Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Benjamin Franklin / the problem of 18th century fake news / ladybugs

In 1782.... 

... the new United States was negotiating for a treaty with Great Britain. But things were moving a bit too slowly for Benjamin Franklin, who took up the fake news strategy writing an entirely made-up, fake letter. 

The letter, (purportedly from Capt. Samuel Gerrish) was printed in such a way as to look like a regular newspaper supplement. Even though he was in France at the time, being a printer, Franklin could get easy access to a print shop, so making it look "real" was simple for him.  Few other people at the time could do this.   

By April 22, Franklin had made up this fake news story, purportedly published as a supplement to a Boston newspaper. Not since he and Lafayette had drawn up a “List of British Cruelties” in 1779 had he written in such detail about the cruelties that were committed by the British and their allies.  He wrote John Adams, “it might make them a little asham’d of themselves.” He was explicitly looking to influence public opinion as the peace negotiations got under way. Sound familiar?  

In Franklin's fake letter, "Captain Gerrish" describes the horrors of Indian atrocities (he reports seeing giant bundles of scalps taken from innocent settlers, men, women, children) in an effort to get Britain to react in sympathy and encourage the peace negotiations that were then underway. 

(It's useful to remember that the Indians were largely British allies. Franklin was hoping to make the Brits feel guilty about the atrocities committed in their name, thereby helping the peace negotiations go more rapidly.) 

I haven't yet found a digital copy of the original supplement, but the text is reprinted in Memoirs and Life of B. Franklin (1818).

The fake news story was apparently believed by a few people including a reprint of the letter (but without any understanding it was written by Franklin) in the 1808 book "Medical Repository, Vol. 5"

A nice analysis of the hoax (and whether or not the hoax succeeded) can be found in the National Archives essay about the affair:  "Founders Online: Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle (before 22 April, 1782)"  

Fake news has always been with us.  It's just disseminating far more rapidly these days--you don't need to set up hot type and run each page by hand.  

In other SRS news... 

Remember the "masses of ladybugs" SearchResearch Challenge from a couple of weeks ago? 

This week I'm writing the SearchResearch blogpost from my scholarly residence at Schloss Dagstuhl. Here, in the Saarland of southwestern Germany, it's early spring.  The snow drops are beginning to flower, despite the occasional flurries of light snow with the occasional bit of thunder and lightning.  

I had my window open, and as I was writing, this ladybug flew in and started to read what I was working on at the moment... 

I don't know, perhaps the ladybugs knees were bothering it in the spring storm.   

Later this week there will be another SearchResearch Challenge.  Until then... 

Search on! 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Answer: Weather causes pain?

This is tricky. 

This week we've been investigating the connection between the weather changing and aches/pains in the body.  

Is it a real thing when your aged parent complains about the changes in the weather?  

I've often wondered this, and in doing a bit of searching I found that it's not as simple as you might think.  Reminder: Here's was the Challenge for the week--can you find evidence for these?  

1.  Can changes in the weather cause real joint pain? 

2.  Can changes in weather cause other kinds of pain in the body? 

3.  If so, what's the mechanism that causes the pain?  (How can this possibly be?) 

Fair warning up front:  I thought this was going to be a simple Challenge.  I didn't know it would turn out this way!! 

Let's start with a few obvious queries: 

     [ "joint pain" weather ] 

     [ "joint pain" AROUND(5) weather ] 

Looking at the SERPS you'll find a LOT  of documents. There are many web pages about this topic.  But if you notice, while some say it's obvious that joint pain is connected with weather, many of them are skeptical of the claim that joint pain is associated with changes in the weather.  

For instance, the Cleveland Clinic's rheumatologist says that “Some people believe that when you drop the barometric pressure, your air pressure, that sometimes your tissues can swell.”  (Notice the little hedge in there, "some people believe....") 

Then again Weather.com, the Arthritis Foundation, and WebMD all agree with this weather / joint-pain connection. But they also hedge their bets with a "There's no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain, or if a specific mechanism is at fault..."  

That's a lot of quasi-uncertainty.  

By contrast, Live Science reports on two studies, one published in Pain Medicine, and the other in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, (both from December 2016) that did NOT find any connection between weather and joint pain.  

