Friday, December 30, 2016

Mexico’s climate migrants are already coming to the United States

 

In December 1997, Nadia Flores-Yeffal awoke early in a small town in the state of Guanajuato, in the heart of Mexico. She pulled on her shoes and followed a local guide down a cactus-fringed dirt path, past old adobe houses intermixed with newer construction. They walked for more than an hour, out of the small town where Flores-Yeffal was spending a month to research her senior thesis, until they came to a rocky, snake-infested hill. At the top, she found what she was looking for: the 100-square-foot garden plots where local families farmed their staple crops. The rows of corn and beans were sparse and dry; many of the plots were empty.

“It just looked really bad,” Flores-Yeffal remembers.

The town, which sits on the river Lerma, was in the grip of a drought that would extend through the early 2000s, drying up the river and the soil along with it. There was no irrigation, few crops, nothing to eat. “In one day, as many as 30 people left,” says Flores-Yeffal, who is now a population scientist at Texas Tech University and an expert on the sociology of migration. In the words of local farmers, Flores-Yeffal says, “It used to rain all of the time, and then all of a sudden it didn’t.”

Across Mexico, farmers still wait for rain that doesn’t come. Severe droughts, punctuated by intense storms and flooding, are huge environmental challenges for Mexico in the coming century. By 2080, agricultural declines are expected to drive 1.4 million to 6.7 million adult Mexicans out of the country. Most of those people will come to the United States.

Hardly the drug lords and criminals of Trumpian myth, most Mexican climate migrants are struggling rural people (not unlike Trump’s own supporters). They depend on predictable weather to grow the crops they eat. When they know the rain isn’t coming, or their home has been destroyed in a flood, or some other climate-fueled event has upended their lives, families face limited options: starve or move.

Right now, the primary factors driving Mexicans to migrate to the United States are better economic prospects or family connections — both of which can be twisted up with climate change. But in Mexico and around the world, climate changes tend to reshuffle populations within borders, too. Droughts and floods, in particular, often trigger shorter-distance moves, largely from rural areas into cities.

Worldwide, unpredictable climate will spur movement of the rural, agrarian poor in developing countries, according to the IPCC. Mexico, thanks to its relative wealth and historical ties to the United States, faces a unique situation. The two countries are bound by a tangled human web.

Choosing to stay or go comes down to resources.

“One tempting opportunity is to send a [family] member to a different location,” explains Raphael Nawrotzki, a former researcher at the University of Minnesota Population Center, in Minneapolis. Higher income and a more forgiving climate make the United States and urbanized areas of Mexico both appealing destinations, he says.

Fernando Riosmena, a demographer at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says most rural Mexicans opt for cities in their own country, looking for better financial prospects without giving up their culture or friends or family. The expense and danger of moving to the United States play a role, too. While “the gains might be higher,” Riosmena says, “the risk is much higher as well.”

Of the 7 million Mexicans who relocated between 2005 and 2010, perhaps 1.4 million came to the United States. In other words, only a fifth of Mexico’s total migrants crossed the U.S. border.

But in the little town on the river Lerma, many people head to the United States. Because of the fraught politics of immigration between the two countries, Flores-Yeffal doesn’t give the town’s name in her research, but many of Mexico’s international climate migrants start out in small towns like it, in a cluster of west-central states where the choice to leave is rooted in history.

“What would you do if you were to migrate to a different location?” Nawrotzki asks.

Most likely, he says, you would contact friends who had gone ahead of you. In this particular part of Mexico, many of those friends and relatives have been heading to the United States for decades. Beginning with massive labor shortages during World War II, the United States opened its southern border to millions of temporary workers between 1942 and 1964. Called “braceros,” most came from states in the west-central part of the country, like Guanajuato, following the railroads north.

The first migrants from the town on the Lerma came to the United States after a catastrophic flood in 1954 displaced a third of the townspeople. “That’s where the social network began,” Nadia Flores-Yeffal says.

Those first migrants were a point of contact, when later floods and droughts drove more people from the community. Over time, a many-branched network developed, with links to Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Long Beach, California. Travelers along it often worked together and lived as neighbors.

“People call it a tradition to help each other,” Flores-Yeffal explains. “Pay it forward.”


Mexico’s climate story reflects a growing global problem. Worsening droughts, floods, wildfires, and rising seas will drive millions from their homes, all around the world.

From Mexico to China, Bangladesh to Senegal, climate migrants everywhere will relocate to the nearest safe place, says sociologist Cristina Bradatan, also of Texas Tech. Sometimes that means crossing borders, but usually it doesn’t.

“It’s easier to move where you have connections,” Bradatan points out. That’s as true in Morocco and Eastern Europe as it is in the Americas, she explains.

But migration also depends on economic, cultural, colonial, and linguistic ties. Romanians tend to move to Italy and Spain because of historical social networks — but also because all three countries speak Latin-based languages.

Taken together, the many factors that influence global immigration make it a huge and unwieldy thing to predict. No one knows exactly how many people will be uprooted thanks in part to climate change; estimates range from 50 million to as high as one billion. It’s also challenging to predict which regions will be hardest hit, but places already struggling with drought and flooding “will see their problems increase,” Bradatan says. Southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin, and a lot of Africa are all vulnerable. Coastal areas and small island countries will face major displacement, too, experts say, as sea levels rise. In the Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu, for example, more than 70 percent of households say they’ll probably move if the climate worsens.

You can think of it this way: If one person is forced to leave home, that shift can feel world-changing. When that upheaval happens on a global scale, it is.

grist.org

Snatching Health Care Away From Millions

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CreditKaren Bleier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
If James Comey, the F.B.I. director, hadn’t tipped the scales in the campaign’s final days with that grotesquely misleading letter, right now an incoming Clinton administration would be celebrating some very good news. Because health reform, President Obama’s signature achievement, is stabilizing after a bumpy year.
This means that the huge gains achieved so far — tens of millions of newly insured Americans and dramatic reductions in the number of people skipping treatment or facing financial hardship because of cost — look as if they’re here to stay.
Or they would be here to stay if the man who squeaked into power thanks to Mr. Comey and Vladimir Putin wasn’t determined to betray his supporters, and snatch away the health care they need.
To appreciate the good news about Obamacare you need to understand where the earlier bad news came from. Premiums on the exchanges, the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, did indeed rise sharply this year, because insurers were losing money. But this wasn’t because of a surge in overall medical costs, which have risen much more slowly since the act was passed than they did before. It reflected, instead, the mix of people signing up — fewer healthy, low-cost people than expected, more people with chronic health issues.
The question was whether this was a one-time adjustment or the start of a “death spiral,” in which higher premiums would drive healthy Americans out of the market, further worsening the mix, leading to even higher premiums, and so on.
And the answer is that it looks like a one-shot affair. Despite higher premiums, enrollments in the exchanges are running ahead of their levels a year ago; no death spiral here. Meanwhile, analysts are reporting substantial financial improvement for insurers: The premium hikes are doing the job, ending their losses.
In other words, Obamacare hit a bump in the road, but appears to be back on track.
But will it be killed anyway?
In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.
As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.
Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.
Why do the Republicans hate health reform? Some of the answer is that Obamacare was paid for in part with taxes on the wealthy, who will reap a huge windfall if it’s repealed, even as many middle-income families face tax hikes.
More broadly, Obamacare must die precisely because it’s working, showing that government action really can improve people’s lives — a truth they don’t want anyone to know.
How will Republicans try to contain the political fallout if they go ahead with repeal, and tens of millions lose access to health care? No doubt they’ll try to distract the public — and the all-too-compliant news media — with shiny objects of various kinds.
But surely a central aspect of their damage control will be an attempt to push a false narrative about Obamacare’s past. Health reform, they’ll claim, was always a failure, and it was already collapsing on the eve of the G.O.P. takeover. When the number of uninsured Americans skyrockets on their watch, they’ll claim that it’s not their fault — like everything, it’s the fault of liberal elites.
So let’s refute that narrative in advance. Obamacare has, in fact, been a big success — imperfect, yes, but it has greatly improved (and saved) many lives. And all indications are that this success is sustainable, that the teething problems of health reform weren’t fatal and were well on their way to being solved at the end of 2016.
If, as seems all too likely, a health care debacle is imminent, blame must be placed where it belongs: on Donald Trump and the people who put him over the top.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the Kremlin on Tuesday. CreditPool photo by Alexei Druzhinin
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration struck back at Russia on Thursday for its efforts to influence the 2016 election, ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services, including four top officers of the military intelligence unit the White House believes ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.
In a sweeping set of announcements, the United States was also expected to release evidence linking the cyberattacks to computer systems used by Russian intelligence. Taken together, the actions would amount to the strongest American response ever taken to a state-sponsored cyberattack aimed at the United States.
The sanctions were also intended to box in President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump has consistently cast doubt that the Russian government had anything to do with the hacking of the D.N.C. or other political institutions, saying American intelligence agencies could not be trusted and suggesting that the hacking could have been the work of a “400-pound guy” lying in his bed.
Mr. Trump will now have to decide whether to lift the sanctions on the Russian intelligence agencies when he takes office next month, with Republicans in Congress among those calling for a public investigation into Russia’s actions. Should Mr. Trump do so, it would require him to effectively reject the findings of his intelligence agencies.
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Asked on Wednesday night at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., about reports of the impending sanctions, Mr. Trump said: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind, the security we need.”

The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.

A Times investigation reveals missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of a campaign to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

The Obama administration is also planning to release a detailed “joint analytic report” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security that is clearly based in part on intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency. A more detailed report on the intelligence, ordered by President Obama, will be published in the next three weeks, though much of the detail — especially evidence collected from “implants” in Russian computer systems, tapped conversations and spies — is expected to remain classified.
Despite the fanfare and political repercussions surrounding the announcement, it is not clear how much real effect the sanctions may have, although they go well beyond the modest sanctions imposed against North Korea for its attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment two years ago.
Starting in March 2014, the United States and its Western allies levied sanctions against broad sectors of the Russian economy and blacklisted dozens of people, some of them close friends of President Vladimir V. Putin, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and its activities to destabilize Ukraine. Mr. Trump suggested in an interview with The New York Times earlier this year that he believed those sanctions were useless, and left open the possibility he might lift them.
Mr. Obama and his staff have debated for months when and how to impose what they call “proportionate” sanctions for the remarkable set of events that took place during the election, as well as how much of them to announce publicly. Several officials, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have suggested that there may also be a covert response, one that would be obvious to Mr. Putin but not to the public.
While that may prove satisfying, many outside experts have said that unless the public response is strong enough to impose a real cost on Mr. Putin, his government and his vast intelligence apparatus, it might not deter further activity.
“They are concerned about controlling retaliation,” said James A. Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The Obama administration was riven by an internal debate about how much of its evidence to make public. Although the announcement risks revealing sources and methods, it was the best way, some officials inside the administration argued, to make clear to a raft of other nations — including China, Iran and North Korea — that their activities can be tracked and exposed.
In the end, Mr. Obama decided to expand an executive order that he issued in April 2015, after the Sony hacking. He signed it in Hawaii on Thursday morning, specifically giving himself and his successor the authority to issue travel bans and asset freezes on those who “tamper with, alter, or cause a misappropriation of information, with a purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”
Mr. Obama used that order to immediately impose sanctions on four Russian intelligence officials: Igor Valentinovich Korobov, the current chief of a military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., and three deputies: Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov, the deputy chief of the G.R.U.; Igor Olegovich Kostyukov, a first deputy chief, and Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, also a first deputy chief of the G.R.U.
But G.R.U. officials rarely travel to the United States, or keep their assets here, so the effects may be largely symbolic. It is also unclear if any American allies will impose parallel sanctions on Russia.

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The administration also put sanctions on three companies and organizations that it said supported the hacking operations: the Special Technologies Center, a signals intelligence operation in St. Petersburg; a firm called Zor Security that is also known as Esage Lab; and the Autonomous Non-commercial Organization Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems, whose lengthy name, American officials said, was cover for a group that provided special training for the hacking.
“It is hard to do business around the world when you are named like this,” a senior administration official with long experience in Russia sanctions said on Thursday morning. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence.
But the question will remain whether the United States acted too slowly — and then, perhaps, with not enough force. Members of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign argue that the distractions caused by the leaks of emails, showing infighting in the D.N.C., and later the private communications of John D. Podesta, the campaign chairman, absorbed an American press corps more interested in the leaks than in the phenomena of a foreign power marrying new cybertechniques with old-style information warfare.
Certainly the United States had early notice. The F.B.I. first informed the D.N.C. that it saw evidence that the committee’s email systems had been hacked in the fall of 2015. Months of fumbling and slow responses followed. Mr. Obama said at a new conference he was first notified early this summer. But one of his top cyberaides met Russian officials in Geneva to complain about cyberactivity in April.
By the time the leadership of the D.N.C. woke up to what was happening, the G.R.U. had not only obtained those emails through a hacking group that has been closely associated with it for years, but, investigators say, also allowed them to be published on a number of websites, from a newly created one called DC Leaks to the far more established WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, several states reported the “scanning” of their voter databases — which American intelligence agencies also attributed to Russian hackers. But there is no evidence, American officials said, that Russia sought to manipulate votes or voter rolls on Nov. 8.
Mr. Obama decided not to issue sanctions ahead of the elections, for fear of Russian retaliation ahead of Election Day. Some of his aides now believe that was a mistake. But the president made clear before leaving for Hawaii that he planned to respond.
The question now is whether the response he has assembled will be more than just symbolic, deterring not only Russia but others who might attempt to influence future elections.
NYT

