The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Link between folate supplements during late pregnancy and asthma in young children

Researchers say they may have found a link between folate supplements taken during late pregnancy and asthma in young children.

The Adelaide University study shows that children aged between three and five years are more likely to have asthma if their mothers have taken the supplements after their first trimester.

Folate supplements linked to childhood asthma – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Filed under: Science, ,

The Ice Age is coming! Antartica is warming!

A new reconstruction of Antarctic surface temperature.

A new reconstruction of Antarctic surface temperature.

In recent years, scientists have struggled to explain measurements which seemed to indicate that Antarctica has been cooling – a trend much relied on by the denialist lobby to give support to their message that the earth has started cooling and we are on our way to a new Ice age. Well not any more. New research published in Nature has found that, in fact, the iciest continent is undergoing the same changes as the rest of the planet.

“What we did is we took advantage of the fact that, in fact, there is data. There’s over 25 years now of data from satellites, which provides an alternative way to measure the temperature,” Professor Steig said.

By correlating the two, the research team believes it has come up with an accurate picture stretching back half a century, and it shows western Antarctica especially has been getting warmer by about a 10th of a degree every decade.

“What we found, in a nutshell, is that Antarctica is not cooling,” Professor Steig said.

“Now some parts of it have been cooling, but only since the late 1970s, and only in certain seasons, primarily in autumn.

“On average the entire continent is warming and especially it is warming in winter and spring. Finally, west Antarctica, just like the Antarctic peninsula, is warming in all seasons.”

But new research has found that, in fact, the iciest continent is undergoing the same changes as the rest of the planet.

Scientists find evidence Antartica is warming – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A cold day in January will have the good folks at Jennifer Marohasy’s blog in a frenzy of AGW denunciation before morning tea. Strangely, no-one there has posted on this yet. Maybe they’re all on holiday, or the hot weather has them re-examining temperature data for counter-trends. But then again, Nature is a notorious hotbed of unscrupulous warmaholic climatologists rigging data to fit the AGW narrative so they can maintain their funding grants and turn us all into socialists. Or something.

Filed under: Environment, Science, , , ,

Party on like it’s 1999!

Manilla TyphoonDenialist lobby shills and hacks are pleased with their tiny contribution to the relentless propaganda campaign to undermine public confidence in science which has resulted in an Observer poll that finds the majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans – and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem. Mind you, if scientific understanding depended on public opinion we’d probably still be banging rocks together in a cave somewhere.

The finding is not surprising as Britons are starting to feel the burden of actually doing something about energy consumption and carbon emissions. Much easier to believe that there’s nothing that can be done without Greater Asia following suit so we may as well party on like it’s 1999! It’s not our problem, even if it exists. I dare say the Filipinos in the picture above may have other ideas.

Glad we sorted that one out.

Filed under: Ass Hattery, Big Picture, Environment, Pseudoscience, Science, Society,

The Ethics of Climate Change: Pay Now or Pay More Later?

Sci AmWeighing our own prosperity against the chances that climate change will diminish the well-being of our grandchildren calls on economists to make hard ethical judgments, says John Broome in a thorough analysis in Scientific American. The economists in our midst are naturally concerned with the impact of dealing with climate change and advertantly or otherwise encourage our politicians to err on the side of recklessness. The denialist debate prefers to cast doubt on the science, but Broome places the ball firmly back in the court of the economists. Climate change is the ethical issue of our time.

In a nutshell Broome argues:

  • Future generations will suffer most of the harmful effects of global climate change. Yet if the world economy grows, they will be richer than we are.
  • The present generation must decide, with the help of expert advice from economists, whether to aggressively reduce the chances of future harm or to let our richer descendants largely fend for themselves.
  • Economists cannot avoid making ethical choices in formulating their advice.
  • Even the small chance of utter catastrophe from global warming raises special problems for ethical discussion.

What should we do about climate change? The question is an ethical one. Science, including the science of economics, can help discover the causes and effects of climate change. It can also help work out what we can do about climate change. But what we should do is an ethical question.

By emitting greenhouse gases, are the rich perpetrating an injustice on the world’s poor? How should we respond to the small but real chance that climate change could lead to worldwide catastrophe?

In going about our daily lives, each of us causes greenhouse gases to be emitted. Driving a car, using electric power, buying anything whose manufacture or transport consumes energy—all those activities generate greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In that way, what we each do for our own benefit harms others. Perhaps at the moment we cannot help it, and in the past we did not realize we were doing it. But the elementary moral principle I mentioned tells us we should try to stop doing it and compensate the people we harm.

Weighing benefits to some people against costs to others is an ethical matter. But many of the costs and benefits of mitigating climate change present themselves in economic terms, and economics has useful methods of weighing benefits against costs in complex cases. So here economics can work in the service of ethics.

No wonder the Bolts of this world would rather deny there is even a problem. It’s much easier than reflecting on the ethics of one’s lifestyle and compensating for the impact we are knowingly inflicting on the world’s poor. We might have to make personal sacrifices! That would never do.

Economics in the service of ethics rather than personal affluence? I’d like to see that!

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics, Science, , , ,

The IPA and other fossil fuel fossils

skeptics.jpgJennifer Marohasey, environmental fellow for Liberal Party think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, has been ringing in the New Year with her list of climate change sceptics – the “400 dissenting scientists”. “If 2007 was the Year of Al Gore, with his movie, Academy Award and Nobel Prize, 2008 just might be the year the so-called scientific consensus that man is causing the Earth to warm begins to crack.”

Marohasey has small coterie of loyal fans on her website eager to battle with any who dissent from her campaign to prove that global warming is not caused by human activity and to argue that climate change is a plot by leftist academics and others keen to milk the tax payer’s purse to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an evil attempt to destroy our entire way of life and the future well-being of our grand children’s grand children. Long time contributor Luke, Jennifer’s token greenie who owns an ecotourism property in the Daintree, appears to have departed with a scathing assessment of Marohasey’s blog site.

It strikes me as incredulous that Marohasey could have a PhD, conducted field research for more than a decade and yet is now happy to push a denialist agenda in the employ of the IPA. I guess it pays better than field biology.

The IPA receives support from corporations and corporate interest groups (including Gunns Limited, Monsanto and tobacco, mining and oil companies) and provides regular op-ed fodder for the MSM pushing the Liberal Party line. As the Liberal Party struggles to establish what it stands for I’d argue that the IPA also needs to look at what it believes in. Corporate Australia wants action on climate change, if for no other reason than needing to stay competitive in a changing global political economy. Yet the IPA is still pushing the denialist agenda, as if they can somehow reverse overwhelming global political sentiment. They would server their masters better, and advance the quality of public debate, by turning its attention to how Australian businesses and corporations might best respond the forthcoming carbon emission limitation mechanisms.

Regardless of the dissenting opinions of climate sceptics there is no sound scientific argument for continuing increasing global CO2 emissions at an exponential rate into a closed system. Sceptics are simply motivated by the desire to avoid the financial inconvenience that curbing CO2 emissions might entail. If, as the sceptics would argue, the science is far from clear, then the precautionary principle should apply. Curbing CO2 emissions is sensible and prudent precisely because we don’t exactly what the long term ramifications might be. In the meantime, it will encourage more efficient and sustainable energy usage and consumption which will have real long-term benefits for our grand-children’s grand-children.

Filed under: Big Picture, Environment, Media, Politics, Science, Technology, Wingnuttery

Solar now cheaper than coal

NanosolarWhile Jennifer Marohasey is making a list of Climate Change Skeptics and Santa is making a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, a ‘Silicon Valley start-up called Nanosolar shipped its first solar panels – priced at $1 a watt. That’s the price at which solar energy gets cheaper than coal. Curious that this story is not on every front page.’

The environmental scientist in me says it is simply untenable that we keep pumping ever-increasing hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.

A century ago most people could see no problem with using waterways and oceans to dispose of industrial waste. Nowadays no-one is advocating that we continue to do so. Like it or not we need to regard atmospheric pollution with similar urgency.

Perhaps the real motivation of the Climate Sceptic is that it is more convenient to continue as we are than actually doing something about it?

Filed under: Big Picture, Environment, Science, Technology

Sunday Sermon – God delusion vs Material illusion

Inspired by Bruce’s excellent exposition concerning ontological arguments that seek to infer the existence of a (creator/supreme) God through pure reason and intuition, I wrote the following comment, which seems as good a reason as any to repost it here:

sriyantra.jpgI am reasonably well-versed in the theology of Vedanta and Hinduism. Bhakti yoga is considered to be the top-most practice if one desires to know God (as opposed to merely arguing for the existence or otherwise of a supreme God).

Bhakti means devotion. While there are many injunctions and regulations contained in the practice, they only serve to enhance the development of devotion through service to God. Bhaktas argue that God cannot be approached by analysis and logic, or by empirical processes. In other words, the existence of God is experienced beyond the perview of the mind and senses, and even intelligence. The simple analogy is that you cannot know the taste of the honey in a jar by licking the outside. You need to open the jar and get stuck into it.

On a more technical level, Vedanta argues that God’s existence is purely spiritual and utterly non-material. It is beyond the material world and all it contains. The material world is regarded as a temporary manifestation from the spiritual world. The spiritual world is considered causeless and eternal, without cause, beginning or end. It just is. The only way of knowing or attaining the spiritual world is through various kinds of practices, and even then, only by the grace of God, which is said to be particularly abundant if the practitioner develops devotion.

It’s a rough thumbnail, but having a scientific mind, I have always found this world view appealing. In quantum mechanics, astrophysics, molecular biochemistry etc scientists develop all kinds of descriptions and explanations for the origin of matter, time, energy, the universe, life and even consciousness. And no matter how compelling the argument, these ideas ultimately remain unknowable as reality. They are models. We cannot experience the Big Bang or a black hole. We will never really know. We accept the models because they are feasible. From my own study of Vedanta I would conclude that its models of the origin of matter, time, the universe, life, consciousness are extremely elaborate, detailed, and given that we can never truly know, they have their own compelling internal plausibility. It is certainly a more optimistic and interesting outlook than the nihilistic material science one. So it comes down to a matter of choice, disposition, experience, conditioning, and inclination, and if it is true, even karma (or reaction to previous actions).

My own conclusion is that the existence or non-existence of God cannot be resolved intellectually but only experientially and individually, and for the seeker it is a long slow dedicated process – indeed a lifetime – and you may still not know when you die. So it’s fairly pointless people going hammer and tongs at each other trying to win the argument. It will never be resolved by words. I would argue that it becomes a matter of faith – either in the existence or non-existence of God – faith in one’s belief system.

Disclaimer: I have previously written on the unfortunate tendency of human beings to become convinced they know the truth when in fact they do not, and try to inflict it on others (I would equally apply this to rabid free market economists). Even if we accept that there are genuine spiritual paths to enlightenment, religious organisations are often populated by religious bureaucrats rather than the spiritually enlightened and these bureaucrats may actually not have any spiritual realisation at all (George Pell, anyone?). This usually leads to behaviour such as persecuting non-believers and declaring war on heathens and infidel. I do not endorse such practices.

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science

Logical Fallacy – spot the comment button!

Five Public Opinions continues to raise interesting philosophical conundra such as Spot the Logical Fallacy, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to leave a comment. I’m assuming they’re disabled, which is a pity, as I’m often inspired to reply. So if you’re out there Arthur, please let me know how I can comment!

My comment for Spot the Logical Fallacy:

Short version: If the existence or non-existence of God could be proven decisively by application of logic, the issue would be long done and dusted.

Long Version: The Vedantic conclusion is that God is eternal and without cause. In this context, eternal doesn’t mean a very long time and them some, it means without beginning or end. And as I’ve mentioned, without cause. This simple conclusion is at once frustrating and infuriating, for it defies logic and empiricism. Vedantists call it ‘inconceivable’. It is beyond logic and intellectual analysis. We can debate the existence of God until the cows come home and we’ll never reach a definitive conclusion. The extent that we can ‘know’ or ‘deny’ is derived from experience and emotion. For believers it is through mysticism, whatever that is! Perhaps for free-market globalists it is economics. Either way, no belief system has the right to impose its rules on others, especially in violent and oppressive ways.

Filed under: Big Picture, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, Science

The Evolution of Nature’s Destiny

Michael DentonIn 1985, a book by a largely unknown Australian biologist and physician, Michael Denton, was published in London: Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and soon won a wide and appreciative audience. Denton offered a systematic critique of neo-Darwinism, evaluating skeptically both the mechanism of evolution, and the patterns of evidence (fossil, embryological, anatomical, molecular) usually adduced in support of the theory of common descent. His book was instrumental in starting the intelligent design movement.

In August 1998, Denton’s eagerly-awaited second book arrived: Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe. Readers expecting a continuation of the arguments of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, however, found a line of argument markedly different from the earlier book. Although much of Denton’s skepticism about neo-Darwinism remained, gone were the challenges to the theory of universal common descent–i.e., the common ancestry of all terrestrial organisms–which had made Evolution especially controversial with mainstream biologists. In their place was an unstinting advocacy of common descent, and a notion of “directed evolution” in which the historical unfolding of life on earth was “built into” the universe from the start.1

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Technology

Known Unknowns

At The Thinkers Podium, Bruce ponders pre-suppositionalism and a priori premisses.

…placing an argument a priori requires sound reasoning and the larger and more complex your body of a priori, the more validation it requires and the more likely it is to be invalidated. And of course you don’t want your a priori premise to be invalidated because anything a posteriori will also be invalidated.

This is standard application of logic to hypothesis making – pretty much the scientific method. You have an idea, come up with some ways of testing it and draw conclusions about the validity of the idea. Perfectly sound and reasonable. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science

The Dog’s Bollocks

What they say

The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

Shut up slim. You’re an idiot.
Just you stay honest and keep that thinking cap on. – GMB

Insightful perspectives on politics and discussion of matters epistemological? I’m sold! - Bruce

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