Hassan al-Turabi’s open thread

In a fairly standard example of thread-jacking/topic drift, my challenge to nominate disinterested scientists sceptical of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis veered rapidly off-track, turning quickly to the shortcomings of Hassan al-Turabi (a Sudanese politician, it appears). I’m posting this as a separate thread for the discussion beginning with this comment by Michael Burgess who observed, in response to Dave Ricardo,

While I don’t know what to think on the greenhouse issue, I do find it somewhat ironic that many of those who are usually so post-modern in their outlook (there is no objective truth etc and following Thomas Kuhn this applies as much in the physical sciences as it does in the social sciences etc) suddenly get very absolutist when it suits them.

I do think that before making such a claim, MB might reasonably have searched the site using the facility provided. He would have found many references to both left-wing and right-wing varieties of postmodernism, among which this is, I think the kindest (and it’s not very kind).

Anyway, as of now, I’m going to delete any further off-topic comments and side debates in the sceptics thread, and request that any discussion of Turabi and similar be directed here.

17 thoughts on “Hassan al-Turabi’s open thread

  1. Comment from Michael Burgess transferred to this thread by JQ

    Dave you suggest that I am ‘resorting to gross generalisation, with your lumping together of green political activists with the hundreds of scientists who have published serious work supporting the existence of climate change.’

    Well who is generalising here – many of the green political activists I referred to, or had in mind, are academics both social scientists and physical scientists. I am also not suggesting that the greenhouse theory is false. I am simply suggesting that given the tendency of both environmental activists and environmentally committed academics to preach doom and gloom, one can hardly blame those of us who are not experts on this issue for being somewhat sceptical.

  2. Further transferred comment from MB

    John, your statement regarding thread-jacking/topic drift is rather ludicrous if not rather pompous. The reference in question to he who shall not be named was too illustrate that large groups of academics do frequently let their biases lead them to ridiculous conclusions and that they then often seek to deny other points of view via various gate keeping mechanisms. Given this has occurred in economics frequently enough (as even Paul Krugman acknowledged), I would have thought you would be sympathetic to this view. Now not being a huge fan of the likes of Thomas Kuhn, I am prepared to acknowledge that this happens far less in the ‘hard sciences’ than it happens in the social sciences (including economics). Truth will eventually win out. Nevertheless, scientists are not immune from factors external to their discipline.

    Also, unlike myself, many supporters of greenhouse theory are also post-modernists – I simply think it is rather hypocritical of them to demonstrate absolute faith in the findings of scientists when it suits them and disregard them when it doesn’t.

  3. MB, this is my blog and costs a lot of effort to maintain. Your off-topic comments increase the effort cost to me.

    In future, please do not raise Middle East politics or similar issues (whether as examples or otherwise) in threads that do not specifically pertain to the topic.If you don’t like the way I run the blog, please go elsewhere.

    If you would like to discuss postmodernism further, this thread provides you with an opportunity. I’ll wait to see what others have to say before responding.

  4. Is JQ a bearded form of andrea Harris?

    What has brought on this new restriction on speaking?

  5. No doubt about it, Hassan al-Turabi is a bad man from Sudan, the worst since Abdullah the butcher.

  6. Again John and others completely, if not deliberately, miss the point when I they accuse me of thread high jacking. I pointed to the tendency of prominent figures in the Middle Eastern Studies association to sing the praises of odious individuals as one example of appalling bias in academia – I was clearly not starting a discussion on this topic. I was also making the point that many of those who otherwise have a post-modernist bent (including where science is concerned) suddenly become scientific absolutists when it suits them (e.g. as in the case of greenhouse theory). I think it is quite legitimate to point out their inconsistency. I supposed I could have used another example but this is one of the areas I am most familiar with. I also note that in the past John has reacted strongly when I or others point to past examples of large numbers of academics, intellectuals, or social activists on the left mindlessly adhering to particular ideologies (communism, Marxism, anti-development utopianism, etc). Dealing with past failings is surely an essential component of moving forward. I personally don’t see why people who have got it so wrong so badly in the past should continue to have academic or other important jobs or continue to run social movements. The continuing influence of these idiots continues to do massive damage to the left of politics. In any case, I am not prepared to participate any longer in debates where I am going to be subject to censorship.

  7. Michael, if you wish to criticise postmodernists, communists, anti-development utopians, the Middle Eastern Studies association and so on, I’ve requested that you wait for a post in which I discuss these topics or go to one of the many blogs where these issues are discussed on a daily basis.

    To make life easy for you, I’ve set up this thread precisely so that you can air your concerns on these topics. So if you have something new to say, now’s your chance. In particular, if there are particular people who are soft on al-Turabi, feel free to give them a blast.

    To respond to Homer, I’m doing my best to keep discussion on the rails without arbitrarily banning people. Again, if you don’t like the way I run this blog, feel free to set up your own.

  8. MB wrote:

    “. . .large groups of academics do frequently let their biases lead them to ridiculous conclusions and that they then often seek to deny other points of view via various gate keeping mechanisms. Given this has occurred in economics frequently enough (as even Paul Krugman acknowledged), I would have thought you would be sympathetic to this view.”

    Yes, and one of the issues on which this has happened frequently enough in economics is in econometric modelling and other attempts to predict the economic impacts of environmental protection/regulation proposals.

    As a final year Environmental Sciences student in 1994 I came across a prediction by one of John Q’s UQ colleagues, published by the relevant industry lobby group, that ending sand and gravel dredging from the Brisbane River would lead to economic disaster for the construction industry and the overall economy of south-east Queensland. The marker of my assignment thought my arguments against this view were reasonably persuasive (she gave me 100% for the assignment!) but, as always, the most effective refutation occurred in the real world, when the Soorley administration in Brisbane ended dredging in the river in the late 1990s and the regional economy and construction sector kept powering on.

    More significant cases of economic models which calculated “wolf” are catalogued by Eban Goodstein in his 1998 book, The Trade-Off Myth, in which he shows that every significant piece of nation environmental regulation introduced in the US was prefaced by industry-sponsored economic modelling predictions which overstated the economic and employment losses by several orders of magnitude, completely failed to predict the economic and employment gains (which usually offset the losses) and in one case predicted large economic costs from a scheme which was self-funding! In all cases the sources of the errors lay in assumptions underpinning the models which were utterly implausible in the real world, but which reflected the ideological biases and/or self-interest of those commissioning the models.

    The sting in the tail, as Goodstein and others including John Q and Clive Hamilton have made clear, is that this sort of intellectual brummagem permeates Australian Government and industry claims about the economic consequences of Australia ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and of other strong environmental protection measures. It is also accepted uncritically by people like that selective sceptic, Bjorn Lomborg, and assimilated into his arguments against Kyoto.

  9. “I personally don’t see why people who have got it so wrong so badly in the past should continue to have academic or other important jobs or continue to run social movements.”

    At long last, we are getting to the gist of the problem. Michael was forced out of his junior academic job by the eco Nazis/postmodernists/haters of the west, and denied promotion in his current public service job by the middle class feminists. And he felt compelled to leave his spare time activity, Amnesty International, because it is now run by the same people (or the same types of people) who have made his professional life such a misery!

    Which is all very sad, but I’m buggered if I know what it’s got to do with the rest of us.

  10. the problem with blog comments full stop is that they are not subject to any sort of scoring with respect to quality or popularity. John’s website itself depends for it’s visibility on references to the site on the web in general as scored by eg google pagerank or by references in other blogs as scored by eg technorati.

    the lack of any mechanism for assessing the quality or popularity of blog comments means comments on blogs are of highly variable quality, lack structure etc quite apart from problem of comment spam hijacking.

    it seems further significant in this context that slashdot.org which has a mechanism for assessing/filtering the popularity/quality of comments, is 3 times as popular as the most popular blog (boingboing.net) according to alexa.com.

    in short, expecting blog comments to be workable as the number of contributors increases indefinitely is like searching the web not by google / yahoo but by having a big web page where anyone who wants to can place links to their website anywhere they feel like.

    first came the popularity/quality metric for the web – ie search engines – then came the popularity/quality metric for blogs – ie technorati etc – i suggest that such a metric for blog comments is an obvious next step.

  11. All the slashdot comment rating mechanism does is promote a special sort of groupthink. It’s entertaining to watch OSS advocates fellate each other for about the first hour, but gets very boring shortly after.
    It’s very bold to thread hijack a thread that was created to alleviate thread hijacking elsewhere. It’s also bold to hijack a thread to complain about the quality of comments on blogs.

  12. I simply think it’s incredibly effing rude to criticise Pr Quiggin when he makes a reasonable request on when and where to make appropriate posts on his bit of electronic real estate. Hardly censorship!

    As he says, if you’re that put off, start your own blog!

    As for the original contention – tosh! Totally unproveable either way, however I’m certianly not of the postmodernist mindset, nor are the large number of greenhouse professionals I know (policy not science). We’re convinced by reasonable data. Which climatologists are providing.

  13. Today is the 463rd anniversary of the establishment of the Inquisition, and Catholic Right bombthrower Miranda Devine has marked the occasion in truly fitting manner with her column in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, at http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/muslim-rage-burns-in-our-backyard/2005/07/20/1121539032464.html?oneclick=true

    Miranda’s argument is that the attraction of young Moslem men in Western societies to Islamo-fascism, suicide bombing and gang rape of non-Moslem women is an understandable reaction to the baleful consequences of the actions of secular liberals, feminists, etc., who have destroyed the “gender ettiquettes of the last one thousand years” and created a void of permissive moral nothingness which only Islamo-fascism is stepping in to fill. The solution, presumably, is to put the Christian Right back in charge of Western societies, put women back in the kitchen and queers back in the closet, restore the “gender etiquettes of the last thousand years” (which, let us not forget, included such enlightened practices as burning witches at the stake), and in that way ameliorate the alienation which drives basically decent lads like Bilal Skaf and the London train bombers to regrettable extremes.

    One of the unintended consequences of 9-11 and its aftermath has been the disruption of the misogynist unity ticket which had been formed during the 1990s by the Christian Right and Islamist conservatives on issues of gender, family, sexuality and reproduction. We had the bloc between the Vatican and the Islamists at the 1994 Cairo Conference on population. This was followed a few years later by the formation of a Catholic Right front group which placed me on its mailing list on the strength of a letter I wrote to The Australian, and from which I regularly received bulletins describing the heroic efforts of the Islamo-Catholic alliance to oppose population control policies based on enhanced access to abortion and contraception. Then, not long before 9-11, Devine’s co-ideologue and co-religionist Angela Shanahan wrote an anti-feminist spray in the Australian which expressed dismay at the influence of feminist values on the life-choices of young Australian women, and expressed admiration for young Moslem women whose more conservative life-choices she saw as the way of the future. 9-11 put an end to this sort of thing for a few years, but it seems as if Devine’s effort today might be a revival of the attempt to harness Silas the Psycho and Osama Bin Laden to the same anti-modernity chariot.

  14. Devine’s effort at blaming Islamist terrorism in Big Brother and the permissive society is certainly heroic, but alas, doomed to fail.

    It will fail on factual grounds: if the permissive society were to blame, we’d be seeing young, alienated, Presbyterian, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, etc, men blowing up trains and buses. But we don’t. We only see young Muslim men doing it. Now we can debate whether the cause of this is something innate in Islam, the extremist rantings of particular Islamic preachers, or a political response to Iraq and other grievances; but the cause isn’t Big Brother, or internet porn, or the contraceptive pill.

    It will fail on political grounds: the constituency for a return to Devine’s preferred society, where Portnoy’s Complaint was banned and people did what they were told by their priests or other figures of religious authority, is tiny. The Big Brother market is much, much bigger than the Catholic Right market. The live and let live market – those people who find Big Brother and its equivalents to be tacky and tasteless but have no desire to have their lives dictated to by George Pell – is much, much bigger still.

    The very socially consrvative John Howard, whose political antennae is more finely tuned than any politician since Menzies, recognises this, which is why after nearly 10 years of Howard as PM, the permissive society is still fully in place, regardless of the fulminations of Devine and her mates.

    This is typical Devine – right wing, but not on message right wing. Virtually every other conservative media commentator, like Andrew Bolt and Mark Steyn, and our very own Michael Burgess, has stayed on message by condemning the Islamists as being mediaeval savages who want to take us back to 9th century social mores. They take the Left to task for either not realising this or for deliberately averting their eyes.

    Devine, as she often does, stakes out her own right wing ground, this time by implying that mediaeval social mores are something we should aim for.

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