Archive for the ‘Boneheaded stupidity’ Category

With Reformicons like this, no wonder the Reactobots always win

July 6th, 2014 41 comments

Over the fold, a piece a posted in Crooked Timber on the miserable position of the “Reformicons” – conservative writers who are trying to put some intellectual lipstick on the pig that is the Republican Party.

This isn’t a problem in Australia – there are, as far as I can tell, no intellectually serious conservatives left at all. The dominant thinktank is the IPA, a mirror of the US Heartland Foundation, which is utterly discredited, even on the right for its embrace of delusionism on everything from economic policy to climate change.[1] Quadrant, once a serious publication, is now a sad joke.

And then there’s the Oz. Enough said.

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Lifters and leaners

June 19th, 2014 33 comments

I have a piece up at The Guardian looking at Hockey’s adaptation of the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney. The focus is not so much on demolishing the claim (Greg Jericho did a more comprehensive job on this) but on the state of delusion that would allow Hockey to think that this kind of claim would be favorably received. After all, even Romney didn’t use the 47 per cent line in public: he was caught on video talking to rightwing donors.

The “job-killing” carbon tax

June 11th, 2014 155 comments

Tony Abbott hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory on his overseas trip. But he has found one ally: Canadian PM (at least until next years election) Stephen Harper, also a climate denialist. They made a joint statement denouncing carbon taxes as “job killing”. I didn’t notice any massive destruction of jobs when the carbon price/tax was introduced in 2012, but rather than do my own analysis, I thought I’d take a look at the government’s own Budget outlook, to see how many jobs they claim to have been destroyed by the carbon tax, and what great benefits we can expect from its removal. Here’s the relevant section of the summary (note that the outlook is premised on the Budget measures being passed)

The Australian economy is in the midst of a major transformation, moving from growth led by investment in resources projects to broader?based drivers of activity in the non?resources sectors. This is occurring at a time when the economy has generally been growing below its trend rate and the unemployment rate has been rising. During this transition, the economy is expected to continue to grow slightly below trend and the unemployment rate is expected to rise further to 6¼ per cent by mid?2015.

In this environment, the Government is focused on implementing measures to support growth and jobs while putting in place lasting structural reforms to restore the nation’s finances to a sustainable footing. The timing and composition of the new policy decisions mean that the faster pace of consolidation in this Budget does not have a material impact on economic growth over the forecast period, relative to the 2013?14 Mid?Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO).

Since MYEFO, the near?term outlook for the household sector has improved. Leading indicators of dwelling investment are consistent with rising activity, while household consumption and retail trade outcomes have improved recently, consistent with gains in household wealth. This is partly offset by weaker business investment intentions, particularly for non?resources sectors.

The outlook for the resources sector is largely unchanged from MYEFO. Resources investment is still expected to detract significantly from growth through until at least 2015?16, as reflected in the outlook for investment in engineering construction which is forecast to decline by 13 per cent in 2014?15 and 20½ per cent in 2015?16. Rising resources exports are only expected to partially offset the impact on growth. Overall, real GDP is forecast to continue growing below trend at 2½ per cent in 2014?15, before accelerating to near?trend growth of 3 per cent in 2015?16.

The labour market has been subdued since late 2011, characterised by weak employment growth, a falling participation rate and a rising unemployment rate, although outcomes since the beginning of 2014 have been more positive. The unemployment rate is forecast to continue to edge higher, settling around 6¼ per cent, consistent with the outlook for real GDP growth. Consumer price inflation is expected to remain well contained, with moderate wage pressures and the removal of the carbon tax.

The reference to the CPI effects of the carbon price (around 0.4 per cent) is, as far as I can tell, the only mention in the whole of the Economic Outlook statement.

Australian right a dumping ground for failed US ideas

May 16th, 2014 63 comments

It’s been obvious for quite a few years that the Australian rightwing commentariat takes most of its ideas from the US Republican party. A more recent development is that they seem to be importing ideas that have already failed in their home country. I mentioned Voter ID recently. My Twitter feed has also been full of factoids along the lines “48 per cent of Australians pay no net tax”, being pushed by Miranda Devine and others. Obviously these are derived from the “47 per cent” line made famous by Mitt Romney in 2012 [1]. We all know how that went for Romney, and of course we also know what’s wrong with the factoid. I’ll talk a bit more about the specifics over the fold, but it’s worth asking what’s going on here.

