Biography

This professor-geologist “slouched” into op-ed journalism along a career path that makes sense only in retrospect. As a high-school kid in ...

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Robert M. Thorson

Robert M. Thorson

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Scientists Predicted Deadly Washington Landslide

Scientists Predicted Deadly Washington Landslide

April 2, 2014

The March 22 landslide in Oso, Wash., is a case history of media disaster coverage. Something dramatic happens, loved ones die, emergency managers take over, people grieve, normality returns and disaster strikes again, cycle after cycle.

  • No Delay: Implement Common Core Standards

    March 19, 2014

    Last month, I read with jaw-dropping astonishment that one in four Americans believes the sun revolves around the Earth. The source for this pre-Copernican idea was a poll by the National Science Foundation. This mistake set the stage for me to learn last week, with equal astonishment, that a mob of Connecticut parents was agitating against implementing Common Core State Standards.

  • Private Property Rights Trumped By Nature

    March 5, 2014

    Rumors of war are on the horizon. Political wars pitting deeply held convictions about private property against equally held convictions about the interconnectedness of all things. One side is fueled by the first law of private property: that it belongs to someone and not everyone. The other side is fueled by the first law of ecology: that everything is connected to everything else.

  • Martian 'Jelly Doughnut' A Geologist's Delight

    February 19, 2014

    I was delighted by the recent discovery of a mysterious rock on Mars that looks like a jelly doughnut and caused a brief scientific sensation. To see that much excitement brought to bear on any rock made the geo-educator in me feel pleased.

  • King's Holiday Honors Values, Recalls Lessons

    January 22, 2014

    Although it's already three days gone, the older I get, the more I appreciate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

  • When Politicians Fight, Facts Take Beating

    January 8, 2014

    "Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence?" asks a new study by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale University, which should be required reading for all members of the "do-nothing" U.S. Congress.

  • The Next Frontier: The Brain

    December 24, 2013

    "So the last shall be first, and the first last." This quote from the King James Bible is my response to Scientific American's Top 10 stories of 2013. Their tenth-ranked story about the BRAIN initiative is my top story for the year.

  • No Room On The Range For Wild Horses

    December 11, 2013

    Looking for a stunning example of ludicrous government policy? Consider what the U.S. Bureau of Land Management does with its so-called wild horses, as reported by a Policy Forum in the August Science magazine.

  • Don't Insult Teachers — They Are 'Doing'

    November 13, 2013

    "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach."

  • Honey, They Shrank The New Storrs Town Green

    October 30, 2013

    Storrs Center, the new town center adjacent to the University of Connecticut campus, is nearing completion and by and large, I like what I see.

  • iPhone Zombies Lost In Electronic Shallows

    October 16, 2013

    Within the year, I'll be buying my first iPhone. And I'm nervous about how it will change both my daily habits and my physical brain. Will I become an Internet zombie?

  • Colorado Floods Bad, But The Bigger Story Was The Rain

    October 2, 2013

    Boulder, Colorado. Both of these names derive from torrential river flows. So why the media hysteria about the floods there last month?

  • Troops' Spiritual Side One Key To Psychological Health

    September 18, 2013

    This week, a deeply troubled Navy reservist got himself killed during a murderous shootout in Washington, D.C. Last year, suicides caused more deaths in the U.S. military than active combat around the world. Something must be terribly wrong.

  • As Clock Ticks, International Cooperation Saves Earth

    September 4, 2013

    A truly international response to Syria's use of chemical weapons is needed. Yet confusion reigns because Earth is a closed system of leaders and followers, and alliances and counter-alliances. But what if the threat to world stability were coming from outside the earth?

  • Connecticut's Not Going For The Dogs

    July 24, 2013

    Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one in the world who doesn't own a dog. So let me set the record straight. I'm normal.

  • Old Man Of The Mountain Rises In Myth

    July 10, 2013

    Last week, my vacation travel took me through Franconia Notch, N.H. This smooth-sided glacial valley struck me as more beautiful than ever, now that the "Old Man of the Mountain" is gone and the scar left from where he fell has been healed by the tarnish of time.

  • Finally, Carbon Limits On Power Plants

    June 26, 2013

    I applaud President Barack Obama's climate change policy speech Tuesday. Fundamentally, he's doing what he believes is right. Ethically, he's delivering on a promise he made in 2009 to the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen: to cut U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020. Politically, he's invoking executive authority to sidestep Congress because it hasn't done its job.

  • Bombing Snakes With Poisoned Mice

    June 12, 2013

    Imagine you're on your favorite beach enjoying a good book. Into your lap falls a dead mouse tied to a whirling streamer. What do you do? On a Connecticut beach, you freak out. But if you're on Guam, you brush it off as business as usual, knowing that federal officials are just doing their best to control a major problem.

  • Derailment's Impact Shows Success Of Metro-North

    May 29, 2013

    Joni Mitchell, in her famous lyric, sang: "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone." This was my first thought when I read about the derailment of the Metro-North commuter train near Bridgeport on May 17. Would the interruption of service make us appreciate what we previously had, now that it was gone?

  • CO2 Milestone Tips Us Into 'Meltdown' Realm

    May 15, 2013

    Last week, the world got a case of sticker shock. For the first time in recorded history, the price of our energy-rich lifestyle hit the magic number of 400 parts-per-million carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

  • Grade Inflation Undermining Universities

    May 1, 2013

    Misquoting William Shakespeare: "Now is the spring of our discontent." Indeed, even as the daffodils blossom and the songbirds sing, my students at the University of Connecticut are stressing out from their end-of-semester quest for high grades.

  • Effort To Revive Passenger Pigeon Misspent

    April 17, 2013

    Practically everyone has heard of the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty," and knows how it ends: "All the king's horses and all the king's men / Couldn't put Humpty together again." Indeed, many natural systems, once broken, can never be put back together again.

  • Unblinking Red-Light Cameras Just The Ticket

    April 3, 2013

    When was the last time you were caught red-handed? The phrase, which originated in medieval Scotland, refers to having been caught with blood on your hands after committing a murder or poaching game. Since then, it's become a popular allusion for getting caught doing something wrong with incontrovertible evidence at the scene, which makes police work easier.

  • Enjoying Our Atmosphere? Remember Mars

    March 20, 2013

    A good atmosphere is easy to take for granted. This was my first thought when I read the joyous NASA press announcement that Mars "once had conditions suited for ancient life." Mars lost its opportunity for life because its atmosphere changed too much. But what about planet Earth? Though we're not in danger of losing our life-giving atmosphere, the question is: Will it be a good life?

  • Nothing Sweet About Sugar's Toxic Toll

    March 6, 2013

    Former surgeon general Dr. C. Everett Koop died this week at 96. During the Reagan years, he used the power of his office to wage war against the dangers of smoking. Now that he's gone, I'm wondering what he would he have done about the new public poison, excess sugar.

  • Floating In A Cosmic Shooting Gallery

    February 20, 2013

    Sometimes, it's comforting to know that none of us are really in charge. There but for the grace of the great roulette wheel in the sky go I.

  • Chain Of Environmental Consequences Slaughtering Birds

    February 7, 2013

    I'm not much of a bird-watcher. But I'm a devoted and appreciative observer of the common loon. Every time I see its black-and-white beauty, hear its eerie wail or watch its deep-water diving is a blessing. Each cry of the loon is precious to me.

  • Superintendents Outline Strong School Reform

    January 23, 2013

    I can hardly believe I'm writing to support public school superintendents. Their recent report "NextEd: Transforming Connecticut's Education System," sounds like a solid prescription for fixing ailing mainstream schools. I hope the implementation is going well.

  • UConn Should Live Sustainably Within Its Watershed

    January 18, 2013

    "Unquenchable" is the title of Robert Glennon's scorching critique of U.S. historical water policy. The word also applies to the University of Connecticut's seemingly unlimited thirst for water.

  • Living On The Ebb And Flow Of Disaster

    January 9, 2013

    Last year gave me my first chance to live between the tidal cycle and the disaster cycle. Though I've had personal encounters with both throughout my life, I had not lived through the rhythms involved, and therefore did not truly understand. Now I do.

  • Gun Control Easiest Problem To Address

    December 27, 2012

    My wrap-up column for the year concerns the single event that dominates all others: the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

  • End Of World Delayed — Tomorrow's Coming

    December 12, 2012

    The world will definitely not come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, regardless of the Mayan calendar. There's no planetary Rapture in the near future, despite the wishful thinking of an apocalyptic few. For at least another billion years, Earth will spin, the sun will shine and all God's creatures will struggle against the entropy of tranquility. Thus it is written in the record of the rocks, the linear geological calendar that's been ticking for 4.55 billion years.

  • Salmon Failure Looks Like Humans' Fault

    November 28, 2012

    I have an unusual type of seasonal affective disorder, known as SAD. During these darkening days, I don't get sad at all. In fact, I find it progressively easier to extract hope from failure.

  • Without Readiness, Disaster Warnings Fail

    November 14, 2012

    As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast in late October, we in southern New England had a week's worth of warning, including three days of increasingly accurate forecasts by U.S. Weather Service. Now, imagine stripping away all that advance notice. Instead, it was Monday afternoon, Oct. 22, and you were going about your business as usual when, all of a sudden, your life was threatened and put on hold.

  • Hurricane Sandy's Climate Change Message

    October 31, 2012

    Let Hurricane Sandy be our tipping point toward a better America.

  • Presidential Candidates Ignoring Environment

    October 17, 2012

    As the presidential election draws near, I've become astonished at how little the environment seems to matter. Based on the three debates it sits in back of the political bus, far behind the seats for national economy, taxes, medical reform, foreign policy and the sharing of power. I'd like to see it move up to the driver's seat and take us where we need to go.

  • Humane Ox Pulls Celebrate Agrarian Past

    October 3, 2012

    Armies don't march on empty stomachs.

  • History Is Learning The Stories We All Share

    September 19, 2012

    I applaud my state senator, Don Williams, my colleague Bill Hosley (champion of local history) and many others hoping to require the teaching of Connecticut history in public schools. It never occurred to me that this would not be the case. Learning our history is far more important to our long-term economic well being than Huskymania and trendy development initiatives.

  • Motorcycle Noise Pollution Runs Roughshod Over Nature

    September 5, 2012

    Say the word pollution and everyone seems to be against it. Oil-soaked seabirds. Blue-green algae. Mercury blowin' in the wind. Litter. The list is endless.

  • Feds Stalled, Nuclear Waste Here Indefinitely

    August 22, 2012

    The heat is oppressive. I turn on my air conditioner. The electricity flows in from Millstone Nuclear Power near Niantic, where high-level radioactive waste steadily accumulates on the shore of Long Island Sound.

  • The Plan Was, No Violent Videos

    August 8, 2012

    In 1981, I began a personal mission to make the world a less violent place, one kid at a time. My strategy was simple. No kid under my charge would watch a video featuring a gun on its cover. By 2005, that mission had been killed by the big guns of a popular media culture so soaked in violence that carnage had become the new normal. At least when seen through the eyes of my middle-school daughter.

  • Human Nature Fueling Global Warming

    July 25, 2012

    The MAD principle — mutually assured destruction — brought an end to the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. I'm convinced that serious attention to MAD is the only thing that will keep us from completely trashing our planetary home.

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