Maurizio – Omnologos

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Surefire way to avoid all risks

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According to the World Health Organization, mobile (cell) phones “may cause cancer”. However, there’s no established link. Still, it could be a possibility. It could also not be.

Therefore a bunch of experts have decided to warn the public with the non-news. Maybe that’s the “ethical” thing to do.

But if that’s true, then we should warn the public about a far more certain risk. You see, it can be easily established that the one thing in common among people that die, is that they were alive in the first place.

Armed with this incredible revelation, the WHO experts will soon recommend us all not to be born at all.

Written by omnologos

2011/Jun/02 at 07:57:21

Posted in Science, Skepticism

Project Icarus: Aiming for the Stars – podcast by Maurizio Morabito

leave a comment » is hosting today 24 March 2011 my third podcast (with transcript): “Project Icarus: Aiming for the Stars” with guest Kelvin Long of Icarus Interstellar.Project Icarus: Aiming for the Stars – podcast by Maurizio Morabito

Written by omnologos

2011/Mar/24 at 17:29:03

Why Omnologos

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Omnologos defines my take on knowledge, the universe and, yes, everything. From Howard Bloom‘s Omnology Manifesto:

We are blessed with a richness of specializations, but cursed with a paucity of panoptic disciplines – categories of knowledge that concentrate on seeing the pattern that emerges when one views all the sciences at once.

Hence we need a field dedicated to the panoramic, an academic base for the promiscuously curious, a discipline whose mandate is best summed up in a paraphrase of the poet Andrew Marvel: “Let us roll all our strength and all Our knowledge up into one ball, And tear our visions with rough strife Through the iron gates of life.

Omnology is a science, but one dedicated to the biggest picture conceivable by the minds of its practitioners. Omnology will use every conceptual tool available-and some not yet invented but inventible-to leapfrog over disciplinary barriers, stitching together the patchwork quilt of science and all the rest that humans can yet know.

If one omnologist is able to perceive the relationship between pop songs, ancient Egyptian graffiti, Shirley MacLaine’s mysticism, neurobiology, and the origins of the cosmos, so be it. If another uses mathematics to probe traffic patterns, the behavior of insect colonies, and the manner in which galaxies cluster in swarms, wonderful.

And if another uses introspection to uncover hidden passions and relate them to research in chemistry, anthropology, psychology, history, and the arts, she, too, has a treasured place on the wild frontiers of scientific truth-the terra incognita at the heartland of omnology.

Let me close with the words of yet another poet, William Blake, on the ultimate goal of omnology: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour“.

Purists might object to the term’s mixed etimology, but alas Cosmology and Ecumenology were already taken.

Written by omnologos

2011/Jan/23 at 05:57:48

Posted in Omnologos, Omnology, Science

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How to Easily Fix Peer-review

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(comment originally posted at “The Predatory Gastropod“)

Here’s how to easily-fix peer review. Distribute via the web everything that the authors want to publish, alongside the reviewers’ comments. Clearly mark what has been approved by the reviewers (eg print on paper only what the Editors indicate as worthwhile…but that’s what’s happening anyway, as articles approved by reviewers may still be discarded by Editors).

It’s caveat emptor and all that.

I would keep out of “scientific” distribution only the most egregious nonsense, such as papers arguing about the Moon being made of green cheese. Everything else has to have the opportunity to see the light of the day in a commented manner, and if people start publishing flawed result after flawed result, well, their reputation will crash faster than a PhD graduate’s making fraudulent claims in peer-reviewed articles.

Likewise for reviewers’ reputation. This will also stop the nonsense of reputable scientists wasting time by trying to stab each other in the back in order to prevent “competitors” from being able to claim to have been peer-reviewed.

I do hope we are at a threshold similar to when the “one” Church discovered it didn’t have the “monopoly of the Truth”. Despite what some people thought at the time, having a plurality of Christian denominations hasn’t meant the demise of Christianity, to the contrary, it has helped improve the lot. Likewise, publishing scientific papers that aren’t fully peer-approved won’t mean the demise of Science, it will likely help make findings and theories stronger.

Written by omnologos

2010/Dec/13 at 10:08:50

Posted in Science

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What Attenborough Won’t Say

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New season, new David Attenborough amazing and captivating nature 2-documentary TV production for the BBC: “First life“, about going “back in time to the roots of the tree of life, in search of the very first animals” (for plants and bacteria, that’s a very unpopular definition of “first life”).

Among the vast amount of information that is presented to millions in ways that are pleasing to the eye, however, there is a fundamental detail that has gone missing, and I couldn’t find even in the accompanying book: and that is the true story of how we have come to known about the “first life” that is the focus of the documentaries.

Sure, viewers are made aware that it all pivots around Australia, where “First Life” spends a great deal of time in search of the Ediacarans. As Attenborough himself told an Adelaide newspaper a year ago:

Amongst palaeontologists it’s a very famous site, a very important site. That’s why we’re going… because this is a crucial episode in the history of life.

The Flinders Range of South Australia is in fact called “one of the world capitals of Ediacara“. And “First Life” does mention the importance of a local scientist called Reginald “Reg” Sprigg, as the one that discovered the fossils but had a hard time in convincng anybody else of their importance.

Yet there’s much more to that and it’s not difficult to find. And it’s a true-life story dramatic enough to make one wonder why did Attenborough steer away from it.

By the way…Bill Bryson’s “Short History of Nearly Everything” mentions Sprigg’s tribulations too, at pages 320-321: having found definitive evidence about complex organisms from a period “at least a hundred million years” before what was at the time believed to be their starting point in the Cambrian, n 1946 Sprigg “submitted a paper to Nature, but it was turned down“. He then proceeded to “fail to find a favor” with the head of Australia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science” and to pretty much everybody at the 1948 London’s International Geological Congress.

In Bryson’s telling, things got rosy for Sprigg’s discovery only from 1957 onwards. That’s right, but once again that’s not the whole story either.

The whole story, in fact, starts in 1868 (I have blogged about it here, with thanks to BBC’s In Our Time for the inspiration). The idea that scientists believed nothing larger than bacteria before the “Cambrian explosion” is still being used to nag poor Darwin, of all people the one more at pains in understanding why nobody could find complex lifeforms before the Cambrian geological strata.

If only Darwin had heard about Aspidelia Terranovica!!

The first Ediacaran fossils discovered were the disc-shaped Aspidella terranovica, in 1868.

At least one scientist understood they were fossils, as early as 1872 (note how others had been blinded by…the established consensus!!):

However, since they lay below the “Primordial Strata”, the Cambrian strata that were then thought to contain the very first signs of life, it took four years for anybody to dare propose they could be fossils.

Alas, consensus won the day, and buried the fossils into the forgetfulness of history:

Elkanah Billings’ proposal (see here) was dismissed by his peers […] the one-sided debate soon fell into obscurity.

Six decades on, more pre-Cambrian stuff is found. Guess how it all ends:

In 1933, Georg Gürich discovered specimens in Namibia, but the firm belief that life originated in the Cambrian led to them being assigned to the Cambrian Period, and no link to Aspidella was made.

Thirteen more years pass, and it’s finally time to look at a strong-willed Australian paleontologist, called…Reg Sprigg. Consensus still (barely) wins, although against the first signs of a breakdown:

In 1946, Reg Sprigg noticed “jellyfishes” in the Ediacara Hills of Australia’s Flinders Ranges but these rocks were believed to be Early Cambrian, so while the discovery sparked some interest, little serious attention was garnered.

As already said, Nature proceeded to reject Sprigg’s letter, and Sprigg switched to the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. The partner of Sprigg’s son is his biographer and has some interesting comments about that:

If you look at them now I find it very hard [to think] that anybody could doubt them: they are about the size of the palm of your hand and you can quite clearly see they are circular, they look as you’d expect a jellyfish to look if it had dried out, or some kind of worm or something. But back then, yeah, he wrote a paper and submitted it to Nature, which is one of the most prestigious journals in the world, and they rejected it, they didn’t believe either in what he’d found. And it was about another 10 years before some amateur naturalists went back to Reg’s site and found some more specimens, different ones again, and took them again to the museum. And by then the museum was a little bit more interested and they organised their own expedition and brought back two truckloads of material and from then, the momentum grew.

And here’s how the story ends, and the dogma, with the involvement of an already well-respected scientist called Martin Glaessner and yet more evidence:

It was not until the British discovery of the iconic Charnia in 1957 that the pre-Cambrian was seriously considered as containing life. This frond-shaped fossil was found in England’s Charnwood Forest, and due to the detailed geologic mapping of the British Geological Survey there was no doubt that these fossils sat in Precambrian rocks. Palæontologist Martin Glaessner finally made the connection between this and the earlier finds, and with a combination of improved dating of existing specimens and an injection of vigour into the search, many more instances were recognised.

Needless to say, Nature published Glaessner’s letter. So much for “peer review”.

There we are then, with at least 3 scientists either wholly disregarded or actively isolated by the consensus/dogma crowd, a few rejected scientific papers, and a scientific consensus/dogma winning for decades despite being based on a rather odd idea.

The topic of a new history-based BBC drama, with shamed faces at Macmillan Publishers Ltd? Or the inspiration of a new David Attenborough documentary about how consensus-fixated scientists have been ruining science for centuries?

Sadly, I doubt it.

Written by omnologos

2010/Nov/14 at 20:00:25

New Logical Fallacy: ‘Argument Ad Providentiam’

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Only the most careful readers of my quasi-live blogging about President Vaclav Klaus’s GWPF Inaugural Annual Lecture in London on Oct 19 will have noticed a quick remark I wrote, inspired by what Pres. Klaus was saying at the moment: argument ad providentiam.

That’s a concept I have mentioned sometimes in the past in some part of the web, not under that name of course. Very briefly, it goes like this: philosophically speaking, an interpretation of the world is fallacious when it implies the existence of divine, or divine-like intervention.

And so for example, AGW is logically fallacious as it has providential undertones.

Why? Because for (catastrophic) AGW to be happening right now, several amazing coincidences must have recently happened:

  1. Relatively widespread availability of computer power just enough strong to simulate the right climate projections on a multi-decadal scale
  2. Climate science developed just beyond the minimal level needed to understand how to simulate the right climate projections on a decadal scale
  3. Novel statistical approaches devised just in time, and correct from the get-go, for Mann’s Hockey Stick to emerge from the jumble of dendro- and other proxy data
  4. Governmental willingness to co-operate together all over the world (after the end of the Cold War) just in time for a worldwide problem like AGW to happen
  5. AGW recognized as an issue just as heavily-populated places such as India and China start getting their living standards on track to reach the Western world’s

I am sure one could continue a lot longer.

So in a sense, belief in AGW implies belief in a highly-improbable series of lucky discoveries and developments to happen just at the right time. That is called “Providence” and it is strong evidence for the existence of a Divine Being. But since such “evidence” is a contradiction in terms, then catastrophic AGW to be happening right now, that’s a logical impossibility.

Written by omnologos

2010/Oct/20 at 10:19:07

Posted in Climate Change, Religion, Science

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Help Save Five Hundred Years Of Weather Observations

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Collegio Romano in the 19th Century

Collegio Romano in the 19th Century

The prestigious collection of hundreds of years of weather observations, historical books and meteorological instruments from the Collegio Romano in Rome is at risk of being dispersed for good. Please sign the appeal to prevent such a disaster: (in the signature section: “Nome”=First name; “Cognome”=Family name; “richiesto”=Mandatory field)


A few days ago I have received the following letter via e-mail (translated and adapted in English from the original in Italian):

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I am forwarding the attached letter – press release by the staff at the Research Unit for Applied Meteorology and Climatology in Agriculture (in Italian: CRA-CMA), the direct descendant of the first Italian National Weather Station inaugurated in 1876 and headquartered at the Collegio Romano from 1879 (in an area previously occupied by the Meteorological Observatory built in 1782 by Abbot Giuseppe Calandrelli (the first to apply gravitational theory to cometary atmospheres)). I hope that those who have taken this decision will go back on it, at least reconsider this meteorological site, by declaring its historical importance for Italian meteorology. That would mean leaving untouched its Library, Historical Archives and the Museum of Ancient Meteorological and Seismographic Instruments, as well as the historic Calandrelli Observatory. The Library is at present unique in Italy, after the closure, in the 1990s, of the Air Force Weather Service Library.

Calandrelli Observatory

Calandrelli Observatory

The accompanying “press release” says the threatened closure is due to forced savings at the CRA, even if those same savings are pretty much doubtful (premises are free of rent, and the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has pledged to pay all CRA-CMA costs).

Signatures against the disappearance of the historical collections of CRA-CMA are being collected since Oct 2, but the hoped-for 5,000-signatory target is still far away. There is also a Facebook group (in Italian) where to show one’s support.

More details about CRA-CMA from the “press release”: the library, known as “Central Italian Meteorological Library”, boasts more than 40,000 rare and valuable Italian and foreign texts of meteorology and geophysics, some dating back to the 1500s; the area has played host to famous scientists who have made the history of meteorology (Galileo Galilei, Father Angelo Secchi, Enrico Fermi). There is also a collection of highly-valued rare and prestigious historical seismographic and meteorological instruments.

CRA-CMA still manages a network of weather stations located throughout the country. The historical archive of weather data is of unique importance (with six million data points for each observed weather variable) and is one of the few in the world with multi-centennial meteorological and climate data series. “Such data are key for the undertaking of climate studies aimed at land use, agrometeorology, renewable energy sources and energy saving. “To this day, CRA-CMA’s Rome Meteorological Observatory’s unbroken series of centuries of weather reporting remains of paramount importance for the study of climate changes in the city“.

As it happens, CRA-CMA’s Curator Dr Franca Mangianti is no rabid AGWer (time will tell if that’s got anything to do with the threatened closure):

Q: You take care of more than a century of continuous weather observations, recorded year after year in the “bulletins”. What can you tell us about climate change? Are we really going towards a catastrophe?

A: Actually, regarding the “global warming” issues, our data tell us that the temperature in Rome has increased 0.8C during a hundred years, i.e. less than a degree. That’s very little really. Historically Earth has seen long cold and warm periods (we are talking about years and sometimes centuries). Over the past twenty years, for example, we have experienced a warmer period and it is therefore quite normal that temperatures have slightly increased. This does not mean that temperatures will go up forever. Indeed, it is very likely that in a few years they will start going down again. Unfortunately a kind of excessive alarmism bases itself on the application of mathematical models to meteorological data, without including a proper analysis of the past. About rainfall, however, the last century has certainly seen a decrease. In Rome, it rains now far less than in the past and this better be considered before embarking into exaggerated alarms, for example, about future floods of the river Tiber. With rains like we get nowadays, and the protections built on Garibaldi’s inspiration, you can be sure that the Tiber in Rome will not overflow again.

An interesting article among the scientific literature that has come out of CRA-CMA:

M. Colacino and A. Lavagnini, Evidence of the urban heat island in Rome by climatological analyses, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Volume 31, Numbers 1-2, 87-97, DOI: 10.1007/BF02311344

The analysis of air temperature data covering a period of 12 years (1964-1975) in a meteorological station network situated in the low Tiber Valley, shows clearly the effect of the heat urban island due to the city of Rome. This effect occurs with different intensity according to the seasons and to minimum and maximum temperatures.

And lest anybody thinks Exxon and the Koch brothers have been busy taking over a meteorological station in Rome:

Andrea Toreti and Franco Desiato, Changes in temperature extremes over Italy in the last 44 years, International Journal of Climatology, Volume 28, Issue 6, pages 733–745, May 2008, DOI: 10.1002/joc.1576

Changes in temperature extremes over Italy from 1961 to 2004 were evaluated on the basis of minimum and maximum temperatures measured by 49 synoptic stations uniformly distributed over the country. A set of extreme temperature indices of the Commission for Climatology/Climate Variability and Predictability (CCl/CLIVAR) Working Group on Climate Change Detection was calculated and statistically analysed in order to detect the presence of trends and quantify the variations of the indices for different time periods. Most of the indices, averaged over all stations, show a cooling trend until the end of the 1970s followed by a more pronounced warming trend in the last 25 years. The net variation of the indices reflects an increase in the extremes of the temperature distribution. Among the most significant results, an average increase of 12.3 summer days and 12.4 tropical nights in the overall 44 years are estimated. No significant differences between northern, central and southern Italy are found for most indices, indicating that the trends originate from large-scale climate features; however, the largest increase of tropical nights is observed at coastal stations. Copyright © 2007 Royal Meteorological Society

Please do sign, and ask people to sign, the online petition to save CRA-CMA.

