Elizabeth Blackburn and the Nobel prize:

Darren Osborne, News Editor, ABC Science Online, writes: Re. “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the Nobelest Aussie of them all?” (yesterday, item 15). A few people have pointed out, both in the office and online, that we should expect more female recipients in the future.

Here’s why. Most laureates are in the 50-70 year age bracket. Blackburn and Greider made their discovery in the 1970s and would have graduated in the late 60s-early 70s — a time when women in university, let alone science wasn’t the norm. Before that time, very few women were in science and thus rarely among award winner — Marie Currie a notable exception.

Thankfully this is changing, and the women who graduate today could be among the many more that receive Nobel Prizes in the next few decades.

Will it get to 50:50? Probably not, but hopefully people such as Elizabeth Blackburn will serve as a role model to women and girls in science to make their own contribution.

Andrew Dempster writes: I haven’t the figures to hand, but when teaching in England, I came across statistics that help explain why men appear more “excellent”.

It was found that, despite the fact that women scored more highly on average, fewer of them achieved first class honours. This is because men had a far greater spread in their marks (in statistical terms, women had a higher mean, but men had a higher standard deviation).

So women dominated second class (2.1 and 2.2) honours, while men dominated first and third class honours. Men are just more extreme — more likely to be extremely good, or extremely bad.

Niall Clugston writes: The small proportion of women who win is not really an adverse reflection on the Nobel Prize (which, in any case, is just the bequest of an eccentric inventor). Rather, the lack of awards to women is a reflection of female social and cultural roles, which remain limited.

It is no accident that the vast majority of the Nobel Prizes were for Medicine, Literature, or Peace, reflecting the stereotypical view of femininity as nurturing or even decorative. Despite major social changes, the role of women remains subordinate, or at best ancillary. Even notable women from Marie Curie to Aung San Suu Kyi only achieve prominence by carrying on their husband’s or father’s work.

This is hardly likely to change when many feminists reinforce the stereotypes and deny alternative roles are worthwhile.

Victoria Collins writes: Crikey asked: Do … “you think there are any Australian women who, as asserted in the Will of Nobel Prize creator Alfred Nobel, ‘have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind [sic]'”?

Drs Fiona Stanley and Fiona Wood. I especially think that Dr Wood’s development of the scaffolding treatment for skin replacement on burns victims has to be one of the most humane advancements in Medicine in recent times and hugely confers a great benefit on mankind.

Wayne Robinson writes: Not an Australian, but Rosalind Franklin’s work on X-ray crystallography of DNA which allowed Watson and Crick to propose its double helix structure, should have received more recognition at the time (women weren’t considered to be full-fledged scientists at the time due to chauvinism).

She should also have shared in the Nobel Prize, if she hadn’t previously died (the Nobel prize is not awarded posthumously).

Indian students:

Andrew Bartlett writes: Re. “Indian students and Immigration: a case of too many cooks …” (yesterday, item 10). Geoff Maslen’s piece on Indian students appears to be trying hard to make it sound as though immigration is a problem for Australia, rather than the economic and social benefit which it clearly is. He refers to “Dr Bob Birrell, a noted critic of Australia’s lax immigration rules.” I don’t know it is Maslen or Birrell who chose to describe Australia’s rules immigration rules as “lax”, but whichever person it is, they are very wrong.

Australia’s immigration rules are labyrinthine, long-winded and occasionally ludicrous, but they certainly aren’t lax. It was undoubtedly a mistake for the Australian government to directly link obtaining an Australian qualification in cooking or hairdressing to a greater chance of obtaining a permanent visa. But having done so, we can hardly then blame the people who then take these courses with permanent residency as their aim, especially when they have to pour sizeable amounts of their own money into the Australian economy in the process.

Given Dr Birrell has a long record of promoting very large cuts in Australia’s migration intake, it’s not surprising for him to suggest that he wants international students to get skills they “can use at home”, rather than in Australia. It is not explained quite why Australia should deny itself the opportunity of skilled workers and try to push such people “home” instead, especially given the unavoidable reality of Australia’s demographic makeup is that we will have significant labour market and skills shortages for the foreseeable future.

I would also suggest it won’t really be much of “a serious political issue” the government will have to face if tens of thousands of students discover that the rules have changed since they first decided to study in Australia in the belief it would assist with permanent residence. It may be a diplomatic issue or an economic issue, but I find it hard to see how the government’s treatment of international students will be something the Australian electorate are likely to change their votes over.

Although it’s unlikely to be a serious political issue, it is certainly a serious moral issue; assuming we as a nation still believe such values apply in regards to immigration law and how we treat people from developing countries. In some cases, I suspect it will also become a legal issue, although I suspect much of that will be directed at some education providers and agents, rather than the Australian government.

Phil Honeywood writes: I have just returned from an education recruitment marketing trip to both southern and northern India. Your readers need to know that it is not the safety issue that is keeping the students away. Most of the prospective students I did seminars with know that Australia is still incredibly safe, compared to our competitor education markets of the UK, USA and Canada. Many also have friends and family here and are telling them that the Indian media has blown the issue up out of all proportion.

The real issue, which no media outlet has got onto yet, is that the Rudd Government have, over the last two months, stopped virtually all student visa grants from India for study at Australian universities, TAFEs and private providers. What used to be a 40% average visa rejection rate has suddenly jumped to a 97% visa rejection rate from our High Commission in New Delhi. So Indian students are paying app. $500 AUD to apply for a student visa ( non-refundable ) and waiting 4 months for a response — only to be rejected on some very contrived grounds.

In the meantime, competitor education markets such as UK and Canada have opened up their student visa approval process — the exact opposite to Australia ! So all the Education Agents in India who have been sending students to Australia are now re-directing the students to these countries instead!

