May 16, 2013 10:11 am
In 1700, a massive earthquake struck the west and northwest coast of the United Sates. Modern scientists first caught wind of the natural disaster through the scars it left on the land—massive, toppled red cedar trees and sand deposits washed far inland. Written records weren’t being kept in that region when the earthquake happened, but several years ago, scientists managed to pinpoint the date of that mysterious earthquake. In 2005, Smithsonian explained how they unraveled the mystery:
In Japan, officials had recorded an “orphan” tsunami—unconnected with any felt earthquake— with waves up to ten feet high along 600 miles of the Honshu coast at midnight, January 27, 1700. Several years ago, Japanese researchers, by estimating the tsunami’s speed, path and other properties, concluded that it was triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake that warped the seafloor off the Washington coast at 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on January 26, 1700. To confirm it, U.S. researchers found a few old trees of known age that had survived the earthquake and compared their tree rings with the rings of the ghost forest cedars. The trees had indeed died just before the growing season of 1700.
The earthquake occurred along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a major fault line running from the Pacific Northwest to Vancouver. In recent decades, scientists have determined that this fault line may produce mega-earthquakes of 9.0 or higher on the Richter scale.
Considering all the geologic evidence, scientists now say a major earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest every few hundred years—give or take a few hundred years. That means the next one could strike tomorrow.
This is why researchers hope to learn as much as they can, as quickly as they can about the devastating quake that rocked the land back in 1700. Earthquake prediction remains notoriously sketchy (just look at the recent example of researchers in Italy who failed to predict an earthquake in L’Aquila), so the more scientists can learn about what happened in the past, the better prepared they can be for the next disaster. And that next one could be coming soon, according to new research:
The Cascadia subduction zone is of particular interest to geologists and coastal managers because geological evidence points to recurring seismic activity along the fault line, with intervals between 300 and 500 years. With the last major event occurring in 1700, another earthquake could be on the horizon. A better understanding of how such an event might unfold has the potential to save lives.
The University of Pennsylvania team turned to a fossil-based technique for studying the Cascadia Subduction Zone. They took core samples throughout the region and then picked through the samples to find microscopic foraminifera fossils, a type of single-celled aquatic protist. They used radiocarbon dating to estimate the age of these ancient creatures and to recreate past changes in land and sea level along the coastline. Through their analyses, they saw that the coastline ruptured in a heterogenous manner, or that the earthquake struck in different locations with different severity.
The earthquakes that occurred in this part of North America, they report, behaved similarly to recent major earthquakes in Japan and Chile, which arrived with very little warning. While the results are useful for modeling and understanding the next West Coast mega-earthquake, the researchers warn that some areas in Oregon will likely have just 20 minutes to evacuate before the tsunami waves arrive.
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May 7, 2013 12:25 pm
For nearly 11 years, the psychiatric community has been discussing, revising, debating and crafting the next issue of the DSM—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM is psychiatrists’ map for diagnosing mental illness: everything from depression to autism to eating disorders is in there. It’s an incredibly important document, and as such has been at the center of intense debate. In fact, some are saying that it’s time to retire the DSM and think about mental health entirely differently.
The National Institute of Mental Health struck a major blow to the DSM when announced it would no longer use the manual’s categories to direct its research. The April 29th announcement states:
The diagnostic system has to be based on the emerging research data, not on the current symptom-based categories. Imagine deciding that EKGs were not useful because many patients with chest pain did not have EKG changes. That is what we have been doing for decades when we reject a biomarker because it does not detect a DSM category. We need to begin collecting the genetic, imaging, physiologic, and cognitive data to see how all the data – not just the symptoms – cluster and how these clusters relate to treatment response.
That is why NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. Going forward, we will be supporting research projects that look across current categories – or sub-divide current categories – to begin to develop a better system.
The NIMH will replace the DSM with their own document, the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The announcement from the NIHM wouldn’t surprise those who have been following the organization. Science Insider reports:
Although Insel’s blog was reported as a “bombshell,” and “potentially seismic,” NIMH’s decision to scrap the DSM criteria has been public for several years, says Bruce Cuthbert, director of NIMH’s Division of Adult Translational Research and Treatment Development. In 2010, the agency began to steer researchers away from the traditional categories of DSM by posting new guidance for grant proposals in five broad areas. Rather than grouping disorders such as schizophrenia and depression by symptom, the new categories focus on basic neural circuits and cognitive functions, such as those for reward, arousal, and attachment.
Some applauded the move, but others say that while the DSM is certainly flawed, scrapping it altogether isn’t the way to go. Helena Kramer, a researcher responsible for field trials of the DSM-5, told Science Insider that while Insel is right to say that research domains are the way to go, that doesn’t mean it’s right to toss the DSM. ”The DSM is a series of successive approximations,” she said—no one should assume it can get everything right all the time.
Others saw it as further evidence that psychiatry as a whole is skating on thin ice. At Scientific American, John Horgan puts it this way:
So the NIMH is replacing the DSM definitions of mental disorders, which virtually everyone agrees are profoundly flawed, with definitions that even he admits don’t exist yet! What more evidence do we need that modern psychiatry is in a profound state of crisis?
But the idea that the NIHM is leaving behind the DSM isn’t entirely accurate, reports Ferris Jabr, also at Scientific American. The institute’s Cuthbert wrote to Jabr in an email that the “sensationalist headlines out there are entirely misleading…RDoC is intended to inform future versions of the ICD and DSM; we have no intention of coming out with a competing system.” Jabr writes that it’s seductive and easy to bash the DSM, even if it’s not totally accurate:
People get something akin to schadenfruede out of condemning the DSM and all of modern psychiatry along with it. Super important government institution rejects psychiatry’s beloved Bible! Psychiatrists in crisis. Everything will change.
When in reality, he says, things are far more complicated. The debate over diagnosing and treating mental illness isn’t going away any time soon. And while everyone seems to be working towards the same goal—a better way to diagnose and treat patients—no one can quite decide how to get there. How would the DSM diagnose that condition?
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May 3, 2013 3:29 pm
This weekend, fans will gather for the 138th annual Kentucky Derby, North America’s favorite horse racing event. Fans will place bets for the likes of Black Onyx, Oxbow and Frac Daddy and cheer on the horses and their jockeys as they gallop around the track. But watching the races and enjoying the spring weather aren’t the Derby’s only draws. Traditional also calls for bountiful cups of icy mint juleps sipped alongside a hearty bowl of burgoo, a Kentucky favorite often served at the event.
In the mid-19th century, Kentucky’s Henry Clay was no stranger to the delights of the mint julep. The University of Kentucky provides a favorite recipe, straight out of Clay’s diary—the words of a true disciple of the drink:
The mint leaves, fresh and tender, should be pressed against a coin-silver goblet with the back of a silver spoon. Only bruise the leaves gently and then remove them from the goblet. Half fill with cracked ice. Mellow bourbon, aged in oaken barrels, is poured from the jigger and allowed to slide slowly through the cracked ice.
In another receptacle, granulated sugar is slowly mixed into chilled limestone water to make a silvery mixture as smooth as some rare Egyptian oil, then poured on top of the ice. While beads of moisture gather on the burnished exterior of the silver goblet, garnish the brim of the goblet with the choicest sprigs of mint.
As for burgoo, it’s a spicy stew made of beef, chicken, pork and veggies. Back in Clay’s days, however, burgoo could include a bit of whatever animal happened to be around, including venison, raccoon, squirrel, opossum or wild birds. That’s probably how it earned the appetizing nickname of “roadkill soup.”
While wild animals are probably lacking in most pots of burgoo today, each restaurant’s offerings do provide a unique culinary experience since no two places use the exact same blend of spices and ingredients. If you’d like to try and concoct your very own spin on burgoo, Epicurious has a recipe for Kentucky bourbon burgoo, or take your pick from the many other versions on offer.
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May 3, 2013 11:12 am
Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, but throughout the 18th and 19th century, the state’s legislator fielded thousands of petitions calling for an end to lingering slavery, segregation and the uncertainty caused by legislation like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and by the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857. And among these documents were “some of the first petitions prepared, signed, and circulated by African-Americans in North American history,” says Daniel Carpenter, the director of Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies.
In order to make these documents more accessible, the center will catalogue, transcribe and digitize around 5,000 of the petitions, currently owned by the Massachusetts State Archives. The center aims to complete the project by June 2015.
The petitions speak to fear and anxiety in African American communities, even though slavery had already been abolished in the state. African Americans living around Boston feared re-enslavement, for example, or that their basic life freedoms would be limited by discriminatory regulations.
Included in the thousands of petitions are first-person accounts of former slaves and free African-Americans seeking aid and full rights.
“Any handwritten document from African-Americans in the 18th or 19th century is enormously valuable and quite rare,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. “So seeing these signed by black people demanding their full equality and freedom is quite exciting.”
Gates added that the petitions will help further illustrate differences in the African-American community at the time, something he tries to highlight in his teaching.
African American abolitionists Prince Hall, Thomas Paul, Charles Lenox Redmond and William Cooper Nell were among the signers, as were allies like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Greenleaf Whittier and Louisa May Alcott.
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April 26, 2013 11:54 am
First, let’s establish the fact that there is something in the United States called the American Kitefliers Association. And there’s something called competitive stunt kiting.
Here’s what stunk kiting looks like:
Now, as you might expect, the people who compete in stunt kiting competitions are interesting folks. At Collectors Weekly, they’ve got a profile of Richard Dermer, pizza shop owner and kite-collector extraordinaire. The walls of Dermer’s pizza joint are covered in kites from all over the world, which is impressive enough. But it’s not his only accomplishment. Dermer worked at Hideaways, one of the first pizza places in Oklahoma in the late 1950s, when pizza was an exotic food. He bought the joint in 1960. He delivered pizzas in these weird Volkswagen Beetles painted like Herbie and lady bugs. Then, in 1970, his game-partner and manager at the Hideaway was the first to market the Japanese version of the game Go in the United States.
It was this game company that lead Dermer to kites, and from there he took off—eventually becoming president of the American Kitefliers Association.
Dermer now has a huge kite collection. He told Collectors Weekly:
“I was very much a novice, but I started learning. And the more we got into going to kite festivals and collecting kites, the more I discovered and the deeper the subject became. My kite-book library now runs over a hundred volumes. I learn stuff new every time I go to an event. And I think the kites out in the garage are multiplying when the lights are out.”
What Dermer’s collection and hobby brings to the United States is an international perspective and history on kite flying. In India, for example, kite flying is a fierce, sometimes violent sport. In Thailand, kite battles reflect the war of the sexes between men and women. Kites were used in World War II, to distract German planes and for target practice.
And when Dermer started stunt-kiting, it was pretty new. All the kits were triangular, they all looked about the same. But soon, Dermer told Collectors Weekly, that changed. “In the ’80s and ’90s, kites went through quite a developmental phase where they were getting better and better as new lighter, stronger materials were being developed. Tubular fiberglass became obsolete when tubular graphite came along.” Dermer, ever the innovator, set up the new rules for judging these stunt kite competitions, which take into account how much control the flier has, the difficulty of the moves, and the choreography. It’s a lot like ice skating or gymnastics, Dermer says.
Dermer’s next arena? Taking these stunt kites inside. He makes kites at schools, for kids and adults alike. He’s even made kites at weddings out of napkins. Really, Dermer sounds like the life of any party.
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