Please note that this blog no longer accepts comments (there was
too much spam coming in!). If you're reading this blog and want to
respond then please use the contact form on the site.
You can also follow me on twitter.
Update: the Taxpayers' Alliance has a major report on this issue, by Matthew
Sinclair, which concluded that
Over £37 million was spent on taxpayer funded
lobbying and political campaigning in 2007-08. That is nearly as
much as the £38.9 million all three major political parties
combined spent through their central campaigns at the 2005
election. But, the true amount spent on taxpayer funded lobbying
and political campaigning may be much higher as this report has
taken a conservative approach, focussing just on the most clear-cut
Is anybody else as shocked by this as I am?
Master Resource reposts Julian Simon's
wonderful and inspiring message of 1 May 1995. For good and bad, it
has aged not at all:
"EARTH DAY: SPIRITUALLY UPLIFTING, INTELLECTUALLY
Lord (Chris) Patten, new chairman of the BBC Trust, has
been sounding off, militantly, at the militancy of
He scored a bit of an own goal, though, with this remark:
Update: The `hungry time' was even later in the
year than I said. See below.
A meditation on the English spring I wrote for
I live on the 55th degree north parallel. If I had gone round
the world along that line last week, through Denmark, Lithuania,
Russia, Kamchatka, Alaska, Hudson's Bay and Labrador, I would be
trudging through snow nearly all the way (there is a handy northern
hemisphere weekly snow map on the website of Florida State
University, whence I gleaned this fact). Yet instead I ate a picnic
on a Northumbrian riverbank as a blizzard of orange-tip butterflies
danced over a snowfield of wood anemones in the mild sunshine.
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is on the regulation of genetic testing
I just took a detailed genetic test by sending some spit to a
firm in California and looking up the results on the Net. It seems
I'm probably descended from a peculiarly fecund fourth-century
Irish king called Niall of the Nine Hostages and a slightly more
unusual Mesopotamian Neolithic matriarch. Oh, and I have mostly
average risk of most diseases: The medical part of the test gave me
a bit of risk here, a bit of reassurance there, nothing very
In my experience, scientists often have a reflexive contempt for
economics. Speaking as a scientist who came to understand economics
after leaving academia, I find this attitude frustrating, because I
see how they miss the fundamentally bottom-up, emergent, evolving
nature of human society that the field of economics strives to
understand (even as they often acknowledge the bottom-up, emergent
nature of evolution and of ecosystems).
Peter Risdon writes to draw to my attention what Mark
Twain wrote to Walt Whitman on this 70th
The BBC has plumbed new depths with its recent reporting on
shale gas. Its reporter Richard Black wrote a story about the old Cornell University claim
that shale gas production emits more greenhouse-warming gases than
coal. I happen to know quite a bit about this study and I know that
it is based on very extreme and highly implausible assumptions
shared by nobody outside a narrow group of partisans. I also know
that it is very, very easy for a journalist to find this out and
then at least to mention that there are two sides to the story. Yet
nowhere in the entire piece does Black even mention that this study
is disputed. As reporting goes, that's truly disgraceful, and I for
one will never trust a story from Black again.
So here are a few things he should have told you about the other
side of the story, from Energy in Depth, a source that is about
as partisan as the BBC.
Alan Carlin has a peer reviewed paper in The International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health, which concludes that
climate policy is, in my terminology, a tourniquet for a
The economic benefits of reducing CO2
emissions may be about two orders of magnitude less than those
estimated by most economists because the climate sensitivity factor
(CSF) is much lower than assumed by the United Nations because
feedback is negative rather than positive and the effects of CO2
emissions reductions on atmospheric CO2 appear to be short rather
than long lasting.
The costs of CO2 emissions reductions are
very much higher than usually estimated because of technological
and implementation problems recently identified.
The Times has been serialising seven chapters
of The Rational Optimist for a week each.
The last one is available now.
The discovery, announced this week, of several genetic mutations
that predispose people toward Alzheimer's disease is intriguing,
because the genes are associated with cholesterol metabolism and
inflammation. The Alzheimer's jigsaw is a long way from being
complete, but the pieces are emerging, and this new evidence fits
quite nicely with the other pieces in suggesting a role for
Piece 1 is the immediate cause of Alzheimer's disease: the
appearance of insoluble "plaques" made of a small protein called
amyloid beta (A-beta for short) inside brain cells. These plaques
block the traffic of molecules in the cells. Eventually another
small protein, called tau, also starts to crystallize in this way
to form "tangles." Both symptoms are diagnostic of Alzheimer's, and
similar ones characterize other neurological syndromes such as
Parkinson's and Creutzfeldt-Jakob's.
Puzzle piece 2 is the APOE gene on chromosome 19, long known as
a powerful influence on whether you will get Alzheimer's disease.
Having two copies of the 4 version of the gene makes you 20 times
more likely than average to get the symptoms before the age of 75.
(Having at least one copy of the 2 version makes you less likely
than average to get the symptoms.) One of APOE's jobs is to break
down plaques, and the 4 version is inefficient at this task.
As I keep saying, shale gas is indeed revolutionising world
The US Energy Information Administration officially
uses the word `vast' for shale gas resources outside the US:
Although the shale gas resource estimates
will likely change over time as additional information becomes
available, the report shows that the international shale gas
resource base is vast
I wrote this piece for The Times yesterday (original behind
My latest Mind and Matter column in the Wall
Street Journal is about trying to evolve, rather than ordain,
solution to obesity
Sometimes we find it easy to identify a problem and
impossible to think of a solution. Obesity is a good example.
Almost everybody agrees that it is a growing burden on health
systems and that it requires urgent attention from policy makers.
But almost everybody also agrees that no policy for reducing
obesity is working.
Some 32% of adult American men and 35% of women are clinically
obese. The proportion hasn't swelled in recent years, but it hasn't
shrunk either, a study of 2008 data suggests. School posters,
virally marketed videos, healthy-eating classes, mandatory swimming
lessons, minimum school-recess times, celebrity chefs in charge of
school-meal recipes, bicycle lanes, junk-food ad bans,
calorie-content labels, hectoring physicians, birthday-cake bans,
monetary rewards for weight loss-they've all been tried, and
they've all largely failed.
Correlation ain't causation.
But for some time I have been noticing that the correlations
between certain aspects of solar activity and certain aspects of
climate are getting really rather impressive -- far more so than
anything relating to carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide certainly can affect climate, but so for sure can
other things, and in explaining the ups and downs of past climate,
before industrialisation, variations in the sun are looking better
and better as an explanation. That does not mean the sun causes
current climate change, but it certainly suggests that it is at
least possible that forcings more powerful than carbon dioxide
could be at work.