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An iconic figure of 20th century science and culture, Ivan Pavlov is best known as a founding figure of behaviorism who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell and offered a scientific approach to psychology that ignored the “subjective” world of the psyche itself.
While researching Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science, I discovered that these and other elements of the common images of Pavlov are incorrect. The following 22 facts and observations are a small window onto the life of a man whose work, life and values were much more complex and interesting than the iconic figure with whom we are so familiar.
Pavlov didn’t use a bell, and for his real scientific purposes, couldn’t. English-speakers think he did because of a mistranslation of the Russian word for zvonok (buzzer) and because the behaviorists interpreted Pavlov in their own image for people in the U.S. and much of the West.
He didn’t use the term and concept “conditioned reflex,” either – rather, “conditional,” and it makes a big difference. For him, the conditional reflex was not just a phenomenon, but a tool for exploring the animal and human psyche – “our consciousness and its torments.”
Unlike the behaviorists, Pavlov believed that dogs (like people) had identifiable personalities, emotions, and thoughts that scientific psychology should address. “Essentially, only one thing in life is of real interest to us,” he declared: “our psychical experience.”
As a youth, he identified worriedly with Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov – fearing that his devotion to rationality might strip him of human morality and feelings – but also believed that science (especially physiology) might teach humans to be more reasonable and humane.
Although one would expect that this investigator of reflexive reactions would think otherwise, he believed in free will.
Pavlov was from a religious family and trained for the priesthood, but left seminary for science studies at St. Petersburg University. He pondered the relationship of science, religion, morality, and the human quest for certainty throughout his life. Although an atheist, he appreciated religion’s cultural value, protested its repression under the Bolsheviks, and supported financially the local church near his lab at Koltushi. (His wife was deeply religious and their apartment was full of icons.)
Pavlov’s beloved mentor in college was fired as a result of student demonstrations against him as a Jew, a political conservative, and (most importantly) a hard grader. This was a great blow to Pavlov and left him on his own as he attempted to make a career.
He first got a “real job” at age 41 – as a professor of pharmacology.
He didn’t win his Nobel Prize (1904) for research on conditional reflexes, but rather for his studies of digestive physiology.
He more than doubled the budget for his labs by bottling the gastric juice he drew from lab dogs and selling it as a remedy for dyspepsia. (A big hit, not just in Russia, but in France and Germany as well.
Like Darwin, Pavlov believed that dogs had full-fledged thoughts, emotions and personalities. His lab dogs were given names that captured their personalities and were routinely described in lab notebooks as heroic or cowardly, smart or obtuse, weak or strong, good or bad workers, etc. Pavlov constantly interpreted his own biography and personality in terms of his experiments on dogs (and interpreted dogs according to what he thought he knew about himself and other people).
He was famous for his explosive temper –“spontaneous morbid paroxysms,” as he put it. Students and coworkers all had their favorite stories about these vintage explosions. Afterwards, he would make his apologies and get on with his work.
Pavlov was an art collector – with a massive collection of Russian realist art in his apartment. His best friends before 1917 were artists.
To maintain a “balanced” organism, Pavlov spent three months every year at a dacha (summer home) where he avoided science entirely. A devotee of physical exercise, he spent these months gardening, bicycling, and playing gorodki (a Russian sport in which the players throw heavy wooden bats at formations of other heavy bats, trying to knock them down in as few throws as possible; Pavlov was a champion player even in his old age).
He seriously contemplated leaving Russia after the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but finally decided to stay. His Western colleagues helped him financially during the hungry years of civil war (1918 – 1921), but did not offer to support him as a scientist in the West: they thought that, at age 68, he was washed up – but the research on conditional reflexes that would make him an international icon continued full blast for another two decades.
He corresponded with Communist leaders Nikolai Bukharin and Vyacheslav Molotov and was one of very few public critics of the Bolsheviks’ political repression, persecution of religion, and terror in the 1930s. He also praised the state for its great support of science and highly respected some of his Communist coworkers, who succeeded in changing his opinion about some important scientific issues.
Publically always very confident, privately he suffered constantly from what he called his “Beast of Doubt” – his fear that the psyche would never yield its secrets to his research.
Pavlov’s closest scientific collaborator for the last 20+ years of his life, Maria Petrova, was also his lover.
During a trip to the U. S. in 1923 he was mugged and robbed of all his money in Grand Central Station, and wanted to go home “where it is safe,” but was convinced to stay and had a great visit.
When the Communist state sent a political militant to purge his lab of political undesirables, Pavlov literally kicked him down the stairs and out of the building.
When he died, Pavlov was working on two surprising manuscripts that he never completed: one on the relationship of science, Christianity, Communism, and the human search for morality and certainty; the other making an important change in his doctrine of conditional reflexes.
According to Pavlov, the most terrible, frightening thing in life was uncertainty, unforeseen accidents (sluchainosti), against which people could turn to religion or – his choice – science.
How many of the above facts did you already know about the life of Ivan Pavlov?
Featured image: Pavlov, center, operates on a dog to create an isolated stomach or implant a permanent fistula. After the dog recovered, experiments began on an intact and relatively normal animal, which was a central feature of Pavlov’s scientific style. Courtesy of Wellcome Institute Library, London. Used with permission.
Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh My! by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Pranas T. Naujokaitis is a fantastic way to get kids interested in science and biology and nonfiction in general. Both the subject matter and the illustrations in Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh My! are funny and fun, with Bennett's rhyming couplets adding to this seriously silly look at something we all do everyday.
Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen
By Monica Kulling; Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books. 2014
To evaluate this title
for review, the publisher sent me a copy of the book.
Candian author, Kulling, adds a new title in Tundra’s Great
Idea series. Spic-And-Span! looks at the life of efficiency expert, industrial
As part of their brilliant science fiction season, last night BFI Southbank saw a special screening of Contact, a movie based on the novel by SETI pioneer, Carl Sagan.
It’s not a short film, but no one in the packed audience minded that the Q&A preceding it, with Professor Brian Cox and Dr Adam Rutherford, took over an hour. Huge credit to my former employers, the British Film Institute, for not making it token, but giving us the chance for a meaty discussion on what many think is the most important question facing science: where is everybody?
