Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

Introduction

Growing up, one of my biggest fears was tornadoes and thunderstorms. Some of my first memories of feeling genuine terror was tornado watches or warnings in the plains of Indiana or Northern Kentucky. The fact that they were natural disasters that forced us to remain in our basement until further notice made me feel powerless and frightened me. 

It took me until I understood how tornadoes formed and some sage advice from a relative – “You can’t worry about things out of your control” is still advice I forget all the time – until I wasn’t terrified of storms. Hurricanes (and typhoons) are different beasts, but they’re related and both are fascinating. I figured with Hurricane Florence in the news, now would be a good time to talk about how hurricanes form, and of course, as I mentioned in a previous post, why climate change is likely going to increase the devastation wrought by hurricanes. Compared to some of my previous posts, this one is going to be simpler and there’s not really else to say aside from the basics.

The Science

All about Tropical Cyclones

In the US, we often only talk about hurricanes hitting our mainland. Sometimes we’ll hear of typhoons hitting an island in the Pacific, which brings me to the difference between hurricanes and typhoons: the only difference is where they occur. Hurricanes form in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, whereas Typhoons form in northwest Pacific; in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, the generic term tropical cyclone is used.

Image courtesy of NOAA.gov

Image courtesy of NOAA.gov

According to NOAA:

A tropical cyclone is a generic term used by meteorologists to describe a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has closed, low-level circulation. 

The categories of a tropical cyclone are listed below, also from NOAA:

  1. Tropical Depression – <38 mph winds

  2. Tropical Storm – 39-73 mph winds

  3. Category 1 Hurricane/Typhoon – 74-95 mph winds

  4. Category 2 Hurricane/Typhoon – 96-110 mph winds

  5. Category 3 (major) Hurricane/Typhoon – 111-129 mph winds

  6. Category 4 (major) Hurricane/Typhoon – 130-156 mph winds

  7. Category 5 (major) Hurricane/Typhoon – >157 mph winds

“Hurricane season” is considered to be from June through November, and there are, on average, 12 hurricanes a year in the Atlantic basin. For a tropical cyclone to occur, there are two requirements: warm water (and I’ll get to this in a bit, but this is the part that climate change is altering) and “winds that don’t change much in speed or direction as they go up in the sky.”

The parts of a cyclone are below, from NASA:

Eye – “The eye is the "hole" at the center of the storm. Winds are light in this area. Skies are partly cloudy, and sometimes even clear.”Eye wall – “The eye wall is a ring of thunderstorms. These storms swirl around the eye. The wall is where winds are strongest and rain is heaviest.”Rain bands – “Bands of clouds and rain go far out from a hurricane's eye wall. These bands stretch for hundreds of miles. They contain thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.”

When cyclones hit land, water is pushed ashore; this is what’s called a storm surge, which is what combines with rain to cause flooding.

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the fact that cyclones are commonly named. This is so that it’s easier for people to discuss them and for scientists to track them. From NASA:

Each year, tropical storms are named in alphabetical order. The names come from a list of names for that year. There are six lists of names. Lists are reused every six years. If a storm does a lot of damage, its name is sometimes taken off the list. It is then replaced by a new name that starts with the same letter.

How Climate Change is Making Tropical Cyclones Worse

As mentioned above, warm water is fundamentally needed for a cyclone to form. Because climate change is heating up ocean waters and atmospheric temperature, hurricanes are getting and will continue to get worse.

From this National Geographic article Hurricane Florence's Rains May Be 50% Worse Thanks to Climate Change:

The catastrophic rains expected to accompany Hurricane Florence along the U.S. East Coast can be blamed squarely on climate change, new research shows. The rainfall is projected to be more than 50 percent worse than it would have been without global warming, a team of scientists say. The hurricane’s size is predicted to be about 50 miles (80 kilometers) wider for the same reason.

That reason: warmer ocean and atmospheric temperatures, caused by the warming Earth.

I know I hit on this with my climate change piece, but we are already witnessing the catastrophic effects of not taking climate change seriously. It will only continue to get worse. I realize that people may not want to confront such an existential and frightening issue, but it’s hard to ignore the facts when they’re presented in front to you.

At first glance, I can understand why it might feel like finger-wagging to say “climate change is going to make natural disasters worse!!” It probably seems hard to believe, but when you understand cyclones a bit better – and I hope this article helped! – it’s a bit easier to understand. 

In Conclusion

Cyclones are rotating, low-pressure thunderstorm systems that occur in the Atlantic basin. For a cyclone to occur, warm water and consistency winds are needed. Due to a heating climate, ocean waters are heating, which in turn leads to progressively worse cyclone systems.

Table of Contents

  1. My New Project: Science Sundays

  2. Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

  3. Science Sundays #2 – Caffeine and Its Effects on The Body

  4. Science Sundays #3 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

  5. Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

  6. Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

  7. Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

TL

Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

Introduction

Evolution is one of my favorite topics in all of science. First and foremost, it’s just simply fascinating. Secondly, it’s one of the most researched topics in all of scientific history. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it’s one of the best ways to demonstrate the power of induction, deduction, scientific reasoning, and science writ large. 

The terms “evolution” and “natural selection” are incorrectly used as synonyms. Evolution is the broader term to explain what happens due to natural selection. Personally, I also think natural selection is a somewhat misleading term because it implies that nature is actively selecting, when in reality, there is no end goal, and therefore, nothing to select towards. So, evolution is the general term I’ll use from here on out.

It’s unfortunate, but evolution, like some of my other pieces so far, has also been politicized. That’s part of the reason I’ve selected the topics I have so far, because I want to establish that these issues have relatively simple and well-documented underpinnings. If I’ve written about a topic that you may not have believed in beforehand, I hope that you can put in the effort to investigate for yourself, and I truly hope that you come out either seeing that the evidence is there, or for your own sake, can logically continue to believe in your own beliefs. This doesn’t have to be confrontational, but talking about scientific issues can get me worked up which can sometimes be misconstrued as confrontational or aggressive. I think we need to do our best to confront our own cognitive biases, and that may entail changing our own views. Part of being a scientist means taking a step back, recognizing our flawed thinking, re-evaluating, and changing our viewpoints as necessary. This makes us smarter, better, and more open-minded people.

I think this piece could be a bit more controversial than the last couple pieces due to the point I’m going to make in regards to religion. For the last couple of centuries, the most prominent resistors to acknowledging the science of evolution have been evangelicals and religious radicals. This has persisted into our culture for a long time. A sort of hero in academic circles, John T. Scopes of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, is a fellow graduate of mine from the University of Kentucky. The basis of the trial was that, at the time, it was illegal to teach evolution in state-funded schools, even though evolution was already commonly accepted by scientists. He may have inadvertently broken the law, but he lost anyhow, and then the verdict was overturned on a technicality. The case itself wasn’t as big of a deal, as what it foreshadowed: the growing chasm between religion and science.

Something I’m fascinated with is the way religion affects our minds and the way we interact with others, but the truth is this: we are country founded on religious independence and tolerance. This means our country has no recognized national religion. While people of different religions have been mistreated here for centuries, it is of utmost importance that we never allow religious ideology to dictate how we run our public institutions, and schools may just be the most important to keep separate. In this way, we must continue to only teach the science behind evolution, and it is not necessary to teach competing theories like creationism, in public schools. 


Now that that’s off my chest, (drum roll please), it’s time for… some science, babyyyy.

Quick note: Since I don’t want to write these pieces with the assumption that you, the reader, have read every single piece of the project beforehand, it’s possible I’ll repeat asides and little personal points. I recognize that, if these pieces are read in succession, I’ll probably sound like a broken record, but I think for clarity’s sake, it’s necessary to repeat some things.

Quick note #2: With these pieces, I don’t intend to give somebody a dissertation’s worth of material to understand. If I were to do that, I would be forced to include sophisticated information that would reduce the understanding of the material. I think it would only clutter up my descriptions because it would require me to explain things that I think are more advanced than necessary. For this reason, I reserve the right to edit quotes from sources for clarity. Since I link to everything that I’m citing, if you’re interested in learning more about the material, I very much you encourage to explore my references! I would also love to chat with anybody interested in discussing these topics in more depth. So reach out to me!

The Science

Descent with Modification

Directly from Berkeley:

Biological evolution, simply put, is descent with modification. This definition encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene… frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations). Evolution helps us to understand the history of life.

