Ideology and agnotology

The way in which I’ve generally thought about politics is in terms of ideology and particularly, the divide between the left (socialists, social democrats, labour and related groups) and the right (various strains of conservatives, market liberals and business advocates). But increasingly I doubt that this is the right way to look at things.

First, the long-heralded ‘end of ideology’ seems to arrived, but not in way its proposers imagined.

The long struggle of left and centre-left parties to maintain their relevance in the face of the resurgent market liberalism of the late 20th century gradually eroded any belief in the possibility of a fundamental transformation of capitalism, to the point where such ideas no longer receive even lip-service, let alone serious and sustained attention. Instead, these parties have found themselves lumbered with the task of managing the mixture of social democratic and market institutions that emerged from the conflicts of the 20th century, tweaking them sometimes with market-oriented reforms and sometimes with marginal new interventions. This is broadly consistent with the ‘end of ideology’ story.

On the right, however, the scene is one of complete ideological incoherence. Market liberalism has run out of steam, libertarianism has failed to produce a coherent response to the Iraq war or the Bush assault on civil liberties (to be fair, Obama has also failed here) , and the various other elements that have emerged or re-emerged as forces on the right – Christianism, aggressive nationalism, anti-feminism and so on – amount to little more than a tribalist set of hatreds of various others.

The unifying feature of the right in the 21st century is not so much ideology as an embrace of ignorance, represented most obviously by the leading figures on the right in the US, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. Rather than reflecting an even partially coherent world view and political program, rightwing politics now consists of the restatement of talking points in favor of a set of policy positions that represent affirmations of tribal identity, rather than elements of a coherent program.

So, Christianists fight to the death on gay marriage but are unconcerned by the emergence of serial divorce and remarriage as a social norm, particularly among the Republican elite. Libertarians denounce gun control as the first step to dictatorship but, many have been unconcerned or supportive of the abrogation of most constitutional protections against arbitrary arrest and punishment. Business pushes its own barrow through continuous advocacy of tax cuts, but shows no concern about massive defense spending that is already rendering those cuts unsustainable.

Increasingly, I’ve become convinced that the best way to understand this can be summed in the term ‘agnotology’ (h/t commenter Fran Barlow), coined by Robert Proctor to describe study of the manufacture of ignorance. Proctor was referring primarily to the efforts of the tobacco lobby to cast doubt on research demonstrating the link between smoking and cancer. But the veterans of that campaign have moved on to a whole range of new issues, and their techniques have been so widely imitated that the entire political right now looks like Big Tobacco writ even bigger.

The manufacture of ignorance is most obvious in relation to climate change, where the gullibility associated with ‘scepticism’ has reached levels that would have seemed unbelievable (at least in the absence of the kind of religious commitment associated with creationism). If supporters of science had invented someone like Lord Monckton, he would have been dismissed as an absurd caricature.

In this context, it’s important to observe that, while the big oil companies initially funded the manufacture of ignorance about climate change using recycled tobacco hacks like Fred Singer, Fred Seitz and so on Steve Milloy, the process has developed its own momentum. Hostility to science and scientists on this issue is now so universal on the right that there is a ready market for additions to the supply of ignorance in the form of new talking points, manufactured scandals and so on. So, even though Exxon pulled the funding plug a few years ago, this stuff keeps on coming.

But the same pattern can be observed repeated across a vast range of issues – creationism, birtherism, the abortion-breast cancer link, the supposed WMDs in Iraq, the idea that the financial crisis was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act and others too numerous to mention. The intellectual atmosphere is one of uncritical acceptance of any talking point, no matter how absurd, that appears to support the position of the tribe.

Some of those maintaining such absurdities continue to present themselves as serious intellectuals, and indeed some of them once could have justified this claim. But now, above and beyond the abandonment of independent judgement on individual issues, they have been forced to pay obeisance virtues of ignorance, as represented by first by GW Bush and then, in even more extreme form by Palin, Limbaugh, and Beck and their Australian equivalents, such as Abbott, Minchin and the rightwing commentariat in general.

How will political contests over agnotology play out? Ignorant tribalism is not a force to be dismissed lightly. In day-to-day politics, the absence of any coherent position or relationship to reality is not a big disadvantage, while a machine capable of disseminating talking points is a big asset.

On the other hand, there are some significant long run costs associated with the embrace of ignorance. Science has been the central engine of human progress over the past century or more and anti-science political movements have rarely prospered for long. The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact.

Stereotypical images of scientists as grant-grubbing fans of world government are routinely found in public rightwing rhetoric along with welfare queens, limousine liberals and other outgroups. These attacks are now extending to vicious campaigns of personal harassment, ranging from the overt disruption associated with the FOI and hacking campaign called ‘Climategate’ to anonymous hate mail and death threats. Rightwingers have almost universally cheered the criminality of the Climategate hack, and have tacitly or overtly supported the broader hate campaign.

Conversely, scientists are now as reliably hostile to the Republican party as African-Americans (a total of 6 per cent, according to this poll) When the general image of the political right catches up with this reality, the costs are likely to be severe.

But, in the meantime, their abandonment of reality-based politics has left managerialists like Rudd and Obama wrong-footed. Their whole approach to politics assumes that the other side shares a broadly consistent view of reality. But in John Cole’s acid metaphor, dealing with the agnotological right is like going on a dinner date where you suggest Italian and your date prefers a meal of tire rims and anthrax.

The big political problem is that while competent management commands widespread approval it does not mobilise much enthusiasm. What is needed here is a return to ideology, and a project to move beyond day-to-day management and offer the ‘light on the hill’ of a positive social transformation, based on justice and equality.

180 thoughts on “Ideology and agnotology

  1. What is needed here is a return to ideology

    Malcolm Fraser was on the radio this morning saying the same thing. Have you two been lunching together?

    libertarianism has become shmibertarianism

    I don’t really get the insinuation that libertarians have as a rule become supporters of government torture. It seems like little more than a slur. Do you care to back it up with some evidence?

  2. “The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact”

    Quiggin you are off with the pixies.

  3. #1 I have in mind Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh, Mark Levin and many others who have openly supported both war and torture. Then there is a large group who stayed silent and continued to support Bush. Looking at the ALS blog, for example, only Sukhrit Sabhlok seems to have been consistent and vocal, and he quit in disgust at being a lone anti-war voice. I think it’s fair to say that only a minority of self-described libertarians have been vocal opponents of torture and other breaches of constitutional rights – the majority, as I said, have been either unconcerned or supportive.

    #2 Even more incisive than your usual, Tony. I’ll remind you of the current zero-tolerance policy for personal attacks.

  4. This libertarian party poll shows a nearly even division on the fairly basic question “Is waterboarding torture?”

    Since this question only requires a minimal grasp of reality to answer in the affirmative, it seems clear that nearly half of the respondents must be considered in terms of agnotology. And there’s no reason to assume that all of those who answered “yes” were opposed to torture, let alone to less extreme, but still severe, infringements on freedom such as indefinite detention without trial.

  5. “libertarianism has become shmibertarianism”, “tribalist set of hatreds”, “embrace of ignorance”, etc

    I don’t see any attempt at debating ideas here, just silly caricatures of your perceived enemies.

  6. I find it hard to believe that Abbott or Minchin or any of the political right (Palin excepted), as opposed to the commentariat, really believe this stuff. Rather, it is a stalking horse for their actual politics, which they do not wish to discuss because it would alienate the public in droves. Instead, because they hold the public in contempt for not agreeing with their extreme agenda, they rely on the truism that half of the voters are of below average intelligence to push them over the line via snow job.

  7. JQ – I posted a comment with a stack of links. I’m hoping you can fish it out of the spam queue.

  8. “Stereotypical images of scientists as grant-grubbing fans of world government are routinely found in public rightwing rhetoric along with welfare queens, limousine liberals and other outgroups. These attacks are now extending to vicious campaigns of personal harassment, ranging from the overt disruption associated with the FOI and hacking campaign called ‘Climategate’ to anonymous hate mail and death threats. Rightwingers have almost universally cheered the criminality of the Climategate hack, and have tacitly or overtly supported the broader hate campaign.”

    Man this stuff is hilarious! This isn’t some kind of self parody is it? Please dude, take a chill pill and just at least look into some ‘denialist’ stuff for yourself. I promise from the bottom of my heart it’s not all ‘anti-science’ conspiracy funded by big oil.

  9. I think that you are going to be pelted with garbage for your perceptions here, JQ. This shows that you have struck a nerve. Tony Abbotts political tactics are an exact fit for your hypothasis. The only thing that you have not accounted for, and this will be the basis for much of the unfolding derision, is the curious contradiction between the libertarian dependency on technology (but now that I think about it technology as destinct from science, technology being applied science) for its well being. Simply put it is hard to get rich without technology, or a mass of people (slaves) to manipulate. Once wealth has been created there appears to be a shift in mindset away from the very devices that made the wealth possible in the first place. Maybe it is that Libertarians are those who seek wealth, and shmiberbertarians are those who seek to retain it (at all costs).

  10. @James
    I agree that Abbott probably doesn;t believe much of this stuff, though as health minister, he cited the bogus abortion breast cancer link. But Minchin is a full scale conspiracy theorist on climate change, denies the link between passive smoking and cancer and so on.

    Terje, your post didn’t even make to moderation. But to appease you, I’ve edited the post, simply noting that large numbers of alleged libertarians have gone along with assaults on civil liberties. I don’t think you can dispute that.

  11. @Damian
    I’m possibly missing your point, Damian. The site to which you point is full of the standard attacks on science and individual scientists, including claims about plots to impose “world government”. But the author appears to be some kind of general conspiracy theorist with a mixture of ultra-left and right wing views. Obviously, given the size of the blogosphere, there must exist some site putting forward such a combination, but it’s the first I’ve seen. Are you claiming that anti-science conspiracy theories about climate change are widely held on the left? Or are you endorsing the delusional claims on the site?

  12. It’s not just a problem on the right, though, John. The partisan right is too dismissive of climate science; the partisan left too dismissive of economic science.

  13. Does anyone have any idea where the “end of ideology” thing first started? Is it associated with any particular theorist or movement. Excuse my ignorance.

    I like the idea of “agnotology” as a new kind of political force. I was interested to read this piece by Prof. James Allan from UQ on quadrant:

    Basically he seems to throw the idea of agnotology back on left-leaning types by accusing us of not paying enough attention to “unavoidable facts”. Basically it seems like an excuse for a disjointed and petty rant, but I’d be interested to hear what you thought JQ. Are there any uncomfortable facts that the left ignore?

    As for agnotology, are we sure that it is a new thing? Maybe it’s an old, old political force, that has lately just bubbled to the surface. I am too young to remember, but maybe the anti-anti-communist left were the original agnotologists.

  14. @Eric Crampton The most clear cut rejection of economic science in mainstream politics is that of those US Republicans who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves. That wasn’t true in the past, I agree – back in the 70s, belief that deficits will always pay for themselves was most prevalent on the left.

    As regards the general contest between market liberalism and social democracy, I would say that the evidence in support of social democracy has been getting stronger, and that changes in the opinions of economists are reflecting that, even if the median position is more supportive of market liberalism. But I can’t think of a widely held view on the mainstream left that contradicts established findings of economics in the way that rightwingers routinely reject climate science.

  15. Terje, your post didn’t even make to moderation. But to appease you, I’ve edited the post, simply noting that large numbers of alleged libertarians have gone along with assaults on civil liberties. I don’t think you can dispute that.

    John – I don’t dispute that. However lots of libertarians, including pro-war libertarians, were vocal about the breach of civil liberties and of torture. The pre 2006 ALS blog contains lots of examples and I posted nearly a dozen links of explicit articles that were critical of the Iraq war, critical of torture, critical of breaches to civil liberties or critical of the lot. That you now can’t find my post is annoying but it does make clear that you have misrepresented the tone of the ALS. I’d ask that you check the spam trap again because given the number of links I’m sure that is where it will most likely be.

    Other libertarians to oppose torture vocally and publicly include Bob Barr and Ron Paul. And Ron Paul was voting in congress against the war whilst democrats were handing Bush a broad license to kill. We even had libertarian antiwar dot com ringing the bell. To claim that libertarians support torture or libertarians support wars of aggression is no more credible than claiming Americans support torture or that Americans support wars of aggression merely because they had a president that did.

    We should remember also that loads of people, not just libertarians, were mislead by the US government and the British government in terms of the imminent threat posed by Iraq. I never personally credited the WMD argument and I was vocal about the folly of launching a war on such a basis. However loads backed the war on this basis including now prominantly Democrats in the US. If you want to attack ideologies on this basis there are a lot of ideologies much further ahead in the queue.

  16. @Jquiggin: Are there really Republicans who claim that they totally pay for themselves? That’s absurd. Yeah, they’re less expensive than a linear estimate would tell you as income increases a bit, but anybody claiming they’re a complete free lunch is insane – there’s no way we’re that far off on the right tail of the Laffer curve.

    Here’s a mainstream left claim in New Zealand that I find absurd: there is NO employment effect of increasing the minimum wage. The Labour Party’s activists’ blog, The Standard, repeatedly makes the claim. True you can find some studies showing small increases have no effect, but they take that as meaning large increases also would have no effect.

    As for social democracy/liberalism – I’d say social democracy does not seem to have been nearly as harmful for economic growth as we might have thought at the start; it’s unclear how much it can be extended stably beyond highly homogeneous societies; and, it’s best implemented through a strong negative income tax combined with liberal labour market policies. I’m not a social democrat, but there are economically respectable versions of it.

  17. RobertUK

    The term is new (agnotology), the process is, I suspect, ancient. I am thinking of the similarities with voodoo, only applied to politics. Right down to the pins in mediarised enemy effigies.

  18. TergeP,

    In every camp there is every view. It is the sum total that forms the outcome. And the outcome is that the right goes “righteously” to war to protect their position in every way. Libertarianism is gladiatorial at its core. I am thinking that Libertarians are apprentice Shmibertarians. Schmibertarians have put down their swords, shields, maces and nets, and taken up politics and the media as their weapons of choice.

  19. Alan Greenspan has won the ‘Dynamite Prize in Economics’

    @Eric Crampton What about the anti-economic right wing ideologues who suggest that raising the minimum wage always increases unemployment and never decreases unemployment or leaves unemployment levels unchanged? Or right ideologues who refer to economic ‘science’ when economics has yet to earn that title?

  20. JQ, I’ve been visiting your site for a while now – whilst my view of the world is very different from yours I’ve generally found your posts interesting and inciteful. I’ve enjoyed reading perspectives which are differnt from mine.

    However – this latest effort of yours is a little on the bizarre side! I read the opening paragraph thinking ‘this will be good – JQ’s going to write a piece trying to square the circle between left wing and right wing views – mayble he’ll come to a centrist conclusion which matches my view of the world’

    Taking a few quotes –

    “The long struggle of left and centre-left parties to maintain their relevance in the face of the resurgent market liberalism of the late 20th century gradually eroded any belief in the possibility of a fundamental transformation of capitalism”

    Maybe if you change the words ‘left and centre-left’ to ‘extreme left’ (ie Greens) then you’d have a point. However – that’s a pretty weird comment to make when we currently have a centre left government in power! It’s weird when you consider the massive reforms under Hawke/Keating’s centre-left government – or do you consider them centre-right?

    “The unifying feature of the right in the 21st century is not so much ideology as an embrace of ignorance”

    In other words – anyone who doesn’t agree with a left view of the world is ‘ignorant’???? C’mon John – you’re better than that.

    “The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact”

    In retrospect, I can see that you’ve been building up to this view for a while now. But c’mon – how do you ‘oppose’ science….. what a strange concept!!! Science is science – it’s basic human knowledge and development… ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and all that. The amazing technical progress in the last 20 years really puts the lie to your view. Science is powering on – it’s an unstoppable force. The advance of computing and the internet is just astonishing. I have more computing power in my iphone than I did in my first PC! The power of internet communication is one of the wonders of the modern age – the ability to share ideas across the globe will be a development that history will look back on with the view that it was the turning point for world freedom. I also find it a little amusing that traditionally it was the left that was always seen as opposing science with the extreme left expousing a ‘hair shirt’ view of the world.

