So, a question for scientific types

I’m told – a book I’m reading – that the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse, or is it the field that reverses, at times. OK, so, all of us even vaguely scientifically literate know that. The “vaguely” is the important thing here.

So, I’m told that it reverses, well, not randomly, but at unknown in advance dates. And when it does, it does so pretty quickly. But that’s quickly in geologic time. So, bumble along for a few hundred thousand, mebbe tens of millions, of years. Then the magnetic field weakens, wibbles, then over perhaps 4,000 years reverses and strengthens again.

It’s the 4 k years interregnum that interests. That the North Pole becomes the South Pole doesn’t bother me.

But the Van Allen belts, they protect us all from solar radiation. And some say that without that protection we’d all fry. I assume, but don’t know, that the Van Allen stuff is the product of the same magnetic fields that produce north and south poles. So, the reversal means 4k years of light to no Van Allen belts.


1) Why haven’t all land mammals repeatedly fried every polarity reverse?

2) They have and this is punctuated equilibrium?

3) Sure, we’ve got enough electromagnetic stuff out there that full exposure to the solar wind will fry civilisation – there’s a reason why space hardened computer chips really are different.

So, using this as a fictional device you can definitely kill civilisation and reduce population through polarity reverse. Could you though get away with it forcing the punctuation of the equilibrium and, say, get to Eloi and Morlocks as a story device?

This depends upon two assumptions. That absence of the Van Allen belts causes real problems and also that the reversal, or the weakness coincident with it, kills the Van Allen belts for that period of time.


Now they tell us, eh?

Herd immunity could have saved more lives than lockdown, study suggests
Researchers from Edinburgh University reassessed Imperial University modelling that showed half a million people would die

Listen to the scientists is all very well but which scientists?

Possibly not quite understanding the science here

The Telegraph might want to try talking to one of the occasional readers here:

Since the late 1970s, scientists have understood that by harnessing the weird-but-true properties of subatomic particles, like electrons, as described by quantum theory, a new breed of computers could be made far more powerful than traditional machines which rely on silicon chips.

Silicon is using electrons already. Possibly pendantry on my part but still.

I wonder how they did this

Being raised in a greener environment boosts urban children’s intelligence and makes them better behaved, a study has found.
Researchers in Belgium found that living near parks, sports fields or community gardens raised city-dwelling children’s IQ levels and that they also exhibited less difficult behaviour.
The paper, published in the journal Plos Medicine, found that an 3.3 per cent increase in green space within 3,000 metres of a child’s home was associated with a 2.6 point rise in overall IQ.

Living near parks – ie green space – in an urban environment is positively correlated with household income.

Fun fact

As Cambridge University risk expert Sir David Spiegelhalter put it recently: "Nobody in the history of humanity has been as safe as a contemporary primary school child

And thus the fuss over any risk to them of course. If there’s a 50/50 break that smallpox or a tiger will carry them off then worrying about the risks of their apple juice isn’t worth the effort. But if the only risk left is the juice….

Quite fascinating

Almost 10 years ago to the month, I was a newly qualified junior doctor, working in Oxford’s major teaching hospital, the John Radcliffe. On one of my first on-call shifts, a characteristically busy Saturday evening, I was summoned to the ward by a kindly Filipino nurse. She was distressed about a patient, an elderly man delirious with infection, who was shouting racial slurs at the nursing staff.

“How are you feeling today, sir?” I asked with a cheerful, if insincere, lilt.

“I’m not arrogant, I’m English, which is more than I can say for you, you black bastard!” he replied with equal buoyancy.

I considered a cheeky retort but opted instead for a wry smile and a gentle dose of lorazepam to settle the matter quickly. I scurried away, more patients to see and blood tests to review before handover to the night team.

That’s interesting:

Lorazepam, sold under the brand name Ativan among others, is a benzodiazepine medication. It is used to treat anxiety disorders, trouble sleeping, active seizures including status epilepticus, alcohol withdrawal, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

A cheerful shout of you black bastard gets you drugged into submission?

Or, to put a better face on the action, a shout of you black bastard is evidence of being so unaware of yourself and surroundings through illness that treatment is required?

So the French have idiots too then

French mayors have called for a halt to the construction of 5G mobile masts until health risks can be assessed.

The Green mayors of Bordeaux, Nantes, Grenoble and other big cities have joined a revolt against the technology amid fears of dangerous radio waves and damage to the environment.

Groups acting for “electro-sensitive” sufferers claim that the tranmissions damage health. “We know these waves have an impact on our brains and that people are showing electro-sensitive symptoms, with ever greater suspicions that they cause cancer,” said Sophie Pelletier, head of Priartem-Electro-sensibles de France association.

Reminds of the high voltage power lines and leukaemia thing. The specifics change but not the underlying whinge – this modernity, not to be had.

This is glorious, wondrous, not something to fear

Almost a quarter of people in the Indian capital of Delhi have been infected with the coronavirus, according to scientists, raising fears there could be many more cases in the country of 1.3 billion people.

Random testing of more than 20,000 people in Delhi by India’s national disease control centre found that 23.48% had antibodies to the virus. Adjusting for false positives and negatives, it was estimated that 22.86% of the population had been infected, Sujeet Kumar Singh, who heads the institute, said on Tuesday.

Delhi, which has a population of 29 million, has officially reported 123,747 cases and 3,663 deaths, AP reported. The study, however, indicates more than 6.6 million likely cases, with most not identified or tested.

If a quarter of 29 million people have had it – say, that 6.6 million – and there have only been 3,700 deaths then that’s a fatality rate of 0.06%. Which is glorious news. Bit of a bummer for the 3,700 and their families of course but even so.

We’re down around the danger level of garbanzo beans or summat. We can open up and carry on that is. Because the coronavirus is now shown to be some trivial addition to the general risks of getting up in the morning.

Or, more accurately, the comment here should be that whoever is writing this story misses the basic point. The more people who have had it without the death numbers rising the better. That is, this is good news, not something to fear.

Isn’t this fun

Positive stereotypes are still racist, a tribunal has ruled, after a university lecturer was fired for saying “Jewish people are the cleverest in the world”….

If negative stereotypes are racist, and positive ones are, then all stereotypes are racist. Which is a bit of a pity as the one great finding of the social sciences is that there’s something in stereotypes…..

Genetics, eh?

Born into a footballing family in Ashington, Northumberland, on 8 May 1935,[5] Charlton was initially overshadowed by his younger brother Bobby, who was taken on by Manchester United while Jack was doing his national service with the Household Cavalry.[6] His uncles were Jack Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford City), George Milburn (Leeds United and Chesterfield), Jim Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue) and Stan Milburn (Chesterfield, Leicester City and Rochdale), and legendary Newcastle United and England footballer Jackie Milburn was his mother’s cousin.


Topping the company’s targets is sickle cell disease—a point mutation that predominantly affects Black people and has been neglected through more than a century of racist attitudes.

When the staff at Forbes start writing like this…..

Sickle cell isn’t cured as yet for the same reason cystic fibrosis isn’t. We don’t know how to, not because society is racist. BTW, CF disproportionately affects whiter people. Still ain’t cured.

This is fun but

Wild bison are to be reintroduced to Britain after 15,000 years as part of a “groundbreaking” rewilding conservation scheme….

European bison and American buffalo are different species. They also act very differently. The European is rather like the shy retiring cousin that stays in the forest – the forest elephant, not the plains one.

So it’s not quite as magnificent this reintroduction.

To make things really exciting I’m waiting for someone to get to work on the DNA of the aurochs – that would make the woods fun again.


Ecological collapse is within sight – and yet parenting is still viewed as a moral imperative. But countless women like me are building a new normal: a life without children

It’s not a moral imperative – it’s simply the purpose of life. We are DNA’s reproduction system.

Would be interesting if true, eh?

Researchers in Barcelona say they have detected the presence of Covid-19 in a waste water sample collected in the Spanish city in March 2019, nine months before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, was first reported….

Most likely a contaminated sample but if not, well, changes a few things, no?

Capitalism and pharmaceuticals

Back in 1980 the number of viruses – virii – that the human species knew how to treat was around and about zero. We could vaccinate against some and provide bed rest for others but other than that, well, not much treatment around.

Like many people living with HIV today, Thomas takes one pill every day at 6am, which stops the virus from replicating in his body. Modern antiretroviral medication reduces the virus in the bloodstream to such an extent that a person becomes “undetectable” – they are unable to pass on the virus through sex.

That’s a pretty good outcome after only four decades. A rather good advertisement for this private sector actors, pharma companies, patents, capitalism and markets, don’t you think?

Sure there’s philanthropy in there as well, government spending and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But the claim that the current system set up fails us is rather disproved, no?

First (US) recorded cases in 1981, disease identified itself in 1983, Up until what, 1992 or so it was a death sentence, by 1994, perhaps, treatable. That’s actually a pretty damn good record there.

Think on it, if Freddie Mercury had lived another two years – which is generous, perhaps only a year – he’d probably still be with us.

Difficult to think of any system whatever that would have done better than that.

Not quite right

Most scientists believe that genes play a role in how people respond to infections.

All scientists believe that.

Those people who don’t aren’t doing science.

The interesting question is – as so often with human reactions to anything at all – “How Much?”.