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The Late Movies: Carl Sagan Interviewed By Ted Turner (!)

In this 1989 CNN interview, Ted Turner interviews Carl Sagan on the environment, nuclear warfare, space, time travel, SETI, and other topics. Turner frequently seems to be out of his depth during this interview (as in part four, when he suggests that time travel to "live with the Indians" might be a good solution for modern-day environmental problems). Regardless, this is an interesting discussion, largely because of Sagan's calm, intelligent discourse. According to Wikipedia, this was supposed to be the fourteenth episode of Cosmos:

Some versions of the series including the first North American home video release included a specially made 14th episode, which consisted of an hour-long interview between Sagan and Ted Turner, in which the two discussed the series and new discoveries in the years since its first broadcast. This unique episode was not included in the DVD release.

So tonight, sit back and watch what was supposed to be the final installment of Cosmos -- albeit many years after the original, and without any of the wonderful production and theatricality of the original series.

Part 1 - Nuclear Weapons

While other topics are discussed, this is primarily about nuclear weapons and deterrence.

Sagan: "The professed function of the nuclear weapons on each side is to prevent the other side from using their nuclear weapons. If that's all it is, then we've gotta ask: how many nuclear weapons do you need to do that? ... You probably don't need more weapons than what's required to destroy every city on earth. There's only 2,300 cities. So, the United States, by that criteria, only needs 2,300 nuclear weapons -- well, we've got more than 25,000!"

Turner: "But not all those cities are our enemies!"

Sagan: "Of course not! A lot of those are our own cities!"

Part 2 - Nuclear Winter and the Environment

Turner: "Could you bring us up-to-date on [nuclear winter]?"

Sagan: (some minutes later) "We're in very bad trouble if we don't understand the planet we're trying to save."

Part 3 - Space & Time Travel

Sagan: "No other planet in the solar system is a suitable home for human beings; it's this world or nothing. That's a very powerful perception."

Turner: (some minutes later) "Are you a Socialist?"

Part 4 - The Environment, Time Travel, SETI, & Education

Turner: "If the world is gonna be environmentally degraded, you could take a few friends of yours and we could go back in the past and try and see if we couldn't live with the Indians a couple hundred years ago, before the white man came."

Sagan: "The trouble is that to do that, you need such an advanced technology that -- with that technology, you could solve our problem, or at least solve us. We might be more the problem than the technology."

Part 5 - Where Did We Come From, SDI, & Politics

Sagan: "I would love to believe that there was a God who made us, who's looking out for us, who's taking care of us, because we're in such a mess. [...] Then we would be relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. [...] But that does not seem to be the case; we have to solve our own problems."

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Department Of Classics, University Of Cincinnati
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Ancient Poop Contains First Evidence of Parasites Described by Hippocrates
Department Of Classics, University Of Cincinnati
Department Of Classics, University Of Cincinnati

The long-held mystery of Hippocrates and the parasitic worms has finally been solved, and it’s all thanks to a few samples of ancient poop.

Researchers don’t know much about the parasites that plagued the Greeks thousands of years ago, and what they do know is largely from the Hippocratic Corpus, the medical texts that the father of medicine and his students put together between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. Modern historians have spent years trying to figure out which diseases and parasites Hippocrates and his followers were referring to in their writing, relying solely on their descriptions to guess at what ailments the ancient Greeks might have suffered from. Now, they finally have concrete evidence of the existence of some of the intestinal worms Hippocrates mentioned, Helmins strongyle and Ascaris.

As part of a study in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, an international group of researchers analyzed the ancient remains of feces in 25 prehistoric burials on the Greek island of Kea to determine what parasites the people were carrying when they died. Using microscopes, they looked at the soil (formed by the decomposed poop) found on the pelvic bones of skeletons dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze, and Roman periods.

A roundworm egg under the microscope
A roundworm egg
Elsevier

Around 16 percent of the burials they studied contained evidence of parasites. In these ancient fecal samples, they found the eggs of two different parasitic species. In the soil taken from the skeletons dating back to the Neolithic period, they found whipworm eggs, and in the soil taken from the Bronze Age skeletons, roundworm.

With this information, researchers deduced that what Hippocrates called the Helmins strongyle worm was probably what modern doctors would call roundworm. The Ascaris worm probably referred to two different parasites, they conclude, known today as pinworm (which was not found in this analysis) and whipworm (pictured below).

Whipworm under a microscope
A whipworm egg
Elsevier

Though historians already hypothesized that Hippocrates's patients on Kea had roundworm, the Ascaris finding comes as a particular surprise. Previous research based solely on Hippocrates’s writing rather than physical evidence suggested that what he called Ascaris was probably a pinworm, and another worm he mentioned, Helmins plateia, was probably a tapeworm. But the current research didn’t turn up any evidence of either of those two worms. Instead of pinworm eggs, the researchers found whipworm, another worm that’s similarly small and round. (Pinworms may very well have existed in ancient Greece, the researchers caution, since evidence of their fragile eggs could easily have been lost to time.) The soil analysis has already changed what we know about the intestinal woes of the ancient Greeks of Kea.

More importantly, this study provides the earliest evidence of ancient Greece’s parasitic worm population, proving yet again that ancient poop is one of the world’s most important scientific resources.

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Arctic Temperatures are Rising So Fast, They're Confusing the Hell Out of Computers
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This past year was a brutal one for northern Alaska, which saw temperatures that soared above what was normal month after month. But you wouldn't know that by looking at the numbers from the weather station at Utqiaġvik, Alaska. That's because the recent heat was so unusual for the area that computers marked the data as incorrect and failed to report it for the entirety of 2017, leaving a hole in the records of the Climate Monitoring group at the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), according to the Huffington Post.

The weather station in the northernmost tip of Alaska has been measuring temperatures for nearly a century. A computer system there is programed to recognize if the data has been influenced by artificial forces: Perhaps one of the instruments isn't working correctly, or something is making the immediate area unnaturally hot or cold. In these cases, the computer edits out the anomalies so they don't affect the rest of the data.

But climate change has complicated this failsafe. Temperatures have been so abnormally high that the Utqiaġvik station erroneously removed all its data for 2017 and part of 2016. A look at the region's weather history explains why the computers might have sensed a mistake: The average yearly temperature for the era between 2000 and 2017 has gone up by 1.9°F from that of the era between 1979 and 1999. Break it down by month and the numbers are even more alarming: The average temperature increase is 7.8°F for October, 6.9°F for November, and 4.7°F for December.

"In the context of a changing climate, the Arctic is changing more rapidly than the rest of the planet," Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA's Climate Monitoring Branch, wrote for climate.gov. The higher temperatures rise, the faster Arctic sea ice melts. Arctic sea ice acts as a mirror that reflects the Sun's rays back into space, and without that barrier, the sea absorbs more heat from the Sun and speeds up the warming process. “Utqiaġvik, as one of a precious few fairly long-term observing sites in the American Arctic, is often referenced as an embodiment of rapid Arctic change,” Arndt wrote.

As temperatures continue to grow faster than computers are used to, scientists will have to adjust their algorithms in response. The team at NCEI plans to have the Utqiaġvik station ready to record our changing climate once again within the next few months.

[h/t Huffington Post]

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