Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, 1925
Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve taken to twitter to “live-tweet” the Scopes Monkey Trial, as it happens, 87 years after the event. Through the news reports of H.L. Mencken and several historical documents, I attempted to capture the atmosphere of 1925 Dayton, Tennessee, the tension of the trial, the exciting, and sometimes irreverent, nature of the proceedings.
To accomplish this, I drew from several publications, most notably Mencken: The American Iconoclast by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers and A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter’s Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial a collection of Mencken’s Scopes Trial reports assembled by Art Winslow. The website The Evolution-Creationism Controversy: A Chronology was very helpful in establishing the dates for various events during the trial State v. Scopes: Trial Excerpts provided access to the public testimony for several key trial events.
Below the fold is the entire archive of my Scopes Trial tweets, with added resources and additional content. Enjoy!
Continue reading Live from Dayton: Using twitter to shed light on the Scopes Monkey Trial, 87 years later
Originally published on August 30th, 2011, Climbing Mount Chernobyl is one of my personal favorite posts. It feels appropriate to re-post it today for World Ocean Day.
Continue reading Climbing Mount Chernobyl: a repost for World Ocean Day
In an attempt to garner attention and raise awareness regarding the problematic use of orcas and other marine mammals in captivity for entertainment, PETA, an animal rights group, has sued Sea World, a corporation that builds and manages aquariums and marine parks. Opposition to Sea World’s brand of entertainment-driven aquariums is nothing new, but this fresh lawsuit adds a novel twist to the boilerplate “intelligent animals don’t belong in captivity” – PETA is suing Sea World for violating these oceanic dolphin’s constitutional rights under the 13th amendment.
The 13th amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly outlaws slavery or involuntary captivity:
Continue reading The historical origins of ‘whales as people’
There is a website floating around the interwebs entitled “So you want to be a marine biologist?” that most future marine biologists who came of age in the early 21st century have encountered. The sage page of advice is followed up with “So you want to be a marine biologist, the revenge“. Reading through these two essays, one might come to the conclusion that their author, Dr. Milton Love of the University of California, Santa Barbara, should compose a voluminous tome to the fishes of the Pacific coast. Which is exactly what he’s done. Welcome to Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast: a postmodern experience.
Despite it’s self-aware title, this book is far more than just an exhaustive guide to the fishes of the Pacific, though it certainly is that. The highly detailed taxonomic descriptions are rich with humor and insight into the ecology, behavior, and physiology of, if not each species, than each genus or species complex. Interspersed among the taxa are descriptions of prominent Pacific researchers, anecdotes from a lifetime of work on the water, stories by people who lived, worked, and fished these species, and the occasional poem, song, or limerick. Somehow, these disparate units manage to complement each other in a way that makes you want to read what is essential a taxonomy textbook cover-to-cover.
Continue reading Just enough about “Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast” to pique your curiosity
It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the single most misunderstood marine creature that calls our oceans its home: the rare, elusive, often smelly, occasionally employable, Marine Biologist!
For something so incredibly popular, articulate, good-looking, and revered, there sure are a lot of misconceptions about who marine biologists are and what they do.
Myth # 1 – All Marine Biologists have beards.
Yes, if you look through a history of marine scientists, you’ll find many pictures of old, bearded men. But that’s true if you look through the history of any science and reflects a long cultural history of gender discrimination and outright misogyny. Couple that with a long standing tradition among maritime cultures that women don’t belong on boats, and you might be led to believe that most marine biologists are men. That fact becomes futhur from the truth every day. Among the pioneers in marine science are Mary Rathburn, Julia Platt, and Rachel Carson, while modern barrier breakers range from Ruth Turner, the first woman to use the DSV Alvin for research, to Cindy Lee Van Dover, the first to pilot it (incidentally, no one has a beard on the Alvin, since it would interfere with the emergency respirator should the oxygen system fail).
The website Women Oceanographers (http://www.womenoceanographers.org/) has a spectacular series highlighting the contribution of women to marine sciences.
Myth # 2 – Marine Biologists all study whales and dolphins.
No, we don’t. Some of us don’t even particularly like whales or dolphins. For that matter, we don’t want to work at Sea World.
Myth # 3 – Marine Biologists hate fishermen.