What's up with all this back-and-forth?  This is making me suspicious.  Is the story wrong?  Does Weather.com have a vested interest here?  

Part of what's making me worry about this is that the pressure change when a storm front moves in just isn't that much of a pressure change.  

You see, normal sea level air pressure is around 1013 millibars. That's what you're experiencing right now.  But a low pressure system associated with a thunderstorm runs around 1005 millibars, while a high pressure system could be as high as 1040.  

Since people complain about joint pain when the storm is coming in, that's usually a drop in air pressure.  

Let's imagine that the air pressure drops from a normal pressure of 1013 to 1000 millibars.  (That's a real thunderstorm kind of number--the rain is really going to come in if you see a 1000 millibar reading.)  

That's the same air pressure you'd feel if you were about 400 feet off the ground--let's call it 40 stories.  (Check the pressure conversion table to see where that number comes from.)  

That's a tall, but not massive apartment building.  If this were a problem, every time a sensitive person went to the 40th floor, they'd suffer joint pain.  

So I did a quick search for the connection between elevators and joint pain: 

     [ "joint pain" AROUND(5) elevator ] 

This search yields nothing.  Absolutely nothing. Huh.  That's strange.  Is it just a barometric pressure change that could cause pain?  

Okay, how about searching for joint pain associated with flying in a plane.  I tried: 

     [ "joint pain" airplane ] 
     [ "joint pain" pressure change in airplane ]  

and again, I found nothing.  (There are many article, but none of them say anything about joint pain being caused by a change in cabin pressure.)  

I looked up the cabin pressure, and for most planes, it's around 800 millibars.  That's quite a change from 1013 millibars... but there's not much comment about that.  So I'm getting even more dubious.  

So I checked Google Scholar for some peer-reviewed papers on this topic with the simpler query: 

     [ "joint pain" weather ] 

It's not clear this helped clarify things.  

In one study, [1]  
"..Earlier studies, using climate control rooms, indicated that rheumatic symptoms were unaffected if weather conditions were held constant or if only one of the variables temperature, humidity, or barometric pressure were altered...."  

Great.  That makes sense.  But they then go on to say that: 
"... Raising the humidity and lowering the pressure simultaneously, however, led to the appearance of some rheumatic symptoms."  

Okay, interesting.  Maybe you need to change humidity and pressure together to get joint pain.  

Here's another study [2] where the researchers say 
"There is a widespread and strongly held belief that arthritis pain is influenced by the weather; however, scientific studies have found no consistent association. We hypothesize that this belief results, in part at least, from people's tendency to perceive patterns where none exist..."  
And another study [3] where the researchers studied multiple factors (including the appearance of sunspots and the aurora borealis).  THEY found that 1-out-of-6 of their participants were sensitive to something, but they couldn't fit a good model to the weather and pain.  Still, they weakly conclude that it's possible.  

As you'd expect, about every other paper reports a different result.  Yet another study [4] reported that pain was correlated with low temperature, high atmospheric pressure, high humidity for rheumatoid arthritis.  This complicates things, as these folks reported pain with HIGH pressure, not low pressure. Sheesh. 

Another paper [5] says:
Despite anecdotal reports from patients, change in weather factors does not appear to influence the risk of pain exacerbation in persons with knee osteoarthritis. 

And of course, they conclude with that eternally optimistic phrase... 
Additional studies should quantify the association of weather and risk of pain exacerbation in regions with more extreme weather conditions.

FWIW, I kept looking around, and it didn't matter which article I read, one would claim it's a real effect, while the next would say that it wasn't. 

And nobody... not one single paper, article, or book chapter... had anything like a plausible explanation for what would be causing this.  

My conclusions is that what the authors say in that LiveScience article is probably correct:  

But our research suggests this belief [that weather change causes joint pain] may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their pre-existing views.
For example, people may take note of pain on days when the weather is bad, but discount the connection on days when the weather is nice and mild, he said. 
Not all experts agree with the studies' failure to find a link between weather and joint pain, however.
"Despite these studies, it is not possible to say that there is no link, especially given how much people report that for them there is a strong link" said Dr. Robert Shmerling, the clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
"It is nearly impossible to 'prove a negative' — there is always a possibility that a particular weather feature does affect a particular type of arthritis in a particular set of people — but so far we haven't figured out if that's the case," Shmerling told Live Science.

