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14 June 2021

What the Eyes Don’t See, by Mona Hanna-Attisha

I just finished an excellent insider account of the Flint water crisis, written by the pediatrician who brought it to the attention of the wider world.  Mona Hanna-Attisha practices medicine in Flint, has a background in environmental activism, and happened to be good friends with a specialist in the management of municipal water systems. An evening’s conversation between Dr. Mona (her preferred name) and her friend ends up launching her …

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20 February 2021

Ms. Adventure by Jess Phoenix

Jess Phoenix first came onto my radar when she ran for Congress in 2018. Since that time, and thanks to Twitter’s ability to connect geologists, Jess and I co-hosted a 2019 Pardee Symposium on geoscience communication at the GSA annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Jess stepped in at the last minute to cover for Iain Stewart, who was unable to be there due to a family emergency. Like Iain, Jess …

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20 January 2021

Peering through

When hiking recently in my neighborhood, I saw this gleaming apparition appear in an eroded gully in a dirt road: Those multicolored stripes are varying compositions in a zone of ultramylonite: ductilely-sheared-out rock that formed in the deep equivalent of a “fault” in the Blue Ridge basement complex. We call it a “shear zone” most of the time, but a better descriptor would be “high strain zone.” These rocks are …

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25 March 2020

The Story of More, by Hope Jahren

Humanity faces a crisis today, and we struggle to find the right way to deal with it, to solve it, to live meaningfully within the constraints it imposes. You might think I’m referring to coronavirus, but it’s actually climate change that’s on my mind. Hope Jahren, author of the incandescent Lab Girl, has a new volume out, on the unsustainability of modern Western life, and what actions we can take …

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10 February 2020

The Pentagon’s Brain, by Annie Jacobsen

This book is a comprehensive account of everything unclassified that DARPA and its predecessor ARPA, has ever done. The subtitle is: “An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency.” It begins with testing nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll in 1954, where theoretical calculations about the Castle Bravo bomb’s explosive yield get a sobering reality check: it was more than twice as powerful as had been anticipated! Oops. The …

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6 November 2018

GSA report: the James Shea Award

I’m at the GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis this week, and I got an award today: the James Shea Award from the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. I was introduced at the awards luncheon today by my co-nominator Kaatje Kraft, who had many nice things to say. I followed her comments with this little speech: Thank you, Kaatje, and also to Joshua Villalobos for nominating me. I’m getting this award …

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26 February 2018

How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

The authors of this essential study are both scholars at Harvard University. They specialize in studying the decay of democratic governments and societies, one in century-ago Europe, and the other in half-century-ago years ago Latin America. They spell out the structure of authoritarian takeover across these different contexts, and then turn to our situation in 21st century America. This book could not be more timely, more relevant, or more essential. …

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21 February 2018

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah is a South African stand-up comedian who rocketed into American awareness when he was selected as the successor to Jon Stewart as the host of Comedy Central’s news program The Daily Show. This book is Noah’s autobiography of growing up in South Africa, at first under apartheid, and then in the new post-apartheid era. It is the best account I’ve read of the institutional and cultural structure of …

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7 June 2017

The epistemology of carbon atoms

I have some questions for you. You answers determine whether you’re ready to begin talking about climate policy. Do you believe that carbon atoms exist? Do you believe that carbon can bond to oxygen? Do you believe that the bonding of carbon to oxygen is an exothermic reaction? Do you believe that exothermic reactions make heat? Do you believe that heat can be used to boil water? Do you believe …

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27 April 2017

Identifying logical fallacies and scientific misdirection in a CO2 video

A quick exercise in deconstructing the argument of a “elevated CO2 is good” video on YouTube by identifying its logical fallacies. Pull up a chair, grab a bowl of popcorn, and join us in the critique!

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1984, by George Orwell

My latest book review is of a cutting-edge new novel that describes our current political dystopia in excruciating detail…                                         Just kidding! Seriously: I was spurred to re-read Orwell”s 1984 after last November’s election, and the counterfactual customs of our new commander in chief. ‘Alternative facts’ have many precedents in history, but perhaps …

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24 April 2017

The bizarre world wherein we march for science

I marched on Saturday. In spite of the congested conditions in both the local atmosphere and my sinuses, I felt compelled to add my voice and presence to the March for Science, an event that was probably the first of its kind since the Enlightenment, aiming to push back against anti-science attitudes from the current occupant of the White House and his contemporaries on Capitol Hill. I tried to keep …

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31 January 2017

Bucking the trend

It has been a stressful few days for the United States of America. Our President enacted a ban on people entering the country from several Muslim-majority countries, and it triggered confusion and protests at several international airports. A federal judge imposed a stay on the order, and yet Customs and Border Protection agents at Dulles Airport refused to abide, siding with the president instead. As Northern Virginia Representative Don Beyer …

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Three kids’ books

Cosmology, evolution, and ethics for the four-year old set? It can be done! Join Callan for a brief review of three excellent books for children.

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24 January 2017

Science policy in the Trumpocene

It looks like the Trump Administration is going to be tough on science. We all suspected that, but since Friday’s inauguration (now proclaimed by the new president as a “Day of Patriotic Devotion,” seriously taking a page from North Korea), there have been several incidents that raise serious, serious concerns. I’ve not been shy about expressing my upset and disdain on social media, though I worry that speaking honestly about …

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20 January 2017

Friday fooled

It’s Friday, time for a … discussion of the role of misinformation in the modern media landscape and civil society? Yep, no fold this week, folks.
In honor of the Inauguration, it’s our first ever Friday Fooled.

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15 November 2016

Hate trumps love; Ideology trumps science

It’s been a week since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the President of the United States. I’ve been processing the news, and I’m not happy about it. I’ve been on “radio silence” for a week, mourning, ruminating, fretting. From my perspective, this is one of the most disturbing developments in the history of my country since the Civil War, since the McCarthy hearings, and since the …

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24 September 2016

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

I probably should have read this book eight years ago when it was first published, but somehow I missed it then. I recently heard the author, Susan Jacoby, on the podcast Point of Inquiry, and was impressed at the cannon of works she had produced. The current U.S. election cycle has spurred me to think more than I usually do about what constitutes rational thought, and why it seems to …

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