Newest Medal Of Freedom Recipients Include Figures In Science And Science Policy

President Obama recognized the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier today in a ceremony at the White House.  It’s the highest civilian honor a president can bestow for services to the country, and this year’s group include two people recognized for their contributions to science or science policy.

Katherine Johnson is a mathematician whose work for the government included service at NASA and its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).  Her 33 year career at both agencies included calculations critical to every human spaceflight program from Mercury through the Space Shuttle.  As one of the first African American women who worked for NACA and NASA, Johnson has also worked hard to encourage other women and minorities to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Also recognized this week is William Ruckelshaus, a two-time Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  He was the first to head the agency, serving from 1970-1973 under President Nixon.  Ruckelshaus instituted the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT.  He returned to the agency as President Reagan’s second EPA Administrator from 1983-1985.  Ruckelshaus also served as Deputy Attorney General and Acting FBI Director during the Nixon Administration, and was involved in environmental protection matters during the 1960s in Indiana.  Now living in Washington state, Ruckelshaus has kept active in local and national ocean and environmental matters, being appointed to various panels by both President Clinton and President George W. Bush.

Congratulations to both Ruckelshaus and Williams, and the other medal recipients.

Manhattan Project National Historical Park Open-ish For Visits

On Tuesday the Department of Energy and the National Park Service (NPS) signed the official memorandum of agreement to establish the Manhattan Project Historical Park.  This does not mean that you can immediately visit the sites in the park (Hanford, Washington; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Los Alamos, New Mexico) and see lots of new signs and National Park Service-style displays and rangers and such.  This agreement marks the end of the beginning for the park’s development.

The NPS estimates it will take two years to complete planning for the parks, and another three to five years to prepare the sites for public access.  This planning and implementation will be done in cooperation with the Department of Energy, which still operates facilities at each of the sites.

This does not mean that you cannot visit these places.  For the Hanford and Oak Ridge sites there are already means to tour some of the historical facilities.  Walking tours of the town of Los Alamos are the best available option for the foreseeable future.

(The Bruggeman Agricultural Warehouse Complex at the Hanford site has, as far as I know, no direct connection to my family, even though I grew up within 30 miles of the place.  Further research may prompt me to revise that statement, or at least clarify whether the same spelling is involved.)

Science Television Beginnings And Endings

Today is the last day of shooting on MythBusters.  The episodes shot over the last few weeks won’t air until next year, but offices are being cleaned out and things are wrapping up (perhaps as I am typing this).  Adam Savage has been posting photos to various online platforms.  While he and Jamie Hyneman will be touring the country through the end of the year, the end of shooting will likely mark the last time that they will be making non-fiction television together (they are executive producers on a scripted series loosely based on their effects work and CBS has provided a script commitment).  The last batch of episodes will start airing on Discovery in the U.S. in January.

Going Deep with David Rees returns to television tonight for its second season.  The program has changed networks (it was on the National Geographic Channel last season), but not its focus.  Each episode a seemingly simple task will be analyzed as Rees seeks to figure out how to do it.  Tonight’s episode is on petting dogs (followed by a repeat of the fly swatting episode), and everyone’s favorite Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, visits David to help him with his task.  The first season was available for streaming on Hulu, but aren’t there at the moment.


Science Culture On The Weekend – New Science With Tom Video, New Season Of StarTalk

First, while I’ll note more about this in the regular late night post, Thursday night’s episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert did indeed include a segment with both Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson sitting down with Stephen Colbert and talking space news.  It was delayed by football in most of the country, so you may have missed it on your television.  The full episode is available online (for free for a few days), as well as clips.  Again, I’ll have more on Monday.

This weekend you can watch two late night hosts on one show.  Larry Wilmore, host of The Nightly Show, is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s special guest on StarTalk.  That episode premieres on Sunday night. Tyson has appeared on The Nightly Show, and Wilmore prompted a showdown with Tyson over their respective credentials as blerds – black nerds.  Tyson will be joined in studio by frequent co-host Eugene Mirman and Scott Weems, a cognitive neuroscientist that has researched comedy.

Last Sunday was the season premiere with former President Bill Clinton.  It had, arguably, the most science policy and science communication discussions on StarTalk, at least in its television version.  Besides Tyson’s in-studio co-host (Chuck Nice) and guest – Juan Enriquez, an expert on the economic and political impacts of life sciences – there was a video chat with Richard Muller, author of Physics for Future Presidents, former climate change skeptic and professor of physics.  I think, based on what Tyson says in this episode, that he is a bit naïve, or ill informed, about the roles of science advisers and science ministers in government.  I think Chuck Nice had a lovely point about our leaders having intellectual curiosity – that it can have a beneficial trickle-down effect through the citizenry.

I’ll end this post, and open the weekend, with the latest video from Tom McFadden.  It’s all his doing, this cell division song based on the latest Drake track, “Hotline Bling.”

Have a lovely weekend.  Me, I’ll be trying to stay up through the epic MythBusters marathon on The Science Channel.

Rap Guide To Religion Out Now From Brinkman

The Canadian love continues this week.  Today marks the official release of the audio version of Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Religion, available in electronic and physical forms via his website, Bandcamp, and other online providers.  This album comes from the show of the same name that he developed in 2014. It focuses on the evolution of religious instincts.  It’s not so much the dogma as the reason(s) it exists and the benefits it might provide.  As Brinkman says,

“This album tackles the OTHER big questions of religion, such as “How did faith evolve?”, “Does it serve any adaptive purpose today?”, and “Is religion an adaptation, a byproduct of an adaptation, or a virus of the mind?”

As is his custom since at least the Rap Guide to Evolution, Brinkman has submitted his raps to relevant researchers for a musical peer review.  Credited in this album are John Teehan, Michael Blume, Stewart Guthrie, Richard Sosis, David Sloan Wilson, and Jonathan Haidt.  These are anthropologists, social psychologists, and others who research religion and/or evolution.  If that isn’t sufficiently persuasive as to Brinkman’s rigor, he has references for each track on the album’s Bandcamp page.

And Brinkman has good flow, with production support from Mr. Simmonds (his frequent theatrical partner), Tom Karuana (who co-wrote several tracks), and Soulful Spider.  Videos are forthcoming (and no, I am not in any of them this time around).  Brinkman remains a good listen, and if you keep your ears open, your mind will get engaged.

White House Hosts Second Astronomy Night; Goes Back To Future Wednesday

On Monday night the White House hosted its second Astronomy Night (the first was in 2009).  While on the face of it this event may seem distinct from the Science Fairs, Maker Faires and Demo Days hosted by the White House, they are all done with a similar goal – making the case for additional commitments (by the government and other parties) to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.  This time the special guests included Bill Nye the Science Guy, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman from MythBusters, and several NASA personnel.  You can watch Adam and Jamie talk with several attendees, and see the President’s remarks online.

I think one thing that might be gleaned from this is that science boosterism might get attention from an Administration if it is as closely linked to education as it has with the current President.  But that’s a supposition.

As with the 2009 event, the President spoke briefly, and took a look at a celestial object via a reflecting telescope.  This time it was a young student who guided the President rather than his chief science adviser, and it was for the better.  Also for the better was the inclusion of more than 80 different events across the country, involving schools museums and National Parks.

On Wednesday the White House is taking advantage of the date – October 21, 2015 – to host an event focused on the future.  (For those who haven’t figured it out, October 21, 2015 is the date in the future visited by characters in the movie Back to the Future Part II.)  All morning tomorrow (sorry west coast people) there will be online presentations and discussions on various issues related to science and technology over the next 30 years (since it was 30 years ago when the film leaped into the future).  Hopefully more than the Google Hangout will be archived for future viewing.

Second Episode Of Science With Tom Gets Cell Deep

Tom McFadden released his second episode of Science With Tom earlier this month.  The episode focuses on cell structure and function, and his guest scientists is Jasmaine Williams, who is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford’s School of Medicine working in cancer biology.  Here’s the episode, but you want to make sure to watch the full list of video connected to it.

As with each episode, you want to catch the music video and reading suggestion.  If you’re inclined to make your own contribution, there’s an instrumental verse in the music video that could use your rhymes.  Quality video submissions will be under consideration for a mixtape of Verse Two, which I find intriguing.

McFadden is already teasing episode three, which will cover body systems (and some microbial business).