Nigel Calder, 1931-2014

Nigel CalderThe science writer Nigel Calder has died, aged 82, after a short illness.

(via Tallbloke and the GWPF)

Calder was editor of New Scientist magazine in its early days, and pioneered the popularisation of science through television documentaries. He is survived by his wife, Liz, and their five children and seven grandchildren.

Nigel Calder was born in London on 2 December 1931. He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and, after National Service, the University of Cambridge. He became editor of New Scientist in 1962, and later left to write flagship science documentaries for BBC Television. The first, in 1969, was Violent Universe, in which he wrote: “We live in a relatively peaceful suburb of a quiet galaxy of stars, while all around us, far away in space, events of unimaginable violence occur.” The Wall Street Journal review read: “It outstrips all kinds of fictional adventure. It is hard to conceive of a more exciting book.”

A note was added to Nigel’s Calder’s Updates blog by his family.

I’ve gotta be driftin’ along

The Independent newspaper (UK) has published an obituary.

He was a key figure in the creation of a highly successful British weekly science magazine. He was a prolific author who published almost 40 popular books. But most of all he educated, excited and inspired countless millions of television viewers, taking them from the comfort of their living rooms to the exhilarating high frontier of modern science.

During the 1990s much of his work was for the European Space Agency. It was during this decade that Calder became embroiled in climate debate. In The Manic Sun: Weather Theories Confounded, he reported the controversial work of the Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark, who claims that climate responds principally to cloud cover, which he contends is governed by fluctuations in high-energy particles from space known as cosmic rays.

Calder was predisposed to tell such a story because he had seen how, in the case of Wegener and continental drift, one man, despite being right, had been frozen out by the scientific community. He wrote: “When Nazi scientists showed their solidarity against the Jewish doctrine of relativity, in a book called A Hundred Against Einstein, the hairy fellow growled that one would be enough. He meant that adverse evidence from Nature produced by a solitary researcher could destroy theories that no amount of ranting could touch.”

May Nigel’s wit and wisdom live on forever in all of us.

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The Eee-Aws Have It

Preferential voting for the Australian Senate has the option of an official donkey vote where the voter puts a 1 in one box above the line to designate the party they prefer and lets the corresponding party effectively fill in the rest of the ballot for them by the preference tickets published before the election.

Because that is obviously easier, the vast majority of voters take that option; 1.26 million out of the 1.35 million who turned up to vote.
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Determining Intent in Senate Voting

Following up on my previous article, I downloaded the results from the Senate elections held in 2013 and processed the 50,131 below the line (BTL) ballots to determine if my ranking system was valid.

Results were worse than expected. Continue reading

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Senators for States

I’ve had some thoughts on the Australian Senate, how it operates and how it’s elected, following the cascade of debacles that we’ve had recently in Federal elections.

Not only aren’t the Senators seen to be working for the interests of their respective, sovereign States, the method of electing Senators by preferential ballot, with the easy option of voting according to party preference tickets; the distribution of preferences produces elected representatives who’d received fewer than 1000 primary votes; from electorates numbering in the millions. Continue reading

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Another Blogger Signs Off


That’s all folks says the Autonomous Mind. Continue reading

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The Magna Carta – Clauses As Tweets

Bernd Felsche:

An interesting use of Twitter: Education of what was … for the upcoming 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

Originally posted on Homo economicus' Weblog:

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One year from today will be the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. But what was this “Great Charter”, what did it say, and what meaning could this historical document have for us now? How well would a document written in 1215, to settle a dispute between a King and his Barons in a feudal Britain, weather the centuries to modern readers?

Beyond people talking about it, I had never read all 63 clauses of the Magna Carta. Reading a tweet by Tom Holland that everyone interpreted it to their own political biases I decided to not only read, to but tweet each clause as I did. Adding humour where 140 characters would allow.

Hours later I finished. Enjoy!

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If you are looking for the full text with a handy side historical context, recommend checking out this site here.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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It’s Models; All the Way Down

Dr Jennifer Marohasy wrote a letter to the Minister for the Environment, The Hon Greg Hunt MP. Excerpts follow.

… careful scrutiny of the Bureau’s methodology shows that recorded temperatures at locations across Australia are submitted to a two-step homogenization process that can have the effect of changing the entire temperature trend at specific locations. …

… all Australians should have a clear understanding of the nature of the data used in the calculation of important and highly publicized temperature statistics. All Australians should also have access to a realistic assessment of current temperature trends. …

Continue reading

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Obama Announces That CO2 Causes Asthma And Heart Attacks, And Threatens National Security

Bernd Felsche:

I shakes my head and mutters.
Apparently the US Pretzel believes that CO2 causes asthma and heart attacks; oblivious to the fact that being unable to afford energy is killing millions every year and causing billions of others to remain relatively poor.

Originally posted on Real Science:

The president believes that an additional 0.0001 mole fraction CO2 causes heart attacks.

Apparently no one told him that people’s lungs already contain levels of CO2 hundreds of times higher than that.

Barack Obama talked up the health benefits of his climate plan on Saturday, saying cuts to carbon pollution would reduce asthma attacks by 100,000 and heart attacks by 2,100 just in the first year.

In the run-up to the announcement, the White House has tried to frame climate change as a personal threat, highlighting the risk to public health and national security.

Obama held a number of climate-themed events, including the visit to an asthma ward at the Children’s National Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he recorded the address.

Scientists have linked a risk in asthma and other respiratory diseases to worsening air pollution under climate change.

Obama heralds health benefits of climate plan to cut power plant emissions…

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IOP: expecting consistency between models and observations is an “error”

Bernd Felsche:

In climate science, one shouldn’t expect observations to correspond with what’s predicted by models.
Remind me again why the output of models is then used to determine policy?

Originally posted on Climate Audit:

The publisher of Environmental Research Letters today took the bizarre position that expecting consistency between models and observations is an “error”.

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Lennart Bengtsson: My view on climate research

From the Uppsalainitiativet Blog where you can read the whole article:

… Words and concepts have different meanings and are interpreted differently depending on one’s background and knowledge. Sometimes such misunderstanding can be disastrous.

This is also true for concepts such as climate and climate forecasts. Climate is nothing but the sum of all weather events during some representative period of time. The length of this period cannot be strictly specified, but ought to encompass at least 100 years. Nonetheless, for practical purposes meteorologists have used 30 years. For this reason alone it can be hard to determine whether the climate is changing or not, as data series that are both long enough and homogenous are often lacking. … Because of chaos theory it is practically impossible to make climate forecasts, since weather cannot be predicted more than one or several weeks. For this reason, climate calculations are uncertain even if all model equations would be perfect.

Despite all these issues, climate research has progressed greatly, above all through new revolutionary observations from space, such as the possibility to measure both volume and mass of the oceans. Temperature and water vapor content of the atmosphere are measured by occultation with GPS satellites. Our knowledge of earlier climate has increased substantially.

It is not surprising that the public is impressed by this and that this trust transfers to climate forecasts and the possibility to predict the earth’s future climate. That all this occurs within a context of international cooperation under the supervision of the UN, and with an apparent unity among the scientists involved has created a robust confidence in IPCC’s climate simulations, in Sweden not the least. SMHI’s [Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute] down-scaled climate simulations for 100 years are impressive and show in detail and with splendid graphics how the climate will turn out both in Östergötland and in Västerbotten. This is invaluable for municipality climate experts and planners who are working feverishly to avoid future floods and forest fires. The public is in good hands in the benevolent society.

Unfortunately, things are not as splendid as they seem. As a result of chaos theory, weather and climate cannot be predicted, and how future climate will turn out will not be known until future is upon us. It would not help even if we knew the exact amount of greenhouse gases. Add to this the uncertainty about the future of the world. This should be clear to anyone, simply by moving back in time and contemplating what has unfolded from that viewpoint. As Daniel Boorstin put it: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”.

(emphasis mine) Continue reading

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