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Dinosaur Skeletons Are a Hot Comity — It’s Too Bad Science Can’t Afford Them

Dinosaur Skeletons Are a Hot Comity — It’s Too Bad Science Can’t Afford Them

Edited June 17th, 2018 -- Corrected typos.
 
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June 4th came and went, and with it, an almost complete dinosaur skeleton to a French art collector. 

 

The beast that lays nine meters long (almost 30 feet), and two-and-a-half meters tall (8.2 feet), went on auction in Paris, France on Monday, June 4th.  Some believe it could be the skeleton of a species that has yet to be identified, and it’s about 70% complete.  According to Quartz, this skeleton was excavated between 2013 and 2015 in Wyoming, USA.  

 

It sold to the aforementioned art collector for $2.3 million. 

 

The auction was criticized before and after it took place by many scientists.  The nonprofit organization Society of Vertebrate Paleontology argued in a letter that “scientifically important vertebrate fossils are part of our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust”, rather than left in the hands of any private ownership.  Why was this point argued?

 

The fear is that privately auctioned off skeletons can become lost to science — especially those of major discoveries as the Society believes it to be.  “…There is no guarantee,” said Voa News, quoting the organization. “That privately held pieces will be open to all scientists for research purposes.”  

 

That being said, Reuters reported that the unnamed buyer of this skeleton plans on lending it to a museum, and that will allow it to be studied by scientists.  

 

 

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But these kinds of auctions are becoming more and more popular and common according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, David Polly, the president of the organization, told Nature.  In fact, the auction house that sold off this latest skeleton sold a Mammoth and another dinosaur previously, according to the Reuters’ article mentioned early. 

 

The more common these auctions become, and the higher the price margin goes, the less access scientists will have to the Earth’s history.  Even if the particular buyer of this skeleton does give scientists access to it, that doesn’t mean that every private buyer will.  The auction house also claims that some of the proceeds from this auction will go to two charities working with endangered wildlife, but the Reuters article that reported on that claim doesn’t mention which charities.  

 

The solution to this would be calling off these auctions, or giving more funding to museums and scientists so that they could afford these purchases.  Neither of which seem like they’re goals within reach at the moment. 

 
 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 
 

China Thinks They May Have Found One Surviving Baiji Or Chinese River Dolphin

 Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

 

CHINA — In 2006, a survey conducted in December found a species of River Dolphin — known as the Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin — to be functionally extinct.  When an animal is classified as such, this means that there’s only a handful of survivors left, and that the odds don’t look good for the species to make a comeback.  12 years after the survey, China thinks they may have found at least one surviving member.  That could mean that, possibly, there’s even more out there.

 

 

What’s a River Dolphin?

 

A River Dolphin is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a dolphin that survives in freshwater; it only lives in rivers.  This is not a formal classification of dolphin, but it’s an easy way to distinguish between the kinds of dolphins most people are aware of, and the four recognized species of river dolphins (with various numbers of subspecies).

 

There’s a few reasons why river dolphins aren’t as well known to the general public.  For starters, they don’t have a wide range.  There are only a few different species of river dolphin, and they are all restricted to small habitat areas.  

 

Another reason is that there are not many river dolphins in captivity.  The reasons for this range, but some of the problem has been that getting the animals to reproduce while in captivity has not proven to be successful. On top of this, in the 1950s to the 1970s, many Amazon River Dolphins were captured and sent away to be placed in captivity across the world, but out of the 100 that were sent, only 20 survived.  Currently, only three river dolphins are in captivity; one in Venezuela, one in Peru, and one in Germany.

 

 

Why Are They Endangered?

 

We only know for sure that some species of river dolphins are endangered and face extinction.  For example, the data for the Amazon River Dolphin is data deficient, or in other words, we don’t have enough information on the species to list it on the IUCN scale of endangerment. 

 

However, with that said, many species of River Dolphins are extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction, which helps lead to their endangerment.  Because they have such small habitat areas, when part of that habitat is taken over or destroyed, it can effect the entirety of the species.  

 

This is exactly what happened to the Baiji river dolphin.

 

Waste from the surrounding area of the Yangtze river, where the Baiji was once found, covered the water.  Ship traffic became a huge problem, as the Yangtze developed because of economic growth in China.  Noise pollution also played a role as the area of the Yangtze became more and more populated.  

 

The last verified sighting of the Baiji was in 2004, two years before they were declared ‘functionally extinct’.

 

So …if China Did Find a Baiji, What Does That Mean?

 

Unfortunately, we don’t quite have the answer to that question.  It would take a lot of work to get to a time where the Yangtze river is save enough for the Baiji to thrive.  “…Destructive fishing methods such as high-voltage electrofishing, floating gill netting, and muro-ami, a technique that uses encircling nets with pounding devices, should be strictly forbidden, and any violation should be punished to protect both the dolphins and their prey,”  Said Hua Yuanyu, a scientist who has been surveying and studying the species since the 80s.  

 

Basically, the Yangtze River would have to become a protected area via the government if there is any hope to save the Baiji.  

 

That said, Hua also said that the “reappearance of the baiji is another piece of evidence of the improved Yangtze ecology,” which by all means, is a very good sign for this particular animal.  Another glimmer of hope is that the Baiji “does not live in solitude,” and live in schools, according to Li Xinyuan, who is a Baiji dolphin enthusiast and was there when the photo of what they think is the Baiji was taken.  

 

On top of all of this, several fishermen have been confirmed to have seen the Baiji for themselves. 

 

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


 

Taylor Richardson Does it Again: $100,000 Raised For Girls to See A Wrinkle In Time

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This was edited on March 7th, 2017 at 9:07PM

 

In case you missed it, when Hidden Figures released in 2016, Taylor Richardson was the girl who raised over $20,000 so that 1000 girls could see the movie for free.  Her hope was to encourage girls to get into STEM by being able to watch the likes of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson on the big screen. 

 

 
 

    When A Wrinkle in Time was announced, a movie based on the hit middle-grade sci-fi from 1962, Taylor Richardson did the same thing.  Only this time, she raised $50,000 for girls to see the movie for free when it releases on March 9th, 2018.

 

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    Why was Taylor so enthused about girls seeing A Wrinkle in Time in theaters?  She explained on her GoFundMe page.

 

    “1. It shows young, black girls deserving a chance to be a part of the scifi cultural canon,”   She begins.  2. It has a female protagonist in a science fiction film. A brown girl front and center who looks like me in the role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in. 3. Most impressive and importantly, it’s a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.”

 

 
 

    Since the start of her campaign on November 13th, for Taylor everything has been a crazy and memorable ride.  Disney caught sight of her, and as a result, Taylor was able to attend the premiere.  She was able to meet the director of the film,  Ava DuVernay, actress Oprah Winfrey, and actor Chris Pine, among others.

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    Notable people who donated to her campaign included JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath.  “Thanks to the kindness of many of you and a very generous donation from JJ Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath,”  Taylor wrote in an update on her GoFundMe. “I have exceeded my goal to send a 1000 girls 2 see the upcoming movie A Wrinkle In Time!”

 

 

    On top of that, aforementioned actor Chris Pine, who stars in the film as Dr. Alex Murray (the main character’s — Meg Murray’s — father), matched Taylor’s raised $25,000 — bringing Taylor’s efforts to her massive $50,000 to send girls to watch the movie, as well as help them purchase and read the original novel.  

 

 
 
 
 

    We applaud Taylor for her constant efforts and constant successes in bringing more and more girls into the world of STEM through positive media.

 

EDIT:  In an incredible update -- Oprah Winfrey, who stars in the movie as Mrs. Which, matched the $50,000 Taylor Richardson made -- giving Taylor's GoFundMe a over $100,000!  As of 9:00pm on March 7th, the GoFundMe total is $100,639!

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

 

How Important is the EPA? From an Actual Living Scientist.

