A lot of Australia’s media coverage on climate change is political and wrong

The facts are simple:

  1. There is scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Looking at 12,000 peer-reviewed abstracts on the subjects of ‘global warming’ and ‘global climate change’ published between 1991 and 2011, where those papers took a position on the cause of global warming over 97% agreed that humans are the substantial cause of it.
  2. One third of articles in Australia’s major newspapers rejected or cast doubt on the overwhelming findings of climate science. Also, Andrew Bolt indulges in humanity-baiting for ratings.

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Climate sceptics are more likely to be conspiracy theorists

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A study just published in PLOS One finds that people who deny man-made climate change are more likely to believe in (a) completely free markets and (b) conspiracy theories about vaccination and the new World Order.

Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested.

Read the entire paper here, or this summary in the Guardian.

The IPCC report: doubt it if you’re a fool

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its 5th assessment report this week. You might have heard.

They have said that long-term trends confirm that our climate continues to warm, that this will very likely have very dire consequences for weather events and sea levels in the next couple of hundred years, and that they’re now 95% certain (up from 90% five years ago) that human activity is contributing to this in an unprecedented way.

Naysayers continue to dispute this. These naysayers are deluded.

I’ve read the Summary for Policymakers of the most recent report. You can too, it’s a PDF downloadable from the link above. It is complicated stuff. I get most of it, but I am a person who lives and breathes science. I was a scientist for some years. I have a Masters degree in applied science. I read about science all the time. I understand physics and probability. I take science and maths courses for fun in my spare time.

But even so it is challenging for me to absorb the details of this report.  And despite my extremely strong science background I am not a climate scientist. Which means that the vast bulk of humanity has no chance. I’m not being a snob when I say that. Most people just don’t have the background in peer review methodology and chart design and sampling theory and heat transfer methods to understand the summary, let alone judge the findings.

So the very best reasons to believe the IPCC report are:

  • There is zero chance that the roughly 800 climate science experts at the IPCC could all conspire to fool the world, even if for some reason some (or most!) of them wanted to.
  • There is zero chance that climate scientists and impacts experts (including those outside the IPCC) who comment on man-made global warming – 97.2% of whom agree it’s happening – could all be fooled or are also conspiring to fool us.
  • We trust scientists in all other areas of endeavour – medicine, chemistry, astronomy, etc. Why are we selectively second-guessing these guys?

So I’m continuing to make the personal lifestyle choices I can to minimise my own environmental impact. And I will strongly support, with my votes and donations, large-scale endeavours that I think make sense for curbing our reliance on carbon-emitting technology.

If you don’t you’re a fool.

Genetic breakthrough brings scientists closer to cure for multiple sclerosis

From the ABC:

A team of scientists from 13 countries, including Australia, examined the DNA collected from 80,000 people with and without MS, in a bid to understand why certain people are susceptible to the debilitating disease and others are not.

They were able to double the number of known genetic variants that they say can make a person more susceptible to developing MS.

I actually know someone whose partner was a particpant in that study. It’s exciting and hopeful that we’re making advances in understanding multiple sclerosis. It’s an incredibly damaging disease, both physically and psychologically.

It’s also interesting, though perhaps not surprising, that the study shows that the genes it identifies overlap with genes known to be involved in other auto-immune diseases such as Crohn’s and coeliac disease.

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Why other queues always seem to move faster than yours

From the BBC’s pages for health and science: people are susceptible to the

mistaken impression that…two things are associated when they are not. This is a side effect of an intuitive mental machinery for reasoning about the world. Associating bad traffic behaviour with ethnic minority drivers, or cyclists, is another case where people report correlations that just aren’t there. Our quick-but-dirty inferential machinery leaps to the conclusion that the events are commonly associated, when they aren’t.

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Just Thinking about Science Triggers Moral Behavior

I have never seen the conflict that some people maintain exists between an atheistic worldview and the presence of human morality. This Scientific American article, on a recently-published PLOS One paper, suggests that humans are actually inspired to be moral by science:

Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara…hypothesized that there is a deep-seated perception of science as a moral pursuit — its emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else.

Across…different measures, the researchers found consistent results. Simply being primed with science-related thoughts increased a) adherence to moral norms, b) real-life future altruistic intentions, and c) altruistic behavior towards an anonymous other.

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The 10 Best Physicists, according to the Guardian

Paul Dirac. Predicted the existence of antimatter, created some of quantum mechanics’ key equations, and laid the foundations for today’s micro-electronics industry. Won a Nobel prize. Turned down a knighthood because he didn’t want people using his first name.

I couldn’t put together a better list of great physicists than the Guardian has done. It’s good to see the ones that aren’t household names (but should be) like Maxwell, Rutherford, and Dirac.

  1. Isaac Newton
  2. Niels Bohr
  3. Galileo Galilei
  4. Albert Einstein
  5. James Maxwell
  6. Michael Faraday
  7. Marie Curie
  8. Richard Feynman
  9. Ernest Rutherford
  10. Paul Dirac

Of course there’s a strong case for the inclusion of Nikola Tesla.

My favourite bit in the Guardian bios of the above physicists is this:

For his achievements, Carlsberg brewery gave [Niels] Bohr a special gift: a house with a pipeline connected to its brewery next door, thus providing him with free beer for life.

Now that’s a satisfying career.

Support for Kiera Wilmot

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This is Kiera Wilmot. She’s a 16-year-old American schoolgirl who carried out a mildly risky chemistry experiment on school grounds. For this she was arrested, expelled, and is presently being charged with a felony that could result in up to 5 years in prison.

Kids do stupid things that put themselves and others at risk of harm all the time. But this was not a stupid thing: it was curiosity. Arresting and expelling her seems like an incredible overreaction. Experimentation is one of the fundamental ways in which an interest in science is expressed and nurtured.

Here are two good responses that reflect the general opinion of the community that cares about science more than sealing kids in bubble wrap:

University of NSW develop a quantum bit using the nucleus of an atom

From the University of New South Wales (UNSW): engineers have been able to use the nucleus of an atom as the basis for a quantum bit (or qubit) the fundamental unit of quantum computing.

Artist’s impression of a single phosphorus atom, placed in the vicinity of a silicon transistor.

Why is this important?

  • Quantum computing means a potentially massive (like, exponentiallymassive) increase in computing speed and capacity.
  • This UNSW experiment was done in fairly normal conditions, with solid-state devices and normal silicon circuitry. Qubits with similar accuracy in the past have required very specialised conditions: atoms in a vacuum suspended in a magnetic field, for instance.

So the real breakthrough here is the practicality by which they were able to achieve their quantum computing result. It’s one step closer to being able to deliver quantum computing on a practical scale. Remember, the regular computers we’re familiar with used to weigh many tons and fill entire rooms. Quantum computing will likely go through a similar process.

You can read the media release or get even more background info about quantum computing from the UNSW.