Thursday, December 17, 2009

The christmas list

Happy holidays everyone. I will be somewhere tropical for the duration, and won't have access to the internet. Well, I mean, there is internet in the area, but my relatives who I will be staying with cancelled theirs after maxing it out 30 gbs over their limit downloading movies at dial-up speed. Now thats dedication, if only they could apply that attitude to gainful employment. Then, after a few constructive hours pinging around the call-centres of Mumbai, during which time my children built a fort, set fire to it, drew on the walls, went through puberty and left for college, I established that my mobile-internet service provider doesn't operate in the boonies. (i.e. anywhere outside the western suburbs of Sydney.)
I'm sure everyone is off having fun anyway. I hope so. But if you need something to do, heres some interesting reading:

A hunger strike with a difference, and you KNOW it's important because the mainstream media doesn't want to cover it. Farmer Peter Spencer protesting the government screw-job of his farm in the name of meeting Kyoto provisions.

The EU destroys a regional fishing industry due to sheer retardness. What a suprise. Depressed about that? Don't worry, you will be.

Clive James makes me giggle in an unseemly fashion. Read it here.

That'll do ya. So I'm now off to an Aussie christmas, complete with barbeques, humidity and pavlova. (In this country, real men eat pavlova, generally while dressed in a wife-beater and budgie-smugglers.)

The whole egg-nog, white christmas thing doesn't make much sense here in the southern hemisphere. (Nor, for that matter, does the commonly used appellation of "biggest / tallest / oldest / whatever in the southern hemisphere." Yeh, we really gave Uruguay a run for their money.)

So I'm planning on drinking beer on the verandah and watching lightening crack over cane fields. Yep, this is Australia....

Paul! Paul! Over here Paul!

For those of you who have been following my blog (and I really hope there are actually some of you), you will be familiar with the fact that my personal, teeth-grittingly-annoying bug-bear is misrepresentation of vector borne disease. Stupidity around malaria and the arbo-viruses just makes my blood boil, it led me down the climate skeptic path, and, well, here I am. Hi.

Thats why I have a bit of a crush on the medical entomologist Paul Reiter, hes so sensible and smart and has one of those quack-quack English accents that makes the laydeez swoon. He is still declining to let me have his babies, but undaunted, I will keep on stalking working on it.

If his impeccable qualifications and the fact that he told the IPCC to go jump aren't enough, he also has it in for everyone's favourite armchair entomologist climatologist president gravy-train ridin' hobo, Al Gore, and took the opportunity in The Spectator to once again put the boot in. (Fight! Fight! Fight!)

Instead of quoting it, I'll give you the link here, because it's worth reading it all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fat people to the rescue

In the "I wish I'd thought of this myself" category, according to "The Green Game", fat people are doing their bit to save the planet. It's really those long-lived skinny people who aren't sustainable. Bastards.

PS: Note the bit above the highlighted answer that recommends you not flush used medications down the loo because its "turning some fish into addicts". I've gotta get me a fillet of junky fish. ("It tastes just like horse!")

And to your left, an epic fail...

The AMA (Australian Medical Association) reacted to the recent Climategate scandal (and the impending demise of a treasured funding cash cow) with the balanced approach it is well known for and released a statement entitled:

The evidence is in - climate change is a serious threat to human health

Yep, no agenda there. Dr. Pesce, the AMA president then goes on to explain (whilst apparently clinging to Kevin Rudd's ankles and pleading as the PM boards the plane to Copenhagen) that:

“While the Copenhagen talks will be about carbon emissions and targets and helping developing countries, equal emphasis must be directed to equipping the health systems of the world to cope with the extra health burden created by climate change. Plans to deal with that burden should be put in place immediately, and Copenhagen is the perfect place to implement the strategies. "

This is nothing new, because the AMA has had a position statement on climate change since 2004 (updated 2008) that along with all the usual alarmist screamies also prominently displays their "get-out-of-jail-free" clause:

...because climate change involves potentially serious or irreversible harm to the environment and to human health, it is essential to adopt mitigation strategies that reflect a precautionary approach even where uncertainties may exist in relation to scientific evidence.

Ahh, the good 'ole precautionary principle. This is where it's OK to act in response to an uncertain future event, as long as you think the risk of not acting is greater than that of acting. This worked out pretty good for John Snow, the father of modern epidemiology, when he traced a cholera epidemic to a water pump on Broad Street and famously removed the pump handle to quell the outbreak even though the causative organism had not been identified. (It was thought that cholera was caused by "miasms" of bad air generated from grave yards and swamps, Dr. Snow thought otherwise, although he was pilloried for many years for going against the accepted scientific consensus. You see, John Snow was a skeptic.) Making a bunch of people schlepp a few blocks to another water pump for a week is one thing, crippling national economies for the entire foreseeable future is entirely another.

Generally, when applying the precautionary principle it was always customary to perform some sort of risk-benefit analysis. This is why we don't use amniocentesis for population screening of pregnancy. The number of miscarriages caused by population wide amnio would approach the number of abnormal pregnancies picked up, so precautionary principle be damned, its not worth it. Its also why CT scans, with their attendent higher dose of radiation, are used only when the risk of not doing the scan outweighs the cumulative lifetime risk of radiation induced cancer (although in certain unscrupulous parts of the world *cough* USA *cough* this isn't strictly adhered to as often as it should be). Apparently though, climate change somehow negates this important caveat, which the AMA ably demonstrates in it's position statement when it lists as health impacts of extreme climate events the following:

  • dietary changes due to cost and availability of food,
  • possible impact of chemical exposures (resulting from spills from damaged pipes,
    industrial storage, etc.).
  • impact of changes to infrastructure and essential services
  • lapsed chronic disease management
  • stress from loss of income and assets.

Which is wierd, because I would have thought that all of these events are far more likely to occur as a result of financial factors resulting from implementation of their beloved precautionary principle. Unless "extreme climate events" is referring to a poverty tsunami, I'm definitely thinking I could come up with some much more feasible and immediate reasons why these impacts on health could occur. ETS, anyone? Global Financial Crisis 2.0? Bad policy decisions? Massive slush funds being siphoned off to developing nations? I'm not sure, let me think about it.

I've never really liked the AMA anyway. A quick scroll through the references included in their climate change position statement reveal they even reference my favourite nut-jobs over at Doctor's for the Environment, which highlights some of the backroom circle jerks that go on in the alarmist milieu (and no, I won't link it, 'cause I hates them).

They also ditched the Hippocratic Oath and make you swear to the Declaration of Geneva, which is mostly OK, but I'm a bit worried by the bits where you promise:
  • I will give to my teachers the respect and gratitude that is their due;
  • My colleagues will be my sisters and brothers;
Do I have to? Really? What if their due is a (hypothetical) dose of Sennocot in their tea for that time they made you fetch them coffee all day and then asked you to disempact a pensioner's bowel, when you were clearly rostered on to another, more exciting rotation?

I was sort of fond of the Hippocratic Oath, even though it made you promise to share your wordly goods with your teachers, I kind of liked the bit where you promised not to have sex with slaves. Couldn't we combine the best bits of the two?

NB: A note on spelling: Whilst I will vigorously defend my right to use the antiquated Queen's Own English spelling of aetiology, oesophagus, centre and colour to name a few, I like spelling skeptic with a K instead of a C. Just because.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tofurkey of the week # 3

Tofurkey - the award for those people who have been a complete turkey, but in an environmentally sensitive manner.

I'm not sure if this really rates as a Tofurkey, due to the name of the award being a foodstuff, but given the relative inedibility of faux-poultry, and the fact that many people would probably rather starve than eat it, I argue that the award stands.
A CARLTON student 38 days into a hunger strike has shrugged off the threat of death and vowed to continue. Paul Connor has been fasting on the lawns outside Parliament House in Canberra since November 6 in protest at government inaction on climate change.

He initially was fasting with a mate, 61 year old Michael Morphett, who pulled out of the fast last tuesday when doctor's advised him he might come down with a serious case of death if he didn't eat something. I don't know about you, but when I hang out with my friends we prefer to do fun stuff, involving drinking, smoking, loud rock 'n' roll and strippers. (Or sipping cups of earl grey and watching The Bill, which is almost the same.) Generally, though, we don't suddenly decide to sleep in a tent in front of parliament house and starve ourselves to death for a bit o' a laff.

Paul Connor has vowed to continue at least until the end of the Copenhagen climate summit, which would bring his total fast to 42 days.
Dr Alan Barclay from the Australian Dietitians Association last month said Mr Connor would be tempting fate by following through on his plan to fast for 42 days. “I think, based on the research, they’re definitely playing with death so I hope they’re very well supervised,” Dr Barclay said...

...He said doctors had made him aware of the risks associated with continuing fasting. Mr Connor disputed comments by Dr Barclay that 50 days was as long as the body could cope without food. “The IRA guys in 1981, their average (survival time) was about 60 days but one of them carked it at 46 (days),” he said.

Oh. Dear. Somebody point out to him that those IRA guys, apart from presumably being Irish (which it has been my experience comes with quite an inherited constitution for physical hardship), probably ate meat and three veg every night for their entire lives up until that point. I'm thinking that they probably had a couple of weeks on a generation Y, vegetarian liberal arts student from Carlton.

I'm not going to bet on this, that would be bad taste. However I bet that the young man in question is betting on the health care profession to nurse him out of this should things go pear shaped. And we will. Because thats what we do.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down: A bit of personal background

The most common catch-cry in the climate debate tends to be "but you're not a climate scientist". Without even going into the recent, artificial emergence of this arbitrary discipline which makes the whole field somewhat questionable, I have acknowledged this by trying to keep most of these blog posts within my field of expertise. Or at least within the ball-park I feel comfortable commenting on. At first I was a bit worried that a "medical-climate-skeptic" blog would be too topical to keep coming up with material, but so far the damn thing seems to be writing itself. People outside the profession of medicine wouldn't think that climate alarmism would be impacting too much on the health professions, before I started this degree, I had no idea either. And yet you can't ignore it, and information that defies logic and accepted science and / or history is presented to you as gospel on almost a daily basis. It gave me the irrits so badly over the last couple of years that it polarised me politically, and led to my first ever blog post.

I used to operate under the delusion that I was so far left that I was right, so to speak. I recently commented to my father that I thought I was one of those rare birds: A leftist climate skeptic. He laughed his arse off at me and said "Honey, to most of the left, you're slightly to the right of Genghis Khan". This came as somewhat of a suprise to me. Words can hurt, Dad. Words can hurt. I kind of thought because I had been a welfare mum and had a bit of a penchant for nationalised health care and cheap education that I was over next to the trade unions, leaning on the lefternmost wall. Noel Pearson, an indigenous leader from Cape York, recently wrote an excellent piece on this issue of where people sit in relation to "the climate wars", and notes that:

Once-mild sceptics on the centre-right are being pushed further right, recoiling from the righteousness and the moral posturing of the zealots on the left.

I s'pose thats me then.

People might also be thinking that I might be over-reacting a bit with my anonymous stance, but when I weighed up the fact that a medical student and junior doctor's career is largely predicated on the good will of superiors, I couldn't take the risk. The new, green religion is too all-pervasive and socially acceptable, and the common reaction to skepticism too extreme.

I once had to sit an exam where I had to write an essay length explanation of how climate change related coral bleaching (questionable in itself) was going to negatively impact on human health. I shit you not. This exam was a hurdle requirement. If I failed it I would have had to re-sit the entire year, science subjects included. I bent over and took it like a, well, bitch. I had to. It didn't stop there either, but to outline anymore of the bullshit I have been expected to spout would probably give away the institution I attend (theres not that many graduate medical schools in New South Wales). One of my classmates who was woefully unprepared for our public health exam said he just put "global warming" every time he couldn't think of the answer. He passed with flying colours.

On one occasion a group of my peers wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister begging him to halve carbon emissions on the basis that Australian farmers are "suiciding because of global warming". They explained to the PM that since they were doing their bit by car-pooling and composting it was therefore reasonable to financially cripple all the primary and heavy industry employees of our nation. Then, they put MY name on it (and every other students, too.) I had to put my hand up in front of the entire year level and "come out" as a skeptic to get my name taken off of it. They had just assumed they were speaking for everyone. Later several people came up and quietly thanked me because they hadn't felt comfortable signing it, but none of them would have spoken out personally. Unfortunately, there are still a handful of people who have refused to speak to me since then, and amazingly, thats without me even telling them what I really think. For the most part since I have to hang out with these people every day, I try and let discretion be the better part of valour, however I draw the line at telling KRudd about my composting habits or lack thereof.

Just recently I have been barred from other medical blogs after they have had a look at mine. All I was trying to do was hang out and talk medico, not climate. Honest. One medical blog actually went to an invitational subscriber basis (of which I obviously wasn't one) and let me know it was because they were so horrified by The Daily Suppository. Awesome.

Maybe its because I don't write self important "look at me, I'm a doctor, I intubated 56 people yesterday" type posts. So just in case my fledgling readership has been disappointed about this, I will riff on some of the popular themes of most medical blogs (and then never do this again) :

Why become a doctor?

I had encountered enough idiot doctors mixed in with the good ones over the years (like the one who misdiagnosed a classic case of glandular fever as pregnancy. WTF?) that I figured I must be able to do a better job than some of them.

What is medical school like?

A bad case of Stockholm syndrome. You get tortured for 42 weeks of the year until eventually you start identifying with your captors.

What did I learn at medical school so far?

Don't order prosciutto after anatomy labs (it looks unnervingly like a slice of embalmed cadaver) and nurses get pissed off if you call them "nursie".

What do you want to do after graduation?

Getting paid would have novelty value.

How many lives have you saved?

I'm not trying to save lives, I'm just trying not to accidentally kill people.

Righto. Hopefully I have now cleared the air a little bit as to why I am doing what I am doing here in blog-land, and why I post under a nom-de-blog.
I would also like to stress that comments are welcome (although flaming will be heavily squelched). Let me know what you think!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Less meat = less heat: A bum steer

You'll have to excuse the paucity of posts lately. I have had a disgustingly grotty 'flu, and like most people even vaguely associated with the health care profession, make a crap patient. I tend to get irascible and cranky and self medicate with every over-the-counter remedy I can get my hands on. (Oh, and while we're on the subject, I would like to extend a big "f_ck you" to the backyard speed cooks of Australia. You know who you are. Why? For making it impossible to get pseudoephidrine for legitimate sinus complaints unless its mixed with a bunch of unpronouncable antihistamines that no-ones ever heard of before, which then means you can't take a proper therapeutic dose of the pharmaceutical you actually want. And no, I don't want phenylephrine, I'd be better off going home and washing some sugar pills down with rum. Cheers.)

Anyhoo, pardon the segue, I will now return to the title of this post. It turns out that what many of us suspected for a long time is true: Vegetarianism for "sustainability" reasons really is as dumb as it sounds.

UC Davis Associate Professor Frank Mitloehner has challenged the scientific basis of Paul McCartney's and Rajendra Pauchari's "Less meat=Less heat" campaign.

Mitloehner traces much of the public confusion over meat and milk’s role in climate change to two sentences in a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." Printed only in the report's executive summary and nowhere in the body of the report, the sentences read: “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport.”
These statements are not accurate, yet their wide distribution through news media have put us on the wrong path toward solutions, Mitloehner says.

Amazingly, (or not so much, depending on your level of cynicism) most people who thought to themselves "Oh, look! Is that a bandwagon?!" and clamboured right up on board the sustainable vegetarian bus, just seemed to be propagating ad infinitum a bit of poorly calculated conjecture.

What I would like to see (and I have been looking through the literature - if anyone knows of a study, let me know) is research into the carbon footprint of a "balanced" vegetarian diet versus eating the bit of dead animal occasionally. Its one thing to just cut meat out of your diet, but the goal of a balanced vegetarian diet is to bring your nutritional intake back up to a level commensurate with eating meat. (Which, if done for "health reasons" begs the question of why bother in the first place.) So the balanced vegetarian diet is pretty resource intensive. I'm guessing bang for your buck, it would probably make more sense to eat meat occasionally. No-ones saying you have to choke down a steak everynight. I mean, if you're not vegetarian for valid reasons of conscientious objection, then why the teetotaller stance? What are you, an alcoholic?

As Ambrose Bierce once said:

A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.

Mitloehner's analysis is presented in a recent study titled "Clearing the Air: Livestock’s Contributions to Climate Change," published in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Agronomy. Co-authors of the paper are UC Davis researchers Maurice Piteskey and Kimberly Stackhouse.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Epidemiology and biostatistics 101

Normally I will happily concede that most doctors aren't very good at getting their head around certain aspects of scientific methodology, but when climate scientists start using medical analogies, I feel entitled to have a little bit of a scoff.
I was just over at Watts up with that watching Michael Oppenheimer and Steve McIntyre on CNN, and note with the interest the part in the second clip, here:

Where Michael Oppenheimer states that the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is as proven as "the link between smoking and lung cancer".
I'm not going to comment on greenhouse gases, but I feel it may be useful to point out that whilst smoking is a highly significant risk factor, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause bronchogenic lung cancer. i.e. Smoking does not always cause lung cancer, nor does lung cancer only occur in the setting of cigarette smoking.
If I am going to be made to suffer the pain that is epidemiology and biostats, then everyone else is going to share my suffering.
I'm just sayin', thats all.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ecologists helpfully point out that doctors are crap at science

In a stellar example of how I am prepared to take one for the team in preparing these blog posts, I just sat down and read a series of articles presented in the April 2009 edition of Ecology.
It seems to have taken ecologists a little while to notice what the health professionals were running around saying about climate change invariably increasing infectious diseases and how vector borne diseases are already on the rampage. Possibly because, as Kevin Lafferty, the author of the paper that sparked the recent debate notes:

"For many ecologists, interest stops at the surface of the organism they study."

Now that they have noticed some of the highly questionable things that have been said, ecologists have weighed in on all sides of the debate in an Ecology forum. Even though there was some disagreement in the ranks about the extent that climate will drive infectious diseases, they all seemed to be in agreement that its not as simple as everyone has been making out, and it is often very hard to pinpoint where the effects of climate on disease begins and ends when taken into consideration with all the other inter-related variables. Also interesting to note was the fact that in most of the articles, the inference was that climate change was being discussed from the perspective of climatic variabilities, and not so much from a purely anthropogenic perspective.

Kevin Lafferty, from the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecological Research Center, notes in his article The ecology of climate change and infectious diseases, that:

although the globe is significantly warmer than it was a century ago, there is little evidence that climate change has already favored infectious diseases. While initial projections suggested dramatic future increases in the geographic range of infectious diseases, recent models predict range shifts in disease distributions, with little net increase in area. Many factors can affect infectious disease, and some may overshadow the effects of climate.
Richard Ostfield, from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem studies then weighs in with an article entitled Climate change and the distribution and intensity of infectious disease, in which he notes:

...unequivocal demonstrations of a causal link between climate change and human infectious diseases are rare (albeit increasing). Some diseases are likely to decrease in incidence and range with climate warming (Harvell et al. 2002), and others are likely to respond to precipitation or humidity more than to temperature, leading to poor predictive power under warming scenarios. Many diseases are strongly influenced by other ecological, sociological, economic, and evolutionary factors besides climate change.

In his concluding thoughts, he summises that "clear effects of climate change have now been established for several human infectious diseases" but then follows it up with the caveat:

Hay et al. (2002) close their critique of climate drivers of highland malaria by asserting, ‘‘The more certain climatologists become that humans are affecting global climates, the more critical epidemiologists should be of the evidence indicating that these changes affect malaria’’ (Hay et al. 2002:909). Good science demands that skepticism be applied equally to evidence for and against climatic effects on disease.

Mercedes Pascual and Menno Bouma then disagree on the basis that disease range shifts due to temperature are important (Do rising temperatures matter?) and that even if you think temperatures don't matter, then human activities such as changes in land use may increase infectious diseases anyway.

Harvell et al then use diseases in coral (these are ecologists remember) to point out that they think there is evidence of climate as a disease driver (Climate change and wildlife diseases: When does the host matter the most?), but then acknowledges that its complicated and host reactions and immune response may be important, too.

Then Andy Dobson from Princeton does a whole bunch of complicated things with numbers in
Climate variability, global change, immunity,and the dynamics of infectious diseases but seems to work out, among other things that:

Ultimately, the observed increase in malaria cases represent a complex interaction between climate change, human population expansion, the evolution of drug resistance, and the rapid expansion of the AIDS epidemic.
Teasing out the relative importance of each requires careful analyses of nonstationary time-series data where long term trends in global change, and annual seasonal variation in external forcing, interact with the intrinsic tendency of epidemic systems to cycle; this can produce very complex dynamics that defy simple statistical analysis.
Then reassures the reader that if you can give him lots of money he'll be happy to work it out for you.

My absolute favourite response comes from Sarah Randolph, a zoologist from Oxford, who points out in Perspectives on climate change impacts on infectious diseases, that over the last 450 million years so many species have become extinct that we really shouldn't get so worked up about a few climate related shifts in species distribution. She points out that the only reason we are getting so hysterical is that those species shifts might be pathogens that directly or indirectly affect homo sapiens. In summary, she says:

The complexity within each disease system emphasizes that any expectation of a simple consistent response to climate change, i.e., a universal worsening of the situation, is ill founded.
Hitherto, there is no single infectious disease whose increased incidence over recent decades can be reliably attributed to climate change. The often-repeated statistic, that climate change is currently causing approximately 150 000 extra deaths per annum, may be stamped with the authority of the World Health Organization (Campbell-Lendrum et al. 2003), but is, in the opinion of many practicing disease ecologists, inestimable. Furthermore, large as this number is in terms of bereavements, it represents only ;0.15% of all-cause deaths (as a first approximation, assuming a global population of 6.7 3109 and mean life expectancy of 67 years). Other, more avoidable, causes of premature deaths from infectious diseases deserve more attention than climate change.

So, in general, even though they seemed to be quibbling about which bit goes where (remind me never to get a bunch of ecologists to put together an Ikea cot), they all seem to be in agreement that:

1. Its complicated.
2. We don't know much and need to learn more.
3. Nobody should have left the public health mob, the sociologists and the climate scientists unsupervised for so long.
4. Scientific debate and skepticism is a really good thing.

If you made it to the end of this post with me, congratulations! Now as a reward, you can go to my last post and watch the models strip off in the name of carbon reduction.

Newsflash: Belief in AGW helps you score with naked chicks!

Climate alarmism suddenly makes sense.

I really have no adequate comeback for this. Lets face it, a naked Ian Plimer isn't really going to float anybody's boat in a hurry. (So many unintentional puns in that last sentence. Don't blame me, its not my fault your minds are clearly in the gutter.)

Something must be done about this immediately. Young, hot female skeptics of the world unite! The world needs you to get your kit off in the name of science, the fate of the globe may depend on it.

As the utilitarians (Or was it Spock?) would say: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

PS: I am actually going to post something health science related, but I couldn't let this one go by uncommented. I'm sure you understand.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tofurkey of the Week #2

And here was me worried that it might be awhile until someone else acted like a complete turkey, but in an ecologically sensitive manner. (For the last winner, see here.)

This weeks faux-poultry plinth goes out to conservationist Leon Deschamps of Western Australia, who recently pet a feeding tiger shark in the mistaken assumption that:

1. Tiger sharks aren't aggressive. (They are, Leon. They really are. These guys were just distracted by the giant dead whale they were munching on. Tiger sharks are notoriously territorial and aggressive and accounts of their behaviour can easily be found as far back as the 1600's, when tiger sharks would follow big sailing ships for days on end. I double-dog dare you to go out in the open ocean and thrash around on the surface like a wounded fish for awhile, then ask the tigers for a cuddle when they show up. FYI: When they put their pectoral fins down and start arching their back, thats when they really feel like a pat. Heh.)

2. And for assuming, like most annoying hippies, that the organism in question actually enjoyed your impromptu back-rub.

"They were sedate in their movements and far from aggressive, despite it being a time when they are supposed to be at their most ferocious — I think they enjoyed the experience. "

With biology skills like that, a) I pity your girlfriend and b) sense a future Darwin Award in the making. I'm also suprised, given our intrepid shark botherers weren't wearing gloves, that no-one pointed out that fondling a shark can be about as much fun as humping sand paper due to the unique structure of their scales. (And here were we thinking that Movember stubble-rash was a pain in the...ummm...oh, never mind. Personally, I'm getting my own back by instigating Fanuary...but thats another post for another time.)

How to tell if your tiger shark wants a cuddle

But hang on a minute, now I'm confused! Isn't global warming going to make sharks more aggressive? At least that's what Dr. Biro of the University of New South Wales said, after he spent our taxpayer funded dollars on taking damsel fish fresh out of the larval stage, dumping them in an aquarium and randomly fluctuating the temperature. Not un-suprisingly, the poor little damsals started acting a bit wierd, and some of them got tetchy. Apparently, this is now proof that global warming is going to make sharks more aggressive. (One small segue for science, one giant leap for logical thinking everywhere.)

Ha! If this is science, I might go and read some homeopathic "research" on the grounds that it adheres more strictly to scientific process. At least homeopathic researchers, unlike Dr. Biro, don't expect you to pay for their field trips to Lizard Island, an island paradise so elite that only marine biologists and resort patrons in the Sultan of Brunei's tax bracket can afford to stay there.

Lizard Island: I am clearly in the wrong profession.

Note: Don't get me wrong, I actually like sharks. They are important to me both culturally and personally, especially tiger sharks. I also (as you might have guessed) have more first hand experience of applied marine biology than the average layperson, but sadly I cannot wax autobiographical on why that is so at this time, just suffice it to say I didn't always live in the suburbs of Sydney. Regardless, a tiger shark is a tiger shark, and they tend to act accordingly. All those teeth are generally the give away.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PopOffsets: A fart by any other name...

Next time you clamber into your SUV, back over the neighbours shrubbery and drive 45km out of your way to go to the grocery store with those funky chocolate covered freeze dried cherries, you can offset the resulting sasquatch sized carbon footprint by peddling condoms to South Americans.

Oh, you say. I was doing that already.

But just in case you weren't, the Optimum Population Trust can now do it for you. Following on from "research" (ha!) they recently commissioned that figured that reducing the number of humans would be the most effective way to curb human-induced global warming (well, ye-es, I suppose that makes sense) they have launched PopOffsets, just in time for Copenhagen. (Which is kind of incidentally funny, because in Australia, a Pop Off is slang for a fart, which is a teensy little green-house emission. Did'ya see what I did there?)

British environmental campaigner Jonathon Porritt, who supports PopOffsets, said family planning could help ensure there would be 500 million fewer people roaming the globe by 2050.
'Each of those people who would have been born otherwise would have had a carbon footprint,' he told BBC News.

Umm. I've been worried about this type of attitude before, and before. I'm a breeder. Guilty as charged. In fact, I've had enough things exit my uterus to know that its probably not a good idea. Ever. Hence the fact that I am a contraception / family planning groupie. Just can't get enough of it. Hell, I'd have Mr. Paua laminated if he'd hold still long enough. But this. This makes my blood run cold. Tell me I'm not the only one who is a bit worried about where all this could end up?

We really don't want to start hooking up population control to Anthropogenic Global Warming hysteria, this can only end badly. Why can't we just support family planning initiatives in developing nations because it really helps people if they want to use it? I don't think we need to force some kind of moral imperative onto having less children.

I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, but it wasn't that long ago that Sanjay Gandhi thought there were too many Indian peasants and figured enforced sterilization was just the ticket, and his son has expressed a desire just this year to follow up on his fathers policy.

I've worked in a gynaecology department in a Chinese hospital (strictly BYO speculum - Im not kidding, patients have to buy their own disposable ones before you do an exam), and probably half the day is spent writing women up for abortions. Y'see, unless you're a rich movie starlet with many important friends, its hugely problematic having a child out of wedlock in the PRC, they can't be officially registered, go to school etc. And with the one child policy, even if you're married, if you can't cough up the massive fine for having children above your quota then you can either hide in a closet for nine months and leave the baby at a train station, or you can have an abortion. Which is sad because many of those people would have otherwise welcomed another child. For me, the thing about being pro-choice, is the choice bit.

So we might all be wise to remember that no matter how seemingly altruistic the motives, the road to hell is paved with good intentions (and bad climate science). Im all for contraception, but population control is NOT the same thing as family planning.

Meanwhile, outside of Climate Bizarro World...

CRU Tape ™ , meet Merck-gate.

AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be "neutralised" or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the
pharmaceutical giant produced. Staff at US company Merck &Co emailed each other about the list of doctors - mainly researchers and academics - who had been negative about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action...
...the company used intimidation tactics against critical researchers, including dropping hints it would stop funding to institutions and claims it interfered with academic appointments.

Sound familiar? The only difference being that Merck is actually being raked through the coals in court in a class-action lawsuit.

The thinking woman's beefcake of the week

I can't help but feel a little left out of The Daily Bayonet's global hottie of the week section, since every week the global hottie appears to be, well, female.

I realise that young(ish), female climate skeptics are few and far between these days in the blogosphere, and I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the global hotties presented. Yet when this week's global hottie could have been intelligent, fantastic looking, climate skeptic Adam Baldwin (yes, ladies, he was in Firefly)...but was his female co-star instead, I have to say I was a trifle disappointed.

Not to worry, though. I have rectified the situation. Enjoy.....

All this and brains, too

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Higgins by-election: Strap yourself in and go for the ride

With all the political turmoil lately here in Australia, I almost missed this pearler of a story that is unfolding over the next few days. The inner-city Melbourne seat of Higgins (held by former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello since 1990) is going to the polls this saturday, and what a line-up of contenders they have!

The most brain-explodingly wierd of them is Clive Hamilton, the Green's candidate. This is a guy who recently went on record stating that climate deniers are worse than holocaust deniers because "only" 6 million people died in the holocaust and holocaust deniers didn't actually kill anyone personally. (As opposed to climate deniers, who presumably take breaks from clubbing baby seals to go and bludgeon grandmothers in third world nations, or something.)

Amost incidental to that show-stopper is that he is an advocate for internet filtering / censorship, thinks totalitarianism is an appropriate response to the fact that we are all going to die of climate by friday and that we should live ascetic lives of denial. Or else.

What I can't work out is why the Greens would plonk this guy down in an electorate that comprises:

1. The biggest Jewish community in Melbourne.
2. The biggest gay community in Melbourne.
3. And the wealthiest per capita demographic in Melbourne.

The mind just boggles.

Many years ago I lived in this neighbourhood - well, actually just down the road from there, in the heart of Jewish East St. Kilda. My downstairs neighbours were an older, HIV positive gay male couple who were very outspoken advocates for their lifestyle (and good fun to have a cuppa with). One day they had the sh*ts about something the former Prime Minister John Howard had done, I think it was something to do with same-sex marriages, and hung an enormous banner off of their front fence that read "John Howard = Nazi".

Later that day I was passing by and discovered an elderly Jewish lady with numbers tattooed on her wrist having an argument with them about their banner, she was very respectfully, politely and yet FIRMLY explaining to them that they had to take down the banner. She explained with quiet dignity that "the Nazis were a specific group of people who did some very horrible things to me and my family" and that she understood the gist of what they were trying to say, but that it was not appropriate to compare anyone with the Nazis. Ever. They existed in a place and time, and to compare anybody to them was to trivialise that specific story. I always remembered this, and if there is one thing I have learnt about Judaism, it is that almost nothing is worse than the Shoah. Don't even go there. Especially to draw a parallel with something that has not, and probably will not, ever happen. The Shoah happened, already. Anthropogenic global warming, we're not so sure.

Those old Yiddish ladies have talons of steel when it comes to giving a loaf of bread an exploratory squeeze, I hope they use that coordination to take a dreidl to the side of Clive Hamilton's head. Failing that, maybe one of the "doctor's wives" of the richie set could take him out in a Toorak Tractor.

If you thought this post was getting too maudlin, then fear not, because Higgins has the liveliest list of potential candidates I've seen in awhile, and Yes! Theres a doctor!

Everyone, meet Joseph Toscano, medical doctor and anarchist who is running as an independent. (Well, duh). Although never having enrolled to vote, Dr. Toscano can still run due to a legislative loop hole. Given that he has previously run with a platform of "Vote informal / don't vote", I'm not sure how he plans to win, or what he would do if he did.

If that wasn't enough, we also have Fiona Patten running for the Australian Sex Party, who has been described as a "pole-dancing lawyer" and want's to kick the backside of the religious right. Not that it even matters, because as Mr. Paua pointed out when he wandered past a minute ago, he'd vote for them just for the name. Mind you, Mr. Paua is the type of guy who when filling out forms, writes "Yes, Please" in the line after "Sex".

And just to round out the ticket, there is also Stephen Murphy, computer programmer, polyglot and climate sceptic. He is affiliated with the climate sceptic party, but since they aren't actually a party yet, he is running as an "independent climate sceptic".

Then theres the Liberal candidate for Higgins. (Meh. Boring.) A bunch of other add ons, and no Labour candidate.

Stay tuned, this might get interesting.

Turns out we DON'T have the looniest doctors...

In an earlier post I was concerned that our medical loonies are possibly scarier than other countries medical loonies, but it turns out I could be wrong. Phew, the relief! Our homegrown "Doctors for the Environment" who are normally the font of all things ethically questionable are at least a fringe dwelling crew mostly comprised of undergraduate medical students.
However in the UK, it looks like this non-sensical alarmism goes right to the top, and holy crap - they're organised! They also think that GPs and nurses should be educating their patients on how to prevent climate change.

The Climate and Health Council, a collaboration of worldwide health organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society of Medicine, thinks that:

offering patients advice on how to lower their carbon footprint can be just as easy and achievable as helping them to stop smoking or eat a healthier diet.

Because it's just so easy to get patients to stop smoking and eat better.

Other problems with this could be:

1. The evidence base being slightly lacking. Don't we practice Evidence Based Medicine or something these days? I should know, what with all those degrees in non-evidence based hippy goodness behind me. I know shoddy research when I see it, however I'm worried that your average alarmist doctor wouldn't know a confounding factor if it sat on their face and wiggled.

2. Advocating for people to "eat local" is just, well, dumb. What are you going to eat if you live in central London? Pidgeons?

3. Do you have any idea how long it would take to actually do this? GP's start charging for a long consultation after 5 minutes, and any longer than 10 and you'll have to come back next week. Im sure the NHS woud be stoked with having to pay for all of this.

4. If you had a spare 5 minutes with a patient and you had a choice between teaching them to offset their carbon emissions next time they drive to the shops or maybe educating them about optimal control of their diabetes, I would probably err on the side of getting their blood sugar down before their legs drop off. But I'm wierd like that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't take the brown fudge, man.

Im ba-ack.
Gee whiz, trust the biggest bad-science / AGW story of the millenium to break just while I'm in lock down for end of year exams. So many snide comments I didn't get to make!
I have also have been avidly following the amazing events taking place in the Australian political sphere, the turmoil in the Liberal party and the subsequent election to the leadership of Tony Abbott. Well, f*ck me drunk and bury me pregnant! This is a man who I would personally like to kick in the whotsits for the way he suppressed the introduction of mefipristone (RU-486) to Australia while he was the former health minister, forcing women who wanted an abortion to have to have their insides surgically scraped out or dice with taking methotrexate for a dodgy, obsolete-everywhere-else-in-the-world medical option. Prick. And yet I am actually well glad he is the new leader of the opposition in the senate. Couldn't be more chuffed. Doesn't climate skepticism make strange bed-fellows of us all, huh. Interestingly enough, I may even find myself in a position where I will feel compelled to vote for him as the future leader of our nation. Conflicted, much.

I have many new posts planned, but since having a break from blogging I will have to re-orient myself to the direction of this blog. (When you work out what it is, let me know...)

In the meantime, here is something I recently came across that I thought was amusing:

John O'Sullivan Says: after publication. -->December 1st, 2009 at 6:53 am
The medical profession has confirmed that a poison contained in a United Nations variant of fudge was the cause of a debilitating brain disease among scientists, now termed Climate Wars Syndrome (CWS).
The disease was secretly suspected by sceptical scientists to have spread rapaciously among the scientific community for two decades and to have taken a terrible grip over the reasoning powers of many. Victims can be identified by their green and alarmist complexion. Other side effects include an irrational hatred of mankind and a Tourette syndrome-like verbal abuse of anyone who uses fossil fuels. Threats of violence may occur. The world first learned of these sensational developments from the Internet on Friday November 20th 2009. The story broke that both the underlying cause of CWS and an effective treatment had been discovered by the due diligence of one man working at the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). A vast community of Internet surfers soon memorialised these profound events by naming them, ‘Climategate.’
From leaked documents we understand that the catalyst for this epoch change in science occurred when a climatologist and self-taught computer programmer known only as ‘Harry’ was sat at his laboratory computer chewing on some fudge. Only after three long years working on this problem and in a sudden eureka moment, did it finally dawn on him. In Harry’s hands was the cause of brain fog mystery.
“F**k! It’s the fudge! It’s serial!” he cried.
Inadvertently, Harry has become the hero the public associate with solving one of the great mysteries of modern science. Since those findings have appeared on the Internet the world has quickly accepted that it was the UN’s foul fudge that caused scientists to suffer this dreadful disease.
Meanwhile, epidemiologists and clinicians have been quick to identify the hallucinagenic properties of the offending fudge to further unravel the mystery. Incredibly, the fudge has been found to contain a psychotropic substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior leading patients to feel delusions of grandeur and a sense of spiritual purpose in their lives.
It appears lone-wolf Harry, wiling away his time in the CRU laboratory subliminally faced the truth and by a process of ‘cognitive dissonance,’ shocked himself out of the effects of the psychotropic intoxicant, a drug now known to cause the hallucinogenic appearance of a mythical beast known as, ‘Man-Bear-Pig’ (MBP). Other experts who have replicated Harry’s experiments confirm the efficacy of the cognitive dissonance reasoning process as a cure. Apparently, most recovering ‘addicts’ (for this fudge-eating was clearly an addiction) soon notice a change starting with improvements in the appearance of their eyes which lose their tainted green colouration.
Other convalescing climatologists, that body of scientists identified as the worst fudge sufferers, are reporting the same side effects as Harry. Symptoms include anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states that torment the patient. Epidemiologists have coined the name ’Climate War Syndrome’ (CWS) to describe the fudge-induced malady. Both ‘Climategate’ and ’Climate War Syndrome’ (CWS) have fast entered common usage giving a new handle on what was one of the great mysteries of our time.
Of course, like any serious disease, there will always be patients who won’t respond well to treatment. Those worst cases permeated with the deepest shade of green are believed to be James Hansen, Michael ‘upside down’ Mann and Phil Jones whom, its feared, may all need to be quarantined in isolation for several years