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A Call for Unity… and Science

in Science & Technology by

2020 has been no normal year. It has been full of unpredictability, which makes us uncomfortable. COVID-19 has changed how we interact with each other. Our ability to have the human connection we so desire has been difficult, especially from six feet apart. Having a presidential election in the middle of this unprecedented year has further divided America. Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed these divisions at a time when we should all be unifying and doing our part to help others. 

Politicizing science as a democratic or republican issue is utterly ridiculous. Wearing a mask (or not) should not be a political statement. Public health experts are giving the American public the best advice and information they can to help save lives and get us out of this mess.  It is deeply disappointing and disturbing when these experts are referred to as idiots and their message minimized, either for political gain or the selfish desire to do whatever you want. This has created an atmosphere where many people do not trust the scientists, which has caused this crisis to spiral out of control with no clear end in sight.

So what can we do to make the situation better?  We can listen to the medical experts who are trying their best to help us get out of this mess. We can all wear a mask, social distance, and wash our hands frequently. We can also educate ourselves and tone down the political rhetoric. We should be able to disagree with someone politically without challenging their character.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which many people do not feel comfortable sharing their political views for fear of what others might think of them, or worse, losing a friend.  But we as Americans need to take off our partisan hats and realize that this pandemic cannot be solved by division and hate, it can be solved only by coming together as a nation to listen and follow the guidelines laid out by our nation’s best health experts. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can get what we all desire: predictability and a sense of normalcy.

A Cry for Help Before It Is Too Late

in Climate Change by

I howled for your attention as I billowed and rumbled across Louisiana in 2005. I was reaching out trying to express the pain you were causing me, but you only saw me as “Hurricane Katrina.” In 2010, I roared for help again when I ripped apart the earth in Haiti. I was trying to release the pain I was feeling inside. You still didn’t see me, and only referred to me as “the Haiti earthquake.” I cried again in November 2020, sobbing out of control. The anguish from my tears created a “supertyphoon” that entrenched the shores of the Philippines. And currently, parts of me have been erupting in flames on the west coast for months. Yet, you still don’t see me. You only refer to the “wildfires” burning in California. Now, I am begging and pleading for each one of you to help me! My desire is for you to realize the pain you are causing me. I am the Earth, and I am dying! This is my cry for help before it is too late!

Climate change is a topic that is prevalent around the world. In 2019, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg delivered a speech to world leaders calling for them to take action on climate change, generating support for reform around the world. Facing climate change is a topic that feels like a herculean task whether you believe in it or not. However, there is scientific evidence that highlights the Earth’s drastic changes through historical data. 

Sooner rather than later, all of us will feel the effects of climate change. Your favorite vacation destinations will lose what could be called the eighth wonder of the world: snow. Some of the world’s most famous places for a nice, relaxing day on the beach, will either be underwater, or too warm to be habitable. 

Global warming affects our lands, oceans, and air we breathe. According to NASA, Earth’s average temperature has increased about 2.05 degrees since the 19th century. NASA pinpoints this change to increased carbon and man-made emissions in the atmosphere. Since 1969, the oceans have warmed more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit. There is more ocean acidification than ever before, a decrease in snow cover, glaciers retreating, and increasing sea levels. Many islands in the world are slowly sinking due to rising sea levels. The Bahamas was 60 percent underwater when Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019. Fiji, the Maldives, and Seychelles are all vulnerable to going underwater if sea levels continue to rise. Ice sheets have decreased in mass between the years 1993 to 2019. Antarctica has lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year, while Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year. If this constant cycle persists, then Greenland will really be green instead of covered in ice.

Reading this scientific evidence should give you a sense of urgency. Even if you don’t live in places that are being affected by the evidence previously mentioned, you should know that climate change also causes extreme weather. NASA reports that since 1950, the number of record high temperatures in the United States have been increasing, while the number of record low temperatures have been decreasing. In addition, NASA states that the U.S. has also seen an increase in the number of intense rainfall events. Earlier this year, Death Valley, California, recorded the hottest air temperature measured since 1913. At 134 degrees Fahrenheit, this temperature literally broke thermometers! If Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit didn’t plan for his scale to reach that high of a temperature when he invented it, what does that say about the direction that Earth is headed? 

