Fiction Drop: Dirty Bomb

Dirty Bomb

By Lee Tennant

They say a lot of things about writing.

They say to write what you know. They say to show, not tell. They say to be subtle. They say to use innovative language while making your message clear.

They say a lot of things. Or at least they used to.

I am a writer, or at least fancy myself one, so I didn’t want this to be a diatribe.

My diatribe.

And even though I know this will go on a silent blog on a cascading, collapsing internet that only the few access anymore, still I will write it. I will post it. I will not be subtle. I will tell and if I show it will be incidental.

But I will absolutely write about what I know. After all, this is my diatribe.

I remember the morning. Do you? It was around 8am, at least in my lazy corner of the world. I was in my local coffee shop; writing. I still had a fantasy I would be a writer. Like everything else, I was too cautious and the moment passed. As it passed for everyone.

I’d slept poorly the night before. There were strange imprecise noises, distorted by the clear, calm air of 2am. Popping. Banging. Pffts of air escaping. I thought it was animals; the small scurrying foraging kind. Or neighbours banging around, perhaps.

I checked the house. I checked the car. Nothing. So I went back to bed and had strange dreams of evil, choking winds shut out only by my flimsy windows.

When my alarm went off at 5:30am I wanted the sleep-in I was never able to achieve. But I got up anyway, had some Vegemite toast and a cup of tea, packed my bag, went to the gym and now I was in the closest cafe. Scribbling half-formed thoughts onto the page, drinking strong coffee and pretending I was a writer.

It was a cool, clear morning: the kind that put the beautiful and the perfect into Queensland’s old tourism slogan. I didn’t have a preferred cafe; choosing one depending on my mood, my budget, the weather. A hundred different unacknowledged things.

Often I launched myself from my bed and onto the mainland early so I could get to work at a decent hour but today I’d decided to stay on my island and sip my coffee and watch ink flow impotently from my pen with a view of Moreton Bay.

When the first one fell, I thought it was rain from a cloudless sky: not uncommon on that coastline where winds could blow droplets from clouds well out of sight. Or, less explicably, hail.

It hit the compact sand, fine like dirt, and let out a small burst of air like a gasp. It didn’t smell. Don’t let anybody tell you that it did. The fancifists who speak of sulphur fumes or flowery perfumes or formaldehyde are guilty of the same human flaws that led us here. I have no more time for them. I have no love left for anyone.

They dropped from the sky like rain, although they were not rain. The spit their cargo into the air like breath, although it was not breath. And then they dissolved into almost nothing, although were not nothing.

Some fell near underfunded universities or neglected public research institutions like CSIRO. Some small specimens were quickly scraped and stored to be studied. And then those areas were defunded and the samples were handed to the private labs that acquired them and they determined there was no commercial value to the research and the samples mouldered in storage.

Is mouldered even a word? For that matter is fancifists? I’m not sure I care anymore.

It made the news, of course. You remember. Morning television dubbed it TERRORISM and immediately trotted out every wild-eyed Islamaphobe they could find. They tried their best to whip up a fear frenzy but, as the day progressed, they had to acknowledge the truth: the small translucent missiles had rained down upon everybody. All at once. And they had pelted the ISS and some now-damaged satellites on their way to the surface.

And that was when the fun really began.

The Daily Mail could do headlines, although they rarely bothered to underpinned them with journalism.

Alien Invasion?

Space Balls Change Human DNA, Scientists Claim

Chinese More Susceptible

The last wasn’t even in the scientific paper the sensationalist article was pretending to discuss. It was a quote at the end by a Doctor Wakefield who claimed the findings showed we were inside a genetic Trojan Horse of alien design.

He claimed the subtle genetic changes attributed to the spheres were more significant in people of Asian descent – specifically those with an epicanthic fold – and more prevalent in Han Chinese.

The epicanthic fold was found across Asia and in other populations as well, including the Berbers and Indigenous Americans. So why were the Chinese singled out, I mused in a terse and sarcastic tweet on the article. And why did the Daily Mail include this racist addition from someone who wasn’t even a geneticist in its headline, I asked in a follow-up quote tweet. They do know that people with Down Syndrome have an epicanthic fold as well, a follower tweeted back. We were united in our scorn. The Daily Mail doing what they do best.

A former CSIRO scientist I knew – newly unemployed of course – was scathing of the claim.

The substance released by the spheres does seem to be implicated in several epigenetic changes across the population. However, there’s no evidence these epigenetic changes have any effect on people’s health. The new genes expressed have no identifiable impact on anybody in which they have been observed. We need to do further studies of course, especially into the intergenerational consequences of these changes being passed down. But for now the changes seem inconsequential.”

His comments were reported in the Herald Sun as:

Alien Gene Manipulation Could Be Passed To Our Children

Three exclamation points.

I turned off the television for good after one too many What Are the Aliens Planning? special news bulletins. Andrew Bolt interviewed Alan Jones on why we should all be scared. They all agreed the aliens had a plan. Why were the lefties and femininazis suddenly quiet about a real threat to our sovereignty? They were obviously alien sympathisers who hated humanity.

And so it went on. And on. And on.

And so I had a drop out day.

A drop out day was when I closed the blinds, grabbed a good book, brewed the coffee in quantities sufficient for an IV drip and pretended the world didn’t exist.

I’d spent the week in my normal routine of work and complaining about the increasingly-insane world I lived in. It was Saturday and refugees were still in hellhole concentration camps where people were being beaten and raped. Domestic violence was at epidemic proportions, something which was apparently a man-hating beat-up by the feminists. Climate change was marching quickly; destroying slowly the lives of billions and our government was still committed to actively making that happen. Universal healthcare was being sliced to an ugly death. Trump had been elected President of the United States.

It was too much and I was exhausted.

With my connection to the outside world severed and my brain in the world of a Jasper Fforde novel, I drank my weight in coffee and, after 3pm, gin and didn’t hear about it until Sunday.

By then the horror was so well-advanced, the inevitability of it hit me like a dirty brick to the face and my drop out day seemed as selfish and as self-indulgent as it had been.

That previously-laughable rabble known as Border Force had quietly rounded up hundreds of Australians of Chinese descent and sent them to Nauru and PNG: sliding them across the border before the law could stop them.

In retrospect, that heinous act had been a culmination.

There had been rumours on quality new organisations like Al Jazeera for a while.

A mob in Malaysia burning Chinese businesses. An Islamic group in Pakistan declaring Jihad on those who were no longer God’s Children. (You remember them. The Australian media insisted on mispronouncing their name as a type of soup).

The American pastor who claimed the Chinese were now a fifth column for the devil, working with the communist United Nations to take away his guns and make him pay more tax.

An anti-vaxxer in Britain who said the genetic changes were actually caused by vaccines and the government was in league with the pharmaceutical companies to cover it up. Those companies, he proclaimed in a peculiarly manic manner, were somehow both Zionist and Chinese.

In Japan, the Chinese population had quietly been interned, causing what was euphemistically called an “international incident”. The Japanese declared their population free of epigenetic changes; a fact that couldn’t possibly be true but that was accepted by the international community for reasons I found baffling. The Chinese government insisted on their release and rattled some sabres. This was reported in the Australian media as further evidence of Chinese aggression.

After all, we’d been nervous about China before G-Day. Han Chinese made up 20% of the world’s population. And now – the papers and Murdoch news increasingly told us – it was possible they weren’t even really human anymore. And if they were, well, those genetic changes meant something. Otherwise, why would the aliens have wasted resources making them happen?

I wasn’t the most avid reader of popular news but even I couldn’t miss the subtle change in language we’d achieved by the second anniversary of G-Day. Suddenly these scattered epigenetic changes were referred to an ‘alien infection’. Humans were ‘infected by alien code’ and who knew what instructions our genome was now following.

Extremist groups were beginning to force the government to refer to these changes as ‘Alien DNA’ and no amount of rationality or logic could stop the terminology from spreading.

There had been a growing clamour for the genetically infected to be removed from the population for our own safety. But I had retained an instinctive belief that that sort of thing simply didn’t happen here. Even though my country already had concentration camps with people they considered no more than detritus rotting in them.

And yet. I woke up to a world where people with any Chinese ancestry were in jail for the crime of being born. And, I discovered later to my horror, those with Down Syndrome were among them.

Paralysed by the shock and outrage, I didn’t know what to do; lost in a rage so large it was rendered impotent. Protests were organised but I did not go. Julian Burnside mounted an extensive suite of legal action, only to have the law get washed from beneath his feet. Aliens couldn’t be citizens and, even if they were still human, they harboured an alien genetic time bomb deep inside them that could blow up our species. The law, the High Court concluded, didn’t apply. And if it did, then the law was changed. Quickly.

As a government employee, I was one of the first to find myself subjected to mandatory genetic integrity tests to determine the extent of my genetic damage. The few remaining public scientists not forced into those private research firms who were benefiting from the testing regime protested. They said these kinds of epigenetic changes were seen at a population level. Individuals could easily have acquired them naturally. There was no way a single test could distinguish which changes were environmental and which were caused by the invisible substance the spheres had expelled so quietly.

As an Australian of English, Irish and Scottish descent, my genes were almost unaffected or so the test showed. To this day, I have no idea what criteria were used to assess this and I resigned in protest.

I say there is no evidence these changes made any real difference to the human genome. These genes were in all of us: they just expressed in different ways. And our environment was just as likely to switch certain genes on as alien intervention. The scientific evidence on that was clear.

By the fourth anniversary of G-Day, genetic testing had stopped. It was expensive, after all, and we had definitively proved the changes were more prevalent in those people of Chinese descent. Or so we were told.

By now, logic was gone. All that was left was the long screeching cry of human territorial instinct.

Nauru and PNG were not large enough, of course, for the detention of the 1 million Chinese in Australia. As you no doubt remember, the largest camp was established on Norfolk Island. Norfolk residents were horrified but the now extra-legal, paramilitary Border Force could not be argued with and the Island found itself repeating its neighbour’s colonial history in real time.

China had broken off all diplomatic ties. It had forged an unlikely alliance with North Korea and, in an historical quirk, South Korea too. Countries in South-East Asia, determined to assert their non-Chinese heritage while struggling with the reality of the widespread genetic anomalies in their own populations, formed a bloc to insist publically that it was the Han Chinese that were the problem.

It was the loose conglomeration of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma that had begun the first state executions. I think. By this time, Al Jazeera was off the air and Al Arabiya had been stormed; their stations trashed and journalists indefinitely detained. Every other international network had fallen into line with their country’s editorial policies. News was patchy and inaccurate and finding real information became increasingly difficult, even for those of us with first-world internet access.

News trickled out that Cambodia had set up refugee camps; throwing open their borders to the fleeing Chinese and defying their neighbours with every fibre of their impoverished, traumatised being. I do know for a fact that stopped when Vietnam invaded. After that, my knowledge of international developments was almost completely overtaken by propaganda and outright lies.

The Turnbull government had lost the last election in a landslide to the ultra-nationalist Australian Liberty Alliance who had quietly swapped out Muslims for the Chinese in their campaigning. They had almost immediately declared a national emergency, cancelled elections and choked off local access to social media. We were now the ‘voice of the Alien Invasion’: sympathisers and traitors and fifth columnists aiding and abetting an enemy. A VPN and proxy blocker worked for a small time before that small measure of anonymity was stripped away. We were alone.

Australia’s camps were overflowing. Everyone’s camps were overflowing. The Chinese were the most populous group on the planet. You may be offended by my choice of words but it remained a fact. The executions were the natural result of simple logic.

They could be sterilised and returned to their homes but the legal problems that would stem from mass sterilisation would come back to hurt them. They knew that. Those old white men with their hands gripped white on their pens. And who knew if they weren’t just sleepers, ready to activate for their alien masters on a secret, silent command.

I don’t remember exactly when the Human Standard was published. Maybe you do. Sometime around the 4th anniversary, I think. Nor did I ever find out where I would have rated on it. After all, my blonde hair, blue eyes and round eyes meant I would never be tested at all. I was automatically assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1.

The Standard Genetic Framework for Determining Members of the Human Species became a recognised international standard not long after the fourth anniversary of G-Day. An administrative and logistical way for them to begin to categorise the burgeoning camp populations outside of China.

I’m sure independent scientists would have pointed out there was no such thing as a standard genetic framework for determining humanity. But they were now all in jail or silent with fear. After all, this was a time of war.

Logic and science had taken the last plane out of Canberra and we were just left with this. This senseless hate. Like an existential slap across the soul.

I was thrilled to be assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1. Completely human. And my rating didn’t even require a new set of genetic testing. Although an old friend in the new Department of Genetic Integrity quietly told me I’d been put on a watch list as a suspected Alien Sympathiser for my now-defunct Twitter account.

If you’re reading this, no doubt you were ranked low on the scale as well. A 1 or 2. Genetically unassailed. I bet you feel as special as I did. That was sarcasm, in case the art of irony has died along with everything else.

They call it the banality of evil for a reason. What could be more banal than a meaningless standard on a meaningless framework deciding whether you lived or died? I lived. And that seems just as meaningless now as everything else.

They started with the AIL5s. Alien Infiltration Level 5 meant noticeable epigenetic changes that had been passed to the next generation. Our invaders, we were now told, were playing a Long Game. It was becoming clearer the changes had no discernible effect, even to those with an epicanthic fold. It was becoming clearer the hate and the fear and the atrocities were pointless, directionless, irrelevant. And so it was becoming clearer they needed to be justified, even more than they were before.

I have no doubt there were special secret reports stamped with special secret codes filed in special secret rooms that admitted there was no real threat. But when you hop a freight train, you can’t expect it to stop for you just because it’s gone off the rails towards a cliff.

It was not this generation they were targeting, was the conclusion, but the future generations of humanity.

The Third Generation: Why We Will Cease Being Human by 2100 was a book by Doctor Wakefield published in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of G-Day. It become mandatory reading in school curriculums and I tried to do my civic duty by wading through it myself. I’m sure you did too. After all, it was must-read literature. It was a pseudoscientific work of fiction that nonetheless formed the basis of many of our government’s policies in that awful year.

Consensus, the new publication aimed at those concerned about the assault on the human genome drew on its themes heavily as did Pure; the journal by Humanity for Humanity.

The AIL5s were murdered. Worldwide. Quickly and systematically yet somehow slowly as though there was just enough time for this madness to end but not enough time for us to even recover from the shock. Nearly 10 million. Dead. With 20 million AIL4s to be next.

And that was when the world ended.

My island home was far enough away from the blasts. Brisbane did not get hit and we had power and water and a ferry service to the mainland. At least we did for a while. I suspect the Collapse would have eventually destroyed us too but at first our corner of civilisation still functioned – albeit without gin or a caffeine drip.

I’m glad I took that drop out day. It was my last.

I believed, like most, that it was the Chinese Korean Security Partnership that struck first. Pre-emptive self-defence. Or orders from their alien masters as some still tried to claim after the fact. But there were rumours it was Israel – using their illegal arsenal to enact Infiltration Eradication on a larger scale – that pressed that big red button first. And that they fired on Tehran and Riyadh as well.

Israel’s Chinese population was negligible and most had left for the safety of the Chinese mainland long before the AILs were mandated. Israel had been waging a strong propaganda campaign that it was Arabs who were the greatest threat, despite no evidence the Arabic population had a greater genetic infiltration than their Semitic cousins.

Regardless of who fired first, by the time China’s nukes were in the air, others were fired in response. How many cities were hit? How many billions dead? Did the India and Pakistan Common Area pact save them or did they turn on each other in the end? I will never know. Maybe you do. If you’re reading this then you too were a survivor; a lucky one. No mushroom cloud. No radiation. No electromagnetic blast smashing your technological life back to the stone age.

You are also one of the few. As am I.

And so, like me, you’ll have seen them. Now, after the literal smoke has cleared, flying above us in their ships; hovering sometimes over the survivors still struggling to keep the scraps of internet alive. Sending messages into a dying world.

Their numbers are small. I’m sure you’ve noticed. And I’m sure you’ve realised that doesn’t matter anymore.

If they could speak, those launchers of small harmless balls into space. If they could be bothered to communicate with the vestiges of pure humanity clinging to the planet they coveted for reasons we will never know. If they could read my diatribe, now ending, as I plan to throw it into that void where vibrant life danced for a brief moment.

I think they’d say.

Thank you.

We couldn’t have done it without you.

Not too proud to crowdsource

The question is:

If you had unlimited funds to build an underground bunker – with complete biosphere and digital library – to survive the apocalypse, what would your design tips be?

I’m especially looking for artificial lighting advice, air-conditioning, design (the artificial ecosystems should be closer to the surface, need access to the outside world etc??). I want the bunker to house at minimum a temperate Australian ecosystem with plants and small fauna such as bugs from the Vic/NSW region. But preferably I want it to be a biosphere so I need to know firstly how big it would need to be. And how deep is it physically possible to be before it becomes unfeasible?

NOTE: The bunker is in the Australian desert powered by a large solar farm. It has 3D printers so you’re not limited to manufactured technology.

NOTE2: This is for a story I’m writing. Anyone who contributes gets a free copy when it’s finished. Whether you find that an incentive is entirely personal.

On distortion, fabrication and author smackdowns

I was greatly surprised this morning to read a blog post from the Hockey Schtick website on a paper entitled Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres.

According to the site, this paper added

to the works of at least 40 others (partial list below) who have falsified the Arrhenius radiative theory of catastrophic global warming from increased levels of CO2…

Since the increase in system energy arising from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions is pretty basic physics, I was amazed that such an extraordinary scientific achievement had been made with so little fanfare.

There is, of course, an element of sarcasm to that. I admit to having doubts; just like I would have if someone had declared they’d proven natural selection was not required for evolution.

Nonetheless, this being my area of interest rather than expertise, I emailed one of the authors listed on the paper – Den Volokin – asking him the following:

I was interested to read today that you had published research that apparently ‘overturned Arrhenius radiative theory of warning due to greenhouse gas emissions’. I was, as you can imagine, quite astonished that such an amazing overturning of physics had gone unreported.
I am nothing more an interested laymen, but am curious as to whether you would agree with this interpretation of your paper?

To this, I received the following response that makes it clear that The Hockey Schtick have, deliberately or unwittingly, misrepresented the paper on several fronts:

The paper we published in Advances in Space Research entitled “Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres” does not really make any such claims. We simply present an empirical model derived from observed data that can predict quite accurately the mean annual temperature of planetary bodies across a broad range of atmospheric and radiative environments. The paper offers no discussion about the Greenhouse Theory, nor does it elaborates much on the theoretical implications of our results. There is much more research to be done before any big theoretical claims can be justified … Internet blogs oftentimes choose to exaggerate and/or distort the content of scientific articles in order to promote their own agendas. For example, the HS website, where you saw our paper, makes the following claim:

“… the paper adds to the works of at least 40 others (partial list below) who have falsified the Arrhenius radiative theory of catastrophic global warming from increased levels of CO2, and also thereby demonstrated that the Maxwell/Clausius/Carnot/Boltzmann/Feynman atmospheric mass/gravity/pressure greenhouse theory is instead the correct explanation of the 33C greenhouse effect on Earth” .

Nowhere in our article do we state that the atmospheric thermal effect (a.k.a. greenhouse effect) is 33C ! In fact, a previous paper of ours published last December specifically argues that the 33 C greenhouse effect is incorrect, since it’s based on a mathematically wrong formula. In our 2014 paper, we show that the thermal effect of Earth’s atmosphere is in fact about 90 C. The present paper builds on these findings. So, the statement made by HS is factually inaccurate and theoretically misleading!

While it can be argued a paper’s authors may not necessarily see all the potential implications of their work, it is also clear that the scientists who conducted the research are best placed to explain the scope of it. As Volokin states, the website is factually inaccurate and theoretically misleading in the way it has presented the conclusions of the paper.

As the author of this blog, I humbly suggest the exaggeration and distortion of scientific articles by sites such the Hockey Schtick is now endemic.

For those interested in further reading:

Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres
Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez

On the average temperature of airless spherical bodies and the magnitude of Earth’s atmospheric thermal effect
Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez

Arctic ice and the nature of denial

It was probably inevitable this week that the deniers had a resurgence. After all, we’re headed for a mini ice age and Arctic sea ice is expanding. Except of course that neither of these things are true.

Before I delve into both of these pieces and the way in which they’ve been deliberately misreported and mispresented, I’ll ponder for a moment on the nature of denial. Denial comes in two groups so it’s probably unfair to use it in such broad strokes. It’s used accurately to denote the bought-and-paid-for schills such as the Heartland Institute who know perfectly well that what they are shovelling is not white as snow. It’s probably unfairly applied to the ordinary Joes who believe what they sling because it suits their ontological framework.

For a large proportion of people, the reality of climate change challenges their fundamental ideas of how the world works. Basic psychology tells us that, when confronted with overwhelming evidence that challenges long-held beliefs, our natural tendency is to reject the evidence and hold faster to the original belief.

Denial is called denial because it involves denying established facts and observational evidence. A skeptic asks for more data before making a decision. A denier simply denies the evidence with which they’ve been presented, no matter how compelling. The epitome of denial is questioning temperatures. Evidence that global temperatures are rising (and at record rates) have been countered by claims that “they” (whoever they happen to be) are doctoring records: the same temperature record deniers will happily refer to if they think it supports their version of reality.

Scientists, it seems, are constantly lying and doctoring evidence. Except, of course, when they’re not.

Which brings us to today’s denial de jour: a particularly frustrating and deliberate misreading of two pieces of work (one of which has yet to be published and peer-reviewed). The first, an analysis of the Sun’s magnetic waves by Valentina Zharkova predicted we may see sun activity consistent with the Maunder Minimum by 2030. The second – a release about how amazing the CryoSat 2 satellite is – included the information that the volume of Arctic sea ice increased by a third in 2013 when compared to an average of the two preceding years (the satellite was launched in 2010).

You’ll notice something clearly about both these pieces of information. The first never mentions the  term “ice age”, “mini ice age”, “reverse global warming” or anything similar. The last Maunder Minimum was characterised by cold regional temperatures in Europe and North America, excacerbated by volcanic activity (among other things). There is no suggestion a Maunder Minimum will even begin to compensate for the temperature increases being directly caused by anthropogenic global warming. In fact, in 2014, this paper in Nature Communications examined the impact of a grand solar minimum on global temperatures and found that

Any reduction in global mean near-surface temperature due to a future decline in solar activity is likely to be a small fraction of projected anthropogenic warming

The second talks solely about short-term ice extent fluctuations, being concerned as it is with demonstrating the new accuracy provided to climate data by the satellite itself.  Arctic summer sea ice is declining at record rates but did experience a particularly warm summer in 2012. Comparatively-cool regional temperatures in 2013 saw sea ice increase in that year, relative to the previous two. This is indicative of the new level accuracy provided by CryoSat rather than a “recovery” of the ice itself. In fact, large proportional increases like this are a good statistical sign that we’re dealing with a low base – that is, the record decline in Arctic sea ice extent since the 1970s means we’re dealing with a much lower extent figure overall.

To understand low base statistical variation, let’s take the example of spoons. Imagine you’re sitting at a table: on your left, you have 1 spoon and on your right 100 spoons. I then give you an an extra 1 spoon each. You now have 2 spoons on your left and 101 spoons on your right. In the first example, your spoons have increased by 100%. In the second, your spoons have increased by 1%. Same increase (1 spoon), different proportions. This is why the large proportional variations we’ve seen in Arctic sea ice extent over the last five years or so is evidence of its decline. Only a low base can account for year-on-year proportional variation of this kind.

It’s become clear over the past year or so that manufactured doubt is not going to be overtaken by data and evidence. These two recent examples demonstrate just how determined denial remains – even if it’s become tortured and contradictory.

The question of how to deal with this kind of willful and deliberate distortion of reality is one for greater minds than myself to deal with. All we can do for now is to keep re-enforcing the truth and hope that the second kind of denier – the victims of the first – are able to finally synthesise the message into their worldview.

Climate change is real, it’s happening now and it’s primarily the result of human activity. Ice is not expanding, temperatures are not declining and an ice age is not on its way. Considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary at this stage, anybody who tries to say otherwise is either lying or committing an extraordinary form of mental gymnastics.



Being a #womanforaweek isn’t enough

Women are treated differently online but #womanforaweek didn’t demonstrate that.

That’s the conclusion of the small social experiment run on Twitter in May and June.

Respondents to a survey for participants of the experiment showed that the small number of Twitter accounts that branded female for the week saw little to no change in their interactions with other Twitter users. Despite this, 55% of survey respondents said that they believed women were treated differently online; it’s just that they didn’t experience this during their week of being “female”. The other 45% said the result was inconclusive.

No one who responded to the survey said they believed men and women were treated the same online.

Most respondents skipped the question ‘ After being a #womanforaweek, do you believe sexism is a problem online?’ preferring to comment that they have seen obvious sexism online and so their experiences during the experiment were not representative.

One main criticism of the experiment was the timeframe; users felt that a week was simply not enough time to successfully “rebrand” or to assess a change in interactions. Any future iteration of the experiment would have to be for a longer time period. Considering the impact a rebrand can have on a Twitter account, this may be not be feasible.

The experiment only attracted a very small number of participants and so the sample size alone suggests #womanforaweek was not a success.

I can only conclude that #womanforaweek, while interesting, is not worth running again at this stage.


The Serious Stuff

#womanforaweek was a small-scale social experiment conducted on an entirely voluntary basis in Twitter in two iterations – May and June. The number of accounts who participated in #womanforaweek is unknown, but the two iterations of the experiment yielded a survey sample of 11 responses from 8 respondents. Duplicates have not been removed from the sample. Obviously, this kind of sample is far too small to make any definitive conclusions.

Of the responses:

  1. The majority (64%) said they had both a male name and male avatar before the experiment.
  2. Respondents were evenly split on whether they told their followers they were going to be participating in the experiement
  3. The majority (64%) said they didn’t observe a change in interactions while they were a #womanforaweek (includes those who responded ‘not sure’) but they same proportion (64%) said they felt they observed ‘a little’ bit of change.
  4. Respondents mostly classified this change as being either neutral (55%) or positive (36%)
  5. There were no clear trends in terms of changes identified, although some people reported they either self-censored or responded differently to things because they were now “women”.

Reasons for not participating

Although many twitter accounts expressed interest in the experiment, the resulting buy-in was small. Reasons given for this included:

1. A feeling the account’s established branding would be damaged by changing avatars and “genders”

2. Already identifying strongly as female

3. Not being active enough on Twitter

4. Inadequate communication of the experiment i.e. forgetting to change avatars, not realising it had been run again.

Arctic Sea Ice: The global warming canary

Obviously the best source for information on Arctic sea ice is the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). But the NASA Earth Observatory also has a large volume of information on sea ice from satellite observations. There are other smaller organisations who publish data on Arctic ice but these mostly source the raw information from NSIDC and NASA.

What is Arctic sea ice

The Arctic region is distinguished by being entirely comprised of sea ice – ice that sits on the ocean rather than on an underlying landmass. Sea ice is therefore more variable than other forms of ice. It melts considerably in summer and then regrows that ice in winter. There is, however, always a certain amount of ice in the Arctic, even at its summer minimum. It is this ice that is most quoted in determining whether Arctic sea ice is retreating or not. Although NSIDC will report ice extent for each month of the year and compare that month to previous years, most statements about the loss of Arctic sea will reference a comparison of the summer minimum in September.

Here’s some NSIDC Quick Facts on Arctic Sea Ice and a FAQ on Arctic sea ice.

What’s the difference between sea ice and other forms of ice

The most basic difference is that sea ice forms from salty ocean water, whereas icebergs, glaciers, and lake ice form from fresh water or snow. Sea ice grows, forms, and melts strictly in the ocean. Glaciers are considered land ice, and icebergs are chunks of ice that break off of glaciers and fall into the ocean. Lake ice is made from fresh water and freezes as a smooth layer, unlike sea ice, which develops into various forms and shapes because of the constant turbulence of ocean water.

More information can be found in this NSIDC information page All About Sea Ice, from which the above paragraph was sourced.

The basic facts as of April 2015

  • Satellite data shows that the winter maximum for Arctic sea ice in 2015 was at a record low
  • Satellite data shows that the summer miminum for Arctic sea ice in 2014 was the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record. Each of the five lower extents were in the last 10 years.
  • Estimates are that Arctic sea ice extent has declined 11-13% per decade since 1979 (11% as per NSIDC, 13% as per NASA). Even in winter, the linear rate of decline for March extent is 2.6% per decade.

Ice melt: Arctic, Antarctic and everywhere else

Global ice extent is at record lows and the melt of Antarctic glaciers has tripled in the last decades. climate

Arctic sea ice: The global warming canary

Antarctica: Scarier than you think

The Permafrost: What is it anyway?

The History of Climate Science

The history of climate science extends back about 150 years – 200 years depending on which scientist you wish to use as your starting point. Some people prefer to start later, when the science was more established, but I personally like to start at Fourier since his work so greatly influenced the work of people later on.

I could briefly summarise the history of the science here but so much work has been done on documenting it elsewhere, it seems better to direct you to some good sources. Suffice it to say, climate science is not something invented by Al Gore or the UN. Like all areas of science, it is scaffolded on the foundations of decades of scientific enquiry.

When researching climate science, you could, as usual, start at the Wikipedia page and use its references to further your reading. Despite the site’s bad rap, it is always a good launching pad.

But for a single source, I’d probably recommend The History of Global Warming.

This extraordinary (if poorly-designed) website by Spencer Weart and the American Institute of Physics pretty well covers everything you might want to know about the history of climate science and more. I actually didn’t find the site until I went to write this blog post so I’m also just discovering everything it says. As such, I can’t vouch for all its content but what I’ve read so far is pretty good.

Weart’s Summary: The Story in a Nutshell is a good overview but is obviously taken from his book and so starts off with a bit of hyperbole and rhetoric. Once you get through that, his summary is quite good. His page on the Greenhouse Effect also provides an historical overview and I found it more helpful in terms of the history itself. Because the site is hyperlinked, it’s an excellent jumping board to the different topics the author has written about. I was glad to see he’d listed Fourier, Tyndall and then Arrhenius as the first three. That would have been embarrassing after all this time!

If the thought of such a comprehensive overview of climate science is a bit exhausting, there are some more accessible, media sources you can read through.

The Conversation has a piece on the History of Climate Science that clearly summarises the main points.

The always-comprehensive and always-brilliant Skeptical Science has a History of Climate Science too that’s well worth a read.

And of course the IPCC has its own Historical Overview of Climate Science as well.

Greenhouse Effect

NOTE: This post is still in the design phase. All comments and suggestions on improving it are welcome


Climate science is distinguished by one powerful fact. It may be an incredibly complex and intricate field of study, with regional and global relationships that can cause varied and unanticipated short, medium and longer-term impacts. But it is nonetheless unpinned by a uniquely simple physical process: climate change is the inevitable result of the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect means that increasing emissions of specific gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) must result in extra energy (heat) building up in the system. That is simple physics. This makes the basics of climate change comparatively very easy to understand.

Because the greenhouse effect is so powerful, so simple and so fundamental to our planet’s climate, there is a plethora of sources on the net explaining it.

The simplest explanation goes something like this:

The Earth would be much colder if it wasn’t surrounded by an atmospheric “blanket” that traps the sun’s heat. Greenhouse gases (GHG) are responsible for trapping this heat. So, without GHG, this planet would be a cold, lifeless rock. But since GHG traps the sun’s energy in the system, increasing them traps more heat and this heat builds up causing climatic changes. To predict these changes, the impact of the mechanism (the greenhouse effect) needs to be modelled to the system. But the mechanism remains unchanged and its implications do as well.

This is the fundamental that underpins climate science: the models map the impact of the extra energy that must be in the system. It is not possible for the levels of GHG in the system to increase without warming the Earth.

NASA has more than one online source that’s worth referring to on the greenhouse effect. The following are just two, chosen for their clear, simple language:

A Blanket Around the Earth

What is the Greenhouse Effect? (a resource for kids)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also has several resources as well, also chosen for ease of reading and understanding:

FAQ 1.3: What is the Greenhouse Effect

Basics of the Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Effect

The Australian Academy of Science has a similar resource outlining the enhanced greenhouse effect – this terminology refers specifically to the fact the greenhouse effect is being enhanced by increasing human emissions of GHGs.

Enhanced Greenhouse Effect

Of course there’s always Wikipedia, which despite its detractors usually provides a solid overview of an issue and, more importantly, a list of references at the end for further study

Greenhouse Effect

You’ll notice most of these sources are pitched at the entry level to the science. That’s deliberate. #20tweets is about the basics of climate science.






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