New Home!!!

Dear faithful readers and first time visitors,

I wanted to let you know that I have decided to move my blog to my personal website, Now I can post, ad free, and have more control over the design of my site. I’ve moved my archives over to the site, and started on new content.

Please follow me over there, and let me know what you think of the new site!

Thanks for reading,


Let’s play Name That Tree!

As a botanist, I may be biased, but I think part of the reason most people get more excited about animals than plants is that we grow up with a language for them, an awareness of the details that make each creature unique and therefore worthy of our interest and excitement.  For plants, for many of us, they remain just plants. Or possibly in three categories: flowers, plants and trees. But, as I learned to recognize the details and patterns and relationships that define the plants, plants became more interesting.

Okay, perhaps I loved learning the language of plants because I am a huge nerd. Not perhaps, definitely. But, I do believe that the more people learn about plants and their patterns, the more interested they become. I’ve taken many lucky friends out on hikes where I gush about this little beauty and that cool shrub, and usually, my enthusiasm can rub off just a bit, as they learn a few plants. Our brains are built for patterns and problem solving, learning to identify plants is just one more (fun!) game.

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Why don’t more girls get the HPV vaccine??

Vaccines that prevent cervical cancer! YAY!

Imagine if there was a vaccine that could prevent cancer. Everyone would want it, right?

Surprisingly, no. There IS a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, which affects about 12,000 women every year, according to the CDC. Unlike most cancers, cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted virus, Human Papillomavirus, also known as HPV. The virus can cause abnormal cell growth in the cervix, which can turn cancerous. The vaccine, approved in 2006, works against many common strains of HPV.

The vaccine is recommended for girls ages 11-12, and also provided to women up through their early twenties.  The goal is to protect girls long before they are ever sexually active, so that they never contract HPV in the first place. As of 2011, the vaccine is also recommended for adolescent boys.

HPV is so common that more than half of all sexually active men and women in the United States will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. According to a CDC factsheet on the HPV vaccine, “about 20 million Americans are currently affected, and 6 million more are infected every year.” In most people, HPV infections never lead to symptoms, but it can cause development of cancer of the cervix, and, more rarely, cancer of the vagina and anus, as well as genital warts. Men can also develop cancer from HPV. The virus is transmitted through skin to skin contact, so condoms are not nearly as effective at preventing the spread of this disease, as they are for many other STDs.

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On wounded knees

In 2006, several months after injuring her knee playing ultimate frisbee, Emily Reynolds was knocked down by a rogue wave while swimming in the Outer Banks. In pain, she returned to the doctors who had previously diagnosed her with a sprained knee.

“I went back and had an MRI. I had torn my ACL and my meniscus. Had I done it in the first place? I think yes, but I’m not a medical doctor,” Emily said.

Knee braces on the Ultimate Frisbee Field

Today, six years later, she is still dealing with the complications of the injury to her anterior cruciate ligament, the ACL. And, she’s got plenty of company, at least four of her teammates from the William and Mary Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team have suffered tears or partial tears to the ACL. While that may sound like just really bad luck, statistics show that female athletes are about 5 times more likely to tear their ACL then male athletes, usually during cutting or jumping sports like soccer, basketball, and yes, ultimate frisbee. Continue reading

Invasion of the Earthworms!

Earthworms, via Soil-Net Library

My mother gardens with a serious green thumb, and so as a kid, I spend summers playing around the vegetable garden. She taught me about bugs, which ones were good friends, like sociable ladybugs and graceful garden spiders.  She also introduced me to enemies, like the fat tomato horn worms and the dusty green broccoli moths. From my mother, I learned that earthworms help gardeners by breaking down organic matter in the soils into nutrients that the plants can use, and breaking up the substrate with their wriggling to create spaces for roots to use.

Last week, my mother called me with terrible news. “Did you know earthworms are not native?? They are INVASIVE earthworms, and they are really bad for the forest! Did you know about this?”

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Dear Texas

Dear Texas,

Your recent decision to cut off funding for women’s health care puts young and low income women and their families across your vast state in danger. I know that you claim that you are trying to prevent taxpayers from financing abortions, which is a controversial procedure, but cutting off funding for clinics that provide gynecological services and birth control is not the solution. You may not have heard this before, but birth control prevents unwanted pregnancies, which prevents abortions.

I know what you are thinking, Texas, you want to tell me that actually, women not having sex is cheaper and more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. Which would be true, except that you can’t make people stop having sex. No matter how many times you tell them that it’s bad. It doesn’t even work on impressionable teenagers. To convince you, I built you a map:

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DVD: The Landscape of Nuclear Power

The newest nuclear power plant in the United States is 16 years old, in Tennessee. The oldest operating nuclear power plant is 43 years old, still producing power in Oyster Creek, New Jersey.  Currently, 104 nuclear reactors are running in the U.S., running in 31 states and producing 19.6% of our electricity. (Data from the Nuclear Energy Institute)

I’ve been looking for a data-set to play with while teaching myself to learn to use Tableau, an awesome data vis program, so I decided to use the federal government’s data on all of the Nuclear Power plants in the US, including those under construction, shut down, or still in the planning phase. To start, check out the map above that I made to show all of the locations of of reactors in the US. They are color coded by status, so the green dots show currently operating plants. The dots are also scaled by size; smaller dots represent plants producing less power.

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