Archive for October, 2013

Hand it back: Catalyst edition

October 31st, 2013 108 comments

In a recent post, I observed that “Anyone with a university education ought to be able to recognise the limits of their own expertise, and to be able to distinguish between bogus sources of information and the products of genuine peer-reviewed research.” Sadly, the ABC’s Catalyst program appears to be failing that test, judging from the first episode of their report, attempting a debunking of the claims that elevated cholesterol causes heart disease, and that statins reduce the risk of disease. I looked at the evidence on this when I started taking statins around 20 years ago, and it seemed pretty convincing. In the last few years, with intensive exercise, I’ve reduced my cholesterol and stopped taking medication, so I think I can look at this fairly objectively.

As I said, before regarding someone’s opinion as having weight, you need to check whether they have any reason for claiming authority[1]. A quick visit to Google reveals the following info on the medical “scientists” quoted in the program

*”Stephen T. Sinatra is a board certified cardiologist, nutritionist, and anti-aging specialist specializing in integrative medicine. He is also a certified bioenergetic psychotherapist”

* Jonny Bowden – The Rogue Nutritionist is a weight loss coach

* Michael Eades is the biggest prat in the diet industry (alert: possibly not a neutral source).

* Ernest Curtis publishes not in medical journals but on

AFAICT, none of them has ever published scientific research in a peer-reviewed journal (still need to check this more carefully). I’m going to watch Part II now. But based on Part I, I’d say everyone involved should hand back their degrees.

Update The second episode was an improvement on the first. At least it quoted real scientists who have done actual research, and provided something like links to the real stuff (not sure if that will show up in transcript). And the general problems of research funded by drug companies are real enough. OTOH, at least one of the experts quoted against statins was described as a litigation expert, which suggests that the bad incentives aren’t all on one side. An interview with someone from the Heart Foundation was a welcome element of balance, but looked to me to have been edited in a way that gave a misleading picture of what (I imagine) was actually said.

Moreover, given the stress on drug company profits, the show might have taken a minute to point out that both simvastatin (Zocor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor) are now off-patent. There’s been some dispute over whether Australia has moved fast enough to cut the price paid for Lipitor and to encourage the prescribing of cheap generic versions, but the days of statins as a cash cow are already receding. That doesn’t preclude the possibility that its advocates are locked into positions taken previously, but it does cast some doubt on the continuing relevance of financial incentives.

fn1. As I grow tired of pointing out to people who have a misunderstood high school lessons in logic, the alternative to rejecting unqualified “experts” out of hand is not to look at the evidence they present and “make up your own mind”. It’s to undertake the years of intensive study needed to master the subject, then assess the evidence and make up your own mind.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Smokescreen (updated)

October 31st, 2013 13 comments

Brsbane has had its second CBD lockdown in a week with another false alarm prompted by the fear that outlaw bikies will launch a terrorist bombing campaign against the forces of law and order. We’re already on the verge of a constitutional crisis as Newman intervenes directly in court cases, claiming a mandate from the masses, and running smear campaigns against judges who defy him.

What is going on here? The actual threat to society represented by bikie gangs (a few public brawls[1] and some low-level drug dealing and protection rackets) isn’t remotely commensurate with this response.

I suspect that the answer is to be found in the fight between Newman and Tony Fitzgerald and, in particular, Newman’s suggestion that bikie crime is worse than the corruption exposed by the Fitzgerald inquiry. Of course, that corruption didn’t involve bikies, or any kind of outlaw gang – it was run from the top, by senior National Party ministers, and the corrupt police they promoted. Its exposure left the conservative parties in the wilderness for nearly 20 years.

Clearly, Newman and the LNP have forgotten none of this. Almost their first act on taking office was to nobble the Crime and Misconduct Commission that arose from the Fitzgerald report. Pretty clearly, Newman and Seeney don’t intend their government to share the fate of Bjelke-Petersen and Hinze. Equally clearly, they intend to reward themselves and their mates as liberally as possible at the public expense. For a government that’s only half way through its first term they’ve already accumulated a track record of nepotism and cronyism that would be impressive after a decade or more in office. It’s obvious that, sooner or later, something big will blow up with the CMC, criminal charges and so on. That is, of course, unless the CMC can be neutralised and the judiciary reduced the position of tame compliance we saw in the Joh era.

A politician who preaches law and order is almost certainly picking your pockets as he does so. That certainly looks to be the case in Queensland.

Update The evening after this was posted, there were calls for the Acting head of the CMC, Ken Levy, to resign because he had written an opinion piece endorsing the Newman government’s policy. It turns out that he’s a former director-general of the Department of Justice forced out by Labor because of the fiasco over the disgraceful prosecution of Pauline Hanson. That led me to the discovery that Newman’s review of the CMC was conducted by Ian Callinan, who has ethical issues of his own. Readers can judge whether Levy’s leadership is such as to inspire their confidence.End update

fn1. The most serious case was when where a fight in a shopping centre resulted in a bystander receiving gunshot wounds. But that didn’t require new laws. One participant was convicted of affray, while the other (the alleged shooter) is in jail awaiting trial.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Hand it back

October 29th, 2013 103 comments

The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed 35 economists and found 30 of them favored carbon price (tax, ETS or some mixture) over Direct Action. It quotes Chris Caton as saying “Any economist who didn’t opt for emissions trading “should hand his degree back”, says Chris Caton.

I’d take that a step further.

Anyone with a natural science degree in any field will find plenty of examples of denialist lies on everything from basic physics to bushfires. More generally, denialists have attacked the entire scientific enterprise with absurd conspiracy theories. No-one who endorses these attacks, explicitly or tacitly, deserves to call themselves a scientist.

Similarly, anyone with a degree that includes even minimal exposure to statistics should understand that denialists were misusing the concept of statistical significance when they claimed, a few years back there had been no significant warming since 1995. Subsequent hacks have had to move the goalposts forward to 1997. And that’s just one example of the cherrypicking dishonesty rife on the denialist side of the debate. So, anyone who claims to be a sceptic and hasn’t distanced themselves from claims like these should send back their math/stat degree.

Then there are those with university degrees, but without the training in science, maths or economics to assess the key issues independently. Anyone with a university education ought to be able to recognise the limits of their own expertise, and to be able to distinguish between bogus sources of information and the products of genuine peer-reviewed research. If they prefer the kind of nonsense circulated on denialist websites to the conclusions of scientific research, they should hand in their degrees and instead obtain one of the many qualifications available, for a modest fee and no work, on internet sites like those listed here.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

Colin Clark Memorial lecture: National Accounting and the Digital Economy – the Case of the National Broadband Network,

October 28th, 2013 13 comments

I’ll be presenting the Colin Clark Memorial lecture on 14 November.

Colin Clark’s greatest contribution to economics was his pioneering role in the construction of national accounts. In the industrial economy of the 20th century, the central problem in the national accounting was the need to avoid double counting, by measuring only the value added at each stage of production. This problem is closely related to that of benefit-cost analysis for public projects. In the 21st century digital economy, value is primarily derived from the flow of information rather than physical inputs and outputs. This creates new problems for national accounting, and for benefit-cost analysis. One example of these problems is the question of how to evaluate alternative proposals for the National Broadband Network.

The talk is bundled with a lunch at Customs House, which (from past experience) will be very pleasant, but fairly expensive, so this event is mostly going to appeal to people whose employers can pay. For those who aren’t in this category, or who aren’t in Brisbane, I’ll post a link to the slides after the event.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Monday Message Board

October 28th, 2013 53 comments

Another Monday Message Board. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Banned commenters should read the comments policy before attempting to return as sock puppets.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

The macro foundations of micro (crossposted at Crooked Timber)

October 25th, 2013 57 comments

Twitter alerted me to an amusing exchange between Chris Auld, posting a list of “18 signs you’re reading bad criticism of economics and Unlearning Economics, responding with 18 Signs Economists Haven’t the Foggiest. UL suggests that Stephen Williamson manages an impressive 9 out of 18 in his review of Zombie Economics (my response here with more from Noah Smith.

Scoring myself against Chris Auld’s list, I’d say I’m in the clear. But quite a few commenters on Zombie Economics have made complaints along the lines of his point 1, that I focus too much on macroeconomics (and finance). The implication is that, even if macro is totally wrong, only a minority of economists do it, and microeconomists are in the clear.

This defense doesn’t work, at least not in general.

