Saturday salon 31/10

1. Chewing on the issue of processed meats and cancer

The WHO pronouncement on the linkage between processed meats and cancer generated a lot of misleading stories, like this one from The Guardian:

From the BBC:

    Processed meat includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and ham as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces.

    It is the chemicals involved in the processing which could be increasing the risk of cancer. High temperature cooking, such as on a barbeque, can also create carcinogenic chemicals.

    In the UK, around six out of every 100 people get bowel cancer at some point in their lives.

    If they were all given an extra 50g of bacon a day for the rest of their lives then the risk would increase by 18% to around seven in 100 people getting bowel cancer. (Emphasis added)

From the WHO Q&A:

    processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk. (Emphasis added)

While we are there, the WHO says there is “limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence”. However, other explanations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) can not be ruled out.

2. Confusion over high fat diets

There’s been similar confusion over diets. This headline, for example is misleading:

What’s being compared is high fat, low carb diets. But a calorie is a calorie, and the only way to lose weight is to expend more calories in exercise than you take in.

The research shows that weight can be lost through both kinds of diet, but people then tend to revert to their longer term eating patterns and put the pounds back on again.

Update: This article does a better job on the issue. It seems that many low-fat products have sugar added.

3. New chief scientist looks a likely lad

Alan Finkel will succeed Ian Chubb as Chief Scientist.

From Wikipedia:

    Alan Simon Finkel AO (born 17 January 1953) is a neuroscientist, engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. In 2007 he was appointed Chancellor of Monash University, a position he commenced on 1 January 2008 with his term ending in January 2016.

    Finkel was educated at Monash University, receiving a doctorate in Electrical Engineering in 1981. He then served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian National University, before leaving academia to found Axon Instruments, a global science and technology company based in the US. During this time, he invented a commercially successful device which substantially speeds up drug research.

    Since then, he has used his wealth to found the science magazine Cosmos, an environment magazine called G: The Green Lifestyle Magazine and contribute towards a number of research institutes. During a speech at Monash University’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner, he announced that he would be endowing a Chair in Global Health for the University.

He told RN’s The World Today that:

    if we are going to be a country that has a vibrant economy, then that’s going to be built on science, technology, innovation, entrepreneurship.

He has a vision for a world without coal and oil, but abundant clean energy. He’s cool with nukes, but says Australia doesn’t need them.

At The Conversation leading members of the scientific community sound excited about his appointment.

4. Innovation: Deja vu all over again?

That’s the title of Laura Tingle’s Friday AFR opinion piece.

She says Ian Chubb, the outgoing Chief Scientist has

    noted that there had also been at least 60 reports into the innovation system alone in the last 15 years – “and there would be more, if all reports into the higher education sector were taken into account”.

So he’s commissioned another one to add to the pile. One of the suggestions, according to Radio National’s PM, is to change university funding, which rewards peer-reviewed papers rather than entrepreneurship.

The report looks at what other countries have done. For example:

    Israel over the last 20 years has come from more or less a standing start to now being one of the world’s great technology powerhouse economies and it’s done that in large part through very deliberate, strategic and continued government investment in creating a knowledge economy.

The Government is going to release an innovation and science statement early in December. Other governments develop a strategy and then spend money on it. Why can’t we?

At least Turnbull’s crowd seem more sympathetic to the CSIRO.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

    The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

16 thoughts on “Saturday salon 31/10”

  1. Concerning diets and weight loss, this article does a better job at reflecting the research. It seems that low-fat products often have sugar added.

    Keith Hall, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, US, said much more research is needed on how to help people lose weight and keep it off.

    “What seems to be clear is that long-term diet adherence is abysmal, irrespective of whether low-fat or other diets, such as low-carbohydrate diets, are prescribed,” he said.

  2. The BOMs supreme, super Mega El Nino predictions are off to a good start.

    It has poured in drought-stricken outback Queensland, with some towns recording more than 100 millimetres of rain.

    Adjusted now (not reported in the media ) looks pretty good, but they’re always wrong, so we will see.

  3. Hey Jumpy, shouldn’t you be using your full call sign, Jump-in-Boots-and-All, making statements like that?

    BoM specifically says

    “It should not be expected that winter/spring rainfall in any given El Niño year will follow the pattern of Figure 1, nor should it be expected that ‘above average’ rainfalls will not occur during an El Niño year. “

  4. BilB’s right, it’s about averages. And El Nino is not the only thing affecting our weather.

    Also the rain didn’t happen everywhere.

