Friday, May 08, 2009

Another "debate is over" jerk

This is a scientific debate with no obvious political implications but I have taken an interest in it from the beginning because of a related matter that DOES have considerable political implications. And as soon as you see a "debate is over" claim you realize that science is taking second place to something else. The debate is NEVER over in science. The debate was "over" about Newton's laws of motion for centuries -- until Einstein proved them wrong.

The related matter is that in Australia there are common claims from the Left that Australian Aborigines are "owed" various things (mostly land and money) because they were the "original inhabitants" of Australia. But they were not. There was a pygmy race before them that they mostly wiped out. Some of the pygmies concerned survived in a mountain redoubt near where I was born in far Northern Australia, however, and there are photographs of them still. They have since intermarried with Aborigines but there are still some VERY short Aborigines in the area. I have seen them. Note this story of a very elderly 3'7" tall Aborigine from the area I speak of. The existence of Australian pygmies has however been hushed up in the usual Leftist way in pursuit of their "reparations" claims on behalf of Aborigines.

So when I saw the announcement that fossils of very short people had been discovered on an island near Australia, I immediately said: Aha! More pygmies! That was not a conclusion universally shared, however. There were many claims that the individuals concerned were a different species and not homo sapiens at all. Since then the controversy has raged with arguments for and against them being homo sapiens. The latest claim is below. I add a footnote in reply (A footnote in more ways than one!).
A sensational theory that the 18,000-year-old remains of the hobbit were those of a modern human with a brain deformity who had received prehistoric dental work has been debunked.

According to physical anthropologist William Jungers and his Australian, Indonesian and US colleagues, their new study of the very long foot of the very short hobbit, Homo floresensis, is the final evidence that she and her tiny ilk were a never-before-seen human cousin, combining primitive and modern traits. "The (deformity) debate is officially over," said Professor Jungers, head of the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University Medical Centre in New York.

No known syndrome nor pathology of modern people could explain the mix of features displayed by the hobbit, which lived on the Indonesian island of Flores from 90,000 to possibly 13,000 years ago, Professor Jungers said. "Wishful thinking, arm-waving and woolly conspiracy theories can't change inconvenient facts," said Professor Jungers, lead author on one of two studies reported today in the journal Nature.

Leading critic Maciej Henneberg, a University of Adelaide physical anthropologist, told The Australian he stood by his hypothesis that the individual hobbit studied was a deformed human with dental work. "What we are seeing is a strange mixture of very modern characteristics and some that are like a deformed human ... There is no precedent and it doesn't fit into what we know about the evolution of higher primates," Professor Henneberg said.

According to Harvard University physical anthropologist Daniel Lieberman, that's the point of the Jungers group's findings. "Recently discovered (fossil) footprints from Kenya indicate that a modern foot had evolved by 1.5 million years ago, presumably in (an early human) Homo erectus," he writes in an independent commentary, also in Nature. "Unless the Flores fossils re-evolved a primitive foot, they must have branched off the human line before this time."

In the related Nature paper, palaeontologists Eleanor Weston and Adrian Lister -- both with London's Natural History Museum -- suggest the 1m tall hobbit's head -- disproportionately small for the rest of her body -- could be an evolutionary response to living for thousands of years on a tiny island. Other animals on the island -- stegosaurs, for example -- shrank in a well-known process called island dwarfism. They found evidence that this had happened to the hobbits by studying -- surprisingly -- pygmy hippos in Madagascar, which also have exceptionally small brains for their size.

Dr Weston and Professor Lister compared the "hippo model" with ancient humans and hobbits, concluding the hobbit's brain-body ratio was comparable with Homo erectus, as a result of island dwarfing.

Regardless of whether the hobbit downsized from Homo erectus or evolved from an even more primitive ancestor, Homo habilis, the latest reports add to a growing body of anatomical, archaeological and even medical imaging evidence that the hobbit is a real species from the ancient past. As Dr Lieberman noted, there's only one way to test each hypothesis: find more fossils, especially in Asia. "Get your shovels," he said.

It is perfectly reasonable that a large foot should have re-emerged in an isolated human population. We have in our genes the information from a lot of our evolutionary past and it sometimes re-emerges. There have, for instance, been in China some people born with tails. And the entire human species is said to be neotenous -- meaning that we have "regressed" to an infantile state in various ways. So the large foot that the "debate is over" man relies on proves nothing. If anything, it is a confirmation of Darwin's Galapagos Island observations that the same species can change in response to their environment.

