Counting to three

Responding to my observation that Andrew Bolt’s estimate of the impact of the carbon tax/price on global warming was out by a couple of orders of magnitude (he calculated the impact for one year, not that over the decades for which the policy is supposed to operate), Quadrant contributor John Dawson jumped into the fray and pronounced himself satisfied with Bolt’s arithmetic (H/T Terje Petersen). Dawson’s piece is too confused for a link but confusing enough that Terje couldn’t see where he ran into error. Rather than try to clean up this arithmetic mess, I’ll step back to something much simpler – the inability of Dawson, and his mentor Keith Windschuttle, to count to three.

Long-term readers will recall that, back in 2002, Windschuttle made quite a splash with The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land, 1803-1847, which attempted a revisionist account of the tragic history of the Tasmanian Aborigines. He didn’t achieve much except to point out some sloppy footnoting in a fairly obscure recent history[1]. The main interest in the book was as an appetiser for the succeeding volumes, on Queensland and Western Australia, promised to appear on an annual schedule. Here, Windschuttle promised to refute the work of Henry Reynolds and others, who painted the frontier as a scene of prolonged violent warfare between the indigenous inhabitants and the white settlers who sought, successfully in the end, to displace and subdue them.

Year followed year, and promise followed promise, but Volumes 2 and 3 didn’t appear. Finally, in 2009, Volume 3 was published. Not only was there no Volume 2, but the new Volume 3 bore no resemblance to the book originally promised for 2004. Instead, it was a critique of the Stolen Generations report and the film Rabbit Proof Fence. Windschuttle said that this volume had been published “out of order”, and that the missing volumes 2 and 4 would appear “later”.

Even by Windschuttle’s standards, this is bizarre. The Stolen Generations debate refers almost entirely to the 20th century, so this volume, on his reasoning ought to come after the others.

It’s truly bizarre to see self-satisfied climate “sceptics” who can’t even calculate a standard error, but have convinced themselves they are smarter than professional scientists. Stranger still to see someone like Bolt, who’s incapable of basic arithmetic, treated as an expert by his readers. But surely even the editor of a literary magazine ought to be able to count to three.

Of course, Windschuttle’s problems with the integers are trivial. His real offence was to attack scholars like Henry Reynolds on the basis of promised evidence he has been unable to deliver. It’s more than a decade since Windschuttle started this stuff and, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t published anything since then showing a single error in Reynolds’ work on the Queensland frontier, or that of the other historians he accused of fabrication. It’s pretty clear who is spinning the fabrications here.

fn1. The Tasmanian history Windschuttle wants to deny wasn’t invented by leftwing historians in the 1970s. It was the standard account in the very conservative version of history I was taught in primary school, based on the tragic and undeniable fact that a people who had lived in a harsh environment for thousands of years were wiped out almost completely in a couple of generations by a combination of disease, conflict and starvation.

64 thoughts on “Counting to three

  1. There was a ‘trivial pursuit’ question I’ve always liked:

    “Q. Who’s autobiography was titled: ‘Groucho & Me'”.

  2. John, I sat on the SRC at Uni with a Tasmanian aboriginal. His family was well known.

    As another example, Michael Mansell (when he was away from the cameras) was well-respected by fellow lawyers as a very effective and pragmatic advocate for his clients.

    The Cape Barren Island Reserve Act of 1912 acknowledged the Aboriginal identity of the community living there. the islands was a formal aboriginal reserve from 1881.

  3. @Jim Rose

    I’m aware of those facts: I don’t think the fact that some descendants of the original population survived are inconsistent with my observation that they were almost completely wiped out.

  4. @John Quiggin my SRC comrade was from the maynard family.

    His family and the mansell family were listed in the schedule of the Act for the purpose of the division of land on cape barron island. They were listed as half castes.

  5. More often than not the justice system has frustrated the dispensation of justice to Aborigines. In the case against John Hallett it was found that

    Whilst it is the case that this Court as a consequence, albeit it with a sense of unease and misgiving, therefore must find that the Applicant has not discharged the burden of proof incumbent upon him

    The apparent lack of proof could be due to many factors, shame being one of them. It is difficult to imagine the evidence required to prove the case.

    Tiwi Islands have a vary high rate of attempted suicide and suicide, 10 times the national average.

  6. Jim @2/4, the version of Tasmanian history that John learned at primary school was the same one that I learned, and was underpinned by the display of Truganini’s remains at the Melbourne museum with the advice that she was the “last” of the Tasmanian Aborigines. As John says, that this account was wrong in suggesting that Tasmanian Aborigines were totally wiped out does not mean that they were not decimated in the course of European colonisation. That the Cambodian and East Timorese peoples survive today does not negate the fact that both experienced atrocious massacres under the Pol Pot regime and the Indonesian occcupation respectively.

  7. I grew up in Tasmania in the 1960’s. I remember sitting in a history class next to Shane Thomas, who was a mystery to us, to our teacher, and perhaps even to Shane. Shane was very dark skinned. He said he was a “Cape Barren Islander”, we said he was a “boong”, and our history teacher told us that the Tasmanian Aborigines were extinct.

  8. Getting back to the carbon price surely the argument is not over small numbers but possible future benefits of unilateral action. These include early mover advantage and the formation of powerful alliances. See also the Wiki article on the paradox of voting.

    By doing some hard yards early Australia should have an advantage when TSHTF. That could be early depletion as we may see with east coast gas or if say the EU embargoed trade with greenhouse non-triers. All theoretical perhaps. The fact remains there is a possibility that small emissions cuts could become large, something Bolt can’t acknowledge.

  9. John,
    Stick to topic, in this case climate. “Bait and switch” – to Windschuttle – makes you look very second-rate. And defensive. Don’t be bitter, ever!
    You got caught out with a mistake on the climate stuff. No big deal, everyone makes some mistakes. You are still a smart bloke. Fess-up and move on, then you can still be respected.
    Casey

  10. Professor, if you want to run clean-up operations on Andrew Bolt, you will be chasing your tail, to very little effect. He quite shamelessly misrepresents and misquotes and fails to understand the most simple and obvious stuff. But unfortunately the proper, accurate response requires detail and precision that his readers simply aren’t interested in, even if they have the capacity. He will never apologise, never correct the record, he allows (and therefore by his silence condones) the worst forms of hate speech to flourish, he is an evil man, and Mark Twain’s aphorism “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience” is true (not that Bolt is stupid, sadly).

  11. As I said in the comments last year:

    “No point having this argument. Bolt [and boneheads like Dawson] wins regardless. He just creates the narrative that the carbon tax won’t have much effect, and even the experts can’t, apparently, seem to agree on the (very small) amount of benefit. To the average punter it is very compelling, particularly if he can keep an exchange going for a long time. The best way is to ignore him.”

    Boneheads, like Dawson, would rather ignore science and live with 2-6 degree temp rise, rather than start now at chipping away at the issue with the best tools and policy, currently, available.

  12. I think I would have preferred a treatment of the alleged error than switching the subject to Windschuttle. I have no love of Windschuttle’s revisionism and his polemical grand narratives which are just as lazy and poorly founded as the caricature he would have us believe about orthodox black armband history.

    Now, certainly you can make an argument that there similarities about the kinds of lapses in empirical standards and selectivity we see within certain circles on different topics. But it’s a generalisation that doesn’t contribute much to the discussion within proper context.

  13. @Will The error is explained in the opening sentence of the post (the bit in parentheses), as well as in the post linked in my comment above. It’s so obvious that I can’t see any way to explain it further. If there’s anything you find unclear, tell me, and I’ll do my best to explain.

  14. Amazing @John Quiggin Since you are fond of biblical references, the story that springs to mind is the one where Jesus turns a few loaves and fishes into a feast for a multitude. You can do better, you can pick a crumb from the loaves and turn it into enough rotten fish to keep your followers sniffing the aroma for days.

  15. @Prof. Quiggan.

    Thanks. I think I understand Bolt’s error from your previous posts. I was more referring to what you called confusion in Dawson’s post.

    I try not to give hits to places where the ratio of polemics to modest argumentation is too high, or where there is an absence of good faith and the charitable principle. I concluded a while back that quadrant was hardly carrying on in the best traditions of Burkean conservatism.

  16. @Will

    Google Dawson’s piece, also in Quadrant, and I think you will see why I did not bother trying to make sense of it.

  17. @John Dawson
    Difficult to know where to begin, John.
    Sir Francis Bacon (FYI, lived at the start of the last mini-ice age – i.e. it’s been getting hotter for the last 400 years for some unknown reason) opined in one of his essays that:

    “speaking maketh a ready man, writing maketh an exact man, and reading maketh a full man”.

    A full reading of the essay would reveal that he considered that all three elements were positive attributes.

    Your contribution (#15) appears to run counter to at least two elements of this aphorism.

    That said, I shall answer some of your questions as best I can (none of us is perfect).

    1. There is no Strait Professor (“s” should be “S”?) ( Have you noticed that their’s nothing lowers the status of a protagonist who can’t spell in, say, Quadrant? See what I mean?)

    2. Yes! You’ve “got it”. The good Professor’s ability to walk, chew gum and fart in the same article is seen here at it’s best. He cynically, unfeelingly but with a dash of humour, I feel, alludes to both yours and the good Windschuttle’s inability to “count to three” – the title of the essay. For example, your attempted sarcastic reference to 0.0034 vis a vis 0.0038 appears to be ignorant of the fact that the difference is more than 10%; but of course climate deniers keep convincing other “boneheads” that there’s no difference between a CO2 concentration of 340ppm or 380ppm in the atmosphere.

    And finally,

    3. No – enlightened Professors in ANY faculty at ANY university are not “supposed to educate boneheads” like you. All boneheads are usually eliminated from the system before hand unless they attend Bond University.

    4/10. Resubmit for reconsideration.

  18. Actually, I don’t mind educating anyone who wants to learn, even “boneheads”. Those, like JD, who have no desire to learn, need to be schooled first. Those, like Windschuttle and Bolt, who actively seek to distort the truth in the service of their tribal prejudices, are beyond help.

  19. Dawson’s piece is too confused for a link but confusing enough that Terje couldn’t see where he ran into error.

    If there is an error it is not undiscovered by me as a result of the article being confusing (although that may also be the case). It would be undiscovered by me because I’ve been too lazy to look. At some point I hoped that bringing parties together in these pitching battles might yield some light but lately I’m convinced that we will have to just enjoy the heat because that is all we can reasonably expect. Still it has some modest entertainment value.

  20. @John Dawson

    Thank you for your anticipated reply, John.

    When or if you read my comment with less haste and less bile, you may notice that what I wrote was:

    “Have you noticed that their’s nothing lowers the status of a protagonist who can’t spell in, say, Quadrant? See what I mean?”

    Note: “See what I mean”?
    I’ll say it again for boneheads: “See what I mean?” (referring to my deliberate and cynical misspelling of “there’s”)

    It’s a joke, Joyce? ……Ah, forget it.

    Having established that you can’t spell and are unable to recognise irony and are willing to quote out of context AND you’ve got a GPA of 4 so far (I’m nothing but fair}, shouldn’t you be nominating for an LNP seat? You tick all the boxes.

    You’re ministerial material, mate!

  21. @TerjeP

    Certainly, I’ve been entertained, as, clearly, have most commenters here. “Boneheaded stupidity” is the fun category, after all.

  22. Yes @John Quiggin the irony joke, and the “0.0034 vis a vis 0.0038 … difference is more than 10%” arithmetic joke, and the double entendre joke, not to mention the joke played on the Australian taxpayers, come to think of it this site is one.

  23. It’s staggering to be confronted after all this time by the arrogance of imbecilic dullards who presume to tell expert scientists that they are wrong, maybe it’s just an inevitable outcome of the bell curve for intelligence distribution across the population because it seems that some people simply don’t have the self-awareness to understand how stupid they are. Maybe science rejection is best explained by psychiatry or psychology.

    My take on this is that if someone is not an expert and they disagree with the consensus view of experts in a particular field then it is not the case that their opinion is worth less than those of the experts but their opinion is in fact worth nothing scientifically. Perhaps it is not that bizarre that Bolt or other celebrity talking heads conform to what a stupid person’s idea of what an intellectual or expert is.

    The aforementioned protagonists may well be misinformed, stupid, lying, crazy or intellectual prostitutes but they produce a product for an audience, in Bolt’s case the audience being businesses that advertise on his various media platforms and the product being a specific demographic that can be sold to those businesses. Tribal they might be but As Jonathan Green says in a recent article on the ABC Drum ‘Insight isn’t the main game in 24/7 punditry’

    The great skill in demand is not informed perspicacity, but the ability to operate coherently within a given medium, to fill time and space with something plausible. Insight comes a distant second.

    Clive Hamilton has said that about 10% of people deny global warming and whilst on the surface their arguments use science they will simply never be convinced to change their minds.
    In this sense Bolt is simply supplying an aggregation service. In contrast Windshuttle is however just full of it.

  24. “Is John Howard lying about the reasons for going to war in Iraq?”

    Fairfax has nearly 20,000 responses so far and 93% say “Yes”!

    But, particularly for Bolt – I’ll repeat this:

    There is a remarkable correspondence in attitude to truth between pragmatists and propagandists. Both justify the promotion of false beliefs wherever it is supposed that false beliefs have socially useful consequences. Indeed the principal difference between them consists perhaps in this: the ordinary propagandist may know that he is telling lies, but the pragmatist-propagandist, having redefined truth to make it indistinguishable from propaganda, is likely to become inescapably trapped in the supposedly ‘useful’ deceptions and illusions he approves as ‘warranted assertibilities’

  25. The Alex Carey essay that Megan quoted can be found here

    The premise is that in political discourse the terms “true” and “false” have been discarded for “good” and “bad”. This was recently used by Murdoch who said that Iraq War was a good idea poorly executed.

  26. It’s the old story. “Bulldust baffles brains.” Though I think the correct saying should be; “Bulldust baffles brains that aren’t trained properly.” Education is the key. Properly trained brains pay attention to empirical evidence and can spot fallacies, illogic and specious reasoning. We have to ask ourselves why a significant proportion of our population is so ill-educated that it falls for the lines peddled by snake-oil merchants like Dolt and Windsock.

    The corporate capitalist system prefers to keep the population narrowly competent and broadly stupid. It’s much easier to exploit and control a population that is stupid about the big picture. This system has a vested interest in narrow, technical ecucation. It teaches people what to do but not why they do, nor the context of what they do, nor the broader picture (including history and analysis of trends) and certainly not to think critically and independently. The last is anathema to the system.

  27. Too many on this blog subscribe to what Popper called the conspiracy theory of ignorance:

    The con­spir­acy the­ory of ignor­ance which inter­prets ignor­ance not as a mere lack of know­ledge but as the work of some sin­is­ter power, the source of impure and evil influ­ences which per­vert and poison our minds and instil in us the habit of res­ist­ance to know­ledge

    The truth is plain to see but for malevolent forces.

    The possibility that are ignorance is large in the social sciences and many consequences are unintended is not as an exciting an explanation. It is so much easier to believe that your opponents are ignorant or steeped in moral turpitude, preferably both.

    Milton Friedman argued they people agree on most objectives, but differ on the predicted outcomes of different policies and institutions.

    Then there is Richard Zeckhauser‘s taxonomy of disagreement:

    Positive disagreements can be over questions of –
    1. Scope: what elements of the world one is trying to understand
    2. Model: what mechanisms explain the behaviour of the world
    3. Estimate: what estimates of the model’s parameters are thought to obtain in particular contexts

    Values disagreements can be over questions of –
    1. Standing: who counts
    2. Criteria: what counts
    3. Weights: how much different individuals and criteria count

    Any positive analysis will tend to include elements of scope, model, and estimation, though often these elements intertwine; they frequently feature in an implicit or undifferentiated manner. Likewise, normative analysis will also include elements of standing, criteria, and weights, whether or not these distinctions are recognized.

  28. @Ikonoclast Would you say Ikonoclast that this site (other than me & maybe a few others) exemplifies the “properly trained brains” that you describe? (my question is not rhetorical)

  29. @Jim Rose

    Ideology looks like common sense from the inside. Professor John Quiggin has alerted us to this phenomenon. Indeed, from the inside an ideologue does not even realise he or she is being an ideologue unless he or she has insight. People who work from inside the dominant ideology have their ideological prejudices constantly confirmed and affirmed. These people are usually the least capable of perceiving that their ideology is an ideology. They simply believe it is basic reality and truth.

    People who question dominant ideologies are already far more aware of ideologies; those of others and those of themselves. People who question dominant ideologies take nothing for granted but critically examine the truth claims of every ideology, religion and metaphysical system.

    As Adam Smith wrote (or repeated from an older writer), “Every profession is a conspiracy against the public.”

    What Smith meant in essence is that every special interest group “conspires” and certainly plans, cooperates internally, competes externally, pleads, lobbies, propagandises, indulges in apologetics and organises to further its own interests sometimes against the best interests of the general public or the world or the environment. Thus it is not merely ingorance, unless Jim Rose thinks every special interset group is ignorant, it is the organized self-interest of the dominant classes which determines many, though not all, outcomes in society (sans a revolution).

    Being part of the (currently) dominant, triumphal and triumpalist ideology of capitalism makes people blind to their own ideology, its fallacious aspects and its unsustainable and temporary nature; to say nothing of its oppression, exploitation and immoral nature.

    Of course for anyone to even raise these issues and dare to question the current (apparently) successful and triumphant system, will cause some adherents of the current dominant to immediately imagine and claim that such critics are “Communists” or Totalitarians, such is their simplistic Manichaean thinking.

  30. @Jim Rose
    That guide is a good guide for an idealogue to avoid respecting oposing viewpoint.
    It is a defence of an ideological person. It is a good guide in avoiding to see the reality. Message from this guide is: “Reject any discussion!”

    In general, that guide would be true, but few ambigous words added and prescribed examples lead to rejections of facts brought up by oposition to an ideologue.

    How i did come to my standings. Major influence on me have the college courses on Logic, but most importarnt was understanding importance of Logical Fallacies. It is very difficult to apply them at all times, but i believe i manage to apply them when reading and watching TV, not so easy to apply them in a discussion. Pay highest attention and critique to words of people with power, any kind of power.
    This is short of what Ikonoclast wrote about ideology.

    An easiest check on ideology is to check it against history and what worked.

    Example of history that work: the most prosperous time in last 2000 years of human history was under Keynesianism with high marginal tax of above 90% and huge involvement of government into the economy.

  31. Also, doubt my own thinking and facts often. Reinvestigate them untill you get the full picture of the whole world.

  32. @Jim Rose

    LOL. That seems more like a guide on how to avoid religion and politics at dinner parties. It contains the implicit assumption that oneself is never an ideologue but the other person is (if of an opposing viewpoint. It’s really a classic case of conservative projection. Conservatives never believe they are ideologues only all those who disagree with them are ideologues apparently.

    That part about there being nothing wrong with having strong beliefs is particularly erroneous. Unexamined passionate beliefs, particularly those with no support from empirical facts or even contradicted by empirical facts , are the worst kind of thinking possible.

  33. @Jim Rose

    Bolt does do his best to obfuscate the truth in so many areas. And it’s pretty clear that he does so to deliver an audience to his advertisers. But calling him malevolent – that seems a bit stiff…

  34. Almost none of the representations of conservatives spewed up on this site bare any relation to the truth at all. I have to presume you lot never read those you malign, because if you do you are either delusional or liars.

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