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Archive for March 2010

Telegraph “Science” Correspondent Talks Bollocks-shock horror!

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Research at Aberdeen University reported in the Telegraph seems to show a correlation between women’s preferences in men and availability of and standard of health care. No surprise there.

However the Telegraphs “science” correspondent Richard Alleyne, seems to think the preference for the Johnny Depp type by those with access to affordable health care compared to a preference for the Sean Connery type by those with poor access to affordable health care  is because they (the women) no longer need to worry about survival of the fittest. With the subtext that a tough guy appearance/image correlates with “fitness” and the other type is unfit but it does not matter if you have health care to look after the kids, and not that in relatively good times a man who will help look after the kids is fitter in the Darwinian sense than the guy who can hunt, wrestle etc but will spend most of their time in a bar drinking and playing backgammon.

The basic idea of natural selection is not selection of the biggest strongest most arse kickingest, but selection of the best adapted to the present environment.

Now let’s assume that women’s preferences in men are not for the equivalent of the peacocks tail (and I would not bet on that myself). What this would mean (assuming that improved health causes the observed difference in preferences and it is natural selection at work here) is that in the present circumstances the cluster of characteristics that correlate with Deppiness increased probability of survival for offspring (or greater numbers) than those correlated with Conneryness.

The problems with the Telegraph article are:

1. The failure to understand that “survival of the fittest” means “preferential survival of those best adapted to survive” and it is contingent on the environment. If “science” correspondents can’t understand this is it surprising that the public do not (I won’t mention creationists – Oops… I just did).

2. Failure to understand that correlation does not imply causation.

3. In the presense of sexual selection all bets are off (think pacock’s tail).

4. I’ve forgotten what I was going to put here but it was a humdinger, and will add it when I do recall.

Written by CaptainBlack

March 17, 2010 at 09:40

Global Warming

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The controversy over global warming (is it happening and what is causing it if it is) is rather strange. Nobody disagrees that simple models of the atmosphere, solar heating, … all show that other-things being equal if there are more greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere the mean surface temperature will be higher than otherwise. There are several problems with this; that of other-things being equal and the validity of the modelling and no doubt others that I can’t think of at present. But it is clear that we should start with the hypothesis that increasing green house gasses increases mean surface temperatures. Our task is now to fill in the gaps, improve modelling account for the “other-things”, which is what climate science seeks to do.

It is not possible to prove Anthropic Global Warming simply by displaying a (mean global surface) temperature against time plot because climate is not a fixed thing, it changes due to a number of other causes. To be more precise no “hockey stick” plot on its own proves anything. The plot that we need to see is the plot showing the difference in temperature between what would have been observed without human generated greenhouse gasses and actual observed temperatures against time. This is a difficult job, we need to establish a long-ish time series of global average surface temperature which extends back before satellite data became available, preferably to before industrialisation or longer. Parts of this record must be reconstructed from ground station records which may be contaminated with heat-island effects from growing cities or just relocation of the stations etc. The time series of temperatures in the absence of anthropic green house gasses has to be produced by climate models, and as we all know such models are always incomplete and may in parts have poor validation status.

Now climate scientists tell us that the plots do in fact show global warming over what would otherwise have occurred (of course subject to caveats about the noise, modelling fidelity, etc). Other things being equal we should believe them since it would be the opposite finding that would be extraordinary and require further investigation.

Written by CaptainBlack

March 8, 2010 at 08:19