This was the question posed to colleagues over lunch one day (in 1950) by physicist Enrico Fermi. It has become known as the “Fermi paradox”. The “everybody” in question are aliens … extraterrestrials.
Why should we care?
Many people think the fundamental moment in the history of Western science was when Copernicus said Earth orbited the Sun rather than the other way around. This wasn’t simply a convenient coordinate shift. It was saying Earth is not the centre of the Universe. We inhabit just one of many planets. We have no privileged position in the cosmos. We are ordinary. The same “laws of nature” that apply on and around Earth apply equally in the rest of the Universe. This has become known as the “Copernican principle” and it is the foundation of scientific thought.
We have a problem. Look out at night – look further through our telescopes (and we can look so very far) and the Universe is vast. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies, like our own Milky Way. Just within ours, there are maybe 400 billion stars, most with planets. Conservative estimates, as Brian Cox told the audience (these are based on Kepler findings) hold that one in ten stars will have habitable planets in orbits that allow liquid water on their surface.
Further, at 4.5 billion years, Earth and our solar system are relatively young. The Milky War is far, far older. inally, mathematical models show it’s perfectly possible to colonize the entire galaxy in a brief time – say, 10 million years. Yet when we look skywards, we see not the slightest evidence if any intelligence in the entire Universe, other than what we find here on Earth. This suggests we are very special indeed – the polar opposite to the fundamental principle of science.
The Arecibo message
Sagan pondered this question long and hard. In his early, pioneering days of SETI, they were actively trying to communicate with extraterrestrials and before the movie, Cox and Rutherford were sitting in front of a radio message intentionally broadcast to the stars.
Sagan also helped designed messages added to the Voyager deep space probes (Voyager 1 is now over 18 light hours away, carrying a gold record with sounds of Earth and a map of how to find its inhabitants). Since those heady days, we think more about “existential risk” – things that potentially threated our survival as a species. One such risk is contact with alien races, so we’ve become more circumspect.
Looking back, I think the novel, Contact, was important for me as both a writer and publisher. I loved the story. It combined so many elements that I’m passionate about and, foolishly at the time I thought I could have told it better! Of course that’s not true, but I would nowadays have been a good editor for Sagan, had he let me. It certainly made me realize I was capable of being a good storyteller, and my current work-in-progress is a novel that revisits this same territory. I find it unfathomable now that I asked Sagan to sign my copy of Cosmos, which he kindly did, but not my copy of Contact – what was I thinking?
The film’s good, but there’s so much more in the book that anyone who likes the movie would get a lot from reading the novel. It was commented that Contact is a little overlooked as a science fiction film. Very true, but with my screenwriting hat on I think that’s because there’s so much to cram in, the narrative is very linear and straightforward. And Sagan’s thoughtful climax may have been unsatistfactory for mainstream audiences used to a different style of alien encounter.
In the movie, scientist Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster and the character Cox and Rutherford said was the best depiction of a scientist on screen) detects a message from aliens, using radio telescopes. This was how Sagan and fellow SETI pioneer Frank Drake expected our first contact with extraterrestrials would go, and the film describes how things might unfold after receipt – the message is written in mathematics, the only universal language. There’s still an old-school SETI community working in this area, but increasingly scientists are thinking of alternative ways to identify evidence of aliens, often in the form of (very) large scale engineering projects such as Dyson spheres or matter-antimatter burners. We’re still looking.
If you’ve not seen the movie, you really should. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:
As I noted yesterday, J. Patrick Lewis' anthology title says it all: "Everything is a Poem." Today we'll look at science in poetry. Upcoming posts include nature, history, biography and imagination in poetry.
Joyce Sidman's Winter Bees is the perfect book to usher in this year's first Polar Vortex. Every day, compliments of the TV weather reporters, we are getting a science lesson in meteorology. Sidman's book will answer questions about how animals survive in the cold.
Each of the dozen poems, most about animals ranging in size from moose to springtail, but also including trees and snowflakes, is accompanied by a short sidebar of scientific information that expands the scope of this book to topics such as migration, hibernation, and the shape of water molecules, and introduces such delicious vocabulary as brumate, ectothermic, furcula, and subnivean.
The illustrations are simply gorgeous. You will want to spend as much time with them as you do savoring Joyce's poems. Watch out for that fox -- s/he wanders throughout the book!
As you and your students explore this book and Joyce's others, don't forget to check out Joyce's website. It is a treasure-trove for readers, writers, and dog lovers.
The construction or recertification of a nuclear power plant often draws considerable attention from activists concerned about safety. However, nuclear powered US Navy (USN) ships routinely dock in the most heavily populated areas without creating any controversy at all. How has the USN managed to maintain such an impressive safety record?
The USN is not alone, many organizations, such as nuclear public utilities, confront the need to maintain perfect reliability or face catastrophe. However, this compelling need to be reliable does not insulate them from the need to innovate and change. Given the high stakes and the risks that changes in one part of an organization’s system will have consequences for others, how can such organizations make better decisions regarding innovation? The experience of the USN is apt here as well.
Given that they have at their core a nuclear reactor, navy submarines are clearly high-risk organizations that need to innovate yet must maintain 100% reliability. Shaped by the disastrous loss of the USS Thresher in 1963 the U.S. Navy (USN) adopted a very cautious approach dominated by safety considerations. In contrast, the Soviet Navy, mindful of its inferior naval position relative to the United States and her allies, adopted a much more aggressive approach focused on pushing the limits of what its submarines could do.
Decision-making in both organizations was complex and very different. It was a complex interaction among individuals confronting a central problem (their opponents’ capabilities) with a wide range of solutions. In addition, the solution was arrived at through a negotiated political process in response to another party that was, ironically, never directly addressed, i.e. the submarines never fought the opponent.
