Saturday, 2 July 2011

One Myth Debunked

You've probably heard the phrase "they don't make them like they used to" as applied to motor vehicles.

It's probably just as well when you look at the results of a staged collision between two Chevs, one a 2009 Malibu and the other a 1959 Bel Air.

It was set up by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The accompanying blurb explains -
In the 50 years since US insurers organized the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, car crashworthiness has improved. Demonstrating this was a crash test conducted on Sept. 9 between a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu. In a real-world collision similar to this test, occupants of the new model would fare much better than in the vintage Chevy.

"It was night and day, the difference in occupant protection," says Institute president Adrian Lund. What this test shows is that automakers don't build cars like they used to. They build them better."

The crash test was conducted at an event to celebrate the contributions of auto insurers to highway safety progress over 50 years. Beginning with the Institute's 1959 founding, insurers have maintained the resolve, articulated in the 1950s, to "conduct, sponsor, and encourage programs designed to aid in the conservation and preservation of life and property from the hazards of highway accidents."

A decade after the Institute was founded, insurers directed this organization to begin collecting data on crashes and the cost of repairing vehicles damaged in crashes. To lead this work and the Institute's expanded research program, insurers named a new president, William Haddon Jr., who already was a pioneer in the field of highway safety. In welcoming Dr. Haddon, Thomas Morrill of State Farm said "the ability to bring unbiased scientific data to the table is extremely valuable." This scientific approach, ushered in by Dr. Haddon, is a hallmark of Institute work. It's why the Institute launched the Highway Loss Data Institute in 1972 — to collect and analyze insurance loss results to provide consumers with model-by-model comparisons.

Another Institute milestone was the 1992 opening of the Vehicle Research Center. Since then, the Institute has conducted much of the research that has contributed to safer vehicles on US roads. At the anniversary event, current Institute chairman Gregory Ostergren of American National Property and Casualty summed up a commitment to continue what fellow insurers began in 1959: "On this golden anniversary of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, we celebrate this organization's accomplishments toward safer drivers, vehicles, and roadways. We salute the vision of the Institute's founders and proudly continue their commitment to highway safety."

Nothing more to say really.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Most agencies these days have succumbed to the dead hand of corporate managerialism.

Toowoomba Regional  Council is no exception.

I went in to pay the dog's rego over the counter - something unusual, as I pay most bills on line these days. The queue was eleven deep. Four workstations were idle.

Obviously someone has made the decision that the Council's time is worth more than that of their ratepayers.


Andrew Bolt's spelling is about as accurate as his commentary.

I posted a correction (which was censored of course) but he did fix the error.

Not only does his brain disconnect from basic rationality, it also decouples from his keyboard from time to time.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Other People's Opinions 2

This article was published in The Age today.

The author is John Cook, who runs the Sceptical Science website

I'm breaking a self-imposed rule by republishing this, as I've blogged before about journalists writing opinion pieces about science, but I'll provide the citations that Cook refers to, even if he didn't.

He calls it Half the truth on emissions.

Cherry-picking the evidence to suit a pseudo-scientific argument misses the alarming reality.
A YIDDISH proverb states ''a half truth is a whole lie''. By withholding vital information, it's possible to lead you towards the opposite conclusion to the one you would get from considering the full picture. In Bob Carter's opinion piece on this page yesterday, this technique of cherry-picking half-truths is on full display, with frequent examples of statements that distort climate science.
The partial truths are further bolstered by scientific statements that have almost no basis in fact. It is not surprising that people present such fallacies, since the blogosphere is full of climate pseudo-science, but it is surprising that newspapers are still reporting such statements. Opinion is one thing, but scientific fact is another. Every major science body in the world has effectively refuted the assertions made by Carter.
So what is the full picture? To understand what's happening to the global climate, we need to look at temperature change over the entire planet. Two scientific teams - NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (1) and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast (2)  - have constructed temperature records spanning the whole globe. Both find consistent results, using independent methods, with the two hottest years on record being 2010 and 2005. Both find the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, with melting sea ice acting as a positive feedback that amplifies the warming.

More importantly, temperature trends are not established by drawing lines between individual warm and cool years. It's the long-term trend that counts and the most recent decade was the warmest on record. Long-term warming trends are agreed upon by all international meteorological agencies.
But there's a bigger picture still. The temperature record tells us what's happening to surface temperature. But signs of warming are being observed all over the climate system. Over the past decade, ice loss from the huge ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica has been steadily accelerating. Currently, Greenland is losing 300 billion tonnes of ice a year. Over the same period, Arctic sea ice has been thinning and melting, glaciers have been shrinking at an accelerating rate (3) and seasons are shifting due to warming temperatures. All these facts, including their uncertainties, are not considered in isolation by scientists; it's the overall picture that matters.
What's driving this warming? There is no mystery or guesswork about the cause of recent global warming - it can be directly measured. Satellites observe less radiation escaping to space at those exact wavelengths that carbon dioxide absorbs radiation. Less heat escaping to space means more heat returning to Earth and this is confirmed by surface measurements. An increased greenhouse effect should also cause a cooling of the upper atmosphere, and this is confirmed by satellites and weather balloons. From these observations, scientists concluded ''this experimental data should effectively end the argument by sceptics that no experimental evidence exists for the connection between greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere and global warming''.
Enter Bob Carter and his deliberate brand of climate cherry-picking and false, but plausible, assertions. He has long hung his hat on the proposition the climate has been cooling since 1998. But with 2005 and 2010 being the hottest years on record, he resorts to cherry-picking which dataset to use. Rather than use temperature records that cover the entire globe, he opts for datasets that do not include the Arctic region, where warming is the strongest. These temperature records underestimate recent warming and are the darling of those who wish to deny global warming is happening.
The half-truths become more tenuous as Carter's piece progresses. He argues that carbon dioxide is beneficial as it acts as a valuable plant fertiliser. Studies show mixed results for carbon dioxide fertilisation for different species and different climate regimes. But this line of argument fails to recognise that plants also need water and the right temperature range to flourish. Over the past 40 years as temperatures have risen, drought severity has also increased. This is exerting significant pressure on agriculture as water supplies become strained.
Labelling Carter's final ''scientific fact'' as a half-truth is giving it too much credence. According to Carter, it's a fact that "extra carbon dioxide helps to shrink the Sahara Desert, green the planet and feed the world. Ergo, carbon dioxide is neither a pollutant nor dangerous, but an environmental benefit."
These are ludicrous statements that fly in the face of 20 years of scientific research. Rapidly increasing carbon dioxide will most likely lead to a rapidly changing climate, and decades of research has not painted such a rosy picture of the environmental and socio-economic impacts. Dismissing all of that science on the basis that carbon dioxide is plant food is like dismissing that effluent can ever be a pollutant since blood and bone gets put on garden beds.
It is not really possible to assess Carter's other assertions on the economy since, unlike climate, the economy is not constrained by fundamental physical laws of the universe. Nevertheless, it is interesting that a self-professed sceptic is able to present, as fact, that reducing carbon emissions will result in the closing down of the Australian economy. This is despite the fact that numerous economic analyses find the benefits of climate action outweigh the costs several times over.
It is also interesting that self-professed sceptics, who believe that there is simply no way of determining to what degree carbon dioxide concentrations will affect climate, can precisely estimate the effect of Australia's emissions on global-mean temperature. Everyone understands that global efforts are required to reduce carbon pollution. Australia, as one of the highest carbon emitters per capita, is in an ideal position to positively influence global negotiations. Those who argue that Australia is an insignificant player underestimate our role on the global stage and our potential to be a leader in reducing carbon pollution.
Bob Carter exhorts us to "pay attention to the facts and keep an open mind". Ironically, he has closed his mind to any evidence that conflicts with his preconceived views and suspends critical thought when presenting his own doomsday scenarios. Carter's article shows how cherry-picked information can mislead and distort the science - embodying the proverb, "a half-truth is a whole lie".

Sources - 

1. 2011-01-28: The NASA/GSFC Scientific Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) - rolling five-year mean of the global surface temperature anomaly.
 2. 2010 - 03 - 14: European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts - Set I: Products from the Deterministic Atmospheric Model- 2005 - 2010. 
3. I. M. Howat, Y. Ahn, I. Joughin, M. R. van den Broeke, J. T. M. Lenaerts, and B. Smith (2011), Mass balance of Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers, 2000–2010, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L12501, doi:10.1029/2011GL047565.

Other People's Opinions 1

I'm feeling lazy today (officially on holidays) so today I'll post other people's opinions rather than my own.

The first piece is by Paul Dobbyn from last Sunday's Catholic Leader.

It's called Asylum Disgust.

"HARSH and unjust" Federal Government and Opposition policies towards asylum seekers have come under attack from representatives of Catholic social justice agencies.
Representatives from Brisbane archdiocese's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), the Australian Catholic Bishops Con-ference (ACBC) and the national St Vincent de Paul Society have also criticised sections of the Australian community for attitudes encouraging these policies.
Long-time advocate for refugees and asylum seekers and former information officer for Mercy Family Services' Romero Centre in Brisbane Frederika Steen has also issued a plea to the Government and all Members of Parliament "to comply with the spirit and the letter of the law - domestic and international - that seeking asylum is legal".
The representatives' criticism came as political debate on the Federal Government's plan to deport asylum seekers to Malaysia intensified with Labor Party factional leaders warning Prime Minister Julia Gillard that any deal must carry the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
It also followed the passing of a parliamentary motion initiated by the Greens which condemned the deal under which 800 asylum seekers would be transferred to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 declared refugees over four years.
The representatives' comments were also a reminder of the celebration of World Refugee Day last Monday (June 20).
CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt said people should heed Pope Benedict XVI's message released on the Church's World Migrant and Refugee Day 2011 earlier this year.
"In his message Pope Benedict said 'welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is for everyone an imperative gesture of human solidarity'," Mr Arndt said.
The ACBC's Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettena acknowledged "the policy of sending the next 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia might be a deterrent for further boat arrivals".
"However, this policy cannot be condon-ed; as essentially swapping human life goes against the moral teaching of the Church," he said.
St Vincent de Paul Society national council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said the organisation "appreciated the Australian Government has a responsibility to protect our borders".
"But this does not give it (the Government) the licence to punish innocent people who are legitimately seeking a place of safety in our country," he said.
Mr Arndt said "there is little evidence that respect for the human dignity of asylum seekers is at the heart of either the Government's or the Opposition's policies".
"Both sides support prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seekers in isolated centres on mainland Australia and in offshore facilities," he said.
"Both sides have been responsible in government for locking up many children seeking asylum ... and both sides are willing to 'export' asylum seekers to other countries where they are deprived of basic rights and subjected to further danger or harm."
Mr Arndt criticised attitudes in the Australian community which were encouraging these policies.
"Such intolerance and discrimination should not shape Australia's policies on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees nor should they be accepted by Christians or condoned by their silence," he said.
Fr Pettena said the ACMRO had grave concerns for the welfare of the potential 800 candidates that may be sent to Malaysia "due to the already heavy burden that Malaysia carries".
"Also it is important to remember that people smuggling is merely a symptom of the underlying problem of war, poverty and inequality in the world," he said.
"This underlying problem does not disappear by decreasing boat arrivals to Australia.
"The people-smuggler business model is diminished by increasing Australia's humanitarian intake.
"By providing desperate people with a valid pathway into Australia they do not need to risk their lives on a boat."
Dr Falzon said members of the St Vincent de Paul Society were "deeply troubled both by the Government's Malaysian Solution as well as by the continued detention of children".
"There is no place for such punitive treatment, especially of children, in a progressive society," he said.
"Both Government and Opposition persist in treating asylum seekers as if they are to be blamed for needing to flee their countries.
"We call on the Government to live up to its international obligations and to observe its own 2008 commitment to use detention in an immigration detention centre only as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time and to end the detention of children.
"There are currently 6730 people in immigration detention. This includes 1083 children.
"Mandatory detention, especially of children, continues to be an abuse of human rights."
Ms Steen called for "humanity before politics".
"We can, as a democratic, free nation which respects the rule of law, protect asylum seekers who cross our borders, and fairly and quickly assess their claims for protection from more persecution," she said.
"We do not have to punish them with detention.
"Our nation has benefitted from refugees and immigrants being given a fair go.
"Less than 4000 legal asylum seekers arriving by boat a year is nothing in the context of 300,000 new migrants being allowed to settle some years."

I'd agree with most of that.

In any case, nether the Coalition nor Labor will get my vote whilst they expatriate refugees. It doesn't matter to me whether they're sent to Malaysia or Nauru.

It's simply wrong.

There's a better way.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...