    “What is needed here is a return to ideology, and a project to move beyond day-to-day management and offer the ‘light on the hill’ of a positive social transformation, based on justice and equality.”

    And at the end I realised what the rant was all about – it’s actually a ‘call to arms’. So at the end we’re simply down to the opposing ideologies. My view of the world is better than yours. ‘Man the placards comrades’!!!!

    Unfortunately not. Whilst I sympathise with a lot of your points – and agree that there are some ludicrous extreme views and actions on the right. In general, I found this post to be nothing more than an extreme left wing rant. JQ – with posts like this, you’re just adding to the problems.

  21. @Andrew

    Many consider they have ‘centrist views’ no matter how far they sit on one extreme or the other (Comrade). The view is wishful thinking that they will become the new centre.

  22. Freelander – I’ve voted for both the ALP and the Coalition in the past decade. I find One Nation and Family First to be parties of the extreme right and the Greens to be extreme left. So yes – I’m probably fairly centrist in an Australian context. If you vote Green – who would you consider to be more left in Australia that could justify calling yourself centrist?

  23. @Andrew
    Andrew, you ask how one could be against science. Miranda Devine shows how, with a cite to someone well-known on this blog

    Perth exploration geologist Louis Hissink suspects “politicised science has replaced religion as the arbiter of human affairs … priesthoods of both organisations are concerned with what happens in the future and that current behaviour is thought to affect that future, hence it needs to be proscribed and prescribed”.

    It used to be men in purple robes who controlled us. Soon it will be men in white lab coats. The geeks shall inherit the earth.

    It’s easy to find similar stuff. Google scientists + “andrew bolt” or substitute your preferred right wing commentator and you’ll find heaps of it.

  24. The general public will not support ratbags and conspiracy believers, unless they are living in ideologically polarized times and societies. The German voters in the 1930’s voted in a Nazi led government, despite evidence that Hitler and his supporters were mad as hatters, because of the extreme difficulties they were undergoing. In normal conditions the majority of the population steers well clear of these people. Despite the Liberal and National Parties adopting aspects of the rabid right’s positions since they lost the last election, their standing in the polls has been very poor. When Labor were in opposition, their poll standing was much better than the current opposition’s. The conservative parties are only talking to their base in making a lot about climate change skepticism, which is a sign of how well Labor has captured the centre. The average voter, when they start to pay attention once the election is called, will have little stomach for such ratbaggery. That the end of ideology (or at least that prevalent during the last century) will have consequences, is obvious. Some new ideology will arise to take its place but we are still to see what that will be. Currently we are revisiting some of the remnants of old ideology that lurked in the shadows during the left/right polarisation. These are not the ones we will be engaged with in a generation, but something new will arise.

  25. John,

    For every example of some right wing nutbag who thinks science is a left wing conspiracy I could probably find an example of a left wing nut bag who thinks, say, global trade is a right wing conspiracy.

    You’re making the common extreme left-wing mistake of taking the views of extremists from the right and attributing them to anyone who’s to right of you. The extreme right wingers make the same mistake in reverse. I get called a left wing by religious nuts on the right!

    Science is not a political movement. Across its many disciplines it’s a process that deals in facts, theories and hypothesis. Science will always win any debate against politics – it may take time, but at the end of the day, ‘truth will always out’.

  26. @Andrew I’ll accept your challenge, and nominate three prominent conservative members of Parliament (Nick Minchin, Dennis Jensen and Barnaby Joyce) who have endorsed the climate change conspiracy theory. I’ll throw in half a dozen prominent commentators (Bolt, Devine, Albrechtsen, Windschuttle, Sheehan, Akerman). Note that none of these people are “extremists” in the usual sense of the term – they are leading figures on the right who are treated as serious politicians/commentators. And, this isn’t an isolated aberration of a few individuals. As the Liberal leadership ballot showed, they represent, the majority view of the Liberal base.

    Now name me Labor/left figures of comparable stature who have endorsed the claim that global trade is a right wing conspiracy (or feel free to pick another example if you can’t find anyone to back this one).

  27. @Jquiggin: Are there really Republicans who claim that they totally pay for themselves? That’s absurd. Yeah, they’re less expensive than a linear estimate would tell you as income increases a bit, but anybody claiming they’re a complete free lunch is insane – there’s no way we’re that far off on the right tail of the Laffer curve.

    In the heat of elections this claim does get wheeled out. Personally I think the laffer curve for most nations looks like Uluru with most of the centre being relatively flat. Any cost to public sector revenue is modest. Any decline in public sector welfare is offset by a greater increase in private sector welfare. This is not the same as claiming that tax cuts will pay for themselves but it is pretty close to saying we shouldn’t worry overly about the revenue impact of tax cuts.

  28. p.s. Clearly some tax cuts will pay fo themselves. Ethiopia has (or had) tax rates of nearly 90% on agricultural production above a certain threshold. Margaret thatcher cut a top tax rate on capital income that approached 90%. The Kennedy tax cuts tackled similar excesses. It is hard to prove either way but on the face of it I think these tax cuts were no brainers.

  29. An interesting post John, though I’m not sure the term “schmibertarianism” adds a greta deal to your primary claims.

    Just to place my own political background into my remarks …

    As you know, my first steps into politics were with the Whitlam-era ALP from which I broke ultimately to the far-left — the Trotskysists (after a brief flirtation with the CPA-ML [Maoists for those who don’t know]). In the years since the dissolution of Comecon (the USSR and its satellites) I’ve come to occupy a spot which I’d call left-social-democratic. I recognise what most of us call “market mechanisms” as having a valid and useful role to play in the allocation of scarce resources, but insist that those who may broadly be called “the producers of wealth” have the decisive say in the operation of the mechanisms through which public goods are created and deployed.

    You say a return to ideology is what is required. I find this formulation excessively loose and open to misuse by those hostile to clarity on questions of political culture, or who affect an “end of ideology” stance in order to disguise the primacy of the particular stakeholder interests to which they have attached themselves. We are today certainly involved in the most explicit of culture wars.

    This war is being waged between those seeking as best they can to defend and warrant arbitrary privilege for elements of the elite, opportunistically relying upon the perceived social marginalisation of socio-economically disadvantaged elements of the populace of first world countries and those seeking (sometimers in a confused and inarticulate way) as best they can to empower the producers and their dependents to secure their needs, if necessary at the expense of the elites. Elsewhere, I have coined the term SSA (socio spatial anxiety) as a useful summary of the key themes in this right-wing populist commentary. Persistently, the fear is of the impositions of the remote, unauthentic other upon the identity and discretion of the disembodied individual. It trades on self-doubt, vulnerablity and the paradox inherent in wanting control over the other and being free from it. The problem being beyond resolution, the political predisposition is insurgent and yet apolitical and culturally heterogenous, and therefore tolerant of virtually any antithetic claim, regardless of its capacity to cohere with broader knowledge about the world. It is key to allowing Young Earthers to coghabit with those referring to the multi-billion long geological history of the Earth, and anti-taxing “libertarians” to cohabit with moral crusading conservatives, neo-cons, paleocons, birthers and anyone else who will have them.

    In such a setting, clarity about the nature of stakeholder interests, and about the faultlines between the various stakeholders driving the forms of agnotology we have seen would be most fruitful. While I favour relating what should be done to the major truggler over the disposition of labour power and its reproduction, Couching this critique in terms of ideology may subtract from what should be an exercise in cultural analysis by placing it under the rubric of a new but as yet unspecified metanarrative.

  30. Thanks for these comments, Fran. I’ve already deleted “shmibertarianism”, which was a lazy shorthand.

    I think you have a good point about ideology. To combat anxiety-based tribal populism we want something positive that provides the organising force previously associated with ideology, but it’s not clear what the something should be.

    I’ll think about this as I revise the post.

  31. JQ – how about names such as Brown, Milne, Garrett, George, Cameron – who have all at various times come out with extreme-left utterings.

    By the by – you also need to distinguish between people who are anti-science, climate change ‘denialists’, climate change conspiracy theorists and those who advocate a cautious response to climate change in Australia. Just because someone is cautious on whether or not we should have an ETS in Australia does not make them anti-science.

    For example – I firmly believe that climate change is real, and the globe needs to cut its CO2 emissions. However I do not believe that Australia should implement an ETS at the moment, and I also believe that there are some on the extreme left who have hijacked elements of the climate change issue to advance their own socialist agendas. However, in no way could I be considered anti-science.

    Fran – “While I favour relating what should be done to the major truggler over the disposition of labour power and its reproduction, Couching this critique in terms of ideology may subtract from what should be an exercise in cultural analysis by placing it under the rubric of a new but as yet unspecified metanarrative.”

    I beg your pardon?

  32. i like it john, i think it is challenging, thoughtful well argued and correct on all the substantive points,
    on the subject of the american right glen greeenwald had an excellent piece regarding terrorism that ties into torture and war justifications by the right
    in my opinion a lot of it isnt meant to be coherent, it isnt meant to represent an ideology
    in his words “It’s really more of a hypnotic mantra”

  33. I think that you made an important destinction JQ between the ideal of Libertarianism, which I see as a form of growth and building model, and the ______ (something else) that is created to protect the vested interests of the mature Libertarian end result. The 2 are different entities and operate in different ways, but, as in any state or economy are merged to create the confusion that the comments above are thrashing out.

  34. andrew, you have in no way responded to johns challenge there,
    your list of names is confusing and ambiguous, Milne? Cameron? and you offer no links or statements or evidence of any kind

    I also believe that there are some on the extreme left who have hijacked elements of the climate change issue to advance their own socialist agendas

    what does this statement actually mean or allude to?
    the only real hijacking of climate change i see is the resurrection of nuclear power as a clean green energy source, its well organized, backed by extremely powerful forces, a long time in the making, tangible as opposed to alleged as evidenced by Obama’s announcement (what a surprise), and runs counter to the hopes of almost everyone who is genuinely on the left

  35. Actually – thinking about this more – I think the problem here (as outlined in your quote “The long struggle of left and centre-left parties to maintain their relevance in the face of the resurgent market liberalism”) is that indeed the left wing view of the world has become irrelevant. What used to be considered right-wing has now become centre-left. The ALP of today would perhaps have been considered right wing in the 1960s/70s?

    The result is that mainstream Australia has comfortably embraced the ‘market liberalism’ you refer to. We’ve become ‘relaxed and confortable’ to use a Howard phrase.

    The problem for the extreme left then, is that to maintain relevance, it can’t battle with mainstream views in a meaningful way – it will just look silly. It has to do battle with the extreme right. Meanwhile, mainstream Australia bilthely goes about its business either unaware or uncaring about the battle of idealogy.

  36. I really enjoyed this post, though I think it was potentially missing a para or two to at least consider anti-science on the left. I can think of a few examples of anti-science that – while they could be held by people across the political spectrum, are probably more at home in the left wing mindset:

    – anti vaccines (distrust of “big pharma”)
    – pro – alternative medicine (distrust of “big pharma”)
    – anti GM (distrust of big agriculture companies)
    – anti nuclear (distrust of links to weapons manufacture, and safety issues brought on in the pursuit of energy profits). This position is even worse in Australia, where it is apparently fine to export uranium, but not to consider building a reactor (though probably more about protecting coal than being anti-science I guess)
    – pro internet censorship (anti-science in the sense that I’ve never heard a good response to the criticism that the internet filter will be straightforward to circumvent)

  37. Here’s how it works.
    In every election year, the Left Party come and tell us that the country has moved to the right, and so the Left Party has to move right too in the name of realism and electability.
    (Actually, they don’t say they’re going to move to the right; they say they’re going to move to the center. But of course it amounts to the same thing, if you’re supposed to be left of center. It’s the same direction of movement.)
    So now the Left Party have moved to the “center.” But of course this has the effect of shifting the “center” farther to the right.
    Now, as a consequence, the Right Party suddenly don’t seem so crazy anymore — they’re closer to the center, through no effort of their own, because the center has shifted closer to them. So they can move even further right, and still end up no farther from the “center” than they were four years ago.
    In fact, the Left Party’ rightward shift not only enables the Right Party to move farther right themselves; it actually compels them to do so, if they want to maintain their identity as the angry-white-guy party par excellence.

    This is the electoral ratchet
    The electoral ratchet permits movement only in the rightward direction. The Right Party role is fairly clear; the Right Party apply the torque that rotates the thing rightward.
    The Left Party are the pawl. They don’t resist the rightward movement — they let it happen — but whenever the rightward force slackens momentarily, for whatever reason, the Left Party click into place and keep the machine from rotating back to the left.

    but guess what? human political systems are also bound by physical laws like storm clouds,
    and when the build up in one direction goes too far,
    it snaps with a great release of energy,

    the left is not irrelevant, its humanitarian, community first approach is hibernating while the world shakes off its insane delusion that a non-existent chimera called ‘the market’ can make the best decisions with regards to everything,
    make no mistake,
    this period of market sociopathy will be seen as a sad delusional aberration by a more enlightened future,
    when? i dont know, but as surely as night follows day

  38. (distrust of “big pharma”, big agriculture companies) is not anti-science,
    its evidence based skepticism formed by repetitive patterns which is firmly within the scientific scope

  39. I hate the word agnotology and I hate it nearly every time Fran uses it. This is why. It’s fine to say that agnotology is the study of ignorance and that is a worthy thing. However to call the practice of ignorance as agnotology and the ignorant as an agnotologist is to accord a level of knowledge to an anti-knowledge practice that is totally unjustified.

    Agnotology could be a study of denialism, but to link it to the practice and to call a denialist an agnotologist is quite wrong. One may then be justifed in calling a rock a geologist.

  40. No, Andrew – John didn’t ask you for examples of people who had made “extreme-left utterings”. He asked for Labor/left figures of comparable stature [to the right wing Parliamentarians and opinion writers] who have endorsed the claim that global trade is a right wing conspiracy, or similar barking mad conspiracy theories.

    That you can’t demonstrates his point – that denial of science in the service of tribal politics is far more “respectable” in right wing than left wing circles.

  41. Andrew needs to re-aquaint himself with the definition of extreme – meaning outermost. The extreme left is Communism and the extreme right is Fascism. Describing the Greens as Communist, and Family First and One Nation as Fascist is wrong and probably offensive to the majority of supporters of those parties.

    I would also second smiths @ #39 in that the distrust by the Left of big pharma/big agriculture is in the way big business seeks to gain profit from the science without due regard to the adverse consequences rather then evidence of anti-science and this distrust is shared by many ordinary people who would consider themselves of the Right.

  42. As someone from generation X I have felt that the left/right polarity has declining relevance in categorising anyone under the age of 40. Ever since I have been in the workforce unions have had a declining relevance because increasingly workplaces aren’t easily unionised and careers aren’t as stable or rigid as they might have been in the past. I can appreciate that unions have a role in negotiating conditions and supporting workers rights, but I haven’t ever belonged to one and grew up witnessing some of the extreme and over the top union actions. The fact is there big fights in the past were more or less won and they are left (sometimes unfairly) with the taint of overreach and corruption.
    Gen X also grew up with the cold war fading as an idealogical battle ground and I don’t think people subscribe to grand historical narratives as tightly as they might have in the past. I don’t know how this might play out though if there isn’t much awareness or understanding of underlying philosophies that drive political beliefs.
    I find it disturbing that some on the right have gone rabid on issues and people like John Gray who would have been considered a conservative realist are now so far from right politics. The rabid collection of loonies that seem to be dominating the right are driven by hate and fear, but their hate and fear seem to be directed all over the place. It is the right that has lost it’s unifying enemy at the end of the cold war and I don’t see much support for what would have been considered socialism in the 70’s (not the Obama variety). The fact that Obama is being tagged as a socialist demonstrates how far the centre has shifted to the right.

  43. @Andrew

    Fran – “While I favour relating what should be done to the major truggler over the disposition of labour power and its reproduction, Couching this critique in terms of ideology may subtract from what should be an exercise in cultural analysis by placing it under the rubric of a new but as yet unspecified metanarrative.”

    I beg your pardon?

    Well you might as the typography was sub-optimal. major truggler should be major struggles. Couching should not had had the initial cap.

    Was there something else?

    On the borader objection in your post, you are guilty of doing what you accuse others of — bundling what needs to be unpacked and distinguished. It is true that opposition to an ETS as a CO2 mitigation strategy is not anti-science. It is a bona fide argument over policy. One might favour any suite of strategies, arguing over their utility without being open to such charges. The problem is that some who raise objections to an ETS are doing so not because they think this is a poor strategy but because the ETS in their view presents an easier object to attack than does the goal which the ETS is supposed to advance. Plainly, if one succeeds in tainting and broadly discrediting all possible policy responses, then one can render the argument about the science moot. If one confuses the two issues, people will be inclined to confabulate the science with the standing of the policies attached to its inferences.

    You continue:

    I also believe that there are some on the extreme left who have hijacked elements of the climate change issue to advance their own socialist agendas.

    Your use of the word “hijacked” is inappropriate. To begin with, the extreme left is not in charge of anything, and certainly not the “climate change issue”. There are some on the far left who have opinions on the matter, but that is hardly the same thing. There are also pleft social democrats like me who have an opinion, but again, the people running policy aren’t adopting our ideas either. In so far as there is a consensus, it embraces the centre-left and the certre-right (roughly the space between Obama on the centre left and Merkel/Sarkozy on the centre-right). For the record, since you raise it, Australia currently has a centre-right government, albeit one that is somewhat closer to the centre than it had prior to November 2007. Like the previous regime, it supports a polluter-friendly ETS. It supports star chambers for building unions. It supports elements of the old work choices regime. So it’s centre-right.

  44. @smiths

    Perhaps i should have been clearer smiths. I meant that anti-vaccine is anti-science, and distrust of big pharma is left-leaning thinking that bolsters the anti-science view of vaccines.

  45. @derrida derider

    An example of a =prominent= left-leaning commentator who endorses anti-science: the soapbox provided for anti-vaccine sentiment provided by Adrianna Huffington at Huffington Post.

  46. @Roger Jones

    You make the beginnings of a fair point Roger — which is I take it, that one should not confuse the object of study with the practice. Nevertheless, our language is sensitive enough to take account of context. Transference is common in English.

    The word “text” derives from the word “textiles” — i.e. woven cloth. At one point in human history, important things were recorded on these textiles. After a while, the words “texts” began to refer not merely to the physical objects but to the substantive content recorded on them. These days text refers to symbols once recorded on such things.

    So an agnotologist could both be someone like Proctor or Oreskes, who studies the cultural processes drving the production of ignorance and someone engaged in the work of producing the ignorance.

    Compare for example scatology.

    1 : interest in or treatment of obscene matters especially in literature
    2 : the biologically oriented study of excrement (as for taxonomic purposes or for the determination of diet)

  47. arianna huffington was formerly married to oil millionaire Michael Huffington, a family friend of the Bushes
    he ran in 1992 as a Republican for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives which he won
    He was a political conservative on most issues.
    Arianna campaigned for her husband, courting religious conservatives, arguing for smaller government and a reduction in welfare

    whilst i am not asserting she is a fraud and and a left wing gate-keeper,
    i think you would do well to try and find a left wing personality with a cleaner record

  48. The one point where I do agree is that much of the political right in the US has become increasingly insane, especially since the election of Barack Obama. I have actually had arguments on American conservative forums where many contributors are clearly beyond being reasoned with.

    Although to my mind much of the wackiness on the American right simply parallels the wackiness on much of the left in most developed countries. And while most people here won’t want to admit it, the conservative commentariat in Australia is generally more reasonable than its US counterpart. At least the likes of Bolt, Devine, Ackerman, Albrechtsen don’t promote the kind of bible-bashing fundamentalism, gun-toting, creationism, abortion-is-murder etc. etc. nonsense you get from the American right. The closest we have is perhaps Christopher Pearson.

  49. It seems noone will join your team on this challenge Andrew, but we believe you’re in the centre between the ideological extremes because you’ve told us so.
    BTW I like your

    Science is not a political movement. Across its many disciplines it’s a process that deals in facts, theories and hypothesis. Science will always win any debate against politics – it may take time, but at the end of the day, ‘truth will always out’.

    very good!
    Now, you could turn to almost any day’s delusional output from one of JQ’s nominated anti-scientific agitators to see that his charge is correct, and certainly they are “prominent”. By contrast I’m not even sure to whom you’re referring other than for Brown, Garrett and Milne. So who are your nominees, why are their views as prominent as those of Devine, Albrechtsen et al, and which one undeniable economic consensus is it you claim they deny? Be specific or, it seems clear, you lose your challenge despite that excellent quote above.

  50. what sort of person thinks world trade is a conspiracy anyway,
    reminds me of the decision to change the name of the ‘freedom tower’ being built in NYC’s ruins
    it shall now be called
    One World Trade Center

  51. I’m not sure that it has a grip on our consciousness so much as on our unconscious.
    It shapes the limits of what we can imagine.
    It does so because it has enjoyed 20 years of unchallenged domination, blitzing our nervous systems with its intoxicants, paralysing thought.
    Put at its simplest, capitalist realism is the widespread idea that capitalism is the only “realistic” political economic system.

    Mark Fisher

  52. I think your basic thesis is hard to argue with. As an amateur historian, I can’t say I am particularly surprised. Societies in the drawn-out process of radical transition to new circumstances tend to first re-visit the past (“what made us great will work again”) and then, when that fails, fall back on “magic” – a patchwork of irrational (because self-contradictory) ideas gathered from all over the place. Two of G K Chesterton’s quotes capture it succinctly – for the mainstream media “Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance”, and the better known “When a Man stops believing in God he doesn¹t then believe in nothing, he believes anything”.

    Add in as well as “God” the belief that infinite material progress is possible, that the US (or Britain, or the West, or liberal democracy) will always be on top, or that our children will have better lives, and you get the picture. Substantial sections of the Western population are now deeply uncertain that these and other things can be automatically accepted as true.

    The process can take be short or long – think of the revival of neo-Confucianism in late Qing China and under the Nationalists, or the insistence on orthodoxy followed by the flowering of cults in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Or it can be compressed – Europe 1900 to 1945.

    It’s hard to say what will emerge from the riot. My guess would be a mix of social democracy where resource pressures are not too bad, and either very tight government or a failure of government where they bear hardest. Australia will probably go for tight government – it’s our tradition.

  53. @Andrew
    “names like Brown, Milne, Garrett, George, Cameron”

    These people may be leftwing, but they have not, to the best of my knowledge, made claims that are obviously at variance with mainstream science. More generally, I am not saying that rightwingers are inherently stupid or extreme, but that, as a matter of fact, the right in the US (and increasingly in Australia) has gone this way, abandoning coherent policy thinking in favor of spurious talking points. (After writing, I see that DD has made the same point).

    @Roger Jones, I endorse Fran’s response and have edited the post to make it clear that by agnotology I mean the study of the manufacture of ignorance not the process itself. However, agnotology may be either critical (Proctor’s implicit position) or supportive, as with the intellectuals who have argued that Palin’s virtuous ignorance is to be preferred to the reality-based policy of the left.

  54. Although anti-vaccination types were once mostly on the left, this has largely ceased to be true, I think. These days, there are at least as many rightwingers.

  55. Science will always win any debate against politics – it may take time, but at the end of the day, ‘truth will always out’.

    Wishful thinking, perhaps? And, even if does win, there’s a still a big question of when.

    It’s clear to me that science is a significantly more reliable method for getting at the truth than sitting around and talking about stuff, but, unfortunately, it’s not how humans work. The slow, qualified, skeletal, knowledge of science has a hard time against the juicy psychological quality of truthiness. How many people do you see proclaiming that they “know” when it is abundantly clear that they have no reliable basis for the claim?

    From an evolutionary point of view, science is a kind of weird aesthetic that runs contrary to a number of significant biological impulses. The very high biological energy cost of using a brain means that the human organism has evolved to make energy-efficient quick judgements of situations and then stop wasting energy collecting and processing more data. Science often works in exactly the opposite manner – remaining sceptical and collecting yet more evidence, in a potentially interminable attempt to overthrown the Known. The reason the history of science is all recent isn’t lost records, it’s the biology of survival.

    Taking it one step further, it is often the “sexiness” of knowledge that actually counts evolutionarily. On most issues, even if you’re dead wrong, the number of followers you have is the relevant number, especially if they include the better members of the opposite sex. Charisma regularly beats truth. Poetry has survived for powerful reasons that don’t include the ability to add two and two or run down a tortoise.

    There is now a growing body of neuropsychological evidence that political views are just another part of personality, despite our quaint belief that we have arrived at our political world-view through some kind rigorous analysis. Political persuasions can be predicted quite well from personality profiles, or even, according to one study, from just looking around someone’s bedroom. People are born with their political personality to a significant degree and they appear to be pretty locked-in after the first few years of life – even if they don’t know what they are at the time. From then on, for most of us, most of the time, it’s a matter of going with the confirmation bias with maybe a little tweaking at the edges and trying to get people to agree with us. Longitudinal studies find that switching sides is quite rare. Science – letting the evidence speak – provides an alternative to this acting out but it’s by no means a done deal. There are powerful forces working in opposition. Witness the number of people who believe in, say, creation (or if you’re otherwise inclined, evolution.) I don’t expect them to disappear in my lifetime. Sure, maybe one day, but we’ll need an aesthetic of following the best evidence using reliable methods, and that doesn’t seem to me to be doing very well right now.

  56. …or more wittily:

    “Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.”
    — Marcus Tullius Cicero

  57. Here is word (from ‘Word Spy’) which could also be useful when discussing climate change denial: nontroversy n. A false or non-existent controversy.

  58. Yes, but I don’t think you give sufficient weight to the fact that human beings, in this era at least (not just Americans, not just rightwingers) select realities we’re happy with all the time. We live that way. We do what we do not because we have calculated that these particular actions will produce that predictable outcome, but because these actions are consistent with our chosen image of ourselves. We do not say “What are the facts on global warming?” We say”If I wanted people to look at me as if I was Clint Eastwood playing Dirty Harry, what would I say about global warming?” We work outward from our fantasies, not inward from the facts.

    Australians know, looking at another example, that harm minimisation would work better to reduce drug use than tough enforcement, but we don’t want to think of ourselves as people who are soft on drugs (or soft at all, really). That’s just about what it means to hold a political opinion.

    Any time you hear the words “sending the wrong message” (which is all the time) you’re hearing an admission that characterisation is more important than outcomes.

  59. Maybe after decades of “economic rationalism” for want of a better term, right-wing pundits are capitalising on the fatigue of misconstrued “efficiency”, “stakeholder”(vested interest) consultation and bipartisan market liberalisation to the detriment of traditional sources of employment. Since the centre has moved to the right and the public is “relaxed and comfortable” with the state of affairs the remaining political debates are carried out appealing to emotionalism.

  60. People are born with their political personality
    surely they are born with a certain personality, which subsequently influences thier political alignment
    i think its roughly split between people driven by fear and hope

  61. Isn’t “agnotology” related to what Marxists call “reification” and thus another mechanism for human commodification within a system itself based on theft, contradiction and myth?

  62. “The average voter has not yet recognised the fact that the political right is now vehemently opposed to science and scientists. But both scientists and their rightwing enemies are well aware of the fact.”

    1- The average voter has been subjected to saturated pro-AGW arguments for the last 10 years. It is only the last few months that skeptics have made some inroads in the public discourse, and so far mostly on the internet. The average voter now realises that there is no reason to be afraid of the future. The end of the world isn’t nigh!

    2- The political left offered a gift to the right-wingers with all the scaremongering about the Earth’s climate. The political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse! Now, where is “the light on the hill” in that narrative? We shall see whether the average voter vote with their hopes or with their fears. Not just in Australia, but across the developed world.

    3- To say that right-wingers are anti-science is as silly as to say left-wingers are anti-religion. When you put scientific method into an ideological straight-jacket (in this instance, make it the property of the Left), then you have lost touch with reality. Contrary to the AGW believers’ perceptions, the re-kindled climate debate is not a re-run of evolution vs creationism debate. The right-wingers are not thumping the Bible when they argue against the Left’s oh-so-scientific scare-mongering. AGW scepticism is based on the same scientific principles that has produced the global warming hypothesis, though the fact is that arguments from both sides have become highly politicised.

    4- A more personal note. As mentioned here several weeks ago, I was an Australian Greens voter for the last decade, and a member and party activist for several of those years. I am sorry to say to my fellow Greens that I am now an AGW sceptic. Since I decided to dip my toe into the debate for the first time six months ago, I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible. I simply refuse to be afraid of the future. Does that make me an anti-science right-winger? No. I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though. Climate science has lost a lot of credibility in my view.

    OK, now. What about the election? Who will I vote this time? Well, regardless of what JQ says, I still believe in the old Left-Right dichotomy. I have never voted for a right-wing party in my life, and I never will. Since the Greens will be pushing the AGW scare again during the election, I won’t be voting Green. And since small, silly groups like AGW sceptics’ party or whatever will be re-directing preferences to the Lib-Nat coalition that’s out of the question too. So my vote in this election will either be informal or go to an independent.

    Before anybody throw around the dim-witted charges of concern troll etc at me, may I add my impressions that there are a lot of left-wingers out there concerned about the AGW scare-mongering. I could not have said this six months ago but the tide has changed. After nearly two decades of dark visions of the future, voters will embrace the political movement that offers some hope, some light on the hill kind of stuff.

  63. i think that’s inaccurate shx, the scientists did their work, and from what i could gather tried very hard not to overstate their case,
    the media did the scare-mongering and the media have then turned like the whores they are in the other direction,
    al gore’s film upped the tempo and although it seemed like a good thing at the time, i think with hindsight it was a poisoned chalice,
    but lets be clear,
    doing research in multiple areas and having the results point to potentially catastrophic climate change and asking for changes to be made to avert this is not scare-mongering,
    its common sense,
    accepting that their is margin for error but erring on the side of caution since the stakes are life on earth as we know it is not scare-mongering,
    it is the application of the precautionary principle and common sense

  64. And in any event, SHx, the place where the rubber hits the road — policy — would have recommended doing very nearly all the things we are contemplating in relation to CO2.

    Does it make sense to reduce reliance on fossil fuels even if you don’t accept AGW as bona fide science? Of course it does. Think resource depletion, acid seas, biodiversity, and ecosystem services like air and water quality, equity, energy independence etc.

    Does it make sense to protect and augment forests? Of course it does. They are amongst other things a part of our oxygen supply.

    Does it make sense to make cities more energy- and water-efficient? Of course it does.

    Had the first world, in the mid-1950s, begun putting a premium on fossil energy, developed more energy-efficient cities, got people out of cars and onto public transport and ensured the cars that were on the road were appropriately sized and forced to be as thermally efficient as possible, and then rolled out these innovations to the developing world, there can be little doubt that the world would now be in far better health, whatever one makes of AGW. The fact that the magnitude of the challenge dealing with the anthropogenically-driven climate anomaly would have been much smaller, the existing damage much smaller, the measures required far more modest in scale and the voice of the enemies of good policy much more muted would have been bonuses.

    In this alternative world, the 1973 “oil shock” would have been an “oil ripple”. In that world there might have been no current Israeli-Palestinian problem, no Afghanistan or Iraq conflicts and there might not have been no Shah Reza Pahlavi or Ayatollah Khomeini, no Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. There might have been no President Ronald Reagan, no Pershings and SS20s, no Chernobyl and much less burning of coal.

    And by the early 1970s we would have quietly discovered this event looming on the long-term horizon, called AGW which we could have approached in a calm and orderly manner and dealt with by slightly accelerating what we were already doing for other reasons.

  65. @sHx

    It is completely innaccurate to suggest that skeptics have only made inroads in the last few months. I think perhaps you are new to the debate?

    I have been reading and hearing skeptic arguments to AGW since the 1980s. I remember telling people as a highschooler circa 1990 that volcanoes put out more CO2 than people do, because I’d read that in a newspaper.

    You have that point all backwards. AGW skepticism whether overt, or else quiet (in the form of inertia, inability to implement any meaningful policy) has been the rule for more than a decade. Australia never signed Kyoto until a couple of years ago remember? It has only been in the last maybe 5 years that there really was an active majority in Australia pushing more strongly for a meaningful policy on climate change.

    What you see as skeptics finally getting a say in the last few months is actually just a little oscillation. Sentiment on AGW is on a slowly rising curve that, over time, increasingly favours acceptance of the theory, and action. But from time to time there are downswings, and we are in one of them now.

  66. The excerpt below is from a Tony Abbott interview on ABC Lateline back in November. At the time, the Lib-Nat coalition seemed to be imploding under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership due to the ETS bill. JQ was calling Tony Abbott & Co ‘delusionists’ and ‘vorticists’, and he was trumpeting Kevin Rudd’s prowess in destroying one Lib leader after another. The Climategate emails were just breaking into the news. Note Abbott’s message about the future:

    TONY JONES: Is it a left-wing conspiracy? The climate change debate, the linking of climate change and global warming – is it a left wing conspiracy as Nick Minchin says to deindustrialise the western world?

    TONY ABBOTT: I think certainly there are some people whose agenda is not just environmental who’ve leapt on this particular bandwagon, and I don’t like the theological tone that so often creeps into this debate.

    I particularly dislike the way Kevin Rudd in Parliament was running around like Torquemada, looking for heresy, trying to create his own version of the Salem witch hunts against people that don’t share his particular view on this.

    TONY JONES: Senator Minchin also says since the collapse of communism, the left has embraced environmentalism as their new religion. You seem to be hinting you think something similar – you’ve talked already about the evangelical fervour of scientists. You’ve warned this whole thing might be just a fad.

    You’ve also poked fun at the idea of sea-level rises – you’ve suggested the world is cooling, not warming. You don’t sound that far away from the Minchin brand of scepticism.

    TONY ABBOTT: Well Tony, I’m on the record on all of these things and I refuse to be terrified of the future. I think that humankind has been pretty good at coping with the challenges that we’ve been given.

    If you look at Roman times, grapes grew up against Hadrian’s Wall – medieval times they grew crops in Greenland. In the 1700s they had ice fairs on the Thames. So the world has been significantly hotter, significantly colder than it is now. We’ve coped.

    I don’t say there aren’t problems, haven’t been problems, might not be problems, but I refuse to be terrified of the court.

    TONY JONES: Do you think it’s a conspiracy.

    TONY ABBOTT: I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that I refuse to be terrified of the future.

    It is not exactly a “light on the hill” kind of statement but Abbott strikes an optimistic chord on climate change that is contrary to fear-mongering we often hear from the Labor or the Greens: “I think that humankind has been pretty good at coping with the challenges that we’ve been given… I refuse to be terrified of the future… I refuse to be terrified of the court” Several days later, quite unexpectedly, he became the leader of the Coalition, and one of the first things that he said was that he was not afraid of an election based on climate change.

    It is sad to see that it is one of Australia’s most right-wing, most reactionary political figures that offers something other than fear and loathing of the future.

  67. is it a left wing conspiracy as Nick Minchin says to deindustrialise the western world?

    i like to judge things on their effects, rather than on what people say,
    so far, as i said above,
    the strongest effect of all this is the renaissance of nuclear power,
    so if it was ever a conspiracy, i dont think it was born on the left

  68. Canadian ecologist Patrick Moore was a founding member of Greenpeace and even he felt that when the Berlin wall came down they suffered an influx of statists. I don’t think it is coincidence that the left feel more comfortable signing up to the AGW agenda for change.

  69. sHx, as you may have noticed from the Minchin quote, the delusionists, while foolishly optimistic about the consequences of doing nothing, are absurdly pessimistic about the costs of taking action to stablise the global climate. Abbott’s “Great Big Tax on Everything”, referring a scheme with a gross annual value of $10 billion a year, most of it returned the industries affected or to households is only marginally less hyperbolic. They are the ones offering fear and loathing of a feasible future, and invoking wishful thinking on a massive scale to avoid it.

  70. that last comment doesnt really make sense terje, who suffered an influx of statists? greenpeace?
    other founding members dispute his claims, although weakly i suspect,
    but they certainly dont see any real connection with his ideas now and theirs now, and they are appaled by the groups he has represented since who are on the polar opposite side to Grenpeace
    the right loves quoting irrelevant figures like Moore and lovelock,
    they should make a tribal film … “Once were Left”

  71. @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Canadian ecologist Patrick Moore was a founding member of Greenpeace …

    This is one of the more persistent canards. Moore can claim to have been an early member of Greenpeace, but he was not a founding member, and his connection with Greenpeace was severed a long time before AGW was a significant controversy.

    Part of the reason it was severed was his dubious relationships with extractive companies seeking a house “ecologist” to lend credibility to environmentally objectionable activity.

    It should be noted that Moore comes from a family of commercial fishermen and inherited the business.

    This ought to be considered when considering Moore’s stance on environmental matters.

  72. JQ – I don’t fear the direct economic impact of a modest ETS. What concerns me is the institutional ratchet that it creates. A carbon tax would avoids this as does some modest handouts. Once emission right become property they are subject to constitutional protection. It also makes a whole class of traders deeply engrossed in the every eye movement of government. It isn’t a game I want us to join.

  73. @sHx

    I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible. I simply refuse to be afraid of the future. Does that make me an anti-science right-winger? No. I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though. Climate science has lost a lot of credibility in my view.

    As you’re not an anti-science left-winger either sHx, how about some insight into how you’ve recently re-educated yourself on the science of climate to arrive at your currently zesty and carefree approach to the future? You might gain some converts here, right now!

  74. re JQs comment
    “But the veterans of that campaign have moved on to a whole range of new issues, and their techniques have been so widely imitated that the entire political right now looks like Big Tobacco writ even bigger.”

    Such a good comment. I wish I had thought it up. It really is amazing to wake up these days – read opinion pieces in the media – and wonder if people have gone completely stark raving mad.
    Its “Andy Warhol style two minutes of fame to anyone mildly controversial” opinions for hire.
    Glad I am not my grandchild to have to make sense of this world…and here was me thinking the loss of grip on reality was bad in the hippy era of 1970s.

    Well its seriously worse, much worse! Yet they are not even on LSD. Work that one out!

  75. “names like Brown, Milne, Garrett, George, Cameron”

    “These people may be leftwing, but they have not, to the best of my knowledge, made claims that are obviously at variance with mainstream science. ”

    JQ – sorry I’ve been busy at work today. I’ll look up some loony quotes to attribute to them. I didn’t claim that they’d made claims ‘that are obviously at variance with mainstream science’ – I claimed that for every loony right wing quote you could find (in your case focussing on anti-science) I could find quotes from leading leading leftys that are equally loony on other topics – I specifically mentioned global trade, because Brown and Milne have made some particularly silly and non-mainstream comments about things like the US FTA, trade with Japan (in a whaling context) or trade with China (in a human rights context). Leave it with me and I’ll get googling when I can.

    btw … for the commentators didn’t recognise the names in my list! It was Bob Brown, Christine Milne, Peter Garrett, Jennie George, Doug Cameron. I would have thought it was self-evident that all have come out with loony left offerings on a semi-regular basis. Bob Brown seems to have made a career of it!

  76. @Andrew
    Andrew – If you want to stack Bob Brown V Tony Abbott into a ring for the most looney knockout competition I know where Id place my bets for the most looney views and it isnt Bob Brown.

    I think Bob is one of the most honest men in politics…because he doesnt have the numbers to win and thats where you have to go to get honesty these days instead of spin. The lesser parties. Was it always that way?

  77. Andrew, you are lost. Do you realise how many from the left here are eagerly awaiting your posting of those comments you have judged as “silly” and “non-mainstream”?

  78. i agree alice, if i had to be stuck on a desert island with any one of them for the next five years it would be bob by a mile

  79. @Andrew
    Yeah Im waiting Andrew. This point Andrew makes about Brown, Milne, Garrett, George and Cameron has been made before and they usal;ly do not post examples of these people’s loony quotes….

    So I guess that means Andrew…put your loony left quotes from this list where your mouth is?

    People would obviously like to hear these loony left quotes you have – you do actually have them dont you? Id start googling earlier than you planned (and maybe some others would like to post some loony right quotes and we could have a vote on who wins the looniest quote competition)?

  80. Can anyone beat Minchin? A global conspiracy of scientists out to deindustrialise the world. From a major party leader and ‘king’ maker. And he’s still there, still taken seriously. I guess anyone who thinks his party have any credibility until they disown him is trusting that the electorate are loony.

    Um Nick, scientists tend to be technocrats, you know, tend to believe in human ingenuity solving problems. Not all perhaps, but your conspiracy is pretty universal

    There may be more loony statements but it would be hard to find a belief by so senior a figure which is so blatant, undeniable and ridiculous

  81. Don @ #30, I’m intrigued with the term “de-link economic growth from emissions levels”. While the rest of the article is reasonably rational, the addiction to economic growth remains.

    If we could just de-link economic growth from biodiversity loss, pollution, resource depletion, obesity, increasing gap between rich and poor, ah, run out of steam but there must be more, then we would have a real achievement.

  82. The interesting bit here is that left wing luminaries, such as PrQ, continue to believe that the superiority of their (uhn, ok, our) ideology, and their arguments, is self-evident. All it takes apparently is to remind the punters about ‘the light on the hill’. Throw in, g-d forbid, ‘agnotology’, and you have a sure recipe for futher failure. Amazing.

    What is the Democratic Party’s specific, concrete solution to the economic degradation of the American lower middle class (the backbone of the Tea Party movement)? What is the environmental movement’s specific, concrete proposal with regard to climate change, now that we have moved away from the utopian international treay approach? What is Kevin Rudd’s specific, concrete policy on hospitals? The public is reacting to specific policy failure, not to some mumbo jumbo peddled by Limbaugh and Co. as PrQ is implying. It will continue to turn to the right wing for solution for as long as the left continues to be vague, unserious, and condescending. What we need is the exact opposite of turning back to ‘light on the hill’ rhetoric. What does ‘positive social transformation, based on justice and equality’ mean exactly?

    Get. Things. Done.

  83. Right wing solution? You’re not from military intelligence are you? Sometimes, frustrating and elitist as it may be, it’s best to think. things. through.

  84. specific policy failure

    – endless war against an amorphous enemy
    – financial collapse and the attendant hollowing of social institutions like health and education

    most of the problems i see have been handed to us by the right,

    anyway the public reacts to whatever they are told to, last week it was haiti and now the media is quiet as the multinationals set up the sweatshops cos haiti’s labour costs are just so competitive,
    the week before that was iran, (surprisingly it turns out the so called twitter revolution came from outside the country)
    how many media barons are on the left?

  85. @Ilya
    What I find particularly interesting and worrying is the ability of the denailists to get out the commenters on websites like The Age online. Everytime AGW is mentioned in an article that allows comments the first batch will always be the denialists repeating the same discredited talking points and heaping abuse on anyone who excepts the science. If you went by the comments alone you would have to conclude that the vast majority of Australians where aggressive denialists. This is obvisously at odds with polling so who is getting this together? I was kind of hoping Clive Hamilton would have something concrete to share.

  86. @Steve

    Yes, you are right. I am fairly new to the debate. Although I voted for the Greens for the last ten years or so, it was simply out of political loyalty to the general social and environmental agenda of the movement plus a great deal of admiration for Bob Brown. Until six months ago, I did my best to ignore all news and commentary on TV, radio and the papers regarding the climate change debate. Never seen “An Inconvenient Truth”, never seen “the Great Global Warming Swindle”. Honestly, I bought into the product out of political loyalty, not because I personally examined it. Nevertheless, I maintained a less than firm belief in AGW despite the fact that I was exposed to more pro-AGW words, text and imagery on the media to the tune of 20 to 1. I only got to see the headlines before I changed the channel or turned the page:)

    However, I was fortunate enough to finally stick my nose into the nitty gritty of the debate six months ago. That means an opportunity to observe and compare the public debate approx 3 months before and after the CRU e-mail controversy. What appeared to me to be the corruption of scientific process is what finally turned me into a sceptic. The public reaction has also been quite extraordinary (and angry) before and after that event.

    I agree with you also that if we take governmental policy as a yard stick, yes, scepticism has been the rule. So far. But I disagree that the reactions of the last few months is mere oscillation in general upward trend for the acceptance of the AGW theory. I think we may have seen the high point of the AGW movement last December. For this issue to re-appear on the world agenda with some forcefulness will take fresh scientists, fresh data, fresh methodology, more credible predictions and policy responses, and at least ten years. I think climate science will need to be put under the microscope by other scientific disciplines. Three months ago, when climategate story first came out, many AGW faithful, especially the leading luminaries in Real Climate blog, kept chanting the line that this was just a tempest in a teacup. They were wrong.

    I think the precautionary principle has already been debated at length. Briefly again, pro-AGW theory proponents urge erring on the side of the caution, whereas sceptics claim the precautionary principle is a glorified version of Pascal’s Wager. Anything new to add to that? Well, just a week after the September 11 attacks, as America was crying out for Osama bin Laden’s blood, George W Bush the half-witted president said something that would fit reasonably well into this context: “…belittling the idea of using missile strikes to eliminate Osama bin Landen, [Bush said], “What’s the sense of sending $2 million missiles into a $10 tent that’s empty.” The fact is that the pre-cautionary principle plus the public mood at the time would both have been enough to send the multi-million dollar missile into a $10 tent. But he won’t do it unless has firm intelligence that Osama is in it.

    With climate change the cheese (the opportunity cost) will be in tens of trillions of dollars without any guarantee that it will catch the mouse, or whether there is any game to catch at all. Very little attention is paid to just how much the human civilisation will be set back if resources are re-allocated to a project that may prove to be vain-glorious in the end. In my view, the prevailing level of certanity (or uncertainty) in climate science does not justify the costs. Note that the main concern here is not my energy bill, but the potential set back to civilisation. There is a compelling case that industrialisation has done a lot of good to humanity. And unless, climate science’s modelling and predictions are as accurate as laws of gravity, any policy response would be ill-advised. A meteor strike, a super volcano, a giant solar flare could have far graver consequences to humanity. But we are not fretting over it and we are not spending trillions to counter it as the pre-cautionary principle would have as to.

    Also, smiths, it doesn’t seem fair to blame the media for overstating the case for CAGW, while absolving climate scientists of any responsibility. If the case for CAGW was overstated by the media, then it would be the responsibility of climate scientists to re-state the facts and pull them back in line. It is not like climate scientists were not interviewed directly and commissioned to write articles. There is a reason we don’t have the media running wild on super-volcano scare each time a mountain grumbles: volcanologists have the say on such matters not journalists.

    @Fran Barlow
    Fran, despite my AGW scepticism, I still consider myself a Greenie with solid environmentalist concerns. I am truly a tree-hugger at heart and mind. But this CAGW scare is completely dominating the Green agenda. I could never imagine the Green movements softening up on the nuclear energy option or the GM foods, but it seems the movement has come to almost a point of advocacy on several options that would have been taboo ten to twenty years ago. For more than two decades this country had the three mine uranium policy. Now that’s gone. And soon we’ll have nuclear reactors in our backyards. We look at Brazil and praise it for its bio-fuel economy but we turn a blind eye to the devastation that the land-clearing has caused to the CO2-eating Amazonian rainforests. The world food prices has shot up, so we are beholden to the likes of Monsanto for high-yield GM seeds that have suicide genes in them. We bring 200 governments to Copenhagen to deal with the CO2 emissions, sea-level rises and so on, yet, other than whales, coral reefs and polar bears, we are practically oblivious to the marine environment and especially the havoc that overfishing has caused to the marine stocks vis-a-vis climate change awareness. This CAGW concern has had much, much greater attention from the environmentalist movement than it truly deserves.

    Social justice issues…. I mean, who is going to hurt the most if energy prices doubles, triples or even quadruples within five to ten years in Australia? What right do we have to ask billions of poor people around the world to restrict their growth and to not seek the creature comforts that we in the western world take for granted? There are leftists, hard core leftists, who consider the CO2 emission reduction targets as an imperialist ploy to sustain the wealth inequality between rich and poor nations and making the poor beholden to the rich. (Sorry for raving on. I am sure most readers are already familiar with these and similar points plus their strength and weaknesses.

    Fran, you’ve also mentioned a number of “what if…” situations regarding energy use stretching back to 1950s, but they are what they are: hypotheticals! One might as well stretch the source of our woes back to 1920s. What if we had split atom ten, twenty or thirty years earlier? What if the environmentalist movement hadn’t taken such a hard-line against the nuclear power? What if governments taxed and excised the coal as much as oil? Of all the hypothetical questions, I like my own the best: What if Moore’s Law meant doubling of the computer power every three or four years instead of every two? If this were the case, then right now we would be decades past the alleged “tipping point” of the catastrophic climate change without even realising it. We’d have nothing better to do than put a paper bag over our heads and wait for the end of the humanity. Lucky for us that Moore’s Law is what it is, eh! Fast computers and fastidious climatologists warned the humanity just in the nick of time!


    John, great, big, massive, super, huge, etc, tax scares, short-falls and cost blow-outs, etc are the part and parcel of every election campaigns and almost all budgetary politics between the campaigns. All parties, all politicians do it. You know it.

    We are talking about “light on the hill” kind of vision for the future, and my argument is that Tony Abbot’s “I am not terrified of the future” message offers more hope and optimism than anything Kevin Rudd has to offer for the future. The vision thing will make a difference come the election time. People are sick and tired of hearing about the imminent, catastrophic, cataclysmic, apocalyptic, irreversible, uncontrollable consequences of climate change. I think they come to realise that reality does not match the rhetoric in climate science. And I think they will vote with their hopes not with their fears. Kevin Rudd will most probably win an election fought on any issue other than climate change. If climate change does become a major election issue, then Labor is in real danger. The Greens will do very well but not the government.

    John, I also find it interesting that you mention “stabilising the global climate”. I was under the impression that the climate action was meant to prevent runaway greenhouse effect, not stabilising the global climate, but let’s not digress on semantics.

    Incidentally, John and all fellow commenters, I am a sceptic, not a “non-believer”. A Green sceptic. Not a usual sight perhaps but there are a few of us who will put scientific accuracy ahead of party loyalty. I am still open to persuasion should there be a compelling scientific case in the future. As it currently stands, in my most pessimistic view, the climatology lacks scientific credibility, its modeling resembles astrology, its predictions as irrational as any religious account of apocalypse, and the cost in policy responses unjustifiable. I do think that the Earth’s been warming, I do think that CO2 may have contributed to it. But I don’t think that there is such a thing as a tipping point, or runaway greenhouse effect, or that 1 to 2 C increase per century will have catastrophic consequences, or that we need forced conversion to alternative energy sources, or that human ingenuity will fail to come up with a solution to deal with any problem quickly and effectively.

    Sorry, getting a little jaded. JQ blog is one of the few places still maintaing some civility in debates. Happy to contribute. Sweet dreams:)

  87. @frankis

    As you’re not an anti-science left-winger either sHx, how about some insight into how you’ve recently re-educated yourself on the science of climate to arrive at your currently zesty and carefree approach to the future? You might gain some converts here, right now!

    Well, unlike most others, I am not here to gain converts or preach to the converted. I simply put myself in the shoes of a god-fearing soul in the age of Crusades. Like most people, I wasn’t sure whether god would save my soul if I didn’t march on to Jerusalem. Fortunately, I knew a little latin and a cute friar who sneaked me into the monastery’s library. Thus, I was able to read a few pages of the holy book without priestly interference. It didn’t take me long to realise that there was no god, that the sacred words were absurd statements, and that the Crusade was a fool’s errand.

    So my soul has been at peace and my disposition carefree ever since. As I said, I am not in this fine neighborhood to convert anyone or save any soul. Only you can absolve yourself of your guilt and sins. If you think there is no god, then you won’t burn in hell. You are saved.

  88. If I can speak for others here, sHx, your claim to have been converted to views that most of us regard as self-evidently silly (global warming is a hoax invented to advance the cause of world government, for example) doesn’t seem all that plausible. So responses like that immediately above support the diagnosis most have us have reached – that you are a rightwinger playing the well-known concern troll game.

    You could convince us otherwise by abandoning pseudonymity and verifying the record you claim. Alternatively, you could show us how you came to believe in such (to us) absurdities as “there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995” or “the hacked emails show that climate scientists are using tricks to hide the decline”. Otherwise, your welcome here won’t last much longer.

  89. sHx:

    The political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse!

    Actually, the political right’s narrative is that the political left’s narrative was/is this: the future looks so bad unless we do something really soon and really painful, it will be even worse! Just because the political right says it’s the political left’s narrative doesn’t mean it is. If you think that has been the political left’s narrative, why have you always voted for it in the past?

    The average voter now realises that there is no reason to be afraid of the future.


    I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method. Not in climate science though.

    Yes, it’s just sheer co-incidence that this happened in climate science. Had absolutely nothing to do with the consequences of the scientists being right.

    Since I decided to dip my toe into the debate for the first time six months ago, I have found the climate science underwhelming and its doom-and-gloom scenarios not credible.

    Especially since you don’t need to be concerned about misinformation published on the internet.

  90. It’s not a good idea to support ‘ideology’, it sounds like you are writing propaganda that you know is not true. By all means claim your opponents are writing ideology, but you should always claim that what you are writing is (a) true and (b) in the interest of the public as a whole. Indeed, you should be trying to write what is true and in the interest of the public as a whole.

    More generally, the issue is to build up a positive culture, that is based on the different kinds of truth (mathematical, scientific, social, aesthetic, ethical) and develops the personal and collective actions to give effect to these truths.

  91. Disemvowelled – TG, you’re banned until you apologise appropriately

    Dn@ 30;

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    Smths sd@ 35

    ” gr lc, f hd t b stck n dsrt slnd wth ny n f thm fr th nxt fv yrs t wld b bb by ml”

    d nt knw bt y Smths, bt f ws stck thr fr fv yrs, ‘d mk dm sr thr ws wll thr s my bck cld b pt gnst t.

    nywy, t sms lt f ppl r nw fndng “th clmt scnc ndrwhlmng nd ts dm-nd-glm scnrs nt crdbl”, spclly n th nrthrn hmsphr whr thy hv bn frzng thr blls f ths wntr.


  92. I think the point you make about anti-vaccination having moved from being a left-wing cause to being at least as strong on the right is really interesting, John. There is of course a certain amount of anti-science on the left, but its not dominant, and most left-wingers have rejected the anti-vaccination forces. On the other hand, the right was initially not very interested in the issue, as far as I can see.

    That changed for a couple of reasons; those with a generalised hatred of science on the right took up the cause, and then the opposition to gardasil (because it will supposedly promote promiscuity) created a synergy between the anti-vacciners and the religious right.

    Since most of the American and Australian right has become used to rejecting science as their default position once this happened many were completely prey to the anti-vaccine position, and its now probably more entrenched there than on the left. I suspect this pattern may be followed with other forms of anti-science.

  93. Tony G the homophobia of that comment is a new low even for you.

    And as for the northern hemisphere freezing – well after the world experienced its hottest January since measurements began, its now clear February will be similar. Anyone want to back up your confidence by taking my bet that 2010 will be the hottest year on record?

  94. The denialists/deniers can be called “anti-science” for two fundamental and separate reasons. Firstly, they are in denial of the core principle of climate change science, namely the greenhouse effect. Secondly, for reasons of sheer ideology they oppose the peak scientific body on climate change, namely the IPCC.

  95. JQ,

    1- Was your reply at #45 made with the benefit of having read my lengthy comment currently awaiting moderation at #43?

    2- Correct me if I am wrong on the details here. Did you not approve the withdrawal of a South Australian bill that would have required hitherto anonymous blog commenters to disclose their identity? A week or so ago, I think it was.

    3- I see that you smell a rat, comrade. But what makes you think that I would go into a painstaking detail to create a fictitious persona, a “concern troll”, whereas the more elegant explanation would be that I am the real deal? I hope you do not consider my evidently shoddy grammar and spelling as additional fictitious devices to hide my true identity as native English speaker. Tsk, tsk, tsk, comrade! You are so quick to apply the ‘duplicity’ charge. You are so sure of it on gut instinct alone?

    4- Shortly, I’ll get to something that will hopefully make you feel special and happy, John, but first a bit of a slog to read. Did you know that until 13 October 2009 (four months ago), except for one instance, I never made any climate related comment on the web ever under my real name or a pseudonym? The second ever comment regarding climate change that I made was at the Air Vent, a sceptical blog run by Jeff Id, a self-declared right-winger. Three weeks ago on this blog when you and a few others first questioned the veracity of my claims that I was a Greenie-cum-sceptic, I said this:

    John, I am very sincere in what I said. I am/was Greenie for the last ten years and I am sick and tired of the dogmatic devotion of the Green movement to the uncertain AGW science and the expensive policy responses it seeks. I am considering voting informal in the elections this year since I cannot bring myself to vote for a right wing party.

    After that, I proceeded to give you an excerpt from my somewhat longish comment at the Air Vent. Not sure if you read it at all. This time please allow me to quote in full, warts and all, my comment at the Air vent four months ago under my usual seal, sHx. Note how fresh I sound, how green, how uncertain, how angry at politicisation of the debate and how firmly, firmly agnostic:

    sHx said
    October 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    One of the things that really annoys me about the AGW debate and forces me to remain a non-interested by-stander is the way the debate has become politicised. Even those who complain about politicisation of the debate do it unashamedly. If you’re making, or convinced by, the AGW arguments then you’ve got to be a leftist-liberal. If however you are not taken in by the AGW arguments then, mate, that is because you are a right-winger or conservative. Neither side refrain from making this pathetic categorisation in spite of the claims made by both sides that they are applying the best of the scientific method.

    I began skimming through Jeff Id’s blog post after this sentence: “Don’t read it if you’re a liberal.” Sure thing, but why? Is it because AGW is a left-liberal conspiracy? Will I be closer to the scientific truth if I shift my political allegiance to the consevative side of the politics? Reading Jeff Id’s post, it is hard to conclude otherwise.

    Take this sentence for example which, despite skimming through the post, caught my eye, lingered in my mind, and finally brought me back to say something:

    “Michael Mann has probably never had a conservative thought in his life.”

    For those who pay some attention to one of the key issues between Micheal Mann’s team and Steve McIntyre & Co, namely the peer-review process of scientific publications, the statement above ought to be manifestly false. By insisting on only the peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals in order to take counter-arguments seriously, Micheal Mann and his team are demanding a very rigid and most conservative ritual of scientific process. Conversely, Steve McIntyre seeks to revolutionise this conservative structure by opening up the review process to general public with the aid of technology, which would make him a progressive liberal. It is non-sense that AGW advocates cannot be conservative, or sceptics progressive.

    I have been a life long liberal, leftist, greenie, or whatever you may call it, but I consider myself neither a sceptic nor a supporter of the AGW claims for the simple reason that this is a scientific debate not a political one. The reason I refuse to take part in this argy-bargy is because I am not persuaded by the claims of either side. Sceptics would like us to believe that all the evidence pulled in from various scientific fields is just a merry coincidence conjured by a small, self-serving group pushing forward a non-scientific interest. The advocates are acting like biblical doomsayers. Not only is there a global warming, they would have us believe, but it is definitely human-induced and, if we don’t do anything big and drastic very, very soon, it will be the end of humanity.

    Why isn’t there a third group that calls a halt to the excesses of both sides? Scientists and laymen alike who are prepared to consider the issue without getting into the left-right politicisation? It is really annoying and most unsatifying when people like me who don’t have a firm view -yet!- one way or the other are lumped into political categories that we don’t belong to over what should be a purely scientific debate.

    If you follow the link you’ll read also Jeff Id’s very civilised response. The most unexpected finding in my six-month-long excursion in the climate blogosphere was that respect, civility, decorum and willingness to engage in honest and reasoned exchange are in abundance in sceptical websites. In pro-AGW blogs and websites, they are precious commodity. Ridicule, name-calling, belittling, jeering and sneering is what you are guaranteed to get to moment you question the prevailing dogma in pro-AGW blogs. Here is an idea, John. Why don’t you wear a pseudonym and pay a visit to one of the blogs on your say of the debate, say, Tim Lambert’s Deltoid, and question the veracity of climate science. Let’s see what kind of treatment you get. Anyway, let’s not digress.

    5- Now, here is the special part. You don’t know this, John. My first comment ever about climate change on the web or anywhere in public, my one and only comment prior the one four months ago in the Air Vent, was made here on your blog five years ago. In 2005, almost to the month. Under my full real name and surname. I think I was still a member of the Greens at the time. Better still, you sent me an e-mail afterwards on a very personal note. We have never met personally, of course and I can’t trace that email now. But whenever I carry out a search on my name that page from your blog still pops up. I mean, in more colourful words, I lost my climate comment virginity on this blog five years ago, and never had a root again until four months ago. Now, I’ve come back for more as a man, out of love and loyalty most probably, and now you threaten to publicly denounce me and line me against the wall and shoot me, comrade! Where is the justice in that?

    6- If this much verbosity still hasn’t impressed upon you my bona fide credentials as an honest anonymous commenter, John, well, I’d be very happy to provide you my real name and surname to you in a private bigpond email, except that I can’t find your email listed anywhere on the page. Then, you could check my real identity on the web, the White Pages, the Dept of Immigration system, on electoral rolls and even among the list of former Green Party members.

    The lesson from this conversation is that, John, I wear my heart on my sleeves, whereas you, you wear your gut instincts. Just where the hell the idea that I might think “global warming is a hoax invented to advance the cause of world government, for example” came from? Is there really a global leftist conspiracy, comrade? And why none of the comrades told me anything about this special operation? I have been in the ranks all my life, you know, with family and all!

    Since I stuck my nose again into the climate debate four months ago, I have visited your fine blog once a week and have commented half a dozen times or so. Less than ten comments in four months! All of them under my seal, sHx. If you think, this is some unwarranted imposition, well, let me know again after this comment that I am not welcome here anymore, I promise I’ll be gone for good. If I could stay away from here for five years, hell, I can stay away for fifty years. The only courtesy I ask in return is that you let my final messages including this one to remain posted.

    Thanks and Kind Regards

  96. Here’s a couple of classic Bob Brown quotes for a start –

    Bob Brown press release Jan 06 – yeah right, a FTA is all about kowtowing the evil US corporate machine
    “The US-Australia Free Trade Agreement was biased against Australia”
    “The touted move to abandon the ‘anti-evergreening’ provision in the FTA points to the government’s obsequiousness to the Bush administration and US corporate giants,”

    Bob Brown press release Aug 04 – demoralise and offend millions of Australians? Yep – it sure is a BBQ stopper of that magnitude!
    “Labor’s capitulation to Prime Minister Howard’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will demoralise and offend millions of Australians, including Labor voters”
    “This is self-serving, hollow politics after a sellout to the White House and the big end of town”

    When I get some spare time, I’ll try to collate a whole series of these and post them for you.

  97. @Andrew

    I’m not sure why you’re posting this stuff Andrew. Angst over the FTA or the US alliance is not peculiar to left-of-centre populists you know. Right-of-centre populists are nationalistic and parochial as well.

  98. Not to mention the obvious fact that the so-called FTA *was* biased against Australia. The US maintained most of the trade restrictions we wanted lifted, and got nearly everything they demanded from us. In particular, even the Howard government was eventually forced to act on evergreening. These were among the reasons most mainstream economists opposed the agreement.

    You’ll have to do a lot better than this, Andrew.

    To encourage you to stay at least vaguely on track, I’ve deleted your diversions on foreign policy. Whether or not you think Brown is sensible on foreign policy bears no relationship to the question of whether he bases his positions on false factual claims.

  99. @Fran Barlow

    Moreover, your swing at Bob Brown, Andrew, was not supported by the text at your link.

    There were a few references to Chavez’s popularity, which was and is beyond dispute, but the bulk of the text was devoted to a statement by the then FARC-captive Ingrid Betancourt on the nature of green politics. The bulk of the rest was a description of the case for increased diplomatic engagement with Venezuela and about some of its natural features and trade.

  100. I’m not sure that we are aren’t seeing plain old populism combined with the clash – and failure to reconcile – popular notions the Right like to promote like less regulation, free markets and lower taxes with issues – like climate change, sustainability and ecosystem destruction – that don’t have ready solutions that don’t involve forward planning, regulation and public funding. Yet they have no problem with issues that are seen as or are couched in terms of security; regulation and enforcement using public tax-payer funding for border security or protection of commerce gets unhesitating support. A shame they can’t see the impacts of climate change in terms of future security.

    Not that populism and failing to face reality is the preserve of the Right, but they really are struggling to find coherent, credible approaches to these big issues. The Left has no problem with notions of regulation and public funding but have their own blind spots. Without intending to start anything, I think absolute opposition to nuclear in the face of absolute need to reduce GHG emissions is one of those issues the Left can’t deal with rationally; they’ve invested too much to date in popularising and promoting opposition to nuclear in all forms (except perhaps nuclear medicine) in much the way the Right has invested in popularising and promoting opposition to climate science.

    Of course the real problem isn’t the policies of the extremes of Left or Right but the failure of Parties of the Centre to deal with these issues in any kind of effective manner – the lip service that Labor gives to these issues is only marginally better than the lip service that Liberal gives.

  101. sHx, I for one am prepared to accept your sincerity and honesty on this matter.

    However, speaking sincerely and honestly, and with post-graduate scientific training (but not in anything to do with cliamtology), I firmly believe that you are profoundly wrong, and find it hard to believe that an obviously reasonable person could arrive at where you have. The science, in general terms, truly is cut and dried. While there are many reasonable quibbles at the edges of the matter, there are so many corroborating lines of evidence to show that anthropogenic climate change is extremely probable, that you would have to have some irrational beliefs to come to another view.

    For climate change to be bogus would require the greatest conspiracy the world has ever known.

    The critics of cliamte science are without exception all over the shop. One theory is contradicted by another theory (often spouted by the same person), before too long it always comes down to their political considerations. The small number of genuine scientific sceptics, if you observe their debates closely enough, are really jsut gnawing at the edges of trivial points, they are not able to attack the rock solid central core of the hypothesis.

    Even if you were just playing the odds, and thought that rather than being 90%+ probable, it was say ~50% probable, that conclusion would still call for strong action.

    Of course, with all of that above, I wisely leave aside the politics and the economics of the matter.

  102. @sHx
    I’m willing to take you at face value. In fact in a previous comment thread I replied to your initial comment out of genuine curiosity:
    “Perhaps you could also share some specifics regarding the scientific arguments that “underwhelmed” you. Mostly you write about the politics which of course are important, but surely it doesn’t matter what the majority of the population thinks, the science is either accurate and plausible or it isn’t.”
    It really doesn’t matter much to me if you handed out how to vote cards for the Natural Law party and I also don’t care to find out the political affilations of those who publish their research in respectable peer reviewed journals. It is the process that should best establish the credibility of the information. I don’t rely on blogs alone for this kind of information.

  103. @sHx Fine, I’m happy to believe you are who you say you are. As regards pseudonymity, I do indeed support the right to pseudonymity, but note that it’s much more difficult to back up arguments by reference to your own authority or special experience (in this case as a Green converted to scepticism). By contrast, with someone like Patrick Moore (see upthread), it’s possible to check whether his claims are true or not.

    So, accepting all this, it seems as if you have wandered into a dispute that has been going on for 20 years or so, and decided your position on the basis of the demeanour of the participants.

    This does not seem sensible to me. I would have thought it better to make your own assessment of claims you are qualified to judge – this is certainly enough to determine that many of the claims made on the anti-science side of this debate are false and that those putting them forward should be disregarded on other issues as well.

    I’ve already given the example of claims that AGW is a fraud designed to bring about world government. You reject this and therefore ought also to reject Monckton and all his supporters – someone who makes such a crazy claim cannot be regarded as a reliable source on anything.

    Then, there is the talking point that “there has been no statistically significant warming in 15 years”. Assuming you know first–year statistics, you should see immediately that anyone who regards this point as evidence about AGW is either ignorant of the meaning of “statistically significant” or is being deliberately dishonest (if you don’t know stats, I’ll be explaining this later). Since this talking point and Phil Jones’ alleged “admission” on this point has been a big feature of the CRU controversy, recognition that the anti-AGW faction in this particular dispute is either ignorant or dishonest ought to affect your judgement.

    But if you want to stick absolutely to the view that the side that makes the least unfair personal attacks wins, I’ll ask you your view of the conduct of Steve McIntyre in this matter. Having received the stolen emails, McIntyre played a leading role in pushing the view that the phrases “hide the decline’ and “trick” indicated a conspiracy to conceal evidence against AGW. See here, and many more

    These charges of scientific fraud were baseless, and McIntyre either knew this or should have. Do you care to defend him?

  104. One thing is that science is messy. Decisions on how to interpret observed values must be made. Methods of analysis must be selected. New data, new equipment, and so on, all mean that a level of fluidity and uncertainty is present in science. AGW as a theory is subject to all of those factors – how could it be otherwise?

    An examination of the geologic history is quite elucidating on how natural climate changes have occurred for a variety of reasons. It also gives some insight into just how pig-headed geologists can be in sticking with their favourite ideas long past their use-by date, which is to say they are no different in that regard to the rest of us. But I digress. The point of geologic history is that we can see all manner of evidence pointing towards some pretty horrific climate conditions at various epochs, and it is in fact quite good fortune for humans to be living at such a benign period, in so far as global climatic conditions go.

    Here are some oft overlooked facts when the layperson is trying to use the past to gauge the present:
    * Continents move around. Before drawing too much from a particular ice age or tropical paradise in the distant past, it is a good idea to establish where the continents (and even how many) were at that point.
    * The end of the pre-Cambrian has a lot of evidence of a globally ice-covered Earth, including the equatorial regions. The Flinders Ranges in South Australia is one region that records the equatorial temperatures 700Myrs ago, or there abouts.
    * The Cambrian explosion of multicellular life forms capable of fossilisation happened after the last of the global ice age(s) finished.
    * Geological evidence strongly supports eventual buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as the principal means of exiting the last global ice age. While ice covered virtually everything, CO2 couldn’t react geochemically with rocks, and so volcanism eventually lifted CO2 and other GHGs to very high levels; enough to start a thaw.
    * Geologic evidence strongly supports the thaw as being exceptionally quick and Earth as being very hot and unpleasant, until geochemical reactions could reduce GHGs, principally CO2, back to levels more in line with Cambrian to present times – although large excursions have happened during that period too, none are as large as the “big thaw”.
    * The output of the sun has increased slowly over time. Estimates vary but a figure of 70% of current output is a reasonable guess at the output 4Byrs ago, or thereabouts.
    * Ocean currents are very important in moving heat around the planet. Again, the relative location and positions of the continents affects how climatic conditions change, but in this case it is due to the constraints on possible ocean currents allowed.
    * The orbit of the moon has shifted outwards over geologic time. This in turn affects tides.
    * The length of an Earth day has gradually increased; in the late pre-Cambrian it was about 22 hours. This in turn affects coriolis forces and a whole host of other things.
    * The albedo (reflectivity) of various materials has a marked impact upon the ability of Earth to heat up or cool down. Ice ages and the associated exits are an interplay of greenhouse gases, albedo changes, and heat transfer processes. The processes are inherently nonlinear.
    * No doubt more factors will be discovered in the future. It is even possible that one or two of the factors used in the denial sphere (and I mean politically based denial, not scientific scepticism, or natural scepticism from ignorance) might be more important than climate scientists have currently recognised. The big factors do seem to have been captured, and in most cases quantified satisfactorily enough to build consistent theories around.
    * Clouds. There is an awful lot of literature on clouds. Most of it hasn’t reached the MSM as yet.
    * Chaos. Just because mathematical chaos is a feature of climate systems (at least it seems highly likely in the cases of interest to humans), it does not follow that prediction is impossible. Monckton has implied as much and is entirely wrong on the point. For example, the well-known Lorenz equations have chaotic behaviour. That doesn’t stop us from identifying the “shape” of the strange attractors present, and indeed the shape gives a level of predictive power not possible otherwise. If the attractor is robust to parameter changes in the equations, it means that it is a stable feature with explanatory power. Chaos is not the same as random.

    Finally, a few geologists, economists and statisticians who should know better, crap on about how climate models aren’t evidence. A climate model is an experimental set-up, where the basic physics and chemistry equations are solved numerically. One thing that a climate model can do is establish when something is missing from our understanding. They can also establish that a plausible idea actually has merit, and that it justifies further fieldwork to gather geologic evidence that might not have otherwise seemed relevant. We use mathematical models pretty much everywhere else in the natural sciences, including biology, so arbitrarily deciding what is an acceptable practice in one scientific endeavour is not acceptable in climate science smacks of rhetoric not analysis.

    Got a bit riled today after reading yet another stupid article by yet another hack journo. Had to vent.

  105. @sHx

    I am truly a tree-hugger at heart and mind. But this CAGW scare is completely dominating the Green agenda.

    I’m not sure what CAGW stands for, but your use of the qualifier “scare” renders the rest of your sentence moot. You imply that there is nothing to fear. There is ample to fear, and based purely on what you have disclosed about your prior knowledge, I find it hard to see how you could now have the insight to oppose your inferences to those of people who have devoted their lives to studying climate and its proxies. I very much doubt you could spend three minutes on your feet discussing the work of CERES or energy budgets, or the tranches of radiation affected by rises in CO2 inventories before a scientific panel.

    For all I know, you like trees and nature. That doesn’t make you an environmentalist, still less an ecologist or someone qualified to malign the work of the world’s best resourced scientific bodies.

    Concern over AGW is quite correct becuse it is foundational. Changing the climate is an exercise in terraforming. We know that quite modest changes in a biome — removing a top predator or damming a river for example can have dramatic effects on that biome. How much more serious would it be to change the temperature and precipitation in the system on a longterm basis in one direction? What you are saying is that conducting a gross longterm experiment in the basic settings of the planetary ecosystem is not key to environmental policy.

    The fact reamins that the quality of the current climate anomaly is unprecendented not merely in the period since the Younger Dryas (13000 BP) or the Late Miocene (about 9,000,000 BP) when the antecedents to humanity first appeared, but as far as we can tell, in all geological time. The End Permian extinction event, generally regarded as the granddaddy of them all was orders of magnitude slower and came off a cooler base than that applying in 1750. No rational person who had the beginnings of a grasp of ther forces being summoned would call that a scare — and yet you, who assert that the science is in doubt, want us to be relaxed about it. Abbott declaring his confidence that huymanity can sort it out is not being optimistic. It’s being recklessly panglossian. He reveals himself as someone who would trade human interest for his short term political advantage. He is a dangerous moron.

    What if we had split atom ten, twenty or thirty years earlier?

    The analogy fails. My counterfactual was feasible given the technology of the time and could have been justfied given the knowledge at the time and the dominance within the world of the US. Yours is not.

  106. the manufacture of ignorance

    when lippman referred to the manufacture of consent he did so in the context of propaganda and control through media in soceity, and in a guided and well thought out way
    when chomsky and hermann used the concept they also supported this guided and well thought out manipulation of the public through media and the powerful institutions of soceity and globally

    so john, is the ‘manufacture of ignorance’ you refer to purposeful and managed do you think, by powerful elements in our soceities and globally?

  107. Look up Bonner and Associates and you’ll see astroturfing as a consultancy business. If astroturfing isn’t manufacturing of ignorance it must be a close second.

  108. well i did … and i discovered at Bonner and Associates there is grassroots and grasstops now,
    the meaning of grassroots, unbeknown to me, had already begun its decline into meaninglessness,
    the language is so quickly muddied and absorbed

  109. @Andrew. As it happens I’m writing a book chapter on the US-Australia FTA at this very moment, and I came across this quote from the the the New York Times, February 14, 2004 editorial, which sounds as if it is channeling Bob Brown

    The deal with Australia is a huge setback in the process of liberalizing global agricultural trade. Poor nations whose only viable exports are agricultural goods are hampered by excessive protectionism. And by making a deal with Australia that leaves out sugar, Washington has jeopardized chances for meaningful progress on a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the latest round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization. As part of this effort to lower trade barriers, developing countries are rightly insisting that rich nations stop subsidizing their farmers and open up their markets to competition.

    The agreement sends a chilling message to the rest of the world. Even when dealing with an allied nation with similar living standards, the administration, under pressure from the Congress, has opted to continue coddling the sugar lobby, rather than dropping the most indefensible form of protectionism. This will only embolden the case of those around the world who argue that globalization is a rigged game.

  110. @Donald Oats

    Good post.

    What is disturbing about a lot of people who ought to know better, is that many seem to think that the climate models are simply ‘econometric’ type statistical models where sufficient numbers of free parameters are estimated until the equations fit the historicial data. If they were, they would correctly be characterised as probably rubbish. Because they are. instead, models constructed using various known physical and chemical equations and an understanding of the interactions taking place, and that the numerical results then fit the historical results quite well is impressive evidence that they know what they are doing. Having validated their climate models, when they conduct counterfactuals without Anthropogenic greenhouse gases and find significantly different result to recent historical data, this too is evidence that should be taken very seriously.

  111. @sHx

    Having read to your posts, including your statement “I still have utmost trust in science and scientific method,” I’m wondering whether you know anything about science at all.

    As far as I can see, if you have utmost trust in the scientific method yet find climate science wanting you would want to have some kind of real reason for doing so, that is, a reason that fits within the trusted scientific method. That means that you would need to find specific errors – in data, methodology or logic – in specific papers and publish these finding and let them succeed or fail in stark gaze of peer review. That’s how science works, and for good reasons. It’s not about making claims, you have to back it up against the best.

    On the other hand, you might not dispute the results of individual papers, but dispute synthesised reviews like the IPCC reports. In this case, you would want do demonstrate that the IPCC misrepresented the papers that they used, that they ignored important papers that are contrary to their conclusions, or that they have drawn conclusion that are not logically supported by the papers they quote. Despite the large output the IPCC has produced and the attention they have got, no more than a few quibbling errors have been found to date, so good luck. However, if you can knock them over on any substantive point, you will achieve something like instant God status in the anti-GW movement, so don’t hold back unless you have a problem with celebrity, money and status.

    Alternatively, if you think that the science may be ok, but the consequences won’t be that bad, then you should recognise that you aren’t talking climate science any more at all: you’re in areas of personal preferences, public policy, economics, politics, newspaper columns, and the like. Apart from the physical assessment of mitigation strategies, the discussion of social and economic impacts and responses isn’t climate science at all. If your dispute is in this area, you aren’t correct to claim that climate science is wrong, you are disputing economics or something else.

    What I find telling is your statement “I simply refuse to be afraid of the future.” This is a psychological statement, a personal manifesto. It suggests that you may have conflated climate science with your inner emotional realm. Whether you want to be scared has absolutely nothing to do with climate science, but it is significant is that you see that as driving your rejection of climate science. Climate science stands on the scientific evidence; how you react emotionally or what you chose to do just isn’t part of the scientific evidence.

    As I and others have noted, the fact that libertarians, a bunch of people who believe strongly that government should be strictly limited, have almost to a man decided that climate science is wrong, suggests either of two things. Firstly, they may be a uniquely intelligent and perceptive bunch, who can beat trained and peer-reviewed scientists at their own game. If this is true, we should be putting these guys to work on just about everything that needs doing, forthwith. On the other hand, they may just be a group who are so emotionally attached to a position that they are unable to detect their inverted syllogism: (loosely) government always makes things worse, “therefore” anything that apparently requires government action can’t be right, “therefore” global warming is false. It’s too much of a coincidence – the science being wrong and that fitting with libertarian ideals – isn’t it? Personally, I would have thought there would be at least a few who would say that the science looks right, (or even more honestly, I have no genuine reason to disagree!) but they’d still prefer to take their chances without any government action. I’d find this at least intellectually honest, even though I’d still disagree. But, no, what we have from virtually every one of them is an outright denial of climate science supported by a farrago of irrelevant, insubstantial, or just-plain-whacky points that seem change regularly and often contradict each other.

    So, are you following a similar trajectory: is your “refusal to be scared” driving a rejection of climate science? It seems so to me, but maybe that’s something you need to answer for yourself. Secondly, do you really dispute climate science, or just some of the more outrageous personal doom scenarios that aren’t really part of the science at all?

  112. developing countries are rightly insisting that rich nations stop subsidizing their farmers and open up their markets to competition

    With Free Trade Agreements the rights of the Third World must be protected against the rights of the developed world. But at the same time, growth in the Third World must not come at the expense of workers in the developed world.

    So the competition (that is barrier free) has to be fair and not based on low safety standards, punishing hours of work, and pauperism.

    In Indonesia, workers making Nike sports shoes, do not receive wages sufficient for them to purchase their own products.

    Indonesian Nike workers cannot pay US$100 for a pair of Nike shoes.

    There is nothing in trade theory that prevents tariffs against unfair competition. The New York Times editorial appears to be encouraging people to turn a blind eye to this circumstance.

    Tariffs (or Tobin Tax or other device) may be required to ensure Third World development.

  113. Jim Birch, I think you’ll find our very own Terje (NOT pronounced ter – jay!) identifies with libertarianism, and accepts the general scientific principles behind anthropogenic climate change.

  114. Interesting quote from Jeffrey Sachs.
    “But then I recalled that this line of attack – charging a scientific conspiracy to drum up “business” for science – was almost identical to that used by The Wall Street Journal and others in the past, when they fought controls on tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoke, and other dangerous pollutants. In other words, their arguments were systematic and contrived, not at all original to the circumstances.”…..
    “We are witnessing a predictable process by ideologues and right-wing think tanks and publications to discredit the scientific process. Their arguments have been repeatedly disproved for 30 years – time after time – but their aggressive methods of public propaganda succeed in causing delay and confusion.”….

  115. @wilful

    Terje appears to be fairly ambivalent about climate science to me though he seems to have shifted a bit recently. I’ve never seen him argue against any of the total nutters but I may have missed it. OTOH I don’t think he’s very science oriented so may not feel it’s his place.

    Libertarianism seems to me to be inherently anti-science: issues are decided by reference to the manifesto/abstract theory rather than letting the evidence speak. The idea that complex systems are reducible to simple principles via profound insight is a kind of pre-scientific way of thinking about the world, and ourselves. It may be true in some cases but you’d want to test it piecemeal. So far, biological systems, eg us, have typically shown more nuance and complexity the further we drill down.

  116. John, it seems that once again you have resorted to an almost childish characterisation of the right in an attempt to once again further your own progressive agenda. One may even argue your enduring belief in market inefficiency and assertions that market liberalism has indeed run out of steam may be construed as evidence of the ignorance that often plagues the left. Indeed, one must raise the question as to what was the purpose of this blog? Clearly, your condescending and patronizing attitude to those who have views and ideologies that differ from your own, and the almost childish way you characterise anyone that disagrees with you (eg. gullible, denier, ignorant etc.) is evidence that this blog only serves to stroke your profoundly inflated ego.

  117. @Jim Birch
    I certainly identify very strongly with her views on certain issues. I think she has definitely reinvigorated the conservative base in America. Nevertheless, do I think she would be a suitable candidate for the presidency? At this stage, probably not. However, I would much prefer her over the moderates in the Republican party such as John McCain.

  118. The “disemvowelling” of Tony G’s post is the funniest thing Ive seen all day…..(it makes about as much sense as his undisemvowlled posts.)


  119. @jquiggin
    JQ – globalisation is a rigged game….rigged by the rich nations for the rich nations.

    It goes like this…”open your doors so we can be free to enter and extract your resources…we, rich nations will in turn provide jobs (not many) at very poor wages (because it helps our bottom line to lower our costs). That is all we will offer because we do not pay tax in your poor third world country because you have made it a tax free haven to get us to come here. A few jobs, you say, is better than none. We encourage you to think this way especially. We use the IMF to do this job for us. Thus we get to keep even more of our profits. Its a win win. You get a few paltry sub subsistence jobs you didnt have before, but we make a lot more from your resources, which you do not have the technology to develop. Thus we pay you a pittance to strip your resources. When it comes to agricultural produce, us rich nations know we should be seen to be opening our own doors, but the farmers lobby is stalking the halls of congress and threatening our own political careers so instead we have made a law that means agricultural subsidies are now not to be known at as agricultural subsidies but instead we will call them marketing subsidies. We will still insist that you can only export quotas to us as well so as not to upset our own farmers. That means our doors are still shut but yours should be open to globalisation.”

    Rigged? Its rigged alright.

  120. @Alice
    And globalisation is rigged precisely because, like labour markets, the negotiating playing field is not level….it never was and it never will be. Globalisation will not ever bring equality of negotiation powers to markets. That is where market ideology fails us all. It will never deliver the level playing field it purports to deliver. Insteadv it will deliver only greater inequalities and an increasing amount of global destitution excluded from world “markets.”

    What gloalisation really means is “if you have the marbles you can play. If you dont you are out of the game.”

  121. Jim Birch@26

    You don’t know what your talking about. Libertarians are nor reductionists as you implied. I liken the study of climate science to economics.

    Here is paragragh from a famous Libertarian, Friedrich August von Hayek, who presented a lecture on “The Pretense of knowledge”

    Here is paragraph for you to absorb:

    “The correlation between aggregate demand and total employment, for instance, may only be approximate, but as it is the only one on which we have quantitative data, it is accepted as the only causal connection that counts. On this standard there may thus well exist better “scientific” evidence for a false theory, which will be accepted because it is more “scientific”, than for a valid explanation, which is rejected because there is no sufficient quantitative evidence for it.”

    I think Hayek proposition ” The Pretense of knowledge” is far better at encompassing the the underlying problems we face in resolving the climate change debate and its convuluted misinformation campaigns. Agnotology only partly grasps the issue and now that the AGW advocates have claimed it as their own it will be adopted in the pejorative sense.

    JQ you said

    “The big political problem is that while competent management commands widespread approval it does not mobilise much enthusiasm. What is needed here is a return to ideology, and a project to move beyond day-to-day management and offer the ‘light on the hill’ of a positive social transformation, based on justice and equality.”

    Obama and Rudd are not good managers IMHO. They just happend to be around to ride the wave of dissatisfaction (on the rebound) of the people, with those on the right whose power became entrenched and dangerous. We can only thank democracy for that.

    The “retun to ideology”, reminded me of the great inspirational speeches of Churchill, Musollini and Hitler. I don’t think much of any of these guys. They appealed to peoples gullibility and search for security. They inspired their nations to war. All these men had tremendous persuasive powers and in the process killed many of their people. I just read a few of their speeches, they are ideological poetry.

    I can understand your need to counter the ideological style of Mockton et al, but is this the answer ? In my opinion it is not only a waste of time but dangerous. Justice and Equality will come second to ideological goals. If you still find the need to pursue this goal here is a start up guide:

    I think you should take Barry Brooks ( Brave new climate blog) approach, who I thought presented well when he debated Mockton and came across credible and with much humility. A credit to him. Barry evolving approach to the climate change challenge is commendable and in fact one of his recent blog topics displays more of the same even though I may disagree on some issues, his approach is non ideological.

    I think you should explore his approach.

  122. Re JQ at #48, was this “ritual disemvowellment” (after the Japanese) ?
    All I seem to get is this sense of consonant disruption; a complete apostrophe as one would expect from a radical (semi) colonostomy, as one would expect.
    Colonostomy bags for vowell removal won’t work tho and we know that the government is sure to institute a “syntax” that would perturb my gramma greatly, poor old love.

  123. Perhaps a return to science is the light on the hill; the engine for social justice; the policy a sane party has to push.

  124. That’s true Jim, Terje’s libertarian delusionalism is not in the broad scientific drift or economic aspects of climate change. It’s less subtle than that – Terje believes that the best place for the younger player to study climate science before spouting off on it would be at Steve McIntyre’s famed antiscience website. This is undeniably, absolutely, world-class delusionalism!


    You don’t know what your talking about. Libertarians are nor reductionists as you implied. I liken the study of climate science to economics.

    is I think an instant classic. I expect to see more of this calibre of work from you.

    Now you then go on to offer an interesting Hayek quote thank you, but it’s meaningless in the context you’ve deployed it (climate science). More generally it’s meaningless to fret about that idea unless you can point to the existence of an alternative hypothetical correlation and explain why quantitative data in its support should be unavailable even with a lot more sweaty effort from yours truly. In the absence of the other hypothesis isn’t Hayek’s idea subsumed almost wholly today by the concept of Type 1 error in statistical hypothesis testing?

    In closing Andre I not only loved your “science = economics” put-down of poor Jim but also greatly admired the humility with which you tendered some worthy advice to JQ, I’m guessing he’ll be quite grateful for that.

  125. @paul walter
    I think actually Paul just by looking at Tony G’s “disemvowelled” was indeed the vowels that were disemvowelled…not the consonants. There is in fact no consonant disruption…but then…. by disembowelling the vowels it does have the unintended consequence of consonant disruption anyway.

    Thats not such a bad thing is it?

  126. @frankis
    The first step in convincing people is to sternly reprimand the subject as a father would a small child. Once the subject has been put in their place you can then tender some guiding wisdom. You can if you read carefully see two masters of this approach above.

    Andre :
    Jim Birch@26
    You don’t know what your talking about……..

    Blah Blah……he continues then……

    I think you should explore his approach.


    EMH :
    John, it seems that once again you have resorted to an almost childish characterisation of the right in an attempt to once again further your own progressive agenda….. Blah Blah…..Clearly, your condescending and patronizing attitude…… evidence that this blog only serves to stroke your profoundly inflated ego.

    Opps he forgot to round it off with some patronising advice.

  127. @Michael
    Yes Michael – Ive long since recognised the rudeness of the (degree of rudeness qualified by degree of severity of disease??) right. Shame they dont recognise it themselves. Is it some sort of unwarranted superioritu complex bred, educated, nurtured or socialised into them?

    I wont say “all” right. Just the ones that come in here on a mission to search, locate and destroy…Darth Vader style? Patronising parent to child style?

    Well it just doesnt really hit the mark or have much effect does it? They could try a decent intellectual argument instead with valid ideas and reasonable arguments – they could take a leaf from conservative speeches of old.

    We are lacking a certain elegance in this field (conservative ideologies) and I wouldnt mind its return from beyond the bounds of sanity, from tribal degeneration and beliefs.

    Might I suggest the young conservatives are very much letting the older conservatives down? They just dont seem to have what it takes in debating elegance or coherence and continuity of thought.

    JQ is a very good host. This repeated “young right green turk” thing does get awfully tiring.

  128. Some of the conservatives of old have ended up well to the left of the new generation.
    I think the reason so many people find themselves railing against the AGW theory is that it is profoundly confronting. I don’t know who really derives comfort and gain from it expounding it. Maybe some on the fringes of the left do want to challenge industrialisation (there is always some grain of truth in successful propaganda), but a much more likely explanation is that excepting AGW will require a lifestyle change and a reordering of the economy and this is beyond the pale especially to older males (not all of course (I have to qualify my remarks because many are very sensitive (especially the ones who engage in ad hominem arguments (at the same time as accusing others of conducting ad hominem arguments)))

  129. I like Charles’ suggestion. I remember being inspired as a child by Carl Sagan’s talk of science as a “candle in the darkness” and a defense against the “demon haunted world”.

    Unfortunately, either these ideas just don’t have that widespread appeal, or ways have not been found to make them reach a wider audience. Finding a way around this seems to me a very important project.

  130. @Stephen L
    Indeed, a book on my shelves. Two books by Robert Park (a physicist) are in a similar vein to Sagan’s: “Voodoo Science”, and “Superstition”, and I can recommend them both.



  131. JQ

    This is a very good post – and has clearly touched a nerve!

    It seems to me that what this and a lot of other posts show is that climate change is the great challenge for the next few decades (at least), and that this challenge is profoundly confronting. I can see that social democrats are slightly more comfortable with accepting the challenge, in that they have no rooted objection to policy driven by strong government or community action.

    I wonder, though, if the reactions should not lead you to re-think your estimate that the costs of dealing with climate change will be relatively modest. Not only will they clearly be politically and socially challenging, but the science is increasingly pointing to the real difficulty of keeping warming below threatening levels without drastic action (eg closing down coal power generation within a few years), and to the very large costs of mitigation or adaptation – in the absence of rapid action. As an instance, is it realistic to assume (as I understand Stern does) that the cost will be a minor element given continued growth, when growth will require energy (and materials) we need to limit if we are to avoid further warming?

  132. @Stephen L

    And as for the northern hemisphere freezing – well after the world experienced its hottest January since measurements began, its now clear February will be similar.

    Indeed It’s a pity Roy Spencer’s graphing tool doesn’t show the early months of 1998 because then we could easily see how February 2010 compares with February 1998 which has nearly the record highest lower troposphere anomaly. It would be interesting to see how 2010 progresses compared with 1998 which holds the lower troposphere record.

  133. sHx:

    One of the things that really annoys me about the AGW debate and forces me to remain a non-interested by-stander is the way the debate has become politicised.

    So who do you think started the politicization? The scientists stopped debating the important scientific issues with each other long ago. It’s only political types who want to keep debating those issues.

    Even those who complain about politicisation of the debate do it unashamedly.

    So what choice do they have?

    BTW, does sHx answer many questions? He seems to be far more interested in pontificating than debating.

  134. @Peter T

    The estimates of modest cost are contingent upon action taking place early enough for adapting alternative technologies to be viable. In the late 80s this discussion took place at great length, and in Australia at least, culminated in a public document based on the Greenhouse ’88 public workshops. We knew enough then to spend a few shekels upon building some options into the “system” – alternative energy, efficiency improvements, transport sector reforms, building code reforms and so on. But for the best part, we ignored the advice of the day and fiddle around the edges. Twenty years later and we now have a lot more instrumental records pointing towards the more extreme end of the assessments made in the 80s. However, we are politically in a worse position now because not only does a Bayesian analysis of the instrumental record point to the higher end of the risk exposure, we have 20 fewer years in which to make adjustments. Technology is more advanced which is a mitigating factor in the positive direction, but then population size and carbon footprint per capita are counterweights in the negative direction.

    BTW, all I mean by the Bayesian analysis is that as new information comes to bear we may update our assessment of risk on in a statistical manner. Imagine flipping a coin many times; before the first flip the a priori probability of “heads” is 1/2, if we assume that the coin is unbiased. As we keep flipping the coin and accumulating data on the frequency of heads to tails – and more detailed info like the number of heads in a row before a tail shows up – we might notice that we are getting a decidely lopsided frequency of heads to tails. The extreme case would be that we keep getting heads. At some point the natural question is am I just extremely flukey in getting only heads, or is the coin biased and by how much? Bayesian techniques provide a mathematically consistent framework for updating our best guess as to the fluke vs bias, based on the trials we are conducting with the coin. Think of temperature anomalies and a similar principle applies.

    Anyway, I am fairly convinced by my reading of the scientific literature that in the here and now AGW is panning out as a pretty solid theory. The problem for policy wonks is how to take action now that reflects our updated knowledge of risk exposure. The longer the delay before taking significant action the fewer time-constrained options that remain available for future action. My previous experience in other technological areas is that while a lot can happen in 20 years, the first 10 or so are the fragile ones in technology adoption. Look at mobile phones as a classic example, or computer storage/power/memory, or the internet in the popular form of the web, new car technologies including the recent s/w pedal-to-the-metal fiasco, etc. From early adopter to mass consumer is around 3 product generations before product maturity is reached, give or take. In the mobile phone world the 4th gen is well under development, whereas 3G started more than 10 years ago! Rollout of 3G as a mobile network suitable for mass consumer markets was more recent however. Handsets have undergone a few more cycles and some convergence of PDA/computer/camera and other digital devices, but the principle is similar.

  135. I love neologisms,what a beauty agnotology is. I’m pretty sure the right aren’t its only exponents.I have been hunting all over the internet for ideas related to it and totally coincidentally found a great phrase here yesterday
    The phrase is “usable ignorance” as opposed to usable knowledge.
    What a handy thing to be able to manufacture!
    You can use ignorance, especially of details in the future, to argue any position.
    My mind immediately went to the clip of Andrew Bolt quizzing the ABCs Robyn Williams about the possibility of Sydney being 50 ft underwater at the end of the century.
    Williams goes “Yes it could”.
    Bolt goes “Bulldust!”
    Neither knows the answer to any degree of certainty,but hell of a lot of people stiil want to argue about it.
    All my love to the regulars here.. you are tough, but you are quality with a capital Q.

  136. But, Sarah Palin Fan, while neither Robyn Williams or Andrew Bolt are climate change experts and able to talk definitively about sea level rises, there are a range of possibilities and probabilities, depending on a whole range of things, some of which we are very confident about, some less so, which means we can be more or less confident about certian ranges of sea level rise.

    50 feet (~20 metres) by 2100? highly unlikely (but still possible). 2 metres by 2100? Quite possible. 20 metres by 2500? Probable.

  137. JQ post was controversial and I will admit I may have come across a little patronsing (Tx Frankis and Michael you have done a good job of returning the favour) and I apologise to JQ for my tone. I still think an ideological war should be avoided, I do not think it will yield good results and I thought this was unusual for JQ, for whom I have a lot of respect. I made my point but will do it with more humility next time.


    Hayek concept is meaningless in your ideological world. I can see your point. I am sure there is a job waiting for you at a government think tank looking for scientific consensus.

    You have reasserted Jim’s claim, but have offered nothing to support it. Hayek lecture illustrates that Jim’s and your claim about Libertarians is off the mark.

    On AGW, I accept the the theory and would agree with some precautionary action to minimise consequences of AGW. I dislike the top down approach to AGW. I don’t trust ideological salesman, it dirties the waters and makes a mockery of democracy. This is the main scource of my skeptcism.

  138. @Andre

    1. I’m not sure what you mean by “reductionist” in this context, could you explain?

    2. It’s all very well that Heyak thinks that “aggregate demand and total employment” may be accidental correlated, but what’s the connection? Could you spell it out for me?

    There’s a rhetorical problem with the quoting selected statements from revered sources as if they will instantly illuminate an issue when they don’t. If you don’t actually argue from shared territory you start to sound like a door-to-door evangelist.

  139. Welcome back Andre. There’s no fun engaging with your comment about my “ideological world” because you’ve no evidence, at all, to inform your opinion on the matter. I made no claim about libertarians generally but referred to Terje specifically – you don’t think I believe his “libertarian delusionalism” to be of a notably worse nature than any other kind of “delusionalism”, do you? Your mistake. You also may have missed my words “More generally it’s meaningless … ” in which I was addressing your quote absent any context at all, just Hayek’s idea in and of itself.

    OK I’m having a bit of a laugh now but believe me I do take climate change and Friedrich Hayek, both, perfectly seriously and join you in support of healthy scepticism. Cheers 🙂

  140. I think the original criticism made by Jim Birch about claiming, as a matter of methodology that complex phenomena can always be reduced to simple ideas is more applicable to Mises than to Hayek. Mises does indeed make this kind of claim (not ‘reductionism’ in the sense the term is usually used but an extreme form of a priori rationalism) which the result that he, and those economists who followed him, have been trapped in dogmatism. The answers are known as a matter of revealed truth, and if the real world does not appear to fit them, so much the worse for the real world[1].

    fn1. This phrase is usually attributed to Pigou, but I think he was saying something rather different.

  141. Alice #37.. I think it means we have to watch our P’s and Q’s.
    Dot our t’s and cross our eyes.
    For the rest, will express sorrow at the sad Santo Santoro type attack on Bob Brown from Andrew. Had people listened to people like Brown, instead of swallowing the scare campaigns against him and other intelligent educated and well motivated people, the generation and more in time we have lost since the eighties could have been spent developing a sustainable economy rather than to now have to consider belated, EXPENSIVE and largely inneffectual adhoc measures implemented AFTER the damage has been done.
    Think of Tasmania, if you cant think of a better paradigm for the last twenty or thirty years.

  142. @paul walter
    You know Paul…thats often the way isnt it? Mankind really progresses in small steps. Bob Brown is one of those small steps. He faces all sorts of pressures but perhaps not as many as Peter Garrett and perhaps the latter should not have moved to Labor and I wonder if (late at night) he thinks the very same thing himself? For was he not one of the environments greatest campaigners and an icon for a generation in this respect? In which role was he more effective at effecting change? As a political musician or a musical politician?
    One of the greatest criticisms of the left or even the moderates comes from the view that not enough of them actually seek political power…that they prefer to remain as critics and dissenters rather than attempt to gain the power to effect change.
    Its an important point. Do they lack sufficient souls like Garrett who actually are willing to step up into the seat of power – and will they be emasculated when they do by party politics?

    Who is a better man? Brown or Garrett? I really cant say…. but Garrett faces greater obstacles in my view.

    And I do think we should take care of our Ps and Qs and both combined. Where else can we have such interesting discussions?

  143. @Alice
    I mean a simpler way of expressing this is…

    Do you really think Peter Garrett finds it satisfying to be now embroiled in an argument about pink bat installations?

    Yes I know we needed a fast working fisca stimulus but I really objected to the pink bats from the start. Pink bats are relatively affordable for the majority of households to pay for them, themselves. That money would have been far better thrown at solar installations on people’s roofs. More permanent. Less dangerous. More useful.

    I really dont know what got into Rudd over the pink bats myself. I had a feeling it was ridiculous from the start. It was a ridiculous way to waste the stimulous money. Bats degrade. Solar systems less so. A short term useless hit with no vision and now Garrett has to wear a decision he didnt make.

  144. Alice, Ifind the suggestion by a suggestion by a blogger elsewhere, that the pink batt thing was really an exercise in implementation of the”new” labour recruiting. Could have been green eggs, or anything. It was more the way the program was implemented and what precedents it set in a deunionised environment.
    Nothing I saw watching Rudd slithering over “Insulgate”convinces me that these are remotely interested in avoiding future “Bernie Banton” moments.

  145. @paul walter
    Paul..the whole idea was batty from the start.

    Now we have Abbott running and hiding from Bernie Banton while criticising Garrett for running and hiding from the bat mess. Dont you just love it (not)? Running us all round in circuses – both majors.

    How far we have fallen when our idea of fiscal stimulus or responsible government spending extends as far as recruiting teams of cash economy workers to stuff cheap insulation in ceilings as fast as they can. But lets face it…on par for par its not much better than Howard unleashing the AWB execs on us all or getting sucked in to signing the FTA is it? It just gets worse and worse. When it comes to responsible government spending on infrastructure I dont think they can get it up any more. Our governments were better at this job 100 years ago…because they hadnt yet got blindsided by market ideology.

    How far they have fallen when they cant speak to an asbestos victim…Mr Rabbitt.

  146. You’ve missed the point, Tony. An apology to Bob Brown, and to the readers here, for your display of crude bigotry, is what is needed.

  147. @Alice
    I wouldn’t argue that the insulation scheme was well run, but it was as you mentioned quick to implement and the workers receiving the money would have been less likely to save it than stimulus measures aimed at the more well off (does anyone still believe in multipliers?). There are also health benefits to insulating roofs and it is probably the simplest and cheapest way of improving the energy efficiency of a house. It was one of the first things I did in my house (batts and foil with no government assistance or training required for me to do my own roof).
    It’s a scandel that many buildings are still being built today without basic insulation or poorly installed insulation. I know many will disagree but the standard of Australian buildings leaves a lot to be desired.

  148. Alice @ 8 said;

    “When it comes to responsible government spending on infrastructure I dont think they can get it up any more. Our governments were better at this job 100 years ago…because they hadnt yet got” their filthy hands SO deep into our pockets….. (100 years ago total government revenues were only about 6% of GDP ) see table 27.19 TAXATION REVENUE AND GDP PER HEAD .

  149. The ‘end of ideology’ story always amused me because the real claim wasn’t that ideology had ended but that their (libertarian) ideology had permanently displaced all others. This was a ridiculous claim given that the claim of displacement wasn’t even true at the time the claim was made.

  150. JQ

    I think your representation of Mises is half right. Ironically, he is often mis-intepreted and mis-represented by his critics and supporters.

    ” Mises’s methodological position occupies a unique place that is at once both wholly aprioristic and radically empirical.”

    Leeson and Boettke published a paper arguing the above conclusion.

    I have to admit I couldn’t access to the full paper, but here is a summary of my thoughts:

    It is possible to be both aprioristic and radically empirical if you accept that deviant logic is selected out (eventually); the survival of the fittest. From this Mises reasons that action must embody economic principles. So maybe the laws of economics are apriori ?

  151. “if you accept that deviant logic is selected out (eventually); the survival of the fittest”

    But that only works if you put some sort of limit on “eventually”. As of now, Mises’ economic views are represented by a fringe sub-faction of a minority school of economics, represented in academia by a couple of obscure Southern US universities and tinged with even more deviant Southern (in fact, neo-confederate) views.

    So, if you apply the market test, Mises has (at best) offered the wrong kind of a priorism

  152. Tony G :
    Alice @ 8 said;
    “When it comes to responsible government spending on infrastructure I dont think they can get it up any more. Our governments were better at this job 100 years ago…because they hadnt yet got” their filthy hands SO deep into our pockets….. (100 years ago total government revenues were only about 6% of GDP ) see table 27.19 TAXATION REVENUE AND GDP PER HEAD .

    Ah, the good old days…

    no schools,
    no hospitals,
    no emergency services,
    no air force,
    no universities,
    no freeways,
    no sanitation,
    no passports,
    no mail,
    no rail,

    Consequently …

    no taxation,
    huge debt in London, and of course,
    no justice.

  153. @Alice

    Actually I still think it was a good idea. It provided work for low-skilled workers – the most vulnerable in a slumping economy, I’d have thought – while achieving a modest but worthwhile benefit in energy efficiency. The numbers of bodgy jobs and oh&s breaches are pretty low for the average regulated occupation – think real estate agents, car dealers, domestic builders. And this was an unregulated occupation when Garrett kicked it off.

    As I understand it, Garrett’s scheme has led to much better compliance with safety and standards than existed before the scheme, with an order of magnitude fewer breaches and safety incidents per thousand installations. Note that ‘much better’ does not equal ‘perfect’. There are deaths and injuries every week in highly regulated occupations like electrical contractors and plumbers, and of course in the even more highly regulated and restrictive professions. What the comparative rates are, I do not know.

    Consumers play their part in keeping standards as low as possible, by choosing a Dodgy Bros quote for building work over the quotes offered by reputed tradespeople. For me, alarm bells would ring if I got two quotes to construct, say, a deck coming in at around $20K and one at $8K. All work requires skills; the more skilled and painstaking players want remuneration appropriate to their skills and care – good work in other words costs money. When consumers enter the market and seek quotations for work, they are usually ignorant of reputations and indeed risks, and are powerfully motivated by price. They see installing installation as a DIY job, with the only significant issue being the competing features of different insulation media.

    Not so strangely, occupations actually love to be regulated by a restrictive licensing system, because it deters new entrants into the market: competition. Much of the volume of criticism aimed at Garrett has been supplied by established market players wanting to maintain their former share of what under the scheme became a much bigger market. Raising public fears of unsafe installations by new market entrants is in the commercial interest of these players – just as it is in the interest of domestic manufacturers to play up alleged non-compliance and safety concerns about imported competitor products.

  154. One other point worth making is that the Commonwealth used to have the internal ability to run a program such as this, in the form of the former Australian Construction Services, an arm of the former Department of Administrative Services. ACS used to manage all Commonwealth construction projects, and had its own workforce of engineers, inspectors and tradespeople. It employed tradespeople on payroll to undertake routine maintenance and minor construction work. It was the central repository of expertise in the nation on such obscure branches of engineering as aircraft pavements and post-disaster recovery operations (e.g. reconstruction of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy). This capacity was largely jettisoned by the Keating government and last rites were pronounced by Howard. The Commonwealth must now go out into the market itself to buy this expertise, which is not readily available domestically.

  155. @Hal9000
    Hal – I disagree when you say “think real estate agents, car dealers etc”

    My partner is a regulated car dealer. He pays his license fees and all other transaction costs associated with used car dealing. What he is up against is the unregulated car dealers that trade form their garages…do deals with cut and shut merchants…rebirthing experts..and if you dont know what cut and shut means – its when the back half of a write off is welded to front half of another write off and its sold as an original vehicle.

    They can be hard to tell. They are black market dealers specialties. Its not until you get them to a mechannic does it come to light and when a legitimate dealer gets up at 5am or 6am to source a good car buy they cant always tell that Mr Jones with a mosman address and a clean car is only a front for some shonky backyard operation.

    He has bought such beasts a few times and luckily we have threatened the authorities and got the money back for a purchase.

    Car dealers, the regulated ones are up against a tide of shonky unregulated dealers without the costs of regulation and without offering warranties…pretending to sell their mother’s, brother’s, friend’s cars every weekend.

    So dont take unkindly to regulated dealers. Look at the backyard dealers if you want to know what dirty deals are being done (go up parramatta road way for that).

  156. “libertarianism has failed to produce a coherent response to the Iraq war or the Bush assault on civil liberties”

    Sorry, but genuine libertarians produced coherent responses to both. As far as the Iraq War goes, we raised the slogan “No War but the Class War” and opposed it as an imperialist war. As for the Bush Junta, we opposed it as yet another capitalist government as well as its restrictions on rights.

    Unless, of course, by “libertarianism” you mean propertarianism? The right-wing ideology which stole the good name “Libertarian” from the left?

    If you look at what they advocate, “propertarian” is far more accurate — particularly as anti-state socialists were using the term libertarian 100 years before the right did!

  157. @Hal9000
    Sorry Hal – I misconstrued part of your post above …and you say “Not so strangely, occupations actually love to be regulated by a restrictive licensing system, because it deters new entrants into the market: competition”

    Yes it happens but of course existing regulated businesses will seek protection from unregulated new entrants (because they pay a higher regualtory new entrants with less regulation threaten their profitability and put them at a competitive disadvantage even though they may be more competent and more skilled and provide a superior service.

    Competition is good but excessive competition can also produce undesirable social costs …think unregulated car dealers, unregulated dentists, unregulated real estate agents and even unregulated or even insufficiently financial advisers.

    There can be adverse consequences to those “too eager too accepting” deregulation policy initiatives implemented by governments underpinned by the paradigm that “all competition is good competition and that more competition means even better competition”. Think productivity commission under previous PM. I think many of us have been seeing this paradigm in many western governments over the past few decades.

    Yet some of us have been scratching our heads wondering whether the econo rats (couldnt resist – see Elizabeth Farrelly in today’s SMH) in governments who have been enjoying riding the deregulation train actually didnt notice that the train appears to have either no brakes or Toyota brakes.

  158. Have you ever noticed that while many of the deniers are conspiracy theorists who go on about a Green or Left conspiracy to fudge the science or control our lives, there are no conspiracy theorists amongst them who will talk about the role of Big Oil and Big Coal in fudging the science or in controlling our lives?

  159. silkworm,
    It just goes to show that there are conspiracy theorists and delusionists at just about every point on the political spectrum. The answer to the question of “Why is my pet theory not working correctly?” is, by those prone to delusional thinking, “A gigantic conspiracy by those I would hurt against the people I am trying to help!” (reason one) rather than “Perhaps I am wrong with my theory” (reason two) or “I am just not good enough to convince enough people that I am correct!” (reason three).
    Personally, I think I fall into the third of these reasons, but am open to the second. I do not make the case for the first. You seem to, for your ideas, adopt that one.

  160. Speaking purely of the drivers of conspiracy theory Andrew, (putting aside people suffering from mental illness) it seems to me that it’s analogous to the way we humans respond to mosquito bites. Really, you know that in the long run scractching only makes it worse, but in the short term it gives blessed relief.

    If you are frustrated with the way the world is, attributing the apparently counter-intuitive character of policy to grand conspiracies does provide the kind of narrative closure that allows one to persist in holding one’s own view and perhaps to continue believing that most rational people would share your view, if only you could pitch it.

    The downside of course is if there really is an all embracing conspiracy, then one’s chance of ever seeing one’s preferred policy get implemented is pretty much zero. You aresetting yourself up for longterm disappointment or at best a kind of world-weary apathy.

    That’s not to say that conspiracies never happen, or that here and there groups of people with a momentary common interest don’t get control of the parts of policy that suit them, but one should be very careful to seek out and find observable, pertinent and persuasive data in reading back from policy to apparent stakeholder interest, because that way lies madness.

  161. It just goes to show that there are conspiracy theorists and delusionists at just about every point on the political spectrum.

    No it doesn’t. The political right are the delusional ones when it comes to the science of global warming. And my point still stands that the deniers will not speak about the role of Big Coal and Big Oil in the denial movement.

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