  5. All of the evidence is available to people to enable them to make their own determinations.


    There are no guarantees.

    Farmers always have the option of going to super scientist Dr David Evans who knows vastly more than ordinary climate scientists and has a climate model that will tell the real truth about “climate change”. You know where to find him, tell us what he has to say about Queensland’s weather.

  6. …super scientist Dr David Evans ..You know where to find him, tell us what he has to say about Queensland’s weather.

    You’ll have to help me out BilB, all I can find is an Electrical engineer.
    All I know is the BoMs best predictions are crap outside 3 days.
    A chap called Warwick Hughes ( that I came across recently ) has been comparing their predictions to actual outcomes and you may want to find that.
    The BOM is diabolically wrong most of the time, not even close more than 8 days out.

  7. Perhaps at this stage, Jumpy, it might be helpful for you to outline what it is that you expect of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

  8. For $ 300,000,000 per year, a ” We don’t know ” if they don’t.
    Also a tab on their ( our ) web site showing their predictions v the actual observed outcome so we can judge for ourselves.
    Honesty, transparency and culpability.
    And maybe an accuracy % of their ( our ) rubbish computer models published.
    Not much to ask considering who pay their ( yes their ) wages.

  9. So how much do you think should be the BoM budget, what degree of accuracy is acceptable to you, what form of punishment would you prefer for perceived failures (public shaming, legal action and imprisonment, corporal punishment, bannishment, retraction of salary?), and which computer model should they be using?

    Which Bureau of Meteorology or organisation and in which country meets your standards, Jumpy.

    Your other needs are met I believe as all predictions and the weather oucomes are published. However to put that together into an easily read but accurate form will require another budget. How much do you think should be spent doing that?

  10. Jumpy, we were told on TV tonight that lots of places missed out.

    Also one dump of rain does not make a season. It’s not even going to penetrate the subsoil all that far. A grazier on the TV said we are going to need two seasons of normal rain before the country comes back.

    So those that destocked probably did the right thing.

  11. Grass here in C Q is bright green at the moment – and will be bone-dry tinder in a couple of weeks without steady follow-up rains. Weather is NOT Climate.

    Anyway, fantastic scientific advance! Bovine-to human brain transplants a great success! Well, what other conclusion can you reach when cattle-pesterers attack the science regarding bowel cancer risks instead of looking at why some parts of those studies were given undue or skewed emphasis and other aspects were ignored by the glorious news media. Earlier, the same dumb-bunny graziers attacked the revelations of cruelty to animals that were exported from Australia rather than attacking those who were manipulating that news for COMMERCIAL advantage against the Australian grazing industry.

    60 + 1 inquiries into Innovation? When is it going to sink in that Australia’s decision-makers, financial-gatekeepers and opinion-formers hate, fear and detest innovation? That any innovation happens at all in Australia does so despite all the discouragement and delays heaped on it.

  12. Weather is NOT Climate.

    Exactly, but the issue is the BoM prediction accuracy over different time periods, ( say 1 day, 5 days, 1 month, 12 months, 5 years, then extrapolate…. )
    Are there a numbers for that ( should be ) ?
    If so, who came up with those numbers ? ( in house or independent ?)
    Are those number improving given the expenditure and updated Super computers ( I think Gen 9 coming soon ) ?
    At which time range does the BoMs accuracy equal 51% ( a xxxxteenth better than a coin toss ) ?

    [slightly modified but no change in meaning – Brian]

  13. Jumpy, I think you are obsessing about this one. Not sure whether this link has already been given, but the BOM explainer on accuracy is here.

    We continually check the performance of the multi-model rainfall forecasts by plotting reliability diagrams over the past 90 days.

    They provide two links for further information, which regrettably failed.

    They continually warn about the accuracy of anything beyond four or five days. If you use their site intelligently, for most purposes you’ll be in front.

  14. Brian

    Jumpy, I think you are obsessing about this one.

    Well, i’m not sure if 5 comments this year constitutes an obsession. Maybe if I set up a blog dedicated to the issue and about 200 posts……

    Anyway, there’s much chat about the place that the greens could displace Albo ( Grayndler ) and Plibers ( Sydney ) if the LNP preference the greens in the upcoming election.

    What do you think Turnbull should and/or will do ?

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