Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

Reading the latest delusionist nonsense at the Oz (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

Readers may recall that what I actually wrote in the Fin last week was

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

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At the Senate Committee

The Senate Committee of Inquiry into the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme held hearings in Brisbane today, and I gave evidence, based on the submission I posted a while back. As always, an interesting experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole event, but the witness before me (operator of a meat processing plant) made the interesting point that, for grass-fed cattle, the methane emissions about which we have heard so much are offset by the carbon sequestration associated with eating grass, which then regrows.

The hearing went pretty well, though there was a minor blowup with Ron Boswell when I said something scathing about the fact that those who rejected the science were had been taken seriously in Australia far longer than in the UK or Europe. None of the other conservative party Senators bit on this one (not that it was meant as a provocation, just a factual observation).

The continuing influence of delusional thinking, when combined with the need to deny any such influence whenever pressed on it, was a big problem for Nelson, continues to be a big one for Turnbull. And given the strength of delusionist defence mechanisms (on view in the thread regarding the fraudulent Climate Coalition) it’s hard to see how it’s going to be resolved any time soon. Unfortunately, Labor is not 100 per cent free of these types, and their influence on policy outcomes, while greatly reduced, remains both real and damaging.

Update In comments, Barry Brook and others offer a pretty complete demolition of the grass sequestration argument. By the time we have eaten the cows there is no net sequestration to offset the methane emissions.

Ergas v Quiggin debate

A year or so ago, Henry Ergas and I had a bit of debate about this paper

on ‘The Risk Society: social democracy in an uncertain world’.

The world has got a bit more uncertain over the past year and Henry has agreed to another round, this time live at the Customs House in Brisbane for an event organised by the UQ Economics Alumni. It’s on Tuesday 5 May, 5:30 to 7:30.

Important update In posting the notice above, I forgot to say (or rather, didn’t realise) that it’s not free and registration is essential. Members of the Alumni association pay $32, Non Members $38 and Students $25 and there will be a group student discount available. There are drinks and canapes, so you can estimate the net cost of the debate yourself.

Debate poster Wuthering Heights divx

Crop circles and contrarians

Back in the 1990s, before the Internet created the self-sustaining parallel universe now inhabited by Republicans and their sympathisers, the task of casting doubt on climate science fell to a group of thinktanks and lobby groups. The most active was the Global Climate Coalition, funded by an array of industry groups, notably including motor and oil companies. Since climate delusions never die, a large number of the factoids now circulating among those who absurdly refer to themselves as “skeptics” can be traced back to the GCC and its FUD machine.

As reported by the New York Times, a recent court case allows us a peek behind the curtain at the (now-disbanded GCC). It turns out that even as the Global Climate Coalition was promoting delusional claims, its own scientists were advising that they would not stand up to scrutiny.

You might think that a chapter-and-verse demonstration of how the trick was performed might shock some self-styled “sceptics” into the realisation that they had displayed credulous gullibility. But at this point delusionists are like believers in alien-generated crop circles. It doesn’t matter if the tricksters who made the circles confess, and even show how it was done. As George Bush might have said of these guys “Fool them once, and they stay fooled”.

BrisScience on Monday 27th

Galileo’s invention of the astronomical telescope and his astounding discoveries: moons, stars, and a new planet
Presented by Professor David Jamieson from The School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.

* Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
* Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
* Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, and Professor Jamieson will be available to answer any questions.

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Anzac Day thoughts

Anzac day was not a big one in our family. My father, who served in New Guinea, was never keen to talk about it. Both my grandfathers, who were in the Great War, were much the same as far as I can remember – one never fully recovered from being gassed. But it’s important to remember and honour all those who risked, and often gave, their lives in answer to calls made in all our names.

For as long as anyone who took part survived, their memories on Anzac Day and similar occasions served to remind us what a tragic disaster was the Gallipoli expedition, and indeed the whole Great War. Now that we have to rely on the words of those who have passed, Bert Facey’s wonderful book, A Fortunate Life is one of the best.

Now that the Anzacs, and most of the survivors of 1939-35, are gone, I hope that we can remember their sacrifice and do our best to end the wars that still cause so much grief and suffering around the world.

The hole in the political landscape

One way to think about the political impact of the GFC is to look at the range of political positions it’s rendered untenable. This range is large, encompassing, in the US context, everyone from Bill Clinton to Newt Gingrich. More generally, it covers anyone who embraced the claim that a US-style economic system, as of, say, 1995-2005, was the best that could possibly be achieved, and could only be improved by making government smaller and/or more business-like.

Minus the US-specific triumphalism, this range includes the positions held by most major political leaders in the developed world at the time the crisis erupted, notably including both John Howard and Kevin Rudd, not to mention George Bush and Barack Obama. It covers anyone who saw the growth of the financial sector and the explosion of global financial transactions as beneficial and who regarded with equanimity phenomena like the growth of inequality and the decline of trade unions which both resulted from and reinforced these trends. Virtually everyone holding this view downplayed or disregarded the looming crisis until it exploded in late 2008.

A critical assumption underlying this views is that the system is stable enough to maintain equilibrium without substantial government intervention and without collapsing into crisis. As far as I can tell, no one seriously argues this in relation to the current financial crisis. There are those who argue that the kind of massive intervention we’ve seen shouldn’t be undertaken and/or will only make things worse. But, AFAIK, no one seriously suggests that, without intervention the system could right itself fairly fast and return to the situation prevailing in, say, 2006.

What are the implications of the collapse of such a large section of the political landscape, both for those who formerly occupied it, and for the rest of us?

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Do we need a surface navy (again)

The other day I got a call from 3JJJ who had Googled the blog and found this post, arguing that we don’t really need a surface navy

Batman Forever dvd Bedknobs and Broomsticks video Pygmalion . I had a brief debate with a former naval officer and now academic, who pointed to our operations in the Persian gulf region as evidence that we need traditional naval capabilities. To my mind, this is highly problematic, as the ships we have sent there have never had to deal with any significant military opposition. (The Iraqi Navy was wiped out by air and missile attack at the time of the First Gulf War).

The emergence of piracy in the waters off Somalia provides some more striking data. The biggest single argument for a surface navy is that it is needed to defend merchant shipping. But, despite a handful of successes, the navies of the world’s great powers have been largely ineffectual in dealing with the piracy problem.

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