Archive | December 2017

Must Good Science Proselytize?

“Publish or perish.” So goes the mantra supposedly defining academic life. The implication is that publication is enough. We can all agree that unpublished science is not going to have much of a chance of influencing the course of scientific thought, but is the act of publication really enough?

There are a number of instances of science rediscovering things. Perhaps one of the more familiar stories is that of Gregor Mendel, whose work, goes the story, went unread by Darwin and unnoticed by others, leaving Mendel to die in obscurity, his work only appreciated years later when it was rediscovered.  While this story is largely wrong, it does resemble some lesser known cases.  That blog post listing some of the rediscoveries concludes by saying, in essence, this won’t happen in the future.  Our literature discovery tools are too good.

Nonsense. (At least for now). Read More…

My Science Crimes

In keeping with this end-of-the-year theme of what GG is doing wrong, some “crimes against science,” which, as Bob Sharp defined them years ago, was doing some work of interest to the broader community and then not publishing it. (Thankfully, these aren’t the more serious offenses in the expanded criminal ledger GG proposed awhile back).

Now this isn’t an uncommon occurrence: students graduate with thesis chapters not quite ready for publication and discover that life beyond grad school doesn’t provide rewards for getting that stuff into journals.  Some other times things just pile up enough that a paper isn’t completed when everything is handy, and it just gets harder to return to as time goes on.

So, in case anybody out there would benefit from some of this stuff, feel free to nudge GG to take some time and share, either informally or by actually publishing some of this.  And if nobody seems interested, well, then maybe not much of a criminal act :-). Most of these are in some kind of manuscript form (there is other stuff that didn’t even get that far).

  • Geologic map of the Alexander Hills and eastern China Lake basin. Yes, GG mapped while in grad school and actually handed over a copy of his map to Lauren Wright long ago, who included some of it in a never-published update to the SW Tecopa quad (now would be Tecopa 7.5″ quad map). A lot of cool stuff–probably the eastern end of the early Garlock Fault interacting with some low-angle, basin-bottom faults and a pre-China Lake basin history not evident in published maps.
  • Seismicity of the Hansel Valley region.  GG feel really bad about this, as there were a lot of coauthors on the 1983 experiment, which was one of the densest deployments of seismometers in an extending area.  The results are in GG’s PhD thesis but still might merit publication as the data indicates how a low-angle normal fault might interact with ongoing seismic deformation.
  •  Magnetostratigraphy and some additional paleomag in the Lake Mead region. A collaborator dropped out and so the baton was dropped after a single paper. Some of the data is visible here.
  • Paleomagnetic measurements in monoclines of the Colorado Plateau.  Joya Tetreault’s thesis has this; substantial vertical-axis rotations exist in some folds (the Grand Hogback being the most dramatic), though the sampling is far less than ideal and some structures seem to make little sense.
  • Paleomag and micropolar analysis of seismicity in the Coalinga area.  Also part of Tetreault’s thesis. The micropolar work seemed to capture the bending component of folding in the seismicity while the paleomag suggested San Andreas-parallel shear within the fold limbs.
  • Earthquakes in the southern Sierra located with the 1988 experiment. Jason Edwards, a CU BA graduate, did some of this work which was never carried farther. It seemed there were events under one of the Recent cinder cones in the s Golden Trout field as well as some deep events in the westernmost foothills of the southern Sierra.
  • Geophysics of Panamint Valley and the Ivanpah Valley areas.  These were datasets collected by the MIT Geophysics Course in 1987 and 1983, respectively.  Both valley present a major challenge because a large basement gravity gradient exists across these valleys, complicating interpretation.

This is all in addition to various half-done projects still seeming to be active as well as datasets that never were fully exploited (for instance, data from a mixed broadband/short period array at Harrisburg Flat in Death Valley plus some more scattered instruments near Dante’s View, or our inability to get anything sensible out of array recordings of deep local events under the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island).

Mapa Culpa

GG has been rather abrupt in some previous posts with some authors over choices made in making maps for publication, and some of the authors have been insulted, in part because GG seems to have mistaken a conscious choice for laziness or thoughtlessness. Its not like GG is free and clear on making mistakes, so today let’s review a few boo-boos of GG.

First up is one we discussed before, the use of gradient color:


Mantle topography from Vs model of Shen et al, from Levandowski et al. 2014.

GG was the thesis advisor and second author here, and there are two main problems.  One is the rainbow color map, which is widely panned for the challenges it places before those with some level of color blindness. [Alternate color schemes are nicely described here and you can test how images look to the color-blind here. The only good news for this figure is that a continuum of color is more decipherable than separated color blobs]. The other problem is that the colors are continuous.  Can you tell -2.2 from -2.6?  This probably would have been better with discrete color steps. But that’s probably not the complete answer:

This is from Jones et al., 1994, showing travel time residuals with a discrete color bar. On the left is the original, on the right as viewed by a red-blind viewer (as created by Coblis). While the Levandowski et al. image could be deciphered because of smoothly continuous colors, this figure becomes hopeless. (Plate 2 in Jones et al., 1994, is even worse, but GG can’t recover the original file to show this cleanly, and plate 3 is an utter disaster for red-green colorblind). There are similar examples in later tomography papers. Frankly, using some of the better diverging color maps out there would be a better practice.

But this post is inspired more by a comment made by Sara (Carena?) on an earlier snarky post: How about the projection used?   Read More…

Memory Loss

As we all get older, we find it harder to remember things from the past (or names or words).  The same thing seems to be true of nations and their leaders–well, at least America (seems like some other nations cannot forget any slight). So as the generation that grew up in the Depression and fought WWII passes from this earth, we are left with a nation that has not known true economic devastation either from unbridled capitalism, as in the 1930s, or devastation from war, as US GIs witnessed in Europe. The result seems to be a delight in saber-rattling and glorifying the military at the expense of diplomacy and alliance-building, an unbending desire to remove all regulations, whether good or ill, from the private sector. It is easy to imagine plunging into some of the worst mistakes of the twentieth century by following such a course.

There are, perhaps, two cures.  One is to study history–not the hagiography of a noble nation that saves the world from tyranny, but to recognize the success and the failures.  To understand how the Marshall Plan worked when the League of Nations didn’t. To see the folly in restoring the French to Indochina after WWII and the Shah to the throne in Iran even as Nixon going to China and Reagan reaching an arms accord with the Soviet Union lessened world tensions. To really recognize the tremendous losses the Russian peoples suffered in WWII, which dwarfed the devastation even to the occupied Low Countries and France. To see Lincoln’s greatness as a war leader even as he failed to deal with atrocities against Native Americans. Even to discover that James Buchanan, whose South-favoring administration made the Civil War a near-certainty, gaining a backbone and choosing not to cede federal installations to states that seceded before Lincoln’s inauguration.

The other might well be cinema and perhaps television. Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice*, to name three WWII movies, bring home some of the horror of war in ways that books might fail. Watching these and similar movies is a far different experience than the anodyne violence of video games and some other media.  With many Americans becoming more isolated from members of the military who have experienced combat and suffered from it, the need for some kind of emotional reset is more necessary. Given too that modern wartime devastation is distant from the main tourist destinations, we need to viscerally understand the cost of war before bumbling into it. Americans should recall that the deaths in the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 were only about one tenth of the number of deaths on an average day during WWII.

War needs to be a last resort; regulations should not simply be a bad word. Those now leaving us learned these lessons the hard way so we wouldn’t have do.  Will we take advantage of their wisdom?

*well, OK, so two of these could also be understood as lessons in situations when the horror of war is justified.

Making America Less Great

When President Trump signaled that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, the new President of France, Emmanuel Macron, offered to bring climate scientists to France to “make our planet great again.” He has delivered on that promise, luring 12 American climate scientists to go to France to continue their research under five year grants from the French government. [All the press reports say 13 US scientists, but GG only finds 12 with a current US affiliation and hasn’t figured out the 13th.  Maybe Camille Parmesan, a Texan who is a UK Professor? If you count that way, then several non-U.S. natives should not be counted as U.S. losses. You can count for yourself at the Science story]. Another 6 scientists come from other countries. While this upsets some French academics, who feel their higher education system needs more money (translated), the list of the 12 leaving the US–and their reasons–suggest that US science may be facing serious headwinds. This is a little different than typical grant applications in that the winners are relocating to France: this definitely represents a loss to the U.S. science community. The names of the 18 heading to France are in Science report, but GG wanted to see who was moving and what they had to say about it. Two are coming from CIRES, the research institute where GG is a Fellow, another from CU, and a fourth from Boulder’s NCAR, so the Boulder address of more than a fifth of the global haul here speaks to the visibility of the climate community here.

There are two ways to look at this list.  One is that only one tenured professor has gone for this (Derry, from Cornell) and only a couple senior research scientists, so established talent by and large remains.  Several NOAA-affiliated research scientists, including a couple of fairly senior people, will be leaving, but the rest are largely junior soft-money researchers or postdocs. So the U.S. isn’t necessarily seeing a mass migration of the very best.

But this does point out that the soft money postdoc purgatory is well stocked with capable scientists with a global profile, and these folks might never return. Worse, that so many have applied underscores the growing perception that the future of climate research in the U.S. is bleak. Freeing these researchers for five years of funding guarantees that instead of spending time writing numerous grant applications, they can focus on bigger, tougher problems than they can in the current U.S. system. If, as many in Congress like to say, STEM capability is important to the nation, then this is a warning shot across the bow that the U.S. will fall back if it continues to erode support for science.

The 12 with U.S. affiliations, with a few quotes: Read More…

Fiddling while Earth burns

It is hard as an earth scientist to watch how mindless America has become. We are now seeing the climate refugees (Puerto Ricans settling in central Florida), the stronger hurricanes, the heavier rainstorms (remember Houston?), the rising seas, the increased fires and intensified droughts that climate scientists warned of more than 10 (and arguably closer to 30) years ago. And that is just within the USA.

The news on the head-in-the-sand approach of dismissing scientists from agency panels, down-funding scientific agencies, promoting red and blue debate teams and other such counterproductive activities is drowned out by reporting on the Russia scandal and an erratic legislative hustle to rescind health insurance regulations and impose a major tax cut [itself overlooking basic macroeconomics: you want to increase revenues when times are good, both so government spending doesn’t crowd out private needs, but also so there is a cushion for government to spend in deficit when needed in a downturn]. Rather impressively, all the science shenanigans got ranked as the #4 science story in Discover‘s annual review of the top 100 science stories, a review usually dedicated to new science findings both profound and obscure. GG isn’t sure politics made the top 100 before.

And its not like things will improve anytime soon, not when we get told that talking about climate change immediately after a disaster is “misplaced”, not when the most likely thing to happen if Democrats control the House in 2019 is an increased focus on investigating the executive branch. The circus that is governance in the US at this point is incapable of dealing with small stuff like reauthorizing non-controversial legislation.  Facing the big stuff seems well beyond our politicians.

We can only hope that in the margins of the GOP tax bill someone scrawled in “enact a carbon tax”. Given the chaos there, this isn’t the least implausible thing to happen…

Did Trump Just Jumpstart National Park Discussions?

Much of the environmental and conservation community is furious over the reduction in size of several national monuments (not to mention archaeologists and paleontologists). Right now they are directing their fury into the courts, but given that a couple of Presidents had already reduced the size of some national monuments without controversy or opposition, one can question the likely success of that attack (and potentially its wisdom, as Congress might decide to revise the Antiquities Act to strip a President of the ability to act so broadly in the first place).

The President’s actions here expose a heresy that both advocates for and opponents of parks and monuments like to conveniently forget when rallying their troops: these lands are not protected forever.  They are only protected until elected government chooses to change its mind.

Take Yosemite Valley, which was passed to California in 1864 to preserve it “inalienable…for all time”.  Arguably this was the single most ironclad act of preservation in American history. To remove that protection required an act of the California Legislature, an act of Congress and the President’s signature. That these restrictions were nearly removed suggests how tenuous legislative protection can be (California did pass such an act, overriding the Governor’s veto, and the House of Representatives passed the equivalent act–it was the Senate that denied passing Yosemite Valley land titles to Hutchings and Lamon). Arguably Yosemite Valley became less protected when passed back to the federal government in 1906.

Or take Yosemite National Park (the federally-run one established in 1890). It originally included the Ritter Range and Devil’s Postpile, but these were removed from the park in legislation passed 15 years later. (The Postpile was then preserved in 1911 by the creation of Devils Postpile National Monument, but it would take the creation in 1964 of the Minarets Wilderness (now expanded and renamed the Ansel Adams Wilderness) to protect the Ritter Range).

Creation of national parks has largely stalled out. Every decade of the twentieth century save the 1950s saw at least 3 parks created; only four have been made this century, and only one small park (Pinnacles) was designated this decade. So maybe the time has come to revisit parks instead of monuments.

The lesson? The more layers you can wrap around protection, the less likely it is to be reversed. Having worked to make the case to Presidents Clinton and Obama to protect some of these places, monument advocates might be advised to carry those same arguments to Congress and seek park status for them. After all, they are still monuments, and as the promotion of Death Valley and Grand Canyon from monument to park was accompanied by an even larger footprint, so might creation of parks from these monuments restore some of the lands worthy of protection. These are harder fights: advocates have to convince half of the House and Senate these lands are worthy instead of just one President. But maybe this is the better path forward for the longterm stability of protection….