On science blogs this week: Cold, with starlight

Tops. The end of Origins, health care again, it's cold outside and in Antarctica, and the stars come out.


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YOU'RE THE TOPS. Top Ten lists are an easy way for editors and bloggers to fill those listless holiday hiatuses. Lists don't require much enterprise or labor. Readers, mysteriously, seem to love them.

But darned if I'm going to do one. Especially since I can simply direct you to the labors of Charlie Petit at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, who has already performed a year-and-decade-end list service superbly for the sci-med writing trade. Charlie has collected what must be dozens of list links in all their numerosities. Not just Top 10, but also Top 5, Top 9, Top 50, Top 100, and several lists not enumerated at all; they're simply Top.

SciAm, not usually contrarian, stands alone yet still upholds its high standards by ignoring science successes. Instead it lists the Top 10 Science Letdowns of the 21st Century's disappointing first decade. Find the slide show here.

THE END OF ORIGINS. SciAm's No. 1 letdown is that so many US schools still don't--or won't--teach evolutionary theory. Another Darwinian letdown is the following sad news. In celebration of the Darwin Year, Science has been home to Origins, a blog about it. The Darwin Year has now ended, and this week so did Origins.

Shed a tear and give thanks for an in-depth treat, to say nothing of lots of solid backgroud for the files, to blog editors Elizabeth Culotta, Elizabeth Pennisi, and John Travis. Reminisce here with the collected past posts and other Science Darwiniana.

HEALTH CARELESS (Cont'd). As forecast here last post last year, the US Senate did pass its health care fix on Christmas Eve. As also expected, disputes over the health care reform bill(s) emanating from Congress began to rev up this week.

The Kaiser Health News Blog and many other sources reported that the Democrats planned to dump the usual conference committee method of arriving at a merger of House and Senate legislation, instead trying to accomplish the merging "informally." You can imagine how that was received.

C-SPAN wants to video the proceedings, which would be convenient for any who would like to cover the minute-to-minute tugs of war in their jammies. As of this writing, the Democrats have not yet said yes, although they have said they are committed to transparency. I'm completely reassured; how about you?

Find out where things stand now on the New York Times's Prescriptions blog here.

If you're less interested in the politics of passage than in what proposals are part of the legislation, there are a number of sources to consult. See, for example, the Kaiser Family Foundation's side-by-side comparison of major health care reform proposals, which Debra Gordon credits in a blog post that hews to the New Year's List-of-Ten motif, "10 Surprising Things in Healthcare Reform,"

Yet another List of Ten comes from Gary Schwitzer at Health News Review, who identifies "10 Trends in Health Care Journalism." Network TV health care journalism is so hopeless, he declares, that he's mostly stopped covering it. The list also describes health care journalism training opportunities.

COLD ENOUGH FOR YOU? I thought global warming might be, uh, on the back burner for a while after last month's hot time at the UN conference in Copenhagen. But no. It's been an unusually cold winter in places where normally it's not so very. So those climate change deniers are correct after all, right?

Not hardly. Still, what we got here appears to have next to nothing to do with climate change. It seems to be Weather, rather than Climate. The cold results from an untoward oscillation in the Arctic Oscillation, which, Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin tells us, "can powerfully influence weather around the northern half of the globe and the behavior of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean."

Meaning that, up where it's supposed to be cold, it isn't, relatively speaking. The unusual warmth around the Arctic Circle, Climate Progress observes, is quite bad for the melting ice sheets in Greenland. See also Richard Black's Earth Watch. Kit Stolz has a long post at A Change in the Wind featuring Ed Olenic of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. He's pretty good at explaining the Arctic Oscillation.

Speaking of Revkin, Bud Ward of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media just posted on the implications of Revkin's departure from the staff of the New York Times, noted here last post last year. Cornelia Dean is leaving the staff too, and Ward examines what those exits might mean for the future of climate change coverage at the Times. [Thanks to my irreplaceable IT department for this link.]

WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION. How cold is it? Consult Making Tracks, the Wildlife Society Blog, among many others. The weather's so freaky in Florida that, instead of raining cats and dogs, it's raining iguanas.

Perhaps those of us who are still reeling from our most recent fuel oil bill and are waiting, terrified, for the next one can forget the cold for a while by heading for the Southern Hemisphere, where it's summer. How about a virtual visit to the sunny oceanfront--in, say, Antarctica?

First-person Antarctica tales are a staple on the Web. The approach may have originated with Jane Stevens, who reported (and photographed) her National Science Foundation media trip for Discovery Online back in the last century--1994! In a quick search I couldn't dig up an archived copy, but you can find Jane's 1996 account for International Wildlife here. It was a very big deal then--ground-breaking multimedia on the 'Net, Jane's specialty.

Antarctica, full of snow and even some ice that stubbornly continues frozen, remains an evergreen topic. You can follow the 2010 National Science Foundation media trip to the Antarctic with Chaz Firestone, a student at Brown University in Providence. He is blogging for Nature's In the Field. Unfortunately, in the most recent post I saw, he hadn't actually arrived yet. The reason: Weather conditions, which were not, after all, warm and sunny.

Meanwhile, Wendy Pyper, editor of Antarctic Magazine, is along on the Australian government's Antarctic Division's marine science voyage, which is studying the impacts of bottom fishing and ocean acidification. Her blog posts are long and detailed. The Australian government has kindly provided a page of data links from its Antarctic stations, plus four live webcams.

ARE THE STARS OUT TONIGHT? The American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington this week at first revolved around planets rather than stars, and extrasolar planets at that. Knight Science Journalism Tracker Charlie Petit has done another masterful roundup--this time of links to news and blogs on a topic he knows well. Having failed to distinguish myself during any one of the 8 credit hours of astronomy I sat through as a freshperson, I will not attempt wheel reinvention. I refer you instead to Charlie's extensive AAS collections here and here and here. The middle one contains details of Ron Cowen's nice scoop(s)for Science News. Which began last October!

Not that there haven't been stars aplenty at AAS. From the irreplaceable Hubble Space Telescope we get a stunning image of infant galaxies. "This is fossil light from 13 billion years ago. The universe was then only 600 to 800 million years old," Joel Achenbach tells us at his Achenblog.

Fossil light. 13 billion years. What a concept. At last, a correct place to use the word "Awesome."

HAPPY NEW YEAR. And not a moment too soon.

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