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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

First, despite the ceaseless bleating about ice melting and shelves collapsing and sea levels rising, Antarctic sea ice has been growing at a rate of about 5% per decade for the last thirty years, and set a new maximum last year. There is so much extra ice above historic averages that you could fit New South Wales and Victoria on it. Of course this means those ever so cutesy Emperor Penguins are having a harder time because they have longer to walk from the nesting grounds to the water. Someone, somewhere, will claim this is our fault and demand we do something about it.

Second, an interesting graph of sea level changes matched against sunspot activity, showing that solar cycles drive changes in Earth’s temperature. As would surely be obvious to any normal person.

This comment sums up very cleverly the way alarmists think:

Amazing. The obvious interpretation is that the rate of sea level rise is driving the strength of the Solar Cycle. And as we all know that man made emissions of CO2 are driving an acceleration of rises in sea level, it follows (of necessity)… That therefore as man made emissions of CO2 increase, the sea level rise will accelerate, and the Solar cycle will strengthen over this century. Such logic is irrefutable – I know this because I thought it. I’m astounded that people have not realised before now that man made emissions of CO2 directly impact on the Sun.

I have just uploaded a brief introductory essay called Profits of Doom – An Introduction to Global Warming. Left click the link to open the PDF file in a new tab, or right click to save. There are quite a few graphs and photos. The file is about 1MB.

This was written just over a year ago as notes to accompany a PowerPoint presentation . There are few minor things I would change now. But I think it is still a good introduction.

Interesting to hear Peter Garrett say that he ‘knows’ changes in the Wilkins Ice Shelf are caused by global warming. Of course the world has been getting cooler for the last ten years, and during these Autumn months it is getting much cooler in the Antarctic. Like, actually, you know, cold. Below zero and stuff. But hey, don’t let the facts stop you. They certainly don’t get in the way of the EU.


Several stories on major Australian media sites about extra deaths possibly caused by the Victorian heatwave in January.

But so far, not a single mention of CO2 or global warming.

Quite rightly, of course, because individual weather events, even unusual weather events and their consequences, should not be blamed on global patterns without some evidence that the two are connected.

But it is hard to imagine that some journalists, even a year ago, would not automatically have claimed these deaths as adding weight to the global warming thing.

Whatever one thinks about its authenticity, the Shroud is a fascinating object.

Carbon dating tests conducted in 1988 indicated the Shroud could not be dated any earlier than 1260. That figure was immediately disputed (and not just by Shroud believers) because it was claimed that the very small parts of the Shroud removed for dating had been taken from a place where repairs had been carried out in the Middle Ages.

Last year John Jackson, a Colorado physicist working with Oxford University, said that because of high Carbon Monoxide levels, those dating results could have been skewed by as much as 1300 years. Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (the group that tested the Shroud in 1988) said ‘There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow and so further research is certainly needed.’

The other evidence includes matches with the Sudarium of Oviedo, and pollens, cloth and weave types that are a perfect fit to 1st Century Israel.

One of the problems has been a gap in the Shroud’s history.

The Shroud, or something like it, had been known in the Eastern Church until the sack of Constantinople in 1204. But there was no record of its existence between then and the appearance of the Shroud we have now in France in 1353. The Shroud was in the possession of a family descended from a Knight Templar who had been in the Middle East. This led historian Ian Wilson to propose that it had either been in that family’s possession, or in the possession of the order of Knights Templar between 1204 and 1353 – and therefore that this was the same cloth and image that had been known in the East.

Now Dr Barbara Frale, an historian researching the Templars in the Vatican Archives, reports finding a Templar document which confirms Wilson’s theory.

Even now, no one understands how the image came to be made on the cloth. The negative image, wounds in the wrists rather than the hands, realistic blood flow patterns and a multitude of other factors make it unlikely in the extreme that it is a medieval forgery. So what is it?

Probably the two best books on the Shroud are Ian Wilson’s The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World’s Most Sacred Relic Is Real and John Iannone’s The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin: New Scientific Evidence.

The media has been blabbing on about how the Wilkins Ice Shelf is in imminent danger of disintegration because of global warming for years. Now, yet again, scientists are alarmed at the extent of rapid changes. Poor dears. They must spend their lives in a constant state of stress.

Of course, the Wilkins Ice Shelf will collapse someday, maybe someday soon. Climate changes. Ice changes. Everything changes. Things are not going to stay the way they were when you were twelve years old forever.

Record breaking increases in ice in the Antarctic were completely ignored by the media, who at that time focussed their attention on the Arctic, where ice appeared to be reducing. When the Arctic recovered, well let’s just say that wasn’t scary enough to be newsworthy. But hey, thank the heavens, something nasty might be happening in Antarctica after all. This might convince those nasty sceptics (scepticism is actually the essence of science, but let’s not spoil anyone’s fun) that global warming is real. Or at least be a good photo opportunity.

Except that when the Wilkins Ice Shelf does collapse, it could be for any number of reasons. It could be because the world is getter warmer (except that it isn’t). It could be because of local changes in climate unrelated to CO2 levels or global patterns. It could be because of wind and wave action. It could be because of heat generated by friction caused by ice movement, or new ice generation. Or it could be because of undersea volcanic activity.

So dear alarmists, don’t start celebrating yet. This time, let the facts get in the way of the story, at least until there is a story to report.

Alas, not so.

The fact that Jennifer filed this under ‘Humour’ and posted it on April 1st should have been a giveaway.

The references to Irving Janis are entirely accurate, and that, along with references to real people such as Vaclav Klaus and William Kininmonth give the blog post a high degree of verisimilitude.

I knew it could not be true when I got to this: In order to avoid groupthink the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has accepted the recommendation from President Klaus in particular that the IPCC adopt Janis’ nine principles including that several independent groups work on the same problem, that alternatives be properly examined, and at least one member of every working-group be assigned the role of Devil’s advocate.

Would that it were so! 

Well done, Jennifer, and thanks for the laugh.

I know George Browning slightly. He is a a personable and apparently intelligent man. He has also been pushing the global warming agenda pretty relentlessly for the last ten years. Understandably, since he is convenor of the ‘Anglican Communion Environment Network.’ I assume the right (that is, the wrong) views are required, before anyone is invited to occupy this position. I make that assumption having looked through their website for any sign of even the remotest awareness of scientific issues which should inform the global warming debate, or indeed any sign of being aware of anything that could not be found in the Sunday Sun.

Before the last Australian Federal general election George Browning wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Howard saying he could never encourage people to vote for any party which did not have clear policies in place to deal with climate change. In other words, unless the liberal party immediately implemented the pointless and harmful policies he had in mind, Bishop Drowning would tell people to vote Labor (which, of course, it would never have occurred to him to do otherwise).

I was then Dean of The Murray, and wrote in our diocesan newsletter that there was no evidence of any unusual changes in climate over the last 100 years, that there had been no increases in the rate of sea level rise, that minor fluctuations of less than 1 degree Celsius were well within the bounds of natural change, that periods of change in global temperature over the last century did not correlate with levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and that if the Church was going to encourage governments to spend billions of dollars solving problems, we had jolly well better have done our homework first, and made sure there really was a problem, and that the solutions we were asking for really would solve it.

But alas. I got no response from Bishop Drowning, and only one from another bishop telling me I was undermining the credibility of the Anglican Church.

I did not reply. There is such a thing as invincible ignorance. Mind you, once the media changes its mind about global warming, and we move on the next big scare, those same bishops will all be denying they were ever worried about global warming. ‘That was just a passing fad,’ they’ll say. ‘I always had my doubts about it.’ Yeah right.

It is that kind of desperate bouncing from one popular issue to another, trying to find something relevant to say, that undermines the credibility of the Church. The Church has something relevant to say. It’s called the Gospel.

Sadly, busy bouncing bishops will always have their uses, especially to politicians and to the media. But as Cardinal Pell said in reponse to an attack on him by Bishop Drowning,  ‘Church leaders should be allergic to nonsense.’

“My task as a Christian leader is to engage with reality, to contribute to debate on important issues, to open people’s minds and to point out when the emperor is wearing few or no clothes,” he said. “Radical environmentalists are more than up to the task of moralising their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear. They don’t need church leaders to help them with this, although it is a very effective way of further muting Christian witness,” he said.


Interesting news about the world’s largest laser becoming operational, and especially the hope that this will generate enough energy to achieve ‘fusion ignition.’ This could be an important step on the way to the use of fusion as a cheap clean energy source.

See my earlier post on cold fusion for more on the wider impact, including economic impact, of fusion technology.

But what happened here: ‘The facility, the size of a football field, comprises of 192 separate laser beams…’ No it doesn’t. Nothing ‘comprises of‘ anything.

The word comprise includes the ‘of.’ So it could be ‘composed of 192 separate laser beams’, or it ‘comprises 192 separate laser beams.’ Not some sort of horrible hybrid. If you don’t know how to use a word, don’t use it.

At least he spelled ‘separate’ correctly.

Gold Coast GP Michael Tait, 76, is accused of flouting Queensland Medical Board guidelines by administering the worthless anti-cancer drug Ukrain to almost 150 terminally ill cancer sufferers.

I don’t know enough about this case to offer an opinion one way or the other, and it would not be fair to do so before the tribunal’s decision anyway.

But I do know that fake, quack, charlatan, greedy, dishonest, ‘medical’ practitioners are a major problem.

As a clergyman caring for chronically or terminally patients and their families, I was horrified by how often these vulnerable people were targetted by people offering expensive and utterly worthless treatments they claimed had been suppressed by the mainstream medical community because curing cancer, epilepsy, psychiatric illnesses, motor neurone disease, or whatever it was, would put doctors out of business.

I hated seeing desperate and often lonely people spending their last money and their last hopes on vicious scams. So if that is what Tait was doing, I hope the tribunal will have the courage to say so, and stop him practising ever again.


The Queensland Health Practitioners’ Tribunal has found Michael Tait guilty of ‘serious professional misconduct.’ Tait will not be able to register as a medical practitioner for three years after making $1.7 million giving patients the fake anti-cancer drug Ukrain, which contains ingredients also found in dish detergent and toilet cleaner.

OK, good. But isn’t there more to it than this? If some of his patients had been treated properly, would they still be alive? Drug dealers normally have their assets confiscated. Will that happen here? If not, why not?

To answer my own question, because there are no laws in place that would allow the courts to do so. But that really is not good enough. Michael Tait was caught because he was trading on his medical qualifications to sell fake anti-cancer drugs. But he didn’t need to be a doctor to sell people those drugs anyway, and may very well continue to do so.

There are thousands of quacks in Australia who cheat and deceive vulnerable people every day, often in ways that contribute to their death or ongoing ill-health. Please let’s put some laws in place which will proscribe such behaviour, and which have penalties of sufficient substance that they will convince these vicious rip-offs that it is not in their best interests to continue.

Well they would be, wouldn’t they, given that public education in Australia seems to be about developing the ‘right’ opinions rather learning to think.

New Zealand isn’t much better. While there I heard a radio ad for Earth Hour which said ‘Turn off the power, and see the world in a new light.’ Well, yes, if darkness is a new light. A sign of things to come if this idiocy continues.

Why not support Toad Day Out instead? Catch some cane toads, turn them into fertiliser, and actually do something useful for Australia and the environment. Cool.

The cost of energy is the major limiting factor in economic development. Cold fusion offers the possibility of vast amounts of cheap clean energy. The word ‘revolutionary’ is bandied around far too readily in reporting of science news, but this is one thing that really could change the world – economically, technically, environmentally.

If there is anything in this new round of research into cold fusion, we could be heading into exciting times.

In a process described by University of Edinburgh researcher Duncan Forgan as ‘quantifying our ignorance,’ scientists have estimated that there are at least 361 ‘intelligent civilisations’ (are there unintelligent ones too?) in the Milky Way, and possibly up to 38,000.

While this is interesting, a guess about a number that could be anywhere between 361 and 38,000 does not sound very reliable or useful to me.

There’s always something to be scared about. But in the history of things to be scared about, this has to be at the very bottom of the list.

The Murray is Australia’s largest and longest river. It’s not all that spectacular by world standards, but we’re quite fond of it.

Before European intervention, The Murray was what most Australian rivers are – a series of inter-connected waterholes along a dry bed, which were linked during flood times, when water would spread out over a wide area. After the floods, water in the river would gradually dry up, returning the river to its normal dry bed. For almost all of its history, except for the last seventy years, it has regularly been possible to walk across The Murray.

Over the last century flows in and out of the river have been increasingly carefully managed, so that for much of its length water is maintained at a fixed level, and there is always some flow, even in times of prolonged drought. Testing at centres along the river, including Morgan in its lower South Australian reaches, show that salinity and turbidity (the amount of suspended matter in the water) are both decreasing.

In other words, even during times of low rainfall and consequent low inflows, the river’s health has been good. The river is a major source of tourism income, and supports vast areas of irrigation where grapes and citrus fruit are grown. It will never be returned to its ‘natural’ state.

The lower lakes are similarly an entirely artificial creation. The Coroong, the name of the estuary and lower lakes, was a tidal, that is, salt water estuary, which was occasionally filled with fresh water in times of flood. The flow of water in and out to the sea was blocked when barrages were built across the mouth of the river about seventy years ago, and the current permanent fresh water lake system created

About 500 gigalitres of water is lost from these artificial lakes each year through evaporation. This leads to higher levels of salinity, but levels which still do not approach those of the sea water which used to fill the lakes. There are questions about whether this loss is sustainable, or whether the barrages should be removed and a weir built across the real mouth of The Murray, where it enters the lower lakes at Wellington.

This would reduce loss of fresh water through evaporation and make management of the river in its lower stretches (from Morgan to Wellington) easier. But it would create considerable difficulties for the communities which have grown up around the lower lakes, and especially for the town of Meningie.

Further study and debate will help to clarify the best solution. But scare-mongering headlines will not help.

If I’m playing anything other than World of Warcraft on my PC, it’s usually Halo, Gears of War or some other Xbox 360 game. But the PS3 is a great console.

Scientists have linked sixteen PS3s together to form a ‘PS3 Gravity Grid’ which can perfom complex calculations to investigate the behaviour of black holes at a fraction of the cost of a super-computer.


Oh puh-leese! 

Researchers warn that ocean acidification, which they refer to as “the other CO2 problem”, could make most regions of the ocean inhospitable to coral reefs by 2050, if atmospheric CO2 levels continue to increase.’


Coral and coral reefs evolved in the Mesozoic era, when atmospheric CO2 levels were up to 100 times higher than they are today. Corals and other marine creatures have survived the last 150 million years with variations in temperature, sea level and CO2 levels orders of magnitude greater than the minor changes over the last 100 years.

In addition it is becoming clearer that human impact on CO2 levels is so small it cannot even be reliably discerned against the background of natural processes and fluctuations. CO2 increases follow (there is no evidence they have ever caused) global temperature increases. It is highly likely that the minor 20th Century rise in atmospheric CO2 is the predictable natural increase as we climbed out of the ‘Little Ice Age.’

A better headline would be “Human Produced Nonsense Causing Irreversible Damage to Credibility of Science.’