Why be vegan?

A lot of people have asked me why I’m vegan recently, so I thought I’d do a post to answer everyone past, present and future at once. In short, there are three reasons:

  • I don’t support animal cruelty
  • I don’t want to cause uneccessary damage to the environment
  • It’s better for my health than a diet involving meat and dairy

Each of these categories could easily be their own post, but I’ll just summarise the main points of each.

Animal cruelty

Most animals raised for meat come from factory farms, where poor conditions include tight living quarters where the animals often can’t even turn around. Animals are slaughtered in abattoirs by stunning them with an electric shock or a bolt gun, are tied upside down and then have their throats slit.

What about dairy and eggs?

It’s obvious but many people don’t think about the fact that cows (and all milk producing animals) only produce milk while they are pregnant or shortly after. Cows are typically forcibly impregnated, and the male calves are either slaughtered on birth or raised for meat so the mother’s milk can be harvested. The females are killed once they can no longer consistently produce milk. Chickens living in close quarters have their beaks removed to stop them from fighting each other, and can be put under intense 24 hour light to make them lay eggs faster.

What about cruelty free farms?

‘Cruelty free’ is a bit of a misnomer. You can raise an animal in pleasant living conditions their whole life and kill them without them feeling a thing, but that doesn’t justify it any more than you might consider it sane to kill and eat your dog because you like the taste and you do it ‘humanely’.

I thought about including images of factory farming but they might be too hard for some to see, so have a happy pig instead. If you've never seen photos and you're up to it, you should look them up. Image from geograph.org.uk.
I thought about including images of factory farming but they might be too hard for some to see, so have a happy/smug pig instead. If you’ve never seen photos and you’re up to it, you should look them up. Image from geograph.org.uk.

But if you’re still not convinced…


The effects of animal product consumption on the environment are many-fold.

  • It takes 2-2.5 acres of land to grow one cow in a factory farm*. Free range farming is even worse, and can take 10 times the amount of land or even more*. To use some figures from the documentary Cowspiracy, growing beef on a free range farm, and assuming the average meat intake of an American, it would take 3.7 billion acres of land to satisfy beef demand, yet there are only 1.9 billion acres of land on mainland USA*. Not all of this is suitable land either, and the population keeps on growing, which means a lot of land needs to be cleared!
  • Factory farms produce significant amounts of waste which ends up in waterways and eventually in the ocean, producing dead zones and harming marine life, and just wrecks the environment in general.
  • Livestock has a major greenhouse footprint, and not just from cow farts! The transportation and other associated activities all take energy, not to mention that it takes many kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. Cattle alone accounts for 18% of global greenhouse emissions, compared to just 13% in the transport sector*.

Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, has stated that “You can’t eat meat and call yourself an environmentalist.”*

But if you’re still not convinced, do it for yourself.


  • Most chronic health diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be cured with a plant-based, whole foods diet. The risk of getting cancer is non-trivially lower, and even erectile dysfunction is completely curable through a vegan diet!
  • Most health concerns about a vegan diet are moot. Vegans get more than enough protein, calcium and iron just by eating a variety of plants. The only supplement a vegan needs to take is vitamin B12, and there are many fortified food options such as soy milk and nutritional yeast available.
  • Livestock are given antibiotics en masse to keep them alive, contributing to global antibiotic resistance.


Once you learn a lot about meat and the livestock industry, it’s hard to continue supporting it without some severe level of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy. I intend to do an extended piece on hypocrisy in general, but in the meantime, here are some of my favourite examples.

  • “I get distraught when a lion is needlessly shot dead by a dentist or dogs are eaten, but don’t mind when a cow is needlessly killed for my enjoyment, even though there are plenty of alternative products.”
  • “I can’t change, I’ve been doing this my whole life and humans have been doing it for a long time.” If this is an excuse you use, it’s hard to justify getting upset at slavers of the 17th century, as they could say the exact same thing to justify their ‘choice’, even though they’re not just choosing for themselves.
  • “It’s wrong to force your opinion on your kids and make them eat vegan.” Generally said by people who force their way of eating meat on their kids. Also said by those who don’t mind advertisements that tell (not suggest) people to eat meat, e.g. ‘Real men eat…’ above a meat section (I couldn’t make this up).
  • “Ugh tofu tastes disgusting!” Referring to an uncooked tofu. A bag of flour also tastes pretty bland uncooked.
  • “Aren’t you concerned about your health?” Generally said by people who consume a lot of red meat and cow milk, which are both quite bad for your health.

Your impact

If you consume an average amount of meat, every day you have the choice to save 4164 litres of water, 20 kg of grain, 2.8 square metres of forest, 9 kg of CO2 and 1 animal’s life*.

Bonus impact

If, like me, you decide you want to do more, you might consider donating to a charity such as the Humane League who produce and distribute advertising to encourage people to consume less animal products. In fact, the Humane League is so effective at what it does, it takes less than $1 to reduce 1 year of animal suffering, not including the other benefits.

Effect on me

People often ask me what the hardest part about being vegan is. “I bet you really miss meat.” “How do you get all your protein?” The hardest, and only hard part about being vegan is being insulted by non-vegans who don’t understand. I work in a professional setting and regularly am made fun of for my ethical choice. People might think it’s just a bit of fun, but it hurts, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s bullying, and it’s not ok. There’s no difference between making fun of someone for being vegan and calling them a rabbit or joking that you’ll make a salad for them and making fun of someone for what they wear or any other choice they make. I’ve been told by someone that they were embarrassed to introduce me to their friends because I was vegetarian. Even if you don’t decide to consume less animal products, I urge you to take care with what you say about those who do. Besides that, I’ve never been happier or felt more satisfied in life since going vegetarian and eventually vegan.

I hope you also decide to make the switch for the environment, for the animals and for yourself. If you have any questions I would love for you to get in touch or leave a comment!


If you’d like to hear more I’d highly recommend you watch Cowspiracy, which is now available free on Youtube. A lot of the figures and facts used here (marked with a *) are sourced from there.

How to game (motivate) yourself

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on how to ‘game’ your PhD in order to produce more and higher quality work. This got me thinking about some of the even more subtle ways that I game myself. Some people call these ‘life hacks’ because they are almost like cheating. I’m going to take you through some of my own life hacks, with a brief discussion of psychology along the way.

1. Motivation charities

In the past, I’ve struggled a lot with video game addiction. At one point, I was playing for over 10 hours a day, and going to bed after 4 to wake up at 7 in time for university. My grades and my life suffered. For the most part, I was able to overcome this by setting and committing to some lofty life goals, but I still played games from time to time, and felt terribly guilty about it after. Recently, a friend told me about his own motivation technique, whereby he commits to making a modest donation to a charity every time he does something he wants to stop doing. But he didn’t just pick any charity. If you’re like me, and love donating, giving some money to a great charity won’t be much of a deterrence, because you’d probably do it anyway. So he picked a charity that he thinks does more harm than good, so that donating to them not only costs money, but actually does damage. (How can a charity cause harm? See this presentation I gave to find out.)

As my ‘motivation charity’, I chose The Heartland Foundation, a climate denier organisation that, put simply, acts to block climate policy. I have pledged to donate $10 to them every time I play a game. A few weeks ago, I caved and played a few games, and so donated $30 to them. It was hard, but I forced myself to make the donation. I now have no desire to play games any more, and can easily focus on doing the important things.

2. Tossing your cap

Irish writer Frank O’Connor tells a story about how, when he was a school boy, he and his friends came across a wall that they wanted to climb to see what was on the other side, but were too afraid. Eventually, they decided to toss their school caps over the wall. They would get in a lot of trouble if they lost their caps, so they had no choice but to climb over and retrieve the caps.

There are a lot of ways to emulate ‘tossing your cap’ in every day life. One that I frequently use is to sign up and commit to doing things that I know will be difficult or time consuming, but useful in the future. By publicly committing to something, I am setting myself up for embarrassment if I don’t follow through, so I have no choice but to do what I said I would, because the discomfort of doing so is outweighed by the discomfort of letting people down.

I have used this to sign up for committee roles and give presentations that I don’t think I have the time or expertise to do, but by signing up I have forced myself to get good at that role, and do it well. This same principle can be used to overcome anxiety about something that you may really want to do, but struggle to actually follow through with at the time.

I can’t remember the exact quote or the woman who said it, but I’ve read that one secret to being successful is to take on so many responsibilities that you force yourself to work and keep a busy schedule.

3. Pomodoros

Pomodoros, or pomos, are a motivation technique that I have trialled myself with some success, but some people swear by them. Essentially, you set a timer, usually to 25 minutes, and work consistently through that time. Then you set a timer for 5 minutes and take a break, or stop thinking about work, and do something else. After 5 minutes, you get back to work, and repeat. If you think of something else you need to do during the 25 minutes, like reply to an email, you write a note on a pad to do that later, and continue focussing on the task at hand. As stated on the Wiki page, pomos are based on the idea that frequent breaks improve mental agility.

4. Improving rationality

Everyone can get irrational from time to time, unfortunately that’s human nature. But there are steps we can take to adjust or be aware of our way of thinking.

Being aware of bias is a key first step. There are many forms of bias that affect how humans think. There are a lot, so I will just discuss a few here. For a complete list, see the Wiki page here.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to only remember information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. This means that, when researching a particular topic that you already have an opinion on, such as whether a vegan diet is healthy or not, you will click on the links that support what you think. You are less likely to read and/or remember articles and pages that disagree with what you think. In fact, even the way you phrase the search engine term will affect your results. If you search ‘health benefits of veganism’, you will largely get pro-vegan articles, while searching ‘health benefits of eating meat’, you will largely get anti-vegan articles. If you want to be intellectually honest, you should always structure your searches in a way that is as neutral as possible. In the example above, this might look like ‘health effects of a vegan diet’.

The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to the tendency for unskilled or unknowledgeable people to overestimate their skill in an area, and for skilled people to underestimate their skill. On a related note, think of something you’re an expert in, but a lot of people get wrong, either in the media or in conversation. This frustrates you, right? How can everyone be so ignorant? Well, that’s you for almost everything else. It’s important to be able to recognise what you’re an expert in, and what you’re not.

Negativity bias is the tendency to remember bad things more easily than good things. This is a hard one to account for yourself, but as with all biases, it is important to at least be aware of them so that when you find yourself coming to a conclusion, you can ask yourself why you think that way. Is it possible that you are under the influence of some bias?

The Centre For Applied Rationality provides advice and training for countering the many cognitive biases and improving rationality, and are worth a look.

5. Write it out

It turns out that the simple act of writing out your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. I’ve written a list of both short and long term goals, and keep it on my wall in my room. Some of the goals, which looked crazy when I first wrote them, have already been achieved. I review and update this list once a year (which reminds me, I’m almost due for an update!).

6. Set the bar high – real high

Related to setting goals, I follow a philosophy of setting the bar really high for myself. A lot of people say it’s too high. I thought I made up this quote, but it turns out it’s already a thing. Oh well.

Reach for the stars, and if you don’t quite make it, at least you might reach the Moon.

I am confident that if you strive to reach a very high goal incrementally, even if you don’t quite make it, you will get so much further than you otherwise would have with smaller goals.

That’s all I have time for. I hope these tips are as useful for your life as they have been for mine.

Until next time.

Intellectual property

Recently, someone external to my university requested access to data. At first, I thought nothing of it, but decided I’d check in with my supervisor just in case. I was surprised to get a cautionary email warning me about copyright and intellectual property, two things I had hardly considered. Apparently, when sharing data with externals, it is advisable to apply for an IP or get a confidentiality agreement signed. Knowing nothing about either, I decided to do a little digging. Here’s what I found.

Copyright, fundamentally, is a system that allows the creator of work to receive the benefit of the work. Something I just learned today is that copyright does not protect an idea itself, but the form in which that idea is expressed. This means that if someone works out a way to express the same idea in an original way, it does not infringe copyright. This is something to be aware of in the other direction too, that is, you should be careful not to use someone else’s work without putting the correct measures in place. This may just be as simple as sending a copyright permission request for the copyright holder to sign.

Different universities and nations have slightly different policies in place, so you should always check in with the relevant staff before making a decision. Certainly don’t take this summary of a few hours of research as a definitive guide! My university has a body set up specifically for copyright, patents and IP, and many others do as well. If unsure where to start, your supervisor or head of school are the best bets, or even a more senior PhD student if you want someone a little closer to your situation.

Never assume that you will automatically have the rights to your work. If you don’t read the fine print, terms and conditions of agreements, now is probably a good time to start. If you don’t believe that the T&C’s can be deceitful, just check out these exerts from the Facebook Messenger’s agreements.

  • “Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.”
  • “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.”
  • “Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls. This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.”
  • “Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”

Earlier this year I was told about a horror story where a PhD candidate developed a new technology, but didn’t protect it. Sometime later, his supervisor and the university took the invention and profited from it – Thus ensued a lengthy court battle. Trust me, you want to avoid this, and it’s worth taking a few hours at the start of your PhD to understand your rights and obligations.

TEDx Adelaide 2015

Something a little different, but I just wanted to share my thoughts from the TEDx conference in Adelaide today. A lot of talks today, so hold onto your hats as this will be a whirlwind summary!

TEDx Adelaide
TEDx Adelaide 2015

Associate Professor David Paton asks “Can we stop our birds disappearing?”. Current nature reserves around Adelaide by area are 10%. We need to increase this to 30% to maintain some of our at risk bird species. Such an increase would be an intergenerational commitment, but one we need and one that isn’t being talked about. Offsetting carbon emissions by planting trees is ok, but why not go one step further and ensure they are suitable habitats for endangered species? We can offset our ecological footprint for $1 per person per day.

Mel Greig, who you may remember as being involved in a radio prank with a very unfortunate ending, gave a presentation. I have to admit that I always had a very negative perception of her, and thought that her actions were ill-conceived at best. After the talk, and hearing her reaction to hearing about the tragic death, and the number of death threats she received, I realised such a response is simply not warranted. She was under police protection for several months, and the police station received bullets with her name on them. Eventually someone even threatened her mother’s life – a totally innocent bystander. A sound bite played made the good point that no one could have predicted the outcome. Thousands of similar pranks are performed each year around the world without incident. Mel is now focussing her energy on raising awareness about internet trolling/bullying and has started a social movement called Troll Free Day.

During the lunch break we were asked to create a Lego model about one of the talks we found most inspiring, and I did one about Mel Greig’s talk. I’ll let you interpret my artistic masterpiece. We’ll just call it abstract.

Lego model and three key words that represent my thoughts on Mel Greig’s talk.

Dr Elizabeth Grant gave a talk titled ‘Build beautiful prisons’. She described a prison where prisoners are welcomed, treated like humans, given meaningful jobs within the prison, expected to perform their own housework and cook their own food, live in ‘share houses’ with several other inmates and spend at least part of each day learning something, whether it’s reading or doing a university course online. The desired outcome? Giving people the skills to fit in with and be contributing members of society after their sentence. Isn’t rehabilitation one of the key reasons for the criminal justice system? Elizabeth argues that prisoners get their punishment from being removed from society, and don’t need to get it from being mistreated in a prison. A prison like this has already opened in Western Australia with some success.

A good idea that I’ve never seen in a conference before was ‘mingle bingo’, pictured below. Simply ask people if they satisfy one of the categories throughout the day, and if they do, tick it off!

Mingle bingo
Mingle bingo! Didn’t get to tick them all off, but I did meet a lot of interesting people.

Many other great talks were given that I don’t have time to discuss, including Peter Drew on ‘curing’ racism with art, and Dr James Muecke on his work around curing blindness with Adelaide based charity Sight For All.

Until next time.

How to ‘game’ your PhD

I was talking to a friend about my PhD last week, who expressed mild surprise at the fact that it is estimated to take 8 years to do a PhD part time in Australia. “Surely you can do it quicker than that!” he exclaimed. It’s true that a lot of time in a PhD student’s life is taken up by coffee runs, distractions in the office and admin work. In fact, many PhD students say that in hindsight they really did most of the work for their PhD in the last 3 months. I know from my honours project that it can be fun to work in an office environment with your fellow students, but potentially a huge time sink. In a way, perhaps it’s good that I’m doing most of the work from my home office. I also recently saw THIS blog entry about how to maximise the effectiveness of your PhD program and complete it quickly. This got us thinking about other ways one could quickly publish 3-4 (quality!) papers, write a thesis, then graduate.

First, a summary of the key points from the above blog:

Andrew Critch is critical of lab work, saying that it’s time consuming, and if you want to do a PhD quickly you should do one with minimal lab time. While there isn’t likely to be a lot of lab work for my PhD, some field work is a high possibility. I’m hoping to do a lot of my experiments via simulations (which will be necessary in some parts as I can’t do field work on an asteroid yet!) and rely on computing power to cut down the time spent. Critch also recommends doing a PhD in something like economics or philosophy where having a good idea can accelerate you a lot. It’s maybe a little late for me there, but I am interested in branching out a little into space economics, law and ethics.

Being surrounded by highly productive researchers is a positive, and you can take the opportunity to learn how they get their work done. A lot of researchers have multiple roles on the go, including collaborating in a lot of different projects, so they have a lot of expertise to share. Which brings me to my next point…

Collaborate! At last week’s Off-Earth Mining Forum I met a lot of mining engineers and other researchers who were working on the more engineering side of space mining. After listening to their presentations, I thought of a lot of ways that I as a geophysicist could offer a unique perspective and expertise to move the research forwards. This is a good way to potentially be a co-author and have other researchers co-author your work and help you. One idea I have is to collate information on the types of geophysical and geological characteristics that are required/ideal for developing a block model (used for mine planning) and resource characterisation. Then, using what I know about geophysics, I can look into the best ways to determine these characteristics. The same applies for mining techniques. A wide range of structural models are proposed for asteroids, each with their own implications for the ideal type of mining technique. It would be inconvenient to have to take every mining technique possibly required to an asteroid to plan for every contingency. So I’d like to work with the mining engineers and determine what each structural type would imply for mining, and determine the best ways to characterise the relevant structure for an asteroid.

After seeing some of the conference papers presented last week, I realised I already have the workings of what could turn into some papers. I tend to find that I work well with a deadline, and will usually complete a piece of work around the deadline no matter how long it is. So setting some hard, short term deadlines for yourself may help to motivate you to work harder and produce work. For example, I intend to submit one of the above ideas as a paper abstract for a geophysics conference here in Adelaide next year. This will motivate me to get some quality work done by the conference.

On a related note, a lot of time spent writing work is in agonising over small details. Another piece of advice from the above blog that I have found really useful is to use a co-author (or find a partner who is working on something similar) and shoot drafts back and forth. Send on a draft even if it’s not complete, get some feedback on it and repeat. I find you make progress a lot quicker in this way.

The recommendation for completing a PhD, at least in Australia, is to publish 3-4 papers and then collate them into a thesis. A little simplified, but that’s the gist of it. I had always assumed that, for a science PhD, these papers would have to involve collecting new data, but my supervisor told me last week that isn’t necessarily the case. A review paper, which summarises all of the current knowledge about a particular topic with a specific theme, can count. In fact, a review paper is apparently preferred, as they are cited more often and have higher prestige associated. This is handy, because typically when you start writing a PhD you will do an extended literature review on one narrow area to catch up with the existing research. What better time to summarise a small field than when you have just spent several months reading all there is to know about it. Make sure you take notes and summarise as you go to make writing such a paper possible.

It is a good idea to contact a few journals with your idea for a review paper to see if they would be interested in publishing it or something similar, as many review papers are solicited by a journal ahead of time. Other easy publications might include a meta-analysis, which analyses the data and statistics of a strain of research, similar to a review paper. This allows you to produce good work without having to do a lot of labwork and data collection yourself. Another easy publication, which doesn’t count towards your publication count but is still useful to do as it gets your name out there and is good experience, is to submit a comment about a journal article. This can be as short as a few paragraphs, and as simple as suggesting another line of analysis, or that a particular statistical method is not appropriate for the study.

On a similar note, applying new analyses, statistics and interpretation methods to existing data can allow you to break new ground without having to collect your own data from scratch. As I found out in my honours year, a lot of time is spent in quality checking data and taking precautions.

When I first met my supervisors they told me about one PhD candidate someone had who was also managing a research and development style team for work. They ended up summarising several years of work that the team had done (and the candidate had managed/supervised) and submitted that as their thesis. While technically acceptable, this way of finishing your PhD is certainly frowned upon! But for a part-time PhD, working on similar things in your full-time job, as I am, can be beneficial as you develop useful skills even while not working on your research.

The last thing I can think of is to just work hard. I’m sure most PhD students do, but I know one geoscience PhD student who finished his thesis in two years because he worked all day and into the evenings for most of his program. This may sound unattractive, but just imagine what you could do with those extra 1.5 years of life from completing a PhD program early.

Well I’ll keep you all posted on how this little social experiment actually goes over the next X years while I finish my PhD. If my supervisors are reading this, don’t worry, I promise the quality of work won’t suffer from my trying to ‘game’ my PhD!

Until next time.

Getting started

Hi everyone!

My name is Michael Dello-Iacovo and I’m a geophysicist/soon to be asteroid mining PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. I’m about to embark on an exciting journey and I want you to be a part of it!

Over the next 8 years I’m going to have some amazing times, and some trying times. Hopefully I’ll learn something and add to the incredible database of knowledge called science.

My research is focussing on developing exploration methods for mapping the interior structure and resources of asteroids and comets for extraction in the future. My primary focus will be on developing, simulating and testing seismic methods.

This website is for me to share my research while it’s in its early stages for feedback and hopefully your enjoyment. I’ll also be posting my travels to various conferences and field locations, and also talking about any new space science discovery I find exciting.

If you’re interested in collaborating or have any suggestions (you don’t need to be a scientist to have a great idea I mightn’t have thought of!) please do get into contact.

I’ll also be linking this blog to a Youtube channel at a later date, so stay tuned!

Until next time.