A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Getting in a paddy about 'global warming'.....

There has been an awful lot of stir frying about 'global warming' and falling rice yields over the last few days (inexorably, of course, in The Gloomiad: 'Global warming has cut yields, say scientists' [The Guardian, July 1]).

Most of it is just plain chaff. Luckily, however, the ever-useful, and scientifically-sharp, 'Crumb Trail' blog has most helpfully winnowed out much of the dross: 'Mental rice cakes' (June 29):

"Breathless announcements of climate effects by doom mongers are tediously common but unhelpful. Such hysterical claims deceive that part of the public that is ignorant of the issues and so unable to immediately detect the falseness of the claims. In time the deceits are always exposed. This has happened on other issues time and again, notably with the 'frankenfood blunder', so that the public is becoming increasingly wary of doom mongers and cynical about governments, politicized scientists and media that perpetrate these hoaxes.

..... The effects of heat on rice, a cool season C3 grass, are ancient knowledge and the subject of ongoing research. Many countries such as the US and China have always been affected by annual variations in temperature since they grow crops at the limits of their range. Improved cultivars of crop plants that are increasingly heat, salt and drought tolerant have resulted from research and will continue to do so at an accelerated pace as we become increasingly skilled...." (read on).

We really must put a halt to all this nonsense. Taking the temperature of the Earth every media second is making ecochondriacs of us all!

Philip, going against the gloomsters' grain. Coffee, old bean?

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The EnviroSpin Quiz.....

By using the excellent Web Site, Quizilla, EnviroSpin is able to offer you a fun little quiz.

In relation to the environment in particular, Know your UK Daily National Newspaper of Choice (DNOC).

Enjoy. If you have a blog or a web page, you will be offered a block of code to show your result to others.

I see that famous quiz aficionado, Norm, could not resist (honestly too) and he found himself 'Well and truly DNOCed'. He talks of leopards and spots and old dogs.....

Philip, quizzing ecohype on a daily basis. Breakfast soon, Pooh.
Fair prospects for all.....

Do not miss this important piece from the July issue of the ever-excellent Prospect magazine: 'Worldly wealth' (Prospect, July 2004):

"Can everyone on earth be rich? Not rich in relative terms - in a world of billionaires, millionaires would feel poor - but in terms of the lifestyle choices that today only the rich enjoy: in particular, in stuff (personal technology), space (low-density living in proximity to nature), and speed (geographic mobility). The world's population is expected to stabilise at around 9bn and then decline.

Can 9bn people enjoy stuff, space and speed?

The austerity school says no. The earth's environment will be devastated if 9bn human beings attempt to enjoy the average standard of living of a middle-class individual - much less a rich person - in Europe, North America or Japan. Not only should the majority of the world's people resign themselves to poverty forever, but rich nations must also revert to simpler lifestyles in order to save the planet.

But the pessimism of the austerity school is unfounded....." [read on]

Philip, with the fair prospect of seeing his grandson this morning. Don't miss our little newspaper quiz (above). Coffee?

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Guardian showered.....

The Daily Ablution blog has The Groaniad right under its shower head: 'Manufacturing Environmental "Fact": Greenhouse Guardianistas' (June 30).

No case of back scrubbing there!

Philip, with a new slogan: "Annoy a Puritan; buy a Patio Heater today!" [See the teeny speck of dirt, 'Hot Air', again from today's The Gloomiad]. Tea on the patio? I'll just put the heater on.
Time to get foxy over your web browser.....

The latest security breach affecting Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) has proved the final keystroke for me : 'Web browser flaw prompts warning' (BBC Online Technology News, June 26): "Users are being told to avoid using Internet Explorer (IE) until Microsoft patches a serious security hole in it. The loophole is being exploited to open a backdoor on a PC that could let criminals take control of a machine. The threat of infection is so high because the code created to exploit the loophole has somehow been placed on many popular websites. Experts say the list of compromised sites involves banks, auction and price comparison firms and is growing fast." As Basil Brush would say: "Boom! Boom!"

I therefore do not apologise today for blogging on something other than the environment. This is vital for us all. Having patched and patched, there comes a limit to one's patience with a system that appears to be so full of security holes that your 'mouse' will never be short of a home. It is, of course, good to learn that the Russian web server at the centre of this dangerous net security problem has now been closed down (although nobody knows how many machines might have been compromised) (see: 'Internet browser breach defused' BBC Online Technology News, June 28), but I've had enough. Why on this virtual earth should users be blamed for not updating enough? I've always religiously updated, but, in this particular instance, there still isn't a patch available for home users.

