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Ahh, the national day. A time to have a day off, relax, have a barbie, do whatever. Maybe enjoy how lucky you are to be living in a prosperous country on a warm summers day. The cricket on telly, a few beers, great stuff. Back to work the next day feeling a little seedy, but ready finally for another year.

Well, that’s how I remember it, “back in the day”. I don’t remember cars festooned with the flag and stickers with “Love it or leave” written on them. That wasn’t part of Australia Day. In fact, it has always been a rather awkward public holiday – one that you just enjoy without having to think hard about anything. Which makes it different from ANZAC day, which commemorates a tragic episode in our history where to some extent, the nation called Australia was “born”. Read the rest of this entry »

Human history is blessed with many great thinkers who have enlightened us with their observations and theories about the world. Darwin and Wallace discovered for us our place in geological time, Copernicus our place in the solar system, Einstein our place in the universe. One theme that emerges from what we now know is the smallness of our existence. We really do occupy but a molecule of water in a vast, never ending ocean. But what we do with our time can be brilliant, as great artists and scientists have demonstrated. The video below is moving because it represents our place in the cosmos, taking you away and then back again. You feel the nostalgia as you explore, and the elation upon return. Well done to the American Museum of Natural History.

We have a lawn at home, and we only water it on our water-restricted watering days (except very occasionally by hand if its a 40+ degree day). It keeps the garden cooler, and we assumed it was also a good carbon sink. Well, it is a good carbon sink, but it seems that all the grooming efforts eliminate that or worse:

I know that ours is only a garden lawn, and this study focussed on public parks, but some of the results must be transferrable – we mow our lawn and only a month or so ago we applied some fertiliser for the summer. We use an electric mower, so that probably helps as it is only drawing baseload from the power station (which is of the super-green, brown-coal-fired type!) – arguably better than an inefficient 2-stroke mower. But it calls into question the "greenness" of the backyard lawn, which does after all take up a considerable portion of the garden.

So, what do you do?

You could replace it with synthetic turf, but that would have all sorts of issues relating to its manufacture. Or you could replace it with gravel and the odd plant, but that would not have the cooling effect and would have even less carbon storage capacity. Perhaps its best to keep the lawn and not fertilise and mow less. Its a tricky area in a climate where everyone wants to do their bit.

As always with these issues, there is more than one aspect. Here we balance CO2 emissions against water security. Where we live, water is scarce and resources are stretched. Electricity generation produces tonnes of CO2. But it will be water that gets us first. Increasing population demands greater water supply. In an area at least 50% supplied by groundwater, much of which is "fossil water", it is obvious that a limit will be reached. What is worse, increasing water demand forces government to install desalination plants, further increasing electricity demand. A vicious cycle is established. SO, ultimately water demand reduction could have a double benefit – reduce the need to enhance supply and reduce expanding electricity demands.

Where does this leave the lawn? Well I guess it means replace it with a garden bed full of drought friendly plants that require little water. Either way, it reminds us that reducing water use is one of the best things you can do for the environment. Still, that lawn is a nice thing to have…

This is a cool little app that gathers science news into categories. Worth a look…

Grab More Science News Graph | LabGrab

Posted using ShareThis

Some time ago a late friend of mine was very sick with cancer. He was struggling with treatment and suffering greatly. As is common at that stage in severe illness, one will try anything that offers hope of a positive outcome.

So in the course of his search, he found a product called a Multi-Wave Oscillator that was reputed to “make people better” (I can’t do better than that – it really was the cruxof their claim at the time). It cost thousands of dollars. Their website had a whole lot of well-crafted claims that looked suspiciously like well-founded science. Typical pseudoscience. My friend clearly fell for that, and he was not a silly man. Amongst other organisations, the American Cancer Society notes that there is no peer-reviewed support in medical literature for this treatment.

Anyway, my friend bought one at great cost (some, I guess, will say that he had little else to lose). I was horrified that he had been duped of his money by this quackery, but said nothing to him at the time (it seemed it would merely add insult to injury). Instead, I reported the company to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. They cannot guarantee a reply, but over the phone after my email complaint, they assured me they would take this very seriously indeed. They take a dim view of the exploitation of the sick, and this seemed precisely to fit the profile. So I left it at that.