There are people that don’t believe climate change is real. They feel that the change in climate is attributed to the Earth’s natural behavior or cycle. They point to evidence that the Earth has fluctuated in temperature throughout history. And, humans have been able to adapt to those changes. For example, in 1789, a volcano in Iceland caused a massive eruption that wiped out livestock by the masses. Known as the Laki eruption, the volcano’s explosion caused global temperature cooling for the next few years. While this is a specific occurrence in history where the temperature shifted, the evidence that climate change existed is overwhelming. Currently, greenhouse gases are releasing carbon dioxide at higher rates than ever before in history. There has been a constant rate of increase in global temperature in the air and oceans. The increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has led to drastic effects on the environment, including endangering animal species and marine life across the planet. 

If learning about the factors that are fueling climate change concern you, do not feel distressed! You still have the ability to wipe away my tears. There are many quick and efficient solutions that you can do in the comfort of your home. For example, plant a garden or help clean a beach! Switch to LED lightbulbs. Walk or bike more instead of driving. When you are not using a plug, pull it out of the outlet. If you feel inclined to take a step further, invest in renewable energy, or change your diet to a more plant-based alternative. Encourage others not to litter, or even start recycling! Most importantly, educate others! You do not have to be a world leader, a celebrity, or even Bill Nye The Science Guy to make a positive impact on me. A little help from everyone can be a BIG help to me. As Helen Keller once said: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” I am asking for your help. It’s time that ALL of you step up and help save me!

Racial Disparities During the Covid-19 Pandemic

in Science & Technology/Social Issues by

So far, the Covid-19 virus has taken the lives of over 420,000 people worldwide. In the United States alone, there have been over 2,000,000 confirmed cases, and 117,000 deaths. African-Americans have accounted over one third of coronavirus fatalities, even though they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. So why is this? Pre existing inequities tied to race, socio-economic status, and access to healthcare are contributing factors as to why there are a disproportionate number of deaths between black and white people. In Wisconsin, African-Americans are only 6 percent of the population, but make up 40 percent of Covid-19 deaths. Socio-economic disparities between communities of color and white people have led to a difference in health outcomes due to lack of accessible resources for many inner city communities. Covid-19 has brought to light the impact of years of environmental racism and systemic oppression. As a direct result of slavery, colonization, and segregation, people of color have been forced to occupy inner city neighborhoods, which are much more susceptible to infection than suburbs or affluent parts of the city. People of color have never been as successful as their white counterparts because of generations of violence against them. On top of that, the government has enforced capitalism as a system grounded in white colonialism to ensure POC continue to live life in the cycle of poverty. Food deserts, medical apartheid, and poor air quality are just a few factors that contribute to higher rates of heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure in inner city neighborhoods. These diseases leave individuals with compromised immune systems and leads to a lower survival rate of Covid-19. In hospitals and centers where Covid-19 is being treated, there have been far too many occasions when doctors and nurses disregard black patients. This stems from the false stereotype that black people can sustain pain more than white people, and they therefore receive less or no treatments. Bringing forth equality in the U.S. will only come once everyone acknowledges the systemic racism and oppression that marginalized groups face in this country, and actively work to reconstruct these systems.



Artificial Intelligence: An Investment in the Future

in Miscellaneous/Science & Technology by

On September 7th, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled its next large investment: artificial intelligence. DARPA plans to invest close to $2 billion dollars in a program known as “AI Next.” The promise? DARPA director Steven Walker wants to “transform computers from specialized tools to problem-solving partners.”

DARPA, which leads research for the U.S. Department of Defense, announced its plan during its 60th Anniversary Conference, marking a landmark date in both the history of defense and the transition towards artificial intelligence. Authorized by President Eisenhower in 1959, DARPA’s desire to pour resources into the development of artificial intelligence is beneficial to the US, especially as rival countries such as China, India and France have begun prioritizing AI. The goal of DARPA is to match the methods that humans learn to how AI can process information. Once this is attainable, basic functions such as making a bed or tying shoelaces (Nike has already introduced this) can be done with the press of a button or a word spoken. Personally, I believe that the nation should seriously consider allocating as much as possible towards fueling the artificial intelligence boom. The economy is moving towards technology, and in order to remain globally competitive, investing in artificial intelligence is key.

By increasing the usage of artificial intelligence, basic tasks and impossible problems alike can be done easily. DARPA should continue its research and  pursue an eventual goal of making artificial intelligence a staple in every future American household.






