If you have a strong stomach…

October 27, 2006

…you may want to watch this. It’s the Pelican / Pigeon incident as reported by the BBC in video.


Cloning is a dirty word

October 22, 2006

On my new blog, Science of the Invisible (nice name, I wonder where it came from 😉 I just reported on a story in New Scientist about “biologists” (no-one asked me!) wanting the term “somatic cell nuclear transfer” to be used instead of “therapeutic cloning” to describe the technique that produces cloned embryos from which stem cells can then be isolated. This is to try to distinguish such work from attempts to clone a human being. Fair enough, but isn’t it a bit sneaky just changing the name?

Why Darwin Matters

October 20, 2006

Germane to yesterday’s post, is a lecture online by Michael Shermer of the Skeptic’s society on Why Darwin Matters. You have a couple minutes of adverts and announcements before he gets on stage, but it’s and interesting talk.

Darwin online

October 19, 2006

The complete works of Charles Darwin are being published online. The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications – all of it searchable.
View them here.

An Inconvenient Truth

October 13, 2006

I went to see An Inconvenient Truth this week. It’s on a short run outside of London making it briefly a slightly more convenient truth. I was rather impressed. There’s little new in the film, at not to those living in Europe, but what is there is put together and presented very well. The film tackles four basic issues, What is Global Warming? What’s causing it? Why does it matter? What can we do about it?

The explanation of Global Warming is simplfied, it solely about CO2 in Al Gore’s film, which skips over the problems that might be caused by things like Methane clathrates. For the sake of explaining the problem this is a very smart move, because it allows him to then concentrate on one issue for tackling the cause. The common rejoinder from industry is that warming and cooling follows a natural cycle. Gore’s able to show that this is true it does. He’s then able to follow this up by showing the range of natural variation, and how modern carbon dioxide levels are way waaaay in excess of natural variation. Some of the more powerful scenes in the film explore why this matters. In the preview above you can see that a feasible rise of sea level caused by the melting of Greenlandic or a portion of Antarctic ice will cause large scale flooding of densely populated coastal areas.

The weakest part of the film, from a European perspective is the call to action. He says nothing wrong, but it’s all very old news over here. This is very much a section for the North American audience where being green is a matter of envying your neighbour’s gas guzzler. One scene is about proposed improvements in fuel efficiency by the state of California which are being opposed by the motor industry and it’s hard not to laugh. They’re pitiful. California wants to be, in twelve year’s time, where China is today. If this really is a problem for Ford or General Motors then who in their right mind would buy an American car?

This aside, it is a very good introduction to the problem. Like all politicians Gore cannot tell jokes, but he comes close on a couple of occasions. What he does do is get across his message clearly, effectively and powerfully. Visual aids are used well, but so is his presence as a speaker. As an example of science communication its hard to beat.

Intelligent Design

October 11, 2006

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for some time (preferably not in North Korea), you can’t have missed the debate raging about intelligent design. Today however, I listened to Professor Steve Jones’ views in the Guardian Unlimited Science Extra podcast. I suggest that everyone should listen to the interview with Steve Jones (mp3) and make up their own mind.

Giving Malaria The Slip

October 9, 2006

Malaria parasiteMore than a million people, mostly children, die every year from malaria – this translates into one death every 30 seconds. Approximately 3 billion people in 107 countries are at risk. More than 80% of deaths from malaria occur in Africa, 15% in Asia and Eastern Europe, and only a small fraction in the Americas. The vast majority of cases occur in children under the age of five. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable. Precise statistics are difficult to collect because many cases occur in rural areas where people do not have access to medical care, so many cases are unreported.
This week’s MicrobiologyBytes podcast reports on the latest developments in the fight against this killer disease.