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The Ethics of Modelling Costs

By Eric Crampton

Methodological tricks can deliver headline-grabbing numbers for a good cause, but at the risk of subverting public policy and compromising professional integrity.

There’s an old joke about economists. A mathematician, an accountant and an economist are bidding for a bit of consulting work. The sponsor wants to know what two plus two yields. The mathematician says it’s four. The accountant says it’s four, give-or-take 10%. The economist closes the door and whispers to the sponsor: “What do you want it to be?”

A Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Canterbury, Dr Eric Crampton blogs at http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.com.au/

Energy Twins

By Simon Grose

If two of the world’s biggest economies are any guide, the energy future will not be clean.

Germany and Japan were in the same boat as imperialist warmongers in the 1930s. A century later they look set to be pushing through the waters of the mid-21st century without nuclear propulsion.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).

Boosting Performance at the Paralympics

By Michael Cook

Up to one-third of Paralympians in London may have harmed themselves to boost blood flow.

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. If this line from Lord Tennyson expresses the essence of the Olympic spirit, then the Paralympics are possibly even more “Olympic” than the big ticket events.

The former captain of Scotland’s Scottish wheelchair basketball team said that the London Paralympic Games “will only add to the perception that there aren’t Paralympic athletes and able-bodied athletes – there are just athletes”.One problematic consequence is that some Paralympians are going to cheat.

Michael Cook is editor of the on-line bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

Landcare Evolves, But Beancounters Haven’t

By Ian Lowe

It makes more economic sense to trash the farm for short-term profit than to farm it sustainably.

The national Landcare program was formally launched in 1989 with an ambitious goal of spreading to 2000 local groups. The early focus was on planting trees to preserve topsoil and strengthen the banks of inland waterways. There are now well over 5000 community-based groups in all corners of Australia.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

The Reality of Biodiversity Offsets

By Martine Maron and Richard Hobbs

Many of the expectations for biodiversity offsetting remain unsupported by evidence.

Biodiversity offsetting is one of the fastest-growing areas in conservation policy, with more than 64 programs currently underway around the world. The idea is that losses of bio­diversity at an impact site are compensated by the generation of ecologically equivalent gains elsewhere. The result, in theory, is that there is “no net loss” of biodiversity.

Depending on who you talk to, biodiversity offsets represent either a great conservation opportunity or an attempt to greenwash “business as usual” for developers.

Martine Maron and Richard Hobbs are both researchers with the Environmental Decisions Group. Martine is based at the University of Queensland, and Richard is at the University of Western Australia.

Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog

By John Dwyer

Modern pharmacology is among the most rigorous of sciences. After all, the health of millions depends on pharmacologists getting it right, but what has happened to those who dispense those products – the men and woman of modern pharmacy?

In my neighbourhood pharmacy, a large window display explains the amazing benefits of a “DETOX” preparation that will cleanse all the impurities from your body and give you a fresh start “for a healthier you”. Previous marketing there assured arthritis sufferers (pictured in a wheelchair) that glucosamine, combined with chondroitin, would soon have them back on the golf course despite abundant evidence that such preparations have no more than placebo value.

John Dwyer, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW, is an Immunologist and medical educator with a long history of involvement in efforts to protect the public from health care fraud. He is a co-founder of Friends of Science in Medicine.

Organic Food: What’s In It For Me?

By Peter Bowditch

A metastudy analyses the health benefits of eating organic foods.

I live in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, arguably the national capital of food fads. At a Katoomba café recently I noted that the salt and pepper shakers were labelled “All natural”, the only non-sugar sweetener available for coffee was the “all natural” stevia, and the lack of gluten in the scones ensured that they disintegrated into a pile of crumbs as soon as any attempt to break them in half was made. I sometimes think it would be easier to label the food items on menus that contain gluten rather than those that don’t. It would save printing ink.

Peter Bowditch is a former President of Australian Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).

Magnetars and Exoplanets

By Dave Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

“Impossible” Magnetar Found

A new star has been discovered that almost defies description. It has a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger and a mass 35 times than that of the Sun. That’s nearly 10 times stronger than what has been detected around any other high mass star! It’s no surprise that astronomers call it a “magnetar”.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

Open Innovation: Work With Your Competitors

By Erol Harvey

Clients, customers, buyers and competitors are innovation sources second only in importance to internal employees.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should relentlessly consume and absorb knowledge about their industry, customers and competition, and then share this information aggressively with employees, collaborators, the market and even their competitors.

They usually have to make a little go a long way, so focus and depth are vital and collaborations are essential.

Erol Harvey FTSE is CEO of MiniFAB (Aust) Pty Ltd, a product development company and manufacturer of polymer-based microfluidic, lab-on-a-chip diagnostic devices. He is a former Professor of Microtechnology at Swinburne University.

Robo-Roach Rescue

By Magdeline Lum

A microelectronic controller could soon make cockroaches useful in dangerous search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions.

Cyborg insects have long been suggested as the next big thing in search-and-rescue as miniaturised electronics are not just becoming economically viable but also more powerful.