GMOs: Greatness Made Obtainable

in Political Issues/Science & Technology by

The era of modern technology has brought a promising addition to the food production and nutrition industry: GMOs.  GMOs, genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals in which we as humans have altered the sequence of its DNA to produce desired results.  For instance, some plants are modified to be resistant to pesticides, able to grow in certain environments, or even taste differently. As this trend has increased in the world, however, there has been growing opposition to its implementation.  85% of US corn is genetically modified along with 95% of sugar beets and many different crops used in everyday foods. “Non-GMO” has become another fad in the health community on a list that includes “organic” and “gluten-free,” but are GMOs proven to be bad for our health?

On nonGMOproject.org (anti-GMO), it states that any scientific consensus on GMOs is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated by the media.” Even those who wish to see the disappearance of GMOs cannot truthfully claim any scientific backing to their negative effects. Though there have been no conclusive tests that prove negative effects from GMOs (and some that prove the opposite), in one survey 57% of the public states they would not buy genetically modified food (though a vast majority of those likely have).  The natural fear of “science hocus pocus” in our foods prevents people of the world from accurately realizing the positive truth behind modern biotechnology. Not only are there no proven scientific negatives to modern genetic modification, but humans have been doing similar processes through artificial selection for centuries. Neil Degrasse Tyson on GMOs:

“What most people don’t know but they should is that practically every food they buy in the store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild seedless watermelons. There’s no wild cows, there’s no long stem roses growing in the wild – even though we don’t eat roses. You list all the fruit and all the vegetables and ask yourself is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is it’s not as large it’s not as sweet it’s not as juicy and it has way more seeds in it.

We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables, and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated. It’s called artificial selection. That’s how we genetically modify. Now we can do it in a lab and all of a sudden you’re gonna complain? If you’re the complainer type go back and eat the apples that grow in the wild.”

Pre-modification banana  

The negative stigma surrounding GMOs must be stopped; not just because it is incorrect, but because the potential benefits of improved genetic modification are astounding.  The first benefit is the significantly increased efficiency of GMO farms. Between 1996 and 2012, crop biotechnology (including genetic modification) was responsible for an additional 122 million tonnes of soybeans and 231 million tonnes of corn. GM crops are allowing farmers to grow more without using additional land. Without this technology in 2012, the same level of global production would have required addition plantings of a total of 15.1 million hectares of land, equivalent to 9% of the arable land in the US or 24% of the arable land in Brazil. Population is rapidly increasing, and we will soon direly need maximum efficiency out of our arable land that only GMOs can provide.  This increased efficiency is also extremely beneficial to the environment. A UK report stated:

Crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2012) by 503 million kg (-8.8%). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for nearly two crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to biotech crops by 18.7%.

As our environment is in dire need of assistance that our country is currently not offering (see: https://www.specsjs.com/2018/01/17/environmental-issues-are-heating-up/), improved GMOs are essential for the future of our planet.  Furthermore, through a process called biofortification, crops can actually be made more nutritious and containing certain vitamins necessary for survival in impoverished areas.  One of the worst cases of malnutrition comes from a lack of vitamin A. 250,000-500,000 children a year go blind from vitamin A deficiency, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.  We have developed a genetically modified strain of rice called “golden rice” that could counteract this tragic trend in areas where rice is a stable food. Partially due to GMO opposition, this rice has not been totally distributed.  Though it was ready for distribution in 2002, Scientific American calculates that delays caused by an anti-GMO sentiment have cost 1,440,000 years of potential life (most of the deaths have been small, malnourished children).  

GMOs are the totally beneficial, necessary wave of the future. Though I think it is fine for us to label them as we would any other nutritional information, we need to take steps as a society to ensure the correct information is understood by the public rather than fear-mongering at vege co-ops saying that scientists are messing up our broccoli’s DNA.  I believe that embracing advancements in technology is essential to the well-being of the people of the world, and GMOs are no different.

Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards
Product of Errant Publishing Co.


