Monday, November 30, 2009


I'm typing this while watching my very own local MP Michael Johnson being interviewed on Lateline. He is a complete goose. I will enjoy not voting for him next election.

You may go back to what you were doing.

Appleyard on AGW

Global warming is real - Times Online

Bryan Appleyard explains how he came around to believing in AGW. That's a relief. He's not exactly conservative, but he is philosophically leery of much of science. If he had come out as a skeptic, I would have been disappointed.

Annabel Crabb on Malcolm's "crash or crash through" tactics

The mad splendour of King Malcolm - ABC News

What's this Annabel Crabb piece doing on the ABC site? Anyway, it's a pretty amusing, even though I still can't bring myself to criticise Turnbull for his tactics. For example:
Watching Laurie Oakes' interview with Mr Turnbull yesterday was to watch a man carefully, deliberately and coolly securing bomb belts around every inch of his person....

All year, he has seemed dull and muffled, as he struggled to placate the warring sides of his party and arrive, through a grim series of manoeuvrings and tactical dodges, to avoid the chasm that lies at the centre of this policy debate for the Liberal Party.

Now, out on his own, increasingly friendless and bristling with self-timed explosive devices, he's never seemed more alive.

Many people have said that his getting stuck into Minchin was a problem because Minchin is held in high regard by many in the party. Why?? Any goodwill people may have borne towards him should be overcome by his forcing a coup because his side lost in the party room.

When is telling the truth acceptable in politics?

I've been thinking. I am strongly of the view that the Liberal Party's current crisis was instituted by Senator Nick Minchin and his skeptic buddies, for no clear reason, telling the truth to Four Corners about their disbelief of the science of AGW. (Yes, I know, they would claim they are the ones interpreting the science correctly, but I would be willing to bet money that their main source of information is Andrew Bolt and his completely one sided, and completely irresponsible, assessment.)

But since Malcolm Turnbull went on TV yesterday and set out in exact detail what he thought of Minchin and his ilk and the disastrous course for the future of the party if they had their way, commentators are suggesting that he went too far in his truthful assessment. For example, Milne writes:
Support for Mr Turnbull was haemorrhaging even before he embarked on a damaging series of media interviews over the weekend, including with the Nine Network's Laurie Oakes, in which he lashed Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott and "cuddly" Joe Hockey.
I have to agree that the use of "cuddly" was not wise.

But every commentator and pollster in the land agrees with Turnbull's assessment of the coming disaster if Hockey takes over and does not get an ETS passed before the next election.

Everyone accepts that politicians lie in the course of leadership fights. Crises are denied, loyalties are pledged, and positions switched in extremely short order.

That's why the sudden outbreak of truth from Turnbull is something I find hard to criticise, even though I suppose it guarantees that even if did win, he'd only be able to pick a cabinet from about half of the party room.

But here is a really important point that has been poorly reported: I only understood yesterday (from watching Lenore Taylor on Insiders) that the party room numbers, when you include Cabinet members (and why shouldn't you?) did vote by a clear majority to pass the ETS (49 to 46, even including the Nationals. Exclude the Nationals and it was an even clearer win within the Liberals) That Minchin and Tuckey came out arguing that Turnbull did not have the numbers is based on a creative interpretation that you only count backbenchers when deciding party policy. How much sense does that make?

In other words, this entire leadership spill is, as Turnbull has been saying, simply about the losing side on a hard-fought policy issue refusing to accept the party room decision. As I have been saying over at Catallaxy, it seems that it's all about how they did not like the way Turnbull announced his win.

Well, if that is the calibre of the Minchin rebels, they actually deserve to be purged from the party, I reckon. If the party can't bring itself to split, I certainly hope that the electorate achieves the same result.

UPDATE: another point I forgot to make, and virtually no media commentator seems to have mentioned it either: Peter Dutton as deputy doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense when it's very unclear that he can hold onto his own seat, does it? If people thought it was a bad look for the party that Howard lost his seat last election, we now have the prospect of both a new leader and his deputy going down. It would be good for a gloat, but as even most Labor supporters would say, not having a reasonably strong opposition is usually bad for the country in the long run.

And another point: with all of this hoo-har about the (in truth, fake, right wing radio jocks led) Liberal grass roots uprising against the Party supporting the ETS, who exactly are those people going to rush to vote for in the next election anyway? The Climate Skeptics Party? (I am dying to see the quality of their candidates, and the loopy ideas they'll drag along behind them. It'll be One Nation all over again.)

UPDATE 2: Lenore Taylor in The Australian looks at the policy options the Liberals have, assuming the CPRS does not get passed after a Senate enquiry.

At some point, if they want any credibility at all, the party would have to come up with some policy that puts a price on carbon. And in whatever form you do it, you can call it a "tax on everything", as the Minchin followers are doing for the CPRS.

Given their rhetorical, the Minchin rebels have undercut the credibility of any alternative the Liberals can come up with, even if in fact it may be a better proposal than the Labor policy.

What will happen to the power stations of Victoria

Power giants crying foul? What a joke!

Kenneth Davidson reckons the panic being promoted over problems in the Victorian power industry is just a beat up. I suspect he is right.

His alternative to an ETS also has a pleasing simplicity about it:
The flawed CPRS should be replaced with a broad-based carbon tax. If it was set initially at $10 a tonne it would be hardly noticed, it would raise $5 billion a year and all the money could be spent on green infrastructure instead of the financial bubble if the CPRS goes ahead.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let's not forget... ocean acidification

It's been a couple of weeks since I mentioned ocean acidification. You'd think that someone, even George Monbiot, might mention it in the context of "Climategate" (which I still reckon will amount to nothing in the long run) as the other big reason why rapid CO2 increase is Not a Good Idea.

So, what's new from the Ocean Acidification blog?:

a. a couple of types of plankton (two species of coccolithophore) show reduced growth under increased dissolved CO2, even when the increase is more gradual than in some of other experiments;

b. another study on 4 different strains of coccolithophore indicates that they respond differently to increased CO2, presumably on a genetic basis. This is possibly a good thing, if you assume the ones that take increased CO2 in their stride replace those that suffer decreased calcification. But it's going to be very difficult to experimentally tell if that is what will happen in the oceans, I would have thought.

c. a report from an unlikely source (iStockAnalyst!) says that the waters off Japan are showing lower pH:
A group of scientists, led by Takashi Midorikawa of the Meteorological Research Institute in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, has checked the pH readings of surface seawater off the Kii Peninsula at 30 degrees north latitude that have been made since 1986. They have found that the pH has dropped by 0.04 during this period, a considerable change. Such ocean acidification has been observed elsewhere as well, such as off Hawaii.
It seems that this is the 3rd report of long term (20 plus years) measurements which are indeed showing that ocean acidification is happening as predicted:

a. the Hawaiian study from earlier this year;
b. the Icelandic ocean study, which has just been updated, and
c. now Japan.

While there seems to be a considerable divergence in the actual rate of acidification, water temperatures and other factors presumably have a role.

Still, it seems that the skeptic response that ocean acidification can't happen (or isn't happening,) which seemed to be the position of Ian Plimer and Bob Carter, for example, just isn't sustainable.

4. Here's an interesting report on current work underway with coring coral in the Caribbean to see if growth rates can be correlated to decreasing pH. It will very interesting if they replicate the findings of a study on Australian coral.

5. Cuttlefish (and other cephalopod?) eggs are affected by decreased pH, but it seems unclear whether in a good way or a bad way. (They absorb less cadmium, but more silver.) All kind of complicated, isn't it?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bad for my health

I am officially too depressed about the state of Liberal politics in Australia today to post. Combined with a lack of sleep from a series of early wake ups from the local bird life this last week, I suspect that political idiocy has raised my blood pressure.

I've been commenting at other places, but it's taking up all my time. Must...stop...doing...that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tell me, Tony

Malcolm Turnbull is 100% right. It is electoral disaster looming for the Coalition not just for the nest election, but probably for the next few electoral cycles.

I've been arguing all day at Catallaxy about the hopeless, politically inept, rabble of climate skeptics in the Liberals who think that a rush to the phones by the Liberal party members (what, average age probably 55, and avid readers of such sound sources of climate science like Andrew Bolt?) means that they should renege on an approach (good faith negotiations with Labor) they only agreed to a few week ago.

And my question: Tony Abbott, how are you going to deal with an ETS when you are leader? See what happens at Copenhagen? You think you are ever going to get Minchin et al to agree to any action at all on CO2? You are going to lead the Party to the next election as the Party dominated by do nothing skeptics, regardless of whether that election be a double dissolution or later. You think that's a winning strategy?

Absolutely hopeless (if, like me, you are normally inclined towards Coalition policies.) It's the 1980's all over again - Labor with no end in sight.

What's realistic and what's not

Climate experts debate strategies for reducing atmospheric carbon and future warming

There's some discussion by some Cornell guys as to whether CO2 at 350, 450 or 500 ppm is "realistic."

Given that we're already well above 350ppm, that figure isn't coming back anytime soon:
Even if all were to stop today, the gas already in the atmosphere would stay there for another century or two, maintaining warmth. But activists need to set firm goals.

"It's the best political strategy," Wolfe said of the 350 ppm goal. "If we allow slack, it will never happen."

Seems a silly suggestion, really. But is the planet already committed to a 2 degree rise?:
Part of the problem are delayed effects that have already committed the planet to warming on the order of 2.4 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, regardless of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from today's levels. For example, as the ocean warms, it stores the heat and very slowly releases it to the atmosphere, creating a lag time in temperature equilibrium between the atmosphere and the ocean. Furthermore, due the ocean's great mass and heat capacity, it will take 1,000 years to reverse this century's warming and gradually reduce the heat already building up in the ocean, said Greene. Also, as pollution abatement strategies kick in this century, aerosols that now cool the atmosphere will decline, adding to warmth.

But, Greene added, the goal of 350 ppm can be reached and a calamitous warming halted if governments finance geo-engineering strategies that pull CO2 from the air and store it in the Earth.

For example, Greene and others advocate research to try to scale up simple machines already devised that draw CO2 from the atmosphere and then find ways to pump the gas into underground geological formations.

This (mechanically extracting enough CO2 from the atmosphere) sounds an extremely improbable solution to me.

Quick - someone slap George in the face

Pretending the climate email leak isn't a crisis won't make it go away | George Monbiot | Environment |

I can't believe George Monbiot cannot see the harm he is doing in his columns about "climategate". Someone slap him in the face and tell him to pull himself together.

Again today he has a column in which he complains that it is a major crisis damaging not the truth of climate science, but the appearance of climate science.

Yet by doing that, he provides for fodder for selectively quoting skeptics (like Andrew Bolt) to support their claim that it is a crisis of the truth of the science.

George, yes it may be a bit of a PR problem, but you're not helping by continuing to write in ways that let skeptics feed off you. Stop running around shouting "Panic!...Don't panic!...Panic!...Don't panic"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some light relief

“2012” review : The New Yorker

Anthony Lane reviewed 2012, and while not as funny as some of his reviews, it's somewhat amusing:
“2012” is so long, and its special effects are at once so outrageous and so thunderously predictable, that by the time I lurched from the theatre I felt that three years had actually passed and that the apocalypse was due any second. Emmerich’s main achievement is to take a bunch of excellent actors, including Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson, and to prevent all of them—with the exception of Oliver Platt and a pair of giraffes—from giving a decent performance. As for the statement issued by the governor of California, in response to the catastrophe, just block your ears. Obviously, the producers couldn’t hire the genuine article, so instead they looked around and found the world’s worst Schwarzenegger impersonator, thus adding to the general sense of gruesome make-believe.

Fair comment

Observations: Climate change cover-up? You better believe it

This take on the CRU email controversy seems about right. I note this in particular:
You can judge the emails for yourself at this wonderful searchable database. While the revelations about pressuring the peer review process and apparent slowness in responding to an avalanche of requests for information unveil something below impressive scientific and personal behavior, they can also be seen as the frustrated responses of people working on complex data under deadline while being harassed by political opponents.

Note the adjective there. Political, not scientific, opponents. Because the opposition here is not grounded in any robust scientific theory or alternative hypotheses (all of those, in their time, have been shot down and nothing new has been offered in years) but a hysterical reaction to the possibly of what? One-world government? The return of communism? If that's the fear, perhaps someone can explain why the preferred solution to climate change offered by former proponents of inaction is nuclear power. Has there ever been a nuclear reactor built anywhere in the world that didn't rely on government to get it done? Sounds like socialism, doesn't it? Hello France? USSR? USA?....

There is, in fact, a climate conspiracy. It just happens to be one launched by the fossil fuel industry to obscure the truth about climate change and delay any action. And this release of emails right before the Copenhagen conference is just another salvo—and a highly effective one—in that public relations battle, redolent with the scent of the same flaks and hacks who brought you "smoking isn't dangerous."

Someone have a private word with them

Why on earth would Kevin Andrews think he has any chance at all of being a convincing leader of the Liberals? He has never seemed to be the sort of person who ever want more than a Ministerial role.

And Tony Abbott: has always been too blunt, and too Catholic (although I think he has been working on watering that down) to be appealing to the broader Australian electorate.

If the party room replaces Turnbull for either of these, it will show their appalling judgement. Wilson Tuckey, don't you have a pub to retire to?

Using the world's fish more sensibly

Alternative animal feed part of global fisheries crisis fix

"Thirty million tons -- or 36 per cent -- of the world's total fisheries catch each year is currently ground up into fishmeal and oil to feed farmed fish, chickens and pigs," says UBC fisheries researcher Daniel Pauly...

"Globally, pigs and chickens alone consume six times the amount of seafood as US consumers and twice that of Japan," says lead author Jennifer Jacquet, a post-doctoral fellow at UBC's Fisheries Centre. "Ultimately these farm animals have a greater impact on our seafood supplies than the most successful seafood certification program."
Kind of surprising.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More on cat germs and schizophrenia

Scientists Find Unusual Immune System Activity in Brains of Schizophrenics

....researchers in Sweden and Germany found that recent-onset schizophrenics-- those first showing symptoms, usually young adults-- had elevated amounts of interleukin-1beta in their spinal fluid. In normal controls, IL-1beta levels were nearly undetectable.

The researchers looked at around 10 common cytokines, proteins used by the body's defenses to communicate with immune cells, but only IL-1beta was unusually expressed in the mentally ill patients. ...

As early as the 1970s, some scientists have suggested that schizophrenia, which afflicts about 1 percent of the U.S. population, could be triggered by an infection.

A popular candidate has been the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, transmitted from cat feces or uncooked meats. Engberg says infection from the toxoplasma parasite more than doubles one's risk for schizophrenia. "Toxoplasma gondii appears to be one of several micro-organisms that can trigger [the] brain immune system," he says.

Andrew Bolt: smear merchant

I like the way Andrew Bolt posts about a Watts Up With That item which quotes some programmer's comments found amongst code that skeptics thinks sounds like more "tricks".

Andrew quotes with approval Watts saying that they (the climate scientists) can't "spin" this, yet at the end of this long post, Bolt says:
This is not proof of malpractice or anything untoward. But it does require explanation.
Oh I see then.

And in fact, quite a large number of software people in comments at WUWT are saying that it means precisely nothing. Gavin Schmidt says it is completely uncontroversial. But conspiracy skeptics will seize on anything, whether they understand it or not, and crap on about "conspiracy proved".

It's Watts and Bolt who are engaging in spin, in fact the only word for their posts is smear.

The more I read the way skeptics are crowing that they have proved a global conspiracy as a result of these emails, the more I understand why climate scientists on the AGW side simply can't stand the time wasting, muddy-the-water, fingers-in-the-ear tactics of the great bulk of skeptics.

And Bolt has no common sense when it comes to seeing how his own promotion of skepticism has virtually made it politically impossible for Turnbull to credibly delay the Coalition dealing with the government's ETS legislation. (If Turnbull wants to position the Liberals as not being dominated by do-nothing conspiracy mongers, he has to force a decision now.)

UPDATE: Andrew Bolt and his minions are now all very excited about a George Monbiott column which, I have to admit, is pretty strange.

Monbiott, who showed some smarts in setting rules before he would debate Ian Plimer, seems to have throw all PR knowledge to the wind by writing a column that both involves wringing of hands about how "bad" the CRU emails are, and insisting that this goes absolutely no where near disproving global warming.

Surely he realised that conspiracy-skeptics would dance around the first two paragraphs, claim victory and ignore the bulk of his column?

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Miracles," "anti-miracles," the LHC and underpants

Holger Nielsen of the Neils Bohr Institute, whose idea that the future may prevent the LHC from ever working properly was noted on this blog last year (way ahead of the world's media noticing, by the way) has been busy writing more articles about his surprising theories. Now he uses the terms "miracle", "anti-miracle" and even "miraculocity", so naturally I am interested.

This article from October seemingly argues that letting the decision to start up the LHC (or restrict its power) according to a card drawing/random number process is still a good idea, as if it works, it will prove backwards causation. If the random draw says everything is OK to proceed, then nothing has been lost. (Look, I think that is what he is saying, but this is not so easy to follow.)

As CERN is not about to let its multi billion dollar investment be held up by bad luck in a card draw, I guess we aren't going to see this experiment happen.

However, Nielsen is not giving up. In another article out last week, he talks about the black hole information loss problem, and how one particular solution for this can be fitted in with their "imaginary action model" and provide further reason why the LHC may never operate properly because the universe just might never let it happen. (Yes, it has just got a beam going again, but I think it is many months away from building up to high energy collisions beyond those other accelerators have already achieved.)

Nielsen's article is also, incidentally, almost certainly the only physics paper to ever refer to both high energy physics and champignon growing.

Here's what the abstract says:
This model naturally begins effectively to set up boundaries - whether it be in future or past! - especially strongly whenever we reach to high energy physics regimes, such as near the black hole singularity, or in Higgs producing machines as LHC or SSC. In such cases one can say our model predicts miracles. The point is that you may say that the information loss problem, unless you solve it in other ways, call for such a violation of time causality as in our imaginary action model!
And from the paper's conclusion, tortured English and all:
For phenomenological reasons it is of course needed that under “normal” conditions the amount of backward causation - or as we also refered to cases of backward causation, miracles or anti miracles - should be seldom. This is indeed the case both by thinking of Hartle Hawking no-boundary (mainly showing up in black holes, which are phenomenologically badly known) and in our “imaginary part of action model”, in which it is though needed a somewhat speculative argumentation to argue that the cases of backward causation get so seldom as needed for agreement with dayly life experience. We think, however, that there is a good chanse that the restriction from the history of the universe having to obey the (classical) equations of motion (at least approximately) could impose so strong restrictions on the amount of backward causation or miracles or anti miracles that it would not disagree with present knowledge. In this way we want to claim that our model is viable so far.
He does not address the issue of whether or not the baguette that nearly caused a problem recently was a "miracle". I suppose it was a pretty ineffective one, which perhaps makes it self disqualifying as a miracle anyway. A bit like Jesus curing an ingrown toenail for a day.

Ever since the baguette episode, I have been thinking about what it would take (in terms of unusual objects turning up within the LHC) to count as a miracle, and not just an unusual event. I think Tim Train's missing underpants being found as a blockage in the coolant system would count. In fact, nearly any Australian non-physicist's pair of underpants appearing up in a sensitive spot in the LHC tunnel might count. But we have to be able to identify where they came from.

For this reason, I propose that all Australians who have never been to Europe should immediately start writing their name and the date of purchase in large indelible marker pen on their underpants, in the interests of science. Men, your wives and girlfriends will understand: just refer them to this blog. Women: well, I somehow doubt you will follow my underwear writing directions anyway. Speculative physics is probably more of a male interest, after all.

A pair of Bonds briefs that appear within the LHC bearing a future date would be particularly convincing.

I joke, but I shouldn't. I would quite like backwards causation to be proved. It would give me hope of receiving Lotto numbers from the future one day.

Dubious prescriptions

Medical Marijuana - No Longer Just for Adults -

The New York Times reports that:
Several Bay Area doctors who recommend medical marijuana for their patients said in recent interviews that their client base had expanded to include teenagers with psychiatric conditions including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
I like this response:
“How many ways can one say ‘one of the worst ideas of all time?’ ” asked Stephen Hinshaw, the chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley. He cited studies showing that tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, disrupts attention, memory and concentration — functions already compromised in people with the attention-deficit disorder.
The problem is that only California allows medical marijuana not only for cancer and AIDS, but “for any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

In the weird world of marijuana promoting doctors, we get comments like this:
Marijuana is “a godsend” for some people with A.D.H.D., said Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist who has written several books on the disorder. However, Dr. Hallowell said he discourages his patients from using it, both because it is — mostly — illegal, and because his observations show that “it can lead to a syndrome in which all the person wants to do all day is get stoned, and they do nothing else.”
What I don't understand is why, if a government is convinced that THC might work for some illnesses, can't they insist that the it be delivered in a more reliably measured way other than by smoking it. Can't it be taken in carefully measured dose via a medicine to be swallowed, for example?

Anti-CPRS from the left side

This ETS-lite deserves to be rejected

Kenneth Davidson has been reading the Friends of the Earth anti ETS report I mentioned here recently.

This part I hadn't heard before:

Offsets are an imaginary commodity created by deducing what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened.

It should be self-evident: a ton of carbon in wood is not going to be ''sequestered'' from the atmosphere as safely, or as long, as a ton of carbon in an unmined underground coal deposit.

But Australia tried to introduce a refinement to make rorting of the scheme even easier. According to Spash, during negotiations in Bonn before the 2009 Copenhagen summit on new Kyoto targets, Australia argued for excluding natural disasters, which basically means if, say, forests planted as offsets burnt down they would be treated as still existing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

So, that was it

I finally caught up with the much acclaimed (by everyone other than Tim Train) film Samson & Delilah on TV tonight.

Tim, I'm pretty much with you on this one. It reminded me of European films I have watched on SBS from the (perhaps less popular now than it used to be) "social-realism-at-the-expense-of-a- story-arc-or-dramatic-interest" school of film making. This involves competently filmed and acted movies about people leading hopeless and depressing lives at both the start and end of the film, regardless of what has happened in a more or less plausible way in the middle, thereby raising the question "what exactly was the point of that?"

But I have some specific, slightly narky, comments too:

1. While I don't have first hand experience to draw on, my impression was that "Samson" did not seem zonked out enough after sniffing petrol. Also, his whole body looked unrealistically healthy for someone who seemed to not have eaten properly for years.

2. "Delilah's" hair looked unusually good in the township after cutting it herself with a knife. Who knew hairdressing was so easy?

3. Andrew Bolt liked it because it showed a remote aboriginal community as a terrible, hopeless place to live full of social problems. (It even showed the old style "someone must be blamed for a death" thinking.) And indeed, I thought while watching the first 45 minutes that it was a wonder that the left wing world of movie critics didn't feel a bit insulted on behalf of aborigines for their being painted in such a hopeless light.

But, when the kids hit town, all of this is righted when the story threads go on to include white people engaging in aboriginal economic exploitation, rape and battery, and callous disregard even by the church. (Although by the end there seemed to some partial acknowledgement that the church helps some aborigines, occasionally.)

Ah, I thought, this is why it was OK for white movie critics to like it after all.

That and the fact that by the end of the film the suggested answer to the social isolation, boredom and poverty of our heroes was to move to a place where they were even more isolated, poor, and (at least for Samson) bored. But giving Samson a bath and putting a clean shirt on him was meant to make us feel they had a future. Presumably, the idea was that the girl would make a living by her painting.

Of course, David Strattan saw this as an wildly optimistic finish. Probably because of the dubious idea that they were now connecting more with their land and everything would naturally then be much better. Not very likely, in my books. It also seems odd that a film which seemingly carries the message (with apologies to Sartre) "Hell is other aborigines" is cast as optimistic.

4. Big, big spoiler warning: I have a confession to make. Things were going so badly for this pair when they were in town that I was expecting some disaster: perhaps spontaneous human combustion by Samson after sniffing so much petrol, or the bridge collapsing on them. So when Delilah suddenly got hit by a car, in a pretty convincing looking fashion too, I might add, I laughed. (A laugh at both my foresight and surprise, I suppose.) Good thing I didn't do that in a cinema.

All about those emails

What do I think about those leaked CRU emails? Take a shower, a very cold one, excitable skeptics.

This summary of the emails (from skeptical site Watts Up With That, so you can trust it) indicates that most of them are about fighting skeptical views in various ways, but very few are even suggestive of doing it by actually manipulating data or how it is presented.

As I am sure everyone reading this knows, the most "famous" email (referencing a "trick" to "hide the decline") is said by Real Climate to not actually hide anything. It would seem that McIntyre disagrees, but honestly, his obsession with hockey stick graphs gets into so much detail I cannot follow most of his arguments. I doubt that 90% of skeptics who follow him understand much of his statistics talk either.

I should add, as that email is about the hockey stick controversy, that I still don't really understand why skeptics seemingly think this is "be all and end all" of AGW science. I have never taken that big an interest in the graph, because I always suspected that the hockey stick shape might be a little too dramatic to be true. But, as we also have actual thermometers to tell the temperature over the last century or so, I assumed the graph was not actually critical to proving AGW anyway.

My hunch appears basically correct. Bob Ward summarises the hockey stick controversy this way:
The attacks on the hockey stick graph led the United States National Academy of Sciences to carry out an investigation, concluding in 2006 that although there had been no improper conduct by the researchers, they may have expressed higher levels of confidence in their main conclusions than was warranted by the evidence.

The 'sceptics' believe they have been vindicated and have presented the hockey stick graph as proof that global warming is not occurring. In doing so, they have ignored the academy's other conclusion that "surface temperature reconstructions for periods prior to the industrial era are only one of multiple lines of evidence supporting the conclusion that climatic warming is occurring in response to human activities, and they are not the primary evidence".

And Skeptical Science writes:

In the skeptic blogosphere, there is a disproportionate preoccupation with one small aspect of climate science - proxy record reconstructions of past climate (or even worse, ad hominem attacks on the scientists who perform these proxy reconstructions). This serves to distract from the physical realities currently being observed...

When you read through the many global warming skeptic arguments, a pattern emerges. Each skeptic argument misleads by focusing on one small piece of the puzzle while ignoring the broader picture. To focus on a few suggestive emails while ignoring the wealth of empirical evidence for manmade global warming is yet another repeat of this tactic.

The emails do suggest that at least one scientist is very concerned about explaining the plateau-ing of global temperatures in the last 10 years, but this tells us nothing as to how many really think like him.

As many have said, the emails show that scientists are human and really resent being accused of dishonesty, fraud and being part of a nefarious global conspiracy. They also think it is important that people (and governments) believe them.

Ideally science should not get so personal. But it does, and skeptics can hardly claim the high moral ground when it comes to accusations, name calling and spiteful comments about the other side.

I would bet money that these emails make next to no difference in the short or long run.

I would also like to point out that they do not comment at all on ocean acidification, the other reason CO2 needs to be curbed quickly.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cool sub

Britain's got a new type of attack nuclear submarine, and the best video of it is available via The Independent, but I can't see a way to link directly to the video or to embed it. (The link is currently in the "Latest News" column on the front page.)

The BBC video is much shorter, and barely shows the submarine, but it is notable for the odd way the Admiral says at the end that being a submariner "is about having fun"(!). (I also note that, as a continuing sympton of my advancing age, even Admirals and Rear Admirals are starting to look just too young for the job.)

There must be video from somewhere I can embed. Nope, I can't, just yet.

Anyway, The Telegraph explains what this new class of new attack submarine is supposedly capable of doing:
The Astute, the first attack submarine to be built in Britain almost two decades, has a listening system that can detect the QE2 cruise liner leaving New York harbour from the Channel.
(I find that hard to believe, but it is matter just slightly out of my field of knowledge.)
The submarine will be able to sit off coasts undetected listening in to mobile phone conversations and has the ability to insert Special Forces by mini submersibles into enemy territory where they can direct the boat's Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of 1,400 miles.
Sounds very James Bond. I like this bit:
The Astute is the first submarine not to have a conventional periscope. Instead a fibre optic tube - equipped with infra red and thermal imaging - pops above the surface for three seconds, does one rotation and then feeds an image in colour that can be studied at leisure. The nuclear power plant has is the size of a family car.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't let her breed

Meet Hobbie-J, the smartest rat in the world - Science, News - The Independent

I can see a new rat horror film in the making:

A rat is impressing American scientists with her extraordinary intellect.

Hobbie-J has been dubbed the smartest rat in the world after its NR2B gene, which controls memory, was boosted as an embryo. The rodent can remember objects three times as long as its smartest peers and can better solve complicated puzzles like mazes.

Andrew's (and other skeptic's) problem

Poor old Nick Minchin, and any other skeptical mates from South Australia.

It is, shall we say, not a good look to be jumping up and down about the "craziness" of any type of global warming action when your own State is undergoing a record breaking heat wave in a season not previously recognized as usually being exceptionally hot at all. Minchin has shot himself in the foot in the most spectacular way possible. His criticism yesterday seemed to be against any CPRS legislation going through before Copenhagen, which of itself is not an unreasonable point. But he can't expect to be taken seriously on any point about global warming now due to his self-outing as one who believes it's all a socialist conspiracy. (That and the fact his State is melting in spring, let alone summer.)

And poor old Andrew Bolt. He's getting upset that the Liberals like Tony Abbott, who seems to want to be a skeptic but can't quite bring himself up to the level of Minchin paranoia, just aren't studying his column enough to be able to use dubious skeptical arguments against Tony Jones.

I stick to my belief that Bolt has boxed himself in on this issue years ago, finding a contrarian approach successful in terms of drawing ardent followers to his blog, but now to admit he might be wrong would just cause too much loss of face.

It has long been hard to believe that he genuinely thinks that some of the graphs he posts again and again (most notably, the UAH monthly temperature anomaly graph since 1979) convinces your average punter that there isn't a long term trend to be seen. (Even ignoring 1998, run a line across the peaks over that period.)

His favourite skeptic blog - Watts up With That - does (occasionally) run posts which indicate AGW modelling is right, or indicating a skeptical argument might be wrong, but Andrew rarely (never?) mentions those posts. But he will mention posts such as the one about the degree of skepticism amongst TV weather presenters, as if it matters. Or posts claiming to cite hundreds of "skeptical" peer reviewed papers, when many of them are not skeptical at all, and a large chunk are from a publication (Energy and Environment) that no one with science credibility takes seriously.

No, if this summer goes as bad as this spring is indicating, Andrew will just start have to consider admitting that he might just be wrong, loss of face or not.

UPDATE: this appears to confirm my strong suspicion that for the Coalition to follow Bolt's urgings and embrace AGW skepticism would be electoral suicide.

Again, that's not to say that they could not have made out a good case for not passing the CPRS at the moment, but they can't credibly do it when they have a divided house over the grounds upon which they may wish to do it.