In short, it's incredibly difficult to tell what's true here by reading the popular or medical literature.  There is real disagreement about whether it's a genuine effect, or if it's just people noticing the pain and perceiving a pattern of correlation that's not really there.  

My conclusion?  

We need more research.  (But I'm kind of leaning towards "it's not a real thing...")

In these days of falsified news reports and big conflicts in reporting, it's good to remember than this is often the case in less fraught topics as well.  It's clear that the scientists and physicians don't really know what's going on here either.    

Keep searching!  


[1] Guedj, Daniela, and Abraham Weinberger. "Effect of weather conditions on rheumatic patients." Annals of the rheumatic diseases 49.3 (1990): 158-159. 

[2] Redelmeier, Donald A., and Amos Tversky. "On the belief that arthritis pain is related to the weather." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 93.7 (1996): 2895-2896.

[3] Smedslund, Geir, et al. "Does the weather really matter? A cohort study of influences of weather and solar conditions on daily variations of joint pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis." Arthritis Care & Research 61.9 (2009): 1243-1247.

[4] Strusberg, Ingrid, et al. "Influence of weather conditions on rheumatic pain." The Journal of Rheumatology 29.2 (2002): 335-338.

[5] Ferreira, M. L., et al. "The influence of weather on the risk of pain exacerbation in patients with knee osteoarthritis–a case-crossover study." Osteoarthritis and cartilage 24.12 (2016): 2042-2047.

Monday, February 20, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (2/20/17): Weather causes pain?

Myths and folk tales sometimes... 

... have their origin in reality.  This week we take up one of the most persistent of all folk stories--the connection between weather changing and aches/pains in the body.  

You've probably heard this before from your aging Aunt Matilda or antique Uncle Roy,   "When it's going to rain, my knee / hip / ankle starts to hurt.  It's the rheumatism..."  

Is this a real thing?  Or is it a story handed down through the ages?  I've often wondered this, and in doing a bit of searching I found that it's not as simple as you might thing.  So... Here's the Challenge for the week.  

1.  Can changes in the weather cause real joint pain? 

2.  Can changes in weather cause other kinds of pain in the body? 

3.  If so, what's the mechanism that causes the pain?  (How can this possibly be?) 

I know it's simple to do a quick search and find an answer--but I'm hoping you'll do more than just the simplest possible query.  

Instead, take a look at the evidence pro and con, and THEN tell us what you think... and WHY you think the answer is one way or the other.  

In a Challenge like this, we're testing your ability to pull together data from multiple sources and synthesize it.  Can you tell us what you believe (based on your searches) and why?  

Go beyond the obvious.  Think to yourself--"What kind of evidence would convince me of one way or the other?"    

Be sure to think about what kind of source you're reading, and whether or not the stories you read from different sources actually make sense together.  

Search on! 

Update:  As you probably noticed, this week's Challenge is slow in coming out.  Normally, we have a Challenge on Wednesday and an Answer on Monday.  But as I mentioned a while back, I'm doing a bit of traveling and teaching for the next several weeks.  So I'm slowing this blog down by a bit to accommodate my travels.  I'll be posting a Challenge on Monday, then answering it the next week. Hope you don't mind the slight slowdown.  It will let you spend more time on these slightly more difficult Challenges!  (I'll post some pix here from time to time.)  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Answer: Large numbers of ladybugs and dogfish?

Masses of animals fascinate... 

Birds, bugs, mammals--when they all get together in vast quantities, they amaze us.   

This week we want to search out two particular kinds of swarming animals to get a sense for how many of them move en masse together, and how they're doing these days.  

As I mentioned, I've seen fairly large numbers of ladybugs gathering on stone walls in Yosemite: 

Now imagine this same kind of ladybug swarm extending for another 20 meters down a long, low, granite stone wall...  

1. What's the largest ladybug grouping together that you can find?  (Or a swarm, or a loveliness of ladybugs, although that mass noun is disputed.... but it's such a great term!) 
 Even though "loveliness" is a great term, the fact that it's disputed suggests that it's probably NOT a great search term.  In this case, let's start with the simplest possible query: 

     [ largest ladybug swarm ] 

(For the record, I tried aggregation first instead of swarm.  But aggregation seems less commonly used.)  

