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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

Although so much effort is focussed on renewable energy these days, continued expansion of wind and solar energy cannot for the foreseeable future provide the basis for a secure and affordable energy supply for a modern economy. This is clear to anyone taking an objective view of the overall energy system, but apparently not to politicians. There is a school of thought that believes politicians signing up to the EU’s original 20:20:20 targets – 20% emissions reduction, 20% energy efficiency improvement and 20% share of renewable energy by 2020 – thought the renewables...
A reliable energy supply has always been a prerequisite for a modern industrial society. Lenin – certainly interested in power in all its forms – once said “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country”. In today’s world, there seems to be a move towards the second aim, although hopefully not the first. Electrification is a large part of the proposed plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate future climate changes in many countries. Enthusiasts see a future where cars are battery powered and domestic gas heating systems have...
Electric cars are touted as the vehicles of the future, but there are major infrastructure issues to be addressed before they could become the norm. The other option put forward by those who would like to see a replacement for the internal combustion engine is the hydrogen-powered car, using fuel cells to produce its own electricity, rather than storing it in batteries. A decade ago, hydrogen seemed to have an equal chance of becoming the fuel of the future as did stored electricity. Not so now; despite occasional pilot projects – usually involving buses – and handful of...
The UK, always an awkward member of the European Union, is set to be the first state to leave the bloc (or not; anything seems possible at the moment). However, on the assumption that out means out, we have to consider a future in which British policy in several key areas is not part of an umbrella EU policy. Action on climate change is one important issue in this category. Already, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has launched an inquiry into the implications of Brexit (Leaving the EU: implications for UK climate policy). To quote from the introduction to this...
In the last few days, we have seen reports such as this: Electric cars will be most popular with drivers ‘in a decade’. The source of this bullish pronouncement is Go Ultra Low, which presents itself ‘the new national campaign for electric vehicles’, funded by the government (via the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, OLEV) and eight motor manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Volkswagen). So, this is effectively a marketing organisation, and we as taxpayers are footing part of the bill. OLEV itself has a wider role. According to its...
For European readers, the fact that the Brexit referendum is finally over will be very welcome. Weeks of highly polarised campaigning have seen the rhetoric become increasingly strident and the personal attacks increasingly unpleasant. That, to the great surprise of many of us, the Leave campaign emerged the winner will not be the end of the matter. Across the UK political scene, there are personal scores to be settled and, hopefully, bridges rebuilt. The issues raised will not disappear overnight and now it is down to the winning side to show their vision of a bright future is a...
In a world where people want certainty, the provisional nature of scientific knowledge can be worrying. Non-scientists want to be reassured that something is safe, rather than have nuanced advice about relative risk. On the other hand, perhaps people find this lack of dogmatism welcome; scientists regularly come high on lists of trusted professions unless, that is they are employed by government or industry. Despite this intrinsic uncertainty, we talk rather loosely about the ‘proof’ of a particular hypothesis. We have seen recently that gravity waves, predicted by Einstein as...
At one time, investment in a company was simply a financial transaction, made in the expectation of a better return than from a bank deposit account. More recently, we have seen the rise in the activist private investor, whose objective is to influence the future direction of the company, with returns being secondary in many cases. Company policies are also important for some institutional investors, although they also have an obligation to invest the funds they control wisely (see The power of prayer, for example). This has led to ‘ethical’ funds divesting from the tobacco...

Nullius in verba

03.06.2016
Often translated as ‘take nobody’s word for it’, this is the motto of the Royal Society. It nicely encapsulates the basic critical outlook expected of scientists; in effect, listen to others but come to your own conclusions. Scientists, by nature and training, should be both curious and sceptical. They should be seeking to discover, but also continue to question their conclusions in the light of new evidence. Non-scientists often think that scientists deal in facts and certainties, but this is a misrepresentation. All the evidence may support a certain hypothesis, but...
Glyphosate – the active ingredient of the ubiquitous Roundup herbicide – is under pressure. It has for a long time been regarded as perhaps the most benign and least toxic of weedkillers, although that hasn’t stopped constant attacks on its use from green groups such as the Pesticide Action Network. But now, the pressure is really on. It started with a reclassification of the chemical as ‘probably carcinogen to human’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subsidiary body of the World Health Authority. This in turn has catalysed a range...

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RIP Bob Carter

Prof Bob Carter, who eloquently put forward evidence-based arguments sceptical of mainstream climate science, died suddenly in January. For an equally eloquent tribute, see

A clock tune in honor of a true man of true science.

What's New

29 June 2016: See letter about electric cars in The Times