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Archive September 2009

Humanity’s most important image Ken Perrott Sep 30

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This is a lovely video. Brings home just how big our universe is. And that’s without consider possible other parts of an even larger universe.

Really gets you thinking.

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NZ’s largest science blog network goes live Ken Perrott Sep 30

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sciblogs adYou will notice a rash of new science blogs based in New Zealand. Maybe you have already.

This press release explains it all.

The Science Media Centre today launches a major new science communication effort with the arrival of Sciblogs, a network of science blogs covering everything from clinical health to climate change.

Sciblogs debuts with 26 bloggers, including scientists from universities, Crown Research Institutes and private research organisations the length of the country. It will be the largest online hub for science-related content relevant to New Zealanders and act as a forum of discussion on the important issues facing society.

Syndicating their work through Sciblogs are well-established bloggers like Open Parachute’s Dr Ken Perrott, MacDoctor’s Dr Jim McVeagh, Hot Topic’s Gareth Renowden and Dr Alison Campbell, the founder of BioBlog.

Newcomers joining the line-up include University of Otago marine ecologist and 2008 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Dr Rebecca McLeod, Victoria University climate scientist Dr Andy Reisinger and astrophysicist Dr Shaun Hendy, who is deputy director of the Mac­Di­armid Insti­tute for Advanced Mate­ri­als and Nan­otech­nol­ogy.

A full list of our bloggers can be found here.

“In business and politics, health and agriculture, science features prominently in all aspects of our lives these days,” says Peter Griffin, manager of the Science Media Centre.

“But often there’s little decent discussion of the science itself. New Zealand has some great science bloggers, but they don’t get the recognition they deserve because they are scattered across the web.”

Sciblogs brings the best science bloggers together in one place to form the largest local online community dedicated to science. Sciblog contributors have full editorial and creative control of their blogs and new Scibloggers will be added over time.

The Sciblogs platform, built by Auckland web developer Marker Studio, is the first major implementation of the opensource WordPress MU (multiple user) blogging system in New Zealand.

“The system is totally scalable so we can add new bloggers in a matter of minutes,” says Griffin.

Ultimately the goal is to start ongoing conversations on the big issues, everything from genetic modification and climate science to health care and our use of new technology.

“It’s a bit of an experiment for New Zealand where the blogosphere is dominated by political pundits and where the conversation can often turn nasty,” says Griffin.

“But we think there’s an appetite for intelligent comment on scientific issues and Sciblogs will be central to that.”

And here’s a list of the current blogs – do go and have a browse:

scibloggers-web

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Sustainability and ethics Ken Perrott Sep 30

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ssfnz-cover-198Review: Strong sustainability for New Zealand : principles and scenarios, by Sustainable Aotearoa New Zealand Inc. (SANZ).
ISBN
978-0-9582784-1-6

NZ Publisher: Nakedize Limited

NZ RRP: NZ$19.99

Binding: paperback

Pages: 52

PDF available for download here. Briefing (with audio) here.

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I think almost all of us will admit, in our more honest moments, that we can’t go on as we are. ’Business as usual’ is just not a long-term alternative — ethically as well as economically.

Most attention these days focuses on climate change. But, this is just part of a wider problem resulting from our influence on the environment. Climate change, the undermining of biological diversity, the problems of waste production and resource depletion.

Sustainable economics seems the obvious way of confronting these problems. But what this is, and how to do it, can be controversial.

New ethics for sustainability

Sustainable Aotearoa NZ (SANZ) has launched this paper with to promote discussion of our sustainable development. Inevitably much of the content will be considered controversial. It’s meant to be. SANZ hopes it will be used as a starting point to further discussion. In particular it is promoting the idea that sustainable development is not just a matter of economics. It will need a whole new way of thinking about economics and personal responsibility and lifestyles. It needs a new ethics.

And this is the main message of this paper. Not surprising, because it is one of the main points promoted by SANZ. Another is its advocacy of ’strong sustainability.’

Besides an introduction the paper is divided into a part on principles of strong sustainability, a scenario for transition to strong sustainability and (the largest section) a scenario of a strongly sustainable NZ.

It is this last section which provokes. It restricts itself to just a ’strong sustainability’ scenario with matching wide acceptance of the needed ethical attitudes by the population. It doesn’t consider ’weaker’ alternatives because the writers consider them to be ineffective, leading only to disaster.

The paper envisages a society where we live in harmony with nature. Where many of the environmentally threatening aspects of the economy no longer exist. Employment though is no longer seen to be a problem as many roles will be more labour-intensive. Working hours will be shorter and there will be more leisure time. Communities will be structured to require less travel.

Although global climate change will have less direct affect in New Zealand than elsewhere we will have to adjust to huge changes in global trade and migration.

Predicting the future?

