Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The secret of long life? It's all down to how fast you react

High IQ is a winner once again

People's reaction times are a far better indicator of their chances of living a long life than their blood pressure, exercise levels or weight, researchers have discovered. Men and women with the most sluggish response times are more than twice as likely to die prematurely.

Edinburgh University and the Medical Research Council in Glasgow tracked 7,414 people nationwide over 20 years in a study which appears to confirm the adage that a healthy mind means a healthy body. The researchers suggest that people's reaction times are a measure of their intelligence, which in turn is an indicator of their body's `system integrity' - how well it is wired together. They said:`Our results suggest that `choice' reaction time, a moderately high correlate of intelligence, is an important risk factor for death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.'

The study, published in the respected journal Intelligence this week, is the first to look at reaction times and mortality, comparing the results with known risk factors like smoking and drinking. The authors say there is growing evidence that people with higher IQs tend to live longer and healthier lives. While this can partly be put down to differences in lifestyles because more intelligent people are less likely to smoke and be overweight, much of the gap has previously been unexplained.

The 7,414 volunteers in the study have been followed since the mid-Eighties, when their reaction times were measured with an electrical device fitted with a small screen and five numbered buttons. The volunteers had to press the matching button when a number appeared on screen. The time they took to react was measured and averages worked out. Since then, 1,289 have died, 568 of them from heart disease. The researchers then compared the reaction times, smoking habits, weight and other factors of those who had died with those who had survived.

The results showed that people with slow reactions were 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely from any cause. Smoking was the only factor linked to a larger risk of death - as it made it 3.03 times more likely. Physical exercise, blood pressure, heart rate, waist-hip ratio, alcohol consumption and body-mass index all had a lesser effect.

In deaths caused specifically by heart disease, reaction time was the most important factor after blood pressure, this time having a greater effect than smoking. The researchers said: `It has been hypothesised that reaction time, as a measure of speed of the brain's information-processing capacity, may be a marker for bodily system integrity. `This way, slower reaction times, or poorer information-processing ability, might be an indication of suboptimal physiological functioning, which may in turn be related to early death.'


The declining prestige of academics in Britain

So you want to be a nuclear physicist. I bet your parents are horrified. Nor do they want you to be an Oxford Don or a classicist. That's the bizarre British conundrum that Gail Trimble can't answer. When the University Challenge contestant let slip that she would like to be an academic when she finishes her doctorate in Latin literature, the comment that surprised her most was, "get a job".

Parents in Britain spend more than 1.5 billion pounds a year on tutoring. Many have spent this term agonising over whether Freya or Felix will get into a grammar school. They are thrilled if their child is asked to join the Government's gifted programme. Schools are assessed on their academic league tables. Gordon Brown's sole intervention in education as Chancellor came when he tried to help Laura Spence get into Oxford.

Yet once undergraduates arrive at the dreaming spires or the red bricks it would be a calamity if they actually decided to stay and become a don. What a waste of an education. Britain lauds its television presenters, not its academics. Sir David Attenborough is Britain's most famous naturalist; 100 years ago it was Charles Darwin. Young historians want to be Andrew Roberts, Willie Dalrymple, Simon Sebag Montefiore or better still Amanda Foreman whose book on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was turned into the film starring Keira Knightley. They want to visit the White House, appear in glossy magazines and be asked to write lucrative articles in newspapers. They'd rather not disappear into the dusty corridors of academia never to be seen again. Boris Johnson uses his classics education to entertain. Carol Vorderman is Britain's best known mathematician. Stranger still, the diminishing role of the academic in Britain has coincided with a massive expansion of higher education. We now want half the country to reach university but we deride those who will teach them when they get there.

The rising number of students partly explains why becoming an academic is such an unappealing career. The amount of government money universities receive for each graduate has fallen by 50 per cent in real terms over the past two decades. Lecturers now spend hours preparing lessons, marking dissertations, filing paperwork, monitoring students and fending off pushy parents, while also attempting to publish research papers. Even at Oxford there is precious little time for dreaming amid Matthew Arnold's spires. While the average graduate worked 44 hours per week in 2004, academics worked 47 hours per week.

