Friday, 21 November 2008

Antibiotics and the gut

Check out how your course of antibiotics could be affecting your gut microflora which in turn can have major effects on other aspects of your health. Some bacteria may be forever lost and never return to re-populate your gut!

Monday, 22 September 2008


Here's a sobering quote.

Today the world consumes, from all energy sources, the equivalent of 10 million barrels of oil each and every hour.

- David O'Reilly, Chevron CEO

This quote supplied by Robert Rapier, who I'll be interviewing on the 4th October for a Fuzzy Special on the future of energy. This'll be followed up by an interview with David Fewchuck from the Aurora solar car project.

I picture the Earth as a giant animal swarming with mosquitoes sucking out its oil.

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Monday, 8 September 2008

Fuzzy on Ice

Tune into Fuzzy Logic this Sunday for a polar special. Live on Canberra's 98.3FM 2XX, and in collaboration with CKLB radio Canada, via podcast to North America and Europe.

We'll be riding with the legendary Douglas Mawson on his terrible journey across the ice, and through blizzards. What technology did they use. Why were they there. Why did they eat their dogs.

Here's a fascinating image of some modern day Antarctic explorers, looking for meteorites.

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Saturday, 16 August 2008

Fuzzy and the Brewer

What an exciting start to the Australian Science Festival!

This morning Tim visited Tobin Brothers funeral directors for the low down on dying. A morbid subject perhaps, but one which touches us all. And oh, what an irony it is that we merrily watch bodies splattered by bullets on the TV, but hide real death away, pretending it's not real. It's almost like we dare death to come and get us, but can't bear the result.
Broadcast date TBA.

Then we just interviewed Dr Chuck Hahn, master brewer, director Malt Shovel Brewery (makers of the James Squire label). You can hear this broadcast on Fuzzy Logic 31 August, and subsequently downloadable from our Odeo site.

Chuck Hahn and Haydon Shepherd from the Malt Shovel Brewery, with our lad Tim Dawson.

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Friday, 15 August 2008

The tooth about giant extinctions

Did humans wipe out native megafauna? In North America and Australia this has been a contentions issue amongst palaeontologists and indigenous people. One camp say people did the job while the others say it was climatic and environmental factors.

See fellow Fuzzy Caitlin's Cosmos story about new dating for giant kangaroo Protemnodon, showing that it was around when the first people arrived 40,000 to 43,000 years ago.

"..carbon dating the bones as well as pollen samples lodged deep inside the long nose of the Protemnodon skulls.." were used for the dating (I wonder if they suffered hayfever?).

This discovery places both humans and Protemnodon in Tasmania at the same time, so the evidence is circumstantial. In fact I don't imagine that anything like definitive proof is ever possible, trying to establish cause and effect 40,000 years ago. However I have heard of models for North American large mammals, showing that a kill rate of only a couple of percent would be enough to exterminate a species.

Looking forward to more Caitlin Cosmos stories.

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Thursday, 7 August 2008

Water or Coke?

Here's one of those stories doing the email rounds. Sounds very scientific, but is it real? Perhaps someone would like to comment on whether the assertions about water are accurate, but is it backed up by real research?

And the Coke. Is really as bad as that, or is does this story make it worse that it really is? Cleaning dirty chrome sounds pretty serious, but try doing that with the bile that naturally occurs in your stomach, and I'll bet you get the same result. Stomach acid is around PH 2, which is stronger than battery acid, and ought to clean up stains pretty quick. If we're worried about Coke, I'd be thinking more about the caffeine and sugar more than the acid. Just doesn't sound as good.

Tune in this Sunday 10th for lots more Fuzzy excitement. This week, sport and science.
And if you miss the show, you can always go for the podcast.


#1. 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.
(Likely applies to half the world population)

#2. In 37% of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak
that it is mistaken for hunger.

#3. Even MILD dehydration will slow down one's metabolism as 3%.

#4. One glass of water will shut down midnight hunger pangs
for almost 100% of the dieters studied in a University of
Washington study.

#5. Lack of water, the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue.

#6. Preliminary research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80% of sufferers.

#7. A mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on the computer screen or on a ! printed page.

#8. Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%., and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer. Are you drinking the amount of water you should drink every day?

#1. In many states the highway patrol carries two gallons of Coke in the trunk to remove blood from the highway after a car accident.

#2. You can put a T-bone steak in a bowl of Coke and it will be gone in two days.

#3. To clean a toilet: Pour a can of Coca-Cola into the toilet bowl and let the 'real thing' sit for one hour, then flush clean. The citric acid in Coke removes stains from vitreous China .

#4. To remove rust spots from chrome car bumpers: Rub the bumper with a rumpled-up piece of aluminium foil dipped in Coca-Cola.

#5. To clean corrosion from car battery terminals: Pour a can of Coca-Cola over the terminals to bubble away the corrosion.

#6. To loosen a rusted bolt: Apply a cloth soaked in Coca-Cola to the rusted bolt for several minutes.

#7. To bake a moist ham: Empty a can of Coca-Cola into the baking pan, wrap the ham in aluminum foil, and bake. Thirty minutes before ham is finished, remove the foil, allowing the drippings to mix with the Coke for a sumptuous brown gravy.

#8... To remove grease from clothes: Empty a can of Coke into the load of greasy clothes, add detergent, and run through a regular cycle. The Coca-Cola will help loosen grease stains. It will also clean road haze from your windshield.

#1. the active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. It will dissolve a nail in about four days. Phosphoric acid also leaches calcium from bones and is a major contributor to the rising increase of osteoporosis.

#2. To carry Coca-Cola syrup! (the concentrate) the commercial trucks must use a hazardous Material place cards reserved for highly corrosive materials.

#3. The distributors of Coke have been using it to clean engines of the trucks for about 20 years!

Now the question is, would you like a glass of water?
Or Coke?

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Friday, 1 August 2008

Debating Science

With climate change and other complex science issues, I often hear people saying we should have a debate. This makes me slightly uncomfortable because it's one thing to debate policy, but another to debate whether a phenomenon is real. How much should we talk evidence versus our opinions?

Here are two pieces of evidence. One addresses whether the climate is actually warming - why are so many commentators saying climate is not warming? The question of whether it is human caused is difficult, but is not the warming a fairly simple act of measurement, or am I missing something?


The second is a bit more difficult because it is a best estimate, and there are vested interests involved. How much oil is left in the world? How close to Peak Oil are we?


Tune in this 11:30 am Sunday FM 98.3. Eamon are going toe-to-toe, mike-to-mike on spider webs, and the good, the bad, the oily of pollution.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Toying with Forces

Today we had a really fun show on the topic of disasters. On the way home I took this photo in storm water drain.

