Sunday, August 31, 2008

Law of unintended consequences, again

Two bites on unintended consequences. Neither gets a whole lot of attention, but both involve devices that are easy to grasp: windmills and waterfalls.

Bats occupy a chunk of human imagination. They're spooky-looking, come out at night from spooky places, and occasionally carry a spooky disease.

When bats start dropping dead from the sky, people notice. If you want to start a collection of bats, find yourself a wind farm.

Bzzzzt. Wrong answer.
Turns out lots of bats are getting killed by wind turbines without crashing into the blades.

Recent research by Erin Baerwald and her team at the University of Calgary shows otherwise.
"Because bats can detect objects with echolocation, they seldom collide with man-made structures."

So why are they dying?
"An atmospheric-pressure drop at wind-turbine blades is an undetectable—and potentially unforeseeable—hazard for bats, thus partially explaining the large number of bat fatalities at these specific structures."

They're bleeding into their lungs. And they're dying.

Meanwhile, back in Gotham, the city joined with the Public Art Fund (a nonprofit group that exists for this kind of nonsense) to pay for four artificial waterfalls throughout the harbor.

Art projects need an artist, preferably one from Europe with a name like, say, Olafur Eliasson. Fortunately, there's a gentleman with that very same name. He happens to have a studio.

Studio Olafur Eliasson is a laboratory for spatial research that employs a team of 30 architects, engineers, craftsmen, and assistants who work together to conceptualize, test, engineer, and construct installations, sculptures, large-scale projects, and commissions.
Hard to read that with a straight face.


Ben Wildeboer said...

That nature (disapproving head shake)...always causing trouble for us humans.

I've been enjoying your posts very much since discovering your blog a few weeks ago. You're consistantly writing about science in a manner that (to me) communicates what science is all about. Thanks for sharing your insights.

doyle said...

Thank you for reading them.

The nature/"us" dichotomy is frustrating, and ultimately destructive.

Getting to the heart of science blurs the distinction a bit, and that can raise the temperature in class. As a culture, many (most?) Americans prefer the orderliness of a supernatural world imposed on the universe, with humans falling somewhere between the "natural" chaotic world and the orderly, heavenly supernatural world.

If you're dying to get to heaven, who gives a hoot about the damaged natural world left behind?

The trick is to get students to get a true sense of the natural universe, to see "natural universe" as redundant.

You know you're close to it when students start to question what they know. Once you get them questioning, they become a threat to magical thinking.

Our culture depends on magical thinking.