2018: The Year of Skepticism

Yes, 2018 was a year of skepticism, where sound advice was often shouted down by unconscious bias, but by year end there were encouraging signs.

On the down side:

On climate change scepticism, a 20 December 2018   study led by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) notes that “The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 40 percent of the burden of environmentally related disease and about 90 percent of the burden of climate change is borne by children under five, although that age group constitutes only 10 percent of the global population”. Adding Up the Evidence on Air Pollution’s Harms to Children.

On vaccination skepticism, an August 2018 article by The Guardian’s Health editor reports ”More than 41,000 cases of measles reported in the EU in six months to June – almost double the number over the whole of 2017” Resurgence of deadly measles blamed on low MMR vaccination rates.

Further evidence on low MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)  vaccination rates comes in a report from the Science Media Centre (SMC), whose Mission is “ To provide, for the benefit of the public and policymakers, accurate and evidence-based information about science and engineering through the media, particularly on controversial and headline news stories when most confusion and misinformation occurs.”

The SMC ‘s August 20, 2018 report includes the message that ” It is appalling that at least 37 people have died in Europe this year from a completely preventable disease and, although no deaths have so far been reported, in England there have been over 800 cases.  MMR is a safe, effective and readily available vaccine to prevent this highly infectious disease.” expert reaction to measles cases in Europe.

While compliance with Standards is usually seen as a form of protection, our  Australian Standards themselves came under attack in December 2018, with skepticism on the their cost and a call for them to be free to Australian Businesses.

“Fifteen years ago, the distribution of Australian Standards was privatised. As a result, Australia’s employers are now paying excessive sums to access the Standards – and that cost no longer bears any relationship to the real production and distribution costs. Today, only a tiny fraction of those funds actually flows to Standards Australia, the creators of the standards.”

This  quote is from a 3 December, 2018  Safety Institute of Australia Ltd report on a blast by  Chief Executive, David Clarke, who also notes that

“Australian business standards help companies create safer and healthier workplaces as well as meet a number of legal obligations. Providing them directly and at no charge will improve business performance, productivity as well as health and safety outcomes – all of which deliver significant benefits to the economy well in excess of the investment required to do it.” Media Release: Call for Australian Standards to be free to Australian Businesses

On the upside, skepticism by scientists about generally accepted theories has yielded some surprising breakthroughs. A 20 December 2018 ScienceDaily contribution  from Saint Louis University reports: “an out-of-band management network — a type of network management that is separate from the data that flows across the network — should be reliable, able to reach all devices in a datacenter, compatible with existing equipment, simple and inexpensive.” “Malicious intruders often operate by trying every single “door” of entry into a network to find a way in. It can be very difficult to prevent, or even detect, such attacks. Using sound, researchers can create a code so that every time someone enters a virtual door, a human operator or computer would hear a new pattern of music as a warning.” Network orchestration: Researcher uses music to manage networks.

Another December 20, 2018 ScienceDaily contribution, this one by Penn State, reports: “Our first glimpses into the physics that exist near the center of a black hole are being made possible using ‘loop quantum gravity’– a theory that uses quantum mechanics to extend gravitational physics beyond Einstein’s theory of general relativity”….“ general relativity predicts that there are places in the universe where gravity becomes infinite and space-time simply ends. We refer to these places as ‘singularities.’ But even Einstein agreed that this limitation of general relativity results from the fact that it ignores quantum mechanics.”  Beyond the black hole singularity.

And to finish with some optimistic environment news: “Let’s be honest – environment news isn’t always the jolliest, and 2018 was no exception. From climate change, to recycling, to energy policy, at times it has felt like we’ve been lurching from one crisis to the next.

So here are ten upbeat environmental stories from this year that prove it’s not all doom and gloom.” This quote is from a December 20, 2018 article in The Conversation by Michael Hopkin, Editor: Energy + Environment, Ten feelgood environment stories you may have missed in 2018

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