Election day open thread

Rumours, anecdotes, observations, predictions … post whatever you want, sticking to civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

For what it’s worth, having predicted a Labor win from the start, I’ll stick with that, and estimate that Labor will get 80 seats.

The Day after Tomorrow

Reference to The Day After Tomorrow in the write-off and the subeditor’s choice of headline “Our world really will end”, made my latest contribution to the Financial Review a little more apocalyptic than I intended, but I suppose two days before an election is not the time for subtlety. And it’s very likely that unless we act soon to stop it, climate change will mean the end for large parts of the biosphere, including coral reefs, the Australian Alps, the Arctic, and a large proportion of all animal and plant species now alive.

You can read it over the fold. As I note at the end, I’ve also done a ACF report (Word doc) for ACF connecting the (fairly obvious) dots between climate change, more severe droughts and higher food prices.

Read More »

Post-election Science

The last BrisScience Lecture for 2007!

Come and hear Nobel Laureate winner Bill Phillips – featuring cutting edge physics AND liquid nitrogen!


At the beginning of the 20th century Einstein published three revolutionary ideas that changed forever how we view Nature. At the beginning of the 21st century Einstein’s thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes, and hikers to their destinations. Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using Einstein’s ideas to cool the atoms to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, without solidifying. Such atoms enable clocks accurate to better than a second in 60 million years as well as both using and testing some of Einstein’s strangest predictions. This will be a lively, multimedia presentation, including experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today’s most exciting science.
Professor Bill Phillips won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for developments of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. He currently works at NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland, USA.

Date: 26 November 2007
Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibbles following the talk, and Bill will be available to answer any questions.
Got Questions? Contact Joel (0411 267 044 or joel@BrisScience.org) or Nelle (nelle@BrisScience.org).

Please forward on this announcement to friends and colleagues. For further information or to subscribe to the mailing list, have a look at http://www.BrisScience.org or contact Joel Gilmore (0411 267 044, joel@BrisScience.org or Nelle Ross nelle@brisScience.org). Looking forward to seeing you on the night!

Have we seen the rabbit now?

All through the long campaign, we’ve been waiting for Howard to reach into his hat and pull out the rabbit that will astonish the crowd and turn everything around. With the election only days away, this task seems to have been left to Andrew Robb, and a very grimy and bedraggled rabbit it turned out to be.

For those who’ve tuned out, Robb attempted to parlay the alleged technical ineligibility of ALP candidate George Newhouse into a mass disqualification of any candidate for whom an Internet search turned up a supposedly current public appointment. A dozen or so were named, and the claim was that voting Labor would produce a hung Parliament and weeks of limbo.

The smear campaign (that’s the Herald-Sun’s term, not mine) didn’t even manage a single news cycle before falling apart, as it turned out to be based on the shoddiest of research.

I’m reassured by the fact that this didn’t work, and even more that the Liberals tried it. This must mean
* They don’t have anything better in reserve
* They’re desperate enough to try something that was always likely to backfire

Of course, nothing is certain until the results go up on the board. But as Crikey and others have observed, it’s all very reminiscent of 1996 in reverse.

Update: Lots of people have covered this, but no one has surpassed Possum

And, now its the bottom of the barrel. Amusingly, Andrew Robb, who pushed the first smear had to play the “shocked, shocked” Vichy policeman on this one, denying that senior Liberals were involved.

Disciplines and deterrence

The NY Times has an interesting piece on statistical studies of the deterrent effect (if any) of the death penalty. For those who want to get straight into fact-free debate, the bottom line is that the evidence is too weak to allow a firm conclusion one way or the other. What’s interesting to me, though is the way in which debates within different disciplines proceed, and the lags in transmission between them. Here I think the NYT story, while excellent in many respects, is quite misleading, presenting a story of deterrence-hypothesis economists facing off against legal critics.

That was pretty much the way things stood in the 1970s, after the publication of Isaac Ehrlich’s study in the American Economic Review claiming that one execution deterred 7 or 8 homicides. Ehrlich used multiple regression analysis (quite difficult and computationally demanding in those days, and correspondingly highly regarded) in an attempt to control for other factors affecting homicide rates and isolate the effect of the death penalty.

Over the next decade, economists learned a lot about the limitations of regression analysis. With limited amounts of data, it’s impossible to avoid mining the data for patterns which are then used to fit the model. And if you try enough specifications on weak data, you can get just about any result you want. A classic exposition of this point was Ed Leamer’s 1983 article “Let’s take the con out of econometrics” which pointed out the fragility of regression analysis on time-series data and picked, as an example, the deterrent effect of the death penalty.
Read More »

Relaxed and comfortable

Like most commentators, I’ve always taken Howard’s famous catchphrase “relaxed and comfortable” to have meant his government would avoid pursuing a radical ideological agenda, with the associated conflict and strife. I’m pretty sure this was how it was taken at the time, but of course that was before we learned the skills of parsing ambiguous sentences, and attuning our ears to high-frequency signals that have become so important under this government. It turns out that Howard meant pretty much the opposite of the interpretation that has become standard

This piece by Miranda Devine quotes Janette Howard as saying that:

her husband’s pledge in the 1996 campaign to make Australians “relaxed and comfortable” was meant to counter Keating’s history cringe, but the quote had been misinterpreted.

and indeed, the full quote, cited here by Carmen Lawrence reads

An Australian nation that feels comfortable and relaxed about three things: about their history, about their present and the future.

It sounded innocuous at the time but, in retrospect, it’s easy enough to see in this statement the seeds of both the History Wars, as noted by Janette Howard, and such later catchphrases as “We will decide who comes here and under what circumstances”.