Open Day at the Aussietron

Today was the annual Australian Synchrotron open day. On show were eight beamlines, some which have been fully operational for a long time time now, like powder diffraction, and others which are still in the process of coming online, like medical imaging. In addition, there was an accelerator physics display with models of the storage ring and the bending magnets. There were a huge number of volunteers present too (hey organisers, next year give the volunteers properly fitting shirts!).

Bending Magnet

Bending magnet, with quadrupole (red), dipole (yellow) and sextapole (green).

The videos accompanying each beamline were particularly good. Most of the beamline scientists were adept at describing the potential uses of their instruments, and the movies were short enough to hold your attention. The beamline staff also appeared to be very proud of their instruments (which of course, they should be – some of these scientists built their instruments from the ground up with their own two hands) and I think a fair amount of time had gone into tidying and presentation of the experimental areas.

If the number of people in attendance is anything to go by then surely the Australian Synchrotron open day was a resounding success. There were people of all ages from primary school-aged children, to the elderly. I even saw a number of teenagers who were sufficiently distracted by the awesome science to have the looks of perpetual boredom wiped off their faces. I suspect that the majority of those who attended were not professional scientists like myself and Other Half, simply members of the public with a healthy interest in science.

And this is what I find so encouraging. What is it about the Synchrotron that draws the people in? Other Half and I didn’t live in Victoria during the construction and commissioning period, maybe the government really pushed the publicity at the time? It’s got to be more than the cool-sounding name, even though the word ‘synchrotron’ is one that prompts questions and curiosity. There is genuine interest out there over and above the media-friendly stories like “How Synchrotron Science Confirmed What Killed Phar Lap” that are trotted out (pun intended) time and time again.  I don’t believe their interest is restricted to synchrotron science, the Australian public want more accessible science and I feel it is up to us, the scientists to  provide it.


A bad article from the ABC about swine flu vaccination

On Saturday the ABC published this online news article about the national swine flu vaccination program.

They followed up this online article with an interview starring Queen Crazy herself, Meryl Dorey on ABC News Radio. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy is a true mate of Aussie skeptics and has given this issue and airing on his blog.

I have sent the following complaint to ABC news:

Please remove this article on your news website and stop giving publicity to Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network. The 7:30 Report also gave the AVN the publicity they crave to spread their lies and misinformation on September 2nd. At least the story on the 7:30 report contained interviews with reputable doctors. Unfortunately the same can not be said for Saturday’s article.

The development of vaccines against fatal diseases is one of the great triumphs of science. No longer do children have to die, or suffer permanent disability from diseases like measles and polio.
Meryl Dorey and the AVN, by spreading lies about vaccines are putting the lives of Australian children at risk.

When reporting matters that concern public health, experts quoted in articles should be MEDICAL DOCTORS or public health professionals. Not crazy people promoting a dangerous agenda.

I like to keep it short, sweet and to the point. If you feel strongly about this issue, as I do, please contact the ABC and let them know of your disappointment.


Pre-order Fail

As per my previous post, I pre-ordered The Greatest Show on Earth through Amazon. Although the Aussie Dollar was doing very well at the time against the Greenback and I’ve saved myself ~$15 from buying in the shops, it has been released here already! 3 weeks before it is due out in The States. Boo. Waiting, waiting…


ABC 7:30 Report on vaccination

Tonight the ABC aired a report on the death of baby Dana McCaffery from whooping cough and the rise of the anti-vaccination movement in Australia. Although the report concluded favourably on the view that vaccination is an absolute public health necessity, journalists continue to insist on sticking to their ‘2 sides to every story’ dogma.

Interviews with paediatricians and the McCaffery family were given more air time than Meryl Dorey, the Australian Vaccination Network and the NSW North Coast new-age hippies but I feel that the naming and acknowledgement in particular of the AVN is unecessary. It gives those already erring towards an anti-vaccination stance somewhere to start their search for more (mis-)information. There was no mention of any other organisation or information source that would guide parents to some real, evidence-based information on vaccinations.

Organisations such as the AVN breed fear, paranoia and distrust of science and medicine, and don’t deserve to be given the publicity afforded to them by the 7:30 report. I’d bet a million bucks that there will be more Google searches for ‘Australian Vaccination Network’ than for ‘NSW Department of Health’ as a result of that report tonight.