Demystifying science-speak

Here is a great table of word substitutions for scientists to make when talking to non-scientists, or for non-scientists to mentally make when reading scientific articles. I saw it on Real Climate and, like the person who posted it there, thought that it deserved a wider audience. It comes originally from a lecture by Richard Somerville at UC San Diego on communicating climate science, part of this course.

Terms that have different meanings for scientists and the public

Scientific term  Public meaning  Better choice
enhance improve intensify, increase
aerosol spray can tiny atmospheric particle
positive trend good trend upward trend
positive feedback good response, praise vicious cycle, self-reinforcing cycle
theory hunch, speculation scientific understanding
uncertainty ignorance range
error mistake, wrong, incorrect difference from exact true number
bias distortion, political motive offset from an observation
sign indication, astrological sign plus or minus sign
values ethics, monetary value numbers, quantity
manipulation illicit tampering scientific data processing
scheme devious plot systematic plan
anomaly abnormal occurrence change from long-term average


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Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog

golden-green Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog amongst leaves

Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog

The Dry season isn’t the best for frogs but this Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, Litoria fallax, seemed comfortable enough amongst the shady leaves of a tree on the edge of the Town Common. He was spotted by my companions on another of Wildlife Queensland’s monthly  field trips, one which introduced me to the boardwalk behind the Sustainability House in Rowes Bay. In the Wet, of course, the boardwalk passes over very swampy ground – ideal frog territory – but now it has all dried out.

According to (the best online froggy information source I know of) the species grows to “less than 30mm” long; 25 – 30mm is common and about right for this one. Colours are somewhat variable but the whitish streak from eye to shoulder (very obvious in my photo) and the dark streak from eye to nose (less obvious) are normally present. Wikipedia confirms all this and adds that the species is very common along our Eastern coast from about Cairns to central NSW.

Frogs don’t often appear on Green Path, simply because so many of my subjects are drawn from my own suburban garden and we don’t have any permanent water. Making a frog pond is one of those nice ideas which has never quite become reality although there are plenty of sites online which give instructions, advice and encouragement - visit SGA, FNPW or BBY if you want to do it yourself.

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There’s still life in a dry-season garden

Honey-bee on pentas flower

Honey-bee on pentas flower

I have been saying for a few weeks that insect activity in the garden has dropped off with the drier, cooler weather and it’s true. (It’s true every year, of course, and I documented the changes here in some detail in 2011 and 2012 - see this post). That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no invertebrates at all at this time of year. For example, I took the photos on this page in one slow ramble around the garden last week.

brown bee on leaf

Small native bee, only about 7mm long

metallic fly on leaf

A very small predatory fly, Dolichopodidae family

grey-brown fly

Robber fly, Asilidae

orange beetle

Orchid-munching Dendrobium Beetle on leaf of Golden Orchid

orange spider on web

Spider with prey – a fly or a small wasp

brown spider

Spider hiding in dead frangipani branch

I could also have photographed plenty of ants, especially the Rattle Ants and Green Ants, and the common blue blow-flies. I did see one paper wasp, Ropalidia revolutionalis (photo here, on Flickr), but their nests have emptied in the last few weeks so I guess it was one of the last of the season’s hatchlings. I don’t know if the Mud-dauber wasps, Delta spp., suffer quite the same drop-off but I do know they are still around.

As for spiders, there are lots of the small spiky Gasteracantha sacerdotalis and quite a lot of even smaller spiders. The larger one I found in the hollow frangipani branch (definitely a male and perhaps Eriophora transmarina) is a species that spreads its web each night and takes it in again each morning, and I really don’t know how many of them we have.

And where are the butterflies? None posed for me that afternoon but we’re still seeing occasional Cairns Birdwings, Ulysses, Common Eggfly and Grass Yellows. If you don’t know them, using the search box in the sidebar will find you plenty of older photos of all of them.

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Spice Finches in Ross River parkland

brown birds feeding on grass

Spice Finches feeding

brown bird - back view

Spice Finch (juvenile) in the long grass

These little birds, Spice Finches (Lonchura punctulata), look very much the same as sparrows but are even smaller (11cm to the sparrows’ 15cm) and their coloration is somewhat different. Juveniles are plain brown above and below, while the adults have chestnut faces and a scale-like pattern on the belly feathers.

Both are actually exotics which are well established here and both are technically finches – not that we normally think of sparrows as such.

The Spice Finch, also known as the Scaly-breasted Munia or Mannikin (see note on Birdway), is native to tropical Asia, occurring from India and Sri Lanka east to Indonesia and the Philippines. It has been introduced into many other parts of the world and feral populations are established in the USA and Central America as well as here. Slater’s Field Guide says that in Australia it is resident in coastal eastern Australia, mainly from Sydney to SE Queensland “but spreading”.

The species seems to be well established around Townsville. On checking older photos in preparation for this post I found that I had photographed them along Ross River on three other occasions and on the Town Common. This small flock was feeding in parkland beside Ross River, Mundingburra, when I spotted them, taking to the long grass and then to a leafless tree when I approached too close for their peace of mind.

brown finches on twig

Spice Finches (adults)

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Going solar – two updates

I have been connected with two domestic solar power projects which I described here on Green Path at the time, and today I have news on both of them.


Hervey’s Range in winter

The first item concerns our solar bore pump on Hervey’s Range: we pulled down the disused power line over the weekend and took it to a scrap metal merchant. Pulling it down made the property tidier and safer and was a good excuse for mucking around in the bush for a few hours on a beautiful sunny day, while the $150 we got for it was a belated cash-back bonus on our purchase of the solar pump system. 

The system itself, six months down the track from its installation, has performed well. Cloudy weather has not troubled it as much as we thought it might, and neither has the shorter span of daylight in winter.

Back in town, the 1.5 KW system we put on our roof has just passed a good round number in its total output: 7 000 kWh, or 7 MWh. We installed the system in May 2011 so it has produced an average of 6.2 kWh per day for three years. By power-station standards that’s nothing, of course, but it’s a useful percentage of a household’s consumption: Ergon says (on the back of our power bill) that the average daily consumption for a household like ours is about 20 kWh per day, so our panels are producing nearly a third as much as we use.

Of course, we use some of our solar power during the day and export the rest of it and then use Ergon’s power all night, so our net benefit doesn’t quite reflect those numbers. I did the sums a year after the installation and came up with a figure of $700 p.a., with the expectation that that would increase as power prices increased.

The general tariff has just gone up from 29.4 to 30.8 c/kWh, which doesn’t look like a big change until you note that the same tariff was only 19.4 c/kWh when we installed the system three years ago.

In May 2011 the “service fee” or “daily supply charge” was only $23 per quarter, whereas by May this year it had risen to 55 cents per day ($49 per quarter) and it has just increased to 92 c/day (about $83 per quarter). That will make it a major part of our power bill.

The huge increase in the supply charge is obviously Ergon’s attempt to make up for people like ourselves who still want the security of mains power but don’t actually use much of it because we generate a lot of our own. That’s fair enough, maybe, but it simultaneously encourages us (and people like us) to go completely off-grid. I will return to this scenario in another post; meanwhile, Australian households could go off-grid by 2018 is a thought-provoking introduction to it.

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