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FemSTEM does not have a political affiliation.
This was published originally in 2017

 

The political climate has taken science down deep with it.  Though some people do not think the two should be mixed, people could argue that it absolutely has to be mixed.  With the EPA, the governmental agency that was installed in the 1970s, being at risk of a budget cut, or to even be dismantled completely, people are more and more concerned.

 

President Donald Trump has shown himself not exactly be a huge fan of the sciences.  Though he has talked about refocusing the EPA to improve air quality, he has also come out on more than one occasion as a climate change denier (without actually labeling himself as such), which worries many.  Scott Pruitt, the current head of the EPA, has also done the same.  With all this in mind, I wanted to pick the mind of someone who may have more of an inside clue into how important the EPA is in this day and age.

 

Recently, I got in contact with Samantha Stuhler.  She is a young scientist who works with asbestos every day, and knows a thing or two about harmful fibers that could potentially risk human lives.  I asked her about her job, and how she thinks the EPA affects human lives now, and what she thinks would happen if the budget cut goes through, or if congress does terminate the agency altogether.

 

Q: “Hi, Sam.  Thank you so much for  taking time our of your day and answering these questions for me!  Having an opinion come from someone who works in this field will be truly insightful.”

 

A:  “No Problem!”

 

Q:  “Would you be willing to explain what your position is, and what it is you do every day?”

 

A:  “Sure. I work for an environmental testing company as an analyst. My position involves the preparation and analysis of air and bulk samples for asbestos fiber content using various types of analytical methods and microscopes.”

 

Q:  “Wow!  That sounds a bit complicated and pretty fascinating.  How long have you been in this field?”

 

A:  “I’ve been working for this company since 2010, so almost seven years!

 

“I started off as solely doing prep work, but I was able to learn first PCM (phase contrast microscopy) analysis, which tests for fiber content in air, and then the more complicated TEM (transmission electron microscopy) analysis which uses a significantly larger microscope that allows for precise identification of individual fibers.”

 

 
 
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Q:   “Very nice!  It sounds like you’ve had good, steady growth in this field, and you’ve learned a lot from it!  With the fact that you work to protect customers from harmful asbestos fibers, I was wondering how you felt about the prospect of the EPA being in potential danger of shut down for the government.  Congress recently introduced a bill that could shut down the EPA altogether.  If the bill to shut down the EPA were to go through, would your job be directly effected?”

 

A:  “Well… yes, and no. Obviously we haven’t experienced this before, so I can only speculate.

 

“I say no, because there will always be buildings with asbestos in them. I live and work in New York City, and there are countless buildings here that were built before asbestos use was widely discontinued. When those buildings are being renovated and tested for asbestos, if the contractor is one of our clients, we may get their samples from their abatement procedures.

 

“(By the term “samples", I’m referring to anything from air cassettes for PCM/TEM analysis to pieces of building materials like floor tiles or plaster that are tested in the bulk lab. The laboratory that I work for is very diverse and also runs tests on mold samples, lead samples, various foods, and even does some forensic testing, but in general, we refer to each different item we receive as a “sample”.)

 

“I say yes, because without the EPA’s regulations on asbestos, I don’t know if my job would be there still. I would like to hope that it would, due to the fact that most people are aware of the <a href="http://www.dictionary.com/browse/carcinogenic">carcinogenic</a> effects of asbestos and finding out if it is present in buildings is important to do, but I don’t want to speculate.

 

“Another side of this coin is that potentially the use of asbestos could actually increase, which is something that I shudder to think about. The fact that the US actually hasn’t discontinued the use of asbestos completely despite knowing about all of the harmful effects is something that still blows my mind to think about, though the primary use of it is in products like brake pads and cement pipe, which I presume provide a low risk of inhalation of fibers.”

 

Q:  “It is kind of scary to think about.  FemSTEM will be sure to cover the harmful effects that asbestos can have in another article to better explain what you mean to anyone who may not be aware.  In my community, actually, there was recently some commotion over asbestos making people in a subdivision very, very sick.  It was scary.  Now, on a personal note, I’d like to ask how do you feel about the EPA?”

