Posts Tagged ‘Tuesday’

Day 268. Water: it’s complicated

In May 2013 on May 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm


Facing another autumn week of warm dry weather in Adelaide, we need little reminder that water is a scarce resource.

Little did I realise how complicated a matter management of water was…until I started to read about it in depth for a writing job.

It took me days and days to wrap my head around the players and the legislation involved.

I eventually managed to come up with some sort of sense – I hope – and now the paper is available to read in the University of South Australia Business School magazine unisabusiness.

If you’re interested, see pages 37-39.

This photo of the River Murray – the source of most of Adelaide’s piped-in water – was taken on a weekend trip to Murray Bridge.


Day 261. Vaccination versus immunisation

In April 2013 on May 1, 2013 at 12:54 pm


You say immunisation, I say vaccination, who is right?

A comment from Gary Lum on my Killing smallpox and parasites blog post brought up the question of which term is correct.

As described in his own article posted yesterday, Gary chased down a 1997 edition of the Australian Immunisation Handbook (6th edition) to find an official answer. It reads thus:

The terms ‘vaccination’ and ‘immunisation’ are often used interchangeably, but their meanings are not exactly equivalent.

Vaccination originally referred to the inoculation of vaccinia virus to render individuals immune to smallpox.

These days the term ‘vaccination’ means the administration (usually by injection) of a vaccine or toxoid, whether or not the injection is successful in making the
recipient immune.

On the other hand, the term ‘immunisation’ denotes the process of inducing or providing immunity by the administration of an immunobiological product .

I’m going to stick to immunisation from now on, as I like the fact that the word is based on the the expected outcome of the procedure.

‘Cause we all know immunisation works, right?

[image thanks to Gary too]

Day 254. Science fiction

In April 2013 on April 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

This week I’m remembering in-your-face Divinyl’s lead singer Chrissie Amphlett, who died on April 21.

Although Boys in Town is my favourite Divinyls song, their single Science Fiction is probably more appropriate for this forum.

Here are the lyrics:

I thought that love was science fiction
Until I saw you today
Now that love is my addiction
I’ve thrown all my books away

When I was young I was so naive
I didn’t believe, no I didn’t believe
I didn’t believe

Never thought that we’d last this long
Always thought that they’d dropped the bomb
Dropped the bomb

I’ve been waiting for a man from space
To come to earth to meet the human race
The human race

Day 247. Running

In April 2013 on April 16, 2013 at 12:50 pm


I became a convert to running about three years ago.

I love it for many reasons. It makes me feel free, it keeps me strong, it allows me to eat more guilt-free cheese and dessert than I probably should, and it gives me a strong sense of camaraderie through participating in a running group.

My training posse has a private Facebook page; here we exchange thoughts on favourite shoes, hats, timing gadgets and other miscellaneous titbits which crop up from day to day.

Just three days ago we were discussing the emotion that running can trigger – when you set your mind on a huge goal, and then get fitter and stronger as you approach it and then finally reach it – it brings strong sentiments to the surface. Some of us cry when we run big distances. And it’s great to know that others feel the same way as you when this happens. Support and unity come from being in a group of runners.

The bombs that exploded towards the finish line of the Boston Marathon today are terrible, violent acts. Yes, I am thinking endlessly of the dead and wounded. I’m terrified this will initiate events of global significance.

But I’m also thinking of the running communities. Communities in Boston, in the rest of America, around the world. This is like a direct attack on them in a way. Its an attack on people who set goals, an attack on families who support them.

This is big for runners.

Whatever else happens in the aftermath of these bombs, today there’s been a shift in the minds of people who run.

Day 240. The Specimen

In April 2013 on April 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm


I was browsing in a book shop over the weekend and spotted a new novel entitled The Specimen (authored by Martha Lea).

A quick read of the blurb, and I purchased immediately:

The year is 1866. Edward Scales is a businessman, a butterfly collector, a respectable man. He is the man Gwen Carrick fell in love with seven years before. Now he is dead and Gwen is on trial for his murder.

From country house drawing rooms to the rainforests of Brazil, The Specimen explores the price one independent young woman might pay for wanting an unorthodox life.

Set in a Victorian world battling between the forces of spiritualism and Darwinism, polite society and the call of clandestine love, Gwen and Edward’s tale is a gripping melodrama, a romance and a murder mystery that will compel readers to its final thrilling page.

I’ve only read three chapters, and I’m hooked. Not just because it’s science-y, but because the science sits within a broader background of social and historical factors.

Actually, science is always influenced by such factors, but it’s reasonably rare to see it presented this way in general literature.

Here’s a quote from Gwen, responding to Mr Scales’ interest in her nature paintings (the year is 1859):

“When a young woman makes a picture of a pretty red beetle, Mr Scales, it is called ‘Delightful’, put into  frame and a husband is found for the artist. When a young man makes an anatomical study of a Cardinal beetle, he is expected to know that it is the Pyrochroa serraticornis, and he is bundled off to university to that he can one day add to the body of scientific knowledge on Coleoptera.”

Whilst we may all scoff at the gender discrimination intimated in this passage, and gratefully pat ourselves on the back that we live in much more enlightened times, it’s worth considering that even now a career in science isn’t always taken at face value for women.

Take a recent New York Times obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, in which the opening sentences read thus:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

The words were later edited following expressions of indignation from many online commentators.

[image of Pyrochroa serraticornis thanks to gailhampshire on flickr]

Day 233. The Croods

In April 2013 on April 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm

crood copy

Guilty confession: I loved The Croods.

This current family movie tells the tale of a family of ‘cavemen’ struggling to let go of its id and embrace its countering ego, all the while battling through a strange new world filled with fantastic creatures the likes of which it has never met before.

Creatures such as whales which live on land and walk on stunted little legs. And piranha-like flying beaked critters which travel in ‘schools’ and annihilate enormous beasts in feeding frenzies.

Now, normally I get ticked off when movies that touch on science and nature stray from reality. I actually cannot stand science fiction for this reason.

But in The Croods it was somehow OK.

Perhaps it was because the day before I’d visited The Art of Science: Scientific Illustrations from Museum Victoria, currently exhibiting at SA Museum. Here were displayed some of the first European artistic representations of Australian wildlife – drawings and paintings of animals which must have seemed Croodily mythical to the new explorers of this strange land at the Southern end of the world.

[image from here]

Day 226. Food. Or is it?

In March 2013 on March 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm


Is food about nutrition? Or is it about taste?

Most of us know that when we have a little Cheezel binge, we’re not likely to be taking in any vital nutrients.

But did you ever stop and think about how Cheezels and other so-called ‘extruded’ snacks are made?

Essentially it’s as simple as 1, 2, 3 :

  1. A machine combines basic starchy ingredients;
  2. The required shapes are extruded – or pushed out – using a template system; and
  3. The shapes are dried – in this form they are completely tasteless and bland.

Obviously this is not the end of the line – how does that Cheezle flavour we all know and love come about?

Basically it boils down to covering the tasteless shapes in a layer of powdered palatants – otherwise known as stuff which tastes good.

That’s what that yellow/orange coating is. Stuff which tastes good.

This is also the method used to make most dried dog and cat food.

Fortunately, most cats and dogs don’t dig the full-on flavours that humans like. Otherwise, we could just bring out the schmackos with the beer and footy.

[image thanks to littleredd on flickr]

Day 219. Tonsillitis

In March 2013 on March 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm


My tonsils feel like the size of golfballs, and I’m shivering like its 5 degrees outside. Tonsillitis.

I dashed to the doctor this morning, and although I wasn’t able to see my usual guy, was happy to be assessed by  a new fellow. He turned out to be related to South Australia’s Chief Scientist Professor Don Bursill.

So, after the doctor peered down my throat and looked in my ears and listened to my lungs and massaged my lymph nodes, we talked science!

Every cloud has a silver lining.

[image thanks to MoToMo on flickr]

Day 212. We need a cunning plan

In March 2013 on March 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm



“If only you knew what I knew, then you’d love it too.”

This phrase is my friend Heather‘s quick-and-dirty verbal summary of an approach for communicating science to non-scientists: it’s called The Deficit Model.

To explain a little further, The Deficit Model assumes that there is a core body of knowledge that scientists know, and the general public does not know. It assumes that if you find a scientist who can communicate her or his knowledge, and the general public is listening, then the knowledge will be transferred. Mission accomplished.

Is that all there is to it?

Do you have a big hole in your brain that is just waiting for a new bit of information to be slotted in?

To steal more words from Heather (this time from her blog): Are you just the same as me, only minus ‘the sciencey bit’?

Well no. Of course not. And this is where The Deficit Model fails. Science does not make sense unless it has some sort of personal connection, unless it tells you a story or resonates with your experience and way of life.

The problem is, a recent audit has found that at least half of the science communication projects which are happening in Australia at the moment can be categorised as adhering to The Deficit Model.

Jenni Metcalf – who conducted the audit along with Kristin Alford, with support from Australian Science Communicators –  despairs somewhat at the finding, asking:

“Why is Australia’s science engagement stuck in 20th century modes of thinking?”

“Why is science engagement still mostly about the promotion and celebration of science rather than about getting people to participate in it and critically evaluate it?”

For Jenni, the answer lies in looking for new ways of engaging people with science.

I think we need a cunning plan. Any ideas?

To read Jenni’s article on the national audit of Australia’s science communication activities, see here.

Day 205. The Advertiser

In March 2013, Uncategorized on March 5, 2013 at 10:20 am


Being an Adelaide dweller, I’m allowed to have a little whinge about our printed paper, The Advertiser.

Produced by News Limited, The ‘Tiser is typical of many ‘modern’ tabloid papers in that it is image- and headline-focussed. I often read it shaking my head, bemused by the kinds of stories that get an airing on the up-front pages and those that are relegated to a paragraph or two in the back sections.

Complain though I may, we can consider ourselves lucky in Adelaide that science gets a pretty good run in The Advertiser. Bucking a national – indeed international – trend of science journalists losing their positions at mainstream publications faster than you can say climate change is real, we’re fortunate that Science and Environment reporter Clare Peddie still has a job here at the paper.

News Limited Political Writer and Editor Tory Shepherd also contributes articles which directly or indirectly come under the rather large umbrella called science; in her own words, she is

“interested in (some might say obsessed by) religion and pseudoscience as well as health and social issues.”

In today’s Advertiser, Tory writes about the highly successful public health measure of adding fluoride to drinking water. Depressingly, she then uses this example to illustrate how a frenzy of antiscience can be whipped up and potentially cause enormous harm – especially when a member of our parliamentary system (in this case Ann Bressington) puts her weight behind it.

The article is available online at AdelaideNow.

[image thanks to glenngould on flickr, and shows a man with fake rotten teeth – designed to scare his grandchildren]