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Archive for November, 2002

Leadfoot Doyle crashes and burns

November 30th, 2002 Comments off

I didn’t take a very close interest in the Victorian state election – I share the lack of intense feeling about Bracks that is the secret of his success, and the result always looked like a foregone conclusion. One thing that gave me a bit of interest was Leadfoot Doyle’s appeals to the speeders lobby, promising to allow more dangerous roads with less of those pesky speeding tickets. Short of promising to legalise assault rifles, he couldn’t have done anything more irresponsible. In fact, he got predictable support from the same quarters in blogdom that support free access to guns, notably Tim Blair. Rather than say he and his friends want to enjoy themselves speeding and are happy to have a few hundred of their fellow-citizens have to die every year as a result, Tim trotted out the tired canard about revenue raising. To see how far off the mark this is, you only need to look at the results of vigorous enforcement of road safety laws, in which Victoria has led the way. As this ABS
history of road fatalities in Australia road deaths have been halved since the first serious enforcement measures (compulsory seat belts) began in 1970. Measured against population, vehicle numbers or kilometres driven the results are even more dramatic.
But Tim’s views have prevailed in the US, where enforcement of road safety laws is far less vigorous. The result is that road deaths there are rising. The comparison is even more unfavorable when expressed in terms of deaths per registered vehicle or per unit of distance travelled. In 1970, the US was easily the safest country in the world in which to drive thanks to excellent roads and state-of-the-art safety measures. Now, although our roads are still awful, Australians face lower risks on both measures and the gap is growing.
Robert Doyle wanted to undermine the most successful public health initiative in Australia’s history, one that has saved tens of thousands of lives. He richly deserves the crushing defeat he has received.

Categories: General Tags:

The worst job in Australian politics

November 30th, 2002 Comments off

I’m doing a bit of research for an article and I came up with the finding that the NSW Liberals have had twelve leaders since 1975 when the unlamented Robin Askin left office . Only Nick Greiner (1983-92) has lasted more than three years, and quite a few never even faced an election.

In the same period, Labor has had only three leaders (Wran, Unsworth and Carr), and, in the century since Jack Lang took over in 1923, only ten.

On current indications, the latest incumbent, John Brogden seems unlikely to break the mould, although nothing is certain in politics. He’s young enough to serve 30 years as Premier like Tom Playford in SA.

Categories: General Tags:

Role models

November 30th, 2002 Comments off

“Comparative Advantage” by Nicholas Confessore is a fascinating piece on How economist Paul Krugman became the most important political columnist in America.

Krugman is a role model for me, but I don’t imagine anyone is likely to write anything like that about me any time soon.
Update Don Arthur has more on this and the idea of the conceptual scoop.

Categories: General Tags:

Song for Saturday

November 30th, 2002 Comments off

It’s time once again for a song, and what better than this heartfelt exile’s lament!

Take me back to Canberra

First verse and chorus
Take me back to Canberra, where the skies are always blue
And often in the winter, my hands and face are too
We’ve got a lofty tower, we’ve got three lovely lakes
We’ve got a great Assembly, to make all our mistakes

Our town is planned by experts, the best there’s ever been
The streets are always empty, but at least they’re always clean
Our roads go round in circles, it’s a very clever plan
However far you go you’ll wind upjust where you began

You can go to the National Gallery, you can and see Blue Poles
You can go and see the Treasury, where they keep the big Black Holes
But it’s really on the weekend, we all love Canberra the most
Cos half of us are up the snow, the rest are down the coast!

Seriously, I’m really loving Brisbane. The weather’s great, the people are friendly and, at least around our house, it’s much leafier than I expected, with lots and lots of birds. The UQ campus is beautiful, combining sandstone buildings with the expansive grounds more typical of a 1970-vintage Menzies university. And the crucial academic requirement, good coffee, is catered for in style. There’s a rooftop cafe right in the Economics department and another one 100 metres away with a view down to the river. The library and bookshop have their own cafes, not to mention the staff club and student union and there are another half-dozen at the local shops down the street.

Categories: General Tags:

Back of the envelope

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

A while ago, I blogged on the economics of a war with Iraq, suggesting that a long occupation would cost around $US100 billion per year. This was a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ estimate. Yale economist William Nordhaus has now present a range of estimates of the cost of a war, which are broadly consistent with this. For the total cost over ten years he gives estimates ranging from $121 billion for a quick war with an easy exit to $1500 billion for a prolonged occupation with adverse impacts on oil markets. I’d go for something towards the upper end of this range 5-10 years of occupation at $100 billion per year.

I don’t always agree with Nordhaus. On global warming for example I think he places too little weight on adjustment costs and hardly any on species extinction. But he’s very able and, if you accept his assumptions, he generally gets the implications right. So I’m glad my envelope is consistent with his more detailed analysis.

Categories: General Tags:

Thinking alike

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

I obviously missed this piece by Paul Krugman which appeared when my move was at maximum chaos, but fortunately it’s reproduced at Brad DeLong’s Webjournal. Like me, Krugman notes that acceptance of growing inequality of outcomes in a society with a meritocratic ethos is an unstable equilibrium. Inevitably it leads to acceptance of inherited inequality, a process that is already evident after only a couple of decades of neoliberal dominance.

On the optimistic side, I don’t believe the egalitarian ethos will be easy to erode, at least in Australia. Even in relatively good economic times, neoliberalism remains unpopular, largely because its benefits and costs are so unfairly distributed. As the Jeff Madrick piece I cited shows, this unfairness becomes even more glaring in a downturn.

Categories: General Tags:

Born-again believer in checks and balances

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

Federal Liberal MP and party heavyweight Petro Georgiou says that a Labor landslide (giving Bracks control of both houses) poses a threat to democracy, by removing checks and balances. He’s right but it’s pretty breathtaking hypocrisy from a member of a government that has routinely claimed a mandate for absolute power on the basis of 40 per cent of the vote and complained about Senate obstructionism. And Jeff Kennett did his best to destroy every check and balance that got in his way. To say that if Bracks gets the same power that Kennett had, ‘the first casualty will be responsible, accountable government in our state’ displays more hide than Jessie the elephant.

Moreover, the only reason this is possible at all is because the Victorian Liberals have been so determined to protect their gerrymandered majority in the Legislative Council. They could easily have negotiated reform along proportional representation lines to produce an upper house where neither major party could get a majority (unless it won a majority of the votes). Now it looks as if Labor will win and be able to write its own rules.

Categories: General Tags:

Left wing patriotism

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

A very brief ‘linking’ post has produced a fascinating discussion of patriotism, internationalism and whether it is possible to have a left wing version of patriotism. (To get full value, follow the link and read the comments thread, then come back to this post).

Interestingly, Samuel Johnson’s aphorism ‘Patriotism, sir, is the last refuge of a scoundrel’ refers to radical ‘patriots’ like John Wilkes, so called because they advocated government by and for the nation as a whole against the monarchist claims of Tories like Johnson. (There’s a discussion of this contested term here )Boswell’s Life of Johnson contains an amusing story, in which Boswell inveigles Johnson into dining with Wilkes and the two get on famously.

I suggest that patriotism is the benign version of nationalism, perfectly consistent with internationalism. It’s essentially a statement of membership of, and pride in, a community rather than an aggressive assertion of claims against others. I no more expect citizens of other countries to agree that ‘Australia is the best country in the world’ than I expect other people to share my feeling that mine is the best family in the world.

As an Australian, I can take pride in our success in building a tolerant and prosperous community with an egalitarian ethos, and can appeal to our egalitarian traditions as a particularly Australian reason for resisting growing inequality.

But, as Martin Krygier 1997 Boyer Lectures with pride goes shame in our collective failures, mistakes and crimes. John Howard wants us to take pride in the Anzacs, but disclaims responsibility for the stolen generation because he wasn’t there and didn’t do anything. Well, he wasn’t at Anzac Cove in 1915 either. In this respect, and more recently with respect to asylum seekers, Howard’s positiion is one of chauvinism rather than patriotism.

To end on a patriotic note, I’ll observe that Howard may not be perfect, but he has his strong points and, in any case, we elected him. One of our great blessings, which I hope will extend to the entire world before long, is that we get a chance to change our minds every three years.