I think the central tenet of evolution is the hardest concept to grasp: all life on earth shares a common ancestor. As the definition above describes, evolution is not just change over time, it is descent with modification over long periods of time. What this means is that, over many generations (we’re talking hundreds of thousands of years in most cases), species change into something entirely new due to different gene frequencies over each subsequent generation. It’s due to these changing gene frequencies that such spectacular diversity is possible. 

People often mistake this as meaning that over the course of one generation, species become something entirely different. That isn’t the case at all. This takes lots and lots of time.

Evolutionary theory can encompass some elevated complicated formalisms, called phylogenies. An example of a phylogeny is shown below, showing species most closely related to humans. Since gorillas, humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos are all extant – meaning currently still in existence – it is not possible that any of these species ever evolved from one another. 

(courtesy of  Berkeley )

(courtesy of Berkeley)

Regarding humans, people often incorrectly think that humans evolved from chimps. This is untrue. The forks in the phylogeny represent what are called “speciation events,” which is when there is a divergence in ancestors. The farther down the phylogeny shows the farther in the past. So based on the phylogeny above, chimps and bonobos share a more recent ancestor than humans and chimps. Based on this, humans are more closely related to chimps and bonobos than gorillas. 

Developing phylogenies is intricate work, involving statistics, algorithms and a ton more. If you click on that link, you can see just how intensive it is. I understand that this is sort of risky to say in science, but when it comes to trusting science, there is a teensy tiny bit of faith involved. To some degree, we have to trust that there are enough checkpoints before something becomes commonly accepted. That doesn’t mean we assume everything is true, but when talking about a broad-reaching topic like evolution, me taking the time to learn and then explain something niche like computational phylogenetics doesn’t seem to be a very smart use of time.

Mechanisms of Change

The mechanisms of change described by Berkeley are below:

  1. Mutation

  2. Migration

  3. Genetic drift

  4. Natural selection

Each of these topics have entire chapter’s worth of information in evolution classes. The important thing to understand is that all of these mechanisms change the frequencies of genes in a population, which leads to certain individuals to have a better chance of survival and reproduction. It then makes logical sense that the genes of the individuals that survive longer and reproduce more would persist for more generations. This is why species evolve: as frequencies of genes change, the species then change into something different. 

Not getting into the deeper minutiae of these issues hurts me as a scientist, but my writing integrity is winning by pushing me to try to be as concise and clear as possible. 

I personally believe evolution is difficult to understand because we can’t comprehend time scales longer than our lifetimes. Trying to understand how speciation can occur of millennia would require us to be able to fathom how long a millennium is. Our children look like us so the idea that hundreds of generations of our children into the future will likely not look anything like us and may be a totally different species is difficult, and quite honestly creepy, to imagine. 

Here’s a personal note that makes evolution interesting: cystic fibrosis is a result of a mutation in the CFTR gene. But the interesting thing about mutant CFTR is that it’s estimated to be about 52,000 years old. For people that carry even a single copy of a mutant CFTR are immune to typhoid fever and cholera; this is known as selective advantage. It’s possible that the reason mutated CFTR has persisted for so long is exactly because of that selective advantage; this would also possibly explain why it’s so much more common in Caucasian people. It’s probable that people that inherited two copies of mutant CFTR died before birth or shortly after, but carriers had a selective advantage that protected them against diseases that caused diarrhea. Over the course of time, mutant CFTR became more common in places where there were more diseases that mutant CFTR protected against. 

My Rundown of Evolution

It’s difficult to fathom the implications that every living thing on earth evolved from a common ancestor. It’s also a topic that requires us to try to think abstractly about something that seems like it should be concrete, and it also requires us to enter into some existential and philosophical territory. We’re forced to wonder about the existence of living things and where we came from; it all carriers a sort of religious level of thinking. I think when we start thinking about the existence of life, it also causes us to speculate on life itself and why we’re all here. Or maybe this is all just in my mind and I view science as poetry.


Anyhow, we typically think of evolution as “survival of the fittest,” which, is generally a pretty decent way of looking at it. When you think of “wild” populations of animals – as in not humans, not animals in captivity, and not domesticated animals – it makes sense that the strongest, or most appealing, or most “fit” individual in those particular conditions would succeed in surviving and reproducing. So, when you consider that genes are the cause behind those physical attributes, then that makes sense, based on inheritance, that those genes would be the ones that are passed on. For a specific example, there used to be different competing theories of how giraffes got their long necks. One theory was that giraffes would stretch their necks constantly, eventually lengthening them, and then their offspring would inherit that. However, that isn’t how genes or evolution work. Instead, the giraffe’s ancestor (that link shows what their ancestor was) had a shorter neck, but due to random mutations, different individuals were born with longer necks, which led to a competitive advantage; these individuals ate more, survived longer, and produced more offspring, basically filling the gene pool up with more of their genes. Over generations, eventually those genes became the norm, which led to a new species: the giraffe. (Two individuals are considered to be of the same species if they have the potential to interbreed in nature.)

Most simply: individuals don’t evolve, populations do.

Evolution is tough. It’s fascinating and I’m sure there are great explainers on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet. I hope this is a decent, clear explainer.

Misconceptions about Evolution

There are countless misconceptions about evolution. Naturally, that makes sense since it’s a topic that begs for controversy by touching on the origins of life and also by encompassing so many different aspects of biology.

Delving into the broad range of misconceptions of evolution is difficult, but I think the most pervasive of them all is that religion and evolution are incompatible. I don’t think there is any good for me to tell anybody that their religion and evolution are incompatible. I will say that I don’t think science and religion have to be incompatible, and there are plenty of people that reconcile their faith in religion with their beliefs in science.

This article about evolution and religion is very interesting: 5 Facts about Evolution and Religion.

(Also, for the record, Pope Francis does not believe evolution and Catholicism are incompatible, for you Catholics out there.)

In Conclusion

I consider the amount of Americans that don’t “believe” in evolution to be an alarming indictment of the way we treat science, politics, and religion in America. I explained last week that climate change is accepted by the vast majority of scientists; evolution is even more accepted in the scientific community. “While 98% of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they believe humans evolved over time, only two-thirds (66%) of Americans overall perceive that scientists generally agree about evolution.” 

Evolution has an immense amount of evidence on its side. It’s a relatively complicated topic that overlaps genetics, population dynamics, and several other subsets of biology, but when you consider the overall idea, it isn’t that complicated. To sum up: there are genes that increase the chances that an individual will survive and reproduce, these genes are then inherited by the offspring continuing that increased chance of survival and reproduction, and then over a long period of time, enough of these gene differences give rise to different species.

Table of Contents

  1. My New Project: Science Sundays

  2. Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

  3. Science Sundays #2 – Caffeine and Its Effects on The Body

  4. Science Sundays #3 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

  5. Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

  6. Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

  7. Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

TL

Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

Introduction

Ahh, climate change. Global warming. Surely, this is going to be one of my most controversial pieces, but it’s a topic I’m passionate about for several reasons. First, climate change best encapsulates my goals and hopes for this weekly column: it’s hugely important, affecting literally every human on earth, it’s one of the most misunderstood science issues, it’s in the news all the time, and it’s very interesting. 

Secondly, climate change demonstrates a great point about science that I think about all the time. Science has become this amorphous term that doesn’t really mean anything at all. People, as humans do, have co-opted the term “science” – and similarly, the word “facts” has been distorted, too – to mean whatever they want it to mean whenever they’re trying to push their own narrative. Climate change shows that. Climate change has become a partisan issue when the science surrounding is it not. What this piece will demonstrate is that I believe it’s okay to have biases when you’re writing about science. The science itself that I reference will be factual, but the message from it and what we choose to do with it are where the biases are more clearly shown. Much like the vaccines piece or the GMOs piece, there is science and there is what we choose to do with the info; regarding vaccines, the conclusion is clear: they are shown to be safe, and whatever risk that exists, is not worth the risk of not getting vaccinations. I’ll present the science surrounding climate change, then discuss what needs to be done to correct the damage that’s been done.

And, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… the science!

The Science

Overview

First, let’s identify what climate change actually is and what the term means. Both phrases, “climate change” and “global warming,” have been uttered so many times, they’ve reached the point where they don’t even sound like real phrases, a phenomenon called semantic satiation (you know like how when you say a word a bunch and then it doesn’t even sound real?). 

When the phrase climate change is thrown around, it’s implied to mean “unnatural human-induced climate change” or “anthropogenic global warming.” Of course the Earth has always undergone fluctuations in its climate; this is called climate oscillation. This doesn’t change the fact that it’s possible to determine that the Earth, due to human activity, is warming in a way that doesn’t correlate with natural climate oscillations. The typical talking point of climate change deniers is to bring up climate oscillations, but that’s a disingenuous, bad-faith, and illogical way of trying to dismiss what the vast majority of scientists believe is happening.