Vera Rubin, 88, Dies; Opened Doors in Astronomy, and for Women

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Vera Rubin in the 1970s, when she mapped the distribution of mass in spiral galaxies by measuring how fast they rotated.CreditCarnegie Institution of Washington, via Associated Press
Vera Rubin, who transformed modern physics and astronomy with her observations showing that galaxies and stars are immersed in the gravitational grip of vast clouds of dark matter, died on Sunday in Princeton, N.J. She was 88.
Her death was announced by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she had been a longtime staff astronomer.
Dr. Rubin, cheerful and plain-spoken, had a lifelong love of the stars, championed women in science and was blunt about the limits of humankind’s vaunted knowledge of nature.
Her work helped usher in a Copernican-scale change in cosmic consciousness, namely the realization that what astronomers always saw and thought was the universe is just the visible tip of a lumbering iceberg of mystery.
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Scientists now know we are not the center of the universe, nor are we even made of the same stuff as most of creation. Cosmologists have now concluded that there is five or 10 times as much dark matter in the universe as there is ordinary atomic matter — the stuff of stars, planets and people.
What it is, nobody knows, although theories abound, and attempts to identify it in laboratory and particle-accelerator experiments and in outer space have transfixed modern physics.
“We know very little about the universe,” Dr. Rubin said in an interview for “Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos: The Story of the Scientific Quest for the Secret of the Universe.” “I personally don’t believe it’s uniform and the same everywhere. That’s like saying the earth is flat.”
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Dr. Rubin in 2010 at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.CreditLinda Davidson/The Washington Post, via Getty Images
President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Rubin the National Medal of Science in 1993, and she was frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize.
Sandra Faber, a staff astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that Dr. Rubin, along with Margaret Burbidge, who is retired from the University of California, San Diego, was a “guiding light” for a generation of female astronomers.
In a statement written for Scientific American, Dr. Faber wrote, “Rubin’s happy family history raising four children, all of whom eventually earned their own Ph.D.’s, was particularly inspiring to young females.”
She was born Vera Florence Cooper on July 23, 1928, in Philadelphia, the younger daughter of Philip Cooper, an electrical engineer who worked at Bell Telephone, and Rose Cooper, who had also worked at the phone company but had to quit her job because of nepotism rules. The family moved to Washington when Vera was 10. She later said she had become entranced by astronomy from watching the stars wheel past her bedroom window.
She was drawn to Vassar College as an undergraduate because Maria Mitchell, the first American to discover a comet, had taught there. In a sign of the challenges to come, her high school science teacher told her that she would be fine in a career as long as she stayed away from science. She graduated in 1948, the sole astronomer in the class.
That year, she married Robert Rubin, who was then a graduate student in physical chemistry at Cornell. She had hoped to get a Ph.D. from Princeton, but the astrophysics graduate program did not admit women at the time and declined to send her a course catalog. So instead she went to Cornell to obtain a master’s degree and finished it in 1951.
When her husband got a job at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the family moved to Washington and she enrolled at Georgetown University. She earned her Ph.D. there studying the properties and motions of distant galaxies while raising her children.
Robert Rubin died in 2008. A daughter, Judy Young, who was also an astronomer, died in 2014. Dr. Rubin is survived by her sister, Ruth Cooper Burg, a judge in Washington; her sons, Allan, David and Karl; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
Breaking into the field was never easy. One day in 1950 she drove with a month-old baby through a snowstorm to a meeting in Pennsylvania to deliver a paper with data, which she later decided was questionable, about the rotation of the universe, only to be chastised and humiliated by “senior astronomers,” she said. She fled the city and the issue of cosmology.
Another time, she recalled, she was excited to be summoned to a meeting with the eminent astrophysicist George Gamow, only to learn that they would have to talk in the lobby because women were not allowed upstairs in the offices.
Dr. Rubin never forgot. “Don’t let anyone keep you down for silly reasons such as who you are,” Rebecca Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, recalled being counseled by Dr. Rubin. “And don’t worry about prizes and fame. The real prize is finding something new out there.”
Dr. Rubin joined the Carnegie Institution, in its department of terrestrial magnetism, in 1965, after holding teaching posts at Montgomery College in Maryland and at Georgetown.