For this they are paid a pittance. Back in the 1960s, an Oxford professor earned as much as a Liverpool football player. But the boom years never reached the campus. Between 1982 and 2001, academic earnings went up by 7 per cent in real terms, whereas average earnings for all full-time employees in Britain went up by 44 per cent. Academics now earn 23 per cent less than lawyers, 24 per cent less than doctors and 49 per cent less than dentists. Having missed out on the boom years, they are now participating in the bust. Universities have been told to cut back even further on original research projects, which are increasingly seen as an extravagance. And despite recent falls, house prices in Oxford and Cambridge mean most can no longer afford to live near the centre. According to the Association of University Teachers, three quarters of academics believe there has been a decline in their status in the past five years alone. No wonder the exodus of postgraduates abroad is higher than any other developed country. When my grandfather, a physicist, was professor at Imperial College before the Second World War, he lived in an eight-bedroom house in Notting Hill that is now worth œ20 million. My other grandfather, director of the Cavendish Laboratory after the war, lived in an even more imposing Georgian house in Cambridge that is now a hall of residence.

In the 1950s intellectuals still wanted the prestige - and money - that came with being a successful academic. Now the blockbuster historians, economists and scientists prevail, but if they want to keep up their advances they need to find a subject that has broad appeal rather than concentrating on specialised research on narrow topics. William Hague has admitted that he did no original research for his much admired autobiography of Pitt the Younger. The top-selling history books are mainly spin-offs from television programmes.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian would have struggled if it had been an academic thesis on the changing face of agriculture in the former Soviet Union, but became a bestseller because it started: "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcee". Yet the former subject would have added more to our knowledge.

Who cares? Well, perhaps the future blockbuster writers who will find that there is no one inspirational left to teach them at university. There is little point in sending an ever greater number of young people to rack up debts for three years if they are going to taught by overworked, demoralised, second-raters.

In America academics are sought after in public life. President Obama has crammed his cabinet with intellectuals. His Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, won the Nobel Prize in physics. The director of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers, was a professor at MIT and Harvard. France also has a longstanding connection between public life and academia. Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, worked as a law lecturer, the education minister, Xavier Darcos, was a professor of literature.

Britain was like that once. Lord Annan called the years from 1945 to 1975 the golden age. Academics moved in and out of Whitehall as wise men. C.P. Snow chronicled their moves in his novels. Harold Macmillan became Chancellor of Oxford while still Prime Minister. Rab Butler became Master of Trinity. Harold Wilson, who had been a lecturer at Oxford, stuffed his Cabinet with former Oxford dons.

Yet few ministers now have a doctorate. In Brown's Britain, being clever is equated with being posh and elite. Mr Balls prefers beautician diplomas to Beowolf discussions, he calls for universities to "skill" students rather than educate them.

Britain has prospered during those periods in its history when scientists and thinkers have played a key role in our national life. Queen Elizabeth I was the best-educated woman of her generation. Technological advances drove the industrial revolution. Scientists helped to win two world wars. If we want to replicate that success today, putting senior common rooms rather than dealing floors at the centre of our national life might be a good place to start.


British government schools slip farther behind private schools at final High School exams

The Labour government has wreaked vast destruction on British education

Private schools had more pupils gain three grade As at A level last summer than all the comprehensives put together, according to data suggesting that poorer students are falling farther behind their middle-class contemporaries. More than 10,000 privately educated students got three As last year, the standard required to win a place at top universities, compared with just under 7,500 children at comprehensive schools. This is despite independent schools educating only 7 per cent of all pupils.

The figures, obtained by the Conservatives, also show that the achievement gap between the better off and the poor is widening at A level. Since Labour came to power in 1997, the gap between the proportion of students gaining three As at comprehensives and independent schools has widened from 12.2 to 22.7 percentage points. Almost a third of private pupils get three As, compared with less than one in ten at comprehensives. Last year 38 per cent of students achieiving straight As at A level were at fee-paying schools, compared to 28 per cent at comprehensives and 16 per cent at grammar schools.

Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said that pupils were now four times more likely to get three As at an independent school than at a comprehensive school. Despite millions of pounds of government investment directed at raising standards in comprehensives, through programmes such as the National Challenge, there was a widening gap between opportunities for better-off families and the rest, even among results for the brightest pupils, he said. At a conference organised by the children's charity Barnardo's today, he will say that there is a widening gap between opportunities for richer families and the rest. A Tory government would aim to reverse this. "We will make it easier to set up new academies, especially in poorer areas, and make it easier for them to hire great teachers, and we will make it easier for talented people to become teachers," he said.

Conservative plans to allow new state-funded schools to open in deprived areas, based on the Swedish system, with extra cash for children from more deprived homes, would reverse a growing social class gap, he said.

The figures show that the pattern of the education achievement gap is complex and impacts on all ability levels, not just among the less able or borderline pupils, where most government resources are directed. Separate figures from National Strategies, the Government's programme for professional development for schools, show that of the more than 26,000 pupils who obtained three As at A level, the number on free school meals (the rule of thumb measure for poverty) was 176, representing less than 1 per cent. Nationally, the figure is about 13 per cent. Clive Bush, of National Strategies, told a conference of head teachers organised by the Future Leaders programme last week, that British schools showed the biggest variation in performance of any school system in the world. There were wide discrepancies between types of school and within individual schools.

The figures come after concern expressed by Christine Gilbert, the Chief Inspector of Schools, that poor children had "the odds stacked against them" in education and that pupils were becoming divided along economic lines in schools.


Father died after NHS doctors failed three times to diagnose stroke

A father died after doctors and paramedics misdiagnosed his stroke three times. Jeffery Wingrove, 48, collapsed on a Saturday with severe vomiting and crippling headaches. His wife Isabelle, 52, rang an out-of-hours GP service but doctors twice refused to make a home visit. Instead they offered to fax her local pharmacy a prescription for painkillers for her to collect.

But Mr Wingrove's condition worsened and despite emergency surgery at hospital he died less than 48 hours after falling ill. His family last month won a six-figure sum in an out-of-court settlement over his treatment.

Mrs Wingrove said: 'If he had been ill on a weekday he would still be alive today. 'They held a gun to his head and they pulled the trigger. He was never given a chance of survival. 'All they had to do was come and see him, which my usual GP would have done at the drop of a hat. But it was too much trouble for them.'

Mr Wingrove, a dustcart driver from Braintree in Essex, fell ill at around 10am on December 9, 2006. The former marathon runner crawled to the bedroom with a severe headache and was unable to move his right side easily. He began sweating and vomiting. Not knowing he was already showing clear signs of a stroke his wife, who works at the local college, contacted the family GP. But because it was a Saturday she was directed to an out-of-hours service run for Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust by the private firm Primecare.

A doctor called her back at 11.35am and told her to take Mr Wingrove to hospital that afternoon for anti-sickness tablets. Mrs Wingrove pleaded for a home visit, explaining he was too ill even to lift his head from the pillow and she could not move his 6ft frame herself, but she was refused. Not satisfied, she phoned the helpline NHS Direct and a nurse told her to demand a home visit from a doctor as soon as possible. At 12.20pm she called Primecare but was again refused a home visit.

By 9pm she called paramedics, who arrived but told her Mr Wingrove had vertigo and gave him paracetamol. After a sleepless night and in major pain, he fell out of bed at 2.30pm the following afternoon and began hallucinating. He was taken to Broomfield Hospital before being transferred to the neurosurgical ward at Queen's Hospital in Romford. He died the next day despite surgery.

David Kerry, the lawyer who handled the claim of clinical negligence against East of England Ambulance Service and the GP involved, said: 'Mr Wingrove was showing all the symptoms of a stroke, whereas the current TV advertising campaign to alert the public insists that a doctor should be called if the sufferer only has one. 'Yet the NHS itself actually failed to recognise any of them, and on three separate occasions. 'It's an outrageous travesty of professional care and the public have a right to wonder, when they see the warnings of strokes on TV, whether the NHS might do better spending that money on training its own staff.'

The family - Mrs Wingrove and her sons Marc, 14, and Danny, 23 - intend to make a complaint to the General Medical Council about the GP, who has not been named. It is understood the GP no longer works for Primecare.


Why does Britain honour those who loathe her?

Twice this week I have been reminded of a peculiar quality of the British. We love to praise, honour and reward those who don't really like us - who may indeed hate us. While Gordon Brown was sweet-talking the Americans, it was announced that an honorary knighthood is being conferred on 77-year-old Senator Edward Kennedy, who is seriously ill with a brain tumour. One might suppose that Mr Kennedy - who was notoriously involved in the terrible death of Mary Jo Kopechne - was an old friend of this country. But he isn't.

During the Seventies he portrayed the British role in Northern Ireland as one of virtual occupation, and even suggested that the majority Protestant population be encouraged to 'return' to Britain. He is certainly a chip off the old block. His father, Joe, was an arch appeaser while he was American ambassador to London during the early days of World War II, believing that Hitler was bound to win, and that 'democracy was finished' here. Ted Kennedy is a rare visitor to our shores and probably doesn't think about us very much.

I have been even more struck by the row concerning the 91-year-old historian Eric Hobsbawm [Hobsbawm is a corrupted name. His father's surname was "Obstbaum", meaning Fruit-tree. He is of German Jewish origin], who has lived in this country since 1933. Mr Hobsbawm is upset because he has been denied access to his own MI5 file, which he had applied to see under the Data Protection Act. This refusal has been described in various quarters as an outrage - further proof, if any were needed, that we live in a police state.

