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Articles to 2015-04-23

First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

Compared to what was reasonably to be expected, the effect reported by Besbris et al. is tiny. Rather than stressing it, their title had better indicated, that the widely held expectation is as good as refuted. They completely fail to tell us what the error bars in their figure 2 are supposed to mean. Standard deviation, standard error, range, quartiles – we’re not supposed to know. Neither do they discuss the appropriateness of symmetric error bars for a distribution that is way off Gaussian and nearly if not exactly Poisson. That said in nearly all of the cases the smaller error bar fits nearly completely inside the bigger one, and one of the three exceptions is the wrong way round.
    The second question they completely ignore is what their result means. Newish mobile phones are more or less the most stolen objects around. At a rough guess about half of those on offer on the used market derive from theft or robbery. While the trusting buyer faces no prosecution, you can’t acquire ownership of stolen goods, so if found out he’ll lose it with little chance of getting his money back. These are sound rational grounds far from unfounded prejudice. So if this non-result proves anything by its absence, then it’s probably this, that prospective buyers actually prefer units they expect to be stolen, possibly expecting to get a better price.

In the title of Dasgupta et al. it’s “female peers”, i.e. the presence of other women vs. being alone among men, which sounds altogether reasonable. Progressing to the abstract we’re told, that even parity won’t hack it, an outright female majority is needed. This already smacks strongly of preferment and getting an easy life. Going on to the methods we find that all that was tested was enjoyment and quantitative amount of talk, not results. Academic success and achievement was not even looked at at all. What we need are competent, highly trained engineers regardless of sex, not women dressing up in white coats and trying to order men on the assembly floor around. The question how best to get them and how to get the best out of them was not even asked.

Normally the study by McCunney et al. would hardly warrant a second glance, were it not for the powerful renewals lobby touting it as the definite proof of wind turbines bearing no health risk whatsoever. It is nothing of the sort. All it shows is, that while there are detailed and thorough investigations of every imaginable and imagined hazard on earth, like road and aircraft noise, nuclear plants, and high voltage lines, nothing so far has been done for wind turbines at all. In the discussion part of their abstract the authors themselves list all the things that could and should have been done but weren’t.
    So all they do have is a bunch of questionnaires about how annoying the turbines are to their neighbours and whether they believe their sleep to be impaired. While the lack of research is hardly the fault of the authors of a meta study, some other shortcomings are. Even though infrasound and low-frequency sound is shown to be below the audible level, health effects can’t be excluded. Their figure 5 shows the permanent round the clock noise level at the lowest frequencies from a turbine 1 km distant to equal the noise peak from a lorry passing just 30 m away. Extrapolating to infrasound the two curves will probably even cross. They also cite safety levels for occupational exposure but fail to mention that permanent round the clock limits for the general population tend to be set orders of magnitude below those.
    So while I personally don’t believe there to be a risk and consider current regulation to be adequate, the question is far from settled and certainly warrants an investigation, that by now is long overdue.

Shipman already was part of last week’s list, but now that I’ve read her, I can add a comment. Unfortunately the promise of the title is not upheld in the results, but I can empathise with Shipman’s dilemma, having experienced something similar myself. You have a wonderful hypothesis, everything fits together, it explains a lot, and you begin to write it up. When about three quarters finished, your key conclusion turns out to be wrong. What to do? Throw it all out or rewrite to salvage as much as possible? Shipman chose the latter and a good thing too because here we have both the definitive review of Neanderthal demise encompassing all the latest research and a new hypothesis about modern humans cooperating with dogs and becoming in effect a hybrid hyper-hunter displacing all others. Unfortunately the Neanderthal demise and the wolf domestication are separated by several thousand years, so the latter can have played no part in the former, which would have been a result for the headlines.

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