Climates of war: when tempers grow hot

At present, great preoccupation exists about climate change effects in many areas. A standard methodology to study them is to look for significant statistical relations between the variable we are interested in and meteorological variables (most often temperature, but not only). Then, predictions given by global climate models under expected CO2 increase scenarios are introduced in the obtained model to infer the possible consequences of climate change. Such a path has been followed even to assess future changes in life satisfaction or violent conflicts, receiving full attention from politicians.

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World Trade Center anniversary: what did 9/11 really cost?

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is this Sunday. Its direct cost in human lives was 2,996. That is the number who died in the towers, in the Pentagon, as firefighters on the ground, and in the four planes that crashed. Its indirect cost in human lives was even greater. It sparked off the invasion of Afghanistan, where Coalition forces have suffered some 2613 military deaths. The number of Taliban deaths is unknown but has been estimated at around ten times that number. The number of civilian deaths is even less well documented, is astonishingly vague and uncertain, but certainly runs into many thousands.

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Is reducing CO2 emissions a demographic problem?

Energy related world CO2 emissions reached a threateningly high historical maximum of 30,600 millions of tonnes in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Just consider that in order to limit global temperature increase to 2 ºC global energy-related emissions must not exceed 32,000 millions of tonnes in 2020. In consequence, in the next ten years emissions must increase at a five times lower rate than in the last ten years, which demands radical measures at all levels, from citizenship to governments and international organizations.

Butterflies and biodiversity: do something that counts

A couple of weeks ago I waxed happily sarcastic about the wartime National Census of Fruit, which happened in 1944. Beginning on Saturday there is another census, which everyone in the UK can join in on and which I shall not be sarcastic about at all. It is the National Census of Butterflies.envi
It is called the Big Butterfly Count. It was launched in 2010, when 10,000 people took part and counted 210,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the nation. (A map of what sort of butterflies they found and where is here.) The organisers hope that many more people will join this year's big butterfly count, which runs all week, from 16th-31st July 2011.

PhDs couldn't tell an actor from a renowned scientist

Forty years ago, a singularly interesting lecture was held at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. The subject was 'Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education.' The speaker was Dr. Myron L. Fox from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, a pupil of von Neumann and an authority on the application of mathematics to human behavior. The attendees were psychiatrists and psychologists (MDs and PhDs) who were gathered for a training conference. They listened to the lecturer with great interest, asked many questions and were satisfied with speaker's replies. They gave him flying grades in the satisfaction questionnaire. Nobody suspected anything wrong. In reality the speaker was an actor and knew nothing on the subject of his lecture.