Lyrical in Lapland – Biologist Released into the Wilderness

Nature post! I went to Lapland for a few days, and am so bursting with happiness about the fact that I can’t help sharing some of the experience. Anyone looking to read about nature observations of plants, lichens, mushrooms and animals, as well as my hiking mishaps and serendipities above the arctic circle in Finland, with plenty of photos to go with, read on.

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On the green banks of brook Sivakkaoja

My much awaited Lapland visit could not have packed much more of the things a wilderness hike is all about: surviving the cold, drying wet socks over the fire, climbing a fell (rounded ancient ice-ground mountains of Finland), finding vibrant valleys between fells with clearwater lakes and waterways, crossing said waterways on foot, eating bilberries everywhere, and encountering a family of fearless Siberian jays (kuukkeli), reindeer, owl, and rock ptarmigans (kiiruna). Continue reading

Posted in environment | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Do we fear the right things?

torivartti okI had the privilege of giving a public presentation at a large Finnish political discussion and debate fair Suomi Areena for the Finnish Ecomodernist Society in Pori a few days ago. (Finnish readers can view the presentation here – skip over to the 03:01:30 or 02:15:00 depending on the version, to watch my 25 minute live televised presentation.) This year’s theme at the fair was safety, and the point of my talk was to look at things we fear, things that are risky, and where these two meet – or don’t meet. Continue reading

Posted in biotechnology, health, nutrition, psychology | Tagged , | 4 Comments

No, Glyphosate Is Not a Threat to Bees

Glyphosate is a herbicide, in other words, it is toxic to plants. Its target enzyme is not found in insects or other animals, so it is generally not very harmful to them – and as confirmed by a recent study, even direct sprays are not lethal to bees.

This is what I said about bees in my series 17 Questions about Glyphosate. I thought that glyphosate having anything to do with bee welfare would be such a far-fetched idea that I needn’t dedicate more time to that. But, time and again, when discussing glyphosate – usually in some completely different context – someone will pop up and go “it should be banned because it harms bees!” So let’s talk about that in more detail.

2018 September UPDATE: New study out about bee gut microbiome, observations of its findings included in the end of the piece. Continue reading

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Measures of Toxicity

This article is co-written by biologist Iida Ruishalme (yours truly at Thoughtscapism) and neuroscientist Alison Bernstein, aka Mommy PhD from SciMoms.


In this piece we dive into the wealth of information available on toxicity, and take a closer look at two main categories: acute and chronic toxicity. Large versions of the infographics separately below.

We live amidst a mind-bogglingly rich sea of molecules. Nowadays, we also have astonishingly sophisticated methods of chemical detection at our disposal, and are able to measure smaller and smaller traces of substances in our environment. This is great! We can learn to understand molecular interactions better than ever before, and with the help of this information we can also better monitor and regulate potentially harmful exposures.

But when we know, we worry. Sometimes this wealth of knowledge leads to undue fear of substances even when they are present in minute quantities that pose little risk and a wish to remove these traces altogether. However, trying to remove all traces of unwanted substances in our environment is an impossible goal. Continue reading

Posted in biology, chemistry, health, methods, science communication | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Risk In Perspective: Population Risk Does Not Equal Individual Risk

nullThis series is a collaboration between neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme. Errors in risk perception are at the core of so many issues in science communication that we think this is a critical topic to explore in detail. This series is cross-posted on SciMoms and Thoughtscapism. Continue reading

Posted in health, society | Tagged | 5 Comments

Risk In Perspective: Zero Risk Is an Impossible Dream

This series is a collaboration between neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme. Errors in risk perception are at the core of so many issues in science communication that we think this is a critical topic to explore in detail. This series is cross-posted on SciMoms and Thoughtscapism. Continue reading

Posted in agriculture, alternative medicine, energy, environment, health, psychology | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Risk In Perspective: Hazards Are Not All Created Equal

This series is a collaboration between neuroscientist Alison Bernstein and biologist Iida Ruishalme. Errors in risk perception are at the core of so many issues in science communication that we think this is a critical topic to explore in detail. This series is cross-posted on SciMoms and Thoughtscapism.

Alison and Iida would like to thank Anne Martin for her graphic design work in translating our abstract ideas into graphics. Anne is a designer, illustrator, and researcher currently finishing her PhD in Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah. You can see her work through her website at hungrybraindesign.com and follow her on Twitter @thehungrybrain. She also runs a blog teaching researchers how to visually communicate their science at vizsi.com.


All hazards are not equal

We have a tendency to selectively pay attention to certain hazards. We also tend to consider all hazards we pay attention to as equally risky and all risks as equally harmful. However, hazards can affect different numbers of people (depending on exposure level, genetics, and a variety of other factors) and have very different severity of harm (from temporary skin irritation to death). The simplified graph below provides a general framework for thinking about hazards. Hazards are binary; they either are or are not a hazard. To determine how risky a hazard is and what to do about it, we must consider how many people are affected and how severe the harm is.

Looking at the graph, we can roughly divide hazards into four categories based on how many people are harmed and the severity of the harm. Notice that whether something is natural or synthetic does not impact which category it falls into.

null Continue reading

Posted in health, society, vaccines | Tagged , , | 9 Comments