Yet by Dr. Faber’s account, she still had to battle for access to a 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain in California jointly owned by Carnegie and Caltech. When she did get there, she found that there was no women’s restroom. As her friend and institute colleague Neta Bahcall later told Discover magazine, Dr. Rubin taped an outline of a woman’s skirt to the image of a man on a restroom door, making it a ladies’ room.
By then, averse to controversy and the sharp elbows of “senior astronomers,” Dr. Rubin was looking for a field of research that would keep her out of trouble. “I wanted a problem that nobody would bother me about,” she said later.
That was when she stumbled into the most daunting problem in modern astronomy: the discovery that most of the universe is invisible.
Teaming up with a young Carnegie colleague, W. Kent Ford Jr., Dr. Rubin set out in the early 1970s to map the distribution of mass in spiral galaxies by measuring how fast they rotated. The faster the stars were going around, the more gravity, and thus mass, must be keeping them in their orbits.
They expected to find that most of the mass was where most of the starlight was, at the centers of the galaxies. In that case, stars on the outer fringes of a galaxy should have been moving more slowly than those in the inner regions — the way Pluto, on the outskirts of the solar system, takes 248 years to go around the sun, while Mercury speeds around in 88 days.
To their shock, however, they found that the stars on the outskirts of galaxies were not slowing down; if anything, they were speeding up. By the laws of either Newton or Einstein, it meant that there was extra mass out there where there was relatively little light, mass that was speeding up the stars.
“Great astronomers told us it didn’t mean anything,” Dr. Rubin said. Told to look at more galaxies, they did, and the effect persisted.
In fact, the idea that there was more to the universe than could be seen had been lurking on the edges of scientific respectability since the 1930s, when the Caltech astronomer Fritz Zwicky deduced that some invisible “missing mass” was required to supply the gravitational glue that held clusters of galaxies together. Otherwise, with the galaxies moving so fast, a cluster would simply fly apart.
“Nobody ever told us all matter radiated” light, Dr. Rubin said. “We just assumed it did.”
Another boost to this idea had come in 1973, when the Princeton theorists Jeremiah Ostriker and James Peebles suggested, based on computer simulations, that spiral galaxies would warp and fall apart — because of gravitational forces from stars — unless they were embedded in a halo of dark matter, like a hamburger patty surrounded by a bun.
Dr. Rubin and Dr. Ford’s work brought these ideas to center stage.
“Vera’s work, mostly in the early ’80s, clinched the case for dark matter for most astronomers,” Dr. Ostriker wrote in an email, noting that she had been working with familiar galaxies and the kinds of optical observations that astronomers understood.
It helped that at the same time theoretical physics was exploding with new ideas, like supersymmetry and string theory, which implied the existence of new kinds of subatomic particles left over from the Big Bang and floating around the universe (and through our bodies) in clouds.
As Sheldon Glashow, a Nobel laureate now at Boston University, once remarked, “We theorists can come up with a lot of garbage to fill the universe.”
It has gotten worse. A wide range of astrophysical and cosmological measurements have subsequently arrived at an intimidating composition of the cosmos: 5 percent atoms, 27 percent dark matter and 68 percent the even more mysterious dark energy that seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe — all of which subverts any illusion that astronomers might actually know what is going on.
In an interview in 2000 posted on the Natural History Museum website, Dr. Rubin said: “In a spiral galaxy, the ratio of dark-to-light matter is about a factor of 10. That’s probably a good number for the ratio of our ignorance to knowledge. We’re out of kindergarten, but only in about third grade.”
In three decades of searching, the experimentalists have not found any trace of Dr. Glashow’s garbage, notwithstanding occasional rumors that the dark matter particle, the secret ingredient of the universe, has been spotted in some underground tank or fleeing through the detectors at a place like CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.
If true, the rumors could have sent Dr. Rubin straight to Stockholm to pick up a Nobel Prize. Some theorists have suggested that Einstein’s theory of gravity, general relativity, might have to be modified to explain the dark matter observations.
During one of those flurries of excitement, in 2009, Dr. Rubin, who liked to stick to the facts, kept her cool. “I don’t know if we have dark matter or have to nudge Newton’s laws or what,” she said at the time.
She added: “I’m sorry I know so little. I’m sorry we all know so little. But that’s kind of the fun, isn’t it?”
Correction: December 29, 2016 
An obituary on Wednesday about the astronomer Vera Rubin referred incorrectly to the Vassar College class of 1948, of which she was a member. It was not “immortalized by Mary McCarthy in the novel ‘The Group.’” (That novel was about the Vassar class of 1933.) The obituary also misstated the number of days it takes the planet Mercury to orbit the sun. It is 88 days, not 84.

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