Monday, August 28, 2006

Evolving science

File this under the heading of "the science is still evolving". The metric most understood by the public -- surface temperature -- is being recognized as a poor metric for the understanding of climate change.

Every topic has its own timelife, after which public attention is focussed on other, more salient issues. So with this particular ecomyth, at what point does the general public turn away from global warming stories and at what point are they no longer newsworthy enough for the media to carry them?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Forget the World Bank, Try Wal-Mart

Agents of change. Stasist thinkers will have you believe that no change can be achieved unless directed, controlled and/or initiated by government action. And there can be no government action without an accompanying bureaucracy. Thus, we get legions of articles and books on "management" and the inherent role of governance in the economy. In contrast, dynamists will suggest that if change is desired, get government (and especially bureaucracy) out of the way and let entrepreneurship create that change.

In empirical rather than theoretical terms, Strong suggests we should just 'forget the World Bank' and recognize what Wal-Mart has done to alleviate world poverty. This will be difficult for many to acknowledge as they are predisposed against seeing any benefits from large corporations.

Acknowledging the benefits of Wal-Mart's activities also requires that we recognize that another axiomatic construct is well past its due date: the necessity for world change to be managed by bureaucracies and controlled by governments.

The power of the internet

The world is indeed getting much smaller, at least in terms of information and communication. As this letter by AFM illustrates, all those environmental groups in the West who claim to be speaking on behalf of the developing world had better ensure that they are in accordance with what their presumed constituency actually believes.

The internet brings accountability much closer for all, interest groups as well as corporations, and the chief beneficiaries are those who can harness the power of the net to consistently flex that power of accountability.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Preference for Ignorance

A lot of people see environmental issues as something that either can be, or should be, easily resolved if only more attention was paid to the facts -- particularly those facts established by science. Indeed, environmentalism as an ideology is predicated on the veracity of its science: we know this is happening, we know because the science tells us this, and, thus, we must act in this prescribed way to "fix" it.

However, the problem arises as to what it is we really know, how and what the "science" is, and is not, able to tell us. As this discussion by Kling illustrates, in many areas of policy concern our presumed "facts" are not incontrovertible as they stem from observational studies that 'often result in incorrect attributions of causal relationships'.

Most often observed data are found to have a statistically significant correlation with another variable. The inference that there is, therefore, some causal relationship between those variables is then subject to the ideological premises of the researcher(s) which may, or may not, have any basis in scientific "fact".

Most often, because of the nature of scientific inquiry, relationships are based on theories, conjecture and/or guess work, each adjective being a less desirable descriptor of "acceptable" scientific procedure. One person's "theory" is another guestimate, one person's hunch another's hypothesis for verification. And that is the point. In laboratory science, hypotheses can be tested and refuted by experimentation. In the real world of public policy, experimentation with live bodies is rarely as simple -- hence our use of observational studies in the first place.

The solution? To examine observational studies not only for their study protocols but also for their assumptions and ideological premises. But it also is incumbent on more researchers to become aware of, and to state clearly, what their ideology is and what are the resultant premises under which their research findings should be viewed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Liberal, Radical and Progressive Manifesto

An excellent review by Tim Worstall of the new book by Deepak Lal, Revising the Invisible Hand. Clearly Lal's book struck a resonant tone with Worstall because it shows that "just about every goal held dear by those who call themselves radicals and progressives is best reached by exactly the opposite policy prescriptions that they put forward".

Lal looks at the reality of today's globalisation and effectively dispenses with many of the popular myths that surround contemporary world trade and development. What will be interesting, will be to see who amongst the "liberal" writers, thinkers, commentators and voices (a) bother to read Lal's book and (b) do so with an open mind.

It is perplexing contradiction that many who espouse to be liberal in their thought are in fact the most closed minded to alternative perspectives that might cause them to re-assess their beliefs and ideas.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

advocacy or bias?

This article was brought to my attention by a colleague. (Edit: here is a subsequent response by Terence Corcoran).

Notwithstanding the substantive discussion on climate and the motivation behind the article, it is interesting as it represents a good example of political correctness in environmentalism. In particular, it represents a good illustration of the failure to distinguish advocacy from bias.

Advocacy is the representational activity of vested interests within a democracy. It is the promotion of a particular set of policy choices with an intended outcome. Those choices reflect the varying beliefs, ideologies and values of the promoters. Advocacy is best characterized by an explicit disclosure of assumptions, beliefs and sources of support.

Bias is a systematic distortion of information and/or the wilful manipulation of data in an attempt to prejudice a result toward a preconceived outcome. It is often implicit and imbedded within the inherent, unstated, assumptions of a study and/or on behalf of its audience. (For example, the fact that the defining links I have used here are from Wikipedia is sufficient for some people to be dismissive of the whole post).

The fallacy in political correctness is to assign attributes of advocacy to those who are correct (government funding, refereed journals, consensus science, the Globe and Mail, media that agrees) and to accuse those who disagree as being biased (private-sector funding, blogs, skeptics, the National Post, media that presents a counter argument). Issues of clarity, accuracy, precision and ideology are subsumed within this characterization and instead those that are politically correct are praised and automatically exempt from accountability, whilst those who deviate from that norm are subject to personal scrutiny, vilification and innuendo.

The reality in environmentalism is, of course, that there is substantial advocacy of a myriad of political opinions. Moreover, bias does not respect nor observe prescribed political labels: it is common throughout all policy issues. And, as most glaringly illustrated by the recent examination of climate science in the NAS and Wegman reports (see my previous posts), bias has been a rampant characteristic of the government-funded, IPCC inhabited, refereed journal world of consensus climate science in the past 10-15 years.

Such nuances are seldom found within the mainstream media. Sadly, those who prescribe to political correctness don't really want their world to be confused by such subtleties.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Reason: Is America Over a Barrel?

A thoughtful piece by Ronald Bailey, reflecting on the volatility of present oil prices (presently sitting at upwards of $75 a barrel).

Present high prices have much more to do with fear in commodity markets than any long-term indications of a shortage of oil reserves. Consequently, high prices are temporary and will rescind once investment in new supply catches up to demand. And because oil prices dictate the prices for all forms of energy, the eventual drop in prices in the mid-term has big implications for investment in other forms of energy supply, such as nuclear, low-emission coal plants and "green" options such as windmills.

If, as predicted, oil drops back to a world price of $35 per barrel by 2010, it calls into question the economic viability of any renewed nuclear programs, clearly makes any investment in wind energy totally uneconomic and leaves prudent policy makers with renewed investment in low-emission coal fired generating plants as the best option for sustained electricity production at a manageable cost and low environmental impact.

So the next time you read about high energy prices and the phrase "global warming" is invoked, check to see what future energy options are being promoted. Low emission coal is a proven and viable technology, particularly if high prices and environmental impacts are high priorities. But if the concern for "global warming" is merely a device for an idealogical attack on growth, progress, development, capitalism and/or big oil, the existence of a technological solution for increased energy supply will be dismissed in the exhortation that consumers must reduce demand, conserve and otherwise downsize their lifestyle to fit the approved, reduced and regulated lifestyle prescribed by those who would like the planet to conform to their beliefs.

For those who wish to impose idealogical environmentalism on the rest of us, a future with much lower oil prices will be most inconvienient. For those in the real world, especially those in China and India entering the fray as first-time car owners in the next decade, the drop in oil prices will be most welcomed.