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Readers react to the story of plate tectonics, pandas rolling through poop, and more

Shaking memories

A post-World War II data boom consolidated the unifying theory of plate tectonics after decades of debate over whether the Earth's crust was static or mobile. Carolyn Gramling reported in “Shaking up Earth” (SN: 16/1/21, p. 16).

The story reminded some readers of their experiences at the time of the birth of the theory in the 1960s.

Reader Jane Smiley he recounted his experience as a student at Harvard University when plate tectonics was being much debated. "My teacher was Bernhard Kummel … and we had to use his textbook. I was present at a big symposium on plate tectonics, which was attended by geologists from all over the world." Smiley he wrote. “There was a cacophony of vocal arguments flying back and forth about the validity of plate tectonics. Everyone brought their papers using the overhead projector and some of the Europeans discussed Alfred Wegener's (continental drift) theory, and were rejected by my teacher and many others in the field, "he wrote." I was a "drift." but he sat quietly as he listened intently to the arguments. Professor Kummel was not a drift and when I had to write papers in his class, I had to swallow my beliefs and write down what he wanted to hear. It was a very exciting time to be a student there and I learned to be an independent thinker in many disciplines. ”

Reader Mark Wilson recalled attending a conference in the late 1960s by geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson who, Gramling reported, compared the impact of the theory of plate tectonics with that of Einstein's general theory of relativity. The geophysicist shared "his ideas about chains of oceanic hot spot islands like Hawaii and what he called transforming faults at the bottom of the ocean." Wilson he wrote. “I also worked for the summer of 1968 aboard a Canadian geophysical research vessel on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, inspecting the magnetism and gravity bands of the ocean floor and conducting seismic tests. I ended up becoming a paleontologist and professor of vertebrate biology, but I always like to write science that combines geology and biology. "

Wilson he wrote that he plans to incorporate the story of Gramling into his teaching. "I enjoyed (her) writing science for several years and gathered some of her articles as resources for my students. They are always clearly written, interesting and motivating," she wrote. "When the next year I teach my course, students will have several writing assignments and one of them will be to produce an essay on scientific news, I hope it will be interesting, like Gramling's work."

What does it smell like?

Wild giant pandas coated in horse manure may be looking for two chemical compounds in poop that inhibit a cold-sensitive protein, Jonathan Lambert reported in “Pandas can roll in poop to stay warm” (SN: 16/1/21, p. 14).

“Fresh horse manure has a characteristic, very spicy aroma,” says the reader Pat Rapp he wrote. "Are those two volatiles … responsible for that scent for the scent?" he asked. Rapp I also wondered if the compounds are present in the manure of other species like donkeys and zebras. "If memory serves, donkey manure is not transmitted with anything like the strength of horse manure."

Compounds can contribute to the strong smell of manure, he says Lambert, but does not believe they are solely responsible for the stench. “Researchers are currently investigating whether these compounds are present in the dung of similar species,” he says.


“Suspended Education” (SN: 16/01/21, p. 24) reported that a study analyzing a colorblind approach to reducing the disciplinary gap between black and white students showed that the gap grew from a triple difference to more than fivefold. This is incorrect. The difference has grown to almost five times.

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