One giant leap for man kind: Anniversary of first moon landing! #EagleHasLanded #science #OutofThisWorld

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” ~Neil Armstrong

On this day in history, June 20, 1969, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon! His crew including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins travelled over 240,000 miles aboard the Apollo11 to create history. provides the details:


At 10:56 p.m. EDT, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, 240,000 miles from Earth, speaks these words to more than a billion people listening at home: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Stepping off the lunar landing module Eagle, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon.

The American effort to send astronauts to the moon has its origins in a famous appeal President John F. Kennedy made to a special joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” At the time, the United States was still trailing the Soviet Union in space developments, and Cold War-era America welcomed Kennedy’s bold proposal.

In 1966, after five years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducted the first unmanned Apollo mission, testing the structural integrity of the proposed launch vehicle and spacecraft combination. Then, on January 27, 1967, tragedy struck at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when a fire broke out during a manned launch-pad test of the Apollo spacecraft and Saturnrocket. Three astronauts were killed in the fire.

Despite the setback, NASA and its thousands of employees forged ahead, and in October 1968, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, orbited Earth and successfully tested many of the sophisticated systems needed to conduct a moon journey and landing. In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit. Then in May, the three astronauts of Apollo 10 took the first complete Apollo spacecraft around the moon in a dry run for the scheduled July landing mission.

At 9:32 a.m. on July 16, with the world watching, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, at 1:46 p.m., the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong immediately radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a famous message: “The Eagle has landed.”

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, which he later contended was slightly garbled by his microphone and meant to be “that’s one small step for aman, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon.

“Buzz” Aldrin joined him on the moon’s surface at 11:11 p.m., and together they took photographs of the terrain, planted a U.S. flag, ran a few simple scientific tests, and spoke with President Richard M. Nixon via Houston. By 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. theEagle began its ascent back to the command module. Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon–July 1969 A.D–We came in peace for all mankind.”

At 5:35 p.m., Armstrong and Aldrin successfully docked and rejoined Collins, and at 12:56 a.m. on July 22 Apollo 11 began its journey home, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:51 p.m. on July 24.

There would be five more successful lunar landing missions, and one unplanned lunar swing-by, Apollo 13. The last men to walk on the moon, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of the Apollo 17 mission, left the lunar surface on December 14, 1972. The Apollo program was a costly and labor intensive endeavor, involving an estimated 400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion (close to $100 billion in today’s dollars). The expense was justified by Kennedy’s 1961 mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon, and after the feat was accomplished ongoing missions lost their viability.

Michael Specter explains the altered reality of anti-science GMO opponents #science #VandanaShiva


Michael Specter has written an amazingly well researched (trips to rural India) piece for The New Yorker about anti-GMO and anti-science crusader Vandana Shiva. While Specter focuses on Shiva, his article looks broadly at GMO foods and the anti-science movement that opposes them. While I am certainly not a supporter of Monsanto and their legal tactics, this article truly demonstrates the bizarre anti-science and science denial propaganda utilized by opponents of GMOs. It is a bit of a long read, but more than worth the time. Below is one of my favorite passages from the article,

Monsanto is certainly rich, but it is simply not that powerful. Exxon Mobil is worth seven times as much as Monsanto, yet it has never been able to alter the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change. Tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in Washington each year than Monsanto does, but it’s hard to find scientists who endorse smoking. The gulf between the truth about G.M.O.s and what people say about them keeps growing wider. The Internet brims with videos that purport to expose the lies about genetically modified products. Mike Adams, who runs a popular Web site called Natural News, recently compared journalists who are critical of anti-G.M.O. activists such as Shiva to Nazi collaborators.

Girls (and Boys) can be inspired by Miss Possible doll line that includes Marie Curie! #science #contribute

curiedoll2Move over bimbo Barbie! A new Marie Curie doll will teach children that anyone can be successful in science, technology, and engineering. A new line of dolls, Miss Possible, has been developed by two engineering women, Suriya Hobbs and Janna Eaves (both women are 21!). The series will include childhood dolls of pioneering women in science, engineering, and technology that will teach children (with a focus on girls), that they can follow the paths of famous women from childhood to an innovative career (news article by Aisha Sultan at St. Louis Post-Dispatch).


The first doll will be the childhood version of Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning chemist and physicist whose research led to breakthroughs on radioactivity. The second in the production line would be Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female aviator and first American to hold an international pilot’s license. The third woman they’ve chosen in their doll line-up is Ada Lovelace, known as the world’s first computer programmer.

Check out the Miss Possible website at indiegogo, which includes tons of information on the doll line, as well as why there is a need for this kind of doll line. The website also has merchandise for sale and a link to contribute to make the Miss Possible doll line a reality! Do it!

While the above news article and Miss Possible website focus on the doll lines importance for inspiring girls, let’s use this opportunity to remember that 1. boys can and do play with dolls, and 2. these dolls can also teach boys that women can be successful in any field. So the Miss Possible doll line can inspire girls and boys, and teach them that anyone can be successful in STEM fields.


What’s the difference between chicken little and climate scientists? #science #hottestjuneEVER


The answer? First, science isn’t a folk tale. Second, Chicken Little  didn’t have tons of evidence supporting her theory that the sky was falling. This week climate scientists at NOAA reported that May and June were the hottest months EVER recorded for average global temperature (in the 134 years of recording). Apparently, the oceans around the world were warmer than average, which likely played a role in the average global temperature (Daily Mail article here).

The world’s oceans not only broke a monthly heat record at 62.7 degrees, but it was the hottest the oceans have been on record no matter what the month, Arndt (NOAA climate monitoring chief) said.

This also puts 2014 on track to possible be the hottest year in recorded history, with many of the hottest years and months having occurred in the last decade (Washington Post article here).

All of the past five Junes have ranked among the top 10 warmest on record, according to the report. June 2014 was the 38th consecutive June and 352nd straight month of above average temperature. The June heat was felt across the globe, with record warmth being felt in Greenland, northern South America, eastern and central Africa, and southeast Asia. New Zealand also recorded its warmest June since records began in 1909.

The one thing that the climate scientists don’t seem to have figured out, unlike Chicken Little, is how to incite fear. THIS IS NOT GOOD! I have no interest in New York City having the climate of Florida…. ugh (forecasted in 2100, Mashable article here).

History of science: plants used to treat disease based on appearance #wrong

simonEver wonder about how we figured out that some plants can treat certain disease conditions? For example, that the foxglove contains a compound that can treat heart issues (wiki post on digoxin here). Well, Matt Simon has written a terrific piece for that explains why some of the plant medicines we use, and a lot of the plant medicines we don’t use, were first tested. It is based on using plants that resemble an organ to treat problems with that organ.

Such thinking, known as the doctrine of signatures, actually developed with remarkable frequency all around the world from culture to culture. Plants meant to heal certain organs and body parts, like the liver or the eye, must show a certain “signature” by resembling the thing they treat.

Check out Simon’s article for a fun history lesson about some early science of medicine! Turns out that the doctrine of signatures was’t such a good one.

Is sugar the new tobacco? Industry trying to silence #science

Sugar is in the news in a big obese way. Are tobacco and sugar similar? On the surface, perhaps not that much. However, science shows that both are extremely harmful to our health, shorten our lives, and both have been sold to us by industries claiming that they are not unhealthy.

We all know that smoking and tobacco are bad for us, and that a lot of scientific studies have shown how and why tobacco is harmful. However, not too recently, tobacco companies used many tactics to silence the science showing how deadly their products were in order to maintain profits. However, following the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), it became public knowledge that the companies were actually knowingly selling a harmful product. AND advertising it to children and teenagers.


Fast forward about 15 years to today, and it seems that we are seeing a similar situation, but this time with industries that have an interest in selling sugar. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a summary of how sugar interests are undermining science that clearly shows the harmfulness of sugar (Also see the report, Added Sugar, Subtracted Science (2014)).

A major factor that has kept us in the dark about sugar’s detrimental impacts is the role that industry has played in keeping it that way. Sugar interests—food and beverage manufacturers along with industry-supported organizations such as trade associations, front groups, and public relations firms—have actively sought to ensure Americans’ consumption of high levels of sugar continues.

The summary gives a list and explanation of how sugar interests are undermining the science.

1. Attacking the science

2. Spreading misinformation

3. Deploying industry scientists

4. Influencing academia

5. Undermining policy

Sounds really similar to the methods that tobacco companies used to undermine science, right?

This is all driven home by a new study showing that obesity has a huge impact on our life expectancy (published in PLOS Medicine). So much so, that obesity is as bad, or worse, for us than smoking (see below). And don’t forget, a huge part of the obesity epidemic involves high intake of sugar, and that sugar is a major contributor to diabetes.


Class III obesity is associated with substantially elevated rates of total mortality, with most of the excess deaths due to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and major reductions in life expectancy compared with normal weight.

We found that the reduction in life expectancy associated with class III obesity was similar to (and, for BMI values above 50 kg/m2, even greater than) that observed for current smoking.

Read the full summary by the Union of Concerned Scientists for more information on how we are slowly succeeding at beating out the sugar interests, just like we did for tobacco. Science will prevail!


Anti-science quotable: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher #sciencematters


One of the big battles early on was about flouridation of the water. Remember that? Flouridation of the water. Well, I don’t know whether or not flouridating the water helps people’s teeth become better or not. I don’t know that. But I do know that in this country we should be the ones who are deciding what we put into our bodies one way or the other, not the federal government or the local government, putting flouride into our water.

Remember acid rain…ACID RAIN!!! … Thank god we had Ronald Reagan to stop that nonsense. So acid rain was going to come and destroy all the trees and destroy the rivers and the ponds and the infrastructure of our country’s gonna be disintegrating, because of acid rain. And he (Reagan) stood firm and said no… and basically it became a non-issue.

-Representative Dana Rohrabacher (48th District of California) at the Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change. Video of his speech here, including denial of ozone depletion as well.

Wikipedia on acid rain and water flouridation and Ozone layer with citations. article further explaining how far from reality this anti-science babble is.

History lesson on communicating science to the public #democraticscience


Rebekah Higgitt has written a great review for the Guardian of the new book, “The Age of Scientific Naturalism: Tyndall and His Contemporaries,” edited by Bernard Lightman and Michael S Reidy. In doing the review, Higgitt does an amazing job highlighting many potential lessons from this historical book about communicating science. Check out her take, my favorites below. Lessons I took away: 1. Engage the public in science so that they can come to their own conclusions about it. 2. Don’t be an elitist scientific prick (my words, not Higgitt’s, hahaha).

Lewes, by contrast, was much closer to today’s favoured model of public engagement with science (see this short post on PUS to PEST). He was inviting readers to be present and, potentially, participating in science, rather than simply receiving the words of an expert. Tyndall’s elite, specialised and closed world was met by Lewes’s inclusive, democratic and accessible vision of science.


Lewes, on the other hand, expected his audience to question, challenge or verify what they were told, to engage, participate and make discoveries of their own. He insisted that science should be opened up more widely, fearing it might otherwise “degenerate into immoveable dogma”. Only broad participation would ensure the validity of scientific work.