It’s time once again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language.Slipstream divx
My column from yesterday’s Fin is over the fold
The observation that most of the falsehoods in George Will’s notorious Washington Post column on global warming have appeared in many previous columns, some going back as far as 1992, raises some interesting questions. The obvious ones like “How does this guy justify getting paid” and “Why is this paper still being published” have already been asked, so I thought I’d look a bit more at the question of recycling.
As an opinion columnist, I certainly repeat arguments from time to time, and make no apology for doing so. There’s a lot of noise out there and if you want to be heard, you have to push your viewpoint reasonably hard. At the same time, I try pretty hard not to say the same thing in the same way more than once (at least without acknowledging that I’m doing so), and to update my arguments in the light of new evidence. I may not always succeed, but I don’t think I’ve ever sent the Fin anything as thoroughly dog-eared as Will’s piece (and this is only one of a dozen or more iterations).
To repeat the same tired collection of second-hand talking points decade after decade displays not only intellectual dishonesty but a basic lack of craft values. As an academic, I’m of course more upset about the first, but as an opinion columnist I’m almost as annoyed about the second. As Chris Mooney says, this guy isn’t even phoning it in, and yet he’s regarded as a star.
Will’s talking point “they were predicting an ice age in the 1970s” might have been reasonable back in 1992, considered as a suggestion that we should not jump to conclusions on the basis of limited evidence and analysis. But the factual basis of the claim has long since been shown to be worse than dubious, and after four IPCC reports and thousands of scientific papers, the case for anthropogenic global warming rests on much more evidence than some tentative papers and a few shock headlines in newsmagazines.
Moreover, the switch from newsprint to digital publication has changed things in a couple of important ways. On the one hand, self-plagiarism is now much easier to detect. Anyone with Google can check you it. On the other hand, the justification for repetition is much more limited. When yesterdays brilliant insights lined today’s bird cage, you could be forgiven for repeating them a few months later, for readers who might have missed them the first time. But now that every column is preserved for ever, there’s much less need. And when your column consists largely of a string of tattered talking points that anyone who wants to can already find on the Internet, it has very little justification for existing.
As if it wasn’t already embarrassing enough to be a rightwinger, here’s Dennis Jensen.
Update Judging by the comments, rightwingers are pretty hard to embarrass (after eight years of Bush, and the complete collapse of their economic ideology, I guess this isn’t so surprising). No-one from the dexter side has showed any inclination to disown Jensen as a crackpot and a goodly number have solemnly refuted the jocular suggestion that a PhD in ceramics might be a little cracked.
When a car swerves sharply to avoid an obstacle, anything unsecured inside it continues travelling in its original direction, often with unfortunate consequences. We can see something similar happening with the Rudd government’s fiscal policy. The $42 billion stimulus package is as sharp a swerve as you can imagine, justified by the correct expectation that private investment and consumption demand, along with export demand, is about to collapse, leaving government to fill the gap.
Yet the noises coming out of the Budget process suggest that no one has even noticed this. Lindsay Tanner is still talking about spending cuts, as if the emergency measures of the last week can be put into reverse in only a few months time.
And, despite the disappearance of the forward surpluses that were to pay for them, and of any possible economic rationale for aiding high income earners, the government is still promising to proceed with the tax cuts promised in the utterly different world of 2007. Unlike many economists, I supported the government’s delivery of the first-stage tax cuts, on the basis that, while they were bad policy, nothing had changed since the election to justify repudiating a promise. But now, everything has changed. Like Ross Gittins, I hope the government will summon up the courage to say that tax cuts are off the agenda for the foreseeable future.
I spell out the rationale for this a bit more over the fold
I watched Penny Wong on the 7:30 report defending the government’s emissions trading scheme against the criticism, made here and elsewhere, that initiatives such as the government’s home insulation scheme will have no effect except to reduce the price of permits and therefore the costs faced by large emitters. She did a very professional job, neither denying the criticism (which she couldn’t honestly do) nor conceding its validity.
In a long interview, she made only one substantive point, which has also been made elsewhere. By reducing the cost of reaching an emissions target, initiatives like the insulation scheme will make it easier for the government to set more ambitious targets.
I’m happy to take her at her word. The policy debate leading up to the choice of a 5/15 target was undertaken before the full severity of the financial crisis and the need for a $42 billion stimulus became apparent. So, having introduced a new measure to reduce emissions, the government is already in a position to tighten the target by an amount equal to the emissions saved.
If the package is passed unamended, there won’t be another opportunity until 2020, at least without hugely increased competition. So, I’m waiting eagerly for the announcement.
Apparently cut off the Costello drip, Glenn Milne breathlessly publishes some startling news from Sydney
Bound by Honor ipod . According to his anonymous source:
* The current leader of the NSW Right is trying to secure absolute control over the faction and crush his rivals
* The current leader of the NSW Right is keen to diminish the power of the Victorian Left.
In more breaking news, the traffic in Sydney is bad, but the beaches are great.