Monday, November 29, 2010

Yet more on small nuclear

I mentioned small nuclear power generators once already today, but I didn't realise that a good, fairly recent article had just appeared at Discover too.

There are several companies vying to get the lead in these new-ish breed of reactors. Toshiba's is small but has a long, long life:
Toshiba’s 10-megawatt reactor design promises to be a marvel of low maintenance. It is intended to be sealed and run for up to 30 years without refueling, relying on uranium enriched to nearly 20 percent uranium-235. (Typical reactors use a mix that is only about 5 percent energy-rich uranium-235; the rest is more common uranium-238.) Hyperion’s 25-megawatt prototype, which is based on technology developed at nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory and is similar to reactors long used on Russian submarines, gets by with more conventional levels of uranium enrichment but could still run 8 to 10 years without refueling.
There's another company working on a high pressure water cooled one, but the Toshiba and Hyperion designs use molten sodium and lead bismuth (respectively.) The article says:

Without the risk of water boiling, the reactors can run at higher temperatures, producing enough heat to extract hydrogen from water for use in fuel cells. And if one of these reactors melted open, there would be no venting, just a well-contained hot mess underground.
Well, I'm not sure residents nearby will feel so comfortable about such a leak.

This is the thing that does give me reservations: the articles about these usually say that mini nukes are intended to be buried. But surely that is an issue for an country or region that is earthquake prone. I'm not entirely sure why burying is seen as the attractive option (I think it is meant to provide terrorist resistance, but I am not sure if there are other operational reasons for it.) I suspect most people would prefer to keep the things above ground, even if it means paying for a well armed security force.

All very interesting anyway.

A whole bunch of links

I’m not sure how blogging will go this week. I’ve got a major change to software and the office network going on, as well as a Great Big Tax Catch Up to worry about.

But I’m still reading the net and saving links for later. Here’s a bunch of them for your reading pleasure:

* well, let’s start with one from last month that I forgot to talk about: pancreatic cancer is a nasty thing, and it appears it lurks around for decades before it finally reveals itself, and then it’s usually too late:

Genetic analysis of tumours by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Johns Hopkins University suggested the first mutations may happen 20 years before they become lethal….

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund welcomed the findings, but said that research was underfunded in the UK.

Chief executive Maggie Blanks said: "Survival rates have not improved in the past 40 years and whilst the disease is the UK's fifth biggest cause of cancer death, it receives less than 2% of overall research funding.

It does seem odd that such a big cancer gets so little funding. Some cancers lead a charmed life as far as funding is concerned. Others are the crazy axe wielding psychopath bridesmaid that never catches the bouquet.

* Speaking of cancer, there was a good article in The Independent about how radiation is our friend. Sort of. In low doses. I didn’t know many of things noted in the report:

One striking piece of evidence for this comes from radiologists themselves. They spend their professional lives exposed to radiation, in the form of X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans, so you might expect them to have higher rates of cancer. But they don't. They have less cancer and they live longer than physicians in other specialities.

With modern safety measures, the actual dose received by radiologists is only slightly higher than for the general population. But that may be enough to give them an advantage. Sir Richard Doll, the leading Oxford epidemiologist who first linked smoking with lung cancer in the 1950s, published a study of British radiologists in 2003 which showed that those who entered the profession between 1955 and 1970 had a 29 per cent lower risk of cancer (though this was not statistically significant) and a 32 per cent lower death rate from all causes (which was statistically significant) than other physicians.

A similar study in the US compared workers servicing conventionally powered and nuclear-powered ships. Significantly lower death rates were found in the nuclear workers compared with the others.

* Did Harrison Ford have one too many drinks in the Green Room before this Conan O’Brien interview? Quite possibly, but it’s still a funny interview.

* I’ve been complaining for years that Sony would not release its e-reader in Australia. Now it finally has, and I’ve already got an iPad.

The only problem I’m finding with reading on the iPad is that I’m continually distracted to go back to the internet, or see if there is someone on line with whom to play a drawing game.

* AN Wislon gives a favourable review of a new biography of Tolstoy.

I know little of this subject, but it certainly seems an interesting one. I’ll probably get lazy and see that recent movie on DVD instead.

* A new European study indicates that more protein is a good idea for weight loss:

If you want to lose weight, you should maintain a diet that is high in proteins with more lean meat, low-fat dairy products and beans and fewer finely refined starch calories such as white bread and white rice. With this diet, you can also eat until you are full without counting calories and without gaining weight. Finally, the extensive study concludes that the official dietary recommendations are not sufficient for preventing obesity.
How much protein? It seems the successful diet was a "high-protein (25% of energy consumed), low-GI diet". I'm not sure how much protein you have to eat to get 25% of your energy.

* Barry Brook and others set out why nuclear power is the cheapest way to seriously reduce greenhouse gases in the long run.

I’m still speculating that mini nuclear reactors, if they ever get licensed, may be a faster way to scale it up than big reactors of current design; but that’s just my guess. And spreading that radiation around may well be good for us!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Sunday lunch

Spied in the yard today:


(My camera’s not working as well as it used to, but it wasn’t an expensive one in the first place.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Oils are oils

A somewhat interesting article in the New York Times suggests that, once you heat them up in frying, even the experts can't taste the difference between very expensive olive oils, and things like canola oil:

The refined olive oil and two of three extra-virgin olive oils I tested began to smoke at a respectable 450 degrees. The inexpensive extra-virgin oil started to smell of rubber and plastic almost as soon as it became warm, and fumed at 350 degrees.

After I’d heated them, none of the olive oils had much olive flavor left. In fact, they didn’t taste much different from the seed oils.

To get a set of more expert second opinions, I took the olive oils to a meeting of the University of California’s olive oil research group. This panel of trained tasters evaluates oils from all over the world to provide guidance to California’s young olive-oil industry.

In a blind tasting of the four unheated olive oils, the six tasters easily distinguished the medal winners from the cheaper oils and found many interesting aroma notes in them, from tea and mint to green banana, stone fruit and cinnamon.

For the second blind tasting, I heated each oil to 350 degrees for five minutes. I also heated a sample of the Spanish oil more gently, to 300 degrees, to see whether it might retain more olive flavor.

The panelists said nothing as they swirled and sniffed the heated oils in their small tasting glasses, tinted blue to eliminate any consideration of color, then sipped, slurped and spat. The first spoken comment, immediately seconded by most of the panel members, was, “These oils all taste like popcorn.” In fact the panel ranked the heated light oil higher than the heated pricey California extra-virgin oil, whose pungency was no longer balanced by a spicy aroma and had become overbearing.

Well, I find that interesting, anyway.

I must admit, though, I do like the smell of olive oil as it is heated in the frying pan.

Pteropod risk

I've been mentioning pteropods here in the context of ocean acidification for many years.

Here's a good Scientific American blog post summarising the current state of play, and discussing the consequences of their loss or reduction. Worth reading.

Note the reaction of the first commenter: he won't subscribe to Scientific American again because it is being unscientific. (It is, in fact, a very balanced article.) There's nothing like putting your fingers in your ears and saying "I can't hear you". (I'm sure he'll take them out to listen to Judith Curry, though.)

Symplicity itself

Australian research has come up with a possible treatment for high blood pressure that resists other treatment. It’s called a “simple” procedure, but only if you don’t mind catheter’s being shoved around inside the major blood vessels of your body:

The new procedure, developed by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, involves a catheter device that is inserted through the groin into the renal arteries.

It emits radio waves to destroy nerves in the kidneys that play a crucial role in the elevation of blood pressure.

The device, called the Symplicity Catheter System, has already been approved for use by government medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration and may be used routinely within a year.

I’m assuming some PR company has made a bit of money coming up with that name.

Anyway, I’d be giving the dark chocolate cure a good try before I underwent that procedure.

Caring readers may recall I recently found my blood pressure was a little higher than it should be. The other morning it was down a lot; and I did have a dark chocolate Kit Kat the night before. Today it’s back up to where it was, but I had no Kit Kat last night.

Clearly, more consistent self medication is called for.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things that caught my attention

1. the phrase “mucous coccoon” (although your average marine biologist has heard it before)

2. China will soon be building its own generic jetliner (with a lot of help from foreign friends.) I was hoping for something a little more dragon like in appearance.

3. Wake up too soon before landing (sorry, I mean, wake up too close to landing time), and you’ll probably crash, seems to be the clear message from this investigation. Do pilots have rules about this? It’s probably been studied a lot in psychology departments, I imagine.

4. Judith Curry has had her day in Washington, and her statement is on her blog. My quick read of it indicates that this is a confused, contradictory, vague, inconclusive, pointless mess, just like her blog.

She certainly seems to be a (sudden?) convert to Pielke Snr’s similarly vague view of things.

Expect some severe criticism on the climate science blogosphere soon. (Except from skeptics and policy do-nothings, for whom confusion serves their position just fine. She’s their pin up girl now, there’s absolutely no doubt.)

Update: Joe Romm is first off the block, arguing convincingly (amongst other things) that Curry completely misrepresents economist Weitzman's position. While Romm is sometimes shrill, he was spot on when he started calling Curry a "confusionist". Doesn't the fact that the main praise she receives at her blog is from a cadre of AGW complete disbelievers alert her to the fact that she's traveled far from common sense?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Catholic statement of the day

A bishop at a conference:
Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation.
Um, sure... I know Facebook has a lot to answer for (I am confident that its net effect on the happiness of humanity, or at least that part of it which is female and aged between about 10 and 30, is negative) but I wouldn't have picked a downfall of the Catholic faith as one of its outcomes.

Still, makes my recent musings about hearing confession over the internet sound sensible.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pre-emptive pig removal

I don’t often highlight “stupid political correctness for Muslims” stories lately, but this one is a particularly egregious example:

A retailer withdrew a toy pig from a children's farm set to avoid the risk of causing offence on religious grounds, it emerged today.

A mother who bought the Early Learning Centre's (ELC) HappyLand Goosefeather Farm for her daughter's first birthday contacted the store after finding that the pig was missing, the Sun newspaper reported.

The £25 set contained a model of a cow, sheep, chicken, horse and dog but no pig, despite there being a sty and a button which generated an "oink".

But ELC chiefs have since decided to reintroduce the pig, with parents who have bought the set invited to get the toy from the company's website.

It’s interesting to hear the company’s explanation:

"ELC is a truly global brand, which means we need to be aware of the full range of customer expectations and cultural differences. The decision to remove the pig from our Goosefeather Farm set was taken in reaction to customer feedback in some parts of the world.

"We recognise that pigs are familiar farm animals, especially for our UK customers. Taking on board all the customer feedback, we have taken the decision to reinstate the pig and to no longer sell the set in those international markets where it might create an issue.”

So, in a sense, it wasn’t “pre-emptive” entirely:  they had received complaints about the toy pig from other countries, and decided to play it safe in soon to be Muslim England.  (Well, it may as well be, by the sounds.)

I'm sick of this carry on about pigs and dogs by you-know-which religion. Unless I'm mistaken, it's the only culture that goes to the extreme of finding it upsetting to have a mere model of an "unclean" animal in the hands of a child. Sure, religions can have their dietary taboos, whether they be founded in ancient practical experience of relative food safety or not. (After all, I'm not going to eat a snail again in a hurry.) But to carry on about animal's mere presence, particularly in a plastic version; this is just about the stupidest hangover of some  Arabian’s grudge against a harmless animal that still exists. 

Well, maybe not.  According to Ask an Imam, Muslims hate pigs , but they shouldn’t kill them.  Lizards and chameleons, on the other hand, get this treatment:

 4. Is there a reward for killing lizards or chameleons? if so then why ?

4.Yes there is. The Prophet Sallallah Alhi wa Sallam said that the chameleon blew on the fire which Sayyidina Ibrahim was hurled in to. This was its instinctive deed that it did on the promoting of the devil, but its efforts produced no results on the fire.

So we have been ordered to kill it to protect mankind from its mischief and from its harmful flesh.

Good grief.

The future is squid

The most interesting thing in last week's episode of Last Chance to See was the close up look at the Humboldt squid. I had read something about these appearing in larger numbers lately, but don't recall ever seeing them on TV before:

The guy in that video claimed he knew a fisherman who, while swimming between boats, had been seriously attacked by a swarm of them. According to Wikipedia (who knows with what accuracy), they aren't really that big danger to humans:
Although Humboldt squid have a reputation of being aggressive, the only reports of aggression towards humans have occurred when reflective diving gear or flashing lights have been present as a provocation. Roger Uzun, a veteran scuba diver and amateur underwater videographer who swam with a swarm of the animals for about 20 minutes, said they seemed to be more curious than aggressive.[5] In reality, there is very likely little danger to humans.
Yet further down in the same article:
Recent footage of shoals of these animals demonstrates a tendency to meet unfamiliar objects aggressively. Having risen to depths of 130–200 metres (430–660 ft) below the surface to feed (up from their typical 700 metre (2,300 ft) diving depth, beyond the range of human diving), they have attacked deep-sea cameras and rendered them inoperable. Reports of recreational scuba divers being attacked by Humboldt Squid have been confirmed.
And more:
There are numerous accounts of the squid attacking fishermen and divers in the area.
Finally, the Wiki entry ends on this slightly worrying note for those who would like their children to be able to swim in the ocean without the risk of attack by swarms of aggressive squid:
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that by the end of this century ocean acidification will lower the Humboldt squid's metabolic rate by 31% and activity levels by 45%. This will lead the squid to have to retreat to shallower waters where it can uptake oxygen at higher levels.[24]

Catching malaria for good

Quite a surprise to read on the BBC about volunteers who are letting themselves catch malaria in the lab in order to test a new vaccine:

US army medic Joseph Civitello admits that becoming deliberately infected with malaria - one of the world's deadliest diseases - is "definitely nuts".

