* eats plants * loves science * scared of earthquakes * a bit opinionated *


My new blog

I’ve decided to move my blog. I’m not really quakerattled anymore. The earthquakes were over 3 years ago now and I feel I’ve moved on from them. I will always be terrified of earthquakes but they are no longer at the forefront of my thoughts.

My new blog is at http://rachelsquirrel.com. I’ve imported all the content over so it’s essentially the same blog but with a new name and a new design.


The difference between weather and climate

This is a great two-minute video in which Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the difference between weather and climate (h/t HotTopic). It’s a preview from National Geographic Channel’s Cosmos series.

The difference between weather and climate is important to understand because people have a tendency to see variations in the weather as a reason to dismiss climate change. For instance, a cold winter can make people think climate change is not happening or is nothing to worry about.

The last time Australia had a significant drought, people were more willing to accept regulations to control their carbon emissions. When the drought ended, they lost interest and with it, the momentum to change. But drought will return to Australia and according to the recently released IPCC report, the frequency and severity of these droughts is going to increase. The next major drought could be soon if predictions of an impending El Niño prove accurate.

Don’t be duped by variations in the weather. It’s the long-term trend that counts.



Cross-stitch porn

A Brisbane artist has merged pornography with cross-stitch in a way that has improved both things considerably more than if they were separate. The cross-stitch lends an air of respectability to the pornography while the pornography offsets the fuddy-duddy image of cross stitch.

The artist’s name is Leah Emery and she explains how she got started in cross-stitch porn in this video:


Life before kids…or not

My mother-in-law is currently staying with us so Ben and I took advantage of her offer to babysit and go out for dinner child-free. This is the first time we’ve done this in more than seven years. I kid you not. We went to Takapuna and left early so that we could walk along the beach before the sun set. I took some amazing photos of it:



We went to our restaurant at around 6pm and enjoyed a delicious Mexican meal like grownups. The only problem was that it was all finished by about 7pm and we couldn’t possibly arrive back at home before the children had gone to bed. What to do? So we ordered dessert. That was delicious but it only added another 20 minutes or so to our evening. Bedtime for the kids is 7:30pm in our house. So we went for another very long walk around Takapuna during which I tried to explain the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org to Ben and failed miserably. Is this what life was like before children?

Today we went to another beach: Mairangi Bay. It was lovely:





Modern technology connecting people in uplifting ways

This is really wonderful: young Brazilians who want to learn English chat online to elderly Americans in retirement homes.


There’s more about this here: Perfect Match: Brazilian Kids Learn English by Video Chatting With Lonely Elderly Americans


On censorship

There have been some complaints about the moderation of comments in my previous post, It’s a conspiracy! This happens every time Skeptics’ comments get moderated. Moderation is not censorship.

If I write a letter to the editor of my local paper it may or may not get published. If it doesn’t get published, is it censorship? Of course not. Newspaper editors will generally publish letters based on the quality of their arguments and their topicality. Any that fail to meet these criteria are trashed.

In the same way, comments made on people’s blogs may or may not get published. Some are edited slightly while some might get trashed completely. This is not censorship. Commenters can make their comments elsewhere. An editor or author of a blog is fully within their rights not to publish comments that are uncivil, inflammatory, defamatory, off-topic, wrong, tedious or just poor quality.

Since I am the owner of this blog, I get to choose what gets published here. If I decide not to publish a comment, it’s not censorship. I am not stifling freedom of speech or preventing anyone from expressing their views elsewhere. But I do get to choose the content on my own blog.

And if anyone comments and disagrees with me, their comment is going in the trash :-)


It’s a conspiracy!

I’ve finally finished reading Recursive Fury: a paper which studied blog comments written in response to the publication of NASA faked the moon landing-therefore (climate) science is a hoax. I’m not going to comment on the moon landing paper other than to say that it explored the connection between the endorsement of free-market economics and conspiratorial thinking.

The Recursive Fury paper followed the response in the blogosphere to the publication of the moon landing paper by collecting blog comments that questioned its validity. The authors were able to show that many of these comments met the criteria for conspiracist ideation.

No permission was sought from commenters to use their comments. Many comments are quoted in the paper but they’re quoted without names. However, it’s very easy to find out who said what just by typing the comment into Google and searching – I went in search of authors for some comments simply because I thought they were so unbelievable.

I think initially the paper was published with supplementary material which did include the names (or handles if people comment using a pseudonym), however this is no longer available with the paper. I have also read that some comments were incorrectly attributed, but the few I checked all matched up and it’s my understanding that these mistakes have been corrected.

Is it ethically acceptable to use comments made on a public blog in research? Here are my thoughts:

* Blog comments are in the public domain and when someone writes a comment on a public blog, there is implicit acceptance that this is public material and that it can be quoted by others and attributed to them.

* I don’t think academics need to get permission from blog commenters to study comments which are public.

BUT, there’s a big BUT here:

* The above two are on the proviso that the research does not harm the commenters themselves.

Many of the commenters complained that the research did cause them harm and it is because of complaints made to the publisher that this paper has now been retracted, a year after publication. One of the complaints I have seen is that by demonstrating conspiratorial content in comments, the authors are somehow attributing a mental illness to commenters. It is probably useful to define conspiracist ideation at this point. The authors define it as: “Conspiracist ideation generally refers to the propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009)”.

Is conspiracist ideation a mental illness? Perhaps in some circumstances it could be a symptom of mental illness. In the examples I saw in Recursive Fury though, I did not think the comments could be regarded as enough to diagnose mental illness and nor did I feel the authors did so. The comments included things like accusations of scams and research misconduct, of deliberating skewing survey data, fabricating results and of cherry-picking. Pretty much all the usual defamatory stuff that can be found on “Skeptic” blogs.

I can’t pass judgement on the quality of the paper as I’m not qualified. I certainly found it interesting to read and I have plenty of anecdotal evidence of my own of conspiratorial thinking from climate science “Skeptics”. One interesting conclusion from the paper is that “a defining attribute of conspiracist ideation is its resistance to contrary evidence”. The authors argue that because of this, it is not worthwhile engaging directly with “Skeptics”.


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