Category Archives: Life

The Heart of the Matter

Over the past two weeks the ABC’s Catalyst program has run a special series under the rubric The Heart of the Matter calling into question the importance of cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease with Dr. Maryanne Demasi leading the charge. This is how she described the programs:

In the first episode of this two part edition of Catalyst, I investigate the science behind the long established view that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol.

In the second episode, I cut through the hype surrounding cholesterol lowering drugs and reveal the tactics used by Big Pharma to make the drugs to lower cholesterol appear more effective than they seem to be.

In Heart of the Matter, I investigate whether the role of saturated fat and cholesterol in heart disease is one of the biggest myths in medical history.

Go here for transcripts and videos:

Dietary Villains

Cholesterol Drug War

First up it must be said that Dr Demasi is not just a journalist. She has a PhD in medical research from the University of Adelaide and worked for a decade as a research scientist specialising in rheumatoid arthritis research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I had a triple bypass back in 2000 and have taken statins ever since as well as 100mg aspirin daily and medicine to lower my blood pressure. Except on rare occasions saturated fats do not pass my lips.

Dr Norman Swan told Fran Kelly that his wife had sat next to someone on a plane who had been taking statins for familial high cholesterol levels. After seeing the program he said he had dropped the drugs and was going to tuck into the cream cheese.

To this viewer, such a response would be warranted on the basis of the evidence put forward in the programs. I’m a cautious person, however, so my intention was to stay on course, but was going to consult my GP who I see every four to six weeks. I expected her to advise me to change nothing until I next see my cardiologist in March next year.

Norman Swan was angry. He said people will die as a result of the program. Continue reading The Heart of the Matter

Distractions…

Andrew Wilson queries why nobody writing or commenting on this blog has raised the issue of the really medieval legislation recently passed in Queensland. One reason is that Mark and I have both had certain distractions which will continue for a little while.

de-clutter_mind_map-copy1_300One is the great decluttering project, wherein Mark is consolidating 20 years worth of collected stuff. In simple terms he’s vacating his digs at New Farm at the end of the month and moving back to join us on a temporary basis, which will probably last months rather than weeks. So there has been massive decluttering at his place and ours together with some recluttering of our place.

This is coinciding with the end of university semester in which Mark has a fairly heavy teaching load. The other day, surveying his study, his computer was open revealing that he was in the process of marking 189 assignments. That’s over 60 hours work for one subject!

Earlier tonight after we staggered down the stairs with some book shelves he agreed he didn’t have the head space for blogging right now. Perhaps next week.

I’m fairly busy right now, but my den is being cleaned up for the first time in decades plus the shed has had to be reorganised to accommodate in the first instance about 20 boxes of books. Furniture is being relocated all over the house.

Next Monday my wife and I are flying to Sydney for the wedding of her nephew. A quick trip but it wipes out two days.

So I too have a few distractions. I may be able to squeeze out a bit of writing, but not as much as I’d like.

For those who came in late, I have the privilege of being Mark’s father. And for those who are curious, he’s been calling me “Brian” since he was four years old. One day he just decided that he was too old for this “dad” stuff. I have a policy of avoiding unnecessary arguments, so that’s the way it’s been!

Climate clippings 84

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is mostly about the doings of our new government, prospective EU targets, a statement by religious leaders and a couple of items on health implications.

1. Greg Hunt’s role diminished

Whether or not Greg Hunt gets to go to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw from 11 to 22 November. Julie Bishop will henceforth be the lead negotiator in international climate talks.

The story in the AFR says Hunt has been “stripped of responsibility for global climate change negotiations”. He still gets to go and hang out at the talks. One might say that Australia’s representation has been upgraded. Suspicious minds might also think that Hunt couldn’t be trusted. He actually believes human activity causes global warming and might join the warmist urgers if not kept on a tight leash. Continue reading Climate clippings 84

Climate clippings 83

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as an open thread. Again I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition contains items, exclusively, I think, in climate science and impacts. The thread is meant to function also as a roundtable to share information and ideas.

1. Climate change picked the crops we eat today

The New Scientist carries a story about how some cereals we know today were changed by the climate as we came out of the last ice age. Researchers at the University of Sheffield, UK took seeds of precursors of modern wheat and barley found with human remains in a 23,000-year-old archaeological site in Israel. They grew these together with four wild grass species that aren’t eaten today, but were also known to grow in the region at that time, and grew them under conditions replicating levels of CO2 then and also the higher levels when farming first arose 10,000 years ago.

All the plants grew larger under the higher levels of CO2, but the relatives of wheat and barley grew twice as large and produced double the seeds. This suggests the species are especially sensitive to high levels of CO2, making them the best choice for cultivation after the last ice age.

The team plan to look at whether other food staples around the world are similarly affected by elevated CO2 levels, for example millet grown in Asia and maize in North America. They also plan to compare the effects of CO2 on legumes such as peas. Continue reading Climate clippings 83

Climate clippings 71b

This post was written in October 2012 trialling the site. I’ve decided to leave it in time sequence and fiddle the numbering.

1. Did climate change shape human evolution?

There’s no evidence yet that it did according to Richard Leakey.

I’m not sure about his four key questions, though. Yes, bipedalism seems to be important as does using tools to make tools. But I can’t see the importance of migration out of Africa as important to our evolution. Apart from picking up some Neanderthal genes presumably in a palm grove somewhere in the Middle East, which did boost our immune system, those of us who left Africa are much the same genetically as those who stayed behind.

I’d say the development of language was important. If you want a fourth I’d suggest our patterns of social organisation – how we interact and how we co-operate within groups. But I don’t know how much of that is in our genes.

2. Aid for climate refugees

Speaking of climate and migration, displacement by extreme weather events does not qualify you as a refugee under present UN arrangements. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) hopes this will change at the annual United Nations climate change summit to be held in Qatar later this year, gaining access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources. It seems that 42 million people were displaced by storms, floods and droughts in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011.

3. Ocean heat content update

Skeptical Science recently posted on an update by Levitus et al on ocean heat content, which increases apace. Around 93% of additional warming goes into the ocean which is truly vast with, for example, an average depth of around 3,790 metres. This graph indicates the changing heat content within bands of the upper 2000m:

4. Southern Ocean research shows decrease in dense Antarctic bottom water

Antarctic Bottom Water is a massive current of super dense salty water which used to be which used to occupy the bottom mile of the Great Southern Ocean. Used to. Researchers are now able to report that the current is diminished by 60% compared to what it was in 1970.

Antarctic Bottom Water is colder than the normal freezing point and is a vast store of CO2. Understanding changes in this deep ocean current are crucial to understanding the likely future of global climate patterns as the planet warms. The researchers have not only been able to make direct observations, they have distributed buoys which should be able to provide data at times of the year when field work is impossible.

5. Plants flower faster than climate change models predict

For years scientists have been doing experiments to find out how much earlier plants will flower and leaf with global warming. A new study using field observations has found that plants are responding much faster than they had thought. Their research suggests that that spring flowering and leafing will continue to advance at the rate of 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming.

What surprises me is that they thought they could model natural conditions in the lab.

It seems they will have to rethink the impacts of global warming on ecosystems and food production.

See also Science Daily.

6. Climate change experimentation goes bush

Another approach is to manipulate the environment on a large scale and monitor what happens. Researchers are using to control the amount of CO2 available to plants.

The idea is explore the role of “Australia’s large tracts of undeveloped land, known as bush” in storing carbon. They will be able to add carbon or take it away.

I’m not sure it doesn’t suffer from the same problems as experiments with plants, where only one variable was controlled, neglecting changes in precipitation patterns and cloudiness, for example.

7. Wind farms do not cause global warming

There has been a raft of articles in the MSM suggesting that wind farms cause global warming, mainly in the headlines, it seems.

In fact a study of some large wind farms in remote areas of Texas found local warming. The authors don’t know what’s going on but the suggestion is that thermal energy is being redistributed, perhaps by pulling down warmer air from higher altitudes during the nights.

For the spinning blades of wind turbines to increase the overall temperature of the planet some basic laws of physics would need to be rewritten.

Climate clippings 50

This is serious!

First we were told that rising temperatures would make it difficult to grow tea in
Uganda and in Kenya, then it was going to become too hot for chocolate. Now Starbucks is warning that climate change will threaten the world supply of coffee.

This story has gone viral, but I liked this neat post. Obama should indeed do something. What Al Gore said. Continue reading Climate clippings 50

Open thread on floods

We now have a number of specific threads running on aspects of the Queensland floods. This thread is for comments that don’t fit the specific threads or if you want to comment on other current floods lacking a thread, such as those in Victoria, Brazil or Sri Lanka .

These are the previous threads I can identify:

Brian on Queensland floods

Robert on Queensland floods get worse

Mark on Brisbane flood maps and up to date flood information

Brian on Toowoomba flood pics

Brian on Brisbane floods in retreat

Kim on Political cheap shots and the Brisbane floods

Kim on Quick link: Quiggin on water policy after the Queensland floods

Kim on Quicklink: Interactive map of Brisbane flood damage

Kim on Germaine Greer wrong on Brisbane floods

Mark on Social capital, social networking and the Brisbane floods

Hope I haven’t missed any.

Climate kills

According to Oxfam 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2010 – more than twice the number (10,000) for the whole of 2009. Their information comes from reinsurance company Munich Re.

The number of extreme weather events was 725 to September, as against 850 for 2009. The number of extreme events is likely to exceed the ten-year average of 770, but not by a large margin. This year included some particularly serious ones, such as the floods in Pakistan and the heatwave in Russia.

The Pakistan floods affected more than 20 million people, submerging about a fifth of the country, claiming 2,000 lives and causing $9.7 billion in damage. Summer temperatures in Russia exceeded the long-term average by 7.8°C, doubling the daily death rate in Moscow to 700 and causing fires that destroyed 26 per cent of the country’s wheat crop. Russia banned grain exports as a result and soon after world grain prices increased, affecting poor people particularly.

Statistics relating to extreme weather events are tricky. The number of deaths obviously relates to the severity of the individual events and how many people were living in areas where the events occurred and hence vulnerable. Continue reading Climate kills