A Pleistocene Person

Some thoughts on stuff.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Exciting weekend to come. Parents coming to visit me in the big smoke; tasty meals in nice restaurants should ensue. Marvellous.

Don't have access to t'internet at weekends so the thousands of you out there will have to wait with baited breath for my next utterance.

Have fun weekends.

England's qualifying group

Looks like we've been handed a pretty easy group for the Euro 2008 qualifiers:

Group E

The games against Russia and Croatia could be tricky as could the trip to Israel. Shouldn't have any major problems though. Scotland on the other hand are screwed:

Group B
Faroe Islands

Charlie Brooker on Galloway

It will become clear over my blogging life that I do not like 'Gorgeous' George Galloway. However, it would appear that I am not even in the same league of dislike as Charlie Brooker who wrote this hilarious piece in todays Grauniad:

I particularly liked:

"About an hour later, he was out the door, to be greeted by what sounded like an explosion in a boo factory"

Brooker is a funny guy. Back in the day I used to read his articles in PC Zone (computer games magazine); now he has graduated to the big media league. Still cracks me up though.

Horizon on intelligent design

The depression caused by the BBC evolution poll results had lifted sufficiently for me to watch Horizon last night. It was a reasonable enough introduction to the arguments, though there was way too much of the usual Horizon fluff - at one point I was tempted to go to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and insert those dice up Dembski's arse.

The program came down on the side of evolution which was nice. I'd say a little more time was given over to the IDists presenting their case than the refutation, so the opposition can be reasonably satisfied in that sense. When Dembski watches it through he might be slightly embarrased by the opening shot of him wandering along some train tracks looking rather constipated. Another pointless bit of time wasting by Horizon.

I would have liked to have seen interviews with people other than Dawkins and Attenborough; Russ Doolittle maybe. I didn't think Dawkins and Attenborough really added much of note to the program - it seemed as though they were simply in there as the default TV biology guys. I was also rather surprised that they didn't mention Miller's religious views or give more time to Barbara Forrest. Eugenie Scott was also notable by her absence.

Finally, the most pertinent point to have emerged last night occurred to me at the end of the program; does Behe always wear that hat?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quaternary Studies are actually useful

Periodically, I'll make mention of a paper in the broad field of Quaternary Science (which I reckon can cover anything from ice cores to stone tools) that strikes me as being particularly interesting. I thought I'd start with that rarity; a study which actually has wider relevance!

In this case it is is work that uses the record of diatoms in Holocene coastal sediments to track events during an earthquake. The authors quantify (using funky maths!) the relationship between a particular assemblage of diatoms and elevation relative to mean high water. This ultimately enables the investigation (albeit indirectly) of subsidence patterns related to a quake event.

Transfer functions are also being used in other contexts, for example in the reconstruction of past temperatures from assemblages of pollen and also midges. Such research isn't without its problems, but is becoming increasingly widespread. In particular, having a quantified estimate of a past climate is especially useful as it enables the testing of climate models. If you want to see how they cope with simulating a different climate from today then check them against the palaeorecord. Without quantification, this would be an imprecise process; now it is less so (though obviously precision doesn't equate to accuracy).

Anyway, the potential importance of this particular study is nicely summed up by the authors first sentence:

"Future earthquake forecasting and reduction of loss require knowing the history of large earthquakes, including their frequency and how patterns of coseismic land movement vary during different earthquakes."

Shennan, I. and Hamilton, S. (2006) Coseismic and pre-seismic subsidence associated with great earthquakes in Alaska. Quaternary Science Reviews, 25, 1-8.

Absract: Alternating beds of peat and mud in sediment sequences on the south-central Alaskan coast record coseismic and inter-seismic relative land and sea-level movements caused by repeated great earthquakes on the Alaska–Aleutian subduction zone. During the AD 1964 Mw=9.2 earthquake, tidal marshes and wetlands around upper Cook Inlet experienced up to 2 m of subsidence, burying peat-forming communities with intertidal mud. Here we use quantitative analyses of fossil diatoms within peat–mud couplets to reconstruct land/sea-level changes for the 1964 and five earlier great earthquakes during the past 3300 years. In contrast to geodetic observations that are limited to the present post-seismic phase, we quantify varying spatial patterns of uplift and subsidence through complete earthquake cycles. Relative land uplift characterises most of the inter-seismic phase of each cycle at our sites, whereas each great earthquake was preceded by a short period of pre-seismic relative land subsidence.

The march of unreason

Due to generally being rather busy (with pollen analysis don't you know) I haven't posted anything here before. It was going to take something notable for me to finally decid to get off my backside (or 'ass' as our American cousins like to say) and type something. Well, here it is:


Oh great.

I'd always had a nice, smug feeling of satisfaction that this kind of lunacy wasn't prevalent in the UK. Evidently I was wrong (yes, it is possible).

I'd like to know exactly what questions were asked; intelligent design creationism is not an especially well covered subject in the UK and it could well be that the people who responded had no real idea what it entails. On the other hand it could really be that a sizable chunk of people think that 19th century theology should be taught in science classrooms.

So, the Pleistocene Person is now up and running. Go forth and spread the word........

Friday, January 20, 2006

Epoch defining first post

I created this blog by accident!