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Proudly do I present to you The 43rd Scientia Pro Publica, Science for the People, the Loves, Lives and Learning Edition. It’s brought to you by Technetium, the element with no stable isotopes!

You may detect an antipodean flavour in this issue, with some excellent work included from Australia! My hope is that Scientia is a springboard for people to read about research and to read scientific writing by real scientists who (generally) are not paid by anyone to write what they write. Consider this as science “from the horse’s mouth”.

Scientia Pro Publica

As always, science bloggers are keen for commentary and review of their work, especially if they are writing about original research. This kind of peer-review gives science blogging its power and maintains its integrity. You really can get your fill of juicy science here.

Scientia Pro Publica relies on YOU, so be sure to submit your blog posts, or the best of others’ here. Future editions need hosts, and we need them EVERY WEEK now. The schedule is here. Also, Scientia has a Twitter account, and there is even one for all science, environment and medical blog carnivals here! Read the rest of this entry » This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for Many people might not associate Saudi Arabia with volcanoes and earthquakes. A more common image might be miles upon miles of sandy desert. However, the Arabian region is home to some large fields of volcanoes that have erupted in the last thousand years or so. In May 2009, 40,000 people were evacuated from the Harrat Lunayyir province in northwest Saudi Arabia in response to a series of earthquakes, some over magnitude 5, in case larger, more damaging quakes were to come. In response to this, the Saudi Geological Survey invited the US Geological Survey to help investigate not only whether more, larger quakes could occur, but also if this could signal volcanic eruptions in the region. A recent paper in Nature Geoscience documents the scientific investigations that followed (Pallister, et al., 2010).

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It was a Sunday, but not just any old Sunday. This was the first one, ever. Today, we would call it the 23rd of October 4004 BC, but of course Christ had not even been born yet. This famous Sunday was the first day on Earth, the first 24 hours after God created the Earth and everything around it. It was to be a busy week ahead, culminating in the first humans, Adam and Eve, in a heavenly garden. The Following Sunday was to be a day of rest, even God needed his beauty sleep after all that.

I speak, of course, of the date that was calculated by Archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) for God’s creation by a strict literal reading of the Bible, and especially the Book of Genesis (which you may well know has agonizingly long genealogies). Dates such as Ussher’s have been used to support creationist’s conception of the age of the Earth.

We now know, of course, that Ussher’s dates are fiction. The Earth has been dated at 4.54 Billion years, based on radiometric dating of meteorites, as well as dates on lunar and terrestrial material; quite a departure from Ussher’s calculation. The advancement of dating techniques is a marvel, and perhaps geology’s enduring contribution to science. More remarkable is how varied geochronological techniques so readily agree with each other, in another triumph of modern science.

So, in honour of the wonderful contribution of geochronology to our understanding of this fine planet, the only one we have, I would like to dedicate the 23rd of October as Geochronology Day. It is perhaps a fitting way to put all creation myths to bed, recognizing that they are only works of literature. Earth has a long and fascinating history, one worth celebrating, and it is made all the more wonderful through a deeper scientific understanding.

Viva la Science!!

Soon I will have the honour to present to you, dear readers, the 43rd Edition of Scientia Pro Publica! This was a recent revelation for me, and I was fortunate enough to be included in edition 42 hosted at Cosmodynamics. Thanks Vanessa!

Scientia Pro Publica is a bi-weekly carnival of the best science writing (well communication generally) from across the blogosphere. It has grown in stature to the point where the convener is now seriously contemplating making this a weekly thing. In other words, Scientia Pro Publica is becoming something akin to the Nature of science blogging. Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch, however, it is like a magazine – it relies on public blog submissions and the host to compile and editorialize a selection of submitted blog posts. Currently, it receives more than 50 submissions each time, and this grows with each new host as the network expands. It is a privilege that I am able to bring it to you.

So, watch this space.

More importantly, if you are interested in science and writing, and would like to submit, just use the online form.

I would be interested in hearing from bloggers in earth science disciplines, as geology is my “home discipline”. That said, I have very broad scientific interests, so anything is welcome. You will notice that Traversing the Razor has very little geology in it!

The more the merrier! You may even want to host it yourself sometime!

Can’t wait to see your submissions!!

A great poem over at Science and the Media by CWeightman:

Ode to the Science Magazine

Newspapers and internet, these things just aren’t my scene.

But what I love instead is the science magazine!

Some whisper “obsolete”, it’s the age of kilobytes

I disagree: no better way to start days, fill nights.

Cosmos, New Scientist, take them as you find,

Built on ads and feedback columns, patiently aligned.

When needing of the latest scientific fable,

Look no further than the toilet, or coffee table.

Marvel at the graphics which fill the glossy pages.

A filler piece says “Einstein’s wrong”: will it last the ages?

So long as never broken remains the golden rule –

Always write on global warming, or else be the fool.

Here’s a checklist: archaeology, astronomy,

Conservation and health, the research economy,

Physics: particle and astro, sometimes even chem,

Geology, geography, must not forget them!

Articles on chaos theory, no one understands,

Thankfully there are diagrams giving us a hand.

And update me on L H C, save me a google

Tell me what I need to know, let me be time frugal!

So take away my dollars, as long as every week

I get fed a pulpy dish of science at its peak.

Now tell me, fellow readers, what in your heart you feel,

When I say “science magazines”, do they have appeal?

Ok, so chiro could be considered low-hanging fruit. Not many doctors take it seriously and many people are sceptical. Hardly world-changing stuff for me to have a go at it.

On the other hand, many people (including some of my friends) have been through it and swear by it for certain circumstances. There may even be some truth to some of the benefits of some manipulations (although, for instance, a Cochrane review on lower back pain seem to dispute this, with no conclusive evidence either way, and no advantage over medical approaches).

I’m not going into the clinical efficacy of particular components of chiropractic treatments. I have my view on that, but that’s not the point I want to make here. I would point out, also, that I am not a doctor. I am doing this based on a reasoned analysis. I welcome comment or correction.

What I want to take issue with is a document (pamphlet) that I had brought to me by a friend who’s daughter (12 years old) had just been to a chiro for a regular “treatment”.

I have no problem with preventative care (if it can be shown to be effective). I do have a BIG problem with the contents of the brochure, because it pedals a load of nonsense dressed up as fact, with no references (not in the pamphlet anyway – you have to go online for that, which can be hard whilst in the clinic). Indeed, it even contains messages designed to implant the idea in parents heads that vaccination is the wrong thing to do. This is a patent absurdity (I hardly need to go into the countless lives saved through immunization, nor indeed the great deal of suffering that people no longer have to go through at the hands of diseases like polio or smallpox). Any how, I am going to take you through the text of this pernicious pamphlet. Bare with me, this is a little longer than normal.

“The Astonishing Dr. You”, a critique.

First, look at its first pages. I do this to give you a taste. The full brochure can be found here.

Now, “each effect has a cause”. Let’s start with that. One can only assume these people have God on their side because this just begs for an infinite regress argument. And look at that lovely picture of a nebula. Doesn’t that just fill you with awe at how incredibly large and complex the universe is. But, there is a reason for it, because there is “an intelligence”. Actually, it is more likely that universal constants are responsible for the “balance” we perceive. But then, just how balanced are things? Thermodynamics strongly argues against any notion of order coming from chaos. Furthermore, how do they know that “what seems unnecessary has purpose”? What do they have in mind, the appendix? That had a purpose, it just doesn’t serve it anymore.  All this is beside the point anyway, as this is a pamphlet about helping real people with real problems, apparently. Not an auspicious start.

I thank a particular FaceBook page that had the text of this pamphlet, and from here I’ll just analyze the text. Here goes. My notes in blue.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks to those who looked at and commented on my variants post. Quite popular it seems!

I have two more to add, one that I had clearly left out, and one suggested to me by a reader.

Here goes, although I worry that this is going to become book length soon…

C. Scientificus Var. Attenboroughensii – The Naturalist

Named in honour of the greatest television naturalist and narrator of all time, David Attenborough, The Naturalist is a person who began their scientific career simply wanting to explore the world. Having found that there really are some very interesting things out there, he or she decided that other people ought to know about them too. And thus began a fruitful career of showing people just how amazing the world and life on it is. The Naturalist tends to avoid controversy, rallying to causes only when provoked. Attenboroughensii prefers to let this amazing world speak for itself.

C. Scientificus Var. Enterprisiensis – The Coal-face Worker [thanks to Andyextance’s comment]

Enterprisiensis is the ex-industrial scientist who remains focussed on their home industry. Be it through choice or chance, they have found a niche in communicating their industry’s research. Enterprisiensis inhabits the murky niches of trade and professional society press – not as desperate to editorialise as other C. Scientificus. Instead, they are happy to act as a conduit of information to help bench-bound researchers achieve optimal results for their businesses, or at least reliably let them know what’s going on in their field. They are reluctant to stray from their home industry as they find that their niche is both productive and rewarding. A true specialist, the Coal-face Worker may not be well adapted to other ecosystems.

Ok, enough for now, I have to crawl back into my shell…

It occurs to me (as a novice in this field) that there are a few main variants of “science communicator”:

Communicatus Scientificus Var. Unopinionatii* – Cool-Hand Luke

Also know as the “Non-committal One”, Cool-Hand will never put his name to an opinion. He is probably a journalist, maybe a science journalist, almost certainly not a scientist. He writes for news papers, and loves phrases like, “scientists have claimed” (and a lovely critique of Luke can be found at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong’s great blog). Cool-Hand prefers balance to the truth, and so will likely present most of science as a perpetual slanging match between sides balanced at 50/50. Science isn’t like that (in case you didn’t know).

*there is some debate as to the taxonomy here – Var. Unopinionatii may in fact belong to C. Journalensii under the subspecies of Scientalis.

C. Scientificus Var. Bulldogensis – The Watchdog

These are the people who, coming from a scientific background (particularly medical science) review the science behind grand claims and debunk them if dodgy. These guys write books about it that really should be essential reading for everyone over the age of about two. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science is a prime example. The watchdogs are the heros of sanity in a crazy, commercially-driven world where a pill is better than a good nights sleep. Some Watchdogs are graduated Skeptics (see below). Michael Shermer comes to mind.

C. Scientificus Var. Sceptiensis – The Skeptic

Closely related to the Watchdog (but perhaps more distant from their original scientific training, or perhaps not even scientifically trained), the Skeptic will go after anything even remotely unscientific, and has a penchant for examining people who believe in crazy things. Some Skeptics become very good (and very popular) whilst others skirt the boundaries of sanity and start to believe in conspiracies themselves.  This skeptic has to be constantly vigilant against “The Forces of Darkness”.  Sooner or later it is revealed that the Skeptic works for the Templeton Foundation (no I’m not going to link to them, they might find out where I live).

C. Scientificus Var. Theatricalus – The Performer

Yep, you’ve seen them at shows, and seen them on TV. They make science “cool”, and mostly teach kids (and a few ‘kids’ masquerading as adults). These guys are probably our main line of defense against the dark arts of Woo and religion. Without the Performer, your child really might continue to believe in the Easter Bunny. Scientific thinking gets its first opportunity to thrive in the Performer’s hands. The world is a little safer from silliness thanks to them (God bless ’em). Explosions and volcanoes and dry ice and the like are tricks of the trade here.

C. Scientificus Var. Obsesionatii – The Passionate One

The Passionate One is convinced that the world is in peril if we don’t all understand their field of science. So important is it that they sometimes lose the message of their science in an attempt to “get it out there”. Obsessionatii can be found engaged in long well-worded arguments across the blogosphere, or may be found appearing on late-night current affairs programs. Sometimes they accidentally fall victim to Unopinionatii in a cruel act known as “sensationalism”. Occasionally, Obsessionatii gets mixed in with roaming hoards of Bulldogensis and Sceptiensis. In these instances, they can be most effective, sometimes writing books about how, for instance, geology has an answer against anthropogenic climate change. However, it is important here to distinguish them from our next variant:

C. Scientificus Var. Professorisis – The Prominent Professor

The Prominent Professor is a genuine leader in his or her scientific field. However, usually after having written a surprisingly popular book, they have moved into a position of leadership in science communication, typically with the phrase “public understanding of science” associated with them. They typically have huge masses of seething fans, as well as a notable number of “antis”. Their opponents (who often have Sceptiensis in their mix) can be quite vocal, often labeling them as “strident” or at least labelling them as patsies to the media. They try to avoid Unopinionatii for reasons of professional integrity.

C. Scientificus Var. Polymathicus – The Profligate Writer

Sometimes a scientist, sometimes a journalist; Polymathicus writes features and blogs and books like they have six hands and an army of assistants. Sometimes they actually do have an army of assistants (probably only two hands). Who knows? Their products are easy to read and they really do reach a broad church. Most of the other variants are simply jealous of these types because Polymathicus have always done what the others always wanted to do – speak and write about interesting stuff. Whilst they sometimes sensationalize the science, they always offer a guiding argument, which distinguishes them from Unopinionatii.

There are probably others. Any thoughts?

I don’t know which I am or which I want to be. I suspect that I have grandiose visions of Polymathicus or Professorisis. I may have to settle for the debated taxonomic classification of Var. Studentiasis – who writes blogs about blogs and blogs about science and continually studies at uni and generally would kill to join one of the other variants.

There are a few dramatic climate-change related videos going round at the moment, frequently going after the shock factor. Whilst the shock factor is not always effective, this one below I think is very good, because it has a cognitive component – linking polar bears with your behaviour. No longer are they stuck on a melting iceberg, and this delivers a nice little way of thinking about your carbon footprint:

A rough version of a talk I’m doing at uni. Thought I’d try out recording it. Thoughts?

Thanks to WEIT:

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