Posts about Australia

Anti-Science Politics in Australia, Canada and the UK

Age of Unreason by George Monbiot

The governments of Britain, Canada and Australia are trying to stamp out scientific dissent.

in Canada… scientists with government grants working on any issue that could affect industrial interests – tar sands, climate change, mining, sewage, salmon farms, water trading – are forbidden to speak freely to the public(17,18,19). They are shadowed by government minders and, when they must present their findings, given scripts to memorise and recite(20). Dozens of turbulent research programmes and institutes have either been cut to the bone or closed altogether(21).

In Australia, the new government has chosen not to appoint a science minister(22). Tony Abbott, who once described manmade climate change as “absolute crap”(23), has already shut down the government’s Climate Commission and Climate Change Authority(24).

Follow the link for sources. Sadly governments are fighting for the crown of how anti-science they can be. It isn’t a matter of the countries that are doing a good job and a better job of using scientific understanding to aid in policy decisions. It is a matter of how extreme the anti-science crowds are in each country.

Trashing the scientific method and the use of scientific knowledge to pursue a pre-determined political agenda is a foolhardy action putting political expediency above effectiveness. Making political judgement, considering the available scientific research is fine, and will result in some people being upset. But the extremely bad process behind ignoring and intentionally sabotaging the use of data and scientific thinking is extremely harmful to society.

Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.
– Bernard Baruch (Daniel Patrick Moynihan said something very similar later)

Related: The Politics of Anti-Science (USA focus)Science and Engineering in PoliticsStand with Science: Late is Better than NeverScience and Engineering in Global Economics

How Do You Lose Weight While You Sleep?

In this interesting webcast, Derek Muller, (a physics teacher in Perth, Australia) explores how much weight you lose while you sleep. As physics teacher he asks the sensible question: how do you lose weight while you sleep, what weight do you lose?

His conclusion is you lose weight through perspiration, water vapor in your breath and expelling carbon dioxide. Losing the water weight is pretty straight forward. The process of adding carbon to the breath we expel is not something I thought of. He calculates that we lose about 100 grams of carbon during a night of sleep. In his somewhat scientific experiment (measuring himself for several days) he lost about 150 more grams, which he attributes to water vapor and perspiration.

It seems to me the amount of carbon we lose during sleep is probably much more consistent than the amount of water weight we lose (both between people and variation between different days).

Related: Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water?CDC Urges Reducing the Amount of Salt We EatWhy is it Colder at Higher Elevations?How Caffeine Affects Your BodyWhy Does the Moon Appear Larger on the Horizon?

One Scientists 20 Year Effort to Defeat Dengue Fever

As I have said many times scientific breakthroughs often follow many years of effort. Here is a great example of a scientist putting in great work for years and it looks like it is about to payoff for hundreds of millions of people.

A Scientist’s 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever

Now as I said, Scott’s been pushing this idea of using Wolbachia to control dengue for decades, for a most of that time without any success. I asked Scott what it takes to stick with something for that long.

“I think being obsessive,” he replied. “Being maybe a little ill in that regard. And it’s just that I seem to have focused my obsession onto Wolbachia instead of on to postage stamps or model trains.”

And even though his obsession has brought him to the point where he’s shown he can get his Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes to spread in the wild, that’s not the success he’s ultimately after. “Success for me is having a significant impact on dengue disease in communities,” he says.

To do that, he’ll have to release his mosquitoes in a place where there’s a lot of dengue, and then see if that brings down the number of cases of the disease in humans. Those studies are being planned now.

The stakes are high. By some estimates, more than a billion people around the world are at risk for getting dengue. Even if it doesn’t kill you, I’m told a case of dengue can make you feel so bad, wish you were dead.

But Scott says it’s not yet time to celebrate.

“We’ve got some good preliminary data, and we’re on the path. And it’s looking good. But you know I am a realist. It could fall over at any day,” says Scott.

Related: Engineering Mosquitoes to be Flying VaccinatorsScientists Building a Safer Mosquito (2006)Video showing malaria breaking into cellTreated Mosquito Nets Prevent Malaria

Cat Goes to the Train Station to Meet Its Owner Each Evening

Graeme, a cat in Melbourne, Australia, walks to the train station with its owner in the morning and then goes off to play (and probably lots of sleep, it is a cat) and then returns in time to meet its owner at the train station after the work day.

The pampered cat cannot get enough of attention, with scores of regulars calling him by name as they stop for a chat and give him a pat on the head. Safety conscious, the sociable moggie is meticulous about using the subway to cross to the city-bound platform, rather than take a dangerous short cut across the tracks.

