Saturday, July 04, 2009


An email from Dr. Albrecht Glatzle [] of Filadelfia, Paraguay -- noting the myths about cow farts, sheep burps, etc. It was originally sent to TGS Newsletter editor, Ian Partridge, in Queensland

Yesterday I received the latest TGS Newsletter (Volume 25 No. 1 & 2). It was a pleasure to look at the beautiful photographs of various well known personalities from the Australian pasture science scene. But when I got to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) chapters I was a bit embarrassed about how much you Australians seem to be concerned on the GHG emissions by ruminant livestock and their potential effects on climate change. I'd like to make some comments on this topic:

1) Except the fossil fuel borne CO2-emissions by the livestock industry (production, processing and commercialization of meat and milk) and except some unique biosphere borne CO2-emissions, associated with land use change (e.g. deforestation), domestic animal husbandry is totally "climate neutral" (using a controversial terminology, only justified under the assumption of any measurable effect of anthropogenic GHG-emissions on global temperature). Why? Because all the CO2 emitted by forage digestion and respiration had previously been captured from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Therefore, not a single CO2 molecule is added additionally to the atmosphere that had not been there before, recently.

2) This is also true for the methane produced by internal fermentation. Methane derives from organic substances originating from recent photosynthetic processes. And - as Richard Douthwaite from Ireland correctly points out in his letter (page 11) - methane molecules in the air are oxidized to CO2 and water at the end of their residence time in the atmosphere, closing the cycle. As a matter of fact the methane concentration has stabilized or even passed its peak just at the beginning of the new millennium. So obviously, just as much methane is oxidized in the atmosphere as is added to the air per unit of time. The resulting CO2 is available to be re-captured by photosynthesis. Therefore animal borne methane (how much its proportion ever may be among the total global methane emissions), just like CO2, forms part of a natural cycle, and not a single methane molecule is added additionally to the atmosphere by rumen fermentation that had not been there before, recently, unless livestock numbers increase.

3) The European satellite ENVISAT measured over a three years period the world wide close-to-the-surface-methane-concentrations. The average values are shown in figure 2 (source: University of Bremen here). Not even international organizations like the IPCC or FAO seem to have taken notice of the fact, that even the humid tropical forests do obviously emit far more methane than grazing cattle. How can the big grazing areas of the world (Australia, Southern Latin America, South and East Africa, and Western United States with hundreds of millions of cattle) and even India with the highest cattle density worldwide show such low methane concentrations? Something wrong with the theory?

4) While it is banally true that all improvements in the efficiency of livestock production reduce herbage intake and along with it GHG emission per unit of product (meat or milk), the often cited figure of 18% of anthropogenic GHG emissions originating from domestic animal husbandry, as claimed by the highly controversial FAO-Report "Livestock's Long Shadow" is clearly exaggerated. This document, that has done so much damage to the reputation of the livestock industry, was still proudly exposed at an international FAO symposium on the "Mitigation of GHG Emissions from Livestock", held last month in AsunciĆ³n, Paraguay:

a) How can the FAO claim that 25% of the domestic-livestock-borne CO2-equivalents originate from internal fermentation (methane), considering what has been outlined in the paragraphs 2 and 3? Just like CO2-emissions from the biosphere, animal borne methane emissions are part of a natural steady state equilibrium. So the 25% should be corrected to 0% as long as livestock numbers are constant.

b) How can the FAO claim that one third of the domestic animal borne CO2-equivalents come from deforestation (land use change), considering FAO yearbook numbers telling us that net deforestation on a world wide scale is almost zero? Close to 30% of the terrestrial surface are covered by forests and woodlands with very little change over the past 6 decades. So, once again just one scale pan of the balance has been taken into account.

5) When looking a little bit beyond GHG emissions and balances, e.g. how good the alarming IPCC projections fit the empirically observed mean global temperatures, one starts to doubt whether the so called Green House Gases (particularly the very small proportion of total emissions originating from human activity) really do have any notable effect on the planet's climate. Since about the change of the millenniums global temperature (satellite measured lower troposphere mean temperature anomalies, University of Alabama, Huntsville) decreased, just inversely proportional to the smoothed atmospheric CO2 concentration. Not one single IPCC model projected this "inconvenient truth" (just for some). Surprise? No! Even the theory tells us that the infrared absorption is almost saturated at present CO2 levels. In order to reach such prominent temperature increases as projected by the IPCC, one has to make very risky assumptions of strongly reinforcing feedbacks of the very slight warming effect intrinsic to CO2, even when doubling or tripling its concentration in the air.

6) Recent studies discovered the stalagmites in this globe's caves as very reliable climate archives conserving a range of precious indicators of past climates and solar activity. Looking to what these archives reveal, we cannot find any unusual or scaring temperature development during the past decades. No need, whatsoever, for anthropogenic Greenhouse Gases to explain the slight temperature increase observed during the past century.

So definitely there is no need at all to be concerned about our livestock's emissions of so called Greenhouse Gases! We won't save the planet distorting ourselves in an effort to teach our cattle how to emit less methane. And we will not harm the planet when we go on with our cattle industry business as usual. Let's just rebut unqualified attacks (unfortunately also originating from such prominent organizations as the FAO) on our livelihood! The sound arguments are ours.

Australian police "fudge" crime statistics too

Catching up with Britain. Left-run Britain has the most unreliable official statistics since Stalin

SENIOR police say they are being forced to "fudge" reports, and test drivers for drink-driving at times and places they know few offenders will be caught, to manipulate crime statistics. Officers from at least three Local Service Areas have told AdelaideNow it is common for reports to be manipulated and for traffic blitzes to be held to improve statistics and meet specific targets. The officers, who do not wish to be named, say police often blitz areas for the drug and alcohol testing of drivers at times and in places where results are not expected to be significant, a practice commonly referred to as "dumb testing".

In a statement Assistant Commissioner Neil Smith, of the Performance Management and Reporting Service, said police complied with the National Crime Reporting Standard governing crime statistics. "SAPOL refutes any suggestion that our crime statistics misrepresent the incidence of crime," he said.

Crime statistics are analysed daily from police incident reports (PIRs) and one senior officer has described how reports are commonly manipulated to keep crime statistics lower and apprehension rates higher. "Say a car gets broken into and something gets stolen," the officer said. "Rather than two charges, illegal interference and theft, it just gets entered as a theft – one charge. "If we happen to stumble across someone who'd broken into a car, then they would get charged with both, so your statistics show your crime rate lower, but your apprehension rate being high." In offences with multiple victims, the victims are often grouped or become witnesses and the matter is entered as one incident report.

Assistant commissioner Smith said: "The rule is one victim per one PIR. "SAPOL has clear strategies to ensure data integrity and consistency across the state," he said.

One person told AdelaideNow one management directive was to redirect schoolyard assaults back to the school so they were not recorded as crimes. "That way the LSA can claim a downturn in assaults," the person wrote. Patrol police say traffic benchmarks are a "stats game", with directives from upper management to chase the numbers. "We get memos from the Assistant Commissioner asking why haven't you got your numbers . . . even traffic statistics are fudged to a degree," an officer said.

To collect numbers, police will "dumb test". "Once we get close to what we need for the month, then we'll do smart testing and specific targeting, where we know we will get results," the officer said.


Government passenger trains versus private airlines

Brisbane and Charleville are two locations within one Australian State

It is cheaper to fly Queensland's rail commuters to Paris than to cart them from Brisbane to Charleville on the state's Traveltrain network. The Courier-Mail can reveal that taxpayers are forking out $1135 to subsidise every passenger on the Traveltrain Westlander route, $250 more than the cost of a plane ticket to France. Currently, the State Government pays more than $2.5 million each week to subsidise the eight Traveltrain routes throughout Queensland, casting more doubt on their future.

The subsidy for each passenger on the 777km route has increased 18 per cent on the previous year, now double the cost of a flight to Los Angeles and the same price as a ticket to London. However, the most heavily subsidised Traveltrain service was the Inlander route, between Mount Isa and Townsville, where government assistance reached $1433 for each of the 7200 passengers last year.

The figures, released by Queensland Transport, show while the size of some subsidies, including the Sunlander and the Bundaberg Tilt Train, have fallen over the past two years thanks to increased patronage, both the Inlander and Westlander routes have blown out by another $150 a person. The skyrocketing subsidy comes two years after promises by the State Government to review the level of subsidy or scrap it altogether if patronage did not increase.

Transport Minister Rachel Nolan said that while the level of subsidy provided to Traveltrain was constantly being reviewed, the Government was committed to maintaining services. "In tough economic times of course the Government needs to closely examine these services including the amount of subsidy provided," she said. Ms Nolan acknowledged the "use it or lose it" ultimatum made by the Beattie government in 2006, but refused to comment on plans for the services. "The Government made it clear in the past that the community needs to come on board rail service in order for them to be financially sustainable," she said. "This is a matter that the Government has constantly had under review."

Overall, the State Government subsidy on the eight Traveltrain routes reached an estimated $132 million last financial year, up $7 million on the previous year despite 7000 additional passengers using the network.

Opposition spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said questions should be asked about the cost of train services across the state. "It is legitimate to ask questions about the cost inputs of Queensland Rail's services throughout the state and how to get better value," she said. "However, in assessing the value of community service obligations, which are a public subsidy, it must be remembered that all public transport is subsidised throughout Queensland."

Commuter advocacy group Rail Back on Track spokesman Robert Dow said that while the services were vital to rural communities, they needed to be more cost-effective. "The long distance rail network is an important communication link for rural communities," he said. "But in the case of the Westlander and the Inlander I think it is time to review whether to continue with the same type of services or whether it be more cost effective to put on other units, such as diesel-mechanical units [rail motors]." Mr Dow said diesel-mechanical units were a cheaper option to the current trains.



Two articles below

Academic fired after unethical manipulation of marks alleged at a major university

This is an old, old problem. Australian universities are merciless to honest academics who expose dumbed-down marking practices. It is designed to suppress whistleblowing by the many others who could do so. I must say I was often tempted to go public over marking practices in my time as an academic at Uni NSW but concluded that I had no hope of cleaning out the Augean stables

A University of Queensland history lecturer has been sacked after telling a class of honours students assessment of their work had been marred by "serious marking violations". Andrew Gentes, who has taught at UQ for the past five years, has also written to the Queensland Ombudsman alleging "unethical manipulation of students' marks" within UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics.

Dr Gentes told The Courier-Mail yesterday he had intended to finish up at UQ on August 31 but when news of his email to students broke on Wednesday, he was told to leave immediately.

He said the problem arose during the marking moderation process for one of the assignments in his Theory and Method subject. The dual marker, Associate Professor Marion Diamond, increased gradings on eight out of 14 essays Dr Gentes had marked by more than 8 per cent, triggering the need for a third assessment. Dr Gentes said school policy, which required the original and dual markers to confer when there were significant differences before the assignments were referred to a third party, had been ignored.

"The way it's worked out is if you originally got a mark of below 80 per cent by me and you ended up having your paper graded by a third marker, you had a 100 per cent chance of having your mark considerably increased," Dr Gentes said. One student originally given a 55 per cent mark had their grade increased to 67.5, while another was marked up from 71 per cent to 85.

Dr Gentes said in his view it was a "clear attempt to raise the marks of favoured students, at the expense of talented students" and a means of encouraging undeserving students to undertake post-graduate studies lucrative for the university.

Arts Faculty executive dean Richard Fotheringham confirmed Dr Gentes' dismissal. He also confirmed normal procedure was for the dual markers to meet to resolve big disparities and that if a third marker became involved the previous lowest mark was disregarded. "I understood there was an attempted moderation and Dr Gentes refused to meet with the other members of the school involved," Professor Fotheringham said. "We got in Bob Elson as the third marker, who's probably the most distinguished historian we've got . . . he marked all the essays independently, without knowing what the two marks were." [So someone who didn't teach the course knew better than the person who did teach the course what a reasonable mastery of the course material was??]

Dr Gentes said he had elected to "throw caution to the wind" and speak out as he was taking up a post at a university in Japan.


Dithering over research fraud

Universities hate to admit that wrongdoing has happened when one of their academics is accused of fraud or malpractice -- because it reflects on them. All such allegations should be investigated independently under the supervision of a judge

THE Rudd government is considering a specialist independent body to deal with the hardest cases of scientific fraud, according to Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr. "We are considering a research integrity advisory board," said Senator Carr, who said he hoped the details could be settled before the next academic year. "We need to establish the legal framework ... and the appropriate legal indemnity for the chair and panel members ... and the specific revisions to the (Australian Code forthe Responsible Conduct of Research) to take into account any new review mechanism. "This is a sensitive issue, but we've attracted broad support for the program. There is general agreement as to the need for further reform."

Although the code was revised as recently as 2007, Senator Carr argues the present ad-hoc system, whereby institutions handle their own complaints, has failed in a small number of intractable cases. David Vaux, a medical researcher who has lobbied Senator Carr and others for reform, said the code made it too easy for an institution to bury an inconvenient complaint. "There's no oversight to ensure theinvestigations are carried out properly," said Professor Vaux, a National Health and Medical Research Council Australia fellow at LaTrobe University. "Australia should catch up with the rest of the world. In most countries in Europe or the US there's an ombudsman who handles issues of research misconduct or there's an office of research integrity."

Glenn Withers, chief executive of Universities Australia, agreed there was a need to deal with "exceptions and anomalies" in complaint handling, and believed Senator Carr intended the new board to have a "very light touch". However, he said the new system could affect the research autonomy of universities. "This government says it is taking the foot of government off universities. To an extent, this is an exception to that principle," Dr Withers said. "We take our autonomy very seriously."

Talks involving UA, the academic union, the Australian Research Council and the NHMRC have backed reform. But it is not yet clear precisely what would trigger an intervention by the board. The ARC's chief executive Margaret Sheil said: "I think you have to let the institutional processes run their course unless there was a scenario where the institution just wasn't acting."

The term serious misconduct normally called to mind the serious outcome for a wrongdoer - dismissal - but it also could point to the serious consequences flowing from dishonest medical research, Professor Sheil said.

Susan Dodds, philosophy professor at the University of Tasmania and an authority on ethics, said there was a lot at stake. "The public credibility of our own work depends on the public believing that researchers do the right thing," she said. She said the twin benefits of a national board would be more consistency in complaint-handling and less risk of conflicts of interest.

Professor Vaux said the new system should extend beyond universities and projects funded by the ARC and the NHMRC to cover published research bankrolled by the private sector or charities. He said he believed Australia had a serious problem with research misconduct. "I've seen things in published journal articles (for example, suspect images of cell lines in life science reports) where I can conceive of no other explanation," he said. Professor Vaux said tasks for a new research integrity body could include data collection, thereby settling the dispute about the extent of research misconduct, as well as keeping internal complaint handling honest by taking appeals.

Robert Graham, president of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes, said the proposed board seemed "a step in the right direction". The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney, which he directs, had just reviewed its own internal system. "We all worry about (research misconduct). A critical issue is when to refer (a case) outside. From my perspective as director, the sooner you get it outside the better." This was because an institution handling complaints against its own too readily appeared to be like "a fox in the chicken coop," Professor Graham said.


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