Concussions: The Hard Hitting Impact They Have

in Science & Technology by

The stadium erupts.  Fans are yelling in support, the guys next to you are fist bumping, and the cheerleaders are dancing and shouting.  Your team’s safety just leveled the opposing team’s wide receiver, and you couldn’t be happier.  While big plays like this are adrenaline pumping and rack up millions of views on youtube, it’s the allure to disaster that draws the viewer in.  Few people think about the wide receiver on the ground, helmet off, being checked out by the medical staff.  Everyone remembers the safety who put him there.  These types of plays, and football’s nature of hard hits and violent impacts, are why many parents are not allowing their kids to play youth football.  A recent study researched by Boston University proved that kids who began play tackle football after the age of 12 had significantly fewer cognitive and behavioral problems than those who began playing before 12.  The human brain rapidly develops between the ages of 10 and 12, and this is the impetus for a movement many scientists are pushing for: no tackle football until a child is in their teenage years.  Parents, coaches, and leagues are starting to take notice.  Pop Warner, the biggest youth football league in the country, has reduced contact in practice, changed game rules, and even banned kickoffs, one of the most dangerous and violent aspects of the game.  It is estimated that children from 9-12 playing tackle football can sustain 240-585 hits to the head each season.  While new CTE data is coming out frequently, we all know one thing: football is bad for your brain.  And yes, precautions have been taken to make football safer, players get ejected for targeting and rules about when and who to block have changed, there is still a brain injury problem ominously hanging around the sport of football.  Am I saying we should stop playing football? Absolutely not.  All I am saying is that more work needs to be done to protect our players on the field, so they can live a life off the field.  This could be done with improved helmets, more flag football being played while young, or new scientific breakthroughs.  Whatever the fix may be, we need to find it soon. Until then, we should probably stop celebrating the bone crunching hits and try to solve our concussion conundrum.  

Graphic Design by Jack Trent
Product of Errant Publishing Co.

Slides from Mr. Hegeman’s Climate Change Presentation

in Political Issues/Science & Technology by

If you have any lingering questions about Climate Change, feel free to email ehegeman@sjs.org for more information.

Created by Mr. Hegeman


Net Neutrality and the Future of the American Economy

in Science & Technology by

On December 14th, 2017, the FCC (Federal Communications Committee), led by attorney Ajit Pai, voted to repeal the laws that mandated net neutrality. Unsurprisingly, their decision sparked public outrage, and garnered bipartisan opposition.

It wasn’t long before politicians began to fight for new laws protecting neutrality, and state attorneys general began to file lawsuits. To fully understand the effects of its repeal, it is crucial to understand what net neutrality is.

Net neutrality (or more specifically, Title II) was legislation adopted in 2015 under the Obama administration, which required that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) treat all data equally, regardless of “user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.”* For example, this means that data being transferred to you from Hulu could not be intentionally slowed because the ISP has a deal with Netflix, a competitor. A metaphorical “fast lane” would be created for companies able to pay ISPs for prioritization, and the rest of the businesses who don’t pay would be put into the “slow/normal lane”.  Net neutrality ensured free and open internet to all, and allowed for smaller companies to grow because their content was treated the same as bigger companies. However, this idea of net neutrality came under attack at the end of last year.

This is our wondrous FCC chairman, Ajit Pai. He believes that repealing net neutrality would lead to the creation of “next generation networks”, and see “unparalleled innovation and investment going forward.” Essentially, by steamrolling small businesses, larger corporations would generate more revenue that they could then use to advance technology. Unsurprisingly, he has led the FCC in the fight against net neutrality. He sure looks highly qualified to do so… So, nevermind all that technical stuff, what does the repeal of net neutrality mean for you?

The New York Times argues that the repeal in net neutrality will lead to ISPs “bundling internet” packages, similar to how cable packages are sold right now **. If you want access to Facebook for example, you may have to purchase an internet bundle that has a social media package. Portugal already has a system like this, shown below.

Pretty scary right? It could well become reality in the near future for Americans. We may see the end of many smaller businesses, as they are unable to pay the fee to get put into the “fast lane”. Hopefully Congress can sort this mess out before we lose the free web entirely. Until then, enjoy these pictures of Ajit, our current Chairman of the Federal Communications Committee.

Product of Errant Publishing Co.
*Gilroy, Angele A. (March 11, 2011). Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate (Report). DIANE Publishing. p. 1. ISBN 978-1437984545.

