Category Archives: Nature

That’s not a frog. THIS is a frog.

Scientists have announced the discovery of a 16 inch, 10 pound horned frog that lived in Madagascar 70 million years ago. They have dubbed it Beelzebufo Ampinga.

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Bad Science Journalism

Sometimes Bad Science Journalism is viewed as a tautology. There is no subject journalists seem to understand as poorly as science. This Reuters article by Michael Kahn illustrates why. There is no link to the actual underlying study (a common failing in science journalism) so it’s hard to tell how much fault lies with Mr. Kahn or with the study authors. But I have my suspicions.
 
Regardless of where the errors arise, the Mr. Kahn makes three clear basic mistakes; being incorrect on what is being measured, lack of indication of statistical significance of the data, and confusion of correlation and causation.

First and worst is the title of the article:

Gene explains why breast-feeding makes kids smarter

Wrong. As Doc Searls points out here, IQ tests do not actually measure intelligence. They measure how good you are at taking IQ tests. So the headline should have read:

Gene explains why breast-feeding makes kids do better on IQ tests

But do they? The article mentions a 6-7 point increase in measured IQ by among children who had the specific gene they were studying. But how statistically significant is 6-7 points in the sample size? What was the range and variance of measured IQ in the study population? Did all the children get tested at the same age? Did the get tested by the same examiner? None of this appears in the article. I doubt the reporter even looked into these questions. So the headline should have read:

Gene explains why breast-feeding might make kids do better on IQ tests

But is that even true? The journalist jumps right in with assumed causation. The unasked question is why did some mothers breast feed while others did not? Could there be a genetic factor? So the headline should have read:

Gene may explain why breast-feeding might make kids do better on IQ tests

Why does all this matter? First it gives people the wrong impression of how science should work. But in this case it is far worse than that. Breast-feeding is a very personal and difficult decision for mothers to make. Some choose not to breast feed and some simply can’t for physical reasons (or at least need to supplement with formula).

Mothers who are facing this choice, or who made it already, don’t need to be bombarded with articles claiming that they are harming their children. Not unless there is clear scientific evidence that is the case. There doesn’t seem to be in this article.

(Mirrored from TalkBMC)

A More Nobel Viewpoint

There is this interesting article by John Christy, who by participating in the IPCC could be considered to share a small fraction of the Nobel glory bestowed on Al Gore. He coins and then promptly discards the phrase “0.0001 Nobel Laureate”. He has an interesting take on what it all means:

It is my turn to cringe when I hear overstated-confidence from those who describe the projected evolution of global weather patterns over the next 100 years, especially when I consider how difficult it is to accurately predict that system’s behavior over the next five days.Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, “Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with ‘At our present level of ignorance, we think we know . . .'”

I haven’t seen that type of climate humility lately. Rather I see jump-to-conclusions advocates and, unfortunately, some scientists who see in every weather anomaly the specter of a global-warming apocalypse. Explaining each successive phenomenon as a result of human action gives them comfort and an easy answer.

Fat and Crazy!

Not a sparrow falls in the forest that doesn’t get blamed on global warming. Now researchers in Australia claim global warming will cause the following maladies: obesity, food poisoning, and mosquito-borne diseases, mental illness, heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory disease. From the article in Herald Sun:

Instances of obesity, food poisoning, and mosquito-borne diseases such as the deadly Ross River fever are also likely to rise as climate change raises average and extreme temperatures.


The Healthy Planet, Places and People report released yesterday, says mental health in rural areas is also likely to suffer from more frequent and more intense droughts.
Commissioned by Research Australia, the report predicts deaths from heart attacks, strokes and respiratory diseases, triggered by an increase in heatwaves, could triple by 2050.

For the sake of efficiency, perhaps they sould refocus their research on finding maladies that global warming won’t cause or worsen.

Global Warming Alarmism and Hypocrisy

The Today Show is going to try to raise awareness of what they see as human induced global warming by releasing an extra 25 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The sad part is that this level of cluelessness doesn’t even surprise me.

Inconvenient Responses

Here is a list of 25 errors in Al Gore’s bit of propaganda. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t comment on how much of a movie would be left if Mr Gore had to correct each of these.

John Stossel also has some things to say about it. His interviews with the children are quite disturbing. To think that parents and teachers would do that to these children is quite sad.

What’s Missing Here Part 2

Look at this abysmal Reuters article about Arctic sea ice (yes, I know “abysmal Reuters” is redundant). That the Arctic sea ice is reached historically record lows this year is pretty well accepted. It’s a very complicated system with natural variation. But the article states as fact that the record low ice is cause not only by global warming but man-made global warming.

So what’s missing?

Antarctic sea ice.

If this was just a simply cause of man made global warming, then it stands too reason that both the Arctic and Antarctic would be experiencing the same trends. Is that happening? Not so much.

Notice this cute journalistic trick?

Low Arctic sea ice: MAN-MADE GLOBAL WARMING! DOOM IS NIGH!.

High Antarctic sea ice: nothing to see here, move along.

My point here is not about whether global warming is real or how much of it is man-made. I don’t have hard evidence one way or the other. But I really don’t like selective reporting intended to push an agenda in a debate that should be decided on science.