One step forwards and two steps back

Sometimes life’s like wading through tough mud.

No sooner do I get “Mondays” going in the P’kaboo Book Club (it’s a Facebook group) than my internet connection bombs out and leaves me without connectivity for the critical hour (8h – 9h pm).  I think I’m online, I do other stuff on the computer and wait for that ‘ping’ that signals a comment in the group, and nothing, nothing… I think I’m alone here… echoes…  crickets…  crickets reverberating off the walls…  a ghost drifts by…  and then I discover that no, I wasn’t actually online!  My connection has bombed.  By the time it’s back up, the social hour (drinks on the house) in the Book Club is over, and two people have commented and wanted to start conversations, and others have come by to look and observe nothing happening…  aaarrrrgh!

Oh well.  It’s regardless, I’ll keep going, I’ll keep cranking the engine of that group on a Monday night, sooner or later people will notice.

I have three pet-hates for “sales” words (actually they are “no-sale words”) :

  • “Consignment”
  • “SOR”
  • “90 days”  (Both ways, either them wanting 90 days to pay me or wanting to only give the books 90 days to display rather than attempt to sell them)

“Them thar’s fighting words!”

And there are two key words that will seal a deal with me on the spot:

“Cash upfront”.

Oh and by the way…

That nice little place I posted, that is stocking some of our books and is considering a launch next year?

Don’t count on it.  For some obscure reason they got weird today.  (*shakes head*)  I’ll have to check with the main lady there if that was actually real, or just a mood of the other one; and what on Earth precipitated it.

But there are plenty of lovely, unique coffee shops in Pretoria (and I’m sure in the other places too) that would probably appreciate the patronage from a book launch.  It’s not as though we’re low on venues, on the contrary I feel quite divided as I have at least 3 places I’d love to give my loyalty to for the next launches and another 2 that invited us; this list includes bookshops, libraries and arty cafes.  (Special characters where are you?)

So, cheers!  And I’m calling on Ark for that author interview with his coffee maker in the P’kaboo Book Club.  Yesterday bombed out; next Monday better luck.  Monday Funday.


….signing off in Calligraffiti…


Good science, bad science (sit, stay!)

I enjoy a good debate, but not unconditionally.  Here’s what I hate about such debates.  (Warning:  Contains spoilers)

The Scientific Principle

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” (Richard Feynman)

“One of the key points of the scientific method (the whole basis for science) is that it is negativistic. This means we keep moving towards the impossible goal of actually knowing anything. The goal is impossible because we can never really be certain the answers we have for something are correct, and there is always the assumption that there are better answers out there.
So, calling science the “belief in the ignorance of experts” is basically saying that following science is the same as putting your faith into people who admit they don’t really know anything. Even though they might have a lot of knowledge in their field, scientists are aware that all that knowledge is temporary and could easily be replaced by new theories, so they are all essentially ignorant (in a way).” (“Answers”)

I quote Richard Feynman on this because I couldn’t have phrased it better.  The German animal ethologist Konrad Lorenz in his “Die Rückseite des Spiegels” (English translation of the book: “Behind the Mirror – A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge”) explains that every morning as he gets up, he throws his favourite theory overboard.  Subsequently he has to find enough evidence to allow himself to consider it a possibility again.

Good science consists of research – the key being the “search”, and the search for more.  An experiment is a question posed to nature.  The answer will either tell you that your hypothesis is wrong, or it will strengthen (but never “prove”) the hypothesis (proofs are what happens in math, not in science, so if anyone tells you “it has been scientifically proven”, question their knowledge).  A hypothesis can go on for centuries and all evidence might be in favour (e.g. the “flat Earth” hypothesis – btw other Greek philosophers had already postulated a round planet), until a new invention (the telescope) suddenly upsets the whole applecart.

Instead of embracing the new evidence with excitement (for hurray, our knowledge is increasing), unfortunately it is human nature to slay the messenger.  Humans are animals of habit and don’t like change.  Often a bad theory has to die out with the last of the people who firmly, unshakably, keep believing in it against all new evidence.

Experiments need to be repeatable.  If the same setup keeps on giving the same answer, a correlation is more and more likely.  If an effect was only observed once, never to be repeated, it was probably caused by something outside of the experimental setup – some uncontrolled variable the researcher overlooked.

A lot of science is empirical, or begins empirically.  

The observation that “every time if this, then that” is at the very root of good science.   “Hey, I observe that every time I give somebody tea laced with hemlock, they die horribly.  Could there be a pattern?”

The step that follows empirical observation in science, ought to be an experiment.  “Okay, let’s give 100 people tea laced with hemlock and see if the effect repeats.”

To ensure that the experiment rules out some sort if bias (perhaps those 100 people are dying from the tea, not the hemlock) you need to set up a control group.  Let’s give 100 more people tea without hemlock.  And just to ensure that there isn’t even more of a bias, include another group that is given nothing at all.

The resultant observations strengthen or disprove the hypothesis (“Hemlock causes death”).


96% of people given hemlock tea died spontaneously, shortly after.  (3% were rushed to hospital and are in ICU in varying conditions. 1% died from strangulation after refusing to drink his tea.)

95% of people drinking tea without hemlock did not die.  (2% had lethal tea allergy.  1% drowned accidentally the same day, 1% died in a car crash and 1% passed away from old age.)

45% of the control group given nothing, also did not die.  (There was a civil war that killed the other 55%, which means because the statistics seem to indicate that no hemlock kills about half as many people as hemlock does, the experiment needs to be repeated.)


Due to the second control group showing irregularities, the results are inconclusive and more research needs to be done.

Bad Science:

Companies packaging and selling hemlock tea therefore list on the box that  Studies done on hemlock have all yielded inconclusive results.  The scientist conducting these experiments has been jailed and stripped of her title due to bad practices.  There is absolutely no established link between hemlock and death – only inconclusive results.  Therefore, hemlock has been proven safe.

(For those who did not “get” this:

Seralini homepage

What the media made of it

Hemlock tea, anyone?)


If something has not been proven dangerous that does not mean it’s been proven safe.

Watch out for the following tactics by those who would discredit empirical observations:

  • name-calling and discrediting (calling the person doing the observation, stupid, uneducated, a layman etc etc)
  • more name-calling:
    • “denialist”, “denier”, “conspiracy theorist”, “pseudo-scientist” (usually from the horse’s mouth), “dissident”, “anti-…” (fill in blank)
  • websites with down-pat “answers” (that are, on closer observation, usually full of holes)
  • replying to objections to those holes, with more name-calling and discrediting, and foul language and temper

Seriously, the second someone calls me names or discredits me instead of dealing with the material at hand, I know they are out of ammo.  They have no real reply.  They are thinking with their emotions.

It is easy to call someone who uses the scientifically correct terms “it seems”, “inconclusive”, “needs more research” and “too little is known” stupid and ignorant.  After all, if you know and they can merely postulate or doubt, you are the guru, right?  Not.


Science is the process of constantly doubting everything.  That’s a stable premise we can work from.  Nothing is certain.  Even what we think is certain, is not certain.


  • Without googling it, quickly off the top of your head, what’s your educated guess about current CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere?
  • Is increased CO2 bad for plant growth?
  • Without googling it, what’s the real physiological danger of elevated CO2 levels in your surrounds?


Good publicity: Tackling the Truth Denialists

Yes.  There isn’t much to add to that, the heading actually says it all.

Funny how such posts serve to draw out the trolls.  Sometimes I wonder why I even reply to their comments – why I allow them to goad me.  I have nothing to prove to them; those who read my blog regularly know my background, and those who are drawn only by a single post must be pretty professional lowbrows to presume the post has no history, no previous posts that relate to it.  But it’s in fact revealing to watch them in action.

They latch onto something in the post (some statement made in irony), and use that to take the whole comment line off-topic.  They trot out their well-worn arguments and links (that they re-use on every blog they invade – I know because I recognize those answers).   The arguments may have nothing to do with the post itself, or only touch it marginally…  like the two trolls on the vaccine post who concluded that I must not know about the rabies vaccine and the usual procedure, because I mentioned that there’s a commercial push to vaccinate all newborns against Hep B (which is an STD), but not against rabies.  The point was not the rabies vaccine but the herd mentality.  But if that’s too complex to discern for a blog troll, he must really think me stupid to believe him an MD.

Similarly a while back I reblogged an article from some or other newspaper, that the Arctic ice cap had been recovering.

By posting this I managed to trigger a climate troll who then turned into an instant expert on Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.  All the argument Climategaters always trot out, were launched at me, and then said troll made the mistake of directing me to a website where every objection a climate “denialist” can raise, is answered with a standard, rehearsed answer…  a no-brainer for those who want to win an argument.  The website was titled “how to win an argument against” and I found a whole series of those, by googling that phrase.  The “series” even includes how to win arguments against those who don’t believe in the Young Earth philosophy (heck I can’t get myself to call it a “theory”).

Let me try another piece of bait.

Apparently the ozone hole is recovering?

I did not read the article.  Let me repeat this for those who missed it:  I have not read the article I’ve just linked to.  Because this is a thought experiment.  I’ll be making some predictions.

I predict that either

1) the recovery of the ozone hole (which must be measurable or UN wouldn’t report on it) is credited to human intervention and reduction in emission gasses.  This in an era of unprecedented greenhouse gas emission:  (pls note it’s the same UN reporting on this).

Or, in the article I did not read,

2) the recovery of the ozone hole is credited to natural increase in ozone production driven by lightning, and by solar UV irradiation.

In the case of 1), it means that somehow, in an era of the fastest ever rate of emissions in history, we have managed to bring our emissions under control to a large enough extent that the ozone hole is recovering.  As you see this is a clear contradiction.

In the case of 2) it would mean that somehow, the ozone hole recovers naturally despite our emissions being higher than ever before.  Could that lead one to conclude that the ozone hole’s mechanisms are larger than all humankind’s emissions put together (and that, one step further, we perhaps didn’t cause it in the first place)?

Now I sit back and wait.  With some luck one of those experts will come swimming by and explain to me how this works, precisely, and why my conclusions (that human emissions don’t influence the ozone hole as much as we thought) are wrong.  “It’s not as simplistic as that”…  fine then:  enlighten me?  I’m rather curious how the climate “consensusists” will deal with this apparently obvious discrepancy.

But oh, so predictable…  (* sits back and waits… *)