Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Phoning it in

April 7th, 2011 54 comments

Not long ago, I noted that Opposition Environment spokesman Greg Hunt was out by a factor of five in his estimate of the effects of a carbon price on the average household’s electricity bill. Now Tim Lambert at Deltoid catches him out by a factor of (at least) 100. And last week Lenore Taylor caught him circulating the latest delusionist talking point (about France dropping a carbon tax) in a press release, hastily correcting it an hour later when he realised that his “news” was a year old.

Three absurd errors in the space of a few weeks is starting to look like a pattern. What gives here? Hunt is one of the less silly members of the Opposition front bench, so I think the only explanation is that he is, as they say in the movie business, “phoning it in”.

If Hunt wants to stay in his job he has to oppose a policy he knows to be the right one, while advocating a nonsensical supposed alternative which exists only because Abbott can’t afford to say he will do (next to) nothing about climate change if he gets in, though of course that’s exactly what will happen.

And those on the Liberal side of politics who are paying any attention to this issue are mostly “sceptics”, that is, credulous fools who’ve already swallowed bucketloads of nonsense from Monckton, Carter, Plimer and others, despite ample and easily accessible refutations from scientists who know what they are talking about[1]. While they would scream blue murder about a misplaced comma in an IPCC document, or an out-of-context phrase lifted from an email, nothing as trivial as an error of a factor of five (or a hundred or a thousand) will worry them as long as it comes from their side of the fight (I was going to write “debate”, but this would imply that there was some element of rational argument).

So, from Hunt’s point of view, he might as well take it easy and churn out whatever nonsense comes to hand. As has been shown by the non-reaction to the absurdities I’ve listed, no one but a few bloggers will care.

fn1. Within this group, I guess I prefer those for whom “sceptic” means “I’ll believe whatever suits me politically” to those who, in the face of all this profess to be “still making up their minds” or “unable to judge”. Both are displaying absurd credulity regarding the nonsensical “evidence” put forward by the anti-science side and a massive over-estimation of their own reasoning powers regarding a mass of scientific literature they have never read and never intend to. But the first group are at least clearer about their motives.

Categories: Oz Politics, Science Tags:

The chain of scientific authority

March 21st, 2011 90 comments

Noted scientist Andrew Bolt assures us that exposure to radioactivity is beneficial. His source is creation scientist Ann Coulter, who in turn relies on all-round scientific expert Tom Bethell, whose Incorrect Guide to Science[1] rejects scientific correctness on radiation, evolution, climate change, DDT, AIDS and many other topics. As far as I know, none of these experts has ever studied any scientific subject at a level higher than high school, which guarantees that they haven’t been infected by the subversive influence of correctness in science (or, for that matter, any other topic).

(Hat tip, Tim Lambert, who points to one of those correct scientists, PZ Myers)

fn1. The full title says “Politically Incorrect”, but this is a bit redundant. No doubt politics are the reason for Bethells incorrectness on science, but that’s true of all his incorrect opinions.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Howled down in a pomo world

March 19th, 2011 31 comments

Deirdre Macken has a great piece on today’s Fin, riffing off Cardinal “I spend a lot of time studying this stuff” Pell to the general issue of the challenge to expertise in both productive (Wikipedia) and unproductive (climate science rejectionism) forms. Paywalled unfortunately, but here’s the link for anyone who can use it.

Macken, correctly I think, points to postmodernism as a contributor to the process. I’ve discussed this before (do a search) and I know it’s more complicated than that, but the vulgarised version of postmodernism as denying any special status to scientific knowledge as compared to other “knowledges” has certainly been embraced on the political right in a way that few of its original proponents could have anticipated.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Cardinal folly

March 15th, 2011 72 comments

In his demolition of Ian Plimer’s anti-science screed, presented at an estimates hearing in the Senate,the head of the BOM Dr Greg Ayers offered Cardinal Pell a gracious way out of his ill-advised endorsement of Plimer saying the cardinal ”may well become an ambassador for the quality of climate change science if he is exposed to the quality of the science that is done”.

Instead, Pell has doubled down, accusing Ayers of getting his facts wrong and saying

”I regret when a discussion of these things is not based on scientific fact … I spend a lot of time studying this stuff.”

Comment on the arrogant stupidity of such a claim is superfluous (but feel free to pile on anyway!)

Instead of a tiresome recitation of Ayers’ qualifications on the topic and Pell’s lack of same, I’ll look on the bright side. Each person who comes out with this kind of nonsense (Don Aitkin, David Bellamy, Clive James, Nick Minchin, the entire rightwing commentariat) is one less to whom we need to pay attention on any subject. Whatever their former claims to eminence (!), the combination of ignorance, bad judgement, hubris and plain dishonesty required to endorse nonsense like Plimer’s is enough to discredit them across the board.

Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

The Bureau fights back

February 27th, 2011 37 comments

The idea that the Bureau of Meteorology is part of a global conspiracy to destroy Australia’s economy impose communist world government (or in some more prosaic versions, to increase its funding[1]) sounds like the basis of a bad comedy sketch. But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, this claim is put forward, in apparent seriousness, by numerous anti-science advocates in Australia (Andrew Bolt, Jennifer Marohasy, and Warwick Hughes are leading examples) and implicily accepted by many others.

Now, as Graham Readfearn (h/t Tim Lambert) points out, the Bureau is fighting back.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven and Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

The Director of the Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers has now responded at an estimates hearing, demolishing Plimer’s bogus claims and pointing to numerous scathing reviews of his trashy and dishonest book. Ayers is great value, but the real fun in reading the Hansard transcript comes from the frantic attempts of Senators MacDonald and Boswell to stop him talking.

Update This post was critical of the Australian Academy of Science for what I’ve seen as a “missing in action” response to the attacks on climate science in Australia. In response, Martin Callinan of the Academy points me to this ABC Radio Interview with AAS President Kurt Lambeck, in which he gives a very critical review of Plimer’s book. I’ll also link to the AAS pamphlet, which is very good. That said, I don’t retract my main point which is that the Academy needs to take a much more vigorous line against the attacks on science and individual scientists which have become a pervasive feature of Australian political commentary.
Read more…

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Adventures in agnotology

February 13th, 2011 46 comments

A fun list from Ranker, on the absurdities of Bill O’Reilly, some mockery of which is now going viral. And while we’re on the subject of lists, here’s Alternet with 10 historical facts only a rightwinger could believe.

Meanwhile, Brad Delong cites an attack on relativity theory by Tom Bethell of the American Spectator and Hoover Institution. Bethell’s source is the “Galilean electrodynamics of rightwing crank physicist Petr Beckman, commemorated in the Petr Beckman award, which has been accepted by a string of the scientific luminaries of the climate science denial movement such as Fred Singer, Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon. As DeLong observes with respect to the publication of the Bethell piece

from that moment on, my working hypothesis was that the conservative wing[1] of the Republican Party is composed exclusively of people who have completely disabled their bulls**t detectors. That working hypothesis has served me very well for seventeen years now.

Of course, this applies in spades to the Australian importers and distributors of this stuff – Bolt, Devine, Windschuttle and the entire Murdoch press.

The left has its faults and follies, to be sure. But it must be excruciatingly embarrassing to be, for example, a (genuine) scientist or historian of conservative inclinations, aware that your political allies are at best utterly indifferent, and at worst actively hostile, to scientific and historical truth.

Update There’s a response at Catallaxy, with a lengthy (and typically Catallaxian) comments thread, largely focusing on my offhand reference to Bolt and others as Australian advocates of anti-science views imported from the US. I didn’t intend to suggest that the people I mentioned are opposed to relativity theory or, more generally, that they are consistently anti-science like Bethell and Conservapedia. Rather, they take something of a “cafeteria contra-science” view, happy to endorse mainstream science whenever its implications support their political views, or provides the basis for cool new technology, but equally ready to discover a massive global conspiracy any time the science comes out the “wrong” way (on smoking, DDT, global warming, CFCs etc).

fn1. DeLong is presumably speaking in the terms applicable to the early 1990s, when the Republican Party included numerous centrists and even some remnants of the once influential “liberal Republicans” epitomized by Eisenhower.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Sandpit 300

January 2nd, 2011 31 comments

This is a sandpit for people who want to
(a) argue about the efficacy of specific road safety interventions
(b) record their status as believers (with or without qualification) in the libertarian/conservative orthodoxy that climate change is a hoax/fraud/unsupported hypothesis.

I’d request no responses to those in category (b). They are, in my view, beyond help, and there are plenty of sites pointing out their errors if they want to look.

Categories: Life in General, Science Tags:

Natural units

December 31st, 2010 22 comments

As part of my not-very-successful quest to keep abreast of the latest developments in science, I just finished Einstein’s Relativity:The Special and the General Theory which was, as you’ll recall was a big hit when it came out around 1915. Right towards the end, you get the famous formula E=mc^2. Reading this, I recalled someone pointing out that, in a sensible system of units, c (the speed of light in a vacuum) would be set at 1, so the equation would just say Energy=Mass.
Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Deltoid vs The Thunderer

March 13th, 2010 35 comments

My recent scuffle with the Oz, is one of a long line in which a paper which was once (long ago, and only for a few years, but still) Australia’s best has had it out with bloggers, mostly coming off second-best. After being shredded in its fight with the psephbloggers in 2007, and having long since abandoned any claims to credibility, the Oz is not much of a scalp to hang on your belt these days.

A much more interesting match-up is between Tim Lambert’s Deltoid and the Times of London, as represented by their laughably mis-titled ‘Science’ reporter Jonathan Leake. With more than 200 years as the world’s best known newspaper of record, the Times ought to be a shoo-in. But Murdoch ownership erodes credibility at a startling rate, and Lambert has Leake dead to rights. I’m betting on a TKO for Deltoid.

Starting with Leakegate (Leake’s role in pushing the anti-science lies associated with ClimateAuditGate), Lambert has pointed out all manner of journalistic malfeasance on Leake’s part. The Times wisely stuck to dignified disregard for a while, but, like the Oz, they couldn’t keep it up. Leake had a fellow reporter call Lambert and claim to be doing a general story on science blogging. She didn’t manage to get much but ran a hatchet job anyway. Now, as Lambert is reporting, Leake is getting banned from all sorts of places for such malfeasance as breaking embargoes. You can read the whole story here.

Categories: Science Tags:


March 7th, 2010 10 comments

My namesake, Tom Quiggin has been in the news lately, debunking the idea that Al Qaeda cultivates sleeper agents and also tracing to its source the urban myth that Osama Bin Laden used a private fortune of $300 million to promote the group.

He’s sent me some reflections on the sloppy research that’s been used to promote some of these ideas, noting

. A disconnect between the statement in the body of the article and the sources in the footnotes which do not back up the statement being made,
2. Strong statements which are made, but which are built on weak foundations or on assumptions which cannot be shown to be valid,
3. Information from two different situations is overlapped or mixed together, leaving the reader with a false impression about the nature of a particular problem or situation,
4. In a limited number of cases, information provided in articles is simply false.

The faults he points out are, I think, found to some extent in every field (I’ve certainly found plenty of instances in economics, though the prevailing flaws are a bit different), but fields like the study of security issues have the added problem that replication and verification are particularly difficult. Processes such as peer review, replication and empirical testing aren’t panaceas, and errors will always slip through, but they work pretty well in the long run.

Categories: Science Tags:

Birds of a feather

March 4th, 2010 32 comments

The similarity between creationist ‘scepticism’ about evolutionary science and rightwing ‘scepticism’ about climate science is obvious to nearly[1] everyone, whether pro-science or anti-science. So, it’s no surprise that creationists have sought to combine the two issues, and that, conversely, opponents of climate science have pushed ‘teach the controversy’ legislation modelled on those of the creationists. Here’s the NYTimes describing the US scene.

In Australia, Quadrant offers the whole package – anti-science climate delusionism, and historical revisionism as well as anti-Darwinism. This recent book review by DM Armstrong , echoing the ‘science is not settled’ line on climate change, says ‘let us not regard the case is closed’, gives a sympathetic reference to Behe, then rather bizarrely goes on to endorse sociobiology. In between he cites Ian Plimer against climate science.

Update An interesting feature of this process is the emergence of anti-vaccination as a cause embraced by the right, pushed by figures such as Glenn Beck and the unofficial leader of the US Republican Party Rush Limbaugh. As a commenter here pointed out, itseemingly started with vaccination of girls against HPV. The final trigger seems to have been the mass vaccination campaign against H1N1 flu, which hit even more hot buttons for these guys – big government, the WHO, preparation against something that might not happen and so on. Anti-vaccination used to be one area of anti-science thought where lefties predominated, and it still has some support on the fringes of the left, but not from anyone comparable in influence to Limbaugh. But it’s rapidly becoming part of rightwing orthodoxy.

In particular, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they will get vaccinated

fn1. Except in Australia, where lots of people who will accept just about any anti-science talking point on climate science get unaccountably riled when it is suggested, by consistent thinkers on both sides of the debate, that they ought to accept the parallel talking points on evolution (gaps in the data, alleged frauds by evolutionists, evolution as a religious belief etc etc).

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Science Tags:

Two kinds of ignorance

February 25th, 2010 99 comments

Also, in yesterday’s Fin, Geoffrey Barker accused Abbott of going for the bogan vote (paywalled), where bogan is taken to mean ignorant. Leaving aside the class/cultural analysis implicit in the term “bogan”, which I think is wrong, the argument is the same as I made in my post on agnotology, as his characterization of Rudd as a technocrat, not really at ease with the kind of politics that includes demands for authenticity and so on. Coming back to “bogan”, the big issue in agnotology is not ignorance in the ordinary sense of the term (people who don’t know much about political issues, and don’t care to learn – that is certainly part of the stereotypical bogan image, and may perhaps be descriptive of the actual demographic groups commonly associated with the term, though I don’t know of any evidence of this).

The ignorance associated with climate change delusionism and other rightwing factoids is metacognitive and has much more to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect of overestimating one’s own competence. The classic example is the kind of person who eagerly circulates reports that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995. The only information content in such a report is that the person doing the reporting doesn’t understand the concept of statistical significance[1], and therefore is incapable of assessing any issue involving statistical analysis, of which climate change is a prime example.

The stereotypical candidate, in relation to climate change, is that of a 50+ male[2] with a business background in engineering or some similar field where practical judgement is accorded more value than theoretical expertise, and where a willingness to push on regardless is an important element of success. Journalists and opinion columnists[3], accustomed to “mastering a brief” at short notice are also highly susceptible – lawyers who may actually have to master briefs involving technical issues seem mostly to recognise that this is the kind of problem where expert judgement is required, as does the more sensible kind of economist[4]

fn1. Note for pedants. A Bayesian statistician would say that confusion over the concept of significance reflects the logical problems of the concept and the underlying classical theory of statistics. But that only makes sloppy misuse of the concept even worse. I’ll have more to say on this soon, I hope.

fn2. A demographic group to which I belong

fn3. This one, too.

fn4. This one, too, I hope.

Categories: Life in General, Science Tags:

Various links

September 4th, 2009 6 comments

A few things where I’ve had a direct or indirect interest

* This study of media bias by econobloggers Andrew Leigh and Joshua Gans has unsurprisingly attracted interest from the media and econobloggers (Andrew gives some links). The striking (if not particularly surprising) finding is that the ABC as a whole is to the right of most newspapers. One aspect of it was how much the media cited public intellectuals identified as partisan by the fact that they were commonly mentioned in favorable terms in Parliament by one side, but not by the other. Interestingly, I didn’t pass this test. I had about 30 favorable mentions, of which about 30 per cent were from the Coalition.

* My Senate submission on deposit guarantees got a good run in this SMH piece, which opens with a look at the incidence of John Dillinger’s bankrobbing exploits, as described by Johnny Depp. Since been romantically linked with Angelina Jolie, I’m keen for more brushes with fame.

* Back when I was doing my Pure Maths degree, I studied fixed point theorems. One implication of the standard Brouwer fixed point theorem is the hairy ball theorem which implies, among other things, that there must always be a place on earth where the wind isn’t blowing. I said at the time that I aimed to get a research grant to test this theoretical result in practice, by travelling round the world and moving on whenever the wind blew. Today, my fellow-student and major source of technical advice for this blog, Martin Ellison, advises me that I’ve missed my chance. These guys have found the spot, in remotest Antarctica.

Categories: Economic policy, Media, Science Tags:

Is this the same Steven Pinker?

August 5th, 2009 17 comments

A couple of days ago, Jack Strocchi and I were discussing Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, a book which I thought, when I reviewed it in 2002, was much below the standard of his earlier work, though no worse than the average book about the ‘nature-nurture’ controversy. In particular, I thought his discussion of war and violence was hopelessly confused, putting forward a Hobbesian view of violence as the product of rational self interest as if it was consistent with the genetic determinism that was the central theme of the rest of the book.

Now, via John Horgan at Slate, I’ve happened across this broadcast by Pinker at TED (which, by the way I’ve just discovered and is excellent). The broadcast has a transcript which is great for those of us who prefer reading to listening.

In this piece, Pinker appears to me to change sides almsot completely, from pessimist to optimist and from genetic determinist to social improver. Not only does he present evidence that war and violence are declining in relative importance, his explanation for this seems to be entirely consistent with the Standard Social Science Model he caricatured and debunked in The Blank Slate. He’s still got a sort of rational self-interest model in there, but now Hobbes is invoked, not for his ‘nasty, brutish and short’ state of nature, but for his argument that the Leviathan of social order will suppress violence to the benefit of all.

But even more striking is this:

[Co-operation] may also be powered by cosmopolitanism: by histories and journalism and memoirs and realistic fiction and travel and literacy, which allows you to project yourself into the lives of other people that formerly you may have treated as sub-human, and also to realize the accidental contingency of your own station in life; the sense that “there but for fortune go I.”

I agree entirely, but we seem to have come a long way from the African savannah here.

Categories: Science Tags:

Skewness (Warning: statnerdery ahead)

July 1st, 2009 19 comments

I’m not all that good at remembering which way various standard distinctions go, especially when I have some underlying doubt about them. In classical hypothesis testing, for example, Type I error involves erroneously rejecting the null hypothesis, while Type II error involves erroneously failing to reject. Since I mostly think in Bayesian terms, I regard the whole classical setup as a fairly arbitrary social convention. One result is that I have to remind myself, fairly regularly, which type of error is which.

I have a different kind of problem with the terminology of skewness. Positive skewness is often called “right skewness”, but it seems to me this is the wrong way around. Suppose I started with a zero-mean symmetrical distribution (say normal) and reduced some of the values near the mode/mean/median. The result would be a distribution with negative mean, mode and median, and positive skewness. In visual terms, the peak of the distribution would be pushed to the left, while the right hand tail would now be long. In ordinary terms, I would say the distribution had been skewed to the left. Any comments?

Categories: Science Tags:


May 9th, 2009 78 comments

In the Oz of all places, a demolition of Ian Plimer so scathing, and so convincing, that it’s hard to imagine how he can salvage any kind of academic reputation, other than by a full retraction (which would be a pretty impressive move, admittedly).

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

April 29th, 2009 83 comments

Reading the latest delusionist nonsense at the Oz (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

Readers may recall that what I actually wrote in the Fin last week was

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience on Monday 27th

April 25th, 2009 1 comment

Galileo’s invention of the astronomical telescope and his astounding discoveries: moons, stars, and a new planet
Presented by Professor David Jamieson from The School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.

* Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
* Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
* Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, and Professor Jamieson will be available to answer any questions.

Read more…

Categories: Science Tags:


December 15th, 2008 36 comments

This New York Times article on the (apparently widespread) practice of drug companies drafting and ghostwriting scientific articles favorable to their products, and then arranging for academics to publish the articles under their own names, focuses, reasonably enough, on the potential for such practices to mislead doctors and other readers.

As an academic, though, I was particularly struck by the stress that the drug company Wyeth laid on the fact that the nominal authors of these articles were not being paid and endorsed the contents. In reality, having someone write articles for you amounts to not doing the job for which, as an academic, you are paid and, if the articles are sufficiently numerous and well-placed, promoted. It would be far more ethical (or less unethical) to pay academics for product endorsements, published as commercial advertisements.

Of course, in a world where a $50 billion (or maybe $17 billion, who can tell?) fraud barely makes the front page, and a $100 million rip-off is buried somewhere behind the shipping news, it seems a bit precious to worry about allegations of goldbricking academics passing off corporate propaganda as their own work. But at least I can understand how this scam works, as opposed to how a massive Ponzi scheme can be operated for decades under the noses of what are supposed to be the world’s most sophisticated fnancial markets and regulators.

Categories: Economics - General, Science Tags:

BrisScience reminder

August 4th, 2008 Comments off

Wolf in a sheep’s labcoat: pseudoscience in the 20th Century – Mike McRae

Monday 4th August 2008
6:30 pm to 7:30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm)
Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Free, no booking required

Categories: Science Tags:

Bris Science tonight

July 7th, 2008 Comments off

Bris Science is on again, tonight at Brisbane City Hall with rofessor Peter Andrews, Queensland Chief Scientist, talking on Queensland Science: Building a Smarter Future. Details over the fold.

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Categories: Science Tags:

Good news on the research front

June 17th, 2008 27 comments

Fresh from the discovery that red wine is good for you, dedicated researchers have turned their attention to coffee, finding that “coffee drinking does not appear to increase a person’s risk of early death and may cut a person’s chances of dying from heart disease”. Isn’t science wonderful?

Categories: Science Tags:

Defending Rachel Carson: the last word

June 14th, 2008 7 comments

The Prospect article defending Rachel Carson I wrote with Tim Lambert kicked off a lengthy round of blast and counterblast in the blogosphere. Some of the response did little more than illustrate the continuing gullibility of the RWDB segment of the blogosphere, notably including Andrew Bolt and Glenn Reynolds (start here). The more serious discussion began with links from Andrew Leonard at Salon and Brad Plumer at TNR, and a reply from Roger Bate, claiming that we had greatly overstated his links with the tobacco industry (Tim Lambert responded here and Andrew Leonard here and here, with plenty more evidence on this point). A further piece makes the claim (which I have no reason to dispute) that British American Tobacco has now switched sides and is arguing against DDT use in Uganda.

Through all this sound and fury, some progress was made. No one even attempted to defend the claim that the use of DDT against malaria had been banned, or the outrageous lies of Steven Milloy (still employed by Fox News and CEI, despite his exposure as a tobacco industry shill) who blames Rachel Carson for every malaria death since 1972. It even turned out that the much-denounced decision of South Africa to abandon DDT use (reversed when malaria cases increased because of resistance to the pyrethroids used as alternatives) was not primarily due to environmentalist pressure. As Bate noted in his reply, the main factor behind the decision was the unpleasant look and small of DDT sprayed on hut walls, which often led to repainting or replastering. A minor, but still striking point, is that DDT continued to be used for public health purposes in the US (against plague-bearing fleas) even after the 1972 ban on general use of the chemical, and is still available for these purposes if needed.

Update:Absolutely the last word Via Ed Darrell a quiet victory for friends of Rachel Carson with the abandonment by Senator Tom Coburn of a block on the naming, in her honor, of the post office in her birthplace. It appears that the campaign of denigration against Carson (and, by implication, the environmental movement as a whole) has become untenable.
Read more…

Categories: Environment, Science Tags:

Republican War on Science: Science Fights Back

June 12th, 2008 35 comments

Via discussions at Wikipedia, this editorial in the Chemical & Engineering News, weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, The editorial notes

There really is a right-wing effort in the U.S. to discredit widely accepted science, technology, and medical information.

prominently represented by Fox News “junk science” correspondent Steven Milloy,

the tireless antiscience polemicist who started out as an apologist for the tobacco industry and spends most of his time these days claiming that all climate-change research is, of course, junk science. It’s a catchy little phrase that Milloy applies to, well, anything that doesn’t match his right-wing concept of reality

as well as those of Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (responsible for the original Oregon petition much beloved of our local delusionists) and the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons (JAPS), the source of the most recent version of the petition.

What’s striking about this is that, as scientists go, chemists are not exactly renowned as radical extremists, and not many members of ACS would be involved in climate research. Recognition that the political right is at war with science is spreading beyond those most directly affected (such as researchers in climate change, biology, and epidemiology) to the broader community of scientists (and even, more recently engineers).

In the short run, the political costs of a war on science aren’t that great. There just aren’t enough scientists to make up a big voting bloc. But science, while fallible, is the most reliable source of truth we have, and most people know this. A party at war with science is, in the end, at war with truth, and truth will out.

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight

June 8th, 2008 1 comment

BrisScience: Friend or Foe? The Ocean’s Response to Climate Change presented
by Dr Ben McNeil

Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
Monday 8 December, 2008
Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the
talk, and Ben will be available to answer any questions.
Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or [email protected]) or Nelle
([email protected]).

Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight

June 2nd, 2008 1 comment

Monday 2nd June 2008
6.30 pm (Doors open at 6 pm)
Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
This event is free – no booking required
There will be refreshments following the talk and Joe will be available to answer any questions.
For further information or to subscribe to the mailing list visit or contact Joel Gilmore ([email protected]) or Lynelle Ross ([email protected]).
Please forward this announcement to friends and colleagues

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Categories: Science Tags:

The Republican War on Science, yet again

May 7th, 2008 8 comments

Kevin Drum points to this piece by Michael Gerson, denying the existence of a Republican War on Science. As Drum points out, Gerson doesn’t even mention the major battlegrounds like global warming denialism, creationism and intelligent design, and the Gingrich-era shutdown of the Office of Technology Assessment, focusing on a much narrower set of issues including stem cell research and abortion.

Moreover far from refuting the claim of a war between Republicanism and science, Gerson spends most of the article fighting on the Republican side. Most obviously the obligatory, and in this case, lengthy discussion of eugenics, tied in Jonah Goldberg fashion to contemporary liberalism.

There’s an even more fundamental problem here. Gerson is so focused on the political/cultural/ethical war he is fighting that he doesn’t even consider the question of whether there are any scientific facts that might be relevant to the question.

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Categories: Science Tags:

BrisScience tonight: animals and colour, sex and violence

April 28th, 2008 Comments off

Very late notice, I know, but I thought I’d put in a plug for tonight’s Bris Science lecture at City Hall, on


Details and future events over the page

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Categories: Science Tags:

Schroedinger’s machines

March 27th, 2008 14 comments

The next in the popular series of BrisScience lectures will be on Monday 31 March. As the title, Schroedinger’s machines indicates, it’s on the fascinating topic of quantum computing. More over page.
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Categories: Science Tags:

The Republican War on Science: Tierney and Bethell

March 6th, 2008 152 comments

One of the big problems with talking about what Chris Mooney has called The Republican War on Science is that, on the Republican side, the case against science is rarely laid out explicitly. On a whole range of issues (evolution, passive smoking, climate change, the breast-cancer abortion link, CFCs and the ozone layer and so on) Republicans attack scientists, reject the conclusions of mainstream science and promote political talking points over peer-reviewed research. But they rarely present a coherent critique that would explain why, on so many different issues, they feel its appropriate to rely on their own politically-based judgements and reject those of mainstream science. And of course many of them are unwilling to admit that they are at war with science, preferring to set up their own alternative set of scientific institutions and experts, journals and so on.

So it’s good to see a clear statement of the Republican critique of science from John Tierney in this NY Times blog piece promoting global warming “skepticism”. The core quote is

climate is so complicated, and cuts across so many scientific disciplines, that it’s impossible to know which discrepancies or which variables are really important.
Considering how many false alarms have been raised previously by scientists (the “population crisis,� the “energy crisis,� the “cancer epidemic� from synthetic chemicals), I wouldn’t be surprised if the predictions of global warming turn out to be wrong or greatly exaggerated. Scientists are prone to herd thinking — informational cascades– and this danger is particularly acute when they have to rely on so many people outside their field to assess a topic as large as climate change.

Both this quote and the rest of Tierney’s article are notable for the way in which he treats science as inseparable from politics, and makes no distinction between scientific research and the kind of newspaper polemic he produces. Like most Republicans, Tierney takes a triumphalist view of the experience of the last thirty years or so, as showing that he and other Republicans have been proved right, and their opponents, including scientists, have been proved wrong. Hence, he argues, he is entitled to prefer his own political judgements to the judgements (inevitably equally political) of scientists.

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