It’s broken

Hello everyone, your friendly Ozblogistan Tyrant here.

Ozblogistan was moved to new servers on Monday night by some subcontractors. The ensuing few days have been a mess because the move was only incompletely successful. In particular, bloggers have been unable to log into the wordpress backend to write posts or moderate comments.

This morning a threw a switch and it appears as though we are slowly coming back online. I’m very sorry for the disruption.

Problems with probabilities

Peter Hartcher is an insightful commentator on political issues, but we are all prone to fallacious reasoning about probability, and this article about Australian views of the US election illustrates quite a few of them. I don’t mean to pick on Hartcher, whose errors here are trivial compared to the practice of deriving strong conclusions from trivial fluctuations in poll numbers, but this is, as they say, a learning opportunity. Hartcher notes that most Australians, like most people everywhere outside the US, would prefer Obama and goes on to say

But Australians’ answers to another poll question on the US election were troubling. Asked which candidate they expect to win, 65 per cent name Obama and only 9 per cent Romney in the poll conducted by UMR Research.

This is not a question about preferences but expectations. And it is far removed from the realities in the US. The contest for the presidency is finely balanced.

The average result of eight leading polls of US voting intentions shows 46.9 per cent of Americans support Obama and 45.5 per cent Romney, according to That’s a difference of just 1.4 percentage points, which is within the margin of polling error. For statistical purposes, it’s a dead heat.

”Australians could be in for an unpleasant surprise on November 6,” the UMR Research pollster Stephen Mills observes.

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There are lots of problems here.
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The Northwest Passage

The satellite data showing Arctic ice at record low levels is pretty striking but, as I mentioned, unlikely to change many minds at this stage. One point that can reasonably be made is that satellites have only been around for thirty years – maybe there was less ice further back in history. There is one sort of evidence that goes back many centuries – the repeated failure to find the fabled Northwest Passage, by voyagers going back at least as far as John Cabot in 1497, and arguably as far back as the Vikings in the 11th century. Roald Amundsen managed it in three years in 1903-06 and the voyage was managed with the aid of icebreakers in the middle of the 20th century. in 1984, a specially designed cruise ship managed the voyage, but now it’s become almost routine. “ In 2011 16 private yachts made their way successfully through the once-dreaded passage. ” Here’s an example of the kind of boat that can now manage, within a season, a voyage that defeated the well-equipped expedition of Sir John Franklin, with the loss of the entire crew.

Of course, in a parallel universe, the feat was accomplished by a Chinese fleet in 1421.

Arctic ice at record low

As expected, several measures of Arctic ice cover have hit record lows already, and others are likely to do so soon. What’s unexpected is how early this has happened. Melting usually continues until mid-September, so it seems likely that this year’s minimum will be far below the previous record, set in 2007. Those who prefer observational evidence to models will doubtless be pleased to note that the rate of melting far exceeds that predicted by most models. Predictions of when the Arctic might be entirely ice-free at the summer minimum are being revised sharply.

One prediction that seems safe to make is that few if any “sceptics” will treat this unequivocal evidence of warming as a reason to apply scepticism towards the authorities on whom they rely, all of whom have got this wrong. At most they will temporarily shift their ground from “warming has stopped” to “we don’t know what causes it”. However, I’d be glad to be proved wrong on this, so if you see any examples, please let me know. As previously advised, I don’t plan to engage in polemics on this, so if you want to provide confirming evidence for my prediction, feel free, but don’t expect a response from me.

One-party election goes on

The Soviet-style one-party “election” for the UQ Union is rolling on, and so far the University has not acted to stop it, though there are some hopeful signs. Here’s an open letter supported by a wide variety of student groups, including many that would normally be regarded as conservative in their orientation. There’s a petition here, which I urge readers to sign.

Prog rock epiphany

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel has a series on progressive rock for which he admits a fondness, while quoting a description of it as the “single most deplored genre of postwar pop music.”. Thanks to the playing of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells at the Olympics opening ceremony, there’s even talk of a revival. As it happens, this album played a significant role in my life – in fact, it was something of an epiphany, which changed my views on all kinds of things, though not in the same way as for Weigel.

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This boy will go far

At what appears to be a tender age, UQ Union President Colin Finke has perfected the art of the non-denial denial. Responding by email to a question from the Brisbane Times about the exclusion of all opposition parties from the Union elections (their names having been registered by Finke’s cronies), Finke stated

“These accusations are completely incorrect,”

“My understanding is that the returning officer [gym manager Alexa Faros-Dowling], an independent officer overseeing the UQ Union elections, has informed students that there are a number of registered parties running in the union elections.

“This attack appears to be no more than petty student politicking.”

It will be fascinating to watch Finke’s LNP career.

Singularity review repost

The discussion of my repost on the silliness of generational tropes produced a surprising amount of agreement on the main point, then a lot of disagreement on the question of technological progress. So, I thought I’d continue reprising my greatest hits with this review of Kurzweil’s singularity post, which I put up in draft from at Crooked Timber and my own blog, producing lots of interesting discussion.  Again, seven years old, but I don’t see the need to change much – YMMV


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