Category Archives: Science

Mapping Footballs

One world, our world, in the hands of every child.

I have been involved with maps in one way or another my whole life and so I am instantly drawn to articles or documentaries that refer; maps or mapping. This post from “Upworthy” shows a humorous clip from the “West Wing” and an interesting image showing the relative sizes of countries in an African context. View Clip

I’m not going to get into the relative merits of different map projections other than to say they are all wrong (to some degree) and they are all correct (to some degree).

The only representation of our globe that comes even close to global correctness is a globe. So rather than argue which projection to use in schools lets do this:

Every ball, used in every sport, in every school, in every country should have an image of the globe printed on it. Just the shapes mind you; no political borders and certainly not the names of any countries.

One world, our world, in the hands of every child. Imagine!

Climate Change Denial

Climate Change

Have you noticed that when the potties attack climate change they never engage with the actual science. I don’t know whether it is because they know that the scientific evidence supporting climate change is virtually unassailable and that they are deliberately misrepresenting the evidence or that they actually don’t understand the science.

Take a typical attack by James Delingpole published on the breitbart web site in response to the recent Obama speech on climate change.

The President correctly stated that: “the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put that debate [the fact of anthropological climate change] to rest.”

Delingpole responded with: “scientific knowledge is not a numbers game. If it were, we would still be going with the majority view that tectonic plates are a myth, that stomach ulcers are caused by stress, that combustion is caused by phlogiston, that leeches can relieve fever, that malaria comes from the bad air in swamps, etc.”

Delingpole’s response completely misunderstands (or misrepresents); the scientific process, the evolutionary nature of science and the meaning of scientific consensus. A consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer.

Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other’s work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work underlying climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted and relied upon.

Since 1991, around 14,000 papers have supported the theory that human causes are behind global warming (chiefly from burning fossil fuels over the past century), and just 24 papers rejected human causes. No scientific papers have taken the position that climate change is not happening.

Phlogiston was hypothesized in the 17th century as a fire-like element contained within combustible bodies that was released during combustion. Subsequent quantitative experiments revealed problems with the phlogiston hypothesis because some metals gained mass when they burned, even though they were supposed to have lost phlogiston. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier showed in the 18th century that combustion requires a gas that has mass (oxygen) and could be measured by means of weighing closed vessels. The use of closed vessels also negated the buoyancy that had disguised the mass of the gases of combustion. These observations solved the mass paradox and set the stage for the new caloric theory of combustion. Other scientists repeated Lavoisier’s work and built on it until a consensus was reached and the phlogiston hypothesis was abandoned.

The German meteorologist Alfred Wegener suggested that the relative positions of the continents are not rigidly fixed but are slowly moving. His ideas of “continental drift” were not accepted by the scientific community because there was no hard evidence for a mechanism to support the hypothesis. It wasn’t until 1968 that Geophysicist Jack Oliver published seismological evidence supporting the modern theory of plate tectonics which encompassed and superseded Wegener’s continental drift theory. The tectonic plate theory has been extensively tested and has now achieved a scientific consensus on the basis of overwhelming evidence.

The supposed beneficial effects of leeches based on the humors hypothesis was the first victims of evidence based medicine. In 1809, just a decade after Washington had undergone bloodletting on his deathbed, a Scottish military surgeon called Alexander Hamilton set out to determine whether or not it was advisable to bleed patients. Hamilton succeeded in conducting the first randomized clinical trial on the effects of bloodletting. French doctor Pierre Louis, conduct his own trials and confirm Hamilton’s conclusions. These results repeatedly showed that bloodletting was not a lifesaver, but rather it was a potential killer.

That is essentially the story of all scientific theories, they are first postulated as an explanation of one or more observations. The hypothesis is tested against further experimental observations and as evidence supporting the hypothesis accumulates the hypothesis becomes widely accepted and eventually gets promoted to the status of a theory and achieves a scientific consensus. On the other hand if the accumulating evidence weighs against the hypothesis, the hypothesis falls by the wayside and is eventually abandoned in favor of a better idea. The scientific method is self correcting, bad ideas may persist for a while but sooner or later they will be destroyed by the self correcting process called the scientific method.

All Delingpole’s examples were failed hypotheses, unsupported by any scientific observation or analysis. The exact opposite of the current state of climate change science.

Some comments after I posted this on Facebook:

Mick Stormonth Nicely argued Eric

After all, when it comes to bullsh*t, your a recognised master.

Many organisms have changed the earth’s climate over time, why should we be any different?

James L Acker…/climate-cultists_794401…

Eric Pickstone I have read the “”Climate Cultists” Link Jim. Just so that I understand the conservative position as stated by Steven F. Hayward. “Global warming by up to as much as 2 degrees would be no big deal, and possibly a net benefit”. Do I have it right ? Is that a fair statement of the Conservative position on Global Warming?

James L Acker Much more than that in the article. You’re a cultist, however

Eric Pickstone The article itself is quite emphatic in stating that ” If you strip away all of the noise from smaller scientific controversies that clutter the debate—arctic ice, extreme weather events, droughts, and so forth—the central issue is climate sensitivity: How much will average global temperature increase from adding a given level of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere?” and that ” Global warming by up to as much as 2 degrees would be no big deal, and possibly a net benefit”.

Eric Pickstone I am not sure what a cultist is beyond being a member of a small religious group following some sort of charismatic leader.

James L Acker Climate Cultists


So what’s a Podcast then ?

I have always been fond of radio, not so much the music but the talking and discussion programs and of course the comedy especially the comedy. I started with the BBC Home service (now BBC Radio 4) back in late fifties Liverpool. Long before Monty Python I listened to the Goons, Round the Horn, Tony Hancock and of course I’m sorry I’ll read that again.

As I started to travel the world, I listened to these programs on the BBC World Service but I also discovered NPR (National Public Radio) in the USA and ABC Radio National in Australia. I nearly crashed a hire car on Central Expressway on one of my early trips to Dallas, Tx because I was laughing uncontrollably at a program whose name I later learned was “A Prairie Home Companion”. Unfortunately I could only listen to some of this stuff some of the time in some places. Then around 2004, Adam Curry and Dave Winer invented the Podcast.

So what’s a Podcast then? In short it’s every radio program you ever listened to plus thousands of other programs on every subject imaginable, available when you want, where you want, how you want and all absolutely free and legal.

I posted this little essay because I realized that not everyone knows what a podcast is nor how to get them. Here’s one way:

1.Download and install iTunes on your PC or Mac.
2.Start iTunes
3.Click on the “iTunes Store” button (upper right)
4.Click on “Podcasts”
5.Select any Podcast you like.
6.Click the “Subscribe” button (no money required)
7.Click the “Library” button and select “Podcasts”.
8.You will see a list of the podcasts to which you have subscribed.

That’s it: the most recent episode of your selected subscription will be downloaded and new episodes will be downloaded automatically as they become available (whenever iTunes is running). You can also download all the past episodes if you wish. If you need additional help just ask.


Liberal Founders of America

The Founders of the USA were liberals and the USA would not exist in its present form without them. Who ever heard of a revolution by conservatives ? The idea is self evidently absurd. There were conservatives around in 18th century America of course; but they were monarchists, the ones who wanted to conserve the the existing state of affairs, the ones who opposed the revolution.

Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers signing the Constitution

In the 18th century, “liberal”was used in a very positive sense, a person was liberal not by having a particular set of political beliefs but by possessing the virtue of free and rational generosity.

Liberality was the capacity to give freely and to give with purpose. Giving that lacked these qualities was prodigality, a vice, not a virtue.

Liberality also referred to a quality of intellect. A liberal person was broad-minded, open to reasoned argument and to fresh evidence. A liberal person could think and plan on a large-scale and could apply big solutions to big problems.

In these 18th century senses of “liberal,” the Founding Fathers of the USA were liberal. The Constitution itself was an act of intellectual liberality. Its framers deliberately set out to build a new kind of national government for a new country in a new age, the age of enlightenment, the age of reason, the age of revolution.

The invention of federalism, the division of power between one central government and multiple state governments, revealed their openness to thinking in new directions in an unprecedented political situation. This was as far from conservatism as it is possible to get.

The founding generation was liberal in the other sense. They were generous. both at the federal and state levels. The first public officers in the United States tended to distribute their power outward from the national and state capitals. They kept taxes low and in this limited sense they were conservative. The founding generation spent surplus revenue on roads and other infrastructure projects for the general welfare.

When private initiative created new forms of economic enterprise; textile mills, turnpike companies, banks, and so on, they did not jealously constrict the freedom of such enterprises but instead liberally dispensed charters of incorporation to them. American capitalism was founded on the American liberalism of the first federal and state legislators.

Sadly, there are those, particularly from the American right, who seek to hijack the word liberal and turn it into an insult implying, gross stupidity, ignorance or even mental defectiveness. Fortunately for the English language, dictionaries from both sides of the Atlantic still cleave to the definition of liberal as understood by Thomas Jefferson whose own liberal arts education prepared him to help revolutionize the world and inspired him to found the University of Virginia.

Jefferson said of his fledgling university, “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it”. Not a bad definition of liberalism that.

Under Jefferson’s direction,  the University of Virginia became the first university in the United States to allow specializations in such diverse fields as Astronomy, Architecture, Botany, Philosophy, and Political Science. Holding true to Jefferson’s liberal ideals the university went on to take an even more controversial direction by daring to implement the then radical vision that higher education should be completely separated from religious doctrine.

Fake News?

It seems that Paramount pictures appended a disclaimer to both the film “Noah” and its promotional materials at the request of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

NRB board member Phil Cooke was quoted in part as saying that the disclaimer was necessary because the film is “historically inaccurate.”

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that Hollywood movies are historically inaccurate but in the interests of fairness shouldn’t the same disclaimer be appended to any publication containing unsupported accounts such as the story of Noah ?

My world view may be wrong of course, perhaps there is a God and my sarcasm is dangerously misplaced. That being the case; no one could accuse this God of not having a sense of humor.   In a case of ‘epic’ irony,  a screening of the film Noah was cancelled due to flooding in a cinema.

The story of Noah is also used as support to counter Climate Science. Republican congressman John Shimkus denied that climate change was happening because it says so in the bible, he said that “we shouldn’t [be] concerned about the planet being destroyed because God promised Noah it wouldn’t happen again after the great flood”.

Fortunately most religious organizations  agree with the science and promote the view that climate change is real and we are the cause.

Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Third Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala after receiving a Defender of Israel award Thursday, May 28, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

A more rational view is taken by Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas based climate scientist and evangelical Christian to boot.  Here: she explains what’s wrong about religious right. Muslims too are mostly on the side of science as far as climate change is concerned. [Click here for report]

[Click here] for an overview of the Climate change /Global warming controversy including references to the views of all sides.

[Click here] for an overview of Climate change denial

[Click here] and [Click here] for answers to arguments against the reality of Climate change and its causes.

Warning many of the references in these sites contain actual scientific data.

Bullshit Jobs

On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs

By David Graeber

In this article David Graeber traces the 20th century promise of a 4 hour day and how we got unproductive labour instead.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

From Strike Mag

Drone Strike


DroneOn an April evening this year, swarms of glowing spacecraft will begin a flight and hover over locations around the world.
Click here for original article.

The goal is maximum panic – and to cause an ‘apocalypse’ in the media. But the pilots of the eerie craft are not little grey men from Alpha Centauri – but UFO fans using drone aircraft.

At first I thought it funny, after all I love pranks. Then I thought a bit more and wondered “how hard would it be to replace the on-board camera with a gun or some explosive?” No trick at all. You can buy these things very cheaply in any hobbyist store and many toy stores.