A Better Plan

I’ve updated my research plan, again. It’s becoming a hobby. Now with improved narrative, and references to attest to its scholarly character.

arid vegetation in volcanic matrix

Photos from Southwestern Research

2 months ago I was wandering around in rented cars, waking up to the dawn in improvised Forest Service campgrounds, cooking up bacon and eggs and coffee on camp stoves, breaking down my tent then rushing out into the piñon-juniper woodlands with a gps antenna magneted to my bandanna, a compass around my neck and a camera in my hand, documenting the landscapes that were going to become my study sites. I would drive and hike around in a rush to look at things until I decided I had to look at something in particular very slowly. Then I would stare at it. Mostly bushes and trees and soil and water courses. Also hills and valleys. I visited Sierra Vista and Tombstone and Arizona and Flagstaff and Cedar Ridge and Tuba City, and mostly places in between, like Cochise County and the San Pedro River and the Coconino forest and Waputki and the Little Colorado canyon and the rangelands of Navajo Nation. I took a train to New Mexico and did similar things there. Then I took a train home. It was a good time. There was a lot I missed because I was in a hurry to look at semi-arid vegetation, but there was a lot I saw because I was looking for semi-arid vegetation. I wrote about it a bit here.

Because I had a camera in my hand and because New Mexico and especially Arizona are so damn visual, I took a lot of photos. I’ve finally posted some of them up here.

rental car in coconino rangeland

My Standoff With the Google Earth Conference Ends Amiably

Annoyed that I apparently couldn’t attend the Scientific Applications with Google Earth Conference without registering with the “Google Checkout” financial system, I emailed to ask if there were any other payment methods available. Well, I waited for a couple of weeks for their “Contact Us” link to go live, then once I had an email address to email to, I emailed it. No response came, then a form request that I complete the sign-up by joining Google Checkout. I was worried I was going to have to show up thrusting a greasy $20 bill at whoever looked official, but I’ve now received assurance that if I just bring a check with me everything will be fine.

So that’s all good then. Not that the informational aspects of our public and private lives has ceased to be increasingly mediated and recorded by a single for-profit stockholder-beholden corporate entity. But at least you can pay for their scientific conferences by check.

Research Plan

For the curious, I’ve posted a more detailed version of my thesis research plan. Which is currently being executed.

Also, I’m nearly done developing some of my photos from my summer research trip, and that gallery will be up soon.

coconino forest from the high road

Celebrating An Ecologist I Don’t Quite Know

Chris Darimont is a wolf researcher who used to hang out with some of the people I used to hang out with in Victoria. As a wolf researcher, he claims traditional pride of place amongst the tribe of ecologists. As such, your contemporary future-looking ecologist might be tempted to disparage him as a megafauna fetishist, but I gather he actually does some interesting, post-Mowat research.

So it’s nice to see that the Government of Canada has equipped him with an NSERC grant and posted him off to Southern California. Other NSERC fellows I have known have found great success in these United States before returning to enrich the Dominion. And Chris is drawn towards the human side of the picture, so good luck with that, I’ll follow when I figure the I’m up for it.

Journals of Negative Results

Science holds a suspicious bias against publishing negative results. Negative data is still data, if it is unequivocally so. If someone undertakes to demonstrate a relationship which we would expect, based on existing theory, to exist, and that relationship cannot be found, then that person has made a significant contribution to our understanding. If you in your work as a research scientist have ever been startled to discover such a missing relationship, then you probably didn’t publish or couldn’t publish on that result. Perhaps some other scientist is even now repeating your experiment, because you were unable to reach them with this information through the typical approach of academic publishing. When they get their results, they probably won’t publish either.

This is macho nonsense, and looks like a serious hole in the fuselage of the scientific enterprise.

I sometimes complain that I’d like to found a “Journal of Negative Results” to counter this bias. It turns out one already exists (hooray!):

Journal of Negative Results

They’ve been publishing studies which “test novel or established hypotheses/theories that yield negative or dissenting results” since 2004. Albeit sparsely. From the first volume, Temperature and desiccation do not affect aggregation behaviour in high shore littorinids in north-east England, is just the kind of study we need to see.

Even more exciting is that there is also a real, very serious, not-just-to-make-a-point,

Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine

which has been been publishing peer-reviewed work since 2002. For example, one of the most-accessed articles from the journal is Quantitative competitive reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction is not a useful method for quantification of CD4 and CD8 cell status during HIV infection.

Next step: get the JoNegRes for Ecology and Environmental Biology up to full steam. I need that information.

Absolute Joy in Domains of True Uncertainty

After getting irritated at humankind’s inability to accept that some things are genuinely uncertain, I open my podcasting device and hey presto:

Resilience: Adaptation and Transformation in Turbulent Times — A World Of Possibilities, May 6th

It opens with Buzz Holling (who NRE 580 alumnus will remember for panarchy theory) on adaptation, uncertainy, adeterminism, non-equilibrium, and such like in the general world. Then it moves onto Brian Walker talking about much of the same in ecosystem management, plus control fetishism. Then it moves on from there. Recorded at a Stockhlom conference on applying biology-based resilience theory to social systems. The idea of which is now creeping me out. Except that maybe, just maybe, this is a group of people that can be trusted to think rationally across disciplines. Maybe. Anyhow, it’s good listening.

Brian Walker’s talk reminded me of a lecture on conservation management from my undergrad, wherein Thom Nudds announced that if you manage to get an ecosystem to not cycle you’ve flatlined it, so congratulations on that.

RAND: When Academics Attack

All Your Tomorrows Today is a Ken Hollings/BBC documentary about the early days of RAND Corporation. Assembled by Curtis LeMay’s post-war Airf Force and highly influential to US cold war political strategy, the RAND people were early systems thinkers, and their systems were comprised largely of nations and nuclear weapons. They desired rationality on topics that don’t lend themselves to rationality. And perhaps shouldn’t, but don’t suggest that to the main characters in this story.

I particularly like one critic’s suggestion that RAND generated a “rumor of war”, which is his term for a set of disjointed facts which give the illusion of representing the whole truth. These people are what Dean Bavington would decry as ‘epistimological’ complexity thinkers. They are willing to see the world as complex, but only as an intermediary step to understanding it deterministically. And just think, they had the ear of the people who had their finger on the button.

And yes, there is coverage of the invention of the internet. I knew the standard story about it being a communication system meant to withstand a nuclear strike, but I didn’t realize just how literally and directly that was true. Although set in the Santa Monica sun, the whole story is frankly spooky.

Google Earthing Cow Directions

Here’s a fun bit of Google Earth-utilizing research:

Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer, Begall et al, PNAS

“We demonstrate by means of simple, noninvasive methods (analysis of satellite images, field observations, and measuring “deer beds” in snow) that domestic cattle (n = 8,510 in 308 pastures) across the globe, and grazing and resting red and roe deer (n = 2,974 at 241 localities), align their body axes in roughly a north–south direction.”

Apparently this work follows on from previous research the team has done on the sensing of magnetic fields by naked mole rats. In this case, they used Google Earth to scroll around looking for cows, then once they had documented 8510 of them, decided they tend to lie down facing north-south. And likewise for deer.

Here’s some more
from NPR.

“Holland says that other researchers should confirm the finding. One way of doing that would be to “start going out and putting magnets on the heads of cows and horses and deer, to see how that affects them,” he says. “That’s one of the more traditional ways of testing if they have a magnetic sense.”

If they really do have an internal compass, he says, the magnet would mess it up.”

Humankind Journeys Into the Particles

I’m not sure what metric you would use to measure an Apollo Project, but it seems as though the Large Hadron Collider may be an Apollo-scale project. Everything custom-built, the tolerances are minute, and the scale and complexity is unthinkable. And it’s almost done.

A physicist I met at a party explained to me that a fundamental paradigm regarding the way matter is organized will be confirmed or contra-indicated pretty much as soon as they turn the thing on. I don’t remember the details, but I remember being deeply impressed. Then somebody started fighting.

From CERN User’s Pages:

Special Announcements

LHC access
Please consult new access conditions before entering the tunnel

Important information for all regular CERN dosimeter holders: Do not forget to read your dosimeter, even if you have not entered the controlled radiation areas

Information importante pour les utilisateurs de dosimètre régulier : N’oubliez pas de lire votre dosimètre, même si vous n’êtes pas entrés dans les zones contrôlées

Prevention – Diagnosis – Eliminating noise
4 to 8 August 2008, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Infirmary, Bld. 57

Prévention – Dépistage – Stop au bruit
du 4 au 8 août 2008, de 9h à 16h, Infirmerie, Bât. 57

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