After long delays[1], GMU has come down with a self-contradictory whitewash on the plagiarism case against climate delusionist Edward Wegman.  One committee conceded plagiarism on a paper that had already been retracted by the journal in question, and recommended a reprimand, while another cleared Wegman of all charges, against the judgement of every external expert who’s looked at the case, and in the face of copious evidence of direct cut-and-paste copying.

With this and the Cato takeover, I think those both on the left and parts of the right who have presented views extremely critical of the “Kochtopus” network can rest their case. Any institution that relies on Koch Brothers money, whether it presents itself as a university, a thinktank or a grassroots organization, has to be regarded as a propaganda outfit.

That’s true, even if, as in the case of Cato and GMU, some genuine and valuable research is produced. The use of genuine material as a cover for industry propaganda is now a well established technique – the most famous blogospheric example was that of Tech Central Station.

For people working at Koch-controlled organizations who value a capacity to undertake independent research and to maintain a credible claim to independence, this is a big problem. Not everyone is in a position to write a presignation letter like that of Julian Sanchez, but the alternative of staying on is not particularly attractive either.


fn1. Which I will claim as an excuse for posting this several weeks after the event

A win all round?

The news that both the Opposition and the Greens are to oppose the reduction in company tax proposed by the government (to be financed by the Minerals Resource Rent Tax) gives the Gillard government a golden political opportunity, if they are competent enough to take it. All they need to do is put the bill up once and, when it is rejected, announce that they will come back again next year. Meanwhile, they can bank the proceeds which will go a long way towards meeting their (ill-advised) commitment to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13. Then, next year they can do a deal with the Greens to make a cut for small business only. That will leave Abbott promising both to reverse the small business cut, and to impose a new levy on big business to pay for his parental leave scheme. This seems to me to work pretty well for both Labor and the Greens, and it gives Abbott the outcome he has chosen, so maybe it’s a win all round.

Meanwhile, and perhaps more significantly, some news on EU cabon prices, which have been the subject of numerous beatups to the effect that a low price will create budget problems for the government. The EU recognises that the low prices means they can make bigger cuts in emissions at low cost. A proposal to do that was vetoed by Poland at a recent ministerial meeting. But a similar proposal is going forward and will be the subject of qualified majority voting in the EU Parliament, probably in June. The most ambitious versions will require emissions cuts of 80-95 per cent by 2050, with milestones along the way.

Enough of these zombie ideas: let’s be bold

That’s the title of my last piece in the Fin (Thursday before last), which was about the zombie push for productivity (code for working harder) and the failure to pursue the genuine productivity gains that can be achieved through improvements in education, and particularly better education for kids from lower-income families. Ross Gittins made a similar argument, with some nice touches a few days later in the SMH. I particularly liked his point that the “productivity agenda” is essentially about making life easier for bosses.

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What to do about Rupert?

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Finkelstein report on the media, nearly all of which (along with the report itself, from what I can infer, having not read it) misses the point. To start with, it’s clear that the central problem motivating the inquiry in the first place is that most Australian daily newspapers are owned by News Corporation, which routinely prints lies, uses its power to demand, and receive, politically favorable treatment and, at an international level, engages in systemic corruption including fraud, bribery of public officials, blackmail, and much more, not to mention the routine criminality of illegal spying on its targets.
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Mrs Beeton, the Voltaire of caffeine

Sighted at Port Arthur, Tasmania, this quote from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton (emphasis added):

-It is true, says Liebig, that thousands have lived without a knowledge of tea and coffee; and daily experience teaches us that, under certain circumstances, they may be dispensed with without disadvantage to the merely animal functions; but it is an error, certainly, to conclude from this that they may be altogether dispensed with in reference to their effects; and it is a question whether, if we had no tea and no coffee, the popular instinct would not seek for and discover the means of replacing them. Science, which accuses us of so much in these respects, will have, in the first place, to ascertain whether it depends on sensual and sinful inclinations merely, that every people of the globe have appropriated some such means of acting on the nervous life, from the shore of the Pacific, where the Indian retires from life for days in order to enjoy the bliss of intoxication with koko, to the Arctic regions, where Kamtschatdales and Koriakes prepare an intoxicating beverage from a poisonous mushroom. We think it, on the contrary, highly probable, not to say certain, that the instinct of man, feeling certain blanks, certain wants of the intensified life of our times, which cannot be satisfied or filled up by mere quantity, has discovered, in these products of vegetable life the true means of giving to his food the desired and necessary quality.

Timescales and timeframes

One of the issues in the debate over CSG and fracking is the timeframe over which the global warming potential of methane (in the form of leakage from both conventional and unconventional natural gas projects) should be assessed. The leading critics of fracking, Robert Howarth and his team at Cornell have used a 20-year time-frame. Since methane has a much shorter residence time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but has a greater warming potential over that time, the use of a 20-year time frame makes methane seem more serious than if a timeframe of 100 years or longer is used.

The original justification put forward by Howarth for the 20 year timeframe was that this was the likely life of a project. This is nonsensical, and (to me at least) undermines Howarth’s credibility. The world is still warming as a result of coal burned in power stations that closed decades ago, and no one suggests that we should not worry about this.

Howarth has now adopted a new justification that, on the surface at least, is more plausible. Most attention in the debate over climate change has been based on the assumption of a gradual increase in mean global temperatures, equilibrating to a new higher level some decades after concentrations of greenhouse gases have stabilized, with effects that will then play out for centuries. Since stabilization is unlikely to be achieved before 2050, that implies that we should be looking at timeframes of 100 years or even longer.

However, there is also a risk that we will pass some tipping point, after which the entire process will be irreversible. We don’t know much about tipping points, but, as Howarth observes, “”the world runs a high risk of catastrophic climate change in the period of 15 to 35 years from now.””

That’s true, but unfortunately for Howarth and for us, it doesn’t help his case.
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