With this search I found the Wikipedia page about ladybugs (of course) about quickly learned that they're called Coccinellidae (the scientific family name), they enter diapause (a kind of overwintering hibernation), and that many species collect into large swarms at diapause time.  In fact, the Wiki page has a great photo of ladybugs emerging in the spring from a diapause swarm at Stevens Creek, which runs right along the edge of the Google campus in Mountain View, CA. 

Ladybugs covering a fallen tree, Stevens Creek Canyon, CA
P/C Wikimedia, photo by Lettersee.
Apparently, some ladybug species like to spend diapause at higher elevations (e.g., Yosemite). That connection led me to Summitpost.org (a mountaineering website with lots of observations about high-altitude mountain phenomena) with article about ladybugs diapausing.  They write that "Many ladybug dealers/collectors claim that some of these mountain colonies can contain as many as 500 gallons of ladybugs, with each gallon containing up to 72,000-80,000 ladybugs..."  To first order, that's around 40 million ladybugs in one swarm... but it also told me that there are "ladybug collectors," which might be a promising line of research.  

     [ ladybug collectors insect ] 

(I had to add "insect" to the query to avoid all of the "ladybug collectors" of jewelry websites.)  But once I did this, I found even more sites talking about mass quantities of ladybugs.  

In short order I found one report from Boulder, CO (with a picture similar to that above), and yet another article that mentions ladybug dealers/collectors that can harvest millions at a time with snow shovels and buckets.  

That article led to the website of the Lost Ladybug Project (run by the entomology department of Cornell University).  This research project is dedicated to understanding what's happening the ladybugs in North America, and why some ladybug species are becoming rarer, while other are moving their range. 

As you'd expect, I did a search of that site for both diapause and swarm: 

     [ site:www.LostLadybug.org swarm ] 

That search led me to an article written in Entomologica Americana by Eric Denemark and John Losey, "Causes and consequences of ladybug washups in the finger lakes region of New York State (coleoptera: coccinellidae)." Entomologica Americana 116.1 (2010): 78-88.  

As I skimmed this paper, I noted a particular phrase written by J. L. LeConte in 1850 (see reference [1] below):  
‘‘..they [ladybugs] were driven on shore, particularly on sand beaches, by the winds and waves after being drowned in the lake..’’ 
I think I just found the answer to the next Challenge... 

2. While you're thinking about ladybugs in large groups, sometimes vast numbers of ladybugs somehow die-off together.  Can you find out how / when / why this happens?  What are these mass die-offs called? (In the special case of ladybugs, there's one particular term that's used.)
Although I wasn't directly looking for this paper, I found it while searching for the large ladybug swarms. When the text mentions masses of drowned ladybugs, I naturally get curious.  How can this happen?  

This paper ("Causes and consequences...") is by Denemark and Losey.  Those names also rang a bell.  Where had I see them before? 

I had just been looking at the Lost Ladybug Project and remembered seeing those names listed on their About page.  This is a pretty reputable journal about entomology, and these two folks are deeply into ladybugs.  

You can read the paper yourself, but it basically looks at ladybug washup data for the Finger Lakes (in upstate New York), and makes the case that: 

"...The frequency, composition, and duration of washups in the Finger Lakes support the hypothesis that a weather condition known as a lake breeze forces coccinellids [ladybugs] to fall into the water. These animals subsequently arrive on shore in large numbers." 

The last section of the paper summarizes their findings and gives some important context, including a subtle reference to a paper "Ladybird population explosions" by Majerus and Majerus (1996) [2] ("Ladybird" is what the Brits call "ladybugs.")  

