Apocalypse 1908: The World War Holocaust

H.G. Wells’ The War in the Air (1908)

HMA_R_23_Airship_With_CamelAfter the First World War, wrote historian Barbara Tuchman in her landmark history of the pre-war years, “illusions and enthusiasms possible up to 1914 slowly sank beneath a sea of mass disillusionment.” But there were some who were disillusioned long before that. In the decades leading up to the catastrophic conflict, all sorts of writers and thinkers worried about the possibility of a worldwide war, fought with technologies that were capable of causing destruction on an entirely new scale.

Concerns about a massive conflict were so serious that the major European powers held two peace conferences, in 1899 and 1907, despite the fact that they weren’t currently at war with each other. Fiction writers captured the martial zeitgeist with a steady stream of future war stories (including H.G. Wells’ 1898 The War of the Worlds), exploring military possibilities that would soon be realized.

The most bitingly clear statement of pre-war anticipation and disillusionment is H.G. Wells’ 1908 novel, The War in the Air. The book is a major genre milestone, one that explicitly lays out an important theme of the coming century: Our civilization is headed for a catastrophic end unless our moral progress keeps pace with our technological process. Continue reading

Science Caturday: Tourists Bring Unwanted Gifts

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Oh noooo, a new article in The Atlantic says that the huge increase in the numbers of visitors to Antarctica in recent years may be making the penguins sick.

A team led by Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in New Zealand found multiple infectious agents, including Salmonella and E. coli bacteria and West Nile virus in captive penguins dating back to 1947. A paper based on the team’s work published this month in the journal Polar Biology (paywall) reports that outbreaks of disease from those pathogens have killed thousands of penguins over the years.

I sure hope our intrepid polar explorer kitteh didn’t bring along any toxoplasmosis from home.

Science for the People: Amazons

sftpThis week, Science for the People is learning how science can shed light on the stories told by our ancestors. They’re joined by folklorist and science historian Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, to learn what archaeology can tell us about legendary warrior women in cultures from around the world. They also talk to anthropologist John Hawks to learn how researchers gain insights from ancient human remains.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

A Lab of Their Own

The sciencing of A League of Their Own  (#ALabofTheirOwn) reminded me a bit of the sciencing of Conan the Barbarian (#ConanthePostDoc). Both films have great scripts, with great lines; but most people only remember one or two. People other than me do not have the scripts burnt into their souls.

That is ok. In fact, it is better than ok. As Jimmy Dugan says to Dottie Hinson:

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.

It was not easy, but I think we found a few gems that speak honestly to the practice of science now.

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Some of the lines were so relevant that observers mistook them for actually commentary.

One would hope that a movie about women playing baseball in the 1940s would not be relevant to science today.

The #ALabofTheirOwn storify makes up for its lack of quantity with some real quality, but I’m biased.

Spirography

Created by Josh Witten using Inspirograph (by Nathan Friend)

Created by Josh Witten using Inspirograph (by Nathan Friend)

For folks of a certain age (ie, approximately my age), set your “Nostalgia” dial to 11. Nathan Friend has created an addictive, online version of the spirograph called Inspirograph. Enjoy.

According to Friend, a mobile app is in the works.

HT: Brian Kelly and Sheila McNeill