Three platypuses in Australia were ‘deliberately killed’ in the last few weeks, and two of the animals were found beheaded in what wildlife officials are calling a ‘horrific act of cruelty.’ time.com
Horrible! In honor of the platypus, I’m reposting an old favorite.
Victorians called her primitive,
A mammal under-done,
Chimera of cold austral streams,
Life’s ladder, on a lower rung.
With lizard bones and otter fur
That’s waterproof and soft as silk.
Laying eggs as lizards do,
Then nursing babes on milk.
She hunts her prey in bottom mud
With tactile snout exquisite;
More delicate than human touch,
She senses nerve cells with it.
Life branches out a thousand ways,
Ignores our human urge
For categories neat and trim.
Nature’s on a splurge:
Formed a creature that’s most elegant,
Beauty’s her attraction.
Admire now the platypus,
A honey of adaption.
by Kate Rauner
More science inspired poetry
Myths and legends usually belong to folklore, but Australian aboriginal tales helped scientists find meteorites and traces of a tsunami. One “legend describes the landing of a meteor in Australia’s Central Desert about 4,700 years ago.” Anglo prospectors found pieces of meteorites and the area is now Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve. Another led to the discovery of “a layer of ocean sediment, about 2m down… between 500m and 1km (0.6 miles) inland” that indicate a tsunami.
These indigenous peoples may have unique legends. Isolated on Australia for 50,000 years, they avoided the invasions, diasporas, and assimilation that swept larger continents. They also developed “very particular beliefs about the importance of telling stories properly… [and] employ a rigid kin-based, cross-generational system of fact-checking stories… rock paintings, drawings and engravings.” Stories that retain their basic truth for five thousand years and more leave me – holding my pile of defunct floppy disks – in awe.
With their devotion to accuracy, these Australians were the first citizen scientists, before science was invented. And they have more to teach us.
“Earlier this year, another team of researchers presented a paper arguing that stories from Australia’s coastal Aboriginal communities might ‘represent genuine and unique observations’ of sea level rises that occurred between 7,000 and 11,000 years ago.” This may be the only human record we have from the end of the last ice age.
Thanks to bbc.com for their article, which is quoted above.
I don’t usually go for the “weird creature of the week” post, but this is too good to pass up. Several outlets covered the capture of a rare deepwater fish, probably because of the great image taken when it was transferred to an aquarium. It’s the frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus).
It seems no one can resist calling the fish a “living fossil” which is a pretty silly term. The frilled shark has been swimming the oceans and adapting as nature requires for as long as any of us. It’s just that some of us encounter changing environments and others – not so much. But it is a weird looking fish.
“The frilled shark has been scaring the bejeezus out of humans who pull it out of the water to find an animal with rows of needle-like teeth in a gaping mouth.” Who can resist that?
Thirty years ago, Danish scientists collected small, floating marine creatures off an Australian coast. Among those specimens, they have now announced, are “two new species of what they call Dendrogramma in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.” These new species are so strange they may have last shared a common ancestor with humans 600 million years ago. They may represent a new phylum.
Long before modern science, philosophers separated life into the Kingdoms of Animal and Plant. In Today’s taxonomy, Kingdoms are divided into Phyla; for example, Chordata, the phylum that unites you and me with sea squirts. A phylum is a very basic classification. A new phylum is an extraordinary claim and requires extraordinary scrutiny.
The Dendrogrammas are weird little guys, but aren’t likely to star in their own SyFy monster movie. They look like odd jellyfish. The Kingdoms of Animals and Plants got all the big, flashy species, at least from a human point of view. Once microscopes allowed a more detailed examination, three or four groups of microbes (the science is still developing) were so different they were classified in their own Kingdoms, and they won’t get their own monster movie, either. But we still live on the Planet of Bacteria. We, who have dominion over the beasts of the field, should contemplate our small brethren who out-number us, out-weigh us, and may out-survive us.