The most obvious point is that the Australian right hasn’t had any new ideas in 30 years or more. Everything in the recent Commission of Audit report (a more coherent version of the ideology reflected in a distorted fashion in Hockey’s Budget) could have been (and often was) taken from the 1996 version, and everything in the 1996 report could have been found in documents like Wolfgang Kasper’s Australia at the Crossroads published in 1980, and similar documents. Everything useful in this set of ideas was implemented decades ago: what remain are the items that are either permanently untouchable in political terms (eg road pricing) or unworkable for one reason or another (eg handing income tax back to the states).

So, it’s scarcely surprising that they need to import from abroad. But the US Republicans aren’t in any better state. Their big causes a decade ago were the culture war (primarily equal marriage which was seen as wedging the Democrats), climate denialism and the Global War on Terror, which was transmuted into the invasion of Iraq. Most of our current rightwing commentariat (Bolt, Blair, Devine etc) cut their teeth on this stuff, and have never really outgrown it.

The Repubs are now in a state of complete intellectual collapse, unable to produce a coherent position on anything, from immigration to health care to budget policy. They survive only on the basis of tribal hatred of Obama. Since that doesn’t sell well in Oz, the local right is forced to live on discredited failures like Voter ID and “47 48 per cent of the population are takers”.

It’s the combination of tired economic rationalism and imported tribalism that makes the Abbott-Hockey such a mess, and the efforts of its remaining defenders so laughable.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Asset sales, yet again

April 12th, 2014 18 comments

Among the most unkillable of zombie ideas is the belief that governments can solve their fiscal problems by selling assets. What’s particularly surprising about this belief is that it is most strongly held by the kind of politician who likes to talk as if government and household budgets are exactly the same. But would anyone suggest to a household struggling to make ends meet that it would be a good idea to cash in the super, or sell the house and rent it back from the new owners, in order to pay off the credit card? The advice of course, would be to get your expenditure and income in line before addressing the debt problem.

I’ve written yet another paper making this point, which, along with my recent post on capital recycling, got a run from Paul Syvret in the Courier-Mail. Nothing new for those who’ve been paying attention, but, clearly, lots of people haven’t been.

Climate denial and the decline of the IPA

March 28th, 2014 43 comments

The Institute of Public Affairs has long been a major source of anti-science climate denial, following naturally from its earlier role as the leading denier of the health risks of passive smoking. While intellectually disreputable, this aspect of the IPA’s output seemed not to pose a problem for its broader role as an advocate of market-oriented economic policies. Indeed, given the frequency with which free-market economics and anti-science nonsense on all sorts of issues go together, the two seemed like a comfortable fit.

Over time, however, major corporations have become more wary of being linked to climate denialism, with the result that the IPA has become increasingly dependent on wealthy private donors like Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch, whose definition of “free market” appears to be “lots of free stuff for Gina and Rupert”. In particular, Rinehart and her front group Australians for Northern Development are pushing the federal government to offer a tax holiday for Northern Australia, where most of her business interests are located. The IPA has delivered in full for Gina, including

* Joint work with ANDEV pushing the case for massive tax expenditures
* Prominently announcing that Ms Rinehart, arguably Australia’s greatest corporate welfare queen, had received a “2012 Visionary CEO Award”[1].

To get a feel for the kind of nonsense the IPA is now espousing, listen to this interview with the head of ANDEV on RN Bush Telegraph. It’s a display of rent-seeking that would have been considered brazen back in the days of ‘protection all round’. Particularly absurd, and offensive, is the suggestion that an income tax holiday designed to attract lots of (non-indigenous) workers to Northern Australia will somehow benefit the indigenous community.[2]

Of course, as long as Tony Abbott is in office, the fact that the IPA has lost all intellectual credibility won’t be a problem. But in the long run, the embrace of climate denial is exacting a high price for the IPA, as for US counterparts like Heartland.

fn1. I can’t find anything about this award on Google, except for an apparently unrelated gong given by a US outfit call It appears to be an instance of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, except that IIRC, Burns gave the award to Homer, not himself.
fn2. Compare Rinehart to Andrew Forrest, who at least makes efforts to employ indigenous people, and criticises Rinehart for not doing the same.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Send in the clowns

March 26th, 2014 80 comments

I’ve been working on a post about how to respond to commentators like Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, and about the suggestion that they should simply be dismissed as clownish entertainers, to be ignored rather than criticised. But now that the Abbott government has turned into a clownshow (or maybe one of those medieval theatre restaurant shows) it’s hard to know what to do.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Bolt: Every word he says is a lie, including “and” and “the”

March 5th, 2014 38 comments

Andrew Bolt (no link) has repeated the lie that I drastically overestimated the impact of a carbon tax on global warming. In fact, it was Bolt who was out by a factor of 100 (Full details here). Rather than rehash this dispute, I’d thought I’d list some of Bolt’s greatest hits, or rather misses.

