“We got it wrong”, says Oz, but they’re still wrong

Along with many others, I pointed out the absurdity of Graham Lloyd’s piece in the Oz, headlined “We got it wrong, says IPCC”. The Oz has printed a “correction”
https://twitter.com/MeddlesomPriest/status/381258223413510145/photo/1/large

blaming their absurd error on “the production process”. In the sense that the processes of the Oz, from the hiring of general editor Chris Mitchell and environment “reporter” Graham Lloyd, combined with uncritical reproduction of claims by discredited sources like David Rose “produced” the error. I guess this is true. But, this is part of a consistent pattern. Errors like this have been produced routinely in the past, and will continue to be produced in the future. Regular, but inadequate, retractions are part of this process.

Saving the salary packaging industry

The Abbott government is faced with its first big economic policy decision, a bit sooner than I expected. Going into the election Abbott promised to reverse the Rudd government’s tightening of FBT rules for motor vehicles, at a cost of $1.2 billion over the forward estimates period of 4 years. This was to be funded in part by scrapping $500 million of assistance to the domestic car industry.

Since the great majority of cars in Australia are imported, and since much of the benefit of FBT rorts is dissipated through the inefficiency of the required structuring of salary packages, the reversal of the FBT decision yields only a minimal benefit to the domestic industry. It’s unsurprising therefore, that Holden has announced that, unless the government restores Labor’s assistance policy by Christmas, the company will close down. The general assumption is that the resulting contraction of the supply chain would force Toyota out of domestic production as well, so that the entire industry would shut down.

All of this would be comprehensible if the government was pursuing a consistent free-market line. But no one has tried to pretend that the FBT treatment of cars is anything other than a rort. LNP advertising during the election was all about the damage removing the rort would do to jobs in the salary packaging industry and to employers who depended on the rort to reduce their wage bills. Those employers notably include charities and NGOs which could be aided more efficiently with grants – of course, the LNP is going to cut those grants.

Assuming the government is unwilling to see the car industry close down within its first year of office, the sensible thing would be a double backflip, restoring Labor’s policy. That seems highly unlikely. I’ll also be surprised if the government holds its nerve and lets Holden close. So, I suspect we are going to see a half-baked partial solution which will increase the structural budget deficit relative to any consistent policy, and still only defer the end by a few years.

But, even if we don’t make cars any more, we will, at least, have a salary packaging industry that is the envy of the world.

The Daily Mail: even more comprehensively anti-science than I thought

Much of the climate delusionist material that is recirculated by the Oz, Bolt etc, comes from the UK Daily Mail (not a Murdoch paper, but maybe even worse). So it may be worth pointing out that the Daily Mail is a comprehensive source of science misinformation. In particular, it has been the leading promoter of discredited anti=vaccination claims about links to autism.

Not only that, but the Daily Mail has taken a leading role in anti-scientific scare campaigns about “Frankenfoods”, aka GM food. Google produced this page which seems to wrap up all the conspiracy theories about MMR, AGW, GM etc into a single utterly loony package. It neatly eliminates the need to read Bolt or the Oz?

My only question is: When is Graham Lloyd going to start reproducing this kind of material?

The global party of stupid (slightly updated)

The new conservative ministry has just been sworn in, and while it includes Ministers for Border Protection (that is, stopping refugees) and Sport, and even a minister for the centenary of the Anzac landings on Gallipoli in 1915, there are no longer ministers for science or higher education[1]. This is part of a fairly consistent pattern. The US Republican Party recently vetoed the creation of an unpaid position of National Science Laureate. In Canada, the Harper government eliminated the position of National Science Advisor, among many other anti-science moves. All of this reflects the inconvenient fact that scientific research often reaches conclusions that conflict with the policy preferences or religious beliefs of rightwingers.

It’s striking in this context to recall that, only 20 years ago, the phrase “Science Wars” was used in relation to generally leftish postmodernists in the humanities, who were seen as rejecting science and/or promoting pseudoscience (while some of this stuff was rather silly, there’s no evidence that it ever did any actual harm to science). These days postmodernist and related “science studies” critiques of science are part of the rightwing arsenal used by Steven Fuller to defend creationism and by Daniel Sarewitz on climate science. The routine assumption that the analyses put forward of innumerate bloggers are just as valid as (in fact more valid than) as those of scientists who have devoted their life to the relevant field is one aspect of this, as is the constant demand to “teach the controversy” on evolution, climate science, wind turbine health scares, vaccination and so on.

In the short run, the costs of attacking science are small. Scientists aren’t that numerous, so their conversion into one of the most solidly anti-Republican voting blocs in the US has’t had much electoral impact. But, eventually the fact that conservatives are the “stupid party” gets noticed, even by rightwingers themselves.

One person who has just noticed is Frank Furedi, a leading figure in the former Revolutionary Communist Party which, over the course of the 1990s, morphed into the rightwing libertarian Spiked group. In retrospect, Furedi jumped ship at the high water mark of right wing intellectual confidence, symbolised by Tom Friedman’s bloviations in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Then came the Asian crisis, successive financial crises in the US and the intellectual debacle of climate delusionism, to which Furedi and the Spiked Group contributed actively. So, having joined what seemed to be the smart set, Furedi has finally realised that he is inescapably enmeshed in stupid. The result is this cri de coeur, lamenting the way in which rightwingers are called out for saying stupid things (he name-checks Tony Abbott, Stephanie Banister and, of course, Sarah Palin). Furedi doesn’t deny that rightwingers embrace stupidity, in fact he concedes it, observing

Not surprisingly, many conservatives become defensive when confronted with the put-downs of their intellectual superiors. Consequently, in many societies, particularly the US, they have become self-consciously anti-intellectual and hostile to the ethos of university life. Anti-intellectualism works as the kind of counterpart to the pathologisation of conservatism. And of course, the bitter anti-intellectual reaction of the right, which sometimes seems to affirm ignorance, only reinforces the smug prejudices of the intellectuals who see themselves as being morally superior. (emphasis added)

A couple of things are interesting about Furedi’s piece. First, he erases from history the period of rightwing intellectual dominance that began with the rise of market liberalism in the mid-1970s, and reached its apogee in the mid-1990s, before declining catastrophically in the Bush era. Second, he fails to recognise the way in which the silly-clever pointscoring of rightwing intellectuals like himself has contributed to the anti-intellectualism he deplores on his own side.

Even now, the intellectual collapse of the right has not had much effect on political outcomes. The dead ideas of the right shamble on in zombie form, and still dominate the thinking of the political class, particularly at the level of unconscious reflex. And, even to the extent that rightwing claims about, say, the beneficence of the financial sector, are discredited, the political power of the dominant class ensures that not much can be done. Winning the battle of ideas is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for progress. The rightwing embrace of stupidity is already doing them harm and will do a lot more in futer.

fn1. There are also very few women, but that needs another post.

Book plug: Pushing our luck, and more

I’ll be at Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookshop this evening, helping at the launch of Pushing our luck: ideas for Australian progress, a new book of essays from the Centre for Policy Development. We’ve got a few years to reflect on policy ideas now, so this is a good time to get started.

While I’m at it, I’m going to mention a bunch of books I’ve read, and intended to write about, but haven’t had time

Earthmasters: Playing God with the Climate by Clive Hamilton, is about geo-engineering, often presented as the backstop alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the title indicates, this book is an argument that reliance on geo-engineering is a recipe for disaster. I agree, though I think it’s clear that sometime this century we are going to have to find a way to achieve, in effect, negative emissions, that is a situation where human and natural processes take more CO2 and methane out of the atmosphere than they put into it. That’s not exactly geoengineering, but it is a conscious intervention to change the atmosphere, or at least return it to an earlier state

Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia by Andrew Leigh, economist and MP. A great book on the looming end of the “fair go” in Australia. I’d put more emphasis on the role of policy and less on technology than Andrew does, but that puts me in a minority among economists.

The Infinite Resource by Ramez Naam. This is the book that Bjorn Lomborg ought to have written, instead of the silly and deceptive “Sceptical Environmentalist”. Naam doesn’t pretend that the risk of environmental catastrophe is spurious or that markets will fix the problem by themselves, but nonetheless has an optimistic take on the scope for innovation to allow the human race to not only survive but thrive.

Occupy the Future a volume of short essays arising from the Occupy movement. Lots of useful resources here

Masters of the Universe:Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones. Not a new topic, but a lot of new information and analysis – well worth reading.

The New American Economy:The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward From 2009, interesting in itself and because Bartlett is one of the most notable examples of the intellectual trend of conversion from right to left, evident since the late 1990s, and reversing the pattern of earlier decades.

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway Another older book, but indispensable now that the merchants of doubt and delusion have gained political power here

Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Central Bank Politics: The Myth of Neutrality by Christopher Adolph. Makes the obvious but vital point that central bankers aren’t neutral bureaucrats. For many, central banking is a step towards, or an interlude in, a career in the financial sector, and the policies they advocate while in the public sector reflect this.

That hasn’t left a lot of time for fiction, but I think I have now read everything by the late and much-missed Iain Banks (including all the SF stuff written as Iain M. Banks).

Can’t quote, can’t link

I’ve often observed that the best way to understand Murdoch publications, notably the Oz, is to think of them as dysfunctional rightwing blogs. They’re prone to spectacular meltdowns when subject to the same kind of criticism they happily dish out.

Unattractive as the Oz group are when on the defensive, they are even uglier when celebrating a win. The Murdoch-LNP election victory last week was the signal, among other things for an outburst of climate delusionism on a grand scale. Amid a large pile, it’s hard to go past this piece by Graham Lloyd, with the blaring headline “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”.

Those who remember the conventions of 20th century media might read on expectantly, waiting to find a quotation (perhaps a little mangled) from the IPCC or someone associated with it. But there is no quote at all. The opening para says

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest assessment reportedly admits its computer drastically overestimated rising temperatures, and over the past 60 years the world has in fact been warming at half the rate claimed in the previous IPCC report in 2007. (emphasis added)

. That would be pretty startling if true. After all, historical temperatures are usually estimated with thermometers, not computers. And while some warming delusionists have tried to claim biases associated with urban heat islands (the most recent effort, led by Anthony Watts, was a total fizzle) an IPCC admission that the planet had only warmed half as much as we thought would be a big story indeed.

Of course, no one from the IPCC is quoted, and we are left with the mysterious “reportedly”. The next para suggests that the report comes from that reliable source, the UK Daily Mail. But having failed 20th century journalistic ethics, the Oz can’t manage that most elementary of blogging functions, a hyperlink. So, it’s necessary to do some digging and discover the source is a column by the egregious David Rose. To cut a long story short, Rose is confusing the historically observed rate of warming since 1950 (an annual rate of 0.12 degrees per decade, almost exactly as reported in 2007) with estimates of the likely future rate of warming (generally about 0.2 degrees per decade). Lloyd continues with more errors than I can be bothered with. More gory details, and further links here.