Science This Week: Measles, Debunking the Monk, & Flying Monkeyducks

Measles (they’re baaack)

In the year 2000, measles was virtually nonexistent in the United States.
But this week, a measles advisory was issued in New York City after the twentieth case of measles was confirmed. Before the week was over, it was twenty-one cases. Orange County in California also reported its twenty-first case of measles so far this year. Last year, nearly 200 cases of measles were reported in the U.S., and we are on track to top that in 2014.
Measles is making a comeback due to the increasing number of parents who are opting out of vaccinations for their children. measles
Despite the “childhood disease” euphemism, measles is a highly contagious, often serious and potentially deadly disease. The virus can linger airborne in a room as long as two hours after an infected person has been there.

Because measles has been rare for so many years, the memory of the disease for parents and health care workers has faded (“Remembering How to Fight Measles”, The New York Times, March 27). Many clinicians have never seen a case of measles. In the recent outbreak in New York City, some of the cases were thought to have resulted from exposure in hospitals – undiagnosed patients were not isolated immediately and exposed others waiting to be seen.

Nineteen states allow “personal belief” exemptions for school-required vaccinations.

If a single parent does not immunize a child, the risk to that individual is low. But as the number of unvaccinated children grows, the risk of numerous people contracting and spreading the disease multiples, creating a health risk for a large segment of the population…When the immunization rate falls, the danger to the young and the elderly increases dramatically (“A Doctor’s Take on the Anti-Vaccine Movement”, Forbes, March 20).

Cosmos and Bruno: Debunking the Monk

I think the new Cosmos series is brilliant thus far – but the first episode drew criticism for its portrayal of Giordano Bruno as a hero of science (“How Cosmos Bungles the History of Science”, Daily Beast, March 23).

In lengthy animation, Bruno is depicted as the only man on the planet who believed that the universe was infinite. In the Cosmos cartoon, Bruno wandered through Europe, mocked, rejected and impoverished because of his staunch refusal to disavow his scientific hypotheses about the universe. Eventually, demonically-drawn church officials imprisoned him and ultimately burned him at the stake – all for standing up for science.

329px-Giordano_Bruno_Campo_dei_FioriHere’s the problem: Bruno wasn’t a scientist – far from it – even by 16th century standards. Bruno espoused Hermetism, practicing adoration of the sun as the center of all (hence his affection for Copernicus). The church inquisition listed eight charges against Bruno, including denying the divinity of Jesus, practicing magic, and believing that the earth and all animals had souls. He wasn’t the poor cast-out loner depicted in the animation – he had multiple important patrons throughout Europe.

Call Bruno a martyr for religious freedom, but not a martyr for science. Of course there were actual scientists who were persecuted by the Church (Galileo, for example), but focusing on Bruno as the archetype science-martyr doesn’t make the point. For many posters on social media and journalists in popular media, the Bruno story (unfairly) picked a fight between science and faith.

To a certain extent, misunderstanding the story of Bruno isn’t going to do a whole lot of harm – especially in a country where so many people are in denial about basic scientific facts. But that Cosmos added an unnecessary and skewed version of Bruno – especially one skewed in this particular way – is a good miniature lesson about our tendency to turn the past into propaganda for our preferred view of the present (“How Cosmos Bungles the History of Religion and Science”).

Flying Monkeyducks and the the Awesomeness of Pterosaurs

Up in sky! It’s NOT a bird! It’s NOT a dinosaur! It’s a pterosaur!

Pterosaurs were reptiles, close cousins of the dinosaurs. Pterosaurs evolved on a separate branch of the reptile family tree. There were dozens of species of pterosaurs, some as large as an F-16 fighter jet and others as small as a paper airplane. Pterosaurs were the first animals after insects to evolve powered flight—not just leaping or gliding, but actual flight by flapping their wings to generate lift and travel through the air.

The American Museum of Natural History is opening a new pterosaur exhibit April 4. If you are expecting nothing but pterodactyls, think again.

Sordes pilosus

Sordes pilosus

Sordes pilosus looked like a flying monkeyduck. Some fossils indicate that Sordes had a thick coat of fibers similar to fur.

Quetzalcoatlus northropi

Quetzalcoatlus northropi

Quetzalcoatlus northropi was probably the largest animal ever to fly – and – it’s a native Texan! Quetzalcoatus had a wingspan of at least 33 feet.

Thalassodromeus sethi had the largest crest of any known vertebrate – three times larger than the entire rest of its skull. Thalassodromeus probably looked a lot like Toucan Sam’s more flamboyant cousin. It had a wingspan of 14 feet.

Thalassodromeus sethi

Thalassodromeus sethi


Here’s a link to more info about the exhibit.



I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.

I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.

I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.


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