Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “climate change”

Skeptically Challenged

Skeptically Challenged 19 Oct 2014
I’ve been quite busy recently. There is the usual writing going on, but I also have a few articles in the works, another rugrat in the works, and I’ve also been interviewed for the Skeptically Challenged Podcast.

In the podcast, Ross, Ketan and myself discuss a range of topics and try to bring the science. Ketan discusses the mythical wind turbine syndrome, I discuss a recent climate paper, and we cover the promises of fusion power from Lockhead Martin and the recent Ebola hysteria.

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Consider supporting Skeptically Challenged on Patreon;
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Ross Balch

Ross Balch

Tyson Adams

Tyson Adams

Ketan_Profile

Ketan Joshi

 

Ross: https://twitter.com/skep_challenged

Ketan: https://twitter.com/KetanJ0

Edit: Ross and I discussed a couple of other topics in the session below: Supplements and Atheists in Rehab.

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Discussed topics:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25043597

https://twitter.com/The_MartinL/status/522865867529265154

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/lockheed-martins-fusion-reactor/

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/calif-atheist-awarded-2-million-after-being-re-jailed-for-refusing-faith-based-rehab/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/13/the-inevitable-rise-of-ebola-conspiracy-theories/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/10/17/what-was-fake-on-the-internet-this-week-ebola-edition/

http://doubtfulnews.com/2014/10/black-eyed-child-crazy-is-for-the-extremely-gullible/

http://etwasluft.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/alan-jones-declares-at-least-219000.html

http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/pause-in-warming-debunked

New Captain Disillusion Video! – http://youtu.be/h0pIZH-W6b4?list=UUEOXxzW2vU0P-0THehuIIeg

Some links to the material I was name dropping:
http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2014/10/anthony-watts-has-found-another.html
http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter10_FINAL.pdf
http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity-advanced.htm
http://www.politicususa.com/2014/10/16/rush-limbaugh-admits-causing-panic-ebola-gop-win-midterm-elections.html

Also, stay tuned until the very end and you’ll hear just one of the bits that Ross will have for subscribers, mainly jokes. Now just imagine how we managed to work rocket powered Miley Cyrus into the discussion.

To block or not to block: that is the question.

funny-graphs-untitled2

The internet is a wonderful place to find information on just about any topic you can imagine and few you can’t. From the latest scientific study to the grumpiest cat, from insightful commentary to rule 34: the internet has it all. The problem is that not everyone is rational, logical, nor well informed, and they still have internet connections and the ability to make webpages and comment on social media.

As someone who tries to share science and knowledge with people, I love to engage and discuss topics. If I can help someone understand or learn something about a complex topic, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. The more science communicators out there doing the same thing, the slightly better the world becomes. This better understanding leads to better decisions, better ideas, better inventions, better cat photos.

The problem is that not everyone appreciates being told that they are mythtaken or wrong. Others are adamant that they aren’t wrong. People will argue against the overwhelming scientific evidence on topics like climate change (real, man-made, we need to do something about it), genetic modification (breeding technique, cool innovation that is more precise and has great potential), modern medicine (seriously!?!), evolution (as solid a theory as gravity), and even the shape of the Earth (yes, flat-Earthers still exist). This anti-science nonsense is thankfully on the losing team, they just aren’t playing with a full deck.

It is these science deniers that are the most frustrating to deal with on social media and the internet. There is no evidence you can show them that won’t be dismissed – often as a conspiracy – and there is no rationality to their arguments. But they can also be very convincing to people who don’t know enough about a topic, which is how myths get started. And that is dangerous, once myths are started they are very hard to get rid of. So it is actually important to make sure that the science deniers aren’t existing in an echo chamber, which the internet has facilitated to some extent – I’m looking at you Alex Jones, Mike Adams and Joseph Mercola!

These science deniers can be a menacing drain of time, effort and inner calm. The easiest way to deal with them would be to block them, excise the wound, possibly burn the evidence of their existence. But then the science deniers have won. Their echo chamber is just that little bit more echo-y. But the echo chamber is going to keep echoing regardless, as discussed above. But won’t somebody think of the children!

I really hate blocking people on social media. The science denier drivel may pollute my newsfeeds, but blocking them also leaves me open to my own echo chamber. Sure, I might think I’m good at picking good information from bad, but if my thinking is never challenged, how can I be confident I’m not falling for confirmation bias? I guess this is the Catch 22 of the modern age, but with more cats.

Is science broken?

With the rebirth of Cosmos on TV, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the team have brought science back into the mainstream. No longer is science confined to the latest puff piece on cancer research that is only in the media because a) cancer and b) the researchers are pressuring the funding bodies to give them money. The terms geek and nerd have stopped being quite the derogatory terms they once were. We even have science memes becoming as popular as Sean Bean “brace yourself” memes.

Sean dies

This attention has also cast a light on the scientific process itself with many non-scientists and scientists passing comment on the reliability of science. Nature has recently published several articles discussing the reliability of study’s findings. One article shows why the hard sciences laugh at the soft sciences, with the article talking about statistical errors. I mean, have these “scientists” never heard of selection and sample bias? Yes, there is a nerd pecking order, and it is maintained through pure snobbishness, complicated looking equations, and how clean the lab-coat remains.

purity

As a science nerd, I feel the need to weigh in on this attack on science. So I’m going to tear apart, limb by limb, a heavy hitting article: Cracked.com’s 6 Shocking Studies That Prove Science Is Totally Broken.

To say that science is broken or somehow unreliable is nonsense. To say that peer review or statistical analysis is unreliable is also nonsense. There are exceptions to this: sometimes entire fields of study are utter crap, sometimes entire journals are just crap, sometimes scientists and reviewers suck at maths/stats. But in most instances these things are not-science, just stuff pretending to be science. Which is why I’m going to discuss this article.

A Shocking Amount of Medical Research Is Complete Bullshit
#6 – Kinda true. There are two problems here: media reporting of medical science and actual medical science. The biggest issue is the media reporting of medical science, hell, science in general. Just look at how the media have messed up the reporting of climate science for the past 40 years.

Of course most of what is reported as medical studies are often preliminary studies. You know: “we’ve found a cure for cancer, in a petri dish, just need another 20 years of research and development, and a boatload of money, and we might have something worth getting excited about.” The other kind that get attention aren’t proper medical studies but are spurious claims by someone trying to pedal a new supplement. So this issue is more about the media being scientifically illiterate than anything.

Another issue is the part of medical science that Ben Goldacre has addressed in his books Bad Science and Bad Pharma. Essentially you have a bias toward positive results being reported. This isn’t good enough. Ben goes into more detail on this topic and it is worth reading his books on this topic and the Nature articles I previously referred to.

Many Scientists Still Don’t Understand Math
#5 – Kinda true. Math is hard. It has all of those funny symbols and not nearly enough pie charts. Mmmm, pie! If a reviewer in the peer review process doesn’t understand maths, they will often reject papers, calling the results blackbox. Other times the reviewers will fail to pick up the mistakes made, usually because they aren’t getting paid and that funding application won’t write itself. And that’s just the reviewers. Many researchers don’t do proper trial design and often pass off analysis to specialists who have to try and make the data work despite massive failings. And the harsh reality is that experiments are always a compromise: there is no such thing as the perfect experiment.

Essentially, scientists are fallible human beings like everyone else. Which is why science itself is iterative and includes a methods section, so that results are independently confirmed before being accepted.

And They Don’t Understand Statistics, Either
#4 – Kinda true, but misleading. How many people understand the difference between statistically significant and significance? Here’s a quick example:

This illustrates that when you test for something at the 95% confidence interval you still have a 1 in 20 chance of a false positive or natural variability arising in the test. Some “science” has been published that uses this false positive by doing a statistical fishing trip (e.g. anti-GM paper). But there is another aspect, if you get enough samples, and enough data, you can actually get a statistically significant result but not have a significant result. An example would be testing new fertiliser X and finding that there is a p value of 0.05 (i.e. significant) that the grain yield is 50kg higher in a 3 tonne per hectare crop. Wow, statistically significant, but at 50kg/ha, who cares?!

But these results will be reported, published, and talked about. It is easy for people who haven’t read and understood the work to get over excited by these results. It is also easy for researchers to get over excited too, they are only human. But this is why we have the methods and results sections in science papers, so that calmer, more rational heads prevail. Usually after wine. Wine really helps.

Scientists Have Nearly Unlimited Room to Manipulate Data
#3 – True but misleading. Any scientist *could* make up anything that they wanted. They could generate a bunch of numbers to prove that, for an example of bullshit science, the world is only 6000 years old. But because scientists are a skeptical bunch, they’d want some confirming evidence. They’d want that iterative scientific process to come into play. And the bigger that claim, the more evidence they’d want. Hence why scientists generally ignore creationists, or just pat them on the head when they show up at events: aren’t they cute, they’re trying to science!

But there is a serious issue here. The Nature article I referred to was a social sciences study, a field that is rife with sampling and selection bias. Ever wonder why you hear “scientists say X is bad for you” then a year later it is “scientists say X is good for you”? Well, that is because two groups were sampled and correlated for X, and as much as we’d like it, correlation doesn’t equal causation. I wish someone would tell the media this little fact, especially since organic food causes autism.

Other fields have other issues. Take a look at health and fitness studies and spot who the participants were: generally they are university students who need the money to buy tinned beans and beer. Not the most representative group of people and often they are mates with one of the researchers, all 4 of them. Not enough participants and a biased sample: not the way to do science. The harder sciences are better, but that isn’t to say that there isn’t limitations. Again, *this is why we have the methods section, so that we can figure out the limitations of the study.*

The Science Community Still Won’t Listen to Women
#2 – When I first wrote this I disagreed, but now I agree, see video below (I’d still love to hear from someone without a penis on this one). There is still a heavy bias toward men in senior positions at universities and research institutes, just like all other aspects of society. This is gradually changing, but you have to remember what age those senior people are and what that generation required of women (quit when they got married, etc). That old guard may have influence, but I doubt it is as large as implied, and they’ll all be dead or retired soon where their influence will be confined to the letters to the editor in the newspaper. And I’d question how much this influence has on “listening” to women in science, because if there is a field that encourages knowledge and evidence over other aspects, then science is it. After seeing the video below, especially the way the question was asked, I think it is clear that the expectations for women create barriers into and through careers in science (the racism is similar and is one I see as a big issue). So it starts long before people get into science, then it continues through attrition.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t an issue with equality still to be dealt with. That old guard isn’t dead yet and their influence will hang around like old people smell for a while to come. But this issue isn’t confined to science and I think science is better placed than many other fields. I won’t go into the preferred areas of study issue, as maths, engineering, science, social science, humanities, etc, all have massive differences in their sex ratios that would need an entire uninformed rant on.


Fast forward to 1:01:31 for the question and NGT’s answer (sorry, embed doesn’t allow time codes).

It’s All About the Money
#1 – D’uh and misleading. Research costs money. *This is why we have the methods section, so that we can figure out the limitations of the study.* Money may bring in bias, but it doesn’t have to, nor does that bias have to be bad or wrong. Remember how I said above that science is an iterative process? Well, there is only so big a house of cards that can be built under a pile of bullshit before it falls down in a stinky mess. Money might fool a few people for a while (e.g. climate change denial) but science will ultimately win.

Ultimately, science is the best tool we have for finding out about our reality, making cool stuff, and blowing things up. Without it we wouldn’t be, this article wouldn’t be possible, we wouldn’t know what a Bill Nye smack down looks like. Sure, there is room for improvement, especially in the peer review process and funding arrangements, and science is flawed because it is done by humans, but science is bringing the awesome every day: we have to remember that fact.

Other rebuttals:

http://www.reddit.com/r/badscience/comments/1veyhu/cracked_again_6_shocking_studies_that_prove/cero5qj

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/is-science-broken/

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.

Election 2013: Australian House of Reps and Climate Change

Normally I don’t talk politics. It really hurts my head when I repeatedly bash it against the desk when listening to politicians speak. Being apolitical I see little point in discussing what a bunch of self-serving failed lawyers do on a daily basis. Regardless, I’ve reblogged this post from uknowispeaksense – a fellow science nerd – as he has done a very good breakdown of both the houses of Australian parliament and where they stand on climate change.

Being a scientist, I find the current political inaction on climate change to be unacceptable. I find the denial of climate science to be akin to disputing gravity. Then again, I’m sure we could find politicians that would argue pigs can fly if there were enough votes in it.  The science is settled. So I think it is important that people know where their politicians stand on what is quite possibly the most important issue to face humanity.

Also, this link has position statements of various parties.

Note: Senators’ positions here.

In September this year, 2013,  Australians will head to the polls to exercise their democratic right and vote in the federal election, with each eligible voter hoping the party of their choice wins enough seats to govern for the next 3 years. Recently, Australian politics has seemingly become much like American politics with the right shifting to the extreme right and what were formerly centre left shifting slightly to the centre. In the process, the issue of climate change has become highly politicised. The idea of this page, is to highlight where each party and some selected individuals stand on climate change. In particular, I am interested in whether they accept the science or not.

Recent climate change is real, it is happening now, it is caused by humans and it is serious. This is not up for debate because the science is settled. Every major national scientific body in the developed world and the tens of thousands of scientists researching the climate accept this as fact. In my opinion, and many others, it is hands down the most important global issue and challenge facing humanity, and urgent action is required…now.

In order for global initiatives to be implemented to tackle the threat of climate change we must have governments who are prepared to act, and that means we must first have governments that accept the science. So how does our current crop of politicians stack up? To find out, Hansard, party websites, individual websites, press releases, newspaper, radio and television interview transcripts were searched for definitive statements made by our politicians that demonstrate that they either accept the science or not. Where a definitive statement wasn’t apparent, but the Member had mentioned some aspects of climate change, I emailed the Member requesting clarification of their position.  Where no response was provided, the Member was classified as “no data” or “insufficient data”. Two Members made no mention of “climate change” or “global warming” at all in the places searched. They have been placed in the denier category. Retiring politicians (as at February 16, 2013) have been excluded.

An example of a definitive statement accepting the science on climate change is this one from Steve Irons, the Liberal Party Member for Swan, who when rising to speak in parliament on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and associated Bills (CPRS2009), said…

“I accept the premise that climate change exists and that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the accelerated rate of climate change. There is evidence to support this and I lend my weight to those arguments.”

The link for that speech is here. An example of a definitive statement or statements rejecting the science is this barrage from Warren Truss, the National Party Member for Wide Bay as reported in the Australian newspaper.

”It’s too simplistic to link a finite spell to climate change.”

”These comments tend to be made on hot days rather than cold days.

”I’m told it’s minus one in Mt Wellington at the present time in Tasmania.

”Hobart’s expecting a maximum of 16.

”Australia’s climate, it’s changing, it’s changeable. We have hot times, we have cold times…

”The reality is that it’s utterly simplistic to suggest that we have these fires because of climate change.”

This is the usual grab bag of inane throw away lines, or variations of, one can find on any climate denial website.  So, just how many of our politicians accept or reject the science of climate change?

Position on the science of climate change of current Australian mambers of the House of representatives n=150

Position on the science of climate change of current Australian members of the House of Representatives. n=150

What is clear from this graph is that the majority of Members accept the scientific consensus on climate change and have made definitive statements to that effect. When we break it down into party affiliations v position, we get an interesting look into the politicisation of the issue.

Position on the science ofclimate change of Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation. n=144 (6 retiring)

Position on the science of climate change of Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation. n=144 (6 retiring)

The striking thing about this graph that should be immediately apparent, is the fact that nearly every Australian Labor Party Member  has made a definitive statement accepting the science of climate change. For the conservatives, the split is nearly 50/50. This can be broken down further…

Position on the science of climate change by Coalition Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation n=59

Position on the science of climate change of Coalition Members of the House of Representatives by political party affiliation n=59

No real surprises here that the Nationals, being the representatives for large areas of “the bush” are climate change deniers. Their constituents tend to be highly conservative. Please note: retiring members and those for which there is no data have been excluded from this graph.

So, who accepts the science and who doesn’t? What is clear is that if you are of the right, there’s a good chance you are in the wrong. Here is a complete breakdown of the results with each member and their position.

Current sitting Members of the House of Representatives and their position on climate change science.

Current sitting Members of the House of Representatives and their position on climate change science.

It’s probably fitting that the leader of the opposition, with a bit of help from alphabetisation, tops the list of deniers. This is the man who wants to lead the country and he refuses to accept the science of climate change. Remember, it is Abbott who claimed that “climate change is crap.” Now I’m sure there are supporters of Mr Abbott who will find quotes about his direct action plan to tackle climate change and hold this up as evidence that he is serious about the climate however, this is the man who will say anything for political expediency.

The thing that really bugs me about the list of deniers, is the presence of those National Party Members. While it isn’t surprising, these 8 people are supposed to represent Australian rural communities and have their best interests at heart. Climate change is likely to have very severe impacts on agricultural production in Australia. The CSIRO State of the Climate 2012 report states…

Australian average temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 °C by 2030 when compared with the climate of 1980 to 1999. The warming is projected to be in the range of 1.0 to 5.0 °C by 2070 if global greenhouse gas emissions are within the range of projected future emission scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These changes will be felt through an increase in the number of hot days and warm nights, and a decline in cool days and cold nights.

Climate models suggest long-term drying over southern areas during winter and over southern and eastern areas during spring. This will be superimposed on large natural variability, so wet years are likely to become less frequent and dry years more frequent. Droughts are expected to become more frequent in southern Australia; however, periods of heavy rainfall are still likely to occur.

These changes will require mitigation and adaptation activities to be undertaken not just by the agricultural producers, but also the communities in which they exist, and without government support, many will go to the wall. One wonders if a government full of climate change deniers will be able to make the important decisions that will secure Australia’s food future? For an insight into the potential challenges faced by agricultural producers in the future, as well as what will be required to adapt and mitigate, it is well worth reading the 2012 paper by Beverly Henry et al titled, Livestock production in a changing climate: adaptation and mitigation research in Australia. From the abstract…

Climate change presents a range of challenges for animal agriculture in Australia. Livestock production will be affected by changes in temperature and water availability through impacts on pasture and forage crop quantity and quality, feed-grain production and price, and disease and pest distributions. This paper provides an overview of these impacts and the broader effects on landscape functionality, with a focus on recent research on effects of increasing temperature, changing rainfall patterns, and increased climate variability on animal health, growth, and reproduction, including through heat stress, and potential adaptation strategies.

Full text available here. It’s not just livestock. It’s across the board. What will wine growers do in the face of earlier springs, increased risk of fungal diseases and changes in the microbiology and chemistry of winemaking? What will apple and stone fruit growers do to cope with a decrease in the efficacy of natural pest predators due to phenological changes in host species? Will wheat farmers be able to rely on a government full of climate change deniers to provide adequate R&D funding to combat lower yields? One need only look to Queensland to see what ideological climate change denial from a government looks like.

So, here are a few examples of the kinds of statements made by the deniers in our parliament. Remember, these people are ignoring the advice of tens of thousands of experts from around the world who are all saying the same thing, and they want to make decisions on your behalf, that won’t just affect you, but your children and grandchildren as well.

“The Prime Minister and her ministers have repeatedly declared that the “science is settled” and there is no need for further debate on how to respond to the environmental challenges from climate change. A Nobel Prize-winning scientist told me recently that “science is never settled” and that scientific assumptions and conclusions must always be challenged. This eminent Noble Laureate pointed that had he accepted the so-called “settled science”, he would not have undertaken his important research, which challenged orthodox scientific propositions and led to new discoveries, which resulted in a Nobel Prize.” Julie Bishop

That was Julie Bishop appealing to authority…the wrong authority.

“We are after all only talking about models and forecasts. Just as an aside, when the weather bureau cannot reliably tell me what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and then tells me that in 100 years there are going to be sea level rises of a metre as a result of climate change, I think I am entitled to exercise a level of caution in deciding whether to accept everything that is put to me about weather, climate and long-term trends.” Darren Chester

Darren Chester, failing to understand the difference between short-term weather forecasts and long-term climate trends. Scarily, he then goes on to discuss how wonderful it would be to dig out and burn all the brown coal in the Latrobe Valley. For the uninitiated, burning any coal is bad, but burning brown coal specifically is very bad. It burns much cooler than anthracite  due to higher water content and less lithification and so you have to burn more of it to produce the same amount of energy.

“As I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills, I do so wondering whether the debate is being driven by alarmists or scientists. Are we debating this subject from a scientific standpoint or are we being caught up in the emotion of the times? We do live in an uncertain world and it is understandable why it can be easier to accept statements at face value rather than questioning what we are being told. I have been reading Professor Ian Plimer’s book on his response to the global warming debate. It makes for very interesting and illuminating reading, and I would recommend it to any member entering the debate on global warming.”Joanna Gash

Joanna Gash basing her uneducated and ill-informed opinion on the writings of a non-expert who has never published a single peer-reviewed paper on the subject of climate change and who is the director of seven mining companies. Can you say “vested interests” Joanna?

“To say that climate change is human induced is to overblow and overstate our role in the scheme of the universe quite completely over a long period of time. I note that the member for Fraser came in here today with a very strong view about how human beings have been the source of all change in the universe at all times. He has joined a long line of Labor backbenchers I have spoken about in this place before—amateur scientists, wannabe weather readers, people who want to read the weather, people who like to come in here and make the most grandiose predictions about all sorts of scientific matters without even a basic understanding of the periodic table, or the elements or where carbon might be placed on the periodic table. So the member for Fraser has joined this esteemed group of people who seem to be great authorities on science.” Alex Hawke

Alex Hawke, also confusing weather with climate but doing so in a spectacularly arrogant way. I love it. He’s not just saying, “I’m an idiot” but rather “I’m really an idiot and you better believe it! So there!” Who wants to ask Mr Hawke where carbon is on the periodic table? I know I do.

“As the only PhD qualified scientist in this parliament, I have watched with dismay as the local and international scientific communities and our elected leaders have taken a seemingly benign scientific theory and turned it into a regulatory monolith designed to solve an environmental misnomer. With a proper understanding of the science, I believe we would not even be entering into this carbon tax debate. To put it simply, the carbon tax, with all its regulatory machinations, is built on quicksand. Take away the dodgy science and the need for a carbon tax becomes void. I do not accept the premise of anthropogenic climate change, I do not accept that we are causing significant global warming and I reject the findings of the IPCC and its local scientific affiliates.” Dennis Jensen

Dennis Jensen, legend in his own lunchtime appealing to his own non-authority and single-handedly dismissing the honest, dispassionate work of tens of thousands of real scientists from around the world. At this point I should point out that Dennis Jensen does indeed have a Phd….in materials engineering on ceramics. Next time it starts raining cups and plates I’ll be sure to look him up. Oh, and he is also tied in with the Lavoisier Group and according to Wikipedia, boycotted parliament the day Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. I know that isn’t relevant to climate change but hey, if he’s a racist arsehole then everyone has the right to know about it. Anyway, I strongly urge my readers to check out the rest of his parliamentary rant. It is a cracker. Every single paragraph is filled with…well….crap. Who voted for this clown?

“Perhaps more concerning is the evidence that suggests climate scientists have engaged in manipulation of data, routine alienation of scientists who dispute the theory of anthropogenic global warming and the overall culture of climate change science that encourages group think and silences dissent.”Don Randall

Don Randall, reflecting on a newspaper article about “Climategate”no less. Obviously 9 independent investigations into “Climategate” all finding no wrong doing isn’t enough for the wilfully ignorant. For a good roundup of the whole saga, skepticalscience is the place to go.

These were just a few of the deniers and their ill-informed statements that I randomly selected. Having read through so many speeches and transcripts and media releases, I can attest that these are representative of the other deniers in the list. For me, the mind boggles when it comes to climate change denial. Presumably, these politicians are meant to be rational people. The appeals to the authority of non-experts really confuse me. It is akin to getting a plumber instead of an electrician to rewire your house. They wouldn’t get a vet to perform the brain surgery some of them clearly need. Why do they think the opinions of non-experts has any weight when it comes to climate science? It is completely irrational.

I guess it may seem to some that I am picking on the conservatives…and that would be correct, but I also have one or two big questions to ask of the ALP. If you all accept the science behind climate change as you claim and see fossil fuel combustion as the primary cause of recent climate change, why do you subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions of dollars every year? Why not use that sort of money to develop the renewable energy sector and get us off our dependence on coal quicker?

This year’s election, if recent polling results carry through to September, is going to be won by the conservatives. Their leader, who admits to lying, who is on the record as holding different policy positions based on political expediency, is surrounded by men and women who are irrational in their non-acceptance of the science of climate change, many of them failing to grasp simple concepts such as the difference between weather and climate. Some of them suffer heavily from arrogance and one inparticular the Dunning-Kruger effect. A number of them have links to the mining industry and right-wing think tanks that are funded by mining companies and/or have mining executives on their boards. I wonder where their royalties loyalties lay? Is it with the people who have elected them, or their mining mates? I think I know the answer and it isn’t we the people. But then you’ve got the ALP subsiding the very industries they are claiming are the problem. Decisions decisions. For some, the decision might be about the lesser of two evils. Choose wisely.

Thanks to John Byatt for his valuable assistance with data collection.

If any politicians read this and feel they have been misrepresented, please feel free to contact me at unknowispeaksense@y7mail.com preferably with a definitive statement and I will make the necessary corrections and publish your response.

I have done the same thing for the Senate here.

Check out the National Party’s disconnect here.

Tyson Says: A point I should make about the results here, which was also made on The Drum last night: The Labor Party doesn’t allow for crossing the floor or dissenting public comment. Now, it isn’t like there aren’t penalties in the other parties for doing so, but this point needs to be considered when viewing the statistics.

Essentially, where it has all of Labor politicians on board with climate change, that is actually a party stance, not the individuals. I know from first hand discussions that there are Labor politicians who don’t believe in climate change science, but they won’t go on record as such because the party room has voted against them.

This is partly why we see such pathetic policies and hypocritical positions (e.g. mine coal like it is going out of fashion whilst claiming coal is to blame). Remember, politicians don’t care about science or facts, they care about making their supporters happy. Just don’t think that the voting public are their key supporters, because they certainly didn’t donate tens of millions to their party.

See why I’m apolitical?

Watch 62 Years of Global Warming in 13 Seconds

(via Climate Central)
From our friends at NASA comes this amazing 13-second animation that depicts how temperatures around the globe have warmed since 1950. You’ll note an acceleration of the temperature trend in the late 1970s as greenhouse gas emissions from energy production increased worldwide and clean air laws reduced emissions of pollutants that had a cooling effect on the climate, and thus were masking some of the global warming signal.

The data come from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York (GISS), which monitors global surface temperatures. As NASA notes, “All 10 of the warmest years in the GISS analysis have occurred since 1998, continuing a trend of temperatures well above the mid-20th century average.”

Can we grow enough crops to feed all people on Earth?

Vegetarianism is heavily promoted. But let’s say all people on Earth stop eating animal products. Can we grow enough crops so all people on the Earth are provided with enough healthy, nutritious food?

The question is of course very theoretical, but without discussing future possibilities to cultivate deserts and oceans, is there enough space to grow enough crops?

Answer:

This question is a very contentious one as it relies upon a lot of variables that are largely poorly understood.

The first part is arable land mass. Currently animal production is focussed on either high value grazing areas or low value extensive areas. Extensive grazing areas cannot be cropped. That area of production would have to be made up by increased crop production in other areas. 56% of Australia is extensive agriculture, worldwide it is ~5,000,000,000 hectares. That is a large amount of low production land to make up for.

Simply put, we can increase food availability (in terms of calories, protein and critical nutrients) by shifting crop production away from livestock feed, bioenergy crops and other non-food applications….. But even small changes in diet (for example, shifting grain-fed beef consumption to poultry, pork or pasture-fed beef) and bioenergy policy (for example, not using food crops as biofuel feedstocks) could enhance food availability and reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture.

Also, the areas quoted vary so much, because the figures are not fully understood. Cropping land is rarely cropped every year, instead rotated or rested at intervals, dependant upon crop type, soil type and amount of water/rainfall. Some countries just don’t have accurate records.

The second part is feed conversion. There are methods, such as mixed enterprise systems (crops plus grazing) and of course feedlotting that use grain feeding. The feedlotting is what people refer to the most, not understanding that cattle have a much higher energy conversion rate for vegetable matter than humans (being ruminants) and are not regularly fed for their entire lives. Thus grazing remains a large part of production.

Humans also preferentially eat higher protein foods like meat (see rise in meat demands from Asia with increasing wealth). This is because it is more calorically and nutritionally dense as a food, which is linked to satiety.

The third part is grain types. Most grains that are fed to animals are what is referred to in the grains industry as “feed grains”. These are generally lower quality grains that are unsuitable for human food production. Some of the grains used cannot be eaten by humans (e.g. lupins have high alkaloid levels that give both a bitter taste and become toxic when consumed regularly). Obviously the category of feed grain varies from “could be used” through to “cannot be used” for humans. This is once again a shorfall in the production required to replace meat in the diet. Remembering that feed crops are often grown where human crops cannot be grown, or not grown regularly (e.g. see wheat classes and agronomy).

Conclusion: These factors combine to create quite a different picture than what is normally presented in the “can we grow enough crops to replace meat eating” discussion. There would be less land available for cropping than is available for producing a mixed diet. There would be crops produced that would not be suitable for human consumption. We would also need slightly higher production or quality of crops to make up the energy conversion gap. This all makes for a large hole in the argument. There is nothing wrong with a vegetarian diet, nor an omnivorous one for that matter, but the environmental argument is not black and white and cannot be used as grounds for switching diets.

References:

Info on ME and DE for humans: http://fao.org/DOCREP/006/Y5022E/y5022e04.htm

This paper covers come of the conversion ratios for different animals that are grain fed (Cattle 7:1, Pigs 4:1, Chicken 2:1): http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240832

Another reference for the protein claims:http://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301622699000196

Can Australian farmers take on the challenge of climate change?

By Tim Scanlon and John Cook

Farmers are some of the most innovative Australians – since 1970 they have lost 7.5% of arable land, but they’ve found ways to increase production by 220%. They’re also some of the most conservative, expressed in their reluctance to accept the science of climate change. So what will win as they face a changing climate: innovation or conservatism?

The agriculture industry has been developing for the past 10,000 years, but it could be argued that the biggest advances have come in the last 50 to 60 years. Since 1970, the world population has doubled, yet farming area has stayed the same.

Essentially farmers and the research that has supported them have been fantastic. A recent Conversation article highlighted this. But now agriculture faces, possibly, its biggest challenge: climate change.

Australian agriculture: the greatest story never told.

Research in Western Australia found that over half (52%) were uncertain whether human-induced climate change was occurring. This is in sharp contrast to the 97% of climate scientists who agree that humans are causing global warming. Only 31% thought climate change represented a major threat to the future of their farm businesses. Results also showed that only 33% of all respondents found climate change information easy to understand.

In Western Australia since July 2010, the Farm Business Resilience program has, in part, been seeking to educate farmers about climate change. Before the initial sessions, farmers were surveyed by Chris Evans for their perceptions, knowledge and attitudes to climate change. Only 33% reported that they agreed climate change was occurring and just 19% believed climate change was human induced. Surveys at the end of the course assessed perceptions, knowledge and attitudes again, now showing that 80% of the farmers understood the impact of climate change and variability change on their businesses.

This was a staggering improvement, considering the difficulties that communicators face when they’re trying to correct misinformation. Numerous social studies have found misinformation is notoriously difficult to dislodge and debunking myths can sometimes have the effect of reinforcing them (known as the backfire effect). The backfire effect is particularly potent when presenting climate science to conservative audiences. If myths are not replaced with an alternative, plausible explanation, their influence can persist like returning weeds.

Farmers live and breathe a changing climate. Anthony Georgeff

The key to the program’s success came down to knowing how to contextualise information. An example is that most scientists present science to the public but fail to make their knowledge understandable. The authors know how important it is to explain that information and doing so in a program like this allows clear explainations and discussion. The advantage of speaking with farmers about climate is that they live and breathe it. Million dollar business decisions often hinge on seasonal outlooks, so farmers usually have a good knowledge base to work with.

So why is it important to educate farmers about climate change? Because successful farming is really important. Need proof? Don’t eat for a week.

Even without climate change, farmers have a lot to deal with in the next few decades. There are pressures on productive land from:

There are also social and political pressures for chemical usage, access to technology and production practices. The current debates over access to GM technologies and use of pesticides are just two examples of social pressures on farming. There are also the ever-present economic pressures, as returns decline and costs increase – the cost price squeeze.

Under all of this pressure, agriculture has to supply increasing food demands, all while climate change is forcing down productivity. Given that most of the world’s agriculture is rainfed (73%), agriculture has a lot to lose with changes in rainfall resulting from climate change.

A recent article on The Conversation highlighted how little people outside of agriculture know about where and how their food is produced. It is important for everyone to understand how modern agriculture works, to see the science and technology that is involved. Just as farmers need to know about climate change and how it will impact them, the wider community has to understand what agriculture needs into the future.

Agriculture has a lot to lose from changes in rainfall. Jane Rawson

Without community support, farmers will not have access to the latest technologies, trade agreements will be jeopardised and production will leave our nation without needed food security. And without more knowledge about farming, the wider public won’t understand proposed strategies for agriculture under climate change.

So the agriculture industry needs to be involved in an informed discussion of its future. Having farmers and the wider public meet will also help non-agricultural people understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. The better this link between producer and consumer, the better the industry will be. Through programs like Farm Business Resilience we can improve agriculture. But it can’t stop there: if farming doesn’t come to grips with climate change, it will affect us all.

This article was co-authored by Tim Scanlon. Tim is a scientist who is primarily involved in the agriculture industry as an extension specialist. His current focus is in climate change extension to rural Australia as part of a national program being trialed in Western Australia.

John Cook does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The ConversationThis article was originally published at The Conversation.

Read the original article.

Do wind turbines kill many birds each year?

It has been claimed that due to their large size, and the velocity of their blades that wind turbines kill large numbers of birds that run into them at night, or in fog, and die.

http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/wind-farm-birds112011.html#cr

Do wind turbines kill many birds each year?

Answer:

The simple answer is yes. The more complex answer is that the number of deaths is nothing in comparison to other man made structures and the risks from climate change.

There have been several studies done to find the environmental impact of wind farms on birds. Generally birds lack the ability to dodge humans and their quest for global supremacy. From the American Bird Conservancy there are a list of deaths related to sources as deaths per year in the US:

  • Feral and domestic cats – Hundreds of millions
  • Power lines – 130-174 million
  • Windows – 100 million to 1 billion (NB the high end seems too large to me)
  • Pesticides – 70 million
  • Cars – 60-80 million
  • Lighted communication towers – 40-50 million
  • Wind turbines – 10-40,000 (Table found here)

Obviously wind turbines aren’t as popular as cars, cats and windows, but with the expected increase in wind energy generation, the impacts will likely increase. The thing that has to be borne in mind is that the wind turbines are on an order of magnitude smaller impact than other bird killers. It also has to be remembered that the studies are also showing that newer wind power plants are having less impact on birds due to design upgrades, better placement and better ecological planning.

The real issue here is climate change. Coal power plants kill birds, in fact, they are threatening to wipe out entire species. According to a study reported in Scientific American, at least 950 entire species of terrestrial birds will be threatened with extinction as a result of climate change under several scenarios, even at the lower estimate of temperature gains, just counting species of non-sea birds in the higher latitudes; outside the tropics. Birds in the tropics will be impacted by habitat loss, which brings the total species wiped out to ~1800 (Jetz, Wilcove, and Dobson 2007).

The take home point is that we need clean energy sources to save bird species. Those that fly into turbines each year will be minimised with better designs and locations of turbines. In the meantime, worry about the cats and climate change.

Update: recent studies have shown that birds of prey are more prone to injury and death from wind turbines. Essentially, birds of prey spend a lot of time looking down for prey and not enough time looking where they are going. The usual bird collision rate is 0.08 birds per turbine per day on average (range 0.05–0.19), whilst the ‘smarter’ Eagles are colliding at a rate of 0.112 to 0.133. The study also suggests that bird size and speed of flight are important determinants of collision rates, hence why gliding and hovering prey birds are colliding more often. It is worth bearing in mind that both of these collision rates (that often result in death) still indicate an avoidance rate of 99%.

This avoidance rate is important to compare to the relative deaths per gigawatt-hour of the power sources to realise that wind power is still a very good option. This study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per gigawatt-hour. Thus, wind turbines could do with some investigation into how to make them safer for birds, but they are already a much better option than fossil fuels.

Update #2: an Australian researcher has recently done an interview on Ockham’s Razor (an ABC science show) to dispel some of the bird myths surrounding wind turbines.

Update #3: Teale commented via Facebook that the upscaling of power generation by wind hasn’t really changed the annual bird deaths per MW/hr despite the increase in the number of wind turbines and areas with wind farms. The bird deaths are ~33,000 pa, which is still in the range cited by the American Bird Conservationists from a few years ago, and the power generated has increased to ~4%. Again we come back to the point above about what other power generation and mining does to birds is a much larger impact. Remove them and the wind turbines can get a lot more prevalent and still not have the same impact. (NB: there may be some circular referencing going on between the sources in this article, so if this is the case,  please send through any revised data sources, especially on data changes with time).

http://www.fws.gov/birds/mortality-fact-sheet.pdf 

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/11-64.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_States

New climate info graphic

I wrote a little satirical book review about a notorious science journal called Energy & Environment, which is the go-to place for people who think the Earth is flat and that climate change isn’t happening. I’ve written a few articles on the topic myself and I’m also rather active in promoting climate science and renewable energy (just read my Twitter and Facebook feeds). As a result the author of the Infographic below – Allison Lee – contacted me. So enjoy a few climate facts from the graphic below and share it to continue to raise awareness.

Climate-Change

Created by: Learnstuff.com

Book Review: Energy & Environment – short story collections

Edited by Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a lot of publications out there that specialize in short fiction. One that has stood tall amongst the Science Fiction community is the publication Energy & Environment. Published 8 times per year, this periodical prides itself on its consistent quality of short stories. It has become a renowned publication in the sci-fi community, with contributing authors often writing about an alternate reality universe, where the rules of physics do not apply.

Luminaries of the Science Fiction community have been known to publish stories in E&E, notable examples include: Dr Willie Soon, Prof Bob Carter, Prof Ian Plimer, Dr Tim Curtin, Prof Richard Lindzen, Dr Roger Pielke Sr; a veritable who’s who of the Science Fiction world. Energy & Environment attract such great writers because of the favourable editorial standards, allowing startling new sub-genres of Science Fiction to emerge. Some of the most revered works of Science Fiction have been published in Energy and Environment in the last decade as a result of the publication’s regard in the sci-fi community.

Energy & Environment is often regarded as hard sci-fi, due to its heavy use of figures and tables within the stories. These illustrations help to conjure up a vivid impression of the wonderfully weird worlds the stories are based in. Having a science background, these elements of hard sci-fi were an entertaining aside, but most sci-fi fans would be able to enjoy the fictional universes without having to take them in.

Contributors are also known to win the prestigious Heartland Institute award. This is a notable Science Fiction award given by the Heartland Institute to encourage sci-fi writers to continue their work. The award comes with a cash stipend, generously given by Heartland funders such as Exxon. A notable Australian sci-fi author, Bob Carter, is a current recipient of the award, the $1600 a month stipend helping him write sci-fi stories full-time.

If you are looking for funny, entertaining and challenging Science Fiction, then Energy & Environment has a story for you.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Climate Change Denial – Heads in the Sand

Climate Change Denial: Heads in the SandClimate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand by Hadyn Washington and John Cook
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

It takes a while to read a book during your lunch break at work. It can take even longer if the book you are reading is filled with interesting tidbits of referenced information, which then inspires you to read the original research paper. I suppose that is the best thing about Washington and Cook’s Climate Change Denial, it is filled with interesting research and arguments, all concisely expressed for anyone with an interest in the future of our planet.

Usually I have an issue with non-fiction books. Often times the non-fiction genre is filled with work that lacks credibility or validity. Non-fiction is also prone to the shouting polemic, which is all doom and gloom, and short on any solutions. Climate Change Denial is the opposite, with a very well researched base of information, well rounded and reasoned arguments and an entire chapter devoted to the solutions for both denial and climate change.

What interested me was the mindset of denial. I’ve done a lot of reading of the peer reviewed literature on climate change (hint: the world is getting warmer, it’s our fault, we need to take action now) and have been frustrated with the same debunked arguments arising time and again. Now I understand why, well, aside from the massive fear and smear campaign waged by denier groups with oil $$. I also appreciated the candid debunking and slaying of the red herrings (e.g. we need to adapt) and white elephants (e.g. carbon capture and storage) often associated with the climate change debate.

This is a great book for the climate change extension people, for those who are undecided on the topic, and a must read for politicians (this book has been given to every Federal Government minister in Australia). Those who read it now have the job of converting the deniers, logic and science will prevail, but it would be nice to have that happen sooner rather than later.

Also worth reading John Cook’s fantastic site.

View all my reviews

Books you should read: Climate change

I couldn’t even begin to count the number of peer reviewed journal papers I’ve read. According to my Endnote archive I’m a nerd. It also indicates that I read 800 odd papers for my postgrad thesis. Suffice to say, when it comes to science I tend to read journal papers and not books.

Well I have three science books that I think people should read. You know what I love about science books? Well, it is refreshing to read science written in a way that isn’t so boring! Trust me, I’m a scientist and even I get bored with journal papers.

Climate change science is a funny topic. Since anthropogenic climate change was first proposed in 1824 there has been a lot of research done on climate systems and climate change.

  • 2425 peer reviewed papers on climate change
  • 2042 peer reviewed papers that are neutral (i.e. about climate systems)
  • 186 peer reviewed papers that are sceptical of climate change

Source

So how could this even be a topic of debate? The science is well understood by 97.5% of climate scientists. Even the most sceptical group in society – scientists (who have a default position of “prove it to me”) – are between 82 and 91% convinced. Who forgot to tell the rest of the world? And how do we break the news to them about the Easter Bunny?

More doctors recommend Camel cigarettes.

Naomi Oreskes talks about why there is doubt, and it isn’t because of the science. What do you get when you cross a lobbyist with a pile of cash? You get a doubtmongerer. After reading this book I’m heartened to know that with enough cash I could successfully convince people that there is doubt about the Earth being flat and that gravity doesn’t really affect us. Newton wouldn’t know an apple if it hit him on the head.

How do you spot a denialist?

Calling someone a climate sceptic is actually incorrect. When the weight of evidence proves climate change is happening, and we have been presented with that evidence, it means that not accepting it is about denial.

Hansen climate predictions, actual observed temperatures, Lindzen “sceptic” claims.

Haydn and John cover two aspects in their book: denial and common climate denial arguments. As such this is a great book for understanding why the message has been lost on some, and also points out the actual science debunking the denial arguments.

This book makes me feel a lot younger.

Paleoclimatologists are interesting. They don’t think of things in terms of years, or election cycles, or even decades; they think in terms of millennia. I heard Curt speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and he made some very interesting points. My favourite was that we didn’t have to worry about the next ice age due in 50,000 years time, because our climate impacts have upset the Earth enough to negate that little eventuality. His book has even more of these insights.

Edit: I’ve managed to find a short version of Curt’s talk on YouTube that is worth watching. It is from a seminar he gave in Perth, Australia.

Full version is here.

My Experiences at the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2011

Yesterday I posted a few observations that I made over a beer between sessions. Today I’m going to go through the highlights and lowlights of the festival. It really was a good event so I feel the need to mention some of the writers and sessions and what I got out of them. Besides, I didn’t take my note pad and netbook in a backpack to every session just for my health – although it could be argued I carried the backpack around to seem more important and to knock drinks out of peoples’ hands in the bookstore.

Some of my signed books from the festival.
Thursday 18th

This is Thriller
The first session I attended was a discussion between LA Larkin and John M. Green about how to make a thrill filled thrilling thriller. Surprisingly this was more a discussion about plot and character rather than explosions and body counts. LA Larkin also seems to go the extra mile for research, having just arrived back from a journey to the end of the earth – 6 months in Antarctica – for her latest book. Worth a look.

Climate Whiplash
Curt Stager is a paleoclimatologist, reformed climate sceptic, and a very interesting and engaging speaker. He described what the two scenarios for our next 100,000 years on planet Earth will be like. It was fascinating to hear how much we have disturbed our natural climate cycles and how big and long ranging our impacts upon the atmosphere are. Seeing the response curve of greenhouse gases, temperature and rectification having impacts out to half a million years really opens the eyes to the staggering the affect we are having upon climate. On the plus side, we’ve eliminated the next ice age due in 50,000 years (Sarcasm warning: it isn’t such a good thing).

Bits and Bytes
This talk should have absolutely fascinated me. It was all about technology, where we have come from and where we are going, and how our view of life/sentience has changed from memory to creativity. Ultimately, though, I found James Gleick boring. The only interesting part for me was the discussion of Ada Lovelace, a mind centuries before its time. Who’d have thought a talk about computers could put you to sleep?

Cracking the Code: The Art of Editing
This session on editing was proof that budding writers – like myself – are hungry for information and are willing to queue for a half hour to attend. Bill Scott-Kerr (he edited the DaVinci Code) and Tom Mayer (thankfully not related to John Mayer, or any other pop musicians) were there to lay out the importance and role of an editor. I liked the summary:

Author = speaks to the audience
Editor = helps to sell the book (to sales directors, industry, etc)

It was great to have two professionals stand up and say that editing wasn’t just about typos and grammar, but about crafting a story. This is a point that I think a lot of people miss. Although as a newsletter editor myself, I really would appreciate if authors actually ran a spell check and read their work before submitting it, as it helps to remove the purple monkey dishwasher.

An aside to this section: apparently professional editors have the same reading cut-off points that I do for reading. Bill stated that his cut-offs for a bad manuscript/novel are page 10 (foreboding) and page 100 (dread).

Criminal Agency
Sydney has an interesting public transport system. Replace the word interesting with rubbish. On the surface it looks decent: plenty of buses and trains departing regularly; plenty of stops; bus lanes; etc. Of course once I was on a bus travelling to this session at Ashfield Library, I realised that it would have been easier to harness up some Husky’s to a sled and find some icy tundra in our Aussie deserts. A 15 minute trip was turned into an hour of watching bored people texting and listening to their iPods. On the plus side, once I arrived Shamini Flint and Garry Disher were into their discussions about crime fiction. Garry served up sex and violence, Shamini pointed out that her mother edits out her books’ sex and violence and we would have to make do with humour.

Friday 19th

Book Design Uncovered
It is really hard to sum up a session that revolved around looking at various covers the designers and artists had produced. So here is the session described in interpretive dance:

But What I Really Want to do is Write Fiction
For some reason most people think they have a novel in them. Personally I blame shoddy surgery practices. It was interesting to hear from former journalists, academics and advertising executives (guess which one was able to plug their book the most) on how they had this career thing interrupt their dream of writing a novel or two. The take home point for me was that spending all day writing for your job helps when you want to take fiction writing seriously. Something about being used to hours of rewriting, editing, and tetris.

Merchants of Doubt
Naomi Oreskes is reasonably well known amongst the scientific and wider community, especially since her book, Merchants of Doubt, hit the promotional circuit. I’m a big fan of her work as she shines a light on the dirty little secret that is media misinformation (Hint: climate change is happening and is our fault; smoking does increase the risk of cancer; a duck’s quack does echo). As a scientist I am always amazed at the nonsense that is thrown around in the media. While this book discussed climate change, it was just the latest example in a long line of doubt-mongering by interest groups that she discusses. Her interview in this session covered a lot of points, so I just advise reading her book.

Daddy, Daddy, I………
Finally a session about being a stay at home writer and Dad.

You’ve Been Warned
Curt Stager and Naomi Oreskes were back for another session on climate change, this time joined by Paul Gilding. I really enjoyed this discussion panel, which primarily revolved around the “where to from here” in regards to climate change and dealing with it. Curt pointed out that this next decade is probably the most important decade in the next 100,000 years. Right now we can decide the future of the Earth’s climate by either listening to science and doing something or sitting in the corner with fingers in our ears yelling “la-la-la-la”. Naomi pointed out that scientists have been their own worst enemy, they publish journal papers that only scientists read, so the rest of the world can make stuff up with impunity. Paul pointed out that the free market is terrible at doing anything until the last possible second, and climate change is an issue that requires action much sooner due to its complexity and impact. As Naomi quoted:

Scientist in 1970s “Climate change is a real problem we need to deal with.”
Politician “When will it start having an impact?”
Scientist “Oh, in about 40 years.”
Politician “Get back to me in 39 years.”

Saturday 21st

Sex Up Your Writing
Linda Jaivin‘s workshop was a completely different kind of session at the festival. I would really have liked to have had her on the Porn Wars panel later in the day. Linda had a very simple message, write so that you get hot and steamy. If it works for you then it will work for someone else. That’s a good sex scene or erotica. Due to the topics discussed we were sworn to secrecy so I’ll let you imagine what the 14 women and two men did in the session.

Porn Wars
It was odd to leave a workshop on writing erotica to enter a panel discussion on porn in society. Catherine Lumby, a social scientist, Kate Holden, a former sex worker turned author, and Gail Dines, a fan of talking over the top of everyone including the moderator, were the experts called upon to discuss what should have been a fascinating topic. Unfortunately Gail decided to throw out unsubstantiated claims as facts, reject any other opinions and evidence, and provide scant evidence of her own. I especially liked her claim that the best selling porn movies were all misogynistic gonzo DVDs. Odd. I could have sworn that the big budget porn movies were couples erotica and that they dominated the market. This session was a waste of time. I have to say that as a male I love being blamed for all societal faults by sexists. Catherine and Kate needed a session without Gail, and, as one audience member pointed out, a male panellist.

Cities of the Dead
This was the session that I had come for. Crime fiction authors discussing their work and how the location of their novels influences them. Shamini Flint was the ‘contributing’ chair for the panel of Michael Connelly, Garry Disher and Michael Duffy. Shamini proved to be a great chair – maybe she could have chaired the Porn Wars session….. – and had everyone interested, discussing and laughing. Connelly could be described as taciturn, but Shamini had him telling jokes before long. I think all four authors sold a lot of books from this session, especially Shamini. At the book signing after she had a lot of people queued with her first Inspector Singh novel under their arms. Also Connelly revealed to me that he didn’t write the dialogue he utters on Castle, yet he loved doing the show and the stuff they give him to say.

The Chaser
I was in the queue for the queue to see The Chaser. Needless to say, I didn’t get in. Pity. They are always funny, despite what the BBC, Channel 7, Channel 9, and the Queen of England think.

Sunday 22nd

Growing Pains
When I was an undergraduate I picked a lot of economics units to pad out my science degree – yes I am a nerd, no I will not let you kick sand in my face. I remember very clearly the day that my economics professor explained the market model to us and my resulting question:

Me “If we have a finite resource base, how can we have infinite growth?”
Professor “Technology will be invented to change the resource base.”

Since then I have had this cartoon on my office wall:

Ross Gittins and Paul Gilding were the first economics commentators to say what I have been saying for, literally, decades: the current economic model is fatally flawed. Yes technology could save us, but how long are you willing to wait for it to save you?

As an aside: don’t you think it fitting/ironic that the stock exchange was founded by a chronic gambler?

Lawyers, Guns and Money
I finished my Sydney Writers’ Festival as I began it, with genre. Michael Connelly was back to discuss his books, his writing, his film adaptations and how much his daughter influences Harry Bosch’s daughter. This was a really interesting session and very well attended. I think this session underlined Connelly as one of the modern masters of crime fiction.

I’d also like to say “Hi” to all of the lovely people who I had a chat with in the queues for various sessions. We had some great discussions and were definitely a big part of what made this festival great.

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