Chris Wood
Friday April 13th, 2012


News Amuses#1

(New Scientist):- Rejected male flies turn to alcohol. The metabolic paths involved are very similar to those in humans. I guess rejected females do too, but then they are rarely rejected.

(New Scientist):- Flies can get kidney stones from a gene mutation. A similar mutation has the same effect on humans.

(Prof. Spitzer on TV):- Subliminal advertising does not work. The brain subconsciously notes the meaning of words flashed up for a fraction of a second. The man who discovered this tried to become rich by founding an advertising firm, and keeping secret that any such memory disappears within seconds. He was found out, which ruined his firm and his reputation as a scientist.

(Bayern Radio):- Cutting away part of the stomachs of very fat people reduces weight and improves their physical health. But it also increases their suicide rate significantly.

(Radio):- Dr? Schmitt, President of Hungary had to resign, when it became known that he had done a Guttenberg.

(Papers):- Bayern footballer, Breno; has been accused of arson.

This is an example of nominative determinism, the fact that our names influence what we do. I wonder whether Robert Burns was another pyromaniac.

Chris Wood
Sunday December 25th, 2011

Does Humanity Benefit from Free Trade?

Roland presented his dire view of free trade in Soon after, the Templeton Foundation circulated some powerful arguments for free trade under the title “Free Markets are Morally Good”. I have copied this mailing to the end of my posting.

Of course free trade cannot solve all the World’s problems, but it does not cause them either. I am no great fan of the Templeton Foundation, (although it has improved greatly since the days when it was heavily supporting creationists). As regards the present state of the world, I find their arguments more convincing than Roland’s gloom. Yes, a billion people are hungering, but more people than ever before have enough to eat, and the proportion of well fed has increased in recent decades. Yes people are dieing from too much poor food and too little exercise, but average life expectation has never been so high. Yes, we are shocked by news of senseless violence, but violent crime per head of population is decreasing.

I was always sceptical about the view that capitalism exploits people. Generally the exploited people seem eager to cooperate. Without this “exploitation”, they would be in an even bigger mess. Capitalism often cooperates with the rulers of undemocratic countries. But the people would hardly be better off if their countries were boycotted.

Roland’s view is surprising in view of his extreme belief in the value of freedom. Free trade is an important aspect of freedom. Perhaps the greatest human injustice in the world is that the great majority of people are denied the right to sell their labour, (except via internet), in the country of their choice.

Of course free trade needs to be regulated, for instance regarding weapons, swindles and monopolies. Some new regulations are needed from time to time, currently for finance. There are also regulations that should be eliminated.

I find it very hard to separate the current rapid changes in the world according to whether they are caused by science, technology, democracy, capitalism, free trade, or religion. My generation in Europe has lived so far in a golden age. I was about 20 when the baby pill came, and was married for the second time before AIDS spread. We had a purpose in life, to rebuild prosperity after the World Wars. If I have grave doubts now about capitalism and free trade, it concerns what comes next, in terms of overpopulation, climate change and depletion of resources. A serious crash, perhaps ending civilisation, seems more likely than that these problems will be cleverly solved. Free trade contributes to these problems, but also to their solutions. Religion certainly contributes to the problems. Believers have more babies. Some clearly believe that God will solve the problems. Religion probably helps people to be nice to their friends and relatives, and to grin and bear it when things go wrong, but is that enough?

I hope the links in the Templeton stuff are still valid.

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Chris Wood
Wednesday October 12th, 2011

Evolution and Religion

I post this now, although I wrote it originally as a comment.
On 20.07.11, about 150 of us were privileged to get free food and drinks at Interface, and to hear a talk by Prof. Gerhard Haszprunar, a nice “practising Catholic” Austrian biologist, entitled “An attempt to reconcile Evolution and Creation”. His name is Hungarianised German, and he has a very good job, (C4), in Munich. His motivation seemed to be a wish to share his love of science and of his religion. I think he would understand this subject better if he studied Dawkins’ books more. But perhaps he gave this impression because he did not want to demand too much of his audience. He did not claim to be a believing catholic, and he later quoted somebody who said that one cannot be Catholic and clever and honest)! He looks a little older than the picture in IF-blog, and speaks with energy, wit and charm.

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Chris Wood

Solar Diesel

I read an article that suggested that cars in future will be fuelled with hydrogen. So I have written up my doubts about this. I am no expert, but some of my arguments may be useful for other non-experts.

My younger daughter recently bought a (used) car driven by natural gas, proud to be doing something for the climate. She was surprised when I told her this fuel is little better than diesel, if at all. Hydrocarbons have similar calorific value per gram, and the weight is largely carbon. And diesel motors are rather efficient.

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Chris Wood
Tuesday September 27th, 2011

Energy Forum

On 10/9/2011, from 9:30 till 18:00, I attended a Burger Conference in the Deutsches Museum (Munich), on the subject of Energy Technologies for the Future. It was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and organised by Bonn University. (This is a strange ministry; according to the Constitution, education is entirely a matter for the Provinces)! Each “Burger” received in advance a well written 4 page summary on the subject. The only dubious aspect was the implied assumption that the German decision to quickly abandon nuclear power was a rational decision in view of events in Japan (Fukushima).

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Chris Wood
Tuesday November 23rd, 2010

Competing Countries

Recently I saw a piece on TV about two Japanese graduate twins and their jobs in Tokyo and Shanghai respectively. The tenor was that all is fine in China, but Japan is stagnating, (or worse). This annoyed me. Of course China has a much lower living standard than Japan. No mention was made of this as the cause of the difference in job opportunities and job competition among graduates. China has huge numbers of poor who have little chance of studying. They provide cheap labour, giving opportunities for graduates. (Of course the graduates are also useful to the poor). I presume Japan has a relatively high proportion of graduates.

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Chris Wood
Sunday November 7th, 2010


Soon after reading about Roland’s symptoms in IF-Blog, I received an email that describes my symptoms, (although the details are slightly different). I post it so that people of my age can sympathise, and so that the younger ones know what is coming.

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Chris Wood
Thursday October 28th, 2010

Direct Democracy? No thank you!

I hear that the opponents of the new Stuttgart station objected that, as well as eliminating a historic (but ugly) building and a few trees, it would do nothing for freight traffic and that there are too few passengers to justify it. Now they admit that the improvements will help freight traffic too. Regarding “too few passengers”, I am reminded that the first TV transmitters were not needed, because nobody watched TV in those days!

Regarding rubbish disposal in Naples, everybody agrees that it is needed, but that it should rather take place near to other people.

In France, the young people want the seniors pushed early into retirement, to make room at the workplace. The seniors want to retire early and live longer without reducing pensions. People find car burning and stone throwing good arguments in this context.

In Greece, good public services are desirable, but few people want to pay taxes. Nobody really likes to pay taxes, so why do democracies elect parties that are in favour of taxes?

Direct democracy is proposed as a solution to all this. But there are problems. Who should decide what questions to vote on? It has been shown that slight changes in the wording can change the result, without affecting the meaning. And who should vote; with the Stuttgart station, should it be all in Stuttgart, or all in Baden-Württemberg, or all within 100Km of a line from Paris to Bratislava? Should it be restricted to people who use the railway, or should everybody in Europe vote because European money is involved?

Our doubly representative democracy suits me better. With my family, I leave it to normal Germans to choose a government. We cranks should not meddle!

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Chris Wood
Friday October 22nd, 2010

Controversy among Darwinists?

I have recently heard and read about controversy among Darwinists. Some researchers are perhaps claiming to overthrow the “Selfish Gene” idea. But this is all much less exciting than it seems. There is no new reason for religious fundamentalists to celebrate.

This all goes back to the great eccentric British scientist Haldane.

He said he would give his life for more than two brothers or eight cousins. (They would have more of his genes than he had). It seems that many biologists have thought this was the last word on evolution of altruism. Now triumphant researchers have established mathematically that altruism goes further than this in communal animals. Various people (including myself and surely Dawkins) knew this already, without doing the maths. To survive, a swarm of bees needs cooperation. Then new workers will be produced similar to the earlier ones, although workers do not directly reproduce.
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Chris Wood
Wednesday July 21st, 2010

An Evil Atmosphere

The latest New Scientist ( carries an article about injecting SO2 into the stratosphere. Observations of giant volcano eruptions have shown that this could reduce world temperature by 1 or 2 degrees for a year or two.

This was “seriously” proposed in USA a dozen years ago as the cheapest solution to the global warming problem. Groups which have been denying that there is a problem are now supporting this idea. Now the Russians are planning a large-scale test. New Scientist sadly predicts that it will happen.

Many countries are capable of doing it, and also large companies. There is no international agreement or law that prohibits it. Of course this treatment must then be repeated regularly, until a better solution is found.

I remember, in my school days, it was found that fish and other animals were dying in Scandinavia, because of SO2 being produced by British power stations. The rain was too acid. Since then, SO2 emissions have been greatly reduced. Stratospheric SO2 will come down into the oceans, and add to the acidification due to CO2.