Perhaps ironically, given its government’s reputation for rigidity, it was the Soviet Navy that was far more entrepreneurial and innovative. The Soviets often decided to develop multiple types of different attack submarines – submarines armed with scores of guided missiles to attack U.S. carrier battle groups, referred to as SSGNs, and smaller submarines designed to attack other submarines. In contrast the USN adopted a much more conservative approach, choosing to modify its designs slightly such as by adding vertical launch tubes to its Los Angeles class submarines. It helped the USN that it needed its submarines to mostly do one thing – attack enemy submarines – while the Soviets needed their submarines to both attack submarines and USN carrier groups.
As a result of their innovation, aided by utilizing design bureaus, something that does not exist in the U.S. military-industry complex, the Soviets made great strides in closing the performance gaps with the USN. Their Alfa class submarines were very fast and deep diving. Their final class of submarine before the disintegration of the Soviet Union – the Akula class – was largely a match for the Los Angeles class boats of the USN. However, they did so at a high price.
Soviet submarines suffered from many accidents, including ones involving their nuclear reactor. Both their SSGNs, designed to attack USN carrier groups, as well as their attack submarines, had many problems. After 1963 the Soviets had at least 15 major accidents that resulted in a total loss of the boat or major damage to its nuclear reactor. One submarine, the K429 actually sunk twice. The innovative Alfas, immortalized in The Hunt for Red October, were so trouble-prone that they were all decommissioned in 1990 save for one that had its innovative reactor replaced with a conventional one. In contrast, the USN had no accidents, though one submarine, the USS Scorpion, was lost in 1968 to unknown causes.
Why were the USN submarines so much more reliable? There were four basic reasons. First, the U.S. system allowed for much more open communication among the relevant actors. This allowed for easier mutual adjustment between the complex yet tightly integrated systems. Second, the U.S. system diffused power much more than in the Soviet political system. As a result, the U.S. pursued less radical innovations. Third, in the U.S. system decision makers often worked with more than one group – for example a U.S. admiral not only worked within the Navy, but also interacted with the shipyards and with Congress. Finally, Admiral Rickover was a strong safety advocate who instilled a strong safety culture that has endured to this day.
In short, share information, share power, make sure you know what you are doing and have someone powerful who is an advocate for safety. Like so much in management it sounds like common sense if you explain it well, but in reality it is very hard to do, as the Soviets discovered.
Feature image credit: Submarine, by subadei. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
OwlKids Books promotes awareness of
our world to encourage young readers to become more astute observers of
how their choices can affect the natural world. OwlKids Books appeal to readers who enjoy bold graphics with quick facts using minimal text.
Why We Live Where We Live
Written by Kira Vermond; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Vermond takes readers on a
The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets written by Emily Bone, illustrated by Fabiano Fiorin is a first primer in astronomy, full of simply explained and rather beautifully illustrated facts about the Solar System, different types of stars and how they group together, and space exploration and observation. Four large flaps fold out (a little like the expanding universe), to reveal further facts and some lavish astronomical vistas.
Many Usborne books are characterized by cartoony illustrations, and here, The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets does something rather different and really worthwhile in my opinion: Fiorin’s illustrations do justice to the beauty of space, with the use of vivid watercolours, particularly effective in the section on nebulae.
As to the information presented, I have come up against a problem. Whilst I don’t fact-check everything in the non-fiction books I review, I do always check a few “facts”, to get a feel for how the book presents information. Unfortunately with The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets I very quickly came across a few statements which made me slightly concerned: the thickness of Saturn’s rings and the length of Uranus’ day don’t match what is stated on NASA’s website (65 ft thick vs 30-300 ft thick, 17 hours and 54 minutes vs 17 hours and 14 minutes). I know that “facts” are often much more complicated than presented, especially in books for the youngest of readers, and that simplification is sometimes necessary (and that my research skills can always be bettered) but it makes me uneasy when with just a little investigation I can find contradictory information from reliable sources.
I love the look and feel of The Usborne Big Book of Stars and Planets but I can’t help feeling unsettled by it too; why doesn’t the information I’ve looked up elsewhere match with some of the information presented in the book? Hmm.
Inspired by the patterns and colours of the planets in the illustrations, and such photos as the one below, where Jupiter appears in pastel colours because the observation was taken in near-infrared light, we decided to make our own set of planets.
Triple Jupiter Eclipse. Photo: NASA on The Commons
We used marbling paint and different sized polystyrene balls to replicate the colours and patterns.
Having created a swirly pattern with a toothpick the girls slowly dipped their “planets” into the paint/water. (In order to hang up the planets to dry, we attached string to them before we dipped them).
The effects were just lovely!
Once dry, we put our planets into orbit in the windowsill:
We shall never have a dull sky at night now.
Whilst marvelling at our marbled planets we listened to:
The Monty Python Universe Song
The Planets suite by Gustav Holst. ‘Mars’ recently featured in the BBC’s 10 Pieces, a project designed to get primary school aged children really excited about classical music. The BBC created a video to go with the music, which you can view here.
Making a scale model of the Solar System down your garden path or along the pavement to school. Here’s how we did it (all measurements included).
Watching some of the experiments carried out by Chris Hadfield when he was in the International Space Station. He’s got his own YouTube channel where you can hear him sing (not just the Bowie song) as well as explore many of the amazing things that happen in space.
When you read reviews of non-fiction books do you expect some commentary on factual accuracy? When can a book still be worth recommending even if it appears to contain errors? I wrote a review of a non-fiction book for a print publication at the start of this year. The book contained an error (double and triple checked by me), but my review was never published, and in all the other reviews I’ve seen of the book, the error has not been mentioned. What do you think of this? Should errors be overlooked because they can be corrected in future editions?
Where kissing is concerned, there is an entire categorization of this most human of impulses that necessitates taking into account setting, relationship health and the emotional context in which the kiss occurs. A relationship’s condition might be predicted and its trajectory timeline plotted by observing and understanding how the couple kiss. For instance, viewed through the lens of a couple’s dynamic, a peck on the cheek can convey cold, hard rejection or simply signify that a loving couple are pressed for time.
A kiss communicates a myriad of meanings, its reception and perception can alter dramatically depending on the couple’s state of mind. A wife suffering from depression may interpret her husband’s kiss entirely differently should her symptoms be alleviated. Similarly, a jealous, insecure lover may receive his girlfriend’s kiss of greeting utterly at odds to how she intends it to be perceived.
So if the mind can translate the meaning of a kiss to fit with its reading of the world, what can a kiss between a couple tell us? Does this intimate act mark out territory and ownership, a hands-off-he’s-mine nod to those around? Perhaps an unspoken negotiation of power between a couple that covers a whole range of feelings and intentions; how does a kiss-and-make-up kiss differ from a flirtatious kiss or an apologetic one? What of a furtive kiss; an adulterous kiss; a hungry kiss; a brutal kiss? How does a first kiss distinguish itself from a final kiss? When the husband complains to his wife that after 15 years of marriage, “we don’t kiss like we used to”, is he yearning for the adolescent ‘snog’ of his youth?
Engulfed by techno culture, where every text message ends with a ‘X’, couples must carve out space in their busy schedules to merely glimpse one another over the edge of their laptops. There isn’t psychic space for such an old-fashioned concept as a simple kiss. In a time-impoverished, stress-burdened world, we need our kisses to communicate more. Kisses should be able to multi-task. It would be an extravagance in the 21st-century for a kiss not to mean anything.
And there’s the cultural context of kissing to consider. Do you go French, Latin or Eskimo? Add to this each family’s own customs, classifications and codes around how to kiss. For a couple, these differences necessitate accepting the way that your parents embraced may strike your new partner as odd, even perverse. For the northern lass whose family offer to ‘brew up’ instead of a warm embrace, the European preamble of two or three kisses at the breakfast table between her southern softie of a husband and his family, can seem baffling.
The context of a kiss between a couple correlates to the store of positive feeling they have between them; the amount of love in the bank of their relationship. Take 1: a kiss on the way out in the morning can be a reminder of the intimacy that has just been. Take 2: in an acrimonious coupling, this same gesture perhaps signposts a dash for freedom, a “thank God I don’t have to see you for 11 hours”. The kiss on the way back in through the front door can be a chance to reconnect after a day spent operating in different spheres or, less benignly, to assuage and disguise feelings of guilt at not wanting to be back at all.
While on the subject of lip-to-lip contact, the place where a kiss lands expresses meaning. The peck on the forehead may herald a relationship where one partner distances themselves as a parental figure. A forensic ritualized pattern of kisses destined for the cheeks carries a different message to the gentle nip on the earlobe. Lips, cheek, neck, it seems all receptors convey significance to both kisser and ‘kissee’ and could indicate relationship dynamics such as a conservative-rebellious pairing or a babes-in-the-wood coupling.
Like Emperor Tiberius, who banned kissing because he thought it helped spread fungal disease, Bert Bacarach asks, ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia…’ Conceivably the nature of kissing and the unhygienic potential it carries is the ultimate symbol of trust between two lovers and raises the question of whether kissing is a prelude or an end in itself, ergo the long-suffering wife who doesn’t like kissing anymore “because I know what it’ll lead to…”
The twenty-first century has witnessed the proliferation of orthodontistry with its penchant for full mental braces. Modern mouths are habitually adorned with lip and tongue piercings as fetish wear or armour. Is this straying away from what a kiss means or a consideration of how modern mores can begin to create a new language around this oldest of greetings? There is an entire generation maturing whose first kiss was accompanied by the clashing of metal, casting a distinct shadow over their ideas around later couple intimacy.
Throughout history, from Judas to Marilyn Monroe, a kiss has communicated submission, domination, status, sexual desire, affection, friendship, betrayal, sealed a pact of peace or the giving of life. There is public kissing and private kissing. Kissing signposts good or bad manners. It is both a conscious and unconscious coded communication and can betray the instigator’s character; from the inhibited introvert to the narcissistic exhibitionist. The 16th-century theologian Erasmus described kissing as ‘a most attractive custom’. Rodin immortalized doomed, illicit lovers in his marble sculpture, and Chekhov wrote of the transformative power of a mistaken kiss. The history and meaning of the kiss evolves and shifts and yet remains steadfastly the same: a distinctly human, intimate and complex gesture, instantly recognizable despite its infinite variety of uses. I’ve a feeling Sam’s ‘You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss’ may never sound quite the same again.
Headline image credit: Conquered with a kiss, by .craig. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.
Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio (Roaring Brook Press), 2014
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.
The shark section gets a lot of traffic in my elementary school library. Many young readers are fascinated by the creatures, so I was excited when I heard about
Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
Frances Lincoln Children's Books. 2014
Preschool to Grade 2
I received these titles from the publisher.
After a long night of hunting in the forests of India, a mother tigress carefully returns to her den. She crawls into this secret place
Biology Week is an annual celebration of the biological sciences that aims to inspire and engage the public in the wonders of biology. The Society of Biology created this awareness day in 2012 to give everyone the chance to learn and appreciate biology, the science of the 21st century, through varied, nationwide events. Our belief that access to education and research changes lives for the better naturally supports the values behind Biology Week, and we are excited to be involved in it year on year.
Biology, as the study of living organisms, has an incredibly vast scope. We’ve identified some key figures from the last couple of centuries who traverse the range of biology: from physiology to biochemistry, sexology to zoology. You can read their stories by checking out our Biology Week 2014 gallery below. These biologists, in various different ways, have had a significant impact on the way we understand and interact with biology today. Whether they discovered dinosaurs or formed the foundations of genetic engineering, their stories have plenty to inspire, encourage, and inform us.
If you’d like to learn more about these key figures in biology, you can explore the resources available on our Biology Week page, or sign up to our e-alerts to stay one step ahead of the next big thing in biology.
Headline image credit: Marie Stopes in her laboratory, 1904, by Schnitzeljack. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
What’s on my mind?
Indigenous peoples and their worry about being over run by other populations I guess could sum it up.
I suppose if cougars, wolves, elephants and such learned to shoot guns or band together better they would kick out the human populations who have transgressed on their land but as people go I believe we need to understand the reason for others unlawfully entering areas already overpopulated.
Overpopulation where they come from, economic despair, greed, the making of money into a God and the lust for power over others seem to be good places to start .