Border security to get $500m boost in 2009 budget

What's the point if when you catch illegals you treat them as honoured guests? Australias Leftist government "punishes" them when they arrive by giving them money to go shopping and will listen sympathetically to any pack of lies. I kid you not: Money to go shopping is one of the first things they get when they arrive, plus better accommodation than they have ever had before. John Howard used to just send them to jail

BORDER security is expected to get up to $500 million in funding in next Tuesday's federal budget. Since the Rudd government abolished temporary protection visas last August, 18 vessels of asylum seekers have been intercepted in Australian waters. This has led to opposition claims that the government's border protection policy has failed.

The government will outline a Regional Action Plan which could receive between $200 million and $500 million in anti-people smuggling measures, The Australian reports. The funding is expected to finance more boats and aircraft, training for border-control staff and extra Australian Federal Police (AFP) in the south-east Asia region.

The AFP is tipped to get an extra $80 million for counter-terrorism measures overseas.


Delaying Warmist laws not enough

AN old lesson all governments have to learn anew is that it is the election promises you keep that are likeliest to get you into trouble. It is a lesson Kevin Rudd is learning the hard way, with his ignominious retreat from his (always delusional) ambition to make Australia a world leader in its response to global warming.

It has been obvious for months that rushing ahead with a clearly flawed carbon trading scheme, one that would have serious adverse consequences for jobs and economic activity in the midst of what Rudd and Wayne Swan refer to, correctly, as the worst global recession since the Depression of the 1930s, was an act of national irresponsibility. However, the Rudd Government appeared to be living in a parallel universe.

The Treasurer likes to say that the world changed in September last year, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a near meltdown in global financial markets and a precipitate decline in economic activity. Yet in December last year, when the escalation of the crisis was frightening governments and central banks across the world, Rudd and his Climate Change Minister Penny Wong were telling us it would be reckless and irresponsible for our economy and environment to delay the introduction of an emissions trading scheme.

So, what changed? Or as Rudd was asked at his press conference on Monday: "Why isn't today's decision reckless and irresponsible?" His reply was unusually short, perhaps indicating irritation at this impertinence. "Well, what we've had is a deepening of the global financial crisis, which has now become a global economic crisis and the worst recession in three quarters of a century. That's what happened." Oh, really?

Delaying the introduction of an ETS is a sensible decision but it should have been made months ago. Presumably it has been made now because the political risks of pushing ahead have become unacceptable. There has been a rising chorus of complaint from business and Labor's legislation faced certain defeat in the Senate.

The Government has resorted to heavy political spin and artful manipulation of interest groups to minimise the damage. At his press conference, Rudd helpfully identified the groups the Government spent a lot of time massaging ahead of its announcement, to give it political cover for its embarrassing backflip. These were, in order, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF, the Climate Institute, the ACTU and the Australian Council of Social Service.

The last five are obvious allies of the Government on climate change, if now somewhat disillusioned ones. But you may have thought the BCA and the AIG would have seen the opportunity to take a much harder line on the threat the Government's scheme posed for many of their members. But no, both rushed forth to compliment the Government on its decision and urge support for its proposal to push its (amended) legislation through parliament as quickly as possible.

A few months ago John Roskam, executive director of conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, posed some interesting questions: What are business organisations for? Do they exist so their chief executives can sit on government advisory boards and have afternoon tea at the Lodge? Or is their purpose to represent the interests of enterprises and employers? Not the latter, it would seem. As Roskam also has observed, business is to blame for allowing the ETS juggernaut to progress as far as it has: "There's not a single significant business association in the country that has opposed the notion that Australia should have an ETS."

They will protest, of course, that they have succeeded in winning delay and cash handouts, and that their objective is to provide certainty for business about future investment plans. But there is no certainty in the Rudd Government's plans. Nor can there be, as the outcomes that really matter are out of its hands and have to be determined internationally.

To be fair, some business organisations have expressed considerable scepticism about the ETS, notably the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as have leading companies. The MCA, for example, recognises the promised certainty as an illusion, "a temporary stay of execution for thousands of mining jobs and billions of dollars in investment". None has gone so far as the IPA in calling for the ETS to be scrapped in the absence of a comprehensive international agreement to reduce carbon emissions, and realistically there is not much chance of that.

But the Rudd Government's backdown gives the lie to all the hysterical claims by it and others that immediate action is needed to save the planet. Instead Australia should take the opportunity to have a comprehensive, independent, review of the Government's emissions trading plans, the alternatives, the Government's modelling of the economic effects, and challenges to the so-called scientific consensus on global warming.