That looked interesting, so I went to Google Scholar with the title and found the paper on the "Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations" website.  As I scanned it looking for information about ladybug washups, I found this stunning paragraph and tag line: 

We once calculated the approximate number of ladybirds that would have been in  the tide-lines along the southern and eastern coasts of Britain on a single day in late July 1976. Assuming all to have been one of our larger species, the 7-spot (which they  were not), a conservative estimate gives a figure of some 23,654,400,000 ladybirds (estimated by counting the number of 7-spots in 15 200 mm sections of tideline and multiplied up by the amount of suitable coastline between Land's End and the east coast border between England and Scotland). This figure is difficult to comprehend,  but it is about four times the current human population of the Earth and, of course, this was just the ladybirds in the tidelines on a single day. It does not include any of those that stayed on land, or those that were washed out to sea, or those that were eaten by other starving ladybirds or other predators, or those that were killed on the roads or elsewhere by the devices of man. 
Not surprisingly, a crash in ladybird populations followed.

Wait a second.  That's 23 billion ladybugs that washed-up on the shores of the British Isles.  

Now that's a loveliness of ladybugs...

For a great video about more everyday ladybug aggregations, watch this short (created by the local PBS station--this is a great video series, well worth subscribing to):  

3. The spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) is a remarkable fish. Like many fish, they often school in large numbers.  What's the largest report of a dogfish school you can find?  
Spiny dogfish, Squalus acanthias.  Just so you know what we're talking about.
I did a few obvious queries: 

     [ dogfish large school ] 

     [ squalus acanthias large school ] 

And with these queries it's easy enough to find multiple sources that report schools of dogfish in the thousands (e.g., University of Michigan animal web, the FAO United Nations page on dogfish, or Fishbase).  

With comments about dogfish being the most abundant living shark, and the only shark species that supports fisheries of a size rivalling those of the more commercially important bony fishes. Bigelow & Schroeder (1948) noted that in a time of peak abundance in 1904-05 an estimated 27,000,000 dogfish were taken off the Massachusetts coast each year.

So... why "dogfish"?  The name "dogfish" was adapted by fishermen who referred to the schools of them chasing schools of smaller fish as "packs."  

The lifespan of a dogfish is estimated to be between 20 and 75 years. It's a very long-lived fish that matures late and reproduces slowly, with gestation lasting two years – the longest of any vertebrate. It's ovoviviparous, meaning that spiny dogfish develop in eggs within the female, living off their yolk sacs.  For each female, six to seven live young are born, measuring 20 to 33 cm.  At birth, the mother shark has a series of rhythmic contractions, just as in mammals, and the young are delivered head first. Larger and older females have bigger litters with larger pups; a large female can carry up to 4 times as many embryos compared to a smaller female. Larger, older females have higher survival rates than those born to small females.  

As a consequence, despite their large numbers in schools, dogfish are vulnerable to being overfished.  It takes a long time for a crashed dogfish population to return.  

I was curious about what large schools of dogfish had been observed.  Anything more than "thousands"?  

I did several searches like this: 

     [ enormous dogfish school squalus ] 

and then varied the adjective (trying "gigantic" "massive" etc.)  

Notice that I had to add the term "squalus" to eliminate all of the dogfish results having to do with beer (there's a popular brand named "dogfish"), pubs, B&Bs, etc.  

I found several more references to "thousands" of dogfish in schools, including a personal observation of fishing vessels pulling up overloaded nets full of nothing but dogfish.  (see: "Development and observations of a spiny dogfish...")  

A school of dogfish brought up in a fishing net. P/C Wikimedia and John Wallace of NOAA.

But there are hints at truly massive schools of dogfish.  When I started by queries with this variation: 

      [ immense schools dogfish squalus ] 

I found one article ("The Spiny Dogfish--a Review" published by NOAA) that quoted the Cape Ann Advertiser of  February 10, 1882 as saying that: "Immense schools of dogfish,extending as far as the eye can reach, have appeared off Portsmouth, an unusual sight in winter... " 


This version of the query proved to be really productive, as it led me to the most remarkable work in the spiny dogfish oeuvre, that being the monograph The Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias) in the Northeast Pacific and a History of its Utilization, by K. S. Ketchen (1986), published by the Canadian Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.   (It really is a good read.  The section on the history of dogfish utilization is fascinating. It includes such tidbits as Native American dogfish art, including totem poles, and how dogfish oil was used in coal miner lamps in British Columbia.)   

