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Archive February 2012

The size of things Ken Perrott Feb 29

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There’s an intriguing flash presentation of the scale of things in the universe at The Scale of the Universe. From the smallest imaginable to the largest imaginable.

Expressed in the scale of the size of humans (100.0) the sizes range from 10-35.0 to 10.27.0

With animated portrayal of things in between.

Have at browse at The Scale of the Universe.

Mindboggling Ken Perrott Feb 27

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Click image for larger version

Douglas Adams says in The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

The immensity of the galaxy almost seems beyond human comprehension. But this image does start to bring it home to me. It shows the extent of penetration of human radio signals into our galaxy since we have had radio. It’s that small blue dot, 200 light years in diameter, you can see in the enlarged section.

And our galaxy is only an extremely small and irrelevant part of the universe.

Flying pigs Ken Perrott Feb 22

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Baron von Monckhofen

Perhaps we need a bit of humour in the “climate wars” at the moment. The blog “Climate Scum” may provide some.

Apparently it was hacked and an apology from “The Heartlend Insitute” chair, Joseph Bust, was posted.

Heartlend apologizes for deception

In an unexpected move today, the dear people at the Heartlend Institute followed the example of Peter Gleick and issued an apology to all of humankind for their many deceptions. Joseph Bust, the Heartlend Institute chair, declared:

I was deeply move by Peter Gleick’s heartfelt apology and his expression of remorse. I have realized that it is time that also we at the Heartlend Institute consider the moral implications of our actions. When I look back at what we have been doing for many years, regarding the climate, the environment, smoking and so on, I feel deeply ashamed. Peter Gleick may have lied to one of our staffers in order to get those documents, but we have systematically been lying to all of humanity during all of our existence. So please, don’t be angry with Gleick: it is us that you should be angry with. We beg on our bare knees for forgiveness for our anti-climate, anti-environment, anti-health and anti-science activities, and we promise that we will never do it again.

We also want to apologize to the IRS for falsely pretending to be a public charity. We are so sorry! Take all the money you want!

via The Climate Scum: Heartlend apologizes for deception.

Well, the blog owner was furious and has made all sorts of demands of Heartlend (see post Warning: The previous post was a fake). He is demanding:

“(1) that the responsible person removes the Fake Post from Baron von Monckhofen ’s web site;

(2) that the same person remove from Baron von Monckhofen ’s web site all posts that refer or relate in any manner to the Fake Post ;

(3) that the same person removes from Baron von Monckhofen ’s web site any and all quotations from the Fake Post;

(4) that the same person publishes retractions on Baron von Monckhofen’s web site of prior postings; and

(5) that same person removes all such documents from Baron von Monckhofen’s server.”

A universe in an eBook (or app) Ken Perrott Feb 22

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If your are into science books – and enjoying the advantage of eBooks (or planning to), this is a web site you really must bookmark.

Download The Universe has just been launched. Science writer Carl Zimmer is the “fall guy” (his description) – but it brings together an impressive list of leading science writers. As Carl describes its aim it will be “an online forum, featuring incisive reviews of science-themed apps and ebooks, that will serve as a guide to the future of scientific information”

Here is a list of the 15 writers involved – some you will no doubt recognise. Check out others through the links.

Carl provides an interesting analysis of the evolution of books in his essay A New Kind of Review for a New Kind of Book – the first post at the site. He says:

“Ebooks are once again redrawing the boundaries. Walk into a book store and look at the science section. Most of the books are between about 200 and 400 pages. Most are created by large publishing houses. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about a 50-page book, of course. It just doesn’t fit comfortably into the publishing business–a business that has to contend with costs for printing books, storing them in warehouses, shipping them to book stores, and accepting returned books. Ebooks create an economic space for the very short book (and the very long one). They also allow authors to reach readers without having to persuade a publisher that their book will earn back an investment.”

He also talks about the new possibilities introduced by tablets.

One limitation indicated by Zimmer’s essay:

“Here we review science ebooks–broadly defined, except for ebooks that are just spin-offs of print books.”

Pity – although I guess those books probably get reviewed quite widely anyway.

via Keep up with the latest science e-books and apps with “Download the Universe”.

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Co-opting ’Truth’ Ken Perrott Feb 21

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Local blogger Glenn Peoples can be relied on to illustrate the necessity of things he claims unnecessary (see Reason Rally 2012).

This time he is ripping in to The Reason Rally planned for Washington DC on March 24. This rally is aimed at combating “negative stereotypes about non-religious Americans.”

Now, many New Zealanders may not understand why such a rally is important. But have a look at this short video. The bigotry* expressed at the beginning is actually quite widespread in the US. Such ideas need to be countered by education – and this rally is obviously one step in the consciousness-raising process. Hopefully it will show that the people demonised by such bigots are actually normal, healthy, interesting people – which a recent American Religious Identification Survey found to be roughly 16% of the US population.

