Thomas R. O'Donnell

Famed climate change warrior and former Iowan headlines Darwin Day in Iowa City

In STEM on February 21, 2018 at 7:35 am
One of the better signs at last year's March for Science Iowa: A portrait of Darwin with the slogan, "Very gradual CHANGE we can believe in.". Credit: Paula Mohr.

One of the better signs at last year’s March for Science Iowa featured dear old Darwin. Credit: Paula Mohr.

Iowans have an opportunity to hear from a hero in the battle to halt or reverse climate change.

The event is the annual Iowa City Darwin Day, actually a two-day symposium to honor Charles Darwin, the naturalist whose book, “On the Origin of Species,” posited evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. The celebration is held every year on or around the great scientist’s February 12 birthday. This year it’s Friday and Saturday, February 23-24, on the University of Iowa campus.

Darwin Day celebrates science – particularly science that often is denigrated or attacked, such as evolution and human-caused climate change. Many of the sessions revolve around these two subjects and how to communicate about them with skeptics.

This year’s program includes a rare chance to see in person a former Iowan who has become a champion and a lightning rod on climate change.

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Iowa’s March for Science sets second event, looks to the future

In Government, STEM on February 14, 2018 at 7:16 am
Science backers listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa on April 22, 2017 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Science backers listen to speakers during the March for Science Iowa on April 22, 2017 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Nearly a year ago, around 3,000 Iowans gathered on a sunny April day to support science – its role in public policy and improving the human condition – at one of dozens of marches around the world.

The March for Science Iowa, April 22 (Earth Day), united citizens, sent a message to government and provided insights into Iowa-based research. But its organizers say their dreams to continue advocating throughout the year haven’t panned out. Assembling the event left many of them exhausted. I was involved and, like others, the demands of work and family left me little time for activism. (Just look at the recent sparsity of posts to this site for evidence.)

Now, however, two of last year’s leaders are staging a revival, starting with a second event – to coincide, again, with a national March for Science. They’re also working to institute a formal structure that, with luck and hard work, could lead to a more enduring impact.

Documentary draws lines in GMO debate

In Government, Industry Research, University research on November 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm
The "Food Evolution" movie poster, courtesy of Black Valley Films.

The “Food Evolution” movie poster, courtesy of Black Valley Films.

Given Iowa’s reputation as an agricultural state, it would be no surprise to find we’re in the middle of a debate about the use and safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Odds are, the corn and soybeans you see farmers picking as you drive down a highway or country road (or that you’re harvesting yourself if you farm) this fall are GMOs. Most probably were genetically altered to tolerate herbicides, resist insects, or both. In many cases, these tweaks have let farmers grow more grain with less cost, often with lower environmental impact.

These products have been in the field for decades. (And one could argue that virtually every plant we eat has been genetically modified through cross breeding.) We’ve all eaten them with no ill effects. Yet arguments continue over their safety, whether their presence should be disclosed in food labeling and whether they’re tools of money-grubbing corporations.

All these issues come up in “Food Evolution,” a documentary making the rounds and presented last week at the Iowa State University Memorial Union in Ames. It asks important questions: How do we make the most informed decisions about what we eat? And what if, in rejecting GMOs, we get it wrong?

Iowa makes several cameo appearances, with scenes shot in Ames and Des Moines and in the credentials of activists and bystanders on screen.

Mary Murphy

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