Roundup 23 April

Retraction Watch: Withdrawal of published papers due to fraud or flawed methods is becoming a major issue and the study of retractions is a growing field on the edge of science. A scan on the field. And a particularly powerful contribution.

Like monasticism, science is an enterprise with a superhuman aim whose achievement is forever beyond the capacities of the flawed humans who aspire toward it. The best scientists know that they must practice a sort of mortification of the ego and cultivate a dispassion that allows them to report their findings, even when those findings might mean the dashing of hopes, the drying up of financial resources, and the loss of professional prestige. It should be no surprise that even after outgrowing the monasteries, the practice of science has attracted souls driven to seek the truth regardless of personal cost and despite, for most of its history, a distinct lack of financial or status reward. Now, however, science and especially science bureaucracy is a career, and one amenable to social climbing. Careers attract careerists, in Feyerabend’s words: “devoid of ideas, full of fear, intent on producing some paltry result so that they can add to the flood of inane papers that now constitutes ‘scientific progress’ in many areas.”

Coal and power. From The Australian, ignoring the vital importance of cheap power.

Halting or limiting coal or fossil fuels output will simply mean that those with no or partial access to electricity would have to wait much longer in the dark.

That is an uncomfortable but incontrovertible fact. If you limit something or make it more expensive to the poor then you are delaying or denying that access. Not just for weeks, months or years, but generations. Hundreds of millions of people will live shorter, more miserable lives as a result of the choices of the comfortable and warm.

The joy of a carefree approach to public debate is that you don’t have to worry about conse­quences.

Climate. Another good man goes down.

MacKay argued that for renewable facilities to make an appreciable contribution, they would have to be developed on a massive, industrial scale. At the time the book was written, Britain was generating about 4.5 per cent of its electricity from renewables, mostly hydro-power, landfill gas and wind.

Any substantial increase would involve nationwide projects that would have significant effects on the environment. If, for example, it was decided burning biomass (crops for fuel) was the answer, about 75 per cent of Britain would need to be covered in biomass plantations to meet only 25 per cent of our current electricity demand. If we chose wave power, we would need 500 km of Atlantic coastline to be filled with wave farms. Covering between five and 10 per cent of the country with solar panels would provide less than half the daily electricity consumption of the average European – about the same as an offshore wind farm filling an area of the sea twice the size of Wales.

Books. Amazingly expensive books from Abe.

Ground-breaking botany, the works of two famous English writers, golf from the days of plus fours and stiff cocktails, racy fashion photography, classic fantasy fiction with a touch of Dracula thrown in, an iconic novel about mental illness, and some illustrated poetry make up our top 10 list of expensive sales from the first three months of 2016.

Books by librarians. Who knew that Chairman Mao was a librarian?

The authors on this list range from the top dogs at the Library of Congress to folks who have worked at the national libraries of Argentina, France and Sweden, and people who have checked books in and out at public and school libraries.

We decided to exclude Chairman Mao and his Little Red Book. This one-time librarian at Peking University is perhaps the most widely read of all librarians who wrote but it was under extraordinary circumstances (although it is now rumored that the book was ghostwritten). Our featured book is Hemlock and After by Angus Wilson, illustrated by Ronald Searle, and was a bestseller in 1952. Wilson was a librarian in the British museum.

Clouston and Hall academic remainders.

Regulation. President Obama ramps up his record-breaking run on regulation in his last lap. Nothing really new, it just keeps getting worse and we just have to keep saying it. As my late friend Tony Chambers used to say:

‘Cheer up’, they said, ‘things could be worse.’
So we cheered up. And sure enough, things did get worse.

Gerard Henderson’s Media Watchdog.

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8 Responses to Roundup 23 April

  1. Art Vandelay

    And a particularly powerful contribution.

    Great article. It’s a pity that the author didn’t really discuss the growing role of government in science. Governments have distorted science by pushing their own causes (eg, climate change, the ‘fat is bad for you’ argument) and, as we all know, government funding leads to perverse outcomes (eg the rise of vested interests, empire-building, and mediocrity).

  2. Rafe Champion

    He may not see the connection. Or he may be aiming for maximum readership by not giving out any hint that he might be a nasty neoliberal type who says mean things about government.

    The really bad thing about the public debate at present is the way the progressives don’t want to hear or read anything from someone they regard as politically incorrect. I am told by my progressive friends that we are just as bad but I don’t think that is really the case.

  3. Tintarella di Luna

    I am told by my progressive friends that we are just as bad but I don’t think that is really the case.

    Don’t listen to them Rafe.

  4. Robert O

    Coal and other fossil fuels are allegedly bad for the environment, but what is the real alternative apart from nuclear power? We haven’t the topography for more dams and hydro, and solar and wind cannot provide reliable 24/7 electricity.

    Have a look at the AEMO website. The 105 MW solar site at Royalla provides up to 100 MW from 10 am to 2 pm with a little an hour each side on a daily basis, and the 37 windfarms, in total 3669 MW, have been chugging along averaging 22-23% of their capacity for March and now April, but with many periods of only 400 MW or less and even down to 100 MW. It takes about 100 MW to run the Melbourne trams.

    And yet Minister Hunt is away in Paris signing up for more. Interesting that Hydro Tasmania ditched the proposed 600 MW windfarm on King Is. on the grounds it was not economic, and in the proposal they were quoting 2,400 GW h from 600 MW, or a 45% capacity factor, which is pie in the sky.

    Why not build several modern coal stations , 3000 MW each one, to replace our aging plants instead of flogging off the coal to China and India for them to do it and sell us their industrial output? A 3000 MW coal station will supply about 26,000 GW h annually whereas 3000 MW of windfarm will only produce 6,500 MW h annually. And for that one needs 1000 x 3 MW turbines and approx. 500 sq. km. of land.

  5. BorisG

    It should be no surprise that even after outgrowing the monasteries, the practice of science has attracted souls driven to seek the truth regardless of personal cost and despite, for most of its history, a distinct lack of financial or status reward.

    I don’t agree. I am not sure such selfless saints were ever a significant proportion of all practicing scientists. Money and prestige were important considerations for many scientists over the centuries, including Isaac Newton. Per se it may even be a useful driver of the quest for new knowledge, but must be constrained by integrity.

    Yes the modern science where achievements are measured by citations and such is deeply flawed yet the true discovery will still stand the test of time.

  6. Tel

    I am told by my progressive friends that we are just as bad but I don’t think that is really the case.

    Just look at the “blogroll” down the right hand side of this page. All sorts of points of view on there. Follow the links to some of the “Progressive” sites and see what sort of spectrum they link to.

    Besides, when was the last time a libertarian attempted to use 18c or any related law to forcibly shut someone up?

  7. Ronaldo

    Thanks Rafe. The link to the obituary of Professor MacKay mentions his free online book: Sustainable energy – without the hot air. I have downloaded it and it looks pretty good. Some mathematics, but not beyond anyone with high school maths.

    Links don’t seem to work for me, but the address is: HERE

  8. Rafe Champion

    Thanks Ronaldo, fixed the link.

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