Maurizio – Omnologos

Where no subject is left unturned

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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Our Past Is In The Sky

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Far-fetched as it might seem (and be!), we might be literally surrounded by information about the Earth’s, Sun’s, Galaxy’s past. By looking in the right direction with the right instruments, we could even be able to see how things were at different times, even billions of years ago.

By looking where? This idea is based on a little-known characteristics of black holes, namely the large amount of incoming light that is back-scattered, i.e. sent back more or less in the direction it came from. This phenomenon is visible as a halo around the black hole (see picture to the left).

Think then: by looking at a black hole 20 million light years away, we will be getting some light first emitted by our galaxy 40 million years ago, as the photons will have had to travel to the black hole and back. Correcting for the optical properties of the region around the black hole that we see as a halo, we would even be able to get a picture of our galactic surroundings.

Analogously for black holes nearer to us, eg 20,000 light years away, the halo will literally contain pictures of our neighborhood as of 40,000 years ago.

All of the above is unlikely to be easy, still any information in the back-scattered photons will be extremely valuable.

Written by omnologos

2010/Dec/08 at 15:32:23

Ciao Charles. Ti Ho Trovato.

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After more than four years of research, I have finally found the resting place of Charles J Morabito (1919-1945), killed during an escape attempt from the Berga extermination camp, around one month before (some of) his fellow prisoners were liberated.

 

This has been quite an emotional event to say the least.

Written by omnologos

2010/Nov/27 at 23:57:22

Political Views As Of Nov 22, 2010

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Well, it looks like I am a mildly-conservative radical libertarian. How does that translate in the world of now?

  • In the UK: I am mildly sympathetic to the positions expressed by the former trotskyites of Spiked, even if I find them excessively meldrewsque at times. BNP aside, I can’t stand the UKIP,  the only political party whose leaflet I have given back to its startled distributors at my local station, as I find its very existence offensive to a tax-paying foreigner such as myself. As for Lab, Lib/Dem and Tories, well, the jury is still out in the quest of understanding what exactly they different one another from, once they are in power.
  • In Italy: I have voted for both centre-left (Prodi) and centre-right (Berlusconi) coalitions. I have been politically active in both coalitions. Funny thing is, I didn’t have to change my political convictions in order to do that. Right now I am politically active in Berlusconi’s “Popolo della Liberta'” political rassemblement, and can’t see any alternative in the sea of interrupted Italian politicians calling themselves “leaders”.
  • As if things weren’t complex enough, I am also a Roman Catholic and I strongly disagree with the Church’s involvement in politics, or its teachings about public attitudes to sex. That’s hardly the opinion of a potential candidate for the Presidency of the European’s People’s Party.

If anybody finds anybody of similar political beliefs as myself please do send me name and address, as it will be the second member of the Party!

Written by omnologos

2010/Nov/22 at 10:18:46

Posted in Italy, Politics, UK

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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

Genocide As The Losers’ Choice

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I have recently argued that “those who felt there was not enough time to save the world, went on to commit genocide“. Of course that’s not part of an effort to justify anybody or anything, rather a step forward towards recognizing genocidal conditions before the killings happen.

Is genocide a crime for idealistic losers then? Yes it is. Read for example from “Genocide – A Comprehensive Introduction, 2nd ed.” by by Adam Jones, Ph.D., Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers, August 2010 (p. 37):

in his 2006 book The Order of Genocide, political scientist Scott Straus [wrote that] “a dynamic of escalation was critical to the hardliners’ choice of genocide. The more the hardliners felt that they were losing power and the more they felt that their armed enemy was not playing by the rules, the more the hardliners radicalized. [In Rwanda they] chose genocide as an extreme, vengeful, and desperate strategy to win a war that they were losing.”

Straus’ book is on Amazon. Interestingly, at page 155 it reports that among the main reasons why they committed genocide, 47.9% of interviewed Hutus mentioned: Insecurity, war, “kill the Tutsis before they kill the Hutus”.

Actually, there is a clear link between the Shoah, the beginning of Nazi Germany’s defeat and a general initial state of panic from Hitler to all, about lack of time and resources. From Wikipedia:

the German defeat in front of Moscow in November–December led to a sharp change of emphasis. Euphoria was replaced by the prospect of a long war, and also by a realisation that food stocks were not sufficient to feed the entire population of German-occupied Europe.[8] It was at this time the decision to proceed from “evacuation” to extermination was made. Speaking with Himmler and Heydrich on 25 October, Hitler said: “Let no one say to me: we cannot send them into the swamp. Who then cares about our own people? It is good when terror precedes us that we are exterminating the Jews. We are writing history anew, from the racial standpoint.”

The point about insecurity has indeed become a historical trait of modern genocide. Writes Malcolm Bull in the London Review of Books (“Ultimate Choice“, Vol. 28 No. 3 · 9 February 2006, pages 3-6 – it’s the original source that inspired my quote above):

Reasoned defences of most genocides can be constructed on the basis of a conjunction of the just war and social exclusion arguments, for if there is an identifiable social group engaged in total war against you, then it has to be neutralised. The Armenian genocide in 1915 was justified on these grounds, for the Armenians were expected to fight with the Russians in the event of an invasion of Anatolia. Stalin’s classicide was an attempt to deal with counter-revolutionary elements who might have sided with the Whites in the event of a renewed civil war or foreign invasion. A defence of the Holocaust might be constructed along the same lines: the attack on Bolshevism was a just war against an outlaw state ‘driven by slavery and the threat of human sacrifice’; it became a total war in which Jews would probably have taken the Soviet side; their pre-emptive internment was therefore a natural precaution, and their execution an unfortunate necessity at a time of ‘supreme emergency’ when the Red Army threatened the Fatherland. If you accept the just war and social exclusion arguments, then these genocides can only be criticised on the basis that they relied on shaky political analysis. They were, in effect, misjudgments, failures of statesmanship, perhaps.

And

Genocides do not occur in stable, peaceful environments, but at moments of crisis when the state is in danger. So societies only go over the brink when the perpetrators of the genocide are radicalised by war.

Analogously, when the Center on Law & Globalization extracted from the work of historial Mark Levene “Nine Common Features” of genocides. here’s what they chose as feature #3:

3. The government or regime believed it was in extreme danger and that crisis was looming,

Finally, in “State Power and Genocidal Intent: On the Uses of Genocide in the Twentieth Century” (part of “Studies in comparative genocide“, edited by Levon Chorbajian, George Shirinian, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), Roger W Smith
makes an explicit link between trying to make the world a better place, and genocide (p. 8):

contemporary ideology [of genocide]…aims at transforming society. With us the attempt has been to eradicate whole races, classes and ethnic groups…in order to produce a brave new world free of offensive human material…what Camus called a ‘metaphysical revolt’ against the very conditions of human existence: plurality, mortality, finitude and spontaneity. It is , as it were, an attempt to re-establish the Creation, providing for an order, justice and humanity that are thought to be lacking…often motivated by a profound desire to eliminate all that it perceives as being impure. […] How else explain the constant references in Nazism to purification and the Cambodian references to the cleansing of the people?

And so to go back to the original point…is genocide analysis at all applicable to people so desperate about human-induced climate change / global warming, they might get tempted into exploding a little more than fictional children and football players? Yes, in more than one respect. Unfortunately so.

Written by omnologos

2010/Oct/21 at 10:19:28

Posted in Democracy, Politics

Tagged with

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

Tagged with ,

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: 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):

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 ,

Space Sociology: 10 Out Of 10 For Courage, Minus 1million For Pessimism

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The events at the British Interplanetary Society headquarters in London are often very interesting, at times packed and seldom soporous: but I cannot recall of any, where the speakers would more or less consciously risk to stir a hostile crowd.

That’s what happened on the evening of Sep 8, when sociologists Peter Dickens and James Ormrod’s presentationHow Should we Humanise Outer Space?” turned into an open confrontation with shall I say quite sceptical people in attendance (one of them, myself). It might have been the unwise choice of mixing descriptive (“how things are”) and applied (“how things ought to be”) sociology, in front of an audience unfamiliar with that science. Or it might have been their obvious and declared socialistic worldview, with everything seen as a zero-sum game based on exploitation (opportunity gains? not even remotely considered; asteroid mining? no, thanks, otherwise people will not stop consuming; and don’t even think of going to orbit, your moment of fun will be based on the work of thousands of people none of whom will ever get the chance of going to orbit).

Or it might have been the speakers’ unrelenting pessimism about technology advances, associating for example plutonium for space-based RTGs to lung cancers on Earth and in general declaring that science and technology create more problems than they solve.

Another hypothesis: underlying it all, we have just witnessed that supreme act of courage, people in a BIS room speaking of manned spaceflight as “escapism”.

At the end it was like hearing the Pope tell teenagers that sex is the problem so let’s have less of it for a change. Is capitalism bad, and should social equality be our objective? Shall we try make that happen in space, and through the use of space-based resources? Those questions sound, and are, much more political than scientific. Perhaps the real questions should be, is sociology victim of its own hubris…is it creating more problems than it solves?

Written by omnologos

2010/Sep/10 at 07:04:18

Next Stop, Pyongyang (The New York Times vs FOI)

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to Letters IHT
date Wed, Jul 14, 2010 at 2:21 PM

Dear Editors,

Is climate change a threat large enough to make you undermine the very foundations of your trade? That’s the most important question upon observing your cavalier attitude to Freedom of Information (FOI) in the editorial titled “A Climate Change Corrective” (printed on the IHT on 14 Jul 2010), regarding the alledgedly “manufactured controversy” also known as Climategate.

Forget science, and forget politics for a moment: Climategate, as established by every official British investigation about it, has shown a deliberate, concerted attempt at circumventing the letter and the spirit of the local FOI Act. In more than one circumstance, the Information Commissioner’s Office has found that FOI requests were not dealt “as they should have been under the legislation“. Lord Oxburgh’s and Sir Muir Russell’s reports say as much too, just like the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s.

A wide range of commentators of all scientific and political stances have remarked this, and the general consensus is that from now on science itself will have to change its practice, becoming more transparent and open especially to knowledgeable members of the public. We are talking FOI, after all, an extension to the freedom of speech, a right that people including journalists, and The New York Times, have successfully fought for during the past half-century.

It’s only because of the statute of limitations that there has been no prosecution in the UK regarding the attacks on FOI revealed by Climategate. And what do you have to say about that instead? Absolutely nothing, apart from an absurdly understated remark about “a timid reluctance to share data“.

And so you have sacrificed the right to FOI in an attempt to get “firm action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases“. Good for you. And good for Governments the world over: they will surely rejoice upon hearing that the most influential and authoritative global and US newspaper does not care about FOI. Why, all they have to do is claim “a timid reluctance” to open up their files: and all you will be able to print, will be regurgitated propaganda and half-truths.

I have heard the hamburgers are good, in Pyongyang.

saluti/regards
maurizio morabito
journalist and blogger, “The Unbearable Nakedness of Climate Change

Written by omnologos

2010/Jul/15 at 13:31:19

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

Plenty Of Questions About Sahil’s Kidnapping

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There is very little that makes sense in Sahil Saeed’s kidnapping. The fact that he has been well treated and freed relatively quickly points towards one or more family friends or acquaintances as having been involved, up to a point obviously (otherwise the boy would have risked recognizing them).

The amount paid for a ransom is simply too little to justify a complex operation involving people in Pakistan and Spain, with some of them traveling to Paris. If the five arrested so far were all involved, plus another five or so in Pakistan including one person to take care of the boy, one family friend or acquaintance, plus three or more armed kidnappers,  we reach a total of 10 people, all risking giant jail sentences for £11,000 each.

For the same reason one can discount the possibility of some of the kidnappers being the same people arrested in France and Spain…at levels like those outlined above, even a £500 airline ticket becomes too heavy a cost, not to mention the Barcelona apartment.

If I were to let my imagination run wild, I would think of some kind of business vendetta against Sahil’s father. Let’s see how things evolve…

Written by omnologos

2010/Mar/18 at 23:18:38

Posted in UK

Tagged with

International Space Station Transiting Between Alnitak And Alnilam In Orion Tonight

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This is the International Space Station transiting on March 7 around 7pm between Alnitak (to the left) and Alnilam (to the right) in Orion up in the London skies

ISS in Orion

ISS in Orion

Amazingly, it is possible to take pictures like this with a hand-held Nikon costing far less than £100.

Written by omnologos

2010/Mar/07 at 19:24:57

Posted in Space

Tagged with

Vote Your Favorite Planet

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Added bonus of this PBS/Nova interactive website is the clarifying that Pluto is not the only “dwarf” planet…

Written by omnologos

2010/Mar/01 at 10:32:18

Posted in Astronomy, Pluto

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

Eighty Million Dead, Two Idiots

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What if…World War II started because of a giant miscalculation on Hitler’s (and von Ribbentrop’s) side? After all, it would perfectly fit with the incredible mess they made out of managing the conquered territories:

When I entered the next room Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler’s desk, and then slowly translated the British Government’s ultimatum. When I finished, there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him. He was not at a loss, as was afterwards stated, nor did he rage as others allege. He sat completely silent and unmoving. After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. ‘What now?’ asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England’s probable reaction. Ribbentrop answered quietly: ‘I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour.

Written by omnologos

2010/Feb/03 at 23:51:13

Posted in History, War

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Lost Moon…Is Obama’s The Least Imaginative Administration Ever?

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So it’s been confirmed: President Obama is keen on ending all American efforts to go back to the Moon. This doesn’t sound like a particularly inspired or forward-thinking move. I know that Buzz Aldrin as weighed in saying “this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth“; the Planetary Society has said “We’ll develop the technology to explore Deep Space, reaching new milestones in space and accomplishing new things here on Earth“; and the Bad Astronomer has commented “this may very well save NASA and our future manned exploration capabilities, if this is all done correctly“.

Still, the end result would be NASA canceling yet another major launch system initiative; no hope to go back to the Moon in the foreseeable future; vague promises of “future heavy-lift rocket systems…potentially taking us farther and faster into space” that sound quite empty as missing of any clear destination in time and space.

Phil Plait admitted as much in a tweet: “I think we sorta agree there, @unclebobmartin. There’s no real plan now. I’m hoping that by doing this, NASA can concentrate on big plans
========

Now, if you add on top of that some other facts about the USA:

  • still shipping weapons to Taiwan, as always
  • sending troops to Afghanistan, as usual
  • have no plans to leave Iraq for good in the foreseeable future, as always
  • are still no way near a non-confrontational approach to Iran, as usual
  • have shown no idea of any sort to bring the Israelo-Palestinian conflict anywhere, as always
  • have tried to score low-level political points with a populist approach to banking management, as usual….

…isn’t that enough to label Obama’s as the least imaginative administration ever?

Written by omnologos

2010/Feb/02 at 00:13:43

So That’s What Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” Is About…

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A deal in Copenhagen? Hopefully. A meaningful deal in Copenhagen? Perhaps. Will there be substantive actions in order to stay within the 2C limit? Maybe. Is there going to be a plan to significantly reduce emissions? It’s a promise.

After all, what’s a President that is also the first preventative Nobel Peace Prize winner going to be good at selling? Hope, mostly hope.

Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

The real audacity is in pushing oneself forward almost exclusively counting on the fact that hope is the last to die.

And I hope the USA will get out of Afghanistan by 2011.

Written by omnologos

2009/Dec/19 at 00:28:14

Richard Black Is Not Alone

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Anybody wondering how did BBC’s Richard Black manage to post as poorly argued a blog as today’s, wonder no more: a few hours earlier, BBC’s Duncan Kennedy from Rome wrote an article with a gem like this:

In Italy, politics has literally become a contact sport

Looks like Mr Kennedy is reporting despite showing little awareness of his surroundings: between 1947 and 2008, there have been more than 35 political/mafia massacres in Italy. And many more individual assassinations. A “contact sport” indeed.

If that’s the new standard of BBC journalism, expect Richard Black to dive ever lower.

Written by omnologos

2009/Dec/16 at 10:25:35

Posted in BBC, Italy, Journalism