The report on the Government's ETS by economist David Pearce of the Centre for International Economics for the federal Opposition exposes a range of serious problems and risks with the present scheme. In particular, the scheme fails to offer any rigorous assessment of the transitional costs of moving to a low carbon future. These transitional costs for an economy such as Australia's - with its abundant carbon-based energy resources, its energy-intensive industry structure, coal-based electricity generation industry and its coal and gas exports - are potentially large and the associated risks considerable.

Pearce suggests the Productivity Commission should be asked to examine the Government's scheme and alternatives, a suggestion taken up by Malcolm Turnbull and which industry should get behind. The terms of reference for such an inquiry should let the commission start with a clean slate and not have its hands tied by government-imposed policy assumptions. And no pre-emptive legislation should be passed ahead of the international climate change conference in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

If that conference fails to come up with a comprehensive agreement on emissions control that includes India and China, as seems likely, then it's back to the drawing board and the commission's inquiry can inform a new course for policy here.


Precipitous dumbing down in Queensland schools

Teachers still incompetent after completing 4-year teaching degrees -- degrees which are notoriously mere fluff. Standards were higher when teachers needed a one-year diploma only

THE maths skills of Queensland school students fell so greatly during the 1970s and 1980s that researchers have likened it to losing two years of learning. Education expert Geoff Masters has told the Bligh Government that when there was an emphasis on maths in Queensland primary schools, the state outperformed all other Australian students. However, he said the state recorded the biggest national decline in junior secondary school mathematics in the 30 years up until 1995.

Professor Masters' review also listed survey results which showed that only 44 per cent of Queensland Year 4 teachers felt "very well" prepared to teach Year 4 science. Premier Anna Bligh has backed the report, which urges the introduction of literacy and numeracy tests for teacher graduates as part of their registration.

However, that recommendation has been given a cool reception by teacher unions, who are set to begin negotiations with the Government over future pay and conditions. Professor Masters said he found many outstanding teachers, school leaders and primary schools throughout the state. However, he said the review was also told of "teachers whose own literacy skills are little better than those of the students they teach, of underperforming school leaders and of entire schools in which levels of students attendance, behaviour and achievement are unacceptably low".

He said the evidence he uncovered raised questions about the overall performance of Queensland students and the "significant disparities" between their achievement and those of interstate and overseas students. Increased support for teachers and school leaders was the key to raising reading, writing and numeracy skills in Queensland primary schools, he said.

Improved student performance would come from schools with committed teachers who knew their subjects well and school leaders who set high expectations and demanded success for all. "A theme that emerged from the review was the fundamental importance of having all players – teachers, students, parents, school leaders, system leaders – working in a consistent and mutually supportive way," Professor Masters said.

He dismissed the argument that Queensland students have 12 months less schooling than their primary school counterparts on the same year level in other states, saying the state's underperformance continued into lower secondary school.


Cairns base hospital under fire again

But nobody in government gives a hoot: "Just routine" is the attitude

BODIES at a Queensland Health mortuary were left with gaping wounds after autopsies, stored with medical equipment attached and allowed to decompose. Funeral directors have told of the unsavoury practices and raised a litany of other concerns over the treatment of bodies at the Cairns Hospital mortuary.

Queensland Health is investigating the complaints and the Crime and Misconduct Commission has been alerted, The Courier-Mail reports.

In letters to senior Queensland Health bureaucrats, the Queensland Funeral Directors' Association said its members' complaints about poor practices at the mortuary had fallen on deaf ears for years. "We have tried over the years to try to resolve some of the concerns but now we have received formal complaints and concerns and we now write to you hoping that some progress can be made," QFDA secretary Wayne Bell wrote.

Funeral directors said it was common for bodies to continue to bleed after autopsies because they were packed with plastic incontinence sheeting and roughly stitched up with wax string. They said bodies from the Cairns Hospital mortuary "frequently" had catheters, drains and IV access equipment attached to them, from which blood and body fluids continued to drain. Body bags were often re-used and poor controls were in place to prevent the spread of diseases, including cleaning with the general purpose product Spray N Wipe.

"I have witnessed a number of body trays that have blood and body fluids on them when presented for placement of bodies we are delivering for coronial investigation," a letter from one funeral director said.

Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday said he expected the issues raised by funeral directors to be taken seriously.

In a statement, Queensland Health clinical and statewide services acting chief executive officer Greg Shaw said a preliminary report had found work practices were "generally satisfactory" and found no evidence of "major problems". "However, like all audits it includes suggestions for improvements," he said.


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