Home > Economics - General > Old men behaving badly (repost from 2011)

Old men behaving badly (repost from 2011)

July 26th, 2014

John Howard’s endorsement of Ian Plimer’s children’s version of his absurd anti-science tract Heaven and Earth has at least one good feature. I can now cut the number of prominent Australian conservatives for whom I have any intellectual respect down from two to one.[1] Howard’s acceptance of anti-science nonsense shows that, for all his ability as a politician, he is, in the end, just another tribalist incapable of thinking for himself. [2]

Although not all the tribal leaders are old men, an old, high-status man like Howard is certainly emblematic of Australian delusionism . Like a lot of old, high status men, he stopped thinking decades ago, but is even more confident of being right now than when he had to confront his prejudices with reality from time time. Like other delusionists, Howard has no scientific training, shows no sign of understanding statistics and almost certainly hasn’t read any real scientific literature, but nonetheless believes he can rank clowns like Plimer and Monckton ahead of the real scientists.

The situation in the US is similar but even more grimly amusing, with the sole truthteller in the entire Republican party, Jon Huntsman, recently reduced to waffling (in both US and UK/Oz senses of this term) because he briefly looked like having a chance to be the next non-Romney. This tribal mindlessness is reflected in the inability of the Republican Party, at a time when they ought to be unbackable favorites in 2012, to come up with a candidate who can convince the base s/he is one of them, but who doesn’t rapidly reveal themselves as a fool, a knave or both.

And, as evidence of the utter intellectual shamelessness of delusionism, you can’t beat the campaign against wind power, driven by the kinds of absurd claims of risk that would be mocked, mercilessly and deservedly, if they came from the mainstream environmental movement.

The global left is in pretty bad shape in lots of ways. Still, I would really hate to be a conservative right now.

fn1. Now down to zero. Turnbull has proved he lacks any real substance.

fn2. I’m not saying that all Australian conservatives are mindless tribalists. There’s a large group, epitomized by Greg Hunt and now Malcolm Turnbull, who understand the issues quite well, but are unwilling to speak up. Then there is a group of postmodern conservatives of whom Andrew Bolt is probably the best example, who have passed the point where concepts of truth or falsehood have any meaning – truth is whatever suits the cause on any given day.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:47 | #1

    @Midrash

    It’s quite easy. Russia, China and the US are converging as Corporate Oligarchic Capitalist states with the state suborned and transformed into a secret security state serving the interests of corporate and oligarchic capital. This late stage convergence of all systems is consistent with Marx’s predictions. It is also uncannily close to Orwell’s dystopian visions.

    The move to professional managers means little in any key sense. It is just a sign of late stage capitalism. Advanced modern capitalists own so much they perforce outsource all work including upper level managerial work. Command still comes from the capitalists and control is executed by the professional managers or mangerialists as I prefer to term them.

  2. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:48 | #2

    @Midrash

    I have no idea who the Amazon reviewer is, just as with most Amazon reviewers. As I explained already, I went to Amazon because it was the top hit in my Web search, and, as I explained already, I went to that particular review because it was the one rated by other Amazon users as the ‘most helpful’ of all unfavourable reviews. There’s nothing to stop you from looking elsewhere for other opinions if you like. There’s also nothing to stop you from explaining what you think was wrong with the review I quoted, if you ever trouble yourself to examine the evidence. If you prefer to stick to the opinions you’ve got and not bother looking at any more evidence, you’re free to make that choice as well.

  3. J-D
    July 27th, 2014 at 14:59 | #3

    @Midrash

    ‘Right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ are by definition relative terms and therefore dependent on context and perspective. The essential point here is whether Malcolm Fraser’s stance on economic issues has changed significantly since he was Prime Minister. I know of no evidence that it has.

  4. John Quiggin
    July 27th, 2014 at 15:35 | #4

    @2 tanners

    Nate Silver did indeed disagree, arguing that the incumbent isn’t harmed as much by economic conditions as might be supposed. I don’t think there is sufficient data to support this. The only comparable cases, in my view, are 1932, 1976, 1980 and 1992, all lost by the incumbent.

    Silver has a great track record in terms of correct predictions based on polling data. I don’t think that necessarily carries over to prediction in the absence of such data.

  5. Midrash
    July 27th, 2014 at 15:40 | #5

    @Rob Stove
    Come come. Unfair to Bolt and to yourself. If, as I suppose, you don’t read the Herald Sun or Bolt’s blog you shouldn’t lower yourself by unfounded comment which implies you know enough about Bolt to say that he probably (at least in your imaginatoon) hasn’t heard of Othello. I may not know much about him and his work either but I eould have allowed you a big bet st 50 to q against that being true.

  6. Newtownian
    July 27th, 2014 at 18:24 | #6

    @Midrash
    Sorry but Bolt is as bad as they come. As to a case example that illustrates his viewpoint are how it gets more circulation than it deserves and does make me wonder about that there is something underhand doing on associated with him – I refer you to an ABC ‘balanced’ (in the modern sense of balancing 50% crap with 50% insight) documentary/debate on climate change that featured Bolt and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg a colleague of sorts of John Quiggin.

    At the time I wasn’t familiar with either Ove or Bolt (Miranda Devine being my pinup of gormless stupidity/or bare faced right wing windbag – she had been running this line that we needed more Dams with an eye to Welcome Reef south of Sydney – showing a. she had no clue about hydrology, and b. that the Shoalhaven was already being extensively exploited so the economics made no actual sense).

    The climate change wars were still at the early stage where the program felt more like a debate to manufacture a controversy to support media ratings than a serious discussion of the issues. Bolt’s arguments were idiotic and ‘we’ seemed to be winning the larger debate. But I was still puzzled and appalled that his unscientific nonsense was left unchallenged. I thought the ABC stood for something approximating to objective facts.

    Overall Ove was caught in the headlights and Bolt won the propaganda battle hands down even though what Bolt was saying was rubbish – at the time climate denialism had not got into full swing. It still bothered me how the science got so distorted.

    Having sufficient background in relevant environmental sciences to understand the nuances of climate change I wondered a bit about what had happened and why these had not been prominent – was this another poor science communicator v. better albeit misguided journalist of moderate consequence. Where did they get this science guy from? Who was Bolt?

    Subsequently from skimming an article periodically in the Oz I came to realize what a lying propagandist Bolt is and his level of ignorance/or acting in bad faith – why was he spokesman for the against case? He clearly had no environmental science knowledge that would make him suitable beyond maybe a sort of anti-Simplicio. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialogue_Concerning_the_Two_Chief_World_Systems

    It was all a bit puzzling – coming from Sydney.

    Conversely I subsequently listened to Ove give a conference plenary session in Seattle and realized what a superb coherent scientist/speaker he actually was – and after some beers later what a decent down to earth person he is also.

    This first hand reality check was 4 years ago. The rest as they say is history.

    Murdoch’s press has turned rabid and we now know there is an organised denialist conspiracy involving a lot of US vested interest – as they say follow the money. Meanwhile the ABC and apparently the BBC have been flogging this balance nonsense which we continue to get indicators of big changes being real – like glacier retreat, the collapse of the WAIS and microgravity measurements of the icesheets backup the fears. Now the Abbot government is attacking science across the board – except for medicine and neoliberal management which seem to be getting special treatment.

    And where is Bolt? – still denying climate change from a position of ignorance in the best dumb tradition of post modernism that all knowledge is equal – assuming he is PoMo as suggested and not a Nixonian opportunist. I categorically don’t suggest Bolt is somehow doing this for money. Its clear he believes his nonsense. But he is still a fool.

    In conclusion Midrash I am puzzled how you can give Bolt any credit for anything – it just undermines what you say (I’ve leave it that as JQ wants us to be polite and I am still very happy to play by those rules).

    (last point by way of further support – a colleague who works in hydrology was also recently savaged by Bolt. Happily she is made of stronger stuff and is taking this as a curious complement which I would hope Rob Stove is too – an attack by Bolt now potentially provides objective evidence that that person has integrity and so is increasingly a curious badge of honour of sorts – within fields of science at least)

  7. Rob Stove
    July 27th, 2014 at 21:34 | #7

    Concerning Midrash’s comment at 15:40, I can assure Midrash that I do read (although not daily) Bolt. I would be very foolish to criticise any author without having read large quantities of work by that author.

  8. Megan
    July 27th, 2014 at 23:00 | #8

    Since we’re talking Bolt again, I’ll repeat (H/T Shaun Micallef):

    …inflammatory…selective misrepresentation…distorting the truth…cynical…intimidatory…not acting in objective good faith…being gratuitous…derisive…grossly careless…dishonest…factual errors…misleading…lacking care…

    All used by courts to describe Bolt’s work.

  9. zoot
    July 28th, 2014 at 00:49 | #9

    Bolt is an opera buff, so he is probably familiar with Otello by Verdi. However, he is very disparaging about “elites”, so Shakespeare is probably beyond the pale.
    I find it interesting that opera is not “elite”.

  10. Rob Stove
    July 28th, 2014 at 08:20 | #10

    @zoot

    Very well then, Zoot, I stand corrected on Bolt’s operatic interests (and I learned by accident this morning, much to my surprise, that he used to do work for the State Opera of South Australia). If Bolt is civilised enough to be able to take opera seriously, then I should have thought that this ability makes his frequent trahaison des clercs attitude towards the life of the mine more, rather than less, unfortunate.

  11. Rob Stove
    July 28th, 2014 at 08:21 | #11

    Oops, “life of the mind“. Mea culpa. Perhaps this typo in my previous post could be corrected?

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