Another great post about food safety and fish.
I never thought anyone would pay attention to me. Then I started working with Asian carp, and thanks to a lot of people who work harder than I do, I get to be on the radio and in documentaries and stuff:
Carp are indeed tasty, safe to eat, and chock full of protein and healthy fats. I recommend eating them to make them go away.
Here at Bad Anemone, I like to touch upon a broad range of topics, most of which include a smattering or big old slab of science. I’ve been at the science game for the majority of my life now, and I still struggle about how I should be directing my energy, including writing this blog. After all, instead of writing this post, I could be blasting out another research manuscript, of which I have plenty to produce, or doing something like interacting with my family. Or maybe administrating as the Vice Chancellor of Research at my University. I have a lot on my plate. But that’s another blog.
Nowadays, I go to science meetings, and instead of people saying, “Hey, I really enjoyed that paper you just wrote in such-and-such journal,” they say, “I read your blog.” The same goes for the administrative side. Not, “Hey I’m glad you implemented that new program.” It’s “When do you have time to write that blog?”
Well, I do have time off. This is what I do to enjoy myself. Weird, but very true. My job consumes me. Trust me. And it consumes me when I’m off the clock as well.
The point of my blog is to inform people of science and its relevance to their lives. Is that a bad thing? I dare say not. In fact, it is my duty as a scientist and professor to do this. Blogging is part of my job.
Bad anemones agree.
This leads me to the idea of science, the lack of science literacy in the US, and the weird premium that some scientists still seem to place on basic or “pure” science.
I could care less about what they think about my blogging.
Many of you have likely heard of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). It’s a wonderful institution, dedicated to supporting science for science’s sake. In other words, the NSF was never meant to build the next widget that would make a billion bucks. It was started and should continue to expand our knowledge about things we don’t know much about. I’ve blogged about this before. There DOES NOT NEED to be an application to the funded research. It needs to be the very best of the best. That’s all.
However, the NSF now places a high premium on what they call the broader impacts of the proposed research. Most proposal writers do not take this seriously, and their proposals tank. The problem is that many scientists look at this applied section as a hurdle, or a game to be overcome. This goes for many of the successful applicants. In other words, the scientists who write a compelling applied component in their proposal have no strong intention of pushing their research findings into the public realm. I’m sure I just made a lot of researchers angry. What proof do I have?
If the successful NSF scientists were really doing their job, would we be in such a pickle?
Here’s the deal with NSF. For us scientists, it’s great money. The proposals are hard to write and get funded. But the accountability side of the equation is pretty tepid. NSF does require a final report and wants to see publications and summaries of related activities. But that’s where the accountability ends. No “special NSF investigator” is going to swoop in and see whether you really made that web site or taught those school kids about your science.
I’ve had funding from NSF and hope to get more, despite this post. But I also do science for applied agencies that want a result immediately. They have a nut and want me to crack it. I publish reports, present the results, and actually publish peer-reviewed papers. I’ve even seen my research be used to inform policy that matters to natural resources and presumably to the people who pay the taxes that fund the research.
But, will ecology or science in general remember me long after I’m dead? Probably not.
And, that’s where most professional scientists, including me, struggle. We want recognition, appreciation, and accolades. Ever heard of the Nobel Prize? You get the picture. Applied research won’t get that or even a Golden Fleece Award for you in most cases. There are exceptions: You remember Oppenheimer for the nuclear bomb. But not for his contribution to the scientific proof that nuclear fission is a reality.
Now, some basic scientists do something remarkable that gets used eventually, like inventing the laser or the modern computer, and then they are remembered forever. But applied scientists, not so often. They add to the base of knowledge but aren’t recognized beyond their specific discipline and system of study (e.g., a lake, river, forest, or reef).
At the heart of this issue is the concept of first principles. In all disciplines there are basic nuts that need to be cracked, with no apparent application. In ecology, for example, we still do not know what drives the relationship between the number of species in an area and the ability for that “community” to resist a new species. These questions were posited by E.O. Wilson and Robert MacArthur many years ago, and we still don’t know the answer. At some point, an ecologist conducting a novel, highly replicated experiment, creating a new model, or synthesizing a huge database will make a major discovery and thusly be cited widely and remembered forever in the literature. Textbooks (if they still exist in the future) will make them immortal.
Here’s my struggle. My research group is trying to determine why Asian carp are successfully invading the rivers of the US. We aren’t the only ones working on this issue. We all might answer the question and make a lot of people happy by curbing the invasion. But how general will our answer be to the question MacArthur and Wilson asked? It applies. But, the results won’t be pretty, replicated, and all that easy to translate to some other community (e.g., a forest with an invasive tree). So, basic ecologists will likely huff, ignore the results as being too applied, and move on.
The thing is, deep inside of our results might lie the answer to the basic question. So, does it deserve to be swept away from the annals of my beloved discipline?
I really don’t know the answer to that question. I could be spending all my time working in small tanks adding “model” species and developing theoretical models to tap away at the basic question. But what good am I doing in the short term? And, really, how applicable are those small scale models and experiments to a river with giant, jumping invasive fish?
Ecologists have struggled with this issue forever and will continue to do this long after I’m dead and gone. But, in these times of limited resources for science and our lack of support from society, we had better come up with a better way to resolve the issue and explain it to the taxpayers (and their kids). Otherwise the US’s production of knowledge and its welfare in the world will suffer dearly for generations to come.
No, it’s not what you think. My heart’s fine. No stroke. No injury.
My treadmill decided to finally bomb out after 12 years of clomping on it. Despite it being a champ, it didn’t go quietly.
There I was at 5 AM, being a good boy running on the beast and then something deep within just gave way. Not in me, but in the treadmill.
At one moment, I was bounding along in place. And then the bottom stopped.
And I did not.
I ended up flying forward, sprawled over the front of my beloved machine.
Strangely, I felt no pain. Rather, I was angry. Strangely, angry. Inexplicably angry.
Because I couldn’t finish my work out. I considering going outside in the subfreezing ice in the dark but that’d be stupid. So, I just stopped. And I’ve been in a bad mood ever since.
Now, I’m not experiencing the heroin-laced tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman. But I’m a bonafide addict. I find it curious how varied addiction can be. I’m addicted to the rush of running. I’ve tried biking, pilates, yoga, elliptical, jumping jacks, and even (I hate to admit this) jazzercise. None of those are as wonderfully exhilarating as zipping along, even if it does make my toenails go black and my ankle complain.
What the? Tell me how it is adaptive to run in place for hours and look forward to it? To crave it?
It might have something to do with the body’s release of natural pain killers, but I suspect there’s more to it. When I run, my crazy mind starts to calm. I focus on the activity and not on all the worries. It’s better than sleep, where all the supposed burdens of life seem to culminate in weird dreams.
I guess it’s time to get a new treadmill or I might just lose my mind.
Decisions, decisions. Life is full of them.
Will you get in the glass elevator with that vermicious knid? (Hats off to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator)
To me, vermicious knids look like spermatozoa. Life starts at conception, right? The spermatozoan either makes it into the egg or not.
Black and white.
What’s my point?
Life begins as a discrete event. Cells divide and differentiate following a developmental program determined by genetics and the environment.
Is it any wonder then that we tend to view the world as a series of discrete events? We’re programmed from the beginning to do that. It is in our cells. Just like little vermicious knids floating around all over the place, making new life, new promise, and giving us hope.
That’s why its so difficult for us humans to handle all the complexity in the world. Nothing is black and white, although we desperately want to see the world that way. Give me a fork, and I can pick the proper tine. If you give me a spoon, then I just get confused by the broth.
We deal with discretion all the time. Do you invest in that stock or not? Should you take that job or wait for the better offer that might or might not arise? Do you get in that elevator or stay firmly planted on the ground?
I suppose it all depends on how hungry that vermicious knid might be.
I am writing another book. How did a 10-year-old boy end up in this situation?
“Why’d they have to go all Algernon on me?
Here I is standing on the street corner. Rain’s falling, pants soaked, and my sign’s sagging. Ink’s bleeding too. I got a trash-bag poncho and no change in my pockets.
They say mid-January after Christmas is just sad. I dunno. I see those folks in their warm cars driving to the big boxes, spending so much change, and I’m here wishing on a plastic card with a magnet strip that some woman handed me today to buy a cheeseburger and a coffee, wondering how my bones’ gonna make it tonight. The January rain’s rustin my joints. I’m the frigging tin man and this ain’t Oz. Woe for me.
Not for them.
It weren’t always this way. This is my Sunday, when there’s no Monday. The days of the week – they’re like my life. You know what I’m saying?
