"From Disaster to Catastrophe -- What's Obama's Endgame In the Gulf?" Fox News headline, July 15.
The headline suggests that there is a difference between a disaster and a catastrophe, and that catastrophes are worse. I suppose most people would agree, but it's interesting to delve a little deeper into what we mean by a catastrophe. The term is derived from Greek words having to do with 'growing down' which makes sense. In biological terms, a catastrophe might be defined as a natural or human impact on a population of organisms that exceeds one or more of the physical or chemical limits within which that population can continue to exist. In a word, extinction.
Newspaper headlines report the total medal count as the most noteworthy measure of a country’s success in the recent Olympic games. The top three were the US with 37, Germany with 30 and Canada with 26. This can be misleading, because the numbers don’t take into account the very different resources available to athletes from different countries. It’s like comparing athletics at a university that has a well-funded sports program and 30,000 students to that of a small college with 2000 students and no sports budget at all.
I have been following with interest the columns and blogs related to climate change, most recently from Patrick Lockerby, who agrees with the evidence for human-caused global warming, and Karen Barnes, who comments on Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy theory. Perhaps thoughttul readers of Scientific Blogging will be interested in seeing the actual data that supports global warming. Here is a NOAA website that succinctly summarizes the main lines of evidence.
In my library at home, I have three books that catch the eye because of their unusual heft. One is my old copy of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, and another is Stephen J. Gould’s massive treatise on evolution. Now, a third tome has made it a trio of thick, heavy books: Divine Action and Natural Selection, edited by Joseph Seckbach and Richard Gordon (World Scientific Publishing, 2009). If I had to pick one of the three to take to the beach on holiday, this would be the one.
I think that in many ways, the motivation of scientists is similar to that of prospectors in the 1800s. The prospectors had gold fever, grubstakes, the ability to persevere against long odds of success, and the rare peak experience of striking the mother lode. Scientists have idea fever, government grants as grubstakes, the ability to persevere against long odds, and the rare experience of having one of their ideas turn out to be truly significant, which might happen once in a scientific lifetime. I'll describe one such idea, then speculate on where it might take us in the next ten years. But first, a little background.
RuBisCo Stars, Frank Drake and the "Riddle of Life"
December 4, 2009.