What is nature? What does it mean to preserve, or save it? Science writer Emma Marris says one common definition of nature in North America is the way any given place was before European explorers arrived and began changing the landscape. Therefore, saving nature would mean returning the land to how it was before their arrival. But, she says that idea is flawed because there are countless examples of land management by indigenous people: relocating useful plants to new environments, creating systems to manage rainwater, and clearing land for crops. And, human impact on the environment goes back much more than a few hundred years. Marris notes that pretty much anywhere you look, there is evidence of major changes with the arrival of humans – in particular, the extinction of large land mammals like the woolly mammoth.
Today however, the planet is largely tailored entirely to human existence. Nearly 40% of the ice-free surface of the earth is agriculture. Domesticated livestock far outweighs wild animal life. Species have been moved around, in some cases wreaking havoc on ecosystem. And of course, there are growing impacts of climate change – even hitting places on the planet where humans have never lived.
Marris argues that in order to effectively conserve nature, we have to change our perception of what nature means. She says her old way of thinking, that nature was a pristine untouched and unchanged place didn’t match reality, because if left alone, all places will change. So, she came up with new definitions, including the idea of resource-intensive land management to keep certain culturally important lands as unchanged as possible, and also the idea of novel ecosystems where uncontrolled landscapes have transformed themselves.
With this updated understanding of what nature is, Marris proposes an updated take on conservation. She suggests dividing land into three different styles of management: restoration, innovation, and observation. In her exciting and hopeful talk at UC San Diego, Marris goes on to give concrete examples of how these strategies have worked, and might continue to work around the world.
Our life-spans are ever-increasing, but our health-spans are not, leading to long periods of unpleasant and expensive suffering with chronic conditions. Many of these conditions have recently been linked to the microbiome. We are constantly shaping our microbiomes through the foods we eat, the environments we experience, even the people we live and work with.
Through the American Gut Project, the largest crowdsourced and crowdfunded citizen-science project yet conducted, we now know about the microbiomes of many types of people, from the healthiest to the sickest. Potentially real-time analysis of our microbiomes could guide our daily decisions in a way that optimizes our microbiomes for extending our health-span. Although the potential benefits of such research are clear, what are the risks (e.g., privacy concerns) that need to be identified and addressed?
Rob Knight is Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering and Computer Science & Engineering and is Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego. He authored “Follow Your Gut: The Enormous Impact of Tiny Microbes” and co-authored “Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child’s Developing Immune System.” His work combines microbiology, DNA sequencing, ecology and computer science to understand the vast numbers of microbes that inhabit our bodies and our planet. He was recently honored with the 2017 Massry Prize for his microbiome research.
Advertisers are always looking to better understand consumers’ preferences and decision making. The application of neuroscience knowledge and techniques to answer market and media research questions is not new but in our digital age, the practice raises new questions about privacy, informed consent, and consumer autonomy in decision making. Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen explores the ethical concerns that arise and explains some of the tools used by advertisers in this growing field.
When you hear the word “drone,” what first comes to mind?
Most people usually think of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by the military in order to spy on citizens and drop bombs on unsuspecting targets.
Lucien Miller, CEO of Innov8tive Designs, explains that the first drone, called the Kettering Bug, was flown almost a hundred years ago, in 1918. Early drones like this were essentially torpedoes with wings, unguided aircraft that dropped bombs with little target accuracy. It was these types of UAVs that have led people to fear the term drone and the destruction associated with them.
But today, drones and UAVs are rapidly gaining commercial popularity as UAV systems are becoming available at prices non-military budgets can afford. Miller says modern UAVs are becoming so small, they can be purchased for as little as $400. And now their uses extend far beyond covert military operations, such as search and rescue missions, endangered species protection, and infrastructure inspection, just to name a few.
Keith McLellen, CEO of ROV Systems joins the show to discuss the risks that come with the benefits of drones, the biggest concern being an increase in aerial surveillance and an invasion of privacy.
UCTV celebrates the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking novel, Silent Spring, with a series of videos presented by the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology.
In the final episode of the series, Dorothy Sears of the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Christina Deckard of the SPAWAR Systems Center, and science journalist Lynne Friedmann discuss the hurdles Carson overcame as a women in science 50 years ago. To put Carson’s struggles in perspective, these women in the modern field of science reveal their current struggles with inequality. Watch their insightful discussion in “Women in Science: 50 Years After Silent Spring“: