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

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Robert M. Thorson

Robert M. Thorson

Real Grades Would Show We're Not All Above Average

Real Grades Would Show We're Not All Above Average

May 28, 2015

Creeping grade inflation is weakening the academic economy of our nation. It's also fueling widespread resistance to standardized testing at the heart of the educational reform movement known as the Common Core State Standards.

  • Immersed In The Light We Cannot See

    May 13, 2015

    Last week, I finished reading "All the Light We Cannot See," the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Anthony Doerr. My book-group discussion reminded me how literacy in general and science literacy in particular, can help us appreciate the finer things in life, one of which is a good novel.

  • Glastonbury Pays For Going Against Nature

    April 29, 2015

    Since the mid-17th century, Connecticut residents have slowly imprisoned the river that gave the state its name. What once was a freely meandering stream is gradually being converted into a stone-lined, albeit gracefully curved and still beautiful, gutter.

  • Importing Water To Fuel UConn, Mansfield Growth Foolish

    April 16, 2015

    The California drought is wreaking havoc with the state's economy and forcing its residents to adapt. Why should this matter in Connecticut?

  • It's The Winter That Breaks Our Pavement

    March 18, 2015

    Above ground, this winter's battle with snow and cold gave us action-packed media drama. Reporters leaned into blizzards. Road crews plowed all night. Public officials scrambled to keep us safe.

  • Continuing Mystery Of Missing Flight 370

    March 4, 2015

    Glib use of the word globalization leads us to believe that humans have overrun the whole planet. We haven't. Vast areas remain unexplored and inaccessible. Chief among these are dark abyssal plains beneath sunlit seas. And of these plains, the most newsworthy is below the Indian Ocean where the wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 likely lies.

  • Snow Drifts Raise My Cosmic Consciousness

    February 4, 2015

    Last week, deep drifts of cold snow buried my domestic universe. Within them were specks of dust from treated roads and residues of carbon from exhaust. Flinging this stuff around my inner space with a shovel reminded me of last year's noteworthy comet story from outer space, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Both are fluffy mixtures of gas, ice, dust and carbon-rich compounds.

  • What's The Risk Of More Connecticut Quakes?

    January 21, 2015

    Our living planet is not dead yet. I just love it when the solid Earth communicates with us directly, rather than indirectly through its more volatile derivatives of air, water and life. Like last week, when a tectonic jolt below Plainfield sped to the surface with a velocity of several miles per second to tell us that something really big was breaking down below.

  • Boy Scout Leaders' Actions Top Stupid List

    January 7, 2015

    Last year, I kept a file of stories about the most stupid events covered by the national media. I'm sharing one with hope it may help prevent a copycat from appearing in 2015.

  • The Great Climate Change Denial Industry

    December 11, 2014

    Last month, I had the displeasure of attending a lecture-slide show titled "Climate Change in the American Mind." My unhappiness came not from its presenter — Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication — but from the tragedy he described.

  • The Great Climate Change Denial Industry

    December 11, 2014

    Last month, I had the displeasure of attending a lecture-slide show titled "Climate Change in the American Mind." My unhappiness came not from its presenter — Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication — but from the tragedy he described.

  • Being Grateful For Non-Material Riches

    November 25, 2014

    "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite — only a sense of existence. ... O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment."

  • Political Shifts Threaten Sane Energy Policy

    November 12, 2014

    With Republican Mitch McConnell the almost certain Senate majority leader, local representation from coal-rich Kentucky will send the nation back to the dark ages of energy policy. The forward progress made by the Environmental Protection Agency on controlling carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants will be stalled or reversed when Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma takes charge of agency oversight. Infamously, he's the most flagrant climate change denier in the United States. What kind of government would let vested local interests drive national flip-flops on energy policy?

  • Warming Sooner Solved By Science Than Politics

    October 29, 2014

    In a diplomatic failure of global proportions, the average CO2 concentration in the earth's atmosphere climbed an extraordinary 2.9 parts per million to 396 ppm in 2013, which is faster than any year since 1984. This comes from the World Meteorological Organization's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Sept. 9.

  • Water-Rich Connecticut In Minor Drought

    October 15, 2014

    Our lives are sprinkled with new years. Most popular is the calendar year. Most exciting is the school year. Most regular is the astronomical year. Most political is the fiscal year. Most invisible is the water year, which begins and ends on Oct. 1. This is the arbitrary date marking the time when stream flows are reaching their annual nadir over much of the U.S.

