Friday, March 7, 2014
Science!
(and Environment, too!)

My scientific writing has appeared in print in The Lancet, Geotimes, Mercator's World, Woods Hole Currents, the Newport News, Va., Daily Press, BioInform and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Alumni Association newsletter. I also write scripts for two syndicated radio programs, Our Ocean World and MicrobeWorld, produced by Finger Lakes Productions International.

Rutgers University Press
Upheaval from the Abyss

My first book is about the pivotal contribution of ocean-floor research to the debate over continental drift and plate tectonics. The book was published in February 2002. It earned good reviews, and is now in more than 600 libraries in 22 countries:

Upheaval from the Abyss: Ocean Floor Mapping and the Earth Science Revolution

The Mechanicsville Local
Seismic station placed near earthquake site

I don't usually get to write much science in my current position as sports editor (and before that, sports stringer) for The Mechanicsville Local. But the anniversary of the 2011 Mineral, Va., earthquake—which made for a rather memorable day with my daughter at Virginia Commonwealth University—gave me the opportunity to do a little science writing when I accompanied a group of earth scientists installing a new seismic station near the epicenter of the quake:

Seismic station placed near earthquake site

Plastics at SEA:
North Atlantic Expedition 2010
Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition 2010

In 2010 I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream: to go to sea—really, really far out to sea—onboard a tall ship. The ship was the Sea Education Association brigantine, the SSV Corwith Cramer, and we were on the Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition 2010 to study plastic pollution in the North Atlantic Ocean. I was hired as science writer, photographer and editor, but I also pulled two watches a day just like everyone else on the ship.

The Plastics at SEA blog consists of four main elements: a Daily Journal; Science Results; Reflections on Shipboard Life; and a statistical summary, "Today on the Corwith Cramer" that appeared on each day's Reflections page. Along with these elements were daily photo galleries and occasional videos prepared by expedition members Scott Elliott and Ben Schellpfeffer.

To make it easier to find my writing and photography from the expedition, I've Storified it here. If you only want to look at the pictures, go here.

To get an idea of how much work I and the rest of the crew did, consider this excerpt from my final Daily Journal post:

We've accomplished a lot. We've sailed more than 3,800 nautical miles. In the process we crossed over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and nearly reached longitude 40°W. We've completed 128 neuston tows, 106 surface stations, 47 carousel casts, and 34 Tucker trawls. We've counted more than 48,000 pieces of plastic and 100 pieces of tar. We've collected 1,388 Halobates and 219 myctophids (lanternfish), and we've counted more than 5,000 copepods, 900 Cladocera, and more than 700 hyperiid amphipods – among other creatures.

As with any good scientific expedition, the scientists face months, if not years, of data analysis and preparation of scientific reports. Some of their initial questions will be answered, but many more will arise out of what they find as they sift through the numbers.

As for me, I'm obviously still working, so my statistics are incomplete. Through yesterday, I filed 33 daily reports (this is the 34th and final one). For those first 33 days, I wrote and filed 33,155 words – all the Daily Journal entries, all the cutlines for the photos, and six Reflections on Shipboard Life essays.

I shot more than 5,000 photos, all of which take up nearly 13 gigabytes on my external hard drive. Each day I looked at what I shot and what my shipmates had shot and nominated for publication, and selected 10 to be published each day. (I forgot to move one of those into the upload folder the other night, though, so it didn't make it on the site.)

I don't have statistics for how many times the engineering crew started and stopped the engine or generators. I don't have statistics for how many times we struck or set particular sails. I don't have statistics for how many times we gybed or changed course. Much of that information exists in the various logs the crew keeps, but it hasn't been compiled.

Believe me, as I wrote those words, I was very, very tired.

BenBella Books
The Science of Dune

Glenn Yeffeth of BenBella Books contacted me sometime around 2006 to ask if I would consider contributing to a couple of book projects he was developing in his Smart Pop Books series that were to be edited by Kevin Grazier. Of course, I said, "Yes!" The first book was a compilation of essays on Frank Herbert's Dune. My entry, "The Shade of Uliet," (which can be downloaded here) evaluated the ecological principles explored in Herbert's seminal work.

The Science of Dune: An Unauthorized Exploration into the Real Science Behind Frank Herbert’s Fictional Universe

 

The Science of Michael Crichton

The other project Yeffeth asked me to contribute to was an exploration of the science presented in the works of Michael Crichton. I had been a fan of some of Crichton's other work—the Andromeda Strain being one of my favorite science fiction movies—so of course I said, "Yes!" again. I expected to enjoy the assignment. Unfortunately, my entry, "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid," (which can be downloaded here) shredded the "science" presented by Crichton in his abominable screed, State of Fear.

The Science of Michael Crichton: An Unauthorized Exploration into the Real Science behind the Fictional Worlds of Michael Crichton

The Encounter

Because underwater videography is going to be an important method of reporting for my dissertation research, my Ph.D. committe at Virginia Commonwealth University wanted me to make a short film that: a) involved underwater videography; and b) told a story; that c) involved people and the usual residents of the underwater environment. This is what resulted from those marching orders.

Safe Haven: The Delmarva Fox Squirrel
and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Determined to improve my skills at wildife filmmaking, in the spring of 2012 I enrolled in a non-credit course, "Classroom in the Wild: Chesapeake Bay," taught by Danny Ledonne and Lauren Demko through the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University. We spent several days at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore. This is the result.

The Lancet
The Lancet

I began writing for The Lancet in 2002. To see the articles, you will have to register with The Lancet's Web site, but registration is free.

This May 17, 2003, article reported on confirmation that SARS-associated coronavirus caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Coronavirus confirmed as cause of SARS

 

On May 3, 2003, I wrote about the discovery of genes that play a role in the virulence of anthrax:

Genome provides clues to anthrax virulence

 

This November 9, 2002, article reports that, yes, exercise is good for you:

Exercise really is good for you

 

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon increased concerns about other types of terrorism, such as bioterror attacks using the smallpox virus. The U.S. government pondered a surveillance-and-containment response to a possible attack, but this July 13, 2002, article reported on research that suggested a more aggressive strategy might be best:

Mass vaccination after a smallpox attack might be best, researchers suggest

MicrobeWorld

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I began writing for Finger Lakes Productions, producers of the radio programs MicrobeWorld and Our Ocean World, in 2002. Below are samples of some of my scripts from MicrobeWorld. You will need a media player, such as, QuickTime, Real Player, Winamp, or Windows Media Player to listen to the programs.

This May 12, 2003, program described how microbial evidence is being used to learn more about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

Roman baths | Read the script

 

We normally think of viruses as harmful agents, but this May 2, 2003, program reveals that viruses can contribute to the health of ocean ecosystems:

Awash in viruses | Read the script

 

When we think of Yellowstone National Park, we normally think of bears, wolves and moose. But, as we learn in this April 1, 2003, program, biologists there are also concerned with preserving the biodiversity of Yellowstone's microbial world:

Yellowstone thermophiles | Read the script

 

Most of us don't find B.O., body odor, all that pleasant. But giraffes find it downright sexy. This March 3, 2003, program reveals why:

Giraffe odor | Read the script

 

Without bacteria, there would be no chocolate. Learn why in the special Valentine's Day program which last aired on February 14, 2007:

Chocolate bugs | Read the script

Our Ocean World

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I began writing for Finger Lakes Productions, producers of the radio programs MicrobeWorld and Our Ocean World, in 2002. Below are samples of some of my scripts for Our Ocean World. You will need a media player, such as, QuickTime, Real Player, Winamp, or Windows Media Player to listen to the programs.

Scientists' efforts to detect a quick sensor for saxitoxin, the cause of paralytic shellfish poisoning, was profiled in the February 13, 2003.

Saxitoxin sensor | Read the script

 

Hurricanes are a significant hazard along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This February 11, 2003, program discusses how sediments deposited by past storms can be used to reveal the region's hurricane history.

Hurricane history | Read the script

 

This January 8, 2003, program on Hudson Canyon mapping described a fantastic landscape on the ocean floor, near one of the biggest metropolitan areas on earth -- New York City.

Hudson Canyon mapping | Read the script

Geotimes
Geotimes

I began writing short articles for the magazine Geotimes in the summer of 2001. This article, from the March 2002 issue, reported on a controversy over earth science education requirements in Texas:

Geoscientists defend earth science in Texas

 

Geotimes

This November 2001 issue was devoted to "Geosciences & Human Health." I contributed an article on Mercury:

Earth Materials and Human Health: Mercury

 

Geotimes

This article, from the October 2001 issue, reported on a controversial paper that suggested plants and fungi colonized terrestrial environments much earlier in the Earth's history than previously indicated by the fossil record:

Lichens in the Precambrian

Mercator's World
Mercator's World

My first magazine story was this profile of Marie Tharp -- the woman who mapped the world's ocean floor -- which appeared as the cover story for the November/December 1999 issue of the magazine Mercator's World:

Mountains under the Sea: Marie Tharp's maps of the ocean floor shed light on the theory of continental drift

Woods Hole Currents
Woods Hole Currents

This profile of Hagen Shempf and Noelette Conway-Schempf -- graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography -- appeared in a 1999 issue of the magazine Woods Hole Currents:

'Joint' ventures: One builds robots to work in hazardous places. The other works to help industries think 'green.'

Newport News, Va., Daily Press
Daily Press

This profile of Robert T. Jones -- a NASA engineer who made a major contribution to the development of supersonic flight -- appeared in the August 21, 1999, edition of the Newport News, Va., Daily Press:

Langley engineer is remembered for part in history

BioInform
Bioinform

This is a report on how bioinformatics (a fusion of biotechnology and advanced information management) will contribute to a search for the genetic cause of rheumatoid arthritis. It appeared in the September 29, 1997, edition of the newsletter BioInform:

Bioinformatics looms large in the effort to uncover arthritis genes

 

Bioinform

This report focused on the development of Canada's second-generation Internet infrastructure and its use in advanced biotechnological research. It appeared in the August 4, 1997, edition of the newsletter BioInform:

CEO: Bioinformatics will benefit from new Canadian Internet infrastructure

Columbia University
Graduate School of Journalism

Students work on a master's project at Columbia.  It's more of a long magazine piece for print and new media students, or a broadcast project for broadcast students.  Of course I chose to work on a science topic -- on a controversy close to my heart.  It probably could use an edit.  I've spotted at least one error, but chose to post it as I filed it.

Why can't we be friends: Or how does an observation based scientist get along in a theoretical world?