It’s always difficult to predict the future. One just has to consider the unprecedented, and unpredicted, details of the technology change we have all experienced over the last 30 years. So many readers will disagree with details of this scenario. For example, the widespread change to ’organic farming’ methods will probably appeal to some but may be less sensible than forms of sustainable factory production of food.

Similarly this scenario will draw political and ideologically motivated responses. Many people will accept as inevitable the departure from ’business as usual’ model of unrestricted. But they may not like the seeming inevitability of a more socialist society. And of course there will be those who see this scenario as an expression of a green ’religious’ approach.

However, ideological and political conflict always accompany social change. These conflicts are unavoidable because sustainability will require big changes. For the sake of our future I hope that a broad support for sustainability can develop despite this conflict.

New approaches to sustainable approaches to current economic, social and political questions will be needed in the transition to sustainability. One weakness of this paper is that current questions get little consideration. Political and social involvement of those promoting sustainability will be needed to ensure such voices are heard.

The paper itself is presented in a format more familiar to glossy corporate reports. Reports meant to impress but often not read. Such glossy productions are not amenable to practical use — try annotating documents like this. And SANZ is probably effective in  its activity directed at commerce and academia. But dissemination of their arguments would be helped by on-line forums and blogs suitable for involvement of individuals in discussion of their policies.

Nevertheless, this paper will contribute to the wider political and social discussion. It, and the ideas presented, need to get into mainstream forums and publications. This will help to promote the discussion we need to have.

Our future depends on it.

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See also: SANZ – Sustainable Development in New Zealand.

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NZ blogs sitemeter ranking — September ‘09 Ken Perrott Sep 28

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Currently I have found 113 NZ blogs with publicly accessible sitemeter stats. This is about 20% of the total on my database.

The blogs are listed in the table below, together with daily visits and page view numbers averaged over the previous 7 days. The data was that given by by the NZ blog ranking tool on September 26th.

This can be seen at NZ blogs average daily visits

Have a look at that tool. Its a way of comparing your own blog’s performance from day to day -  a roller coaster ride which can be quite exciting!

Just be aware that it relies on spreadsheets ad Googles Docs and data is not always available. If the data is missing or incomplete, wait a while and reload the page. it will eventually show up.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any.

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Rank
Blog Visits/day Page Views/day
1 The Dim-Post 1088 1688
2 No Right Turn 902 1242
3 TUMEKE! 687 800
4 A cat of impossible colour 541 784
5 Homepaddock 474 707
6 The Hand Mirror 400 527
7 The Wellingtonista 385 613
8 MacDoctor Moments 370 544
9 Canterbury Atheists 366 544
10 roarprawn 363 480
11 Einstein Music Journal# 349 525
12 MandM 286 523
13 Reading the Maps 280 385
14 In a strange land 273 370
15 eyeCONTACT 263 458
16 Open Parachute 252 398
17 The visible hand in economics 226 318
18 Offsetting Behaviour 189 269
19 Poneke’s Weblog 168 203
19 Put ‘em all on an island# 168 208
21 Show your workings 163 236
22 Halfdone 159 193
22 Liberation 159 296
24 Home education Foundation 157 213
25 Anti-Dismal 141 315
26 Hitting Metal With A Hammer 133 173
27 Cluttercut 121 169
28 The Fundy Post 120 164
29 Sustain:if:able Kiwi 101 182
30 Workers Party 87 144
31 Knowledge workers 86 153
32 Heart felt 85 124
33 from the morgue 84 138
34 Today is my birthday 71 111
35 Humanitarian Chronicle 66 99
36 Quote Unquote 64 80
37 Socialist Aotearoa 61 78
38 Scepticon 59 69
39 Goings on at the Madbush Farm 55 70
40 Capitalism is bad 53 71
41 Glenview 9 49 57
42 Rodney’s Aviation Ramblings 45 53
43 Anarchia 44 53
44 Media Fetish 43 63
44 Unity Blog 43 59
46 Anna’s blog/pterodaustro dreams 42 151
46 Bibliophilia 42 66
48 Webweaver’s world 41 46
48 KiwiSmith Family 41 72
50 Pointless and adsurb 37 53
51 Dad4justice 36 43
51 Family integrity 36 50
53 Mars 2 Earth 35 62
53 Manaia Kindergarten 35 66
55 Derek’s blog 34 45
56 Joe Hendren 32 42
57 Samuel Dennis 30 34
58 Journey to a mini me 29 42
59 goNZo Freakpower Brains Trust 27 32
59 ICT Teaching and Learning 27 39
59 Aotearoa: A wider perspective 27 31
62 Blessed Economist 26 35
63 Put up thy Sword! 21 29
64 The Fatal Paradox 20 33
64 Emeth Elethia 20 33
66 No excuses. Just write 19 25
66 Hooked on thinking 19 46
68 Life is not a race to be finished first 18 26
68 Toni Twiss 18 29
68 I’m a bit of a geek 18 26
71 The Thorndon Bubble 17 22
72 Tales from a godless monkey 16 31
73 Green is good 14 19
73 At home with Rose 14 19
73 creative voice 14 34
76 I am Johnny King 13 17
76 Phrenic Philosophy 13 19
76 jo russ photo diary 13 21
79 Otagosh 12 15
79 ICT in Early Education 12 21
81 Rob’s Blockhead Blog 11 13
82 Prior Knowledge 10 11
82 Home School Nations – NZ 10 14
82 Neil Stockley 10 19
85 Surfr 9 15
85 Dragonsinger 9 13
85 Korero Pt England 9 25
88 Deep(ish) Thought 8 11
88 Lolly Scramble 8 9
90 Island in the Pacific 7 16
90 The Sidestrip 7 19
92 Relatively science 6 7
92 Pt England Scribes 6 12
94 SageNZ 4 5
94 Swritches 4 4
94 Discovery Time 4 10
97 Think Beyond 3 4
97 Migrating fish swim 3 3
97 ObservatioNZ 3 4
97 Sleeping with books 3 9
97 Virtual North 3 4
97 Rest Area 300 m 3 3
103 Clint Heine and Friends 2 2
103 The quiet world project 2 2
103 Beehive Buzz 2 2
103 Tangled up in purple 2 2
103 Things I like to do 2 2
103 Digital learning 2 4
109 Here I stand 1 2
109 The Home Office 1 1
109 Rambling Reflections 1 1
109 ICTPD 1 2
109 Boganette 1 1
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The naked emperor Ken Perrott Sep 27

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It’s interesting how a simple word, a name or a book title can cause twitching in the knee area. I predicted we would see a rash of this syndrome with the publication of Richard Dawkins new book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. We are going to see more of the syndrome as the book reviews and other publicity appear in our newspapers and magazines.

One of the most common symptoms of the knee jerking goes right back the Terry Eagleton’s early review of Dawkins’ previous book, The God Delusion. That is the charge that Dawkins had no right to produce that book because he is not a religious philosopher or theologian (see Do you believe in a god?).

I think this symptom also indicates laziness on the part of the sufferer. The delusion that a review of titles, or ones own prejudices, will suffice rather than a proper review of the book. The syndrome seems more common in individuals also suffering from other afflictions involving mystical beliefs, or conviction of the existence of gods who look out for them.

Even though Dawkins’ new book does not deal directly with these mystical beliefs those knees are still jerking – as readers will note from recent comments here (see Dawkins bashing season upon us?). I thought it would be interesting to reintroduce something written by PZ Myers, author of the science blog Pharyngula, three years ago -  The Courtier’s Reply. Many of you will have read it before but its a great piece of writing and deserves to be more widely known. So I repeat it below:

“I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed – how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry – but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

By the way. Myers is currently writing a book. I imagine we will see it some time next year. He certainly has great literary skill so I imagine it will be a best seller.
I look forward to it.

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From the keyboards of scientists… Ken Perrott Sep 25

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This from the Science Media Centre NZ:

Sciblogs logoAre scientists blogging in New Zealand? They sure are – but it is relatively tricky to find them.

That will change on September 30 when the Science Media Centre launches Sciblogs.co.nz, a blogging network bringing together some of the best science blogs in the country and launching a good few new ones.

Sciblogs will kick off with 25 bloggers from universities, CRIs and private research institutions covering everything from healthcare to climate change. Our bloggers know their stuff – they have two dozen PhDs between them and they aren’t afraid to tackle the big science-related issues affecting society.

Sciblogs will become an online hub for discussion of scientific topics and will grow to include other bloggers. If you would like to enquire about hosting a science blog on Sciblogs, contact the .

Sciblogs will be live on Wednesday September 30 and you will be able to keep tabs on our Scibloggers via RSS, email updates and by following Sciblogs on Twitter.

Also – notice how many more commenters here have their own avatar. I think that’s something to do with their involvement in Sciblogs.co.nz

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Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all? Ken Perrott Sep 25

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I’m currently reading Zoltan Torey’s book The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain. It’s fascinating and I will put up a review some time soon.

In the model he proposes for the self aware mind (consciousness) he deals with problems the mind has to confront.  Reflective awareness can lead to chronic anxiety, fretting and anticipation of danger. Human reflective awareness has given us unique and powerful abilities but they “are not altogether a blessing. Or at least blessing that have to be paid for very dearly indeed.”

Humans need “neurotic defences” to maintain mental equilibrium. One of these is the fashioning of belief systems – “psychoreligious constructions.” These make it difficult for our minds to represent objective reality. Rather they work to maintain our inner peace and sense of security. Our brain is strongly compromised as a data-processing instrument. We also have strong suppression mechanisms which help filter out “ego-threatening stimuli.”

The very abilities which have made us an intelligent species actually impair our reason. Rather than a rational species we are a rationalising one. This realisation is extremely important to the scientific endeavour – underling the importance of utilising evidence and testing our ideas against reality, rather than ideology.

The anxieties, obsessions and anticipation of danger can work together with the creation of erroneous belief systems and suppression mechanism to disrupt our mental health. I think we are now starting to realise that mental illness is much more common than we might like to admit. It’s more “normal.” And this model suggests why.

Futurity recently reported that people vastly underestimate and “underreport the amount of mental illness they’ve suffered when asked to recall their history years after the fact.” This came out of a “long-term tracking study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 32″ (see Depressed? Anxious? Aren’t we all?).

’If you start with a group of children and follow them their whole lives, sooner or later almost everybody will experience one of these disorders,’ says Terrie Moffitt, the Knut Schmitt-Nielsen professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Because self-reporting from memory is the basis for much that is known about the prevalence of mental disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance dependency may actually be twice as high as previously believed, according to new research.”

I guess we have come a long way as a society in thinking about mental illness. But we still have a way to go. If we can realise how mental illness arises naturally out of our unique possession of reflective awareness, of consciousness, perhaps we can be nmore acceptable of poeple who suffer from it. After all, none of us is immune. it’s very likely we will have bouts of such illness sometime in our lives.

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Saving the planet with condoms Ken Perrott Sep 23

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condoms-webA recent study suggests that condoms can help us combat anthropogenic climate change (see Condoms save the Planet). I guess it’s obvious really. Fewer people, fewer problems.

But I think this illustrates that many of the solutions to humanity’s problems come down to human rights issues. In particular the rights of women in many countries. If  women in these societies got the human rights they deserve, including reproductive choice, we would probably see a decline in excess population growth, terrorism and civil wars. Religious and cultural intolerance, which victimise many women, could be reduced. We could tackle problems of disease, water quality and standards of living with more chance of success. And the proliferation of human rights would no doubt improve the economies of these countries.

Nobel prize winner Murray Gell-Mann made these points in his excellent book, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. Perhaps I am showing my own bias here (after all I am not a woman) by drawing attention to another aspect of human rights Gell-Mann discussed. This is the rights of the aged. Particularly the provision of social security for the aged.

Social provision for income for the aged would take that responsibility away from their children. This would be another factor restricting the need for large families.

Download the report (pdf): Reducing Future Carbon Emission by Investing in Family Planning.

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Get in the sack! Ken Perrott Sep 22

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Whoops! I know this has a slightly risque meaning in New Zealand. But I am using it here in the way that Irish comedian Dara O’Briain does. It’s what he suggests for all those who carp on about the supposed deficiencies of science.

Have a watch of these brief videos to get the full meaning.

Dara O’Briain — If science knew all the answers it would stop!

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Dara O’Briain and Frankie Boyle on religion and creationism

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Theistic evolution? Ken Perrott Sep 21

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This term gets used a lot – but what does it mean?

In a recent discussion a local supporter (I think) of theistic evolution put it this way: Both “theistic evolutionists” and “atheistic evolutionists” accepts Darwinian evolution as true. Nevertheless – he describes these as two alternatives “theories.” But he admits: “the empirical evidence . . .  will not provide reasons for one position over another. The two positions have to be decided then on other grounds.”

I think this person, and probably most other people who use the “theistic evolution,” label are confused. They are not talking about scientific theories. They are talking about their own religious beliefs. These “other grounds” are religion.

All these people are saying is: “I accept evolutionary science but I am still a theist.”

But why do that? There is only one reality and scientific theories are tested against that reality, not against religious books or opinions of religious leaders. So why attach one’s religious beliefs to your acceptance of scientific knowledge?

The fact is that only (some) theists feel the need to declare their religious beliefs in this way. We never hear people saying they accept “atheistic evolution,” do we? So it must be something to do with the religious community these theists inhabit.

I think this must arise out of the hostility towards evolutionary science, and sometimes science in general, common in many theistic circles. Certainly, in New Zealand the 20% of the population who reject evolutionary science are mostly Christian – and they comprise about 40% of the local Christian community.

Bullying

Apparently someone who declares their acceptance of evolutionary science can sometimes be confronted with a very hostile reaction. They are probably considered “sinful” by many fundamentalists. I have heard of cases where such people are shouted down. Even where some families express concern about the children learning about science at school!

So perhaps it’s understandable that in this bullying atmosphere many Christians feel the need to add the “theist” adjective to evolutionary. But why give in to such bullying? In the long run bullies are only defeated by standing up to them.

When one gives in and resorts to calling oneself a “theistic evolutionist” isn’t it being cowardly?

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