Thus, by gee-ing on the AGW skeptics, Andrew Bolt has inadvertently hurt his own cause.

But to be fair - by convincing some that the CPRS will actually work anywhere near fast enough, and by their evident complete lack of interest in taking nuclear power for Australia seriously, there is a strong argument that Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party is the more dangerous enemy of effective CO2 action.

It's a case of virtually everyone being wrong, for a kaleidoscope of reasons.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Don't forget to "celebrate"...

World Toilet Day | November 19, 2009

(Sounds funny, but actually quite a worthy subject. I kind of wish that their big demonstration was something other than "The Big Squat" though.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Darwinian thoughts

Charles Darwin and the children of the evolution - Times Online

This article is a pretty interesting discussion of the use/abuse of Darwinian ideas by people like teenage psychopaths, eugenics advocates and others. (Did you know know that the Columbine school murderers thought they were engaged in the Darwinian process of natural selection, as did a Finnish teenage killer and some wannabe killers? No, nor did I.)

The writer also notes that Darwin himself wrote in terms that would, today, be seen (at least) as politically incorrect:
Darwin looked forward to a time when Europeans and Americans would exterminate those he termed “savages”. Many of the anthropomorphous apes would also be wiped out, he predicted, and the break between man and beast would then occur “between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon; instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla”. He took a sanguine view of genocide, believing it to be imminent and inevitable. “Looking to the world at no very distant date,” he wrote to a friend in 1881, “what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.”
All very interesting, and (I assume) kind of annoying to Richard Dawkins.

Pebble bed reactors not dead yet

Idaho National Lab Achieves 19% Burn for Nuclear Pebbles

This post talks about the work on nuclear fuel pebbles which would be used in pebble bed reactors. China is ploughing ahead with the development of modular pebble bed reactors, apparently. (I wonder if South Africa will miss out on the market if they can't get their act together.)

Of course, I have been arguing for ages that this is exactly the type of technology that it would seem needs direct, Western government support to develop, and monies raised by a carbon tax would seem an ideal way to do that. Instead, we'll stuff around paying other countries for dubious offsets, establish a new way for suits to make money by trading mere bits of paper, and set targets regardless of lack of plausible ways to reach them without heavy government investment in new technology.


If the New York Times reads it this way

Under Friendly Veneer, China Pushes Back on Obama

then it's probably true.

McKee reviewed

Jason Zinoman on Robert Mckee |

Jason Zinoman, who has a particular interest in horror films, reports on his attendance at a screenwriters seminar held by the famous screenwriting teacher Robert McKee.

McKee comes across as a bit of a jerk who wings it on browbeating self-confidence. Here's Jason's summary of how to replicate McKee's technique:

Rule One: Drop names shamelessly. McKee tells us that he once received a doctor recommendation from his friend John Cleese, bummed a cigarette from Toni Morrison, and corrected his pal Paul Haggis when he confused two genres over lunch. But my favorite is his anecdote about telling Stephen Hawking (whom he calls “Hawkings”) that he has never read a book by the scientist but is fascinated by the Big Bang. I imagine Hawking rolling quickly away.

Rule Two: Never express a scintilla of doubt. McKee is insightful about some things, especially with regard to structure, but his relative knowledge or ignorance of a subject in no way affects the manner in which he discusses it. He holds forth on politics (“Terrorism is a police problem and that’s all it is”) and the theater (“there is very little crime drama onstage”) as confidently as he does on the Incitement Incident.

Rule Three: Start in a rage and end with poetry. In Adaptation, a wildly imaginative movie that first sends up, then celebrates, and ultimately condescends to McKee, the teacher advises the screenwriter that any flawed movie can be saved with a “big finish.”

I wonder if McKee can explain the relative dearth of good movie ideas coming out of Hollywood for the last 5 to 10 years.

The calming light

More Tokyo train stations start using lights to stem suicides

This sounds very improbable:
Alarmed by a rise in people jumping to their deaths in front of trains, some Japanese railway operators are installing special blue lights above station platforms they hope will have a soothing effect and reduce suicides.

As of November, East Japan Railway Co has put blue light-emitting diode, or LED, lights in all 29 stations on Tokyo’s central train loop, the Yamanote Line, used by 8 million passengers each day.

There’s no scientific proof that the lights actually reduce suicides, and some experts are skeptical it will have any effect. But others say blue does have a calming effect on people.
Sadly, suicide is still a popular response to difficult times in Japan, although I bet everyone wishes people would choose a less public method:
Suicide rates in Japan have risen this year amid economic woes, and could surpass the record 34,427 deaths in 2003.

Last year, nearly 2,000 people committed suicide in Japan by jumping in front of a train, about 6 percent of such deaths nationwide.

Watching the sun

It was the Sun wot done it. Or was it? | Stuart Clark - Times Online

This reads as a reasonable summary on the controversy over the possible role of the sun on earth's temperature (via cosmic rays and the sun's magnetic cycle.)

The last paragraphs are important:

The smart money is on the level of solar contribution being somewhere between the two extremes. In other words, both solar activity and industrial gases play a role. There is credible scientific work that ascribes up to a third of current warming to solar influence. Studies show that the Earth’s temperature mirrored solar activity until the 1980s. Then the number of sunspots stabilised but the temperature continued to rise. In other words, something overtook the Sun as the primary driver of the Earth’s temperature. That is generally thought to be industrial gases.

Now the test can be made. It is time for all sides to put away the rivalry and begin to work together. Observations must be made, experiments performed and all data must be published, not cherry-picked. This golden opportunity to reach consensus must not be squandered.

Above all, we must not let any downturn in temperatures be used as an excuse by reluctant nations to wriggle out of pollution controls. Just as certainly as the solar activity has gone away, so it will return. If we have done nothing in the interim to curb man-made global warming, we will be in worse trouble than ever.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Conan's vampire

Conan O'Brien's emo teenage vampire segments are pretty funny:

Having already read all my usual sources of news and science, I hereby declare myself Officially Uninspired to post today.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Plastics and masculinity

Pilot study relates phthalate exposure to less-masculine play by boys | Eureka! Science News

Junk movie science

Observations: In 2012 , neutrinos melt the earth's core, and other disasters

Scientific American looks at the "science" of 2012.

As I don't like Roland Emmerich movies, I am not inclined to see it. On the upside, now that he has done the "ultimate" in end of the world destruction flicks, maybe he can't think of anything else to film?

Might still be a desert

Lcross Mission Finds Water on Moon, NASA Scientists Say -

Of course I am pleased that the Lcross mission found some water, but it is still quite uncertain as to what it means in terms of readily use-able quantities:
Even though the signs of water were clear and definitive, the Moon is far from wet. The Cabeus soil could still turn out to be drier than that in deserts on Earth. But Dr. Colaprete also said that he expected that the 26 gallons were a lower limit and that it was too early to estimate the concentration of water in the soil.
Well, they'll just have to send some astronauts there to check it out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Astro Boy - go see

I dawdled about getting the kids to agree to take me to see Astro Boy, but I shouldn't have. I really enjoyed it, as did they, and it's a pity the movie has been pretty much a box office failure. (Releasing it outside of school holidays might just have something to do with that, though.)

How could I not like a cartoon which makes jokes about Descartes and other philosophers (when did you last see an animated film which shows us a copy of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason"?); features a comedy trio of robot liberationists who have posters featuring Trotsky and Lenin in their hideout; and deals with the deep issue that was really the major theme of 1980's TV Astro boy - whether robots which act, think and feel like humans should actually be deemed to be human.

Some American reviewers thought it too politicised, but I am sensitive to such things and really did not find it objectionable.*

The arc of the story was, I thought, very satisfying, providing even an explanation as to why Astroboy, built as a replacement for a real boy, should have been provided with weaponry. It is a fine screenplay for such an entertainment, I reckon.

There really wasn't anything I disliked about it. Yes, it reminds you of some other animated and science fiction films, but in some cases, I would say that TV Astro boy dealt with those issues before the movies which then are reflected in this one. (Particularly when you think of the fighting robots of Spielberg's AI, and a similar scenario in Astro boy.)

It has nearly finished its cinema run here; and Tim Train, the only reader of this blog who might possibly be persuaded by this post, you should go see it.

* Update: If you thought the evil President wanting re-election by waging war was inspired by Bush, even though he doesn't look or sound like him, you at least have it balanced by the communist inspired robots who are ideologically sound but very inept. In fact, it is slightly curious that the film is doing well in China, which I thought might be a bit sensitive about that subplot.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pig smarts

In Pig Cognition Studies, Reflections on Parallels With Humans

Pigs can understand mirrors. Pity (for them) they taste so good.

Strange science for the weekend

An experimentally testable proof of the discreteness of time

Doesn't sound completely loopy to me.

The gathering of the anti-Devenys

Yay, what a good way to start a Saturday. There's an anti-Deveny column by Tom Hyland in The Age, taking apart one of her recent columns which I missed. This is followed by a couple of hundred comments, nearly all of which agree with Tom. Some of the comments I like:
About the only thing you forgot to mention about Deveny is how she manages to combine screeching obnoxiousness with hair tossing smugness, to the detriment of all our digestion...

Catherine Deveny is the Pauline Hanson of the intelligent left. A complete embarrassment of flippant stereotypical arrogance based on pseudo analysis...

I have no problem with undergraduate humour, and when I first read her comments I thought she was a junior writer, but at her age it's just embarrassing.
Hmm. I can't find the comment now that said reading her provoked as many laughs as Schindler's List.

That's apt, because it's related to the reason I actually find her disturbing: she doesn't recognise that she's increasingly portraying people who aren't like her as not fully human.

I just tried to post a comment to that effect, but The Age's computer seems to be overloaded at the moment (I trust it's with people venting about Deveny.)

Nothing that a bulldozer couldn't fix

Fed Square, if you dare

Just because people don't mind using the inner city open space it provides as a venue says nothing at all about the architectural merits of the exterior of the buildings around the open space, if you ask me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Solution modified

Well, some British doctors are getting more openly critical about the rise and rise of unnecessary cosmetic surgery around women's genital area.

I mentioned cosmetic surgery and vaginas only back in July, although I see it first made a brief appearance here in 2006.

In a spirit of generosity, I propose modifying my Gulag solution. Cosmetic surgeons can continue their (mostly) socially useless, but no doubt highly profitable, function for 9 months of every year, provided they serve 2 months annually with someone like Médecins Sans Frontières. (And not by working on genitalia while in Somalia, either.) That leaves a month to get over the malaria, and everyone is better off.

Seals falling like leaves

Elephant Seals Take Naps During Slow Dives Through the Sea

An oddly charming image of how elephant seals may sleep:
The monitors revealed that the seals periodically flip onto their backs and slip into slow, spiraling dives. The seals wobble as they drift down, and most of the time their bodies follow circular paths toward the bottom of the sea, said study co-author Russel Andrews…. “[They] resemble a leaf that has dropped from a tree branch and is falling toward the ground, fluttering from side to side,” he said [National Geographic]. It seems likely, the scientists say, that the seals catch a quick nap during these long drifts; in fact, once in a while they strike bottom without even noticing.
I wonder if submarines feel an occasional thud from a falling seal.

One other thing I didn't know about them:
These marine mammals undertake epics migrations of thousands of miles, in which they might not return to land for as long at eight months.

Oysters and risk

Is protecting consumers from uncooked oysters a rotten plan? - Slate Magazine

There's a discussion here of the reasons the FDA in America is banning the sale of raw Gulf oysters in summer: there is a nasty disease that can be caught from them, but nearly always only by people with underlying ill health. The disease does sound unpleasant:
On the unpleasant-experience scale, going septic from Vibrio vulnificus has got to rank right up there with acute radiation poisoning. Fever burns you up; big, ugly blisters bust out on your skin; and you wander into the hospital forgetting your name. These bloodstream infections, though rare, are so fast and furious that only 50 percent survive them. Others lose their limbs.
The FDA's answer is something I've never heard of before:
pasteurised oysters!:
A lot of oyster aficionados say the processed oysters lack the flavor of the fresh raw product. Too rubbery, too cooked-tasting, they say. The FDA says the processes "retain the sensory qualities of raw product," and double-blind consumer surveys don't show much of a difference in perception.
And then, there is the question of priorities here:
...coming down on the oyster is kind of an odd move for FDA to be making in the context of much larger food-safety issues that haven't been addressed. Nasty as Vibrio vulnificus is, it's a perfectly natural bacterium that's always been present in oysters. In the meantime, other bacteria have evolved in our factory-farming system to new levels of virulence and spread with little FDA control. (Legislation is pending in Congress.) Strains of salmonella, E. coli, listeria, campylobacter, and other microbes together kill an estimated 5,700 people a year in the United States. Yet few are calling for all chicken to be irradiated or all eggs to be pasteurized.
I guess you would have to compare rates of infection per quantity consumed, but it does sound like an over-reaction.

I don't eat a huge amount of oysters (my annual consumption of mussels would be much higher.) But neither has struck me down yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Garfield technique

It seems that this was only recently posted to Youtube. It will only take up 12 seconds of your life, so what's the risk?

Trouble ahoy

Little Cargo, Loads of Debt -

It turns out that many European banks are facing write downs due to bad loans to the shipping industry:
Banks with large shipping industry portfolios — among them Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, and HSH Nordbank and Commerzbank in Germany — could face meaningful write-downs as ship owners confront plummeting charter rates from a 25 percent drop in global trade.
One analyst says:
“We estimate that there will be a 50 percent oversupply in container ships,” Mr. Brahde said. “And in the next five or six months you will see more banks repossessing ships. It is not life or death, but for those with real exposure there will be problems.”
I'm not exactly sure of the point of repossessing a container ship if, as the article suggests, a large oversupply will mean there is not much of a market in used vessels. But what do I know.

Apparitions, UFO's, belief, etc.

Significant numbers of Irish Catholics are getting excited by an alleged visionary's promises of apparitions of Mary at Knock. Curiously, the nature of the original Knock incident back in 1879 (stationary images appearing in the evening on a flat wall) means that it was one "miracle" that was quite readily explicable as a hoax (the use of a "magic lantern" to project the images.)

Meanwhile, I see that (if this source can be trusted) some Portuguese history professor has been looking again at the evidence for the Fatima apparition, and has noted the similarity of the reports of the dancing sun to UFO reports later in the century. (The sun was supposed to take on a metal sheen, with lights around the rim, and looked as if it was getting closer to the crowd.) The Wikipedia "miracle of the sun" entry is a pretty good place to get a description of what happened, and the various other explanations that have been suggested.

As it happens, when I was in high school, I read an entire book that set out the UFO at Fatima theory. I think it was actually in the high school library, but I could be mistaken. The idea struck me as pretty fascinating, and rather disturbing (why would mischievous aliens play that type of game with humans, and just how much religion may be based on a misinterpretation of what was going on in the universe?) Yet suggestibility to such radical ideas when you are a teenager is something you (should) outgrow.

I remember, for example, being strongly impressed by Huxley's "The Doors of Perception", again from my school library. (It seems, in retrospect, that my school library had a lot of pretty trippy titles. But hey, it was the '70's.) Now, I don't quite understand why that book impressed me so much. I certainly had not personally toyed with drugs of any variety, not even nutmeg tea,* so why a book about the consciousness expanding nature of one particular drug should have excited me seems rather odd.

As an adult, the suggestibility of a crowd which wants to see a miracle seems much more plausible that it used to. And, in the case of that Huxley book, skepticism that any drug can help you see reality more clearly seems much more compellingly.

Yet, I would still warn people against throwing babies out with the bathwater.** I am inclined to believe some accounts of paranormal events, and consider that they are potentially very important as evidence contradicting the purely materialist view of the universe that is so aggressively advocated by (seemingly) 90% of scientists now, the New Atheists, and the "non-realist" school of liberal Christianity.

It's where to draw the line between what is credible and what isn't that's the trick.

* Uncle Scrooges favourite drink, which, as I learnt later, might be capable of sending you on a trip.

** (Which is, essentially, what most climate change skepticism is doing too, in my opinion.)

Depressing images

Observations: Intolerable beauty: Plastic garbage kills the albatross

This featured on Hungry Beast last night (which, incidentally, seems to me to be an expensive failure. Just how many people were recruited for that show?)

Anyhow, apparently large numbers of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll out in the Pacific die because their mothers mistakenly feed them plastic picked up from the ocean. The stomachs fill up, meaning they can't eat real food and die, leaving skeletons filled with coloured bits of plastic.

I wonder: if there is that much plastic floating around in the Pacific Gyre, will it be worthwhile converting some former oil tanker into a skimming garbage collector?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The future is getting closer

You just can't help but be impressed by this MIT designed, completely autonomous, robot helicopter. It navigates not by GPS, but by scanning its environment and building up a picture of where it is. Very futuristic; very cool:

Now, if they can just build in some face recognition software, a poison blow dart and (I suppose) a way to knock on the front door, you'll have the perfect robot assassin to sent into the apartment block.

Ocean acidification at 450ppm

Southern Ocean acidification: A tipping point at 450-ppm atmospheric CO2 — PNAS

I don't think I have quoted before from this paper which came out last year. It predicts aragonite undersaturation in the Southern Oceans by 2038 (assuming we hit CO2 of 450 ppm by 2030), which is earlier than previously thought, and the consequences of that are set out pretty well in this paragraph:
Early aragonite undersaturation is of particular concern for the zooplankton species comprising Pteropods, which form aragonite shells. Southern Ocean Pteropods comprise up to one-quarter of total zooplankton biomass in the Ross Sea (13), Weddell Sea (14), and East Antarctica (15), can sometimes displace krill as the dominant zooplankton (16), and dominate carbonate export fluxes south of the Antarctic Polar Front (17), and even organic carbon export (18). Pteropods in Southern Ocean sediment traps show partial dissolution and “frosted” appearance of shells just below the aragonite saturation horizon (17, 19), indicating vulnerability to low carbonate ion concentrations. The most dominant Southern Ocean Pteropod species is Limacina helicina, with Limacina retroversa and others playing a smaller role (20). The dominant species, L. helicina, is known to have a life cycle of 1–2 years with important veliger larval development during winter months (2022), which will be adversely impacted by early wintertime aragonite undersaturation. Given their multiyear life cycles, our results imply that Pteropods in the Southern Ocean will need to withstand aragonite undersaturation far sooner than previously predicted with possible significant effects throughout the Southern Ocean marine food web.
Just thought you should know. Politicians seem so shy of mentioning the effect of CO2 on oceans, though.


Upgrade helps solar harvest (Science Alert)

University of Sydney researchers Dr Tim Schmidt and Professor Max Crossley have come up with an ingenious low-cost device to harvest low energy photons, with the potential of significantly boosting the efficiency of conventional solar cells using a process called upconversion...

The findings, which are published in the most recent issue of the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, pave the way to boosting the efficiency limit to over 50 per cent under the standard solar spectrum and up to 63 per cent under 100 fold solar concentration.
Sounds too good to be true.

And besides: how do you store all the energy they create for more than a day?

Romancing the boot

Andrew Norton - Hello Lenin?

Andrew Norton has a good post about an small outbreak of rosy nostalgia for Soviet communism within Australia. It's from aged intellectual circles, of course.

Time to cut her loose

Catherine Deveny in The Age seems to be reaching some sort of peak in her recent obnoxious anti-everyone-except-those-who-think-exactly-like-her campaign:
I've recently found myself embedded in the above conversations with morons pretending to be people who have said things that made me wince and think: ''Where do I start? If they don't get the basics, what else don't they get?...
She's a "Bright" who shows how dangerous "Brights" can be.

She made a complete goose of herself on Q&A a couple of weeks ago.

Editors: when your columnist starts suggesting that her opponents are not human, it's surely time to cut her loose and let her practice her advocacy on the street corner.

A bit of a worry

Global oil supply 'far worse than admitted'
THE world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, says a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comparing smoking rates

Japan seems to be impressed that its smoking rate has dropped to 36.8% amongst men, and 9% amongst women. The rate for the total population is therefore about 22%.

Given that Japan still seems a much more smoker friendly country compared to here, it's a little surprising to realise that their total population smoking rate is now not far above Australia's. It was only in 2004 that we had the same rate at 22%, but it has dropped back to 19% since then. The main difference is that women here are a much higher proportion of the total number of smokers. I think I've said this before, but anyway: congratulations, modern Australian women, on your near parity in the field of stupid men's habits. (That's a thought that occurs to me regularly when witnessing tattooed women in the shopping centre, too.)

The Australian government wants to get the rate down to 9% by 2020, but at the current rate of decrease, it would appear likely that it won't be reached until 2040. The last cut is the hardest, it would seem.

Interestingly, this publication suggests that, as the rate of smoking amongst doctors and dentists (who are fully aware of its dangers) is around 3 -4 % "this may indicate the lowest "baseline" smoking rate that can be reasonably expected in a fully informed population."

I don't know: if it ever gets to 5%, just ban it, I reckon.

Dumb, dumb, dumb

Look, I don't like the ETS either, and I see that an increasing number of people are attacking the very idea of cap and trade schemes as being certain to set back effective action by a couple of decades, but I still find it impossible to see the political advantage in prominent Liberals or Nationals coming out as climate skeptics.

Nick Minchin is a dill who has ensured that the Liberals will not be trusted by the still very significant proportion of the population who think reducing CO2 needs to be tackled. Tony Abbott is not far behind, by seemingly confirming that he only assesses the importance of climate change policy according to how much the latest poll indicates the public are concerned about it. (Give Melbourne another run of 43 degree days and bushfires this summer, and we'll see how seriously they take it next year. Maybe Tony will be back on board then.)

Nick Minchin should just get out of Parliament, not for his ill-informed skepticism, but for his mischief making. Andrew Bolt claims there are skeptics in Federal Labor too, and I expect he's right, but at least they have enough political nous to know they will gain nothing by flaunting it.

I agree wholeheartedly with this comment by Matt at Barry Brooks blog:
Labor is positioning itself as the champion of climate, wedging the opposition as confused and mostly skeptical… but to the public it appears that the ALP are acting as demanded by the scientists, wheras it seems to me that the scientists are really saying that the proposed ETS is a mess, with too many loopholes, and does not achieve the scientific goals.

If Turnbull had control of his party he could suggest that they pounce on the growing unrest about the convoluted and innefective ETS, and have SCIENCE on his side… and use that as a tool to wait until after Copenhagen on the grounds that there is global uncertainty about Cap n Trade or Tax, and it is useless us making a premature and incorrect choice (like betamax vs VHS).

Unfortunately that would rely on his party believing the science.

But of course, there is barely a politician in the world who is willing to actually criticise cap and trade for the right reasons (it won't work fast enough, probably at great expense, and encourage deceptive), all because they are scared of the word "tax". (You can apparently help solve that problem by calling it "fee and dividend" instead.)

Scary nights

The waking nightmare of sleep paralysis | Chris French | Science |

I missed this good article last month about the phenomena of sleep paralysis. It's particularly interesting because of the comments following, where many people describe the type of terrifying hallucinations they have had during it.

Luckily, I've never experienced it myself, but my wife has had a couple of relatively mild cases. She hadn't heard of sleep paralysis when I explained it to her.

Then, more recently I discovered that a friend had experienced what he interpretted as a demonic visit in bed. I told him about the somewhat more likely explanation, but he had never heard of sleep paralysis either. Maybe I first read about it in Fortean Times; I'm not sure. In any event, it has been publicised for many years, but not everyone reads up on both the paranormal and science. It seems more people should know it is not that uncommon an experience.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Cartoons 'should have movie-style ratings' to protect children from violence - Telegraph

Dr Karen Pfeffer, a senior lecturer at Lincoln University, said that risky behaviour which would normally lead to injury is rarely shown to have negative consequences in cartoons.

She claims to have found evidence that there children who watch violent programmes are more likely to engage in risky behaviour and injure themselves....

Among the programmes she deemed to contain the most risky behaviour were Scooby-Doo, Batman, X-Men and Ben 10.
Can this be true? Scooby-Doo encourages risky behaviour? It's inane, sure, and it annoys me that my kids like to watch it (at their age, I had already decided it was a bore) but it would have to be one of the most harmless cartoons imaginable, unless you could its encouragement towards overeating and being a coach potato.

When I was a kid, TV used to run the Three Stooges regularly in glorious black and white. (Can you get it at the DVD rental shop?) Dr Pfeffer would have a fit.

Parrot gnaws Nutt while Balls gets in Brown's ear

Novelists sometimes chose character names to reflect their character's character or interests.* There's probably a term for that practice.

On this basis, Britain currently seems more like a novel:

* the decision to have compulsory sex education (as noted in the previous post) was made by Secretary Balls;

* Professor Nutt has been in the news because of his disputing whether cannabis really does send that many people nuts;

* Professor Nutt has been attacked by Professor Parrott, with some accusing him of parroting conservatism;

* Gordon Brown seems about as convivial and happy as a brown painted room.

Perhaps Evelyn Waugh has taken over authorship of the country.

* (Help, I'm sure someone can improve that sentence!)

Europe, teenagers and sex

Sex and school don’t mix - Times Online

This article starts off with a paragraph which indicates a certain lack of seriousness, but it does eventually make some good points.

The thing is, Britain's response to a very high teenage pregnancy rate is to make sex education completely compulsory from age 15. Currently, parents can "opt out' their kids. Yet, I wonder, just how many parents take that option? Is there any evidence that children who are withheld have a higher rate of sex or pregnancy?

Fans of sex education like to point to Holland, which, as I have noted before, apparently has such open discussion of sex it would make most Australian parents cringe. But as this article notes:
...could it be that, although the Dutch teach their children about sex in graphic detail, their culture — with its rigorous Calvinist and Catholic moral framework, strong family cohesion, low proportion of single parents and, perhaps most significantly, minimal state benefits for teen mums — sends out an unmissable signal that teenage pregnancy is a bad idea.

By contrast, in Britain a pregnant 16-year-old can expect about £200 a week in benefits and possibly her own flat. For girls with limited prospects, often the offspring of teen mums themselves, a marriage to the state is not such a bad option. The taxpayer coughs up while the girl gets the unconditional love and status that being a mum affords.

Someone in comments also notes this:
Sue's comments regarding the importance of relationships with parents and the stability of family life are spot on. A couple of statistics:
For the year 1999, England and Wales teenage pregnancy rate 49 per 1000 of population. For Italy 6.9. For the year 2002 UK marriages ending in divorce 42%. For Italy 10%.
I am prepared to bet that with the Vatican in their midst the sex education delivered by Italian schools is modest compared to the Dutch immersion approach.
In short, it's all rather more complicated than just increasing sex education. Mind you, according to one report, the new sex education will include relationship stuff too (doesn't it already?):
...schools will teach about the importance of marriage, civil partnerships and stable relationships in family life, as well as how to have sex.
Well, I suppose you can't fault the intention, but how successful can mere teaching about stable relationships be when the kids almost certainly are going to model their relationship behaviour on the example of their own domestic home life?

And how does Australia compare? Not so great, with recent estimates of a teenage pregnancy rate of about 39 per 1000, compared to Britain's 42 per 1000.

High consumption

Cannabis takes toll on Aborigines | The Australian

The figures for use of cannabis in some aboriginal communities are startling high:
...cannabis use in remote communities was now as high as 70 per cent of people, with almost 90 per cent of users claiming to be addicted....

In a recent study of three remote Arnhem Land communities, Professor Clough and a team of researchers found that cannabis use exceeded six "cones" daily in almost 90 per cent of users. This was about twice the consumption of regular users elsewhere in Australia.
It's only twice the consumption of regular users elsewhere?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

What's that doing there?

I had never seen a photo of the old San Francisco Cliff House before. It was built about 100 years ago, and was in a spectacularly dangerous looking location. A whole gallery of pictures of it can be found via this post. Wikipedia talks about the history of the site here.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Revisiting the War

Spielberg's War of the Worlds was on TV last night, and I hadn't seen it again since it came out in 2005. (I wonder if I have any readers today who were remember my 2005 comments on it. Probably not.)

Anyhow, I have to say again: what a creepy, disturbing, yet quite brilliantly directed movie it is. Yes, it ends abruptly, and via a means which makes little sense now compared to the time when the book was written. I assume that Spielberg and his writers just couldn't come up with an updated variation on the idea. (That was the one - the absolutely only - slightly clever thing about Independence Day. It was a virus that was the aliens downfall, but a computer virus, not a biological one. Unfortunately, that such a crap movie had recently used that updating trick presumably prevented Spielberg's writers from using it.)

While the movie creeped me out again, I was able to concentrate on the direction a little bit more last night. I'll say it again: Spielberg just blows away all the jittery camera, let's-create-hyper-action-by-ultra-fast-editing action directors of today. You know exactly what's going on, and can understand the sequences clearly. He is excellent with tension; he can make Tom Cruise act well.

Enough said? Yes, for now.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Calm Crabb

Annabel Crabb really amuses with this paragraph about a week in which everyone saw the desperation in our PM's media spin blitz:
Having experimented with tub-thumping and name-calling, the Ruddbot has entered a calm, methodical period, during which he calmly, methodically dials the direct line of every radio announcer he has ever met and invites himself on air to talk - with a certain methodical air of calm - about his plan to deal with the 78 Sri Lankans aboard the Oceanic Viking, a plan that takes considerable minutes to outline if you are the calm and methodical type, but for the slapdash and reckless can quite reasonably be summarised using just seven letters and one apostrophe: "We'll see."

A simile too far

I won't explaining how I ended up clicking onto this article, but in any event I have a strong urge to share its, um, wisdom:
If we do not have healthy bowel movements two or three times a day, we are like the tunnel that had three trains go into it, and only one train came out. THERE IS A WRECK IN THE TUNNEL. And that wreck in our intestines is the starting point for all illness.
The article also goes on to claim:
Unless your bowel is working perfectly three bowel movements daily, each the diameter of a banana, about a foot long, fully formed and floating on the water in the toilet bowl you need to get your digestive system in order to get healthy, which includes losing weight as a side effect.
Just a tad over-prescriptive, I think.

Rooting for the psychopath

Earlier this week I briefly noted some extracts of a new biography of Ayn Rand, who, puzzlingly, still attracts something of a following if sales of her books are anything to go by.

Well, now there's a even more informative review in Slate of the two (not just one) new books about her.

She was even loopier than I first imagined:
Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented "the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should." She called him "a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy," shimmering with "immense, explicit egotism." Rand had only one regret: "A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough."
I take it she would have been laughing and cheering in all the wrong places during Silence of the Lambs. (And probably weeping when Hannibal was so cruelly being carted around on a trolley in a straightjacket.)

Really, I don't know how anyone can trust her take on anything (economics, morality, government, whatever) when she was such a fruitloop.

And also, now that she's been dead for quite a while, isn't there scope for a very funny satirical film about someone like her?

Finally, I get the impression that this bit sums up her most famous novels well:
Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don't bow down before their manifest superiority.