Archive 2012

How will the End of the World affect clinical trials? aimee whitcroft Dec 21

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Yes, sure, my first response was also ‘not well – dead patients are often difficult test subjects on which to continue clinical trials’.

A date inscription in the Mayan Long Count on the east side of Stela C from Quirigua showing the date for the last Creation. It is read as 4 Ajaw 8 Cumku and is usually correlated as 11 or 13 August, 3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar. The date of 4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in is usually correlated as 21 or 23 December 2012. Source: Wikipedia

Thankfully, however, the Canadian Medical Association Journal has looked more deeply into this most pressing of issues.

In fact, as the paper’s introduction states:

There is a great deal of speculation concerning the end of the world in December 2012, coinciding with the end of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar (the “Maya calendar”). Such an event would undoubtedly affect population survival and, thus, survival outcomes in clinical trials. Here, we discuss how the outcomes of clinical trials may be affected by the extinction of all mankind and recommend appropriate changes to their conduct. In addition, we use computer modelling to show the effect of the apocalypse on a sample clinical trial.

They go on to say, in effect, as part of Good Clinical Practise guidelines, research methods need to updated to expedite all current clinical research, lest the research results and analysis not be of benefit to anyone.

The full paper is linked to at the bottom of this piece – it’s open access, and an hilarious read.  Titles include “Stuff we did”, “Stuff we found out”, “Chit chat” and “Mostly true background”. Those of us used to wading through research papers will, of course, recognise their more prosaic analogues (Methods, Results, Discussion and Background).

Their results found that for the control group, death continued as usual but for the obliteration/end of the world group, well, things were a bit different!

For the control group, death occurs at a predictable and fairly uniform rate. However, MaD leads to a statistically significant, and clinically relevant, difference in survival between the control and obliteration groups (we’re pretty sure that, were it calculated, p would definitely be something really significant, and certainly less than 0.05). Oddly, despite censoring for major known sources of bias (e.g., astronauts currently aboard the international space station, as well as zombies, the undead, the Grateful Dead, Dungeons and Dragons players, men who have read Fifty Shades of Grey and other similar beings likely to be unaffected by the apocalypse), the obliteration group does not fall to 0. We have dubbed this slow rise in the obliteration curve the “zombie repopulation.”

There’s lots more detail, of course, including looking into the effect of the end of the world on a trial of two different drugs, and thEre are graphs and everything!  Clearly excellent science :)

Their conclusion?

If we have been thinking clearly, then it is apparent that the end of the world will have catastrophic effects on statistical analyses of survival outcomes. We therefore recommend that all clinical trials should stop immediately, as MaD will negate all potential trial results.

BUT really – go and enjoy the full paper – it’s a lovely piece of satire :)

I’m off to Canada until early Jan, but will resume blogging on my return.  In the meantime, enjoy the End of Times and, should that not happen, have an excellent holiday season!


From those of us for whom it’s already midday on Dec 21st, well, we’re still here!

Also, it may be worth pointing out that this notion of the End Times came from us, not the Mayans.



Wheatley-Price P, Hutton B, & Clemons M (2012). The Mayan Doomsday’s effect on survival outcomes in clinical trials. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 184 (18), 2021-2 PMID: 23230049

More microscope pr0n winners announced aimee whitcroft Dec 18

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I’ve posted before about the Nikon Small World’s microscopy/photography competition. Today, however, focuses on another Maker of Excellent Photographic Equipment – Olympus.

Olympus BioScapes 2012 Winners Gallery

For the last 10 years (says the website), Olympus has been sponsoring an international microscopy (i.e.photographing things with a microscope) competition – The Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition – and this year’s winners have just been announced.Over 2,000 images were submitted this year, so the achievement is certainly an impressive one!

You can see this year’s extraordinary winning images, and the runners-up (Honourable Mentions, that is), here. Interestingly, the first place is a video – of rotifers, no less – rather than a simple photograph. I’d recommend this lovely article from MSNBC’s Cosmic Log, which interviews the chap responsible for the 1st place winner. An excerpt:

When Grimm got the slimeball under his microscope and cranked the magnification to 200x, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “I had never seen this species of rotifer before,” he said. Rotifers are tiny animals that live primarily in fresh water and gobble up gunk.

“Forget about lunch. Don’t worry about breakfast,” he said. “This is how I spent the entire day, just filming.”

That’s just how I used to feel back in the day, spending time in the quiet, dark, cool fluorescence microscope room back at university (and the darkroom in school!) :) I still wonder, to this day, whether I should have become a microscopist…

I found it difficult choosing my faovurite photos or videos (for there’s more than one video, huzzah!). Which is your favourite?


Related posts:

Nikon’s Small World photo competition winners 2012 now out!

Science snippets

Brilliant photos of small things




Your LinkedIn profile, visualised aimee whitcroft Dec 11

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Data visualisation site/service has just announced, in concert with Kelly Services, the release of a new Create feature. As I’ve previously mentioned, allows one to create a number of prepackaged infographics, and this appears to be the newest one – the ability to plug in your LinkedIn profile and get an infographic out.

Now, it’s been a couple of years since some enterprising young man made international news with his infographic’d-up CV, and there have (no doubt) been many people who’ve followed in his wake.  Which meant it was only a matter of time until someone offered the ability to generate these automatically.

Fair play

And yes, using one of these probably would be a point of difference against many other CVs (unless you’re a graphic designer, for example). The question is, though – is it useful? Does it capture the rights kinds of data, and present them in a manner which is useful? Remember, the point of infographics is to make a set of numbers easy to digest visually.

With this in mind, I had a play.  One is able to generate 5 different infographic looks, and it’s entirely possible more might be added.  Of course, they’re not necessarily entirely discrete – Earth Tone and Pastel Tone are analogues of each other, as are Black Gradient and Stark White.

I plugged my LinkedIn profile into all 6, however, to have a look.  It’s worth noting I maintain my profile assiduously, so there was plenty for the infographics to draw on! Here, then, are the results.

Click to enlarge

Pastel/Earth Tone (1 and 2)

Good clear timeline, which I like, although I’m not sure why the colours chosen, were, and in that order.  Still, I’m not a professional graphic designer.

I also like that they add up the number of years spent in different industries, although, and here’s a key issue for LinkedIn overall – one can only assign one, very limited, industry per job.  So these lovely stats, while great to look at, are not very useful.

It then goes on to give a word cloud of the skills people put down on their profiles – you know, the ones it’s now getting us all to endorse on behalf of each other.  I have, however, absolutely NO idea how it’s chosen . Seriously, why are Joomla and Events some of my biggest words? I don’t even see science communication  AT ALL. Etc etc.  It’s certainly not a good indication of my general skill set.

And how does it know which industries (like writing, apparently) are hot or not?  And is this just hot in NZ, or hot globally or, often the default, hot in the US?

What I’ve Studied is fine, I guess, and I actually found the Industry Connections bit quite useful, so no complaints there.

And finally – why the recommendation it chose?  Does it choose the most recent? Or the recommendation applying to the most recent job one has a recommendation for? And is that necessarily useful?

Business Card (3)

A good treatment of the timeline, showing the overlap of various jobs/pieces of work.  However, the alignment is completely out, with legends (thankfully colour-coded-ish) not actually pointing to the correct blocks.

On the other hand, though, it takes SO MUCH scrolling to get SO LITTLE information. A criticism which also applies, but to a lesser extent, to the Earth Tone/Pastel Tone infographics.

I don’t know how the size of Group circles have been decided, but at least the Skills section is more complete.

Stark White/Black Gradient (4 and 5)

Something weird with the maths here – for example, it says I’ve spent over three years in the Leisure, Travel & Tourism industry.  Really?  Not that I know of… It also gives a different amount of time spent in the Management Consulting industry to the previous infographics (Pastel/Earth Tone).

And again, the Skills that it chooses to list (8 of the, well, WAY more than 8 that I have) seem to be slightly more aligned with reality that the previous infographics, but again I’m forced to wonder how it chose the skills that it did.  I think, in this case, it might be the first 8 I put down, but I battle to see the usefulness of that, particularly given how people’s skills change over time.


I think the service is a fun gimmick, but that is all, and I’d be very wary of actually using something like this for a job application.

Simply put – it doesn’t do what any good infographic does: pull out the most salient data and present it as clearly and strikingly as possible.  Why?  Because everyone’s CV is different, and one needs humans (currently) to decide which bits to pull out and how best to present them, especially as these will likely be different for different job application.

Finally, and judging by the HR people I’ve met – most will not be even slightly impressed by having to scroll down or (I know, it’s terrible) print multiple pages of an infographic which tells them in multiple pages what simple text, well laid out, could in 1 page. If you’re going to a graphically-related industry, this would embarass you and if you’re not, do you think they’ll be affected positively by it?

On the other hand, though, the infographics do have some great elements which, I’m sure, could be easily adapted to make something more…personal.

I guess only time will tell.  I’ll be curious to see what feedback is around this.  It’s a lovely idea, in essence, but in need of improvement if it’s to be useful :)

Then again, it may also just be a very clever lead deneration ploy by, as people generate their infographic, decide it needs tweaks, and hire’s designers!


Related posts

Amazing Mad Men smoking/drinking data visualisations

RIP Patrick Moore – thank you for the wonder aimee whitcroft Dec 10


Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore, CBE, FRS, FRAS, the self-taught (i.e. amateur) astronomer who inspired millions to look upwards at the heavens, has died aged 89.

 Sir Patrick Moore. Credit: The Guardian


From the Telegraph obituary:

…Sir Patrick Moore, who has died aged 89, became better known than any of the academics in his field – and his enthusiasm fired the youthful imaginations of the generation who came to replace them.

His television programme, The Sky at Night, broadcast every month for 55 years, became the longest-running series with the same presenter, and he only missed one episode.

It goes on to say

Brian May, the Queen guitarist who holds a PhD in astrophysics, said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that Patrick, in his tireless and ebullient communication of the magic of astronomy, inspired every British astronomer, amateur and professional, for half a century.”

Further, it says of Moore, who succumbed to an infection, that

By the end, he had spent almost all his money on others, such as buying telescopes for budding astronomers, May said.

I’m not going to cover ground already covered by the many obituaries currently being published*.  Instead, I’m going to share this awesome video, pointed out to me by my lovely friend Johnny Bravo over in good ol’ Blighty, of the Man Himself on the Subject of Space Snacks.

Enjoy.  And thank you, Sir Moore.  We are forever in your debt :)

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

And here’s one of Weebl**’s gleefully insane videos, with Moore playing a xylophone. Ft aliens.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.


* I’m somewhat sniffly about his sad romantic story, for example :(

** You know, Weebl. From the badger song.  And the narwhal*** song.  And all of the madness****.

*** They’re the unicorns of the ocean.

**** Which reminds me of Cyriak. See the cows & cows & cows video, and the baaaa (sheep) video and the teddy bear video, just for starters.


Some of the obits:

BBC: Sir Patrick Moore, astronomer and broadcaster, dies aged 89

Universe Today: Sir Patrick Moore Dies at Age 89

The Guardian: Sir Patrick Moore: the eccentric amateur who became a TV star

Google+ rolls out Google Communities aimee whitcroft Dec 07

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Well, earlier today (depending on where you are, of course), Google+ started rolling out Google Communities.

The service is brand new, so I don’t have much of an opinion about it yet.  I’ve just joined a makers/hackers/engineers/artists community, as these are things I think are cool and I reckon it’ll be a really interesting example of a community in action (it already has well over 500 people in it!).

The reasoning behind Communities is, in the words of Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior VP of engineering,

What’s been missing, however, are more permanent homes for all the stuff you love: the wonderful, the weird, and yes, even the things that are waaay out there.

It offers public or private groups/membership, discussion categories, the ability to share (through +1) with a community, and hangouts/event planning for groups, too.

Anyhoo, here’s what Google says about it*. And there are already _lots_ of groups.  I see ol’ +Fraser Cain** has started one about space, for example, and I see groups covering Star Wars, Parenting, Call of Duty, Exploration, knitting, sports and more.

I can see the idea having merit, frankly.  Yes, circles (and the sharing thereof) is a great way to start building communities of people, but I think having dedicated spaces to which people can go, is also pretty cool. Of course, there are already all kinds of spaces out there already for fans of things, but I still think this might work well, given that Google+ has 135 million active users (certainly, the people I follow/who follow me seem to be pretty active!).

Google’s also just released the Android app for snapseed, an instagram-type photo tweaking and sharing app which has been available on the iPad since last year. It’s _also_ available on iPhones and, and here’s the kicker, Google’s made dropped the price tag to make it a free app. Also, they’ve added a Google+ sharing integration feature (the lack of which on my iPhone up until now has really irritated me). I’m just downloaded the app and am definitely going to be playing with it :)

And given the implosion which has taken place between Twitter and Instagram, well, the timing’s certainly not bad either!

Are you a member of any communities yet? What do you think of the idea?

UPDATE: It looks like we can’t currently create our own Communities.  But the ability to do so does exist… Here’s an image describing how people are feeling about that :P

UPDATE: Yep, the ability to create a Community has now been unlocked…I’ve made this one.


For those of who who climb onto the very-much-debuncked ‘Google+ is a ghost-town and useless’ wagon, the service has 500 million users of which 135 million are active users.  Also, if you believe that, I’d suggest asking other Google+ers who are active on the service, what they think. In my experience, they don’t agree :) Like anything else, what you put in is what you get out – if you aren’t connected with people, and actively engaging then, well, it probably WILL look like it’s deserted.  Like walking down the high street at lunchtime with your head wrapped in a bag.

Here’s Read Write Web on the subject.


* I freely admit to enjoying spending a couple of seconds playing with the bouncy spheres at the top of the page. Small minds, and all that :P

** Mentioned in yesterday’s post on deSTEMber.


Also, ARG!  Ingress almost, ALMOST makes me want to get an Android phone. It’s torture watching people play it :P

Amazing Mad Men smoking/drinking data visualisations aimee whitcroft Dec 07

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The website is a great place to watch for infographics and data visualisations of all sorts*, and a recent one, brought to my attention by excellent publication Fast Company, is particularly boggling.


Credit: Click to enlarge.

In the words of its creators, it’s

Analysis of characters’ bad behaviours in the TV Series Mad Men during the first season of the show. Developed during the Workshop Culture Data Culture held by Santiago Ortiz Herrera at Politecnico di Milano.

There are 6 charts in all:

  1. total amount of single drinks (per person and episode)
  2. total amount of beverage drunk and relative amount of alcohol (per person and episode)
  3. kinds of drinks and relative occurrence (per drink and episode) – whisky is the major favourite here although, I have to say, from memory it wasn’t terribly _good_ whisky
  4. drink recipes/constituents and nationalities (well, the nationalities of the liquids contained therein)
  5. total amount of tobacco smoked (per person and episode)
  6. drinking relations between members

Not surprisingly, our man Don Draper is a leader in the stats.  Interestingly, though, is the ladies – one sees Peggy start to feature more in the ‘bad behaviour’ as she is accepted by the lads, and starts to do more than be a gopher.  Also, the final visualisation is quite interesting – episodes 7 and 8 are the first time we see two of the main ladies, Peggy and Joan, drink in more social settings.

