Dating

Today’s Fin (subscription only) has a piece by AGW contrarian Garth Paltridge claiming that, while he was establishing the Antarctic CRC in the early 1990s, CSIRO threatened to pull out of the project if he didn’t stop saying in the media that there were doubts about the science of global warming. CSIRO’s motive, he says, was the desire to extract millions of dollars in funding from the “newly-established” Australian Greenhouse Office. Paltridge presents this as a counter to the recent Four Corners program about suppression of scientists like Graham Pearman, and it reads very effectively. The same story is reported by Andew Bolt

There is just one slight problem with the story. The Antarctic CRC was set up in 1991 with CSIRO participation. Further negotiations (given the timelags in putting together a CRC bid and getting it approved, these would have been in the mid-1990s), led to a new version of the CRC which commenced operations in 1997 (it’s not clear if CSIRO was part of this one).

The Australian Greenhouse Office wasn’t “newly established” in the early 1990s, or even in 1997: in fact it wasn’t established at all until 1998. Its formation wasn’t even announced by the Prime Minister until November 1997.

Of course, it may be that this dispute took place at some other time and in the context of some other negotiation. But if Paltridge is wrong on dates and context, maybe he has also got other things wrong, such as the content of the conversations he describes.

Update My guess is that Paltridge is referring to this Sunday program broadcast in November 1997. It’s about the time the AGO was announced, but clearly too late for the alleged threat to have been made. It’s interesting to note, by the way, how heavily the sceptics who got nearly all the running on the Sunday program rely on Christy’s satellite data, and on now-discredited hacks like Pat Michaels.

The Kingmaker

Juan Cole translates an Al-Jazeera interview with the new kingmaker of Iraqi politics. In many ways, he’s just what the Bush Administration has been hoping for. He’s a Shi’ite but favors a broad government of national unity, reaching out to Sunni nationalists. He has an impeccable record of opposition to Saddam and isn’t compromised by any links to the occupation or to the interim Allawi regime. And while he’s previously called for an immediate pullout of US forces, he’s now prepared to accept a timetable for withdrawal.

He is, of course …
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Ad hominem ad nauseam

The comments thread lately has been full of what might be called the “”ad hominem fallacy” fallacy”. This is the fallacy that, because a logical syllogism is equally valid or invalid no matter who propounds it, evidence in favour of a judgement about a matter of fact should be treated the same no matter who puts it forward. But classical syllogistic logic has essentially nothing to say in relation to reasoning about the plausibilty of judgements based on evidence.

No one sensible takes this idea seriously when, for example, money is at stake. A member of a board of directors who has a financial interest in a proposal is expected to declare it and withdraw from the discussion for example. By contrast, believers in the “ad hominem fallacy” fallacy would suggest that the director’s arguments were just as valid as anyone else’s, and they do not need to declare their interest before taking part in the discussion (though they should not vote).

The problems with conflict of interest are twofold. First, it is usually impossible to check every factual claim made by someone putting an argument. Second, even if all the facts asserted in support of some position are verifiable, they may have been selected (cherry-picked) to favour a case, while facts pointing the other way have been ignored. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of fully informing yourself about the topic using independent sources evidence from interested sources is redundant, and if not, it’s unreliable.

I had a lengthy go at this here, and for convenience I’ve reposted it over the fold.

There’s more from Don Arthur , Tim Lambert and Cathy Young
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What I’m reading

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. It’s told from the view point of an old (or, as we now have to say older) woman, whose sister committed suicide, leaving behind a controversial novel (also called The Blind Assassin) that became a bestseller (maybe not really hers, but I haven’t finished the book yet) . I got it for Christmas, but have only just managed to start on it – very good so far.

The only other thing of Atwood’s I’ve read was The Handmaid’s Tale. I enjoyed it, but was miffed by the various literary types who raved about it when they would scorn to mention, say, Ursula Le Guin. That reaction goes in spades for Doris Lessing’s ventures into SF. Writing this, it strikes me that the inner novel The Blind Assassin also has an SF theme.

Most “economists” aren’t

I’ve always thought that an economist is someone who understands opportunity cost. If there is one thing a first-year undergraduate economics course should teach, it’s an understanding of this concept. So it’s alarming to discover that most members of a sample drawn from participants in the profession’s most important conference are not, at least by my definition, economists.

Via Harry Clarke, I found this paper by Ferraro and Taylor (guest registration or subscription required). Ferraro and Taylor presented their volunteer subjects with this question.

Please circle the best answer to the following question:

‘You won a free ticket to see an Eric Clapton concert (which has no resale value). Bob Dylan is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative. Tickets to see Dylan cost $40. On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see Dylan. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performer. Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing Eric Clapton?

(a) $0
(b) $10
(c) $40
(d) $50.

Take some time to think before looking over the fold
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