Category Archives: Junk Science

Five Stupid Things About Climate Change Denial

Can we trust scientists?

Why I will not be watching Russell Crow in “Noah”

Sorry to be off topic…

Yes, I am one of those annoying people who picks movies to pieces. Of course, when the movie is fantasy, I am capable of suspending disbelief to enjoy the movie. In the case of the new movie, Noah, however, that isn’t an option.

The reason being that there are many people who still take the fable as truth – some going as far as to waste their life away on a vain effort to find evidence.

How can I be so sure that the story of Noah arises in the Middle Eastern dreamtime? Because of engineering. Because of biology. Because of earth.

Of engineering.

Engineering is not my field, so I’ll leave it up to others. In short, a wooden boat of such a size defies the known properties of the material and cannot be replicated by engineers.

Of biology

Now into a territory I’m more familiar with, I will need to break this down to many points to show just how idiotic the idea is.

Scale

No boat could be big enough.

It would have appeared otherwise to the all-too-human author at the time, with their limited experience of life that existed at the time of writing in other corners of the world and of all the life that had ever previously existed.

Even assuming all the dinosaurs and mega-fauna forgot to buy their tickets and assuming genus, or even families were the “kinds” described, the line would still have been too long (eg. ranging from the many millions with species down to the many thousands of families – which in turn would require evolution along the lines of Pokemon, that is within a generation or two, to account for all the species today).

Worse than that; the floods would have either been saline or fresh, meaning that the SS Noah would have needed aquariums for all species of the opposing environment.

And this point is a catch-22; if we grant that the waters were saline – in turn leaving the massive per-historic marine reptiles and modern marine mammals off of the ark – well, then this boat needed to carry a year’s worth of water for all those on board.

Fresh flood waters demands tanks big enough for the likes of blue whales and their buddies.

Resources

The problem of thirst isn’t the end of the problem with resources.

We must also consider what we could forgive the writer for not knowing; trophic levels. That is to say, animals eat each other.

To support just the big carnivorous cats and dogs over this period, we couldn’t have just two of every species – but rather whole herds of prey species. These sacrificial herds were never mentioned.

This in turn magnifies the problem of feed for the herbivores, as the prey herds will need vast amounts of food and water to maintain the meat-eaters.

Assuming that the floods were fresh, thereby saving Noah the issue of carrying the water, he would still need to catch hundreds of tons of krill prior to the flood (because the freshening water would have killed them off) to feed however many baleen whales he needed to carry to “evolve” into the species we see today.

As soon as you factor in food, the already absurdly small boat looks even worse.

Breeding

Again, we could forgive an author a few millennia ago for being ignorant, in this case, of limits to viable population size.

Sure, a few breeding pairs of a given rodent might take off in a new environment, but that’s not guaranteed. We only need to look at how many times rabbits needed to be introduced to Australia before they exploded.

When you are talking about a species that may only breed once a year or even longer, the chances that a single breeding pair would suffice to save to species is effectively shot.

And I’ve ignored the problem of inbreeding here, which would have played havoc with subsequent generations.

Having a singly breeding pair of every known species (or genus or family), Noah would have been lucky to have any persist and flourish.

And now the real kicker

To sprinkle salt into the wound, the year on the ark in itself means everything.

Not only would he need to carry all the animals and all the food (and potentially water) to survive the year, but also for much longer. Worse than this, he would have needed to carry tons of seed.

No seedbank (ie. seeds in the top soil) would remain viable for such a period under the flood. Apart from the osmotic pressure – or high salinity – caused by the flood itself and apart from the silt collection from a year of turbulent water movement (remembering that this silt, the creation would tell us, led to all the fossils), the seeds would simply expire.

So, Noah would have needed herds of prey to release after the flood and enough food to support these as well as the herbivore breeding pairs while he reseeded the entire global terrestrial landscape with all the plant life we see today.

None of this is mentioned and must fail the laugh test.

Of earth

This problem is one noted prior to Darwin even learning his alphabet. No-one has found a single example of a fossilised duck mingled with Triceratops.

We could take this further and state that there has never been fossilised evidence of a giant ground sloth being killed by a t-rex, of a human kill of any dinosaur or of pterosaur competing with a large eagle (noting that they share the same niche).

That’s because these species existed in different geological periods.

The flood silt didn’t conveniently cover different groups in sequence. Of everything, the fossil record is both the most damning and easiest to understand to anyone who has any actual interest in reality.

If these ancient stories are true, show me the fossils.

Back to the movie

Sure, it looks dramatic, but with so many plots holes, the story fails before it even begins. Yet, for the true believer, it would, absurdly, be cementing to their faith. This work of fiction will be watched by the faithful as though it were some documentary!

Of course, Russell won’t be shooing off any dinosaurs or else the critics would rip it to shreds.

Which brings me to the crux; there is a way out for the faithful. It is the only way out and one few who want to sound intellectual is likely to mention; magic.

“Oh, the boat would break? God held it together.”

“Oh, the boat wasn’t big enough? God made the animals shrink for the trip.”

“Oh, there wouldn’t possibly be room enough for all the food and water? God ran a meals-on-wheels service.”

“Oh, there’s a problem with salt or fresh water? God made all aquatic life temporarily salt tolerant.”

“Oh, two individuals don’t make for a viable population? God again…”

“God… God… God…”

Geeezus! Give up with the mockery of science and admit to placing faith in ancient stories over genuine certainty derived through critical analysis and get on making Adam and Eve Dino parks. If you’re willing to suspend the laws of the known universe to make your story fit reality, you are no longer talking about science – which is all about those laws. There’s nothing wrong with that, just admit it.

I don’t care. Live and let live.

If only they could admit to their warped, magically inclined reality, we could dutifully write it off and stop pretending to take it seriously.

Then, perhaps, I would allow myself to suspend disbelief and watch the epic, yet terribly scripted, movie.

The coming together of bad ideas

Just a short post for a mid-week chuckle. What do you get when you cross anti-vaccination with chemtrail crackpots? You get petition aimed at stopping an “uncovered” secret government program to mass medicate populations. I’m serious, whether or not the creator of the work is….

All we would need now is for the vaccine to be fluoride based and intentionally fanned by wind farms and the Nexus of Stupidity would be complete.

The future history of The Great, Tony Abbott: A carrot by any other name is still bad policy

Early into the Abbott government’s term, the Coalition realised that something had gone wrong. While Direct Action and the promise of cheaper electricity were enough to get the team in, scepticism on both fronts began to creep into the general population.

Concerned about public opinion and especially in keeping the public informed, members of the party began bugging journalists for interviews.

Reluctantly (as many journalists were in the middle of solitare on their Desktops) some granted them interviews.

It took a few weeks, but repetition paid off and soon an almost audible gasp of amazement spread over Australia.

Direct Action was a carrot! Of course!

The method being adopted globally and in the early stages of conception within our boarders, that is a carbon price, was nothing but a whipping stick to punish polluters. Direct Action rewarded self-motivated good behaviour.

The people finally got it and opinion of the new government rose to record breaking heights. Some, more motivated members of the public took it a step further, pledging donations to various big business if they were able to clean up their activities.

It became a national past-time, with Australian shares taking over the market.

Amazed by this phenomena, the Coalition realised just how powerful the tool they developed really was. Soon, the carrot was appearing in legislation to revolutionize everything in Australia.

Cameras were set up on every roadway. Speeding by these cameras no longer meant a fine appearing in your letter box, no. Bad drivers just missed out on the cheques that good drivers were sent annually.

So too, prisons nationally were closed for good. Good behaviour was instead rewarded by a larger tax return an naughty members of the community missed out.

Following the triumphant second election win which saw the largest swing towards a single party in history, the Coalition quickly implemented new legislation that allowed them to hand over a “carrot”, in the form of payment, to media providers that had been highly positive of the Coalition over the election period. Murdoch himself, wrote a personal letter of thanks and praise that appeared across his media empire.

Before long, the carrot was adopted as the icon for the Coalition, to massive approval from the general public.

Tony remained Prime Minister until he retired on his own accord. There were many tears shed that day, even from all the other parties (small and trivial as they had become).

In his honour, above Parliament House in place of the Australian flag, a bigger than life brass statue was erected. It sported Tony riding a giant Clydesdale, rearing, with “business” stamped on its hide. In his left hand he held a rod (not a stick), like a jousting sword, with a carrot dangling from its tip.

Sequestration, like so many other “solutions,” no silver bullet

Following my post, Carbon Sequestration; what no-one tells you, I received a couple comments from a reader, pointing out the potential of chemical sequestration, commonly referred to as enhanced weathering.

Of course, none of this was provided with case studies or research into it’s viability and the individual quickly left the conversation, having made their point.

But it’s worth reviewing, because I’m becoming increasingly aware of two camps, both very distinct, but sharing an absolutism approach to their favoured climate change mitigation strategy; the pro-nukes and the sequestration mob. Both are sure that their answer is the one and only true reply, but neither stack up.

I won’t bother here with the pro-nukes, because I’ve discussed them various times in the past.

Yes, biological sequestration is only one possibility. Even the modest targets set by the current Australian government within “direct action” represent massive effort, as my analysis showed. However, there is another, apparently low energy, form of sequestration which relies on rock chemically reacting with atmospheric CO2 to capture it.

This is know as “enhanced weathering” as it is a natural process in itself and what the fans of this want to do is speed it up. It’s euphemism for enhanced erosion. I’ll get to the numbers in just a moment, but we’re talking about billions of tonnes of material needed, to match the CO2. Who honestly believes that mining to this degree is viable, let alone desirable when we factor in the necessary impact to landscapes and aquatic environments both through the direct mining activities and resulting compounds as residue from this process, which will hit environments (unless we go to even greater effort and expense to again bury it) in far great amounts than the background levels?

As for numbers, looking at the Azimuth Project, two minerals that could be used for this process are Olivine and Serpentine.

The ratios for these;

Olivine  Olivine (forsterite) Serpentine Serpentine
CO2 Fe2SiO4 Mg2SiO4 Fe3Si2O5(OH)4 Mg3Si2O5(OH)4
Molar Mass (g/mol) 44.01 203.77 140.69 371.73 277.11
Weight ratio to CO2 1 4.63 3.2 8.45 6.3
Molecules requires for every CO2 - 0.25 to 1 0.25 to 1 0.25 0.25
1 unit weight of CO2 requires how many units?  - 1.6 to 4.63 0.8 to 3.2 2.11 1.57

Annual emissions of CO2 reached 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012. Therefore, for Olivine or Serpentine to capture all of this, we would need between 27.6 and 159.74 billion tonnes of these rocks annually.

From the Azimuth Project page;

Supposedly all the CO2 that is produced by burning 1 liter of oil can be sequestered by less than 1 liter of olivine. The market value of olivine is US $50 to US $100 per ton depending on quality. Plugging in the larger number then 5 trillion dollars a year of this material would absorb all the CO2 currently produced. But of course this calculation is oversimplified, since the spike in demand would send the price much higher.

None of this begins to address the billions of tonnes of residue materials as well.

Some might say that I’m being unfair – most targets aim at around 5% below, say 2000 or 1990 levels. To be generous, let’s say the emissions value was 25 billion tonnes, meaning that we want to reach emissions targets below 23.75 billion tonnes. This means that we want to capture 10.75 billion tonnes of CO2 based on 2012 levels.

This amounts to between 8.6 and 49.77 billion tonnes of Olivine and Serpentine annually for enhanced weathering. This is still a massive industry devoted entirely to scrubbing the atmosphere of our CO2 emissions.

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, may call emissions trading a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no one,” but how can sequestration be anything but a non-delivery market, as much a sink of money as it is carbon?

It doesn’t matter whether you rely on trees, soil, weathering or any other mechanism, sequestration is not the cheap and easy solution that it has been sold as. In every case you are also left with a bank that is useless unless it keeps carbon locked and what then of this material?

There is no such thing as a silver bullet. Reducing our emissions will require a lot of effort, behavioural change and a diversity of solutions, each contributing their own small part. Thus far, very little of this is being addressed or adopted above the barest effort.

A government standing out, for all the wrong reasons

After the Obama speech whereby he referred to climate deniers as the “Flat Earth Society”, I expressed concerns over how the Abbott led government would be judged by other states.

How easy can one step away from calling anthropogenic climate change “crap” and an emissions trading scheme as, well, basically fiction, when the leader of one of the largest economies publicly states that we no longer have time to entertain such absurdity?

However, this new government is about to surprise us by taking it up a notch with our Environment minister declining to attend the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Warsaw.

In his own words, Greg Hunt says, “We accept the targets,” he said. “We want to be part of an international agreement and we have a very different view, however, on a better way to deal with the mechanism.”

So, not only is this a record breaker (the first no-show for Australian Minister in over 16yrs), but to add further  insult to snubbing off global negotiations, Mr. Hunt frankly tells the world that his government knows better than the rest so doesn’t need to attend global negotiations.

And what is more important that attendance? Staying in Canberra to see that the current price on carbon (the first step in joining the EU ETS market) is removed.

Of course, not only do scientist disagree with Hunt on “Direct Action”, but also the majority of economists.

So we have the NLP standing by themselves, more or less devoid of scientific endorsement and now also from economists but also all members of the UN actively working together to find a solution to growth coupled with greenhouse gas emissions.

Is Australia, under an Abbott government, is effectively “Out of Order” on the subject of climate change? The position held by this government is not only increasingly isolated, but actively isolating itself further.

Fans of this government will say otherwise publicly, regardless what they might say privately to like-minded “sceptics”, but all I can say is lets’s see what this term of “direct” action yields come next next election.

Laugh test sees the Ministry of Fluoride Silliness to the door

In my previous post, I commented on the new anti-science tactic on NewAnthro; take the guise of an interested, impartial fan of the blog, only to then go on to ask silly questions, digging for a dirt… Never to reply to my response.

One chap however did reply, and again and again. Overall, his questions were muddled, confusing fluoride in food and water and it took me some time to work out that his complaint was a fairly basic one without a great deal of understanding of the actual science.

My guess; he, Ian, is a fan of Merilyn Haines.

Why? He continually made the claim that safety tests on fluoride have never been done – the same point Merilyn harps on about… Only to then go on and hypocritically point out studies which she claims in fact question the safety of fluoridation.

For many reasons, she is wrong where it matters; Australian fluoridation practices are safe and effective.

Ian went on to suggest that a good way to test fluoridation safety is to test impact at 100x concentration values. Of course it would fail. The only papers the anti-fluoride movement would have you know about are those where high fluoride exposure negatively impacts health.

Thus, if I fell for it, Ian would win the argument. But is there any sense this “test”?

I couldn’t imagine much would be safe if an individual was exposed to 100x the standard recommended levels.

It is suggested that we should have around 1.5-2L of water a day. How safe would it be to consumer 150-200L a day?

Having two paracetamol tablets can effectively manage pain, but would consuming 200 be healthy?

In short, this is not a measure of fluoridation safety and the are really trying their best to insult my intelligence. The anti-fluoridation camp are no longer being entertained here (because each one of them has illustrated trolling behaviour, completely avoiding an informed discussion) and now are longer going to be entertained via email.

Theirs is truly conspiracy ideation akin to the moon landing and Roswell “truth” hopelessly fixated on a position so far from reality that they would prefer to overdose the world than accept reality.

The newest technique by anti-science to waste my time

Sorry for the recent quietness. Between my new role and private life, I’m finding it very difficult to work on my articles.

For instance, previously I would quickly write out posts at home or in transit on public transport to work, proof read them in my lunch break and then set a date and time for them to go live. I just haven’t been able to find a new rhythm yet. I have two articles that have been waiting to be checked, but instead little snippet like this is just easier to get out quickly.

I’ve noticed a new trend lately.

I’ve had a number of private emails using the post submission option that, strangely, take a very similar approach.

In essence, the writer seems very enthusiastic about my work on fluoride… Except that I don’t seem to answer [insert favoured anti-f comment here]. Then, placed as the writer’s personal dilemma, I receive the challenge.

Of course, like every single infuriated anti-science advocate, from fluoride to climate change, I never receive a reply to my detailed, science rich reply… No, best to take the same rubbish elsewhere and find a more gullible audience.

Since starting to write on fluoride I’ve noticed this wave approach (and a lot of email directed traffic). I never receive one, but a series of individuals doing the same thing. Eventually it ebbs away and then the next wave taking a different approach.

With this newest one, reading the comments makes it clear that they haven’t read my work, or else they would know the answer I’m going to give. Being in private, I can’t help but wonder what they hope to achieve.

I had one ask me if my work was only a personal hypothesis or based upon an independent scientific conclusion. This makes me think they hope to catch me being candid in my private reply and say something to undermine my efforts.

