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02-02-2019, 20:28   #1
Conchir
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An Article a Day

This is a bit of a random one. For the next year, I'm going to pick one thing to do every day for that particular month (for instance, might go vegetarian in June or July, work out every day in May, stuff like that). Anyway, for February I've decided I'm going to read one article (of varying topics, but probably science-based for the most part) every day and put down some thoughts/observations on it. By the end of the month hopefully I'll have learned some things. I thought I'd put my thoughts in here and they might spark a conversation if anyone finds it interesting. I'd like to point out that I'm basically going to browse a couple of websites a day and find an article that sounds interesting; I definitely won't be an expert on these topics or anything, so my observations on them might not be very nuanced if I struggle to come up with things

1st. I started yesterday with an article from the New Yorker about Boyan Slat, a Dutch entrepreneur working on ocean plastics pollution. He has proposed a solution to plastic pollution in the North Pacific, basically a large boom that collects surface plastic so it can be transported to the US for recycling. He seems enthusiastic and managed to raise a lot of money in the form of donations. However, having done some research on ocean plastics (in particular microplastics) before, I share some doubts or concerns raised in the article. Large pieces of plastic lying on the surface are actually a very small part of total plastics pollution. In fact, we don't know where the vast majority of plastic entering the oceans actually ends up, but it doesn't stay on the surface. At the same time, much plastic breaks down into tiny pieces of microplastic, which I imagine will be small enough to pass through the net attached to this boom. No doubt he's raising awareness of a massive issue, but the emphasis may be on the wrong areas.

Upon launch, the boom was towed to its site in the Pacific and began operation, but it hasn't been working as planned and hasn't been collecting plastic. At the moment it is in Hawaii for repairs, so we'll see where it goes next. You can track it here: https://www.theoceancleanup.com/system001/

Just a couple of interesting points from the article, random snippets: a study found that microplastic pieces were in 83% of tap water samples taken; the idea of "extended producer responsibility" was brought up, where companies that produced a product remain liable for it after it has been disposed of (interesting idea, but I imagine very difficult to implement).


2nd. Today I read a much shorter article from New Scientist discussing some recent work published on Neandertals. Previously it was thought that Neandertals lasted the longest in the Iberian Peninsula, from where they went extinct around 35 ka. However, new evidence points to the arrival of Homo sapiens arriving there much earlier, around 43 ka. The line of evidence is a shift from Neandertal stone tools to Homo sapiens tools, which they have dated to about 43 ka. They suggest that Neandertals may have died out around the same time.

Again, I learned a bit about human origins before (took a module on it in college). I find it interesting that wherever modern humans show up, megafauna already living there (or other human species) tend to go extinct pretty quickly. Africa seems to be the major exception, the suggestion is that megafauna living there have developed alongside humans (hominins, not Homo sapiens) for millions of years, giving them a fighting chance. On other continents, they've had to contend with humans arriving and spreading out much much quicker, and thus aren't able to adapt. Though with non-African populations these days having a few percent Neandertal DNA, it seems to be more a case of assimilation than extinction in this case. Interesting article, but given how short it is there's not much in it.





So I know this forum doesn't get much traffic, but I thought this kind of fit in with its purpose. Let's see what happens with this oh and if anyone finds the doing-random-things-for-a-month idea interesting too, feel free to reply about that! I haven't come up with something for every month yet so would welcome suggestions
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03-02-2019, 22:04   #2
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I'll keep posting in this for a few more days, then might just keep my thoughts to myself if there are still no replies

3rd. Following on from yesterday (kind of) I read this article, and the Science journal article it's based on. They discuss the strong relationship between large mammal extinctions and hominin dispersal throughout the Pleistocene (about 2.6 million years ago to present). Over the Pleistocene, large mammal species have been much more likely to go extinct than small mammal species. This reduction in large mammal species matches hominin dispersal patterns throughout the Pleistocene. The implication is that when humans turn up in a part of the world, the large mammals in the area are pretty screwed. The effect was most severe in the Americas, though every continent has been affected.

One interesting point is that extinctions of small animals are today increasing, due to habitat loss and urbanisation. Previously, they would have slipped under the radar as it were.
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05-02-2019, 00:10   #3
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4th. I've unintentionally gone down an environmental route so far with this, as today I read a pretty short Guardian opinion piece on fracking and opposition to it in the UK. Thankfully (imo) local opposition and environmentally-grounded opposition have aligned on this, making it very unlikely that fracking will be making an appearance in the UK any time soon. They apparently have a legal limit of 0.5 magnitude seismic activity, making fracking virtually impossible anyway. There are some calls that this is unrealistically low, though as I'd be opposed to fracking myself I'm not too worried about that.

The range of stuff I've been reading so far has been fairly narrow so I think tomorrow I'm going to try find something completely different.
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06-02-2019, 00:20   #4
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5th. Went a little different today with an article originally published in Sports Illustrated detailing the highs and lows of the Permian High School football team in Texas. It was the basis for the TV show Friday Night Lights and some others. I watched the show and have seen bits of the film, but I never really considered that it was based on a real school and real people. I find American high school and college sports fascinating, but I also think its pretty sad at times. All these young people with all this pressure, doing all they can to get a college scholarship or a professional contract. If it doesn't work out they almost always stop playing their sport for good, never touch it again, and that massive part of their life is over. It all seems a bit grim at times. I also just wonder where they all are now (but I don't really want to know at the same time).
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