Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fish eat plastic like teenagers eat fast food

As the BBC put it last year

Or maybe they don't. 

From Sciencemag we have this fishy tale.

GOTLAND, SWEDEN—It's a cold, dreary day in early March, and Josefin Sundin is standing in one of the two aquarium rooms at the Ar Research Station on a remote corner of Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. "This is where it all happened," she says, while gazing around as if searching for fresh clues. Her colleague and friend Fredrik Jutfelt takes cellphone pictures.

Nine months ago, these two researchers triggered a scandal in Swedish science by accusing another friend and colleague of making up research supposedly done here. Now, they have returned to Gotland to discuss what happened—and how whistleblowing has taken over their lives. The station is deserted; the 2017 research season has yet to start. But the station manager, Anders Nissling, has made a pot of strong coffee and is happy to give a tour of the offices and laboratories where researchers come to study the creatures and ecosystems of the sea and a nearby lake.

At the heart of the case is a three-page paper that made headlines after it was published in Science* on 3 June 2016. It showed that, given a choice between a natural diet and tiny plastic fragments, perch larvae will consume the plastic "like teens eat fast food," as a BBC story put it. This unhealthy appetite reduced their growth and made them more vulnerable to predators. It was a dire warning, suggesting the plastic trash washing into rivers, lakes, and oceans was creating ecological havoc.

The study was also, Sundin and Jutfelt claim, "a complete fantasy." It was purportedly done at the Ar station in the spring of 2015 by Oona Lönnstedt, a research fellow at Sweden's Uppsala University (UU); her supervisor and only co-author, Peter Eklöv, did not work on the island. Sundin, a postdoc at UU, was working at the station at that time, too, and occasionally lent Lönnstedt a hand. But she saw no sign of a study of the scope and size described in Science.

Jutfelt, who like Sundin is Swedish but works as an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, also spent a few days at the station when the study supposedly took place, and didn't see it either. Lönnstedt wasn't even on the island long enough to do the study described in Science, the duo claims. Many other details were, well, fishy, they said, such as Lönnstedt's claim that part of the study's data was forever lost because her laptop was stolen 10 days after the paper was published.

Read the full story at

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Mainstream media explained

The principle of least effort is a broad theory that covers diverse fields from evolutionary biology to webpage design. It postulates that animals, people, even well-designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or "effort". It is closely related to many other similar principles: see Principle of least action or other articles listed below. This is perhaps best known or at least documented among researchers in the field of library and information science. Their principle states that an information-seeking client will tend to use the most convenient search method, in the least exacting mode available. Information seeking behavior stops as soon as minimally acceptable results are found. This theory holds true regardless of the user's proficiency as a searcher, or their level of subject expertise

One might add to this and suggest that mainstream media must equate least effort with least cost. A simple copy and paste job from an external source suited to the known tastes of a reasonably well-understood readership. Tits and bums, celebrities and sport, gossip and prejudice. Naturally the prejudice can be high-minded if that is what the market demands.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Perhaps someone was making a point

Since the Labour party leadership debacle I've sometimes wondered if the party knows how many politically hostile people acquired the right to vote in order to elect the most useless candidate. Although the party seems to have a vetting process, I don't think they know.

During my occasional attempts to track down some credible numbers, I came across this article from August 2015. The comments at the end of the piece amused me. There are nine identical comments under nine different names, even though you supposedly have to log in or register to leave a comment. Perhaps someone was making a point.  

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Free Speech University Rankings

If you haven't already seen it, Spiked has ranked universities by their approach to free speech. Apparently many universities don't believe in it, so no surprises there.

The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) is the UK’s first university rankings for free speech. We survey British universities, examining the policies and actions of universities and students' unions, and rank them using our traffic-light system.

Friday, 17 March 2017

I mean... yeah

Edited for our entertainment of course. They can't all be like this.

Can they?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Road accident

This morning we were fretting over an unusual tailback of traffic before we realised it was due to an accident about fifty yards further on. A recent collision between a car and a motorcycle, both badly damaged and the motorcyclist still lying in the road.

It was broad daylight, dry and impossible to see who may have been at fault. Although road accidents are far more common than they ought to be, the sight of one is an extremely sobering reminder of perspectives.

From one perspective drivers often criticise the endless petty restrictions, prohibitions and warnings which are a part their lives. I certainly do. The criticisms are usually valid too, because much of the time driving is a frustrating, almost humiliating chore.

Yet from another perspective serious road accidents are personal disasters which ripple out from a moment of inattention and damage lives, sometimes permanently. The pressure to minimise them is entirely understandable. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Phil's handbrake turn

Philip Hammond’s decision to abandon his proposed NI increase for the self-employed is one of those political debacles I find slightly puzzling.

Philip Hammond has abandoned plans to raise national insurance for self-employed workers in this Parliament after admitting that it breached the "spirit" of the manifesto.

The Chancellor provoked a furious reaction from Tory back-benchers after using his Budget to announce plans to raise NI contributions for the self-employed by 2 per cent.

It was easy enough to foresee that Hammond's proposed change would be attacked by Conservative voters and probably by his own MPs too. In which case one might conclude that Hammond completely misread an obvious problem with his proposal and from that one might go on to dismiss him as a fool.

Maybe he is a fool or maybe he simply made a political blunder, but the budget is a team effort and however tight that team may be, such a simple blunder seems unlikely. Far from impossible, but unlikely.

A blunder is one explanation and perhaps the best explanation because unlikely events happen all the time, but another explanation is bad advice. Somehow Hammond was persuaded that the NI change was a good idea, or it was his idea and nobody managed to dissuade him. The possibility that he was badly advised is interesting. Somebody sticking the knife in by landing him with a wholly foreseeable political disaster?

That’s one of the problems with politics. We rarely know enough detail and tend to plump for the easy explanation which in this case may be right. Or it may not. The knives may be out for Phil.