To celebrate the first anniversary of my science fiction ebook, Glitch, I’ve re-issued the book with a new cover. Available from Amazon for Kindle for 99¢; or download a FREE copy from Smashwords in any of the major electronic formats and at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Flipkart, Inktera, and Versent.
At Spaceport America in the desert southwest, Rob Shay is a mission controller for Xplore, the world’s premiere space exploration company. During routine calibrations on a client’s spacecraft, Rob and his mission crew make an incredible discovery: a glitch in space that opens an impossible path to a star and its planets.
Serendipity led to the discovery and serendipity may prevent its exploration. All Rob wants is to be part of exploring the Helios system, but problems keep getting in his way. The Board of Directors believes Rob found a glitch in the instruments rather than a glitch in space. The control crew must convince them the glitch is real. Only then will international spacecraft explore the Helios system.
Original retro-style cover
Support and opposition come from unexpected sources. Although the Helios mission is sustained by many subscribers to the universities’ missions, not everyone in the world wants to see humanity travel beyond Earth. Space exploration is a private industry, but governments try to claim control. Xplore is in the business of exploration and business concerns come first. Rob struggles in a world he can’t control, trying to stay with his mission while bigger problems rock the nation. At least Rob finds some sympathy from his once-girlfriend who runs a telescope-for-hire business in Australia.
Rob lives in near-future Spaceport America, a real place just beginning operations in New Mexico. With its distinctive, geeky futurism, Glitch presents a world where you might one day live.
Read an excerpt now: Continue reading
The new Cosmos series now playing in the US is not the only effort to communicate science to the public. Livescience.com recently reposted an article from the Australian site The Conversation on this topic. “No matter how strong the scientific argument and consensus among scientists there will always be people who reject the evidence. It happens on so many scientific topics, from climate change and vaccination to nuclear power and renewable energy… These are, of course, vastly different issues. Many of those who agree with one of the positions noted above will be horrified to find themselves included in the same sentence with another group.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Scientists tend to think that the way to resolve a disagreement is to get more facts, but when well-established science confronts hot-button, public-policy issues, this approach fails. To borrow a phrase from Stephen Jay Gould, the misunderstandings are “conceptual locks, not factual lacks.”
The Australians chose man-made climate change as their topic and approached the problem of communicating to the public from (what else?) a scientific perspective. They take climate experts on a series of public meetings to talk to and – most importantly – listen to ‘regular’ people. They suggest scientists must share their emotions and their passions – something scientists are trained to avoid in their professional papers. There is a short documentary available embedded in the article if you’d like to hear from the Australians in their own words.
Stephen Jay Gould
As others have noted, people usually base their opinions on their intuitive moral values and subsequently seek evidence to support those positions. People believe that some things are noble and pure, others are degrading and base; that some people have earned their loyalty while others are unknowns or opponents. These factors are more important than disembodied facts.
Science is not always intuitive, which is why it took civilization thousands of years to discover the scientific method. But our lives are better today because of science and it is well worth anyone’s effort to understand the science involved in public issues. The science does not dictate what policy should be followed; our morals and values play an important and proper role in decisions. But decisions based on falsehood will never work out right.
Arthur C. Clarke is a classic master of hard science fiction, but for anyone who thinks that means hard-to-read stories dense with complex technology, this book is a delightful surprise. There is danger and adventure and futuristic technology told from the view point of a teenage boy who does not need to explain everything. The author’s note at the end reveals why the images of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where most of the story is set, are so vivid. They are based on Clarke’s own explorations.
So many sci-fi books are apocalyptic epics that read like narratives of video games. Clarke’s story is gentler and more rational. The story feels like it could really happen as the diverse characters encounter dangers, help each other, and also just have fun. The research on dolphins that is the center piece of the story could be underway somewhere today and the contributions of the teenage characters are plausible. The future technology seems so feasible that it’s rather disappointing to realize it’s been fifty years since Clarke wrote and his visions haven’t been realized yet. That also means the book is not outdated or obsolete.
Dolphin Island, by Arthur C. Clarke, was first published in 1963. It is now available as an ebook. This short book is fun to read and all ages can enjoy it.