Posts Tagged Independent

The scientist’s not for turning

Scientists! What are these mysterious creatures? Well, The Independent (and, with the help of copy-paste, The Mail) certainly doesn’t know!*

Global warning: Scientists in U-turn as they claim extreme weather and climate change are linked

Experts have reversed their opinion after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for extreme weather

Climate change is inextricably linked to the extreme weather that has wreaked destruction all over the world in the last ten years, scientists now claim.

Experts are convinced of a legitimate link between the two after more than 20 years of reluctance to blame greenhouse gas emissions for the heavy storms, floods and droughts which have made global headlines.

The controversial U-turn is a radical departure from the previous standpoint and was made by a new international alliance of climate researchers from around the world.

You hear that? All the scientists! All of them! Every single scientist used to say that extreme weather and climate change weren’t linked, then overnight, they all did a U-turn and now they all believe they are linked!

Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. While most scientists will never say that any given event was definitely caused by global warming (after all, no-one can say for sure whether, say, Katrina would have happened without climate change), plenty of researchers have published papers in reputable, peer-reviewed journals connecting climate change to hurricanes (Emmanuel 2005 (PDF), Webster et al 2005, Mann and Emmanuel 2006 (PDF)), flooding (Schrieder et al 2000, Christensen and Christensen 2003 (PDF)), heatwaves (Stott et all 2004, Diffenbaugh et al 2007 (PDF)), and pretty much every other form of extreme weather you can imagine. The connection between climate change and extreme weather is still debated, but there are certainly plenty of scientists have published research indicating the two are linked.

Secondly, this so-called U-turn isn’t even a U-turn! Instead, what a panel of climatologists called Attribution of Climate-Related Events (ACE) is looking at various extreme weather events over the last century – tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts – and working out whether climate change has made these sorts of weather more likely.** They are not yet saying that climate change has increased the risk of extreme weather, they’re still researching whether it could have! The scientists quoted by The Independent (and subsequently by The Mail) do say that they think climate change is causing severe weather, but as far as I can tell, these scientists have always made this connection. Peter Stott for example connected heatwaves to climate change back in 2004 (see the paper above), and Kevin Trenberth connected drought to global warming in the same year (PDF). Neither of these scientists has, as far as I can tell, U-turned.

Incidentally, the best rated comments on both articles are firmly denialist and, on The Mail‘s site, any comments that are pro-climate science have been downvoted (The Indie only lets you “like” comments, not dislike them). Good to see the astroturfers out in force.

* I’ve picked on The Mail largely because they’ve used words like “U-turn” and “reversal”. The Independent‘s coverage still makes the mistake of talking about scientists like we’re all one big hive mind, but at least they state that the previous opinion connecting climate change to extreme weather was “equivocal”.

** ACE formed in early 2009, so I’m not sure why they’re being reported as if they’re brand new.




More “Battle of the Sexes” BS

Genetic tests prove the ‘fairer sex’ is kinder too, according to today’s Independent.*

Women have a stronger genetic predisposition to help other people compared with men, according to a study that has found a significant link between genes and the tendency to be “nice”.

Funnily enough, the study in question (“A common heritable factor influences prosocial obligations across multiple domains“, Gary Lewis and Timothy Bates, Biology Letters) didn’t find that women were genetically kinder than men at all. In fact, it wasn’t really looking at men and women at all.

The researchers were looking at whether different types of “prosocial behaviour” (i.e., behaviour that helps society as a whole, rather than just helping the individual) were inherited and what roles nature and nurture played. There were three factors they looked at – civic duty, commitment to work and concern for other people’s welfare – and to check whether they were inherited they looked at identical and nonidentical twins; the idea being that if it’s mostly genetic, identical twins should be more similar in their “kindness” than non-identical twins, while if it’s caused by your environment growing up there should be little difference between the two.

In general for females, there appeared to be a clear genetic variance – in other words, those who were “kind” tended to have kinder twins – while for males the water was a bit muddier; the sample wasn’t large enough to tell conclusively one way or the other whether kind males had kind twins. This doesn’t mean that women were all kind however, or that there is a gene which means women are kinder than men!

Instead, it just means that the difference in kindness between different women is fairly likely to be affected by their genes (they found that around 48% of the difference in kindness between women could be caused by genetic difference, with the rest being caused by upbringing), while in men it’s not quite as clear just how much of an effect their genes have, which is why they’re holding onto the data to analyse it more thoroughly.

Just to add to the confusion, there was a significant genetic effect in males when looking specifically at concern for people’s welfare, though again, this doesn’t mean that men are any more empathetic than women are, just that genes play a big role in deciding precisely how empathetic each particular man is.

In short, this research says very little about the differences between men and women, and what it does say isn’t massively important to anyone who’s not a geneticist, and yet that still hasn’t stopped The Independent turning it into another “battle of the sexes” piece. Funnily enough, they actually quote the researcher behind the piece quite extensively – I wonder if he knew what they were twisting the study into.

* The comments are… about what you’d expect, really.

Edit: Thanks to Press Not Sorry, for pointing out that The Mail has spun the research into “Why women are nice by nature… but for men it’s more of an effort“. The research doesn’t show that men have to make an effort to be nice – or that women don’t – it just shows that “niceness” in women is more likely to be genetic than it is in men (although upbringing causes the majority of the variation in everyone, male and female). This doesn’t mean that it takes effort to be nice just because it’s not genetic, by the way, any more than it takes effort to speak your first language or to be scared of spiders; it means that the tendency to feel empathetic towards people (or not) is ingrained into your personality at the deepest level.


