Saturday, January 30, 2010

a reminder


Just to reassure both my readers that I am still very much aware of this evil bastard:

Blair, among other people, must hang.

Addition 02-02-10:

Before hanging Blair must be arrested.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Torbay: Sarah Goldsmith


An anonymous commentator pointed me to Sarah's website and claimed the following block of text was from it:

"My family roots are all ‘green’. I come from a line of 10 generations of ‘wise women’, who used ‘the olde ways’ in their lives, work and home life. I follow suit. I grow my fruit, veg and herbs as well as botanicals, I make organic herbal medicines from tried-and-tested family recipes dating back centuries. I also make organic cosmeceuticals and natural jewelery and offer community spiritual advice on a regular basis."

The text no longer appears on her website, you get a 404 error when you visit However, Google's cache of the page still contains this bizarre passage, for which I am very grateful to my anonymomus contributor. I'd be very interesting in talking to Sarah about what exactly constitutes "olde ways" and why her female lineage is any wiser than mine or anyone else's. This sort of fluffy, post-modern bullshit is exactly the sort of non-specific rubbish which puts people off voting Green. I know what I want from a politician and its not poorly spelt, semi-mystical navel gazing about how organic and spiritual they are.

On a related note, Sarah is currently being hosted by the People's Republic of South Devon in the role of "Eco-Agony Aunt". I took the opportunity to put to her some of my reservations about Green Party policy with the following question:

Dear Sarah,

thank you for taking the time to answer people’s environmental question. My question is this: As a Green Party member and a scientist who practices vivisection I am dismayed by the conflict between the party’s evidence-based environmental and sustainability policies, their ideological opposition to vivisection and their endorsement of new age quackery in the form of complimentary and alternative medicine. How are we to convince people of the righteousness of our political cause and attract broad public support when the party conducts itself with just as much hypocrisy as the grey parties?

Doctor Punk Science

I look forward to hearing her answer.

UPDATE 7-2-10:

Sarah's website appears to have been deleted. I wonder why? Personally, I hope its because she's read this.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

science, education and society


This article is brilliant. Science education sucks balls in this country. I've ranted before that effective democracy requires electoral decisions to be made rationally and based upon evidence. This clearly isn't the case at the moment, amongst the public or representatives of the government. Any improvement in the standards of education will have consequences for the health of society. Education, education, education, was not just a trite sound bite. It was one of the many good ideas Labour had to offer when they swept to power in 1997. For a perfectly ironic example of this: More rationality and evidence-based decision making during Blair's premiership would have secured his legacy as one of the greatest Prime Ministers ever. Instead he's a war criminal who finished off Thatcher's privatisation campaign and oversaw the resurgence of religion in public life and government policy.

Fucking. Weak.

Saturday, January 23, 2010



I wonder what people think of this graph about first generation biofuels?

And why the EU is just as bad.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010



I was lying in bed just now listening to Ed Balls, a Lib Dem and some Tory prick witter on about tax benefits for married people. This, apparently, is the pinnacle of modern political debate: whether a mediaeval custom with no system of oversight should be rewarded financially.

Is it just me or is UK politics a carnival of misdirection, enormous, invisible elephants and outright fantasy? Let me put it this way: What is the role of politicians in our society? I would argue that in a functioning democracy the role of elected politicians it is to represent the interests of their constituency in parliament. Taking a realistically cynical view of politics what actually happens is the politicians work to satisfy only that proportion of the electorate which can they can influence, excluding the unregistered voters, the dogmatics, members of minor parties, those not eligible to vote, those in whom learned helplessness is cultivated to such a degree that they won't vote, etc. etc. I imagine the proportion of the population left after these subtractions varies between barely a few percent in "safe" seats and thirty or forty percent in marginal seats. For the rest of us our interests are simply not politically represented at a national level. My interests certainly aren't as I vote for one of those minor parties ("minor" here being the fourth largest party in the country). That this is consistently ignored by the media- including the one organisation which is specifically meant to bring "balance" and "depth" to coverage in this country- trumpets long and hard through its sinuous, grey trunk at the people surrounding it but stubbornly refusing to perceive its existence.

I'm liking the elephant metaphor. I'm going to use it more today.

What's more worrying is that many campaigning organisations exist to highlight this absurdity and to lobby for changes to the system to remedy it:

make my vote count
unlock democracy
38 degrees
electoral reform society
vote for a change

And yet public interest in these issues is paltry and when the issue does surface in parliament it is inevitably either rejected by the vested interests of the dominant parties, brushed under the carpet or the solutions offered are so weak as to be barely distinguishable from a continuance of business-as-usual.

So, democracy in the UK appears to be irreparably fucked, at least in terms of the potential to make the massive changes to our society that the transition to sustainability require. In the medium-to-long term it is highly likely that world events will awaken the electoral dragon and people and politics will drift towards that goal. However, its likely to be a reactionary response instead of a proactive one and much suffering and hardship will result along the way. That this in any way avoidable seems in real doubt to me. Where do you look for non-democratic ways to influence politics? Should I care? Answers on a ferret to this address, please. Preferably on one called Sid. I always wanted a ferret called Sid.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Simon Jenkins can't half be a right wanker sometimes


Remember this bizarre rant about the future of high-speed rail in this country? Well, its a load of bollocks, as this chap points out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Film review: Avatar 3D.


This film is stunning. Its just awesome. The imagaination behind the exobiology made me stare, slack jawed and dribbling spittle, for two hours and forty minutes.

I'm not convinced about the 3D thing though. Maybe it was because I was sat at the extreme edge of the auditorium but the margins of the screen were fuzzy and I felt that some of the detail, which this film oozes with, was being lost. I'd like to watch the 2D version to compare.

George liked it too.

Doctor Punkscience, at your service.


My viva voce lasted 3 hours and I've got only minor corrections to make. Ergo, I rule. On with the world saving.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

viva voce


I've got my PhD viva tomorrow. I'm going through my thesis and feel really sorry for the examiners because I can't write concisely or clearly for toffee. Regular visitors to punkscience will be aware of this and I apologise for it. Its just not something I've ever really aspired to and it really shows in my work. That's not to say I'm not a good scientist. I am. I'm fucking awesome! I can communicate my work very eloquently and clearly- just not in the formal written style that all science is documented in.

This is a problem I need to address because being a good scientist these days is simply not going to get you a job. You have to be a self-publicist and prolifically so in all sorts of media- not just peer-reviewed journals. I don't approve of this. There are so many examples of boundaries being smashed apart as a result of people ignoring this paradigm and concentrating on research instead of wanking their egos that I can't begin to motivate myself to 'play the game.'

Anyway, instead of wasting time writing badly here I'm going to go back to pondering the bad writing in my thesis. I will leave you with some relevant ponderings from Dr Jim. Who is awesome.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If you think the Labour government is shit . . . .


. . . then you've never heard of this man:

More here, via ChickYog.

Here's my concise opinion of him.

Addition 14-01-10:

In case anyone is concerned that there is an implied endorsement of the Lib Dems here, I'd like to point out that LD science policy was written in . . . 1991.

Yes, nineteen fucking years ago!

Fuck the Lib Dems.

Friday, January 08, 2010

US paramilitaries handcuff and then execute Afghan children


Bensix quotes a multitude of sources to draw up a picture of disgustingly inhuman behaviour.

Monday, January 04, 2010

"Terrorism is a strategy, not a place . . ."


" . . . attempts to carpet-bomb it or occupy it or conquer it will inevitably fail."

Fucking WORD!

Gary Younge rules.

supergrids brought to life


It looks as if one of the technologies that is repeatedly plugged here on punkscience as being essential to sustainable electricity generation will become reality. Predictably this announcement only heralds the beginning of discussions between the nations of the North Sea, where the grid will be tested before being linked to the rest of Europe, and not any actual plans- let alone a date when ground will be broken. There are links to the Desertec initiative there too and the obvious observation that much of the European distribution network is not fit for purpose. Anyway, its progress so woo!

On the other hand, a report published yesterday has further rubbished the Labour government's claims of a green job boom. I've blogged about this previously. and, though I say it myself, I thought I made a pretty good point, i.e.: That the UK government is shit. It seems that no matter how many meetings cabinet members have with directors of companies looking to invest in renewable technology in this country they still end up plugging nuclear as being the only horse in the race to supply electricity.
"A spokesman for Mandelson's department of business, innovation and skills, said it was "unfair" to judge the wider low carbon industry on the back of the London Array, which is only one project.

"British companies are successfully competing for work on schemes around the world such as the Masdar city project in Abu Dhabi," the spokesman said. "The government has unveiled a range of new initiatives, such as support for the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham."
(my bold)
Honestly, you'd think Gordon Brown's family ran the nuclear industry or . . . . wait . . . hang on a sec!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

maybe I'm just not cut out to be a scientist . . .



This guy's work is just awesome. Note that he has two blogs. Double the awesomeness!

Anyway, as I have been in the lab all Sunday normalising the transcriptome of my beasties using some fairly advanced molecular technology I think its safe to say that I clearly am cut out to be a super-awesome scientist and may even save the world at some point in the next twenty years. Grateful you should be.


Friday, January 01, 2010

state of the planet


Here is a powerful article from Nature to kick-start a decade of science-led world-saving. The diagram reproduced below shows nine planetary systems: climate change; rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading. Safe thresholds for each system are indicated by the green ring and the current state of each system is illustrated by the size of the red wedge. As you can see, we have already exceeded the safe thresholds for biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle and climate change.

So there you have it: A concise and heavily evidenced review of the state of the planet in one of the most prestigious journals. Everyone should have to read this. Ignorance is a crime.