Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Merry Christmas all! I'm off to visit family at the Sunshine Coast (which, for foreign types, is as nice as it sounds) and then spend NYE with friends in Sydney.

Warm weather would be nice.

I hope the new year brings the end of science denialism in general and climate denialism in particular.

Which is about at likely as world peace.

Have Fun. Drink plenty. Be nice to your rellies - even the ones you don't like.

Catch ya in 2009.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kitten blogging

No blog can exist without the obligatory kitten pics.

Here's a couple of mine from this arvo, starring Calcifer.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Well worth a read

Local fella Mark Tester has been a busy boy knocking out a few articles of late. These two are really worth a squiz.

Firstly, in yesterday's IPA Inquirer, a look at algal biofuels:
THERE are many reasons for wanting to reduce our dependence on oil: the increasing cost, reliability of supply, finite resources, the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming.

Yet when people talk about alternative sources of fuel they mostly discuss the conversion of food, such as corn, into ethanol, which puts enormous pressure on food supplies. During the past year, demands for food and fuel have combined to drive up food prices sharply, which has particularly important ramifications in developing countries.

When one adds to the mix growing populations and global environmental change, with the pressures these impose on our ability to maintain high crop yields, the prospects for providing sufficient food for all are not good.

So, the idea of converting a significant proportion of our food into fuel for vehicles or diverting agricultural land to grow biomass seems misguided.

Although the growth of biomass on marginal lands has some prospect, the impact on nature conservation must be considered. Furthermore, the contribution that such areas can make to global liquid fuel needs will always be modest.

Marginal lands provide only low-density cropping potential and biomass from plants or crop residues generally has a low energy density, while a significant proportion of the energy gained from the biomass will be consumed in the process of moving the biomass to the processing centres.

Yet one group of plants could make a sustainable, significant contribution to world energy supply. They do not require agricultural land and need only minimal processing.

Single-celled algae can grow very rapidly in low quality water, producing biomass at 10 to 30 times the rate of terrestrial plants. They can do this mainly because the cells are immersed in a medium providing all their needs, including physical support, and so the cells have no need to build infrastructure to move materials and to support themselves.
Read the rest here.

The second is a provocative review, published in Science, of Tomorrow's Table by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak.  The review mirrors many of my own thoughts on the subject.
The organic movement's opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops is causing it to miss an opportunity. Like agriculture across the planet, organic farming needs all the technological help it can get to be both sustainable and high-yielding. As with many recent innovations, GM technologies provide myriad possibilities for reducing the impacts of agriculture on the environment and the need for chemical inputs to maintain yield. But from the start, the organic movement rejected the use of GM crops. Genetic engineering is a technology, and like so many technologies, its benefits, costs, and risks depend on how it is used. A comparison with nuclear technology is not unfair: most of us benefit from medical applications of nuclear technologies, while many of us have major concerns with the large stockpiles of nuclear weapons that still threaten the planet. So, the risks of GM depend on the genes being put into the plants, not on the technology per se. Yet the numerous potential applications of GM to reduce chemical inputs to agriculture are flatly rejected by most organic farmers.

In Tomorrow's Table, we now have the positive aspects of both organic and GM approaches discussed logically and clearly. The delightfully constructive book was written by a talented wife-and-husband team: Pamela Ronald, a very successful plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis, and Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer who teaches at the same university. The authors are eminently qualified to present authoritative descriptions of their respective disciplines, which they do in a readable and accurate manner. But the noteworthy aspect of the book is the way they then marry their separate fields to argue logically for the use of GM technologies to improve organic agriculture. As Gordon Conway (a former president of the Rockefeller Foundation) comments in his foreword, "The marriage is long overdue."
Read the rest on Pamela's blog.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


That the Australian climate change denialosphere is being utterly and completely silenced by the Main Stream Media is beyond doubt. Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Planet Janet, Alan Wood et al. of News Corp. - all gagged. Miranda Devine of Fairfax - suppressed. Michael Duffy of our ABC - mute.

Who could possibly know that a few emeritus wing-nuts and free marketeers who don't like the AWG-associated implications for their lifestyle  have decided to deny its very existence?

Poor little dears, for they have no voice.

Sadly, the cone of silence has now further descended over those associated, directly and indirectly, with the Institute of Public Affairs.   They've become terribly emasculated since the arrival of Tom Switzer, former opinion page editor of The Australian.

You'll note their absence via multiple letters printed in the Oz in recent days.

Jennifer Marohasy couldn't get a word in on Saturday:
PROFESSOR Marvin Geller says the sun could not be driving recent global warming as climate change sceptics claim because solar radiation has not changed very much since 1978 ("Professor sheds light for climate change sceptics”, 4/12).
But climate change sceptics do not claim there has been recent global warming. They claim there has been a levelling off, or fall in temperatures, over the past 10 years since the 1998 El Nino-driven temperature peak.
As regards the El Nino event of 1998, according to Professor Geller, El Ninos cause a temporary increase in global temperatures, not the steady and consistent upward trend typical of warming from greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. But there has been no consistent upward trend.
The same day, the journal Geographical Research published a paper suggesting a correlation between solar magnetic phases and the state of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation Index (SOI).
The paper, by Robert Baker, emphasises the influence of the sun’s magnetic field through the rate of ionisation—the rate of ionisation being affected by solar cosmic ray showers whose incidence follows the inverse of the sunspot cycle—not solar radiation as suggested by Professor Geller.
Dr Baker claims his discovery has important implications for drought predictions in Australia recognising the relationship between the SOI and rainfall in Australia and the periodicity of the strength of the sun’s magnetic field.
Jennifer Marohasy
Institute of Public Affairs,
Melbourne, Vic
Max Rheese, of Marohasy and the IPA’s astroturf group: the Australian Environment Foundation, has his very breath stolen today:
THE onerous implications of just one segment of the policy detail with regard to the introduction of an emissions trading scheme became apparent on the floor of the Senate last week, highlighted in the article “Communities sacrificed to carbon sinks” (6-7/12).
Contemplation by the parliament of taxpayer-funded concessions to schemes that will lock agricultural land into permanent carbon sinks and seriously undermine Australia’s food production beggars belief.
Bad legislation that betrayed constituents was reportedly on the mind of Fiona Nash when she crossed the Senate floor. Sadly, a greater number of her colleagues did not share her clarity of thought.

Permanent carbon sinks will not aid the forestry or agriculture sectors, will not enhance GDP and will cost the taxpayer a fortune, as will the introduction of this poorly conceived emissions trading scheme.

Adapting to ever-present climate change will mean changes to agriculture production to maximise yield and minimise impact on the environment. It does not mean shutting down viable food production and sacrificing rural Australia on the altar of citycentric climate change policy that has no proven outcome.

Max Rheese
Australian Environment Foundation
Benalla, Vic
Poor old Art Raiche, who contributes to Marohasy’s blog , couldn’t be heard either:
I AM surprised that a professor of astrophysics at UNSW, Michael Ashley (Letters, 6-7/12), is unaware of the work at the Danish National Space Centre which proved a link between cosmic rays and climate.
Its experiment, SKY (Danish for cloud), showed that electrons released from cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere significantly promote the formation of building blocks for cloud condensation nuclei on which water vapour condenses to make clouds.
As noted in Jennifer Marohasy’s letter of the same date, the reduction in solar wind associated with low sunspot activity results in a large increase in the cosmic ray barrage of the earth’s atmosphere.
The resulting increase in low cloud density will have a global cooling effect.
Art Raiche
Killara, NSW
Des Moore, also of the Institute of Public Affairs, like a mouse:
THE Coalition has apparently talked itself into a position of feeling unable to oppose government policies and legislation when it has either previously adopted a similar major change in policy to the Government, or because the latter claims electoral mandate.
Such is the pusillanimity that two important policies involving very major structural changes likely to have serious adverse economic effects, emissions trading and WorkChoices, are now in danger of being waved through with minimal questioning.
Is it too much to expect the principal Opposition political party to contemplate the possibility of either changing its mind or stating that the way the government proposes to implement the policies is totally unacceptable? What precisely does an electoral mandate mean?
At the very least, the Coalition surely has a duty to the Australian public to ensure that the likely consequences of the Government’s proposals are fully examined and explained in detail. No such consequential examination appears likely.
Des Moore
Institute for Private Enterprise
South Yarra, Vic

Imagine if they could speak. Imagine if they could sing!

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

What!?! There's no Barbarellas!?!

Takin' one for the team and all that (or not). Poor lads.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Science Fiction

Read about this little questionaire over at More Grumbine Science. I like me some sci-fi, so I thought I'd have a crack at it.

Here Goes.
What is your relationship to science fiction?
I occasionally pass an eye over the sites of Watts, McIntyre, Marohasy etc.
Do you read it?
If by read you mean that strange sensation of searing pain that passes from my ruptured eyeballs to my deadened synapses, then yes, I read it.
Watch it?
Like a particularly gruesome train wreck.
What/who do you like and why?
I loves 'em all. Their laughable attempts at denial, though initially effective at introducing doubt to lesser minds, have lost all worth now that the loony Right has fallen in Oz and the US.
What do you see as science fiction's role in promoting science, if any?
Showing what science fact isn’t.
Can it do more than make people excited about science?
Adding some links to cool Ninja v. Pirate sites would help.
Can it harm the cause of science?
Sure, if real scientists or the general public not twisted by inflexible ideology took any notice of it. Thankfully, they don’t.
Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science?
Yeah, as the butt of many jokes and the cause of much hilarity. Once the crowd's warmed up, then I talk about real science.
Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?
Getting it horrible wrong in a particularly embarrassing way is far more entertaining.
Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?
My favourite.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Prawn of the week II

Jennifer Marohasy.

Jen started a recent post about denialist parliamentarian Dennis Jensen with a single breathless sentence.
DR Dennis Jensen BAppSc (RMIT), MSc (Melb), PhD (Monash) is the only member of the Australian Parliament with any training in science.
Now, exhorting the qualifications of an inactivist is standard denialist procedure. All those letters must mean 'smart'.

But the only member of parliament with any training in science?


No. Of course not.

A quick search showed that Jim Turnour, the Labor Member for Leichhardt, is also a scientist - an agricultural scientist, to be exact.

Jim is also, of course, Jen Marohasy's very own brother, and a pretty decent bloke, by the sound of it.

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