Part of the Library at Collegio Romano

Part of the Library at Collegio Romano

Written by omnologos

2010/Oct/05 at 11:29:32

Posted in Climate Change, Science

Tagged with ,

Fear And Timidity No Friends Of Science

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(comment posted to Jonathan Wolff’s “The journals are full of great studies, but can we believe the statistics?“, The Guardian, May 4 2010)

There are two big issues with Mr Wolff’s article.

(1) The “fear of looking foolish” seems a particularly childish approach to Science.

Insofar as one is able to argue the reasons for a particular choice in an “unsettled” scientific field, there is of course no foolishness to speak of.

In fact, looking at this the other way around, the fact that one was “very right” once, means nothing about being right in the future. Otherwise, all we would have to do would be to listen to former Nobel Prize winners.

Sadly, after the trip to Stockholm very few of them are capable of achieving anything remotely important as their acclaimed feat.

(2) There is little hope for Science really, if the goal is to hold on until an orthodoxy develops, and then sheepishly hang on to that.

We can’t simply evolve into separate tribes showing no critical thinking of what happens in other fields. And orthodoxies are meant to crumble, otherwise it is not “Science”. By the time they become widespread enough for the likes of Wolff to take them as “Truth”, they will likely be ripe for destruction by the next generation of scientists.

Come to think, a certain guy called Galileo would have failed on the Wolff strategy left, right and centre. Luckily he wasn’t afraid, and didn’t look the other way.

Written by omnologos

2010/May/05 at 00:27:43

Scientific Journalism Is Moribund, Dead, Perhaps Alive

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(thanks to Bill Clement for inspiring the gist of this blog)

In hindsight, it should have been clear long ago. It wasn’t going to be pretty, nor it could have been. On one side, journalists with the vaguest notions of the scientific method, mostly convinced that science is what a scientist does (need to remember Piero Manzoni, anybody?).

On the other side, a number of determined bloggers “that have made themselves experts in general climate science (in the words of Roger Harrabin), “ordinary people [who] can say [to scientists] ‘look, you said this, you said that, the two don’t match, explain yourself’” (in the words of Richard North).

Of course, it was going to be carnage. The journalists would not and could not survive the confrontation by any stretch of imagination. And so they didn’t. As noted by Matt Ridley in The Spectator:

It was not Private Eye, or the BBC or the News of the World, but a retired electrical engineer in Northampton, David Holland, whose freedom-of-information requests caused the Climategate scientists to break the law, according to the Information Commissioner. By contrast, it has so far attracted little attention that the leaked emails of Climategate include messages from reporters obsequiously seeking ammunition against the sceptics. Other emails have shown reporters meekly changing headlines to suit green activists, or being threatened with ostracism for even reporting the existence of a sceptical angle

As far as the average skeptical blogger is concerned, scientific journalism in matters of climate should be considered dying if not dead, only a place where to find nice but wholly un-necessary confirmation of one’s doubts. Or should it?

The underlying problem is suggested by Roger Harrabin in the same radio debate mentioned above:

What’s been difficult for people reporting mainstream debate in the past has been that what we would call our trusted sources of science, people like the Royal Society and the various other corollary bodies in different countries, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set up to be the touchstone of probity on this issue, they have been the providers of news and the people who have been doubting these news have generally speaking not been academics, I am on the trawl for academics at the moment in British universities there are hardly any and there have been doubters from other quarters and it’s been very difficult for us to tell what are the credentials when all these establishment voices are lined up on one side, how can we put them against a blogger on the other side that might happen to be a blogger who has for the past 15 years spent 100 hundred hours on the Internet reading climate science and has a good knowledge but we don’t know how to test this

Note the choice of words…”our trusted sources of science“, “the providers of news“…these are the words of somebody with the mindset of being an information broker between “the scientists” and “the general public”. It is a way of seeing “scientific journalism” as some kind of translation service, from the high-brow vocabulary of the scientists to the simpleton’s expressions even the most empty-headed Joe Public might understand.

Obviously, such a mindset leaves no space at all to a critical analysis of what the scientists say: because “how can we put them against a blogger [whose knowledge] we don’t know how to test“. Harrabin might be more right on this than he is ever likely to wish: after all, as commented by Bill:

The Press, too, have few within their ranks with a genuine science background. The result – regurgitation (syndication) of the few articles written

Mind you, journalists might not see that as an issue. It all depends on what “journalism” is meant to be. Here’s how award-winning science writer Ed Yong recommends scientists to approach interviews:

[The journalists’] job is not to grill you with hard questions – it’s to find The Story and get you to say something interesting. Your job, interestingly enough, is not to answer their questions to the letter, but to get your message across and to do so in an interesting way. Note the compatibility between these two goals.

The easiest way to mutually assured victory is to get your message across in a way that’s interesting enough that you practically hand them The Story on a plate. Journalism is a game but it’s not a zero-sum one. You and the journalist are not vicious gladiatorial opponents; you are engaging in a collaborative venture and treating it as such will help you get more out of it.

The (skeptical) bloggers write about their quest for Truth. The journalists write instead about…”The Story“. Has “The Story” got any relationship with Truth? Who knows, and does anybody care? (hey…some editors go all the way and get rid of reporters trying to find out what the Truth is…).

Just as “The Story” on climate was the overwhelming consensus in 2009, it is now the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating the IPCC documents have been biased in a miriad of ways towards reporting exactly what the paymasters/Governments wanted them to report.

Kudos to all journalists following the new “Story” but don’t expect their articles to become the new WUWT or EU Referendum. They can not: check the somehow inadvertently comical situation described by Ivan Oranski, executive editor of Reuters Health, on how to choose one’s sources. It looks like Mr Oranski has been around the block quite a few times, so to speak. He even recommends “to always read papers you’re reporting on, instead of relying solely on press releases” (no sh*t!). But not even once Mr Oranski dares thinking he could use himself, his ongoing knowledge of the topic, his ability to cross-reference findings throughout the mountains of scientific papers he has read.

The above suggests “scientific journalism” is still a long, long way from getting in the same league as, say, political journalistic analysis of internal or foreign affairs, where a healthy skepticism of politicians’ statements is nowadays a matter of course. One suspects, too many “scientific journalists” haven’t had their Cronkite moment as yet. But there is hope. Here’s an example of a scientific journalist actually using his brains, however briefly (Nicholas Wade, “Ancient Man in Greenland Has Genome Decoded“, The New York Times Feb 10, 2010):

Perhaps reflecting the so far somewhat limited reach of personal genomics, the researchers note that the ancient Greenlander was at risk for baldness, a surprising assessment given that all that remains of him is his hair

Ed Yong seems also more open than most to the new challenges of the present:

There is rampant churnalism, a dearth of fact-checking, misguided attempts at balance at the cost of accuracy. On the other hand, there is plenty of work from non-traditional sources that does espouse these values, including the writings of many freelance science writers and working scientists (and many of the so-called elements of journalism are elements of good scientific practice too).

If you play out this taxonomic game, you quickly see that many people who ostensibly work in science journalism produce work that is nothing of the sort. Likewise, amateurs who wouldn’t classify themselves as science journalists, actually ought to count.

Journalists are even waking up to the extraordinary amount of news they can produce from “inspirations” found in blogs and other forms of online social media. One interesting lead fresh out of the AAAS 2010 meeting: some scientists still don’t get it (will they ever), others understand they need new ways of thinking in order to explain themselves to the outside world.

And of course there is one reliable anchor that hasn’t been much affected by all of this: the minute group of scientific journalists that have actually been scientists themselves, know how scientific publications work, and can read and critique a scientific article on their own, if need be. I am talking about people like journalism-award-winning academic David Whitehouse.

No prize to guess what Dr Whitehouse thinks of climate alarmism.

(many thanks to @TheGreenDemon and @ThisIsTrue for sharing some of the links above)

A Wonderful Place To Die

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It is called “Mars to Stay” and I hope it will involve a 85-year-yound Italian in 2052 going to Heaven but first stopping for around 30 years on the Red Planet. For the final resting place I select this:

Scalloped sand dunes in the southern hemisphere of Mars

Scalloped sand dunes in the southern hemisphere of Mars

Written by omnologos

2010/Feb/06 at 23:09:17

(Legally) Bombing The Moon

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Still not much out of the LCROSS team, victims of “HYPErspace” to say the least. Let’s entertain ourselves in the intervening time with a article “Bombing the Moon“. And for those in a hurry:

The LCROSS mission is an important and expensive scientific experiment. Nonetheless, comments on Web sites such as Scientific American and Nature indicate that quite a few people thought the whole venture to be some sort of outer-space vandalism. Some even wondered whether NASA might have acted illegally or violated an international law or treaty by setting out to “bomb the Moon.”

The answer is no. But while many might be surprised–dismayed, even–to hear that there is such a thing as “space law,” there are treaties governing activities in outer space, including the Moon.

Written by omnologos

2009/Oct/13 at 21:50:11

Is This The Silliest Idea Ever To Grace The Royal Society?

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They have an entire Universe to display, and still they came up with a selection of portraits…of themselves??

Exhibition: Portraits of Astronomers
Thursday 1 to Friday 30 October 2009
Event Type:
Location: Marble Hall, The Royal Society

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, photographer Lucinda Douglas Menzies has created a series of portraits of contemporary British astronomers. Each photograph is accompanied by the astronomer’s explanation of what led him or her to enter the field, giving a fascinating insight into the inspiration behind their great achievements.

A selection of the portraits will be on display at the Royal Society’s building during the month of October. The exhibition is open to the public, but we ask you to register in advance of your visit by contacting the Royal Society Library on 020 7451 2606 or

Written by omnologos

2009/Sep/07 at 22:03:00

The Tragedy Of The Anti-Space Travel Space Scientist

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One can only feel sad upon reading Giovanni F Bignami’s op-ed piece about the race to the Moon and what choices to take for the future (“Once in a Blue Moon “, IHT, 18-19 July 2009). Prof Bignami’s argument appears to be about treating space-faring as a purely novelty product, like a fairly curious but ultimately useless item on a late-night TV shopping channel. Something you may be convinced to buy, but just the once.

And even if we have spent less than a week in total time exploring a few square miles of a place as big as the former Soviet Union, Prof Bignami tries to seriously argue that there is no “compelling reason” to go back to the Moon. And that we should embark on the enormous effort to reach Mars instead, presumably for a couple of trips before getting bored with travelling millions of kilometers too.

Here’s a “compelling reason” then: as it is well known, one needs a lot less fuel to travel to Mars from the Moon, than from Earth. Most of the launch cost lies in getting from our planet to low Earth orbit: beyond that, the whole planetary system is within relatively easy reach.

Prof Bignami remarks also that “the notion of mining on the moon would also [be] environmentally offensive“. I for one do not understand how will humans ever be able to “environmentally offend” a surface pummeled for billions of years by asteroids of all sizes, by a perfectly unhindered solar wind, and by cosmic radiations of all sorts. That is the Lunar surface, made of a type that likely covers several billion square kilometers on hundreds of natural satellites in our Solar System alone.

Paradoxically, the astronomical/astronautical community has been unable to support its own cause since the launch of the Sputnik. Nobody has gone anywhere because of effective lobbying by planetary geologists or solar scientists.

Bignami’s op-ed appears to be yet another example of how bizarrely brainy arguments about going to Mars vs returning to the Moon have succeeded so far only in keeping the human race in low Earth orbit, literally going around in circles instead of literally reaching for the stars.

Written by omnologos

2009/Jul/19 at 20:01:58

The Great Haddock Revival…

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Too much of a good news, one imagines, so it won’t make mainstream headlines any time soon: “The Great Haddock Revival – In the near-empty seas, one species has surged back to life. Can the others follow?

today, despite the odds, haddock stocks are soaring

Alas, nobody has got much clue about why haddocks are back, or more precisely, why there are even more of them than ever recorded.

The Great Haddock Revival

The Great Haddock Revival

Suggestions on the reasons abound, let’s see what researchers will come up with and more importantly, if any other previously-overfished species becomes a success story as well.

Written by omnologos

2009/Jul/16 at 05:23:50

Science vs. Reality Science

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Bad omens for Science from the Ida’s “missing link” media blitz.

According to discoverer Jørn Hurum, accompanying the scientific paper with books, TV shows, etc

was about “branding” for the museum and his research, which could lead to future investments. “It’s not the movie that will get the money or even the book that will get the big money,” says Hurum, “but it’s the sponsor[s] that then think, ‘Okay, the Natural History Museum in Oslo and maybe even Jørn Hurum are interesting’ that will generate the money.”

What will prevent people from cutting future stories short, and just make up the science in order to generate the money?

Methinks we may have just witnessed the beginning of Reality Science, something that will soon have the same relationship to Science as Reality programmes on TV have to the real world.

Written by omnologos

2009/Jun/09 at 22:25:07

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The Large Hadron Collider Can Destroy Our World Indeed

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The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) currently awaiting to be turned on at CERN in Geneva will not destroy the Earth. But it can destroy our world: by detecting definitive evidence for so-called “dark matter”.

Current cosmology indicates that the total amount of “dark matter” may be five times the amount of “normal” matter. As reported by Freeman Dyson on the New York Review of Books, the LHC is expected to find that “dark matter” is composed of the “supersymmetrical” equivalents of ordinary matter.

If the above is confirmed, it may be the first step towards making the world we experience as vanishing and irrelevant as a ghost in the desert at midday.

For all we know, there is a wholly separate “universe”, a “material world” coexisting with everything we can touch and see, with a lot more mass than ours, and getting by without much interaction with our “material world”, apart from gravity perhaps.

Imagine a “dark matter telescope” showing a completely different sky. Like Nicole Kidman’s character in “The Others”, it will be the revelation that the ghosts, it’s us.

And Plato would be very proud of himself.

Written by omnologos

2009/May/25 at 07:04:07

Drink Sensibly, Especially If You Are Young And Female

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From The Daily Mail

Drinking may be to blame for one in four cases of dementia, doctors have warned.

And women are particularly at risk because they are more susceptible to alcohol’s brainwasting effects, a study found.

The devastating effects of heavy drinking on the brain are too often overlooked but should be given the same priority as lifethreatening liver disease, the researchers said.

Written by omnologos

2009/May/10 at 22:58:46

Climate Change Activism’s Wreck of a Train

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Observationally, they have nothing to show to support their claims of upcoming climate disasters. Scientifically, they got it mixed up and regularly distort what Science is and is not showing. In practice, they are using persuasion tools developed to save pandas and the Hudson river, and those are the wrong ones because Anthropogenic Global Warming is not a species in peril now or a river polluted at the present, but a risk for the end of the century.

No wonder then, Climate Change activists have been fighting a mostly political battle for at least two decades. And the main objective appears time and again to force their solutions upon us, and to stifle all forms of dissent.

In desperation, what else have they got?

Written by omnologos

2008/Nov/27 at 22:55:13

Debating 2.0

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(comment to Brian Dunning‘s “A Non-Debate with a Young Earth Creationist” entry in the new skepticblog blog)

[…] He gave me his 17-page tract […] It was the worst of the tired old arguments so poorly framed that even most Young Earthers don’t try to make them any more: […] Obviously, in Bill’s experience, he knows the scientific answers to all the claims in his document. He’s heard them a hundred times and he’s smart enough to understand them. He simply believes differently. There would be no point in having a conversation with me; he would hear the same answers from me that he’s heard a hundred times before. I’ve heard his claims a hundred times […]

How about asking questions like this one: “what kind of evidence would make you change your mind on transitional fossils?”

Methinks old-style debates are good up to a point, because they inevitably become the talking equivalent of medieval jousting.

Belief-changing challenges may provide the additional information that is otherwise likely to be missed, by the audience and perhaps even by some of the debaters.

For example, the fact that some people argue on pure faith. And if that’s the case, it is easy to show what an oxymoron their position is: out there trying to convince others, even if there is absolutely nothing that will ever make them change their own certainties.

Written by omnologos

2008/Oct/30 at 20:28:02

Antarctica, Beyond Any Imagination

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In this video (got it from the Bad Astronomy blog) a rather clear example of what “Condition 1” is in Antarctica.

It gives the idea of the awfulness of the place, more than the standard definition (“wind speed > 55knots, or visibility less than 30 yards, or wind-chill temperature of -100F”).

Apparently it is forbidden to go anywhere out, under “Condition 1”. It is even forbidden to go rescue anybody.

I guess the penguins just get on with it.

Written by omnologos

2008/Sep/27 at 21:04:33

Posted in Environment, Science

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