Seems to me that as people from a planet with finite resources we need to try to make all places a good place to live so people want to stay where they are. Make everywhere a good place to be.
Sharing with others does not have to mean give away my happiness but it could mean helping you gain yours. I hope I can do that with more than one other and if we all did it for just two other people it would cure the problem in my mind at least.
Buried Sunlight: how
fossil fuels have changed our world
Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; Illustrated by
Blue Sky Press. 2014
To review this book, I borrowed it from my local public
Author-illustrator Molly Bang has now written four books about the sun’s life-sustaining role in our world. She began with My Light that explained
World Anaesthesia Day commemorates the first successful demonstration of ether anaesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital on 16 October 1846. This was one of the most significant events in medical history, enabling patients to undergo surgical treatments without the associated pain of an operation. To celebrate this important day, we are highlighting a selection of British Journal of Anaesthesia podcasts so you can learn more about anaesthesia practices today.
Fifth National Audit Project on Accidental Awareness during General Anaesthesia
Accidental awareness during general anaesthesia (AAGA) is a rare but feared complication of anaesthesia. Studying such rare occurrences is technically challenging but following in the tradition of previous national audit projects, the results of the fifth national audit project have now been published receiving attention from both the academic and national press. In this BJA podcast Professor Jaideep Pandit (NAP5 Lead) summarises the results and main findings from another impressive and potentially practice changing national anaesthetic audit. Professor Pandit highlights areas of AAGA risk in anaesthetic practice, discusses some of the factors (both technical and human) that lead to accidental awareness, and describes the review panels findings and recommendations to minimise the chances of AAGA.
October 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 4 || 36 Minutes
Emergency airway management in trauma patients is a complex and somewhat contentious issue, with opinions varying on both the timing and delivery of interventions. London’s Air Ambulance is a service specialising in the care of the severely injured trauma patient at the scene of an accident, and has produced one of the largest data sets focusing on pre-hospital rapid sequence induction. Professor David Lockey, a consultant with London’s Air Ambulance, talks to the BJA about LAA’s approach to advanced airway management, which patients benefit from pre-hospital anaesthesia and the evolution of RSI algorithms. Professor Lockey goes on to discuss induction agents, describes how to achieve a 100% success rate for surgical airways and why too much choice can be a bad thing, as he gives us an insight into the exciting world of pre-hospital emergency care.
August 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 2 || 35 Minutes
Fluid responsiveness: an evolution in our understanding
Fluid therapy is a central tenet of both anaesthetic and intensive care practice, and has been a solid performer in the medical armamentarium for over 150 years. However, mounting evidence from both surgical and medical populations is starting to demonstrate that we may be doing more harm than good by infusing solutions of varying tonicity and pH into the arms of our patients. As anaesthetists we arguably monitor our patient’s response to fluid-based interventions more closely than most, but in emergency departments and on intensive care units this monitoring me be unavailable or misleading. For this podcast Dr Paul Marik, Professor and Division Chief of Pulmonary Critical Care at Eastern Virginia Medical Center delivers a masterclass on the physiology of fluid optimisation, tells us which monitors to believe and importantly under which circumstances, and reviews some of the current literature and thinking on fluid responsiveness.
April 2014 || Volume 112 – Issue 4 || 43 Minutes
Post-operative Cognitive Decline
Post-operative cognitive decline (POCD) has been detected in some studies in up to 50% patients undergoing major surgery. With an ageing population and an increasing number of elective surgeries, POCD may represent a major public health problem. However POCD research is complex and difficult to perform, and the current literature may not tell the full story. Dr Rob Sanders from the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at UCL talks to us about the methodological limitations of previous studies and the important concept of a cognitive trajectory. In addition, Dr Sanders discusses the risk factors and role of inflammation in causing brain injury, and reveals the possibility that certain patients may in fact undergo post-operative cognitive improvement (POCI).
March 2014 || Volume 112 – Issue 3 || 20 Minutes
Needle Phobia – A Psychological Perspective
For anaesthetists, intravenous cannulation is the gateway procedure to an increasingly complex and risky array of manoeuvres, and as such becomes more a reflex arc than a planned motor act. For some patients however, that initial feeling of needle penetrating epidermis, dermis and then vessel wall is a dreaded event, and the cause of more anxiety than the surgery itself. Needle phobia can be a deeply debilitating disease causing patients not to seek help even under the most dire circumstances. Dr Kate Jenkins, a hospital clinical psychologist describes both the psychology and physiology of needle phobia, what we as anaesthetists need to be aware of, and how we can better serve out patients for whom ‘just a small scratch’ may be their biggest fear.
July 2014 || Volume 113 – Issue 1 || 32 Minutes
They might be short-lived — but between the time a bubble is born (Fig 1 and Fig 2a) and pops (Fig 2d-f), the bubble can interact with surrounding particles and microorganisms. The consequence of this interaction not only influences the performance of bioreactors, but also can disseminate the particles, minerals, and microorganisms throughout the atmosphere. The interaction between microorganism and bubbles has been appreciated in our civilizations for millennia, most notably in fermentation. During some of these metabolic processes, microorganisms create gas bubbles as a byproduct. Indeed the interplay of bubbles and microorganisms is captured in the origin of the word fermentation, which is derived from the Latin word ‘fervere’, or to boil. More recently, the importance of bubbles on the transfer of microorganisms has been appreciated. In the 1940s, scientists linked red tide syndrome to toxins aerosolized by bursting bubbles in the ocean. Other more deadly illnesses, such as Legionnaires’ disease have been linked since.
Bubbles are formed whenever gas is completely surrounded by an immiscible liquid. This encapsulation can occur when gas boils out of a liquid or when gas is injected or entrained from an external source, such as a breaking wave. The liquid molecules are attracted to each other more than they are to the gas molecules, and this difference in attraction leads to a surface tension at the gas-liquid interface. This surface tension minimizes surface area so that bubbles tend to be spherical when they rise and rapidly retract when they pop.
When microorganisms are near a bubble, they can interact in several ways. First, a rising bubble can create a flow that can move, mix, and stress the surrounding cells. Second, some of the gas inside the bubble can dissolve into the surrounding fluid, which can be important for respiration and gas exchange. Microorganisms can likewise influence a bubble by modifying its surface properties. Certain microorganisms secrete surfactant molecules, which like soap move to the liquid-gas interface and can locally lower the surface tension. Microorganisms can also adhere and stick on this interface. Thus, a submerged bubble travelling through the bulk can scavenge surrounding particulates during its journey, and lift them to the surface.
When a bubble reaches a surface (Figure 2c), such as the air-sea interface, it creates a thin, curved film that drains and eventually pops. In Figure 3, a sequence of images shows a bubble before (Fig 3a), during, and after rupture (Fig 3b). The schematic diagrams displayed in Fig 2c-f complement this sequence. Once a hole nucleates in the bubble film (Fig 2d), surface tension causes the film to rapidly retract and centripetal acceleration acts to destabilize the rim so that it forms ligaments and droplets. For the bubble shown, this retraction process occurs over a time of 150 microseconds, where each microsecond is a millionth of a second. The last image of the time series shows film drops launching into the surrounding air. Any particulates that became encapsulated into these film droplets, including all those encountered by the bubble on its journey through the water column, can be transported throughout the atmosphere by air currents.
Another source of droplets occurs after the bubble has ruptured (Fig 3b). The events occurring after the bubble ruptures is presented in the second time series of photographs. Here the time between photographs is one milliseconds, or 1/1000th of a second. After the film covering the bubble has popped, the resulting cavity rapidly closes to minimize surface area. The liquid filling the cavity overshoots, creating an upward jet that can break up into vertically propelled droplets. These jet drops can also transport any nearby particulates, also including those scavenged by the bubble on its journey to the surface. Although both film and jet drops can vary in size, jet drops tend to be bigger.
Whether it is for the best or the worst, bubbles are ubiquitous in our everyday life. They can expose us to diseases and harmful chemicals, or tickle our palate with fresh scents and yeast aromas, such as those distinctly characterizing a glass of champagne. Bubbles are the messenger that can connect the depth of the waters to the air we breathe and illustrate the inherent interdependence and connectivity that we have with our surrounding environment.
Each year the Royal Society awards a prize to the best book that communicates science to young people with the aim of inspiring young people to read about science. In the run up to the announcement of the winner of The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize in the middle of November, I’ll be reviewing the books which have made the shortlist, and trying out science experiments and investigating the world with M and J in ways which stem from the books in question.
Have you ever thought how your genes could get you out of prison?
Or what the consequences might be if a company owned and could make money out of one of your own genes?
How would you know if you were a clone?
Why might knowing something about junk DNA be important if you’re running an exclusive restaurant with slightly dodgy practices?
Answers to these and many other intriguing questions are to be found in this accessible introduction to genetics, pitched at the 9-11 crowd. Arbuthnott does a great job of showing how relevant a knowledge of genetics is, whether in helping us to understand issues in the news (e.g. ‘Cancer gene test ‘would save lives’‘) or understanding why we are partly but not entirely like our parents. What makes you YOU? covers key scientists in the past history of genetics and crucial stages in its development as a science, including the race to discover what DNA looked like, the Human Genome Project, and Dolly the Sheep.
Arbuthnott portrays the excitement and potential in genetic research very well, leaving young readers feeling that this is far from a dry science; there are many ethical issues which make the discussion of the facts seem more relevant and real to young readers. Whilst on the whole I felt the author did a good job of balancing concerns with opportunities, I was sorry that in the discussion about genetically modified plants no mention was made of businesses ability to control supply to food stock, by creating plants which don’t reproduce, leaving farmers dependent on buying new seed from the business.
A timeline of discoveries, a very helpful list of resources for further study, a glossary and an index all make this a really useful book. Importantly, not only does the book contain interesting and exciting information, it also looks attractive and engaging. Lots of full bleed brightly coloured pages, and the use of cartoony characters make the book immediately approachable and funny – a world away from a dry dull school textbook.
What makes you YOU? provides a clear and enjoyable introduction to understanding DNA and many of the issues surrounding genetic research, perfect not only for learning about this branch of science, but also for generating discussion.
Extracting DNA is what the kids wanted to try after sharing What makes you YOU?. In the interest of scientific exploration we tried two different techniques to see which one we found easier and which gave the best results.
Method 1: Extracting your own DNA
What you’ll need:
A measuring jug
A small bowl
A small clean cup
A tall and narrow jar (or a test tube)
Clingfilm or a stopper/lid
A stirrer eg a plastic straw
Rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit – in the UK you can buy this easily in a chemists such as Boots)
1. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 250ml of water to create a salt solution.
2. Dilute the washing-up liquid by mixing 1 tbsp of washing-up liquid with 3 tbsp of water in your small bowl. We’ll call this the soap solution.
3. Swish 1 teaspoon of tap water around in your mouth vigorously for at least 30 seconds. Spit this into the small cup. We’ll call this spit water.
4. Put 1/4 teaspoon of your salt solution into your tall jar/test tube.
5. Pour your spit water from the cub into the tall tar/test tube.
6. Add 1/4 teaspoon of your soap solution to the test tube.
7. Cover the top of your tall jar/test tube either with clingfilm/a stopper/a lid and gently turn the jar almost upside down several times to mix everything together. Avoid making any bubbles.
8. Take the covering off the jar and dribble 1 teaspoon of surgical spirit down the side of the tall jar/test tube. Watch for the surgical spirit forming a layer on top of the spitwater/salt solution/soap solution mix.
9. You should now see a white stringy layer forming between the two layers – this is your DNA (and a few proteins, but mostly it’s your DNA)
10. You can use the stirrer to pull out the white goop to get a closer look at your DNA.
This second method is detailed in What makes you YOU? and involves strawberries, fresh pineapple, warm water and ice as well as washing-up liquid and salt. It also calls for methylated spirits but we swapped this for surgical spirit, as that’s what we had to hand.
This method is a little more involved than the first method but is a all round sensory experience: There are lots of strong smells (from crushed strawberries and puréed pineapple, as well as the surgical spirit), colours make it visually very appealing (perhaps this is why methylated spirits are called for in the original recipe as the purple of the meths adds another dimension) and there is also lots to feel, from the strange sensation of squishing the strawberries by hand, through to the different temperatures of the warm water in which the DNA-extracting-mix gently cooks followed by the ice water in which it cools down.
Look! Strawberry DNA!
Both methods were fun to try. We liked the first method because the result was seeing globs of our very own DNA, but the second method was a much more stimulating process, appealing to all the senses. Indeed this DNA extraction recipe alone makes it worthwhile seeking out a copy of What makes you YOU?.
Whilst extracting DNA we listened to:
GENEticS, a rap by Oort Kuiper
The DNA song
The Galaxy DNA song By Eric Idle and John Du Prez (a re-worked Monty Python song)
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer took some time to get through for such a slim book. It’s not that the reading was all that difficult, most of the chapters are the perfect length for reading before bed or during lunch. Nor was is over science-y and dry. It was actually a really interesting book. For instance, did you know there are as many as 22,000 different kinds of mosses and that they inhabit every ecosystem on earth? What took me so long to get through the book were some interruptions with books on deadlines, but also a bit of disappointment.
Like I said, Gathering Moss is really good. But I had read Kimmerer’s second book, Braiding Sweetgrass earlier this year and absolutely loved it for its combination of memoir and plant science. I expected Gathering Moss would be the same. In some ways it is, there are a few personal stories about her daughters and her neighbor and stories about field study for her own research and working with her students, but the focus here is definitely on the mosses. Nearly every chapter is devoted to one particular kind of moss, how and where it grows, how it reproduces, that sort of thing. It took me a little bit to get over my initial disappointment, but once I did and no longer had other bookish distractions, I fell pleasantly into the book.
I always thought moss was pretty neat, but now I will never look at it the same way again. And the thing with moss is, you really do have to look. It is such a tiny plant, it requires that you pay attention and get up close and personal with it, preferably with a magnifying glass or microscope. And when you really look, it does amazing things. Moss can lose up to 98% of its moisture and still survive, reviving when it gets wet again. And if you live in a city, you have probably helped pollinate moss and not even known it.
The moss species Bryum agenteum is most commonly found in sidewalk cracks. When we scuffle over the cracks, moss spores stick to the bottom of our shoes and is deposited in other sidewalk cracks, pollinating other colonies and spreading to uninhabited cracks to begin new ones. Moss is also very sensitive to air pollution so you can tell how clean your city’s air is by how much moss you see on trees.
Moss also helps grow and sustain forests. Moss is like a sponge and it shares its water with tall trees and sprouting tree seeds. Moss also shelters insects and these insects in turn become food for birds and salamanders and toads which then become food right up the food chain. Moss also supports fungal growth in the soil, important for good soil health which is important for other plant life as well.
Mosses are tiny, overlooked powerhouses. Without mosses, this world would look a lot different. Come next spring when the moss brightens the bark of the trees in my garden, I will be stopping to look up close. And I will be getting down on my hands and knees to look at the patches of moss growing beneath the apple trees in my front yard. Over the years as the grass beneath the trees has disappeared I have noticed the patches of moss have increased in size and number. It has always delighted me to see these patches getting bigger but I have never bent down to really look at them. Now I will. It is time to get to know the moss in my garden.
Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks
by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press, 2014
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
Young readers will enjoy learning about animals tracks in this engaging science picture books. The writing style alternates between descriptive poems and expository paragraphs as readers try to guess the animals based on the
Since its advent in the early 1970s, bioethics has exploded, with practitioners’ thinking expressed not only in still-expanding scholarly venues but also in the gamut of popular media. Not surprisingly, bioethicists’ disputes are often linked with technological advances of relatively recent vintage, including organ transplantation and artificial-reproductive measures like preimplantation genetic diagnosis and prenatal genetic testing. It’s therefore tempting to figure that the only pertinent reflective sources are recent as well, extending back — glancingly at most — to Immanuel Kant’s groundbreaking 18th-century reflections on autonomy. Surely Plato, who perforce could not have tackled such issues, has nothing at all to contribute to current debates.
This view is false — and dangerously so — because it deprives us of avenues and impetuses of reflection that are distinctive and could help us negotiate present quandaries. First, key topics in contemporary bioethics are richly addressed in Greek thought both within Plato’s corpus and through his critical engagement with Hippocratic medicine. This is so regarding the nature of the doctor-patient tie, medical professionalism, and medicine’s societal embedment, whose construction ineluctably concerns us all individually and as citizens irrespective of profession.
Second, the most pressing bioethical topics — whatever their identity — ultimately grip us not on technological grounds but instead for their bearing on human flourishing (in Greek, eudaimonia). Surprisingly, this foundational plane is often not singled out in bioethical discussions, which regularly tend toward circumscription. The fundamental grip obtains either way, but its neglect as a conscious focus harms our prospects for existing in a way that is most thoughtful, accountable, and holistic. Again a look at Plato can help, for his handling of all salient topics shows fruitfully expansive contextualization.
Regarding the doctor-patient tie, attempts to circumvent Scylla and Charybdis — extremes of paternalism and autonomy, both oppositional modes — are garnering significant bioethical attention. Dismayingly given the stakes, prominent attempts to reconceive the tie fail because they veer into paternalism, allegedly supplanted by autonomy’s growing preeminence in recent decades. If tweaking and reconfiguration of existing templates are insufficient, what sources not yet plumbed might offer fresh reference points for bioethical conversation?
Prima facie, invoking Plato, staunch proponent of top-down autocracy in the Republic, looks misguided. In fact, however, the trajectory of his thought — Republic to Laws via the Statesman — provides a rare look at how this profound ancient philosopher came at once to recognize core human fallibility and to stare firmly at its implications without capitulating to pessimism about human aptitudes generally. Captivated no longer by the extravagant gifts of a few — philosophers of Kallipolis, the Republic’s ideal city — Plato comes to appreciate for the first time the intellectual and ethical aptitudes of ordinary citizens and nonphilosophical professionals.
Human motivation occupies Plato in the Laws, his final dialogue. His unprecedented handling of it there and philosophical trajectory on the topic warrant our consideration. While the Republic shows Plato’s unvarnished confidence in philosophers to rule — indeed, even one would suffice (502b, 540d) — the Laws insists that human nature as such entails that no one could govern without succumbing to arrogance and injustice (713c). Even one with “adequate” theoretical understanding could not properly restrain himself should he come to be in charge: far from reliably promoting communal welfare as his paramount concern, he would be distracted by and cater to his own yearnings (875b). “Adequate” understanding is what we have at best, but only “genuine” apprehension — that of philosophers in the Republic, seen in the Laws as purely wishful — would assure incorruptibility.
The Laws’ collaborative model of the optimal doctor-patient tie in Magnesia, that dialogue’s ideal city, is one striking outcome of Plato’s recognition that even the best among us are fallible in both insight and character. Shared human aptitudes enable reciprocal exchanges of logoi (rational accounts), with patients’ contributing as equal, even superior, partners concerning eudaimonia. This doctor-patient tie is firmly rooted in society at large, which means for Plato that there is close and unveiled continuity between medicine and human existence generally in values’ application. From a contemporary standpoint, the Laws suggests a fresh approach — one that Plato himself arrived at only by pressing past the Republic’s attachment to philosophers’ profound intellectual and values-edge, whose bioethical counterpart is a persistent investment in the same regarding physicians.
If values-spheres aren’t discrete, it’s unsurprising that medicine’s quest to demarcate medical from non-medical values, which extends back to the American Medical Association’s original Code of Medical Ethics (1847), has been combined with an inability to make it stick. In addition, a tension between the medical profession’s healing mission and associated virtues, on the one side, and other goods, particularly remuneration, on the other, is present already in that code. This conflict is now more overt, with rampancy foreseeable in financial incentives’ express provision to intensify or reduce care and to improve doctors’ behavior without concern for whether relevant qualities (e.g., self-restraint, courage) belong to practitioners themselves.
“As Plato rightly reminds us, professional and other endeavors transpire and gain their traction from their socio-political milieu”
Though medicine’s greater pecuniary occupation is far from an isolated event, the human import of it is great. Remuneration’s increasing use to shape doctors’ behavior is harmful not just because it sends the flawed message that health and remuneration are commensurable but for what it reveals more generally about our priorities. Plato’s nuanced account of goods (agatha), which does not orbit tangible items but covers whatever may be spoken of as good, may be helpful here, particularly its addressing of where and why goods are — or aren’t — cross-categorically translatable.
Furthermore, if Plato is right that certain appetites, including that for financial gain, are by nature insatiable — as weakly susceptible to real fulfillment as the odds of filling a sieve or leaky jar are dim (Gorgias 493a-494a) — then even as we hope to make doctors more virtuous via pecuniary incentives, we may actually be promoting vice. Engagement with Plato supports our retreat from calibrated remuneration and greater devotion to sources of inspiration that occupy the same plane of good as the features of doctors we want to promote. If the goods at issue aren’t commensurable, then the core reward for right conduct and attitudes by doctors shouldn’t be monetary but something more in keeping with the tier of good reflected thereby, such as appreciative expressions visible to the community (a Platonic example is seats of honor at athletic games, Laws 881b). Of course, this directional shift shouldn’t be sprung on doctors and medical students in a vacuum. Instead, human values-education (paideia) must be devotedly and thoughtfully instilled in educational curricula from primary school on up. From this vantage point, Plato’s vision of paideia as a lifelong endeavor is worth a fresh look.
As Plato rightly reminds us, professional and other endeavors transpire and gain their traction from their socio-political milieu: we belong first to human communities, with professions’ meaning and broader purposes rooted in that milieu. The guiding values and priorities of this human setting must be transparent and vigorously discussed by professionals and non-professionals alike, whose ability to weigh in is, as the Laws suggests, far more substantive than intra-professional standpoints usually acknowledge. This same line of thought, combined with Plato’s account of universal human fallibility, bears on the matter of medicine’s continued self-policing.
Linda Emanuel claims that “professional associations — whether national, state or county, specialty, licensing, or accrediting — are the natural parties to articulate tangible standards for professional accountability. Almost by definition, there are no other entities that have such ability and extensive responsibility to be the guardians of health care values — for the medical profession and for society” (53-54). Further, accountability “procedures” may include “a moral disposition, with only an internal conscience for monitoring accountability” (54). On grounds above all of our fallibility, which is strongly operative both with and absent malice, the Laws foregrounds reciprocal oversight of all, including high officials, not just from within but across professional and sociopolitical roles; crucially, no one venue is the arbiter in all cases. Whatever the number of intra-medical umbrellas that house the profession’s oversight, transparency operates within circumscribed bounds at most, and medicine remains the source of the very standards to which practitioners — and “good” patients — will be held. Moreover, endorsing moral self-oversight here without undergirding pedagogical and aspirational structures is less likely to be effective than to hold constant or even amplify countervailing motivations.
As can be only briefly suggested here, not only the themes but also their intertwining makes further bioethical consideration of Plato vastly promising. I’m not proposing our endorsement of Plato’s account as such. Rather, some positions themselves, alongside the rich expansiveness and trajectory of his explorations, are two of Plato’s greatest legacies to us — both of which, however, have been largely untapped to date. Not only does reflection on Plato stand to enrich current bioethical debates regarding the doctor-patient tie, medical professionalism, and medicine’s societal embedment, it offers a fresh orientation to pressing debates on other bioethical topics, prominent among them high-stakes discord over the technologically-spurred project of radical human “enhancement.”
Headline image credit: Doctor Office 1. Photo by Subconsci Productions. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr
Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on
By Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
To review this book, I borrowed a
copy from my local public library.
I couldn't resist reviewing another book about dogs who use their incredible sense of smell to help get the job done.
Take any dog, any dog, for a walk
along a sidewalk or in a park, and you won’t be
Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.
The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.
Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.
We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.
We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.
I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.
Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?