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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Tests on two Queenslanders thought to have contracted Swine Flu after visits to Mexico and the US are negative.

New strains of flu emerge every year. What is worrying about this apparently new version of swine flu is not the transmission rate, which is about average, but the fact that it is so deadly – about 6 deaths for every 100 people infected in Mexico. Mortality rates seem to be lower – between 1% and 4% – in more developed countries.

The virus was originally passed from pigs to people, and is easily transmitted from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or even shaking hands with an infected person. You can’t get it from eating pork.

There is not yet an effective vaccine for the current strain.

This could turn out to be another baseless scare, like the 1976 Swine Flu panic.

But it won’t do you any harm to be cautious.

Update.

Spain has confirmed the first case of the new swine flu strain in Europe.

A 23 year old male student who returned from Mexico on Wednesday suffering from a fever, has tested positive for the virus. Another 17 possible cases are being investigated. At this stage none is thought to be life-threatening.

Eight school students in New York have also tested positive for the disease, with another possible 140 also sick, all from the same school, St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows. 

There is no doubt the new strain of swine flu will make its way to Australia.

But there is still no reason to panic. Reasonable precautions should minimise any risk of catching the disease.

Even if you do catch swine flu, the indications are that if you are in good health to start with, and have access to good medical care, the mortality rate is very low. Higher of course for elderly people, young children, those in poor health or with impaired immune systems. People in those groups should take extra care.

Still raining on Kangaroo Island, which is great – we have no mains water, only what we catch and store ourselves. The tanks are starting to fill. They were virtually empty five days ago, and are now at about one third of capacity, which is pretty good for one weekend.

What is not so cool is that has been so blasted cold – unseasonably cold for April.

Kangaroo Island is not the only place where it is colder than usual:

The first snow of the season fell on NSW yesterday, the first time in 13 years ski resorts had experienced snow in April. Charlotte Pass recorded more than 25 centimetres by early yesterday evening.

A spokesman for Charlotte Pass Ski Resort, Joshua Elliott, said people there were expecting bigger snowfalls before the season compared with last year, and hoping for an earlier season. “We’re definitely gearing up for a bumper season this year,” he said. “There’s some serious snow up there at the moment.”

Scientists at the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland have found an earth-like planet orbiting the red dwarf start Gliese, about 20 light years away. The planet’s gravity is too high to support life in forms similar to those of living things on Earth.

But the estimated average temperature of the planet is 0-40 degrees Celsius. This means that most of the water on the planet will be in liquid form.

On Earth, anywhere there is liquid water, there is life.  So the chances are very good indeed that some sort of life exists on the newly discovered planet.

Let’s go say hello!

No they didn’t. They said hundreds of millions would be hurt by climate change.

It is true that lots of people are hurt each year in natural disasters. But apart from increased casualties caused by more densely concentrated populations, there is no reason to believe that there are more ‘climate’ disasters than ever before.

The claim is that a warmer world means more hurricanes and major storm disasters. It doesn’t. Models of climate change which assume anthopogenic warming say the poles will warm more than the tropics. Major weather is driven by the difference in temperature between the tropics and poles. That difference decreases when the poles get warmer. This should result in not more, but fewer, major storms.

But in any case the world has been cooling for the last ten years and the net change in global temperature over the last century is now approximately zero.

No one is going to be hurt by man-made climate change.

People are going to be hurt if industrialised nations deny developing countries the opportunity to build power stations and major industries because of ‘climate concerns.’

So yes, unless world leaders really begin to look at the evidence, and base environmental and development policies on that evidence, then hundreds of millions will be hurt by stupidity.

A real-world test performed by the Dutch province of Zeeland (a very windy place) confirms that small windmills are a fundamentally flawed technology. Twelve wind turbines were placed in a row on an open plain. Their energy yield was measured over a period of one year (April 1, 2008 – March 31, 2009). The average wind velocity during these 12 months was 3.8 meters per second (slightly higher than average). Three windmills broke.

The others produced some energy. But at outrageous costs compared with traditional methods of power production.

Financial payback time is much longer than their life expectancy and in urban areas they will not even deliver as much energy as was needed to produce them.

I’m sure larger wind turbines have the same fundamental flaws – high cost, high breakdown rates, energy used to produce, install and maintain them is out of proportion to the energy they produce, and other methods of energy production need to built anyway, because wind power cannot be relied on for consistent supply.

Via Small Dead Animals.

Because both global warming alarmists and creationists care more about defending their entrenched positions than they do for the evidence.

In comments on another blog I was recently accused of being a denialist because I pointed out that the world was not getting any warmer, and that there was no correlation between human production of CO2 and changes in global climate.

Science is about asking questions. It is not denial to look at the evidence.

Saturday’s Australian has another surprisingly fair story about Professor Ian Plimer – Australia’s best known geologist. A couple of excerpts below:

While an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide theoretically may contribute to temperature rise, Plimer says there is no evidence to show this and plenty of proof, if you choose to look for it, to the contrary.

Climate changes are cyclical and driven by the Earth’s position in the galaxy, the sun, wobbles in the planet’s orbit, ocean currents and plate tectonics. When he peers back in time, there were periods when atmospheric CO2 was much higher than it is now yet produced no disastrous shift in the climate.

To reduce climate change to the single variable of carbon emissions abandons “all we know about planet Earth, the sun and the cosmos”, Plimer says, and that is a leap of faith no self-respecting scientist should take.

“The science is now based on consensus, and we have thousands of scientists who have got everything to gain by saying the world is going to end. We have lost the tie to evidence. So I make a great comparison … between the way creationists operate and the way some of the rabid environmentalists and global warmers operate. The parallels are quite similar.”

I wrote about the effect of condom use on HIV infection rates in general terms about three weeks ago, but Andrew Bolt’s post this afternoon titled Pell’s Killer Argument has prompted me to add some more detail.

I noted last time that the only people whose behaviour is likely to be influenced by Catholic theology are Catholics. It is simply silly to suggest that the Catholic Church does not have a right, indeed an obligation, to advise the faithful on morality.

Second, I pointed out that the more likely people are to disobey the Church’s teaching in one area, the less likely they are to be troubled by breaking the rules in others. In other words, encouraging Catholics to ignore Catholic teaching on the use of artificial contraception is also likely to encourage them to ignore Catholic teaching on chastity. And that, of course, will encourage, not discourage, risky behaviour.

Finally I suggested that it is simply silly to believe that someone who is deliberately going to commit a mortal sin by stealing from his family to pay a prostitute or by having sex with another man in a public toilet is at the same time going to be so constrained by his conscience that he will refuse to wear a condom out of a desire to act in accordance with the faith.

All of the above seems to me to be simple common sense. Common sense may be mistaken. But as Cardinal Pell has noted, actual research seem to confirm that the Pope and the Catholic Church are right.

For example, Edward Green, writing in the Washington Post on March 29th, said:

In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows. Why not? One reason is “risk compensation.” That is, when people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

He also noted that when early studies found this to be so, organisations like United Nations’ AIDS programme simply refused to acknowledge or publish them. But more recently, a succession of studies published in journals such as Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that promoting the use of condoms simply has not worked as an AIDS prevention programme in Africa. This is despite millions and millions of dollars being spent on publicising condom use and making condoms easily and freely available.

Note that Edward Green is not a Catholic, and supports the use of condoms. He believes that condoms have worked in places other than Africa (I do not – there are other factors at work in the Asian countries he mentions, and very low HIV infection rates in the Catholic Philippines is a strong counter-argument). But he acknowledges that what works best is faithfulness.

So when Pope Benedict, Cardinal Pell and the wider Catholic Church say that chastity outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage is right for spiritual reasons and is also the healthiest choice, the evidence is on their side. It is not on the side of the wholesale condom sellers.

It’s a health risk, and endangers public welfare. Where did they read that – Dolly Magazine?

Carbon dioxide is not poisonous, and it is not a pollutant. It is as necessary to plant life as oxygen is for us, and vital for all life on the planet.

Contrary to some advertising claims, the trees will not thank you for reducing CO2 output, any more than we would be thankful for reduced levels of oxygen.

When most modern trees and flowering plants evolved, levels of CO2 were as much as ten times higher than they are now. Most plants now struggle in what from their point of view is a seriously CO2 depleted atmosphere.

Lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means less green, not more. More CO2 means more green, more forests, more productive crops.

We are warned that increasing levels of CO2 will turn the seas acid and destroy coral reefs. Coral reefs evolved and thrived during the Mesozoic Period, when atmospheric CO2 levels stayed above 1,000 parts per million for 150 million years and exceeded 2,000 parts per million for several million years, compared with 380 ppm now.

There is no evidence of any correlation between changing CO2 rates and changing temperatures in the 20th Century. And historical records show changes in CO2 concentration follow changes in temperature, not the reverse.

For more detail, with graphs and pretty pictures, read my Introduction to Global Warming Science.

And more science, less politics, please, you EPA guys.

Just ordered this book from Amazon: The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don’t Want You to Know About–Because They Helped Cause Them

Like most people, I want to live in a world where we are responsible in our care for creation, and treat the resources of the world as gifts to be nurtured, shared and valued, rather than just as objects to be consumed. But environmental activism and legislation has a pretty sorry history – and has more often harmed than helped.

We need to be wiser, and policy and action need to be based on fact, not feel-good fantasy.

From the book’s cover:

Al Gore is bad for the planet…

Talk about really inconvenient truths–that’s one of the many you’ll find in Iain Murray’s rollicking exposé of environmental blowhards who waste more energy, endanger more species, and actually kill more people (yes, that’s right) than the environmental villains they finger. Did you know that estrogen from birth control and “morning after” pills is causing male fish across America to develop female sex organs? Funny how “pro-choice” and “environmentalist” liberals never talk about that. Or how about this: the Live Earth concert to “save the planet” released more CO2 into the atmosphere than a fleet of 2,000 Humvees emit in a year? We hear a lot about AIDS in Africa, but the number one killer of children in much of Africa is malaria–and guess who was responsible for banning the pesticide that used to have malaria under control? Iain Murray, a sprightly conservative environmental analyst with a long record of skewering liberal hypocrisy, has dug up seven of the all-time great environmental catastrophes caused by the Left and exposed them in The Really Inconvenient Truths. Murray lays bare:

* How ethanol, the liberals’ favorite fuel, is destroying the world’s rainforests–and could cause global food shortages
* How Al Gore’s hero Rachel Carson cost the lives of millions of Africans through her efforts to ban DDT
* How the environmentalists have covered up the polluting effects of contraceptive and chemical abortion drugs
* How the Endangered Species Act actually endangers species
* How Gore’s vision of greater state control over the economy has already produced some of the greatest environmental disasters in history

All of us want a planet with clean air and clean water, vibrant forests, healthy animal populations, and glorious open space. But liberal environmentalists aren’t the ones to deliver it. In fact, they’ve made the planet worse, while old-fashioned property rights, unpopular hunters, and the innovative engine of capitalism have made it better. The facts are all here, in a book that Al Gore would rather burn than read.

Historian and former teacher Frederick Toben has been found guilty of contempt of court because he continued to publish material claiming the Holocaust never happened, and that some people (notably some Jews) were making money out of keeping the story going.

Holocaust denial is stupid, and probably motivated by racism.

But fining people or putting them in jail for disagreeing doesn’t make sense. It makes the deniers look like victims of bullying. Even worse, it makes people wonder why free speech on this subject is not permitted, and then begin to wonder whether someone is hiding something that someone doesn’t want anyone to know.

You may remember this story: Fiji’s military strongman, Frank Bainimarama, has clamped down on radio and internet access in the troubled Pacific country, declaring free speech causes too much trouble.

He’s right. Free speech does cause trouble, because it means people can say things that are untrue, inconvenient, even harmful.

Look at Minister for Hot Air Penny Wong, for example.

She is free to say, despite the evidence of scientists like Professor Bob Carter, and the cautionary remarks of Labor’s hand picked guru Ross Garnaut, that the government is going to do as it jolly well pleases, and spend billions of dollars fixing a problem that doesn’t exist, seriously damaging our resource and energy industries, and further wrecking our economy in the process.

That is going to cause vastly more damage than some silly old goat saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.

But it is pretty amazing nonetheless.

Hand of God captured by Chandra X-ray Observatory

This image of a spectacular dust cloud with a pulsar at its centre, was captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which orbits 580 kilometres above the Earth.

I doubt it. That was my first reaction anyway.

Much like this amusing summary from The Guardian, which asks why the tree looks green and healthy if it had never seen the sunlight. Good question.

Then I saw this video on the BBC website. It’s pretty gruesome in places. And sorry about the ads.

The surgeon looks convincing enough. I don’t think the Guardian’s scepticism about the reliability of non-English witnesses is fair. They really could have found a bit of fir tree in Artyom Sidorkin’s lung. But I think I am convinced by the Russian botanist, who says it is simply impossible for it to have grown there.

Impossible is a big word. But my last reaction is the same as my first. I doubt it.

Increasing survival rates by over 20% after three years in men with advanced prostate cancer which is no longer responding to hormonal treatments is a good result. Not dramatic or miraculous, but good.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australian men. As many men die from prostate cancer as women from breast cancer – about one every three hours – but prostate cancer receives only ten percent as much research and publicity funding.

Consequently community understanding of prostate cancer screening and testing procedures and their importance is much lower than for breast or cervical cancer.

One of the hopes is that results from this early research into using the body’s own immune system to fight prostate cancer may be transferable to other forms of cancer, and at earlier stages.

Bob Carter has been challenging the popular media/political view of climate science for years. So have I. Bob Carter even linked to my introduction to Global Warming Theory on his website. Thanks Bob.

But no one at the ABC has been taking any notice. Now they are. Professor Carter’s evidence to the senate enquiry is ‘balanced’ in the ABC report by claims from Penny Wong, Minister for Hot Air, and a gaggle of scientists from the CSIRO. But it is Carter’s view that gets the headline – Science Behind Garnaut Report Flawed.

“The Stern Report and the Garnaut Report in Australia are both reports by distinguished economists – they have no basis in scientific expertise,” he said. “It is never a good move to appoint someone to a review committee who is not competent to judge the basis for the whole review, but that is what the British and Australian Governments did.”

The times, they are a changing. And about time.

This report from a minor Australian paper is headlined ‘Home Births Still Safe, Says Expert.’ It quotes Professor Michael Chapman, who is director of women’s and babies’ health at the St George and Sutherland hospitals. But that is not exactly what he said.

What he said was that St George Hospital had run a successful home birth service for the last two years. He also said that home births made up about only 1.5% of the total births associated with the hospital, and that the home birth option was only available where the birth was assessed by medical staff as low risk. Home births always took place with qualified personnel present, and with the hospital as a backup in case of any problems.

This kind of moderate approach is the exact opposite of the mindless rejection of Western medicine promoted by organisations like Joyous Birth.

Birth is a natural process. It is also a dangerous process. As many as one in ten women died in childbirth prior to the development of modern obstetric care, and infant mortality rates were some twenty times higher. See this Los Angeles record for just one example of the dramatic change in infant mortality rates in the mid 20th Century.

It may be in part the coldness and technicality of hospital maternity care that makes some women feel so alienated and confused about hospital births. Hospitals need to ensure warm human care and continuity of care during the birthing process, active involvement of women and their partners in choices about care and birthing options, clear communication about the risks of each of those options, and about what is happening at each stage of pregnancy and birth, so that the mother does not feel like an object or an optional extra.

However, with the facts on the massively better outcomes for mothers and babies with proper medical care so clear, it is almost criminally negligent to have a child without any medical advice, or to encourage others to do the same.

I feel deeply sorry for Janet Fraser. The loss of a child at any time is a deeply, horrifyingly painful thing. Her experience ought not to be an opportunity for gloating by her opponents.

But as Andrew Bolt points out, it may be an opportunity for learning, and for better outcomes for others.