Monday and Tuesday were pretty shitty, I’d admit. Momma was never home. Sis took care of me til she hit thirteen and I was ten. Never saw her after that. Ten sounds young, but you get real smart when you’s on your own. Heard a knocking on the door of our filthy apartment not long after.
I done found me a way out. Not some gang-banger standing there in the stoop but a government-type in a suit. Black shades and a real nice phone, he had.
Could be some kind of pervert, I done hear my sister sayin in my head. Well, bite her, I thought. She gave me up just like my dad and the old women, who’d been stayin at that greaser’s place half the week. And that dude she were datin, well, he was givin me the eye. Was a matter of time before I’d be losing something and bein someone’s play dough. That’s not for me. Even now. I’s too proud to do things like dat.
The guy looked all serious and flashed me some kind of badge – real official like. So, I walked out the door and got in his white car, not looking back.
Wednesday through Friday of my life were real interesting. The man weren’t no pervert. He and his friendlies was watching me grow up for years and said I passed some test, though I can’t reckon when the test happened. I’d not seen the inside of Hamilton Public School 80 for the last year or so. Just didn’t see the point. I knew more’d them teachers knew, by a lot. I was real good at math. Other studies were just as easy. The Wi-Fi, it taught me good – knew more than the teachers. And, boy, my back was strong as horse. I’d fight, if that’s what’d they like. Or I could make them computers fly.
Back then I was, before them got me.
The island me and the boys lived on got no name, as far as I know. It was hot all the time and I heard the guards and trainers call it 89 every once in a while. We kids called it Jungleland. White, black, red, and brown boys all complainin about the heat and wet air. Shit families for all of us, with no care back home. All of us weren’t quite teenagers, yet. But we was hard and smart. No cryin, no regrets.
Funny, how with the guns, the boy sweat, the god-awful hours in sun, and what I member the most was the friggin palm trees, the fresh breeze, and darkest blue sky. The city where I lived before was brown on the streets and the air. You couldn’t see where one part ended and the other began.
We gonna train you boys and make you love no one but each other, they said. They was right, you know. I’d still die for anyone of em, though I got no idea if any of them is still alive. Hell, I’m not, really. They all is probably scattered cross the globe on street corners, begging like me. My belly cries for them, on account of my heart’s gone.
What’d I give to get that heat and trees right now than this bone-biting cold. Friggin people in their shiny wheel boxes with their Christmas gift cards, heat turned up high. What they know about what we all did for them? My mind’s failin and not sure I’ll remember much longer.”
Constructive feedback would be welcome.
For my short stories go to Dark Spots by Bad Anemone.
Drop some coin on a cruise and puke away. You see this on the news all the time. In fact, it just happened again (and again).
How so, Dr. Anemone?
Disease ecology is fascinating. Every micro-organism has a strategy to be successful in its ecosystem. For disease organisms, the human body is their ecosystem, just like a coral reef is an ecosystem for a clownfish.
But this ain’t no Nemo and anemone story. (Did I mention that I love anemones?)
This is a let’s try to relax but feel like you’re going to die story.
And it’s ecology, plain and simple. Disease organisms are selected in the human body to balance their ability to be passed on to other humans, while not being killed off too quickly by the human immune system.
Look at it from the viruses’ perspective. (Could be a bacterium or parasite as well…).
If you make your human host too sick, you won’t be able to move around and pass on your nasty babies to other humans. So, most disease organisms don’t intend to kill you. They are selected to make you icky, but still able to walk, talk, poop, and cough … just enough so that you can make everyone else around you sick. Spreading the love, viral style. A nice, slow burn through humanity.
Back to the LOVE BOAT.
Call the doctor.
The problem is that, when you walk onto that beautiful floating hotel, you’re cramming a bunch of human-borne, viral ecosystems together. The rate of exchange that the viruses worked so hard to temper, so that they avoid being killed off too quickly, increases exponentially.
And bam. It’s the Love Boat for viruses. They spread like a wildfire on a windy prairie. Can you hear the theme song in your head? I can.
If the boat never made it back onto shore, the virus would eventually flame out as the passengers and crew either died or gained immunity. Poor viruses.
Actually, lucky viruses.
As always, the ship made it back to shore, just in time for a few of the sick passengers to get back on land and start spreading the love again.
And then there are the few bugs that escape the disinfectant on the Love Boat.