But without such volunteers, it would be almost impossible to test a new vaccine aimed at protecting the military overseas and preventing some of the estimated 300 million cases of malaria that occur every year.

First Sgt Civitello is part of the world's first clinical trial of a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax - the most widespread strain of malaria.

It's not as deadly as Plasmodium falciparum, which is endemic in Africa and kills millions of people, but it can resurface years after infection and still make its victims extremely ill.

"It was weird because I did this knowing I was going to get sick," says Sgt Civitello.

And the compensation for this: not much, by the sounds:
Volunteers in the world's first Plasmodium vivax malaria vaccine trial are given several thousand dollars in compensation. They say the money is an incentive, but most take part because they want to further medical science.

A well deserved thanks for service to humanity, Sgt Civitello.

"I have better things to do than make sense"

I can’t help but post again about the erratic Judith Curry.

As I noted before, she’s off to Washington soon to give evidence at a congressional hearing at the invitation of Republicans. So what does she do at her blog? Put up a post inviting her blog readership (who in a previous post, self identified as, I would guess, about 90% sceptics) to tell her what they think is known with confidence. [She doesn't say that this is related to her upcoming testimony, but it's kind of peculiar timing.]

One commenter asks the obvious:

Dr Curry, rather than setting an exam question for your pupils here, how would *you* answer the following? [Being the confidence question]

Curry makes no response.

When another, more sympathetic commenter asks her to respond to the criticisms other climate change blogs have made of her, she responds that “it’s coming” (as it has been for weeks), and adds this:

At this point I have no time to read stuff at RC or anywhere else for that matter. I frankly have better and more important things to do than deal with the little tempests created elsewhere in the climate blogosphere…

Yes, like asking skeptics to guide her in her testimony? And it's some freaking "little tempest". It's virtually the rest of the mainstream climate science scientific community telling her she is making major mistakes in many of her criticisms of the IPCC reports and process, and she does not respond in any detail.

CO2 up, temperature up

A study of what happened with increasing CO2 and higher temperatures 40 million years ago indicates that the CO2 came first, not vice versa:

“We found a close correspondence between carbon dioxide levels and sea surface temperature over the whole period, suggesting that increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere played a major role in global warming during the MECO,” said Bohaty.

The researchers consider it likely that elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during the MECO resulted in increased global temperatures, rather than vice versa, arguing that the increase in carbon dioxide played the lead role.

“The change in carbon dioxide 40 million years ago was too large to have been the result of temperature change and associated feedbacks,” said co-lead author Peter Bijl of Utrecht University. “Such a large change in carbon dioxide certainly provides a plausible explanation for the changes in Earth’s temperature.”

And what conclusion do they reach about climate sensitivity:

The authors conclude that the climate sensitivity during the MECO led to a 2- to 5-degree C increase per doubling of atmospheric CO2.

Which is pretty much the range the IPCC expects.

Why electricity is going up

Michael Stutchbury gives an account of why electricity prices have been going up, and why a carbon tax would not add to that process as much as people think. Here’s a key section:

Sims's key point is a carbon price won't lift household electricity bills as much as typically figured. A modest carbon price has been estimated to push up wholesale prices by 60 per cent or so, translating into a 24 per cent or so rise in household retail bills.

But a carbon price world shouldn't be contrasted with the old status quo world. Instead, it should be compared with the actual alternative of carbon price uncertainty and the high-cost renewable schemes that are driving electricity bills higher anyway.

A carbon price could actually ease pressure on household electricity bills, assuming we're serious about hitting our target of cutting emissions by 30 per cent on business-as-usual levels by 2020. "A carbon price will see electricity prices increase by less than they would by pursuing a given greenhouse gas reduction target by the current greenhouse schemes," Sims told the committee.

This of course requires the Greens to accept that expensive renewables should no longer be mandated because they cost more than a carbon price to do the same emissions-reduction job. This extends to Gillard's own expensive $400 million "cash for clunkers" scheme which, like the Coalition's greenhouse direct action, shifts the problem on to the budget.

I was also interested to note this earlier part:

The recent surge is mostly driven by "network costs", which will account for two-thirds of the rise in regulated NSW power prices in the five years to 2012-13.

These distribution costs are rising in line with increasing peak demand, such as on hot days, and reflect our vigorous population growth and modern prosperity. Three out of every four Brisbane homes have air conditioners, compared with one in four only a dozen years ago.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More, bad, ocean news

I've made the observation before that, even if CO2 do-nothings are correct in saying that increased CO2 will lead to more ocean algae (which is basically fish food so what are ya worrying about?), not all algal blooms are good. Toxic algal blooms happen near populated coastlines where lots of nutrients from run off and sewerage fertilized the water, but what of the deeper ocean water?

This article says that the dangerous type of algae are indeed away from the coast, and it appears it is encouraged by the limited iron fertilization experiments that have taken place to date:

They joined Ken Bruland, professor of ocean Sciences at UCSC, on a research cruise to study iron chemistry in oceanic waters of the Gulf of Alaska. During this expedition, they collected water samples and found the algae and its toxin in nearly all of the natural oceanic environments throughout the region. This prompted them to examine older, stored samples from other sites around the Pacific, and again they found the toxin in most samples.

Then, with the help of Kenneth Coale, director of Moss Landing Marine laboratories and principal investigator on several cruises that conducted classic iron enrichment experiments in the Pacific, they retrieved samples and found both Pseudo-nitzschia and substantial amounts of toxin. Their findings show that iron enrichment indeed promotes high levels of toxins in the open sea, sometimes as high as those in coastal regions, where deaths of seabirds and mammals occur. The authors of this PNAS paper also noted that iron enrichments can occur naturally, suggesting that the high levels of toxins may also have occurred when iron was added by wind-blown dust and other climate and geological processes.

OK, so it probably happens naturally too. That's not to say it's such a good idea to cause more widespread toxic waters than what we see already.

And in other worrying news, another study suggests that elkhorn coral has its reproductive success greatly limited by ocean acidification. It's not that coral reefs will ever start fizzing due to an acid ocean, but as they are worn down by mechanical action, warm water bleaching and other damaging factors, they may not grow back.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thugee investigation

I ended up watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom again last night on TV (I can’t help it – has there ever been a better directed and edited action/comedy movie ?  That’s a rhetorical question, the answer is “no”.  There’s something clever or witty that I like about every 8 seconds of its running time.)

Anyhow, it got me thinking: amongst the many topics in history I don’t know all that much about,  thugee in Indian is high amongst them.  Of course, I doubt that they were into magical heart removal or voodoo dolls, but how exactly they did kill, and whether or not they were that closely connected with Kali worship; well that’s all a bit of an unknown to this blogger. 

The Wikipedia article gives a bit of a general overview, but I felt it wasn’t the best example of that site’s work.  (Although it does get marks for mentioning Temple of Doom, which it probably does on the wise presumption that people like me would have their interest piqued by the movie.)  It does seem there has been a bit of historical revisionism going on about what exactly thugee was really all about.

A bit further down on the Google list showed a link to a book about it.  This link was to one of those download sites that seem to be all about hoping people will pay for the “fast” download for a (likely?) pirate copy of a movie or book.  I don’t think I have ever successfully used one of those sites before; the slow free download usually takes forever and I have given up when seeing the hopeless speed. 

But last night I did try it, and got a pretty fast free download.  I then tried to do it direct to the iPad, using Goodreader (one of the limitations of an iPad is that you can’t directly save .pdf or other web files directly from the browser.  You have to use an App such as Goodreader.)   That didn’t work, but I eventually got the book into my iPad via my computer and iTunes.

So, now I have a free .pdf of a book on my iPad which I actually want to read, or at least skim.  I will report further on any thugee discoveries as they come.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dawn Treader is coming

The Narnia films have been very, very good. The third one, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is being released on 9 December, and yet I fear it is receiving inadequate publicity.

People in Brisbane who were able to visit one of the film locations (as my family did) have a particular reason to look forward to seeing it.

Really, Walden Media do very high quality films generally, and as it appears that the success of this film will determine whether or not the series comes to an end, all readers are hereby commanded to go see it.

Here's my bit to help promote it:

Putting the last election in perspective

The Economist has a chart that shows how, compared to Europe, Australians were complete wusses when it came to worrying about how long it took to form a government after the last federal election.

Curry in Washington

So, I see that Judith Curry has been invited (by the Republicans - so guess what purpose they hope her to fulfill) to a congressional hearing in Washington to talk about uncertainty in climate change. Seems to me they may do better to question uncertainty in Curry.

There hasn't been talk of this at James Annan's or Michael Tobis's blogs yet; they have been left waiting for Judith to explain how she didn't get her "Italian flag" comments on uncertainty very wrong. (I'm not sure how many times she has promised a direct answer is coming, but it's been quite a few.)

But Bart Verheggen has a useful suggestion to her on what she should concentrate on:

Facts and framing: Both are important

When it comes to science communication, the facts are the baseline from which one absolutely cannot stray; but at the same time, we have to be aware that people respond most strongly to the frame.

Uncertainty and risk

Remember that the political attack is also largely scientific in nature, at least in terms of its framing. It exaggerates uncertainty about particular scientific studies (…) in order to distract from the big picture.

So any scientist walking into this context had better be ready for one obvious trap: Being lured into talking about uncertainty to the detriment of what we actually know.

This is in sharp contrast to what Judith Curry is pushing for: Framing the issues in terms of uncertainty and stressing what we don’t know. I am in firm agreement with Chris Mooney here. Judith’s strategy is a dead end in terms of increasing the public’s knowledge about climate change.

Conversations about uncertainty invoke a frame which in the public mind is easily confused with doubt. Non-scientists have a very different perception of uncertainty than scientists. Framing what we know and don’t know in terms of risk is much more useful in getting the message across, because it leaves less room for misinterpretation (there is less of a gap in how this term is understood, whereas “uncertain” to a layperson means “I don’t know”).

You should read all of his post: it's very good.

Who knows, Curry could surprise us all and not leave everyone totally confused as to what her position is. But if her blog is anything to go by, she'll prefer to inconclusively waffle and be happy that she's muddied the waters further.

Update: A lengthy, detailed critique of Curry has turned up on Climate Progress. It's pretty devastating, and confirms even further how it is completely impossible to tell what she believes. It's not as if her apparent conversion to an "uncertainty is everything" view of climate change is actually backed up in her blog or elsewhere with detailed analysis and a critical reappraisal of her previous statements. It just seems to be "the vibe" which she wants to promote.

As Romm says towards the end of the post:
Curry is not the one who brings “uncertainty” into the discussion of climate science. Well, let me rephrase that. Curry is a confusionist who brings uncertainty into any discussion, but it is a canard of Curry-esque proportions to assert that scientists have not clearly explained the nature and extent of these uncertainties. They have bent over backwards to do so.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Interesting job vacancy

Bishops in America are sponsoring a two-day conference on exorcism in response to a growing interest in the rite and because of a shortage of trained exorcists nationwide.

The Conference on the Liturgical and Pastoral Practice of Exorcism, on November 12-13, will be attended by 56 bishops and 66 priests.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, said he knew of perhaps five or six exorcists in the United States. They are overwhelmed with requests to perform the rite, he said.

“There’s this small group of priests who say they get requests from all over the continental US,” Bishop Paprocki said.

As seen in the Catholic Herald.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Toying with the Pad

By virtue of a salesman who signed me up on something else, I recently acquired an iPad. I was sceptical of just how good or useful these could be, but I have to admit, it is a much more charming device than I expected.

The first and most obvious benefit I had overlooked was browsing the internet in bed. Of course you could do this with a netbook too, but it’s the touch screen navigation that really makes it simple and enjoyable. They could certainly do with a browser that has a scroll bar down the side, but I assume it will come.

Apps for the iPad are, especially in the free category, very much like fast food: enjoyable enough for a short time but not really satisfying for long time use. Clearly, you can do some good things with some of the art/drawing programs. (I paid for Sketchbook Pro, but haven’t really learned how to use it well yet.) And occasionally, a free game proves both entertaining and educational: the kids and I are really enjoying Doodle Hangman at the moment. (The animation is quite amusing.) There is also a certain pleasure in hunting for free (or cheap) app bargains when they go on sale or become free.

But it may turn out that the best reason for an iPad for many people would be cheap magazine subscriptions. I haven’t signed up for any yet, but the Zinio service promises subscriptions that are very cheap compared to receiving the paper copy. The Australian Zinio website is here. It would appear, for example, that I can get Fortean Times, an enjoyable read which (when I last saw it in a newsagent, which was some time ago) was costing nearly $12, for a tad over $4 an issue.

Science, the weekly AAAS publication, costs only $100 for a year! Zinio says the cover price would be $512. This seems well worth looking into.

I'm not really convinced that the iPad is so good to read entire novels. Perhaps an e-reader will always be better for that. But you don't usually sit down to read a magazine at one long session. You pick it up when you have time, read an article, get interrupted, and come back to it later. So for this use, and with the benefit of nice colour, the iPad does seem ideal.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"How to waste time" by Judith and Roger

One thing her blog is certainly indicating is that Judith Curry likes the sound of her own voice.

A couple of weeks ago, elsewhere on the internet, I expressed the view that Curry may well end up just being just another, policy delaying, time waster. After all, as I noted here a couple of months ago, Roger Pielke Snr, a climate scientist widely appreciated by do-nothing climate skeptics for his continual complaint that other climate scientists weren't looking at land use and uncertainty in local effects of climate change in enough detail, came out and said at Skeptical Science:
“In terms of CO2, we do not even need to discuss global warming to be concerned by uncontrolled increases in its atmospheric concentration. We see directly from observations of atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that humans are increasing its levels. If global warming were not occurring at all, we should still be concerned.”
Yes, well, thanks then Roger, for your ongoing contribution to policy paralysis by letting your complaints be used as implicit support for those who want nothing done about CO2 and successfully agitate politically for same.

Today, Judith Curry gives a strong indication that she may be heading down the same path. In her post about why it is worth engaging skeptics, she says she thinks the AGU (American Geophysical Union) is dealing with the climate change as a scientific/policy issue in a good way. (As opposed to other science groups who says are getting too politically involved.)

So, a reader points her to the AGU's 2007 position statement on climate change, which starts with "The Earth's climate is now clearly out of balance and warming" and near the end says:
"If this 2 degrees of warming is to be avoided then our net annual emissions of CO2 must be reduced by more than 50% this century. With such projections there are many sources of scientific uncertainty, but none are known that could make the impact of climate change inconsequential. "
It goes on to note that there could be "surprises" that cause more disruptions than predicted by models.

So what does Judith say about this statement which sounds about as supportive of the IPCC position as you can get?:
This is a good and appropriate statement, I don’t have any problem with it.
What on earth is she on about, then? Is she making sense to anyone?

Judith, if you're going to finally come to a position, argued with facts and logic, that there is inadequate certainty in climate science for firm policy to be decided now, spit it out. (I'm sure earlier on in one of your blog comments you indicated this is where you would be heading.)

But if the blog is just a reason to bloviate about how you feel climate scientists have hurt their own case by becoming too political and need to talk nicer to skeptics, yet at the end of the day you agree that there is a need for quite urgent action to reduce CO2 emissions, then just say that now.

Otherwise, you're just a time waster encouraging social and political inaction.

Tick alert

There is a surprising number of people turning up at hospital in the Sunshine Coast hinterland (Nambour Hospital?) with tick bites at the moment:

"We have had through our emergency department, maybe at least 15 to 20 in the last week or so through the doors.

"This season is very unusual in the fact that the bites are very serious and that people are developing very significant allergic reactions, in fact life-threatening allergic reactions to the tick bites.

"The main symptoms are rash, feeling grossly unwell, sometimes asthma and sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting."

Biofuel worry

If this report is anything to go by, European environmental groups have definitely developed cold feet about biofuels being a good idea:

European plans to promote biofuels will drive farmers to convert 69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change, a report warned on Monday.

The impact equates to an area the size of the Republic of Ireland.

As a result, the extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will generate between 81 and 167 percent more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, says the report.

Ocean acidification updated – not much to celebrate

A news blog in Nature has some bad news:

Thanks to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, some Arctic waters are already experiencing pH dips that could be harmful to sea life. What’s more, this acidification seems to be happening more rapidly than models have predicted.

This sobering conclusion was reached by researchers who met on Wednesday to discuss ocean acidification at the Geological Society of America meeting in Denver. “Models are probably underestimating at least by a few years the impact of ocean acidification in the Arctic,” says Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “We don’t know what the organisms’ responses are yet, but the conditions are already there to potentially be disruptive to the ecosystems.”

Marine organisms from plankton to crabs are dependent on carbonate ions in the ocean to build their skeletons and shells. But as CO2 dissolves in the water it lowers the pH, which shrinks the pool of such ions available for animals to use.

One important source of carbonate ions is aragonite, a particularly soluble form of calcium carbonate. Seawater is usually saturated with aragonite. However a recent study in Biogeosciences estimated that by 2016, according to the IPCC’s mid-range emissions projections, aragonite will fall below this level in some Arctic waters for at least one month a year. By the end of the century, it predicts that the entire Arctic Ocean could be under-saturated with respect to aragonite.

“But we don’t have to wait until 2016,” says Mathis. “We’re already seeing places in the Arctic where these under-saturations are happening now.” High latitude waters in the Arctic and Antarctic are particularly sensitive to pH changes, as cold waters absorb more gas than warm waters.

Researchers at the symposium were particularly concerned about pteropods – tiny sea snails that are highly sensitive to acidification. Pteropods make up about half the diet of juvenile pink salmon living in Gulf of Alaska. And they could be affected at pH levels very close to those that the region is already experiencing. “It’s not going to take a great deal of CO2 intrusion in high latitude seas to get to a point where the water could become corrosive to some marine calcifying organisms,” says Mathis.

As for the pteropods, decreasing pH is not good for them, but nor is increasing termperatures. A recent study reports:

We conclude that pre-winter juveniles will be negatively affected by both rising temperature and pCO2 which may result in a possible abundance decline of the overwintering population, the basis for next year's reproduction.

Also, another recent study estimating pH changes in the Meditteranean reports:

For the first time, the level of acidification is estimated for the Mediterranean Sea. Our results indicate that for the year 2001 all waters (even the deepest) have been acidified by values ranging from -0.14 to -0.05 pH unit since the beginning of the industrial era, which is clearly higher than elsewhere in the open ocean.
And down around Australia, for those who love their Sydney rock oysters, a study suggests that they may be replaced by the bigger Pacific oyster due to increasing CO2 in the oceans. Pay attention, rock oyster lovers.

The only “upside” are some studies arguing that some coastal phytoplankton that are already used to large swings in water pH may not suffer as CO2 increases. It doesn’t tell us much about the wider ocean, though.

The effect of abuse

Although it’s easy to imagine how much childhood sexual abuse must play havoc with the victim’s emotional development, I must admit I didn’t realise that it is even related to later onset of psychosis:

A team of Monash University researchers has released the findings of a study, which indicates child sexual abuse may be a trigger for the onset of psychotic illness later in life….

Previous studies established that abused children were more likely to develop depression, anxiety, substance abuse, borderline personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal behavior, according to background information in the article.

The authors found that "the possibility of a link between childhood sexual abuse and later psychotic disorders, however, remains unresolved despite the claims of some that a causal link has been established to schizophrenia."

The research data from police and medical examinations of sexual abuse cases was compared to a statewide register of psychiatric cases. Rates of psychiatric disorders among 2,759 individuals who had been sexually abused when younger than age 16 were compared with those among 4,938 individuals in a comparison group drawn from electoral records.

Over a 30-year period, individuals who had experienced childhood sexual abuse had double the rate of those in the comparison group of psychosis overall (2.8 per cent vs. 1.4 per cent) and schizophrenia disorders (1.9 per cent vs. 0.7 per cent).

The authors concluded that "the risks of subsequently developing a schizophrenic syndrome were greatest in victims subjected to penetrative abuse in the peripubertal and postpubertal years from 12 to 16 years and among those abused by more than one perpetrator."

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Curry made of nothing

Those who have an interest in climate change debates would know all about Judith Curry, a climate scientist who, after the "Climategate" emails, made something of a name for herself by talking about wanting to "build bridges" between climate skeptics and mainstream climate scientists.

As it turns out, Judith's idea of building bridges has culminated in her creating her own blog in which she talks about the IPCC "consensus" position being a "dogma", refers to the "high priests" of the movement, and to waffling on about being sure that the IPCC has not dealt with uncertainty appropriately, while simultaneously admitting that she's not an expert on risk, statistics and uncertainty, and inviting others to help her work out her position.

As many people have pointed out, while she takes umbrage at the fact that the "climategate" emails showed that scientists in question responded to the attacks upon their work and integrity by talking amongst themselves with disdain about the likes of McIntyre and others, she seems distinctly uninterested in acknowledging that it is indisputable that McIntyre, Anthony Watts and other "stars" of the skeptic world have consistently made highly personal attacks and run blogs absolutely brimming with comments that allege conspiracy, bad faith, fraud, and duplicity against climate scientists, as well as letting long disproved ideas continually reappear.

What's more, she has a pattern of making big claims and then running away from them; often simply failing to back them up, and saying that her claim was not really that important anyway to her bigger argument. The best summary of this (with links to follow if you have an interest) has been put up at James Annan's blog.

Why she has decided to take the position she has is anyone's guess. Someone at her blog claimed she has simply become addicted to getting attention, and I think there is almost certainly an element of truth in that. Some of her comments seem to indicate an element of jealously about some other scientist's careers progression. One thing for certain is that she seems to lack insight: she has recently posted about a "feedback loop" that allegedly keeps climate scientists on the "consensus" side from looking at their own claims carefully, yet she seems to be oblivious to her own personal "feedback loop" of broad brush, un-detailed criticisms of her fellow climate scientists, leading to people questioning her bona fides, which leads to her escalating indignation at how people want to label her a "heretic" etc.

But in the end it doesn't matter much. As I like pointing out to skeptics who get excited when some physicist or other says he thinks climate change is not a problem, it's not exactly hard to find scientists, engineers and academics who hold silly opinions, particularly when it is in a field outside their day to day work experience. The 9/11 Truther movement is the best example of that. Have a look at this site, for example.

In any event, like the Truther movement, Curry seems to be about hot air with no substance behind it, and it's all of her own misguided creation.

Update: a post at Rabbett's which sums this up too.

Update 2: see my more recent post about Judith's wild ride here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Inserting the sheep

with sheep

Inspired by a comment at another blog: "Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever seeing a sheep in any depiction of the US, either."

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Geoengineering considered (again)

The Economist has a good article on some new-ish ideas for geo-engineering the climate.

Of course, at this stage, whether any of them would really work well enough, and with acceptable side effects, is anyone’s guess.  I suppose, however, that I cautiously adopt the article’s view, and agree that some experimentation may as well be tried now:

Polluting the stratosphere. Liming the oceans. Locking Greenland’s glaciers to its icy mountains. It is easy to see why sceptics balk at geoengineering. And if viewed as a substitute for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions, a cover for business-as-usual into the indefinite future, then it might indeed prove a Faustian bargain. But that is probably the wrong way of looking at it. Better to use it as a means of smoothing the path to a low-carbon world. Most of the researchers working in the area of stratospheric hazing, for example, think that its best use might be reducing the peak temperatures the Earth would otherwise face at a time in the future when greenhouse-gas emissions have started falling but atmospheric levels are still going up.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Close up comet

This isn't the first time a spacecraft has taken a close up photo of the heart of a comet, but I don't recall previous ones showing such a clearly defined core. Lovely shot here of Hartley 2. Oh, wait, Bad Astronomy has a much better set of photos. Way cool.

The freshwater sharks of Brisbane

Brisbane residents who pay attention to the news are probably aware by now that the city’s river, even in its upper reaches, often has bull sharks of potentially dangerous size in it.

In fact, if you go to College’s Crossing, which is close to Ipswich and has a large picnic area on a stretch of the river with clean, fresh water full of swimmers in summer, there are shark warning signs permanently up.  (Brisbane gets its drinking water from just beside this spot, so the water is definitely 100% fresh.  For some reason I don’t understand, it’s only a relatively short distance further down from College’s Crossing that the river suddenly takes on its brown murky quality which is then maintained all the way to the mouth.)

The reason I’m talking about this is because a large bull shark appears to have been spotted this week up near College’s Crossing, which (according to this report) is 90km from the river mouth.   It also says that before the Mt Crosby weir was built, they had been recorded as far inland as Lowood.   That’s a long, long way further inland.

It’s also been reported recently that bull sharks jumping out of the river in the inner  city stretch is not an unusual sight for the ferry captains:

“The warmer the water, the more times you will see them jumping,” he said. As the sun gets up, that's when you will see them jumping.

“About two years ago the river was a little bit cleaner than usual and everybody was seeing them. You ask any City Cat master, they'll say the same thing. They see them jumping all the time.”

As well, their aerials show the sharks are also more active underwater as the river at this time of year.

Sharks found upstream are normally less than 1.5m long and pose little threat to people.

However, dog owners have been warned to keep their pets out of the river at dusk and dawn, when sharks are most active.

There have been numerous reports of dogs being taken from the river's edge and even instances of more ambitious sharks taking on larger prey.

In 2005, Ipswich locals were shocked after a bull shark attacked a race horse being put through its paces in the Brisbane River at Kholo.

So, how does this shark manage to live in fresh water? I see there was a story on ABC's Catalyst show in 2003 explaining this.  Here are some extracts from the transcript:

Richard Pillans: We’re about 85km from the mouth of the Brisbane River, we’ve got fresh water for at least 20 km downstream of us, and there are sharks in here, there’s a lot of sharks in here, and it is really unusual and most people in Brisbane don’t realise they’re basically in their backyard all the way through the Brisbane River. Almost all sharks will die in fresh water, but what’s really unique about the bull shark is that it’s equally at home in both salt water and fresh water. ...

The team think that there are four key organs involved - the liver, the kidney, the rectal gland and the gills. The liver of the bull shark is extra large, it’s the animal’s salt factory. It produces salt in the form of urea.

A/Prof Craig Franklin: Urea production and the liver is the major site so it has to be pretty big. If the shark is in salt water this salt is then stored in the kidney. As it swims upstream into fresh water, excess salt is excreted in the urine.

Neil: They will retain less urea in fresh water than sea water, so there’s a clear change between the two.

Narration: The shark also regulates salt levels using the rectal gland and the gills. Pure salt can be taken in or excreted through the gills depending on the outside water.

Richard Pillans: Different in structure between the two.

Narration: Incredibly they think the very structure of gills would gradually change as the shark swims from fresh to salt water.

Thus concludes today’s nature lesson.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

More cautionary tales

Time for a perennial favourite topic: don't do it kids, something bad will happen.

[Hey, if a blogger who calls himself socially conservative can't try and point out that for humans, sex is, despite all its obvious fun aspects, actually a pretty serious thing with consequences, who can?] So here's the latest round up:

* Do I have to?
A "birds and the bees" talk with your kids isn't complete without a discussion of oral sex, according to a new study that found a connection between oral sex and old-fashioned intercourse. The three-year survey found that teens who had oral sex by the end of ninth grade were at the highest risk of having sexual intercourse during high school. These teens had a 25-percent chance of having intercourse by the end of ninth grade and a 50-percent chance by the end of 11th grade.
Well, I guess it's no great surprise that a teenager heavily into one form of foreplay is likely to soon try everything else, but still, explaining all varieties of sex (apart from the one that leads to babies) is a task that probably has only become a parental obligation in recent decades.

* Over-sharing again

I see that irritating writer-blogger Sam de Brito once again over-shared by telling us about how he caught genital herpes when he was in his 20's. (He's previously told us about catching crab lice from a backpacker in the same decade.)

The piece is all a bit of a two edged sword. On the one hand, you can take it as a cautionary tale for safe sex. On the other, he has a doctor talking about how people are rather hypocritical about this disease, with the aim of helping overcome the shame of having caught it.

The net effect: nothing in the article is likely to make people change behaviour, I reckon, which just reduces it to something else icky I wish de Brito hadn't shared with us. It does, however, have some interesting figures in it, regarding the percentage of people who have both forms of herpes.

* Oral not harmless, part 2

There's also been a fair bit of publicity lately about how another study (this one from Sweden - which is appropriate I guess given their libertine reputation) showing a correlation between high rises in oral cancers with increased rates of oral sex:
"This kind of cancer traditionally affects males who have been smoking and drinking all their life, and now in their mid-60s they are getting head and neck cancer," he said. "However, HPV cancer we are seeing in younger patients who have never smoked."
Strangely, though, this is noted:
Similarly high rates have also been seen in Europe, where a new Swedish study has shown a strong correlation between oral cancers and oral sex. Oddly, the rising rates have not been seen yet in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia and New Zealand.
The cause is thought to be the human papilloma virus, for which we now have the vaccine which I think few teenage Australia girls are not having.

This should improve things gradually for head and throat cancer too, I guess, but still if you're in your 20's or 30's and acting like Sam de Brito, you're not going to be getting the benefit of that.

* Start dating older women

If you're 13, probably best to avoid sex with your 10 year old girlfriend. (The article at the link notes that even this is not the youngest recorded age for pregnancy.) Ick.

* Now to contradict myself

Slate recently had an interesting slide show which contrasted the European approach to teenage sex education to that in America. It made some interesting claims:
Dr. Amy Schalet conducted in-depth interviews with teens and parents about adolescent sexual mores in both countries. She found that in the United States, teen sexuality is dramatized as an "overpowering force." Parents commonly talk about their kids' hormones "raging out of control." If teen sexuality is destined to be reckless and dangerous, then fear is the only hope of controlling it.
Europeans, such as the Dutch, by contrast:
...view teen sexuality as being "right." The Dutch use the phrase "being ready" to talk about how their teens will know they are prepared to have sex. They spend less time and effort trying to prevent young people from becoming sexually active, and more on educating them to be responsible when they do.
As I noted from another article some time ago, the Dutch teenagers generally start sex later, despite all the openness about how its done and precautions, etc. Yet, that earlier article noted that there are likely other cultural reasons going on to explain the low rate of teenage pregnancy, apart from the intense sex education.

It's interesting to contrast this with, say, alcohol use. It seems now that most experts here think the well meaning middle class parent who lets their 16 year old take some alcohol to a party on the basis that they should be allowed to do openly something they will do anyway, are in fact doing the wrong thing. Yet, the gradual introduction of alcohol with family dining in some European countries seems to work OK.

In the Australian context, I remain similarly skeptical of parents who allow (say) their 16 year old to have their girlfriend or boyfriend stay over for sex, on the basis that it's better that it's done there than in the back of a car or park.

Anyhow, the right balance in how to approach sex education seems as tricky as ever.

The potato correction

In March 2008, I noted a comment in a book review in The Guardian that a person could live indefinitely on potatoes alone.

According to this article, about a man who is going to eat only potatoes for 2 months, that's not quite right:

Much research has been conducted on potatoes, and the conclusion drawn by every medical doctor and nutritionist on the planet is that you have to be nuts to think you can live off of potatoes.

To Voigt's credit, his lighthearted stunt will educate the public about many healthy aspects of the potato: a decent and inexpensive source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium and, with the skin left on, dietary fiber.

Also, low-carb advocates are harsher on the potato than science allows them to be. Some potato varieties, prepared correctly, can be as healthy as the much-lauded whole grains. [7 Diet Tricks That Work]

Voigt didn't enter this diet blindly. He told LiveScience he first consulted with a doctor and dietician to confirm he could go 60 days on just potatoes. You need healthy kidneys to process the excess potassium delivered by 20 potatoes a day. You also need a store of nutrients potatoes lack, such as vitamin A for proper vision, or else exit this diet blindly.

(If you're wondering why a man would eat potatoes only for 2 months, it's because he's executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission. I guess this part of the job wasn't mentioned in his salary package.)

Seeing this blog has an inordinate amount of international influence (ha), I just thought I should note this.

Just read a book

New Scientist reports that the latest airplane bomb scare may stop plans for in flight wi-fi and mobile phone use:

In-flight Wi-Fi "gives a bomber lots of options for contacting a device on an aircraft", Alford says. Even if ordinary cellphone connections are blocked, it would allow a voice-over-internet connection to reach a handset.

"If it were to be possible to transmit directly from the ground to a plane over the sea, that would be scary," says Alford's colleague, company founder Sidney Alford. "Or if a passenger could use a cellphone to transmit to the hold of the aeroplane he is in, he could become a very effective suicide bomber."