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Dancing around the facts

Thanks to This Wicked Day for the tip.

Remember The Office? That show that was popular circa 2002? Today, the newspapers finally have an opportunity to use up the stash of photos of David Brent dancing that they clearly built up during the fat years.

Every news outlet today covers an article which recently appeared on the pre-print servers of Biology Letters: “Male dance moves that catch a woman’s eye“, by a team from University of Northumbria headed by Dr. Nick Neave.

What do they say?

MEN swinging their arms too much is a dance floor turn-off for women, scientists said yesterday.

Windmill movements like David Brent in TV’s The Office are signs of “bad” dancing, a study found. (The Sun)


Running on the spot, windmill arms and spinning may attract ridicule on the dance floor but it will also attract the opposite sex, claim psychologists. (The Telegraph)

Wait a second…

MEN trying to impress women on the dance floor with the slick, cool moves of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever are making a mistake. (The Express)


Ladies prefer smooth movements like John Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever. (The Sun)

Hold on.

Psychologists have found that over-the-top fancy routines and nifty footwork are not what women want. (The Express)


If you use big body movements and fancy footwork you may look like a show off but subconsciously women will desire you. (The Telegraph)

This is just getting silly.

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The Coldism War

So apparently The Telegraph has a climate change denialist columnist, one Christopher Booker. The little biography given of him is “Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph exposes the ever-growing power of the European Union in Brussels and the excesses of mad officialdom“. Fairly standard Telegraph fare, though the denialism is a new spin on it. Anyway, today’s column is “Desperate days for the warmists“. Is this going to be another paragraph-by-paragraph takedown? I think it is!

So he opens with a photograph of cattle herders in Chile, surrounded by snow, captioned “Herding cattle in Chile as South America suffers one of its coldest winters for years“. Now seems as good a time as any to drop a link to an awesome website: If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold?, a collection of the most inane newspaper cartoons on the subject. Such a stupid argument from cold doesn’t really need refuting at all (average temperatures are increasing, of course there is still variation year on year, etc.), but I would like to point out that in fact South America is in fact particularly at risk from climate change – the glaciers are in retreat, the coastline of Brazil is shrinking and average temperatures are soaring. Don’t forget also that the South American climate is affected strongly by El Niño and La Niña – right now, the colder La Niña appears to be in effect, so the fact Chile is having an unusually cold winter is not surprising at all.

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Paper prudery

The Daily Mail and The Independent both have articles about a new genetic test for longevity, and have illustrated their articles with the same picture. Well, almost the same picture



Every press release is sacred

The Independent, The Mail, Metro, Sky News, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, TIME, Newsweek and The Hindustan Times, among many others, have all carried in the past few days some variant on the following:

[A] dating site with a strict ban on ugly people, has launched a virtual sperm and egg bank for people who want to have beautiful babies.

By “an online sperm and egg bank”, what they actually mean is a forum on their site to let people exchange details and get in contact with donation clinics. Now, as you can probably imagine, there are a whole host of ethical, legal and logistical difficulties behind this, and you’d think this would make some interesting copy. How can a public forum respect donor anonymity laws? What prevents people from passing off other people’s gametes as their own? What stops people from using the service to send sperm directly from donor to recipient, which carries with it all kinds of disease risks?

And more to the point, what’s new? Solicited gamete donation has been around for decades (just ask the LGBT community), and most countries with legal donation frameworks permit the recipients to choose based, to a greater or lesser extent, on the donor’s appearance. So why is every news outlet reporting this as some sort of groundbreaking news?

Well, there was a press release.*

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What is health?

I’m currently pushing to make one a post a day for at least the first week of this blog, and sadly, the press is not playing along. Despite it being a Saturday – the day when traditionally newspapers pad out their pages with Omega-3 fluff pieces and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus-esque behaviour studies – the press is quiet on the subject today; presumably because the are enough serious stories out there.

So instead, here’s a little random musing on the papers themselves.

Health is perhaps the only universal subject a newspaper can cover. Not everyone lives in a given area, not everyone has children, not everyone owns a car or uses trains, not everyone shares the political beliefs of the editors. Not everybody pays taxes even, which leaves us just one of the two great certainties: death. As a result, health news is perhaps the greatest lure to bring readers in. Every level of journalism indulges in it, from the 20p gossip magazines with covers full of grotesque medical horror stories to The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph telling parents that if they aren’t filling their children up with superfoods and handmade organic risotto then they might as well be child abusers.

This means that if you’ve got a boring story that probably won’ t get any readers, all you need to do is give it a medical spin, have a mid-level academic or a spokesperson for The Society of Homeopaths give you a nice juicy quote, then stick it in the health pages. Observe:

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AGW – Astroturfing global warming

An island in the Maldives fringed by coral.

Coral islands - another proof of climate change

Two stories on climate change today. Both are fairly depressing, though one at least carries a silver lining. The Times reports on Nasa findings that the year 2009-10 was the hottest on record, while The Daily Mail and The Independent both carry articles about a recent discovery that because coral growth is improved by higher sea levels, islands perched around coral reefs have grown, counteracting the effect of the sea level rise; though given the sustained bleaching and die-off of reefs around the world, it’s difficult to say how long this can go on for.

Still, one article of bad news, one of tentative good news, with one thing in common. They both put forward fairly strong proof that climate change is happening. Not that you’d know this from the comments.

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