Category Archives: science

Jellyballing the Jellyfisheries

People eat jellyfish, and therefore people fish for jellyfish. They call the practice jellyballing — because if you get a chance to name something, you should name it something cool. Unfortunately, far more jellyfish are caught each year than previously assumed. We currently have no idea what effect this is having on the jellyfish population, or what effect overfishing jellyfish will have on the marine ecology. Considering we’re overfishing pretty much everything in the ocean, I imagine it’s not going to be good. Hakai has a short piece on this, well worth the read.

(image copyright Brocken Inaglory)

Mathematical Proof that Aliens Do Not Exist (Sorry to Burst your Bubble)

Every now and then random people in the world go bat-guana crazy about something, whether it’s about a Big Foot sighting, or believing that a trust-fund billionaire troll-bot will govern for anyone other than other billionaires, or evidence of extraterrestrials. This latter went big in 2016, moving from cow-probing theory-spinning abductees to legitimate astronomers and physicists who tried really, really hard not to sound like they were talking about E.T.

However they tried to dress it up, it was ridiculous. A star, KIC 8462852 (now known as Tabby’s Star), was showing behaviour they didn’t recognise, and the cry of “ALIENS” reverberated around the internet. Sound like a familiar argument?

In fact, the probability of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence is so tiny that there is literally no evidence compelling enough to refute the maths. I explain this here.

The Wrong View of Science

There are many forms of poor thinking, and most have been on vivid display in the past year or so. One that often gets overlooked is scientism, the “the uncritical application of scientific or quasi-scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study or investigation”. There’s a large number of people with a religious fervour for science, but aside from pithy memes the apologists can’t support their position.

I studied Scientific Practice and Communication at Monash University this semester, which did a good job at introducing second year students to the way science actually works (as opposed to the way it is promoted to work), outlining poor science and misuse of the scientific method, and problems with the modern research environment and peer-reviewed journals. Sometimes they seemed to contradict themselves, but it’s a tough line to walk. One professor described the importance of The Royal Society’s motto Nullius in Verba (Take Nobody’s Word For It), and then in the same lecture lamented that the problem with modern discourse is that now people thought it was okay to question experts. Of course, questioning is good, but it needs to be backed up with an alternative idea that is coherent, logical, and sound. Often science experts are challenged on non-scientific grounds and the competing ideas are unsound and incoherent, but it can be difficult for non-experts to distinguish which is better.

All that aside, science cannot save the world by itself, and should not be applied to questions outside of its paradigm. I wrote a longer piece arguing this point, with examples, for the university paper Lot’s Wife. Read it here.

Lagoon Birds in Escobilla

At the end of March we stayed at Escobilla where Karla had a workshop. One night we were paddled through the lagoon to the beach where the turltes leave the sea, ever so briefly, to lay eggs. It’s not turtle egg-laying season, but it’s a nice trip. It was dusk and I have a crappy camera, but here are a couple of photos of lagoon birds.

Plantas Silvestres de la REBE

These plants were identified at la REBE on July 30th, 2014. They were not planted by people, but grew wild. This is in Cuernavaca, Mexico, at an altitude of 1893 m.
Estas plantas fueron identificadas en la REBE el 30 de julio de 2014. No fueron plantadas, crecieron silvestres.


(Not Malva)

Mala Mujer (probably a Wingandia)

Mala Mujer – Wigandia urens

Crimson Patch

A bunch of these butterflies were flitting around our garden today – I saw four together, so at least that many. They’re quite common here. Crimson Patch, Chlosyne janais, ranges from Southern Texas to Colombia, and we’re right in the middle of that. I haven’t seen the caterpillar about, probably because we don’t have the food plant. These photos were taken in Cuernavaca at an altitude of 1580 metres, on February 28th, 2016.

Upperside of wings

Upperside of wings

Underside of Wings

Underside of Wings

White-rayed Patch

This is pretty cool, because we have almost the entire cycle (I just don’t have photos of the eggs). It’s a White-rayed Patch butterfly, Chlosyne ehrenbergii, and caterpillar, and chrysalis, all in Cuernavaca Mexico at an altitude of 1580 meters, in October 2014. They even picked the plant as Buddleja cordata, the genus of which is called Butterfly Bush. In Spanish the name is “Mariposa parche negra”. It grew out of a drain, and I tried to kill it for a few years fearing it would block the drain but I failed. So it grew to a few meters in diameter and these butterflies were over it for years, until a particularly heavy load of caterpillars ate enough of it that it didn’t recover.

White-rayed Patch Caterpillar

White-rayed Patch Chrysalis

White-rayed Patch Butterfly

Automeris Moth

This caterpillar was spotted crawling across our steps, a fair distance from any plant. It looks like it’s a moth in the genus Automeris, but I haven’t been able to narrow it down to a particular species. The photo was taken on November 11, 2013, in Cuernavaca Mexico, at an altitude of 1580 metres.