De-industrialism is a plague on reasonable forward thinking

Yesterday afternoon, I saw my new baby for the first time.

From head to tail bone it was 41mm long and 11 weeks old. Slightly too young to check for defects, so we’ll have another scan in a week and a half. The image, albeit not the highest quality, showed a little person, nudging around in its little space. We could see its tiny heart beating.

Over the past few day, I have also attempted to engage in a conversation on the blogosphere, which I’ve since decided to leave alone. What irked me most about the exchange was that I was characterised as arrogant, bombastic egotist simply because I attempted to be critical of factually baseless claims. If you find yourself in a debate, do you not try to present your argument as completely as possible? How is it a failing if you’re not presented with compelling rebuttals?

Trying to present a strong case has never, in my professional life, been a failing. If I took my academic career further, it could have been far more brutal for me with many of the best minds tearing apart my work to test its validity. Scientists are not about listening to what amounts to little more than someone’s hopes and dreams, if they don’t have a strong case to back it up. It’s this ever improving system of critical analysis which has resulted in the many scientific laws and principles that make our modern life possible.

How are these two things related?

The igniting spark to the discussion was one word; egalitarianism.

Presented to me was something akin to the late Victorian naturalistic romanticism coupled with a social ideology of equality. In this case, of course, it didn’t call itself socialism, however. More worrisome still, the theme included a de-industrialised world with all members of our species part-time peasants. In doing so, it was suggested to me, we would all be free of debt and would all enjoy copious free time around our, apparently minimal food production obligations.*

I use the word “worrisome” because, as I see it, that late Victorian utopian ideology has been tried and tested and proved just as corrupt and doomed to failure as the neo-liberal capitalism now accelerating us to resource and biodiversity depletion – perhaps even more so in that the jealous ego that accompanied that economic model, which ultimately starved it of its initial wealth.

The two are related because of work. Work seemed to be demonised in this ideology I encountered. It was considered parallel to slavery.

Well, that scientific “slavery” led to numerous Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine which all in turn led to me, sitting by my wife, looking at a fantastic flat plate, able to represent millions of colours in high definition, which at that precise time represented a reconstruction of “echolocation”, outlining our child.

If it wasn’t for the many thousands of hours “slavery” in tertiary education, the handful of doctors and midwives may not have been present to perform an emergency C-section when my first born was stuck, a problem that potentially could have killed them both.

More importantly, none of these professional people resent their roles as “slavery”. They have all worked hard, received accolades for their efforts and improved / saved lives.

I had to write it as, “many thousands of hours” for a simple reason; think if these same people had to do the same work and tend to a crop, a herd or had to fish as well. Sure, in some places, where the rain is good and reliable and the soil rich and fertile, one may keep an orchard without many thousands of hours of labour. The same cannot be said for Australia’s 20 million people on this old, depleted soil and highly variable rainfall.

Besides, would you want a surgeon, who just laid out compost this morning to head in to work on your heart in the afternoon (fatigue and potential infection) – noting also that he is probably much older than he otherwise would have been if left to focus on medicine alone?

I’ve been on dairy farms, vine yards and orchards. It’s not easy work to be done part time.

This morning news informed me that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has much of coastal Northern Territory on “cyclone watch”. Due to the weak winds, they are not yet sure where the forming cyclone will land, but they have a good idea when it will form.

Without countless hours of atmospheric research and mindboggling ingenuity in developing weather models, we would have no warning of any sort. People would be left to the elements, at best praying to some deity that they may be spared.

We could do as far as to include the reporter who articulated the message in a meaningful fashion to a wide audience or even further still and say without James Clerk Maxwell’s work with electromagnetism and Heinrich Hertz effectively producing the first radio, the reporter would be unable to report to such an audience at all.

I don’t care what field you wish to look at, when all else is said and done, you need full time research and development people. Einstein would have been wasted with the plough and Stephen Hawking is still enlightening the rest of us due to improvements in medical science and engineering.

To think otherwise is comparable to anti-vax advocates who have never seen small pox in their lives and so don’t understand the threat. Thinking that we have enough knowledge today, so we can now stop and focus on another ways of life is effectively the principle to the Amish.

We indeed have pressing problems facing our immediate future, never better demonstrated than in Rockström et al (2009), but turning our back on research to pursue Tolkien’s dream of returning to the shire, aware from the beastly machine, is foolish. To face tomorrow’s problems with today’s knowledge will not do. If we are to weather the storm of climate change, peak oil (and natural gas somewhere behind it – incredibly important for nitrogen fertilisers), biodiversity loss and rising food and water insecurity, we need ingenuity, not 7 billion farmers.

Therefore, we’ll need surplus (continuing on egalitarian fancy) to feed these R&D people. To be truly effective, they should come together. For that reason and for the sheer sake of having some variety in our diets and to have the materials required for efficient farmer / clothing / household goods, we will also require resource distributers. Surplus and distribution requires governance to be fair, equal and effective. To make sense of the various roles, credit (ie. cash) comes back into the system. How do you value physical produce and research output “equally”?

Already you’re returning to a similar structure to the Orwellian farmyard. It’s Cartmanland; designed to exclude all that one doesn’t like, but slowly over time becoming more and more like that which it replaced simply out of necessity.

Let’s instead look at an egalitarian world that provides many of the services and goods (albeit, materials that continue in the system rather than linear to waste, to stop, for a moment, concerns over consumerism) that we have today. We’ll compare a teenager, working an after-school job to a GP doctor. Both earn the same hourly rate.

The doctor of course has debt in the form of household bills, school fees (if they were “free” the support in providing educators, maintenance etc, would need to come from somewhere – in this case, the government, therefore tax or society sacrifice), a mortgage (to think the society around him would build him a beautiful house, decked out however he wished just as soon as he became a doctor is a pipedream – building material isn’t free and often is far away nowadays from where people live, therefore a home costs in some form; the doctor’s sacrifice, societies sacrifice or both via tax), food (he is a full time doctor and I’m certain not every patient could pay him in food enough to feed his family – especially if they’re so sick they cannot work) etc.

On the other hand, the teenager doesn’t even pay board to their parents.

Already the situation is unequal. Sure, the doctor works more hours, but in his reduced hourly rate (compared to the real world), he is only getting by, while the youth is living it up with copious disposable income. Their obligations, input and outputs are not equal, so it doesn’t make sense.

The teen’s father has an accident and cannot work and so now the youth has to contribute a significant part of their pay to the family.

On the other hand, the doctor’s oldest child gets a job and the doctor makes them pay board and the mother too goes back to work with the children now able to look after themselves.

Now the situation is unequal again.

Egalitarian communities were far smaller and most importantly, did not share the diversity of roles that make society as we know it possible. They couldn’t turn on the radio or surf the web to find out any weather notifications. If a baby had a head circumference too large, chances were mum would die (either in child bird or painfully due to gangrene in the following days and weeks – which were both common even as little as a century and a half ago), very likely the baby also. They had no way to stop highly infectious viruses (none of them even begun to understand virology). They had no way to overcome years when the weather didn’t permit their usual food production avenues or foraging techniques to work for them (again, we too easily forget in the west, with easy food distribution just how real famine is).

In short, egalitarianism is not a good social model for major civilizations. Even Adelaide’s relatively modest population of 1.2 million couldn’t coordinate such model – even if the soil was fertile, which much of it isn’t (and a lot of what was, is now contaminated) – especially without governance and other full time professionals outside of food production.

Yet, we do, as a global community produce enough food to feed everyone, the problem is instead distribution. This could be changed if we instead focused our energy on this problem and the problems outlined in Rockström et al (2009) (including population), rather than hold out for a near utopian dream in universal care, appreciation and support, which after all, was not the true state of the societies used as example of a ‘model egalitarian society’ or their ability to support the level of healthcare and education we can do today.

This type of thinking is, in all honesty, de-industrialisation. Nothing more.

Many generations have made a mistake and my generation and those who have followed were born when the fuel guzzling machine was already accelerating. Our lives have seen the bulk of the oil burned.

Realising, at this hour, that the machine has left a mess, we can’t simply jump off at speed – the effects of it barrelling along will continue and we’ll be roughed up in the jump (who knows how bad).

We need figure out how the hell it works and bring it to a stop instead (ie. steady state economy). We need to fix up our population explosion in a humane way. These two problems will take time because they have compounded themselves over time and rash decisions are simply dangerous (ie. think about applying a “one child policy” globally overnight; expect to be working yourself to the grave, because we simply could not support such an aging population).

It’s too late for a quick fix. It will take time and it will take a lot of effort to mend. Then and only then can we head down the path to fix up the mess the machine left in its wake.

*Some of my readers will be aware of my making fun of Poptech for his word mining, to insult me on his own space. I detest this behaviour and thus will not be pursuing the case presented to me further in this piece or resorting to referring to the individuals here personally, where they wouldn’t have the opportunity to defend themselves. I merely wished to take their case – one that is not exclusively their own – and explore it here instead. Hence why I am not linking or naming.

Wrapped in Flags and Bolt on ‘Free Speech’

Although this is simple another example of the same type of hypocrisy that seems forever in the news, I wish to comment on two events I’ve been made aware of recently (in both cases, I’ve not seen the direct source, but only read the subsequent media).

Firstly, there has been a wave of complaints over the use of the Australian flag as bedding (or simply that the flag was placed on the ground) in the new series “At Home with Julia” [1]. At the same time, Andrew Bolt has begun to bark “free speech” over the courts ruling in relation to his singling out of a small group of fair-skinned Aboriginal Australians or, as he called them, “political aborigines” [2].

How is it that a satirical piece can be taken so seriously and cause such offence on one hand whilst Bolt’s coining “White fellas in the black” is supposed to be fair game?

Personally, I find Bolt’s writing repugnant and devoid of genuine intellect. After reading and responding to the post regarding the Golden Sun Moth [3], I made a personal vow never to read his rubbish again.

But so what? Who cares what I do and don’t do. That is my own choice. We all have that same choice.

I do agree with Greg Barns, in that free speech isn’t an absolute right [4] and especially with the following excerpt;

Commentators like Bolt and Mark Steyn, a Canadian commentator who has used freedom of speech arguments to attack elements of Islam over the years, love to dress up their political agenda with the claim that they are simply exercising freedom of speech, and therefore how could anyone possibly object to such a fundamental tenet of democratic life.

But as Justice Bromberg rightly found that this ‘defence’ falls away when you get things wrong as he found Bolt did in his characterisation of how a small group of ‘fair-skinned’ Aboriginal Australians conducted themselves, and when you attack a person’s use of their racial identity because “people should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying”.

However, free speech comes back to choice. If, as the courts decided on the case of Bolt’s articles, he had used “errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language” in relation to a persons  racial identification, well that should be addressed. If Bolt was man enough, he’d own up to pushing unsubstantiated claims too far and unfairly characterising a group of people. He could go one better and then possibly apologise for it before moving on. If history has taught us anything, it’s that this is unlikely to occur.

More importantly (and why I bring it up for the third time), we much remember that free speech comes back to our choice to hear it. Greta Christina says it best [5];

[T]he right to the free expression of political ideas, is one of most crucial cornerstones of our democracy. Without it, democracy collapses. Without the freedom to express political opinions, we can’t participate fully in the political process. Without the freedom to hear political opinions, we can’t make informed decisions about what we think. And without the freedom to hear and express opinions that dissent from the mainstream, there is no way that mainstream opinion can change. The right to free speech is an essential part of democracy. And it is, in and of itself, a basic human right, a value that is worth treasuring and protecting for its own sake.

So our default assumption should always, always, always be that speech should be free, unless there is a tremendously compelling reason to limit it…

…I’m saying that, as a society, we can’t move forward and accept new ideas if we don’t let people express ideas that we find shocking and upsetting. And I’m saying that, as a purely practical matter, if we want the right to express our opinions when most people find them revolting, we need to protect other peoples right to express their own revolting opinions.

Bolt makes a living off of a game of Hathos, there’s simply no doubt about that [6]. That said, except for when  he, or others like him, actually break the law, he should be allowed to say whatever he wishes, regardless of how vile you or I may find it. The same should be said of other media – including the use of the flag as a sheet in “At Home with Julia”.

If you have a problem with them, rather than applying Hathos, simply don’t expose yourself to such opinions. Don’t read Bolt’s work and don’t tune into the show (or, alternatively, you could reply to it as I have done in the past to Bolt [3]).

We need to protect the right of free speech (where the law hasn’t been broken) to protect democracy and we also don’t want people like Bolt playing the trump card of being suppressed, thereby inflating his ego further. So don’t be fooled by his retort to losing the court case. He, just as with the rest of us, still has the right to free speech, but, rightly not to make racist remarks, targeted at certain individuals.

If you agree with me, don’t read his work. If you disagree with me, then continue to read his work and stop reading mine. It’s that simple.

[1] At Home with Julia’s sex scene in Australian flag a ratings flop for ABC show

[2] Andrew Bolt says free speech lost as court finds he breached racial discrimination act

[3] Boltus ineptus leaps out from the office desk to pounce on the dodo

[4] Even Bolt’s freedom of speech isn’t an absolute right

[5] The Fred Phelps Supreme Court Decision and Why We Shouldn’t Look for Loopholes in the First Amendment

[6] Hathos: Fuel for the Climate Debate and Bolt’s Pay Cheque?

Deadly Spiders and the Killer of Reason

“Do you know which is the most venomous spider?” he asks to room.

It’s nearly midday and I’m one of the members of the crowd undertaking the senior first aid course. It is a diverse group from all sections of the large company.

The coordinator of the class smiles in the silence.

“The daddy long legged spider?” someone asks tentatively.

“Yes,” he answers happily and a mild chatter erupts.

I place my hand up and as soon as I’ve caught the coordinator’s eye, I reply, “That’s not true…”

“Of course, the fangs are too small for them to be a threat,” he interrupts me.

“No,” I insist, “they can bite you if they want to, but they are only mildly venomous to humans. Mythbusters even looked into it, bringing in an expert on…”

“Mythbusters…” he chortles back, again interrupting me.

With the mild laughter that follows, I give up. It is, after all, not an argument worth having. From a first aid point of view, it doesn’t matter if the species is venomous but cannot bite or isn’t that venomous but can bite.

But it remains an episode in my life I often replay in my mind over and over again.

With my pursuit for scientific accuracy which has over the past two years compelled me to write, I have of course read numerous studies on the fallibilities of our natural abilities to reason. We are innately drawn to conclusions that may hold little to no weight due to a whole host of reasons. At the far end of the spectrum, such as the very large or the very small, our perception of the universe falls down completely and we simply cannot rely on our common sense at all.

As there have been very many excellent communicators who know this field many folds better than myself who have previously written on the subject, I won’t delve too much into it here.

Instead, I wish to focus on part of the problem that I feel is most easily addressed on a large scale. It’s the disproportional weight we give to personal experience.

In the above situation, clearly the coordinator had never heard from a trusted research facility that the results of many experiments from numerous research teams had conclusively confirmed the high potency of the species venom. No body of research has, after all, found that conclusion to be true and no communicator with a genuine understanding of the science has written general articles to that effect.

He had, not unlike the rest of the group, heard the same meme over and over again from countless individuals within his boarder network. It wasn’t confirmed by evidence, but solely by testimony of many trusted individuals.

On the other hand, Mythbusters is pop media. It’s entertainment. It doesn’t matter that they do give a loose insight to scientific methodology and do at least attempt to draw on relevant knowledge bases and standardised testing techniques to draw their conclusions. Arguably they do this without adequate repetition (being my strongest criticism of their technique). However it is first and foremost entertainment and so shouldn’t be bogged down by the stringencies of real science.

It’s not enough to disregard it solely on being media, however, because every single one of us will give weight to testimonies delivered by trusted media presenters. It is disregarded, just as science is when the conclusions are uncomfortable or otherwise challenge our perception of the world, because scientific certainty seems at large to be less credible than the testimony of personal experience.

Even scientific “fact” can never truly be 100%, but can get so close it’s simply preposterous to refute it. Think, for instance, the “fact” that the Earth is round or that the solar system spins around a central sun – in such cases the body of evidence is overwhelming. The same could be said about speciation and the evolution of transient forms of life over the history of this planet, the life supporting heat trapping properties of CO2 or the success of broad scale vaccination to limit the rate of infection transfer. These “facts” are not refuted by compelling contrary evidence, but ultimately by the limitations of personal experience.

We instinctive put too much weight in our perception of the world when it’s clearly not instinctive to tackle genetics over geological timeframes, the physical properties of tiny compounds that we cannot physically sense or the rate of mortality over multiple generations due to diseases that many of us haven’t seen in our life time. Collectively sharing this perception ultimately acts as confirmation.

I don’t believe that we are well trained in our schooling years to be critically minded. There should be greater emphasis on creativity and also genuine scepticism (as opposed to the “sceptics” around nowadays who claim to be unconvinced by various scientific conclusions) in the education process.

In short, children should be taught to develop a strong “BS meter” so as they are able to critically analyse not only new information but also its source. Creativity is just as essential as it leads to the realisation of the diversity of perception and how wonderful that can be (thinking now of many brilliant works of art) but also how separate it can be from the evidence base weeded out through science.

If we are to be truly living in an age of enlightenment, we must reduce the confidence we have in our own experiences and be more critically minded with information. Of course, we cannot disregard our personal experiences as meaningless – as it has been essential for our survival as a species – but rather acknowledge the inherent weaknesses in our common sense so that we can establish our certainty on stronger evidence.

As it stands, some outlets seem able to convince the view of almost anything, which has led to a growing hatred of science. Such behaviour is pre-enlightened bigotry absurdly attempting to side itself with great minds, especially Galileo. Today, the term “sceptic” is thrown around far more often that it is genuinely applied. This really needs to change if we are to be truly prosperous and improve the average standard of living of our species across the globe.

There is nothing wrong in not knowing something, but there is a fatale flaw in believing we can reach the pinnacle of our social potential swayed so easily by unsubstantiated memes.

Triple J and the Sports Reporter Full of Hot Air

Of course you can never attribute a weather event solely to climate change – it would be just silly to try to say otherwise. Not unlike creationists to a fragmented fossil record, AGW deniers are quick to jump on this situation as a weakness of the theory, when it is anything but. It is wonderful however, that some within the scientific community are now game enough to apply the evidence and openly suggest that the intensity of severe weather events could be increased due to the warming atmosphere and oceans.

This lead to discussions I happened to listen to on this evening’s Triple J episode of Hack Listen to it here.

Firstly, I couldn’t help but find myself annoyed at Matt De Groot – 2UE Sports Reporter and overly opinionated bozo on climate change. I know that there are a few readers already itching to comment and bitch how I have no right to make such a statement – everyone is entitled about to their opinion.

Of course they are!

But as I make clear in my header above – without reason, opinion is nothing but hot air and Matt was a shining example of such. Does he think climate change is real and the result of human activity – sometimes is seems no, but then sometimes yes; it’s just the discussed mitigation options that he disagrees with. At one point he concedes that the other, Sean Kelly, knows more than he about AGW, yet this doesn’t stop him for telling Sean and the audience that his conclusion is correct.

He applies one of the more trivial denial claims; the science isn’t settled. Of course it isn’t – we’ve not put down the books, packed up the monitoring equipment and moved onto something else. Science is never settled – which makes it ever fascinating and a very rewarding career path. Prof. Scott Mandia’s post reminded me a post I’d otherwise forgotten about; Gavin Schmidt’s Unsettled Science (which I insist must be read by anyone wanting to criticise me before they bother commenting).

Just as the fragmented fossil records only strengthen our understanding of evolution and demonstrate the wonderful change over time, the work done since the 19th century in all sciences climate related have only strengthen our certainty of AGW, which is far from fragile by the uncertainty that remains. Some uncertain is unlikely to ever be improved, just as it will probably remain forever impossible to use the DNA like a blueprint for the life form it will create – but we are under very little uncertainty that DNA constructs life forms and increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will warm the Earth.

I commend presenter, Tom Tilley for attempting to keep it from getting silly (even from a caller under no illusions about the reality of AGW, but overly passionate), but I can’t help but wonder why he gave Matt so much room to say, well, nothing really.

Evolution Deniers Vs. AGW Deniers

Following my first post comparing history deniers (as Dawkins’ refers to them) to climate change deniers (CCD), I fell into yet another debate with a character who had me thinking again of Dawkins’ wonderful book, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Firstly it was from a foot note where he quotes Peter Medawar ;

The spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.

However I thought I might continue in this fashion and compare another denier, more strictly an evolution denier (rather than a history denier) to climate change deniers, which is discussed in Dawkins’ book.

In the TV documentary series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, Dawkins interviews Wendy Wright, President of ‘Concerned Women for America’. Much of this interview did not make it to the documentary, but a fuller transcript can be found in Dawkins’ book and even more here. I think fragments of the transcript shows some remarkable parallels to the public climate change debate that persists [emphasis added];

Wendy: There’s no evidence of evolution from one species to another. There’s micro-evolution within a species, but not going from one species to another (Richard: Oh really?) And actually the way you’ve framed this and your closed mindedness, really is a very good example of the kind of censorship we see within the scientific community that won’t even allow discussion about the controversy that says, that we cannot even discuss any evidence that shows that evolution is questionable.

Richard: Right. Where did you study science?

Wendy: Well, see that’s the point. Scientists are now claiming that they are the only ones that can speak on this issue. And yet when people who look at the evidence, uh, go to the Smithsonian museum on natural history, and when you look for where’s the evidence to show evolution from one species to another, all we find is drawing, illustrations. There aren’t the actual material evidence showing it. So while there are attempts to say that only scientists can speak on this, what we have are scientists that are then creating a, um an isolated community and saying that we’re the ones.. uh, it’s almost like a religion in which scientists are the only ones allowed to speak and teach on it and teach everyone else and everyone else must believe what the scientists, what particular scientists say, but the scientists who question evolution are being censored out or are being blackballed out of the scientific community and being told that the rest of the world cannot listen to them…

Richard: …the whole thing [DNA] falls into a beautiful hierarchical pattern just like a family tree. It is a family tree. How would you explain that?

Wendy: And where is the evidence?

Richard: Well it’s in the DNA.

Wendy: Excuse me, where’s the evidence of, uh, evolution from one species to another species? The macro-evolution.

Richard: Well it’s in the DNA. It’s in the DNA, it’s in the geographical distribution…

Wendy: What you’re talking about it commonalities, but again, where’s the material evidence of evolution from one species to another species?

Richard: Well we obviously have a different conception of what evidence is. Scientists accept that as evidence, it’s overwhelming massive evidence.

Wendy: …the ad hominin attacks that people who favour evolution use against people who don’t buy into that, I think shows the lack of confidence in the evidence. If evolution had so much evidence behind it then those in favour of evolution would not have to be reduced to ad hominin attacks on those who say, “show us the evidence. Show us what’s lacking.” (amazingly similar to Nova’s illustration, fig. 1)

Wendy: …What I go back to is the evolutionists are still lacking the science to back it up. But instead what happens is science that doesn’t bolster the case for evolution gets censored out. Such as there is no evidence of evolution from going from one species to another species. If that, if evolution had occurred then surely whether it’s going from bird to mammals or, or, even beyond that surely there’d be at least one evidence.

Richard: There’s a massive amount of evidence. I’m sorry, but you people keep repeating that like a kind of mantra because you, you, just listen to each other. I mean, if only you would just open your eyes and look at the evidence.

Wendy: …if evolution has had the actual evidence then it would be displayed in museums not just in illustrations.

Richard: I just told you about Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens – archaic Homo sapiens and then modern Homo sapiens – that’s a beautiful series of intermediates.

Wendy: You’re still lacking the material evidence so

Richard: The material evidence is there. Go to the museum and look at it… I don’t have them here obviously, but you can go to any museum and you can see Australopithecus, you can see Homo habilis, you can see Homo erectus, you can see archaic Homo sapiens and modern Homo sapiens. A beautiful series of intermediates. Why do you keep saying ‘Present me with the evidence’ when I’ve done so? Go to the museum and look.

Wendy: And I have. I have gone to the museums and there are so many of us who still are not convinced…

Richard: Have you seen, have you seen Homo erectus?

Wendy: And I think there’s this effort, this rather aggressive effort to try and talk over us and to censor us

Wendy: …Well, let me ask you why you are so aggressive? Why is it so important to you that everyone believes like you believe?

Richard: I’m not talking about belief, I’m talking about facts. I’ve told you about certain fossils, and every time I ask you about them you evade the question and turn to something else.

Fig. 1 Nova just wants the evidence.. aparently..

There is a great deal more and if you follow the link above, you can’t help but share Dawkins’ frustration – especially with Wendy’s (probably nervous) laughter. He tries again and again to explains some of the evidence available, which Wendy side steps only to continue to state that the evidence is lacking.

I won’t patronise my readers by further exploring the above fragments of the transcript. I’m sure many readers are only too aware of the similarities. It’s not a question of suppressing the controversy or of those who state that they’re, “not yet convinced!” but rather being sensible about the science and asking for criticism that is of the same level of sceptical science demonstrated in the peer-reviewed literature.

You cannot convince someone of anything. All you can do is provide the best evidence available and leave them to draw their own conclusions. If the other cannot provide reasonable criticism of the drawn conclusions, of course there must be a limit as to where scientists can continue to entertain such musing.

Wendy, as with many CCD’s, also relies on some desperate hope that the peer-review process somehow censor scientists who challenge the theory. Anderegg (2010) explores this notion [emphasis added];

For the current mainstream tenets of anthropogenic climate change to be a product of a broad-scale cabal, peer-reviewed papers by skeptical scientists, especially those threatening to the main paradigm, would have to be systematically suppressed and rejected, regardless of the data presented. Nearly everyone, from famous scientists to journal reviewers to graduate students, would be implicated as a participant. But in reality, the incentives of scientific epistemology are exactly the opposite (Gleick et al. 2010). Every scientist wants to be the next Darwin, the next Einstein. All young scientists dream of truly changing the way we think about the world, climate science, or redefining and redirecting a field. The common charge that “they’re all doing it for the grant money” is laughable when one considers the potential funding capacity of typical grant agencies such as National Science Foundation compared to the capacity of private corporations who would rather not see climate legislation.

He also argues that if there were an attempt to censor contrarian scientists, we would expect to see similar backgrounds and credentials between such a group and mainstream scientists. If a large difference were present, it would be more likely that the sceptics are less frequently published due to less data or relevant expertise. Angeregg (2010) finds;

…these researchers without clear natural science qualifications comprised 30% of the skeptical community, as opposed to an estimated 5% of the mainstream community in R10 (45 researchers out of 929 investigated) (Fig. 1). Of these dropped researchers, 80% had no documented doctoral degree. Examining the remaining skeptical researchers shows stark contrasts with that of the mainstream scientific community. Atmospheric scientists comprise only 20% of skeptical researchers, compared to 43% of the mainstream community, and ecologists comprise 0% of the selected subsample, compared to 11% in R10 (Fig. 2). Geologists, not counted explicitly in R10 but tallied here, comprise a much larger percentage of the skeptical community (25.7%), surpassing atmospheric scientists. These estimates are in line with other more thorough examinations of the credentials, background, and expertise of skeptical researchers (Anderegg and Harold 2009).

Interestingly, Anderegg (2010) also found;

Climate change skeptics/contrarians tend to be an even more homogenous group. Men comprise 98.7% (465 of 471) of climate change skeptics and, based on the data available for ∼60% of the community, skeptics received their PhD’s an average of 10 years earlier (1977 versus 1987) than mainstream scientists. Thus, if one assumes a minimum age of receiving a PhD of 27, the average age of skeptics is around 60, and that of mainstream is around 50, which aligns with the mean age of 48 documented by R10. Others have indirectly documented the political leanings of leading climate contrarians. Jacques and colleagues found that over 92% (130 of the 141) of English language books espousing environmental skepticism were published by conservative think tanks, or written by authors affiliated with those think tanks (Jacques et al. 2008).

Clearly there is a conspiracy in the peer-review literature out to ensure a high quality of published studies! Who would’ve thought such a despicable act could occur!

Another very worthwhile point is Wendy’s continual resorting to the fallacy that if people did accept the evidence, they would be reduced to a lawless society without meaning – akin to the CCD’s social destruction that would result from accepting the evidence behind the AGW theory. If all else fails, we fine a true case of alarmism.

Finally, to continue on Anderegg’s comments on consensus (as I’m all too often attack for apparently relying on it), in the BBC’s Science Under Attack (posted by Peter Sinclair here), Dr. Paul Nurse makes a excellent point;

Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time and if it’s working well – it doesn’t always work well – but if it’s working well, they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that, so there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough.

Paul goes on to simplify “consensus” by using an analogy which complete stumps James Delingpole – certainly a good laugh!

Planning Prosperity: Meeting a Changing World

Yesterday, whilst on a tea-break, a work mate and I got talking about this blog. He eventually asked if climate change was all wrote about (if it all seems surprising that those I spend my working hours around, who also work on many related topics, are unaware of the many thousands of words I poured into the Moth Incarnate blog, I can safely admit that of my readership, none of the regulars are related or even close friends of mine – my fiancée too hasn’t even read a single word of this blog). His question got me thinking – indeed, I never really wanted to develop a blog devoted to the science of climate change, rather one focused on practical measures as how we can alter our activities in a way that better works with the environment rather the business-as-usual approach of trying to modify the environment to suit us. As a changing climate and energy availability will inevitably play a role in developing an increasingly sustainable society, it was imperative to discuss both – which opened up a political can of worms, sending me on an unforeseen tangent. However, at best, this ridiculous “climate debate” is nothing but a distraction – something I was as sure of on the outset of creating this blog as I am today.

It really is irrelevant what is causing climate change – it is happening and requires policies to ensure species protection as well as food and water security. We need to meet the changing world with informed decision making.

It really is irrelevant when exactly any of the fossil fuels will head down the negative slope of depletion – we are too reliant on this cheap fuel, which is causing damage to the environment (from extraction, residue loss – spillage, station run-off etc, ocean acidification and very much likely through assisting climate change) and a human society without the various fossil fuels will be one radically different to that we know of today. Without making the steps early, it will be a painful and expensive rebirth of human activity.

In all, we’re riding the unsustainable wave that can best be called; The Quick, the cheap and the nasty.

It’s ludicrous how many people waste countless hours yelling over the shape of the “hockey-stick” or over bubbles in ice cores – how many of these people have even seen an ice core up close? Having worked as a scientist within a political arena and under NATA protocol, I understand how many of the relevant experts feel – especially when their hard work hits this political tide. I have no doubt that the scientific basis is compelling (I’ve provided an extensive list of scientific papers to my argument, rather than basing it on government reports), but as soon as the political fog sets in…

We’ve enjoyed a prosperous half century, and before anyone tries to remind me of the various wars and market crashes of the twentieth century and early twenty first century, in short, most of that was due to cheap abundant energy fuelling greed. We have had more than a century and a half of war fear fuelling technological growth – so much so that I don’t think that most can find any other reason to encourage further development, except I suppose, for disease prevention and cure (which is a type of war in itself). Even the cold war saw men land on the Moon – something we haven’t done since.

The conspiracy theories that have followed climate change realisation are probably the result of the culture of the past five or six generations; the fear of war, endless propaganda, economic crashes and an increasingly wealthy middle class being ripped off from which ever way they look. Like toothpaste brainwashing nonsense, UN-phobia and a Green World Order fuel a paranoid and caffeine addicted west, while parts of the east fall back on dogmatic reasons to hate in this strange war-torn world.

Ultimately it’s clear that accurate information does not support the Information Age. As always, opinion is the final word – constantly in lieu of any evidence – but now, we all have a soap box and can pit our creative talents against one another. Maybe it’s really the Age of the Soap Box?

Where am I heading through all this meandering of thought?

…you made be asking. This is what I found myself thinking following the tea-break.

You could explain to a man that how he does a certain job is killing him (or depleting the land he grows crops from), to which he’ll brush off and continue the job the way his father had taught him. You could suggest that if the job was changed in a certain way, it could be improved upon, to which he’ll probably disregard as unnecessary or too expensive, or he might simply hold onto some form of baseless scepticism. Even if you demonstrated alongside him, the improved method, proving the benefits, you may not stir anything but resentment from him. However, his offspring are likely to get the hint.

I know that the bulk of my readership (all those who have made themselves known to me) are intelligent people, many are of a professional field and some also maintain their own blogs. It seems to me that there is no shortage of accurate information (more so the blogosphere than pop-media I must admit), but we seem stuck mainly in the first, and perhaps the second, scenarios of the above situation. I know that many have previously argued that changes will come from the more entrepreneurial individuals/companies, rather than through governance, as I have myself – this is the heart of the third scenario, and something that has been the very essence of my drive in writing on this blog excessively. I’m not so interested in complaining how wrong human activity is, but instead I’m driven to explain just how amazing, as well as important, the natural world is and to ask the tough questions regarding how we can better balance our actions with natural systems, however, reasoning argues that you make the importance of change clear – something I hope I’ve done.

In this way, we will still face objection, but those with far reaching vision should jump on board. Once the benefits are demonstrated, it is likely that the more reasonable, but cautious, people will also adopt improved methods. Of course the deeply entrenched will most likely remain that way until their dying day. That cannot be helped, nor can the ramifications to culture from more than a century of fear. As an example, Henry discusses a situation of hate feeding hate – it’s not too difficult to see that everyone loses if this state is encouraged. The problems facing this century runs deeper than just meeting climate change and energy availability, however, the same method of approach is required if we can fundamentally improve life for not only our own species, but the majority of ecosystems.

A pessimistic message will not help, nor will allowing misinformation and hate to take the central stage. A while ago, I suggested a second series to discuss and develop ideas for societies beyond carbon. Stewart was probably correct in suggesting that is was too ambitious in its approach. A few years ago, I submitted a proposal to the Department of Premier and Cabinet for an initiative for a collaboration between government, the private sector and young professionals which aimed at building greater transfers of idea and future planning. Obviously that didn’t fly either. However, I still see the potential within all this and hope to focus more energy in this direction because, as I see it, the only way forward is based on not only good ideas, but individuals willing to try something knew.

Hypocrisy: The endless tool of misinformation

I’ve just realised that our friend Donna Laframboise is back from cracking her code!

Already she has provided three posts, the third of which, Conflict of Interest at the IPCC, is more mild than I was predicting in yesterday’s post, but Jo Nova has yet to comment and I’ve not even bothered with Andrew Bolt, so give it time. The other two posts, however, made me smile.

The first post, IPCC Author Profile: Alistair Woodward,was of surprising hypocrisy, made even more so by my previous comparisons (the quote below).

Donna seems horrified that in a paper co-authored by Woodward, it was suggested that doctors discuss climate change with their patients. She comments, “The day my doctor starts talking about climate change is the day I find myself a professional who understands that the purpose of a medical consultation is to discuss my issues”.

But wait; I thought climate scepticism was free speech Donna (please refer to the bottom link for more)?

Why would you not listen to a medical doctor about climate change? Donna puts her reasoning down to climate science being “unrelated to doctors’ professional lives”.

Yet, she has previously mocked others by suggesting that they say, “Only those we approve of should be heard”…. hmmmm… corrected me if I’m wrong, but that seems a little hypocritical if you ask me.

Obviously Donna feels that her non-scientifically based scepticism of climate science is worthy (or else she wouldn’t be so upset by others disregarding it), that it deserves to be shared (via the web and her soon-to-be published book) and that her untrained citizen audit of the forth IPCC report is credible, BUT a medical doctor has no right discussing a field of science that they have not been trained in.

On Monday, I wrote;

I would ask her, “If a doctor had just informed you that the tests were positive for some infection/disease, but just then a bloke off the street burst into the room, screaming that you were fine, who would you trust? The individual who has spent years studying medical science, who can explain how your symptoms fit into the problem, or some random person who argues that, although you’re feeling ill, it’s definitely NOT what the doctor says it is? Is this random person’s opinion deserving of equal consideration?”

Likewise, if a scruffy guy on a street corner held up a sign that read; THE END IS NEAR, but thousands of experts in physical chemistry, environmental science, solar physics (etc etc etc), after tens of thousands of studies stated, “Well, no, the world isn’t going to end. However, we are witnessing a change in climate averages which is adding pressure to much of the ecosystems on which we are ultimately reliant upon. We’re more than 90% certain that the observed changes to climate over the past century are the result of our activities and emissions of greenhouse gases. We would be wise to reduce our emissions as it is highly likely that life, as we know and enjoy it, will be made much more difficult the more that climate changes.”

Who would you listen to?

Which brings me to the other article, Extreme Nonsense. At first she makes a valid point, “remember that weather is not the same as climate” – although her Global Warming 101 still begs to differ (she also makes a good point in the previous post that “catastrophic” is not scientific language, however, I would argue that “tipping-point” is). Beyond here, she beings to discuss a whole range of freak weather events of recent history, stressing the word “cold” wherever she can. This demonstrates her confusion between “global warming” and “climate change” as well actually working against her argument – we would expect freak weather to become increasingly common under a changing climate (see MT – Confusing Words and Fair is Fair for more on both).

From here, Donna then moves onto the oil scare of 2008, which seems to me to be little more than a straw-man. Sure a lot went on to cause that ‘bump in the road’; it was not peaking oil, but look at the consequences. It’s not too far a jump to suggest that, with the price of all oil related goods and services (pretty much everything) increasing, the subsequent global financial crisis (GFC) was inevitable, or at the very least exacerbated. Would the GFC have happened, with such global consequences, had the cost of living not increased to a point that credit (ridiculous lending to begin with) could no longer be repaid – popping the absurdly unsustainable bubble? I’m not an economist, however, it seems an interesting couple of years there, with causes and effects certainly worthy of such analysis.

Peak oil is hard to predict – made even more so by other buffers (such as bio-fuels, coal and gas), but it is likely to occur within the decade and with it, we’ll see many similarities to what occurred in 2008-09.

Donna ends with, “professional doomsayers are nearly always dead frakking wrong.”

Professional doomsayers? The inserted quote from my post on Monday probably sums up the reality of the professional argument pretty well. It seems far from doomsaying, but rather more consistent and plausible and far less hypocritical than the nonsense one finds in Donna’s work.

For more on Donna Laframboise, see Donna Laframboise and Cloud screaming

Talking Climate Scepticism: Changing the Language of Science

It seems that the science community is finally ready to address “scepticism” appropriately, but so far this has deniers celebrating.

Last week, in Between Science, Media and Sceptics: Do we have a chance? and Honesty, Climate Change and Forgotten Rewards: Meeting a Changing World, I discussed this requirement for re-evaluating just how science is communicated to the public – especially with topics as politically sensitive as climate change. Since the release of the forth IPCC report, we’ve seen a massive movement against science, which has employed countless tactics to confuse and misinform the public, all to stir up and induce paralysis, in a time where change is requires. As an excellent example, this whole strange affair has rightly been associated in Australia to the rise and fall of Kevin Rudd.

The InterAcademy Council (IAC) has just released this review of the IPCC, providing with it numerous suggestions to improve upon what amounted to weaknesses within the politically motivated public arena (another review here, by Gareth Renowden). The hope of these suggestions is to provide a fifth report that is as scientifically compelling (if not more so) as the former reports, but also avoids as many errors, inconsistencies (ie. addressing scientific uncertainties) and ambiguity (to a lay audience) as humanly possible. As we saw with Climategate – one sentence out of millions can lead to a novel of doubt. If we are to be effective in addressing climate change and changing energy sources to maintain our standard of living into the foreseeable future, we need to reduce the room available for Misinformers to exploit for business-as-usual promotion.

I would suggest also a public summery version of the report, which draws heavily on the technically rich full report, but only to a level that is necessary to inform a general reader (but also direct the reader to the technical explanation within the full report, if further information is required). But that’s just my suggestion.

With the style of the IAC review, however, I anticipate people like Jo Nova will soon report a “win for the sceptics”, as she has done in Head of Australian Science Academy issues decree from Pagan Chieftans of Science. Here, Jo has found in the The Australian, an article titled Humans affect climate change. That The Australian publish Andrew Bolt is, in my opinion, a detrimental mark on the paper’s credibility, but that’s beside the point (this article isn’t so bad).

The article points out that the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) has put it’s experts up against anthropogenic climate change (ACC) sceptics, which Nova retorts with, “They finally admit (by inference) that there is a debate. Since we amateurs are beating them in the debates and asking questions they can’t answer…”

Of course there is a debate, as the IAC review also states, “an increasingly intense public debate about the science of climate change…”

The key word here which cannot be overlooked is that the debate is a public debate, rather than scientific in nature. If it were a scientific debate, you would see greater engagement between the participants and stimulating discussions amounting from that. The reason that answers cannot be provided is because the rules applied to both sides are uneven (see Dr. Gliskon’s argument regarding this here). To further illustrate this, Jo later mocks the AAS for attempting to produce a document to clear up common misconceptions (which again stresses the opening point to this post and the call for improved scientific communication) and later she writes, “explain why you are right. Present any evidence. Convince us.”

However, anyone familiar with Jo Nova is also aware of her Skeptics Handbook as well as John Cook’s reply, A Scientific Guide to the ‘Skeptics Handbook’, which Jo, bizarrely, concludes failed to address her questions (I compare both handbooks here). If anything, I feel that Jo has provided an excellent example as to how science has been fallen short in communicating ACC with the general public and allowed people like herself to confuse and misinform in a way that cannot, by scientific debate, be addressed, which returns us to the IAC review.

From the review:

“Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership, the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained,” said Harold T. Shapiro, president emeritus and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University in the United States and chair of the committee.

At no other time has effective science communication been more imperative to meeting the challenges that face our future and as such, it’s good to hear that many establishments are beginning to discuss how to avoid misinformation from corrupting the general message. The first aspect, however unfortunate it is, is to accept the reality of Misinformers – which, as Jo Nova demonstrates, they will celebrate in being acknowledged. As Dr. Glikson discusses and both Jo Nova and Christopher Monckton demonstrate, a public debate cannot follow because one side of the debate is restricted by rigorous rules and the other just doesn’t care about (or understand) the science. What needs to happen is a shake-up on how science and scientists are seen in the general public, how the work is done (ie. to clear up what the peer-view process is, funding etc) and what the conclusions drawn through investigation actually mean (as I discussed late week – we need to explain uncertainty better and on what basis the a scientific consensus can be drawn etc). There is little doubt remaining that non-medical sciences can expect the same level of trust as the local GP, for instance and whatever “ivory tower” that may exists needs to be demolished.

Clearing up the confusion over what climate science is telling us begins with clearing up what science is. Jo Nova doesn’t call to be convinced by the results (although she may not be aware of this), but rather the legitimacy of climate science itself.