Environmental Issues are Heating Up

in Political Issues/Science & Technology by

In June of 2017, President Donald Trump announced that the United States was pulling out of the Paris Agreement.  The Paris Agreement was an acknowledgment of climate change with a promise of a global effort to reduce and limit its effects.  After Syria signed the Paris agreement in November 2017, the United States became the only country to hold out from the agreement despite being the second-largest polluter in the world.  Since a recent poll suggests that 70% of Americans support staying in the agreement, why has the Trump administration pulled out?  

The first most obvious issue is a total ignorance concerning the true nature of global warming.  In December Trump tweeted: “In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”  Similar to Senator James Inhofe’s “snowball on the senate floor,” the use of individual cold events as evidence against global warming is completely irrelevant and ignorant.  In fact, in the 2000s there were twice as many record high temperatures as record lows, but again, that is not the point of global warming.  In the last century, the Earth’s average temperature has risen .7 degrees Celsius.  Though this may seem insignificant (or part of the natural fluctuation of the Earth some say), this rate is ten times faster than any other natural heating of the Earth in history.  Trump’s cold New Year’s Eve might actually support global warming.  Environmentalists suggest that warming in the poles has actually expanded the polar vortex, which would make places like the northeast experience colder weather while the world’s climate is heating up.  To put it into terms Trump might understand: weather is the cash in your pocket, climate is net worth.  One day of cold hard cash doesn’t mean you can keep burning up your net worth.  

The other argument against the Paris Agreement is the loss of jobs. Trump spoke to a group of coal miners, telling them he would put them “back to work.” If we’re hurting the environment at least we’re helping the American people of today, right?  The entire coal industry employs, by the most recent estimate, 50,300 people.  While that may sound like a lot, it is a little over half of the employment of Arby’s.  Trump hopes to cling on to the coal industry rather than push for new clean energy.  He believes that a shift to renewable energy will hurt the American economy, but many suggest otherwise.  Elon Musk (probably a good guy to listen to), who left the presidential advisory council after Trump pulled out of Paris, suggested that refusing to invest in renewable energy will leave us straggling behind other countries in the energy sector.  Regardless of global warming, renewable energy is the future, and clinging to coal will leave America behind―not to mention the thousands of jobs that will be created by the shift.  

Trump’s decision was made from an isolationist, America-first doctrine: “Pittsburgh, not Paris.”  Unfortunately, Pittsburgh is also on the globe.  The Paris agreement isn’t for Paris, it’s for our Earth.  We are the laughing stock of the world because of our ignorance and irresponsibility.  The Earth is a finite resource, and without an exit plan, we need to make sure that we’re taking good care of it.  We cannot leave it to future generations because by their time the damage will be done. Hopefully, with the public’s support, we can elect a president in 2020 who will re-enter us into the agreement and help save the world. 

 Product of Errant Publishing Co.
Graphic Design by Jackson Edwards

Our Exploration Declaration

in Science & Technology by

Exploration is a crucial part of America.  Manifest Destiny once took control of America.  Lewis and Clark’s lionized journey is a story every elementary school student could recount.   Then the Space Race held American eyes captive, cementing our country as the nation of exploration.  So why stop???  Recently, funding for NASA has slowed and American hopes of exploration are decaying.  Some say that NASA shouldn’t get funding because they don’t do anything.  That’s like telling someone to open a lemonade stand, not giving them any lemons, and then being upset that they haven’t sold any lemonade.  Research and development from NASA  has given the world scratch resistant glass, memory foam, cordless tools, Google Earth mapping, breast cancer detection technology, high capacity batteries, even the soft sole in your running shoes.  All of these things were developed from or based on NASA projects. Funding NASA isn’t just funding space exploration, it’s funding innovation itself.  Innovation and iteration aside, the money is what matters.  Currently, the military budget has over 35 times the amount of money NASA has.  Surely NASA could get some money from the government department that annually wastes over 100 billion dollars.  Maybe taxpayers don’t want to see their hard earned money go to space exploration.  Maybe you hate the fact that 10 whole dollars of your taxes goes towards NASA.  Let’s face it, while life on Earth is sensational, we all know the Earth is a finite resource.  Especially noting the lack of effort we have made to protect the environment, space exploration will inevitably be our only hope of survival.  We must not let short term problems distract us from our long term goals.  Colonizing other planets aside, allocating funds to NASA will inspire the next generation to join STEM fields, show the world we are working toward the betterment of the human race, and allow us to participate in the human tradition of exploration.  So why should we fund NASA? For Science.


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