* Here he is, confusing the stratosphere and the troposphere, and claiming to have disproved climate science as a result

* Here, being fooled by a David Rose claim so absurd that even the Mail on Sunday had to retract it

* Here, denying the fact that Arctic ice is disappearing fast, a fact that is now regularly proved by sailing through the previously impassable Northwest Passage, and by the intense international negotiations about sovereignty over the newly opened waterways

* Here, claiming the carbon tax would be “ruinous”

* Here, claiming that radioactivity is good for you

* Here, unable to understand the meaning of the word “average”

* Here, defaming the Bureau of Meteorology, and lying about it

* Here, being fooled by a LaRouchite conspiracy theory on DDT

That’s just from my blog and just for the last five years. I haven’t even got to the Iraq war, where he combined credulous faith in repeated announcements of victory with vicious denunciations of all who predicted, correctly, that the war would be disaster, and documented that disaster as it unfolded.

Anyone who believes anything Bolt says is a fool. But I suspect that, like Bolt himself, most of his fans know he is talking nonsense and don’t care. He’s a tribal ally, and he’s good with snark and slander, and that’s good enough for them.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

Pot, meet kettle

February 20th, 2014 80 comments

Andrew Bolt has a column (no link) in which he attacks a number of Marxist academics on the basis that they are morally responsible for all the crimes committed by Marxist regimes, regardless of their personal attitude to those regimes. Rather than explore the problems with this kind of cliam, I’ll point out that

* The Iraq war, launched on the basis of lies, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and left millions homeless

* Bolt eagerly supported the war and propagated the lies told to justify it

* Bolt derided and defamed those who correctly predicted its disastrous consequences

* Even when it was obvious that the death toll from the war was huge, and certain to grow further, Bolt continued to lie, and offered no apology to those he had defamed

* To this day, Bolt has continued to defend the war, and failed to acknowledge the falsehood of the claims he made in its support

Bolt is in exactly the same moral position as an unrepentant apologist for Stalinism or Maoism.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, World Events Tags:

The anti-science right on wind farms

January 27th, 2014 130 comments

So, Tony Abbott is going to hold another inquiry into utterly spurious claims about adverse health effects from wind farms. Credulous belief in these effects, or silent acquiescence in claims about them, is now compulsory on the political right, particularly among those who, absurdly, describe themselves as “sceptics” on climate science and, more generally, on scientific evidence about actual health risks from genuine environmental hazards. The extreme example, chosen by the Oz to lay down the party line, is James Delingpole whose denial extends beyond climate change to include rejection of the health effects of passive smoking (based on the bogus and discredited research of tobacco-funded “researchers” Enstrom and Kabat). Despite claiming that there is no risk in inhaling a toxic mixture of dozens of carcinogens, Delingpole has no difficulty in believing that noise levels quieter than those of a public library will cause all manner of health risks, including “night sweats, headaches, palpitations, heart trouble”. [fn1]

It’s easy to multiply examples of this kind (Miranda Devine, Jennifer Marohasy, Christopher Booker). What’s more striking is the silence of those who know this stuff is nonsense, but don’t want to offend their allies and supporters

Andrew Bolt is particularly interesting here. He obviously knows that the claims about health risks are nonsensical, and is careful (AFAICT) to avoid mentioning them, while writing in a way that hints at support. So, we get a favorable link to the Delingpole piece, but the pull quote refers to economics not to health issues. Of course, if the politics were such as to demand support for wind, Bolt would make mincemeat of the nonsense Delingpole is putting forward.

A couple of takeaways from this

1. To the best of my knowledge, there is not a single climate denialist anywhere in the world who has the minimal consistency and honesty needed to reject nonsense arguments from their own side, even when they take a form (NIMBY claims about unproven health risks) that they routinely denounce when put forward by misguided environmentalists. That can be extended to the entire political right in Australia – I’m not aware of a single person on the right who has called Abbott out on this nonsense. Active liars like Delingpole, and enablers like Bolt are representative of the entire right, even those who would like to appear rational and reasonable.

2. It’s crucial for the left to reject this kind of argument whenever it appears, even when the proponent takes the correct stance on other issues.

[1] This article earned a rebuke from the Press Council, but that merely perpetuates the notion that Delingpole is a journalist and that the Oz is a newspaper. These 20th century categories have ceased to be applicable – the Oz is better understood as a lunar right blog that, for historical reasons, is printed out on broadsheet paper every day.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

Putting their worst foot forward

January 22nd, 2014 64 comments

I don’t usually watch much TV, which doubtless hampers me in keeping in touch with the mood of the Australian electorate, most of whom still get much of their political news from this source. But, over the summer break, I tend to take things easier which means watching more TV, and taking less interest in politics. So, I don’t think the following observations are way out of line with general public reactions

* When it limped into the end of its first session, the talk coming out of the Abbott government’s media cheer squad was that they would let us watch the cricket in the hope that we’d forget the fiascos of their first few months. Instead, they’ve generated more and worse political coverage than I can ever remember for this time of year, floating trial balloons, rerunning culture wars and so on

* As I remember them from Opposition a fair few of our new rulers are reasonably personable types. But the government’s media strategy has been to keep them all in the background, and to push the most appalling thugs and fools (Pyne, Morrison, Bernardi, Newman (Campbell and Maurice), Andrews) to the forefront. Or maybe there is no strategy, and they are just letting everyone do what comes naturally

But perhaps there is a brilliant plan here, and I’m missing it. Any thoughts?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Can there be a sane honest rightwinger?

December 31st, 2013 123 comments

A few pieces of data from the past few days:

* US Republican views on evolution have shifted significantly in the past 4 years. In 2009, 54 per cent said Yes to the question “Did humans and other animals evolve over time”, and 39 per cent said No. In 2013, those numbers have shifted to 48 per cent No, 43 per cent Yes. Other evidence shows that college-educated Repubs are more likely to have crazy views on evolution, climate science and so on than less-educated Repubs.

* Globally, November 2013 was the hottest November on record. In Australia, 2013 has been the hottest year on record.

* (Via Harry Clarke) Abbott’s senior adviser Maurice Newman has a piece in the Oz blaming the carbon tax/price for the decline of Australian manufacturing

Looking at the last point first, anyone who understands economics can see that the decline of Aust manufacturing is primarily due to the same long run trends that have reduced agriculture to a tiny proportion of economic activity, and secondarily due to the overvaluation of the $A (relative to PPP), reflecting the mining boom and other factors. If Newman doesn’t know this, he should. Newman’s nonsense on this point illustrates something more fundamental. You can’t deny climate science without screwing up your understanding of economics and politics.

This observation is strengthened by the second point. Climate “sceptics” claim to prefer data to models. But in fact they will all explain this data away. The truth is that they are all (I mean this literally, and without exceptions[1]) religiously committed to a position that no evidence will shake.

The final point illustrates the processes that are making it impossible to be a sane, honest rightwinger. The numbers reflect two processes
(i) People with sane views are ceasing to identify as Republicans, while those with insane views are shifting to become Repubs
(ii) Committed Republicans are resolving cognitive dissonance by becoming creationists

The processes are slightly different in Australia, where creationism remains a fringe position. But how can the likes of Akerman, Blair, Bolt, Devine and Stutchbury continue to parrot the arguments of American creationists without at least assuming that creationism is a defensible viewpoint?

The final step in the argument is addressed to a hypothetical sane, honest rightwinger. How can anyone take your stated views seriously when you fail to acknowledge that most people who share them are either fools or liars?

fn1. To be more precise, I don’t give up hope that some rightwingers will give up the entire package – climate denial, rightwing economics and all. But outside a conversion experience of this kind, these people are impervious to evidence.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

The end of GMH

December 12th, 2013 39 comments

Another day, another stuffup from what already looks like the most incompetent government in Australian history. The Abbott government’s treatment of the car industry has been a disaster in policy terms, and just as bad as far as process is concerned. The key policy failure was the decision to retain fringe benefits tax breaks for cars (90 per cent of which are imported) at a cost of $1.8 billion over the forward estimates, while withdrawing Labor’s promise to give a much smaller amount in additional assistance to the remaining domestic manufacturers GMH and Toyota. Assuming Toyota also pulls out, every bit of the FBT concession will be public money sent overseas, with the exception of the slice creamed off by the salary packaging industry.

The policy process was even worse, announcing an inquiry, then pre-empting the result with a combination of leaks (of course, ABC stenographer Chris Uhlmann was happy to provide anonymity for the source) and Parliamentary taunts. Unsurprisingly, the new GM management in the US was sufficiently unimpressed to pull the plug immediately.

For the diehard fans of microeconomic reform, I guess this counts as a win. But even for them, it’s primarily a matter of cultural symbolism. The protection given to the car industry was so small that on a standard economic analysis, the welfare costs are utterly negligible. And of course, the benefits of protection were swamped by the costs of a chronically overvalued $A, which in turn reflects all manner of policy failures, from global financial deregulation to the subsidisation of the coal industry.

Another Oz meltdown

December 5th, 2013 28 comments

Apparently, the dysfunctional Oz group blog is having another of its periodic meltdowns. The anonymous rant (no link, per usual policy) is mildly amusing, but the real fun is in the responses

Ben Pobjie
Ben Jenkins
Independent Australia

There’s more I can’t locate now. Enjoy and suggest more in comments.

Categories: #Ozfail, Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

Why spies never discover anything useful

November 23rd, 2013 61 comments

I’ve long maintained the view that spies never discover anything useful about a country’s foreign enemies, though they are very useful in suppressing domestic opponents. This is a straightforward implication of game theory, but my attempts to explain it haven’t worked in the past, and I don’t know how to do much better. So, I’m going to restate my arguments from 10 years ago, against the massive expansion of spying that was already under way, and make the observation that the evidence since then strongly supports my case.

Despite an espionage and surveillance effort unparalleled in history, the US NSA has been unable to produce any convincing evidence of stopping even one domestic terror plot. Its best case was someone alleged to have sent a few thousand dollars to Al Shabab in Somalia. The NSA not only missed actual terror plotters like those in Boston, but also performed poorly relative to ordinary police methods which have produced numerous convictions (many of them admittedly, by methods that verge on entrapment).

But if anti-terrorist espionage has proved ineffectual, spying on friendly governments is just plain stupid. This isn’t a zero-sum game, like espionage in warfare, it’s a negative sum game. Australia is now finding this out, but the reflex reactions of “everyone does it”, “we don’t comment on intelligence matters” and so on, remain as firmly embedded as ever.

Of course, while this is stupidity as regards the public interest, or even that of Australian political and business elites as a whole, it is massively beneficial to the security apparatus, and the complex of interests it supports. It’s striking that the only Indonesians who’ve given Abbott any support have been their own spies and secret police, who can expect more funding and greater powers. Doubtless our own spooks will return the favor in due course, if their Indonesian counterparts are caught doing something we don’t like.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, World Events Tags:

When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?

November 13th, 2013 111 comments

This quote is attributed, perhaps spuriously to Keynes. A sharper version of the same point is made here by Noah Smith, exploring the concept “Derp”, “”the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”, where “strong priors” in the technical Bayesian sense, mean that ” … you really, really believe something to be true. If your start off with a very strong prior, even solid evidence to the contrary won’t change your mind. ”

A notable example of this, very relevant on this blog, and cited by Smith, is the cost of solar energy. Roughly speaking, the cost of solar modules has fallen by a factor of 10 over the past few years, and the cost of installed systems by a factor of three. If that hasn’t changed your mind about the relative merits of alternative policy option, then you must have really strong priors, and in that case, you shouldn’t be engaging in debate, since your mind can’t be changed by evidence. As Smith observes, “That is unhelpful and uninformative, since they’re just restating their priors over and over. Thus, it is annoying. Guys, we know what you think already.”

But, it’s easy to throw stones, so I thought I would check my own archives to see if I was guilty of Derping on this point. Here is what I thought in 2004

Nuclear (fission) power is probably the cheapest large-scale alternative electricity source (there are some sites where wind is cost-competitive, and similarly for geothermal) but it is still a good deal more expensive than coal or gas. How much more expensive is hard to tell because the industry is riddled with subsidies, but I’d guess that the full economic cost is about twice as high for nuclear electricity as for coal or gas. Moreover, most recent construction has been in places like China and Korea where safety standards may not be as high as they would have to be to get nuclear energy restarted in the developed world as a whole.