Perhaps one of the most insidious rumors is that we have it out for fishermen. In retrospect, it’s not hard to see where this would come from. Any catch limit, fishery closure, or fishing regulation is going to track back somehow to the work of a marine biologist. And there are some marine biologists who are opposed to fishing, just like there are members of the general public opposed to fishing. But Marine Biologist and fishermen have the same goals – we both want a healthy, productive ocean (that both our livelihoods depend on). Most marine biologist that I know fish, eat fish, and support our local fishermen. In fact, if I didn’t screw up the schedule, I’ll be out fishing when this post is published. Unfortunately, as overfishing is one of the biggest problems facing the ocean, conflicts are unavoidable and we’re going to butt heads on important issues.
Even so, most Marine Biologists would love to see the ocean return to a state of abundance where fishermen can harvest without regulations. Dare to dream.
Myth # 4 – Marine Biologists spend their lives on the water.
This myth is more prevalent among aspiring Marine Biologists. The job looks glamorous, with trips to tropical islands, extended cruises, and life on the beach. While I hate to burst the bubble of the next generation, Marine Biology is mostly lab work and sitting in front of your computer. If I’m lucky, I’ll get maybe 3 months of field work every 2 years. The rest is endlessly freezing and thawing samples, pipetting clear liquids into other clear liquids, and typing, typing, typing. Don’t get me wrong, I love (almost) every minute of it, but it’s a far different lifestyle from what Jacques Cousteau led me to believe.
Myth # 5 – Marine Biologist are all just like Jacques Cousteau.
Milton Love said it best when he wrote ”We really like Jacques Cousteau, too. But, drinking thousands of gallons of red wine while scuba diving around the world does not make you a marine biologist. It makes you a wonderful and effective spokesperson for the sea, and gives you a liver with the consistency of a chocolate necco wafer, but it does not make you a marine biologist.” Most research cruises are more akin to the Life Aquatic, anyway, but with more disasters and less research turtles surviving. A personal submarine would be nice, though.
Last year for our Week of Ocean Pseudoscience, we counted down our top seven marine cryptids. Number seven was the elusive Stellar’s Sea Ape, documented only once by renowned naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. Even though the Sea Ape has not been seen since, Steller’s deserved reputation as a world class naturalist has kept the Sea Ape story alive. In his journal, he reports that:
During this time we were near land or surrounded by it we saw large numbers of hair seals, sea otters, fur seals, sea lions, and porpoises…. On August 10, we saw a very unusual and unknown sea animal, of which I am going to give a brief account since I observed it for two whole hours. It was about two Russian ells in length, the head was like a dog’s, with pointed, erect ears. From the upper and lower lips on both sides whiskers hung down which made it look almost like a Chinaman, The eyes were large; the body was longish round and thick, tapering gradually towards the tail. The skin seemed thickly covered with hair, of a grey color on the back, but reddish white on the belly; in the water, however, the animal appeared equally reddish and cow colored. The tail was divided into two fins, of which the upper, as in the case of sharks, was twice as large as the lower.
Continue reading Unraveling the mysteries of Stellar’s Sea Ape
Horseshoe Crabs - Andrew David Thaler
Horseshoe Crabs, Coelacanths, Seven-gilled sharks, hagfish. Throughout the oceans there are creatures whose primitive bodies hearken back to earlier days in our evolutionary history. They possess basal characteristics that are more akin to those of the ancestors of our contemporary phyla. Because we can look into these organisms and learn something about our own deep past, we think of them not as modern descendants, but as living fossils, relics of a primeval state.
This is, of course, a misnomer.
Continue reading Misunderstood Marine Life # 7 — The Living Fossils
Little yummy beer yeasts, thanks www.diArk.org
As our ancestors transitioned from hunter-gatherer to agricultural society, they had to domesticate the plants and animals we know today as farm life. Corn kernels became larger and more full of starch, cows became more docile, and all farm organisms became accustomed to life in rows or pastures tended by humans. But some of what we eat depends on more than just these plants and animals – example, take beer. A new study in PNAS by Diego Libkind et al. describes the domestication of the microbes and yeast needed to make lagers of old and describes an unwitting process paralleling agricultural domestication. Continue reading Happy Hour Science — Domesticating Microbes for Beer
Chernobyl Reactor 4, after the explosion
In the last century, humans have made dramatic changes to both local and global ecosystems. Some of these changes have been subtle and remained unnoticed until very recently, while others were so visible and so destructive that their names are indelibly etched into our collective consciousness. Despite a legacy of desolation, many of these places, unsafe and long-abandoned, have made dramatic recoveries. Standing tall, but not alone, among these environmental catastrophes is the melt-down of reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Continue reading Climbing Mount Chernobyl