  • Let Go Of Plagiarism Charge Against Foley

    October 1, 2014

    Plagiarism has reared its pernicious head in Connecticut's gubernatorial race.

  • Enjoying The Melodious Roar Of Harleys

    September 17, 2014

    During a summer dominated by bad international news — Ebola, ISIS, climate change — I made a conscious choice to be positive about something that really bothers me. So, I decided to share my attitude adjustment before summer officially ends on Sept. 22.

  • Historic Image Of Connecticut More Romantic Than Real

    September 3, 2014

    The most famous historic image of Connecticut's creation story is geo-fiction. I refer to Frederic Edwin Church's "Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636." Though this magnificent painting captures the defining moment of Connecticut history, it fails to capture the physical reality. Instead it shows an impossible landscape, a chimera of imported scenes. Knowing this can help us find a more authentic sense of place.

  • Should UConn Have A Hand In State Water Plan?

    August 20, 2014

    The absurdity of Connecticut's water politics stuns me. Yes, we need a comprehensive statewide plan, which explains why state law (Public Act 14-163) requires submission of one to the General Assembly by Jan. 1, 2018. But funding for its creation seems to have gone missing. This may explain why an insider committee known as the Water Planning Council turned to the University of Connecticut to provide the "senior administrative leadership" needed.

  • Connecticut Must Retreat From The Shore

    August 6, 2014

    Shore Up Connecticut is a policy mistake. A state loan program named Shore Back Connecticut would make more sense because retreat from the coast is the only viable long-term option. Recent developments in Antarctica have made this crystal clear.

  • GPS Gets You There Without Being Here

    July 23, 2014

    The incorporation of new technology into our lives is always a mixed blessing. Though the net gains are obvious and much heralded, the net losses are insidious and often in some way debilitating.

  • Science Vs. Beliefs On Creationism, Climate

    July 9, 2014

    Throughout the world, the forces of religious fundamentalism are challenging the forces of secular democracy. In the Middle East, the conflict boils into civil war. In the United States, the conflict merely simmers beneath recent Supreme Court rulings involving abortion and contraception making headline news.

  • Cashing In On Climate Change — Wanna Bet?

    June 25, 2014

    The reality of climate change has penetrated common culture, but the gravity of the situation has not. I have an example so egregious that I decided to share it with you.

  • Protection Of State Lakes Gets Little Attention

    June 11, 2014

    Connecticut has more than 3,000 officially named lakes, ponds and reservoirs. A few are the fountainheads from which cities draw potable water. Many are becoming real estate refuges for those retreating from hurricane-hit saltwater shores. Many more are cash cows for rural towns, given their relatively high property tax assessments. All provide state residents with aesthetic, recreational and educational benefits.

  • Honorary Degrees Are A Dubious Bit Of Pomp

    May 28, 2014

    Another college commencement season has come and gone. In retrospect, these are really odd affairs. The academic regalia is medieval. The solemn processions and homilies are liturgical. The speeches are futuristic, each being a verbal launching pad for the lives ready to take off. The mood is mixed, with some students delighted to leave college in the dust, and others fearful of what adulthood might bring. The music — Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" — is early Edwardian, dating to 1901. The ceremonies highlight scholarly achievement but are often held in athletic arenas, now that a changing climate has brought us soggier springs.

  • Politics Catches Up With Climate Change

    May 14, 2014

    Finally, the federal climate watchdogs got it right. The just-released U.S. National Climate Assessment avoids pie-in-the-sky abstractions like "saving the planet before it's too late" and instead concentrates on regional changes affecting our lives today.

  • Best Defense Against Advancing Sea? Retreat

    April 30, 2014

    When I first visited Dock & Dine, a notable waterfront restaurant in Old Saybrook, I was struck by its extreme exposure to Long Island Sound, the fury of river flooding, coastal storms and shifting sands. It leans into the nor'easters coming off the Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River, New England's most flood-prone, major river.

  • Good Case That College Athletes Are Employees

    April 16, 2014

    Last week, third-graders in Guilford gave me a spontaneous round of applause.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hurricane Sandy's Climate Change Message

    October 31, 2012

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



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