And as if to underline the necessity of this Rally one of Glenn’s commenters  continued the demonisation with his/her suggestion that well-known scientist Richard “Dawkins  should be considered as a comedian”

What Do You Think About Atheists? – YouTube.

Oh, and the book  A Better Life looks interesting too.

Co-opting words

Glenn does have a point about how ideologically driven people tend to co-opt words for their “side.” “Reason” could be such a word as in fact humans are not reasoning creatures – our reasoning is very much linked to emotion. But, I really can’t see what is so wrong with using the word “reason” here as it is used to contrast with “faith.” Religious people are fond of using faith to justify political attitudes and policies – why can’t the non-religious contrast themselves with that?

I would be more concerned with the loose way words like “secularism” and “secular” are used in advertising for the rally. A current obsession of mine – having just been telling  the recent “Interfaith Forum” that secularism is inclusive. It refers to social arrangement, not an ideology. That religious as well as non-religious can, and do, support secularism.

But surely Glenn’s counter to the Reason Rally, a little group calling itself “True Reason,” is blatantly cynical. What is it with these theological types – they think they can declare their beliefs and ideas true – just by declaring it so. And capitalising “Truth.”


*Atheists are “evil,” “wicked,” “immoral,” “stupid and should be killed” and “can’t be trusted.”

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Souvenirs for scientists Ken Perrott Feb 20

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I love these Matryoshka dolls: Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Sagan and Hawking

Matryoshka dolls are great ornaments – and kids, especially the very young ones, love to play with them. I have been aware that the whole idea of these traditional dolls has been extended to produce sets of politicians, for example, as souvenirs. However, this is the first set I have seen of scientists.

A great idea – along the lines of standing on the shoulders of giants. Just the thing for a scientist’s desk.

Now, I wonders of there are sets for biologists,chemists, mathematicians, . . .

Thanks to Rachana Bhatawdekar  @astrogeek03


Thanks also to Darcy who hunted down the original source. These dolls were constructed by as a gift for his girlfriend who was majoring in astronomy. He talks about it on his post Astronomatryoshkas

Heartland Insitute gets mail Ken Perrott Feb 19

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The US “Think Tank,” The Heartland Institute has been getting some mail since some of its documents revealing plans to undermine climate change science and its teaching were leaked to the media. These documents also details some of the payments being made to climate change denial authors and blogs.

Of course they have cried foul – even claimed one of the leaked documents is not authentic. Then again, denial is hardly new for them – they have been doing it since their days denying the scientific facts showing dangers of tobacco smoking.

Now they have received a letter from some of the climate scientists they have in the past denigrated. these scientists express their condolences, having experienced something similar a few years back, but suggest that perhaps the Institute should learn from its mistakes, change tack, and start to play a more honest and constructive role on the issue of climate change.

An Open Letter to the Heartland Institute

Here’s the text of their letter:

As scientists who have had their emails stolen, posted online and grossly misrepresented, we can appreciate the difficulties the Heartland Institute is currently experiencing following the online posting of the organization’s internal documents earlier this week. However, we are greatly disappointed by their content, which indicates the organization is continuing its campaign to discredit mainstream climate science and to undermine the teaching of well-established climate science in the classroom.

We know what it feels like to have private information stolen and posted online via illegal hacking. It happened to climate researchers in 2009 and again in 2011. Personal emails were culled through and taken out of context before they were posted online. In 2009, the Heartland Institute was among the groups that spread false allegations about what these stolen emails said.

Despite multiple independent investigations, which demonstrated that allegations against scientists were false, the Heartland Institute continued to attack scientists based on the stolen emails. When more stolen emails were posted online in 2011, the Heartland Institute again pointed to their release and spread false claims about scientists.

So although we can agree that stealing documents and posting them online is not an acceptable practice, we would be remiss if we did not point out that the Heartland Institute has had no qualms about utilizing and distorting emails stolen from scientists.

We hope the Heartland Institute will heed its own advice to ’think about what has happened’ and recognize how its attacks on science and scientists have helped poison the debate over climate change policy. The Heartland Institute has chosen to undermine public understanding of basic scientific facts and personally attack climate researchers rather than engage in a civil debate about climate change policy options.

These are the facts: Climate change is occurring. Human activity is the primary cause of recent climate change. Climate change is already disrupting many human and natural systems. The more heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that go into the atmosphere, the more severe those disruptions will become. Major scientific assessments from the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, United States Global Change Research Program and other authoritative sources agree on these points.

What businesses, policymakers, advocacy groups and citizens choose to do in response to those facts should be informed by the science. But those decisions are also necessarily informed by economic, ethical, ideological, and other considerations. While the Heartland Institute is entitled to its views on policy, we object to its practice of spreading misinformation about climate research and personally attacking climate scientists to further its goals.

We hope the Heartland Institute will begin to play a more constructive role in the policy debate.

Refraining from misleading attacks on climate science and climate researchers would be a welcome first step toward having an honest, fact-based debate about the policy responses to climate change.

Ray Bradley, PhD, Director of the Climate System Research Center, University of Massachusetts David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

Michael Mann, PhD, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University

Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

Ben Santer, PhD, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Gavin Schmidt, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Kevin Trenberth, ScD, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Thanks to The Guardian: Heartland Institute faces fresh scrutiny over tax status.

Heartland Climate Operation Deserves Scrutiny

Meanwhile, Republicans, well at least The Republicans for Environmental Protection, are calling for some detailed scrutiny of the actions of the Heartland Institute on the issue of climate science.

Here’s the text of their letter:

February 17, 2012

After a recent leak of internal Heartland Institute documents describing a purported campaign to sow doubt about climate change science, Heartland claimed one of the documents might be fake, threatened anyone who even comments on the leak with legal action, and vowed to seek compensation for damage to its reputation.

Such heavy-handed posturing should not dissuade journalists and commentators from thoroughly covering the leaked documents and reporting on the efforts of Heartland and others to manufacture a scientific controversy about climate change where none exists.

Heartland’s moral outrage about leaked documents this past week was glaringly absent following the 2009 release of hacked climate scientists’ e-mails that was dubbed ’climategate.’ In fact, it fully participated in a media campaign that misrepresented the e-mails and raised unfounded questions about scientists’ integrity.

Heartland, a PR and lobbying organization, runs well-funded campaigns that seek to persuade Americans that peer-reviewed scientific research regarding climate change is suspect and that the conclusions of such research should be ignored. Its efforts in the so-called ’climategate’ controversy were more of the same.

Subsequent investigations by independent experts, of course, showed that the sensational ’climategate’ allegations against scientists were groundless. The ’climategate’ brouhaha was a manufactured controversy–which, unfortunately, accomplished its goal of sowing public doubt and confusion about climate science.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and if the leaked Heartland documents are authentic, they leave no room for interpretation.

Heartland’s strategy, and its reliance on funding from individuals who have a vested interest in undermining climate science, must be brought to the public’s attention to at least the same degree as the so-called ’climategate’ emails were. The opinions and knowledge of far too many Americans remain influenced by erroneous reporting about the content of those e-mails.

The Heartland documents detail plans to prevent earnest scientific research and opinions other than their own from gaining public exposure. They even go so far as to gin up a science curriculum designed to ’dissuade’ public schoolteachers from teaching science–a shocking plan to undermine education and turn our public schools into mouthpieces for agenda-driven propaganda.

While Heartland has done commendable work in other policy areas, such as risk management, its climate operation has become a public relations servant of special interests–sowing confusion, misrepresenting science, and spreading distortions that pollute what should be a robust, fact-based debate about climate change.

That’s not conservative. As William F. Buckley once said, ’Conservatism implies a certain submission to reality.’

Climate change is an opportunity for conservative organizations to actually be conservative, by acknowledging facts and laying on the table conservative policies for dealing with the climate issue.

If any of the released Heartland documents are not authentic, Heartland should be able and willing to provide solid proof. If, as the evidence seems to indicate, the documents are real, the media has an obligation to report on the plans they describe and their troubling implications for a democratic society.

Jim DiPeso

Policy Director

Republicans for Environmental Protection

Thanks to: Heartland Republicans call for Heartland investigation.

The tax man may also be interested

And The Guardian also reports there has been “complaint to the Internal Revenue Service about Heartland’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.” This may be based on evidence in these documents that the Heartland Institute has involved itself in political activity specifically prohibited by their tax-exempt status.

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Heartland’s climategate — and Mann’s book Ken Perrott Feb 17

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The blogosphere has been humming over the last few days with revelations contained in document leaked from the US Heartland Institute. Documents outlining strategy for the promotion of climate denial – both through the media and through educations programmes.

Have a look at Gareth Renowden’s post The real Climategate: Heartland’s hypocrisy on display for a good summary and many links to other coverage and the documents themselves.

For me – there are no surprises in these leaked documents. I have just finished reading Michael Mann’s – The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines so was familiar with all the dirty tricks, misrepresentation, political manoeuvering and the roll of the fossil fuel industry in financing the climate denial movement.

No surprises – but some of the details in the leaked documents were interesting. The fact that heartland actually has some of the well-known climate science critics on their payroll. That they are helping to fund some of the deniers blogs. and publications. And that they a consciously investing in a campaign to “teach the controversy” – that is discredit climate science – in the schools.

Have a look at The real Climategate: Heartland’s hypocrisy on display for the details.

Clearly these revelations are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more is going on behind the scenes. And Michael Mann’s new book gives an excellent coverage of these denier campaigns.

He’s been in the tick of it. He is still being victimized with McCarthyist attacks. The book outlines the political side of the attacks on climate science. But it also delves into some of the relevant science – especially around the so-called “Hockey Stick.”

Mann is an excellent writer and anyone interest in this area, especially if they have followed some of the political aspects, will enjoy the book. It is really an actually a page turner.

And it is positive.

I will review it properly in the next few weeks.

Bioluminescence in space! Ken Perrott Feb 15

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Here’s a short and interesting video describing a technique based on bioluminescence used in a number of sciences. The video was produced by Luke Harris and Siouxsie Wiles – a New Zealand microbiologist blogging at Infectious Thoughts.

This isn’t their first video – and it appears it won’t be their last.

Who would have thought – a connection between fireflies and NASA

Meet the Lampyridae II: From Fireflies to Space Invaders – YouTube.

ID research and publications Ken Perrott Feb 09

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Here is another post to mark Darwin Day.

The pro-intelligent design (ID) internet echo chamber has been making a big thing of late about “peer-reviewed papers supporting intelligent design.” Their “Center for Science and Culture” has even published an updated list. (PZ Myers has provided a more accessible version of the list at More bad science in the literature).

This of course does raise some questions about what they mean by “peer review” and the real nature of some of the journals these papers are in (have a look at their in-house journal Bio-Complexity). But leaving those issues aside for now I just don’t think any of these papers are reporting “ID research.”

The nature of “ID research”

To me research supporting intelligent design should postulate some structured hypotheses for ID and seek to test them or validate them against reality. But none of the articles do that. Most, especially ones that are published in credible journals, deal with aspects of evolutionary science.

Sure they may postulate a problem, an example or issue where they feel current science does not have an answer. That’s what I expect in a scientific paper. Identification of problems and reporting work on them.

Like all areas of science, evolutionary science has its so far unanswered questions, its problems and anomalies. perfectly natural and perfectly acceptable to identify and investigate them. But calling such work “supporting intelligent design” is just dishonest. No specific ID hypotheses have been advanced, let alone tested.

This always seems to be the case for any list of “peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting ID.”

“Theistic science” – or argument by default

Nor, by the way, do these papers display any example of the alternative to “materialist” science. Their declared aim of replacing modern science with a “theistic science.” (See Wedge Strategy and Theistic science? No such thing). If they were doing any work like this why isn’t that demonstrated by the publications? I would love to see examples of such research and identify the different methods characteristic of such science.

To list these papers as supporting ID  is simply assuming that any criticism, any problem, any gap in evolutionary science is, by default, evidence for ID.

It’s not.

Relying on cranks

David L Abel

Another issue with this publication list which does supply some mirth is the frequent occurrence of publications by David L. Abel (17% of total list). He has raised some attention because he published a paper in the journal Life which had recently received attention for its publication of the whaky paper Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life,” by Erik D. Andrulis. (See The comparison to jabberwocky is inevitable for PZ Myers’ in depth discussion of that paper). Abel’s article is titled “Is Life Unique?” – Myers describes this as “Intelligent Design creationism crap,” and “drivel” (see More bad science in the literature). But Myers was impressed with Abel’s address and affiliation:

Department of ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics, Origin of Life Science Foundation, Inc., 113-120 Hedgewood Drive, Greenbelt, MD 20770

Turns out this is a residential house, probably Abel is the only “employee,” but it does have na official name plate besides his front door! As PZ says:

“That’s every intelligent design creationism institute of scientific thinking: a cheap sign tacked up on a garage, with some guy with delusions of competence twiddling his thumbs inside.” (see Zooming in on the Origin of Life Science Foundation)

Abel himself describes his institute as a “science and education foundation with corporate headquarters near NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center just off the Washington, D. C. Beltway in Greenbelt, MD.”  If you are not careful in your reading you might assume he was actually based at a NASA site!

And here is the information on Abel held in his profile at the ID journal
Bio-Complexity.

David L. Abel

Affiliation The Gene Emergence Project; The Origin-of-Life Science Foundation
Bio statement Director, The Gene Emergence ProjectDepartment of ProtoBioCybernetics & ProtoBioSemioticsThe Origin of Life Science Foundation, Inc.

These lists of “peer reviewed papers supporting ID’ are getting rather desperate.

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