The Daily Fail has been lying to the public again says says KK but he sneaks in a dig at the Grauniad on GMOs as he passes, for balance. QS notes that Myles Allen has a column in the Graun about the same (not the GMOs, obviously, you wouldn’t get that past the Graun) which seems bizarrely forgiving of David “I made it up” Rose. JA is caustic as ever.

In misc news, I’ve made my first foray into advice on how to row, and been climbing again. And running (pix).

Cyprus is a disaster area featuring enormous political stupidity for such a small country. That the finance minister flew off to Russia tells you a lot.

Retraction watch has a fun one about how “Unfortunately, due to the system of publishing fast, often and in high-impact factor journals, scientists are under greater pressure to produce quantity, at the expense of research quality” got pulled because a supervisor didn’t like it. Tut.

Meanwhile, “climategate3.0” remains totally invisible in the real world (and the google trends graph has now had time to catch up, and its still nothing). As of the date of writing, WUWT is still valiantly keeping it as a top sticky post, but no-one cares.

Update: and don’t miss the dramafest in the comments of Anthropological data point. Whodathunkit? The interview is worth reading too.

Driverless cars vs high speed rail

aadb Driverless cars are in the news recently (I won’t even bother linking to the various posts, there are so many) and Brian worries they might turn High Speed Rail into a dinosaur. Which indeed seems entirely likely.

My own view is that I love railways; going on holidays via sleeper and waking up as you’re going through an alpine pass is wonderful. Commuting in the things isn’t great, though it beats sitting in traffic queues. But where does the obsession with HSR come from? As CIP points out in Brian’s comments, they aren’t energy efficient – you might as well fly. They make great macho infrastructure projects for pols to posture with, and I’m sure there are wonderful discrete kick-backs in all that concrete pouring. And they’re great for making promises of regeneration of distant areas that can’t be falsified until too late. Aside: I was always disappointed that the channel tunnel went down the obsession-with-speed thing, when what I wanted them to do was run sleeper services to the continent so I didn’t have to change in Paris. Ah well.

As for driverless cars: if they do come, they’re bound to look very different from a car that drives itself. I’m going to want one with a bed in the back so I can wake up in that alpine pass again.


* Offsetting Climate Change by Engineering Air Pollution to Brighten Clouds.
* An Examination of the Interaction between Two Prospective Transport Technologies: Questioning the Importance of High Speed Rail in a Driverless Vehicle Society – Ryan J. Westrom; Candidate, Master of Science in Transportation 2014; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (that link, to my website, is just me hosting a copy of his poster).
* Timmy in 2014.

On happiness

569px-Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait) James Hansen says:

I was lucky to grow up in the era of rapidly rising expectations and opportunities. I was born on a small farm, the son of an itinerant tenant farmer. None of the farms that my five sisters and I lived on had electricity. Daylight was extended by kerosene lamps. I barely remember the use of kerosene lamps, because, when I was four years old, we moved a small house to the outskirts of town and by the time my brother was born, when I was 5 years old, we had electricity.

And so on. Which is, at first sight, weird: he claims to have been lucky to grow up in an era so primitive that they were using kerosene lamps. Why isn’t he bemoaning how unlucky he was compared to someone growing up today, where the standard of living is so much higher?

Because, as Hobbes says:

Seeing all delight is appetite, and appetite presupposes a farther end, there can be no contentment but in proceeding: and therefore we are not to marvel, when we see, that as men attain to more riches, honors, or other power; so their appetite continually grows more and more; and when they are come to the utmost degree of one kind of power, they pursue some other, as long as in any kind they think themselves behind any other. Of those therefore that have attained to the highest degree of honor and riches, some have affected mastery in some art; as Nero in music and poetry, Commodus in the art of a gladiator. And such as affect not some such thing, must find diversion and recreation of their thoughts in the contention either of play, or business. And men justly complain as of a great grief, that they know not what to do. FELICITY, therefore (by which we mean continual delight), consists not in having prospered, but in prospering.

The alternative “because” is “because Hansen isn’t thinking very clearly”. Which can’t possibly be right, obviously. That’s from The Elements of Law Natural and Politic not Leviathan, BTW.


* ELO – Mr Blue Sky

GMOs: Seven Obvious Questions in Search of Straightforward Answers?

cr2011158f1 From campaignforrealfarming.org, via IR. Inspired by KK, of course. I don’t know who the campaignforrealfarming are, but for the moment I’ll treat them as worth talking to. You’ll notice there is a total absence of refs in the piece, so I feel no obligation to provide any in response.

The first three questions

The first three questions are:

1: After 30 years of intense effort and huge investment, can the GM advocates offer any examples of GM food crops that have brought unequivocal benefit to humanity or to the world at large?

2: Assuming that the advocates of GM food can demonstrate unequivocal benefits, can they also show that those benefits could not have been achieved – just as easily, at the same cost, in the same time, and without collateral damage — by traditional means?

3: Putting points 1 and 2 together, can the GM advocates demonstrate that the research on GM has been cost-effective? If the same amount of research effort and resource had been put into other approaches, could we not have achieved far more?

To my mind, these questions are all really rather beside the point. If companies wish to invest in GM, well, they can. Why should they have to answer questions about cost effectiveness? That’s their problem. We live, or we hope to live, in a free liberal society: you (individually, or banded together as shareholders in a company) can invest in what you like, subject only to not harming others (and note that q’s 1-3 are not about harm; they are seeking to have benefit demonstrated).

So campaignforrealfarming is looking profoundly illiberal so far. But perhaps further q’s will be better.

Note that I haven’t addressed the issue of whether public money should go into GMO research. That’s a bit messy, and doesn’t fit into my strict Hobbesian idealogical framework so easily. Broadly, I think I’d need to be convinced that there really was significant public money being “misspent” before getting worried; the article I’m quoting from doesn’t even try to do that.

Four and five

4: Can we really be sure that GM crops are safe — for our fellow creatures in the environment at large; or for consumers – whether livestock or people?

5: Taken all in all, do the advantages of GM really outweigh the perceived disadvantages and the conceivable risks?

These are really one question, and are the heart of the matter: are GMO’s safe? The campaign’s answer is clear enough though:

All of the philosophy of science over the past 80 years or so (at least since Kurt Goedel and Karl Popper) has been telling us that science does not, and cannot, deal in certainties. In short, even if GM does produce some successes, it cannot justify the confidence that so many of its advocates display. Their confidence suggests that they do not appreciate the limits of science itself – which is itself rather worrying.

Yup, that’s right. Science doesn’t deal in certainties. Therefore you can’t be certain that GMO’s are safe. Therefore you cannot really quantify the “conceivable risks”. And therefore its all too dangerous to bother with.

This is, I think, fundamentally their answer. And if they just said that, well, I think I’d disagree. But I could accept they were honest. But wrapping this core up in spun-sugar propaganda isn’t honest.

There’s a pile more stuff along the lines of “a huge and growing literature suggests that there is plenty of room for disquiet: stories of animals becoming sick when fed on GM crops; of “super-weeds” – crops fitted with genes for herbicide resistance that cannot be checked; of “innocent” insects including bees and butterflies being slain by crops fitted with pesticide genes” but with no references its all meaningless FUD.

More padding

6: Can we trust the GM advocates? Can we trust scientists who depend on commercial sponsorship?

7: What is the real motive behind GM?

Sigh. If you’re a company, your motive is to make money. If you’re an individual worker or scientist, you doubtless have a variety of complex shifting motives.

[Update: Eli has a nice post on this, which could be summarised as “Caution”. Which is indeed a sensible approach, as long as not carried to excess. What is excess caution though? Well, that’s hard to know in advance. A few more thoughts:

* “GMOs are intrinsically more dangerous, because we’re talking about plants, which are self-replicating. So things could run out of control”. Not false, but very incomplete because: the rate at which GM tech is becoming cheap is so fast that fairly soon (a decade?) we’re going to have to be able to cope with the GM equivalent of script-kiddies playing about in the bedroom turning the grass pink. Or malicious governments (doing things, not being turned pink by script-kiddies). So I don’t really buy the runaway stuff.
* that we should err on the side of caution is true, but isn’t an answer. We already do, with the range of trials needed. And the opposition from anti-GM groups isn’t “caution” any more than the denialism from the anti-IPCC folks is “scepticism”. How useful are lessons like CFCs, or lead-in-petrol? In terms of GMOs I doubt they are useful, because people are already aware of them. it isn’t as if people haven’t desperately striven to prove GMOs dangerous.]


* Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA – Zhang et al., Cell Research (2012) 22:107–126. doi:10.1038/cr.2011.158.
* The Post-Productive Economy (via EW)
* Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013 – Mark Lynas

Marathon and misc

2012-10-20 11.54.41 To Amsterdam, for the marathon. In case you’ve been wondering why its been quiet around here. 3:55, since you ask.

I know I still haven’t written the sea ice post. But I will; and isn’t it nice that they don’t all come at once?

I’m reading Atlas Shrugged. Yes, I know Rand is a wacko. And I know CIP didn’t like the book. But I’m quite enjoying it so far (p 703), as long as I skip through the multi-page sermons. Its getting duller now she’s reached Rivendell, though.

Middle class decline: is it inevitable? (h/t: EW). Speaking of Atlas Shrugged, there’s Greece falling apart some more. Though they seem to have a different solution.

In wiki-world, Gerhard Kramm is no more, on the not unreasonable grounds that he isn’t notable.

Oh, and the Italian scientists and earthquakes thing.


* Climate Trolls – An Illustrated Bestiary
* Book review: Atlas shrugged by me

Boston, etc

devil-duck-joy More misc, under a thin veneer.

I’ve been rowing again: the Boston Marathon.

For fans of short-sellers-are-all-irredeemably-evil brigade, try Bronte.

Our head isn’t too impressed with todays announced shake-up of the exam system: my heart sinks at the prospect of even more time spent on debating assessment rather than improving teaching and learning. Pols too keen on “leaving their mark” rather than knuckling down to work. Or indeed, leaving well enough alone.

Two views on Tyler Cowen (who he?)’s piece in the NYT about hunger.

Elegant little flower


DSC_1687 I’m not quite sure what it is. It is something like a houseleek – click on the tiny pic of its base for a bigger view, or here for a fuller view. I bought it in a village sale a few years back and it has sat outside come sun, rain and drought. This is the first year it has flowered. Dscn1158-flower-and-fruits It reminds me of asphodel somewhat, though on a much smaller scale, and only really in the way the flowers look when closed up. I’m pretty sure they aren’t related.

More Friday Fabulous Flowers can be found at the Phytophactor’s. I’m going to ask him what mine is, if no-one volunteers.

Update: TPP himself stops by, and tells me its a Haworthia. And looking at wiki it appears to be “subfamily Asphodeloideae” so maybe I wasn’t so wrong. Its fairly similar to this.