 

A:   “I appreciate the work that they do, and am very thankful for the regulations that they have in place. It’s nice to know that there’s a part of our government that’s dedicated to protecting our environment and coming up with ways to improve on the current conditions of our world.”

 

Q:  “When I spoke to you about doing this interview initially, you mentioned how schools rely on you the most.  How could schools and the children in school suffer if there aren’t safety measures being enforced?"

 

A: “There’s currently a special type of analysis that we do that was specifically created for use in schools. It’s called TEM AHERA (which stands for Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act) and involves a very specific method of fiber counting. The protocols that contractors have to go through in order to clear a school for students to be able to enter is extremely rigorous in order to be sure that there are no fibers in the air when students, teachers, and employees enter the building again.

 

“This is one of our primary jobs; a very significant portion of our samples are from schools in the city and surrounding areas. Whenever schools are out on break, whether it’s for a week or for summer, our sample count in-house increases substantially.

 

“As I mentioned before, older buildings still contain asbestos, and so a school built before the frequent use of asbestos was banned could still contain asbestos.

 

“If these rules aren’t enforced and this sort of careful and thorough testing isn’t implemented, then young kids (as well as parents, teachers, school employees, etc) could be exposed to asbestos, which like I said before, is a known carcinogen.”

 

Q:  “Without the EPA and agencies like it, we are really putting children in danger.  Putting adults in danger is bad enough, but considering that schools rely on you the most and even have their own, specific method of fiber counting makes you realize just how important it is to have these regulations. 

“Let’s refocus a little and assume that the bill to discontinue the EPA does not pass the House and Senate.

 “Let’s talk about Pruitt’s involvement.  I don’t want to get too political as FemSTEM does not have a political affiliation, but I am interested in your opinion as a scientist yourself.  

Your job does not directly relate to climate change, but as I’m sure you’re aware, Pruitt and Trump have promised to refocus the EPA 'on protecting air and water quality, while scrapping many of Obama's initiatives to curb carbon dioxide emissions'.  Can I ask what your personal thoughts on this are?”

 

A:  “I personally don’t see how cutting plans to curb CO2 emissions will help with making air quality any better. I’ll try not to get too political here (which is a bit hard for me in this political climate) but I don’t have much faith in this current administration’s ability to successfully do much of anything, especially in relation to the EPA.”

 

Q:  "Pruitt was quoted as saying: 'Environmental regulations should not occur in an economic vacuum. We can simultaneously pursue the mutual goals of environmental protection and economic growth'.  Do you believe this to be true?  Can we have mutual goals regarding the environment, people’s health, and economics?”

 

A:  “I don’t agree with anything that Pruitt has done so far, and it’ll take a lot for him to change my mind, especially after him saying that he doesn’t believe that CO2 has any effect on climate change. This probably relates more to your prior question, but I figured I should say it nonetheless.

 

“I think that in a perfect world, we can have mutual goals, but right now our country is too divided to easily find that mutuality. With some work though, I think it can be done.”

 

Q:  “I want to thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions for me.  I truly appreciate it, and I know our readers will as well. Getting your opinion was great, and I’m sure this will cause a lot of discussion. Thank you!”

 

A: “Not a problem! Thank you!”

 

There is no real way of knowing how much of an effect dismantling the EPA will really have until it happens — if it happens.  Both Trump’s budget proposal and the bill still need to go through the House and Senate and be approved by them before anything takes really affect.  Until then, we can only make estimations -- guesses -- until we see how things will continue.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

Astronaut Jeanette Epps was Pulled From Her NASA Assignment; There's Only Speculation as To Why

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It was a big deal to many when it had been announced that Jeanette Epps was going to be the "first black crew member to live on board the International Space Station".  On Thursday, January 18th, however, it was announced that she would no longer be going to the International Space Station in June of this year as previously scheduled.  Instead, she would be a candidate for later assignments, while fellow astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor would be taking her place.

 

NASA did not make a comment as to why this crew change had occurred, but according to the Washington Post, Epps' brother had accused the organization of racism in a (now deleted) Facebook Post.  He had stated: “My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!”  In addition to this statement, he had linked to a moveon.org petition that is hoping to reinstate Epps on this crew to the ISS.  As of the writing of this post, the petition is hoping to gain 3,000 signatures, and has 2,379 signatures at the current time.

 

Others had speculated that the crew change could have been due to health or family reasons that NASA would not announce on and that Epps may want to keep private.  However, according to the aforementioned Washington Post article, Epps stated that there had been no health reason or family reason to keep her behind.  She also said that she would not comment on her brother, Henry Epps', post about the situation.  The only thing she did comment on regarding her brother's post was that no one in her family had created the petition he linked to.

 

It's important to note that Epps' removal from this mission is not something that is an isolated incident.  Many astronauts have been bumped from missions before for various reasons.  Miriam Kramer, writing for Mashable, notes in one of her articles on the situation that NASA's Ken Mattingly was pulled from the Apollo 13 crew just a few days before their scheduled launch because he was exposed to German measles".

 

There's reason to believe that Jeanette Epps is not going to be excluded from future missions.  Former NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, says that these crew changes are common, and most of the astronauts go on to go into space at later dates.  "The exceptions are very few and far between,"  He said. 

 

It's more than likely that we will not get an official reason from NASA themselves, as they often do not comment on the crew changes.  O'Keefe has a couple speculations of his own, however, as to why Epps was replaced on this particular mission happening in June.  One of them was the idea of a health concern, which as previously stated, Epps debunked herself.  Another, however, stated how Epps and Auñón-Chancellor had different skill sets that may have determined who was better suited for this specific assignment.  "Dr. Epps is an engineer. The astronaut replacing her is a medical doctor. [It] could well be there are now more human factors research projects on the mission manifest than material science research."  Of course, though, he cannot say for sure what the reasoning was for Epps' replacement.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

A Bill was Introduced to Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency

 
Originally Posted February 5th, 2017

On February 3rd, 2017, a bill was introduced to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. There's little to no information on the actual bill as of yet. As of February 5th, 2016, we do not have a summary of the bill, and the bill has not yet been sent to the House or Senate. In the words of the government: "Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed."

 

All three original co-sponsers of this bill to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are of the Republican Party.  They are Thomas Massie (KY), Steven M. Palazzo (MS), and Barry Loudermark (GA).

 

Of course, there are many steps that need to take place before this bill becomes law. It needs to pass the House, then pass Senate, then it goes to the President.  If the President approves it, it becomes law.  If he vetoes it, it can still become law with a couple of extra steps.

 

WAIT ... WHAT DOES THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY DO?

 

The EPA, which was founded in 1970, is a federal agency that was intended to protect human life and the environment by means of government enforcing laws and regulations that would be passed by Congress. Without it, humans could be put in a lot more danger than we already are in via environmental causes.

 

For example, the EPA regulates air quality. With the EPA handling this, researching this, and coming up with various solutions to air quality problems, it reduces the risk of pollution-related diseases.  Without people working to keep our air quality to EPA standards, humans and the environment are at constant risk, and our risk will worsen even more.  The EPA, of course, regulates much more, including drinking water, oil pollution, regulating exposed asbestos, etc.  You can see more information here.

 

Getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency does one thing for the government -- brings them in money short term. However, it would cause damage that couldn't be reversed (and we already have enough of that to deal with), and have incredibly negative impacts to our health in general. Think of China and their lack of air quality in many parts of the country.

 

The government, at this point, is willingly ignoring science, health, and technology measures for means of profit. This comes as no surprise to me. If this doesn't prove that the government doesn't care about taking care of its people, I don't know what does. Clearly what is important to them as a whole is making money, and treating the government as a business.

 

FemSTEM will keep you updated on the bill, and how its faired through the law-making process.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.