Categories: General Tags:

The Rule of 70

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

In the discussion of global warming, the time it takes for a process to double is often one of the key issues, and has come up a couple of times in the comments thread. There’s a neat rule on this which I thought was worth a short post. For moderate growth rates, you can get the doubling time just by dividing the percentage growth rate into 70. That is, an economy with a 1 per cent growth rate doubles its output in 70 years, 2 per cent takes 35 years and so on.

The key to this rule is the fact that the natural log of 2 is just about 0.7. Actually it’s 0.693, but 69 doesn’t have as many prime factors and ‘The Rule of 69’ is hard to say with a straight face.

Categories: General Tags:

Normal growth in inequality

November 29th, 2002 Comments off

Jeff Madrick observes that unemployment pinches hard at the bottom of the economic ladder. As he observes the steady growth in US inequality observed over recent decades was briefly reversed, or at least halted, in the late 1990s when the unemployment rate fell to 4 per cent. Beginning in 2000, the growth in inequality has resumed.

Maddrick concludes correctly that the rate of unemployment is a major factor in driving the growth in inequality. But he is over-optimistic in saying that the experience of the 1990s proves that unemployment can be pushed down to 4 per cent and kept there. The late 1990s represented an unsustainable and probably unrepeatable bubble. At least under its current economic institutions, the US can’t hold unemployment much below 6 per cent. It follows that the same institutions generate steadily increasing inequality.

Of course, other countries haven’t done notably better on unemployment. Allowing for distorting factors like disability benefits, and differing propensities to imprison the unemployable, there isn’t a lot of difference between US, European, Australian and Japanese unemployment rates. But at current unemployment rates the US, and other English speaking countries have seen a lot of growth in (already high) inequality, whereas inequality in Europe and Japan has been much lower and fairly stable.

Categories: General Tags:

Another round on greenhouse

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Ken Parish responds to my piece on the rate of global warming with a range of issues. I’ll start with the easy ones. Ken notes what appear to be two offsetting errors, saying

[John] says the current warming record shows a trend of 0.2 degrees C per decade. In fact, it’s about 0.4 degrees over the last 26 years (which is somewhat lower than John says). John also observes that IPCC says about half of this increase is attributable to human emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact IPCC says just under 3/4 is attributable to human emissions. As you can see, this amounts to approximately 0.1 degrees C per decade from human greenhouse emissions. Hence, as I’ve observed before, a straight line extrapolation of current warming trends results in an approximate temperature increase of about 1 degree C by 2100. John reaches that figure (because his two errors cancel each other out), and agrees that a warming of that magnitude and speed isn’t too much to worry about.

I’ve been a bit rushed during the move, and have been making a few minor errors, but this time I’m pretty much in the clear. I ran a regression estimate for the trend which came out at 0.196 degrees per decade and I knew that the IPCC had attributed 0.1 degrees to emissions so I worked backward to get 1/2.

Ken also makes some good points about population growth, saying that UN estimates have been revised downwards. However, the most contentious IPCC estimates (the A scenarios) have population stabilising around 9 billion, which is the estimate cited by Ken.
The big issue relates to the question of whether if economic growth continues at , say, 3.6 per cent per year, and no specific mitigation action is taken, emissions will keep growing or remain stable. I assert that, under Business As Usual emissions are likely to double. Ken suggests that this requires that the rate of economic growth should also double to 7.2 per cent. I say that as long as GDP grows steadily at a constant rate, so will emissions and therefore the rate of growth of atmospheric concentration and the rate of increase of equilibrium temperature.

Ken’s argument reflects a confusion between stocks, flows and acceleration. HTML is not well-suited to resolving this kind of thing, but I’ll try my best. Under the standard model in which equilbrium temperature depends on the concentration of greenhouse gases, the following types of variables should move together (not necessarily proportionally, since there are lags, sinks, feedbacks etc)

Stocks
Concentration of CO2
Equilibrium Temperature
Cumulative Emissions
Cumulative world output of goods &services

Flows
Addition to concentrations of CO2
Rate of change in equilibrium temperature
Annual emissions
Annual output (GDP)

Accelerations
Acceleration in growth of CO2 concentration
Acceleration in temperature change
Rate of growth of annual emissions
Rate of growth of GDP

So with a constant growth rate of GDP (and BAU) , output, emissions and the rate of temperature change all rise steadily. Because the energy-intensity of GDP declines with rising income, you need something like a quadrupling of GDP tp get a doubling of emissions, but this doesn’t affect the main point.

It’s not easy to see this by eyeballing the data for a decade or two – in fact, it’s quite difficult statistically to distinguish between a linear trend and an exponential if the growth rate is modest. But the basic logic set out above is clear-cut. I’ll try soon to make available a PDF file in which this is proved algebraically – words are really cumbersome for this kind of problem.

Categories: General Tags:

Hans Blix

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Chris Suellentrop at Slate does a job on Hans Blix, the head of the UNMOVIC, the UN weapons inspection team. Unlike most of the many critics of Blix, he does concede Blix’s role in detecting the North Korean nuclear program. But as with the majority of US commentary on this issue, he fails to mention the fact that the first set of UN inspections found and destroyed Saddam’s nuclear weapons program.

This is not to say that Saddam may not have tried again, and of course he’s used chemical weapons (let’s pass over the fact that he was a ‘good guy’ at the time). But the assumption that inspections are bound to fail seems misplaced to me, especially as the Iraqis are taking a strong line in denial, rather than making some sort of ambiguous half-admission. If they haven’t destroyed (nearly) everything it shouldn’t be too hard to catch them.

Of course there could be data on a CD-ROM in Saddam’s jacket pocket, but nearly every actual weapon is detectable and the Iraqis are almost certainly behind the curve in their knowledge of advances in detection techniques over the past decade.

Categories: General Tags:

Short and sharp

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Don Arthur has a string of great posts, including one on whether posts should be short and sharp. I don’t think they need to be, but the problem is that it’s easier to do a short, sharp link to a short sharp post. I can’t think of anything short and sharp to say about Don’s recent thoughts, except that everyone should go and read them. The same goes for Rob Schaap.

Update As so often with this blog, the comments thread adds far more value to the debate than the original post. Read the fascinating discussion between Simon and Ken Parish, with a brief contribution from me. Then read Don Arthur and Rob Schaap. That’ll take quite a while, but I think it’s time better spent than on the opinion pages of the papers or watching the TV news.

Meanwhile my open forum (Thoughts for Thursday) is uncharacteristically quiet. There seem to be lots of new visitors to the blog since I completed my move to Queensland, so why don’t you share your thoughts on any topic you please, particularly what you like or don’t like about this blog.

Categories: General Tags:

Really dumb warnings

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Now that I’m back in sunny Queensland I need a sunshield for the windscreen of my car. So I dragged out the one I bought when I lived in the US ten years ago. On the back, along with the patent numbers etc, it bears the warning DO NOT DRIVE WITH SHIELD IN PLACE

I wonder, did someone actually do this and sue them, or do consumer products companies have staff paid to think of really dumb ways their customers could injure themselves.

Categories: General Tags:

America's spirit of Thanksgiving has a new home

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Bruce Wolpe has an interesting comparison of Australian and American responses to terrorist attacks, noting that Australia is a place where the pursuit of happiness is taken seriously. I mentioned a while ago that Australia could do with our own version of the First Amendment. If we ever become a republic, it would be nice if we could manage a founding document that could bear comparison with the Declaration of Independence.

Categories: General Tags:

Thoughts for Thursday

November 28th, 2002 Comments off

Monday messages have been very successful, but people tend to stop commenting once the post falls halfway down the page. So I’ve decided to go bi-weekly with this feature. You can post your thoughts on any topic in the comments thread for this post (civilised discussion and no coarse language).

My suggested starter – what can I do to improve this blog? Suggestions that I should get someone else to write it will not be entertained.

Categories: General Tags:

Website transfer

November 27th, 2002 Comments off

I’m making painstaking progress with transferring my website to UQ. Here’s the promised review of Lessig.

An interesting sidelight is that my ANU website had absolute addresses (that is, the complete URL) whereas the orthodoxy says you should have relative addresses to make transfers easy. The positive result is that having copied my homepage to the UQ site, all the links to files at ANU still work. I’m not sure if this refutes the standard argument for relative addresses, but it certainly tips the balance a bit.

Categories: General Tags:

No More Fanaticism as Usual

November 27th, 2002 Comments off

A great piece from the unsilenceable Salman Rushdie. Just above it on the NYT Op-Ed page, Thomas Friedman’s piece on similar lines isn’t bad, but looks tired by comparison.

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The last stand of the Keating elite

November 27th, 2002 Comments off

As the comments thread for a recent post made clear, the most notable single representative of the Keating era elite consensus (free-market economic reform and aggressive social progressivism) has been Paul Kelly’s Australian. Today’s editorial plaintively asserts that “Howard must revive that reform feeling”. It starts out with a standard bold generality “A secure economic future for Australia demands bold policy initiatives and a new wave of structural reforms that will help create wealth in which all Australians can share. ” But all that’s proposed is the dead duck of Telstra privatisation (a ‘bold’ proposal that’s been floating around for 15 years or so) and tax-welfare reform along the lines of the Five Economists’ plan that the government rejected three or four years ago.

For good or ill, the free-market reform agenda is essentially played out. The big action in the future will be in health and education, areas where there is no serious proposal for a fully market-oriented solution and where a range of partial market-oriented reforms have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods.

And while I think Howard’s success in changing the terms of debate on social issues has been greatly overstated, it’s clear that top-down elitism of the kind exemplified by Keating is, and will remain, on the nose with the Australian public with respect to both social and economic issues.

Categories: General Tags:

A brand new euphemism

November 27th, 2002 Comments off

Janet Albrechtsen attacks as un-American those Australians who would like to work European hours like the 35 per week that was until recently, within 10 per cent of the Australian full-time norm. Her boilerplate about European sclerosis and poor employment growth sounds as if it has been recycled from 1999, when the dynamic US economy was creating jobs at a steady clip and we were promised a never-ending boom.

But there is something new in this sentence “It [the union movement] champions a collectively dumb group-think vision that reflects an unease over the natural layering that emerges from disparities in talent.” The repetitive abuse of ‘collectively dumb group-think vision’ alerts us that something special is on the way, and we are not disappointed. Growing inequality has now become ‘natural layering’. Good one, Janet!

By the way, this is my first post from my new office at the University of Queensland. Normal service should be restored soon.

Categories: General Tags:

The rate of global warming

November 26th, 2002 Comments off

In the long comments thread below, Ken Parish makes the point that the observed rate of global warming over the past few decades has been about 0.2 degrees C per decade, and that the IPCC and others (including some Ken has cited with approval) suggest that about half of this is due to human activity, mainly the emission of greenhouse gases. The rest reflects factors such as the cyclical fluctuations that led to warming in the first part of the 20th century and cooling in mid-century. (There are both higher and lower estimates of the share due to global warming, but half seems reasonable, especially when we compare the recent rapid warming to the more gradual warming and cooling observed in the past).

The simplest way to interpret these numbers is to suppose that there are no lags, sinks or feedbacks, so that current emissions feed directly and immediately into increases in global concentrations of greenhouse gases and then, also directly, into higher temperatures. On this basis, a continuation of the late 20th century rate of emissions would imply a temperature increase of 1 degree C, which seems unlikely to cause major disasters.

But of course, under business as usual, emissions will not remain stable. If no mitigation policies are adopted, it seems likely that emissions will at least double over the next 50 years suggesting warming of at least 2 degrees C.

Now lets think about lags, sinks and feedbacks. To the extent that lags and sinks are important, and that sinks are gradually filled, the final impact of CO2 emissions will be greater than the initial impact. Thus, if emissions stabilise at a high level, temperatures will keep rising. This again supports a higher estimate of damage. It’s hard to estimate, but I’d suggest that this supports a baseline business as usual estimate of around 2.5 degrees C.

Feedbacks can go in either direction. The IPCC argues that positive feedbacks will dominate, critics such as Richard Lindzen disagree. I find the arguments too complex to resolve, so lets call it an even-money bet that feedbacks will either enhance GW by 50 per cent or reduce it by 50 per cent. On this basis, it’s about equally likely that the impact will be 1.25 degrees C (not too bad) or 3.75 degrees C, enough to wipe out a wide range of vulnerable ecosystems. (This is spurious precision, but the range of possible outcomes is what matters)

The basic question is whether to start preparing for the bad scenario now (Kyoto) or to wait for more information. If we start preparing and it turns out that things are not as bad as we thought, we incur a cost (about 0.5 per cent of world income on most estimates) for no benefit. On the other hand, if the news is bad, we will be well placed to take the action needed to prevent a disastrous rate of warming.

If we kill Kyoto (negotiated over nearly the whole of the 1990s), wait ten years and then start negotiating an alternative when we get bad news, we will have lost 15-20 years at least, and possibly more. The cost of achieving any given level of atmospheric concentrations will be greatly higher, and the amount of unavoidable damage much greater.

Categories: General Tags:

The Future of Ideas

November 26th, 2002 Comments off

I’ve posted my review of Lawrence Lessig’s new book The Future of Ideas at UQ. It was originally published in the Financial Review which, paradoxically enough given the subject matter, is subscription-only. A short take:

The great paradox of the information age was apparently first summarised in 1984, by Stewart Brand, now with the Sante Fe Institute:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

For many years, enthusiasts for the Internet focused only on one side of this dichotomy. ‘Information wants to be free’ became first a slogan, then a cliché. In the late 1990s, as the idealism of the Internet pioneers was succeeded by the financial madness of the Internet bubble, the paradox intensified. Billions of dollars were sunk into dotcoms based on the belief that vast fortunes could be made out of giving away free information or, in other words, that you could have your Internet cake and eat it too.
On the sidelines of the Internet boom, though, were large and powerful groups who had never believed in free information. The music and motion picture industry had a long history of resisting every new technology or social development that might challenge their absolute control over their product.

To read a lot more on this topic,be sure to visit Kim Weatherall’s blog. She’s finished lectures for the year and is posting lots of interesting stuff.

Update I haven’t managed to get links to files working for the new UQ site. I’ll try and link this ASAP.

Update 2 Ken Parish has a long post on this which I missed in the chaos of my move. He makes the point that it’s a mistake to regard file-sharing services like Napster and Kazaa as heroes of freedom – they’re commercial enterprises which often use dubious money-making methods like spyware.
On the other hand, I think Ken gives too much credence to the concept of intellectual property. The idea that intellectual property is like property in land misses the valid component of the claim that ‘information wants to be free’, namely that information is ‘nonrival’ inuse. If I use your land as a football field, you can’t use it for growing wheat. On the other hand, if I use your idea for a better way of growing wheat, you’re still free to use it and, if I improve on your idea you can copy it. By imposing restrictions on this free use of ideas patents and copyrights are a barrier to innovation and efficiency. On the other hand, by rewarding innovation these devices encourage more innovation (information wants to be expensive because it is valuable and costly to produce). There is a balance that needs to be struck here, and it is not helped by the spurious metaphor of ‘intellectual property’.

Categories: General Tags:

Enarchy in Oz?

November 26th, 2002 Comments off

PP McGuinness worries about the prospect of rule by an elite band of career bureaucrats along the lines of the French ‘ENArques”, graduates of the Ecole Nationale d”Administration. Given the steady politicisation of the upper ranks of the public service which began with some relatively innocuous moves by the Whitlam government, this is the least of the dangers facing Australia. In fact, we are approaching the point where we need a clear division between ‘career’ and ‘political appointees’, and a convention that the latter go out with the administration that appointed them, as in the US.

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Bizarre Science gets it right

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

Bizarre Science notes an Op-Ed piece by Sallie Baliunas and others, criticising the Kyoto protocol on a number of grounds and claiming that global warming is a natural phenomenon. As BS points out, Googling Baliunas (try Baliunas + Institute) reveals that she is a Harvard-based astrophysicist, and also that she is affiliated with a wide range of anti-Kyoto thinktanks including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the George Marshall Institute, the Fraser Institute and so on.

So Baliunas is both an astrophysicist and a political activist. Although this is not a particularly common combination, there’s nothing wrong with it. Most of the time, one would expect astrophysics would not have political implications, nor that discoveries in astrophysics would be particularly likely to suit the political proclivities of those making them.

When such a coincidence does occur, as in the case of Baliunas’ theory that fluctuations in solar irradiance are the main cause of global warming, a conflict of interest arises. Such conflicts are part of life, and there are straightforward ways of dealing with them. In most cases, all that is required is a frank declaration of one’s position.

Provided Baliunas declares her affiliation with anti-Kyoto thinktanks, there is no problem with her putting forward her theories regarding the causes of global warming. Sadly, scrolling to the bottom of her Op-Ed page, we find ‘Dr. Sallie Baliunas is deputy director at Mount Wilson Observatory and an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.’ Her other affiliations are not mentioned, although, in a piece that is not primarily about astrophysics, they are at least as relevant and arguably more so.

This is a straightforward test of Baliunas’ good faith, and she flunks it. As BS observes “We obviously cannot trust anything she writes, can we?”
Update(Sigh) For irony-challenged readers, I should note that Aaron Oakley of BS really thinks we should trust Baliunas and is speaking ironically, and that I am doing the same in taking his words literally. Ken Parish is perhaps even more subtly ironical in his response, where he suggests I am trying to deceive unwary readers into thinking that BS is a pro-Kyoto site.
On the general point of ad hominem attacks, I’d be happy at any time to drop this kind of argument and accept the verdict of the great majority of scientists who’ve studied this topic, as represented by the IPCC, the US National Academy of Sciences, CSIRO etc. Kyoto sceptics routinely claim that the great majority of atmospheric scientists are lying in order to boost their research grants. Having raised the issue of potentially dishonest motives for scientists as a group, they complain when the same test is applied to the handful of individual scientists on whom they rely.

Categories: General Tags:

Monday Message Board

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

I’m creeping back towards regular blogging, which includes resuming my weekly features. This is the opportunity to comment on any topic that takes your fancy (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). To kick things off, is anyone willing to defend the anti-terrorist laws recently introduced by state governments in Victoria and NSW?

Categories: General Tags:

Telstra

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

The government has deferred any further sale of Telstra. In view of the many times it has been correctly stated that Telstra can’t stay ‘half-pregnant’, it’s now time to consider renationalisation.

Categories: General Tags:

Elites

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

I’ve also published a piece on elites at On Line Opinion. Opening paras:

Of course there is an Australian elite. In fact, there is more than one. Business wealth commands one sort of power, central position in political machines commands another, and senior office in the public service yet another.

The recent discussion of elites in Australia has focused on the ‘opinion elite’. Many of the assertions that have been made about the opinion elite in recent months, particularly by supporters of the Howard government, have been self-serving nonsense. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that some Australians have more influence than others in determining the ideas that are taken seriously in formulating public policy, and that, on many occasions the views of this influential group are not representative of the population as a whole.

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Republicanism and popular sovereignty

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

Ray Cassin gives a great analysis of the current state of the republican debate. Ever the optimist, I disagree with him about one thing. I think that once it becomes clear that we are not going to remain a monarchy, a significant number of old-style monarchists (those who actually like the monarch as a person rather than as a cog in the wheels of the Westminster system) will switch to support for direct election.

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Book reviews

November 25th, 2002 Comments off

I recently reviewed Thomas Frank’s One Market Under God, and William Baumol’s The Free-Market Innovation Machine: Analyzing the Growth Miracle of Capitalism,for The Drawing Board, an Internet journal published out of the University of Sydeny. My concluding para

The Free-Market Innovation Machine is a disappointing book from an author who has made substantial and creative contributions in many fields of economics in the past. By contrast, One Market Under God deserves to be recognised as the best dissection of the bubble culture of the 1990s that has yet been written.

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Fin Review plug

November 24th, 2002 Comments off

It may be a little while before my latest contribution to the Fin goes up on my new website at UQ, and of course the Fin is almost the only paper in the world with a website that’s “all pay, all the time”. In my most recent column, published on Thursday, I argue that Labor needs to push for higher taxes and conclude

For the moment, it is probably too optimistic to suppose that any political party in Australia would advocate an increase in standard rates of income tax to finance improvements in health, education and the environment. But ultimately, those who will the end must will the means.

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