A drain, but it used to be a stream. Anything can be fixed with an engineering solution. This is what we do when we view nature as a problem. This is what we do when we mistake our technological prowess for an ability to control nature. But we only dimly understand the consequences and slowly it dawns on us the forces we unleash.

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Saturday, 19 July 2008

New pod casts available

Unfortunately the 15th of June podcast had a problem but the others are available by clicking the ODEO link on the right of this page. It looks like odeo has upgraded their site so it works faster and looks snazzier, enjoy Jeevan

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Pain on CERN

Here is The Pain's cartoon take on the CERN disaster story.

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

Fuzzy Logic, your low-down on disasters

Research Project Finds Nothing

A major Australian research project has not discovered anything. In a press release, project leaders explained that big discoveries – eureka moments are actually very rare in science. “Mostly it’s just a slog day by day in the lab and on the computer. A slog, but we love it anyway. Each new advance, however tiny is a great reward. We love the experience of shining a torchlight into the dark corners of creation.”.

On a more sombre note, another reason noted for their lack of progress was the workload and uncertainty generated by the endless round of funding applications. “Paperwork, paperwork, it’s always more begging for money from the bureaucratic juggernaut in a climate where science funding is seen as pure overhead.” “You’d think it’s like we’re okay with the drought, and stresses on agriculture from global warming”, they said.


Coming up, Disasters Large and Small, Real and Imagined. Tune in 11:30 Sunday 20th for another fascinating journey down the alleyways of science.

Fuzzy Logic on 2XX 98.3 fm

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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A Journey Down the Sewerage Pipe of Doom

I like my big blue bike. Cogito ergo zoom. Or perhaps nil cogito ergo zoom since within an instant of cracking the throttle open I can hit 200kph, and 300kph if the road is long enough. With the help of modern technology it takes an instant to go from speeding lunatic to oily splat.

Meanwhile we huddle together on our little planet feeling collectively comforted by company, safe as part of the pack. At least that’s how I imagine the passengers on the Titanic felt as they sailed across the Atlantic. But our ability to build a very big ship is also our ability to make a very big mistake.

And now some are worried about a much bigger mistake arising from the world’s largest scientific experiment, the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The 27km long tunnel housing a particle accelerator will make this a humungous construction, and energies involved will be similarly stupendous, with Lead ions crashing into each other at a combined energy of 1,150 TeV.

They are worried to the extent that they have taken the case to the US Federal court [1 2] in an attempt to stop the experiment. They are believe there is a possibility that the LHC will generate either ‘killer stranglets’ or a micro black holes that will swallow the earth [3].

Clearly there are people concerned enough to take this to court, and strong opinions on both sides [4 5]. Now things get all very esoteric in the world of nuclear physics, and my small brain is not up to the job. Which reminds me that not long ago we discussed the forms of false logic, and the means by which we believe something to be true. Great theory! But here we encounter a perfect example of how it’s utterly impractical. It’s not as if I’m going into my backyard to build my own accelerator and find out for myself. I’m not going to get a PhD in particle physics, or even read hard core physics papers.

Are we really being sucked down the Sewerage Pipe of Doom, or is it just modern-day angst? What we’re left with is the advice of experts which I’m you may remember is a case of Ad Vericumdiam, an appeal to authority. Pity the poor judge faced with a panel of opposing experts, and expected to assess the effective temperature and the net density of baryons, and other such jargon [3].

This comes at a time when people are generally fearful and uncertain about the products of modern science and technology. We have protests about mobile phone towers and genetically engineered crops. Some of it is well founded, and some of it is not. We stress about mobile towers while pressing radio transmitters in handsets against the side of our heads.

Most of realise that we are entirely dependent on Ad Vericumdiam, which we accept as long as we accept the source of authority. Combine this with the great forces at work, and it is no wonder people are nervous. We find the keys to the cosmic cupboard, and unsure about what we might find.

How ironic it is that technology gives us the illusion of control, yet it is really ourselves being dragged along clinging to its back. Each advance promises new benefits, but really we are stuck in a cycle of endless upgrades. Did you buy a new DVD player because you can’t get VHS any more? Have you bought a new computer because you can run WizzoSoft V10.2 on your old stream driven banger?

Thanks to JTankers who provided the link to, and the prompt for this story.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Wonder in the sky

Here is one site I regularly check. The Astronomy Picture of the Day never ceases to amaze me. The beauty, the power, and the structure revealed through modern astronomy. To me, it's looking into the heart of creation. Can you see the ghostly figure scribbled into the lower left corner of this image?

Join the Fuzzy Logic crew!
Do you have a passion for science you'd love to share? Listen to us on Canberra's community radio 2xx. Or better still, join the crew for lively, intelligent news and discussion on all matters science. Contact me RodTbox-3 at

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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Tune in on Sunday

What do psychological experiments in the 1970's, Abu Ghraib, Enron, and bomber air crew have in common? Tune in on Sunday to find out.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Brook and Kat have for us in another exciting installment from the Fuzzy crew.

Also maybe memes, chlorophyl, plant life on other planets, and new light weapons if we can squeeze it all in.

Remember, you can find our podcasts on Odeo.

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Antarctic expedition

Check this out

Highlights from Australian Anrtarctic division footage from Voyage 3. from the Radio national science show website they also have some great photos of the trip!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

More Fake Fuzzy

CERN Search in for New Fundamental Particles

Nuclear physicists working at the new Large Hadron Collider in Cern have two new fundamental particles to add to their search. Already they have the monumental task of trying to locate the hypothesised Higgs Boson, sometimes dubbed the “God Particle”. Scientists have surmised the existence of the Higgs based on theories of super-symmetry. According to current these theories, finding the Higgs Boson would plug a gap believed to exist in the zoo of particles.

Now, in addition to strange objects such as quarks, bosons, and gluons, social scientists have asked the experimenters to search for the politicon and the twiton which are thought to exist only within the human brain. It is surmised that the politicon carries political force, and comes in two forms, differentiated by their spin. Left-spinning politicons likely to form homogeneous clusters, leading to uniform structures such as crystals.

On the other hand, right-spinning politicons act independently. Their more individual behaviour form looser bonds, and are probably related to the apparently random movement in fluids, known as Brownian Motion.

Another theoretical particle has been dubbed the twiton, on the basis that it is the basis of stupidity. Researchers expect to locate high concentrations of the twiton between two key region of the brain – the high-order planning prefrontal cortex, and the emotional centre known as the amygdala.

