Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
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.
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“.
(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.
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.
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:
- Relatively widespread availability of computer power just enough strong to simulate the right climate projections on a multi-decadal scale
- Climate science developed just beyond the minimal level needed to understand how to simulate the right climate projections on a decadal scale
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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: http://www.petizionionline.it/petizione/salviamo-losservatorio-meteorologico-di-roma/2200 (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):
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.
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