You can see all 6 of the visualisations, and more information, here.


* Also, you can use it to generate automatic reports, which can be useful/fun for people AND companies!

DeSTEMber is here! aimee whitcroft Dec 06

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A quick note, today, to make sure that you all, dear readers, are aware of and following/taking part in #deSTEMber.

What is it, you ask?  Well, the Google Science Fair peeps have teamed up with girlstart, with the stated aim being to get people more actively interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths).

It’s going to be running all through December, and will focus on people of all ages and backgrounds.  According to science writer Fraser Cain,

This month-long event will be focusing on people of all ages and backgrounds, since the STEM fields effect each and every one of us! Already there are plans for +CERN,, +National Geographic, +Scientific American, and others to host HOA’s covering a variety of interesting materials including at-home science experiments, panel interviews, behind-the-scenes in the lab, etc.

Not to mention, yours truly is organizing an event for the third week of #deSTEMber  through the +CosmoQuest page, bringing the awesome science of space and astronomy to the world!

DeSTEMber will include a bunch of Hangouts on Air, and you can see a calendar of the month’s awesome here.



Also, hooray for girlstart!  Awesome initiative, and makes me think of the Ada Initiative :)


Astonishing documentary: Secret Life – the Hidden Life of the Cell aimee whitcroft Nov 28


If there’s one thing you watch today (well, other than wall-to-wall coverage of The Hobbit* and perhaps some videos of sorting algorithms explained through folk dance), it needs to be this.

Secret Universe – The Hidden Life Of the Cell from pbbes on Vimeo.

In this astonishing hour-long BBC documentary released just a month ago, David Tennant narrates the story of what happens when our basic components – cells – come under attach from a virus (in this case, a common respiratory disease-causing virus, the adenovirus).

Not only is it brilliantly beautiful, but also educational – we don’t just see various spherical (or not) objects interacting, but the molecular details making them up. And it’s genuinely thrilling – I was more gripped watching this than I have been watching major Hollywood blockbusters. Yes, I’m a giant nerd in some ways (especially about this stuff), but it’s also really that good.

When I was doing my molecular biology degree earlier this century, we had nothing so detailed. We had to rely on diagrams and our imagination to provide an understanding of how everything interacted – I’m glad to say, I appear to have gotten it right. Happy thought :)


* For those of us in New Zealand. I managed to escape the insanity occurring in central Wellington by heading as far south for lunch as I could while remaining on the island, huzzah!

Sorting algorithms explained through folk dance aimee whitcroft Nov 28

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Yep, you read that correctly.

This morning, I was introduced to the video below – quick-sort as demonstrated through Hungarian folk dancing.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Hell, even the youtube _comments_ are saner and less nonsensical, so this has GOT to be geeky stuff.

It’s also, of course, a very good, and clear, explanation of what’s going on, for people who find pages like this a little trickier to understand.

For those interested in learning about other sorting algorithms, there are 35 in total, covering bubble-sort, merge-sort, shell-sort, and, well, a bunch of other ones. The channel is available here.

They were all made at Sapientia University, Tirgu Mures (Marosvásárhely), in Romania, as part of a project called Algo-rythmics, which blends art, culture, and technology to enhance computer programming education.  There’s even been a paper written by some of the researchers behind the project:

Zoltan Katai and Laszio Toth (2008)  Technologically and artistically enhanced multi-sensory computer-programming education Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 26, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 244-251

Its abstract says the following (and the full paper is available free to read!):

Over the last decades more and more research has analysed relatively new or rediscovered teaching–learning concepts like blended, hybrid, multi-sensory or technologically enhanced learning. This increased interest in these educational forms can be explained by new exciting discoveries in brain research and cognitive psychology, as well as by the accelerated integration of technology (computers, intranets, internet, etc.) in education. We have investigated how the educationally valuable outcomes of these trends could be implemented in computer-programming education and in what ways this process could be catalysed by arts (dance, music, rhythm, theatrical role-playing). We present a theoretical basis for technologically and artistically enhanced multi-sensory teaching–learning strategies. This work focuses particularly on how dance can be involved in computer science classes.


Happy learning!


There’s also a Facebook page, but it’s pretty sparse.


Disagreeing with Monbiot aimee whitcroft Nov 20

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An hour or so ago, the Guardian’s George Monbiot published a new article, with the following headline and tagline:

If children lose contact with nature they won’t fight for it

With half of their time spent at screens, the next generation will be poorly equipped to defend the natural world from harm

I’ve given a brief comment on it elsewhere, and considered a longform comment on the Guardian’s site, but felt this platform would be the easiest.

Now, before you read further, of course, please do go and read the article. I’m not going to reprint it in its entirety, but want to pull out a few specific bits where, I have to say, I disagree.

He begins with talking about various environmental…problems (to say the least). Climate change, the loss of UK bird species, terrible plant diseases and so forth. He then asks where the marches and protest action are – where the political pressure is.

All fair points, and fair questions. It’s where he goes from there that I have a problem with:

…a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

OK, so, a couple of things here. Environmental crises generally relate to, well, a crisis in our natural environment. Not kids interacting with technology. Also, I am confused.  His tagline references ‘the next generation’, whatever that is.  I’m assuming he means people who’ve grown up with the internet and whatnot – people under 20, say. Or does he mean people like me (late twenties/thirties)? Or does he mean our pre-teen people?

Because the funny thing, in such groups, is just how many young people do acknowledge the importance of the environment. Who are spearheading movements on the subjects of climate change, sustainability, and so forth. And what about amazing projects like Minimonos, where screentime is helping kids to better understand the issues around sustainability and the environment, and how to be good guardians of our planet?

More to the point, though – really? You expect our young people to spearhead the defence of nature? What about the older people in our civilisation? You know, the ones who’re running it, and who keep making the policies which keep damaging it.

Anyway, he goes on…

We don’t have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children’s disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.

Do you think he’s aware that that those things are something that children often didn’t get to experience even before screens? Or EVER? I’m thinking urbanised children, for example.And the rustle of a snake in the grass, George, is not often counted as a marvellous experience. It’s generally a terrifying one. Not all natural things are automatically fantastic or beautiful, either. Many are humdrum, or downright dangerous/terrifying/deadly. Sometimes that latter set of characteristics can, sure, make them amazing. It can also kill, main or permanently traumatise people. This sort of elevation to paradise of of the natural world is something I generally see from extremely urban people, not people who actually spend their time in nature, and understand it. If raw nature was so wonderful, after all, why has humanity spent so much time trying to interact with it as little as possible*?

As to experiencing the joys of nature – my most astonishing natural moments have been experienced through things like the BBC’s incredible documentaries, where luminaries like Richard Attenborough explained what was happening, and we got (and still get) to see the most extraordinary things. Things that, were I to put down all screens now, I would still not get to see. Certainly not without getting onto a plane which, as we know, George doesn’t approve of either.

But on to the next point.

The remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents’ irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children’s time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

I’m not sure what the ‘criminalisation of natural play is’. I’ve certainly never heard of anyone being held up on criminal charges for it. But yes, the outside world has become more dangerous due to increasing populations and the concommitant pressures (amongst other things).  Of course, I’d point to media hysteria about subjects (like tech and how our ways of doing things are changing, or strangers) for helping to scare people. And you’re right – kids are having their time restructured as they have to do things like study harder and longer. Because the world is getting tougher and tougher as we keep packing more people into it.

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, “may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature”. Perhaps it’s the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

Awesome, so he quotes this chap Louv ‘s work (I’ve not read the book, so have no idea what his citations are for this assertion), but uses terms like ‘links’ and ‘suggests’. Which sounds not at all like empirical evidence and proof, but rather correlations and possibilities which need to be looked into further.

