Naked Scientists Podcast

Naked Scientists episode

Fri, 14th Feb 2014


AAAS Panel Show 2014 (c) Jack Westwood

Do scientists resort to propaganda to defend climate change? How do we deal with evolution unbelievers? How do governments and policy-makers decide what science should be funded? Where will the next generation of communicators come from? Why are western countries spending more on baldness than malaria? Live at the AAAS 2014 meeting in Chicago, panellists David Willetts, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, Robyn Williams, of the Science Show on the ABC, MIT Enterprise Forum president, Kathleen Kennedy, IgNobel Awards founder Marc Abrahams and University of Madison-Wisconsin scientist Molly Jahn join Chris Smith to answer questions live from the audience...

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In this edition of Naked Scientists

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  • Naked at the AAAS 2014 meeting

    Should scientists resort to propaganda? How do governments decide what research is funded? Join the live panel discussion at the AAAS 2014..



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I must say that it was a long discussion.  I'm looking forward to the summary. 

There has been propaganda on both sides.

A big problem with the global warming camp is either publicizing weak research, or simplifying complex systems for the lay people. 

The Himalayan glaciers melting away by 2035 was a poorly thought through political comment that got into the IPCC report. 

The "Hockey Stick" was a failure to merge historical trends with current trends.  It makes the current changes look more significant if one considers the Holocene as monotonous before the industrialization and petroleum fuels of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.  However, the research needs to recognize the prior warm periods of the early Holocene, as well as the Medieval warm period, and prior cooling of the little ice age.

Correlation vs causation is an important aspect of science.  Historical atmospheric carbon dioxide levels tracking with heavy oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in the ice cores (temperature proxies) doesn't mean that one causes the other, but the two can be caused by a third independent factor. 

A good understanding of probability would not allow attributing any single event to global warming.  So, a single hurricane or tornado may be due to normal climate variability.  One must separate the individual event from trends.

Say you meet a person with lung cancer.  Does having lung cancer mean that they were a smoker?  Many are smokers, however, there are also some non-smokers that also get lung cancer, perhaps due to asbestos or radiation exposure, or perhaps just bad luck.  And, if non-smokers can get lung cancer, some of the cases in smokers would have occurred independent of smoking.  Anyway, the statistics are better at picking out trends than assigning causation for a single event.

Whether or not global warming is associated with changes in atmospheric currents, it is difficult to blame local cold weather on a global warming trend.

Anyway, publicity is probably a better term than propaganda, but to be effective, it must be accurate, unbiased, and true to the scientific method.

CliffordK, Mon, 17th Feb 2014

better than 90% chance a person with lung cancer will have been be a smoker ...

RD, Mon, 17th Feb 2014

"Propaganda?" Certainly. Climate change is inevitable and uncontrollable, but worth studying to see if we can mitigate its effects. Unfortunately there's no money in it because governments can't use it to raise taxes. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a scam, useful for raising taxes and therefore deserving of "scientific" support, in exchange for government handouts. Historic data clearly shows that temperature leads CO2, not the other way around, so CO2 cannot be the driver of climate change.

"Evolution unbelievers?" It's "our" fault for talking about evolution as though it was a theory. The fact of evolution is obvious if you look in a mirror - you don't look like both of your parents. Once you accept the obvious, and the fact that "species" is an arbitrary and illdefined man-made classification of things that look or behave differently, evolution of species becomes both trivial and obvious. Some people are incapable of accepting the trivial and obvious: they need varying degrees of care from tolerance via treatment to imprisonment, depending on the extent to which their fantasies harm others.   

"Why do western countries spend more on baldness than malaria?" Because (a) most western countries eliminated malaria hundreds of years ago (b) it affects relatively few westerners who choose to travel to infected regions and (c) treatment is relatively cheap and quite effective. Unlike baldness. If the inhabitants of malarial regions spent more on baldness than malaria, we would indeed have an interesting question. alancalverd, Mon, 17th Feb 2014

Historical data alone does not rule out whether atmospheric CO2 amplifies the naturally temperature cycles.  Obviously we've been dumping gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere creating a disjoint with other natural carbon cycles.

Malaria was "eliminated" from the Great White North because it requires a continuous infection cycle.  Break that cycle during the winter, and the disease is eliminated.  Perhaps even simple window glass helps.  It is much harder to eliminate in areas where there are less distinct seasons and no needs to build airtight structures.

The problem is the expectation that diseases such as Malaria which is endemic in the 3rd world nations will be cured by the 1st world nations. 

If you look at the Malaria endemic map, it includes:

Sub-Saharan Africa.  Poor, but still they have billions of dollars in their economies.  Perhaps there would be a way to come up with funding for a combined medical research laboratory. 

South Africa
China (some)
Mexico (some)
Saudi Arabia (some)

These aren't all small economies. 

Several countries are apparently working towards local Malaria eradication.  For example Sri Lanka has a goal of eradicating Malaria by 2014. 

Of course, removing DDT from the market has set global Malaria eradication back by a half a century, although some resistance to the pesticide was already being developed at the time.
CliffordK, Mon, 17th Feb 2014

Perhaps emigration is a problem with developing nations, and adversely affects the ability for developing countries to resolve their domestic issues.

Send a nation's "best and brightest" overseas for an education, and many never return, especially those receiving advanced degrees. CliffordK, Mon, 17th Feb 2014

No need - physics does!

Pretty obviously, it can't be. You can't eradicate a parasite by remote control, and you can't (nowadays) impose a solution by invading a nation. You can sell pesticides and medicines, but only to willing customers.

No great need for a new medical research laboratory in SSA: the malaria vector was discovered by one doctor with a microscope, and there's no problem transporting samples to existing labs around the globe if you want to sophisticate your attack. The science is done (or can be done very cheaply) but large scale engineering demands a degree of political stability and financial probity if you really want to solve the problem.
alancalverd, Tue, 18th Feb 2014

It would be ironic if we all got malaria in North America because of global warming. cheryl j, Tue, 18th Feb 2014

26:30 ABC staffer? John T, Thu, 27th Feb 2014

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