Read more…

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Abbott’s Sister Souljah non-moment

October 25th, 2013 40 comments

As I said in my last post, Tony Abbott has set himself the tightrope-walking task of maintaining his government’s official endorsement of mainstream climate change, while keeping his denialist base happy. Having made a mess of this with his bushfire comments, he had a chance to rectify the situation when he gave an interview to denialist and conspiracy theorist Andrew Bolt. Newscorp ran in under the headline “Andrew Bolt tackles the PM on the big issues”, but Bolt was playing touch, not tackle.

The interview was a sycophantic exercise in mutual admiration, with all the tough questions you might expect from, say, Anne Summers interviewing Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd interviewing himself. But such interviews present smart politicians with the chance to play against type, by disagreeing with the interviewer on an issue dear to the base, but politically problematic for a would-be statesman. Presented with a soft lob question about the bushfires, Abbott could have taken the chance to define his own position as the “sensible centre”, by repudiating both Bolt’s denialism and the “alarmism” of those stressing the link between bushfires and climate. Bill Clinton famously did this when he denounced radical rap artist Sister Souljah, signalling the shift to the right undertaken by the Democratic Leadership Council of which he was part.

Instead, Abbott chose to dig himself deeper, extending his denialism on bushfires and further claiming that the observation of record high temperatures is not evidence of climate change. I mentioned in my last post that he would have a problem in formulating a response to the likelihood that 2013 will turn out to be the warmest year in the Australian observational record. He’s chosen his answer now, one that is unlikely to carry much credibility except with those already committed to denialism.

His summary of climate science, previously reported as “crap” has been replaced by “hogwash”, perhaps in deference to the sensitivities of Greg Hunt, who took strong exception to being confronted with the previous term by a BBC interviewer. I won’t link to Bolt, but the relevant passages are quoted over the fold.

Read more…

Falling off the tightrope

October 24th, 2013 56 comments

Having gained office on the basis of three-word slogans, the Abbott government has the problem that it now needs to answer questions in complete sentences. As a result, Abbott has immediately faced some tricky tests, and failed most of them. “Stop the Boats”, for example, ran into the problem that it assumed the Indonesians could be strong-armed into doing our government’s bidding. Unsurprisingly, that proved false, though the inevitable backdown was managed reasonably smoothly.

The trickiest balancing act, though, is on climate change. The government needs to balance its base, the vocal elements of which are almost uniformly denialist[1], with the risks of adverse consequences to Australia if we repudiate our commitments on the issue, and the risks to its own credibility of being openly anti-science.

After only seven weeks in office, both PM Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt, have fallen off the tightrope, rejecting the clearly established (and intuitively obvious) IPCC findings on bushfire risk in Australia [AR4 (2007) , WGII , Chapter 11, Executive Summary]

“The climate of the 21st century is virtually certain to be warmer, with changes in extreme events. Heatwaves and fires are virtually certain to increase in intensity and frequency (high confidence).”

These findings were reinforced in an interview with the head of the UN’s climate change negotiations, Christiana Figueres (listen to the audio,as the report may mislead)

Abbott’s response was to accuse Figueres of “talking through her hat”, while Hunt went to Wikipedia to discover that “bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year”.

This was really an unforced error by both Abbott and Hunt. They could have ducked the issue by resorting to the standard formula that climate predictions are about frequencies, not about individual events. Abbott could even have cited Figueres who was careful to say that “the World Meteorological Organisation has not yet established a direct link between the these fires and climate change.” (emphasis very clear in audio). Hunt scrambled back to the script at the end of his interview, but after the Wikipedia reference, it was far too late.

Given Abbott’s earlier “total crap” statement[2], it’s going to be hard for him to walk back a second time. He now faces two problems. On the one hand, now that he’s outed himself as one of them, the denialist base will be encouraged to demand the scrapping of his Direct Action policy. On the other hand, locking the LNP into denialism is a recipe for long-term disaster, especially with Malcolm Turnbull waiting in the wings.

It’s highly likely that 2013 will turn out to be the hottest calendar year on record for Australia. The frequent occurrence of record highs like this is a predictable consequence of climate change. Abbott had better get his spin doctors working on a form of words to handle the inevitable questions.

fn1. I’ve decided to abandon “delusionist”, my own coinage, in favor of the more standard term “denialist”. I’ll write more on this later.
fn2. In fairness, this statement was presented as a view his audience might hold, rather than as Abbott’s own. But since he’s held every possible view on this topic, and some that seem impossible, fairness can only go so far.

Free riders

October 23rd, 2013 47 comments

It’s widely assumed that small rich countries, like Australia, can choose to do nothing about climate change, without suffering any adverse consequences. Like a dozen or so other countries, we contribute about 2 per cent of total emissions. So, whether we reduce emissions or not won’t (at least directly) have a big impact on the climate change we experience, just as an individual decision to engage in (or refrain from) littering, won’t have much impact on the amount of litter they see.

But this analysis assumes that countries that do make a serious effort won’t impose any sanctions on those that don’t. Until recently, this was a reasonable assumption since the most prominent laggards were China and the US, both of which can do pretty much as they please in international matters. But China and the US are taking their commitments seriously now, and are taking some big steps to reduce emissions. That changes the calculation for a would-be free rider.

The Harper government in Canada is already discovering this. Harper is a (barely concealed) climate denialist, who has attacked climate science, and promoted the work of ‘sceptics’. Having repudiated Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that it interfered with Canada’s aspirations to be an ‘energy superpower’ Harper imagined he would have no trouble securing agreement for the Keystone Pipeline, which is supposed to carry oil from the hugely destructive Alberta Tar Sands projects to markets in the US.

Canada is in the inner core of US allies, historically distinguished by its devotion to being a global ‘good citizen’. Unsurprisingly, the Canadians had plenty of favors to call in at the US State Department, which duly reported that the project was environmentally benign and should be approved.

But then everything went wrong for Harper.

Read more…

Categories: Environment Tags:

A minor life hack (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

October 23rd, 2013 3 comments

I’m currently reading Scarcity by by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. At this stage, I’m inclined to sympathise with the unnamed colleague who commented “There’s already a science of scarcity. It’s called economics”. So far, it’s mostly straightforward applications of the observation that time and attention are scarce resources, combined with some fairly familiar observations from behavioral econ on how people fail to optimise either the first-order problems of allocating a tight budget or the second order problem of allocating time and attention to the first-order problem (my terms here, not theirs). However, I’m only part way through, and the authors promise to show how their approach differs from the way in which economists would normally think about this kind of problem.

This post is about a specific and well known observation cited by Mullainathan and Shafir. Faced with paying $100 for an item that could be had elsewhere for $50, most people are willing to put in a fair bit of effort (say, driving for an hour) to get the lower price.[^1] On the other hand if the item costs $1050 and could be had for $1000, people with reasonably high incomes mostly pay up, instead of driving to the other store. This is obviously inconsistent with standard opportunity cost.
Read more…

Categories: Books and culture, Life in General Tags:

Early Monday Message Board

October 20th, 2013 54 comments

I’ve been running behind for a bunch of reasons, so I’m jumping ahead to Monday. Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Banned commenters should read the comments policy before attempting to return as sock puppets.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:

Moral panic on bikies

October 20th, 2013 68 comments

I won’t say much about Queensland’s new anti-bikie laws since they are so obviously indefensible, and will surely be struck down by the High Court. Unless AG Jarrod Bleijie was deliberately seeking this outcome, it seems that he is as wet behind the ears as his public appearances suggest and as his legal experience (limited to conveyancing it is said) would suggest. A couple of observations

First, although bikies are involved in crime, it appears to be limited to things like taking rake-offs from drug dealing (who would be at least as common if they were independent operators not obliged to pay off gang leaders) and to rackets around tattoo parlours. The public brawling we’ve seen recently, and the various piece of inter-gang violence seem to be controllable by ordinary law enforcement

Second, I don’t think freedom of association should be absolute. If it can be proved, in open court, that an organization is engaged in facilitating crime, there ought to be legal remedies (US RICO legislation is a possible model, though it has its problems). But the Queensland Legislation simply declares a large number of bikie clubs to be illegal, without any chance to have their day in court. Such laws could be applied to political parties, trade unions, companies or even individual groups of friends. Menzies tried this with the Communist Party (which at least had aspirations to be dangerous to the existing order of society, unlike, say the Bandidos) and was rightly rejected both by the High Court and the Australian people

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Why do we *still* have a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences?

October 15th, 2013 35 comments

Ingrid Robyens at Crooked Timber links to some fascinating discussion from Philip Mirowski of the role of Swedish domestic politics in the establishment of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, with emphasis on the way in which claims of “scientific” status for economics helped the claim of the Swedish central bank to independence from government.

In the broader context, it seems pretty clear that, if the idea had arisen even a few years later, it would have been rejected. In 1969, economics really did seem like a progressively developing science in which new discoveries built on old ones. There were some challenges to the dominant Keynesian-neoclassical synthesis but they were either marginalized (Marxists, institutionalists) or appeared to reflect disagreements about parameter values that could fit within the mainstream synthesis.

Only a few years later, all of this was in ruins. The rational expectations revolution sought, with considerable success, to discredit Keynesian macroeconomics, while promising to develop a New Classical model in which macroeconomic fluctuations were explained by Real Business Cycles. This project was a failure, but led to the award of a string of Nobels, before macroeconomists converged on the idea of Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models, which failed miserably in the context of the global financial crisis. The big debate in macro can be phrased as “where did it all go wrong”. Robert Gordon says 1978, I’ve gone for 1958, while the New Classical position implies that the big mistake was Keynes’ General Theory in 1936

The failure in finance is even worse, as is illustrated by this year’s awards where Eugene Fama gets a prize for formulating the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Robert Shiller for his leading role in demolishing it. Microeconomics is in a somewhat better state: the rise of behavioral economics has the promise of improved realism in the description of economic decisions.

Overall, economics is still at a pre-scientific stage, at least, as the idea of science is exemplified by Physics and Chemistry. Economists have made some important discoveries, and a knowledge of economics helps us to understand crucial issues, but there is no agreement on fundamental issues. The result is that prizes are awarded both for “discoveries” and for the refutation of those discoveries.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

Can you run an ironman and run a country?

October 13th, 2013 150 comments

I’m not generally a fan of political scandals: at worst, they are spurious, at best, they involve random exposure and punishment of misdeeds that usually go unchecked. But there’s one big exception for me, and that’s when political scandals intersect my sporting interests.

Last year, the high-profile case was that of Republican VP nominee, Paul Ryan, who claimed to have run marathons in his younger days, with times in the 2:50s, an impressive achievement at any age. It turned out that he had run a single marathon, in 4:01:25. As all runners know, no one who has put the effort to run a marathon makes that kind of mistake. Ryan’s time is better than either of mine (4:37 and 4:24), but I’m aiming to break four hours in the next year or two, and I have a good few decades on him.

Now there’s Tony Abbott, who seems to have claimed expenses for everything from weddings to music festivals. But the only one that really interests me is the $2100 he claimed when he went in the 2011 Port Macquarie Ironman. I couldn’t find a time for 2011, but he did the 2010 event (3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle 42.2 k run) in 14 hours, whereas I took 8 hours to do half as much in the Cairns 70.3 in June.

What strikes me about this is not so only the expenses issue (although that obviously irks me) as the training time that must be involved, and the implications for the rest of Abbott’s commitments. Preparing for a marathon or a 70.3 while working full time, even in a flexible job like mine, requires putting most other things, like social engagements, on hold. If he’s training for a full ironman and managing the commitments inherent in being a politician, it’s hard to believe he can have any significant amount of time free to study policy issues and consider the best responses (as I know, you can’t think about these things while you’re running an endurance event – there’s not enough blood flow to the brain to think about much more than keeping your legs moving).

Looking at Abbott’s actual approach to policy, the three-word slogan approach is unsurprising. He can’t have had the spare time or energy for anything better. That worked fine in Opposition, but it hasn’t been great preparation for government.

Categories: Oz Politics, Sport Tags:

