Monday, February 25, 2013

RinkWatch: How backyard skaters are monitoring climate change | MNN - Mother Nature Network

               Hockey! Can't get more Canadian than that, eh? RinkWatch is a citizen science initiative to monitor climate change. You sign up, and keep a journal of your backyard rink activity. The tabulated results allow researchers to monitor climate change.

               It even makes sense to join if you are a sceptic of global warming: here, at last, is your chance to get involved and prove that GW is a big hoax cooked up by professors of earth science to make "trillions" off the carbon credit exchange market..

RinkWatch: How backyard skaters are monitoring climate change | MNN - Mother Nature Network

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Transparency in Medicine

          Doctor Ben Goldacre, author of "Bad Pharma: how drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients" (4th Estate, London) was interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti recently on the CBC program, The Current. I found this a fascinating example of the critical importance of informational transparency in modern, information based societies like ours. 

          Dr Goldacre argues that industry sponsored clinical medical trials are flawed and, intentionally or unintentionally, mislead doctors and their patients, sometimes with tragic results. Thus, fully one half of clinical trial results are not published in peer reviewed journals. These are generally those trials which produce negative results. This, says Dr Goldacre, is not good science: all results, postive or negative, are required if researchers and medical practitioners are to make informed choices.

           Dr Goldacre discussed a case he studied in which 3 clinical trials showed that drug X functioned better than a sugar pill placebo. These trials were published. Not published: NINE trials which showed no difference in effect between drug X and placebos! Such a flagrant lack of transparency leads to misprescriptions (with risk of injury or death) or the introduction of new drugs of little or no proven value.

            Dr Goldacre, it should be noted, is a practicing doctor and actually rather sympathetic to the difficulties faced by drug companies. For example, some companies actually support disclosure of clinical trial results. He points out that much red tape is involved in setting up clinical trials, forcing companies to reduce the number of trials, their length or the number of patients in each trial. 

           One point I found particularly interesting. Dr Goldacre questions the value of testing new drugs against placebos instead of testing them against the best available currently used drug. This would seem, to me, a pre-eminently sensible procedure..

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Climate scientists speak out

 Georg Götz: Global Change, interviews with leading climate scientists. SpringerBriefs in Earth System Sciences, 2012.  53 pages

J. Donald Huges, an environmental historian at the University of Denver, Colorado, page 51:

Q: What are in your view environmental problems that have been solved well in the past? And what would be an example of how not to approach an environmental issue?

R: (Prof Huges cited the Montreal Agreement on the regulation of florinated-chlorinated hydrocarbons and conservation measures undertaken by the Roosevelt Administration during the Great Depression as examples of environmental issues that were well handled by political leaders.) "How not to approach an environmental issue? The way many of my fellow Americans are doing now: (1) Deny that the problem exists: (2) Make it a partisan political issue where even environmentalism becomes a pejorative word; (3) Put all the emphasis on the economic side while not recognizing the importance of the environment to the economy; (4) Oppose environmental regulations as a form of restraint on business."

          Well put professor Hughes! Guess we know who the Harper government has been taking their cues from on environmental issues..

Götz, page 30-31. Interview with Prof Andrew J Weaver, Canada Research Chair in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Prof Weaver was lead author of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th IPCC Working Group I reports. My personal comments have been added in red and between parentheses.

Q: Climate science is not only a scientific discipline but has also become a very political and social subject during the last (few) years. How has this affected your work as a scientist?

R: "My background is physics; I did my PhD in applied mathematics. The reason why I went into climate science is that I was interested in physics and mathematics applied to real world problems - things that make a difference. It is surely very important to study particle physics or astronomy, but I personally found these much less relevant to our daily lives and that is how I got into physics of the environment. (Note how this motivation is at sharp variance with the "Follow the money" school of Climate Change "sceptics" who claim that researchers like prof Weaver are out to make "trillions" from the carbon credit trading market!!)
         ... (G)overnments became aware of our results and said, well, maybe we should start to do something about that. But as more and more people realized that this is an issue and developed a sense of fear that they did not want to deal with this issue, it became really a bit of a "shoot the messenger" approach that was taken. There is a group out there that think we as climate scientists are taking part in some global conspiracy to create a global government or something similar. (I have been accused of this myself..) This is absolutely absurd.
         ... It has been very frustrating and it is frustrating on many levels because you begin to see really how bad the scientific literacy is within the general public and particularly within the media and the political structures that we have. And in Canada, I think, we take it to a completely new level compared to Europe. The level of scientific illiteracy - at least inside the government - is just mind blowing. ..(I)n Canada.. (w)e are in a time of draconian cuts to climate science now. ..It seems that our government has decided that their task is to ensure that we produce oil from the Alberta oil sands and export it to the USA. It's not a pleasant time to be a climate scientist in Canada."

Götz, page 6. Interview with prof Hans Oerlemans, University of Utrecht, Netherlands. He was lead author for the first three IPCC assessment reports. Winner of awards and honorary degrees for excellence in science, etc.

Q: Would you go as far as saying that politicians are receiving wrong information about climate science?

R: "It is not a question of right or wrong, it is the color. (I would say "spin".) Once I had people here from the USA, asking for scientific results, I call that "shopping". (I call it "cherry picking": choosing the results that fit your preconceived "roadmap of reality" and ignoring everything else.) They asked me for data about glaciers. I gave them results on 200 glaciers and they selected the 20 glaciers that did not retreat and made a story out of that. They knew from the beginning what they wanted, they were just collecting suitable arguments.
         All these groups from the advisory and consulting business have a lot of influence. But they do not produce anything useful. It would be the responsibility of politics to recognize this and go back to the more direct lines (of communication with the scientific community). I think on the global scale this is the central problem of climate science. Science has a minor role, the consulting bureaus select results they like.
          But I do not fight against this anymore, you cannot win and it takes all your time. I try to write decent scientific publications. When politic(ian)s do not check the quality of the people they ask  for advice - then it is over." (Indeed, at that point, any pretence of rational debate is "over". One hears the frustration..)

internal blog links: