127 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. “In October, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission released a report on the first 100 days of the Gillard government’s carbon pricing plan, showing 60 carbon tax-related complaints were received on average each day when the policy was introduced.

    That number dropped to between 10 to 15 complaints a day by the beginning of October, and new data provided by the ACCC reveals carbon-tax-related grievances have further slumped to an average of three complaints a day in the period from October to January.”

    So much for the tsunami.


  2. For Ikon and anyone else who might be interested, I’d thought I’d reprint this…originally put it up on Facebook a year or two ago:

    Ok, my two cents on Bob Dylan’s ‘plagiarism’ before I go to sleep…I’m convinced his exhibition at Gagosian is a flat out commentary on Richard Prince’s recent copyright suit, in which the court ruled Prince’s appropriation and transformation of photos such as the one linked to below could not be classified as ‘fair use’. Prince’s artwork from that exhibition, which had collectively sold for more than $10 million – the original photos were sourced from an arguably rubbish bargain-bin coffee table book called ‘Yes Rasta’ – was *ordered by the court to be destroyed*. Bit extreme, don’t you think? Ruling on it as if it were child porn?

    h* / aphotoeditor.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/patrick2-1024×689.jpg

    It is surely no coincidence that both artists exhibited at Gagosian, that Prince would write the text for Dylan’s catalogue, and that while Prince’s work in question was a commentary on a particular form of arguably crass ‘travel documentary’ (as commenter jackdaw noted on aphotoeditor.com, even the book’s *title* ‘yes rasta’ translates to affirmative exoticisation – an irony-filled playground for the likes of Prince, who unashamedly made use of 35 of its photos), Dylan’s exhibition literally purports to be a travel documentary, even while several of the photographs he painted clearly date back to the late-1800s. There’s also the matter of this cover of Life, ‘Special Section on Vietnam’ (!!), which is still advertised by the gallery as appearing as part of the Dylan ‘Asia series’ (it doesn’t):

    [no longer on Gagosian, but here’s the cover referred to:]

    h* / pages.adateintimecollectibles.com/11804/PictPage/3923174645.html

    It’s called found art folks. It’s been a integral part of Dylan’s art and music since the very beginning – you don’t get one without the other. ‘Chronicles’ is all about the notion, and it’s also a perfect example. I found it to be a great read – but minus all the super-dense referencing of literature, history and culture thrown into the story-telling, what what you be left with? Just another auto-bio about some guy who got married, had kids, got divorced along the way.

    Something that should be made clearer – and something the syndicated feeds have all wrong – is that none of the photographs he painted are under any copyright. He can’t actually be sued for anything. He’s not trying to pull a swifty, and he certainly isn’t that stupid…he’s not trying to cover his tracks at all – quite the opposite.

    Most of the photos sourced are from a single Flickr stream, and in one painting, he chose to include the entire photoshopped semi-border that had been obviously added by the owner of the Flickr stream. ie. he projected, enlarged, and painted in exact and precise detail *a custom added photoshopped border to a Flickr version of a hundred year old photograph*…

    The account holder found that bloody hilarious after he saw it hanging in the gallery. He quickly dropped any misgivings he had about not being contacted to ask permission to use ‘his hundred year old photos’ that he’d paid a few bucks for on eBay…

  3. Ikonoclast (and Nick), Dylan has laid claim to quite a few songs he didn’t write from his first record on (“Corrinna, Corrinna” springs to mind), and even on a very recent one there’s a song that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Muddy Waters tune. I reckon some of them are older than he is.

    So he’s no stranger to plagiarism (but the same could be said of every folk singer). I still love his work, even the stuff he’s lifted.

  4. @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy your new statesman link describes the socialist workers as a ‘prominent force on the British left for more than 30 years’ and ‘they matter’.

    In the 2010 UK elections, the socilaist workers joined the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition to win 0.04% of vote – beating the the Official Monster Raving Loony Party by 20 votes in their only head to head contest in Cardiff Central

  5. Jim, it’s true that parties like the UK SWP generally gain a risible share of the vote when they contest parliamentary elections. However, they tend to fight above their weight in terms of their presence and influence in social movements and campaign networks – often for reasons that do them little credit.

  6. Also, and more importantly, a large number of young activists pass through parties like that, and the internal life of those parties (which is what the links are discussing) can have serious consequences for some of those young activists, and unfortunately does so at times.

  7. This is interesting:

    ANZ under fire on social media over coal investment

    A fake press release purporting to announce ANZ Bank’s withdrawal from the Maules Creek Coal Project near Narrabri in NSW last Monday fooled the market and temporarily wiped nearly 9 per cent off the value of Whitehaven Coal, which is 20 per cent owned by embattled entrepreneur Nathan Tinkler.


    But despite the official anger directed at Moylan, social media suggests public sentiment is firmly holding ANZ’s feet to the fire for its decision to invest in the mine.

    Both ANZ’s Australian and New Zealand Facebook pages are filled with criticism from members of the public angry about the mine, which environmentalists say would destroy up to 2000 hectares of koala habitat, disrupt fertile agricultural land and generate huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the activity is on Facebook but there is also negative commentary on Twitter.

  8. @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy

    Sounds like a huge mess. I’m not now (nor ever have been) a political friend of the Cliffites but this speaks to some pretty devastating internal dysfunction.

    It’s hard to imagine how a Disputes Committee (none of whom it seems were at arm’s length from the accused) could have been seen as the right people to hear such serious allegations. This was clearly an occasion where the SWP might have appointed a special commission composed of comrades not answerable to their own CC — perhaps from a sister party or at the very least, from branches remote from the protagonists.

    I recall when SL/ANZ had an issue with one fellow years back, we went outside the branch to form the Control Commission — which found the person guilty and then published the documents publicly on his expulsion.

    These actions by the SWP are way outside the norms one would expect from a bona fide workers’ organisation. I’d encourage the comrades there to keep up the fight and let the chips fall where they may. Leaving does not lead to learning, and in this environment, learning is the first thing a workers organisation can offer its members.

  9. the socialist workers have lowered themselves to the level of the catholic church. both think they are above the law. both rely on the police and the courts when its suits them.

  10. LOL. So the Socialist Workers Party is perhaps the largest socialist group in Britain but still has less members than the British Celebrity Toe Nail Clipping Aficionados Auxiliary Support Group.

  11. I like him too, DI(nr). I guess it might be true he claimed Corinna as his own…kind of a song that every man and his dog had had a go at laying down by then. Just 3 years earlier, Spector had a top 10 hit with it:

    Which is probably about as white oriented as you make a southern standard, replete with sunny Latin imagery and sounds for the new teen market.

    So, Bob would take it back to it black roots – even more ‘authentic’ and blacker, more blues-y roots, so to speak, than the song had ever actually had before, by throwing in a verse of Robert Johnson lyrics. Already we see him cut and pasting from the past to tell the story he was wanted…the one that meant something to him.

    My partner detests him – pastiche artist, fine – certainly no hanging offence in the 20C, it was almost wholly built of them (Dylan is right to say “why the feck am I being singled out?!”…

    But the turn to Christianity? There’s a pastiche artist who doesn’t believe in themselves any more…

    I like all the records he’s done since the mid-90s or so – lyrically back on track, and finally a solid, high-calibre band again, who stuck around for several albums, all you really ever needed to make anything sound your own.

    She finds them tired and boring…it’s a pet argument we have once a year or so 🙂

  12. I used to like Dylan’s work when I was a callow, impressionable, ignorant, foolish youth. Now, I’ve matured and learnt a bit I would say this;

    (1) Dylan is not a melodist nor a music composer. All of his tunes are direct steals or are highly derivative of folk songs and various genres (like twelve-bar blues).

    (2) Dylan is not a poet of any stature at all. Germaine Greer called his work verses “fustian” (pompous, inflated or pretentious writing). She is right. She could just as easily have called it doggeral and still been perfectly correct. Greer compared Dylan to William Blake and quickly illustrated there is just no comparison.

    (3) Dylan was a very clever sponge, collector, mimic and had a certain stage presence. He was never afraid to steal songs and ideas from anywhere and everywhere. (The appropiation of folk art and folk knowledge and the turning of it into private intellectual property is a capitalist invention and a trick. Dylan as a skilled trickster used all this in his favour.)

    (4) Dylan developed a certain “portentous” sounding delivery which tricked the listener into thinking the words heard were profound. It’s a skill for sure but once seen through it is like a magician’s cheap trick and all the “magic” evaporates. Dylan “stole” this style from certain C&W singers but also from oral poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s declamatory style. In Dylan’s favour we can say he developed these styles further and there is a kind of artistry to his methods of enunciation and syncopation which means there is more happening than just the standard notes and phrasing of singing.

    (4) Ultimately though, Dylan’s art is an empty trick and symptomatic of much art in the capitalist era. It’s about stealing, appropriating, tricking and making money and reputation for the isolated self. Like much “lyrical” art of the capitalist era it is simply about the artist’s self, solipsistic and onanistic.

  13. I like Greer for lots of things, but I’m not sure taste in music will ever be one of them.

    “So the first line goes tum tum ta ta tum (crotchet-crotchet-quaver-quaver-crotchet), the next ta ta tum ta ta tum, and so on. This pattern overlies another pattern of recurring sounds, one in the paired vowel sounds, like the tolling “O rose” (bong bong), a tocsin to begin the poem, followed by eye-eye, ow-ow and oy-oy, and the anxious clickety-click of the short vowels in between.”

    How quaint she believes she you have to say things like ‘clickety-clack’ in order to determine whether a song is any good or not. Seriously, the craziness of intellectuals sometimes. Ikon, trust me…the Dylan argument is always better had when you’re rolling drunk. Ideally it becomes as heated as possible, and there’s the risk of fisticuffs breaking out at any moment and friendships ending. Greer is clearly an amateur.

  14. Ikonoclast, have a listen to his latest, “Tempest”. I particularly like “Duquesne Whistle”, co-written with Robert Hunter.

  15. I’ve listened to many Dylan songs over the years. You’ll never convince me now that he is more than a clever trickster-thief character masquerading as a poet-troubador. He was quite an accomplished performer in an odd syncopated-discords sort of way before his voice became a croak. Now he is a caricature of himself (as we all become in old age).

    He’s an amusing index of our gullibility and desire to be diverted from our own mental impoverishment. We should laugh at him and ourselves for being taken in. It’s harmless enough. There are many more harmful characters in the world.

  16. I don’t remember Dylan has ever proclaiming to be a master-troubador, or a great lyric writer. That’s other people (or their younger selves) who put those labels on him. That’s why those arguments I mentioned tend to become crap piled up on crap. It’s music – it connects with you, and you want to put it on your stereo, or it doesn’t. Maybe you’ll still want to put it on in ten years’ time, maybe you won’t.

    I also don’t remember any songwriter ever complaining that Dylan borrowed a few of their phrases, or calling him a trickster-thief – though I could be wrong. Musicians tend to save that kind of thing for the ink guys (ie. why is it that i’m listening to my song on an ad for power tools, and also, why am i not receiving a cent for it?), not each other. He probably did more to revive a lot of their careers and bring them to the masses than anyone.

    He tells his own story, but I don’t believe he ever said “only listen to my story! don’t go back and discover the history of songcraft the same way I did”. Anyway, “poet-troubador masquerading as trickster-thief” is probably closer to the character you’re looking for…

  17. From Washington Post on how fiscal cliff deal killed CO-OP from Obamacare

    When Congress struck a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, it also dealt a quiet blow to President Obama’s health overhaul: The new law killed a multibillion-dollar program meant to boost health insurance competition by funding nonprofit health plans.

    The decision to end funding for the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans has left as many as 40 start-ups vying for federal dollars in limbo. Some are considering legal action against the Obama administration, after many spent upwards of $100,000 preparing their applications.
    The Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan, or CO-OP, program was aimed at spending as much as $6 billion to help launch nonprofit health insurance carriers. It came into favor with Democrats when it became clear that a government-run plan, known as the public option, could not gain enough political support.</blockquote


  18. This weekend’s Socialist Alliance National Conference includes an “Introduction to Dialectical Materialism” workshop by a chap called Haskell Musry, who also co-presented the workshop on this topic at last year’s conference, at which dialectical materialism was described as “the philosophical foundation of science whether or not scientists understand what the philosphical underpinning of what they do is”. It was also disclosed last year that Haskell Musry does not believe in the Big Bang theory (aka inflationary cosmology).

    In an important sense this illustrates the difference between the contemporary Left and Right in Australia and other parts of the English-speaking world. Anti-scientific and pseudo-scientific crankery on the Left is confined to the fringes. The same phenomenon on the Right is hegemonic within the Australian Coalition parties, the US Republican Party, the Murdoch press, Quadrant magazine and the right-wing blogosphere.

  19. @Fran Barlow
    While the loss of habitat etc are important points against the Maules Creek project the greenhouse case is less clear. The coal to be exported is coking coal not thermal coal. While this will still have a greenhouse effect it is obviously not replaceable by renewable energy sources like thermal coal can be. So unless we are prepared to give up or severely reduce the use of steel, aluminum etc there seems to be no alternative to the use of coking coal. Steel can be made using other carbon sources but this does not solve the greenhouse issue. This is a major factor in Queensland coal exports where more than 60% is coking coal yet many are calling for cessation of coal exports on climate change grounds. This is not so easy unless we change our society to use, for example, plastic to replace metals – possibly not an option and maybe not less greenhouse gases emissions either.

  20. @Jon Brodie

    Ok, I’ll bite.

    Why can we not use compressed charcoal boosted with a high pressure feed of oxygen, plus a few other ingredients, to produce steel?

  21. @Jon Brodie

    So unless we are prepared to give up or severely reduce the use of steel, aluminum etc there seems to be no alternative to the use of coking coal.

    I think you just meant steel. Aluminium production doesn’t require coal.

    There are technical alternatives to using coal in steel production as well. Hydrogen can be used as a reducing agent in place of carbon, either from reformed natural gas, or produced from water through electrolysis powered by renewable or nuclear energy. Any of these processes would result in fewer CO2 emissions than a coking coal fueled process, but (obviously) they are not currently economic, so coking coal is likely to be with us for a while.

  22. @Tim Macknay
    Also, since a lot of the carbon ends up actually in the steel alloy permanently, and not in the atmosphere, coking coal is not as bad for climate change (on a pound for pound basis) as the stuff that gets burnt.

  23. @Chris Warren
    I assume the charcoal would come from wood so that sounds like we need to destroy some more forests or the biggest tree planting scheme imaginable. Not really feasible. Natural gas can be used but the marginal greenhouse gas saving is small.

  24. Chris, Brazil used to charcoal make steel and still does. A drawback is it is less mechcanically tough than normal coke and so the smelters are smaller.

    Sam, steel has less carbon in it than pig iron, so it’s not locking up carbon.

    Jon Brodie, Brazil planted trees on an imaginable scale. I think they still hold the productivity record for wood produced per hectare. They achieved it using Australian eucalypts and is something we can’t match in Australia due to the presence of Christmas Beetles, Koalas, and other phagoeucalyptoids.

    It seems likely we are stuck with the steel smelters we currently have, as the world is currently over smeltered. Also, we are approaching peak steel. This will occur when countries such as China and India stop using so much new steel and rely more on their own scrap metal as rich countries currently do. This point may be a little closer now that aluminium is being used more in cars to save on weight.

    But just because no one is currently in a hurry to build funky new smelters that release less net CO2 doesn’t mean we have to leave the CO2 from steel making in the atmosphere. It can extracted and sequestered and with a high enough carbon price this will happen.

  25. @Ronald Brak
    Yes I agree moves towards carbon dioxide capture in steel and other metallurgical processing is desirable. Does anyone know what the status of this research is around the globe versus C capture in power generation?

  26. Jon B, as with carbon capture from coal power plants, no one appears to have yet come close to competing with the cost of growing a plant and then sequestering the carbon in it either by growing plants where there were no plants (afforestation or reforestation), turning it into biochar (charcoal) and using it as a soil amendment, dumping it in a cold water lake, dumping it in anoxic mud, dumping it in an area of sedimentation, or dumping it in deep ocean water. If I didn’t know that all humans were completely trustworthy, I’d say that carbon capture from power plants is to at least some extent a con job.

  27. @Bring back Birdy at Catallaxy

    I am not supporting Haskell Musry’s positions. However, the implication that his views are “loony” in some fashion is not supported at least by BBBAC’s depiction of them.

    1. To assert that philosophical theory X “is the philosophical foundation of science whether or not scientists understand what the philosphical underpinning of what they do is” is not necessarily an untenable position. There are plenty of practical scientists not too aware of philosophical theories about science or anything else. This is unfortunate but true. In addition, various philsophers from Bacon, to Hume, to Kuhn and Popper have attempted to outline the proper scientific method and/or to systematise its basic procedures and methods of progress at the logico-philosophical level. The way real science proceeds seems to at least partly escape all these attempts at comprehensive formal definition. So, if someone (a) argues they have hit on the comprehensively correct theory (philosophical underpinning) of science and (b) that sicnetists themselves are not fully aware of this then the claim cannot be dismissed out of hand. It must be examined. Personally, I doubt that dialectical materialism holds the answer in this field but I would to have examine the argument.

    2. The Big Bang Theory has considerable supporting evidence but also considerable outstanding problems. It is not at all unreasonable to not accept the BBT yet. I am not sure if H.M. is merely suspending judgement or proposing an alternative.

  28. By chance, I caught Sir Paul Nurse’s Attack on Science on cable yesterday. Nurse is president of the royal society.

    In exploring why people were unwilling to accept the word of science, Nurse interviewed James Delingpole.

    After agreeing that science does not proceed on the basis of consensus, Nurse asked Delingpole why he rejected the scientific consensus on global warming but accepted the scientific consensus on the treatment of cancer?

    Delingpole said he did not accept the analogy, but was otherwise flat-footed. I suggest this:
    1. Medicine proceeds on the basis of double blind trials and other small field experiments. Control and treatment groups are used. Medicine is not perfect as was the case with the misdiagnosis of the causes of stomach ulcers.

    2. The lag between cause and effect are short as would be the case if you rejected emergency treatment after a car accident or cancer treatment.

    3. Medicine tests the efficacy of invasive treatments, weighs side-effects and encourages adaptation and prevention. The best way to prevent my bad back is regular exercise and adapting to my new limits. Drugs are used sparingly.

    4. The staying power of self-interest in medicine is well-known: much higher rates of surgery when there is fee for service and much lower rates of surgery if the patient is a doctor’s wife. The efforts of the medical profession to suppress new entry to inflate their own incomes are well-known.

  29. David Irving (no relation), both misunderstood the degree of certainty in medicine and its management by the market process.

    Ken Arrow in 1963 famously concluded that virtually all the special features of the medical care industry could “be explained as social adaptations to the existence of uncertainty in the incidence of disease and in the efficacy of treatment.”
    1. physicians may not agree on the medical condition causing the symptoms the patient presents.

    2. even if physicians agree in their diagnoses, they often do not agree on the efficacy of alternative responses — for example, surgery or medical management for lower-back pain.

    3. Third, information on diagnosis and likely consequences of treatment are asymmetrically allocated between providers and patients. patients seek advice and treatment in the first place because they expect doctors to have vastly superior knowledge of the proper diagnosis and efficacy of treatment. The market for medical care deviates significantly from a benchmark where buyers and sellers are equally well informed.

    Uncertainty and asymmetry of information about the quality of goods or services being traded is ubiquitous for highly complex goods and services.

    doctors change their minds. I took that low-dose aspirin for some years then my doctor said medical opinion changed on its prevention of cardiovascular disease so she no long prescribes it to me.

    HT: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/13/health-care-uncertainty-and-morality/

  30. Nice bit of hand-waving, Jim. I was more intersted in whether you took Nurse’s philosophical approach to scientific certainty, or Delingpole’s.

    (As an aside, I’ve always thought of doctors as being a kind of plumber.)

  31. @Jim Rose

    In which case Nurse and Delingfool are equally misinformed. That’s exactly how science proceeds. Perhaps more importantly though, it’s how science-informed policy proceeds.

    A subtle point, that Rose will either deliberately, or ignorantly miss: When science proceeds on the basis of consensus, this does not entail accepting that the consensus adequately explains some observed phenomenon. It merely means that where there is a consensus germane to some question, scientific inquiry must address itself to that, showing either its limitations or flaws, applying it more widely or better specifying it.

    If the inquiry shows that an existing consensus is of no probative value, then it is discarded. New lines of research arise, and when these shed useful light on a problem and prove to be robust — a new consensus arises and new scientific inquiry may proceed from the consensus.

    It’s systematic, orderly and the reason that humans have come to dominate the planet. We learn from those who have asked questions, suggested answers, sought to demonstrate that those answers are useful and either shown that they are indeed useful, or that other answers are even better.

    Trollish sloganeering (e.g. “the science is never settled”) is both disingenuous (nobody outside a mental health facility really believes that nothing can be known well enough to act) and logically nihilistic. Humans really wouldn’t have advanced beyond pleistocene usages had that been human practice. We can accept that uncertainty remains about causality without discarding what seem to be useful theories about the provenance of observable events. Nihilism in public policy would be disastrous, substituting utter policy paralysis for remote doubts, which would be very poor risk trading indeed.

    Yet one hears this stupid, specious homily trotted out as if it were some sage piece of common sense or necessary intellectual modesty, when it is nothing but an attempt to argue the indefensible — that in the face of a serious threat to ecosystem services of nearly inestimable value to human usage — we humans ought to do nothing, for fear of marginally and temporarily prejudicing the interests of a handful of asset holders in fossil hydrocarbon assets and upsetting those with socio-spatial angst about government.

    For those like you Jim, casting aside the entire body of human experience, technique and insight into the physical processes marking our world is a price well worth paying in a futile attempt to win your side of the culture war.

  32. Hard science does NOT proceed by consensus. It only PROCEEDS (makes real progress) when experimental results confirm (or comprehensively fail to disconfirm if you are a strict Popperian) a theory.

    The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

    There is absolutely no mention of consensus there and correctly so. Sorry Fran, but you make no mention of empirical observation and no mention of experimentation. How can you talk about how science proceeds and yet omit these key concepts and procedures? You use the weasel-word “consensus” when you should be referring to documented experimental procedure with repeatable and verifiable observations of quantifiable empirical results.

    * * *

    The statement “humans have come to dominate the planet” reeks of triumphalist hubris and illistrates all that is wrong with the modern attitude. Do you really think the natural forces of the earth, solar system or cosmos are “dominated” by us? Can we be said to “dominate” when we in fact must obey and remain wholly subject to all natural forces? There is no instance where we “dominate” the earth or its natural forces. We modify minor aspects and make temporary niches for ourselves, that is all.

    Every piece of infrastructure we have built or will build will eventually decay and erode away by the agency of natural forces. Any unlikely remnants will eventually be destroyed by subduction. (In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate and sinks into the mantle as the plates converge.)

    Do humans dominate life on earth? No. Global dry biomass estimates in millions of tons sees humans at 105, ants at 300 to 3000 and prokaryotes (baceteria) at 350,000-550,000. So you see, we are not important at all. It is only pride and anthropocentric jingoism that has us imagining we are important. We would benefit from a humble attitude that properly and accurately placed us within nature and not supposedly over and above it.

  33. @Ikonoclast
    “Do humans dominate life on earth? No. Global dry biomass estimates in millions of tons sees humans at 105, ants at 300 to 3000 and prokaryotes (baceteria) at 350,000-550,000. ”

    How is mass a measure of dominance?

    Five and a half years ago, it was estimated we use up 24% of the solar energy captured by plants across the entire globe, by far the most of any species. That’s dominance in any sense of the word.

  34. @Fran Barlow: “It’s [science] systematic, orderly and the reason that humans have come to dominate the planet.”

    Even the hard sciences are inseparable from human foibles and politicking. I could give hundreds of examples but the quasi-crystal example is as good as any.


    I’ve deleted some OTT language here, without losing any of the point. As a guide, if an epithet triggers my filter, I probably don’t want it in the comments section – JQ

  35. @Ikonoclast

    You’re mistaken Ikono. The complex procedures and practices by which science and its sub-branches are marked is very much the result of a consensus. The ways in which findings are arranged and documented, the terms — pretty much everything is part of a consensus.

    If you want to take a step away from the consensus, you can but you must show why you have taken that course and justify your departure methodologically. That too is a matter of consensus. The process by which findings are reviewed and evaluated also is a matter of consensus. Declaration of conflicts of interest? Consensus.

    But how do people get to become scientists, or self-describe as scientists without provoking snorts of derision? By showing that they can and have followed accepted scientific practice — which is a matter of consensus. We have seen in the attempt of the denier movement an attempt to muddy the waters over who is a scientist and who isn’t — so that pseudo-scientists and bloggers can pretend to scientific accomplishment but once again, those who understand science know the difference. That Oregon Petition all those years ago was a troll not merely because it included people who were invented, or who didn’t know they were on it but because it included people who were clearly not scientists — at least if there is a consensus on what being a scientist entails. There is.

    Organisations like Heartland, when they go about faking commentary on scientific matters, make it their business to make their documents look as if they come from bodies that by consensus are regarded as having scientific standing. They take care to mention when someone in their camp is an “IPCC-reviewer” even though the IPCC has an open review process — because the IPCC represents — the consensus on climate change.

    Your response is remarkably naive.

    I decided some time ago that you were an egregious rightwing troll. Nurse is indeed a respected figure. There is a consensus on that. My statement above was menat to be conditional — that if Nurse regarded science as not proceeding on the basis of consensus, he would be misinformed. He doesn’t, so he isn’t. You can now amuse yourself, as usual.


    1. Domination of the planet by humans

    It’s true that humans are not close to being the most prolific species on the planet. I read some years back that there are probably more varieties of insect than tehre are humans. I have no way of knowing if this is the case, but clearly, we are massively outnumbered. You may conclude that I intend something else by the concept of domination than numbers or biomass.

    We humans, for good and ill, have changed the biosphere on a global scale. These changes have been mostly witting and designed to serve not merely those of us alive now, but those of us who will be alive long after we have died. That’s domination. We may of course have engineered the destruction of our species — that remains to be seen — but for the moment, humans are in charge, Ikono’s quasi-religious maundering notwithstanding.

    2. Jim Rose is a prattling culture war rambling fool — much like hundreds of other ostensibly misanthropic trolls I’ve come across over the years. Why you’d go referee for him is your own business but it reflects poorly on you. I had thought better of you — much better — despite our evident political differences. Such a shame.

  36. I’m sorry Fran but I am with Jarrah.

    He is anything but a fool. He can avoid obvious questions like Sinclair Davidson re Lindzen but I find a lot of his comments quite refreshing.

    You shouldn’t just read people you agree with.

    He is most definitely anything but a fool. Indeed a person who thinks that is the fool!

  37. @nottrampis

    I’m sorry Fran …

    So you should be. There’s nothing “refreshing” about Jim Rose. His screeds are simply warmed over derivative cant.

    I’m OK with reading stuff by people I disagree with, but it has to have at least some intellectual integrity. Jim Rose’s stuff has none.

  38. On the matter of JR I lean towards FB’s assessment.

    Some time ago I asked JR this:

    What is the minimum evidence you require to accept that human activities are driving global warming?

    This is a question that any person committed to scientific scepticism must ask herself.

    However, no denialist has ever dared to answer this question.

    To date JR, by his non-response, has consigned himself to the anti-science, denialist side of the ledger.

  39. Barlow, science shouldn’t proceed on the basis of consensus, as is clearly demonstrated by the not unusual Daniel Shechtman re quasi-crystals. Schectman was dismissed as a crank and a fraud by his peers, sacked from his work group and denounced as a quasi-scientist by double Nobel Laurette Linus Pauling. It took more than a decade ugly politicking (and the death of old warhorses like Pauling) before Schechtman was rehabilitated and then another decade and a half before he won a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

    The Australian scientists who won a Nobel for discovering the role of bacteria in stomach ulcers were similarly dismissed as perpetrators of a scientific fraud for many years before the theory gained acceptance.

    A paradigm shift in science is obviously and observably a thing of dissensus and disorder, not consensus and order.

    Moreover, while Nurse played up the consensus angle in his much publicized discussion with Dellingpole, he has elucidated a far more sophisticated position in subsequent discussion.

    Once again I’d urge you to actually read something written by a science historian or a philosopher of science, like Imre Lakatos, who Prof Quiggin cites in Zombie Economics.

    Let’s leave the childish and intellectually impoverished n@nsense to the likes of Jo Nova and Andrew Bolt.

  40. you are wrong Fran.
    There are some areas he just cannot say something that it is blindingly obvious ( the example of Lindzen is a classic but he also cannot say the budget of 1931 produced negative growth the next year either!)

    However he does produce some first class stuff to read and is no fool.
    you are if you believe such tripe!

  41. @nottrampis

    However he does produce some first class stuff to read and is no fool.
    you are if you believe such tripe!

    OK … adding you to the scroll-because-possibly-troll list …

    I had my doubts when you first appeared.

  42. @Katz
    On JR, I don’t dignify his stuff with responses anymore because he breaks the unwritten rule of debate: it’s two-way, you have to respond to opposing comments or don’t make the claims in the first place. He repeats anecdotes and throwaway comments from people who he agrees with, his conservative gurus, as self-evidently true, like this: “Tullock considers that South Korea became an open economy as a by-product of a political purge” but when I questioned this twice as against the general view of ROK state-driven industrial policy, just no answer.
    Or this one: “Go to Hong Kong if you want to see how capitalism works, Milton Friedman used to say”; to JR this pithy quote supposedly sums up capitalism. So is HK capitalism working in its treatment of externalities, an absolutely mainstream economic concept to Friedman as well (despite obvious debates about particular relevance.)
    I was talking to an expat who moved to Australia because of the HK pollution effect on his kids’ health; he said you couldn’t swim anywhere in the sea. Doesn’t sound too good, I guess I could have just thrown my anecdote back at JR, but it needs a bit more than one person’s opinion to be taken as true. I took the Wikipedia shortcut, and there was enough to convince me of a huge and unaddressed “externalities” problem there (see Air Pollution in Hong Kong, Ecology in HK). So HK capitalism doesn’t work in that important respect.
    The guy just doesn’t want to get out of the comfort zone and question his own assumptions. It’s not about his opinions to me: through volume of output he will occasionally say something interesting to me, but that’s not enough. Because JR has selective deafness, he doesn’t deserve a place at the table in my opinion. I’m uncomfortable talking about the behaviour of discussants so I will leave it there, but I suggest to others that you have to earn the right to be part of the discussion, and it is forfeited if the free speech of the listener – the right to question and be answered – is ignored.

  43. Fran I have been around longer than you,

    If you are adding me to a troll list then you have just catallaxied yourself.

    Rick Castle would say that is ironic!

  44. @Fran Barlow

    Sorry Fran, you are wrong. Genuine hard science does not proceed by consensus. It proceeds by empirical investigation.

    Often, where you talk about “consensus” you should, in relation to the hard sciences, be using the word “conventions”. Sure scientific conventions (for procedures, methods and measurement) are arrived at by consensus but the conventions adopted (for example SI – international System of Units) are selected from a range of objectively supportable alternatives and are themselves rooted in a body of empirical knowledge, theory and effective praxis derived from previous investigation. This is not “consensus” unless you are using the word incorrectly. If you want to use the same word “consensus” for scientific agreement and for social-political agreement then you are guilty of conflation and terminological imprecision.

    Where consensus rules aspects of investigative hard science (and sometimes it does unfortunately) this is the result of the intrusion of religion, custom or ideology into science. Do not confuse applied science with pure or investigative science. Of course, social-political consensus or consensuses are developed with respect to the application of scientific knowledge and techniques. But this is a different area. Again, you are conflating different matters if you fail to see this.

    Empirical facts and laws discovered by the hard sciences are not true (dependable) just because a bunch of people agree they are so. They are dependable intrinsically as this is a fundamental characteristic of discoverable objective material reality outside human consciousness, agency and distortions of perception.

    I suspect what you know of science (if anything) is “soft science”, the social sciences, which by their nature lack standards of objectivity and are thus riddled with the imperative to find a social and/or pedagogical “consensus”. Soft science is not science at all (by and large). In the soft sciences “consensus” merely equals “dominant theory or dominant ideology” in the majority of cases.

    The soft sciences (social sciences) are properly part of Social and Moral Philosophy. Claims that the social sciences are well emerged and properly differentiated from Social and Moral Philosophy are not yet tenable and may never be.

    Do I expect you to be convinced by any of this? Well, no. Once again, we must agree to differ. In my considered opinion your position on this matter is confused, fallacious and entirely refutable. You confuse social agreement with scientific agreement and consider them to both be arrived at by social consensus. (You also appear to be implicitly confusing or conflating the hard and soft sciences.) I doubt you would find any professors of hard science or philosophy to agree with you on your “consensus” theory re hard science. The odd, post-modernist might agree with you.

    It’s funny, but post-modernism is soooo yesterday. Or maybe you are a post-modernist. That would explain quite a lot.

  45. Ikonoclast @5, p2.

    Without wishing to dwell into the post which gave rise to yours, I agree with your argument regarding natural science (your investigative science), applied sciences, and so-called social sciences.

    There are related examples of confusions in the area of negotiation, mediation and conflict resolution (by so-called human resource experts). In my mind, one cannot negotiate or mediate about the facts (investigation is required), but one can negotiate (reach an agreement) about the resolution (eg compesation in monetary or other terms), given a conclusion about the facts. These said experts have other ideas. They want ‘outcomes’ – of what?

  46. @Ikonoclast

    Sure scientific conventions (for procedures, methods and measurement) are arrived at by consensus …

    I see. So the the things that make science science and not merely a set of random non-corroborable observations about interesting stuff someone noticed are arrived at by consensus. Science proceeded from acts of consensus. You’re off to a good start.

    the conventions adopted … are themselves rooted in a body of empirical knowledge, theory and effective praxis derived from previous investigation.

    Well yes, they would be. That “body” (i.e what is salient and worth preserving) is the result of consensus. Praxis is “effective” because people have adopted and at times innovated with methods that have proven robust on the basis of existing knowledge.

    You are making my case.

    Where consensus rules aspects of investigative hard science (and sometimes it does unfortunately) this is the result of the intrusion of religion, custom or ideology into science.

    You are getting far too metonymic here. There is in climate science, a consensus about what is currently knowable in principle and a body of work that represents attempts to specify that knowledge by adducing and analysing data gathered in ways accepted as methodologically robust and relating to data that is germane. There is a set of processes for reviewing such research and for commenting on them. There is even a consensus about what remains uncertain and therefore what would be worth examining further, if only a robust set of tools for conducting such research could be contrived. Religion has nothing to do with it.

    And me, POMO? Hardly. It is you who are guilty of hair-splitting obfuscation here. Consensus is not a straightjacket — it’s a scaffold. It makes progress possible — both of the continuous improvement kind, and the discontinuous improvement kind. It’s the set of shoulders on which all good work stands.

    The deniers have tried to make it a term of abuse, but really, it’s simply a feature of human collaboration. The consensus of the deniers is a rotten one, but it’s still a consensus. They object both to the consensus, and the fact that most think their consensus is bollocks. Every now and again they put together a list of “scientists” and assert that they have a consensus.

    It’s amusing and sad at the same time.

  47. World’s largest wind farm at … Fukushima?

    Interesting …

    The loss of nuclear capacity has created an opening for more renewable sources in Japan. Indeed, the New Scientist reported last week that Japan is preparing to build the world’s largest offshore wind farm, starting this July. The plan, as the magazine reported, would see 143 wind turbines built on platforms 16km off the coast of – out of all places – Fukushima by 2020. The farm would generate 1GW of power once completed.


    If built, the Fukushima farm would overpower the first phase of the London Array in the Thames Estuary, where 175 turbines will generate 630MW of electricity when fully operational later this year. The London Array is due, eventually, to have a second phase – of 370MW – taking its overall capacity also to 1GW.

    Over in the US, where there are currently no offshore wind farms, news emerged on a planned undersea power line to connect offshore wind farms to the US east coast.

    The partners behind the Atlantic Wind Connection project, including Google, Bregal Energy, Marubeni Corporation and Elia, announced the first construction phase will begin off the New Jersey coast in 2016. The first segment will span the length of New Jersey and carry 3GW of electricity, according to a statement from the Princeton, New Jersey-based project. The offshore cable is expected to be operational in 2019.

  48. Just to backup kevin1, generally JR’s comments are best not used as a basis for discussion. They can be responded to, to make ones own point clearer in a broader discussion or to illustrate the shallowness of arguments, such as JR usually throws into the fray. However, similarly to kevin I am not comfortable in giving him/her more limelight than his trolling and derailing deserves.

    Just consider this if we need to have a discussion about wether or not science proceeds on the basis of consensus, then please coukld we refrain from colloquial labeling of soft and hard sciences and conflate the discussion with human domination on the planet et al. Perhaps a quick brush up on philosophy of science and a basic understanding of what Popper and Kuhn, and if you must a dash of Feyerabend, were about would be so much more helpful. Besides, to side step JR’s derail, how important is the degree of scientific consensus in relation to the magnitude of the risk AGW and associated pollution, resource depletion and utter dependency on economic growth represent? In otherwords, to go back to JR’s medical analogy, does it matter how and to what degree the medical profession agrees on a patients condition, if by their state of the art diagnosis, they are sure by a 95% confidence level that the symptoms can be attributed to a bad diet and if such is continued or indeed increased, the consequences will be irreversibly fatal. Hell, I’d be going on a diet and then assess whether JR’s economic dowsing recons everything is hunky dory to go back onto the greasy food again.

  49. LOl. Fran realises she has lost the argument so now seeks to divert attention to windfarms.

    Max Planck – “science advances one funeral at a time.”

    Science is a sausage.

  50. @Fran Barlow

    Hard science is not about “consensus”, it’s about verifiable and repeatable empirical results from experimentation. You are confusing and conflating scientific corroboration with social agreement and using the same word “consensus” to refer to both. You are getting mixed up at the boundary where hard science meets social judgement and response. You also don’t appear to understand the issue of degrees of uncertainty in complex scientific matters.

    The fact the IPCC has issued a “consensus” report clearly has confused you. Unfortunately the IPCC were ideologically and politically bullied into a “consensus” report. A fully scientific report would simply have noted degrees of uncertainty about predictions. The basic science utilised to arrive at these predictions is extant, corroborated, objective, empirical knowledge not “consensus”. The degrees of uncertainty derive from modelling highly complex feedback systems and using very large but still limited data sets from the potentially almost limitless real data sets.

    You have obviously have little science and less philosophy. You don’t understand the pre-requisites of logical argument, namely precise terms and accurate categories. You are particularly prone to semantic conflation and category mistakes. Try taking an introductory course in logic.

  51. kevin1 and Katz, I am limited by John Q. to one post per thread per day, so I can’t keep up with everyone because of this.

    I did not read much past your reference to Clive Hamilton trying to explain how a planning tool that failed everywhere else magically worked in ROK. why?

    Fran is correct to the extent she is discussing the sociology of science rather than the philosophy of scientific methodology. Others are correct here on how it should be done as compared to Fran being correct on how it is usually done.

    I have consistently posted that ‘let climate science be settled’. How much global warming costs will is the correct question for policy debate. Going on about the science delays that far more important debate that environmentalists have already lost.

    Nurse has excellent things to say on GMOs with which I agree. that is his area of expertise.

    If there is a scientific consensus on GMOs, or when one emerges, the deniers of that consensus will be on the Left. They will not miss a beat between denying the scientific consensus on GMOs to denounce others as deniers of the consensus on global warming,

  52. @Fran Barlow
    “2. Jim Rose is a prattling culture war rambling fool — much like hundreds of other ostensibly misanthropic trolls I’ve come across over the years.”

    I’ve not been a frequent visitor to this blog in the last year or so, so it’s possible that I’ve missed some prattling and rambling comments from Jim Rose, but looking at his comments on this thread, I see zero evidence for your harsh assessment. His comments on Catallaxy have never struck me as anything other than reasonable and rational, never foolish or dogmatic. Given that cesspool, I wish he commented there more frequently!

  53. Iko, your insistance of using the colloquial term ‘hard’ science is not particularly helpful in this discussion and exposes your over-reliance on empiricism with its associated analytic-synthetic distinction of truth and reductionist traps. You could do worse than reading sociologists of science Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s ‘Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts’, to discover the softness in Mel’s (above) ‘science as a sausage factory’ analogy. Besides, there is not many ‘hard’ sciences which have done more in developing and enhancing research methodology and statistical analysis than the soft science of psychology. However, I do agree with you, in context of the complexity of Climate Science, consensus is a qualifier of limited use. As even JR above points out, too much time has been wasted on ‘the science’, and I agree with him the focus should be on the magnitude of risk or cost thereof and merits of prevention strategies.

  54. I should add Jim Rose is not the only person here who attempts to change the subject when he cannot admit to being wrong.

    I have seen John do it when talking/writing to Terje.( He doesn’t do it very much in fact quite rarely but he has done it).

  55. @Jarrah
    I need to reply to JR’s comment today scoffing at “Clive Hamilton trying to explain how a planning tool that failed everywhere else magically worked in ROK.” Two things revealed here: because it doesn’t fit his narrative, the explanation is not checked, just dismissed as magical. Second point: reflects on JR’s knowledge that everyone else but him has heard of the “East Asian Tigers” with their strong government intervention. If he’s interested (Danger! Threat to ideology approaching comfort zone!), it only took me a couple of minutes on Google to find this comprehensive academic paper at REPEC – Industrial Policies in Developing Countries: History and Perspectives by Michele Di Maio.

    And was there any filtering process between brain and mouth on this gem at Monday Message Board this week: “Flood control is a problem in developing countries because they are poor especially if it rains a lot – monsoons. Rich countries build flood levees and dikes and so on. Voters treat loss of life in floods as a failure of governments to tame nature.” JR, if you have nothing to say, better not to talk.

    The paucity of intelligent conservatives around must mean something.

  56. @kevin1 So they picked winners did they? Those at MITI must have excellent investment appraisal skills? How would you test that?

    Look at their investment portfolios after they retired. Far less inside information but those picking winner skills can at last be lawfully used to trade on their private accounts.

    My professors at graduate school in Tokyo were retired from MITI, ministry of finance, the lot. They worked at those ministries in the high growth years picking those winners.

    The retired MITI and other professors kept their wealth well hidden. A long train ride to work. Clothes the same as others. Their children went to normal schools and Japanese public universities. They all looked forward to their annual bonus (5.15 months salary in all).

    I thought all would be revealed when we were invited to their houses for lunch. Alas no: no mansion – an ordinary Japanese suburban house. Many still lived in their ministry apartments.

    Bureaucrats who could pick winners – beat the market – should be excellent investors in their private portfolios after they retire. They still have the core skills.

    If special investing skills somehow appeared from the air inside MITI and other ministries, people would pay to work there, and there would be books written on these special investment skills that were passed on by double secret word of mouth. Someone would spill the beans.

    My retire from MITI professor who taught the industry policy course was a communist at university. When discussing those days, he could not remember the English word for Molotov cocktail so he drew one on the blackboard.

    My Korean government classmates gave no hint of expecting to retire to be wealthy investors. Korean men drink whisky and cognac until they run-out or pass-out.

    my class mates from 20 other developing and transitional economies were equally circumspect about their opulant retirement prospects. their facebook pages still give nothing away.

    p.s. there were really big flood levees up the road from my university in Tokyo. all politics was retail in Japan.

  57. Here is a transcript of speech of representative Jim McDermont to hearing on a debt ceiling by GOP.

    ““The whole world is watching this hearing. It is the first hearing on this issue. The whole point of a society is to create and run a government to make order for people. People don’t like chaos and this hearing is about how to create chaos to get what you can’t get politically with votes.”
    Raw Story (http://s.tt/1yO8P)


  58. the modern synthesis in biology is often called a consensus. a consensus reached consequent to field work & research, obviously.

    here is the [usa] national academies:-
    “The scientific consensus around evolution is overwhelming.” http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6024&page=28

    here is kenneth r miller, champion of the dover “panda” case:-
    “In this election year [2012], the strength of anti-evolution sentiment has been on full display in the presidential race, as one candidate after another declared their distrust of the scientific consensus around evolution.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kenneth-r-miller/darwin-day-evolution_b_1269191.html

    the much maligned wikipedia:-
    “The [modern evolutionary] synthesis, produced between 1936 and 1947, reflects the consensus about how evolution proceeds”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_modern_synthesis

    fran barlow is far from a post modernist; i don’t see eye to eye with her all the time, but that’s an idle slur.
    alfred venison

  59. Like FB, I’ve found Jim Rose consistently evasive and slippery. However, he’s generally civil and makes some interesting points, so I’m happy to allow him to post, subject to a limit of one comment per thread per day.

  60. As regards scientific consensus, Damon Runyon got it right “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

    It’s true that a scientific consensus can be overturned, but it doesn’t often happen, and very rarely in cases where the motivation for dissent is discomfort with the political implications of scientific evidence.

  61. I’m surprised and disappointed. I expected more from Alan Kohler in today’s The Drum. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-24/kohler-privatisation-is-good-for-qld/4482140

    He makes the silly and naive case for privatisation you rightly decry, JQ. He believes paying down gross government debt is an inherently responsible thing to do, never mind the effect on net fiscal position. All this must apparently be done to appease credit rating agencies who make the same basic error, who embarrassed themselves so thoroughly during the GFC, and who were completely ignored by investors after they downgraded the US. I now put Kohler in Paul Krugman’s category of “Very Serious Person.”

  62. @Katz “But the biggest scientific breakthroughs entail the collapse of the most consensual consensuses”

    Kinda sorta. It’s true that “normal science” typically proceeds incrementally, and therefore that big breakthroughs are more likely to break with consensus in some way. But look at the process from the discovery of DNA to the sequencing of the human genome – some huge breakthroughs but not a lot of consensus-busting, except maybe for Venter’s success with the quick and dirty shotgun approach as opposed to the more methodical big-science approach of the official project.

  63. @John Quiggin

    I simply think we have to be very careful not to use the word “consensus” when referring to established hard scientific knowledge. In essence, the truth or “objective-ness” of a fact or law of empirical material reality is independent of human consensus. Human consensus or otherwise is irrelevant to objective truth. Not all matters humans consider relate to objective truth but some do and those matters are the business of the hard sciences. A consensus about a “hard truth” merely indicates that most people or most scientists have finally perceived and accepted the reality of the “hard truth”.

    The word “consensus” means general agreement or accord. It says nothing about how that consensus is arrived at. Consensus may be arrived at by a number of processes. At one end od the spectrum there is “scientific consensus” about a matter of hard science (arrived at by verifiable, repeatable experiments) at the other end there is a “social consensus” about say an ethical or moral requirement and very often arrived at by emotive, dogmatic or ideological means. These two kinds of “consensuses” are in no way comparable or of equal veracity or dependability.

    Using the word “consensus” for hard scientific matters gives lay people the false impression that all matters are matters of opinion until a large majority agree and then solely by virtue of that agreement the correct answer has been arrived at.

    The case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not a “consensus”. It is a rolled-gold, empirical, 100% certainty based on an irrefutable chain of hard science reasoning and calculation. In addition, the empirical data already supports the case at close to 100% broad correlation. As soon as the weasel word “consensus” is brought in you give the denialists wriggle room. Scientifically, philosphically and rhetorically it’s an own-goal.

    Certainly there are (highly improbable) events outside modelling which could affect the outcome. The sun (by a yet unknown mechanism) may begin to lose luminosity even though it is currently on a slow brightening trend of billions of years duration. A supreme deity might intervene directly via a miracle – suspension or alteration of the dependable physical laws of the cosmos – to save us. But outside an event of “force majeure”, the general outcome is certain. The precise degree of warming and the region by region response of climate systems are clearly enormously complicated issues and can only be indicated probabilistically due to the inter-related complexities and extensiveness of the systems involved.

    I will try to keep quiet about this issue now but “consensus” is such a POMO weasel word IMO when dealing with matters of hard science.

  64. I’d argue that Watson and Crick and later Venter, who achieved remarkable technical feats, weren’t progenitors of scientific revolutions. They all knew what they were looking for.

    The scientific revolution occurred in the 1920s. Wiki:

    “In 1927 Nikolai Koltsov proposed that inherited traits would be inherited via a “giant hereditary molecule” made up of “two mirror strands that would replicate in a semi-conservative fashion using each strand as a template”.”

    Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the molecule. That feat is subsidiary to the insight that such a molecule exists. The null hypothesis that such a molecule does not exist had already been disposed of.

  65. John,

    There is a difference between picking fights and disagreeing.
    For one thing if I was picking a fight I would be using words that if not wound at least hurt a bit.

    I simply gave a point of view that was different to yours in reasonably moderate language.

    Yes it is your blog however everyone needs to be told when they are wrong even if they do not like it.

  66. @Katz

    But the biggest scientific breakthroughs entail the collapse of the most consensual consensuses.

    That’s true. Wegener comes straight to mind. Tellingly, the consensus his work shattered was replaced by the one he founded.

  67. @kevin1 South Korea was among the poorer of the world’s nations in 1962. South Korea quickly became by the standards of most developing countries it changed to an outward looking and relatively open country.

    External threats, the dynamics of internal politics, including dramatic break-ups of established interest groups, low taxes and competition in export markets were enablers of market-led rapid development in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

    Institutional reforms and imported new technologies increased employment and incomes through an explosion in exporting. This allowed the losers from the changes to be compensated either directly or with new opportunities in the export industries.

    Many other under-developed nations did not grow because institutional sclerosis locked them in. The accumulation of distributional coalitions slowed down the capacity of these under-developed countries to adopt new technologies and reallocate resources across firms and industries in response to changing conditions and new opportunities.

    Latin America is a good example of stagnation after extended prosperity because of the accumulation of barriers to efficient production. Latin America has many more barriers to competition than the successful East Asian countries. Why no Latin Tigers?

  68. @Ikonoclast

    As soon as the weasel word “consensus” is brought in you give the denialists wriggle room. Scientifically, philosphically and rhetorically it’s an own-goal.

    And yet, it’s hard to see your argumentation other than as music to the ears of the denialists. This is one of their memes — science is not about consensus.

    They are equivocating of course — trying to blur the line between scientific consensus and social consensus (much as they do with “theory” and “hypothesis” — but your stance gives aid and comfort to them. Your remarks about the consensus report also do so.

    There is no value in trying to find a new word for what well-attested hard science theory or professional practice declares at any moment in time. Consensus will do just fine. It is, as I said not a straightjacket but a scaffold that supports innovation and challenge.

    The reality is that the pool of human and material resources available for high quality hard science research is limited, even though it is probably better now than it ever was. Scientists, quite reasonably, start from what is well-attested and seek to build upon it, or if it seems not to provide an adequate answer in a place where one would think it should — to explore that question. It therefore starts from the consensus and if the consensus is overturned, then all else depending on it is re-examined (since those too would have been part of the consensus). And eventually, a new consensus position (i.e a new useful starting point or part of the scaffold of knowledge) emerges.

    That’s progress.

  69. Relax nontrampis, it is too easy to forget that we are all guests here, as much as in this world.

    “So my antagonist said, “Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it’s impossible?” “No”, I said, “I can’t prove it’s impossible. It’s just very unlikely”. At that he said, “You are very unscientific. If you can’t prove it impossible then how can you say that it’s unlikely?” But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and impossible.”
    ? Richard P. Feynman

  70. Ikonoclast:

    “The case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not a “consensus”. It is a rolled-gold, empirical, 100% certainty based on an irrefutable chain of hard science reasoning and calculation. ”

    This is a woeful comment. Infallibility or certainty, requires omniscience and- delusions of gandeur notwithstanding- you do not possess it. Not even the IPCC claims infallibility.

    The reason why AGW needs to be factored into public policy is nothing more fancy than the insurance principle, as I’ve already outlined on another thread. One doesn’t need certainty to take out insurance; I am not certain that my house will burn down yet I, like most people, have an insurance policy because such an eventuality is a reasonably foreseeable possibility.

    Insurance, a thing of common sense, prudence and caution, is about as stuffy and old fashioned as you can get and hence it should appeal to those who call themselves conservative. Moreover, a true conservative should respect opinions of established and proven institutions, like science. However in this case, like so many others, most self-described conservatives are behaving like devil-may-care radicals.

  71. @Jim Rose
    JR’s version of S Korean econ history ignores the elephant in the room: “government” which was hardly sitting by watching while al this was happening. And some elephant it was in the ROK: I will just reproduce 2 quotes from the IPD paper I referred him to, and so he can’t claim ignorance of this. (Industrial Policies in Developing Countries: History and Perspectives by Michele Di Maio 2008)

    “In the 1960s, the South Korean military regime nationalised all banks, giving the State control of all financial flows and thus of all investment de-cisions in the economy. In addition, the regime started to tightly control foreign exchange, foreign loans and foreign direct investments” (p 17) and this: “In South Korea, the government tightly controlled the economic activity through price ceilings, control on capital flight, strict financial control etc. The government also used a large set of tax exemptions and government subsidies to direct investment activity in selected `strategic’ sector (Amsed, 1991).” (p 19) While there is argument about causation and the counterfactual (by Anne Krueger for instance), there’s no controversy about the broad facts; “Industrial Policy in an Export Propelled Economy: Lessons From South Korea’s Experience”, Larry E. Westphal, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1990), pp. 41-59 gives a similar account. But you’d never know it from JR’s story.

    You discredit yourself mate because cognitive dissonance or pride or something takes over and you blatantly deceive and distort. You’re not fair dinkum and I won’t take any notice of you in future.

  72. @Katz
    there was a consensus around miasma theory before pasteur – after pasteur a consensus formed around germ theory. -a.v.

  73. @Fran Barlow

    Not once IIRC has Fran mentioned scientific method in any of her posts. Not once has she mentioned experimentation, objective reality or empiricism. None of the things that actually count in hard science get a mention in Fran’s world. Plenty of waffle about “consensus” though.

  74. @alfred venison

    True, and indeed, and as IIRC, Pasteur turned out to be right despite proving his case with what turned out to be flawed science, while his main rival refuted Pasteur’s experiment with one that also turned out to be flawed (but apparently robust at the time it was done), it’s a fascinating example of science history, and a pointer to why science is not ever really the work of one person, or even two or three, but ultimately the work of a large collaborative community — including even those who object to each other’s conclusions but understand and apply professional standards of scientific work and ethics.

    One can argue that science, in the sense we now understand it, was still embronic — or at any rate, to pursue the metaphor, still juvenile in the 19th century. It’s little wonder that that century was the high point of bogus science and “snake oil”. Education was still the privilege of wealthy folk. Literacy and numeracy was low. People had begun to question the church but were still strongly influenced by superstition. We joke about Young Earthers now, but then, it was perfectly respectable. Natural selection? An abomination. It really wasn’t until the end of WW1 that science began to get a firm place in parts of public policy in most of the ‘western” world and the rigour we now see started to become normative.

  75. @Ikonoclast

    I’m giving you a pass because for the most part, you talk sense here, or something closely resembling it. You are however embarrassing yourself now. I can’t tell you what to do, but I’m not going to respond further to you on this matter as you are just talking nonsense.

    FTR … my post @45 on page 1 addresses method, and you responded as if it did, though you wanted to name it something else.

  76. @Mel

    Nothing woeful about it. I did add the rider that only (highly unlikely) events outside the system being subject to calculation and modelling could intervene.

    Given that;

    (a) the basic science indicates the earth biosphere system will heat up absent outside external “force majuer” events; and

    (b) given that the set of data series readings taken to date indicate that it has heated up; and

    (c) given that other causes (e.g. increased insolation) have been excluded;

    then the case is indeed a 100% slam dunk.

    To pretend otherwise or to quibble about ultimate certainty is simply to be disputationally perverse.

  77. Okonoclast: “.. then the case is indeed a 100% slam dunk.”

    Oh grow up. No scientist argues that the toolkit available to scientists yields certainty.

    As the Sydney Uni physicist Michael Biercuk puts it “in science … everything’s a theory … proof doesn’t exist …. nothing is certain.” http://theconversation.edu.au/forget-what-youve-read-science-cant-prove-a-thing-578

    Arguments about certainty are the province of scoundrels, bar room drunks, the delusional and the religious. They are also a red herring as far as action is concerned.

  78. As late as the early 17th century all who thought seriously about the matter agreed that the speed of light was probably infinite. This was the overwhelming consensus view.

    In 1676 Rømer proved that light had a finite speed. His experiments spurred more and more accurate methods of measurement, all based on the new consensus that Rømer had compelled by accurate observation and sound arithmetic.

    Consider how fundamental to all of our science is the fact that light has a finite speed. Only the termination of our civilisation will allow a return to the thesis that the speed of light is infinite. If the Fundos take over, that could happen.

  79. @Mel

    “Arguments about certainty are the province of scoundrels, bar room drunks, the delusional and the religious.”

    So, if I say that I am certain that you cannot live for ten years without food and water intake then am I one of the above? Or if I say I am certain you cannot walk through the armour of an M1A1 Abrhams tank then I one of the above?

    In epistemology and in science, I understand the general arguments for uncertainty in aspects of human knowledge. However, to move from that position to a statement that everything is uncertain (the natural corollary of your statement) is untenable.

    To quibble about absolute certainty versus functional and operative certainty (of the 99.9999 recurring % kind) is also untenable.

    Mel, which of these statements do you dispute?

    (a) The basic science indicates the earth’s biosphere system will heat up due to inceased CO2e concentrations and this will occur absent events external to the thermodynamic system under consideration.

    (b) The empirical data series to date indicates the earth’s biosphere has in fact heated up in accordance with theory; and

    (c) All other thermodynamically possible causes (e.g. increased insolation) have been excluded.

    You would have to effectively dispute and refute at least one of these statements to plausibly advance a claim of functional and operative uncertainty about the AGW case.

    The fact that the empirical data already supports the case really leaves you in an untenable position. You are in the position of denying that process which has empirically happened and is continuing to happen and calling it uncertain. It’s much like rolling a dice, getting a six and then saying the result of that very dice roll is uncertain. That is how absurd it is to argue specific uncertainty once the event has occured.

    I am simply pointing out the empirical facts re AGW. I am also pointing out that in hard science empirical evidence precedes and determines scientific “consensus”. Thus it is the empirical evidence that has primacy not the consensus. Where empirical evidence is insufficient, ambiguous or unobtainable to date, there is no consensus. Witness string theory in physics as a case in point. In hard science, consensus is a second order, derivative and dependent phenomenon if I can put it like that. In the soft sciences, politics and ideology, consensus is first order phenomenon. It leads, it determines and it is not properly subject to objective determination.

    The basic principle of hard science is empirical investigation. The basic method discovered to be effective in praxis was and is also empirically determined. Sure, we agree about what works but the reason we agree IS that it works. The institutional and broader procedures to facilitate and expedite the progress of hard science (including what Fran likes to call “consensus”) are elaborations after and upon the primary foundational functional fact of empiricism.

    Scientific “consensus” if you want to call it that is fundamentally different to political “consensus”. That is why I object to the conflation of the two. It is a category error.

  80. Psst …

    Are you in New York?
    Nothing much to do?
    Need $20 in a hurry?

    Why not turn up and pretend you hate Wind Power in Scotland and England? You don’t have to say anything. You don’t even have to like Donald Trump. You know the saying: they also serve who only stand and wait.


    It would be tempting to RSVP, take the $20 and trun up with pro-windpower signs, heckling the speakers. If they tried to remove you, you could say — hey — they asked me to come.

    Isn’t it amusing? During the 1970s, the right claimed that people who turned up to left-leaning rallies were “rent-a-crowd” — and as it turns out, they see this as a good idea, and really are renting their own.

    Astroturf indeed.

  81. @Mel

    And getting your philosophy of science from a piece of journalese is… well amusing.

    Taking the position of classical Newtonian science – mechanistic, deterministic and perhaps absolutist in its claims to knowledge – is certainly not tenable following the development of the theory of relativity, cosmology and quantum mechanics. However, rushing to the other extreme and confusing degrees of uncertainty (often very low degrees of uncertainty in the hard sciences) with fundamental uncertainty is also an absolutist error.

    The journalese article sums up;

    “In science …

    Everything’s a theory.

    Proof doesn’t exist.

    Nothing is certain.”

    These are simplistic, absolutist statements in their own right. They tell us nothing important and are functionally useless. Let me illustrate. You walk into the lab of a mad scientist. Dark, unlabelled bottles with stoppers line the shelves. Being an hospitable mad scientist he says, “Have a drink,” and waves at the rows of bottles. Cautiously, you say, “Can I drink these?” He replies, “Everything’s a liquid. You can drink any of them.”

    Here , “everything is a liquid” in the same sense that “everything is a theory” in science. Saying that everything is a liquid or everything is a theory, whilst true as a generality tells you nothing important about individual members of the category or set.

    The same logic applies to the other two points which are really just corollaries so they are in essence one point or premise. Saying scientific proof does not exist (which is true in a purist, absolutist sense) glosses over the very real practical and operative differences implied by the enormous differences in the range of certainty-uncertainty in various scientific predictions.

    So the attempt to arraign me as a philsophical absolutist founders on those precise grounds. Mel, in fact is the one appealing to absolutist logic.

  82. @Fran Barlow

    They (the corporate capitalists) are thoroughly unprincipled. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” as Legolas would say.

    At some point this system (corporate growth capitalism) must break down. There are too many unsustainable trends for it to continue. I have said it all before (ad nauseum) in previous posts so I won’t repeat a summary of unsustainable trends here.

    Taking the unsustainability as given, we must then ask these questions;

    “When and where will it begin to observably and indisputably break down?”

    “What response will this provoke from the suffering portion of the affected population(s)?”

    “What reaction will popular response in turn elicit from the governing powers?”

    Anyone want to hazard some opinions?

  83. This is related to the post above. Howard Kunstler (who I suspect might be a libetarian so overall I would not agree with all of his political stances) perceptively writes;

    “Genial figure that he is, I don’t think President Obama has a clue where all this is heading. I suppose he’ll argue for stricter gun laws today, but that horse is already so far out of the barn it’s in the next county. We don’t seem to realize that America is now fully armed. Additional firearms are just superfluous at this point. And to some degree the people armed themselves in direct consequence as their government tinkered with due process, and sent drone aircraft into the American skies, and commenced computer hacking operations over every business transaction in the system, and voided the rule-of-law against criminal uber-bankers who creamed off the nation’s wealth while holding the economy hostage. Since the armed public is not ready to mount an insurrection against this impudence, the dangerous tension is expressed in morbid and tragic episodes of mass shootings by maniacs against the innocent. What I want to know: where is the lone swindled rancher who waits to bushwhack “X of Corporation Y” in the parking lot Z , since the law won’t touch him (X).”

    I’ve removed real names and places from the end of Kunstler’s piece above. Kunstler certainly has his theories about when and where. He writes;

    “It seems obvious to me that in the, say, four years ahead (one presidential term), we will not come to grips with any of the forces of reality bearing down on us. We will lose control of the money system; we’ll go broke trying to keep up our oil supplies; the American public will get more economically desperate and angry; and pretty soon the practical matters of daily life will become rather harsh. And at that point faith in the system finally evaporates and people fight over the table scraps of a failed polity.”

    We have already seen one superpower erupt in a (limited) civil war which turned into a kind of relatively bloodless “coup”; the USSR in 1991. I was in Finland at the time and only nine days out of Moscow. On our last night in Moscow we stayed in a US-Russian joint venture hotel so new it had no curtains in any rooms. Service was “odd” rather than bad. Outside was Kiyevsky railway station not far from the bridge to Arbat St IIRC. That day the area had been infested with gypsies accosting and pick-pocketing anyone they could, mostly tourists

    That night at about 11:00 pm I heard semi-automatic small arms fire down in the street near Kiyevsky station and around the gypsy haunts under the bridge butresses. The next day the literally scores (perhaps hundreds) of gypsies had disappeared. I don’t think they were shot at all but a few dozen rounds in the air no doubt induced them to board open trucks for dumping at destinations well outside Moscow.

    To return from the anecdote, civil war is clearly not impossible in a nuclear superpower. But anew dominant faction of the PTB will likely channel it and limit it. Nonetheless an unconstitutional power change could happen.

  84. Ikonoclast: “… operative certainty 99.9999 recurring % kind … ”

    No major scientific body, not the IPCC or any science academy, claims that level of certainty.

    ” You would have to effectively dispute and refute at least one of these statements to plausibly advance a claim of functional and operative uncertainty about the AGW case.”

    Both you and I are laymen who lack the skills, knowledge and resources to carry out the necessary work. Even if we did, we still couldn’t deliver certainty. None of the major philosophers of science, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerband etc , claim science offers certainty.

    Mel – coarse and hostile language does nothing to advance your case. Any more of this, and I will have to block you from this thread – JQ

  85. @Ikonoclast
    Oh yeah, James Howard Kunstler. He was the guy who though the Y2K software problem would “converge with and amplify other forces already in motion around the world, namely a global economic deflation and the political dissolution of more nation states”, “disable federal and state bureaucracies” and “deeply affect the economies-of-scale of virtually all activities in the United States, essentially requiring us to downsize and localize everything from government to retail merchandising to farming”.

    Clearly an astute analyst with awesome predictive powers. 😉

  86. @Tim Macknay
    Kunstler have a strong apocalyptic bias, he wants apocalypse to arrive sooner then later, but his analysis is correct on very long term. Some of those changes can happen in near term operationaly, but major ones like reducing the suburb and getting more concentrated population is a 30-50 year trend. And resource constraints are guaranteeing that such trend is ongoing now.

  87. kevin1, You are evasive about unpacking the black box that is the internal working of industry policy. How do they pick those winners?

    You directed me to to Westphal, Larry 1990. “Industrial Policy in an Export-Propelled Economy: Lessons from South Korea’s Experience.” Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Look at your own reference’s lessons section at page 56:

    “Korea’s industrial performance owes much to the government’s reliance on Free market institutions to provide for flexibility in resource allocation. It has resulted in many highly profitable ventures (socially as well as privately) that were either not foreseen or not actively promoted by the government”

    Your champion attempts but fails to make a case for successful government interventions. He ignores how the Koreans picked winners when others could not.

    Westphal does conclude that “Though accepted by many knowledgeable observers, the conclusion is controversial—inherently so owing to insufficient historical information and lack of agreement about the required counterfactual.”

    Jagdish Bhagwati, Anne Krueger, Ian Little, T N Srinivasan and Bela Balassa take the view that outward orientation and pro-market policies were the primary forces behind the Asian tigers. Their export subsidies neutralised the import barriers, yielding domestic relative prices that more or less corresponded to world prices.

    The experience with infant industries policies in South Asia has been uniformly negative. Korea grew fast despite its industry policies rather than because of them.

    HT: http://www.columbia.edu/~ap2231/ET/et25-april01.htm Korean Growth Experience by Arvind Panagariya, 2001

  88. @Ikonoclast

    “When and where will it begin to observably and indisputably break down?”

    “What response will this provoke from the suffering portion of the affected population(s)?”

    “What reaction will popular response in turn elicit from the governing powers?”

    My opinion is that population will adjust to the new realities and technology and constraints will be slow enough to allow for adjustment. So in my opinion it is not going to break down.
    Kunstler describes how it will adjust; more local economy requiers less fuel, reducing the suburban type of living to highly congested populations, a la good sci-fi movies, also requiers less energy and resources. A house requiers much, much more spending then apartments with pooled and common maintenance.
    It could adjust so much to manage needs by pooling resources and creating common distribution, maybe even common production.

    The only way the society could break down that i can see is by political inaction and crazy beliefs in financial or operational constraints. The only way is if climate gets worse and affects large areas of destruction and desperation, which we are seeing all over the world, while government pretending that there are no resources to help them will leave such area with people desperate to feed their famillies. Desperate to get out of zones with diseases, hunger and devastation they will attempt looting of rich areas provoking violent government response but it will be unstopable.

  89. The “Kochtopus” that stands behind Donors Trust, and its role in promoting bogus information on climate change:

    h t t p / / w w w DOT independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/how-the-kochtopus-stifled-green-debate-8466316.html

    h t t p / / w w w DOT independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/exclusive-billionaires-secretly-fund-attacks-on-climate-science-8466312.html

    I’ve edited the above to evade the sp&m trap. Those wishing to link should write the initial referral strings themselves.

  90. @Mel

    But in the right context, science does offer certainty.

    Even science at the high school level. If I trap just over 4 joules of energy in a gram of water, its temperature will certainly rise by just 1 degree C. No august scientific institution will dispute this.

    If you change the atmosphere of a planet enough, its temperature will certainly change.

    Maybe you have the pot covering your eyes?

  91. @Mel

    Ignorant abuse of considered argument is no refutation. You clearly don’t even understand my points. Waste of time debating with you.

  92. I haven’t been following this argument at all closely.

    But the IPCC routinely provides probability judgements about the reliability of its conclusions. IIRC, these are now above 90 per cent for the composite conclusion that the global average temperature is rising and that human activity is the primary cause of this.

    Arguments about certainty get into Descartes/Berkeley philosophical territory pretty fast. But plenty of conclusions derived from science are as certain as Dr Johnson’s “I refute it thus” response to Berkeley, kicking a rock and observing (a) a moving rock (b) a sore toe.

  93. And now, another post from the land that sense escaped from in fear for its safety demanding asylum:

    Gun Nut who purchased assault weapon points it at teenage daughter on learning she got two Bs

    Nope, it’s not an Onion piece. In that spirit though …

    It’s a little known fact that before the Illuminati and aliens from the planet Zog began tampering with the constitution and rewrote the 2nd amendment to what is wrongly believed to be its present form it read as follows:

    Whereas the freedom of a free people can only be sustained by protecting the sense of achievement that the cognitively challenged men can take in wielding weapons of war against their apparently useless offspring, the right of gun nuts with self-esteem and anger management problems to threaten their kids with assault weapons to make themselves feel better shall not be infringed. You know it makes sense, and if it doesn’t, that’s because your (sic) some gun grabbing urban elite tax and spend liberal commie urban vegan.

    You can see why the Illuminati and Zoggians knocked that text out! 😉

  94. @Chris Warren

    Yes, Mel is taking an absurdly Pyrrhonist position. A little learning is a dangerous thing for Mel-type thinkers. They learn that all knowledge comes with degrees of uncertainty. They then immediately run to a “nothing can be known position” or “it’s all just theories”. No, actually it’s not all just theories, a great swathe of it is empirical experimentation and observation.

    Few of these people squawking about uncertainty in scientific theory ever mention experiment, observation, repeatability, corroboration, confirmability, dependability etc. They never mention the masses of confirming data already extant for theories they don’t like. They want to argue about science and they have not the least idea (or not the least interest) in how the scientific method proceeds in practice. They think a little uncertainty means it is all uncertainty. By the same logic the salt sea is pure salt.

    Mel clearly doesn’t understand that thousands (or even millions) of experiments and observations confirming a theory and coupled with positively confirmed linkages to other parts of hard science (indeed to the whole edifice of hard science) raise certain scientific theories to a very high degree of dependability. For all practical purposes it raises the dependability to almost 1.0 for many theories. A caveat it is that is raises the practical dependability to almost 1.0 where the theory’s limiting conditions are met. (I am thinking of the dependability of Newtonian physics versus Relativity physics. Whilst relative speeds are low fractions of the speed of light, Newtonian physics is accurate and dependable enough for all practical purposes.)

    Our daily empirical experience confirms the dependability issue in broad terms. We all know we can’t pass through robust, solid objects, unbreakable by our own muscle power. This is dependable knowledge to a very high degree of certainty. What’s more it is practical, useable knowledge. Sensible people don’t go round trying to walk through power poles or standing on the road to allow semi-trailers to “pass through” them. Yes, modern quantum thoery tells us there is maybe a probability (almost infintesimally small) that a large (macro) solid object could by random quantum variations pass through another macro solid object. I suppose Mel would say this proves that the “solidity rule” is not dependable, thus he can jump in front of a speeding semi-trailer. Be my guest, Mel!

    The famous Pyrrhonist dictum is “Nothing can be known, not even this.” Taken to this extreme we can see that absolute Pyrrhonism is self-refuting nonsense.

  95. @John Quiggin

    AIUI, the consensus position Sigma 5 — 95% certainty of human agency in warming. This benchmark was chosen fairly arbitrarily, which is why that famous troll the deniers ran on Phil Jones about “no significant warming” could be run. The same standard was used to describe “significance” (over a 15-year time frame. It fell just short.

    IIRC, if the standard had been 92.7% the observed 15 year warming would have been “significant”.

    There is as you say, an epistemological problem with asserting certainty, but it’s moot because nothing important that humans decide ever demands certainty in practice. Very high probability always suffices, assuming the prospective risk/harm from ignoring the probability warrants a decision based on it.

    If the decision point is remote in practice, we may continue to gather more data and more closely approach certainty before relying on an inference about the world to inform an act, as this deferral doesn’t add to downside risk/cost* — it’s a freebie — but of course, the greater and more pressing the harm/risk, the lower the standard of certainty one needs to be rational in relying on it.

    * Of course, sometimes “how long before we need to make a decision?” is itself a question in dispute — uncertainties attach to that as well. Certainly, that is germane in discussions of climate, and intersects policy debates as well. It’s not clear how long we have to begin acting robustly as significant communities to mitigate our impact on ecosystem services (or that we haven’t already passed a tipping point) and are now only able to reduce the scale of the harm to a serious setback.

  96. @Jim Rose
    JR, I’m glad you’ve been doing some reading, not just passing on aphorisms from your pantheon of deities – I guess it’s a start. Of course, rather than put together a coherent and balanced argument, you take the cheap path: the tit for tat exchange of selective quotes. You’ve trawled through Westphal (1990) to find on p 56: “Korea’s industrial performance owes much (sic) to the government’s reliance on Free market institutions…”. So if you take his word on that, you would endorse his comment (on page one, so you must have seen it): “This paper argues that the government’s selective industrial policies have contributed importantly to Korea’s rapid achievement of international competitiveness in a number of industries.”

    But these are not contradictory: I can accommodate both statements from Westphal, including “owes much”, but you can’t, as your view of the world sees free enterprise as “salvation” in all places, at all times. On cherry picking quotes, quotes which deal with matters of historical fact are less arguable: like these about the 1960s from “Industrial Policies in Developing Countries: History and Perspectives” by Michele Di Maio (available on the web):

    “There were monthly meetings between top government officials (chaired by the President) and leading exporters. Export targets were set at the industry, product and firm level by bureaucrats who were also held responsible for achieving these export targets in their respective industries, and had to keep in close touch with exporting enterprises (Rhee et al. 1984).” and

    “In South Korea import protection was high, prolonged and selective but, at the same time, the export performance was used as the discipline device for both firms and bureaucrats (Amsden, 1991).”

    So strong intervention did happen. This debate was never (to me anyway) about whether industrial policy was crucial rather than other govt facilitation (eg. education expenditure, business credit), it was about your cover-up of actual events and facts which didn’t fit your theory – govt is intrinsically destructive. Your message is self-contradictory when you tell us that export subsidies neutralises import barriers – this is not a free market story, ISI and EOI are govt intervention on both sides of international trade! The three schools of thought which Panagariya discusses put different weights on the policy settings, but they all agree that government was crucial, one way or another, to economic development. None of these writers are as extremist as you.

    I think of opening the front door to find a couple of evangelists – you and Mitt Romney – with pale smiles and a faraway look in their eyes, because they’re talking not to me but to the shimmering white aura – my soul – which is the object of conversion. It’s not your opinions but your distortions which I object to, which I guess is why our host JQ tolerates you, but within boundaries. It seems that your credibility on this blog is not very high, so I guess the harm from your distortions is minor; sort of a victimless crime really.

  97. @John Quiggin

    Yes, Berkeley is one of my favourite philosophers even though I do not agree with him in several matters. I am not an idealist in the philosophical sense.

    Berkeley’s prose is a joy to read. His construction of argument is clear, elegant, precise and logical. His conclusions are impeccably derived and irrefutable if one accepts his premises. Metaphysical philosphy always seems to have that character; namely that any particular system always hinges on some unexaminable (unproveable, un-refutable) premises.

    This does not mean that metaphysical philosophy is uninteresting or unuseful. Once the unproveable premises are established a lot of useful empirical philosophy can get done. Berkeley came up with an elegant proof that all motion must be relative motion. This was 150 years before Einstein. I do not know if Berkeley was the first to assert that all motion must be relative motion. He did it by elegant thought experiments that left me a little uncertain whether to term those particular procedures of his as idealist or empirical philosophy. Probably they were empirical thought experiments if that is not a contradiction.

    Berkeley also questioned aspects of Newtonian physics (for example the assumption of the empty, absolute reference frame of “space” required to make Newtonian physics work). Berkeley argued in essence that absolute emtpy space or absolute nothingness could not exist as it was an ontological contradiciton. Only “something” can exist. Modern cosmology proves Berkeley is correct. Space is not nothing it is a field (the scalar field) and it has extent and energy (vacuum energy) IIRC.

    Berkeley also questioned the Newtonian concept of gravity as an attracting force. Again, he argued there could be no attracting force if there was nothing (Newtonian Nothing) between the objects to carry or transmit the force. Berkeley was correct and the Theory of Relativity proved him correct by demonstrating that a “fabric” or field of four dimensioanl space-time exists between all objects. Gravity distorts this field. A three-dimensional analogy is to imagine a medicine ball on a trampoline. The medicine ball draws the trampoline down around it and a tennis ball can be made to orbit the medicine ball (briefly because of friction issues). In a similar way, the earth orbits the sun because of the space-time “hollow” or “sink” generated by the sun’s gravity which “guides” the earth around the sun. Sorry, that last explanation is not at all good. I am not a cosmologist nor am I a physicist.

  98. An interesting thought. Is political economy metaphysical philosophy? Does each system have its unprovable premises? The Orthodox Marxists will have my guts for garters for asking that. 😉

  99. @Fran Barlow

    “There is as you say, an epistemological problem with asserting certainty, but it’s moot because nothing important that humans decide ever demands certainty in practice. Very high probability always suffices, assuming the prospective risk/harm from ignoring the probability warrants a decision based on it.” – Fran.

    That I agree on. In practical terms we are on the same page, Fran. We have our disagreements in another area, perhaps on the “terminology and discourse” page. I admit I get angry when I think I have made a clinching logical argument and people still have the “temerity” (as I see it) to disagree with me. Is that a male thing? Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s just a cranky old man thing!

  100. @Ikonoclast

    Well I (almost) never take things personally. I mostly argue because IMO, important pieces of public policy are in question. I am profoundly troubled when useful knowledge or insight — which is the legacy every human ought to seek to pass about and forward — is subverted in pursuit of relative self interest or simply trashed by reckless vandals.

    Anyone can disagree honestly without offending another, and of course sometimes, they become so invested that it can get personal. We’re humans and at times, that’s where it goes, much as it shouldn’t.

    I try to avoid doing that, but unless I see persuasive reasons to rate someone a troll, then I don’t make it my business to recall harsh words exchanged. Life is too short, and there are important matters to set right, in collaboration with others willing to help do so.

  101. JQ, says “IIRC, these are now above 90 per cent for the composite conclusion that the global average temperature is rising and that human activity is the primary cause of this.”

    Wikipedia says, “The scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and it is more than 90% certain that humans are causing it through activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.”

    I would like Fran, Prof. J.Q. and others to enlighten me (not being facetious here) if they can. Where is the uncertainty?

    1. The Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming. This is from data measurements estimates over at least one century. As I argued elsewhere, once a lot of data is in and cross-checking has eliminated measurement errors etc. then an event that has already happened is extant emprical fact not prediction subject to uncertainty. For an event that has happened, the chance that it has happened is 1. No uncertainty here.

    2. Man burning lots of fossil fuels produces lots of CO2 which goes into the atmosphere. The measurement record shows this (as well as it being basic chemistry). Chance that has happened / is happening = 1. No uncertainty here.

    3. Basic greenhouse theory (greenhouse gases cause heat trapping in closed gaseous systems) fully supported by spectrum absorption / re-emission characteristics and by green house experiments. Full empirical proof so no uncertainty here.

    4. The earth is a complex system so we may be missing factors and parameters of its response to increased greenhouse gases in our models. Yes, we may be but the fact that it is actually warming very strongly suggests we have missed no signicant compensatory or homeostatic systems.

    5. Warming may come from another cause. Has all the research to date uncovered another cause? Remember, thermodynamics is hard science. There are only two or three places the extra heat energy could be coming from (a) the sun (b) the mantle (vulcanism, earthquakes) (c) heat releasing chemical reactions other than direct fossil fuel burning.

    Given all the above where exactly is the uncertainty? I for one can’t see where more than about 0.1% uncertainty could come from. Clearly I need some enlightenment as the IPCC scientists know a heck of a lot more than I do about climate science and probability projections.

  102. Ikonoclast: “Clearly I need some enlightenment as the IPCC scientists know a heck of a lot more than I do about climate science and probability projections.”

    Right, so you now admit that you are not God’s gift to climate science yet you continue to maintain that IPCC scientists have got it wrong by acknowledging a degree of certainty greater than 0.1%. Now, rather than repeat things you’ve read on wikipedia, how about publishing that Nobel prize winning paper that sets out your case?

  103. @Ikonoclast

    I would like Fran, Prof. J.Q. and others to enlighten me (not being facetious here) if they can. Where is the uncertainty?

    There’s very little uncertainty about the data. Of course, measurement of climate data today though qualitatively better than it was even 50 years ago is still a practice one wants to corroborate by a range of means. The uncertainty lies in what the data tell us and when discussing trends, whether we have enough data to ensure that the error bars are too narrow to exclude a trend.

    So assuming, for the sake of argument, that we had 100 parallel universes and obtained the same data from each of them, and we found that in only five cases were the data we obtained produced by the confluence of unaccounted variables, we could conclude 95% confidence in the trend line being genuine: 5-sigma confidence IOW.

    AIUI that’s where we are with human attribution.

    We do have proof of principle on Charney forcing. We can measure incoming longwave and outgoing shortwave radiation at the top of the stratosphere and conclude that in energy balance terms, the world is warming. We can also see that the bandwidths that are disrupted on exit from the stratosphere are exactly those one would expect from Charney forcing and match current atmospheric concentrations well. We know that the variance in atmospheric concentrations of CO2e are of human origin from both their isotopic profile and the mere fact that oxidised carbon from conversion of chemical energy must go somewhere.

    There was I understand at IPCC gatherings in the last decade of the 20th century, much lobbying from Saudi Arabia, the USA and other jurisdictions about how much confidence to declare in human attribution, and it became clear that without compromise, no consensus report could be published. In the end, the scientists agreed that haggling over the 95% or 90% confidence level wasn’t a useful exercise and conceded the ground. (Here, I agree Ikono, that your objections to the concept of “consensus” are valid, though to be fair, the scientists were arguing for a 5-Sigma consensus).

    Is there uncertainty? Well, notionally, yes. In practice though, the probability that the salient data could have been produced by some as yet unaccounted set of confluent events is too remote to take seriously — and certainly not one on which any prudent person could rely. Whether one calls that “95%” or “90%” or “99%” certainty is moot.

    The reality is we don’t have 100 parallel universes with which we can compare data, and even if we did, the risks from assuming that we were one of the 10% or 5% or 1% that were anomalous would be unacceptable.

  104. “Is there uncertainty? Well, notionally, yes. In practice though, the probability that the salient data could have been produced by some as yet unaccounted set of confluent events is too remote to take seriously.” – Fran.

    “Is there uncertainty? Well, notionally, yes.” This is interesting statement. It implicitly sets up the split of notional uncertainty versus practical or real uncertainty.

    “The probability that the salient data could have been produced by some as yet unaccounted set of confluent events is too remote to take seriously.” This also suggests that real practical uncertainty about the case is very low, say less than 1%.

    This all suggests to me that the overall method of assigning a certainty-uncertainty range in the IPCC report is politically tainted or skewed. Again, Fran more or less says this. “In the end, the scientists agreed that haggling over the 95% or 90% confidence level wasn’t a useful exercise and conceded the ground. (Here, I agree Ikono, that your objections to the concept of “consensus” are valid,”

    I point out the above not to “win” an argument against Fran at all (it does not here pertain to that “discourse” argument). I point it out to literalists who assign complete objectivity to the (actually politically skewed) IPCC framework for calculating uncertainty. The IPCC report uses the best atmospheric science and the best mathematical methods for calculating probability (I have no doubt) but the framework of assumptions used to set the basis for calculating uncertainty are clearly biased in favour of setting the certainty calculation too low. This follows from the logic of my last post and the logic of Fran’s last post.

    The IPCC report is a scientific report inside a political framework. The political framework has clearly skewed what they are permitted to say about the certainty-uncertainty of the case.

    This is all very unfortunate and damaging to chances of taking serious action. Fran, intentionally or not, has confirmed my strong suspicions that the situation is lot more concerning than the IPCC are officially permitted to say.

  105. FTR, here are the reasons why I’m irked by Ikonoclast et al exaggerating the case for AGW:

    1/ It treats science as if it were an infallible religion, in spite of the regular and observable overthrow of established wisdom by new theories defines science

    2/ It gives ammunition to those on the right, many of whom are undoubtedly being disingenuous, who want to paint AGW as ideological zealots rather than scientifically minded.

    3/ It goes way beyond what the more cautious statements of leading scientists in the field are saying (with some exceptions, like Hansen, who does more extreme pronouncements)

    4/ It inadvertently gives credit to the notion that certainty is necessary before a public policy response is necessary (when in truth the same principle that makes us take out insurance is sufficient for action)

    5/ It means the Left will have egg on its face and be demoralised for a generation or more in the unlikely event that IPCC predictions aren’t borne out.

    I also note with great interest and amusement that many of the arguments that I see on skeptic sites mirror some of the academic hard left arguments that I became acquainted with as a social science undergraduate, for example, arguments about scientism, Big Science, the role of funding, vested interests, institutional bias and ideology muddying science.

  106. Ikonoclast: “Fran, intentionally or not, has confirmed my strong suspicions that the situation is lot more concerning than the IPCC are officially permitted to say.”

    Lol. The IPCC working groups who produce the IPCC reports disband almost immediately after reporting. There is no regime of sanctions against comments by the (volunteer) IPCC scientists outside a conspiracy theory mindset. Having said that, it would be better if the IPCC was a more permanent body with secure funding at arms length from individual governments.

  107. kevin1, you continue to be slippery and evasive about unpacking the black box that is the internal workings of industry policy.

    How did they pick winners in S. Korea?
    • What analytical tools were available at those Korean monthly meetings that were unavailable to other industry policy makers abroad?
    • How was the mass of knowledge dispersed across countless people collated and summarised into bureaucratic hands in a world of uncertainty and constant small changes?
    • Why did the Korean autocrats and their bureaucracy have an incentive to use that information wisely and before it was out of date?
    • What hard budget constraints and other institutions ensured learning, adaptation and selection of the fittest in S. Korea?

    The necessary precondition for a development miracle is that the country is not exploiting a significant amount of the global pool of useful production knowledge and thus is poor relative to the industrial leaders when their miracles began.

    • In 1965, there were many countries besides S. Korea that were abjectly poverty. Most remain poor today because unlike S. Korean they did not adopt new policies that greatly reduced barriers to the efficient use of this global pool of knowledge

    • S. Korea in the 1960s was like China in the 1980s. They were both so dirt poor that a few good choices could overcome some very bad continuing policies.

    • Development miracles occur when policies that prevent firms from making use of readily available technologies are removed on a permanent basis.

    Leaving your obscure Italian economist’s working paper to one side, the World Bank wrote a book in 1993 on the Asian Tigers downplaying the presence of industrial policy in East Asia, concluding that “rapid growth in each economy was primarily due to the application of a set of common, market-friendly economic policies.”

    Korea and Taiwan experienced major institutional changes such as land reform that led to a virtual elimination of local elites that might have obstructed industrial growth (Olson 1982).

  108. Frankly all this sophistry on this thread about the philosophy of science as well as haggling on levels of confidence, degrees of certainty and bone headed truth is not just tiring, more importantly wasting valuable time and resources. As Prof Q, as well as several others including me have pointed out above, that in the language science uses, the probability of AGW is above 90%. Now these are exceedingly high odds, many people gamble a fortune on much less than that. However, what it means in real term is, a risk with these odds would in any other field, say OHS, immediately engage professional risk management. We do have international codified risk standards ISO 31000 with clear definitions and processes. Why are we so stuck with this science thingy, with most of us not having the capacity to even understand our limitations in that field, yet we all practise risk management in our professional capacity as well as in every day life like applying sunscreen. In reality even if the odds would be far far less than those disputed or dismissed, given the magnitude and pervasiveness of the risk posed by AGW, we would be absolute fools not to act and follow the established professional procedures.

    Btw Iko re “Where is the uncertainty?”, as I mentioned above, you are too stuck on your empiricism/positivism stance of science, as indicated, amongst others, by your labeling of FB as a ‘Pomo’. Perhaps you want to look up some solid critiques of these powerful albeit limited thinking tools of modernity. However, in risk management terms-
    “Uncertainty (or lack of certainty) is a state of being that involves a deficiency of information and leads to inadequate or incomplete knowledge or understanding. In the context of risk management, uncertainty exists whenever your knowledge or understanding of an event, consequence, or likelihood is inadequate or incomplete.
    So, you can reduce your uncertainty by getting better information and improving your knowledge and understanding. You can reduce your uncertainty and manage your risk, by using a systematic
    approach to risk management.”
    Source http://www.praxiom.com/iso-31000-terms.htm

  109. On reflections/
    There is a beauty in the last sentence of above ISO 31000 definition of ‘Uncertainty’. I see almost a self referential equation in there, with the (you) on one side. According to above link, the ISO 31000 definition of (you) is:

    “A risk owner is a person or entity that has been given the authority
    to manage a particular risk and is accountable for doing so.”

    So according to ISO 31000, as a stakeholder in context of AGW, I am entitled to ask who is (you) the risk owner.
    btw iko, you have your propensities and I have mine. I really appreciate yours, they are a major source of motivation for me to follow the JQ blog. They indeed dare me to participate and hopefully contribute in my way 🙂 Hope you’ll have a wonderful Australia day and to many more to come.

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