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Some curiosities of scientists

28 Apr

I am not a scientist, though I did at one time plan to be. My idea of fun when I was 10 to 12 was a day at the Australian Museum, and I collected insects. However, Chemistry in my last year at school soon revealed I should pursue English and History instead, and my Maths was woeful. Still is.

Nonetheless I am still interested, and thus I have taken an interest in the topic of climate change, as you may see from one of the notes in the sidebar. I refer you to that because there are real scientists over there.

Just now Professor Ian Plimer is getting a lot of attention. I didn’t see him on Lateline last night**, but will read the transcript when it appears later today. I note he was on Lateline Business last year. Ticky Fullerton seems there to be implying he is a spokeperson for the mining industry, but that may be unfair.

It strikes me that it is bleeding obvious that in geological time most of the change that has overtaken this planet has had nothing to do with us johnny-come-latelies called homo sapiens. However, it also strikes me as obvious from history that once we arrived we have had a considerable impact, rather as something as inconsiderable in itself as a virus can have an impact on homo sapiens. Not that I am pushing that analogy…

Still, when you do read Professor Plimer you might also read some other scientists: Ian Plimer – Heaven and Earth by Professor Barry Brook, Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide; The science is missing from Ian Plimer’s "Heaven and Earth" by Tim Lambert, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales.

See also Geological Timescales and the Effects of Climate Change.

Another recent science-related story that fascinates me because it says much about how the internet has changed the world concerns Jared Diamond, whose books I have enjoyed.

“While acting on vengeful feelings clearly needs to be discouraged, acknowledging them should be not merely permitted but encouraged,” wrote Jared M. Diamond in an essay in The New Yorker last April.

Now two of the subjects of that essay are acknowledging their own vengeful feelings. This week a lawyer filed a $10-million defamation claim (PDF) in a New York court on behalf of two Papua New Guinea men whom Mr. Diamond described as active participants in clan warfare during the 1990s.

Mr. Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of the best-selling Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton, 1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2004), based the essay almost entirely on accounts given to him by Hup Daniel Wemp, an oil-field technician who served as Mr. Diamond’s driver during a 2001-2 visit to New Guinea. (The full text of the essay is open only to New Yorker subscribers, but a long summary is available here…

In a post on Wednesday at Savage Minds, an anthropology blog, Alex Golub, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who does field work in New Guinea, suggested that this affair was emblematic of “a fundamental ethical issue that anthropologists will have to face for decades to come.” The rise of the Internet means that whatever scholars write about their field informants—no matter how remote those people might seem—will inevitably be read by the communities they have described.

“While this should always have been important to us,” Mr. Golub wrote, “it is a topic we can no longer ignore in a world where their ‘informants’ are more connected than ever before to the flows of media and communication in which ‘we’ depict ‘them.’”

** Friday 1 May

Yes I know; the transcript is still not up. I emailed Lateline about it and received a copy of it in reply yesterday, and an assurance the missing transcript should have appeared and this would be looked into. Hope it goes up soon, as it really is a performance and a bit!

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2 responses to “Some curiosities of scientists

  1. Neil

    May 9, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Plimer’s turn on Lateline is now online for all to read. What a circus it is!

    In today’s Australian Michael Ashley, professor of astrophysics at the University of NSW, subjects Plimer to scrutiny and finds him wanting.

    …Plimer probably didn’t expect an astronomer to review his book. I couldn’t help noticing on page120 an almost word-for-word reproduction of the abstract from a well-known loony paper entitled “The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass”. This paper argues that the sun isn’t composed of 98 per cent hydrogen and helium, as astronomers have confirmed through a century of observation and theory, but is instead similar in composition to a meteorite.

    It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates. It is comparable to a biologist claiming that plants obtain energy from magnetism rather than photosynthesis.

    Plimer has done an enormous disservice to science, and the dedicated scientists who are trying to understand climate and the influence of humans, by publishing this book. It is not “merely” atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics. Plimer’s book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken.

     
  2. Bruce

    May 9, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    Maybe it’s time to re-think the mining positioning. Rocks in the sun, rocks in his head… 😉

     
 
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