Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Is fiction actually fiction?

There has been an interesting duo of videos by PBS’ Ideas Chanel. Mike discusses some interesting concepts surrounding fiction, like the fact that fiction is as much real as it is made-up and vice versa. Worth a watch.


The two videos cover a lot of ground, but one of the more important points I’d like to highlight is the idea that we can’t have fiction without reality. We need something to anchor our ideas and make-believe, shared experiences that allow us to understand and accept these fictions. There are plenty of examples of this, but one of the cooler examples is looking at depictions of the future at various stages throughout history. Compare what sci-fi movies of the 50s thought computers would look like now to what they actually look like, and you see a 1950s computer. Our imaginations actually suck a lot more than we think.

But here’s an idea about our inability to imagine the future: what if our imaginations don’t actually suck, but instead we ignore the outlandish imaginings that are actually more likely in favour of stuff we already know? Think about it. Or don’t, I’m not your boss.

Perth Writers’ Festival 2014

My annual pilgrimage to the Perth Writers’ Festival is over for another year. According to reports, I was joined by 38,500 other reading and writing fans, with ticket sales up on last year (can someone confirm that figure, I thought I read it here but I must have been mistaken. Edit: confirmed figure from WritingWA).

Some write-ups have discussed the heat; we are 1.6 degrees hotter than the long term average for February: thanks climate change! Some write-ups have discussed the wonderful talks from literary authors; can’t be less entertaining than their books. Some write-ups have tried to imply that Perth people gasped when Scott Ludlam used the word crap; yes we clearly are a simple folk over here in the west, not accustomed to swearing and impolite behaviour like taking notes. So I hereby present my write-up.

Friday 21st

I started off my festival adventure with the panel discussion Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Susan May chaired a discussion on writing, publishing, and thrilling books with Chris Allen and Joe Ducie. It was an interesting session, although Joe is not what you’d call a gregarious person and he is limited in what he can say without being sent to a black site for breaking the secrets act. This session attracted a lot of teen readers, a first for any writers’ festival I’ve been to, in part due to the young adult theme of Joe’s book and Chris’ campaign to get more boys reading. Also, why is it that the nice and friendly people always seem to write the books with the largest body counts?

My plans for the day were beaten with a cricket bat when the session Fair Go Mate was filled past standing room only. Not being able to gain admittance I’m going to say the session was clearly for doo-doo heads. Instead, I went and saw The Inner Life of Others. Amanda Curtin discussed building and writing characters with Debra Adelaide, Chris Womersley and Andrea Goldsmith. I was sitting next to the fan for one of the much-needed air conditioners for this session. So while I was quite cool and sweat free, I couldn’t hear the speakers clearly. I think in future the festival need monitors for the speakers or better technicians on hand to get the sound levels right.

I had hoped to see the session Boom Town Rats in the afternoon, as David Whish-Wilson was speaking. He wrote my favourite novel of 2013 after-all. I had to settle for asking him how things went via Facebook: apparently it was an interesting discussion session. Instead I went to Annabel Smith’s workshop on Social Media Marketing. Annabel discussed various aspects of social media and the Hub and Outpost model, with your blog/website being the hub. We had a range of people in the room from social media novices to professionals, and a couple of people who didn’t see the point – I mean, being able to talk and form communities with people on the other side of the planet instantly is so overrated. Annabel did well in catering to such a wide spectrum.

Saturday 22nd

Lee Battersby’s fantasy writing workshop, Universal Law, kicked off my Saturday with a teddy bear explaining humans to aliens (you had to be there). This was a fantastic session and I got a lot out of it. Okay, that could just be confirmation bias talking, because Lee did confirm a lot of my own thoughts on fantasy and fiction writing in general, but I’m just going to pretend we’re both right. Plus, I’ve got the beginnings of a cool little absurdist short story from the session, which may have made the session pay for itself.

Hungry and in need of golden ale refreshments, I headed to the UWA Club. David Marr was holding court with a throng of fans/questioners/listeners after having finished his discussion panel. I was tempted to join the group and ask him when he was going to finally stab Andrew Bolt to death for crimes against journalism, but decided to not ruin his day.

After a leisurely lunch at the UWA Club, I skipped the next beer and went to The Game Changers: What’s In Store? Stephanie “Hex” Bendixsen chaired a fascinating discussion about the games industry and story telling. Dan Golding, Dan Pinchback, and Guy Gadney were all insightful speakers and kept the audience of preteens to curmudgeons entertained. Guy Gadney also showed a quick wit when a young lad couldn’t remember Guy’s name, with the boy ending up on stage answering questions (which he handled quite well).
Hex-and-special-guest-panelist

Although, as if to prove that the games industry has a long way to go, or that men are still dickheads, one of the audience members started his question with “Damn girl, you fine!” when addressing Hex. If there was only some way to breed this behaviour out of the population….

The next session I attended was Hi-Viz Days with author and comedian Xavier “Matty” Toby. As a general rule I don’t read non-fiction, as it is often more fiction than non-fiction, is often boring, and has far too low a body count to be entertaining for me. But having attended this session and listened to Xavier read out some sections from the book, I would recommend you read his book about his mining experiences. Having lived in rural Australia for a large chunk of my life, a lot of the conversations, the style of speech, and the characters portrayed sounded like the people I’ve met and know. A few award winning authors should read Xavier’s book to see how rural and regional people actually speak (or at least hand back the awards for capturing the ‘bush lyricism’ in their novels).

Sunday 23rd

My Sunday started rather early. Or rather, my Saturday didn’t really finish until Sunday morning. My little bundle of joy was ill and had trouble sleeping, which meant I did too. It also meant I’ve contracted his illness: parenting is lots of fun.

I’d already missed one of David Whish-Wilson’s sessions on the Friday, but I went the whole hog and missed his Sunday session as well. His interview on Perth, the city and his non-crime, non-fiction book, on Sunday apparently went well (full house). David assured me that there were plenty of interviews being done around the festival on this book. Which means if we check his webpage we could probably track down an interview with David on Perth; the book and the city.

The only event I managed to attend on Sunday was Susan May’s workshop on Standing Out From the Crowd. It turns out that Susan and I had been in the same all day workshop on publishing a few Perth Writers’ Festivals ago. Her take-away from that event had been to avoid the slush pile and somewhere along the way, after developing industry contacts to help avoid the slush pile, she self-published. I agree with one of the other attendees that Susan’s session was enthusiastic and genuine.

And that concludes my Perth Writers’ Festival adventure for another year. It was good to catch up with friends and other attendees over the three days and I hope others enjoyed the event as much as I did.

Book review: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The TournamentThe Tournament by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just about everyone has already commented how this novel is a departure for Matthew Reilly. It’s still unmistakably a Matthew Reilly novel, but instead of a thriller, this is a mystery novel.

Whilst this was an enjoyable novel, I can’t rate it as highly as his others. The key to enjoying the change in Reilly’s murder mystery cum chess tournament is to remember this is a mystery and not a thriller. Seriously, some of the reviews I’ve seen sound like they were expecting Scarecrow to time travel back at any moment and start shooting mutant monkeys, and were annoyed when that didn’t happen.

View all my reviews

Top Suspense Hangout video

Today was the start of the Perth Writers’ Festival, the local festival for my fellow pale, short-sighted, readers and writers. Once a year we gather together to fulfil our in-person social interaction requirements for the year.

Before I left the house, Libby Hellmann, Lee Goldberg, and Paul Levine had a Top Suspense Google+ Hangout. They discussed a number of issues around writing suspense stories. Funny how the title of the group and hangout gives away the topic. It was a good session and I highly recommend my fellow writing friends to have a watch of the embedded video below.

Total Recall: the movie, the movie, or the book?

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At the moment there is a lot of talk about Paul Verhoeven’s ‘trilogy’ of sci-fi movies being remade. I think the terms used to discuss the remakes are stupid, banal, and facile. Verhoeven made three fantastic social satires, that were also science fiction action films: Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers*. Okay, only two were fantastic, Starship Troopers was stupid. They were also all made at a time when you could make a grossly violent film and not be shunned by cinemas and TV in favour of PG13 violence – you know, the violence that is heavy on explosions and pew-pew noises, but light on the consequences of that violence, which raises kids to believe that violence doesn’t hurt anyone.

Robocop: The Reboot has just hit the cinemas, spurring people the internet over to complain about a movie they haven’t seen (new Robocop), a movie that hasn’t been made yet (new Starship Troopers – not to be confused with Super Troopers), and how terrible the recent Total Recall movie was. Anyone would think that Colin Farrell had personally shagged Arnie’s housekeeper the way they talk about the Total Recall remake.

So I did something unthinkable: I rewatched the remake, the Verhoeven/Schwarzenhamneggnburger version, and read the Phillip K Dick short story (or is it a novella?). The reason for doing so? Because these remakes were being derided so heavily. Nothing inspires people to touch wet paint like putting a wet paint sign on it.

Let’s start with the Total Recall remake. It is an action film: good start. It is a sci-fi: in that it doesn’t have a talking dragon in it, thus it can’t be fantasy, despite the lack of ‘science’ in the science fiction, making it closer to fantasy. It has half decent actors in it: I’d watch just about anything with Kate Beckinsale in it since seeing Shooting Fish, as long as the movie doesn’t have Ben Affleck in it – yes that one, let us not speak it’s name. It also appears to have a plot: I could be mistaken.

As a film the Total Recall remake is fine. All the right things explode, all the good guys live, all the bad guys die horribly, most of the needless violence is against robots so we don’t get caught up in the mass genocide that the hero performs. As an adaptation of the short story, you could be forgiven for thinking the film makers only read the first few pages; much like the original movie. As compared to the original Total Recall, it is a pale, facile shadow.

The Arnie version worked as both a straight up action movie, but also had a much better secondary plot about whether it was all happening or all in his head. This part is what makes the original movie closer to a Phillip K Dick adaptation than the new movie. Although the original movie being closer to the source material is probably because the screenwriter and Verhoeven had read the dust jacket of the story, whereas Len Wiseman and his screenwriter just took Verhoeven’s word for it that there was an original story to base the movie upon.

Dick’s story actually has a really funny and interesting twist ending, which neither movie used because the movies and story diverge at about the time when Doug Quaid (Quail in the book) arrives home after visiting Rekall. In fact, We Can Remember If For You Wholesale bears so little resemblance to the movies that you’d more call it an inspiration for them rather than source material. I don’t have a problem with this, as long as they handed Dick a great big check, maybe a signed picture of Arnie to go with it, maybe some Planet Hollywood shares as well.

The movies are both good fun, both are entertaining, both are well made, both had dubious understandings of physics. There is nothing wrong with the new movie as a piece of entertainment. But it won’t last the way the original movie has. This comes down to Verhoeven’s handling of the secondary plot, which might as well not exist in the remake. I certainly look forward to the even more facile Total Recall movie that will come out in another 20 years, which will probably not even have a three boobed woman in it.

* I could write an entire essay on how Heinlein’s original novel differed from the movie and how its social comment was far deeper and insightful than the movie.

Sony exits ebook biz

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are these things called electronic books now, e-books for short. Now these are brand new (invented 1971, possibly as early as 1949) and understandably the devices to read them are even newer (first e-reader released 1998). So it may come as a shock to many of you that quite a few people read e-books on e-readers now instead of paper books. It will come as even more of a shock to you that the Sony e-reader has become a thing of the past.

That’s right my fellow book lovers – lovers in the adoration sense, not in the brace yourself, oh yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh, chikka bow-wow, sense – it appears that Sony has decided it doesn’t want a dedicated e-reader, in fact it doesn’t even want an e-book store. They have announced that they are pulling out and customers are being transferred to the Kobo store.

Of course, I don’t think anyone is particularly surprised by this decision. Raise your hand if you’ve ever actually seen a Sony e-reader. Now keep it up if you’ve actually owned one. If you can see anyone with their hand still raised, I’d question how you manage to turn people’s web cams on. Sony has been playing at the bottom end of the market for e-readers and e-books for quite a while now. The chart below from Goodreads shows Sony were picking up Kobo’s scraps in the market.

So what does this mean for us readers? Well, it means the big dedicated e-readers remain, the Kindle and Nook. It also means Kobo could pick up a bit more of the e-reader and e-book market. But that isn’t particularly interesting to me, I’ll discuss why in a moment. What is interesting is the Sony e-reader is probably the victim of the modern device market.

I read an interesting tech article that was discussing mobile phones. They pointed out that the companies making money on phones weren’t actually making money on the phone sales, especially at the mid to lower price points, but instead cashing in on the app stores and downloads. The phone is a loss leader for the software business they run. Nokia and their deal with Microsoft is a classic example of this, with Nokia battling to compete for market share and profits.

Translate that to e-readers and the same thing applies. It was even worse for Sony, as the other competitors were/are selling their Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc, as a loss leader to get people using their store or affiliates. This meant that the big stores attract the users, who buy the associated tech, which locks them to the stores (to some extent at least), leading to e-book sales profits. Terrific! As long as you don’t think too hard about the slave labour making the devices.

The reason I don’t find the market positioning of the e-reader devices of much interest is down to a few things. The first is a little statistic that has been showing up in surveys from Goodreads and The Pew Institute; namely that 29-37% of people read books on their phone (23% on a tablet). A dedicated reading device is only really in the book space now because the e-reader screen has less eye fatigue. At the moment! Watch this bubble burst as phones and tablets eat away at the readability technology, such that e-reader screens become redundant. Mobile devices also don’t have to be linked to any one e-book store, so interesting times are on the horizon.

Another view on e-readers future: http://techland.time.com/2013/01/04/dont-call-the-e-reader-doomed/

Isabel Allende’s scorn for genre fiction

science-fiction-vs-proper-literature

Literature vs Genre: jetpack wins!

There is a storm brewing. In the latest of the long line of insults by literary fiction against genre fiction, Isabel Allende has taken a pot shot at crime fiction. Now apparently she hates crime fiction because:

It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people.

But that didn’t stop her writing a crime mystery. It also didn’t stop her saying that the book was a joke and ironic. I think the word she was actually looking for was hypocrite.

I’ve never really understood the people who read or write stuff they don’t enjoy. Sure, I read some really boring science journal articles, but that’s because I enjoy knowing stuff. If I’m going to sit down and read a book, I want that 10-20 hours of entertainment to be, well, entertaining. If I’m writing, which is a much longer and more involved process, why would I invest that much time in something I’m not enjoying doing?

So to some extent, I understand why Isabel decided that her mystery had to be a joke and ironic. But that is also the crux of the problem, she doesn’t seem to understand that she is also insulting readers and fans of genre fiction. I think the book store in Houston, Murder by the Book, that had ordered 20 signed copies of her novel, did the right thing in sending them back.

Now you can write a satirical or ironic take on a particular genre or sub-genre of fiction. But when you do so it has to be because of your love of all those little things you’re taking the piss out of. If you do it out of hate then you can’t turn around and try to sell it to the audience you are taking a pot shot at. I think this stuff is stupid, you’re stupid for reading it, but I still want you to pay me for insulting you.

I get a little sick of snobbishness toward genre readers and writers. Do genre readers and writers take pot shots at literary authors for their lack of plots, characters who have to own a cat and be suffering, and writing that is there to fill pages with words and not actually tell a story? No. We’re too busy reading something exciting.

It would be great if people just enjoyed what they enjoyed and stopped criticising others for enjoying what they enjoy. Enjoy.

See also:

http://www.fictorians.com/2013/03/04/literary-vs-genre-fiction-whats-all-the-fuss-about/

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Lauren two years ago now, when she was running a class on writing (d’uh). This first sentence of the review is essentially a name drop… move along, nothing to see here.

The Shining Girls is such an interesting take on crime novels, with a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey*, plot and some fascinating story telling. Lauren has an interesting setup for the serial killer and his victim protagonist, a setup that you hope has a good payoff. Well, it doesn’t have a good payoff, in the final pages it has an excellent payoff.

The version I ‘read’ was the audiobook, which is worth mentioning because there were multiple narrators to take on the various points of view used in the book. This was a great touch that I wish more audiobooks would do. For a complex novel like The Shining Girls, it is almost necessary. I can say I have stopped listening to at least two audiobooks in the past year that probably would have been improved with multiple narrators to clarify changes in points of view. Or you could just read the novel the old fashioned way, just not whilst driving, or using a table saw, as I was able to with the audio version.

* If you don’t get that reference I pity your TV viewing habits.

View all my reviews

Music that lasts

I was recently having a discussion about Zeitgeist. No, not the concept of a spirit of the age or spirit of the time, I mean the 2007 album from the (not) Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve been a massive fan of the Smashing Pumpkins’ music since about 1994 (wow, 20 years!) but have to say that Zeitgeist was the last of their albums I bought and I don’t listen to it, Ava Adore (1998), nor Machina (2000). Essentially, I’m no longer a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, I’m a fan of their early work only.

What amazes me is you can listen to Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), Mellon Collie (1995), even their b-sides album Pieces Iscariot (1994), and they still hold up really well. With the exception of the song Untitled (from their retrospective Rotten Apples, 2001) and maybe Tarantula (from Zeitgeist), the Smashing Pumpkins haven’t released a song or album that compares to any of the material on those early albums. With the more recent material the songs sound unfinished. When old b-sides sound better than your new a-sides, you really have to question what you’re doing.

But this isn’t just about the Smashing Pumpkins, name a Rolling Stones song released in the last 30 years (i.e. everything post Dirty Work from 1983). Can’t, can you!? They’ve released 5 studio albums and countless – well you can count them, but who cares to – live and collection albums in that time. Fans everywhere dread this announcement at a Rolling Stones concert, “And here’s a song from our new album.”

There are a few factors at play here: the idea of talent and inspiration meeting, the idea that even great artists can’t continue at that elite level indefinitely, and the idea that some art is transitory whilst some is timeless. I’ll leave the first two points for another day, the latter point gives me an opportunity to insult pop music.

Some art, music, TV, movies, books, etc, rise through the charts, become hugely popular, and dominate the media. Then a few years later everyone is embarrassed to talk about those artists and art, digging a deep pit of denial to throw those pieces of crap where they will never be found again. I’ve discussed this before in my article on Good versus Popular, suggesting that popular music/art/things aren’t necessarily good and that time and perspective sort the wheat out from the chaff. Some of the music we enjoy is just because it is played everywhere we go. Some music just filled a hole in the age bracket or life journey, such as Limp Bizkit for all the angry teens, or Placebo with their dark depressing (teen) angst music. A decade on and you’d battle to find anyone who would admit to having bought a Limp Bizkit album, and when I recently relistened to those albums I wondered how I ever listened to that junk.

So what music (or art) lasts? Is it immediately obvious? What lasts isn’t easy to define, because I would never have picked Yellow Submarine to last in the same way that Get Back has. A kid’s song versus a satire of attitudes to immigration in the UK. Would we even listen to Yellow Submarine now if it hadn’t been a Beatles song or bland and inoffensive enough be played to us as kids in primary school? I digress. I think the answer to what will last is often, but not always, immediately obvious. And what lasts is rarely categorised by the prefix* pop.

Take for example everyone’s current objects of pop music derision: Justin Bieber (or Miley Cyrus, whichever you prefer to hate more). Bieber’s music is popular, he’s famous as a result, and I don’t think anyone would argue that his music will be forgotten in 5 years time and laughed at in 10, much like The Spice Girls. Remember them? Me neither. We** already know his music won’t last. And how about an example of something that will stand the test of time…. Wow, this is the part where I admit I’m a metal fan and haven’t listened to ‘commercial’ music in over a decade. I’d say Daft Punk’s most recent work will last, but they have been around for over a decade now, so hard to call them a new artist.

But I will give you another prediction, Pearl Jam will be my generation’s Rolling Stones. They will be still touring long after anyone has realised they still record new albums. And people will go to see them live because of those first few albums that everyone loved and still loves.

Essentially I think that lasting comes down to quality. I’m not talking about the recording studio, production values, or hair gel and dance routines. I’m talking about the quality that arises from talent and inspiration meeting. Bob Dylan’s songs had terrible production and his voice sounds like someone gargling gravel, whilst strangling a cat as their foot is fed into a wood chipper. Yet he had talent and inspiration, subsequently capturing the zeitgeist and lasting (see what I did there). But that music/art has to find a fanbase, whether immediately, or growing it over time as Led Zeppelin did. Now the only question remains: which is better, to last or to grab the headlines for 15 minutes?***

* Yeah, I know, not actually a prefix, more of a noun or adjective dependant upon the context.
** Having not ever heard any of Justin Bieber’s music and only accidentally heard part of a Miley Cyrus song at the gym, I can’t actually judge how good or bad their music is and how long it will last. I’m basing my judgement upon what has happened with previous pop stars.
*** The answer is easy: to last. If everyone forgets your 15 minutes did you even have those 15 minutes?

Well played, internet, well played.

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All I can say is, fly my pretties, fly.

Entertaining TV of 2013

With many of my favourite shows now back on air for 2014, except the ones that were cancelled, I thought it was a good time to recap what kept me entertained on the small screen in 2013.

Many people have noted the rise of decent TV, leaving behind the days of formulaic plots (e.g. CSI whatever), sit coms that lack the comedy (e.g. Two and A Half Men), dramas that lack plot (e.g. Lost), lame reality TV shows (e.g. Duck Dynasty), and the cancellation of a Joss Whedon show before it got a chance to be awesome (e.g. every show he’s ever made). This is at the same time as movies have failed to produce anything particularly memorable or interesting in quite some time.

I actually have a theory (by theory I mean hypothesis) about why there are fewer and fewer decent movies. It comes down to this little figure:
gender-inequality-in-filmLet’s leave aside the gross disparity between the highest paid actor vs. actress discussion, instead let’s focus on those paychecks. You stick just one of those stars in a movie, just one, and you are going to have a really expensive movie that is going to battle make its money back at the box office. Movie studios know this, so they spend up big on special effects, production values, promotion, etc, to lure people into the cinema. But in an effort to attract as large an audience as possible to make up for this huge spend, they make the movies as bland as possible in order to accommodate a wide audience from around the world. The reason that movie sucks isn’t because it is aimed at 12 year olds, its aimed at 12 year olds who probably don’t understand idioms due to being in a different country/culture.

And this is why we get a list of gems on the small screen, because the writers, directors, and quite a few actors, have realised that in order to tell good stories, they can’t spend huge dollars (unless it is on prime time crap).

Justified

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Possibly my favourite show of the past few years. This is not only well written, the entire cast and crew seem to have this knack for creating great TV. Plus, last season featured Patton Oswalt.

Sherlock

I love this show for its wit, humour, modernising of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, and the casting. Some have accused it of being smug, but I see that as central to Sherlock’s character, thus welcome in the show.

Luther

I read the prequel novel by series writer Neil Cross and it was every bit as good as the TV show. Idris Elba took a break from fighting monsters in giant robot suits in order to make another season of this fantastic crime drama.

Banshee

When I describe this show to friends, they always come away thinking that I’ve described a violent, b-grade, action movie with plenty of nudity. Just another throw back to the pulp novel trash that I also have occasion to read. Well, yes. The problem being? The best new show on TV in 2013, hands down!

Person of Interest

I really enjoyed the first season of Person of Interest. The second season was more of the same but brought more of the very interesting character portrayed by Amy Acker. Season 3 was off to a good start before the non-ratings break. Now that I’ve raised that point, why do we even have a non-ratings period any more? TV watching habits have changed, the networks better change with the times or lose out to the internet… oh wait, they are.

Continuum

I discovered this sci-fi gem by accident. One of the problems I’ve always had with time travel in books, TV and movies is that they don’t deal with the paradox very well. Even in Back to the Future it is almost played for a joke. This series is well written and actually has the paradox central to its story structure. It also helps that Rachel Nichols does a good job of holding the series together.

Revolution

Another post-apocalyptic story, ho-hum. This series has an interesting take on what would be society’s downfall and what would subsequently happen. There is a lot to like about this show, especially Billy Burke as a bad-ass. Although, after the first season, I didn’t see much point in having a second season and won’t be following it.

Arrow

This is one of the few mainstream shows I find watchable. It is pretty much down to the fact that they have some good fights, an interesting premise culled from the source material, and that the actors have done the hard yards physically for the show (especially Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett). Makes me want to build a salmon ladder in my backyard.

H+

Not often that a web series could attract a big name director like Bryan Singer (of the decent X-Men movies fame) to make a series of short scene sci-fi. I’d characterise the series as essentially 48 vignettes with overlapped characters and story, as most episodes can stand alone to some extent, despite being part of a larger narrative.

Archer

Quite simply, this show is the funniest thing on TV. In the proud tradition of cartoon comedies, it is able to do things that other TV shows and comedies can’t, due to financial, legal or ethical constraints. This series is also one of the few with DVD extras that you would actually want to watch. One of the best is when Archer has an accident and is transformed into a character much more like his voice actor, with ensuing gags around this.

Rake

This Aussie comedy-drama has been a consistently witty and interesting tale about a self-destructive Sydney barrister. Normally Aussie humour doesn’t translate well to other parts of the world, but Rake has been adapted for the USA, with Greg Kinnear replacing Richard Roxburgh.

Tried but lost interest:

Almost Human – promising sci-fi that didn’t really capture my attention

The Walking Dead – so sick of that fucking farm!

Marvel’s Agents of Shield – this should have been good, but was meh.

The Booth At The End – interesting premise but didn’t grab me.

The Following – I can honestly say that this series squandered such a great premise with derivative and clichéd story.

The Blacklist – this was interesting only because of James Spader. Needed more than that.

Vikings – interesting but too slow moving.

Hannibal – this was fantastic. I don’t know why I haven’t watched more, but I just haven’t.

What!?! You don’t watch….

The Game of Thrones – after watching the first season I had had enough. You only have to watch this far to see Sean Bean die, so game over.

Breaking Bad – I’ve dropped in and out on this series, watching episodes throughout. I’ve really enjoyed it, but not something I’ve made time to watch all of.

Arrested Development – yeah, I know. I should be a rabid fan.

The Killing – both the US and the Danish Forbrydelsen are slow boil crime shows that I’ve started watching and not continued. No particular reason for stopping, just haven’t gotten to the rest of the episodes yet.

Borgen – have heard great things, but just haven’t gotten to it yet.

Nye vs. Ham: science vs. nonsense

nye vs ham

There is a general rule in arguments: don’t argue with stupid people, they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. That is pretty much the problem scientists and experts have when debating anti-science proponents – such as creationists, anti-vaccinators, anti-GM campaigners, climate change deniers, etc. Yet Bill Nye the Science Guy decided that, in the interest of science and education, he would debate a creationist.

The debate started with Bill Nye and Ken Ham stating a 5 minute opening piece. Then Ken went into his 50 minute argument, which is when my cushion really started to earn its keep protecting my desk from damage.

I really find it hard to fathom how anyone can be credulous of Ham’s statements. In his 50 minutes he used all sorts of logical fallacies, most notably his videos of “creationist scientists” as argument from authority. But it wasn’t this that really got the lump on my forehead rising, it was the use of “evidence” for his argument that simultaneously refuted the arguments. One example was the phylogenetic tree for dogs. Ham argued that the rise of Canis lupus familiaris from a wolf (yeah, just one, let’s just let that one go through to the keeper) was what you would see from biblical predictions of dogs speciating after the global flood 4,000 years ago. Just one problem. Teeny tiny. The figure showed dogs evolving from a group of wolf ancestors over the course of 14-15,000 years.

He didn’t just do this once, he did it repeatedly. Another example arose when he was talking up one of his creationist pals who helped design a satellite (or something, didn’t really care because it was irrelevant). He used the example of how scientists had been debating how old the universe was: they couldn’t agree on the age. The part he left out about that particular debate was that the age of the universe was somewhere around about 13.8 billion years old (+ 37 million years), and they had a bunch of data they were trying to make sure they had the errors accounted for. The debate was about the difference in the confidence range (or error margin) between the Planck satellite measures and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measures. The error margin is 6,000 times greater than the age of the Earth that Ham claims. The Earth’s age is still 2 million times older than Ham’s claim, yet he uses this example as if to give credence to his claims.

Now Nye did his best in his 50 minutes to show that Ham’s claims were flawed, but also how evidence and scientific observation and prediction work. Others have claimed, and I agree to an extent, that Nye’s mistake was to try and cover too much ground. If he was talking to a receptive audience he would have destroyed Ham and had the crowd eating out of his hand. But at a creationist museum, with a bunch of science deniers, it would come across as too much information and too confusing. Although Nye’s last couple of minutes pretty much killed the entire debate, with trees, rocks, size of the universe, distance from stars but limits of how fast the light can travel, all showing that the Earth and Universe are much much older.

The first rebuttal saw Ham carrying on about “you weren’t there so you don’t know.” Brian Dunning had a great take on this particular argument:

There is a rumor that Bill Nye @TheScienceGuy debated evolution with Ken Ham. Not true. It did not happen, because you weren’t there.

In this first rebuttal, Ham again used evidence that rebutted his own claims, especially when talking about radio-carbon dating. Showing that measurements have error margins, or can be somewhat imprecise, doesn’t negate the fact that the measurements are still many orders of magnitude outside of the age of the Earth claimed by Ham. Then he moved onto saying that the bible is right, everything else is wrong (let’s just ignore that the bible isn’t even consistent with itself, let alone the fact that it is a translation of a translation, thus literal interpretation isn’t supported by biblical scholars).

Nye then rebutted Ham’s statements. His classic put down was for the claim that every animal and humans were vegetarian until they got of the ark: lion’s teeth aren’t really made for broccoli.* Ba-zing!

Next Ham tried to point out that creationism isn’t his model (then he blames secularists for scientists). This is true, there are other nutters who came up with this crap. But Ham tried to pretend that “scientists” came up with the various creation models (NB: just because a scientist said something, doesn’t make it science or scientific). Then he talks about species and kinds and how Nye was confusing what a kind was. Easy to do when the idea of a kind is bullshit and unsupported by any actual science.

Nye then tore apart the claims about the rise of species from kinds using the basic math involved. He also called bullshit on the ship building skills of ancient desert people. The main point in this rebuttal was that Ham hadn’t addressed Nye’s point adequately, and that Ham’s claims aren’t supported by the majority of religious people, let alone scientists.

My desk and forehead had had enough by this stage, so I didn’t watch the Q&A section, but it can be viewed here.

The point I wanted to make from this was that Ham had a huge advantage in this discussion. I’m not talking about the home team venue, nor the credulous crowd, I’m talking about the lack of need for evidence. All Ham had to do, and pretty much what he did, was seed doubt in science and then declare “creationism wins” (which might as well be “God did it”). This is the problem with any debate with anti-science: the scientists have to prove their case with evidence and logical reasoning; the anti-science side only has to sow some doubt. And that doubt can vary between legitimate claims through to flat out lies, it doesn’t matter. So Nye shouldn’t have taken the debate.

But Nye was right to take the debate.

Hang-on. Have you hit your head against your desk a few too many times during that debate?

No. Bill Nye is a well known and respected science communicator. He went into the belly of the beast to stand in the echo chamber and sow some doubt (how’s that for a metaphor-fest?). As he stated himself, Nye knows that America (and the world, but let’s allow him his patriotism) needs science and innovation for the future of society. Creationism and other anti-science nonsense undermine this. If no-one challenges the group-think and echo chamber of the creationists (et al.) then they will continue to be mislead and misinformed by people like Ken Ham. You can’t have someone reject evolution yet rely on germ theory for modern medicine. You can’t have someone reject radio-carbon dating yet use medical imaging. That is incompatible, that is a rejection of reality, and it leads to stupid stuff happening that curbs development of new technologies and advancements to society.

Other opinions on who won:
Shane proposes that Nye needed to pick a couple of points to hammer home. This feeds into science communication research that shows you can get distracted from the main narrative with too many points. 

Christian Nation have Bill Nye winning the debate 92% to 8%. 

Update: Richard Linski has blogged about the debate and Ham’s use of his E. coli evolution work. Not surprisingly, Ham completely misrepresented the work. As I said above, Ham did this with many examples in his presentation. It is important that people realise just how deceptive Ham’s statements and claims are.

Update: It is clear that many of Ham’s supporters were not listening to Bill Nye and are wilfully ignorant. This Buzzfeed article (yeah, I know, Buzzfeed) brings up a lot of the points that Nye addressed, explained clearly and simply, showing they didn’t listen to Nye, and slept through school.

Update: This article makes a nice statement that ties into some of my points about why Nye took the debate. To quote:

It brought new attention to YEC (Young Earth Creationism) to exactly the people we need to see it- the large swath of Christian and other religious parents who think of Intelligent Design or Guided Evolution or some other pseudo-scientific concept when they imagine “teaching the controversy“. These people are embarrassed by people like Ken Ham. They know the earth isn’t 6000 years old, and they understand just how impossible it is to square that belief with observable phenomena.

Update: The ever awesome Potholer54 just posted a video on one point about evolution and Ken Ham’s rebuttal of his own arguments. Worth watching.

* Okay, not the best point to make, as teeth aren’t definitive of diet, but if the comment is viewed as being representative of animal physiology overall, then it is a very valid putdown of the vegetarian claims.

Brain fog

funny-paranoid-parrot-meme-spelling

Mythtaken: Shark Attack Deaths

Ever since Spielberg made us scared of seeing any more Indiana Jones films, people have felt better about blaming him for the hysteria around sharks.

shark tears

Recently in my home state of Western Australia there has been a decision made to cull sharks because some people have been killed by them. Clearly we should blame sharks for just wanting a hug and not humans for dressing up like shark food. This is a stupid decision and I’m about to outline why we can’t even tell if there have been more shark deaths, let alone whether a cull would actually work, let alone whether you’d know if the cull does anything. It all comes down to statistics. Well, that and media beat-ups to sell advertising space.

You’d honestly think that there had been a change in the number of people dying in Australia from shark attacks in order to justify a shark cull. Well, the official stats show there hasn’t been an increase in deaths from shark attacks. In fact the deaths are so low the noise around the long term average of 1.38 deaths per annum (2000-2012), that any increase or decrease in deaths are impossible to assign any significance to (see chart below). Three deaths in a year (2000): could be an anomaly. Zero deaths the year after (2001): likely to be regression to the mean. Number of deaths from the most ferocious animal on the planet: bees; 10 per year.

Graph of Aussie shark attacks 2000-2012. Blue is total encounters, yellow is non-fatal, red is fatal. Trend lines for total and fatal.

Graph of Aussie shark attacks 2000-2012. Blue is total encounters, yellow is non-fatal, red is fatal. Trend lines for total and fatal.

What you do see in the data is a slight increase in the number of attacks. If you look at the number of attacks and fatalities since 1900, there has been a general increase in the number of shark attacks, but a decrease in the fatalities from shark attacks. It’s almost as though there are more people in the world and more of them bobbing up and down in the ocean in seal costumes, possibly on a tasty cracker.

graph 2 shark attacks since 1900 by decade

International Shark Attack File data, Florida Museum of Natural History

Now this is interesting for the world and Australia, as it appears that despite our best efforts as humans, sharks aren’t taking revenge for the 100 million of them we kill each year. But this is about a shark cull in Western Australia: what’s happening there? Well, these tables say it all really:

Unprovoked Cases Since 1791:

State # Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured Last Fatality
NSW 243 68 (27.9%) 120 55 2013 Coffs Harbour
QLD 251 82 (32.7%) 151 18 2011 Fantome Island
WA 92 20 (21.7%) 57 15 2013 Gracetown
SA 48 18 (37.5%) 23 7 2011 Coffin Bay
VIC 45 9 (20%) 27 9 1987 Mornington Peninsula
TAS 15 3 (20%) 8 4 1993 Tenth Is, Georgetown
NT 10 2 (Duh) 6 2 1938 Bathurst Island
Total 704 202 (28.7%) 392 110 (Revised  28/1/2014)

Provoked Cases Since 1832:

# Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured
Total 190 15 129 46

Western Australia accounts for ~13% of shark attack deaths. When we look at 2012 data we see that WA is having a greater proportion of the Australian attacks and accounts for all the fatalities in Australia. The terms “bigger population”, “longer coastline”, “more cashed up bogans come to mind.

Australian Shark Encounter Statistics for 2012:

State Cases Recorded Fatal Injured Uninjured
NSW 5 0 3 2
QLD 1 0 1 0
SA 1 0 1 0
WA 5 2 2 1
VIC 1 0 1 0
TAS 1 0 1 0
NT 0 0 0 0
TOTAL – Unprovoked 14 2 9 3
TOTAL – Provoked 8 0 5 3
All Cases 22 2 14 6

So there is no actual proof that there are any more deaths occurring from shark attacks, definitely no trend toward more deaths, but a significant increase in the number of media reports on those deaths (citation needed). Even on a state by state basis there isn’t any death trend. But there is a trend towards more shark incidents. What we are actually seeing is an increase in the number of people dressing up like seals/shark food (scuba divers and surfers).

Circumstances affecting shark / human interactions:
The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year correlates with human population increases and the amount of time humans spend in the shark’s environment. As Australia’s population continues to increase and interest in aquatic recreation rises, it would realistically be expected that there will be an increase in the number of shark encounters.

Let’s put that in perspective, Australians have a 1 in 3,362 chance of drowning at the beach and a 1 in 292,525 chance of being killed by a shark in one’s entire lifetime. In Australia there are 1.38 deaths per year from sharks, 121 deaths per year from drowning at the beach, and 1,193 deaths per year from driving. We’re more likely to die from all the stupid shit we do, than from sharks. So why have a shark cull?

There is no real reason to have a shark cull. We already kill 100 million of the things annually anyway. What we actually need to do is look at where the sharks are looking for food, has their food moved, if so due to what, and are we seeing less shark food available such that sharks are looking for alternate foods. The shark cull with drum lines and nets is actually likely to kill off dolphins, turtles, rays, and endangered shark species, which is why fisheries researchers don’t support the cull.

Update: I neglected to mention that other states in Australia have been using baiting and nets, in the case of Queensland, since 1962, and since 1937 in New South Wales. Reports are not complimentary of the Queensland nor New South Wales programs. To quote:

…the Fisheries Scientific Committee is of the opinion that the current shark meshing program in New South Wales waters’ adversely affects two or more threatened species, populations or ecological communities and could cause species, populations or ecological communities that are not threatened to become threatened.

And (okay, I’ve cherry picked this a bit, read the whole report on how we are overfishing, killing shitloads of sharks, destroying the fisheries and adding baiting on top of this):

The main pressures on grey nurse sharks appear to be fishing activities and shark control programs……. The biological susceptibility of sharks to over fishing, evidence for increasing fishing pressure and lack of information have given rise to increasing concern about the sharks and rays of the Reef.

Essentially shark baiting, whilst paling in comparison to the 100 million sharks killed for their fins annually, is another pressure that endangered species don’t need. Especially when the baiting is still killing other endangered animals, not just sharks.

For more, read these articles:

https://theconversation.com/wa-shark-frenzy-how-to-stop-a-runaway-train-22669

http://www.nature.com/news/australian-shark-cull-plan-draws-scientists-ire-1.14373

http://www.taasfa.com/No-Shark-Nets.html

https://theconversation.com/western-australias-shark-culls-lack-bite-and-science-21371

https://theconversation.com/cull-or-be-killed-is-this-really-the-solution-to-stop-shark-attacks-3961

http://tysonadams.com/2013/10/16/mythtaken-shark-attacks/

http://tysonadams.com/2011/10/24/shark-attack/

4 Reasons to Make Your Email Public

I read a blog post recently that suggested it is a good idea to make your email address publicly available on your webpage (and elsewhere). This is a great idea. The blog author listed 4 reasons, so I’ll list another 4.

Because everyone needs an extra couple of inches on their penis.
Even if you are a woman. Maybe especially if you are a woman.

How will SEO marketers contact you without your email?
Except via the comments and domain registry information.

Nigerian Royalty could be trying to contact you.
I hear they need to give away money to people they don’t know.

From See Mike Draw. Become a fan NOW!

From See Mike Draw. Become a fan NOW!

Because there is no such thing as social media and direct messaging.
I mean, who even has a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+, etc, account these days? And there are definitely no features that allow you to privately contact the person via those mediums.

Can’t we all just get along: DTB vs E-book

Print vs ebook infographic
The big take home from this infographic is that readers are more interested in reading, not on the format it comes in. I also found it interesting that people read slower on an e-reader (which I’d guess is because the screen is smaller and requires more ‘page turns’ which breaks reading flow) yet those using e-readers read an average of 9 more books per year (24 vs 15).

In summary: reading is good, go and enjoy a good book.

Will individuals respond differently to homeopathic remedies prepared with unboiled vs. boiled water?

I recently watched a debate between Ben Goldacre and Peter Fischer on homeopathy. During the course of the debate, an audience member asked, “If water has a memory, how come you’re not sick every time you drink water out of the tap?.

A homeopathic practitioner answered (paraphrased) that boiling the water resets the memory and that homeopathic remedies are only effective when using boiled water. He makes another comment implying that if a remedy were prepared with tap water, it wouldn’t be effective.

I realize the above related question (“Does water have a memory…?”) is nearly identical. I’m trying to ask it another way as it’s possible to persist with the water memory concept despite the other question’s answer. One could simply say (my hypothetical response),

“Well, we don’t know how it works and perhaps it isn’t by the known mechanism of how water behaves… but trials indicate that it works, nonetheless and that’s all I need.”

Since the audience member in the video indicated tangible predictions, I’m interested if they’ve ever been put to the test. Thus, my question is:

Has a trial ever been conducted in which homeopathic remedies prepared from both unboiled and boiled water were compared against one another in terms of patient response?

If there is another way to answer this question please go for it.

Answer:

It really doesn’t make any difference if the water is boiled or not, homeopathy doesn’t work.

The Minimum Dose and Avagadro’s Number The second and most controversial tenet in homeopathy is that remedies retain biological activity if they are diluted in a series (usually in a 1:10 or 1:100 diluent–volume ratio) and agitated or shaken between each dilution. Hahnemann began this process to reduce toxicity, but later he claimed that this “potenization” process extracted the “vital” or “spirit-like” nature of these substances (2). The limit of molecular dilution (Avagadro’s number) was not discovered until the later part of Hahnemann’s life; by then homeopaths all over the world were reporting that even very high potencies (dilutions lower than Avagadro’s number) produced clinical effects. The implausibility of such claims has led many to dismiss any evidence of homeopathy’s effectiveness as artifact or delusion (3). http://www.annals.org/content/138/5/393.full

But lets pretend for a moment that water does have memory. The aspect of boiling has not been researched. A search of Google Scholar nets no results for boiling and homeopathy. When referring to “how-to” guides of preparations it becomes obvious that homeopaths are merely after clean or unpolluted water to make their preparations in.

Ingredients … 1/2 or 1 litre of boiled water (distilled water may be bought at pharmacies in some countries, if you want that, and bottled, rinsed water is commonly sold in groceries too)

Another example:

Preparing your own bottle: Boil the glass bottle and dropper in filtered water for 15 min. and let it cool completely. Fill it just to the neck with filtered or distilled water.

So clearly the idea that boiling is the only way to reset the water is not backed up by the practices employed by homeopaths themselves. This combined with the fraudulent claim that water retains memory shows that this is another misdirection to allow justification.

Is GM corn toxic?

According to Vendomois et al, 2009:

these data highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn.

Monsanto, the manufacturer of two of the studied strains of GM corn, responded, dismissing the article, particularly by criticizing the statistical methods used. Is Monsanto’s criticism valid?

Have their been additional studies done that either support or refute the claim that genetically-modified corn has toxic effects?

Answer:

The simple answer is no.

GM corn has the BT gene that allows lower use of pesticides due to increased or the RR gene that allows the use of glyphosate for weed control. Neither of these alterations have any impacts upon the production of sugars or proteins in the plant. http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef130.asp

The problem that can arise is from the pesticides that are now used on the crops and the timing of their application. These pesticides are known to harm mammals and if the dose is high enough can cause problems. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793308/

Generally though, because you are removing pests and weeds the plants tend to be healthier so they are less impacted by pathogens, thus better for consumption. http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.962/news_detail.asp

There is an issue with using corn as a feed supplement in animals though. Corn is not a complete food source and is generally low in protein, especially tryptophan. This means that a feed mix is required, not just straight corn meal. http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/beef/as1238w.htm

Another issue is that corn can cause Pellagra. This is due to the niacin and B12 being bound in the corn starches and not being released in normal digestion. Tryptophan is also low in corn and can cause Pellagra.

So the problems often cited with GM corn are actually just problems with corn itself. Neither are harmful, if used correctly in a balanced diet, but pesticide residues are of concern. For more see this: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.0960-7412.2002.001607.x/full

Another point that should be made is that the paper cited is from a notorious “research” group who produce shoddy science in order to further their biased agenda against GM technology. The big problem with the paper is that it uses the wrong sort of analysis and the data has already been analysed by two other papers and found to say the opposite of what this paper says. Essentially, if you do a statistical test with a 95% confidence margin, you are saying that you have one chance in twenty of being wrong because of natural variability. So if you measure 20 variables with separate tests, you are likely to have one be a false positive result. Measure 40 with separate tests, 2 false positives. This is what the research group did, set up the stats to generate lots of false positives, instead of analysing the data correctly with tests that account for this problem. It should be noted that this is a common problem/tactic with anti-GM research papers.

Additional question: The ACSH source claims Studies Indicate GM Crops Are Safer and Healthier, but last time ACSH reported their funding, they were co-funded by what are now GMO companies. Currently they are not open about their funding at all. Therefore, their independence cannot be established. Can you back up the claim by research where all funding sources are open and independent? – gerrit

Reply: Of course there is plenty of independent data. gmopundit.blogspot.com/ has an entire series devoted to the safety studies of GM crops. The highly respected journal Nature had an entire edition devoted to the topic. But that is beside the point, the underlying mechanism of the Bt is not one that works on humans (it is even sprayed on organic farms). We don’t have an alkaline stomach to activate the chemical (ditto some insects it doesn’t impact either) which means it can’t do anything. So the concerns are completely misplaced.

Is EPA-approved insecticide (clothianidin) responsible for killing off bees?

recent article in NaturalNews claims that last year there were leaked documents exposing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) illegitimately approved toxic pesticide clothianidin for use, while being aware it might kill bees.

Now, the article says, there’s a new study by Purdue University that confirms that clothianidin is actually killing off bees, and that it’s spread has become systematic in the entire food chain.

The entire report is available online via PubMed: Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields

The article goes on to warn about the consequenses of all this:

Without bees, which are now dying off at an alarming rate due to exposure to clothianidin and various other insecticides and fungicides, one third or more of the food supply will be destroyed, including at least 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables that rely on bees for pollination.

The claim is that if people in US don’t do something to stop the bees from dying, at least one third of the food supply (in the US) will be destroyed. Because bees are dying. Which is the caused mainly by clothianidin. Which is in use because of EPA’s failure or corruption.

Is this information accurate? Or does the article misrepresent the situation somehow? Is the study legitimate?

Related: Are Bees Disappearing and Why

Answer:

Clothianidin is similar to imidacloprid, being of the same chemical group of insecticides and both being linked to bee population decline (Colony Collapse Disorder – CCD).

There is controversy over the role of neonicotinoids in relation to pesticide toxicity to bees and imidacloprid effects on bee population. Neonicotinoid use has been strictly limited in France since the 1990s, when neonicotinoids were implicated in a mass die-off of the bee population. It is believed by some to account for worker bees’ neglecting to provide food for eggs and larvae, and for a breakdown of the bees’ navigational abilities, possibly leading to what has become generally known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Low concentrations of imidicloprid and clothianidin have impacts upon bees’ ability to forage and return to the hive.

The results show that almost all the control honey bees returned to the hive, and started again visiting the feeder between 2 to 5 hours after the release. Honey bees fed with the concentration of 100 ppb also returned to the hive, but they returned to visit the feeder only 24 hours after the release. Honey bees fed with 500 ppb and 1000 ppb completely disappeared after the release, and they were not seen during the following 24 hours, neither at the hive nor at the feeding site.

But neonicotinoid insecticides are only one of of many things impacting upon bees, and most research indicates that it is a combination of factors that is behind CCD.

The most recent report (USDA – 2010) states that “based on an initial analysis of collected bee samples (CCD- and non-CCD affected), reports have noted the high number of viruses and other pathogens, pesticides, and parasites present in CCD colonies, and lower levels in non-CCD colonies. This work suggests that a combination of environmental stressors may set off a cascade of events and contribute to a colony where weakened worker bees are more susceptible to pests and pathogens.”[20] Applying proteomics-based pathogen screening tools in 2010, researchers announced they had identified a co-infection of invertebrate iridescent virus type 6 (IIV-6) and the fungus Nosema ceranae in all CCD colonies sampled. (Quoted from Wiki, original USDA report linked above)

So this issue is much larger than any one chemical group and is about environmental management and pesticide usage in general. Most insecticides will kill bees, especially with direct contact. Bees are only one of several pollination vectors in the world, so while they are important, this scare campaign is misguided. What is actually needed is further understanding of CCD, bee breeding programs and management strategies that will actually deal with this issue.

Also, as a general rule of thumb, just about anything that appears on Natural News is likely to be wrong.

Update: A paper published in the middle of last year has some interesting results that could indicate a/the driver of CCD in horticulture. Essentially the article shows that bees don’t just forage on one farm, instead collecting pollen from the surrounding area as they see fit. As such, they come back with all sorts of pollens and all sorts of pesticides and fungicides. It is this combination of pesticides and fungicides in the bees’ found that appears to make the bees a bit sick, so they are more likely to get lost whilst foraging or get infected with mites and fungi. Note the lack of worry about clothianidin and other neonicotinoids, but rather the fungicides being the big problem. To quote:

Our results show that beekeepers need to consider not only pesticide regimens of the fields in which they are placing their bees, but also spray programs near those fields that may contribute to pesticide drift onto weeds. The bees in our study collected pollen from diverse sources, often failing to collect any pollen from the target crop (Fig. 1). All of the non-target pollen that we were able to identify to genus or species was from wildflowers (Table S1), suggesting the honey bees were collecting significant amounts of pollen from weeds surrounding our focal fields.

This indicates that beekeepers and horticultural farmers don’t appear to be respecting withholding periods for agricultural sprays the way they should. Partly because the bees are foraging where they don’t expect them to and partly because they haven’t correctly planned sprays and pollination. It will be interesting to see if these results are backed up by more causative work, although I’m not sure it will apply to broadacre farming (does that mean CCD is mainly a horticulture and small hectare farming issue?).

Global warming and mild winters

Does global warming make for milder winters? What about specifically North America?

(You often hear people extol global warming for giving us mild winters. Is there evidence of a causal link?)

Two examples claims of global warming causing mild winters in New York, and Tibet are linked in the comments. However, my question is whether this is a global phenomenon.

Answer:

This is a tricky question to answer because weather, what you experience at your house right now, is not really that same thing as climate, the patterns of global air and sea movements that bring weather.

So milder winters can be a possibility in certain locations, as they will be exposed to an overall warming of the entire atmosphere. But colder winters can be experienced.

Since the mid 1970s, global temperatures have been warming at around 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. However, weather imposes its own dramatic ups and downs over the long term trend. We expect to see record cold temperatures even during global warming. Nevertheless over the last decade, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows. This tendency towards hotter days is expected to increase as global warming continues into the 21st Century.

Vladimir Petoukhov, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has recently completed a study on the effect of climate change on winter. According to Petoukhov,

These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia. Recent severe winters like last year’s or the one of 2005-06 do not conflict with the global warming picture, but rather supplement it.

Weather being a local response to climatic conditions means that you have to understand what has changed in the climatic patterns in your region. What are your local weather drivers? How have they changed since the 1970s?

Thus, you could end up with some areas experiencing colder winters; due to greater moisture levels in the air, more precipitation of snow, greater heat loss at night due to clear skies, etc. Or you could have an area that will experience milder temps in winter due to warmer air currents, warmer oceans, localised heat island impacts, etc.

For further information you should investigate the weather and climate agencies publications for your area.

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