Have you thought about a vacation to Christmas Island?

Posted on August 31st, 2008 in General by Robert Miller

Christmas Island in the Pacific was one of the islands used by the British to test their hydrogen bombs between 1957-1962. The nuclear test ban treaty, signed in 1963, ended testing in the region, leaving the island in a state of rubble from leftover construction and the imprint of a very large bomb. The hydrogen bombs tested there included a 3000 kiliton explosion detonated at 8200 feet and a 24 kiloton explosion from a tower over land (the Hiroshima atomic bomb was 15 kilotons). On several occasions since the test ban treaty, both the U.S. and British visited the region to evaluate radioactivity and reported finding none. The British have since done a massive cleanup and disposed of tons of leftover debris. Salon Reporter David Wolman visited the island recently with a Geiger counter and describes a place of pristine beauty, including one of the world’s largest unperturbed coral reefs. The island is teeming with birds and surrounded by an abundance of fish and giant coral formations–a scuba diver’s paradise. The background radioactivity he measured was less than what one would find within an American city. Because humans were not allowed into the region for many years (there are still areas deemed unsafe among the testing sites, including areas in Nevada), the region has rebounded with abundant life and coral reefs that look like they might have appeared when Captain James Cook discovered the atoll on Christmas Eve, 1777. But the coral reef has probably improved since Cook’s discovery, since the large bomb crater has been the site of a new untouched intact growth of coral apparently stunning to the scuba diver. Wolman describes the region as “atomic tourism with a naturalist spin.”

Apparently, the region has now become popular to sport-fisherman who come, with sunblock and uv protective clothing (it seems you can get a sunburn through a t-shirt-not aided by radioactivity) and fly fish in the shallow reefs for bonefish. One of the tourists remarked, “The contrast of it is amazing. I mean, the hydrogen bomb is the most powerful and destructive thing there is, right? Yet out here, this place, and the reefs we saw yesterday — it’s just gorgeous.”
Much of the Pacific atoll region was left deserted after the bomb testing, although villagers have returned in some regions. But the absence of exploitive human behavior has allowed nature to take over and reconstitute the area to give the oddest juxtaposition between man’s most destructive weapon and nature’s ability to do repair work in his absence. If you’re planning a vacation there Christmas Island is only about 3 hours away from Honolulu. I guess the message is “take your flyrod.”

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The failure of global climate change models: scientific hysteria

Posted on August 30th, 2008 in Environment,General,Science by Robert Miller

No subject in the history of science has depended more on models and computer simulations than the science of global climate change. If you look back into our history, our knowledge of the distant past has been derived from studies of the the geological and fossil record that have been going on for more than two hundred years. And increasingly the view we get from these studies is that cataclysmic climate change can occur. But all of the past events have not been created by humans, but from other causes. If you try to look forward, by predicting our future climate conditions, it all comes from computer models and simulations that are extremely limited in their capacity to incorporate all the variables, primarily because the variables themselves are insufficiently understood. Events in the last few years have made it very clear: we don’t understand the variables that we need to know about in order to generate global climate change models that can tell us something which will give us confidence about our future. In the past year, we have witnessed the utter collapse of models that have proven the conservative nature of science and the scientists who study global climate change. There may not be enough time left to fix the problem. Climate models are being scrapped or rapidly revised to see if better predictions can be achieved by exploding the models to include as much as possible. I tend to think that this mass hysteria is going to fall short, simply because of the scale of the problem. I have spent a good part of my scientific career developing models of nerve cells, so I know something about how long it takes to get models that have good accuracy and I think the planet is probably more complicated than the single nerve cells I study and model. It is possible that we are at the beginning of a global emergency on climate change, but don’t know it yet because the computer models haven’t predicted it. But those models are now completely discredited and not because of a bad strategy, but because they aren’t sophisticated enough to be useful and helpfully predictive. They confirm that we may have a future problem, but they haven’t been able to predict the events of the last few years, particularly with respect to the melting of the polar ice caps and what this might do to sea levels and global temperatures.

An Obama jump in the polls: can he make it stick?

Posted on August 29th, 2008 in Politics by Robert Miller

The Democrats have had a good week at their convention. Even David Brooks, the conservative NYT columnist from Disney Land, working with Mark Shields and Jim Lehrer on PBS, conceded that the Republicans had a tough act to follow (once Biden gave his speech, Brooks countered that McCain needed to choose Lieberman as his VP to counter the attacks that the Democrats will be leveling at McCain). As we all know, every candidate gets a boost in the polls from their respective convention, so it will be interesting to see what McCain can do next week. The Gallup Poll has Obama with a 6 point bump, with perhaps more to come in next Monday’s poll, as the current one does not reflect the entire convention. This Poll has had McCain slightly ahead in the last few weeks.

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