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How Earth Day & the Hapless Farmer from Green Acres Are Related

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Most of us probably hear the name "Eddie Albert" and immediately think of the hapless gentleman farmer he portrayed on TV's Green Acres. Despite having appeared in over 100 motion pictures and a dozen Broadway shows, he'll always be remembered as Oliver Wendell Douglas, a role he played for only six of his 99 years. But it was the role he played offstage for most of his life that led to April 22 (his birthday) being designated Earth Day.


During the early 1970s, Albert had a regular workout routine that consisted of jogging to the beach near his Southern California home and then taking a swim. An avid birdwatcher (he'd bought his first Audubon pin at the age of six), he was very familiar with the various species native to his area and their habits. When he noticed an absence of baby pelicans one season, he investigated and found out that thousands of pounds of DDT (a pesticide) had been pumped into Los Angeles-area sewers by a single chemical company. DDT is fat soluble and has a half-life of eight years, so as it was absorbed by anchovies and other fishy favorites of the pelican diet, it eventually affected their reproductive systems. Mama pelicans laid eggs with such thin shells that they crushed and broke when she tried to incubate them. Albert asked NBC for a few moments of air time to address the harmful effects of DDT, and shortly after the broadcast he was invited to speak at three universities on the subject. Three years later, the U.S. government banned the use of DDT.

ear.jpgTV Guide once described Albert as an "ecological Paul Revere," to which the actor responded, "Ecologist, hell! Too mild a word. Check the Department of Agriculture; 60% of the world is hungry already. With our soil impoverished, our air poisoned, our wildlife crippled by DDT, our rivers and lakes turning into giant cesspools, and mass starvation an apparent inevitability by 1976, I call myself a human survivalist!" (You can almost hear the fife playing in the background.) He'd been traveling the world since the 1950s and meeting with experts in various fields (including a trip to the Congo with Albert Schweitzer to study malnutrition) and he passed his findings on to the public via interviews (in such high-profile venues as The Tonight Show) and university lectures. Washington finally decided to designate one day per year as an "environmental teach-in" (hey, it was the late 1960s, everything was an " "“in"). When Earth Day was inaugurated in 1970, Albert was one of many celebrity guest speakers on hand to help launch the festivities.

His Green Thumb

Even though Mr. Douglas' crops were always pretty sickly on Green Acres, Eddie Albert had a green thumb. He remembered the victory garden his parents had planted during World War I and at a young age fell in love with the idea of growing things. He studied organic farming methods before it was fashionable, and the front yard of his Pacific Palisades home stood out from its neighbors "“ instead of a manicured lawn, there were cornstalks, tomato vines and other vegetables flourishing. He learned and warned about the danger of topsoil depletion (which became his next crusade after the successful DDT ban) and also established City Children's Farms, a program for creating gardens in inner-city areas.

eva-acres.jpgHungarian-born Eva Gabor, Albert's Green Acres co-star, never quite understood his activism. "Every time a fish gets sick, you're off making a speech," she once remarked to him. He eyed the $5,000 feather-trimmed negligee she was wearing and replied, "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't wear things like that on camera." "But it's so chic," she protested. Albert told her that because it was so chic, women in the audience would want to emulate her style, causing the death of X amount of birds just for their fashionable feathers. "Eddie, feathers don't come from birds," Eva reassured him. "They come from pillows, dahling!" Despite not seeing eye-to-eye on environmental issues, Eddie and Eva remained close friends long after Green Acres ended. The pair are even buried very near one another in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

His Legacy

During a 1996 interview, Albert was asked which of his accomplishments he was most proud of. He pondered a moment and then admitted that he never thought he'd been as good as he could have in any of his acting roles. When all was said and done, he chose his World War II service as his proudest moment. As a Navy lieutenant, he fought at the three-day battle of Tarawa in the Pacific Theater in November 1943. Piloting a Higgins boat under heavy fire, he helped to rescue over 70 wounded Marines off the island and out of the lagoon who had been left behind. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroism.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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