What this means is that nuclear power won’t enter into calculations until we have a carbon tax (or equivalent) steep enough to double the price of electricity. It’s clear though, that much smaller increases in costs would make a wide range of energy conservation measures economically viable, as well as reducing final demand for energy services. Implementing Kyoto, for example, would not require anything like a doubling of prices. Whether or not a more radical response is justified, it’s clearly not going to happen for at least a decade and probably longer.

Nevertheless, if mainstream projections of climate change turn out to be correct, and especially if, as Lovelock suggests, they turn out to be conservative, we’ll eventually face the need for new sources of electricity to replace fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaics are improving fast but still a long way from being cost-competitive. So it may well be that, at least for an interim period, expansion of nuclear fission is the best way to go.

I didn’t mention carbon, capture and storage, but I also supported that as a good option for Australia, assuming it could me made to work.

The facts have changed, and I have changed my mind. I now think the role of renewables, and particularly solar is going to be much larger than seemed likely ten years ago, nuclear much less, and CCS marginal.

Update Obviously, this post was intended to provoke a reaction from the critics of renewable energy (normally, also advocates of nuclear) who regularly comment here, challenging them to say how they had adjusted their views in the light of the evidence of the last decade. Most commenters responded thoughtfully. But our single-topic nuclear fans, Hermit and Will Boisvert, responded by herping even more flerps of derp. Despite being reminded of the topic, they just kept on pumping out the same constant, repetitive reiteration of their priors that defines derp. This does, at least provide me with some guidance. From now on, comments from single-issue pro-nuclear commenters (specifically, the two mentioned) will be deleted unless they contain a point that has not been made previously or (highly improbably) a change of view.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

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:

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:

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.

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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.

#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.

Restarting the History Wars: a decade of silence

September 22nd, 2013 25 comments

Since it appears that the Abbott government intends to restart the History Wars, I thought I would point out that the leading warrior on Abbott’s side of the debate has now been AWOL for more than ten years. Nothing much has changed recently, so I’ll just repost (most of) my remarks from my last post on this topic, in April.

Long-term followers of this dispute will recall that, back in 2002, Windschuttle made quite a splash with The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land, 1803-1847, which attempted a revisionist account of the tragic history of the Tasmanian Aborigines. He didn’t achieve much except to point out some sloppy footnoting in a fairly obscure recent history[1]. The main interest in the book was as an appetiser for the succeeding volumes, on Queensland and Western Australia, promised to appear on an annual schedule. Here, Windschuttle promised to refute the work of Henry Reynolds and others, who painted the frontier as a scene of prolonged violent warfare between the indigenous inhabitants and the white settlers who sought, successfully in the end, to displace and subdue them.

Year followed year, and promise followed promise, but Volumes 2 and 3 didn’t appear. Finally, in 2009, Volume 3 was published. Not only was there no Volume 2, but the new Volume 3 bore no resemblance to the book originally promised for 2004. Instead, it was a critique of the Stolen Generations report and the film Rabbit Proof Fence. Windschuttle said that this volume had been published “out of order”, and that the missing volumes 2 and 4 would appear “later”.

Even by Windschuttle’s standards, this is bizarre. The Stolen Generations debate refers almost entirely to the 20th century, so this volume, on his reasoning ought to come after the others, and be numbered as Volume 4.

It’s silly enough to see self-satisfied climate “sceptics” who can’t even calculate a standard error, but have convinced themselves they are smarter than professional scientists. But surely even the editor of a literary magazine ought to be able to count to three.

Of course, Windschuttle’s problems with the integers are trivial. His real offence was to attack scholars like Henry Reynolds on the basis of promised evidence he has been unable to deliver. It’s more than a decade since Windschuttle started this stuff and, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t published anything since then showing a single error in Reynolds’ work on the Queensland frontier, or that of the other historians he accused of fabrication. His “Sydney Line” website hasn’t been updated for years. If he has produced anything more substantial than opinion pieces, since the forgettable Volume 3, I haven’t been able to find it.

It’s pretty clear who is spinning the fabrications here. In the language of the tech sector, Windschuttle is a seller of vaporware.

fn1. The Tasmanian history Windschuttle wants to deny wasn’t invented by leftwing historians in the 1970s. It was the standard account in the very conservative version of history I was taught in primary school, based on the tragic and undeniable fact that a people who had lived in a harsh environment for thousands of years were wiped out almost completely in a couple of generations by a combination of disease, conflict and starvation.

The Daily Mail: even more comprehensively anti-science than I thought

September 18th, 2013 38 comments

Much of the climate delusionist material that is recirculated by the Oz, Bolt etc, comes from the UK Daily Mail (not a Murdoch paper, but maybe even worse). So it may be worth pointing out that the Daily Mail is a comprehensive source of science misinformation. In particular, it has been the leading promoter of discredited anti=vaccination claims about links to autism.

Not only that, but the Daily Mail has taken a leading role in anti-scientific scare campaigns about “Frankenfoods”, aka GM food. Google produced this page which seems to wrap up all the conspiracy theories about MMR, AGW, GM etc into a single utterly loony package. It neatly eliminates the need to read Bolt or the Oz?

My only question is: When is Graham Lloyd going to start reproducing this kind of material?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

The global party of stupid (slightly updated)

September 18th, 2013 42 comments

The new conservative ministry has just been sworn in, and while it includes Ministers for Border Protection (that is, stopping refugees) and Sport, and even a minister for the centenary of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915, there are no longer ministers for science or higher education[1]. This is part of a fairly consistent pattern. The US Republican Party recently vetoed the creation of an unpaid position of National Science Laureate. In Canada, the Harper government eliminated the position of National Science Advisor, among many other anti-science moves. All of this reflects the inconvenient fact that scientific research often reaches conclusions that conflict with the policy preferences or religious beliefs of rightwingers.

It’s striking in this context to recall that, only 20 years ago, the phrase “Science Wars” was used in relation to generally leftish postmodernists in the humanities, who were seen as rejecting science and/or promoting pseudoscience (while some of this stuff was rather silly, there’s no evidence that it ever did any actual harm to science). These days postmodernist and related “science studies” critiques of science are part of the rightwing arsenal used by Steven Fuller to defend creationism and by Daniel Sarewitz on climate science. The routine assumption that the analyses put forward of innumerate bloggers are just as valid as (in fact more valid than) as those of scientists who have devoted their life to the relevant field is one aspect of this, as is the constant demand to “teach the controversy” on evolution, climate science, wind turbine health scares, vaccination and so on.

In the short run, the costs of attacking science are small. Scientists aren’t that numerous, so their conversion into one of the most solidly anti-Republican voting blocs in the US has’t had much electoral impact. But, eventually the fact that conservatives are the “stupid party” gets noticed, even by rightwingers themselves.

One person who has just noticed is Frank Furedi, a leading figure in the former Revolutionary Communist Party which, over the course of the 1990s, morphed into the rightwing libertarian Spiked group. In retrospect, Furedi jumped ship at the high water mark of right wing intellectual confidence, symbolised by Tom Friedman’s bloviations in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Then came the Asian crisis, successive financial crises in the US and the intellectual debacle of climate delusionism, to which Furedi and the Spiked Group contributed actively. So, having joined what seemed to be the smart set, Furedi has finally realised that he is inescapably enmeshed in stupid. The result is this cri de coeur, lamenting the way in which rightwingers are called out for saying stupid things (he name-checks Tony Abbott, Stephanie Banister and, of course, Sarah Palin). Furedi doesn’t deny that rightwingers embrace stupidity, in fact he concedes it, observing

Not surprisingly, many conservatives become defensive when confronted with the put-downs of their intellectual superiors. Consequently, in many societies, particularly the US, they have become self-consciously anti-intellectual and hostile to the ethos of university life. Anti-intellectualism works as the kind of counterpart to the pathologisation of conservatism. And of course, the bitter anti-intellectual reaction of the right, which sometimes seems to affirm ignorance, only reinforces the smug prejudices of the intellectuals who see themselves as being morally superior. (emphasis added)

A couple of things are interesting about Furedi’s piece. First, he erases from history the period of rightwing intellectual dominance that began with the rise of market liberalism in the mid-1970s, and reached its apogee in the mid-1990s, before declining catastrophically in the Bush era. Second, he fails to recognise the way in which the silly-clever pointscoring of rightwing intellectuals like himself has contributed to the anti-intellectualism he deplores on his own side.

