Home > Economics - General > The Oregon Petition: A case study in agnotology

The Oregon Petition: A case study in agnotology

May 3rd, 2010

One problem with the recent discussion of epistemic closure (or, in my preferred terminology) agnotology ( (that is, the manufacture and maintenance of ignorance) on the US[1] political right is that a lot of it has been discussed in fairly abstract terms. However, there is a fair bit of agreement that climate change is both a key example, and that the rightwing construction of a counternarrative to mainstream science on this issue marks both an important example, and a major step in the journey towards a completely closed parallel universe of discourse.

Climate change as a whole is too big and complicated to be useful in understanding what is going on, so it is useful to focus on one particular example, which does not require any special knowledge of climate science or statistics. The Oregon Petition, commonly quoted as showing that “31000 scientists reject global warming” not only fits the bill perfectly but was raised by Jim Manzi in his critique of Mark Levin.

So, it provides a useful test case for understanding the agnotology of the right.

The Oregon Petition has been around since the 1990s, so it’s had plenty of time to to be checked out. A 1998 version attracted 17000 signatures, and a subsequent effort in 2008 brought the total to 31000.

Here’s the Wikipedia article, a further debunking from DeSmogBlog and here’s my own investigation from 2002. Some basic points

* “Scientist’ In this petition means anyone who claims to have gone to university (initially, they had to claim some study of science subjects). The number of actual (PhD with published research) scientists who reject any part of the mainstream consensus on climate change is far smaller (Wikipedia provides a list of such scientists who have at least one published article)
* The petition and its reporting are dishonest in obvious ways (fake PNAS style, misreporting of the content) etc
* The promoters, Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine are obvious fruitcakes

These points are easy for anyone to check, and have been so widely reproduced that a majority of the top hits on Google are debunkings. Yet, until Manzi’s takedown of Levin, I’m not aware of anyone on the conservative side of politics who has criticised the petition. On the contrary, it has been uncritically reproduced time after time (here, here, here, and a long list (with a further thorough debunking here)

To put it simply, you would have to be either a fool or a liar to suggest that this exercise had any credibility. Yet as far as I can tell, Jim Manzi is the first person on the right to offer overt criticism of this exercise, and the reaction he received suggests he will probably be the last. But the reactions Manzi received certainly give us some insight into the agnotological processes at work on the right. Essentially no-one (feel free, as always to point out exceptions) cared at all about the facts of the matter: are there really 31 000 scientists who dispute mainstream global warming theory? Rather, most of the responses amounted to circling the wagons in one form or another.

The best way to understand the rightwing approach is in legalistic terms – the aim is present advocacy for the general proposition “We are good, people who are Not Like Us are bad”. Since this is advocacy rather than analysis, it’s OK to present only evidence that supports your case, and to obfuscate or ignore disconfirming evidence. And, as in standard legal argument, it’s OK to argue simultaneously for multiple, mutually inconsistent hypotheses, as long as they all support the same final conclusion.

To switch analogies, it’s like a game of basketball scored in talking points. Fouls (in this context, talking points which get discredited) are just part of the game, with the object being to get away with as many as possible on your side, and to draw as many from the other side as possible (of course, this objective is subordinate to the overall goal of scoring as many points as possible).

So, with something like the Oregon petition, the archetypal rightwinger would simultaneously advocate all of the following:

* The petition shows that 31 000 scientists reject AGW (lots of examples above)
* There is no scientific consensus supporting AGW, so even if lots of the petition signatories aren’t really scientists, the main claim behind it is correct (see, for example, here)
* The scientific consensus supporting AGW is wrong, and its proponents are dishonest, so its OK to present non-scientists as scientists if that will promote the truth Here, particularly in comments
* AGW is being used to promote statist policies, so, even if the hypothesis is true, it should be criticised in order to undermine support for such policieshere
* Even if policies like emissions trading schemes aren’t really statist, and are a response to a real problem, they have been put forward by environmentalists and liberals (people who are Not Like Us) and must therefore be opposed by any means necessary. (implicit in just about everything written on this topic – can anyone locate an explicit version of this?).

Although this example is particularly clear-cut, it’s not atypical. Look at rightwing discussion of almost any topic (any environmental issue, health care in the US, Obama’s personal history, WMDs, effects of tax cuts and many more) and you’ll find factoids doing the rounds even though five minutes with Google would show that they are absurdly wrong.

This kind of thinking is by no means unique to the contemporary right. But it is ubiquitous, and the staying power of the Oregon petition indicates way. Even the silliest claim, once made part of the canon must be defended to the last. In extreme cases, there is the option of dropping an utterly discredited talking point and then saying “we never said that”. This is one thing the Internet has made much harder, with the perverse result that obstinacy in error has become more entrenched.

Since it’s usual to claim some kind of symmetry in these things, I’d invite examples of similar things on the left. To lay down some ground rules, I’m looking for simple, and obviously false, factual claims, not leftwing beliefs about complex issues that you might think are held in the face of strong contrary evidence (that is, to take the analogy above, things like the Oregon petition, rather than AGW ‘scepticism’ as a whole). Also, I’m not interested in beliefs held by some fringe groups on the left, but only in claims that are generally accepted by mainstream liberals/progressives/social democrats, or at least widely stated and never repudiated.

fn1. All of this applies to the large section of the Australian right, particularly in the commentariat, that takes its cue from the US. However, for the right as a whole, the process is rather less advanced here.

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  1. James
    May 3rd, 2010 at 15:40 | #1

    I think “we”, to speak for the whole left for a moment, got the stuffing kicked out of our ability to lie for the “greater good of the party” by Stalin and the USSR’s (mis)use of it and the subsequent debacle. These days, as you’ve highlighted in a few posts, the difficulty is more that the left doesn’t seem to have much vision beyond defending the remaining welfare state from attack, and rather than making strong claims that may be wrong, we make few claims at all.

    Most of the shibboleths I can think of that the mainstream Australian left now seem to subscribe to are actually right wing points. Eg: that deficits and inflation are always bad; that traditional culture and indigenous languages are at least partly holding Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders back (or are responsible for child abuse); that high taxes would destroy our economy/competitiveness; that it’s good to privatise; all seem to be points of ALP policy more often than not.

    One that I can think of that seems to have the left on the wrong end of the stick is the phonics/whole language controversy in teaching, though I’ve never been clear on how a debate about teaching methodology became a political polariser. Likewise the belief that small class sizes are much better than large class sizes. Andrew Leigh (hopefully soon to be my local ALP member) has written a lot of interesting stuff on the success or otherwise of various education policies. I have also seen the claim made that left analyses tends to overestimate the level of tax evasion by the rich and large corporations and play down the cost of medicare and other social welfare schemes, but I don’t know if that is in fact true.

    The effects of socio-economic inequality is another point where evidence can be found that points both ways (see Andrew Leigh again).

  2. retrogrouch
    May 3rd, 2010 at 15:48 | #2

    How about:

    Nuclear energy?
    EMF and Cancer?
    Organic Food?

  3. Fran Barlow
    May 3rd, 2010 at 16:27 | #3

    PrQ … while you’re on the subject of epistemic closure or agnotology you might take a look at Stephan Lewandoski’s piece at The Drum:Evidence is overrated when you’re a conspiracy theorist

  4. Donald Oats
    May 3rd, 2010 at 16:28 | #4

    The Right are a large group, so to single out a very thin sliver of the Right I would choose this…

    The notion that competition/competitive behaviour is always better than cooperation/cooperative behaviour.

    Put as baldly as that, I don’t think anyone would agree with the notion, unless I remove the bold-font word, ie “always”, from the sentence. For example, as part of a survey a question like:

    When comparing cooperation and competition, do you agree that
    * competition is better; or,
    * cooperation is better?

    would probably garner a significantly different response from:

    When comparing cooperation and competition, do you agree that
    * competition is always better; or,
    * cooperation is always better?

    The latter variant I would suppose more cleanly splits off conservative/neo-conservative people from most others – including from moderate Liberals, and that far more people choose not to answer at all if they don’t have to.

    Now, before I get pilloried for designing such cr*p invocations of the question, the purpose is to create a cognitively stressful form of dichotomy in order to extract idealogues from the rest. Another version without that effect would be one with a sliding scale from 1 to 7, 1 being “competition is always better”, 7 being “cooperation is always better”, and 2 being “competition is almost always better”, etc. Idealogues on neoliberalism would hide on 2, except for GB who would choose 1 normally unless asked 🙂
    It’s only my personal opinion, but I think people who favour cooperative behaviour/cooperation over the alternative are probably going to be much more scattered on the 4 to 7 inclusive, than the way competition favourers are scattered over 1 to 4 inclusive.

  5. BilB
    May 3rd, 2010 at 16:47 | #5

    I’d like to know if the 31,000 scientists are prepared to take personal and financial responsibility if they are proven to be wrong, having stalled preparation for a “posssible” warming of the planet.

  6. May 3rd, 2010 at 16:52 | #6

    “…I’d invite examples of similar things on the left.”

    I’m not sure if this is strictly leftist political, but ‘GM is evil’ is an example of an ideological position.

  7. jquiggin
    May 3rd, 2010 at 16:53 | #7

    Retrogrouch, your first and third examples can’t easily be translated into a factual proposition that can be tested. Feel free to try,

    I take your second to mean “electromagnetic fields cause cancer”. This doesn’t work for a couple of reasons
    (a) First, the evidence against this claim, while convincing enough for me, isn’t overwhelming in the way that it is for “31000 scientists reject global warming”. See
    (b) Second, and more important, you’ve presented nothing to suggest that this claim is generally made by the left, however defined. It seems to be a widespread belief, but as far as I can tell, neither the Greens nor Labor has a policy position.

  8. jquiggin
    May 3rd, 2010 at 16:59 | #8

    And similarly for SOU.
    (1) “GM is evil” is not a factual claim, and therefore can’t be refuted. What you need is a specific assertion, for example, about health risks of GM, that is easily shown to be false, but is nonetheless widely repeated
    (2) As you say, this isn’t a view that is generally held on the left. Some Greens and a lot of unaffiliated New-Age types like “organic” food and dislike GM, but there is no general left orthodoxy, beyond support for labelling.

    While I’m at it, point (2) applies, with even more force to anti-vaccination claims.

  9. Fran Barlow
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:05 | #9


    The idea that GM is evil would be broadly accepted by signficant sections of the right although there are probably more left-of-centre people who would argue it.

    If you lose the term evil in favour of “poor policy” it’s not easily refutable because the term is imprecise. Clearly, there are some serious and legitimate concerns about GM foods … biodiversity comes straight to mind. There would be issues about what can fairly be privatised. Should one patent genes for food staples? At a minimum, there would be an argument to be had over that.

    My mother was convinced that big oil had conspired to stop the “Stanley Steamer”. Most people in our circle seemed to be keen on this claim, but I saw no evidence for it. Equally, there’s a more contemporary one called “who killed the electric car?”. Again, this is a popular idea, but it seems at best pretty doubtful.

  10. May 3rd, 2010 at 17:12 | #10

    Great article, I’m more than familiar with the Oregan petition.

    It should also be noted the Public Affaris Institute has recently launched a “counter-offesive” against the science publishing a text caleld “Climate change the facts”. It is a perfect example of “epistemic closure”.

    The book includes essays from Plimer, Monckton and IPA staff. It is classic, text book “denial” and recycles all the same arguments heard and dismissed many times.

    Interesting it states “over 400 individuals and organisations” supported it’s publication. Not a petition, however it follows the same model in attempting to demonstrate a much wider consensus for doubting AGW than exists.

    Indeed, I have been following up some of the names listed – including wine maker Voyager Estate in Western Australia. I noted their name, and contacted them. Yes, they supported it and gave the following line: “…The reality is that climate change, as well as being a scientific issue, is also an emotional one and on that basis it is not surprising to see contributors to this book tagged as climate change ‘deniers’. However, the request to make an advance contribution to an independently-funded publication that seeks some clarity around climate change was responded to in good faith. In fact, we would be willing to contribute a similar amount to any other organisations seeking to add to this debate and we welcome further offers. We simply support the debate being had and, like most of the population, are trying to find some answers…”


    The code words “find some answers” means we are going to deny AGW. The point about epistemic closure is the abuse of language. It is Orwell’s nightmare of words divorced from meaning and used to debase public discussion and debate.

  11. BilB
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:18 | #11

    There is a very similar thing going on with the Wilderness Society right now. A meeting of members was called, 600 showed up, 200 had an issue and walked out on a vote of who should run the meeting (something like that), and went to another location and elected a new management committee claiming to be the legitimate “Wilderness Society”. There is likely to be a petition to the high court to resolve the ligitamacy of the meetings.

    In a way this is the same one group know that they cannot win in a show of hands so attempt to be the true authority on the matter by declaration. Let’s judge the 31,000 in de facto by the determination of the Australian High Court.

  12. conrad
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:25 | #12

    “and that the rightwing construction of a counternarrative to mainstream science on this issue marks both an important example”

    Since a fair chunk of peolpe that don’t vote Republican in the US are probably pretty right-wing by many other standards (I’m sure Obama would make a good conservative in some Euro-states), I think the distinction is really more to do with particular factions of the right, not the right in general. Almost all scientists don’t think too highly of the Republicans, for example, but I doubt almost all of them are leftwingers.

  13. wilful
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:25 | #13

    the only real example for the ‘left’ (grumble grumble about terms here) would have to be “nuclear power is the most dangerous thing in the world”. There’s a clear ideological push here, that’s definitely a left-wing view (Greens, ALP left have clear policies on this) rather than right-wing, with very limited facts to support it.

    The GM example I would agree is not sufficiently partisan. Nor vaccines.

  14. John H.
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:27 | #14

    EMF and Cancer? Least of our worries re EMF

    We hypothesized that one of the causes of AD can be the UAHFEMF
    discharges in human brain.

    1. Acta Biol Hung. 2005;56(1-2):43-51.

    Stereological analysis of thyroid mast cells in rats after exposure to extremely
    low frequency electromagnetic field and the following “off” field period.

    Rajkovic V, Matavulj M, Lazetic B.

    Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Trg Dositeja
    Obradovica 2, 21000 Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro. [email protected]

    Influence of extremely low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF-EMF) on thyroid
    gland mast cells was investigated on male Mill Hill rats. Animals were exposed to
    EMF (50 Hz, 50 microT to 500 microT, 10 V/m) from 24 hours after birth, 7
    hours/day, 5 days/week for three months when a part of animals (group I) was
    sacrificed, while the rest of them were subjected to recovery evaluation and
    sacrificed after one (group II), two (group II) and three (group IV) weeks
    following the exposure. Stereological analysis on toluidine blue-stained paraffin
    sections showed increased volume density of degranulated mast cells in all groups
    and, except in group III, and numerical density as well, implicating the
    sensitivity of thyroidal mast cells to power frequency EMFs. Since in our
    previous investigations, morphofunctional alterations of thyroid gland in rats
    exposed to ELF-EMF were found the contribution of released mast cell mediators to
    these changes could be presumed.

    PMID: 15813213 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    1. Biomed Sci Instrum. 2001;37:209-14.

    Effect of a wound healing electromagnetic field on inflammatory cytokine gene
    expression in rats.

    Jasti AC, Wetzel BJ, Aviles H, Vesper DN, Nindl G, Johnson MT.

    Terre Haute Center for Medical Education, Indiana University School of Medicine,
    Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN 47809, USA.

    In earlier studies, we have shown that pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs)
    induce programmed cell death in cultured T cells and that rats exposed in vivo to
    PEMFs have decreased T-cell proliferative capacity. These data led us to
    hypothesize that PEMFs might be used to control proliferation of inflammatory
    lymphocytes and therefore beneficially affect inflammatory diseases. Tendinitis
    is characterized by painful inflammation of the tendon. Inflammation is
    characterized by massive infiltration of T lymphocytes, neutrophils and
    macrophages into the damaged tissue. These inflammatory cells produce a variety
    of cytokines, which are the cellular regulators of inflammation. The current
    study tests whether in vivo PEMF effects are mediated via systemic cytokine
    production in rat tendinitis. Inflammation was chemically induced in female
    Harlan Sprague Dawley rats Achilles’ tendons and a wound healing PEMF
    (Electrobiology, Inc.) was applied for 4 hours immediately following injury.
    Spleens from control and experimental animals were harvested 24 hours later and
    total RNA was extracted from the tissues. Gene expression was analyzed by reverse
    transcription of mRNA, and polymerase chain reaction amplification (RT-PCR) using
    primers specific for the cytokines IFN-gamma, IL-1 beta, IL-6, TNF-alpha, and
    TGF-beta, as well as for the control beta-actin. RT-PCR products were separated
    on 1.5% agarose gels and band intensities were normalized to beta-actin gene
    expression of the same sample. TGF-beta was the only cytokine produced at high
    levels in rats with tendinitis in comparison to the other cytokines. PEMFs did
    not show an effect on any cytokine expression in the spleens, 24 hours after
    induction of tendinitis. Further studies need to test if cumulative exposures of
    PEMFs are able to regulate inflammatory cytokine expression either at the site of
    inflammation or at the local lymph nodes.

    PMID: 11347390 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    1. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2005 Dec;2(5):559-69.

    Induction of RhoGAP and pathological changes characteristic of Alzheimer’s
    disease by UAHFEMF discharge in rat brain.

    Chang IF, Hsiao HY.

    Department of Biochemistry, University of Nevada, Reno, 89557, USA.

    Comment in:
    Curr Alzheimer Res. 2005 Dec;2(5):495-6.

    Novel experiments with Ultrasound Associated with High Frequency Electromagnetic
    Field (UAHFEMF) irradiation on rats and mice found evidences of characteristic
    Alzheimer’s disease (AD) degenerations including neurite plaques, beta-amyloid,
    TAU plaque and deposition in cells, Neuro-Fibrillary Tangle and Paired Helical
    Filament (PHF) with rats and mice irradiated up to 2454 hours. Concomitant
    passive avoidance test was performed on six mice, and all showed signs of visual
    and auditory agnosia and lost cognition of threatening condition. The post
    section Thioflavin-S fluorescent microscopy found dilated ventricles and dense
    amyloid-deposition in Ca3 and dentate gyrus. In addition, PHF was identified in
    the 2454 hours-irradiated rat brain by electron microscope. A human T-cell
    activation RhoGTPase-activating protein (TAGAP) isoform b homolog (GenBank
    accession # P84107) induced in the UAHFEMF-treated rat brain was identified using
    electron spray ionization (ESI) liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry
    (LC/MS/MS). We hypothesized that one of the causes of AD can be the UAHFEMF
    discharges in human brain.

    PMID: 16375659 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    1. FEBS Lett. 1997 Sep 15;414(3):501-6.

    Growth stage dependent effects of electromagnetic fields on DNA synthesis of
    Jurkat cells.

    Nindl G, Swez JA, Miller JM, Balcavage WX.

    Indiana University School of Medicine at Indiana State University, Terre Haute
    Center for Medical Education, 47809, USA.

    A 1.8 mT, bone healing, electromagnetic field (EMF) and power frequency EMFs of
    0.1 and 0.4 mT significantly inhibit DNA synthesis in otherwise unstimulated
    Jurkat (E 6.1) cells. Inhibition is generally most prominent in cells from mid
    log phase growth. In complete medium the bone healing EMF inhibits [3H] thymidine
    uptake of the latter cells by almost 50% vs. 20-25% inhibition by 60 Hz fields.
    Cells in conditioned medium are even more sensitive to EMFs with inhibition up to
    ca. 60%. The effects of the 0.1 and 0.4 mT power frequency EMFs were very similar
    suggesting saturation at 0.1 mT or lower.

    PMID: 9323024 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  15. gregh
    May 3rd, 2010 at 17:34 | #15

    I counter with
    Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 19 (2010) 191–210 191
    Electromagnetic Field Treatment Protects Against and Reverses Cognitive Impairment
    in Alzheimer’s Disease Mice
    Arendasha et al ,
    “Abstract. Despite numerous studies, there is no definitive evidence that high-frequency electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure is
    a risk to human health. To the contrary, this report presents the first evidence that long-term EMF exposure directly associated
    with cell phone use (918 MHz; 0.25 W/kg) provides cognitive benefits. Both cognitive-protective and cognitive-enhancing effects
    of EMF exposure were discovered for both normal mice and transgenic mice destined to develop Alzheimer’s-like cognitive
    impairment. The cognitive interference task utilized in this study was designed from, and measure-for-measure analogous to,
    a human cognitive interference task. In Alzheimer’s disease mice, long-term EMF exposure reduced brain amyloid-? (A?)
    deposition through A? anti-aggregation actions and increased brain temperature during exposure periods. Several inter-related
    mechanisms of EMFaction are proposed, including increased A? clearance from the brains of Alzheimer’s disease mice, increased
    neuronal activity, and increased cerebral blood flow. Although caution should be taken in extrapolating these mouse studies
    to humans, we conclude that EMF exposure may represent a non-invasive, non-pharmacologic therapeutic against Alzheimer’s
    disease and an effective memory-enhancing approach in general.”

  16. jquiggin
    May 3rd, 2010 at 18:01 | #16

    To sum up, EMF and cancer is an unresolved issue, and not one with a clear left-right division. What I’m looking for is a refutable factoid of the form “Respected organization X has concluded that EMF causes cancer”, with the requirement that it should be regularly stated, and never or almost challenged, by those on the political left (this means the Democratic Party, or the ALP, as well as people to their left).

    So far, the closest is the phonics/whole word thing, but this is really a fight between the political right and the ‘establishment’ in education theory, which is loosely associated with the left. We had a discussion of the question a few years back http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2005/11/04/guest-post-from-rhonda-stone/ and it doesn’t seem to me to be one on which the left as a whole has entrenched views.

  17. gregh
    May 3rd, 2010 at 19:27 | #17

    JohnQ – to what extent do left think tanks make public pronouncements re fixed scientific beliefs compared to right think tanks? Perhaps there is a selection bias of a sorts.

  18. conrad
    May 3rd, 2010 at 19:30 | #18

    “So far, the closest is the phonics/whole word thing, but this is really a fight between the political right and the ‘establishment’ in education theory, which is loosely associated with the left”

    Not on phonics it isn’t. This is basically something that is entirely manufactured by Kevin Donnelly and his supporters using a single academic as a strawman (that guy in Queensland, who I can’t remember then name of right now). If you measured the political opinion of most academics in Australia that know about this debate (and there are in fact quite a few), you’d have a centroid somewhere left of centre. Alternatively, 99% would be quite happy recommending a phonics approach to teaching. The same is true of the UK also, where they implemented a whole program based on the opinions of a similar group of academics.

  19. gregh
    May 3rd, 2010 at 19:54 | #19

    The following has enough online to indicate how simplistic thinking of reading as phonic vs whole word is.

  20. iain
    May 3rd, 2010 at 19:58 | #20

    The notion that some forms of censorship may have a benficial role/effect in society, could be raised.

    Consider that the left;
    – strongly promotes the value of PC speech,
    – fosters ideas that mild forms of statist censorship are ok (Conroy-Hamilton a recent example),
    – implictly divests a resonable amount of control to statist governments which, if allowed to flourish, can rack up runs on the board in this regard.

    Obviously, the right is not immune (particularly conservative religious censorship).

    However, in its mildest form, self censoring to achieve political correctness for the greater good is a meme promoted by the left. I doubt whether there is much science behind this. Sociology would highlight benefits to truly open discourse.

  21. jquiggin
    May 3rd, 2010 at 20:14 | #21

    The claim “censorship may have a beneficial effect on society” doesn’t lend itself to sharp empirical tests.

    More importantly, the notion of PC is pretty much fraudulent. It was a term used ironically on the left to connote an excessive concern with getting the right language, at the expense of actually achieving anything. There’s just as big a concern on the right, sometimes coded as “civility”.

    And, as the post shows, the right is far more subject to the kind of substantive self-censorship that prevents the correction of obviously false factual claims.

  22. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 3rd, 2010 at 21:28 | #22

    Donald – the left seem more obsessed by the greatness of competition than the right IMHO. The right are less in awe of competition policy and less suspicious of cartels (except trade unions). The left are terrified by the prospect of businesses cooperating or of private monopolies existing.

  23. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 3rd, 2010 at 21:36 | #23

    JQ – it seems to me that the left are convinced that the cost of AGW is high. I understand that only 14 peer reviewed studies have directly examined the economic cost of AGW and they don’t support the assertion that the cost is substantial.

    Sections of the left also seem convinced that wasteful public spending can be good for the economy. Which is clearly absurd.

  24. John H.
    May 3rd, 2010 at 22:27 | #24


    That’s right Gregh, it is contingent on the type of field exposure combined with a host of factors. For example, prolonged stress together with agent X causes A,B, C. Various studies now find that deep brain stimulation through pulsed magnetic fields can have considerable therapeutic value. What needs to be done is differentiate the impact of various types of fields in various contexts. To simply assert that there is no risk when the evidence does not support that is dangerous, nor is it possible to assert that there is always risk. Something fascinating is going on with EMFS.

    BTW, sorry about all those abstracts, meant to truncate the content but stuffed up.

    Leftist illusions:


    I have never understood the premise that we should allow aborigines to maintain their own cultural beliefs and then expect them to live as long as other Aussies do, be as educated as other Aussies, be capable of making an economic contribution in the same way other Aussies do. The cultures we are raised in have a fundamental bearing on our adult behavior and beliefs. As seen with immigrants, it is the second and third generations, those who have been raised in the culture, that tend to assimilate into that culture. (Yes, I know “assimilate” is a dirty word in some quarters but that is what we do, we adapt to our culture. There is nothing dirty about that.) We are asking the impossible of aborigines and then wonder why they are not behaving in the way we expect.

    For example, take aboriginal health. Most health issues have little to do with good medical care. Much more important is how we exercise, eat, maintain personal hygiene and sanitation issues. These are very much issues about personal behavior and I dread the day when governments start writing legislation to govern how much exercise we get, how we eat … . For example, research published last year found that two favourite aboriginal foods ,dugong and turtles, are often very high cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause a host of problems, including kidney disease. Yet even in this press release the scientist commented that she was not saying aborigines should abandon these foods! Comparatively, we now have a concerted effort to remove trans fats from foods yet compared to cadmium trans fats are minuscule in their potentially bad health effects.

    In relation to aboriginal health a key issue is genetics. Aborigines were the most genetically isolated of all human cultures and in adapting to the Australian ecology over 60,000 years it is perfectly conceivable and quite probable that their physiology has undergone various adaptations to that ecology. Along comes the white man with new foods and pathogens. All hell breaks loose with aboriginal health.

    A few months ago I went looking for genetic data on aborigines and it is extremely thin on the ground. Aborigines have been very reluctant to provide material for genetic studies but I have no idea why. Political correctness is involved, that facile notion that all humans are “genetically equal”, whatever that means. This is no longer a tenable position. At least the USA has taken the bull by the horns and there are now many valuable studies highlighting different risk ratios and treatment regimes for African Americans.

    The Leftist approach to aboriginal issues is an unmitigated disaster. Not that the Right would be any better, in fact I expect they would be much worse. But until such time as we are guided not by ideology and feel good statements but get down to the basic issues driving aboriginal health issues we are just whistling in the dark.

  25. Alice
    May 3rd, 2010 at 23:14 | #25

    Im so over the left right divide…what about people in the middle?? Huh?? Huh…Is it too much to ask for these dimwits in politics to stop scrabbling for the tax cuts, subsidies, freedoms for their own vested interest groups (which is what its all about)…drop the bickering and backbiting and lying and denying and get on with running the country TOGETHER. Where has dignity departed to? Its impossible these days to have any respect for politicians.
    God I am so sick to death of the politically inclined lying. Labor is right wing and pretending to be concerned when they are not and the liberals have gone stark raving mad!
    How do you cope when the leadership fails?

  26. Chris
    May 4th, 2010 at 02:32 | #26

    Interesting article. Appears to be some experimental evidence of the above observations.


  27. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 02:52 | #27

    The amusing thing about PC is how heavily and heavily handed it is practiced by the extreme right. The practice of the extreme right when one of the pack steps out of line, has non PC views or says something non PC within their circles, is truly reminiscent of the practice of the now silent extreme communist and left fraternity. Clearly extremists of all ilk are drawn from the same gene pool.

    The pejorative use of the term PC by the right is simply the right’s way of trying to make others conform to their own form of PC.

  28. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 02:57 | #28

    On the topic of agnotology (that is, the manufacture and maintenance of ignorance) we are honoured to have at least two, Andrew Reynolds and Jim Rose, furiously beavering away, disseminating, manufacturing and attempting to maintain. How lucky we are to be able to study at least two specimens at such close quarters!

  29. Jason
    May 4th, 2010 at 05:39 | #29


    Nuclear energy?

    I am leftie and pro-nuclear energy. (Particularly, I think we should not emit greenhouse gases that affect the entire planet, but instead have waste product/negative externalities that stay in-country.) Additionally, in the US, more nuclear energy is a policy objective of the right.

    EMF and Cancer?

    What? I’ve never heard of this as a position of the left in general. This is not scientifically supported at all, and the people making such claims tend to be people who are part of an alleged cancer cluster or who don’t want cell towers or power lines in their back yards. Obama, for example, wants to increase the capacity of the electricity grid in the US.

    Organic Food?

    This one may be true. But the left is mostly pushing for labeling standards on this to enable consumer choice — not banning conventionally grown food. That would be like trying to tackle global warming with only the EnergyStar labels we have here in the US, which the right doesn’t have any objection to as far as I know.

  30. Justin Kerr
    May 4th, 2010 at 07:26 | #30

    I could only think of two, one of which is the language-teaching business that has already been mentioned. My other is not a factual proposition, but does fit in broadly with the idea of agnotology. When I was at uni in the 90s some humanities courses taught some things – like politics, or gender – from a ‘marxian’ viewpoint. Whereas there was never one from an explicitly ‘Smithian’ or Burkean one, say. It might have changed since then – hopefully Marx has been removed except from Economics and History.

  31. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 07:49 | #31

    @John H.

    yes JohnH re EMF and uncertainty – although talking on the phone whilst undergoing TMS might be a bit tricky lol –

    re genetics – this brings to mind my general experience that ‘the left’ is not particularly science directed. This has changed since the rise of biology / environmental science, but even here there is a vast difference between the (lect)public perception of ecology / biology and that which the scientists themselves hold.

    for example, are dolphins and whales ‘kind and good’?

  32. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 07:50 | #32

    As for contradictory examples held by the left, one that hits me in the face is the belief by unionists that “we are passive, right and good” and promote and respect human rights. Yet there is an entire rhetoric and even actions that scream the opposite. The agnotological truth becomes apparent in the course of strikes when ugly behaviour becomes the norm. But most particular is the concept of “scab” labour or persons, and the interpersonal behaviour that follows. A classic currently running example is in union attitudes to Julia Gillard’s education reforms and the claims that she is prepared to use “scab” labour to drive forward her policies. I don’t know how that follows, but the agnotological contradiction is plain. The concept of “scab” and the intention of “human rights” are entirely contradictory.

    I’m prepared to suggest that the entire basis of agntology is built on the historical foundation of the worker/boss conflict and the positions/face that have developed over time and must be maintained in order to hold positon and maintain the self perception of winning strength.

    The right has an equal self perception that “we are passive, right, and good”, despite the reality that the game plan is to screw the worker/market for everything possible in every way and win all. That is good.

    The “high” business/legal worlds have taken agnotology to unprecedented levels with the “never admit reposiblity” mantra, and every thing that flows form that. Another pillar of agnotology would have to be corruption, the 2 book accounting world.

  33. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 08:00 | #33

    I sometimes characterise the underlying personal myth of the Right as wanting to be a vengeful God, and the Left as wanting to be the seat of all virtue

  34. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 08:48 | #34

    That old time religion, Zombie economics is continuing to take hits…

    The Economists Voice is usually a good read. Although I haven’t yet read this, this looks interesting:

    If It Were a Fight, They Would Have Stopped It in December of 2008
    Robert J. Barbera
    New classical economics should not be judged based upon what theorists say today about the 2008-2009 crisis, but instead by looking at what economists like Casey Mulligan said as the crisis was unfolding. Once scrutiny is given to what new classical economics lead adherents believe in late 2008, Robert Barbera wonders how any rational thinker could continue to defend the framework.

  35. Fran Barlow
    May 4th, 2010 at 08:57 | #35


    But most particular is the concept of “scab” labour or persons, and the interpersonal behaviour that follows. A classic currently running example is in union attitudes to Julia Gillard’s education reforms and the claims that she is prepared to use “scab” labour to drive forward her policies. I don’t know how that follows, but the agnotological contradiction is plain. The concept of “scab” and the intention of “human rights” are entirely contradictory.

    Like a number of others, you have misunderstood Professor Quiggin’s challenge. The challenge does not devolve on matters of morals or ethics but on questions of measurable reality — i.e. does the persistently left assert some fact about the world that is refutable, as an extension of one or more aspects of its cultural paradigm?

    It’s hard to think of one.

    It is true that a broad notion of “human rights” cannot easily be reconciled with trade unionist (not necessarily leftist) notions of control over employment in work places, though I think finally, a plausible ethical case could be put that would fit within generally accepted notions of human rights. To have that debate here though would be to wander off PrQ’s point.

    FTR: I am someone who respects bona fide trade union picket lines and would never consider crossing one. I would strongly discourage others from doing so. As a matter of principle, I accept that trade unionists can use reasonable force to defend them from those who would violate them, though this is not always the best response.

  36. Chris Warren
    May 4th, 2010 at 09:17 | #36

    How much taxpayers funds was used educating Justin Kerr?

    Judging from his comment above, it looks like it was all wasted.

  37. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 09:27 | #37

    In terms of policy effecting aborigines I think the left get a lot wrong. Applying a minimum wage suited to Sydney to a remote community being my personal beef. However the left has not been beaten over the head with either my point or with information about turtle diets so I don’t think that these are serious cases of wilful ignorance.

    One of the great weaknesses of the left in my view is the second rate nature of criticism they receive from the right. However it cuts both ways.

  38. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 09:35 | #38

    The economic model that I subscribe to thinks of the economy as being an engine requiring fuel and is affected by accelerators and decelerators.
    If you put the fuels on the left, the engine in the middle and the moderators to the right you get a formula in which each of the functions is an assessable entity from which can be derived a performance factor. The performance of the entire economy is the sum of the functions. And any political porposal can be evaluated when applied to the formula, which will return an economic power factor for that proposal.

    Fuels: what you get from nature for free, ideas, and opportunities.

    The engine: people, infrastructure, human energy and imagination, communication, commerce, planning, ,,,

    Accelerators: population size, enthusiasm and quality of life, depth of philosophy, standard of education, pertinence of knowledge base, cooperative structure, connections, fluid wealth, forsight, tangible goods and services provided by administration, overall degree of automation, applied technology, quality of environment, returns on exports.

    Decelerators: age and health, lkevel of unemployment, standard of living, racial intolerance and religious zeal, taxation, nature of government, defence spending (degree of national paranoia), cost of crime, indebtedness, no of hierachial tiers in organisations, age of technology, cost of R&D, environmental protection cost, cost of imports.

    That is the way I think of it, and in this context agnotology has no meaning or place.

  39. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 09:47 | #39

    The paper in Economists Voice, amongst other things, references an Op-Ed peice that a Zombie economist wrote in October 2008. Early on he provides the calming words “the economy doesn’t really need saving. It’s stronger than we think.”

    Given how ruthlessly out of touch the typical Zombie economist is, even with events unfolding before their eyes, the mystery remains how anyone can take them seriously. Clearly, this phenomenon is worthy of study, that is, the credibility enjoyed by the incredible.

  40. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 09:53 | #40

    What I have attempted there, Fran, is to identify the framework upon which agnotology operates. The aberations of it are entirely situational and are generated both spontaneaously, or over time.

    A debunked agntological aberation is “smoking is good and healthy”.

    An agnotological aberation under construction is “nuclear power is clean and good”.

    And another under construction is “renewable energy is expensive and a waste of time”

  41. Fran Barlow
    May 4th, 2010 at 10:07 | #41


    An agnotological aberation under construction is “nuclear power is clean and good”. An agnotological aberation under construction is “nuclear power is clean and good”.

    I’m resisting another round of the nuclear versus renewables dance you and the other renewables fundamentalists seem keen to iterate. Just this once, in the interest of allowing the topic to be as PrQ wanted it to be however, I’m letting this go through to the keeper.

    Let’s leave it there for the time being.

  42. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 10:34 | #42

    This thread is not about the substance of delusion, Fran, it is about the presence, origin, nature and effect of it.

  43. Fran Barlow
    May 4th, 2010 at 10:53 | #43


    This thread is not about the substance of delusion, Fran, it is about the presence, origin, nature and effect of it.

    Not according to PrQ …

    To lay down some ground rules, I’m looking for simple, and obviously false, factual claims, not leftwing beliefs about complex issues that you might think are held in the face of strong contrary evidence (that is, to take the analogy above, things like the Oregon petition, rather than AGW ’scepticism’ as a whole).

    You are attempting to move the goalposts so you can talk about your own beliefs.

  44. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 11:15 | #44

    I definitely don’t want this thread to be about claims like “nuclear power is good”. If someone can point to specific false claims about nuclear power, widely propagated on the left (to make up an example, “Cancer rates in the area round Three Mile Island are double the US average”), feel free to put these in.

    I am more generally interested though in the “presence, origin, nature and effect” of ignorance propagated on the right by examples like the Oregon petition.

  45. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 12:39 | #45

    I suspect that lots of people on the right, probably most, have never heard of the Oregon Petition. Has anybody done a survey?

  46. James
    May 4th, 2010 at 12:57 | #46

    The CIS (I know, I know), presented a paper called “Six social policy myths” in 2008. The myths they selected were:
    Myth 1: All children can benefit from an increase in government spending on institutional child care.
    Myth 2: More government spending on education and training can solve the problem of joblessness.
    Myth 3: High tuition fees are pricing students from poor backgrounds out of university.
    Myth 4: Poverty in Australia is getting worse, and higher welfare spending is needed to counter it.
    Myth 5: Higher spending on preventive medicine will reduce health costs in the future.
    Myth 6: Higher social expenditure creates a more caring society.

    Personally I doubt that any of these are “myths” but I admit that my instant response is based on gut suspicion of the CIS rather than any analysis, and they at least make a case (chiefly turning around measurement and definition issues, which are intrinsically debatable rather than the slam-dunk of an Oregon petition debunk).

    Certainly any suggestion that childcare is bad for infants seems to get the left hotter under the collar, but most studies seem to point that way.

  47. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 13:23 | #47

    @TerjeP (say Taya)
    You’re missing the point, perhaps deliberately. Most people on the right think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about climate change, even if they would be hard pressed to say where they got that idea. But if they bothered to do a Google check, they would find that this fraudulent exercise had been pushed by Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine among many others (those are the first three I checked, I’m confident that there would be many others, feel free to do your own Googling).

    In just the same way, lots of people on the right believe that something dodgy is going on with climate data because rightwingers, including you, have propagated lies about “Climategate” and then failed to retract them when they were proven false.

  48. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 13:36 | #48

    You have made several points that I would like to respond to but for the moment I’ll deal with the most substantial point. And that is that you have called me a liar. Not only have you called me a liar you have done so without any citation or evidence. Please retract this cheap cowardly slur or else prove your claim.

  49. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 13:41 | #49

    Good example, James.

    Well, to some extent the ‘myths’ are extreme, so no one really believes these ‘myths’ anyway.

    Myth 1 depends on what the level of spending is, and surely an increase in spending does not benefit every single child. Myth 2 again the same problem of being dependent on the initial level of spending and surely the claim is ameliorate the problem, not solve all unemployment. Myth 3 unless the CIS has now abandoned demand curves, which I imagine they do whenever convenient, at least some students from poor backgrounds would find it harder to access university when the costs of doing so are higher (or maybe they are simply exercising their freedom of choice). Myth 4 Well, probably not a myth, but
    we know that poverty can be defined out of existence, and regularly is at any right wing think tank you wish to name. Myth 5 As a hard and fast rule this would not be true, but never heard of anyone believing it. I imagine though that there are examples where preventive medicine does reduce future health cost. Nevertheless, not having the medical problem rather than having it and either being cured or it or not cured of it seems to me preferable. Hence, the simple cost comparison is patently silly. Myth 6: Depends how it is spent what level of spending but that it does is quite credible. When people have massive problems of their own to contend with, rarely do they spend a great deal of time considering the welfare of others.

  50. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 13:46 | #50

    James, Myth 1 certainly looks more like CIS promotion of agnotology. They are conflating three distinct propositions
    (1) All children can benefit from an increase in government spending on institutional child care.
    (2) All children in childcare would benefit from an increase in government spending on institutional child care
    (3) All children would benefit from more institutional child care and less at-home care

    (1) is a strawman of their own devising – they claim it is the orthodoxy but cite no examples. (2) is the orthodox viewpoint and well supported by the research – high quality childcare is associated with outcomes as good as or better than home care, poor quality childcare the reverse. (3) is a topic on which the evidence is mixed, but the “myth and reality” presentation of the CIS is designed to make unwary readers assume a refutation.

    If the CIS description of the left position were correct, why would the same people who push for more childcare money also be demanding parental leave and permanent part-time work?

    It’s noteworthy in this context that the CIS, while it hasn’t been highly active on climate change, got in early with this piece puffing the bogus Leipzig Declaration, a predecessor of Oregon


    To quote Wikipedia “Hesselager attempted to contact the declaration’s 33 European signers and found that four of them could not be located, twelve denied ever having signed, and some had not even heard of the Leipzig Declaration. Those who verified signing included a medical doctor, a nuclear scientist, and an entomologist. After discounting the signers whose credentials were inflated, irrelevant, false, or unverifiable, Hesselager claimed that only 20 of the names on the list had any scientific connection with the study of climate change, and some of those names were known to have obtained grants from the oil and fuel industry, including the German coal industry and the government of Kuwait (a major oil exporter). As a result of Hesselager’s report, Singer removed some, but not all, of the discredited signatures.”

    So yes, CIS is deeply implicated in rightwing agnotology

  51. Emma
    May 4th, 2010 at 14:01 | #51

    Nothing cowardly about it, TerjeP. He said it right out loud to your face.

    Probably doesn’t have to prove it to your satisfaction, either. It is his blog after all. Not the House of Representatives…

  52. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 14:06 | #52

    Myth 6: Higher social expenditure creates a more caring society.

    Not a very strong statement really – would be much more contentious if it said something like “higher social spending is the only / best / most effective way to create a more caring society”

    Is a ‘myth’ of the Left that everyone born into supportive environments will turn out Left / socially responsible / well adjusted. ie that social surroundings are paramount in development. I don’t think the Right tend to think along those lines, they tend to think people are born the way they are and that’s that.

  53. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 14:19 | #53

    Your doing well GregH

    Has anyone mentioned trickle down


    The government cannot be trusted to manage valuable essential resources such as water.

  54. John H.
    May 4th, 2010 at 15:46 | #54



    It certainly was a myth in some humanities departments that human beings are essentially a blank slate. As Pinker notes in the talk below, challenging this dogma could create serious problems for intellectuals in some circles.


  55. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 15:51 | #55


    1. You linked several times on this blog to people making claims that the hacked/leaked CRU emails showed fraud by climate scientists, thereby helping to propagate these claims
    2. These claims have been proven by numerous independent inquiries to be lies
    3. You have never, AFAIK, admitted that the claims were false or criticised those who made them

    Feel free to correct me on any of these points

  56. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 16:27 | #56

    Pinker is not at all a reliable source for claims of this kind. He sets up straw men on the other side, while shifting between strong and weak versions of his own position, depending on the rhetorical needs of the moment.


  57. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 16:57 | #57

    to be fair though JQ – Pinker is not a behavioural geneticist – I don’t think he has any significant publications in that field. I still believe many on the left resist the idea that genetics is significant in behaviour. Yet a study like this one “The Genetic and Environmental Etiology of High Math Performance in 10-Year-Old Twins ” Petrill et al (2009) is completely consistent with the idea of gender equality in high end maths ability. here is alittle quote from the conclusion “Another important conclusion is that genetic and environmental effects do not operate deterministically. Instead, theories examining gene-environment transactions are necessary (e.g. Scarr and McCartney 1983). Genes do not simply turn on and cause a child to have high performance. At the same time, it cannot be assumed that the skills necessary for high math performance are taught and learned in a genetic vacuum.”

  58. Tony G
    May 4th, 2010 at 16:58 | #58

    Re JQ 5,

    So Jones’ proxy temperature reconstructs are not frauds, hiding the decline. Next you will be saying collusion between the 3 proxy temperature reconstructors did not happen.

    Jones (aka CRU), NOAA and NASA collude with their proxy temperature reconstructs to maintain their funding, and then they call it ‘peer reviewed’ (should be called ‘piss reviewed’

    All the AGW temperature record data is a proxy reconstruct that can be manipulated to say anything, you can ‘believe it’ if you want, but it is not verified by the scientific method. To say otherwise is a fraud.

  59. O6
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:07 | #59

    “Investigation of the genetics of cognitive ability is a bad thing” seems to be predominantly a left-held view (Lewontin, Kamin, Rose…), no doubt because of the horrors of Nazism but also because of the compulsory sterilisation of the “unfit” in many “advanced” countries in the 20th century (e.g. Sweden).

  60. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:10 | #60

    For another day JQ, I think that the slate is not as blank as you suggest. But it is obvious that what ever hardwiring there is, it can be overwritten by adverse conditions. Our brains are structurally arrange to perform generally in the same manner. And that structure, a form of hardwiring, gives rise to behaviour. Problems arise when there are fluctuations in that structure at the start and later arising through development. We are yet to learn how much knowledge is passed forward in the dna (possibly the mitochondrial dna). Did you pick up on the article about the recreation of wooley mammoth blood and the amazing differences?

  61. Hal9000
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:11 | #61

    @Tony G
    Whoa there, Tony G, the way you throw around words like ‘scientific method’, ‘peer reviewed’ and ‘proxy temperature reconstructs’ may lead unwary readers into the mistaken belief you have some idea what these terms mean.

    I’m reminded of a con artist active in Queensland a few years back, who used to claim that his pyramid scheme was nothing of the sort, and that it was in fact a ‘bilateral matrix’. Sadly for the investors, which ever way you looked at the pyramid, it suffered from the same structural deficiencies as a sustainable wealth generator. Since the subject of this post rests on the sure and certain knowledge that your talking points have been exposed as falsehoods, you’re unlikely to get much traction with recycling the same falsehoods.

  62. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:18 | #62


    That has got to be another one then

    “‘finding’ any flaw at all in the data will destroy the entire theory”

    as if minor fluctuations in data interpretation or presentation can oblitorate decades of scientific observation by thousands of scientists.

  63. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:37 | #63

    Tony G, you obviously don’t know that even the propounders of the claim that “hide the decline” is a fraud admit that the decline referred to is not a decline in global temperatures. And, judging by your past record, you don’t care. Your comments on this blog couldn’t illustrate the theory of agnatology more perfectly if I had made them up myself.

    BilB, I’m not taking a position either way on nature/nurture (I’m a wishy-washy bit of both type). I’m just pointing out that Pinker’s Blank Slate presentation of what he calls the Standard Social Science Model is a straw man, riddled with self-contradiction.

    Finally, I note that no-one taking a rightwing position on this thread has yet conceded that the Oregon petition is an obvious fraud. Agnatology explains a lot.

  64. Tim Macknay
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:52 | #64

    I’m trying to think of suitable left-wing factoids, but nothing I come up with fits the bill. The closest thing I can think of at this stage is the proposition that “Cuba has a world-class health system”, in the face of on-the-ground reports that the country has a more-or-less permanent shortage of every type of medicine and medical material. At the very least, this has the characteristic of being an exclusively left-wing claim. However, I still doubt that it fits the bill, because the concept of what it means to have a “world class health system” is pretty complex and open to interpretation, and by some metrics Cuba’s health system arguably does stack up well. So, it doesn’t really work as an example.

  65. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:55 | #65


    There is a big difference between the claim that I have lied about climategate and the claim that in some comments I have linked to articles that contain what you believe to be lies. I am not responsible for what other people say or write and I routinely link to articles I myself disagree with (as do lots of people). On other blogs I sometime link to interesting articles or discussions on your blog but that does not mean I agree with all or even any of what those articles say. To support the assertion that I have lied about climategate (a significant charge) I think you need to do much better than that. Lest you create a pretext for calling everybody liars on trumped up charges based on remote associations.

    If you can’t cite a remark made by me which is factually untrue and wilfully deceitful then it is John Quiggin who is the liar. And if you don’t substantiate your remark or withdraw the slur then I will hence forth make a point of describing you in such terms.

  66. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 17:59 | #66

    I’d distinguish between someone who lied and ‘a liar’. For me a liar is someone who habitually lies, whereas someone who told a lie is not necessarily so. I thought JQ said you lied (as against was a liar), in my understanding of the word)

  67. May 4th, 2010 at 18:02 | #67

    @Tony G

    All the AGW temperature record data is a proxy reconstruct …

    Damn those thermometers! They don’t really measure sensible heat — they are only proxies!

    Gotta hate the proxy.

  68. jquiggin
    May 4th, 2010 at 18:07 | #68

    I didn’t say you lied. I said you propagated lies, which you did, by linking to them and making approving comments about them (look up “propagate” in the dictionary if you need to)

    But now you have the chance to make it clear where you stand. If you agree that both the Oregon petition and the fraud charges against the East Anglia researchers are lies, say so, and I’ll happily withdraw any imputation against you. If you want to hide behind “neither confirm nor deny” , you can expect to be called out.

  69. BilB
    May 4th, 2010 at 18:11 | #69

    I’m inclined to observe, Terje, that you require the highest standard of proof from others but never offer the same yourself. As I observed earlier your technique is to contiuously lob doubt and slogan grenades into discussions but rarely, if ever, contribute substantive content. This is in itself a “right” technique of discussion geurilla terrorism.

  70. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 18:24 | #70

    JQ – where have I made approving remarks about lies?

  71. TerjeP (say Taya)
    May 4th, 2010 at 18:37 | #71

    Hide the decline entailed deliberate moves to obscure the truth and these were part of a wider exercise in defending a story against scrutiny and inconvient facts. I don’t know if that is technically fraud but fraud seems like the right word. The oregan petition is as far as I know just a sloppy piece of propaganda. I’m happy enough calling it deceptive. As far as I can tell most scientists and the vast majority of climate scientists support the AGW theory.

  72. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 18:45 | #72

    I agree that Stephen Pinker’s ‘research’ is very sus. That is not to say that all or any of the hypotheses he believes are necessarily wrong. The problem he has is that if something can plausibly be explained by a hypothesis he supports, that is the end of the story. He really doesn’t entertain or examine other possible explanations for the data. Entertaining and rigorously examining the viability of alternative explanations is the mark of a real scientist. It is only when other potential explanations have been carefully elaborated and found to be deficient that you can seriously claim the data in support of your theory. This lack of rigor seems to be prevalent amongst those who wish to broaden evolutionary explanations. A recent example is a book written by a Philosophy Professor with a rather thinly supported evolutionary explanation for aesthetic appreciation. The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. The book got an endorsement by Pinker. It has already made a remainder bin appearance in Australia. Interestingly, Denis Dutton is yet another climate change denier, and frequent speaker guest at places like the CIS.

  73. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 19:01 | #73

    Here is one example of Stephen Pinker giving Denis Dutton and his book a plug:


    If you are a member of the libertarian mafia you don’t expect a lot of scrutiny by other made men, but you can expect and get a lot of uncritical support.

    The examined life is not worth living, apparently.

  74. Freelander
    May 4th, 2010 at 19:04 | #74

    @TerjeP (say Taya)

    The only people obscuring the truth were the climate change deniers. This has been shown again and again.

  75. gregh
    May 4th, 2010 at 19:20 | #75

    TerjeP (say Taya) :
    Hide the decline entailed deliberate moves to obscure the truth and these were part of a wider exercise in defending a story against scrutiny and inconvient facts. I don’t know if that is technically fraud but fraud seems like the right word. The oregan petition is as far as I know just a sloppy piece of propaganda. I’m happy enough calling it deceptive. As far as I can tell most scientists and the vast majority of climate scientists support the AGW theory.

    I think it is about here that you end up sounding a bit of a goose – as my kids and I would joke (perhaps about some appalling Dad joke I’ve just made) – you just had to take it too far

  76. Ken Lovell
    May 4th, 2010 at 20:01 | #76

    This thread illustrates wonderfully well why I no longer write a blog, and why I gave up reading blogs for several months.

    The human need to argue and score debating points seems infinitely stronger than any wish to expand understanding and grope closer to truth.

  77. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 4th, 2010 at 22:33 | #77

    TerjeP (say Taya), in Australia “half-truths” is more or less bulldust.

  78. Tony G
    May 4th, 2010 at 22:34 | #78

    Re: hiding the decline; and hiding his spliced and diced data;


    ” Graham Stringer: You are saying that every paper that you have produced, the computer programmes, the weather stations, all the information, the codes, have been available to scientists so that they could test out how good your work was. Is that the case on all the papers you have produced?

    Professor Jones: That is not the case.

    Graham Stringer: Why is it not?

    Professor Jones: Because it has not been standard practice to do that.

    Graham Stringer: That takes me back to the original point, that if it is not standard practice how can the science progress?

    Professor Jones: Maybe it should be standard practice but it is not standard practice across the subject. ”

    AGW temperature reconstructs after all their splicing and dicing hide the ‘real decline.

    AGW is a fraud.

    @ 47

    “we are all working independently so we may be using a lot of common data but the way of going from the raw data to a derived product of gridded temperatures and then the average for the hemisphere and the globe is totally independent between the different groups.”


    Are you still saying collusion between the 3 proxy temperature reconstructors did not happen?

    My ass Jones is vindicated.

  79. Tony G
    May 4th, 2010 at 22:58 | #79

    @ 54

    “There should be enough information published to allow verification.”

    The temperature reconstruction are not peer reviewed verified science.

    The warming is an elaborate (constructed) fraud.

  80. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 4th, 2010 at 22:58 | #80

    Tony G, the Oregon Petition does not reflect the US National Academy of Sciences views and lacks credibility. Try again.

  81. Tony G
    May 4th, 2010 at 23:07 | #81

    Mike OSH;

    no it is

    *The promoters, of AGW who are obvious fruitcakes

  82. Michael of Summer Hill
    May 4th, 2010 at 23:13 | #82

    Tony G, have a good night, I’m going to bed.

  83. Ernestine Gross
    May 4th, 2010 at 23:25 | #83

    The Oregon Petition case.

    A note on the signature of ‘scientists’. This trick was possible because the academic categories Humanities and Science (unqualified category names) were renamed by two qualified category names, namely social science and natural science. Removing the qualifiers allows aggregation across the original 2 categories. Hence a complete obfuscation of crucial methodologies differences is possible, including the substitution of ‘argument’, legalistic or otherwise, for ‘analysis’, the confusion of any type of quantification involving numbers with measurement, and selecting a group of social ‘scientists’ who ‘honestly’ state their ‘beliefs’ in a manner that could be misunderstood as scientific opinion.

  84. Patrickb
    May 4th, 2010 at 23:32 | #84

    John H says:
    “I have never understood the premise that we should allow aborigines to maintain their own cultural beliefs”
    Perhaps you shoulds set out what these cultural beliefs are and why they are so detrimental?

  85. Patrickb
    May 4th, 2010 at 23:32 | #85

    John H says:
    “I have never understood the premise that we should allow aborigines to maintain their own cultural beliefs”
    Perhaps you should set out what these cultural beliefs are and why they are so detrimental?

  86. Freelander
    May 5th, 2010 at 00:35 | #86

    “we should allow”? Very strange. We shouldn’t allow? Why should aborigines be singled out as the only people in our society that we shouldn’t allow to have or maintain their own beliefs? We allow anyone to have or maintain their own beliefs. And how would you go about not allowing? We also allow anyone to criticize others beliefs. And why should we?

  87. Freelander
    May 5th, 2010 at 00:35 | #87

    Sorry, why shouldn’t we?

  88. May 5th, 2010 at 10:55 | #88

    From the EGU 2010 meeting video here:
    (hat tip to
    http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2010/05/egu2010-live.html )

    Some wise words:
    Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)

    ‘the most dangerous truths are truths slightly distorted’

    ‘blind unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another’

  89. jquiggin
    May 5th, 2010 at 10:59 | #89

    Terje, you seem pretty cavalier about accusations of fraud against a prominent scientist who has, as I repeat, been cleared of such accusations by numerous inquires, with specific reference to the phrases (selectively taken from stolen emails) on which you rely. Do you even know what the phrase “hide the decline” refers to, and if you do, can you justify your accusation?

    I’m taking the time to push you on htis, because I think you’re basically honest, unlike, say Tony G, who doesn’t care whether his talking points are true or false, indeed has long since lost touch with these categories. But you need to recognise that the vast majority of people on your side are like Tony G, at least when it comes to climate and similar issues.

  90. Peter T
    May 5th, 2010 at 11:49 | #90

    I find it hard to think of any leftist examples of the kind asked for, at least outside the marxist fringe.

    Interesting to think about why AGW attracts such a position. Tobacco and anti-evolution both have obvious drivers, and anyway never gained much traction beyond tobacco firms and their paid lobbyists and particular sorts of religious believers. AGW denial has a much larger base. What is this telling us?

  91. Fran Barlow
    May 5th, 2010 at 12:43 | #91

    @Peter T

    Doubtless, there are many reasons why people become wrapped up in this. Some people are fearful. The idea that the world as they imagined it always being might change in some threatening way is frightening.

    Most of us respond to this by asking how we can rationally do about it, but some deny reality in just the way people deny that their marriages are failing or that they need glasses or that they have a drinking problem. I know compulsive smokers who for years smoked citing the one person they claimed to know who’d died in perfect health at 90 despite smoking. Denial is comforting.

    Others don’t like the idea that their lifestyle might have to change. Some are fearful of remote authority or indeed others in general “interfering” in their lives. I’ve coined the term “socio-spatial angst” to cover this, and in the US there are a lot of candidates for this concept, especially on the loopy right. Look at the battle over health reform.

    This would not amount to much if the footsoldiers of delusion didn’ty have a major stakeholder to knit them together — and as we have seen, extractive industry is the key here. Without the money that is needed to glue these people together into a coalition, they really would be as isolated as the 9/11 truthers.

  92. Ernestine Gross
    May 5th, 2010 at 12:55 | #92

    @Peter T

    Just a clarifying question, Peter T. When you say, AGW denial has a much larger base, do you mean a much larger base of fully qualified natural scientists or do you mean a much larger base of the general public?

  93. Tony G
    May 5th, 2010 at 13:15 | #93

    JQ said;

    “basically honest, unlike, say Tony G, who doesn’t care whether his talking points are true or false, indeed has long since lost touch with these categories ”

    Using the flawed debating tactic of attacking the messenger not the message won’t make the splicing and dicing of the global temperature reconstructions that Jones and his cohorts made up, verifiable science; only a proper peer review will do that;

    and this is what Jones himself says about the fraudulent peer review process that IS climate science:

    ” Graham Stringer: You are saying that every paper that you have produced, the computer programmes, the weather stations, all the information, the codes, have been available to scientists so that they could test out how good your work was. Is that the case on all the papers you have produced?

    Professor Jones: That is not the case.

    Graham Stringer: Why is it not?

    Professor Jones: Because it has not been standard practice to do that.

    Graham Stringer: That takes me back to the original point, that if it is not standard practice how can the science progress?

    Professor Jones: Maybe it should be standard practice but it is not standard practice across the subject. ”

    @52 here


    JQ you can go on about the semantics of hiding the decline in the hidden tree ring data splicing, but the fact remains that the temperature reconstucters themselves admit they hide their own data from other scientists, so YOU are not being honest when you call their ficticous data, peer reviewed science.

    Be honest John if it is not peer reviewed science it is pure GIGO;
    Be honest John you can not actually for prove it is warming, .

  94. Chris Warren
    May 5th, 2010 at 13:37 | #94

    Peter T :
    AGW denial has a much larger base. What is this telling us?

    That corporations reliant on fossil fuels, either as an input or as a product, fund and propagate climate denialism in their own, and shareholders short-term self interests?

  95. Freelander
    May 5th, 2010 at 13:49 | #95

    @Tony G

    Not flawed debating tactics because there is nothing to debate. You talk nonsense. You tell porkies. You don’t have any message. Lies do not contain any information except about the liar.

  96. paul walter
    May 5th, 2010 at 13:55 | #96

    A small, quiet, devastating explanation from Ernestine Gross, #33, that some may have missed.
    SOP with thinktanks who, like the tabloids, are doing disinformation rather than good faith participation, altho disinformation asumes the guise of honest inquiry, concerning a debate about something that effects everybody, including themselves and their sponsors, if they only had the mentality to see it.
    Tony G, you are a naif being led by the nose by big corporations and media who feign concern for civilisation, but are just out to protect their own hordes regardless of the facts or likelihood of harm done to others.
    Tony, have a think about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
    What does it say about the corporate mentality?
    Do you think if they are dishonest about that off shore location being safe to drill, they might not be dishonest about other things effecting their narrow self interest?

  97. Freelander
    May 5th, 2010 at 14:06 | #97

    Haven’t you heard BP? “Wasn’t our fault” they say. Nevertheless they have bravely said that they will do what is legally required. Lucky for them at least some of the damages they have to pay for are capped. The costs to their victims aren’t capped though.

  98. Tony G
    May 5th, 2010 at 16:02 | #98

    Jones himself says that in climate science it is common practice not release information to other scientists so that they “could test out how good your the work is”. (i.e peer review it)

    So where is the independant peer review? At best the all the warming data is an educated guess.

    If I am a liar Freelander, where is the proof that your bodgy climate scientists don’t hide their information? (especially when they admit to hiding it)

    So, forgive me for not agreeing with you to kill people in the third world with decreased living standards due to energy restriction, based on your pseudo science.

    paul walter any oil spill is a tradgedy, but people like you and freelander are hypocrites, I bet you both rely on oil to maintain your high living standards. (yet you want to deny higher living standards to people in the third world)

  99. bill
    May 5th, 2010 at 16:17 | #99

    And here, in Tony G, we have the Agnotasaur in its natural habitat…

  100. Fran Barlow
    May 5th, 2010 at 16:41 | #100


    Actually, in this biome it is an invasive exotic species. Luckily, like cane toads in melbourne, the environmental conditions do not favour propagation.

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