On NewAnthro, I am a science and policy communicator. Occasionally, I’ll do a piece that is obviously a personal analysis and I make that very clear as well as provide all the data and methods I used.

My personal conclusions are meaningless to my audience. I might include my motivations, but I stipulate that. The reason I take this approach is because I’m frustrated with personal opinions being passed off as credible information.

Donna Laframboise’s “climate scepticism is free speech” is a good example. Merilyn Haines talking about fluoride “touching” organs or about her sister’s skin condition in Townsville are further examples.

This space is the rebuttal and I will not stoop to such factually inept levels, basically because they’ll beat me with experience at every turn and we have already experienced way too many centuries of the blind leading the blind to otherwise avoidable pain and suffering.

Quality information is our greatest weapon.

Honest Reply to anti-science

It was a windy, dry day this last Thursday in central NSW. Winds in the region were recorded at 100km per hour. Much of the state was under fire restrictions. The dust, the pollen… Hay-fever had gripped me as well.

The group was large for our standard field trip, which in its own way worked against my natural rhythm, leaving me frustrated with my personal pace.

At one point, the WordPress app on my phone informed me of pending comment which I later reviewed while finally getting to my sun baked lunch.

What I found was another ambiguous comment, with nothing more than a link and a title. It was from an anti-fluoridation individual which was not, in itself directly related to the actual post under which the comment was made. I had to spam it.

But I didn’t do so straight away. I simply sat on it, thinking over my choices.

To dance the Rain Dance or not?

Did I really want to approve the comment, follow the link and reply? In short, no. My time is very limited at the moment and not well spent on each and every bundle of garbage that someone dreamed up as a rebuttal to the standing position within the scientific literature and then posted online in a forum completely devoid of that methodical, expert critical review process.

In essence, this is entirely the realm of the blogosphere discussion, whether it’s fluoridation, climate change, vaccination, evolution or any other topic that sparks an anti-science reaction.

Each communicator whom supports the most accurate conclusion as understood via scientific methodology is only responding to media that happily avoids such scrutiny. In a lot of ways, part of my chosen role has been in this arena. In retrospect, I did this because it way easy and generated traffic.

It was easy because there is no limit to the rubbish that can be generated, pretending to have some leverage in an informed debate; it’s fuel for the lazy writer. As for the traffic it generated, this is not as valuable as the raw statistics would have you believe.

Feeding the Beast of Attention

I remember a few years ago, one environmental senior academic writer thanked his audience, showing a graphic of his traffic. From my experiences with that blog, it was a sizable audience true enough, by the posts themselves were not really the focus. It was an echo chamber where a few individuals, the host included, would incite a reaction with strong comments and then berate, at length, anyone who disagreed or simply questioned this position.

My traffic is some what less, but am I actually being read a great deal less by an engaged audience? Certainly a little, but I think I largely lack the antagonist audience. It’s quality, not quantity.

Such a style is cheap and ineffective. It’s more about the fight than the case. Yes, I’ve been there myself, but why waste my time stirring up a reaction from conspiracy theory proponents unless the basic traffic information feeds my ego.

Honestly, it’s spam

Mulling over all this, I had to admit to myself that the newest comment was indeed spam. The creator didn’t question or even relate to the post, which referred to osteosarcoma and fluoridation except that it linked to the creators personal space in which they “prove” that fluoride is generally bad.

The comment would have better suited other posts I’ve made on the subject, which leaves me with the impression that the creator made this generic comment, did an online search and just posted it on whatever the search returned.

That’s spam.

Further, this individual obviously didn’t read the post and, like all anti-science proponents, simply knows the science is wrong and is waiting for the evidence to support this faith-based position.

It might generate traffic, but this is deaf traffic to information accuracy.

The knock-on effect

The only element of that harsh day was that at least the winds were so fast that they kept the flies at bay.

By the time I sat down to dinner, I had decided to spam the comment, but more than that, I had decided that such an approach wouldn’t work for me anymore.

While my readership may remain lower, at least I can feel confident that it’s engaged and interested in scientific accuracy.

I’ll turn my attention more so on the analysis of policies in the public domain and on the science where suitable. I will no longer chase the creationists, the climate deniers, the anti-vax or anti-fluoridation fan. I won’t remove any of this material, only focus on an audience interested in genuine reality as best our species understands it.