Even now, the intellectual collapse of the right has not had much effect on political outcomes. The dead ideas of the right shamble on in zombie form, and still dominate the thinking of the political class, particularly at the level of unconscious reflex. And, even to the extent that rightwing claims about, say, the beneficence of the financial sector, are discredited, the political power of the dominant class ensures that not much can be done. Winning the battle of ideas is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for progress. The rightwing embrace of stupidity is already doing them harm and will do a lot more in futer.

fn1. There are also very few women, but that needs another post.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Doublethink on triple-A

July 30th, 2013 27 comments

Which politician, holding a senior frontbench economic position, made the following sensible observation

I remind you that Lehman Brothers, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which started this global financial crisis, on that very day, they still had a AAA credit rating. What does a AAA credit rating really amount to? What I’m saying is you can’t place enormous store in the rating agencies. They do get things very badly wrong, and they totally missed those major firms and economies that were driving and the reason for the GFC.

Unfortunately, the same one who said only a few months ago that our

commitment to returning the Budget to a real surplus in a timely fashion and retaining Australia’s AAA rating is paramount.

Answer over the fold

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Ignorant, out of touch, crazy

July 29th, 2013 99 comments

Those are the terms chosen by young American voters to describe climate change deniers in a poll conducted for the League of Conservation Voters. LCV is obviously pro-environment, but historically nonpartisan, and they used both a Democratic and a Republican pollster.

The fact that, to be accepted in Republican circles, its necessary to be ignorant, out of touch or crazy or, at the very least, deferential to the crazies who dominate that side of politics, is being recognised as a problem for the Republicans and an opportunity for the Democrats, going well beyond the specific issue of climate change.

The climate denial issue came up again in Andrew Bolt’s interview with Kevin Rudd, and I’ve been reminded of his repeated claim that I got estimates of the climate impact of the government’s emission target wrong. In fact, it was Bolt who was wrong, as on almost every topic he touches, in this case, out by a factor of 100.

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Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

The right’s anti-wind campaign is pure scaremongering (updated)

July 23rd, 2013 113 comments

That’s the headline for my latest piece in Guardian. Of all of the anti-science nonsense peddled by the political right, here and in Britain, none is more stunningly hypocritical than their campaign against the (non-existent) health risks of wind turbines. The self-image promoted by these guys (and, with a handful of exceptions, they are guys) is one of hardnosed scepticism about unproven risks, disdain for emotive appeals to feelings about the environment. But because wind turbines are supported by their tribal enemies, they swallow and propagate utterly absurd alarmist claims.

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Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Environment Tags:

Rent-seeking rampant

July 19th, 2013 86 comments

The Rudd government’s proposal to tighten up documentation requirements for the very generous tax concessions provided for people who receive motor cars as a fringe benefit has produced some striking examples of rent-seeking from the Australian right, notably including Catallaxy and the Australian Financial Review. Catallaxy has a string of posts defending this rort.

The Fin gives lots of space to bleating rent-seekers, while imputing to “academics” the opinion that this is a subsidy. I guess that’s fair enough, given that the Fin regards basic science as a matter of academic opinion, while treating the failed dogmas of the 1980s as proven facts. And, of course, the Opposition has promised to oppose the measure, while weaselling out on the question of whether it would reverse the changes if elected.

This really is a test for Rudd. If he wants to refute the oft-repeated claim that he is all spin and no substance, this is his first chance, and one of the best he is going to get.

Bolt, ten years on

July 12th, 2013 53 comments

Since we’ve been discussing Andrew Bolt, I thought I’d dig up another of his columns from ten years ago, in which he denounces all those who criticised the lies he help to propagate. It was published in the Herald-Sun on 9 June 2003, but can now only be found via republications in Internet forums – the link they give is broken. Comment is, I think, superfluous.

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Categories: #NewsCorpFail, Boneheaded stupidity Tags:

Aware of All Internet Traditions

June 28th, 2013 14 comments

The canard that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet was so widely circulated and so damaging, one would have thought any politician would sew their lips shut rather than speak the phrase “invented the Internet” in any context other than a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee. But Tony Abbott has just described Malcolm Turnbull as the man who “virtually invented the Internet in Australia”. Either this is (a) a devilishly clever plot to lumber Turnbull with the Al Gore millstone, or (b) it is just about the stupidest thing Abbott has ever said. I’m going for (b)

For the record

* From the late 1980s, Al Gore led the work on the the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which created the National Information Infrastructure, and was vital to the development of the Internet from its beginnings as ARPANET

* In the 1990s, when the Internet was an established reality in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull made a lot of money investing in an ISP

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity Tags: