Dr. Kiki is on the Loose

June 28th, 2012

I’ve been waiting to write this. I don’t know why exactly, but it felt like the right thing to do.

Last week, I posted on twis.org that our show will no longer be netcast by the TWiT.tv network. Since that announcement people have asked me about my other TWiT.tv program, Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, but I kept quiet.

I am very sorry to say that Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour (DKSH) will no longer be a part of the TWiT.tv lineup. Although the show has many loyal fans, it just isn’t enough to contend against the belt-strap tightening currently underway at TWiT. I’ve additionally been informed that the network is trying to focus its content to give the audience more of what they want.

DKSH isn’t alone in this. There will no longer be any science shows on the TWiT network. This saddens me, but business is business. I hope that the many changes at TWiT will allow them to move forward to become even stronger, and that one day they will bring science back into their lineup.

Regardless of these actions by TWiT, I will continue to endeavor to communicate science. TWIS will continue; exactly how is uncertain, but I will not let it disappear. And, now that DKSH is done, I find myself with a bunch of extra time on my hands.

If you have ideas about how I should spend that time, please let me know. I have over a decade of experience in science communications and media, and would love to work with content creators and science educators to make science even more appealing to the world at large.

I guess it’s time to go clean up my resume…

Thinking About Epigenetics

March 1st, 2011

This morning, I was totally taken by the focus on epigenetics in this month’s issue of The Scientist magazine. It’s a fascinating area of study that looks at mechanisms of inheritance and development that fall outside the usual genetic mechanisms.

For years, researchers investigating inheritance focused solely on DNA and RNA as the blueprints for what makes us who we are. However, over the past 80 years research has amassed suggesting that there is much more to the picture. Namely, expression of genes can be controlled through one process termed imprinting or another called X-chromosome inactivation, and chemical modifications by structures, called histones, that wrap DNA into little bundles, and a process called methylation.

The various modifications to DNA or RNA affect the ways that genes get expressed (like if they get turned on or off, or are expressed more or less), but not the genes themselves. Darwinian natural selection and Mendelian genetics are still major forces acting on the genes themselves (so, don’t go off half cocked crying about Lamarckian ideas overturning over 100 years of evidence for the theory of evolution), but now we have a new tool to add to the toolbox to help us understand the very nuanced processes of adaptation and development.

From an article in The Scientist:

Eric Nestler, a psychiatrist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained that behavioral researchers “are moving to a far broader definition of epigenetics which simply refers to any lasting change in gene expression mediated by an alteration in chromosomal structure.” ”

What I find fascinating, is the idea that these modifications can arise during an individuals lifetime. It’s a mechanism that has the potential to explain how experience during someone’s lifetime can 1) effect changes in their behavior and 2) effect changes in the behavior of subsequent generations.

Epigenetics is no longer like genetics, which can look at individuals, but preferentially looks at changes to populations on a generational timescale. Rather, epigenetics diverges from genetics because it can explore changes within and between individuals on multiple timescales: second to second, minute to minute, year to year, or generation to generation.

Again, from The Scientist:

Szyf… speculates that behavioral epigenetics might end up showing that adult learning is simply development, continued. Perhaps, he says, “it’s all development, starting from preconception to death.” ”

If the articles from The Scientist aren’t enough for you, we did a review of epigenetic research on TWIS last year, and interviewed one of the leading epigenetic researchers, Dr. Andrew Feinberg, back in 2007. In both cases, the coverage starts in the second half of the program, so you will need to fast forward a little bit to get to the pertinent info.

TWIS on TWIT

April 1st, 2010

Dear TWIS Minions,

This Week in Science is making a few changes.

After 10 years of broadcasting live just about every Tuesday morning from KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, CA, TWIS is making a move.

As of 8:00 pm PT on Monday, April 12th, 2010, TWIS will broadcast live on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech Network.

It only seems natural that the TWI’s join forces as many people have been confused by the separate worlds of TWIS and TWIT for years anyway.

So, from April 12th onward TWIS will be live in video format on TWIT every Monday night at 8pm PT.

TWIS will continue to exist on KDVS, but as a pre-recorded show only.

You will also be able to continue to subscribe to and download TWIS as an audio rss feed without making any changes. We are keeping the feed address the same.

We think that the new format and platform will work together to make TWIS better than ever, and we’ll keep bringing you quality science infotainment.

Thanks for listening. We look forward to seeing you at live.twit.tv on Monday nights.

It’s all in your head,
–kirsten and Justin

Dust Off That Synthesizer!

March 2nd, 2010

Bring out the Moog, and prepare your Theremin!

Or, maybe it’s a banjo and some cowbell… hell, I don’t care.

I’m just looking for original science-y music for the This Week in Science 2010 Compilation Album.

The guidelines are that it needs to be about science or inspired by science AND YOU MUST BE ABLE TO GRANT ME LICENSE TO USE IT.

I don’t want something by Blackalicious unless you are in Blackalicious. That said, if you are a friend ofBlackalicious, tell them to get in touch with me.

Why am I making a science-y music album? Well, I’ve made an album for our home radio station’s annual fundraiser each year for the past four years, and I’d like to go for a fifth.

Our station, KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis, is a non-commercial, free-form radio station that gets more than half of its budget from its annual fundraiser. We set aside a portion of the limited cd pressing for use as premium gifts for people who donate to KDVS during our show. The remainder of the cds are sold later in the year in order to recoup our production costs. TWIS makes no money from these albums.

What we need, however, are super cool science-y songs donated for use on the album. Without songs, there is no album.

As a musician what do you get in return? Well, in addition to being on the album, you will be played during TWIS repeatedly during the year, linked to from the TWIS website, and get the warm-fuzzies from helping to support free-form, non-commercial radio and science all in one go.

How can you submit a song? Email me (kirsten at thisweekinscience dot com) with an mp3 or a link to an mp3 of your song(s). Please, put TWIS Compilation in the subject.

If your song is chosen for the album, I’ll be in touch to ask for a higher bit-rate, uncompressed .aif or .wav file and your John Hancock on a basic licensing and use agreement. We like to take care of a lot of the post-production when we master the album, so the less compressed / produced on the final version the better.

Any questions, just email me at the address above.

Oh, and the fundraiser is mid-April, so I’ll need songs asap! Submission deadline is March 15th.

A TWISmas Cartoon

December 28th, 2009

Tony Steele's Xmas Evolution

Thanks to Tony Steele for this awesome TWISmas cartoon!

Debating Climate Change

December 15th, 2009

Recently, what with Copen-Hopen-hagen and Climategate, there has been a renewed interest in the debate surrounding the environmental phenomenon currently called climate change.

I’d like to weigh in with a few points, as they were made on This Week in Science:

•    the greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that warms the planet.
•    CO2 is small percentage of atmospheric gases, but has large impact due to longevity… on the order of century rather than hours or days like other gases.
•    all data shows CO2 increasing in the atmosphere
•    current increase strongly correlates to increases in fossil fuel use / emissions / deforestation
•    carbon isotope data links CO2 over the past 150 years to human fossil fuel use.
•    CO2 is currently higher than at any point in at least the past 500,000 - 650,000 years.
•    past CO2 increases were not due to human activity, but occurred at slower rate and didn’t reach current levels. present rate is concerning.
•    Several years within the past decade are among the top 10 warmest on record.
•    Recent warming is not linked to sunspot / solar activity as that has been low while temperatures and CO2 have risen.
•    Sea level rise has increased from 1.5 to over 3mm / year over the last 100 years.
•    There has been a global temperature increase of around 1 deg. F over the past 100 years.
•    the majority of temperature and CO2 data is available to the public. some datasets are not made available immediately due to contractual obligations, but the majority are public domain.

To summarize, there is no scientific debate that CO2 is currently involved in the warming process underway, and that human activities play a significant role in global CO2 levels. There is lots of scientific debate on all sorts of details, but not these main points. The point is that science is based on evidence, and the majority of evidence is pointing to us and CO2. Let’s move on to solutions.

I found a website (there are so many, it wasn’t really difficult) that argues several climate change points in an attempt to sow misunderstanding and mistrust. I’ve taken the time to respond to the so-called “facts” the website presents. My responses are in bold, whereas the “myths” and “facts” presented are from the website, and represent common arguements against climate change science.

From globalresearch.ca - Ten “Facts” About Climate Change
1.     Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.
True, climate has always varied, but of current concern is the rate at which climate is changing. The increase in temperature over the past 100 years outpaces any period for at least the past 500,000. Yes, it is sensible to prepare for climate change, which is why governments and industry leaders are looking to move away from fossil fuels, and to improve water and energy technologies.

2.    Accurate temperature measurements made from weather balloons and satellites since the late 1950s show no atmospheric warming since 1958.  In contrast, averaged ground-based thermometers record a warming of about 0.40 C over the same time period. Many scientists believe that the thermometer record is biased by the Urban Heat Island effect and other artefacts.
False, the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) has warmed in line with the planet surface over the past 50 years. (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/globalwarming/ipcc12.gif) Also, the urban heat island effect has been shown to be largely an urban myth, and not a significant player in global temperatures.

3.    Despite the expenditure of more than US$50 billion dollars looking for it since 1990, no unambiguous anthropogenic (human) signal has been identified in the global temperature pattern.
True, the global temperature pattern has complex influences ranging from human emissions to solar activity to volcanism. However, the recent rapid overall increase in temperature can’t be tied to anything more convincingly than human activities.

4.    Without the greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature on Earth would be -180 C rather than the equable +150 C that has nurtured the development of life.
True, the greenhouse effect is responsible for the stability of temperature on our planet.

Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas, responsible for ~26% (80 C) of the total greenhouse effect (330C), of which in turn at most 25% (~20C) can be attributed to carbon dioxide contributed by human activity. Water vapour, contributing at least 70% of the effect, is by far the most important atmospheric greenhouse gas.
False, in that water vapor might make up the bulk of the greenhouse gases, but it is far less long-lived than CO2, which can persist for a century or more. Also, water vapor varies as a function of temperature. So, CO2 acts as a forcing agent, increasing temperature, which in turn increases H2O vapor, which can then amplify the CO2 initiated temperature increases even more.

5.    On both annual (1 year) and geological (up to 100,000 year) time scales, changes in atmospheric temperature PRECEDE changes in CO2. Carbon dioxide therefore cannot be the primary forcing agent for temperature increase (though increasing CO2 does cause a diminishingly mild positive temperature feedback).
True, temperature changes do often precede CO2, but not significantly. It’s thought that solar and orbital effects can kickstart climate change processes like increases in temperature, but once temperature starts increasing the oceans and other CO2 sinks begin to release CO2 and H2O into the atmosphere, leading to a feedback cycle that continues to increase temperature. What might start out temperature driven doesn’t necessarily end that way. Also, there are historical examples of greenhouse gas driven temperature increases, which resulted in mass extinctions and took over 100,000 years to return to the original state.

6.    The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acted as the main scaremonger for the global warming lobby that led to the Kyoto Protocol. Fatally, the IPCC is a political, not scientific, body.
True. This is a benefit and a fault. It is a political body informed by science and scientists.

Hendrik Tennekes, a retired Director of Research at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, says that “the IPCC review process is fatally flawed” and that “the IPCC wilfully ignores the paradigm shift created by the foremost meteorologist of the twentieth century, Edward Lorenz”.
This comment is a red herring. The IPCC multi-model ensemble approach is ultimately based on Lorenz’ idea of the Butterfly effect. Using multiple models strengthens the overall predictive power of the models by minimizing uncertainties that are inherent in them.

7.    The Kyoto Protocol will cost many trillions of dollars and exercises a significant impost those countries that signed it, but will deliver no significant cooling (less than .020 C by 2050, assuming that all commitments are met).
The Russian Academy of Sciences says that Kyoto has no scientific basis; Andre Illarianov, senior advisor to Russian president Putin, calls Kyoto-ism “one of the most agressive, intrusive, destructive ideologies since the collapse of communism and fascism”. If Kyoto was a “first step” then it was in the same wrong direction as the later “Bali roadmap”.
The Kyoto protocol is a political agreement, not scientific. However, it and other international agreements are a beginning to changing our emission habits.

8.    Climate change is a non-linear (chaotic) process, some parts of which are only dimly or not at all understood. No deterministic computer model will ever be able to make an accurate prediction of climate 100 years into the future.
Climate models are constantly being improved, and with each bit of information we get, we are closer to more accurate predictive models. Current models may not be 100% accurate, but they do give a good idea of what kind of future global climate we are looking at for various scenarios.

9.    Not surprisingly, therefore, experts in computer modelling agree also that no current (or likely near-future) climate model is able to make accurate predictions of regional climate change.
regional climate change is a different beast altogether as local factors play into what is occurring on a global scale. We can gain a general idea of what might happen based on global climate changes, but the model is not going to be 100% accurate on a regional scale.

10.   The biggest untruth about human global warming is the assertion that nearly all scientists agree that it is occurring, and at a dangerous rate.
The reality is that almost every aspect of climate science is the subject of vigorous debate. Further, thousands of qualified scientists worldwide have signed declarations which (i) query the evidence for hypothetical human-caused warming and (ii) support a rational scientific (not emotional) approach to its study within the context of known natural climate change.
What scientists say or don’t say is not the issue. The scientific literature contains a preponderance of evidence suggesting that climate change is occurring, and that human activities are responsible for the extent of the change we are currently seeing. The minutiae of the mechanisms and processes are what are currently being debated within the scientific community, not the overall trends.

LAYING TEN GLOBAL WARMING MYTHS
Myth 1     Average global temperature (AGT) has increased over the last few years.
Fact 1       Within error bounds, AGT has not increased since 1995 and has declined since 2002, despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 of 8% since 1995.
This is false, 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred over the past 15 years. 2005 was the warmest year on record.

Myth 2     During the late 20th Century, AGT increased at a dangerously fast rate and reached an unprecedented magnitude.
Facts 2      The late 20th Century AGT rise was at a rate of 1-20 C/century, which lies well within natural rates of climate change for the last 10,000 yr. AGT has been several degrees warmer than today many times in the recent geological past.
Red herring… what is meant by recent geological past? It has been warmer than current temperatures many times in the Earth’s history, but not within the last 500,000 years.

Myth 3     AGT was relatively unchanging in pre-industrial times, has sky-rocketed since 1900, and will increase by several degrees more over the next 100 years (the Mann, Bradley & Hughes “hockey stick” curve and its computer extrapolation).
Facts 3      The Mann et al. curve has been exposed as a statistical contrivance. There is no convincing evidence that past climate was unchanging, nor that 20th century changes in AGT were unusual, nor that dangerous human warming is underway.
The hockey stick has been held up as the foundation for all of climate science by the skeptics, but in reality there are many other studies using many different data sources that support the same conclusion as the hockey stick… the past 100 years have seen a rapid temperature increase that is expected to continue.

Myth 4     Computer models predict that AGT will increase by up to 60 C over the next 100 years.
Facts 4      Deterministic computer models do. Other equally valid (empirical) computer models predict cooling.
The majority of models looking at surface temperatures predict warming. there may be regional cooling, however.

Myth 5     Warming of more than 20 C will have catastrophic effects on ecosystems and mankind alike.
Facts 5      A 20 C change would be well within previous natural bounds. Ecosystems have been adapting to such changes since time immemorial. The result is the process that we call evolution. Mankind can and does adapt to all climate extremes.
True, adaptation will allow some organisms to survive, but based on the current rate of change, if temperatures increase too rapidly, many organisms will not be able to adapt, and we will likely see mass extinctions as temperatures increase and local climates change.

Myth 6     Further human addition of CO2 to the atmosphere will cause dangerous warming, and is generally harmful.
Facts 6      No human-caused warming can yet be detected that is distinct from natural system variation and noise. Any additional human-caused warming which occurs will probably amount to less than 10 C. Atmospheric CO2 is a beneficial fertilizer for plants, including especially cereal crops, and also aids efficient evapo-transpiration.
Human emissions will likely add to the predicted temperature increases. We are responsible for the current CO2 increases and to the linked climate changes. the plants will be able to deal to a certain degree, but that argument is another red herring as the atmosphere will likely contain too much CO2 for the different sinks to ameliorate the temperature increases in a reasonable amount of time.

Myth 7     Changes in solar activity cannot explain recent changes in AGT.
Facts 7      The sun’s output varies in several ways on many time scales (including the 11-, 22 and 80-year solar cycles), with concomitant effects on Earth’s climate. While changes in visible radiation are small, changes in particle flux and magnetic field are known to exercise a strong climatic effect. More than 50% of the 0.80 C rise in AGT observed during the 20th century can be attributed to solar change.
Solar flux in the first half of the 20th century is likely responsible for much of the observed temperature increases during that period, but more recently CO2 and temperature have been increasing while solar activity has waned.

Myth 8     Unprecedented melting of ice is taking place in both the north and south polar regions.
Facts 8      Both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are growing in thickness and cooling at their summit. Sea ice around Antarctica attained a record area in 2007. Temperatures in the Arctic region are just now achieving the levels of natural warmth experienced during the early 1940s, and the region was warmer still (sea-ice free) during earlier times.
Antarctic ice is thinning and resulting in calving of large areas of ice off of the continent. Arctic ice continues to decrease as temperatures rise. Greenland’s glaciers are melting.

Myth 9     Human-caused global warming is causing dangerous global sea-level (SL) rise.
Facts 9      SL change differs from time to time and place to place; between 1955 and 1996, for example, SL at Tuvalu fell by 105 mm (2.5 mm/yr). Global average SL is a statistical measure of no value for environmental planning purposes. A global average SL rise of 1-2 mm/yr occurred naturally over the last 150 years, and shows no sign of human-influenced increase.
There is always going to be some amount of local variability. However, measurements show a yearly rise on the order of 3 mm currently, and increase over the earlier measurements of 1.5mm / year.

Myth 10   The late 20th Century increase in AGT caused an increase in the number of severe storms (cyclones), or in storm intensity.
Facts 10    Meteorological experts are agreed that no increase in storms has occurred beyond that associated with natural variation of the climate system.
there has been a slight increase in storm severity in some regions. this area of data collections still needs more investigation as it is hard to separate weather effects from climatological effects over the short-term. what scientists are interested in are long-term trends

I will say it again. Let’s move on from repeating these “debates” to solutions.

Have a Science-y TWiSmas!!!

December 9th, 2009

If you are looking for the perfect TWISmas gift for the child in your life, TWIS and Evolvems have the perfect solution for you… a cute, cuddly Evolvem plush toy!

Until December 25th, Evolvems are offering friends of TWIS a 10% discount on internet purchases of their toys (which, by the way, I LOVE!).

Kiki and Evolvem

Evolvems turn from one ancient animal form into a more recent derived form… and back… with just a zip and flip. And, they are cute. Did I say cute? Cute!

Evolvems promote science through play, and TWIS is proud to be helping them spread the science-y goodness to kids of all ages.

To check them out, visit http://www.evolvems.com/twis/. Or, just use the code twismas at their online shop.

What is TWIS

August 24th, 2009

We could tell you what TWIS is, but you are better off discovering the truth for yourself.

 

www.twis.org/audio

 

Please share this video and website with people who need TWIS.

Be a Part of TWIS

August 13th, 2009

So, among the changes taking place at This Week in Science is the realization that I can’t do everything myself. I would love to see TWIS grow, but I require help.

Looking at the responses from my post regarding the website and TWIS community from a couple of weeks back, I have realized that this is project overall is bigger than I am and bigger than I can conceivably achieve given the number of hours in a day.

First, TWIS requires funds to make things happen. So, I’m looking for an experienced new media advertising representative to help us find sponsors and advertisers.

I’m looking for someone with experience in advertising sales, specifically within the new media sector, with an interest if not a background in science. The position is contract based, and would be perfect for someone looking for a small side project.

Second, I’m looking for someone to help with project management and business development. There are so many things that I would love to do, but don’t have the time. I’d love to find someone passionate about TWIS and interested in helping it grow, who understands what TWIS is all about, and who wants to help whip things into shape. The person should have fantastic organizational skills, a love of science, creativity, great communication skills, and the ability to make things happen. I really need someone to be my right-hand in all things TWIS (kind of how Dane works with Leo at TWiT), which would make being a local San Francisco person highly beneficial.

The issue with this second position is that I have nothing to currently offer by way of pay. One possibility is that an applicant would be interested in working with me to find and apply for grants, which could then fund the position. An additional option is to get involved with the promise of future equity or future pay. Or, you could be independently wealthy, and not be concerned with this issue.

But, all this could be putting the cart before the horse. I’m just thinking out-loud, so that the idea can stop cycling in my head.

Please, send me a bio and/or resume and a statement of your interest if you are interested in talking about the details of either position (kirstenatthisweekinsciencedotcom). If you have any suggestions on how I can move forward with finding help, on people you think would be great for me to consider, or on how crazy I am, please, let me know.

This Week in Science Community Brainstorm

July 14th, 2009

This Week in Science has been a labor of my love for ten years. I have enjoyed every one of them, and expect to enjoy many more.

The show has enabled me to meet so many people, and created a community of science minded folks who I hope to count as friends (even though we call them minions).

However, the community could be better. The show and our website are still run based on the old media ways of pushing content out when they should be created with a mind for the community who want to pull the information in. So, we are thinking about how to change our ways, to make even better science content that can contend with what the major publishers are pushing out, and how to foster the growth of a truly awesome science-y community.

It’s actually been a dream of mine for a long time to create a community-driven science media channel based on TWIS. We started to develop the idea with our TWIS-tributions; asking minions to record TWIS-y news stories for the show. But, it didn’t get the response I was hoping for, and so fell by the wayside.

Naomi Most (nthmost on Twitter) brought me back to the idea today (seriously, I think she is data mining my brain), and specifically peaked my re-contemplation with a couple of her comments:

Ah, but w/ TWIStributions, the show always goes on regardless whether of ppl contribute… If you set up a system of continuous expectation of involvement w/ appropriate reward, superfans emerge.” 

And, this is a crucial point. The community needs ownership and investment for the entire endeavor to thrive. And, so far that is limited.

So, this is where I am. I want to create what Naomi termed an incubator for science reporting through TWIS. I want to rebuild the TWIS website to reflect the community and its many interests, and allow the growth of parallel scientific content in the form of blogs, audio, and video programming. I want to find the science reporting superstars among the minions, and have them call TWIS their home.

Is that too much to ask?

Interested in sponsoring the endeavor?

Have any ideas?