So, trawling through old emails, I came across this episode and decided to have another look at the offending company’s website. The old claims are no longer there (and unfortunately I no longer have the originals – and am not net-savvy enough to find them – it was well over a year ago). Replacing the old claims is a lovely big disclaimer, at the bottom of the front page, and scattered throughout the site. It makes the entire product line look strange and quite removes the main selling points. I’m not going to link to their site as I don’t want Google or anything else to direct traffic to them, but the web site is

I quote now from the disclaimer:

“i4cmwo products are sold for learning, self-improvement and simple relaxation. No statement contained in this catalogue, and no information provided by any i4cmwo employee, should be construed as a claim or representation that these products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or any other medical condition…” [ 7-jan-2010]

Why an AUD$2,600 electricity filled coil will help with your education is beyond me (unless you’re in a physics class perhaps). Seeing that bill would hardly be relaxing. Nevertheless, there must be a reason for the sudden appearance of a disclaimer (and it is LONG – have a read!), and I like to think that the ACCC had a part in forcing them to do it.

There may yet be Round-2 though – they seem to be making a new product to go with the MWO and a bunch of supplements – the flash new “Violet Ray Kit”. Again I quote from the site:

“Coming soon a frequency mat that connects to the MWO new and old, very good for prostate and back problems” [sic](as at 7-Jan-2010)

Now, tell me, how is that not “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or any other medical condition.”? What do they intend with this device (other than to make money)? And if you read on in their page on the Violet Ray Kit, you’ll find a whole lot of new pseudoscience.

“Violet Ray Kit” – spare me. People like this should be shut-down, fined and publicly shamed. It arguable that they don’t do too much emotional damage to people who are very sick anyway, but that doesn’t make this any less despicable. They are taking money from people who have been convinced that they will benefit, when there is no scientific evidence for those benefits. Sometimes, “buyer beware” is taken too literally. We are not all equiped with failsafe quackery detection devices; I know I am not. So there have to be standards, laws and above all, ethics. The crowd at i4cau appear to have none.

I think a small victory over pseudoscience can be chalked up now in my friend’s name. RIP mate.

Well it didn’t take the Japanese whalers long to find the Ady Gil and sink her. Hard to see this as anything but deliberate – it was Sea Shepherd’s fastest vessel – capable of outrunning the Japanese fleet to get between the harpoon vessels and the whales. Maybe the Japanese are conducting “research” on how to sink small fast trimarans. It had only been in the SS fleet since October last year…

Hopefully this just garners support for the anti-whaling movement.

There’s a photo on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news site here.

One of the great frustrations in science is getting good data. Collecting it yourself can be a boring, longwinded and seemingly pointless exercise, especially if you are collecting data on multiple variables when you know you’ll only use a few (a common thing in geology). Getting legacy data from others can be even harder. Incomplete data sets, different files, wrong formats, wrong headings etc etc… These are all issues we face. However, having complete data is golden – you don’t want your work usurped by another on the basis that they had more complete data and so could see the real picture.

So it seems in the climate change debate, we now see a real problem emerge. One that actually does cause a few problems for the climatologists who have provided the evidence for “AGW”. New Scientist recently published a piece correctly (in my opinion) highlighting this as a significant concern, but one with some seemingly intractable barriers to resolution. Large chunks of important data are sitting with commercial rights within the vaults of institutes around the world. Governments would pay penalties for their general release. This is not good for the science and only fuels speculations from the deniers. It is indeed a pity that the deniers can’t get their hands on it because then they could do the same tests and come to conclusions that add to the debate. However, all this should not be mistaken as a conspiracy – it is normal in many scientific fields to have data sets locked up under commercial arrangements (or government legislation). Science has worked around this for years and continues to do so. Climate science itself has worked successfully under this regime too. Perhaps this is just another storm in a teacup.

We’ve had government bailouts for banks, perhaps its time for governments to put some money and legislation behind freeing up these data sets completely. Pay-off the commercial interests, legislate for data freedom. It would be a nice shot in the arm for a needlessly troubled science. I suspect only the deniers have anything to fear.

This news piece came out today. The president of the NSW Farmers Association is quoted:

“We’re very concerned that the ability for people to put the other side of the argument in the science debate has been totally gagged over the last year or two and the only way you can bring that out and have it out in to the open without the vilification that’s occurred in the past is to have a royal commission”

Now, a piece-by-piece dissection of what is obviously a politically motivated statement is probably not neccesary, BUT, how many on this “other side” are being villified? Who is actually doing the gagging? Is it really happening at all?

Perhaps the rational climate scientists would be interested in all that too, might shut a few people up. Here again we have an example of someone not understanding that science is not simply a debate where someone wins (presumably on points – which to some extent would have the deniers ahead at the moment). This is a crazy notion – that a Royal Commission could “answer” the question. It isn’t answered now and it won’t ever be answered in time to satisfy these continuous critics.

Forcing scientists in front of a trained lawyer will not reveal anything more that having other scientists read and criticize their work. This happens every day already. That applies to both “sides” of this “debate”. Frankly some better informed journalists and feature writers might help – people who can present a balanced picture without creating the impression of “balance”.

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