Monday, 18 February 2013

Scientists taking the piss?

The Grauniad, that unbiased and agenda-free source of "consensus science" tells us that
The dried urine of the African and Asiatic mammal is helping to reveal key markers in the planet's environmental past.
The hyrax (Procavia capensis) is a highly sociable, noisy creature the size of a guinea pig that is common throughout Africa and Asia. It makes homes in rock fissures, which it occupies continuously for long periods. In South Africa, one nest was found to have a urine layer that had been building up for the past 55,000 years.
"Hyraxes use the same place to pee every day," said project leader Brian Chase of Montpelier University in France. "The crucial point is that hyrax urine – which is thick and viscous and dries quickly – contains pollen, bits of leaves, grasses, and gas bubbles that provide a clear picture of the climate at the time.
"Once we have found a good layer of solid urine, we dig out samples and remove them for study. We are taking the piss, quite literally – and it is proving to be a highly effective way to study how climate changes have affected local environments."
No schidt? Do they mean that the gas bubbles in hyrax pee, which contains urea, many metabolites, hormones, a wide range of other organic compounds, inorganic compounds, and substances akin to the dreaded "under-stains", won't be affected in just the teeniest way by all those compounds? It seems they do. I can't accept that air bubbles in ice aren't affected by a long sojourn in contact with frozen water (CO2 reacts with ice, though very slowly, and there's a small amount of liquid  water in ice too), so you might imagine that I receive this "science" with just a pinch of salt. There'll be some of that in both hyrax pee and glacier ice too. I think in claiming that the bubbles help "provide a clear picture of the climate at the time", that they're a proxy for climate, or CO2 concentration, or something, they're falling into the trap of "confirmation bias" or in simpler language, taking the piss.


  1. I'm trying to think up a suitable name for this new discipline - paleomicturology?

  2. Like it. Really like it. Of course, even if it's a valid proxy, it'll never provide a steady stream of data, maybe just a trickle, or just a few drips. Will we find new research on the Mediaeval Wet Period? Can we look forward to seeing a Holocene hyrax-pee histogram? A hyrax-stick using "Mike's Nature trick"? Hyraxgate after the release of the next-but-one IPCC report? Only time, and a lingering scent of hyrax pee, will tell.