This just in: koalas make funny noises

I am becoming more aware of and interested in how science is perceived in the media, and how scientists often do themselves no favours when dealing with the media.

Today, I noticed a news article relating to some research on the noises koalas make. It was reported in a few news sites, and probably made the print media at least in Queensland. Apparently koalas make the same amount of noise as a cow. Koalas do make a really weird grunting sound, and anyone who has heard one would probably agree that the sound can carry over quite a distance. What astounds me, however, is that the researchers involved have not really communicated very well their results. It could just be bad journalism, but I got the feeling that this really isn’t news. Especially to anyone who has hung around in the country for a little while and heard the koalas. Continue reading

Cycling – go hard or go home.

This post was originally written on September 20, 2011

A study in Copenhagen has shown that intensity of cycling effort, rather than duration, as being the most important factor relative to all-cause mortality.

I suppose that means to go hard or go home. And to heed Rule #5 of cycling.

Parasites, ecology, epidemiology and climate change.

This post was originally written on September 14, 2011.

I had envisaged that this blog would be full of all kinds of interesting sciency things, but it’s quite difficult for me to find time to sit down and do much more than report on fun news items. So I’ve made some time and I thought it might be nice to review a recent paper on some of my favourite topics – wildlife parasitology and climate change. I saw this paper in the June edition of Trends in Parasitology and it’s been sitting on my desk for a while now, waiting for me to review it.

Davidson et al. (2011) Arctic parasitology: why should we care? Trends Parasitol. 27, 238-244.

The Arctic, as a region, is extremely fragile with the majority of species that occur there being highly specialized and adapted to the difficult conditions. The combination of highly adapted species in a very narrow climate envelope means that the region is going to feel the effects of a changing climate faster than most others. Antarctica is in a similar sticky situation in terms of temperatures, warming and increasing vulnerability, but the difference between the Arctic and Antarctica is that the former supports a human population too. The effects of a changing Arctic climate will have implications for human and veterinary health, and this is why we should care. Continue reading

Earth, from space.

This post was originally written on September 1, 2011.

Do you know what this picture is?

It’s the Earth, on the left, and the moon is the little speck on the right. This picture was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft almost 10 million km away, as it travels to Jupiter.

The Juno spacecraft is cool – it’s solar powered and blasted off in early August on a bit of a jaunt to Jupiter. It travelled the distance from the Earth to the moon (402,000km) in less than a day but it will still take five years and over 2,800 million km to actually get to Jupiter. Apparently you can follow the mission on Twitter, and if they keep taking photos along the way, it could be a beautiful journey.

I was particularly taken by this image. It’s very humbling, I think, to see us as a planet in the context of such vastness. But despite that vast distance we see in the picture, it’s put into even more perspective if you consider that Juno is only travelling through a fraction of our solar system – which is a tiny fragment of our galaxy.

our galaxy is only one of millions of billions/ in this amazing and expanding universe” <— Thank you, Monty Python for the succinct summary!

Maternal care in South Africa

This post was written originally written on Aug 9, 2011.

So there I was this morning, grumbling and feeling hard done by because I’d burned my hand on the grill element while making my breakfast and had a busy day at work to look forward to. Then, while I was drinking my morning coffee, I read about a media release for a report by Human Rights Watch on maternal care in South Africa.

I haven’t even read the whole report yet, just the media release and I was astounded. South Africa is one of the most developed nations in Africa, and a major economic player for the continent. Given the stats in the report, South Africa will not meet the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal deaths by 75% from 1990 levels, by 2015. If the most developed African nation has these kinds of problems, what hope have the rest got? And we’re not even getting into the myriad other problems that women come up against, let alone the heart-wrenching famine conditions in north-east Africa, where food shortages and unrest are being exacerbated by militant activity in the region.

I hope that the South African government will work to reduce this needless inequity, but I suspect that it will go the way of so many reports. Gathering dust in a bureaucrat’s office, while women suffer. I looked at the blister on my knuckle and my cheese on toast, considered my busy day, and thought, shit I’m lucky.

Entropy is all about increasing disorder

I’ve called this blog Increasing Disorder because it can relate to entropy, and because I’m a big nerd. Entropy is part of the second law of thermodynamics.

In terms of thermodynamics, the entropy of one system will not decrease unless the entropy of another system increases. That’s why condensation will build up on the outside of a glass of a cold beverage on a hot day (or in a warm room). It’s actually to do with the application of work to the colder item. You can’t just create work, it has to flow from somewhere else.








It’s a cool gin and tonic in a warm room. Source:

Referring to statistical mechanics, entropy usually relates to order, or disorder as the case may be. It relates to how molecules may be arranged and the resultant effect on observable systems. As entropy increases, so does the disorder (hence the name of the blog). But, order can be produced via increasing entropy, i.e., order from chaos. Apparently.

Which brings me to why I named my blog after a property of physics and not some cool biological thing. Firstly, because there is already a super-cool blog called Pharyngula (that you all should check out, if you haven’t already) and I’d just be a copy-cat. I really like his Friday Cephalopod posts, and also the fact that he can’t stand that awful, weasley Christopher Monckton either. Although there could be many blogs named after physics terms, I didn’t bother to check. Secondly, I think it relates to what I’m trying to do as a scientist: create order from chaos.

Disclaimer: I’m a biologist, not a physicist.