A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).

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Nigeria declared free of Ebola, but do the maths

I am glad that Nigeria is officially free of Ebola now. The story is reassuring. New outbreaks of Ebola are stoppable. But the numbers are sobering. They show how far gone the situation is in West Africa.

The index patient (as the source of the outbreak is known) arrived in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people, on July 20th — a recipe for disaster. Over the next six weeks 19 further people were diagnosed with Ebola. The death toll was eight people, many of them health workers. Those infected generated 989 contacts, and it took 18,500 in-person, follow up visits to make sure that the virus did not spread further.

Translate those ratios to West Africa, where the latest WHO situation report shows there were 2,638 new cases between September 26 and October 17. In Nigeria, each infected person on average generated 50 contacts, and each contact generated 18 follow-up visits. This is only the roughest of ballpark estimates, but if the ratios were similar, it means that solving the spread in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea would generate 130,000 contacts and require 2.4 million follow-ups in the next three weeks. By mid November that will double. Obviously things [...]

Sea level rise “unprecedented” when modeling the ancient past

Kurt Lambeck at ANU scored a Climate Bingo moment in the modern media last week with declarations that the 20cm rise in sea levels last century was “unprecedented” in the last 6,000 years! But sea level is fiendishly difficult to measure thanks to rising and falling bits of land. Present day scientists argue over sea level changes in the last 10 years, yet Lambeck seems to have figured out the sea levels in 4000BC. Tricky, what.

When Nils Axel-Morner tried to figure out which modern spot in Denmark is tectonically stable he looked at 60 years of detailed data, from 40 beaches around Denmark. Lambeck has a model that kinda does all that and more. It works out the mass of the icesheets circa Tutankhamen and calculates the mantle conditions. He sorts out the geoidal bulge with assumptions about mantle viscosity to look at tectonic displacement. Hmm. Could be some uncertainty there?

This is Fig 1 from Lambeck et al 2014. Note the scales. Really. Figure how large the 15-20cm rise of the last century would look on the y axis here which doesn’t just cover 150cm, it covers 150 meters. Who would be brave enough to declare that sea [...]

Company stops Ebola, Bureaucracy puts it on a plane

Compare the response of The Firestone Rubber Plantation in Liberia to the Hospital in Dallas, Texas.

The rubber plantation has 8,000 workers with 71,000 dependents. It  is an hour north-east of Monrovia, surrounded by Ebola outbreaks. The virus arrived on the plantation in March. Knowing that the UN and the Liberian government were not going to save them, the managers sat around a rubber tree and googled “Ebola” and learned on the run instead. They turned shipping containers into isolation units, trucks into ambulances, and chemical cleaning suits into “haz-mat” gear. They trained cleaners, and teachers, they blocked visitors, and over the next five months dealt with 71 infections, but by early October were clear of the virus. There were only 17 survivors (the same 70% mortality rate as elsewhere). But without good management, there could have been so many more deaths.

In contrast, the nanny-state takes a good brain and stops it thinking. In Texas,  trained health professionals were caught unprepared, following inadequate protocols they assumed were good enough, and even risking their own lives. A  nurse who cared for a dying Ebola patient — and knew how bad Ebola could be — still needed to phone someone to [...]

Weekend Unthreaded

Hope you are having fun…

Ebola: a relentless tide we have to stop while we still can

The bad news -Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control. Thanks to the mistake with a plane, a few US schools have closed, and whole neighborhoods are being roped off. How fast does a 19Kb string of information spread? Outside Africa, Norway has one case, Germany has had one death, one survivor, and one case. Spain has lost two, and is treating one. France and the UK have a survivor each. Today, at least, Senegal has been declared free of Ebola.

The WHO organization has admitted it botched the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“In a draft internal document obtained by The Associated Press, the agency says “nearly everyone” involved in the response failed to notice the potential for Ebola’s explosive spread.

The agency acknowledged that its own bureaucracy was a problem, pointing out that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa.”

The good news – CSL have said they will develop a plasma product from survivor’s blood. At the moment this is the most pragmatic possible treatment. There are 3000+ survivors who have antibodies, which [...]

Catalyst – raising public awareness of science, or promoting big-government science instead?

The global warming segment on the ABC last night marks a new direction for the Catalyst ABC Science-unit. In the past, their method of dealing with skeptics was to pretend they didn’t exist (see the transcript of July 2013), but apparently they’ve realized they are losing the war. Is this the first time they’ve acknowledged that there is a skeptical view, and that there are questions to answer? Could be.  Perhaps it does hurt when they are repeatedly caught putting forward a biased one-sided point of view. They even interviewed Garth Paltridge and Judith Curry, with a moment of Christopher Monckton and Maurice Newman, too. But don’t get too excited. While the shift is a slight win for skeptics, there is no sign that Catalyst are any less biased, better informed or more aware of what the scientific method is. It is just a shift in PR tactics.

Anja Taylor still didn’t ask hard questions or do her research properly. Catalyst viewers would be almost as much in the dark as they were before. It is as if the point of the show was training for the ABC faithful to answer the dreaded skeptics.  Because even though skeptics were no [...]

Gallup poll: Voters rank “climate change” last

Despite rallies in New York, despite the relentless propaganda, the people just don’t seem to be scared anymore. In the latest Gallup Poll, Climate Change is ranked 13th out of 13 issues. As the strident messages of doom roll out, 60% of the public simply don’t believe what the professors are telling them. Science has lost a lot of its aura and credibility.

The US midterm elections are nearly here, yet the poll shows that Democrats have clear advantages in areas that … not many people care about. A victim perhaps of their success in adopting the smug concerns of inner city university graduates?

Items to the right are considered more important.


Ebola is potentially airborne

I’ve been watching Ebola with concern. I hoped we’d have more time. We can still gain control but every week matters. What we do now will be so much easier than what we have to do if we leave it to run.

The summary: The WHO warns that there may be 10,000 new cases a week in West Africa by early December. Can you imagine trying to set up new beds to cope with that each week? Meanwhile the Centre for Infectious Disease Research has advised the CDC that the evidence suggests some airborne spread of Ebola is occurring, which may explain the toll on health workers. Sadly a second health-worker has also been infected with Ebola in Texas (and she was on flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas the day before – the CDC wants passengers to call.).  Sixteen members of Doctors without Borders have been afflicted, and nine have died. That team deserves medals more help.

There are different versions of airborne infections, hopefully this is in the “only just airborne” category. Just being barely airborne is not the same as, say, being spread like measles. Nonetheless, the game has changed. Healthworkers need even more serious, much [...]

Global warming dumps late snow in Australia. Fires one year. Flood the next.

A major stormfront in NSW has dropped 170mm on rain on Ulladulla, ploughed down trees, drove waves 8m high onshore, and put the airport underwater in Sydney. It has carpeted the Blue Mountains in 20cm of snow. 30,000 homes lost electricity and 60 people were stuck in a train for two hours. This time last year the region was burning. Amazing photos at the Daily Mail.

Proof of man-made global warming…

h/t to Eric Worrall and Waxing Gibberish.

Image (Top) Photographer Nick Moir, SMH | (Bottom) No photographer listed, Daily Telegraph.

Story of the Fires in 2013 in the SMH  |   Story with the photos of snow Daily Telegraph

Doreatha Mackellar 1908: 

I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.

We hope everyone is safe.

Patrick Moore in Australia – put this in your diary

Patrick Moore explains why, 15 years after co-founding it, he left Greenpeace to establish a more sensible, science-based approach to environmentalism.

His book: Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist (Kindle) Paperback version

 Patrick Moore’s public appearances are set for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Brisbane and Noosa. October 22 – November 6th. Details below… some require RSVP’s. Don’t miss it!

Watch Patrick Moore’s presentation at the Heartland  International Conference on Climate Change.


Australia becomes a climate pariah and yet tourists flock to visit the Axis of Carbon!

According to the Guardian, Australia is almost a Climate Pariah TM, and owes the world an apology for voting to repeal the Carbon Tax.

What chilling effect, I wondered, did being a pariah have on international tourists?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in July 2014 as the Carbon Tax was finally removed, tourists voted with their feet … and flocked to come. A record 573,100 visitors arrived in Australia from all over the world. Year on year tourism from May 2013 – May 2014 grew by 8%.

Pariah status it appears, may count for Guardian and NY Times columnists, but not so much for the rest of the world.

Josh Bornstein of The Guardian says Australia is seen as a dirty polluter. The Axis of Carbon!

“This is how the New York Times responded to the scrapping of the carbon price scheme:


West Antarctica: more evidence it was the volcanoes that melted the ice

As I’ve repeatedly posted this year, there is a strange coincidence between geothermal activity and warming in Antarctica. We are still discovering volcanoes underwater, so we can’t pretend we have accurate data on their contribution in joules or the trends in that. On Antarctica almost all the headlines of doom and collapse come from West Antarctic peninsula or the ice sheet nearby which also happen to be over the West Antarctic Rift System. Most other places in and around Antarctica are cooling or staying the same, and sea ice is hitting record levels. “Must be CO2 then.” ; -)

Damiani et al looked at the crustal thickness beneath Thwaites Glacier, and finds it is quite thin, like that beneath the Pine Island Glacier. The researchers conclude that it is likely there is a major volcanic dome in Marie Byrd Land.

Spot any media mention of the possibility that hot lava might be to blame instead of your SUV.  Good little propaganda writers produce plenty of gloom and doom headlines of the imminent collapse of ice-sheets. Where are the journalists? For that matter — which climate scientist tries to make sure journalists present an accurate report?

h/t The HockeySchtick



Weekend Unthreaded…

More wandering thoughts

Very small trial appears to reverse Alzheimers symptoms

I like to keep an eye on research on keeping our brains intact (even if it’s not far past the leeches-and-arsenic stage). Here is a tiny trial showing a bit of promise. After years of testing drugs on Alzheimer plaques without much luck, as far as I can tell, this study had the radical idea of doing a bit of everything that had seemed to delay Alzheimers — like exercise, dumping the carbs, mini-fasts, fish oil, meditation and things like that. Unlike the drug trials, this one actually seemed to work and surprisingly for as many as 9 out of 10 patients (there were only ten patients, that’s not a ratio). It’s quite neat that it did work. It has lots of potential (though not much in the way of profits for big-pharma). However it was only six months long. It may not be slowing the plaques, but then if it restores functional memory, that’s  rather the point (though I worry those plaques are coming back later).

Nonetheless, if you like the idea of saving  your brain. Worth reading the list below, just so you know and pass it on to those with an interest. Anything that helps, especially when [...]

Renewable Energy Target costs miners millions, green electricity cost 9 – 15% of bills

Who was it that said that Renewable Energy is making electricity cheap?

The Minerals Council added up the numbers on the RET (the Renewable Energy Target) and checked the invoices. And even though “Renewable Energy” is made from the free* wind and sun, somehow, being forced to use inefficient, diffuse, and unreliable electricity costs coal miners millions.

For some reason foreign competitors didn’t voluntarily offer to match it. Perhaps they like their weather and don’t want to change it?

Cartoon with thanks and permission from Steve Hunter

Steve Hunter’s site is here.

 The Australian

RET costs causing a heavy burden: miners

MINERS have moved to counter arguments from the renewable energy industry that the target scheme is lowering electricity prices, releasing figures showing it is costing millions of dollars and comprising up to 15 per cent of total electricity bills.

A briefing sent to MPs interested in the renewable energy target debate, circulated by the Minerals Council of Australia, shows six coalmines in Queens-land and NSW paid a combined $7.7 million in RET costs last year and $7.3m in 2012.

The proportion that the RET charge made up of [...]

The scientific method in 61 seconds

Thanks to Richard Feynman

h/t to Aussiute

UPDATE – an excellent comment about Feynman on vague unprovable theories

Kevin Marshall (Manicbeancounter) October 9, 2014 at 3:52 am In the same lecture, at around 5.10 here Feynman said something more relevent to the whole climate debate.

You cannot prove a vague theory wrong. If the guess that you make is poorly expressed and the method you have for computing the consequences is a little vague then ….. you see that the theory is good as it can’t be proved wrong. If the process of computing the consequences is indefinite, then with a little skill any experimental result can be made to look like an expected consequence.

Missing heat not in deep oceans but “found” in missing data in upper ocean instead

Two papers on ocean heat released together today. The first says the missing heat is not in the deep ocean abyss below 2000m. The second finds the missing heat in missing data in the Southern Hemisphere instead. Toss out one excuse, move to another.

The first paper by Llovel and Willis et al, looked at the total sea-level rise as measured by adjusted satellites*, then removed the part of that rise due to expanding warming oceans above 2,000 m and the part due to ice melting off glaciers and ice-sheets.** The upshot is that the bottom half of the ocean is apparently not warming — there was nothing much left for the deep oceans to do. This result comes from Argo buoy data which went into full operation in 2005. (Before Argo the uncertainties in ocean temperature measurements massively outweigh the expected temperature changes, so the “data” is pretty useless.)

Figure 2 | Global mean steric sea-level change contributions from different layers of the ocean. 0–2,000m (red), 0–700m (green), 700–2,000m (blue). The dashed black curve shows an estimate for the remainder of the ocean below 2,000m computed by removing the 0–2,000m estimate from the GRACE-corrected observed mean sea-level time series. [...]

Australian summer maximums “warmed” by 200%

Which causes more summer heatwaves: carbon dioxide or Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) adjustments?

Ken Stewart has analyzed the adjustments used to create the all-new ACORN wonder dataset and compared them with another BOM dataset called AWAP, and finds, extraordinarily, that the trend in average summer maximums has been tripled by adjustments that the BOM imply are neutral.

Since summer maxima are the ones used to generate the most headlines in Australia, I ask again if the Bureau of Meteorology is a scientific agency or a PR group?  Increasing the trend in summer maxima would produce more headlines of hottest ever month, season, heatwave, and weekend.

In this graph Stewart splits the data into months, and compares the trends in maxima in the AWAP and ACORN datasets, across the entire nation. We see that most of the adjustments happen to data from the hottest months of the year, October to March. Even though the measured maxima in February and March are possibly cooler now than they were in the early 1900s, they have been adjusted to show warming trends.

When was the last time you heard the BOM tell you that their “hottest ever” February record depended on adjusting down the [...]

Imaginary hottest “fingerprints” found in extreme weather by failed models

Finally, for only the 87th time, climate modellers have uncovered the definitive proof they’ve been finding in different forms every year since 1988.

ARC extreme unscience – corrected at no cost to the Australian taxpayer. Click for a big printable copy.

They seek, and find, the most excellent propaganda they can pretend is science. Look, this is the specific handprint of non-specific climate-change! Everything bar climate-sameness is proof the climate changes. How inane? The unscientific vagueness gives this poster away as being more about propaganda than about communication of science.

… in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, examining extreme events around the world during 2013, a series of papers home in on the Australian heat waves, and identify a human influence.

Using short, noisy records, with flawed and adjusted data, it is possible to run broken climate models and show “definitively” that current heat-waves and hottest years are due to man-made emissions. And if you believe that, you could be gullible enough to be a Guardian journalist.

That is, climate models that do not include solar factors like magnetic fields, solar winds, cosmic rays, solar spectral changes, or lunar effects are able to [...]

Weekend Unthreaded

… look out for a request from TonyfromOz and entertainment from Appattullo