From Shakesville: Rush is uncomfortable with the use of the word “dike” to describe, well, dikes. *headdesk*

Dog souls

Mad Hatter put up a hilarious sign exchange between a Catholic and a Presbyterian church. Ha! You should go take a look!

Unnatural (Or: On evo psych, gays, foods, and having too many atoms)

Lately I have found myself feeling less and less tolerant of pseudoscientific talk on the subjects of chemistry and consumer materials. Now, I think I’m a pretty good little liberal, and I have great respect for the crunchiest of my liberal compatriots. I also work to respect other cultures and look for value in traditions and accumulated cultural knowledge from around the world. I’d be the first to tell you that there are many good reasons to prefer eating one kind of food over another, or to choose one soap over another, or even a soapless existence if that’s what works for you or saves the puppies. But I’m not talking about making personal choices, or even about what may or may not be a beneficial choice from an ecological or broad social standpoint. I’m talking about the words themselves, about the pseudoscientific framing that informs discourse about how certain things are better or worse for you or society because they are more “natural,” “real,” or, my favorite, “chemical-free” (though I mean, who doesn’t love a good vacuum). These words are used a lot these days, but I especially hear them from people who belong to a particular social class – relatively affluent, generally white, often but not exclusively liberal. This talk sometimes goes hand-in-hand with similarly pseudoscientific advocacy for medicinal treatments that may accomplish something beneficial for a person, but that are not backed up by hard science: things like gall bladder detoxes, fruit juice purges, and yoga positions that heal your pancreas.* Oh, and weight-loss talk.**

There are so many examples of this that I’ll have to limit the topics I can address in a single blog post. But here is a list of topics within which some chemical compounds and substances might be designated as falling into categories such as natural/unnatural, real/fake, or even plain old good/bad:

  • Foods and food ingredients
  • Detergents
  • Soaps and shampoos
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Clothing
  • Frankly, almost anything else.

On its surface, this could sound like a semantic argument put forward by an annoying chemist pedant. And okay, maybe there’s a little of that. But actually, I think these terms, particularly in marketing, really do encourage people into very unscientific thought about the world and our resources. Morality is very tied up with these words. I want to unpack that a little.

Continue reading


Photograph of lightning from Redoubts 1:20 am, March 28 eruption, courtesy of Bretwood Higman.

Photograph of lightning from Redoubt, 3/28/09, courtesy of Bretwood Higman.

The Volcanism Blog has put up a heads-up about some spectacular Redoubt plume lightning pictures that have gone up at the AVO. I LOVE plume lightning pictures!

Taking care of carnivals

I sure did push things to the deadline this month. It’s because I am overcoming challenges, every day! And that’s the topic of this month’s Scientiae: overcoming challenges, and the most firey fire of my academic career.

It’s a hard question to answer because there have been so MANY challenges.  What about deciding halfway through my master’s that I did not want to stay on and do the planned PhD on the same topic, because I had suddenly realized I was doing the wrong thing? Or do I talk about the project from hell that wasn’t even a planned part of my thesis and almost took over, and that left me crying in the lab in the middle of the night by myself several nights a week for over two years? Or maybe the emotional fall-out that made the last year or two pure hell?

The last one is the freshest in my mind. Surviving the end of grad school. Unlike early grad school, with its relentlessly long nights and weekends of classwork and unrewarding research on a project I despised, the second half of the PhD was tough because I was running out of steam. I recovered from the exam burn-out only to have it come right back over the next three years, this time with that long-haul depression that apparently most grad students experience (this is repeating myself, but I note again: THIS IS BROKEN. SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THAT). Regular panic attacks, being unable to get to a doctor covered by my student health plan (NOTE: ALSO BROKEN) in order to get more than emergency help with the suddenly elevated panic disorder (instead I just ended up with some emergency meds prescribed over the phone. Once I stopped hyperventilating), and the massive stress of having to finish under a crazy, very early, and inflexible deadline while simultaneously trying to find gainful employment for the rapidly approaching day when I would get kicked out of school… That was nuts. I am only just starting to cook things that aren’t pasta again. I only just started exercising again. And doing crafts and playing in a music group and even occasionally going out for a drink with friends. I had almost forgotten that those things exist.

I know that’s a pretty standard fire – the fire of getting the goddamn PhD – but it was pretty damn firey. And it’s still very fresh – I’m not quite healed from it yet. But I suppose it made me stronger. Where “stronger” = “done.”

Women in Science and Technology

I’m killing a couple birds with this post. Zuska is hosting this month’s Diversity in Science carnival, on the topic of “Women Achievers in STEM – Past and Present,” and bloggers everywhere have also been called-upon to observe Ada Lovelace Day by pledging to post on the topic of an amazing woman in “technology,” broadly speaking.

I feel like these topics are different and new, but still so closely related to the recent Scientiae carnival about woman role models in STEM fields (as well as the Smithsonian slideshow I posted about below) that at first I was having trouble coming up with someone new and exciting to talk about. Hence the stalling until the post deadline. I have already talked about a woman role model in science who was extremely important in my career, albeit anonymously. A lot of amazing women were also recently discussed at length in the last Scientiae (for example: I have considered Vera Rubin to be an incredibly inspiring woman and role model since I met her many years ago, but I don’t have much to add to the recent post about her). But! Then I was inspired. No one has done more than briefly mention Florence Bascom in these recent discussions of women in science and technology!

In 1893, Florence Bascom was the first woman to to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins (where she had to sit behind a screen so the male students would not know she was there, I shit you not), and at that time, the only woman to hold a PhD in geoscience in the United States. After earning her degree, she founded the Geology Department at Bryn Mawr College, a small, prestigious women’s college in Eastern Pennsylvania. Bascom developed both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum herself, and she continued to teach there as a professor until she retired in 1928. The Bryn Mawr department was considered to be the “locus of training for the most accomplished female geologists of the early 20th century” (GSA Today, July 1997) and is where almost all professional woman geologists were trained in the first third of that century. While working at Bryn Mawr, she became the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1896 (she worked with the USGS seasonally, working on a huge number of the Survey’s 15-minute geologic quadrangle maps). To this day, we use maps based to a great extent on her original mapping work in Eastern PA and New Jersey. Bascom continued her work with USGS until forced to fully retire due to poor health in 1936. She was the first woman elected to serve on the council for the Geological Society of America, and later became the first woman officer for that organization when she was elected as its vice president. Florence was an extremely well-regarded and important contributor to the fields of mineralogy and petrology.

Redoubt update

Webcam image from March 23, 2009 19:55:58, Alaska Volcano Observatory

Webcam image from March 23, 2009 19:55:58, Alaska Volcano Observatory

My laptop is being repaired, so I’m internet-less at home right now and a bit behind on the reporting. Eruptions and the Volcanism Blog are on top of this, though, so I suggest you read their excellent posts since yesterday afternoon. I’ll offer a brief summary, based on the information available from the AVO so far: The Hut webcam came back online yesterday afternoon and has provided some good pictures of a sixth explosive blast from Redoubt’s summit. A video recap is available here. There continued to be small eruptive blasts after the first five major ones, and an overflight was conducted yesterday afternoon. There are AVO photos here, some of which show that the increased meltwater caused flooding at the margins of the Drift glacier and mudflows on the upper Drift River. Following the sixth explosive eruption there were more mudflows and also pyroclastic flows on the north flank of the volcano.

Photos of the flooding in Drift Valley and tephra deposits from the eruption of Redoubt Volcano, March 23, 2009 (McGimsey, Game, AVO/USGS)

Photos of the flooding in Drift Valley and tephra deposits from the eruption of Redoubt Volcano, March 23, 2009 (McGimsey, Game, AVO/USGS)

Massive flooding in Drift Valley from the eruption of Redoubt Volcano, March 23, 2009 (McGimsey, Game, AVO/USGS)

Massive flooding in Drift Valley from the eruption of Redoubt Volcano, March 23, 2009 (McGimsey, Game, AVO/USGS)

Maru steals the show

We may have a 50,000 foot plume to report on, but I can’t resist a new Maru video. This cat makes me nearly pee my pants laughing. It is the most ridiculous cat that exists (and that’s saying something).

Eruption at Redoubt


NCT EHZ AV Seismic Station, Mt. Redoubt, March 23, 2009 04:24:35 (AKDT)

After months of elevated activity and waiting for a likely eruption, Redoubt has gone to Color Code RED and had four explosions recorded since last night. The Volcanism Blog has reported quite a few of the details during the night. Ashfall from the 50,000 foot plume should start this morning in affected towns (not expected to include Anchorage). The AVO doesn’t have photos of the eruption up yet, I assume because it’s dark, but there are some great seismics, and there is a good map of the plume on Weather Underground. Ash advisories for locals can be found at NOAA. The eruption appears to be ongoing with continuing strong tremors.

ETA: RSO, the closest seismometer to the summit, stopped transmitting at 4:15am local time. Exciting!

Women in science

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Sciencewoman had this fabulous link to a Smithsonian photo collection of amazing women in science up today, and I just had to spread it around the blogosphere. A couple of the people included are, in my opinion, not scientists (a literature professor? a pilot?), and it’s a very biology- and medicine-heavy list (there’s not a single geoscientist!), but it’s nonetheless an inspiring group of people.