24 May 2007

Nuclear is an adjective – but don't tell the Royal Society

In its consultation document on the future of nuclear power, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) wisely avoids using the term "nuclear option". Even the overarching White Paper avoids the phrase, except when quoting a third party exercise.

The problem with the phrase is that you will find it used in many contexts to describe the most drastic option you can take, as in nuclear weapons. For example, the "nuclear option" crops up as a description in the Washington Post of the tactics used in the US Congress to block the president's nominations for top jobs.

It isn't, then, a good idea to use the term "nuclear option" when what you really mean is the option to build new nuclear power stations.

The same need for careful use of language should also acknowledge that the word nuclear is actually an adjective. Its origins are in the nucleus. Nuclear weapons and nuclear energy depend on smashing up nuclei. Nuclear magnetic resonance, the old name for magnetic resonance imaging before the "N" word fell out of favour, also depends on doing things with nuclei.

Someone should tell this to the Royal Society. This august body, the highest in the land, by its own reckoning, when it comes to science, has put out the inevitable statement in the wake of the White Paper.

In the Royal Society response to Government energy plans we read that "in the short to medium term nuclear could be crucial in helping the UK tackle the challenges of climate change and security of supply". Nuclear what?

Picky? Yes. But when you are dealing with opponents who like to hold up nuclear weapons as a reason for not using nuclear power it seems silly to offer them a hostage to fortune.

It takes very little to use the right words. If the DTI can do it, why not the RS?

04 May 2007

Jumped up ladder release

The general advice to anyone writing a press release is to avoid being too clever, and not to upstage the hacks when it comes to headlines. It is good to see that some PR folks ignore this advice, or we would not have received this one from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children’s Hospital in Ohio: Nonfatal Ladder Injuries Climbing Sharply.

They pile on the groans in the first paragraph "According to a new study, the number of nonfatal ladder injuries treated in emergency rooms jumped by 50 percent between 1990 and 2005."

It may be hard for the subeditors to top these.

02 May 2007

Patently silly data on climate change

You don't have to be a climate change denier to have doubts about some of the output from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is about to gush forth with another report. A couple of interesting bloggers have found some hilarious graphs in the IPCC's output.

Over on Prometheus there is a hatchet job on numbers showing a correlation between climate change and losses due to natural disasters. Roger Pielke Jr writes "I have generally been a supporter of the IPCC, but I do have to admit that if it is this sloppy and irresponsible in an area of climate change where I have expertise, why should I have confidence in the areas where I am not an expert?"

Even more hilarious is the message on Random Thoughts dismembering another graph from the IPCC which shows that U.S. patents cause global weather-related disasters!.

As the author comments " It's obvious that increasing the number of U.S. patents issued causes normalized global weather-related losses to increase. When will the U.S. Patent Office start behaving responsibly, and stop issuing patents???!"

Er, maybe not, when asked for the page reference, Mark Bahner, the man behind the thing, reveals that the graph in question "only appear on dates that have April 1 in them".

Damn, there goes another good story. Then again, maybe someone could sell it to the Daily Mail. They'd certainly buy a piece on the impact of climate change on house prices.