Posts Tagged‘hypothesis’

Why Plain Packaging Legislation is Bad Policy.

I’ve never been a smoker but I did live with one for the better part of 20 years. My father smoked for about 30 years up until he had a heart attack over a decade ago and that’s a pretty good thing to set everyone straight on the risks of smoking. However I don’t believe it’s my, or anyone else’s business, if people who are fully aware of the risks involved choose to engage that behaviour anyway so long as they’re not harming anyone else in the process. This is why I supported legislation that banned smoking in clubs and in outdoor areas of restaurants as the risk was real and provable then. What I don’t support however is the idea that plain packaging, I.E. olive green packages with bigger warning labels on them, will do anything to lower smoking rates in Australia.

Now I’m fully aware that some people may write me off as a corporate apologist in this regard, I do have a rather lengthy track record of defending certain company’s actions from time to time, but my concerns aren’t the ones that the tobacco companies have brought forward. Whilst I do believe there needed to be some more discussion surrounding the loss of branding potential and the real risk of product counterfeiting my concerns come from the research backing the legislation which, as far as I can tell, don’t really match up with the line that’s being marketed to Australia.

For reference the research I’m referring to are the Cancer Council’s Position Statement and the University of Sterling’s systemic review of plain packaging research.

The research from both articles is quite similar so I’ll focus on the systemic review since that’s a much more sound piece of scientific literature. Below is an excerpt showing the review’s aims:

The primary aim of this review is to assess the impact of plain tobacco packaging on the:
1. appeal of the packaging or product;
2. salience and effectiveness of health warnings; and
3. perceptions of product strength and harm.

I’m not going to judge the validity of these research goals, indeed they are interesting points to note, however I feel it’s something of a leap to translate those particular goals into a reduction in of the current rate of smoking. Indeed the main point that the Australian government hammered home with the plain packaging idea was that it would help stop our younger generation from taking up the habit. Looking deeper into the research there’s really nothing in it to support that idea as there was no investigation into the vectors by which youths (and adults) are introduced to tobacco.

The research is also heavily qualitative in nature, which isn’t technically a bad thing, but for the most part it’s also quite comparative. Take for instance the following paragraph relating to product strength and harm:

Perceptions of harmfulness and strength  were assessed in several ways, by asking respondents which packs: would deliver the most tar and/or nicotine or would be ‘lighter’ in tar; were a greater risk to health compared to other brands;  would be associated with greater or lesser harm; would trigger discussions on harmfulness; inform the smoker about the health effects; and would be more likely to make you think that the cigarettes inside were dangerous.

Whilst this might have shown that people would believe that plain packaged cigarettes were more dangerous to their health than branded ones the research doesn’t show how this would translate into lower smoker incident rates. Indeed much of the research is done in the same manner, with the results being that people found the branded packages more appealing (is that really a surprise?) and that people were more likely to remember the health warnings if they were displayed on a plain package. I’m not disputing these findings, indeed I’m inclined to agree with them, what I’m not getting is how they make the leap to reducing our smoker population.

The argument can be made that if the packaging is less appealing, the health warnings more remembered and the product is thought to be more damaging to their health that these pressures will lead to smokers dropping the habit. You could also argue that it may have some impact on uptake rates as well however the small amount of research into that very idea doesn’t support it. From the systemic analysis again:

Four studies examined the potential impact of plain packs on participants’ own smoking behaviour.
Again the overall pattern is mixed but tends to be supportive of plain packaging having a deterrent
effect on smoking.

It’s statements like the above that really get to me as you can not conclude from mixed results that something is in support of your hypothesis. The only thing you can draw from that is that more research is required to make a proper conclusion, not that it supports your idea. If the conclusion of the study was in fact “we need more research done into this” I’d be much more supportive but instead we’ve got legislation, which is the real issue here.

We’ve had a lot of successful schemes that have helped reduce the number of new and old smokers. Both the health warnings and the ad campaigns on free to air television have a long history of being effective and had good supporting research behind them. Plain packaging on the other hand doesn’t have the same level of evidence to support the conclusion that’s currently being made and fails to investigate critical things like the origins of people’s habits. I would have fully supported a year long trial in order to judge the effectiveness of it and then should the evidence support our hypothesis then we could legislate. However the current approach of taking tangentially related research and then creating policy around that isn’t something I can support and neither should you.

An Earth With Two Moons.

Our Moon has been a constant source of amazement and wonder for the human species. For as long as we’ve been able to observe it from our earthly bounds it has only ever shown us one side and wobbling ever so slightly as if to tease us as to what we couldn’t see. For the longest time we speculated about what could be on the other side of our closest celestial partner with theories ranging from the mundane to the outright fantastical. Of course since 1959 when Luna 3 first photographed the far side of the moon most of that mystery and wonder has since evaporated, but even today it still manages to throw a couple curve balls our way.

One of the most puzzling aspects is the distinct difference in terrain between the near and far sides of the moon. Comparatively the near side of the moon is quite smooth with many “maria” or land seas covering its surface. The far side on the other hand is deeply cratered with a considerably more rough appearance than the side we’re all familiar with. There are many explanations for this with the most accepted being that the near side contained a higher concentration of radioactive elements when it was first formed, and this has been confirmed from data from orbiting craft. There is however a new theory that’s come out and it depicts a story of an Earth that once had two moons:

The moon is thought to have formed when a Mars-sized body slammed into the infant Earth. This threw a cloud of vaporised and molten rock into orbit, which coalesced into the moon.

Simulations have previously shown that additional moons could have formed from the debris cloud, sharing an orbit with the one large moon that survives today. Eventually, gravitational tugs from the sun would destabilise the moonlets, making them crash into the bigger one.

Building off the most accepted theory of the Moon’s formation (the Giant Impact) this new theory about the far side of the moon’s appearance postulates that the impact also created another, smaller Earth bound satellite. Now usually smaller bodies are quickly engulfed by their bigger neighbours but this smaller moon stabilized into an orbit long enough for it to fully form. However millions of years later it impacted with the current moon at a relatively slow pace of about 8,000KM/H (for reference, the International Space Station orbits at around 25,000KM/H). So instead of smashing each other to bits they instead squished together forming a turbulent far side of the moon. Such a hypothesis also explains some discrepancies between mineral concentrations on either side of the moon as such an impact would have pushed the moon’s magma to the other side.

Now whilst this theory would explain some of the phenomena we’re seeing with our celestial sister there’s not a whole bunch of direct evidence to support it. The heavily crated far side of the moon could easily be explained by the tidal locking with Earth, which means any incoming asteroids are far more likely to hit the side facing outwards. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that there has been no landed exploration of the far side of the moon and definitely no sample return missions. Getting some rock samples from the far side of the moon would provide the answers we need to rule out or pursue this theory further.

I always find it amazing how we can think we’ve explored something so thoroughly yet it can still surprise us. The moon is something we’re all so familiar with yet it’s still so foreign when you get up close and it’s origins are as mysterious and intriguing as our own. I love that these ideas could lead to us sending a sample return mission to the far side of the moon and what’s even more exciting is that such a mission would probably lead to many more questions than answers. That’s the beauty of science, it’s a never ending journey of discovery into the origins and mechanics of the universe that surrounds us.

Luna.

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Our crater faced neighbour in the darkness of space is none other than the Moon. The only other celestial body to be visited by us humans it has been something of a curiosity to us for countless milennia and it is only recently that we’ve come to realise a few things about this ball of dust and rock that don’t quite seem to add up. Today I’d like to introduce a couple things that are not-so-common knowledge about our celestial cousin and give you a run down on what they mean for us here back on earth.

Firstly it’s massive and not just because it weighs a lot. Current estimates of its mass peg it somewhere around 7.347 7 × 1022 kg or around 1.23% of that of Earth and that’s the kicker right there. If you look at any other planet with another orbiting body the relationship of planet to moon mass is no where near that high. The most comparable planet would be Mars with its moons Phobos and Deimos, which weigh in at a measly 0.0000016% and 0.00000023% of their hosts respectively. It’s a similar story for moons of other celestial bodies, especially when you consider a moon like Lo or Europa which are about the same size as our moon but are orbiting the gas giant Jupiter. Our moon is then somewhat of a enigma and its presence has caused many interesting phenomena on our Earth. This then begs the question: How the heck did something that huge manage to get trapped with us?

There’s a lot of theories about its creation. If you were to look at other planets and extrapolate a hypothesis from them your first conclusion would be that we captured another celestial object. Again the mass of the moon says otherwise, as the Earth isn’t large enough to capture something of that size without some other forces acting which we can’t seem to account for. Another possibility is that the Moon and Earth formed at the same time however the composition difference between the Moon and Earth is significant enough to throw this theory into question. Additionally, all the previous theories also fail to account for the amount of spin the Earth/Moon system has, which leaves the current best hypothesis: something hit us. The idea is that another body on a similar orbit around our sun eventually came too close and of course this lead to a massive collision. This theory still has its problems, but for now it’s the best idea we have.

Another fun fact about the Moon is that it’s covered in a fine powder referred to as regolith. Due to the lack of geological activity and zero atmosphere the surface of the Moon is for the most part, stagnant. Any reshaping of the Moon’s surface occurs in the form of asteroid impacts. These have the tendency to smash whatever they hit into a lot of small pieces and over the course of the several billion years of it’s existence the Moon has taken quite a few hits. This has lead to the entire surface being covered in around 4 meters of fine dust that is best described as crushed glass. Regolith is one of the main issues facing an established lunar base as it’s quite coarse and loves to stick to everything. Plus it’s not the best thing in the world to get in your lungs either.

The Moon is a wonder for anyone on Earth and I love the fact that so much of it is still a complete mystery to us. I can’t wait for the day when we make a permanent presence on the Moon as the things we could accomplish there would be amazing. For now I’ll just keep gazing upwards for a look at the Moon whenever it floats by.

P.S. If you want to know more may I suggest here and here.