Also, let me make this clear from the jump: climate and weather are unequivocally not the same things. One of the most annoying comments someone can make regarding discussions about climate change is “why should I trust scientists about climate change if the weather guy said there was a 30% chance of rain today but it’s sunny?!” This article from NASA does a great job explaining the difference, but essentially here is what the difference is: “weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time.” Predicting exactly what is going to happen in four days based on limited data is much different than using decades or centuries worth of data and intricate models to project what is going to happen in the future.

So in this post, I’ll first describe why the Earth is warming, what the future looks like if we don’t do something, how it’s evident that climate change is already affecting our world as we know it, then I’ll discuss the rebuttals and arguments against climate change, and I’ll conclude by offering what will basically amount to a defense of the scientific process and the scientific community against what I believe to be unfair attacks.

Why the Earth is Warming

NASA has a superb hub for climate change information that discusses evidence, causes, effects, and more. I encourage you to click this link and explore their site and look at the fantastic graphics and information available. 

Straight from NASA’s climate change “causes” site:

Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the "greenhouse effect" — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as "forcing" climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as "feedbacks."

The gases that contribute to this greenhouse effect are water vapor, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons (the infamous compounds that were in hairspray).

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Basically, what all of these block quotes are saying, is that the Earth stays warm naturally through the greenhouse effect, which means heat from the sun is absorbed by naturally occurring greenhouse gases within Earth’s atmosphere. This is fine and good, until something happens that causes the atmosphere to retain more heat than it would be expected to retain naturally. The result of our – uh, how do I put this casually – decadent and careless usage of fossil fuels has caused the atmosphere to have much, much higher concentrations of greenhouse gases. When the concentrations of greenhouse gases are higher, more heat is retained in the atmosphere, leading the Earth to be warmed more than it should be. This is how it’s possible to deduce humans are responsible for this rapid heating; we are aware that burning fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases, and we can reasonably deduce that those higher than natural concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to retain more heat, and the fact that the Earth is heating up only serves to be the metaphorical canary in a coal mine (that’s clever because not only does it work as a good metaphor here, it has the additional layer of being a reference to coal).

This paragraph at the end of that NASA article is necessary here:

In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.

The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years. The panel also concluded there's a better than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth's temperatures over the past 50 years.

I think a thought experiment is appropriate here: if there was a 95% chance that your alcohol consumption was what caused your cirrhosis, leading you to get a liver transplant, are you going to continue drinking alcohol with your new liver hoping it was really the 5% chance it wasn’t your own doing? Don’t forget that we don’t have a second Earth to go to if we destroy this one (sorry, but I’m not putting my faith in Elon Musk’s billionaire pipe dream to civilize Mars).

The Evidence for and Effects of our Negligence

A quote from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

A list of what’s already happening on Earth as a result of our negligence:

  1. Global temperature rise

    • “The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.”

  2. Warming oceans

    • “The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.”

  3. Shrinking ice sheets

    • “The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.”

  4. Glacial retreat

    • “Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.”

    • This is a compelling and genuinely frightening interactive that shows just how truly world-altering this is.

  5. Decreased snow cover

    • “Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.”

  6. Sea level rise

    • “Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century.”

  7. Declining Arctic sea ice

    • “Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.”

  8. Extreme events

    • “The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.”

    • It is likely that Hurricane Harvey was worse due to climate change and that natural disasters will only continue to get worse if we don’t do something to prevent the warming climate from warming further.

  9. Ocean Acidification

    • “Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.”

This article, published in The Atlantic, is a gripping narrative about anthropogenic climate change is already harming communities in the US.

Climate Change Denialism Does Not Deserve Equal Time

As Michael Shermer discussed in this Scientific American piece, “Why Climate Skeptics Are Wrong,” climate change skeptics often seek to disprove the evidence by finding anomalies in the data, but never propose any cogent, coherent, conclusive theory for why the climate is heating in a way that legitimately dismisses the present evidence.


He eloquently described it as this:

Anthropogenic global warming doubters point to the occasional anomaly in a particular data set, as if one incongruity gainsays all the other lines of evidence. But that is not how consilience science works. For AGW skeptics to overturn the consensus, they would need to find flaws with all the lines of supportive evidence and show a consistent convergence of evidence toward a different theory that explains the data.

This is where biases come into play. I don’t believe in the journalistic principle of giving equal time to “both sides” of an issue. The evidence is unequivocal and available; there is no consistent alternative. Why must we pretend there is another side to this? The science is there. The scientific process requires scientists to come up with a hypothesis, then demonstrate evidence that supports or dismisses that hypothesis. Countless scientists have shown that humans are causing the Earth to heat up. Now, I am okay with having different ideas about how to solve this global crisis, but it’s pertinent that anybody that is offering up a solution must first agree that humans are hugely responsible and that a solution must include changing the way we are living and the ways we are destroying our planet.

In Conclusion

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming“97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

We need to solve this issue immediately. It is no longer okay for us to hem and haw about “if this is really happening or not.” The evidence is there. I encourage you to research it further and come to your own conclusions, not from me, not from politicians, but from the experts that spent literally all of their time investigating this potentially catastrophic issue.

It is of vital importance that we solve climate change for many issues, but the most pertinent one might just the terrifying reality that the world's most vulnerable communities will be the ones that are most harmed by climate change.

Let's solve this together.

Further reading

Table of Contents

  1. My New Project: Science Sundays

  2. Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

  3. Science Sundays #2 – Caffeine and Its Effects on The Body

  4. Science Sundays #3 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

  5. Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

  6. Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

  7. Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

TL

Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

Introduction

I wanted my first piece of this project to be something that would demonstrate the different goals I have for this project. I want the topics I write about to be scientific, have real-world implications, to be relevant to my life in some way (that may just be that they are interesting to me), and to be commonly misunderstood.

So I feel like vaccinations are the perfect first topic. They’re obviously scientific and have real-world implications. But they’re also very related to my life and commonly misunderstood. People with cystic fibrosis can have many different types of bacteria that colonize our lungs, so most of us are slightly to severely immunocompromised. People that receive double lung transplants are on immunosuppressants, so they are also at higher risk of getting sick. Though there are vaccines for many types of viruses and bacteria, the one that most of us initially think about is the flu vaccine. It’s easy to mistake the flu for not being a very big deal, but the flu can be life or death for people with suppressed immune systems (or anybody, really). I don’t take lightly to people not getting flu vaccines for what are really inane reasons. I want this piece to enlighten people so they don’t seem like such a mystery and I also want to dispel a lot of common myths, like autism being linked to flu vaccines, or people getting the flu from the vaccine itself.

So let’s get into it!

The Science

Vaccines capitalize on the body’s natural way of combating infection. Essentially, in a natural immune response, there is an antigen – these are molecules on bacteria, viruses, or some other microorganism ­– that the body recognizes which triggers an immune response. Antigens are then targeted by antibodies that should destroy the antigen and prevent any further immune response. Antibodies are tailored to the specific antigens they destroy. Vaccines utilize this strategy to “teach” the body to recognize the antigen.

(Note: I want to keep this relatively basic. I’m not necessarily going to delve deeply into the body’s immune response and all kinds of specific cells. I think that would only complicate and muddy the waters here.)

Vaccines themselves are preparations that contain the ingredients to help provide immunity, preserve, and stabilize the vaccine. Some vaccines also contain antibiotics, growth media, and inactivating ingredients. Vaccines contain either a dead or significantly weakened version of the antigen.

There is a common misconception that vaccines can cause the very infection they are intended to protect against. While there are relatively common small adverse effects and rare serious adverse effects, vaccines are safe. They indeed contain the antigen of the virus or bacteria. There are dead (inactivated) antigen vaccines and attenuated (weakened) antigen vaccines. These antigens are no longer virulent and cannot cause infection, but they do still contain enough of their structural integrity to “teach” the antibodies in the human immune system to recognize that they are foreign invaders. Once the body recognizes the antigens on the infection agent, the body is then equipped to destroy the infectious agent before we can ever get sick. This teaching process takes about two weeks after the vaccination, so it's possible that infectious agents can already be incubating in our body before we ever get vaccinated. Even those these antigens are no longer virulent, they are still foreign objects entering the body. Your body's immune response is what is responsible for the soreness, or some of the other side effects that occur afterward.

There are ways to determine if vaccines are safe and effective. Like all medical interventions, there are FDA guidelines to ensuring that what we put into our bodies is safe and effective. Vaccines are developed and tested in labs before they are ever put into human patients; this is also true for modulators and other drug trials in cystic fibrosis. They first have to be tested for safety then efficacy in small subject populations, then they're tested in a larger population. Once these trials are finished and reviewed, they are recommended for usage. 

Something that infuriates me when it comes to science and medicine is the blatantly erroneous claim that vaccines and autism are linked. First and foremost, the evidence is nonexistent. This isn't up for debate. Vaccines have been administered to tens of millions of children and there has never been a case of a child being diagnosed after vaccination that was attributed to the vaccine. The original paper that (former) doctor Andrew Wakefield published was falsified and fraudulent and retracted from the medical journal in which it was published. This paper is still referenced by prominent anti-vaxxers to this day. This pernicious myth is deadly. There have been resurgences in preventable diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and whooping cough across the world since this study was published, likely due to Wakefield's incompetence and downright deception.

The misunderstanding around vaccines is exactly why I want to do this project. Vaccines aren't scary! They're relatively simple to understand. They are incredibly important. They keep us safe and healthy. They have saved millions of lives. I can sympathize with parents that want the best for their kids; I can't sympathize with carelessness that has no basis in reality and puts vulnerable people at risk.

There is also a little bit of fear around the safety of thimerosal, which is a preservative and is used to prevent microbial growth, in vaccines. There has been ample evidence showing thimerosal is safe, but if you're uncomfortable, there are available formulations of vaccines without thimerosal. The thimerosal controversy is just another arm of the autism argument. Though it is safe, it is being weaned out of usage in the US anyhow.

I also want to talk a bit about another common argument against flu vaccines: they don't actually protect you against the flu. Every single time I hear this discussion, it is almost certainly paired with a single piece of evidence, and flimsy evidence at that: the anecdotal refutation. The "Yeah but my friend got the flu vaccine and still got the flu that year." Influenza is complicated and isn't a single infection, so trying to prepare the flu vaccine for what will be the dominant strain is a difficult science – usually, there are trivalent and quadrivalent formulations that are developed that cover three and four strains respectively. It's hard to predict and the vaccine that gets developed doesn't cover all possible strains. So even though you are protected against what is predicted to be the dominant strain, it's possible to get a different strain and still get sick. With that being said, even if the coverage of strains doesn't match the prominent strains affecting the community, there is still solid evidence suggesting that flu vaccines help make your illness milder, so it's still smart to get vaccinated.

In Conclusion

Vaccines are a medical marvel and the world is a better and much safer place because of their existence. There is no evidence that vaccines and autism are linked, and the overwhelming evidence suggests they are safe for all the populations they are approved for. If you are around me, I ask that you be vaccinated against the flu annually as it protects me as well as yourself. I don't want everybody to take everything I'm writing as gospel and I encourage you to read up on the topics I write about to educate yourself as well. I always welcome genuine good-faith discussions so I would love to hear feedback. 

Next week, I'm trying to decide between a couple of topics that I want to write about! I'm debating between writing about photosynthesis in plants, how caffeine affects the body, or climate change. If you're interested in one of those in particular, please let me know! I would love feedback on if there was anything else I should have included in this, so comment or message me on facebook or whatever to reach out.

Table of Contents

  1. My New Project: Science Sundays

  2. Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

  3. Science Sundays #2 – Caffeine and Its Effects on The Body

  4. Science Sundays #3 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

  5. Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

  6. Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

  7. Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

TL

My New Project: Science Sundays

I studied chemistry and biology in school for one major reason: to develop a better understanding of the underlying science behind cystic fibrosis. I've written about this before, but I believed that having a better understanding of why cystic fibrosis is what it is would give me a better sense of control, and with that, hopefully, a better feeling of peace.

As I grew older, I became fascinated and obsessed with the pursuit of obtaining more knowledge. In everything I do, I am driven by evidence-based methods. I want to ensure I am most efficient by having the best understanding possible of whatever it is I am seeking out to do. An unintended consequence is that I sometimes obsess too much over doing research designing game plans – I make to-do lists for the to-do lists I need to make – that I probably should just let myself burnt by attempting and failing first. I'm trying to be better about having an understanding of something while actively practicing whatever that knowledge is. With this project, I hope to do just that.

