More MWF blogging: Who are the gatekeepers

I’ve been to some great sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival, most recently meeting and listening to Andrew Davies who’s written of the lot of the great BBC adaptations of classics like Pride and Prejudice, not to mention Bridget Jones’ Diary.

My first session last night was about blogging, under the title “Who are the Gatekeepers” with Margaret Simons and Antony Loewenstein, both of whom, unlike me, had an actual book to talk about. I read both The Content Makers (made even more relevant by the Fairfax job cuts and strike happening as the Festival got under way) and the Blogging Revolution and both are well worth it.

The topic led me to think about the gatekeeping function of the mass media (this is cultstud jargon for deciding what’s important and who’s authoritative). My assessment, based on recent experience was fairly negative. I see three ways in which the old media gatekeepers have failed, and in which bloggers have been effective critics.

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MWF blogging

I’ve only been to a couple of events at the Melbourne Writers Festival so far[1], but already this statement from Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty has been worth the trip for me. Responding to a rant against Darwinism as religious orthodoxy, coming not from a creationist but from a neo-Lamarckian viewpoint[2], Doherty said:

Science is revolutionary, which is why George W. Bush and John Howard hate it so much

Well said!

I’ll be talking about blogging and gatekeepers at the BMW Edge, Federation Square this evening at 5:30 and on Parched, the Politics of Water tomorrow (nearly sold out, so hurry if you’re interested). More details here.

fn1. I had to go to a climate change symposium in Canberra en route which made for a hectic trip, but also allows meant I could do the Canberra gig while minimising extra CO2 emissions.

Fortunes of war

Things have gone better than expected (certainly better than I expected) in Iraq over the past year[1]. On the other hand, things are going very badly in Afghanistan. For those, like me, who have supported the war in Afghanistan and opposed the war in Iraq, this raises some points to consider.

Most obviously, war is inherently unpredictable and dangerous, and there is no necessary correlation between the justness of a cause and its military success. That means, among other things, that launching a war (or revolution) on the basis of a cause that seems justified to those starting it, but which has little or no hope of success (indeed without strong grounds for expecting a good outcome after the inevitable loss of life on all sides is taken into account), is not glorious but criminally reckless.

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Blogging about water

I haven’t really overcome my backlog, but I am going to appear at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday and Saturday this week, talking about blogging and water, so it seemed like a good idea to run a blog post about water.

My piece in the Fin a couple of weeks ago appeared simultaneously with the news that the government would accelerate its buyback of water, definitely a step in the right direction. It’s become fashionable to suggest that the government is all review and no action, but compared to the decade of paralysis we saw from the last lot, culminating in the farcical National Water Plan, the pace of change is amazing.

Still, the situation bequeathed by Howard (and, it must be said, Turnbull) is truly dire

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I’m taking a break for a while, in an attempt to catch up on various real-life backlogs. I may post a bit at Crooked Timber. While I’m away, check out the many excellent blogs in the blogroll.

The CIS and delusionism

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, the claim that mainstream science is totally wrong about global warming is an orthodoxy that is almost universal among commentators, bloggers and thinktanks on the political right in Australia, even though the great majority of ordinary Australians, including Coalition supporters, believe the science.

The great majority of Australian take the view that, while scientists aren’t always right, it’s much better to act on the basis of the best available science than to assume that the scientists are wrong. For this, they are attacked by rightwing commentators as religious fanatics or, at best gullible innocents.

One limited exception to this appeared to be the Centre for Independent Studies. A while back Andrew Norton got stuck into Clive Hamilton for listing CIS in the delusionist camp on the basis of some fairly tenuous links. As Norton observed, the CIS had never published much on the topic (though what it did publish was in line with delusionist orthodoxy) and had published nothing since 2003.

CIS has made up for it now, with this piece by Arthur Herman (also published, less surprisingly, in the Oz). It’s got everything – “global warming as a religion”, Al Gore conspiracy theories, Godwin’s Law violations on eugenics, the Spanish Inquisition and so on, backed up by some typically dodgy Internet factoids. As with much in this genre, it’s important to note the call for the replacement of science, as it currently exists, with “real science” in which people like Herman (self-described as “an historian and author”) will lay down the rules.

What’s striking here is the contrast between the willingness of just about everyone on the political right to sign up to a set of beliefs that are dictated entirely by political tribalism and their self-perception as brave heretics, spelt out in more than usually ludicrous fashion by Herman.

Tim Lambert does garbage pickup on Herman’s “facts”. Strikingly, given that he’s supposed to be an (sic) historian, Herman seems to have a lot of trouble with dates and references. And there’s more from Nexus 6 and Gary Sauer-Thompson.

Update: In a comment from Jennifer Marohasy it was announced that Michael Duffy was willing to give $1000 to anyone who would nominate ““Some work/some research results that have been published in reputable scientific journals that:

1. examine the causal link between anthropogenic carbon dioxide and warming, and

2. quantify the extent of the warming from anthropogenic carbon dioxide. ”

Several people provided responses and, after coming back from my hiatus I wrote to Duffy asking the status of my offer. He replied “I asked Jennifer Marohasy about this, because she’s the one who needs to be satisfied. ” and appended a response from her indicating that she was, in fact, not satisfied.

From the original statement, I didn’t realise that Duffy meant to include “satisfactory to Jennifer Marohasy” as a term of the offer. Now that we’ve cleared that up, I think we can regard the offer as in line with the Socratic irony approach to scientific discussion.
There seems to have been something of a meltdown chez Marohasy, so I think we can take this offer as being off the table for all practical purposes