Întreabă-l pe Joe Lucruri #1

Ask Joe Stuff

Welcome to the first installment of “Ask Joe Stuff”!

[music and dancing] Ok, let’s get started. whysharksmatter asks “Is it REALLY okay to be smart? Is it also okay to NOT be smart? Half of people are below average intelligence.”

Average intelligence is set by the median of scores on an IQ test, which the statistics students in the audience will be like “Hey, what’s up with that? Those are very different things.” I don’t happen to think IQ tests are a very good measure of intelligence, unless being intelligent is being good at taking tests. And IQ changes over time. It’s not something you’re born with, and then it follows you around like this gray raincloud telling you how smart you are. So if you commit yourself to lifelong learning, I think you can commit to lifelong intelligence.

So yes it is okay to be smart, we all know that, but it’s also okay to not be smart, if you just try to get smarter every day. Wait, that’s another YouTube channel. erinmharris asks “How did you end up working with PBS?”

So in grad school I figured out that I love to teach. And on the side I started writing about science and I’ve been doing it for a couple years on my Tumblr It’s Okay To Be Smart dot com, which you should definitely check out. I just kept trying to get better and better every day and writing about things that interest me. One day, PBS asked me if I wanted to do a show about science, so of course I said yes, because growing up Mister Rogers was probably the most important adult in my life next to my parents. lenewbie97 asks “What is your PhD in and about?” I finished my PhD this year in cell and molecular biology at the University of Texas at Austin. I studied these things called introns and transposable elements, which are like little bits of your genome that can be cut out, and then some of them can go back in, you can look it up in a textbook. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But they make up more than half of your genome, so they’re kind of a big deal.

Juciful asks “Are we currently experiencing a mass extinction?” That’s pretty dark stuff. Ok, a mass extinction is defined by biologists as a moment when more than 75% of species on Earth die out. Now the fossil record tells us that there have been five of these in the past, and some people think, although not everyone agrees, that we are kind of at the beginning of a sixth one. One of the supporting facts behind this new theory is the extinction of large megafauna over the past few thousand years, like the giant sloth or the woolly mammoth. But new species are being discovered all the time, so we don’t have a totally perfect idea of the extinction rate. But we do know that there’s this basic rate that things normally go extinct, like maybe one species a year or even every several thousand years, and we are wayyyy beyond that thanks to climate change and deforestation. I know this sounds pretty doom and gloom, but there is a silver lining. We do have a chance to stop the sixth mass extinction before it starts, but tick tock, people! Time’s running out. poeta-do-roock asks “What do you like doing in your spare time?”

I don’t know what that is. emilyeifler asks “Does phytoplankton diversity really violate the non-coexistence principle in Gause’s law?” You guys ask really hard questions. Ok, the so-called “paradox of the plankton” comes from this principle in ecology called Gause’s law that says that in any environment that two species competing for the same resources or food, one of them’s going to go extinct. This is why you don’t see a lot of species of lions running around the African savanna, instead we only have one since there’s only so many antelope to go around. But yet the ocean is full of countless plankton species, competing for the same nutrients and sunlight. So does this violate that principle? Yeah, but there’s a lot that we don’t understand about the ocean, about how currents move and the symbiotic relationships of all of these plankton scratching each other’s tiny backs. I put a great article down in the description below, if you want to read more about the paradox of the plankton, but maybe it just means we need better rules in biology.

mrcandlemaker asks “Do you think it could be possible for scientists to develop a plant that breathes more carbon dioxide, and at a faster rate to offset our fossil fuel emissions?” Man, wouldn’t that be cool. If you’re going to start with a plant that captures more carbon, the best place to look is in the roots. Scientists are trying to develop grasses and things that grow broader root systems to store that carbon underground. But it all starts with the enzyme that captures carbon out of the air, called RuBisCo, which is probably the most abundant protein on Earth. While scientists are trying to engineer plants to take more CO2 out of the air, they might be about as fast as they can get. There’s this enzyme, RuBisCo, that takes CO2 and turns it into plant, it’s a really slow enzyme, it’s like the snail of enzymes, and so far scientists haven’t had much luck in speeding it up. I mean, it’s only taking air and turning it into a plant, it’s no big deal right? Let’s stop pressuring the plants, guys. Jason Sherman emails “I’m a huge, huge fan and I was wondering if there was any way I could get your autograph? It would really make my day!” I have to admit, I really don’t understand autographs. Like signatures on paper, what’s the big deal? Yearbooks, signing body parts, I just don’t get it. So Jason Sherman, I’m gonna do you one better. Jason Sherman is awesome, certified by Joe Hanson. You can show that to all your friends, and that will beat an autograph any day of the week. Julia Wilde from that’s so science asks “What is the airspeed of a swallow?” That’s a really good question. There’s a lot of different factors that go into a problem like this. We have to take into account the altitude, and of course the mass. [Stop! What is your name?] Oh, my name is Joe. [What is your quest?] Ah, my quest is to teach people about science. [What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?] Well there are forty-seven different species of swallow and [explosion] Thanks for the great questions everybody. Hope you enjoyed the answers. [music]

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