In this remarkable text, anecdotal evidence spiny dogfish schools in in Queen Charlotte Strait can be found in a remark of Syd Cooke, then editor of Western Fisheries magazine: 

Clearing from Hardy Bay, and while on the approximate 39-mile course to Shushartie Bay, on the northern end of Vancouver Island, we ran through a dogfish school which extended for that distance, and as far as the eye could see to seaward. (Western Fisheries Magazine, Mar. 1946)  

As the ichthyologist Milton J. Love later wrote about this observation, "Heh, that is a powerful lot of dogfish."  

I'm trying to imagine 39 miles of dogfish, "as far as the eye could see..."  

Search Lessons

There are several,

1.  You might have to try different variations on a search term.  In the ladybug example, I tried both "aggregation" and "swarm," and got different (and usefully different) results.  In the dogfish Challenge I tried variations on the adjective:  gigantic, enormous, huge...  When I finally tried "immense" I found some really useful results.  

2. Double source everything.  In this case, it was pretty easy to get multiple articles that said the same thing (e.g., "dogfish schools with thousands of fish").  Importantly, they were all reputable sources--biology departments of universities and the like.  Also importantly, they did NOT repeat the same information word-for-word.  If you see that (and you will), you can't count the copied text as another independent source.  (It just means they copy/pasted the finding.)  

3. When getting lots of spurious results, try adding in a technical term to get more on-topic focus.  When I did the search for [ dogfish school ] I had to add in "squalus" as a search term, just to remove all of the commercial results for beer and vacation spots named after the fish.  They like dogfish alright, but they never use the term "squalus"!  

Search on! 


[1]  Lake Superior: its physical character, vegetation, and animals, compared with those of other and similar regions, Louis Agassiz, James Elliot Cabot, 1850.  Quote from Leconte's chapter, "General Remarks upon the Coleoptera of Lake Superior," page 201

[2] Ladybird population explosions. Majerus, M.E.N. Majerus, T.M.O.  British Journal of Entomology and Natural History (United Kingdom) (1996)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (2/8/17): Large numbers of ladybugs and dogfish?

A large number of any living
creatures moving together
is always a sight to behold... 

It could be the vast rivers of wildebeests that annually migrate in Africa, or millions of passenger pigeons that once darkened the skies of North America, or the monarch butterflies that travel in gigantic swarms from the US to southern Mexico in the fall, but in all cases, the earth moves and we're amazed.  

This week we want to search out two particular kinds of swarming animals to get a sense for how many of them move en masse together, and how they're doing these days.  

When I was walking through Yosemite Valley in the fall, I spotted a huge number of ladybugs clustered together on a rock wall.  I estimated there were at least 1 million bugs packed cheek-by-jowl (or antennae to elytra, in the case of the bugs) along that 50 meters of wall.  

1. What's the largest ladybug grouping together that you can find?  (Or a swarm, or a loveliness of ladybugs, although that mass noun is disputed.... but it's such a great term!) 
2. While you're thinking about ladybugs in large groups, sometimes vast numbers of ladybugs somehow die-off together.  Can you find out how / when / why this happens?  What are these mass die-offs called? (In the special case of ladybugs, there's one particular term that's used.) 
3. The spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias) is a remarkable fish. Like many fish, they often school in large numbers.  What's the largest report of a dogfish school you can find?  

As always, I'm interested in the answers... but also REALLY interested in how you found this out. 

What search terms did you use to find the largest ladybug loveliness?  What resources did you check to find out about the spiny dogfish schools?  

Teachers:  These Challenges are especially great for your students.  The search process here can be simple, or very, very sophisticated, and it lets interested students dig deep into the natural history of these social animals.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Answer: What's the common thread?

Travel is an endless source of SearchResearch... 

While in DC I found this fountain that seemed so out-of-place and unlike other fountains that I had to wonder what the backstory was.  

As you can see below (look at the very plain fountain two pictures down), it reminded me of another fountain in Petaluma, California.  What's the thread that links these two distantly separated (and stylistically separated) water fountains?  Can you figure it out?  

1.  What kind of fountain is this one shown above?  (Yes, I know it's a water fountain... but there's much more to the story than that.)  This kind of fountain has a specific name... 

It's not hard to figure how where this fountain is.  You could look at the EXIF metadata (see my earlier post on how to examine EXIF metadata) and find that it's at 38.893889, -77.021283, which puts it solidly in the center of Washington DC. 

Note that the GPS red pin in the above map isn't exactly on the "Temperance Fountain."  Is the lat/long slightly wrong, or what's going on?  To check, I looked first looked at the satellite image: 

You can see the shadow of the "temperance fountain" onto the sidewalk, which suggests that it's actually a bit to the west of the drop pin.  Let's check Streetview at that location: 

Google Streetview of the Fountain at the corner of Indiana Ave and 7th Street, NW
It's clearly the same fountain, but from a different angle.  If we zoom in a bit, we can read the words...

"charity" and "temperance."  What an unexpected trio of words: Hope, Charity, Temperance.  I wonder what's on the 4th side?  

Curiously, I did a search with the words I knew,  [ hope charity temperance ], but before I could finish typing the end of the word "temperance" look at what showed up in my suggestions list: 

This is a suggestion for the 4-word phrase I was looking for!  Could the words be temperance, charity, faith, and hope?  

I tried checking on Streetview, but the camera is just a BIT too far away to be sure.  

So I tried doing an Search-by-Image, and that didn't work so well. None of the hits were of this fountain.  

But as we've talked about before, you can MODIFY the search query WITH the searched-for image in place.  What would be the best search term to add?  Probably the most specific (and rarest) term, and one that we can read directly off the fountain itself:  temperance  

Here's my modified Search-By-Image query.  Notice that I added the additional search term temperance to the query.  

Now we've got something.  As you can see, we have pretty good results, including many of the "Visually similar images" are of the crane-topped temperance fountain in DC.  By clicking around a bit, we can quickly learn that this fountain was donated to the city in 1882 by the Temperance crusader Henry D. Cogswell, oddly enough, he is from San Francisco. This fountain was one of a series of fountains he had commissioned in a hopeful belief that easy access to cool drinking water would keep people from consuming alcohol. The words "Faith," "Hope," "Charity," and "Temperance" are inscribed around the fountain's canopy, which bears a life-sized heron, and has a pair of dolphins (although the dolphins have scales). Originally, visitors were supposed to drink the ice water that sprung from the dolphins' mouth with a brass cup attached to the fountain.  (Oooh... how sanitary!)  The city quickly got fed up with putting ice into the base of the fountain, and fairly quickly gave up on the entire idea.  

On the other hand, many other WCTU temperance fountains have survived the years since the years of temperance, including ones in Philadelphia, New York, and (see below) Petaluma... 

2.  Why did looking at the inscription (below), make me laugh out loud? 

This was kind of a very simple Challenge.  When I looked in the grate, I saw lots of green bottles... the kind that beer comes in... How ironic that they should besmirch a Temperance Fountain!  (I can't help but think this must be someone's idea of a joke...)  

Just saying... 

It's also worth noticing that this fountain was "donated by Henry B. Cogswell of San Francisco" and, as the Wikipedia article points out, it has survived the years mostly unscathed (although early on it lost the ability to dispense water). 

By contrast, the Cogswell temperance fountain at California and Market Street in San Francisco featured a statue of Henry D. Cogswell himself.  It was so unloved that it was pulled down on New Year's Eve Night of 1893-1894 by "a lynch party of self-professed art lovers" including Gelett Burgess (who was fired from his job at UC Berkeley).  On the other hand, Cogswell's 1879 statue of Ben Franklin which is paired with a temperance fountain in Washington Square (on the other side of San Francisco) remains untouched and in working order to this day.

Destruction of Cogswell's fountain in San Francisco, 1894. San Francisco Call.
P/C Wikimedia.

3.  Here's another fountain I found in Petaluma, CA (below).  It's not nearly as fancy and decorative, but it's actually very similar to the fountain above.  What's the story that connects these two fountains?  

And now we know.  A quick search for: 

     [ WCTU ] 

tells us that this is the "Women's Christian Temperance Union."  The organization, which helped to set up a lot of Temperance fountains, still exists to this day (see the WCTU website), and are still advocating an abstemious lifestyle. 

As they write: 
The National Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in Cleveland, Ohio in November of  1874. It grew out of the "Woman's Crusade" of the winter of 1873-1874.... after listening to a lecture by Dr. Dio Lewis, [the women] were moved to a non-violent  protest against the dangers of alcohol. Normally quiet housewives dropped to their knees for pray-ins in local saloons and demanded that the sale of liquor be  stopped. In three months the women had driven liquor out of 250 communities, and  for the first time felt what could be accomplished by standing together.. 
Local chapters were  called "Unions" and were largely autonomous, but closely linked to the state  unions and national headquarters. There were clear channels of authority and  communication and the WCTU quickly became the largest woman's organization in the United States (and later, in the world.)
This led directly to the adoption of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution on January 16, 1918, which led to Prohibition, and all of the social issues that followed on after that. 

The connection, then is that both are Temperance Fountains.  Both are an attempt at social engineering (to provide cool, refreshing water to drink, rather than have to duck into the nearest saloon for harder stuff).  

Just so you'll know, I took a picture of the OTHER side of the Petaluma Temperance Fountain as well... 

Which you could find with a Google Images query like: 

     [ Petaluma temperance fountain ] 

4.  And finally, what does this soda fountain have to do with the above water fountains?  (Not this one specifically, but this category of thing.)  

Now we know that there's a connection, a simple search for: 

     [ temperance soda fountain ] 

leads us to the Wikipedia article on soda fountains where it tells us that: 
A 1915 issue of Soda Fountain magazine stated: "The soda fountain of today is an ally of temperance... Ice cream soda is a greater medium for the cause of temperance than all the sermon ever preached on that subject." 
That's certainly interesting--can we track that 1915 reference down?  

The short answer is, apparently, no.  I tried Google Books, the Hathi Trust and various archives, but I can't even find a place where copies of this magazine are kept!  (Although the query [ "the Soda Fountain" temperance ] did lead me to the 1921 and 1922 editions of the magazine, which are pretty entertaining reading. I just haven't been able to get to the 1915 edition.)  So we'll have to take the Wikipedia quote with a grain of salt (it could well be correct, but I haven't yet been able to verify it).  

On the other hand, I did find several references to a text published by the Soda Fountain magazine from 1915 called  (are you ready for this title?): 


Caps are theirs, not mine. 

This was easy to find in Google Books with the query [ soda fountain ] with a time-limit to publications from 1915.  On page 6, in the introduction to this special edition, the editors write:  
"The widening spread of the temperance movement and the year round stability to trade that is a part of the luncheonette department are both factors that will count for the soda fountain's great growth and prosperity during the years before us."  
This same search leads to several books with background stories that link the rise of soda fountains (or malt shops, or ice cream parlors) to the temperance movement.  As Anne Funderberg writes in Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream,  

As the temperance movement evolved, so did the attitude of the soda fountain toward abstinence.  Alcoholic beverages, especially wines, were ingredients in some of the more popular, traditional fountain drinks.  When the public first began to take the temperance movement seriously, the soda fountain industry was divided over whether to continue using alcoholic ingredients.  However as the movement gained momentum, the industry climbed aboard and, as a group, enthusiastically promoted the soda fountain as an alternative to the saloon.  In 1892, a trade publication state unequivocally, “No successful soda fountains sell ardent spirits in their soda.”  
By 1906, confectionaries or drugstores operating soda fountains could be found on one or more corners at every principal intersection in Chicago.  In New York City, temperance leaders beamed as the number of soda fountains surpassed the number of bars in the Modern Gomorrah.  

Although soda fountains didn't lead directly to the temperance movement, they definitely rode the wave towards a kind of popularization and success.  

Search Lessons

The lessons should be clear here.  But let's lay them out:  

1.  There are often multiple ways to find the same thing.  In this case, I used the EXIF metadata, but Search-By-Image also works... IF you modify the query to take into account additional information. 

2. You can modify a Search-By-Image query to zero in on what you seek.  In the example above, the regular SBI didn't work well, but once I changed the query to include some additional information, it worked really quite well.  

3. Sometimes you have to zoom in a bit.  The beer bottles at the base of the DC temperance fountain are funny... but only if you notice them. When researching a picture, it's often really useful to zoom in a bit and check out the details.  

4. Remember Google Books is great for archival information (such as the connection between soda fountains and temperance).  An easy search can get you a lot of really useful historical context.  

Search on!