Thus, following expert advice, including that of my highly computer-literate (university-trained) son-in-law, I have abandoned MSIE and 'Outlook Express' and I have transferred to the quite splendid 'Firefox' browser and 'Thunderbird' e-mail client. Both are excellent, crammed full of features, and both seem to work seamlessly on my machine. Moreover, as they are open-source software under constant and imaginative development, they are free and highly customisable. I also like the idea of using open-source software that has no commercial ties. It feels good.

The 'Firefox' browser (Basil Brush, the famous television fox, would surely bark merrily at the name) can be downloaded free from here: 'Firefox Download'. 'Firefox' runs on Windows (98 to XP, but it is especially suitable for XP), Linux, and Mac (full system requirements are provided - I believe it also supports Solaris and OS/2). The Windows download is a mere 4.78MB, which takes seconds on a fast broadband connection. The tremendous feature range includes built-in Pop-up Blocking, highly-flexible Tabbed Browsing, Smarter Search (with Google in the tool bar), File Download direct to your Desktop, Keystroke Text Zooming, and so much more. Above all, however, 'Firefox' is built with security in mind. It thus does not load harmful ActiveX controls and a comprehensive set of privacy tools keeps online activity one's own business. What is also excellent is the fact that the newest version possesses an Easy Transition System that imports all of your personal settings - Favourites, Passwords, and other data - from your previous browser. Here is a recent review of 'Firebird' (an earlier version) from Forbes (February 4): 'Building a better browser': "Within minutes, it becomes clear that Firebird is a breath of fresh air compared to Explorer."

The associated e-mail client, 'Thunderbird', can be downloaded free from here: 'Thunderbird Download'. Again, 'Thunderbird' runs on Windows (XP best), Linux, and Mac, and the Windows download is again small at 5.9MB. It supports IMAP/POP, HTML mail, labels, quick search, smart address book, spell-checking, return receipts, advanced message filtering, LDAP address completion, import tools, powerful search, and the ability to manage multiple e-mail and newsgroup accounts. Above all, however, 'Thunderbird', like 'Firefox', has a range of built-in security features, providing an effective tool for detecting junk mail, as well as enterprise and government-grade security features, such as S/MIME, digital signing, message encryption, and support for certificates and security devices. And, even more importantly for safety, no script is allowed to run by default.

'Firefox' and 'Thunderbird' are from The Mozilla Foundation, which makes free, or open-source, software. This means that you can use them without restriction, including for corporate use. Even the source code is available for you to study.

This is surely the way forward in a responsible and open web community. I'm personally delighted with both 'Firefox' and 'Thunderbird', but especially with the former.

I would add, for fairness and completeness, that there is also another excellent browser you might like to consider as an alternative, namely 'Opera', although this is not free (USD39). PC World, US, nevertheless, voted it the 'Best Browser of 2004'.

What is clear, however, is that there is at last an excellent range of alternative browsers from which to choose, and one can, therefore, perhaps for the first time since the old 'Netscape' wars, exercise genuine consumer power.

I would thus recommend hunting with the 'Firefox' and the 'Thunderbird', or having a night at the 'Opera'. Full Marx (sic joke!) all round. I would finally add that 'Netscape 7.1' also remains freely downloadable (here).

Philip, glad his daughter married a computer buff. Jolly useful. Lunch Thunderbird?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

My essay on change....

I have decided to republish here various essays I have written over the years on important topics relating to the environment. The first is my essay on 'change is all'.....

'Harvard Forest: a biogeographical short story'

"He visited - still flitting -
Then like a timid Man
Again, He tapped - 'twas flurriedly -
And I became alone -"

(Emily Dickinson, c. 1862)


The wind was high in the red oaks and white pine as I walked the silica paths of Harvard Forest - alone. All was soft, with rain and sand, needle and leaf. Dull clouds scudded in from the south over rounded hills; the air was chill, and maples would soon mirror the sunset in their leaves. I strode on, briskly, past smaller forests of green clubmoss and fern, on by dark stone walls where shrews flattened their bodies in crevice and crack, and on again through plantations of red pines, hunched from the hurricanes of former years. I saw no deer, no porcupine, no salamanders, nor any other form of life, save only the wind in the tall trees, in the hemlock, in the grey birch, and in the smooth-rind beech.

The path I was following divided suddenly, a left-hand turn descending in gentle curves to a damper, quieter valley. The main track forged ahead, through a closed barrier gate, into denser woods on higher ground, where the way was stony and littered with large acorn cups. I pressed on, round the gate and upwards, breathing heavily as I reached the lonely crest; now the wind howled and sighed yet more, calling me to halt. A little below the hill, where a dank pool filled a hollow by the path, I stopped and climbed the outer boulders of a broken wall, and there I sat, listening, my eyes closed, to the sounds of wood and wind, and to the stories they might tell. How long I sat, huddled on that ancient wall, I cannot recall, but the tales I heard are with me forever.



My mind was lost in the flurries of the wind, and pictures formed of long ago, hazy, violet, as if seen through the famous lilac glass of Beacon Hill. I witnessed a grove of saplings, each striving to become a tree, but each then dying before its time. Again the shoots came up, and yet again they fell, their bark riven by some dreadful blight, vile red and orange. Once more the saplings came and went, and, as they faded finally from my mind, I saw one chestnut tree, majestic and bold, grow like a memory. Memory?

Then all went dark, and the equinoctial wind blew fiercer and fiercer still, until the noise was deafening in my head. I cried out, and, as the image cleared, I saw great trees thrown in swathes across the path, and others bent and bowed before the storm. The seething landscape became an ever-changing sea of gale-gaps and writhing trunks, tossed and turning in the Atlantic ocean of the sky. Lightning forked to earth, stripping the bark from stricken trees, while the north was burnished with fire. A searing heat passed quickly by, branding each bole as it went, until the wind fell, and from the blackened earth there came new growth, weedy and weak, of pin cherry, popple, and scrub oak, which flared again, grew once more, and vanished into peace. Peace?

A new light broke in the east. Shafts touched first the tops of thin oaks, then white pines, and the hum of a sawmill filled the air, as "Bumble bee of June"; the scent was sweet indeed! But slowly, in shifting dioramas of the mind, my sense of forest, of shade and dapple, of canopy and crown, was lost completely, revealing instead curved, undressed hills, with white clapboard houses in their folds, and orange pumpkins stacked by neat stone walls. All so well-tended and so-well tamed! So very human! Human?

The houses then grew smaller, becoming little log cabins, until at length, smoke rose from a single tiny sod roof; one brown field, stark and clean, hemmed in by rough boulders, lay in the foreground of my thoughts. A man was building a wall, a cow grazed, and a dog barked. And the trees once more clothed the hills behind the working scene, though they too, I could discern, knew of wind and fire, storm and fury. And then, last of all, I heard the echo-sounds of an older people, faint and far, lost forever.



The wind, a falling acorn, or a branch, tapped lightly on my shoulder, and I caught the sound of axe on wood. A man was busy among the trees.

"Good afternoon", I called. He turned, straightened His back, and then drew nearer to the wall.

"Goodman", He said. "The Wind blows gay today. The Landscape of the Spirit requires a lung, but no Tongue."

I asked His story.

His only constant was the black gum in the swamps. For Him, the rest was new, and on His fields too, although He did recall the older forests, a different mix of pine, hemlock, and oak. But that was long ago. Yet, He remembered - hard pioneering times. He was sad to see the stone walls so collapsed and ill-kept, but He knew that change was life, and, after all, there is no need for a wall in a wood. His house had survived, He said, the burial ground and all, consecrated. Continuity and change. Why fear it? Old men regret the past, but older still full circle come, and then accept - in Heaven, or in cold Earth. He must back to the grave, the gift of men, there to feed the new Land.

"Your name, Sir?" I begged.

"Sanderson, Sir. Good Day."

I should have known. "Good Day, Sir!" But not forevermore.



I awoke, stiff and cold, still sitting on the broken wall. I shivered. The wood was darker now as light faded overhead. Dusk was falling. The wind was biting, sharper still.

I jumped down, and started to retrace my steps, a slight urgency in my tread lest I should lose the path. Soon I had passed the barrier gate, and I was once again on the main forest road, soft and friendly to the feet. I felt renewed inside, the eyes less heavy, the body not quite so weary; I was regenerated for people, - for company, - for a time. I met two walkers, urban clean and eager, with cameras on wide coloured straps. What irony! Bostonians in their 'native' woods, or so they think! Like Thoreau by his pond, Concord-close and sister-safe, with Sunday lunch so close on hand.

I went on my way, smiling at our folly. "Global change". Why worry? Change is all, was all, will be all. "Global stasis" - now that really would be a shock! Forests come and forests go. We can not stop them. I think I may meet Goodman Sanderson again - in an Amazonian wood? - different, of course - a hundred years hence?

His house, by the way, is on the right - just over there - full of earnest young scientists who worry a lot. But I think I'm ready for "the worst". Nothing is relevant. All is a prank -

"What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!"

(Emily Dickinson, c.1859)

They have, and will too! Transcendentally - (Emerson or Kant?). And Verena went off with her man.



P.S. The author does not know how Sanderson could quote Emily Dickinson on "The Landscape of the Spirit..."; perhaps He has encountered Mrs J. G. Holland, for whom it was written in a letter of early March, 1866. [See, for pedantry's sake: T. H. Johnson and T. Ward (eds), The Letters of Emily Dickinson, 3 vols, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1958: II, Letter 315, p. 450.)

[This essay, here slightly adapted, was first published in: Global Ecology and Biogeography Letters, Vol.1(4), July 1991, pp. 99 - 101. © Blackwell Science 1991 and © Philip Stott 2004.]

Philip, in retrospective reveries. Coffee should do the trick!

Monday, June 28, 2004

Health warnings.....

Two excellent letters to The Guardian plonking Michael Meacher's dire anti-GM diatribe of last Friday firmly in the freezer section: 'It's already in the fridge' (The Guardian, June 28):

"Most of Michael Meacher's comments misrepresent the science that many of the studies he refers to are based upon", says one.

I think these Guardian pieces should carry a 'Health Warning': Ecohype on Page: 80% by content.

Philip, suffering from some equally dire 24-hour bug. Still, can't take a 'sicky' from blogging. No deep red claret tonight though. Gripe water? "I don't care where the water goes...!"

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Largely poppycock.....

So we have no summer weeds, have we? Here we go again - it's 'Get Modern Farmer Giles [aka Brian Aldridge]' time and yet another cause for collective angst over the supposed loss of heritage 'biodiversity': 'Experts fear for popular flowers' (BBC Online Science/Nature News, June 27):

"Some of the most beloved British summer wildflowers are, in fact, the most endangered.....

Researchers say arable plants, a group which includes poppies and buttercups, have shown the greatest decline of any type of British flora.

The group is urging farmers to count the arable plants on their land to create an accurate national survey."

And underneath a picture of a crimson poppy, we have the wide-eyed caption: "Many of Britain's most popular wildflowers are under threat."

Baldrickdash! I have never seen so many poppies for years! And where? On roadside and railway embankmemts, new cuttings, road workings, and roundabouts! Many of the plants in question are terrific opportunistic annuals and tough, rough biennials/perennials that just revel in disturbed ground - and they don't bother to distinguish between ploughs and bulldozers, hoes and diggers. Moreover, poppies don't hang around waiting for conservationists to preserve 'old English fields'; with true Darwinian spirit, they crop up wherever they seed (sic joke!) an opening. "Hey, Poppy Pals! Have you heard about that new railway they're building in Kent? I'd hop down there real quick for the summer."

So where should we be out counting the poppies? By new roads, along railway embankments, and around building sites - all a paradise for former field 'weeds', not to mention for an intriguing array of alien rarities. It is entirely arguable that building and development have markedly increased British biodiversity! "But them's not 'heritage', be they?"

The white chalk around where I live in Kent is presently stained blood-red with poppies. Bleeding millions of 'em! And what did I see the other day as I curved my way onto the M25? A bunch of summer orchids in full show. Fragrant thought.

So: "I know a road on which the wild thyme grows." Has it dawned on folks that new building is so often good for plants? You just ask a saxicolous lichen! (Don't look stony-faced!). Of course, there are some less-adaptive field plants that do need protection, but let's not talk general PC poppycock.

Philip, identifying rare poppycock wherever it pops up! Luncheon - a good sauvignon blanc to toast..... "Papaver rhoeas rampant"?

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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