When the evening peak comes around, Graeme puts on an encore performance, arriving at the opposite platform in time to greet owner Nicole Weinrich as she returns home from work. “He always seems to know which train carriage I am on and will be sitting there behind the yellow line when the doors open, because he is all about safety,” Ms Weinrich said.

But sometimes Graeme can take his desire to be close to his fans a bit too far – he has been known to jump on the train and get off a station or two later. “He doesn’t do it often, but we do worry about that,” Ms Weinrich said.

She said Graeme, believed to be about 12, had roughed it on the street before being saved from the RSPCA’s “death row” six years ago, so his love of people is tempered by his survival instincts.

Related: Cat Rids the Bus (without paying)The Wonderful Life of a CatThe Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer

Critter Cam: Sea Lion versus Octopus

Octopus vs. Sea Lion – First Ever Video

Sea lions fitted with GPS trackers and a National Geographic Crittercam are taking scientists on amazing journeys to previously unknown marine ‘hot spots.’ These areas are important not only for providing the sea lions’ food, but also for maintaining fish populations.

The Crittercams were deployed at Dangerous Reef in Spencer Gulf, a rocky island the size of a football field, and home to the biggest Australian sea lion colony.

Dr. Page says, “One important discovery is that the sea lions always feed on the sea floor” and they don’t eat open ocean fish, known as pelagic. “This is critical information because the marine parks are being set up to protect sea floor habitats,” a move that the scientists can now confirm will protect critical sea lion resources.

In one of the more spectacular pieces of Crittercam video so far, we can see this female working hard to handle a challenging prey item – a large octopus. Too big to swallow in one gulp, she drags it to the surface where she can breathe while she works at breaking it down into bite-size pieces.

Related: Orcas Create Wave to Push Seal Off IceOctopus Juggling Fellow Aquarium OccupantsWater Buffaloes, Lions and Crocodiles Oh MyCat and Crow Friends

Invasive Species: Camels

Wild camels overrun resources in Outback

It’s being described as a plague. More than 1 million wild camels are wreaking havoc in huge parts of Australia, eating the vegetation, destroying property, fouling and consuming water sources, desecrating indigenous sites and causing road accidents.

About 170 years after being introduced to the continent as a pack animal to open its arid interior, Australia’s feral camel population is the biggest in the world. The camels double their numbers every nine years and continually expand their domain.

There are proposals to build a halal abattoir in Australia and send packaged camel meat to Muslim countries. Another proposal is to turn camel meat into pet food. Although most people who have tried the meat pronounce it as tasty, similar to beef but leaner, attempts to get the Aussies to add camel to their precious “barbie” have gone nowhere.

“Australians are pretty conservative in their choice of meat,” Mr. Edwards said. “Kangaroo meat hasn’t penetrated the market; camel meat is in the same basket.” Everyone agrees that the solution should be as humane as possible.

“In their natural habitat they are wonderful,” Mr. Burrows said. “But they don’t belong here and they are causing great damage. We want to reduce their number, not eradicate them.”

The problems caused by invasive species are often much less obvious (and the species much smaller) but invasive species are a serious problem worldwide.

Related: articles on invasive plantsKudzu Biofuel PotentialInvasive Plants: Tamariskposts on invasive species

Moving Closer to Robots Swimming Through Bloodsteam

Pretty cool. Tiny motor allows robots to swim through human body

James Friend, of Monash University, said that such devices could enter previously unreachable brain areas, unblocking blood clots, cleaning vessels or sending back images to surgeons. “The first complete device we want to build would have a camera,” Professor Friend said.

Professor Friend said they had shown the motor, which is a quarter of a millimetre wide, had enough power to navigate this type of nanorobot through the bloodstream of a human artery. Tests of their prototype device in a liquid as viscous as blood were also promising. “It swam.”

The team plans to conduct animal tests of a nanorobot driven by their motor later this year or early next year. But Professor Friend cautioned that many technical hurdles needed to be overcome.

Their miniature motor was connected to an electricity supply and a way would need to be found to power it remotely. The construction of the flagella also needed refinement.

Related: Micro-robots to ‘swim’ Through Veins (post in 2006 on this work)Bacteria Power Tiny MotorBiological Molecular MotorsRobo Insect Flight

Bird Brain

Bird-brains smarter than your average ape

In a recent study 20 individuals from the great ape species were unable to transfer their knowledge from the trap-table and trap-tube or vice versa, despite the fact that both these puzzles work in the same way. Strikingly the crows in The University of Auckland study were able to solve the trap-table problem after their experience with the trap-tube.

