transferred to the students as well: If the adult says an eclipse is scary and dangerous, than it must be!

Phil Plait agrees:

As I make my final preparations for my eclipse travels (rural western Wyoming, if you’re curious) I’m hearing stories that are making me very unhappy: Some school districts across the country are telling children to stay inside during the eclipse, out of fear they’ll damage their eyes.

Let me be clear: Schools, administrators, teachers, parents: Don’t do this. YOU CAN LET THE KIDS SEE THE ECLIPSE. You just have to be safe about it.

I can appreciate the difficulty of telling 25 first graders there’s something cool happening with the Sun and then trying to get them not to look directly at it, but keeping kids inside is not the answer. For one thing, they’re missing out on a genuine celestial spectacle & learning opportunity and for another, you’re teaching people bad science. A friend, who is one of the smartest people I know, was genuinely concerned for her kids’ safety during the eclipse because when she was a kid, she was kept inside a classroom with the shades drawn because, she was told, it was dangerous for them to be outside. Dangerous to be outside in the sunshine! A clear case of educators doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing.

Tags: 2017 solar eclipse   Charles Fulco   science   Sun
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pinksquirrel
398 days ago
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This makes me appreciate the memory I have of viewing a partial eclipse with a pinhole while in school!
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Scientists think the first Americans arrived by boat

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The prevailing theory of how the Americas were settled has been than human hunters followed big game across the ice-free land bridge between North America and Asia around 13,000 years ago. These are the Clovis people you may have learned about in school. But evidence is mounting that the first humans to settle the Americas came down the Pacific Coast somewhat earlier than that.

The Cedros Island sites add to a small but growing list that supports a once-heretical view of the peopling of the Americas. Whereas archaeologists once thought that the earliest arrivals wandered into the continent through a gap in the ice age glaciers covering Canada, most researchers today think the first inhabitants came by sea. In this view, maritime explorers voyaged by boat out of Beringia — the ancient land now partially submerged under the waters of the Bering Strait — about 16,000 years ago and quickly moved down the Pacific coast, reaching Chile by at least 14,500 years ago.

Part of the problem in confirming this hypothesis is that the rise in sea level that accompanied the melting of the glaciers (a 120-meter rise globally) submerged likely settlement sites, trapping archeological evidence under hundreds of feet of ocean. (via @CharlesCMann)

Tags: archaeology   humans   science   video
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pinksquirrel
405 days ago
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I think this theory is so fascinating. After growing up with the land-bridge theory, somehow this theory seems much more plausible in the long run. Coastal seafaring humans--seems legit.
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Trailer for season 2 of The Crown

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The first season of the Netflix series The Crown was a surprise for me. I thought it was going to be pleasant-but-soapy look at the royals a la Downton Abbey (which I love, don’t get me wrong), but the acting and the substance of the script and production elevated it, putting it among the best shows to debut last year. Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth, in particular, was a revelation; her one-on-one scenes with her sister and with Churchill were some of the best TV I watched last year. From the season 2 trailer, it appears that we’re in for more of the same come December.

Tags: Claire Foy   The Crown   trailers   TV   video
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pinksquirrel
410 days ago
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YAS.
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Screenshots

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For the final exam, you take a screenshot showing off all the work you've done in the class, and it has to survive being uploaded, thumbnailed, and re-screenshotted through a chain of social media sites.
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pinksquirrel
434 days ago
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4 public comments
Covarr
438 days ago
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My boss says screenshots are proof
Moses Lake, WA
infogulch
438 days ago
I am so, so sorry.
alt_text_bot
438 days ago
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For the final exam, you take a screenshot showing off all the work you've done in the class, and it has to survive being uploaded, thumbnailed, and re-screenshotted through a chain of social media sites.
Cthulhux
438 days ago
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Should be mandatory for pseudo-political Twitter users.
Fledermausland
rickhensley
438 days ago
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This is the story of my job...
Ohio
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