I am passionate about science literacy and I love educating others. One of my goals as a writer is to improve science literacy amongst those that are not particularly educated about science, as well as people that do have a decent understanding but want to understand more. I've even noticed that people that do have basic science understanding sometimes have little to no applicable knowledge. 

I don't believe that writing about science has to be boring, tedious, or even as narrow as what's typically labeled as "science." I believe that science is less of a concrete realm and more of an abstract concept, almost more of a way of thinking. This means that it's possible this project will explain classical science issues that I think people are interested in like why leaves change colors or why salt works to prevent ice on roads. But it also means I'll tackle bigger issues – issues unfortunately considered political – like climate change, evolution, and alternative energy. I haven't fully decided (at least with this project) if I'll write about social issues that still require a scientific approach to understanding them.

This project has multiple purposes. I don't want to pretend that I'm a qualified expert to use the knowledge I currently have to explain a wide-reaching array of topics. This is also an exercise for me: educating myself, doing the research, combing through sources, collecting the evidence, then putting it all together and distilling it in a way that is interesting to people. Most of the topics I write about will be topics that could be easily read about on Wikipedia. Instead of expecting people to seek out the knowledge themselves, my goal is to bring the knowledge to whoever is interested in reading about them.

Sadly, I think science is associated with school, which, when you're young, is a requirement. Everything is far less interesting to people when they are required to learn about it. I'd venture to say most adults haven't learned about many scientific topics in quite some time, likely since elementary or middle school. For example, do most people understand how hurricanes occur? Our exposure to hurricanes is whenever they devastate a coastal area and there's a brief news piece on them, maybe barely touching on them.

Before I conclude this piece with a little snippet, I want to give a disclosure. For whatever reason, people think science has recently become political. I want to clear something up about this discussion. What you are trying to understand whenever you utilize the scientific process is inherently not political; the scientific process is trying to understand the physical or natural world to the best of our ability through experiments. However, science and the community itself can become political. This often occurs because of circumstances. Was it political when Darwin wrote about the revolutionary concept of evolution? Absolutely. Was it political when Galileo hypothesized the Sun revolved around the Earth, railing against the immensely powerful Catholic's church accepted doctrine? Unquestionably. Galileo died after being confined to his house for the rest of his life. Heliocentrism and evolution are now accepted by every honest scientist in the world. I never intend to alienate my audience, but I also refuse to accept any arguments to the contrary that lack total evidence. This means I won't provide an "equal but other side" in discussions about climate change and evolution; at most, I will entertain only the most prominent arguments in order to refute them. I think this is important to disclose because this mindset is often derided as being narrow-minded, when, in fact, it's the total opposite. Narrow-mindedness is refusing to accept evidence, not refusing to accept evidence-less arguments.

I hope people are interested in this project. To give people a taste of it, I'm going to give a quick outline of what these pieces will look like. 

An outline:

  • The Real-World Implications about the Issue at hand - Here's where I'll explain why I think people should care about this topic. I'll explain why it's good to understand it so we can all be better educated.

  • The Science Behind the Issue - I'll give a layman's overview at the beginning of the section before getting into the deeper science. I'll try to incorporate graphics or videos if possible to assist in explaining.

  • A Summary – I think this is self-explanatory.

  • What's Next Week? - My goal is to have a decent idea of the next couple of pieces I'm planning to write by the time I publish each piece, so here's where I'll give a little teaser of the next piece.

I just found out that August is National Immunization Awareness Month so since I'm starting this project in August, my first topic will be posted tomorrow and it's about vaccines! I'll discuss how our bodies acquire immunity through vaccinations, the safety of vaccines (spoiler: they are safe), and how there is absolutely zero valuable evidence showing a link between vaccines and autism (and the doctor that fabricated this myth is shockingly no longer a doctor).

I hope people are interested in this project! I'm really excited about it. 

Table of Contents

  1. My New Project: Science Sundays

  2. Science Sundays #1 – Vaccines

  3. Science Sundays #2 – Caffeine and Its Effects on The Body

  4. Science Sundays #3 – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

  5. Science Sundays #4 – Global Warming, Climate Change, or the Unnatural Heating of the Earth’s Climate Due to Human Activity & Negligence

  6. Science Sundays #5 – Evolution, Explained

  7. Science Sundays #6 – Tropical Cyclones: Hurricanes & Typhoons

TL