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Michael Habib
Works at University of Southern California
Attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Lives in Los Angeles
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The sticky issue of population growth

Some new Pew Research Center data is out, focusing on conclusions and opinions about major research areas in the sciences (including energy generation, genetics, climate change, and evolutionary biology). One of the interesting sets of data are those comparing conclusions between a random general population and professional scientists. Most of the results are intuitive: scientists, for example, overwhelmingly recognize that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while the randomized population was much more skeptical. Prior survey work has shown that in the United States, questions about evolution tend to be taken as a question about group membership, with those individuals claiming membership to a religious group answering in the negative on what are effectively pure affiliation grounds. 

It is also quite clear that those professionally trained in scientific research are much less concerned about certain issues of toxicity and food safety - the largest gap in the survey is related to the safety of genetically modified foods (the vast majority of the data says genetically modified foods are safe, but only 37% of the general population group accepted that conclusion).

What I find particularly interesting in this survey, however, is the gap regarding population growth. The statement was "Growing world population will be a major problem". 82% of the AAAS members (the professional scientist group) answered in the affirmative, but only 59% of the general group agreed. Assuming these data are representative of the full U.S. population, that means that only a bare majority of individuals are concerned about continued population growth.

There is a discussion of this specific gap here: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/08/scientists-more-worried-than-public-about-worlds-growing-population/

As that linked article points out, while 59% may seem rather low, it is a much higher percentage than in the past: "In 1959, three-quarters (75%) of Americans had heard about the “great increase in population” predicted for the world during the coming decades, but just 21% of Americans said they were worried about it."

This is a complex issue, because technological improvements have consistently increased the maximum carrying capacity of much of the world (though improved food production, better housing, larger energy production, and better water transport and filtration). At the same time, this is an variable where there must be a limit. There are finite resources (including space), so increased population growth will eventually hit a ceiling. That ceiling could, however, be quite high if technology can keep up. 

This result might indicate a greater confidence in technology among the general population than among scientists with regards to carrying capacity issues. That's intriguing, because in most other sectors, professional scientists have a higher than average confidence in population growth. At the same time, though, there is the very real chance that this result represents a sort of widespread denial of constraints. As noted above for evolution and food safety, these types of survey questions tend to retrieve overall comfort with a topic, rather than a real sense of perceived accuracy. 

There can be very strong cultural and religious barriers to considering the negative effects of population growth. The pope's recent encyclical on climate change and its connections to poverty is an impressive 150 page essay, but there is a single mention of population growth, and Francis claims that calling out population growth as a problem is “an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution”: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jun/19/pope-francis-climate-change-encyclical-population-growth-development-role-women

This is, of course, not terribly surprising, because an institution that fights birth control usage and technology would find itself in a philosophical tight spot if it also accepted a major role for population growth in world poverty and resource limitations. The Catholic Church is not the only major cultural institution that struggles with the issue of population growth. Many of the Protestant organizations in the U.S. also opening promote large families. I expect that over the next decade or two we will see the issue of population growth becoming increasingly polarized along political party and religious affiliation lines.
On evolution, genetically-modified foods, animal research, and global climate change, America’s scientists are almost all going one way—and the general public is going the other.
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Michael Habib

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This is on point...
 
Long enough to be credible, short enough to be legible.
How long should your Thesis be?
Link to Piled Higher and Deeper
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Vanda (Neofinetia) falcata type "Shukou" blooming for the second time this year. I tend to get two blooming seasons a year from my V falcata collection, but the Spring season is usually stronger than the Fall.
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+Michael Habib I've built up a small collection of six Neo's in the past 2 years but most are still a year or so away from blooming. Can't wait.
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I've been up to Mauna Kea to take in a bit of this view. It wasn't clear enough to get the full array shown here, but it's still quite the experience.
 
What if you could stand at the top of a volcano and peer out across the universe? If the timing is right, you might see an amazing panorama like the one featured here.

In this case, the volcano is the Hawaii's Mauna Kea, and the time was a clear night last summer In the foreground of this south-facing panorama lies a rugged landscape dotted with rocks and hardy plants. Slightly above and further out, a white blanket of clouds spreads horizontally to the horizon, seemingly dividing heaven and Earth. City lights illuminate the clouds and sky on the far left, while orange lava in the volcanic caldera of Kilauea lights up the clouds just left of center. The summit of an even more distant Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa, is visible in dark silhouette near the central horizon. Green airglow is visible above the clouds, caused by air molecules excited by the Sun during the day. The Moon is the bright orb on the right. A diffuse band of light-colored zodiacal light extends up from the far right. Most distant, the dramatic central band of our Milky Way Galaxy appears to rise vertically from Mauna Loa. The person who witnessed and captured this breathtaking panorama stands before you in the image center.

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150511.html
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Can't be afraid of the dark to enjoy the clear view of the universe. 
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Worms are awesome. And an everting proboscis is even more awesome.
 
The Gorgonorhynchus
So the strange white thing that seems to “erupt” from the worm is its proboscis. This is a tubular sucking organ that some worms use to feed.
During eversion, which takes place almost explosively, the short main trunk first appears, then this divides and the finer and filter branches appear, but since each one of these is the result of an evagination the effect is almost indescribable. It is as if a large number of lively, wriggling, minute worms had been shot out.

Paper:
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2457629?uid=3738920&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21106699460623

  #gorgonorhynchus   #worms   #proboscis   #coolcreatures  
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Looks like a thought growing to me. Jumping ahead, then looking back to make sure your reasoning is sound. 
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Michael Habib

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A fun new bit of information on what I find to be among the most fascinating snakes...
 
Sea snakes: Camels of the ocean!
===========================
Like most creatures, sea snakes need to hydrate from time to time, yet they live in a world of mostly undrinkable sea water. What’s a thirsty sea snake to do?
               **
According to researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville, they find places where it is raining heavily, wait for pools -- the scientists call them “lenses”-- of fresh water to form on the surface, and drink. They have the handy advantage of not needing to do that very often, sometimes going six or seven months without a drink.
Read more ;
Article by Joel Shurkin via http://www.insidescience.org/content/where-do-sea-snakes-go-drink/1596
              **
Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platurus) 
Photo: © William Flaxington
Via USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers at www.USARK.org.
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+Christina Talbott-Clark: common ancestor, with mosasaurs likely closest to varanoid lizards (group that includes modern monitor lizards).
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HAPPY WORLD OCEANS DAY! Academy scientists just discovered more than 100 new species in one of them—may we introduce you? calacade.my/1QimFUX
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Jaguars appear to be better divers than I expected. Pretty sweet.
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Science News (Pop Sci)  - 
 
Maternal death rate in United States has increased dramatically

In something of a sad irony (given we just celebrated Mother's Day), some sobering stats from Quartz - see link below. In short, while in most of the world maternal death during childbirth has been dropping (especially in wealthy nations), the rate has been climbing in the United States since about 1995. From 1990 to 2013, childbirth and pregnancy related maternal deaths in the United States rose by a shocking 136%. Not much is known about the specific causes of this trend, but the most obvious factor is maternal health prior to pregnancy. A large proportion of the women who become pregnant in the U.S. now are hypertensive or diabetic prior to their pregnancy, for example. Improved access to health care for women prior to the onset of pregnancy may therefore be one of the key moves to reduce maternal deaths in the United States.
This despite the fact that the US's per capita spending on maternal care is higher than any other country.
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Age specif rates would be of value for comparison
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Michael Habib

• Biology  - 
 
Yi qi, the new "bat-winged" dinosaur

The image below is a hot off the press illustration of a brand new dinosaur described last week in Nature. The artwork is by John Conway (check out the rest of his site, it's mighty impressive). The new animal is called Yi qi (which comes from "strange wing" in Mandarin - "qi" means strange and "Yi" that means wing). 

What makes Yi qi so special is that it appears to have been a small, feathered dinosaur with membranous wings. Previously, all known dinosaur wing surfaces (including those of birds) were primarily composed of feathers. A membrane wing is a novelty for a dinosaur (though, of course, both bats and pterosaurs had membrane wings, along with a host of unpowered flyers, so membrane wings are well known among vertebrates).

The original paper is located at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14423.html

Sadly, the paper is paywalled. However, some excellent popular articles on the new find can be found at: 

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/29/chinese-dinosaur-had-bat-like-wings-and-feathers/

http://www.theguardian.com/science/lost-worlds/2015/apr/29/bird-yi-qi-the-dinosaur-evolution-flight-feather-nature

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/fluffy-little-dinosaur-had-bat-wings-180955122/?no-ist

(full disclosure, I supplied all of those authors with feedback on the specimen, and I am quoted in all three articles. I did not receive any pay for my involvement)

+Emily Willoughby has also done a wonderful illustration, with a different wing attachment: https://plus.google.com/+EmilyWilloughby/posts/PigMErV4aTv


Below are some of my more extended thoughts on the new fossil specimen. Some of these comments were supplied to the magazines listed above, so you will find some redundancy with the online magazine quotes:

Yi qi is a scansoriopterygid, and they are strange animals by any measure. That said, this new specimen is fantastically strange compared to other theropod dinosaurs. It has what appears to be traces of a membrane wing preserved, which was not anticipated for a close relative of birds.

Yi qi is not necessarily as weird in an evolutionary sense as it might first seem. Yi qi was a member of a group of feathered dinosaurs near the origin of birds. Living birds have membranes around their forelimbs, including a well developed membrane in front of the elbow called a propatagium. In birds, feathers cover and imbed in the membranous parts of the wing, obscuring the soft tissues and making up most of the wing surface.

It has been often assumed that in the lineages near (and including) birds, the wings evolved with a more or less continuous enlargement of the feather surfaces, and that the membranes in the wing never became more elaborate than in living birds. In Yi qi, however, the membranous part of the forelimbs has been expanded and elaborated far beyond the extent of the feathers, by way of a bizarre "extra" bone from the wrist. In a sense, the lineage containing Yi qi has built a wing using the same basic parts that birds use to build their wings, but this lineage has expanded the membrane, rather than the feathers. The effect is something a bit like an odd bat-like or pterosaur-like wing, with some feathery covering near the leading edge (similar to the fur on the wings of some bats).

While the new specimen is very exciting, there is a lot we don't know. Because the original orientation of the weird long wrist bone (called a styliform element) isn't known, there is no way to tell if Yi qi had a broad, bat-like wing, or a much slimmer membrane. If the membrane was broad, then Yi qi probably would have had enough wing surface to fly (at speeds it could plausibly reach - almost any flat surface will fly if it get it going fast enough) and it would have been relatively stable in pitch while in the air. The broad wing orientation would provide a low enough flight speed for Yi qi to plausibly launch and land safely. But under the more conservative membrane estimates, Yi qi would have had a serious positive pitching moment (nose up) unless it could sweep the forelimbs backwards quite substantially. It would also need to fly (or flap) very fast to stay airborne with the slimmer wing profile, and that would mean reaching quite high speeds when launching (i.e. it would need to be a surprisingly good leaper). The anatomy of the upper arm and thorax do not appear to be consistent with powered flight (i.e. flapping flight), but the preservation of the material is insufficient to conclude that with certainty (for example, the available pectoral muscle mass was probably small, and reinforcement of the thorax against compressive loads seems to be lacking. The humerus also seems to lack reinforcement against the torsional loads that dominate during powered flight).

The strange styliform element was subjected to chemical analysis, and it seems to have been bone-like, but not identical to the bone material of the fingers. It may have been comprised of lower stiffness bone or cartilage, allowing it to bend slightly when the membrane was tensioned under aerodynamic load or by muscle forces. That may seem like a minor feature, but it's a key component in making a membrane wing work effectively.

All told, this is an unexpected, exciting specimen that changes our views on the evolution of flight in dinosaurs. It appears that multiple types of wing surfaces evolved within the relatives of birds, making the origins of avian flight potentially more complicated than previously thought.
_Yi qi_ is a newly discovered birdy-theropod with membranous wing-y things. Unlike what youll see in a lot of reconstructions, theres no reason to think it was a particularly angry animal.
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Great post +Michael Habib! Here's my somewhat tongue-in-cheek illustration of Yi qi http://goo.gl/Xp081b
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Work
Occupation
Assistant Professor, Cell and Neurobiology
Skills
Anatomy, Biomechanics, Paleontology
Employment
  • University of Southern California
    Assistant Professor, Cell and Neurobiology, 2012 - present
    I teach Clinical Human Anatomy (Cadaveric). I research biomechanics, paleontology, robotics and comparative anatomy. Growing interest in astrobiology.
  • Chatham University
    Assistant Professor of Biology, 2009 - 2012
    I taught Clinical Human Anatomy (Cadaveric), Evolution, and Biostatistics. I had a fruitful research program in biomechanics, paleontology, and comparative anatomy.
  • National Aquarium
    Animal Husbandry: Rainforest, 2001 - 2001
    I provided animal care at the National Aquarium for reptiles, birds, and invertebrates. (https://plus.google.com/+nationalaquarium/posts)
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Los Angeles
Previously
Baltimore - Ellicott City - Charlottesville - Pittsburgh
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Tagline
Paleontologist. Gets to play with flying reptiles, dinosaurs, and swarms for a living. Enjoys tea and Kung Fu off the job.
Introduction
I spend my time teaching human gross anatomy and studying strange creatures from the deep past of Earth's history. I am particularly fond of publishing works on giant flying reptiles. When not contemplating the fossil record I can be found studying Kung Fu and growing orchids.

(Profile photo by Gus Ruelas)

My Curriculum Vitae


Some of my recent papers:

Han G, Chiappe LM, Ji S-A, Habib M, Turner AH, Chinsamy A, Liu X, and Han L. 2014. A New Raptorial Dinosaur with Exceptionally Long Feathering provides Insights into Dromaeosaurid Flight Performance. Nature Communications. 5 (4382)


Chiappe LM, Zhao B, O’Connor JK, Chunling G, Wang X, Habib M, Marugan-Lobon J, Meng Q, Cheng X. 2014. A new specimen of the Early Cretaceous bird Hongshanornis longicresta: insights into the aerodynamics and diet of a basal ornithuromorph. PeerJ 2:e234 


Hone DWE, Habib MB, Lamanna MC. 2013. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of Solnhofen (Upper Jurassic, Germany) pterosaur specimens at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Annals of Carnegie Musuem 82(2): 149-175.


Habib M. 2013. Constraining the Air Giants: Limits on size in flying animals as an example of constraint-based biomechanical theories of form. Biological Theory: Special Volume doi: 10.1007/s13752-013-0118-y






Habib M. 2010. The structural mechanics and evolution of aquaflying birds. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 99(4): 687-698


Habib M.  2008. Comparative evidence for quadrupedal launch in pterosaurs. Pp 161-168 in Buffetaut E, and DWE Hone, eds.  Wellnhofer Pterosaur Meeting: Zitteliana B28

Bragging rights
I was selected as one of the "Brilliant 10" in Popular Science Magazine for 2014. My research was featured as one of the top 100 stories of 2009 by Discover Magazine.
Education
  • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
    Anatomy (Ph.D.), 2004 - 2011
  • University of Virginia
    Biology (M.S.), 2001 - 2004
  • University of Virginia
    Biology (B.A.), 1998 - 2001
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Male