The Superbowl of Birding, Really

Greg Keller

Instead of a helmet, Greg Keller, associate professor of conservation biology, grabbed his binoculars to compete in the tenth annual “Superbowl of Birding” on January 26, 2013, at the Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, MA. Held in Pennsylvania and Delaware in years past, this year’s birdwatching competition took place during New England’s arctic season and invited participates to spot as many species as possible in the course of a 12-hour (frigid!) day. Keller—who is also the curator of Gordon’s bird and mammal exhibittook along four students to compete in the day’s various categories: from greatest number of species tallied from a fixed point to the highest number counted of new life birds. Keller expected to see a variety of warblers, sparrows and finches. In all over 300 species have been spotted on the North Shore. 

After the competition, Keller offered these highlights:

“The final tally for the total number of species was 121 for all teams combined. We found over half, and finished tied for 7th, with 62 species (20 species behind the winners). As a group, we had the most life birds (birds not ever seen by our participants), with a total of 106 new species.  Sam Mason (biology major) won the Lifer Award with 38 new species that he had never seen before.

The species that were really great finds for us included Razorbills at Plum Island (flying penguin-like birds of the north), two Peregrine Falcons in Gloucester, Pine Grosbeaks in Newbury (really rare finch that shows up from the north only about every 7 to 8 years), six different gull species, and a Merlin zipping around Appleton Farms (a small falcon). We had two 5-point species (the rare ones that we have to call in if we see them), including the Pine Grosbeaks and a Western Grebe at Plum Island (a very rare western bird that showed up a few weeks ago and stayed around for the competition).

But we also had some significant misses.  We couldn’t find a Wild Turkey to save our lives, even though I had seen two flocks the day before.  And over the course of 12 hours, we didn’t see a single White-throated Sparrow, one of the most common birds in the winter here!  Embarrassing! Considering the temperatures never went above 20 degrees, and the wind was a steady 15 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph, it was brutal. 

Our first bird, which took us 1.5 hours of darkness to find, was an American Crow.  The last bird, after 11 hours in the field, was a Mourning Dove. What a day!”

The Benefits of E. coli, and Other Collaborative Efforts

No one does science alone. In fact, Justin Topp, associate professor of biology, is proof, having watched many opportunities present themselves as a result of his involvement in the formation of the North Shore Biotechnology Consortium. Topp believes the Consortium will benefit both faculty and staff in the sciences across the North Shore.  Here’s a glimpse of the partnerships and projects Topp is involved in:

Justin Topp

“One Consortium project in particular that I am involved in is to create a ‘Google Map’ of protein expression in one of the most well studied organisms on this planet, E. coli.  Although most of the general public thinks E. coli is something to be scared of, there is actually  ‘good’ (beneficial) and ‘bad’ (pathogenic, i.e. cause disease) strains.  And unfortunately, as is common with humans, the ‘bad’ strains are the ones that get all the attention!  In reality, you are quite happy to have one of the ‘good’ strains in your gut making vitamin K for you as we speak. 

“The ‘Google Map’ project is a collaborative proteomics effort with scientists at Cell Signaling, Sage Science, and Waters (all companies on the North Shore) to make a visual and interactive database of all of the proteins expressed by a common laboratory (non-pathogenic strain) of E. coli.  This tool will be of great use for other scientists as it could serve as a living reference for many other studies, including making it easier to compare, characterize, and even better treat novel pathogenic strains that cause severe disease in humans.

“The Consortium has also helped create additional opportunities for our students. Continue reading

Oscar Season: Talking About the Movies Everyone’s Talking About

Rini Cobbey, one of Gordon’s resident film critics

By Rini Cobbey, associate professor of communication arts

With the Golden Globes over, 2013’s “award show season” is official, culminating in the Oscars on February 24. Entertainment awards matter. The Academy Awards matter in particular, despite the often awkward show itself, because they reflect what our mass entertainers present as “excellent entertainment,” in all the complexities of both those terms. The nominated movies don’t always make the most money, so they don’t reflect the “people’s choice” —although social media certainly brings us critics populous out in force; indeed, here I go.

This year the Academy nominated nine films in the Best Picture category. As of this writing, I’ve seen seven. One of the remaining two (Amour) hasn’t yet been screened near me, and the other I’ll see later this week, but am not afraid to offer my opinion on it pre-viewing! As a film professor, I try to see every nominated film in the top categories by Oscar night. But, should you? With just a few weeks remaining, you may need to make some choices.

After all, movies offer us many different experiences: we’re entertained, persuaded, challenged, and connected. Do you want to see the movie everyone’s going to be talking about? Or a movie that will amuse you, make you—for a while at least—feel more happy or excited than usual? Do you want to see a movie that will teach you something new, or provoke you to think or act in more enlightened ways? Or perhaps you’re looking for something well-crafted, in sound, story, composition, and movement, aesthetically excellent as a whole?

The most flat-out entertaining film of the lot is . . . Continue reading

The Case for Economic Growth and Winter Discussions

Even during the winter break, professors were interacting with colleagues in their field. Many from the English and Language and Linguistics departments attended the Modern Language Association conference in Boston.

Stephen Smith

But some, like Stephen Smith, professor of economics and business, flew across country to San Diego, CA.  Smith, along with Bruce Webb, retired professor of economics and business and Edd Noell of Westmont College, organized a session entitled, “The Case for Economic Growth: Where Does the Modern Debate Stand?” for the Association of Christian Economists during the American Economics Association conference, January 4-6. Here’s what Smith said about the session, which he chaired:

“We were pleased that the room was packed with more than 65 attendees.  Each of the participants spoke on a particular dimension of the current debate about economic growth.  Ben Friedman of Harvard University—who literally wrote the book on morality and growth, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth— argued from a secular point of view that the conventional wisdom that growth poses a choice ‘between material positives and moral negatives’ is fundamentally mistaken.

“Rather, he maintained, growth makes tolerance, democracy and other civic virtues more likely to emerge where they have been absent, and more likely to strengthen where they already exist. Bob Nelson of the University of Maryland expounded on the tensions between (some) environmentalists and economists on growth, which he argues are rooted in contending worldviews about the status of the environment.

“These worldviews, though secular, are fundamentally religious in nature.  Paul Glewwe of Oxford University assessed the empirical record of how and to what extent growth improves welfare in poor countries; interestingly, some kinds of social indicators, such as infant mortality, seem much more positively related to growth than do others, and while there is a consensus amongst economists that growth helps the poor achieve higher welfare the specific mechanisms by which this occurs are hard to estimate precisely.  Finally, Edd Noell assessed the moral arguments for and against growth in rich countries, paying particular attention to recent Christian critiques of growth.  He argued that growth is on balance desirable and can be defended in Christian ethical terms.  His comments drew heavily from our new book, with Bruce Webb, Human Flourishing: The Case for Economic Growth, which is forthcoming this February from AEI Press.  Before the end of the session some lively Q&A ensued and we were glad to have been able to address this important topic in this way.”

The Massacre of Innocents: A History Professor Reflects on the Newtown Tragedy

Tal Howard, director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry

(Editor’s note: This essay also appeared January 7, 2013, on the Patheos web site, as well as January 5, 2013, in the print and online editions of the Salem News.) 

By Tal Howard, professor of history

The senseless tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, prior to Christmas continues to haunt me. We have had school shootings in this country before, to be sure, but the age of the victims puts this case, in my mind at least, in a category by itself.

Too bad for public discourse that the “lesson” of this tragedy quickly became a bone of contention between those who want to limit gun rights and those who think “mental health issues” and our culture of violence bear the blame. Am I wrong when I say that most sensible people believe that this is an all-of-the-above no-brainer: some restrictions on military-grade weapons and attention to mental health questions and criticism of our violent popular culture should be part of any solution? Continue reading