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Klaus Esterluß | Marvel with us

Nessie – a dinosaur that arrived to late?

nessi_small

Nessi, the Loch Ness monster. Credit: Klaus Esterluß

The Nessie mystery offers one of the best known pictures to prove the legend. Again, in the beginning there were stories told by elders. Not only about Loch Ness, a 37 kilometer long and 230 meter deep lake, the alleged abode of the creature. But the lake also happens to be in Scotland, a country with a rich folklore tradition. As “Abominable Science” (p.123) explains, even “water-based super-natural creatures had already lived for centuries” in Scotland. Just to name a few: The Stronsay Beast or the sea serpent of the Isle of Lewis, or the boobrie, the buarach-bhaoi (pdf) or the “Big Beast of Lochawe”, described as an “animal with 12 legs. Some say it was like a horse, others, like a large eel.

But Loch Ness? Some think Nessie could be a plesiosaur, a species living in the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million – 11,700 years ago). Scotland as a whole was covered by a solid ice sheet half a mile think, during the ice age some 18,000 years ago. That makes Nessie either very unlikely to be real, or a very late example of it’s kind. But the famous picture seems to be quite real, doesn’t it? The story of the Loch Ness monster and the associated picture started in the 1930s. “Abominable Science” (p.127) quotes a story of three anglers who were said to be the first eye witnesses of some strange creature in the Loch. Unfortunately they didn’t see anything in particular, but merely mentioned the presence of something strange. A newspaper published the story.

Three years later, another reporter, Alex Campbell, remembered the story when he came across another possible sighting of the Loch Ness monster. The sensationalist story he wrote brought the creature back to public debate. And it was King Kong (1934), the blockbuster movie that year, that finally ignited the run for Nessi. In the film, the giant ape has to take on a prehistoric Nessie-like creature providing the audience with an idea of the monster lurking in the lake. Loch Ness has since captured the imagination of generations and become a star attraction in the cryptozoology universe.

 

Date

April 18, 2014

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Klaus Esterluß | Marvel with us

Bigfoot, hairy creature of the forests

Bigfoot

Bigfoot, credit: Jana Dörfelt

When we start talking about Bigfoot, we are also talking about Sasquatch. Both describe the same tall, hairy human-like species that many people believe lives hidden in the forests. And there are a lot more names out there for similar creatures. According to “Abominable Science”, written by an paleontologist/geologist and an outspoken skeptic, the origin of all great American mysteries of apes lies in ancient storytelling. It all began with Native Americans who told stories about mysterious hairy people in the woods or on mountains.

The Sasquatch was just the most popular one. He is the Canadian version of Bigfoot and became popular because of J. W. Burns, a collector of local legends for a Canadian newspaper. It all happened during the 1920s and a long lasting legend was born: The real Sasquatch did not look like how it is pictured today. Performing a google picture search produces a lot of very hairy results. But native Americans talked about being in contact with hairy giants. According to Abominable Science (p.34), those giants were described as “basically giant indians” who lived in villages, knew fire, clothes and weapons, but avoided civilization. They were called hairy giants because they had long (head) hair.

The name Sasquatch persisted for quite a while. Almost 40 years later it gave way to Bigfoot – because of a publicity stunt. The town of Harrison Hot Springs funded a hunt for Sasquatch with $600, to celebrate the centennial of British Columbia. The legend of Sasquatch spilled over into the US and the name Bigfoot became increasingly popular the more Bigfoot-prints were found. But why Bigfoot? Well, in 1958 The Humboldt Times columnist Andrew Genzoli used the term in one of his articles to describe the discovery of a very large footprint. And since then people have almost exclusively used the name Bigfoot, a lot of more footprints have been found and shaky movies have been shot. A legend was born.

 

Date

April 17, 2014

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Ranty Islam | Ideas

Loss of predators leads to alien landscapes

Hungry

Photo Credit: Dawn Ellner /Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

No sympathy for carnivores? Think again. Sitting at the top of the food chain, large predators have a special role in the animal kingdom. But just how important lions, wolfs or lynx really are is revealed in a new Nature study published today. The global decline in the number of these and other big carnivores means the animals they typically prey on – mostly plant eaters – multiply unchecked. With potentially dire consequences for many ecosystems around the world. Plant eaters that would otherwise end their lives between sharp teeth are free to gobble away the vegetation, dramatically changing the face of the landscapes they inhabit. The researchers from Oregon State University base their findings on observations in the US’  Yellowstone National Park and in Finland, where the decline of large predators has led to so much loss of plants and trees that soil erosion occurs, putting at risk harvests and ultimately livelihoods, too.

Date

January 10, 2014

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Ranty Islam | Ideas

Climate Change Denial: Crudely does it

What is so fascinating about climate change denial is not that it denies climate change, but that it does it so crudely. Last weekend we came across one very fine example that we thought is too good to keep from you, dear readers – even though it is not that recent: In February, the web edition of Forbes magazine ran a piece titled “Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis”. Really? Finally, a sea change in scientific opinion?

Not quite. In fact, not at all. This lazy piece penned by James Taylor, a contributor to Forbes.com, deliberately leaves out the fact that the people surveyed were geoscientists and engineers. Plus, that they are all members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, Canada and mostly in the pay of the petroleum industry – the largest employer in the region. It’s like polling the scientific advisers of the tobacco industry on the risks of smoking.

Of course, scientists will always differ on issues, especially important ones like Global Warming. But there is a scientific consensus that human-caused Climate Change is happening. And even if you hate this consensus, it does not go away.  Not even if you misrepresent the facts. And to do so  in such a crude fashion is just lame. But to insult your readers’ intelligence doesn’t go unpunished: Forbes readers duly tore the piece apart – and provided the details this simulation of “journalism” so conveniently left out. We assume James Taylor didn’t care and was too busy scribbling together his next climate sceptic hit jobs – a look at the Forbes archive of his articles suggests it was not his last one…

Date

September 10, 2013

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Ranty Islam | Ideas

Scientists turn trash into crude energy

Back to the Future Fan Club Magazine #1 - Winter 1989
Remember Doc Brown? That crazy, white haired caricature of a scientist from the 1980s blockbuster scifi comedy Back to the Future? He’s the inventor of a spectacular (and – sadly – fictitious) device called the flux capacitor that is running first on plutonium, later on ordinary household garbage to power a time machine. Here’s what it looks like when Doc Brown is searching for fuel:

Scientists in Denmark have now hit upon a novel way to do just that: producing energy from household waste. While not quite matching Doc Browns achievement when it comes to the amount of energy harvested (let alone building a time machine) the scientists’ feat is impressive enough:  Feeding  biomass (comprising anything from sewage, compost, household garbage or waste from meat and dairy production) into what is essentially a 400 °C hot pressure cooker they managed to create something very close to fossil crude oil. What’s more, the production process used is more energy efficient than any other way of getting energy out of biomass.

We figure, if the Danish research team is still unhappy with the energy yield of their trash, they only have to wait another two years for expert help: In Back to the Future – Part II we learn that Doc Brown is going to visit us in 2015.

Date

February 7, 2013

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