Monbiot then goes on to talk about the potential importance of exposure to nature in creativity and so forth.  Again, I’m not able to disagree, as I haven’t read his sources.  Certainly, I can see how a concrete playground may be a more mentally constrained space than something with a bit of greenery (although again, I think he needs to be extremely careful here about conflating environment with socio-economic status).  And, in fact, modern urban  planning does place a very emphasis on green public spaces, and people of ALL ages enjoy them. They’re also good environmentally, of course.

Onto the finale, though, and this is my primary issue with the article:

And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection.

Fantastic.  There are a great many people, though, who believe in its importance and do what they can for it, who didn’t have this immersion. To take your experience and extrapolate it into a general principle which comes across as very strongly anti-technology, seems a bit unfair. Also, how do you count fighting?  I’d argue that recycling and trying to consume as little as possible count as fighting for the environment, for instance. Many of the people who do so are heavily urbanised, and I imagine a great many spend a lot of their time behind screens. If nothing else, potentially because they’re highly educated.

And there’s a flip side to that, too – just because someone spent a lot of their childhood in nature, doesn’t necessarily mean they fight for or respect it. I’m thinking here of countries like New Zealand, which has a green reputation not actually borne up by the behaviour of many of its inhabitants. And yes, childhoods spent in Nature are a major thing over here.

The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.

OK, so, who wrote those articles? What were their ages? What were their sources? Can you tie their lack of knowledge to the fact that they spend time in front of screens, or that they simply don’t know enough about trees?  Of course, if you’re talking here about journalism, I’d suggest it’s because journalists tend to be time- and specific-knowledge poor. Journalists spend time writing and opining about all sorts of things about which they know very little.

Forest Schools, Outward Bound, Woodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for Adventure, Natural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together. But all of them are fighting forces which, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstasy – in the true sense of that word – that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds.

I wouldn’t blame it on screens*,though.

I think the point is to have a range of resources (including incredible docos like the BBC’s) which allow people of ALL ages to engage with nature and our environments. How they do so is immaterial.

If nothing else, and I think this is part of what prompted my riposte here – _I’m_ a screen kid.  I spent my childhood heavily urbanised (in a city so dangerous I couldn’t leave the house and simply go and explore nature) reading books. When screens became available, I started the move in that direction. Despite this appalling gap in my spiritual and creative development, I’m fine – I’m very environmentally aware, believe passionately in living responsibly, and do what I can. In fact, I’m extremely strongly into the left/Green side of the political spectrum, and very much looking forward to people of my generation coming into power. At no point has my lack of pootling around in woodlands meant I don’t have an understanding of nature’s importance.  The same goes for people I know.

The other part, I think, of what prompted me to write this piece is this – I am increasingly tired of people who moan about the fact that the world is changing, and people are doing things differently to how it was done in their childhoods, and seem to think it’s necessarily a bad thing.

It’s not, quite simply.

Perhaps George, next time you want to opine like this on a subject, you might actually talk to some of this next generation? Or research further our engagement with environmental issues, before you insult us?


* I don’t mean the typical wealthy Westerner thing of going to “experience nature”, where said experience has been planned, is voluntary, and often comes with all sorts of modern conveniences.

** There’s also a potentially giant difference between types of screens.  Watching bad TV constantly?  Not great, no (although I doubt it’s necessarily making people more indolent than they may already have been).  However, there is a lot of fantastic television out there.  And then we come to the other screens – computers and now tablets and smartphones. Which are often used as educational devices, allowing young people to know far more about the world than they might have otherwise, and be in contact with people all over the world. They can provide perspective.


If it wasn’t clear – I’m not saying people shouldn’t spend time outdoors, in our various beautiful environments. I’m simply saying that making enormous generalisations such as this one, may be a little, well, unfair.

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