The Murky View of Cloud Brightening

Ocean ships create cloud trails, stillshot from NASA video offered by

We are in a serious pickle. We can’t even agree whether we should test equipment to run experiments to make climate change better because … well… climate change affects everybody. We don’t know what we don’t know and can’t find out because we can’t even talk about it without surfacing hysteria. This is the conundrum I surmised last week, reading about a story on environmental research. The Alameda City Council, the decision-makers for a nearby local town, voted last Wednesday against allowing the continuation of an experiment to spray sea water into the ocean air to measure its effectiveness as a strategy that might lessen the effects of climate change. It made me curious.

Why was this experiment so “controversial,” as many of the headlines said? Why did Alameda “overrule its staff,” as the New York Times described it? I dug into the weeds a little and found that there’s a lot of weeds here. I did end up a bit more optimistic about the transparency of city governments, but more pessimistic about our ability to solve climate change. It’s a mess! And it’s going to get messier before it gets better, if this is any indication.

Do You Have a Permit?

The bare bones of what happened is as follows. Scientists from the University of Washington wanted to study the usefulness of a machine that would spray seawater into the air. The goal of the spraying would be to create an effect called Marine Cloud Brightening, which I’ll explain shortly. They had arranged to put their sprayer on to the deck of an old naval carrier, the U.S.S. Hornet, which is now docked and used as a tourist museum. It’s docked in Alameda, a peninsula connected to Oakland that sits in the San Francisco Bay. Alameda used to have a naval base, hence the Hornet, hence the docking facilities.

Someone needs to tell that the USS Hornet museum is not in San Francisco.
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V is for Variety

Prize-winning weird deinocheirus, from Discover magazine.

Gone are the days when all the dinosaurs were drawn the same way… green, tail-draggin’, oversized lizards. If there’s one thing the dinosaurs ought to be known for — other than not being green, tail-dragging, or lizards — it’s that there were a ton of them, all shapes and sizes. So, as we approach the end of the world of dinosaurs, this is the perfect opportunity to do a little guinness record thing. I”m going to keep that lower-case because I wouldn’t want to be rivaling the actual World Record people. I did get some of these answers from them, though.

This will be about the -ests. The biggest, smallest, smartest, dumbest, earliest, and so on. I start with the weirdest, the deinocheirus. The name means horrible hand, and the skeleton itself looks like a patchwork quilt. It had an upturned claw on a hand, but also had a ducky bill, long tail, and a hump thing on its back. Or you could call those back spines “sails,” if you like. I have to trust the paleontologist that they got this right. There have been many instances of skeletons being mixed and mashed together, though, but this is not one of them.

Here’s our deino, without the skin. See? Still looks weird.

Deinocheirus skeleton, a weird theropod, photo from Wikipedia.
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The End of History (as we know it) Part One

Viewing history close-up is problematic; Image from

Historians are all agitated, for good reason. They’re being squeezed between two forces: a highly politicized and polarized atmosphere and a steady decline in the number of students majoring in history. But are students really ditching history? And is this climate of bashing historians even unique? This variation of an intergalactic trash compactor makes a familiar grinding sound; we’ve been here before. If you want to understand what’s going on with History as a discipline, you have take a broader view and look at…(you know it’s coming) the whole history.

This topic arose during a three-day conference of the American Historical Association that kept me wandering through the rabbit warren of the Hilton in downtown San Francisco last week. By the time I was done musing about the concerns of historians–and listening to some fascinating discussions about how AI was affecting teaching, whether women had a Renaissance, why Senegalese soldiers were recruited in World War I, and how to get published–I was full of thoughts. So many thoughts about the purported slump of the history profession that I decided it warranted two separate posts.

In this post, let’s talk about whether the number of history majors is, in fact, in a tailspin.

The Disappearing History Major

There’s been plenty of hand-wringing over the decrease in the number of history students. The decline of students was part of a trend that the Chronicle of Higher Education article had noted back in 2018: “Why Are Students Ditching the History Major?” This study of the change in college degrees awarded over a span in the 2010s showed history at the bottom–a 34% drop in degrees awarded. Science and engineering crested the top, which is why you shouldn’t mention the word STEM to history department administrators unless you want to hear a stream of invective on how they are sucking up all the resources and how they get churn out published articles by rearranging the names on the same data sent to different journals. (Hearing that from my graduate history adviser and knowing how hard my son, the physics major, worked on his articles created some major cognitive dissonance!)

2018 data from

This study from 2018 and its continuing trend prompted other articles by the American History Association which wondered whether the decline has ended, is extended, has reversed, or has backed up and run over itself? The conference held two sessions on the topic, which I confess I didn’t attend because I wanted to learn about the complex use of the word “medieval” in South Asian History and how gender and power was reflected in the Byzantine “apple affair.” But trust me, the AHA is still worried about it.

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