“The crows appeared to solve these complex problems by identifying causal regularities,” says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology. “The crows’ success with the trap-table suggests that the crows were transferring their causal understanding to this novel problem by analogical reasoning. However, the crows didn’t understand the difference between a hole with a bottom and one without. This suggests the level of cognition here is intermediate between human-like reasoning and associative learning.”

“It was very surprising to see the crows solve the trap-table,” says PhD student Alex Taylor. “The trap table puzzle was visually different from the trap-tube in its colour, shape and material. Transfer between these two distinct problems is not predicted by theories of associative learning and is something not even the great apes have so far been able to do.”

Related: Cool Crow ResearchOrangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with SpearBackyard Wildlife: CrowsDolphins Using Tools to Hunt

Propeller Innovation by Engineering Students

Innovation propels students’ careers

Four fifth-year students from the electrical and mechanical departments won a national innovation competition and are now in preliminary talks with oil and gas behemoth Shell for a propeller design that is more efficient, watertight, pressurized and powerful than other models. “The motor housing creates drag (on other models),” said electrical engineering student Dave Shea. “So we integrated it into the propeller itself. There’s no drag, there’s no dead zone. It’s also much bigger and more powerful.”

Most propellers have a body encasing the motor. There’s air inside, which can cause the body to collapse when submerged in oceanic depths. The casing also creates drag, slowing the machine down and making it difficult to move backward.

But Shea, along with Brian Claus, Peter Crocker and Toren Gustafson, devised a way to build the motor in the casing that surrounds the propeller blades. The parts are assembled in a ring shape then encased in epoxy, making the motor waterproof. The propeller is fastened inside the ring, allowing it to easily move forward or backward.

Related: PhD Student Speeds up Broadband by 200 timesSingapore Students Engineer New ProductsConcentrating Solar Collector wins UW-Madison Engineering Innovation Award

Science Serving Society – Speech Australian Minister for Innovation

Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Australia, speech to the National Press Club of Australia: Science meets Parliament

When societies invest in science, they are investing in their own future. They are entitled to expect a fair return on that investment.

They’re entitled to know we are using the country’s intellectual and technical capacity to deliver outcomes that matter to them – stronger communities, more good jobs, a cleaner environment, better public services, a richer culture, greater security for themselves and their children. Everybody here knows the rules of professional scientific conduct – think independently, put emotion aside, reject received authority, be faithful to the evidence, communicate openly.

These are good rules – rules I wholeheartedly endorse – but there’s one more I’d like to add – remember your humanity. Remember you’re part of a wider society – one that you have a special ability and therefore a special duty to serve. This doesn’t just apply in the physical sciences, but in the humanities and social sciences as well. When I say science I mean knowledge in all its forms.

Related: Engineering Economic BenefitsAuthors of Scientific Articles by CountryEconomic Strength Through Technology LeadershipScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsAussies Look to Finnish Innovation ModelInvest in Science for a Strong Economy
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Ranking Universities Worldwide

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities provides another estimate of the top universities. The methodology is far ideal however I still find it interesting. The various attempts to rank schools can provide a general idea of impact of various institutions (though the measures are fairly crude). Still a sensible picture (especially at the country level) can emerge. And the various rankings should be a able to track shifts in the most influential institutions and relative country strength over time. How quickly those rankings track changes will vary depending on the measures used. I would imagine most will lag the “real” changes as it is easy to imagine many measures that would lag. Still, as I have said before, I expect the USA will lose in relative ranking compared to China, India, Japan, Singapore, Mexico…

The ranking methodology used here weighed rankings in: Jiao Tong academic rankings, Essential Science Indicators, Google Scholar, Alexa (a measure of web site visits to universities) and The Times Higher World University Rankings.

Country representation of the top universities (number of top schools in each country):

location Webometrics
Top 100
Jiao Tong
Top 101
% of World
% of World GDP*
USA 53 54   4.6%   30.4%
Germany 10   5  1.3   6.3
Canada   8   4  0.5   2.5
United Kingdom   6 10  0.9   5.0
Australia   3   2  0.3   1.6
Japan   1   6 2.0 10.3
The rest of Europe 16 13
Brazil   1   0   2.8   1.8
Mexico   1   0   1.6   1.7
Israel   0   1   0.1   0.3

* IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, September 2006 (2005 data)
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