Previously I have posted that one key to giving a good talk is to never offer undefendable ground. i.e., don't make dubious claims that will distract your audience from your main point and undermine your credibility.
On Friday at UQ, David Jamieson, Head of the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne gave a colloquium Physics, Power, and Climate change.
I found the colloquium rather disappointing and frustrating because he made a number of debatable claims. But, perhaps I mis-heard or mis-understood him. I welcome others to clarify or correct me.
1. He began by briefly promoting his own research saying "it is difficult to imagine future technologies if you are not working in our centre", referring to the ARC Centre for Quantum Computing and Communication Technologies, which works on the Quantum Internet.
2. Chemists may find strange the claim that quantum computing was essential to understanding how caffeine works.
3. People in the majority world need access to electricity so they can get on Facebook!
Actually, I thought more people in India have access to mobile phones than to clean water!
4. It was claimed that arguments for the widescale adoption of solar power were flawed "because they ignored the second law of thermodynamics", i.e. the problem of the low efficiency of solar cells. I felt this was a cheap shot since I have never heard anyone who advocates photovoltaic cells claim they were anything more than 10-20% efficient. The internal combustion energy and coal-powered stations also suffer from the second law. I believe a Carnot efficiency of the latter is about 20-40%, but we are quite comfortable with that.
The climax of the talk was the idea that power from nuclear fission is the only viable option for responding to climate change.
5. He stressed how dangerous hydroelectric power, citing an accident in Russia which killed 75 people.This was compared to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident which killed no-one. Furthermore, it was claimed that since then there are been no major nuclear accidents since then.
The colloquium normally ends by 5pm but Jamieson was still speaking at 5:20pm and so I left. [Never go overtime. To me it just communicates either arrogance, rudeness, or dis-organisation]. But, perhaps I missed some important qualifiers in the conclusions and question time.
He began to discuss pathologies of argument concerning climate change and
alternative energy. It seemed to me Jamieson himself adopted some of these same pathologies himself. e.g., arguing by anecdote, by analogy, gaining emotional sympathy by tapping into peoples frustration about biased and unbalanced media coverage,...
The colloquium was entertaining and thought provoking. I learnt a few things I did not know. But, to me the debatable claims above created too many credibility problems for me to be convinced of the conclusions.
Some might claim that I did not like the colloquium because I did not like its conclusions. However, I am actually quite open to the possibly painful conclusion that the future energy mix must include a nuclear fission component.
Much better talks on this subject are those given by David MacKay (Cambridge) and by Nate Lewis (Caltech) which you can watch online. To me they are thorough, balanced, and scholarly.
This friday Paul Meredith from UQ will present a colloquium Sun, Power, and Energy: Opportunities and Perspectives for a Solar Powered Australia. Unfortunately, I will miss it as I will be in Sydney.