Listening to the row as it has been explained on the BBC, or reading about it in our more progressive newspapers, one might suppose that Mr Hobsbawm was a kindly old gentleman who would never harm a flea. A panegyric by Seumas Milne in The Guardian newspaper called him Britain's 'greatest living historian'. He is almost invariably so described. Mr Milne reminded his readers that his hero is a Companion of Honour. Only 45 Britons hold this distinguished award, whose motto is: 'In action faithful and in honour clear.'

How could MI5 possibly keep a file from such a man? Why, indeed, had it opened one in the first place? In a long list of virtues, Mr Milne mentioned that Mr Hobsbawm is also a 'veteran of the last mass anti-Nazi demonstration in Berlin before Hitler came to power in 1933'. So he is not only a Companion of Honour, a member of the British Academy and, yes, this country's greatest living historian. He has also personally grappled with the Fascists. And this brilliant and saintly man is being denied his rights by MI5 which, Mr Milne informs us, has been involved in ' antidemocratic skulduggery' in the past 'against non-violent political movements'.

It all sounds a very bad business. One is almost ashamed to be British. And yet the truth about Mr Hobsbawm is almost the exact opposite of what has been stated. For most of his adult life Mr Hobsbawm supported the Soviet Union, whose methods made MI5 look like a bunch of amateurs. It is not even true that he always opposed fascism. In 1939 he co-wrote a pamphlet justifying, from a communist standpoint, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Only after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 did the Nazis revert to being the bad guys.

Eric Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party in 1936 and remained a member for some 50 years. As an intelligent young man with a social conscience in that deeply troubled decade, he did not have to become a communist. He could have been a social democrat, but he chose Joseph Stalin instead, and stuck with him. He either turned a blind eye to Soviet atrocities, or justified them. He defended, albeit with some hand-wringing, the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. He deprecated Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's totalitarian methods. Long after decent fellow communists had disowned Soviet communism, Mr Hobsbawm refused to condemn it.

In his book On History, published in 1997, he wrote: 'Fragile as the communist systems turned out to be, only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain them from 1957 until 1989.' Somehow, he had forgotten about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The British security services would have been criminally irresponsible not to have kept copious records on Eric Hobsbawm. Although there is no evidence that he ever worked directly for the Soviet Union, he continued to justify and defend it throughout the several decades when it was this country's enemy. You don't need an MI5 file to know any of this. Hobsbawm admits to much of it in his 2002 autobiography, Interesting Times, in which he shows little affection for his adopted country despite the wonderful opportunities he has been offered here.

He came to Britain after the deaths of his father, a British citizen, and his mother, in Vienna. At one point he writes with chilling, and repulsive, detachment: 'I refused all contact with the suburban petty bourgeoisie, which I naturally regarded with contempt.' There are other self-incriminating writings and public statements. Most shocking among them, perhaps, was his response to a question put to him on BBC2's Late Show by Michael Ignatieff in 1994. Asked whether 'the radiant tomorrow' promised by Stalin would have justified 'the loss of 15 to 20 million people', Mr Hobsbawm simply replied: 'Yes.'

The old Soviet sympathiser is honest in one sense. He does not attempt to deny his past beliefs and affiliations. To a large extent he does not even repudiate them now. He has never apologised for having championed one of the nastiest regimes in human history - one that rivalled Nazi Germany in its brutality, and in some respects surpassed it. There is obviously nothing wrong with historians holding Left-wing views - so long as they do not try to outlaw fellow historians who have Right-wing ones. The objection to Eric Hobsbawm is not that he is Left-wing. It is that he plumped for Stalin when there were already ample reports in the West of the millions of people annihilated in the Terror. It is that he stuck with Soviet communism long after World War II, and would not condemn it even when the Hungarian revolution was savagely crushed.

Yet despite all this - despite his well-publicised support for an inhumane regime - he is widely treated as a grand, as well as a delightful, old man, whose views deserve to be venerated. I do not particularly have in mind journalists such as Seumas Milne, an intellectual Wykehamist [A graduate of the "intellectual" Winchester College, an ancient non-government school] Left-winger who might himself have walked out of the Thirties, and shares many of Hobsbawm's political beliefs. I am thinking more of the mildly Leftist or supposedly 'liberal' types who work for our progressive newspapers and the BBC.

Billed as Britain's greatest living historian, an accolade with which many of his peers would quarrel, Hobsbawm is feted by the BBC. A few months ago he was accorded a lengthy interview on Radio 4's Today programme. He was allowed to maunder on about the 'incredibly unstable' nature of modern capitalism and, encouraged by a reverential Ed Stourton, digressed on to the failures of globalisation which Karl Marx had predicted. Stourton, in awe, dared not ask the obvious question, which was whether, for all its imperfections and recent excesses, global capitalism does not produce a lot more wealth for many more people than Soviet communism ever did - as well as, incidentally, respecting the rule of law. Nor did he think of asking why Hobsbawm had been such an indefatigable supporter of that benighted regime.

Why do liberal-minded journalists who would normally abhor the excesses of Soviet communism spare a man who was associated with them - and not only spare but often venerate him? Ignorance cannot be the explanation, as Mr Hobsbawm's views are so well known. It cannot be a result of good manners, since they would not be polite to a historian who had defended fascism. The fact is that, however much these liberals may deprecate Soviet communism, they can't help indulging its apologists.

There is a lack of imagination on the part of these enlightened media folk, who cannot easily conceive of how a kindly looking and apparently civilised gentleman could really have supported a monster like Stalin. He has described himself as 'an accepted member of the official British cultural establishment', and that is how he appears. This gentle-seeming, ruminative soul has been a determined servant of the communist cause until recent times. No one doubts he is a considerable historian - if he were not, he would not have been so powerful a figure.

More here

The ocean acidity scare revs up

Big article from "The Times" below. Not the slightest mention of the element of self-contradiction in it, however. Warmed water gives off CO2. Try opening a bottle of warm Coca Cola if you doubt it. The CO2 will rush out in a spurt of foam and the drink will be "flat" thereafter, quite unlike what happens when you open it cold. So if global warming does happen, it will make the ocean LESS prone to absorb CO2 and hence be LESS acidic, not more. There are also more complex objections to the scare e.g. here. And, as ever, facts trump theory. a recent paper shows that phytoplankton in fact thrive under increasing oceanic CO2 concentrations

They are calling it "the other CO2 problem". Its victim is not the polar bear spectacularly marooned on a melting ice floe, or an eagle driven out of its range, nor even a French pensioner dying of heatstroke. What we have to mourn are tiny marine organisms dissolving in acidified water.

In fact we need to do rather more than just mourn them. We need to dive in and save them. Suffering plankton may not have quite the same cachet as a 700-kilo seal-eating mammal, but their message is no less apocalyptic. What they tell us is that the chemistry of the oceans is changing, and that, unless we act decisively, the limitless abundance of the sea within a very few decades will degrade into a useless tidal desert.

In every way - economically, environmentally, socially - the effects of ocean acidification are as dangerous as climate change, and even harder to resist.

It has been a slow dawning. Until recently, marine scientists have had little luck in engaging the public or political mind. The species most directly at risk - plankton, corals, sea snails, barnacles and other stuff that most people have never heard of - seemed as remote from our lives as cosmic dust. But now at last "the other CO2 problem" may have found a mascot of its own - the tiny but colourful clownfish, winsome star of the Disney classic Finding Nemo. In the film, Nemo gets lost. Now it turns out that real clownfish might lose their way too.

In early February, the American academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) carried a paper titled "Ocean acidification impairs olfactory discrimination and homing ability of a marine fish". The sombre language concealed a stark message. What the researchers had found was that clownfish larvae in acidified water were unable to detect the odours from adult fish that led them to their breeding sites. The implications were obvious. If the fish don't breed, the species will not survive, and what is true for one species must be true for others. In time, the world's fishing fleets will be less a food resource than a disposal problem.

What's happening is this: the oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As most climate scientists and governments now agree, human activity - most importantly, burning fossil fuels - has intensified CO2 in the atmosphere, causing long-term climate change. The good thing is that the seas have absorbed a lot of the gas and so have slowed the pace of atmospheric warming. The bad thing is that CO2 reacts with sea water to make carbonic acid.

Since 1800, humans have generated 240 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, half of which has been absorbed by the sea. On average, each person on Earth contributes a tonne of carbon to the oceans every year. The result is a rapid rise in acidity - or a reduction in pH, as the scientists prefer to express it - which, as it intensifies, will mean that marine animals will be unable to grow shells, and that many sea plants will not survive. With these crucial links removed, and the ecological balance fatally disrupted, death could flow all the way up the food chain, through tuna and cod to marine mammals and Homo sapiens. As more than half the world's population depends on food from the sea for its survival, this is no exaggeration.

This is why 155 marine scientists from 26 countries recently signed the Monaco Declaration, identifying the twin threats of global warming and ocean acidification as "the challenge of the century". It is, nevertheless, a challenge they have taken up only recently.

"The whole scientific community was caught with its pants down," says Jason Hall-Spencer, research lecturer at Plymouth University, who was one of the signatories. The term "ocean acidification" was coined only in 2003 - by odd coincidence the same year Finding Nemo was released and 35,000 people died in the European summer heat wave - though, unlike global warming, it has not had to face the opposition of truth-deniers. Verging on panic in 2005, the Royal Society published a 68-page report in which it calculated that acidification had increased by 30% in 200 years. If we went on as we were, it said, this would rise to 300% by 2100, making the seas more corrosive than they had been at any time for hundreds of millennia. In every practicable sense, the damage was irreversible. "It will take tens of thousands of years for ocean chemistry to return to a condition similar to that occurring at pre-industrial times," the Royal Society said.

It is a truism that might have been minted for the Darwin bicentenary. A species once lost is gone for ever. You can't rewind evolution, or reinvent fish. We are not talking about dispossessing our children, or even our grandchildren's grandchildren. We are talking so many generations into the fog of geological time that we might not even be talking about the same species. We are certainly not talking about low-lying countries protected by coral reefs, such as the Maldives. In future they will not be studying the marine environment: they will be part of it.

Doomy stuff like this, of course, is nothing new. The "warmists", as the deniers like to call them, have been telling us for years that our rate of consumption is unsustainable and that future generations will pay a terrible price for our carelessness. If you don't want to believe in climate change, you can argue that forecasts created by computer modelling are "theoretical". Or you can confuse the long-term graph of "climate" with the short-term spikes of "weather". Look, there's a snowflake! Global warming can't be happening!

But acidification permits no such equivocation. It is demonstrable, visible and measurable, and there is nothing theoretical about how it is caused or what it does. All the same, until now there has been one significant shortcoming.

As with the clownfish, it has been easy enough under laboratory conditions to see how individual species respond to acidity. What is much less easy is to observe the effects on entire ecosystems.

This problem has now been cracked by a team from Plymouth led by Jason Hall-Spencer, who scanned the world for a location where the sea conditions expected in future were already happening naturally. They found it in the Bay of Naples, just off the holiday island of Ischia.

The sea bed here is chalk. Deep geological activity converts some of this into carbon dioxide and forces it up through volcanic vents into the water. In and around the neighbourhood of these vents, the result is a perfect "gradient" of pH levels from the normal 8.1 all the way down to 7.4 (remember: the lower the pH, the higher the acidity). To non-scientists, the giving or taking of a few decimal points can look undramatic. To experts they mark the difference between life and death. The 30% increase in acidity during the industrial age is reflected by a drop in pH of just 0.1. On current trends, it will plummet by another 0.4 points to hit an unprecedented low of 7.7 by 2100. By 2300 it could be down to 7.3.

Few species living in the sea have experienced conditions like these at any time throughout their entire life on Earth. With pH as low as this, it is at least questionable that land creatures emerging from the primal swamp could have evolved into the bony specimens that roam the Earth today. And it is certain that the pace of environmental change is far too fast for evolution to keep in step. As a recipe for life on Earth, it is about as efficacious as nuclear war. Experiments have shown that the tipping point at which shell growth ceases comes at a pH of 7.8. This is the level which, on current trends, will be the global norm before the end of the century, and it is the level at which the Plymouth team has focused its attention.

Given all the dire warnings, the first visual impression at Ischia is something of a surprise. There are plenty of fish. Is it, then, a false alarm? Could the world's scientists have got their statistical knickers in a twist and jumped to a false conclusion? Will life just go on as normal? Alas, no. The acidified water is a small zone in a wider sea. There is no barrier. The fish are just visitors. They come to feed on the soft-bodied algae that survive in the altered conditions, then they swim away again. What they don't do is breed - which is exactly what the Nemo research predicts.

"Fish breed naturally at a pH of 8.1," says Hall-Spencer. He believes the sensory loss observed in clownfish is only one part of the story. "Losing the sense of smell," he says, "is not likely to be the only effect. It's much more likely to be one impairment among many. Eggs in these conditions cannot develop normally."

Shelled creatures in the Ischian waters are visibly suffering. Sea urchins thin out and disappear as the acidity increases; so do corals, limpets and barnacles. Sea snails straying into the zone have thin, weak shells, and produce no young. There is another important absentee, too - the coralline algae (seaweed with a chalk skeleton) that glues coral reefs together. Without it, reefs become weakened and fall apart.

In just a few decades, if the output of carbon dioxide does not abate, this will be the condition of all the world's oceans. Many if not all commercially fished species, including shellfish, will suffer. So, too, will coral reefs, whose disintegration will leave low-lying coasts in the tropics unprotected from the rising seas and fiercer storms that climate change will unleash. By some calculations reefs will have vanished by 2065, and nobody expects them to survive into the 22nd century.


More Warmist censorship of pesky findings

We have gone through a cold spell in Britain, with heavy snowfalls in many parts of the country. I knew, then, that it was coming and it did come - right on the first day: a newspaper article reassuring us that these fluctuations in weather conditions are no more than noise and do not affect the well-established existence of man-made global warming.

I will not discuss this or similar articles because it is evident that a local short-term temperature change is meaningless against the long-term pattern. I am, though, interested in the predictability of the appearance of these stories in the media. The campaign on global warming is on and it has to be more explicit in moments like this when our subconscious may make us waver just so faintly. Lest we forget.

The article in the Daily Telegraph said that this spell of bad weather was not simply irrelevant, but was yet another confirmation of global warming. Curiously, it is a feature of man-made global warming that every fact confirms it: rising temperatures or decreasing temperatures, drought or torrential rain, tornadoes and hurricanes or changes in the habits of migratory birds. No matter what the weather, some model of global warming offers a watertight explanation.

From global warming to climate change

For a scientist like me, this sounds fishy. I imagine that there are a good number of models, each with different assumptions and results, but we are never given a general view of these models, what data they use, how their results compare and where and when their predictions apply. The impression is that science popularisers cherry-pick whichever happens to provide the results that match the news of the day.

One very useful tool in this respect has been the conceptual change from global warming to the more adaptable one of climate change. The bigger the target, the easier to hit it. Somebody should take care that the target is not so big that it becomes impossible to miss.

I was away for my Christmas holidays in Spain recently, and there I had more first-hand evidence of the campaign. I met a fellow scientist whom I had not seen in many years. I knew he had been working on carbon accumulation in soils. When he began this work at the end of the 1980s, global warming was starting to make the news. He naturally thought that this was a study of great potential interest. He carried on for years, during which the political situation around the issue changed.

The conclusion of his investigation is that, globally, the ability of soil to accumulate carbon is 100 percent greater than the current estimation. Here is a piece of science of great relevance to the hottest issue of the moment and one that deserves to be looked into in detail, as it affects our predictions substantially.

Ethics a central issue

The response of the research institution in which my colleague works was to refuse to publish his results.

There was no peer-review of the methods or science in the work. My colleague's track record shows that he is a competent scientist with numerous papers published in highly-regarded international journals. The quality of his research was not the issue. The decision was political. His laboratory is directly dependent on the regional government in that part of Spain, and in this government's agenda global warming features prominently. My colleague's results were seen as possibly undermining the strength of their case.

This is not an isolated case. Research institutions have issued statements positioning themselves in the matter. They want to be in with the media, in with public acceptance, in with Government policies, in with those who allocate funds.

Ethics is a central issue in the global warming debate, which is all about protecting future human generations. But ethical considerations also prescribe that research institutions should not manoeuvre to make the best of their opportunities at the cost of coercing researchers. Science's goal is truth about nature and this can only be found in a climate of intellectual freedom.

A powerful political tool

Global warming has become a powerful political tool. One can see the reasons. Proving it wrong (if wrong it is) is sufficiently difficult to allow using it for quite a long time. There is an element of personal guilt, as we all contribute to global warming, but not too much. Basically it is the rich multinationals which are responsible. Thus we are called both to a cathartic personal conversion and to a noble struggle against the evil polluters of our fragile planet. All this helps to suppress the dissatisfaction of what otherwise could be a life empty of worthwhile goals. Global warming is therefore an immensely appealing cause.


Crime by foreigners in Britain doubles in five years

Crime committed in the UK by foreign nationals has doubled in just five years, police figures have revealed. Records disclosed by 10 police forces reveal a 120 per cent rise in the number of non-Britons arrested, charged or convicted of offences between 2003 and 2008. And figures from 20 forces, covering more than half the population of England and Wales, show that foreigners committed or were accused of more than 70,000 offences last year - pointing to a nationwide total of well over 100,000 offences if all 43 forces had provided figures.

The figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, will renew public debate over immigration, border controls and the deportation of convicted foreign criminals at the end of their jail sentences, the issue which cost Charles Clarke his job as Home Secretary.

The steep rise in crime committed by foreigners comes despite an overall fall in the number of crimes recorded by police during the five-year period. However, the rise has coincided with a sharp increase in the number of migrants coming to live in the UK since the European Union expanded in 2004 to take in eight former Eastern Bloc countries including Poland.

In London, the Metropolitan Police recorded a rise in the number of foreigners accused of crimes from 21,000 in 2003 to 47,000 last year, an increase of 123 per cent. In Cambridgeshire, a county which has seen high levels of eastern European immigration, arrests of foreign nationals leapt from 762 to 3,350 in the same period. In both areas, around one in five of all crimes is now carried out by a foreigner, the figures suggest. In the West Midlands, the number of foreign nationals accused of crimes jumped from 3,700 to 8,000 in five years. Last year 3,199 crimes were carried out by foreign nationals in Northumbria, 1,253 in Merseyside and 1,223 in Surrey.

Only 10 forces - including the Met, Britain's biggest - were able to provide comparative figures across the five-year period. Among the forces which did not provide data, 12, including Greater Manchester, Thames Valley and Essex, claimed not to record the nationality of criminals, while 11 failed to respond.

Among the 15 police forces which were able to give a breakdown by type of offence, there were 120 murders last year for which a foreign national was the prime suspect, and 426 rapes or attempted rapes. Notorious foreign killers include Nigerian-born Chester Dauda, who stabbed to death a 17-year-old student at a New Year's Eve party in Barking, east London, in 2007. Sentencing Dauda last July to a minimum of 14 years' imprisonment, Judge Martin Stephens QC described the incident as a "deliberate act of outrageous violence".

Last week two Lithuanians, Vitas Plytnykas, 41, and Aleksandras Skirda, 20, were handed life sentences for torturing and killing a fellow Lithuanian, Jolanta Bledaite, before cutting up her body and dumping it in the sea at Arbroath, Scotland.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, called the findings "truly shocking". He said: "We simply cannot become a soft option for criminals from overseas. It's time we had a proper border police force to stop criminals entering the country, and took tougher action against those who have come here to commit offences." David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said: "It is important to say that not all foreign nationals are criminals, but these are worrying statistics. "It should be made completely clear to people that if they are fortunate enough to be allowed into this country they should obey the rules. If they do not, the smallest transgression should lead to swift deportation."

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: "These statistics are partial but they confirm a great deal of anecdotal evidence. I have lost count of the number of magistrates who have told me privately of their concerns about the high proportion of cases coming before them which involve immigrants."

In London, foreign nationals were arrested last year over 13,500 drugs offences, 1,210 burglaries, 930 rapes or other sexual offences, and 13,748 violent crimes including 78 murders. In the West Midlands, foreigners were accused of just under 1,500 offences of violence against the person and robbery last year, up from 401 in 2002. Other foreign murderers have included:

* Roberto Malasi, an 18-year-old Angolan asylum-seeker who stormed into a christening party in Peckham, south-east London, in 2005 and shot dead a 33-year-old woman as she cradled her baby niece, and while on the run stabbed to death an 18-year-old pastor's daughter;

* Yusuf Jama, a Somali asylum-seeker, who was in the gang that shot dead Pc Sharon Beshenivsky in Bradford in 2005;

* Michal Pech, a Slovak army deserter, who shot dead his former lover Clare Bernal at Harvey Nichols department store in London in 2005, before shooting himself;

* David Bieber, an American bouncer wanted for murder in his homeland, who shot dead Pc Ian Broadhurst in Leeds in 2003.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The vast majority of people who come to the UK willingly abide by our laws. However, we will not tolerate those that abuse our hospitality by becoming involved in crime. "We now automatically consider for deportation all foreign nationals who commit a serious crime in the UK. Indeed, last year we deported a record 5,000 foreign criminals and we intend to beat that record this year."


Leftist taxes slowly destroying Britain's most profitable industry: "Brit Insurance, the patriotically named insurer best known for sponsoring the Oval cricket ground, is expected to confirm today a plan to move its headquarters out of the UK for tax reasons. The company's decision comes after months of deliberation and is based on what many see as an unfavourable corporate tax regime. It is understood that Dane Douetil, Brit's chief executive and a leading figure on the Lloyd's of London market, favours a move that keeps the company within the European Union. Brit confirmed last summer that it was looking at relocating its tax headquarters, hiring a number of advisers including Ernst & Young to examine its options, which will also take into account where it holds its capital. A number of companies have re-domiciled, or signalled such an intent, including Shire, the pharmaceuticals group, United Business Media, the business publisher, and WPP, the advertising group".

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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