Nitrogen Nightmare

In August I interviewed University of Regina researcher Peter Leavitt (pictured) about a federal study that showed that lakes downstream of Wascana Creek were heavily polluted with nitrogen. With new federal guidelines set to come into effect, Regina is looking at spending $850 million* to build a new sewage treatment plant to reduce the amout of nitrogen and other pollutants we release in our waste water.

On Friday, an article co-authored by Leavitt and other researchers from the University of Alberta and University of Washington was published in Science magazine (here’s a link to a free abstract of the article).

It’s got a fair bit of technical jargon, but from information gleaned from a three-page press release that the University of Regina released yesterday, it seems that researchers tested deposits at the bottom of 36 lakes in the northern hemisphere. What they found was a significant increase in nitrogen levels. This wasn’t confined to lakes near sites of human habitation, either. Rather, it included remote bodies of water in the far north.

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Sally Field is a Fraud

If you’re in your mid-40s or older, you likely remember the extraordinary story of Sybil, a woman who suffered horrific physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and developed multiple personalities (16 in total) to cope with the torment and pain. The story of her treatment by psychoanalyst Cornelia Wilbur  was told in a best-selling book by journalist Flora Schreiber that was published in 1973. In 1976, Field starred as the title character in a made-for-TV movie.

Wilbur, Schreiber and the real-life “Sybil” (Shirley Mason)  are now all dead. The case had a huge impact on the practice of psychiatry in the ’70s, and led to a veritable epidemic of multiple personality disorder — with the vast majority of cases being diagnosed among women.

According to a new book by Debbie Nathan titled Sybil Exposed, the story was largely a fabrication driven by ambition, hubris, some degree of co-dependancy and drug addiction, and a whole bunch of other factors including the legitimate upheaval women of that time were experiencing as they wrestled with changing thoughts of what it meant to be a woman in the feminist era when old-school expectations of domesticity and propriety clashed with new-school aspirations for independence and freedom.

Here’s a link to the Salon article here. And for fun, here’s a link to a clip from the movie.

Van-City Baby!

Don’t know if Stephen Harper performed a ceremonial kick-off at last Sunday’s Grey Cup between the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers like Ron Mexico hoped he would (scroll down to bottom on link), but he did attend the game. Before, though, he toured  a new exhibit at the Vancouver Science Centre called Eureka!

The first PMO Photo OP is from that visit. The second depicts the P.M. in the stands at B.C. Place. To Harper’s right in the latter photo is Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Minister James Moore — who, judging by his attire, is a big Lions fan.

















Dino Discovery

If you pick up December’s edition of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, you’ll find an article penned by a University of Calgary researcher arguing that a partial skeleton found in southwest Saskatchewan in 1968 is a previously undiscovered species of dinosaur that roamed the area over 60 million years ago.

The species has been dubbed Thescelosaurus assiniboiensis, and the skeleton is on display at the T. Rex Discovery Centre (pictured at left) in Eastend.  Here’s a link to the CBC report.

Climate Deniers Repeat E-mail Sleaze

Oh Christ. This again?

There’s a new Climategate scandal a-brewing. Or at least, that’s what the right wing blog-o-sphere is telling me. My first reaction upon learning of it: It’s total bullshit. Did five minutes of reading and discovered: It’s total bullshit.

And I can’t believe I’m having to waste my time on this nonsense again.

A few quick points:

• These aren’t new e-mails. They’re more e-mails from the same batch that were stolen in 2009. This is the climate deniers’ Plan-B material.

• Nothing in them disputes, refutes or undermines the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming. That isn’t surprising because the globe is warming and people are causing it. End of story.

• Note how these e-mails are “coincidentally” coming out before the COP17 climate change conference in Dubai.

I summarized these points from a post by Brendan De Melle over at DeSmog Blog. It’s a good place to start reading. Even better reads are Richard Black at the BBC in which he points out that UK police have spent less than £6,000 ($9,000 US) investigating the illegal hacking of the East Anglia emails; and then there’s an excellent piece by Stephan Lewandowsky at the Guardian who argues that the attack on climate science is the real scandal here.

Continue reading “Climate Deniers Repeat E-mail Sleaze”

OMG Phyllosilicates On Mars?

This is cool. NASA’s Mars Rover, which is not (but should be) named Lulubelle,* photographed these rectangular rocks on the surface of John Carter’s kingdom. Scientists are very excited by the find, and are no doubt hopping up and down in their chairs right now.

The rock formations are apparently phyllosilicates, a class of minerals that forms in the presence of a watery environment. It’s yet another piece of evidence suggesting that conditions on Mars may have once been conducive to the formation of life.

I don’t want to go out on a limb and speculate that NASA has finally found definitive proof that an advanced race of aliens once lived on Mars and ruled the planet with a benevolent hand for thousands of years until an ancient evil from the blackness of space destroyed their civilization and launched their children on a desperate voyage of resettlement, but let me ask you this: don’t you think that we’re definitely the descendants of Mars? Like, absolutely for sure? And really, shouldn’t we be building a giant space gun to defend ourselves from that ancient evil when it once more stretches out its annihilating tendrils? I mean, duh.

(via io9)

*The Rover’s name is Opportunity, which is a terrible name for anything other than a spaceship.

Ultrasonic Alarm Call Episode 14: The Art Of Sinking

On this episode, we look at things that are taking on water and going under like the Titanic.

In fact, we start with a discussion of that fabled ocean liner as Collette Parks of the Saskatchewan Science Centre visited our ultraswank podcasting module to talk about the Centre’s Titanic exhibit. (It’s on right now!)

Then, we look at the city’s foundering housing situation. Two apartment buildings are slated to be demolished and one of them is Vanda’s! She talks about the perils of renting in Regina.

Later, Stephen Whitworth talks about the sinking fortunes of the provincial NDP.

But take heart. All is not lost to the icy depths. Cookie and Cassie are back to talk again about the True Knit Art Show. Regina’s alternative craft show was such a success this past weekend we could pre-record about how awesome it was.

Ultrasonic Alarm Call 14 — The Art of Sinking: At the table, Cassie Ozog, Cookie Madill, Stephen Whitworth, Carle Steel, Vanda Schmockel, Collette Parks and me as your humble host. Music by the Lazy MKs. Runtime: 48 min raucous conversation, 6 sec gorgeous silence.

To download, click on the radio above or on the little down arrow in the player window. And don’t forget to check out our archive of past episodes.

Another Small Step

I’m surprised this didn’t make it into Steve’s Six in the Morning this morning. After 520 days in an isolation chamber in Moscow to simulate the mental stress of enforced confinement that the crew on the first manned  mission to Mars (pictured) is going to have to endure, six human guinea pigs representing the European Space Agency — three Russian men, a Frenchman, an Italian-Columbian, and a Chinese man– emerged from the chamber.

Here’s a link to the Guardian’s article.   

It talks about them even doing a simulated Mars landing and EVA, and while it’s not mentioned in the linked article, I read elsewhere that an earlier experiment in 2000 had ended prematurely after two of the crew went UFC on each other and a third tried to force himself sexually on a female crew member.

It’s not that these guys are in line to make the first trip to Mars. That likely won’t happen until 2030 or so. And while their achievement is to be lauded, it’s only one test humanity’s going to have to pass to reach Mars. The major one is prolonged weightlessness, which really wreaks havoc on our skeletal and muscle systems. Any radiation’s a concern too.

Pick of the Day: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Documentary directed by Werner Herzog that takes viewers inside a cave in southern France where drawings 30,000 years old adorn the darkened walls. Cave of Forgotten Dreams screens tonight at the RPL Theatre at 7 p.m. Here’s the trailer.

And at Artesian on 13th, the latest instalment of Red Hot Riot is on tonight at 8 p.m. With the provincial election three or so weeks away, NDP MLA Warren McCall is the special guest, so expect lots of political humour. As always, the show is hosted by Jayden Pfeifer, and musical guests are The Bystanders.

Ultrasonic Alarm Call Episode 10: Signal To Noise

What is orgonite and how can it help with that chem trails problem? Why are crop circles so darned pretty? Do dogs have auras? How can Archangel Michael help out with the lotto?

We answer all these questions and more in this week’s Ultrasonic episode as we recap our roadtrip to beautiful Fort Qu’appelle for the Extraordinary Fair, a paranormal symposium.

We have interviews with a ghost hunter, a crop circle researcher and an angel channeller! And we drink Manhattans! It’s 100% pure fun!

(And if you want even more paranormal thrills, be sure to check out the next issue of prairie dog, which will be hitting newsstands and countertops city wide later this week. We have more on the paranormal fair and we have an interview with someone very amazing.)

Also in this episode, Shane and Aidan have seen Drive. Did they like it? Does a Chevy Malibu have a soul? Can it learn to love? I imagine it must. Why else would people keep them as pets? And what about the Emmys? They’re long over but why did they suck so hard? Aidan has a few ideas.

Ultrasonic Alarm Call Episode 10 — Signal To Noise: At the table, Aidan Morgan (host), Vanda Schmockel, Shane Hnetka, and me. Music by the always excellent Lazy MKs. Runtime 31 min of free-ranging mockery, 11 min 28 sec guilt.o download this episode for your later listening enjoyment, click on the radio above or on the little down arrow in the player window.

To download, click on the radio above and be sure to check out our podcast library here.

Skeptics’ Guide Marathon

At 6pm our time, the very best podcast in the known universe, The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe, will begin streaming a live 24-hour marathon show. One full turn of the earth dedicated to science, skepticism and punchy comedy hijinks.

For those who’ve never checked out the Skeptics’ Guide, it’s a weekly round table discussion show about science that focuses on busting bad science. They take on things like homeopathy, alternative medicine, UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, acupuncture, psychic phenomena, faith healing, climate-science denial and creationism. And it’s a good source for all the latest science news too.

The show is hosted by Dr Steven Novella, a neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine; his brothers Bob and Jay; their friend Evan Bernstein; and Rebecca Watson, the founder of the also very awesome

Details on the 24 hour show are thin but they’ve been hinting for weeks now that they’ve lined up a series of really great guests, some serious luminaries from the worlds of science and skepticism.

I plan to tune in tomorrow when things are getting weird and the hosts have to start doing forfeits for dozing off.

Pick of the Day (Tomorrow Edition): Vanishing of the Bees

While most Reginans probably enjoyed the hot summer we had, it did come with a bit of a price — wasps. Thousands of them. Chippy buggers, flying around stinging everyone.

Bees kind of look like wasps, and they can sting too. But they’re nowhere near as tempermental. Plus, they’re a hugely valuable resource in agriculture, doing a ton of work as pollinators so that we can enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables.

Another difference between bees and wasps is that the former are nowhere near as numerous as the latter. In fact, in the past two decades or so, bee populations have plummeted worldwide. Tomorrow night at the Royal Sask Museum at 7:30 p.m. the documentary Vanishing of the Bees is screening. It explores why bee colonies are collapsing, and what the ramifications are for humanity. Here’s the trailer.

Saskatoon Gets More Amazing

You’re probably thinking you’re pretty special right about now, aren’t you Saskatoon? Thanks to the Centre For Inquiry, James “The Amazing” Randi is coming to speak in your city.

And no. I’m not jealous.

For those who don’t know, Randi is a magician who’s more famous now for his work as a skeptic and debunker.

He’s the guy who exposed faith-healer Peter Popoff as a fraud in the 1970s. Story goes, Randi and a group of confederates showed up at one of Popoff’s healings with radio receivers and were able to tune into the supposedly miraculous messages Popoff was receiving — details about where people in the audience lived and what they were afflicted with — only the messages weren’t coming from god, they were coming from Popoff’s wife.

He also took on Uri Geller, showing how all of his supernatural feats were really magic tricks. And, through his James Randi Educational Foundation, he offers a $1 million prize to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal ability while under scientific controls. So far, the prize lies unclaimed.

He is the author of Flim Flam!, Houdini: His Life and Art, The Faith Healers, and The Mask of Nostradamus.

Randi will be appearing September 26 at 7pm at the Roxy Theatre in bloody full-of-itself Sasaktoon. More details at the CFI Saskatoon website.

This Is Me [shudder] Agreeing With Perry And [vomit] Limbaugh

Seems Michelle Bachmann is trying to give her flagging presidential campaign a boost by jumping on the anti-vaccination train to Whoops-All-Our-Kids-Are-Dead-From-Measlesburg.

In a Republican presidential debate last night, Bachmann attacked Rick Perry over his attempt to mandate Gardasil for young girls in Texas. (Gardasil being the vaccine that prevents the spread of HPV.) During the debate, she attacked Perry’s failed Gardasil initiative for being a violation of liberty; then afterward, Fox news reports her saying:

“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter.”

And that’s just really, really dumb. Vaccines don’t cause retardation. End of story.

Now I can’t say that I’m all that surprised to find evidence that nutty Michelle Bachmann is also a dangerous anti-vaccination kook. Seems to fit somehow that she’d want to keep one more avenue open through which women can die from having sex.

But what does bother me is that Rick Perry apparently worked very hard to make the HPV vaccine mandatory in his state. The initiative failed because of rank nutters like Bachmann but still the program is… erm… something I agree with. No one should get HPV. And mandatory vaccination has succeeded in stamping out some diseases (kiss science’s ass, polio!) and dramatically reducing others (yoo hoo! where are you, measles? haven’t spotted you in a while!). I think it’s a grand idea to send another nasty infection packing.

So, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m going to have to publicly say, this was a good thing to come from Governor Rick “climate science is a lie, fight wildfires with prayer not fire fighters, and I’ll execute innocent people if I like” Perry.

And, just to make things even more complicated, on his show today, Rush Limbaugh is saying Bachmann’s campaign has now jumped the shark thanks to her Gardasil attack.

Great. I agree with that too.

The Case For Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy (aka, reparative therapy) is a system that’s supposedly able to reorient someone’s sexuality. You’ve probably heard about certain ministries that claim they can turn gay people straight.

Now, I understand it’s extremely controversial — especially considering studies suggest it has caused many people a lot of emotional and psychological harm. But I believe in keeping an open mind and approaching things scientifically, and I have to admit, this is the best case for conversion therapy I’ve ever seen.

Pick of the Day (Tomorrow Edition): Megamunch’s 65,000,025 Birthday

Just think, 65 million years ago this part of the world was a massive inland sea (see illustration, which dates from the Cretaceous Period). It’s thanks to that reality that Saskatchewan is a resource rich province with significant deposits of coal, oil, natural gas and potash. It’s also the reason why our landscape is so freaking flat. We essentially live on a dried-out seabed.

Don’t take my word for it, though. If you visit the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, you’ll find all sorts of neat displays recounting the province’s geological history. If you go tomorrow between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. you’ll enjoy the added benefit of being able to celebrate the museum’s dino-mascot Megamunch’s 65,000,025  birthday. Planned are all sorts of family-friendly fun activities.

Cosmos Squared

Word on the street is Carl Sagan’s science documentary series, Cosmos, is getting the sequel treatment more than 30 years after the original aired on PBS.

Good news is that Ann Druyan, Sagan’s wife and writing partner, and Steven Soter, co-writer on the original series, will be involved. And, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson will be taking on the hosting duties. A perfect choice, in my opinion.

Even news that Seth MacFarlane (yes, of Family Guy fame) will be producing cheered me. In interviews he comes off as a supporter of science, an unabashed atheist and, based on his “Cosmos Edited For Rednecks” segment, a fan of the original series.

Now the bad news. The new series will be airing on Fox.

That does not bode well. I find it very hard to believe a Murdoch-owned network will permit a candid discussion of, say, climate change such as this one from episode four of the updated version of the original Cosmos.

Oh well. So much for the science.

Magnetic Baby Baffles Science!

After several cases of purported magnetic children appeared on the internet (see here and here), it looks like a baby right here in Regina also exhibits mysterious magnetic powers.

“We always thought he had an attractive personality, but this is ridiculous,” says father of the magnetic tot and prairie dog writer, Paul Duschenes.

“That’s a little joke,” he adds.

In blurry photos that were just released, metal items can be seen clinging to the child’s chest at an angle that defies gravity. When asked why it is that in the images, there are such a small number of items when compared to other recorded cases of magnetic children, Duschenes replies:

“Oh, there are all these sciencey types who are saying, ‘Big deal, it’s just a couple spoons.’ But I can assure you we’ve seen him with a whole lot more stuck to him. It just never seems to work when other people are around.”

“And getting a picture is difficult because he won’t sit still long enough,” says Duschenes. “What these so-called ‘skeptics’ seem to forget is what it’s like to be a child.”

Duschenes notes that while his baby’s mysterious magnetic powers are remarkable, he hasn’t always had them.

“Something certainly changed recently. Since the arrival of all this hot, humid weather, it’s like he positively oozes magnetism,” says Duschenes. “The sun must activate his powers. Same as Superman.”

And like the other magnetic children on the internet, some of which have been shown with copper and aluminium cookware adhering to their skin, Duschenes says that unusual things also stick to his son.

“He’s so magnetic, even stuff you wouldn’t think could be magnetic will cling to him,” says Duschenes. “Like plastic cutlery. And minted peas.”