Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why Thoreau Still Matters in the Boston Globe

Posted by Lucy Zipf, Original Article by James Sullivan

2017 marks the 200th year since Thoreau’s birth and the Boston Globe recently published an article emphasizing that his transcendental beliefs remain as relevant as ever.

The piece, titled Why Thoreau Still Matters, describes the many events and happenings surrounding Thoreau that will dot his bicentennial year, including a new biography. 

Hulton Archive/Globe Staff Illustration 


It goes on to assert that Thoreau’s core beliefs, namely his "rebelliousness, idealism, humanism, and concern for the environment," are particularly important to embrace in this time of great political and social change for the United States.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Walden Pond in the New York Times

Posted by Amanda Gallinat

"Walden is a perfect forest mirror...in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun’s hazy brush" 
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In a recent article in the New York Times entitled What the Muck of Walden Pond Tells Us About Our Planet, researcher Curt Stager describes in beautiful detail what sediment cores from Walden Pond can tell us about the site's past, present, and future. 



Sediment layers act as time capsules, showing the impacts of human development at Walden Pond over the past 1,500 years. Stager's team uses sediment cores to conjure up the clean, cool waters of Thoreau's time:


Following Thoreau's time, however, sediments reveal nutrient pollution in the 1920's, radiation and pesticides in the 1960's, and, in recent years, a ubiquitous alga common to warming waters. Stager warns that these sediment cores reflect an ecosystem that could be on the brink of "nutrient apocalypse" and we ignore the lessons of the lake at our own risk.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ecological Sculpture Trail in Newton

Posted by Richard Primack

“I do not know but a pine wood is as substantial and memorably a fact as a friend.” 
-Thoreau, in his Journal. 

Kennard Park on Dudley Road in Newton hosted a sculpture exhibit this autumn by 16 guest artists. The art works were displayed throughout the conservation area, and had environmental, historical, and sustainable development themes. 

One exhibit had brightly colored fabric strung between trunks of pine trees to demonstrate the interconnectedness of individuals and species in ecological communities:


A large metallic flower uses petals to collect water in a storage tank that can used to irrigate a garden, reducing demand on the city’s water supply:


In the forest, ceramic birds are placed on tree trunks to remind us of the hundreds of millions of birds that are no longer present due to the destruction of their habitats both in the United States and in their tropical overwintering grounds:

For more information, check out the curator's notes on the Kennard Park exhibit.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Who reviews articles for scientific journals?

Posted by Richard Primack

“I sometimes despair of getting anything quite simple and honest done in this world by the help of men.”
-Henry David Thoreau in Walden

Scientific journals depend on scientists willing to provide anonymous reviews of papers submitted for publication. Scientists are not paid for writing reviews, but do this as a service to their profession and to gain access to the most recent research. So, who is reviewing papers?

In a recent study, we examined 11,840 invitations to review articles sent to 6,555 different reviewers for the journal Biological Conservation. Among the most interesting findings were:

1. Most of the reviewers were from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, and less than 1% of the reviewers came from populous countries like India and China.




Distribution of Biological Conservation reviewers by country of affiliation in 2014 and 2015.
(Figure 1 from Primack et al.)

2. E
ditors sent out an average of 6.7 invitations per paper.
3. Reviewers accepted 37% of our invitations.
4. 90% reviewers completed their review following accepting an invitation.
5. Most reviews were submitted on time.
6. Reviewers who were fast with one review tended to be fast with another.

Our major recommendation from this study is that Editors for Biological Conservation, and probably also for other journals, should invite more reviewers from under-represented countries. We are grateful to Biological Conservation reviewers for the high rates at which they accept and complete reviews, and for completing reviews in a timely manner!

You can find the full article from Biological Conservation HERE.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Ethics in Field Biology

Posted by Richard B. Primack

On September 6, 1850 upon seeing a Great Blue Heron shot by a neighbor, Thoreau remarked “I am glad to recognize him for a native of America-- why not as an American citizen?”

Marine biologists investigating the effects of marine protected areas often catch and in the process kill large numbers of fish and invertebrates as bycatch that are not part of their study.


Seemingly benign activities such as photography and bird watching can have consequences. In this example, the photographer might be damaging juvenile plants and compacting the soil. 

Animals should be handled in a way that minimizes stress.

Plant ecologists focusing on their particular study system typically do not acknowledge the considerable damage that they do, including trampling adjacent vegetation, compacting soil, and harming and frightening animal life.

Plant ecologists should take care to minimize their impact on the surrounding vegetation and ecosystem.

In a recent article in Biological Conservation entitled "Field work ethics in biological research" scientists are asked to conduct research in a way that minimizes harm to species and ecosystems. While research often does have an impact, scientists should not be content with simply following the requirements of government agencies or university committees, but should conduct research using the best possible practices.

Read the full article HERE.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Richard Primack's University Lecture


Last week, Richard B. Primack delivered the annual Boston University Lecture.

To view a summary booklet of Dr. Primack's research on the effects of climate change on the plants and animals of Massachusetts, click HERE.

To read BU Today's coverage of Dr. Primack's University Lecture, click HERE.

Congratulations to Dr. Primack on this great honor!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

University Lecture!


Congratulations to Richard Primack on being selected as this year's University Lecturer! Every year, Boston University selects one professor to present a lecture to the entire community on a topic of wide interest, and this year Dr. Primack has been selected.

Professor Primack will describe how his team has been using Henry David Thoreau’s records from the 1850s to document the earlier flowering and leafing out of plants, the earlier ice out at Walden Pond, and the more variable response of migratory birds. Wildflowers are also declining. And if Thoreau were alive today, what would he tell us to do about global warming? Primack’s lively and accessible talk about the local effects of climate change will be supported by beautiful photos and insightful quotes from Thoreau.

This work has received exceptional wide attention in the popular media, including the New York Times, National Geographic,and National Public Radio, and demonstrates the relevance of Thoreau’s legacy to contemporary issues.

Please join us for "Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods" presented by Richard B. Primack. This event is open to the public!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 at 7 pm, Tsai Performance, 685 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA