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Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen from a personal perspective

Several years ago, I attended an international meeting in Aarhus, Denmark. Aarhus is the largest city on Jutland, the mainland part of Denmark. I liked the town and the people a lot, although it was what passes for summer in Denmark, and the whole town smelt a bit like off butter.

This meeting was one in a series to develop the International Biosafety Protocol, for trade in genetically modified organisms. The round in which I was involved actually failed, but the process was restarted later and led to the Cartegana Protocol, named after the city in Colombia where some of the meetings were later held.

So, the Copenhagen meeting reminded me a little of my own experience in Aarhus. I know how cumbersome these meetings are, how glacial the progress can be.

I was not surprised Copenhagen was a bit of a flop.

This whole meliorist tendency in modern thinking, this belief in social improvement, has been a feature of all our lives throughout my lifetime. Whenever it is inclined to irritate me, I remind myself that the environmental movement, the animal welfare movement, all of the schemes for the betterment of mankind that have come out of the big American foundations, the universities, the agencies of the United Nations, have given otherwise unemployable biology graduates like me a reasonable career in public service.

In many ways, Copenhagen was the final apotheosis of this entire international betterment movement. It contained all the high hopes, the noble sentiments, the "best and the brightest" of the jetset intelligensia, the hopers, the dreamers - and all the hypocrisy - of such movements. It was a synod of smug.

Julian

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

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The low cost of old religious books

I recently popped in briefly to Berkelouw books in Berrima, just off the Hume Highway, on a return trip from the Pauline Monastery nearby.

I bought three books, one of which was a copy of "George Rundle Prynne: A Chapter in the Early History of the Catholic Revival". Prynne was an associate of Dr Pusey, a leader of the nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic revival in England. This revival flowered, or went to seed, depending on your point of view, in the conversion of John Henry Newman to Roman Catholicism. I have previously obtained a copy of a volume of Newman's "Tracts Theological and Ecclestiastical", published in 1874, from Berkolouw books for only $16.50.

Fine old books on interesting religious topics seem to sell very cheaply. I suppose this is because people don't care very much about books that look like they were part of a job lot from an old vicarage.

Still, the biography of Prynne is in good condition; just over a hundred years old; and has an interesting "ex libris" label from an Oxford convent (of Anglican nuns I assume). For this, Berkolouw books wanted only 22 dollars.


Julian

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

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Stirrings of Spring

I have decided to post again at this blog, occasionally. So it is coming out of hiatus.

I have been reading and commenting at a number of Australian blogs which might be called socially conservative. There are collections of blogs on the Left and on the libertarian Right, but not so much on the social conservative side. So I have collected them at my blogroll.

By doing this, I hope to contribute in a small way to social networking to connect socially conservative Australian blogs and achieve a "critical mass".

Julian

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Friday, October 12, 2007

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Closing this blog

I have decided to cease blogging here and blog only at my other blog, Biology Notes.

This blog, The Julian Calendar, has been a modest success, but relatively speaking "Biology Notes" has been a lot more successful. It has worked because it has attracted visitors who have searched on certain specific topics that I happen to have covered at "Biology Notes". That is, it has not depended on the need to build a regular readership. In short, Biology Notes has been a successful model.

One of the problems with The Julian Calendar has been that I have written on too many topics. Biology Notes, as its name implies, has been more focussed. I am a bit interested in the biological side of the social sciences, and I might try to post a bit on such topics on Biology Notes, as well as on the more strictly biological topics that I have covered there to date.

Farewell and best wishes to any regular readers that I have here.

Julian

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

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Addition to blogroll

Hilary White's new blog, Orwell's Picnic.

Julian

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

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Why the Internet Autism Test is probably not reliable

A test of one's Autism Quotient is readily available on the Internet. Its most famous appearance may be in an article in Wired magazine, which included a copy of the test. Many people have taken the test and seem to take a perverse pleasure in scoring high, thereby identifying themselves as somewhat autistic and therefore as true "geeks".

Reference to a scholarly paper by those who developed this test makes me suspect that the self-diagnostic approach to the test is flawed. Checking the fine print, we find this:

" ... 80% of adults with AS or high functioning autism scored above a critical minimum of 32, whereas only 2% of control adults did. "

What this is saying, as far as I can see, is that people known to have autism generally scored high on a test designed to test for autistic traits. OK. But it is then noted that 2% of control adults scored high as well. What does this imply? That 1 in 50 people in the ordinary population will score as "autistic". Autism is generally considered to be a rare condition. But 1 in 50 people is a very high number of people. Clearly this test will produce a lot of false positives, with large numbers of people with no clinical condition scoring into the abnormal range associated with autism.

One of the signs of autism is social withdrawal. However to be shy and socially withdrawn - to be scholarly in other words - is not to be autistic. I feel that people are testing themselves for a symptom of a disease, and then deciding that they have the disease. It's a form of hypochondria.

To use an analogy, perhaps 2% of the male population is over six feet two inches. Men with excess growth hormone will mostly be over six feet two inches. But that does not mean that everybody over six feet two inches has a hormonal problem.

Julian

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Friday, August 10, 2007

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The New Inventors

"The New Inventors" is a program on Australian television. I saw an episode tonight as part of an otherwise excellent line-up on the Discovery Science Channel. Something about "The New Inventors" has been increasingly bothering me, and this latest offering crystallised the problem.

There were three inventions, one of which was a "cruise control" for a four-wheeled agricultural motorcycle, of a kind used to spray fruit trees and the like. There was nothing much wrong with this, except that it hardly seemed novel. The other two inventions were a pole-like device that purportedly measures features of snow that might be correlated with the risk of an avalanche; and a device to be worn outside one's clothing on a sunny day to warn when one has received too much ultraviolet light. My problem with both these latter inventions was that none of the panelists asked any questions about how the devices had been calibrated or tested. The lady engineer on the panel asked if the sensor that was to be driven into snow to test for, presumably, compaction and layering had to be put in close to the vertical. But there was no attempt to determine that the device was actually capable of its purported function - predicting avalanches. How many false negatives and false positives were likely? An important question I would have thought.

Turning to the ultraviolet light warning device, again there were no questions as to whether it had been shown to reliably integrate ultraviolet light exposure. How much exposure had been determined to be enough? How did the memory aspect of the device, which supposedly remembered your exposure on previous days, actually work, and what was its theoretical basis? Was it intended to determine how tanned you had become and therefore that you might be able to tolerate more ultraviolet light? If so, what if you were wearing a shirt one day, and no shirt the next? How would the device "know" that?

"The New Inventors" makes a bit of a habit of this half-baked approach. A flashy invention wins, but later one starts to have one's doubts.

Julian

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