Monday Awesome: The Tea Party

The Tea Party is an awesome Canadian rock band (not a bunch of right-wing American politics nutters) who were around in the 90s and early 00s. They went their separate ways in mid-00s, but have re-formed and were in Australia last week doing some promotional appearances ahead of their tour here in July (yay!).

This video was taken at their mini show in Melbourne (skip to 0.45 for the start of the song).



Lousy lemurs! Host-parasite ecology.

Microcebus rufus (photo credit S Zohdy, via ScienceDaily).

I’ve just stumbled across a really neat piece of research on host-parasite ecology. An article, provisionally available in BMC Ecology by Zohdy et al., describes movements of a species of louse that parasitises mouse lemurs. Occurring in Madagascar, mouse lemurs Microcebus rufus, are host to a species of louse, Lemurpediculus verruculosus (which is so highly host-specific it only occurs on M. rufus). The team of researchers did a mark-recapture study where they tracked the movements of lice between different hosts by marking them with nail polish and monitoring the dispersal of lice between different host lemurs.

They found that, generally, lemurs kept their lice to themselves, but occasionally, some would donate or collect lice. The actual mechanism by which the donation or collection occurs is not known – it’s not like trading lice is a common mouse lemur pastime, but it is probably linked to close contact via nest-sharing and other aspects of social ecology. Social interactions also increase during the breeding season, when the males are out on the prowl for the laydeez. There seemed to be no (identifiable) overarching factor driving the movement of lice within the population.

What surprised the authors was that there was a substantially higher degree of social interaction between lemurs across relatively large distances (600m is probably a long way when you’re a 40g primate). This also indicates that they may have an interesting social structure, of which we’re currently unaware.

Monday Awesome: skipping dog

OK, so I’ve borrowed today’s awesome from Ellen DeGeneres. I saw this on her show last week. It’s a dog and it skips rope! But not just any skipping, it does double dutch. Which is better than I could achieve, I was always scared of that extra rope. At primary school we skipped with ouchy plastic ropes that stung when they hit, so perhaps my fear was justified.

I’d better warn you though – watch this with the sound down, because the backing song is really, really annoying.

If the embedded video doesn’t work, go to

Black fingers, long coffees: reasons why I miss newspapers.

OMG! No wait, this is a fake newspaper (image from

I read a lot of news, but rarely from hardcopy newspapers anymore. I know that reading things on the interwebs is better for the environment (or is it? Has anyone done the maths to see what emits more CO2 – killing trees and printing newspapers or digging up and burning coal to make electricity for my computer?), and the digital world is the future, but I have suddenly become quite nostalgic for the inky and flimsy-paper broadsheet.  Why? What is the allure of the newspaper?

Reasons why I miss newspapers:

1) You can spill coffee (or any other food/beverage) on them.

Continue reading

Scarily accurate climate warming projections

Something interesting spotted on the website RealClimate, via Crikey.

Over 30 years ago, a neat paper by Hansen et al. on climate predictions was published in Science. Climate change, as an impending disaster, was not a big research drawcard, but the authors did graph predictions for warming trends for 2000 – 2100. Recently (as in, a couple of weeks ago), Geert Jan van Oldenborgh and Rein Haarsma revisited the data and presented their results on the RealClimate blog.

image from RealClimate

Given that we now have an additional 30 years’ observations from the dataset published in 1981, van Oldenborgh and Haarsma overlaid the new observations on the original predictive graph. You can see in the picture above: the fat pink line is the observations, versus the black line of the original prediction. They found a lovely congruence to the observations against the predictions – scarily accurate. As they say at the end of their analysis:

To conclude, a projection from 1981 for rising temperatures in a major science journal, at a time that the temperature rise was not yet obvious in the observations, has been found to agree well with the observations since then, underestimating the observed trend by about 30%, and easily beating naive predictions of no-change or a linear continuation of trends. It is also a nice example of a statement based on theory that could be falsified and up to now has withstood the test. The “global warming hypothesis” has been developed according to the principles of sound science.

I really like the last line. This research was done at a time when ‘climate change’ was not a buzzword. Now, it seems that we have a somewhat uncomfortable situation where researchers are hell-bent on adding ‘climate’, ‘climate change’, ‘climate impacts’ etc etc to research proposals in the hope of getting things funded. This usually results in projects being funded that have only a very tenuous link (if any at all) to actual climate change, and IMO potentially damages the climate change ‘brand’ (for want of a better word) when dodgy links to climate are made. Meanwhile, the politicians and the people with actual power to change the way humans go about their CO2-emitting business are more preoccupied with not actually doing anything, lest they get it wrong and climate change turns out to not be a big deal after all. Well, here’s some evidence that suggests that it is a big deal, and it’s coming our way.

Thanks to John, who brought my attention to this by posting the Crikey version on FB.

Monday Awesome: he’s getting a good sound out of that thing!

OK, it’s Monday, and I’m slightly unimpressed. Normally I’m not that bothered by Mondays,  but today I’ve had a disaster with no coffee left in the house. aarrgh! So, to help me procrastinate in an insufficiently-caffeineated state, I’m looking at videos of ferrets.

I don’t really get ferrets – they’re cute, but look just a little weird too. I’m not sure if they should be snuggled or feared. Anyway, here’s a video of a ferret contortionist playing a guitar (sort of).

How do you think? Lessons from Q&A (ABC1, 9 April 2012).

Last night’s Q&A show comprised only two panellists, Prof Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell. Plenty of people were excited about it, and it was billed as a kind of definitive discussion on the debate between religion (specifically Catholicism in this instance) and atheism. This isn’t going to be a post about science and atheism, there are plenty of blogs out there that deal with all that (including Dawkins’ own).

The whole show is available on the Q&A website, if you’re interested in watching it, or reading the transcript. It was not a fair fight. Religion, by its nature, is indefensible because there is no evidence for what is being said. So Pell was on the back foot from the very start. However, Pell did himself absolutely no favours any time he opened his mouth. He had some very ‘woolly thinking’, to borrow a phrase from my PhD supervisor.

The audience was confused between biology and theoretical physics. Dawkins is a biologist. Asking him to explain the big bang is the same as asking Pell to discuss the intricacies regarding Allah’s teachings in the Koran. It’s simply not his jurisdiction (or, field of expertise). Why people expect Dawkins to have all the answers to questions that physicists don’t even have yet is beyond me.

Dawkins may have been jet lagged, but Pell had no such excuse. The more time Pell had to discuss an answer to a question, the more contradictions and inconsistencies became apparent. Human evolution seemed to bamboozle him, when it should have been straightforward, as the teachings he subscribes to say that God created humans. His comment that he “probably” believed that evolution is true, and his suggestion that modern H. sapiens, as a species, is descended from H. neanderthalensis, is damaging for two reasons. The first is that it goes against Catholic dogma and teachings, which I’d assume he’d uphold. Second, it highlights how ignorant he is on the topic of human evolution, of which, if he ‘probably’ believed it, he should at least know the basics. Dawkins didn’t quite know what to say, so he asked “Why Neanderthals?” Pell: “well, who else would you suggest?”. Hmmm.

Dawkins gets derided for coming across as pompous and being too provocative. But last night, he was neither and he need not have said a word. Pell dug himself into holes and tripped over himself numerous times. Perhaps it was nerves, I don’t know. What this highlighted to me was that I was seeing the result of learning in two completely different ways. In the bios on the Q&A site, I learned that both men were born in the same year, and both received numerous degrees, including PhDs. Yet, while Dawkins has spent his professional life developing his ability to critically question the world around him, develop his skills of analysis and sharpen his inquiring mind, Pell was indoctrinated into accepting that God was the answer to everything, and therefore there is no need to question anything.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?