Hitting Home with The Really Big One

I feel as though reading Kathryn Schulz’s The Really Big One had a particularly personal impact on me, because I lived my sophomore and junior years of high school in Vancouver Canada. I feel really quite fortunate to be here right now in light of the fact that I was pretty much on the Cascadia subduction zone for two years during a tie, when a disastrous earthquake is overdue and could have occurred at literally any one throughout those two years. I actually remember going to earth science class during my sophomore year, and we actually discussed the exact situation outlined in this article. We even did the same hand visualization exercise that Schulz walked her readers through in this article. I knew we were living in an at-risk area, as did all my classmates, but for some strange reason, none of us were even remotely worried. Perhaps, the situation was not described in as dire terms as Schulz appropriately conveys, but I believe it had more to do with some intrinsic part of our humanity that always believes we’re relatively invincible. Regardless of whether it’s a natural disaster, economic disaster, or any other disaster, terrible things happen every single day at complete random to people for no fault of their own. It’s a phenomenon of which we are all aware, but despite that awareness, we frequently refuse to connect that reality with the possibility of it happening to us. It’s a curious compartmentalization that we as humans have developed, and in a way, I can see the value of it, as it allows us to not get bogged down in the things we can’t control. However, especially when articles like Kathryn Schulz’s The Really Big One are presented, it makes me wish we exercised greater caution, especially with disasters that aren’t a matter of “if?”, but “when?”

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Project Nim- Monkey Business Gone Wrong

Man, oh man, where to begin? This documentary was certainly not what I was expecting. I thought this was going to be about a monkey named Nim and his journey through experimentation, and it was exactly that in one regard, but I walked away feeling like this was a very human focused documentary. The project Nim experiment was largely a failure, because it was found that the chimp couldn’t communicate, but rather he could learn gestures to gain whatever he desired, so not much was learned at the end of the day. But the human side of the experiment offers lots of ideas to consider and learn from. It became increasingly obvious that humans so desperately crave a connection, that they will quite literally manufacture a false sense of a relationship with an animal and even other humans. Nim exhibited his ability to recognize people quite frequently, but it was the humans that decided to interpret that recognition. Take the worst human being in the documentary, Herb, for example. He is relatively horrible to Nim the entire time and ends up abandoning Nim. All the while, Nim recognizes Herb, and positively interacts with Herb for the most part, because animals aren’t dumb, they generally know it’s unwise to bite the hand that feeds you. But Herb interprets that recognition and interaction as his paternal relationship with Nim. A year after abandoning Nim, Herb comes back and Nim acts ecstatic. Herb interprets that reaction as one of love, but I’d venture to say it was because Nim thought he was going to escape the prison that was his situation at the time. Also, as a side human to human note, many of the women in this documentary had a relationship with Herb at one point or another, because they interpreted his interest as one of possible love, but he too only seemed to have animal-like, carnal motives in hindsight. I could go through this discussion on everyone else in the documentary, but you are a gracious reader to have even read this far and I won’t exhaust you more than I have too. As a rhetorical text, I think whoever edited the film did a fine job of show that Herb is a terrible person and that project Nim was far from humane, assuming that was indeed the purpose. It’s audience was anyone who cares to be informed on animal rights or someone who happened to flip through the channels on their television and left it on HBO.

Curious about Curiosity

“What does a star-fingered toad look like?”

“What crops do some ants cultivate in underground ‘farms’?”

“What form does the clam’s brain take?”

“How does the spider avoid being caught in its own web?”

“How do sea-wasps swim?”

“What is the only type of animal besides a human that can get a sunburn?”

“Who is Maria Sibylla Merian?”

These were legitimate searches I made in Google search engine while reading Kim Todd’s article, Curious. To me, that is a remarkable accomplishment on the part of Kim Todd, because it just further proves the point that Todd is trying to get across. She evenly slyly leaves the answers to most of these questions at the end of her article with the title “Answers (just in case you were curious)” as if to say, “Yep! You too are just as motivated by curiosity as the rest of us.” She probably would have added a winky face emoji to that title if she could have gotten away with it, but alas, this is an academic piece after all. Now I apologize for that little bit of a tangent, but it needed to be noted, that Todd’s method for making readers engage with a text about curiosity by making them curious is rather genius in my humble opinion. As a rhetorical text, it’s intended audience seems to be a more educated part of the public as the article refers to several parts of the brain among other things with which the average Joe may lack familiarity. The purpose of the article was to inform and engage readers about curiosity, which it achieve masterfully. As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed the text, because it made me think. I couldn’t easily read this passage passively.

The Muddied Details of MuddyBot

Today I’d like to discuss two articles that I read that reported on the same exact subject, but each managed to paint very different pictures. These articles are Samantha Cole’s “Robot Replicates How our Ancestors First Walked on Land,” found in Popular Science and John Toon’s “Robot Helps Study How First Land Animals Moved 360 Million Years Ago,” found in the Georgia Tech News Center. When comparing the two articles, John Toon’s article is obviously the most expansive and detail oriented of the two as it’s an article meant to only peek the interest of a select audience that has prior interest in academic research, because that is the typical audience found of the Georgia Tech News Center. Samantha Cole’s article is significantly shorter and paints the research narrative with much broader strokes as it aims to interest the much broader audience of those that enjoy passively reading Popular Science magazine. This discrepancy in narrative is particularly evident when Cole discusses the project as if it was singularly worked by Georgia Tech researchers. However, in reality, as outlined in Toon’s article, the collaborative efforts of people from Carnegie Mellon and Clemson were hugely important to the overall project. Even on just a visual level, it’s obvious which article is attempting to appeal to a broader audience as Cole’s Popular Science article has two GIFs spread throughout the article in addition to a provided video, which was obtained from Toon’s article. Toon’s article on the other hand only has the video at the beginning and then followed by solely fact driven written content. For what each article seeks to achieve, I believe they are both quite successful in reaching their audiences, but it is nonetheless interesting to observe the rather large divergence in information presentation that occurs in order to facilitate these successes.

The Medical Rat Race

This week, I had the pleasure of reading two different articles about the use of mice and rats for medical research. One of the articles from the Jackson Laboratory entitled, “Why Mouse Genetics?” spoke on the benefits and scientific advancements made possible through the use of lab rats and mice. Meanwhile, the National Anti-Vivisection Society’s article entitled, “Mice and Rats in Research” discussed what they would argue to be a horrific increase in use of such animals for scientific experimentation and the legal injustices that serve to facilitate that increase. Now certainly, how a reader may connect more with one of these articles more than the other is likely dependent on how much of an animal love that reader is. I, personally, am a huge believer that a single human life is worth more than all the animals in the world unless the loss of a certain species would directly harm the human population, like if all the bees in the world died, and the lack of pollination forces more people into starvation. There is no love lost between myself and the animal population in general, so I genuinely found National Anti-Vivisection Society’s article to be more of a joke than anything else. That may make me a terrible person, and I’m okay with that. The reality of that article is that it not only fails to recognize the great benefits of using rats and mice, but it criticizes their use without offering the slightest of alternatives. For crying out loud, nobody argues with the incredible need to cure cancer, and yet, this article infers that if such a medical breakthrough requires the cruel death of millions of mice, the cost may actually be too high. I’d ask the authors of this ridiculous article to present an alternative. Should we go straight to human testing and put human lives at risk? Should we just stop biological advancement all together and be content with the medical issues of today’s world and let humans die without a fight?

Now, of course, my tangent takes this argument to the greatest extreme, and the National Anti-Vivisection Society never explicitly says that testing on mice and rats should stop all together. However, their displeasure with the immense number of rats being killed certainly suggests that they’d like to see a down tick in such uses, which means, whether they’ll admit it or not, they believe a human life can be measured and valued in term of rat lives. This measurement apparently suggests that we’ve reached the tipping point and we sacrifice too many rat lives already, therefore requiring a reduction in such experimental use. At the end of the day, Jackson professor Leonard D. Shultz, Ph.D. put it best in the Jackson Laboratory article when he said, “This humanized mouse provides insights into living human biology that aren’t otherwise possible.” We can talk about the inhumanity that occurs every day to rats in labs, but if all the rats and mice of the world died today to make a medical breakthrough that saved even just one person, I am of the opinion that the rat and mice deaths were worth it without a doubt in my mind. Posted at 8:36am

Union of Concerned Scientists

For my first blog post, I want to discuss an organization known as the Union of Concerned Scientists and specifically discuss the organization’s website. Upon entering the website, I was immediately struck by the sophisticated design of the website. Although that’s a quality of the website that is often taken for granted, it is nonetheless important to recognize, because the professionality of the website automatically clues readers into the fact that the issues discussed here are important enough to the authors to build an attractive website to get that all important message across. I then visited their pages for clean energy and nuclear weapons. As is the case with almost any kind of text, these pages showed a lot of signs for rhetoric. These pages were clearly written for an audience with a general concern for the health of our planet. When there’s a section of the clean energy page literally called “What’s at Stake,” it’s fair to say the Union of Concerned Scientists have a clearly defined purpose, which is to inform and inspire change, among a diversity of other related purposes. To complete the trifecta of rhetorical elements, the setting and context of this website and its contents point to our current times as we move from a society full of environmental ignorance and begin to understand the ramifications of our everyday processes like energy and food production. Among the various pages that I visited, the one that I find to be the most intriguing is about nuclear weapons as they have a computer simulation of a spinning wheel and depending on where I landed, I could read a range of terrifying stories. Each story discussed a point in recent history when we were on the brink of devastating nuclear warfare as results of truly stupid mistakes. The whole computer simulated wheel page is quite accurately entitled, “I Wish I Didn’t Know That,” and that phrase continued to pop into my head with each article I read. In general, the website is highly successful in making its readers feel unsatisfied with current situations and regulations pertaining to the concerns highlighted in the website. Of course, there are always two sides to every story and an organization like the Union of Concerned Scientists is not likely to bring up points and evidence that hurt their cause, so each argument ought to be approached with a slight amount of skepticism. However, as a reader you are at the very least inspired to find out more on the subjects discussed, so that you might eventually decide to take action. It was an interesting text to explore.  9-2-2016 4:38 am