Manufacturers of the technologies will not welcome this fresh security concern, having finally gained airworthiness approval for their in-flight cellphone and Wi-Fi systems by proving that their microwave transmissions do not interfere with avionics.

Oh dear, how sad. (Actually, I couldn't care less. There should be more spaces in the world where mobile phones can't reach.)

LHC discussed

The New York Times has a good article about the Large Hadron Collider. 

Here’s a key part:

But for all the euphoria in Geneva these days, the collider is still operating under the cloud of Sept. 19, 2008. That is when the electrical connection between two of the collider’s powerful superconducting electromagnets exploded, turning one sector of the collider ring into a car wreck and shutting down the newly inaugurated machine for more than a year.

As a result, the machine is operating at only half power, at 3.5 trillion electron volts per proton instead of the 7 trillion electron volts for which it was designed, so as not to blow out the delicate splices. At the end of 2011, all the CERN accelerators will shut down for 15 months, so that the suspect splices — some 10,000 of them — can be strengthened and an unknown number of magnets that have mysteriously lost the ability to handle the high currents and produce the high fields needed to run the collider at close to full strength can be “retrained.” ….

The collider will start up again in 2013 with proton energies of 6.5 trillion electron volts, but it is not likely to reach full power until 2014, if ever.

The smart one writes

Malcolm Turnbull sounds smart and well informed in his column in the SMH today in which he talks about his support for a private member’s motion to stop the patenting of genes. 

Tony Abbott meanwhile was at the Melbourne Cup forgetting the name of the race favourite:

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: The Thing Is is plainly going to be the sentimental favourite.

So You Think, Tony?

Suspicion correct

Recently, when the issue of how much water the Murray-Darling system needs (and how much less will be available for irrigation) was the hot topic, Australians were also hearing a claim that the country had already become a “net importer”of food. 

I heard it on a right wing radio show (Michael Smith on 4BC in Brisbane, who, as with all right wing radio jokes jocks also swallows any climate science skeptic argument without a second thought.)  

I immediately thought that this claim could not be right.  And I was correct.

As Ross Gittins says

This is all nonsense. Australia? A net importer of food? Yeah, sure. If you fell for it, your bulldust detector has seriously failed you in the media space.

He then explains how this silly claim came to be calculated.   The true situation is as follows:

According to figures compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in calendar 2009 we had total food exports of $25.4 billion and imports of $11 billion, leaving us with a surplus of $14.4 billion. Even if we ignore unprocessed and look only at processed food, we still had a trade surplus of $5.8 billion.

Why did it take so long for the media to note this correction? 

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Colebatch on Indonesia

We don’t often read all that much about Indonesia in our press, unless its related to Muslim terrorism.

Colebatch’s article in The Age today gives a good catch up picture.

Wait a minute, I’m thinking

The Guardian has an opinion piece entitled Is climate science disinformation a crime against humanity?

It ends with:

The corporations that have funded the sowing of doubt on this issue are clearly doing this because they see greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests.

This might be understood as a new type of crime against humanity. Scepticism in science is not bad, but sceptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible scepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from sceptics could lead to great harm.

We not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.

I can see certain problems with the concept, but then again it could mean most participants at the Catallaxy blog in a Gulag while me and my side take a year or so to decide whether prosecutions are sustainable.    I therefore see a certain merit.  

Monday, November 01, 2010

Fry-ing feminists

Stephen Fry was in the English press last weekend due to some rather incautious (to put it mildly) comments he made regarding women and sex, part of which includes:
"I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man, which is what they want," he said. "Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"
Fry says that heterosexual "beats" don't exist for this very reason.

One journalist feminist retorts with some sense, but also some silliness:
Women are just as capable as men are of enjoying sex. We don't go cruising or cottaging on Hampstead Heath because we don't need to. Cottaging on Hampstead Heath is presumably a hangover from the days when, sadly, [homosexuality] was illegal… Women have other ways to get our thrills, and we can go and get them in bars or clubs. Having said which, we probably also do it in parks sometimes too. It's just that we don't call it cottaging. I'm sure I've done it in parks in my time.
Well, surely both of them are over-selling their arguments. It's very silly of Fry to suggest (he now says it was out of context anyway) that all women view sex as a "price to pay" for having relationships. On the other hand, I'm sure the number of women who have met a man in a park and had sex with them in the bushes within 10 minutes is vanishingly small. (Although if you look at women who are silly enough to be impressed by, say, rugby players, the sex-in-the-toilet scenario they sometimes engage in is as close to gay men's behaviour as you can get. But, now that I think about it, there is a good chance that is more about bragging rights than their own sexual gratification, so in that sense it's not like men in the bushes after all.)

The simple truth lies in the middle (and of course I'm speaking in generalities here, but that doesn't mean it's inaccurate): yes, women enjoy sex, and yes, men are much more readily capable than women of separating sex from emotions.

The irony is that feminists think they are scoring a hit if women feel freer to act like men, when it would align more with the psychology of most women to concentrate on encouraging men to have more regard to the emotional and physical consequences of the act.

Re: Salmon

Nature has a story about a theory that a large patch of iron fertilized ocean caused by a volcanic eruption may have resulted in this year's big Canadian salmon run:
Parsons' suggestion relies on a study in Geophysical Research Letters by Roberta Hamme of the University of Victoria, British Columbia1. The paper links the 7-8 August 2008 eruption of the Kasatochi volcano in the Aleutian Islands to a huge phyotoplankton bloom later that month. The eruption wasn't particularly large, but a storm spread its ash over a wide area. The resulting bloom was the biggest in 12 years of records, covering 1.5-2 million square kilometres of ocean. "We'd never seen anything like that," says Hamme.
Others are very skeptical that this is a very plausible explanation. All interesting, nonetheless.

Never too busy... rubbish Tony Abbott.

Last week, we had this excruciating display of self inflicted gormlessness:

I mean, what was his initial refusal to back Hockey's plan, which had been discussed in Shadow Cabinet, all about?

But today I see that Tone's real agenda over the last few weeks has been to get fit for a half Iron Man event, despite a calf injury:

While the Opposition Leader has been carrying a sore calf muscle for a few weeks, it didn't stop him from swimming 1.9km, cycling 90km and running 21km in yesterday's Half Ironman race at Port Macquarie, midway between Sydney and Brisbane.

Cheered on by wife Margie, who planted a congratulatory kiss on his cheek as he crossed the finish line, Mr Abbott completed the course in six hours, 43 minutes and 42 seconds....

He did, however, express some pride in his time of two hours and 38 minutes for the 21km running leg, given that he has been struggling with a calf muscle twinge for the past few weeks, which hampered his training.
If only he devoted the same amount of effort to looking and sounding like a credible alternative PM. (Oh yes, he's apparently already conned a significant number of voters in that regard, just as did a certain K Rudd for an inordinate length of time.)