The prefrontal cortex is related to planning complex cognitive behaviours, personality expression, and moderating socially correct behaviour. This brain region orchestrates thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. The amygdala is the more primitive part of the brain which processes memories and emotional reactions.

In stupid people, high concentrations of twiton overwhelm the prefrontal cortex with signals from the amygdala, leading to the dominance of emotions over intellect. The twiton’s action is transmitted through a force called bozone, blocking the processing of useful ideas and information.

Indirect evidence of bozon has already been detected via indicators such as certain hair styles, and underpants overtly displayed under baggy trousers. Cern researchers are currently collecting likely samples for testing in the Large Hadron Collider.

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Monday, 16 June 2008

Little D'oh, Big D'oh!

One of the joys of doing a live show is hearing your gaffs go to air. We were discussing the failure of a NASA space flight caused by a faulty O ring, and I am heard to say "not the Challenger..".

But that's a tiny off-the-cuff blooper. What about premeditated, smack your forehead national scale, go to the bottom of the class clangers? How about this one. But first, a few questions.

. at a time when we are desperately concerned about climate change what, apart from CO2 drives global climate? Hint - this factor is intimately related to our current chronic drought.

. what major food source is critically under threat through over exploitation?

. what part of Australia's national territory contains vast mineral wealth for our economic prosperity?

The answer of course, is the ocean.

So why, oh why (personal opinion) are we stupid enough to cut* the CSIRO's budget for the Southern Surveyor by $3 million? The Cleveland marine research lab at Moreton Bay is being closed, moving scientists to a converted jail (seriously).

* source: Rosslyn Beeby, Canberra Times

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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A couple of fwd links to Arctic ice updates and currently visible spacecraft in the night sky

Has near-daily updates on how the arctic ice is doing. Not so well at the moment.

lists the brighter spacecraft visible from your suburb over the next few days (click on the 'global flybys'). Since the international space station can reach magnitude -3 (brighter than anything normally seen except the sun, moon, and occasionally Venus) it's easy to see even in the cities.

Human genome in 15 minutes

This company is developing the technology for a human genome in 15 minutes and expect it to come online in 2013 and cost $1000 per genome. The raw sequence is generated in three minutes! and the polished one in 15! Really does leave sequencing gels way back there, in my day we used to ..... ok actually I'm not that old. Apologies to Rod who confessed he used to use punch cards in his computing work.

here is the company claim

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Great Women in Science - Grace Hopper

From now on, till I run out of ideas, I want to do short pieces on-air about great women scientists. Last week I talked about Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood babe, and co-inventor of frequency-hopping radio, an idea now behind mobile phone communication (CDMA). Clever and beautiful.

Tomorrow I'm going to present (admiral) Grace Hopper, the inventor of the COBOL programming language. Here, she is described as of the first software engineers and, indeed, one of the most incisive strategic "futurists" in the world of computing.

Many of those of us who toiled under the yoke of COBOL may not be sure we want to thank her, but it was the mainstay of business computing for decades, and is remains the core of many systems, even today.

But Edsger Dijkstra wasn't impressed. He famously said The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should therefore be regarded as a criminal offense.

And guess what! Her team is credited with finding the first ever computer bug! Or, at least with first use of that term. I think the notebook where this was recorded is now in the Smithsonian Institute.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Technology Briefs

Women who remained chained to the domestic machine in spite of years of liberation may like the following technological breakthroughs in the new field of “linen hygiene”. Both relate to techniques forcing their male partners into great rigour in their washing cycle - literally. These inventions encourage men to be more careful about submitting their dirty cloths to the laundry.

Researchers say these inventions aren’t specifically targeted at men, but studies have shown that they are by far the greatest offenders. Men are about 3 times more likely to have a bogeyed hanky in their pockets. 76% of men studied carried excessively soiled items of nasal linen, with a SDR (Snot Density Ratio) greater than the WHO recommended limits of 1,000ppm.

To combat this practice researchers embedded Snot Detection Factors into the material of the hanky. SDF turn an unsightly green when the SDR levels are high enough, hopefully prompting the owner to deposit the item into the laundry basket.

“This tends to encourage all but the most hardened hanky keepers”, researchers said. But they also commented that preliminary studies show there remains a hard core of (mostly men) who will keep their hanky no matter what. “We believe there are men out there who would hang on to their hankies, even if it look like a six-week old squashed cane toad”, they added.

Meanwhile another research group has come up with a more intrusive device for sniffing out those with lax laundry habits. The device can be retro-fitted to airport passenger screening systems to detect passengers wearing underpants that need washing. Officially these are known has Passenger Hygiene Protectors (PHP), but colloquially they have become known as “GrungyDax”.

Airport officials dislike the GrungyDax label, insisting the PHP is there to “enhance passenger comfort and hygiene”. One source who declined to be named said “Really, this is for everyone’s benefit. I mean, imagine sitting next to someone on a flight to Hong Kong, and they haven’t changed their jocks for three weeks”.

Feminists have attacked both these inventions, seeing it as another male-oriented high-tech approach to dumping more washing on women. Getting the green-tinted “snot-rags” out of their pockets is one thing, but is it going to make them turn on the washing machine? Time will tell.

(note that some or all of the preceding story may be invented)

Fuzzy Logic podcasts here!

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Saturday, 17 May 2008

Peak Oil, Peak Food, Peak Trouble

Feeling cheerful? This should help.

After the rise comes the decline. But why is this become an issue linked to political orientation? It is supposed that left-leaning types predict the gloomy picture, while those on the right imagine it's all a lot of...imagining, deriding the pessimistic doomsayers. Surely this is a topic where we should listen to scientists rather than politicians.

The problem with charts like these is that they give the illusion of certainty. It can make the future seem inevitable, and leave us feeling powerless. We can't save the world, but we can do a backyard blitz, so we'll do that instead.

The Club of Rome was founded in 1968, with direly predicting the depletion of global resources. Their depressing predictions are now dismissed by many since they haven't happened yet. Not yet. Meanwhile the world's population has doubled in my lifetime, and is set to double again by 2050. Opinions are greatly divided, but we are probably at or about "peak oil" right now; the point at which easily extracted reserves are depleted. Global food stocks are at a 30 year low, down from 200 million tonnes in the late 1990s to 110-115 million tonnes today (C.Times May '08).

Since you're reading this, I guess you're sitting in front of a computer. Much of that is made from plastic, which mostly comes from oil. It, and the other components were transported from around the globe to you using oil.

This morning, the Sorbelene-based moisturiser on your face was made from oil (packaged in plastic which came from...oil). Your cereal breakfast was grown in pastures fertilised by oil derivatives *, delivered to your supermarket, and brought home....using oil.

The extent of our civilisation's dependency on oil is so vast it's hard to comprehend. Even harder to comprehend is our blind-sight of the problem. I wonder if we are like the passengers on the Titanic, warm, comfortable, and sipping Martinis. Lulled by the collective complacency of fellow passengers, confident that it's all under control.

But if you're an optimist, and are sure there's oil to burn, I'm wondering how long we wait.

* Here is a discussion on oil & fertilizers.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A new type of sustainable energy!

I cam across this article posted by the Fast Thinking magazine, which grabbed my attention:

I always wondered if it were possible to harness all the energy expended in the gym to power something - it turns out we can! Just think - a device that you can strap to your knee that creates electricity to generate all our devices... hikers could generate enough to power a small electric stove :P

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Monday, 12 May 2008


A bit ironic really - the week after we covered this story on the Apophis asteroid, we did almost the entire show on false logic and critical thinking. We - I - got suckered.

A 13-year old boy was supposed to have corrected NASA's predictions of it hitting the Earth. Turns out the asteroid would be flying outside the orbit of the satellites, so there's no chance of one influencing the trajectory. Good try anyway.

A good example of how we should not be so credulous reading the news. And in hindsight, the signs were there: 13 year old schoolboy debunks NASA.

So listen carefully, one day we might plant an item on the program: Sudanese mother of three detects Higg's boson, just to see if you're paying attention.

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Check out the skeptic dictionary

This website is called the skeptics dictionary

The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Toyota is in negotiations to begin producing hybrid camry in Australia

This news story from late last week

First knowledge of a round not a flat earth

In follow up to our on air conversation about the initial understanding of the earth as a sphere, I copied this from the link regarding obelisks and angles.

Actually, Eratosthenes of Cyrene, head of the Great Library of Alexandria had proven the earth to be round. Knowing that on a certain day, at noon, an obelisk in Luxor (s. Egypt) would cast no shadow, at exactly the same time he measured the shadow of an obelisk in Alexandria. He knew the height of the obelisk and the distance between Alexandria and Luxor; the rest is trigonometry. Claudius Ptolemy's geography is also based on the concept of the earth being round, and sun, moon and the stars circling around the earth.

Ptolemy produced a map of a globular Earth as early as AD 140

it was not until much later of course that magellan sailed around it

Sex invented in Australia?

Thanks to Kat F for pointing out this story, which Milly and I discussed on the show. The article by Richard Glover in the brisbane times is well worth a read if you appreciate a good chuckle. I'm a little doubtful of the real scientific value of the article however having read the original manuscript in the journal science. A good giggle though, Jeevan

Friday, 2 May 2008

Posted on behalf of Rod

Fuzzy Logic, Human Logic

It is well known that Hitler was a nasty piece of work, but did you know he was also a master negotiator? Apparently one of his tactics was to put out a ridiculously over the top position, then allow his opponent to claw their way back to a more moderate conclusion. Even after generous compromise he’d come out ahead.

Another tactic was more prosaic, and entailed manipulating seating positions. He would be use a tall chair, and his opponents a low one - forcing them to look up at him. An interesting phrase, that ‘look up’. In one sense it is a physical act, and in another it suggests a social ranking: one party being superior to the other. In a small way this positioning gave Hitler a psychological edge over his opponents. You could also see his mastery of similar techniques in his speech making. He would approach the lectern then stop. The crowd waits, anticipating another fiery diatribe, but for an age he remains silent, staring down at the audience. I have watched film of this, and it seems an eternity before he begins slowly, and deliberately. It is not until the end that he looses a barrage of spitting and shouting, in feverish intensity.

Recently I had a difficult meeting with a person with an important role in my day job. Normally I’m very aware of seating positions in a meeting since they can have a huge effect on perceptions and the outcomes. If you are curious about this, I highly recommend the book Body Language by Allan Pease. In my meeting, my preferred position was not available, forcing me to sit adjacent to the main person while my colleagues sat opposite. The person was annoyed with us for various reasons and the encounter did not go well. This was not helped by our seating position since we formed a semi-circle around them, in my mind much like a flanking manoeuvre. Not what we wanted with a person we needed to placate.

Again I have begun a story on a tangent, and you may be wondering what this has to do with science. I’m talking about it because last week we had a lively on-air discussion about the forms of false logic, and its role in critical thinking. On one level you might think these encounters should be completely rational. But how is it that a person negotiating with Hitler might be swayed by something as inconsequential as the height of their seat? Or that my discussions about some work might be thrown off track partly because I was sitting in the wrong place? Surely in both cases pure logic should be all that’s required for the best result?

During our broadcast we gave three reasons why we are prone to false logic. The first was the nature sets us up to fail. It sets us up because the universe is so big, so complicated that a feeble human brain can dimly discern only a small part of it. The second reason is social: much of our intelligence is directed towards maintaining our position in a difficult social world. As a tribal animal, if you fall foul of the group, you are likely to starve. Therefore it’s generally good policy to agree with those in authority.

The final reason is psychological, and to illustrate that, here is another anecdote. Have you ever had the experience of being completely and utterly lost? Geographically rather than emotionally that is. I did not think it was possible to get lost on an island until one day in the Dampier Archipelago. I looked over the hill and saw a landmark that should not have been where it was. That day I walked 25 kilometres, but the physical effort was nothing compared to the mental anguish of seeing my world view fundamentally undermined. You may have done something similar yourself when you launch across an intersection having not seen the approaching car.

It can be extremely disconcerting to be proven wrong. How much simpler and friendlier the world when your views are fixed. Every fact and opinion neatly filed, unscathed by incoming data. It takes a certain strength to admit mistake. Much easier to pin your life on dogma, with each new fact used to prop up preconceptions. This is the antithesis of science which insists that we constantly revise and correct our views. This is why science is not simply an ‘alternative religion’ with me and fellow Fuzzy Logicers slavish adherents. Doubtless we frequently fail the test, but at least it’s worth striving for.

I ponder these thoughts reading last weekend’s newspaper. It carries a story of séances, and people reaching loved ones in the afterlife. The rational me says these things are bunkum, and there is no such place, no spirit world, no mediums. Yet the people I read about are clearly moved by such things. Somehow it adds meaning to their lives which makes their daily travails more bearable. And by chance, as I type this story I’m listening to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. It was the favourite music of my recently dead father. A piece that would make his eyes moisten, and I know there is more to the world than cold hard logic.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Bisphenol A talk won't go away here is some more

Common Organic Compound Found In Many Household Products May Pose Health Risk To Breast Cells

"Bisphenol A, a chemical that leaches into food and beverages from many consumer products, causes normal, non-cancerous human breast cells to express genes characteristic of aggressive breast cancer cells. That’s the finding of a “Priority Report” in the latest issue of the journal Cancer Research, the official journal of The American Association for Cancer Research. "

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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Kid corrects NASA calculations for a science project

German schoolboy, 13, corrects NASA's asteroid figures: paper

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Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Sun block out of satellite transmissions ABC radio

I thought this was interesting, although the outages in australia have now ended it seems by the chart at the link.

The autumn equinox

It is that time of the year again when all geostationary satellites suffer from a phenomenon known as 'solar transits' or 'sun outages'. These events occur twice a year over several successive days after the autumn equinox in March, and before the spring equinox in September, when the sun crosses the equator.

At this time, the sun passes behind the satellite as seen from the Earth Station. The high energy from the sun overpowers the very small signal from the satellite during this time, and causes service degradation to total outage for up to 10 minutes. The precise effect on received services depends on the size of the dish, and on the exact tracking path of the sun relative to each earth station.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The ATV which docked with the ISS pictured

Following Milly and my discussions about space on the weekend show here are new pictures of the docked ATV pictured over the UK.

The ISS orbits at about 350km above the earth, while the moons orbit is approximately 340,000km. The ISS circles the earth 15.8 times per day. Currently three humans live in the station which has had permanent human presence since 2000.

I have new interest in space stories ...

Friday, 4 April 2008

Time is confusing

Every time I read an article about how we perceive time I remember the whole 'we look through the twin lenses of speace and tie at reality' philosophy (I think it was Wittengenstein). That one kind of does my head in.

Apparently researchers have managed to ascertain that while rats may have a notion of tinme passing, they do not pointpoint their memories in time

So they can remember they've already eaten but couldn't tell you when last year that had a particularly tasty morsel? I wonder if this will have implications in pest management...

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Monday, 31 March 2008

Rod's blog entry about logic

[Kat's note: I'm looking forward to talking about this on air in a few weeks!]

Coming out of my kitchen cupboard at the moment is a terrible smell. A miasma of rotting potatoes threatening to inflict upon me some awful disease. At least, that’s what I might think if I believed the old theory that foul smells could spread disease.

Now we could all chuckle, thinking patronising thoughts about how quaint it is for anybody to believe such a thing. We know that infection is caused by microbes, and the only way a smell is going to make you sick is if it were a disusting pile of…..(insert description here). We might feel a bit nauseous but we’re not going to conract Yellow Fever from a smell.

Still, you can see the logic. I went to a swamp. Thick gloopy anerobic mud, and it smelled disgusting. Next week I fell sick. Ergo the smell infected me with Yellow Fever. Here we have an example of false logic, which is what I want to talk about in this blog story.

You know what’s missing in the story above. The smell is associated with the swamp, but I forgot to mention the mosquitos.

Scratch, scratch, scratch, yourself
Life is really rotten
Especially with mosquitos there
To bite you on the bottom

Aristotle might’ve known about Yellow Fever, but he’s very unlikely to have known of its connection to mosquitos. He probably wasn’t much chop on disease, but he sure knew about logic, and when I invent my time machine and go to visit him, and to this story he will undoubtedly say non causa pro causa. Actually he wouldn’t because he was Greek, so please just use your imagination.

This is a case of The Fallacy of False Cause. A variant is reductio ad absurdum, which literally means “reduce to absurdity”. As a distinctly non-muscly kind of bloke I’m happy to give you an example of this. A body builder might say if some muscle is good, then lots of muscle must be really good. In fact, if I bound myself up in so many layers of muscle that I can hardly move, I must be the pinacle of human health. Yet you may have heard of body builders so focused on muscle development aided by steriods and diet restrictions, they die of heart failure.

My other favourite story is of a weapon called the “Mini Gun”. You’ve probably seen that (muscle man) Arnie swinging one of these around laying waste to aliens and bad people. It’s a water cooled gatling gun flinging out 6,000 bullets a second. Great for big time movie street cred, great for councelling people not like us, but not so good for winning the hearts and minds of people on the receiving end. If a few bullets are good for winning a war, then lots of bullets must be extremely good, but apparently not good enough to win the Vietnam war.

Meanwhile, Aristotle has been scratching out on parchment a catalogue of the forms of false logic. Some wag titled this his Sophistic Refutations, probably in the hope of making it sound impressive for publication. Here’s my interpretation.

The General to the Particular
Violent spectators have been a problem at English soccer matches, therefore English soccer fans are hooligans.

The Particular to the General
People find football entertaining, therefore I find football entertaining.

Irrelevent Conclusion
There are a few variants of this, but they all revolve around unrelated causes: Ad Hominem, against the man; Ad Misericordiam, an appeal to pity; Ad Populem, most people say..; Ad Vericumdiam, an appeal to authority – Rod says…; Ad Ignorantiam, in the absence of evidence; Ad Baculum, agree with me or else.

Circular Argument
Paula is bad because she is racist. She’s racist because she’s bad.

Many Questions
Have you stopped beating your wife? Is actually two questions posing as one.

False Cause
The miasma theory of disease.

Non Sequitur
Sue is wrong, therefore Bill must be right. Actually they’re both wrong. Rod is probably right.

By this time you might be wondering why I would be prattling on about philosophy on a science blog. Strictly speaking the Sophistic Refutations are about formal logic, which leaves no room for intuition or judgement based balance of probability. Circumstantial evidence is not permitted.

Science, on the other hand is based on evidence, and pure logic is not enough. I cannot simply don a robotic Dr Spock voice and make grand pronouncements on cold logic alone. Interestingly this is what our Greek friend did when he said things such as that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

In other words, in science you need logic and evidence, and this Sophistic stuff gives you a clue to the traps to avoid when drawing conclusions. Science had to invent methods to overcome the little logic traps nature sets for us. Deep breath, here’s one – smoking.

I remember great aunt Betty’s withered hand holding a Capstan cigarette, but did that kill her? Or perhaps it was he old age. Or because she had polio. To say with a confidence that A causes B, you need to control all the vairiables. But Betty objected to being stuffed into a test tube, so we have to use statistics instead and say that on the balance of probabilities, we think smoking is a cause of early death.

Ultimately this story comes down to a question of what is inherently knowable. I don’t know that logic will solve this problem, but I do know that without it we are left with a smelly miasma of diseased science.

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Monday, 17 March 2008

The hobbit saga continues - more fossils found

Last show I was on (March 9th) Mike and I were discussing evolution, in particular the contention about the so called 'hobbits' or miniture people found on an island. Doctors are saying that the smallness might be due to feeding deficiencies, as opposed to the people being smaller in general. The debates brings into play our notions of species, variation, and assumptions made in a field where we often run into 'Just so Stories' about what happened - or people that jump to conclusions without pausing to check...

Like the dodo and the tambalacoque sory or the hares and the lynx story - classics of textbooks on evolution, until someone actually decided to check the evolution pressures and discovered that the lynx didn't overeat the hares, causing a decline in hare population and therefore a crash in lynx popultaion (classic predator-prey - the grass the rabbits were eating evolved to be toxic to the hares. Or was it forest fires causing the damage?

And it's not sure the dodos ate the tough seeds, more likely bats and parrots did besides teh seeds are still germinating so the extinction of the dodo did not cause the extinction of the tree.

Mmmm ranting now :).

Anyway back to the point at hand - More fossils have been found! Thus the saga continues!!!!

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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Not quite so obvious fuzzy - red-light cameras

We love doing the occasional 'fairly obvious fuzzy' on the show - studies which prove things that most people find obvious. We're not belittling the research, you just wonder why there needed to be three consecutive studies conducted which all proved absitance-only campaigns don't work for example.

It's easy to forget however that sometimes research into seemingly obvious things can reveal insights, for example Red-light cameras don't work at intersections. The fatalies from people suddenly braking are steeply increasing in Florida, whereas red-light deaths were decreasing anyway before the initiative...

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Tricky terminology

Here's a recent press release about different calls of 'katydids':

I found the pun on 'cool' and 'hot' fun though a little confusing at first.

Actually the whole article is full of games theory vagueness. For example they mention that the calls are flexible. But it is not the males themselves that are adjusting the call, diffrent males have different calls depending on when they were maturing, as far as I can tell. So the females could use it as an indicator (that one's got a fast call so it must be a summer maturer).

And of course the 'force' terminology at the end really refers to a search for the driver of the evolutionary change :P. Ah Jargon - this stuffs sneaky because it seems to mean something evocative. makes for great telling but lots of misconceptions...

Speaking of Katydids, here's some photos that Rod Taylor took in Thredbo lats week:

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Beer and Ice Cream Diet

I got this on email

Lovely if this was true…
Beer and Ice Cream Diet
As we all know, it takes 1 calorie to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree centigrade. Translated into meaningful terms, this means that if you eat a very cold dessert (generally consisting of water in large part), the natural processes which raise the consumed dessert to body temperature during the digestive cycle literally sucks the calories out of the only available source, your body fat.
For example, a dessert served and eaten at near 0 degrees C (32.2 deg. F) will in a short time be raised to the normal body temperature of 37 degrees C (98.6 deg. F). For each gram of dessert eaten, that process takes approximately 37 calories as stated above. The average dessert portion is 6 oz, or 168 grams. Therefore, by operation of thermodynamic law, 6,216 calories (1 cal./gm/deg. x 37 deg. x 168 gms) are extracted from body fat as the dessert's temperature is normalized. Allowing for the 1,200 latent calories in the dessert, the net calorie loss is approximately 5,000 calories.
Obviously, the more cold dessert you eat,the better off you are and the faster you will lose weight, if that is your goal. This process works equally well when drinking very cold beer in frosted glasses. Each ounce of beer contains 16 latent calories, but extracts 1,036 calories (6,216 cal. per 6 oz. portion) in the temperature normalizing process. Thus the net calorie loss per ounce of beer is 1,020 calories. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to calculate that 12,240 calories (12 oz. x 1,020 cal./oz.) are extracted from the body in the process of drinking a can of beer.
Frozen desserts, e.g., ice cream, are even more beneficial, since it takes 83 cal./gm to melt them (i.e., raise them to 0 deg. C) and an additional 37 cal./gm to further raise them to body temperature. The results here are really remarkable, and it beats running hands down.
Unfortunately, for those who eat pizza as an excuse to drink beer, pizza (loaded with latent calories and served above body temperature) induces an opposite effect. But, thankfully, as the astute reader should have already reasoned, the obvious solution is to drink a lot of beer with pizza and follow up immediately with large bowls of ice cream.We could all be thin if we were to adhere religiously to a pizza, beer, and ice cream diet.
Happy eating!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Oragami in outer space?

Can you believe it?? Just like the ones I used to make at 20 cm and 30 grams - maybe i should have practiced how to make paper gliders more at school? Now the teachers have no excuse to give their students detentions for making paper gliders in science class!

From Times Online
February 7, 2008
"In a bold bid to take the traditional art of origami beyond the Final Frontier, Japan is planning to release a huge squadron of paper aeroplanes in outer space.
The trailblazing experiment, slated for launch later this year, could see around 100 paper planes raining down on the planet as they are captured by the Earth’s gravitational pull and sucked down towards the surface...

The experiment would, if successful, qualify for the longest ever flight by a paper plane: if one of the fleet should miraculously make it to earth, its journey will have been around 400km.
If any do make it back, the planes are statistically most likely to land in the sea - performing the same “splashdown” as the Apollo space missions. In the unlikely event that one floats down to solid ground, the lucky finder will be able to unfold the plane and discover the return address at the Japan Space Agency....

There is serious scientific intent behind the plan. Japan believes that if the paper planes are successful, they may open possibilities of using softer, lighter materials for constructing space craft.
Japan’s recent relationship with outer space has been controversial. In December, the Japanese Government was asked in parliament to produce a position paper on the existence of UFOs, prompting the chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, to declare his belief that aliens are “definitely” out there.
Later the same day, Yasuo Fukuda, the Prime Minister, separately told reporters, ”I have not yet confirmed” the existence of UFOs.

For the rest of the story:

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G doesn't always mark the spot

Fuzzy always loves a bit of gutter gossip!

Leigh Dayton, Science writer February 21, 2008

ITALIAN researchers claim they know why some lovers seek but cannot find the fabled and orgasmic G-spot: not all women have one.

As well as reducing anxiety in bedrooms around the world, the discovery promises to end a long-running scientific dispute about the existence of the G-spot, a structure alleged to trigger powerful vaginal orgasms.

According to a team led by physician and endocrinologist Emmanuele Jannini at the University of L'Aquila in central Italy, the G-spot is an area of tissue that lies between the vagina and the urethra.

When Professor Jannini's team conducted vaginal ultrasound scans of nine women who said they often had vaginal orgasms and 11 who said they didn't, they discovered that the sensitivity, or otherwise, of the spot depended on the thickness of the tissue.

Professor Jannini told New Scientist magazine: "(This means that) women without any evidence of a G-spot cannot have a vaginal orgasm."

The new findings, which were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine overnight, build on earlier work at Professor Jannini's laboratory that showed that a biological compound called PDE5 was highly concentrated where the G-spot was alleged to be. The compound is key to maintaining male erections.

Professor Jannini's latest results also fit neatly with the 1998 discovery - by urologist and surgeon Helen O'Connell of the Royal Melbourne Hospital - that the clitoris is twice as large as anatomists believed. Dr O'Connell found that the erectile tissue of the clitoris surrounded the urethra on three sides, while the fourth was embedded in the front wall of the vagina.

Professor Jannini told New Scientist that women who do not have a G-spot shouldn't worry. "They can still have a normal orgasm through stimulation of the clitoris," he said.
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Study Finds Identical Twins Not Genetically Identical

18th Feb, 2008
Contrary to our previous beliefs, identical twins are not genetically identical.

This surprising finding is presented by American, Swedish, and Dutch scientists in a study being published in the prestigious journal American Journal of Human Genetics. The finding may be of great significance for research on hereditary diseases and for the development of new diagnostic methods. How can it be that one identical twin might develop Parkinson's disease, for instance, but not the other? Until now, the reasons have been sought in environmental factors. The current study complicates the picture.

"Even though the genome is virtually identical in identical twins, our results show that there in fact are tiny differences and that they are relatively common. This could have a major impact on our understanding of genetically determined disorders," says Jan Dumanksi, who co-directed the international study with his colleague Carl Bruder.

"By uncovering these small genetic differences in identical twins where one of them is sick, we have a way of tying specific genetic changes to the genesis of common diseases," says Carl Bruder. These researchers studied 19 pairs of identical twins and found that they indeed had the same DNA but nevertheless evinced differences in the number of copies of individual DNA segments. A segment might be missing, or more copies might exist in one twin. This could explain how one identical twin can be afflicted with a disorder while the other twin remains fully healthy, according to the scientists.

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Sunday, 2 March 2008

Fuzzy Logic 02 Mar 08

Yabbies hold grudges
Teenage Brains
Hair Forensics
HIV & Genes

Song Break - Anyone Else But You - The Moldy Peaches

Earth Hour
Rain bacteria

Song break - Sky is the Limit - Kid Confucius

Seed vault
Low fat diets

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Thursday, 28 February 2008

Palaeoclimate: The rhythm of the rains

The Asian monsoon influences a vast area. Understanding how it has changed in the past explains a great deal about climate change, the landscape of the Asian continent, and also cultural adaptation to these environments...

Deposits in a Chinese cave tell the story of the region's climate stretching back more than 200,000 years, well past the last interglacial warm period — an invaluable resource for understanding the Asian monsoon.

In the quest to understand past climate change, and thus to anticipate future trends, records from cave deposits — speleothems — are increasingly taking centre stage. Wang et al.1 present a virtuoso study: a 224,000-year chronicle of the past variability of the East Asian monsoon, recorded in the oxygen isotope ratios of stalagmites built up from the floor of the Sanbao Cave in eastern central China. This is the latest in a series of records2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 from Chinese caves that has illuminated the workings of the East Asian monsoon, over timescales ranging from thousands of years to tens of millennia. Much remains to be understood, but the significance of this work extends well beyond the caves and the monsoon that feeds them. It provides yet more backing for a once-daring hypothesis: that wobbles in Earth's passage around the Sun are a prime mover of long-term monsoon variation.

As Earth moves around the Sun, its orbital eccentricity (the deviation of its path from a perfect circle) and its obliquity (the tilt of its rotational axis) vary slowly over time. The axis of its rotation also wobbles like that of a spinning-top, a phenomenon known as precession. These effects combine to induce a 23,000-year quasi-periodicity in the distribution of incoming solar radiation (insolation). At different stages of this slow precessional cycle, insolation at a particular place on Earth's surface may be strongest during winter, summer, or somewhere in between.

In 1981, John Kutzbach recognized8 that the changing seasonal contrast in insolation might have a significant effect on the Asian monsoon, which is driven by different rates of seasonal heating over the continents and the oceans. By taking the values for the amount of radiation hitting Earth 9,000 years ago — when the Northern Hemisphere was closer to the Sun in summer than it is today, and the influence of glacial ice from the preceding ice age had all but disappeared — and plugging them into a climate model, he calculated that the Asian monsoon circulation must have been more intense at that time than it is today. That result matched observations that rainfall was greater in many areas of the tropics between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago. Various data sets have since been used to establish the details of this relationship over many precessional cycles.

Compared with other stalwart proxies of palaeoclimatology — records from tree-rings, sediments, ice cores, corals and the like — speleothems are relative newcomers. Like many proxies, they record the ratios of different oxygen isotopes in material laid down over time. These ratios are sensitively linked to the composition of precipitation, and thus to the prevailing climate. There are valuable examples of speleothem records from most continents, from mid-latitudes into the tropics, but few regions have proved to be as fertile as eastern China. Among the exciting records stored here are several from the Dongge Cave that span the Holocene, the interglacial period from 11,550 years ago to the present3, 6. These complementary records elegantly confirm the orbital theory of monsoon variability, but also reveal decade- to century-scale variability that differs between geological formations (Fig. 1).

A comparison of oxygen isotope ratios (expressed as delta18O) from Sanbao1 (two records) and Dongge3, 6 caves in eastern China over the Holocene period yields clear trends in agreement with millennial-scale decline in insolation16 (in July at 30° N; pink line), caused by variations in Earth's orbit. The mean values are offset between the two caves owing to differences in elevation and temperature1. Century-scale variance is not always consistent among the records, highlighting the need for replication to isolate climate signals that are uniform over whole regions.High resolution image and legend (47K)

Speleothems work best when there are consistent conduits for moisture to work its way through soil and rock into a relatively closed cave where, drip by drip, it contributes to the build-up of stalagmites. As carbon dioxide is lost from this dripwater, calcium carbonate (CaCO3) precipitates. Many factors, including evaporation in soil and the nature of the cave environment, can change the oxygen isotope composition of the water after it leaves the atmosphere9, 10, interfering with the primary climatic signal. The robustness of a speleothem as a climate record thus depends on a large signal-to-noise ratio and on replication and/or calibration to identify clear climate signals.

Wang and colleagues' Sanbao Cave record1 shows that essential aspects of past monsoon variability can be replicated not just within a single cave, but also between widely spaced caves in the same region: the monsoon signal swamps non-climatic and local noise over the long timescales of orbital change. What emerges is a record of monsoon variation unprecedented in its detail and chronology stretching back 224,000 years. The primacy of orbital precession in driving the monsoon with a quasi-periodic beat of approximately 23,000 years is nicely revealed, as are details of millennial monsoon variability that show the influence of changed ocean circulation in the North Atlantic during glacial periods.

These results bring into sharp relief the true power of speleothems: the ability to date their records precisely. This is made possible by measuring the growth of the isotope thorium-230 from the slow radioactive decay of uranium, which is incorporated in trace amounts in the speleothem deposits. This method works for samples hundreds of thousands of years old, far beyond the limit of about 50,000 years that radiocarbon dating allows. Until now, the best well-dated, high-resolution records of climate variability from the Northern Hemisphere have been those from the long cores extracted from the remote Greenland ice cap. These justly famous records extend back only into the last interglacial period, less than 125,000 years ago, and uncertainties in the models used to date the cores remain above the precision possible with uranium–thorium dating11.

The Sanbao Cave record reveals that there is more to monsoon variability than a simple linear response to precessional climate effects. Precession unsurprisingly controls the largest changes in amplitude in the Asian monsoon, by altering the supply of latent heat from the Southern Hemisphere or the amount of heating over the adjacent, 5,000-metre-high Tibetan Plateau, or possibly both8, 12, 13. But the maximum-insolation peak during the last interglacial seems to have produced a weaker monsoon than smaller insolation maxima during the glacial period that preceded it. The monsoon response is also far less uniformly sinusoidal than the precession-induced variation in insolation, making it hard to judge the true nature of the phasing between the two effects. Work to unravel these mysteries will have to tap a variety of proxy sources and elaborate on the mechanisms linking monsoon variability to broader climate variability14, 15.

The smaller-amplitude, higher-frequency variations of the monsoon that occurred during both glacial and interglacial periods are even more of a challenge: here, the discrepancies between individual Sanbao records, just as with the Dongge data, indicate that details may be clouded by the smaller apparent signal-to-noise ratio (Fig. 1). Is the problem related to noise associated with cave processes? Or is it simply that smaller changes in climate forcing yield a monsoon response that varies more from place to place than is supposed? The answer will come from continuing to build up a network of data from different proxy sources, such as speleothems and lake and marine sediments, that covers the most recent glacial cycle, and especially the past 10,000 years.

The foremost goal is, of course, to anticipate how the Asian monsoon might change in the future. One thing seems certain: the monsoon is sensitive to climate changes, and if the future brings a sufficiently large net increase in summer heating of the Tibetan Plateau, its response could be large and relatively homogeneous. That could be good for those living in the shadow of the monsoon who need more rainfall. But a stronger monsoon would be hard on those in parts of south and east Asia already plagued by summer flooding. As sea levels rise along with monsoon floodwaters, the low-lying areas draining monsoon Asia could be especially at risk.

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The aftermath of independence

Not everyone is happy with Kosovo's independence...

The formerly Serbian province of Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence on 17 February. Some 10,000 Serbian students and academics live in enclaves in the ethnically divided city of Kosovska Mitrovica in the north of the new country dominated by Kosovar Albanians. Endocrinologist Aleksandar Jovanovic, vice-rector for science and international relations at the University of Mitrovica, discusses recent events.

What is the University of Mitrovica's set-up?

We were the University of Priština, but during the war in 1999 the university was split, and the main Serbian part was re-established in Mitrovica in 2001 [where it goes by the protracted name of the University of Priština in Kosovska Mitrovica]. The university is licensed by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and funded by the Serbian government, at a cost of around €10 million (US$14.8 million) per year, which is spent mostly on salaries. We have around 10,000 students and 700–800 professors, who are paid a 100% 'Kosovo bonus' to work and teach here. The university has ten departments including faculties for science, medicine, engineering, economics and agriculture.

How did you react to the declaration of independence?

It is our clear wish to stay with Serbia. There is no way that professors or students here would teach, or get taught, in a Kosovar-Albanian-led educational system. It just wouldn't work. We have very different traditions, and we haven't had any contact with the Kosovar Albanian academic community for years. Unfortunately, there are broader political interests that are currently a higher priority than university affairs.

What are your main concerns?

In an independent Kosovo we're expecting all kinds of difficulties. Luckily, Serbia says it will continue to support our work. We need to remain a Serbian institution, otherwise this university will just cease to exist. We cannot survive without Serbian support. At the moment our main concern is security. There haven't been major clashes since March 2004, when there were attacks on the Serbian communities in Kosovo. The unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence means that there is potential for violent conflict once more. Political rhetoric is up, anything can happen.

Students are leading the protests in Mitrovica against Kosovar independence. Is the university term being interrupted?

We're midway through the spring term and we're doing our best to carry on teaching. Student protests began on 18 February, the day after the declaration of independence, and have been going on every day since. But lectures are taking place as usual. There are courses until noon, then the students — between 3,000 and 5,000 each day — take to the streets until 3 p.m., and then everybody comes back for the afternoon classes. We must keep up the work, or we will pay the price later. When we allowed protesting students to proceed to the next term without any exams in 1996, it took several years to return to academic order.

Has there been violence?

The student protests have mostly been peaceful. There was one incident on Saturday [23 February] when some radicals tried to provoke police, throwing bottles and fake bombs. We don't know whether there were any students involved, though.

Why is the university so important for the Serbs in Kosovo?

It is vital for the Serbian enclaves in northern Kosovo. It is the only strong economic factor in a region where just 8% of the economy is private sector. Without the university, the 100,000-strong Serbian minority would further evaporate. We need the students, and we hope that many will stay here after graduation and help keep the economy alive.

Is any scientific research now going on at the university?

We're mostly just teaching. There are 46 small scientific projects, many of which were started before we moved from Priština in 1999. We have a collaboration in material sciences with Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, and we have partnerships with universities in Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Bosnia. We're also hoping to launch a collaboration with the University of Grenoble in France. Health and environmental issues related to the mining activities in the region could be a priority for future research activities.

What difficulties do you face?

We're working under chaotic conditions. The biggest problem is that our infrastructure is devastated and that our labs are very poorly equipped. There is a lack of everything, from lighting, to computers, to chemicals. Part of our equipment, such as computers and lab tools, are locked in Priština. We have been trying to get it back or be reimbursed, but so far without success.

Is there any contact between Serbian and ethnic Albanian scientists in Kosovo?

There hasn't been any cooperation between the universities of Priština and Mitrovica since the Serbian community had to leave Priština in 1999. I hope that in the future we will collaborate with Albanian-language scientists and academics again.

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