Dare we suggest that the Indian student safety issue is a convenient camouflage for the Federal Government to wind-back Indian migration?

Gods and monsters:

Neil Appleby writes: Shirley Colless (yesterday, comments) makes a fundamental error (as do many Christians) that some of the greatest monsters (Stalin and Hitler) were atheists and did their dirty deeds in atheisms name.

Hitler was actually baptised a Roman Catholic, though I suspect he was an atheist later in life. Stalin was an atheist. As I’m sure other readers will point out, neither of these men committed their crimes in the name of atheism; they just happened to be atheists who murdered millions of people. Their atheism was as irrelevant as the size of their noses.

Christians and Muslims however have plundered, sacked and murdered in god’s name for centuries and continue to do so.

Wacko Christians in the USA think it’s OK to murder doctors who perform abortions and do so in the name of their god. I don’t need to mention the many sub-human Muslim groups beheading, bombing, raping in god’s name.

As for respect Shirley, I think religion and religious people get far too much respect and that is part of the problem. I respect your right to believe in any fantasy you choose so long as it doesn’t interfere with me and my life. Unfortunately, the church cannot keep its evil tentacles out of other people’s lives as we witnessed last week with Victorian Labor’s cowardly cave-in to the Catholic Church on human rights and anti-discrimination in the work place.

No, I agree with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens when it comes to religion; it’s about time we grew out of it.

Doug Clifford writes: Shirley Colless writes that Adolph Hitler was an atheist. Please find below a few quotations from “atheist” Hitler, nicely segued with a few Bushisms.

  • “I BELIEVE that God wants me to be president.” — George W. Bush
  • “I would like to thank Providence and the Almighty for choosing me of all people to be allowed to wage this battle for Germany” — Hitler — Berlin March, 1936
  • “God is not on the side of any nation, yet we know He is on the side of justice. Our finest moments [as a nation] have come when we faithfully served the cause of justice for our own citizens, and for the people of other lands” — George W. Bush
  • “If we pursue this way, if we are decent, industrious, and honest, if we so loyally and truly fulfil our duty, then it is my conviction that in the future as in the past the Lord God will always help us” — Adolf Hitler, at the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival on the Buckeburg held on 3 Oct. 1937
  • “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.” — George W. Bush
  • “Never in these long years have we offered any other prayer but this: Lord, grant to our people peace at home, and grant and preserve to them peace from the foreign foe!” — Hitler — Nuremberg Sept. 13, 1936.

Dwight Jones writes: Hitchens and Dawkins are carpetbagging atheist social climbers trying to dress up as Humanists. Note how Dawkins is the VP of the British Humanist Association, overseeing the Atheist Bus Campaign. They drop the standard and run at the first shot, to where a buck can be made from smaller minds.

Labor to win? You bet!:

Mick Callinan writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 14). Richard farmer wrote: “My advice is to get into the $1.30 Labor available at Sportingbet with your ears back. It is a steal.

Never have I responded quicker than to the news that Labor was $1.30 on Sportingbet — I was already logged in to have a dip on the dish-lickers — and I see Labor are back to $1.25 (at 8.51pm).

Have odds ever responded to a tipster so quickly for an event that is 10 months away?


John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 6). “Interesting to hear Labor make great fun of Peter Dutton’s failure to be pre-selected” writes your anonymous correspondent which he/she contrasts unfavourably with Labor’s often orchestrated approach to filling safe seats. Talk about chutzpah and making a virtue out of necessity.

Your anonymous correspondent seems to have overlooked the thus far spectacularly unsuccessful efforts by Turnbull and other senior Liberals to parachute the low flying Dutton into a safer seat. THAT is the fun part.

The Judean People’s Front:

Guy Rundle writes: I thank Paul Kidd (yesterday, comments) for his correction of my inexcusable error in putting Judith, from Life of Brian in the Judean Peoples Front, rather than the People’s Front of Judea.

The JPF believe that the Roman Empire is a degenerated imperial state, while the PFJ believe that it is a state feudalist entity. And of course they differ on Kronstadt. Red faces all over!

Climate change:

Matt Andrews writes: Viv Forbes of the so-called “Carbon Sense Coalition” informs us (Monday, comments) that “when industry declined in the Great Depression of the 1930s, CO2 emissions fell but temperatures rose to a peak.” (Actually, CO2 emissions continued to rise, and temperatures rose as a result of a combination of factors, the largest of which was the increase in greenhouse gases.)

And, apparently, “during the immediate post war boom in industry, emissions soared but temperatures fell and there were fears of a new ice age.” (In reality, CO2 levels were pretty much flat during and after WWII, starting to rise significantly again around the mid-1950s. Global temperatures fell briefly after the war, due partly to a change in the way sea surface temperatures were measured, and partly to a big increase in aerosols in the atmosphere, which kept temperatures in check until the 1970s, when greenhouse gases really took hold as the dominant influence on global temperature changes.)

Furthermore, we are told, “since the start of the new century, with emissions from China and India booming, world temperatures are again falling. The message is there for those prepared to read — there is not a scrap of evidence that man-made carbon dioxide causes global warming (or pollution).” (In fact, the planet is indisputably heating up, despite the breathless claims from the denial-o-sphere. And the evidence that anthropogenic greenhouse gases — mainly CO2 and methane — have been the major warming influence over the last century is overwhelming.)

Anyone interested in the real science (as opposed to disinformation from a bunch of wingnuts) could do a lot worse than starting with Sceptical Science’s introduction to the topic at The CO2/Temperature correlation over the 20th Century.

“Carbon Sense Coalition”? Bit of a spelling mistake there. The second word is missing the prefix “non”.

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