A rocky start

October 10th, 2013 83 comments

The Abbott government has had the rockiest start of any newly-elected government I can recall[1]. Opinion polls are already showing the government trailing Labor, even before the election of a new opposition leader.
The failure has two main elements. The first is the consequence of gaining office on the basis of slogans and personality politics rather than any coherent set of policy proposals. ‘Stop the boats’ was a great vote-winner for the LNP in opposition, but in office it’s a hostage given to fortune. Maybe the boats will stop and maybe not, but bombastic rhetoric will have no effect one way or the other.
The implication for Labor is not to respond in kind with wrecking and cheap slogans. Rather, it’s to make the point that, however dysfunctional the previous government may have been terms of leadership, and whatever the problems of implementation, it was in the right (or at least better than the LNP) on all the major policy issues[2].
The implied political strategy is to defend and extend the key policies of the Rudd-Gillard government, with the exception of the mistakes driven by short-run political exigencies (the archetypal example being the withdrawal of benefits from single parents, and the associated failure to do anything to improve the treatment of unemployed people in general).
That means treating the Abbott government as a temporary interruption a program of reform that includes carbon pricing, the NBN, NDIS and Gonski reforms. The only big gap in Labor’s program is the absence of a credible plan to finance these policies in the long run, while allowing state governments sufficient revenue to do their work. Labor needs to use the time in opposition to break with the low-tax rhetoric of the past, and work out a coherent plan to increase revenue. In practice, there’s no real chance of increasing the rate or coverage of GST, so the options will have to come on the income tax side. More on this soon, I hope.
The second factor in Abbott’s poor start is the ‘born to rule’ mentality that we’ve already seen in Queensland. Newman and his ministers have been shameless in grabbing more and better perks, giving jobs to their mates and so on. Abbott has started in the same vein, with examples such as the sacking of Steve Bracks, and his rumored replacement with a mate such as Nick Minchin. The contrast with Rudd, who left Liberal appointees in place, and gave plum appointments to well qualified Libs, is striking. Although the travel expense scandals now coming to light date from the past, they fit into a pattern that is already evident.
Of course, Labor is hardly innocent in this. But the isolated examples that have come to light, and the near-total absence of ministerial scandals in the Rudd-Gillard government suggest that this is not a case of ‘everybody does it’. Labor should join the Greens in pushing reform of the entire system.

fn1. The arguable exception is the Labor minority government that emerged from the 2010 election. But this wasn’t a new government or a new PM: Labor had a couple of years on top after 2007 and Gillard had already had her honeymoon period in the immediate aftermath of the deposition of Rudd.

fn2. ‘Better than Abbott’ was a pretty low bar when it came to refugee policies. But Labor did at least increase the refugee intake, while Abbott has cut it.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The Mail on Sunday’s own goal for delusionism

October 4th, 2013 75 comments

I’ve been struck by the fairly straight reporting of the IPCC Working Group 1 report on the physical science of climate change. Even Graham Lloyd at the Oz could find only one para for delusionist Benny Peiser[1] in his report, headlined “Science solid on global warming, IPCC declares“. What happened to the much anticipated delusionist counterattack?

I think we have the Daily Mail to thank for the no-show. As readers will recall, the Mail ran a story by David Rose under the headline “‘World’s top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said”. This was obviously absurd, and the Mail was forced to retract, but not before the story had been circulated throughout the denialosphere, notably including Bolt, the Oz, and the Torygraphs (both UK and Oz). The Oz eventually retracted, but Bolt didn’t bother. This misfire made it pretty much impossible to get much traction out of the modest adjustments that were actually contained in the report, such as reducing the lower bound estimate of climate sensitivity to 1.5 degrees (it was increased from 1.5 degrees to 2.0 degrees in the Fourth Assessment Report0

What’s interesting here is the fact that such obvious nonsense as Rose’s article got such a credulous reception. The idea that estimates of warming since 1950 could be out by a factor of two, or that a few years of additional data could change them substantial is entirely implausible, and a “confession of error” unsupported by a quote ought to raise alarm bells. Multiple levels of stupidity are needed to explain this. First, the majority of delusionists are simply innumerate, and ignorant of the most basic facts about data (we saw this with the claims about “no significant warming” since 1993). Second, the confirmation bias that affects everyone is magnified to a pathological extent in the parallel universe created by the right. Third, the tribal character of the movement means that there are no incentives to correct error. Presumably there are at least some delusionists who must have thought the “confession of error” story too good to be true. But no one would have thanked them for raising doubts. Whereas real climate scientists disagree vigorously among themselves (though all but a handful agree that the evidence for the basic fact of human-caused climate change is overwhelming), “sceptics” never criticise any claim on their own side, however absurd.

Most obviously, Judith Curry who was quoted in Rose’s article (not as a source for the bogus claims) must have realised it was nonsense. But she implicitly endorsed it, after its publication, but before its retraction. Note that, while saying the article quoted her accurately and would not be welcomed by the IPCC, Curry carefully avoids mentioning taking a position on its main claim, which she must have known to be false (she mentions the dispute briefly, at the bottom of here post, but offers no opinion). This is fairly typical of her, and her role-model Richard Lindzen.

But in this case, it was too clever by half. A smart delusionist if one existed would have jumped on Rose’s error and used it to build up some credibility for the future.

fn1. Peiser is, or was, a social anthropologist, and, according to Wikipedia, is currently a visiting fellow (not a real job, I suspect) at the University of Buckingham (definitely not a real university[2]). He’s therefore eminently qualified to represent the delusionist viewpoint on issues of physical science and the interpretation of statistical evidence.

fn2. To be boringly clear, I’m fully aware that Buckingham is an accredited institution with lecturers, degrees and so on, legally entitled to call itself a university. It’s still not a real university.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, #Ozfail, Media, Science Tags:

#MyDadHatedBritain …

October 4th, 2013 44 comments

… is trending on Twitter, thanks to the appalling UK Daily Mail, which ran a full length attack on the late Ralph Miliband, socialist academic and father of Opposition Leader Ed Miliband. On the strength of a scathing diary entry Miliband wrote as a 17-year old refugee, and his opposition to the Falklands War, the Mail claimed that Miliband “hated Britain”. Illustrating the proverb about glass houses, the attack only served to draw attention to the fact that whereas Miliband served in the Navy in World War II, the Mail backed Hitler and the Blackshirts throughout the 1930s, and has continued to push racist hatred ever since (unsurprisingly, it has seized on the spurious notion of “political correctness.” [1]

The Mail’s attack on Miliband has divided the UK right into three groups (google x+Mail+miliband)

* Those who have condemned this appalling and dishonest slur, including Michael Heseltine and Nick Clegg
* Those who have stuck to a weaselly line scripted by Tory minders that “of course Miliband should defend his father” such as David Cameron, William Hague and Boris Johnson
* Those who have backed the Mail all the way, notably including James Delingpole, Rod Liddle and Michael Gove[2]

It’s notable that all those I’ve listed in the third group are prominent climate delusionists. As we’ve seen again recently, the Mail is the source for many of the lies about climate change that are reproduced in the Murdoch press[3]. This is, as they say, no coincidence. Climate delusionism isn’t a mistaken belief about the world, it’s an expression of tribal hatred, all the more effective because most of those who push it know, at some level, that their arguments are false. Putting forth such arguments is an expression of tribal solidarity, like asserting that Obama was born in Kenya. Naturally, the tribal haters love the kind of stuff that the Mail dishes out.

Hopes are often disappointed, but it does seem as if the global party of stupid is starting to reap the whirlwind it has sown. The continued publication of delusional nonsense has produced a rightwing base that embraces delusional strategies like the US shutdown, or attacks on a man’s dead father, in the belief that everyone else will share their positive reaction.

fn1. It’s also being claimed that the father of Mail editor Paul Dacre didn’t serve, but this (sauce for the gander) claim hasn’t been verified AFAIK. Another tidbit is that the Mail was the target of Churchill’s Stanley Baldwin’s famous jibe that it sought “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
fn2. Gove hasn’t stated this, but he has tried to stop schools teaching anything about climate change. He has the additional motive that his wife has a highly paid job with the Mail.
fn3. It’s a striking commentary on the weakness of people like Bolt and Oz “environment reporter” Graeme Lloyd that, as well as being incapable of telling the truth, they also seem to be unable to come up with original lies.

The Ultimate Nightmare: American Default

October 4th, 2013 16 comments

That’s the self-explanatory headline on my latest piece in The National Interest. I guess “ultimate” is a little hyperbolic, given the perils of nuclear war and climate catastrophe, but even a short-lived default on US debt could bring the global financial system to its knees.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:

The productivity zombie

October 3rd, 2013 6 comments

Following on from my previous post on productivity and the eponymous Commission, I have a piece in the Guardian with the stated objective of killing the productivity/micro reform zombie once and for all. Of course, that’s impossible: as watchers of the genre know, there are always more zombies, then sequels and new seasons, then reruns. But I’ll keep on trying.

Categories: Economic policy Tags:

The Shutdown of 2011, in 2013

October 1st, 2013 66 comments

Now that the US government has shut down, I thought I would look back at a post from 2010, in which I predicted such an outcome, expecting it to come in 2010. As it turned out that was premature, but much of the analysis still stands up pretty well, notably including the final sentence

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Categories: World Events Tags: