Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Introduction to Climate Prediction

Jamais Cascio of World Changing points to a flash-based tutorial on the Basics of Climate Predictions from Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park in collaboration with the world’s largest climate prediction experiment.. If you are interested in learning how scientists make predictions about our future climate then this tutorial is for you. This would also make an excellent teaching tool. Teachers should refer to the schools section on the website for related teaching resources.

The tutorial covers a definition of climate, things that effect climate, why climate prediction is complicated, what we can predict about climate change, and what the current predictions are.

Using a dice analogy, the tutorial differentiates between climate and weather. It links concepts of weather conditions with numerical values and then uses a dice-rolling paradigm to illustrate that climate is weather conditions over a long period of time.

Solar energy falling on the earth is used as an example of things that affect climate. The long-term increase in average temperatures is explained by illustrating how a larger portion of the Earth’s daily accumulation of solar energy is being retained instead of being radiated into space.
The complications of climate prediction are tied to chaos theory. Using population modeling of a rabbit community the different predictions using stable and chaotic models are illustrated.

A bell-shaped curve is used to illustrate what sort of predictions we can make about climate. The viewer is introduced to the likelihood based on where the values lie on a bell curve.

A world map allows the viewer to select a continent and see what sort of temperature changes will happen in two different scenarios, each with results being shown for fifty and one hundred years out. The scenarios used are for a fossil fuel-oriented future with high-levels of greenhouse gases and a sustainable future with reduced levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall this tutorial has just the right amount of complexity to solidly address the temperature changes linked to global climate change. It helps to deflate some of the more outrageous claims, but still manages to convey the sense that changes are coming and what the likely dimensions of those changes will be.

A CD-ROM version is also available. Contact .

That's the whole problem with science. You've got a bunch of empiricists
trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder. - Calvin

Monday, November 21, 2005

Genetically Modified Peas Cause Allergic Response

Pisum sativum

For the first time scientists have detected an immune response to proteins coming from a plant genetically modified to be pest resistant.

For almost a decade scientists at Australia’s national research organisation, CSIRO, have been developing a genetically modified version of the Field Pea (Pisum sativum) that is resistant to the pea weevil Bruchus pisorum, which lays its eggs on the pea pods causing significant crop damage in developing countries. They inserted a gene from the common bean which produces a protein capable of killing pea weevil pests.

However, when the scientists at CSIRO tested the modified Field Pea by feeding it to laboratory mice they found the mice developed antibodies specific to the protein built by the newly inserted gene. When the mice where later exposed to the purified protein through injection or inhalation via a "multiple immune challenge" procedure designed to determine if the immune system is tolerant to a protein they showed a hypersensitive skin response, while the airway-exposed mice developed airway inflammation and mild lung damage. The damage was significant and surprising enough that the entire decade-long project Field Pea project was cancelled.

Paul Foster of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the "multiple immune challenge" work points out that this result shows the need for improvements in screening requirements for genetically engineered plants, to ensure comprehensive tests are carried out.

For more details see the original article from NewScientist.

Only presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we."


I'm trying out RocketPost blog software. It's pretty cool...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Scientists as Citizens

Scientists as Citizens
Quantum Nescimus
(What a Lot We Don’t Know)

As I watch the on-going debate between rational and religious believers I am struck by the incompatibility of both positions. We seem to have reduced the two positions to their extremes. Perhaps in an effort to simplify the choice between the two as if they are mutually exclusive.

While listening to show #48 of G’Day World from ThePodcastNetwork I was introduced to John Cornforth by way of Sir Harry Kroto’s talk about science to group middle-school students. Sir Harry is one third of the team that shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1966 for the discovery of Bucky Balls and the family of similar structures.

Sir Harry’s talk gave high praise to John Cornforth for the essay/speech Cornforth delivered to the Royal Australian Chemical Institute on the occasion of its 75th anniversary in September 1992. The speech was entitled Scientists as Citizens and much of what Cornforth had to say is still very relevant as we are still debating the place of Science in Society.

Cornforth points out that Science is the art of the probable with probable used in the old sense of testable, not our current definition: likely. He illuminates the duality that scientists operate under: scientific research pursues goals not always perceived as of immediate public benefit, yet when scientific discoveries are put into general use by society; it is the scientists who are blamed when unintended consequences of their work appear in society.

Scientists operate with three dilemmas dogging them: Secrecy, History, and Truth. Secrecy stems from competitive and security pressures that seek to prevent the collaborative nature of research from asserting itself. Science works best when information flows freely among scientists regardless of nationality or business affiliation. But, competitive pressure and national security concerns often interfere with this information Science works best when information flows freely among scientists regardless of nationality or business affiliation. But, competitive pressure and national security concerns often interfere with this information flow.

The History dilemma stems from scientists’ unique historical perspective. They understand the historical significance of facts in the face of the pressures for short term gains, profits or progress. For example historically scientists know that when a species is presented with an abundance of a resource, the resource is exploited to exhaustion followed by the species dying off. Scientists are too much the minority to convince society at large of the problem this portends for the future of the human species.

Cornforth distinguishes between Public truth and Private truth. Public truth is that which is accurately recorded without fabrication or distortion regardless of the conclusions such truths bring. In contrast, private truth is influenced by emotions. The euphoria of a new discovery observation must co-exist with the cold examination of the public truth.

Science and Scientists don’t escape unscathed from Cornforth’s discerning pen. He points out that the simplification required to measure results from discrete experiments often miss the complex interactions present in natural systems science is trying to quantify and explain. Not accounting for these interactions can lead to unexpected results when the results of scientific experiments are practiced outside the scientist’s laboratory.

He also cites the exponential growth of disciplines within science as the cause of the narrowing of domain knowledge among scientists. As more and more scientists specialize, it becomes harder for ideas to cross-fertilize one another across disciplines.

Finally, Cornforth concludes that scientists must put their case before a court where there is no judge, no jury and no rules of law and where regard for the truth is often a hindrance. He wants science education to include lessons in critical thinking. Students should be trained to ask the “Who says so? How do you know? What’s missing?” questions. Cornforth believes that students trained to be skeptical will make better members of society.

I recommend that everyone read Cornforth’s speech via the link below. His words have helped me begin to reconcile the conflict Science and the Society in which it is embedded.

John Cornforth’s Speech to the Royal Australian Chemical Institute

John Cornforth’s Autobiography page from the Nobel Prize web site

Background information on John Cornforth via Google
Sir Harold Kroto’s Autobiography from the Nobel Prize web site


"Criminal Lawyer" is a redundancy.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Live Music to the Space Station

On Sunday November 13th, Paul McCartney will provide live wakeup music to the two astronauts abort the International Space Station. Wakeup music is a NASA tradition where on-orbit crews are woken up with various pieces of music to start their workday. Previously, One of McCartney’s songs, Good Day Sunshine was played as wakeup music for shuttle Discovery’s STS-114 on the August 9th morning of their landing. "Since people were first awakened on the moon by mission control, wakeup songs have been a space tradition to brighten the crew's day and get them off to a great start," said astronaut Eileen Collins, who commanded Discovery.

"I was extremely proud to find out that one of my songs was played for the crew of Discovery this summer," McCartney said. "In our concert we hope to repay the favor." McCartney is nearing the end of his 11-week "US" tour.

Original News Release

There is a difference between celibate and simply not getting any.
It's like the difference between fast and starve.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ubiquitous City

After reading the piece in Daily Wireless (based on NY Times article) about all the cities/developments around the world where computing and sensing infrastructure is built into a new city I have to ask: Where is the American version? Are we so privacy paranoid and luddite that no one thinks this sort of development is what the future will look like? And as ususal America is soundly ignoring the trend.

Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off of your goal - Vince Lombardi

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Free to be Me, Too!

You are a

Social Liberal
(71% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(20% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Support The Commons

RSS Atom Feed

follow johniac at

Join Johniac's Frappr Map

johniac's Rapleaf Score