Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chavez and the intellectual fraud of "high modernism"

What is wrong with a stasist approach to management?  Well other than the suppression of freedoms and liberty, the promotion of censure and the abdication of personal responsibility, this article  on the latest project of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela clearly describes some of the key concerns. 
Stasis is all about control and the exercise of power over people.  Invariably it is fused with a notion that those in control are smarter, more enlightened and otherwise more knowing than those they exert power over.  In the name of a socialist ideal, stasis is, at its heart, an elitist ideology.  Not only is this objectionable as an ideology, it also is fundamentally flawed i that none of these dictatorial plans for socialist utopia have ever worked.
Personally, I prefer a politician from the used-car salesman school: someone who understands, or at least has experience with, the vagaries of human nature.  Much rather a salesman of limited intellect who knows who and what they are, than an academic or an intellectual with illusions of grandeur and visions of personal legacy at the expense of the populace.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bali Hoo Is Calling

Some updates from the excellent Global Warming Politics blog of Phillip Stott.  First is a comment on the next UN Climate Conference which is upcoming soon in Bali.  (Notice these shindigs never take place in less exotic locales like Flin Flon, Barnsley or Newark: wonder why?).
Second, is a comment on climate science as it relates to sun spot activity as a proxy indicator for climate variability.  And, third, is a summary of a recently published paper that reviews climate data for the past 2000 years using proxies other than tree-rings.  These data clearly show both the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, and the paper's authors conclude by pointing out that the data  indicate the Medieval Warm Period was indeed warmer than present temperatures by 0.3 C.  Today's temperatures are neither abnormal nor unprecedented.
And this concludes today's lesson on the global warming myth and its slow demise as the dominant environmental narrative of out time.
Wonder if this is the message the vacationers (sorry, conventioneers) will conclude in Bali.  Perhaps their air travel emissions are a last gasp attempt to get present day temperatures to peak: "if the world doesn't have a crisis, we will create the appearance of one with our actions!"

Education and change

The solution to many problems often is assumed to be education and if that doesn't work, then, more education.

Moreover, its not just education that is advocated, but education of a particular brand and type. Oftentimes, educational reform doesn't necessarily mean positive change. Sadly, new educational "initiatives" often seem to emphasize measurable metrics of performance and not real learning nor improved instructional intelligence. This happens at the elementary level, in secondary education and in higher education, where teaching remains a very poor relation to those other main enterprises: research and administration.

At all levels good teaching, good instructional practices and good administrators exist. Sadly, at all levels, they remain a minority. Moreover, as this article discusses, we seem almost pathological in our resistance to institutional instructional learning:
The biggest impediment to kids' learning to read is not biological or genetic: it's instructional. Instructional casualties account for the majority of that 50-60 percent of our poor kids who can't read.

...Does whole language work better than phonics? That's a dumb dichotomy. That's political. Science asks: For which kids are which instructional strategies most beneficial, at which developmental phases, in what classroom, and by what teachers?

We've pretty much answered those questions. But will anybody use our answers? No.

...People say, "Well, if you teach them too directly, they'll never love reading." I've never met a kid who loves something he cannot do.

The UN and AIDS

As a follow up to my last two posts on global warming and obesity, here are the latest data on the real status of AIDS: still there but not out of control nor as extensive as promoted earlier.
Key point:
  • persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV
Another example of well-meaning zealots doing more harm than good. 
When will self-appointed experts ever realize that the public can be trusted with the real data, the real science and not have to be primed with inflated, fear-inducing hype?
Oh, yes, but then those self same experts, advocates and managers would be out of a job, wouldn't they?

Monday, November 26, 2007

IPCC: separating fact from fright

Increasingly the true scientific picture around climate change is emerging.  As it does, advocated of fear are having to change their tune or risk being revealed for the hype-merchants they are.  This latest example illustrates the stark contrast between the science of the IPCC reports and the political media releases still employed to hype fear.
Advocates of AGW have long argued that people pay attention to the science.  Well now that science is no longer extreme enough in its message, those advocates are not redressing their rhetoric, toning down their invective nor adjusting their slide shows.  Instead, they are seeking a last gasp attempt to enforce drastic reactions and seeking to stoke the embers of steadily declining fire of fright they have constructed.
All that remains is for another ecomyth to emerge and take centre stage in political consciousness and the whole global warming circus will find its tent empty and another sideshow sucking up the government funding, the media attention and the political soundbites.  Won't be long now.

Fat versus Fiction

Another major study has once again concluded that being overweight does not increase your mortality.  Indeed, for cardiovascular disease and cancer, being overweight actually increases your life-expectancy.  This report has been largely ignored by the mainstream media which continues to hype the obesity and health myth.
Nothing wrong with being fit.  Nothing wrong with looking good: but that does not mean you have to be skinny.  Whatever your shape, if you're happy with it, be happy with it.
There is no scientific basis to the claims that being overweight will harm your health.  There is some evidence that being too thin is dangerous to your health.
Myths are short on science and long on projected images.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Cult of Eco-Extremism

The article discussed here, and the concepts it expresses, would be funny if they were not expressed in such a sincere manner.  Instead, I can only marvel at such a waste of emotional commitment.  To be that passionate about something and be so fundamentally wrong about it is both stunning and sad. 
Over-population is not an environmental problem. 
Never has been and certainly is not now.  Julian Simon showed this nearly 30 years ago and despite all the posturing of the limits to growth crowd, Simon was proven right by events, time and the continued prosperity of the planet.  The field of demography does not posit over-population as a problem, yet green zealots continue to adhere to this abiding mis-conception, to which they then add piety and a warped sense of morality.
People do not die because we lack food to feed them.  People are dying because we choose not to feed them, not because food is in any global shortage.
As for space, come to Canada.  It has lots of space where there are no people: how many Hong Kong's can you fit in Canada and still have room left?  Stupid question when you think like that isn't it?  Over-population?  At what density and at what level of wealth?
Activism is great.  But activism without thought is a curse. 

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The end of the hocky stick

Often I am asked "what is the science of climate change that you are disputing?". This is a question frequently posed in a sense of exasperation, the query stemming from an adherence to the prevailing dogma I have gored in my presentation or comments. My answer is usually the same: it is in the public domain, it is most often posted in blogs but it is mostly in the interpretation of the science: science measures things, but it does not tell us what they mean. Meaning is supplied by the interpretation of facts and that interpretation is heavily influenced by ideology: most often we get the answer we are looking for.

Occasionally, ecomyths are not just about interpretation. They also are foundationed on poor science, selective science and/or incorrect science.

The major narrative in environmentalism over the past decade has been global warming. In large part, a fundamental part of that narrative has been the assertion that climate today is both unprecedented in its high temperatures and alarming in the rate of change in those temperatures. The selling of this narrative by global warming advocates relied heavily on the infamous hockey-stick graph.

That graph has been thoroughly discredited but proponents of global warming persist in denying this fact, variously reasserting that the graph is "basically still correct", "substantiated by other data" and/or seeking to downplay its role just as vigorously as they sought to promote its use when it was in vogue.

The graph that appears here comes from this post on ClimateAudit. It should forever conclude debate about the veracity of the hockey stick. For those not familiar with the issues, it comes to this:
  • the hockey stick relies heavily on one or two series of data
  • uses statistical methods incorrectly
  • presents a false representation
When the data are corrected, the false signals removed and the statistics calculated correctly, the graph that results both:
  • confirms a Medieval Warm Period comparable to today's temperatures, and
  • fails to suggest any alarming upswing in temperature this century.
The hockey stick is dead, and so is a very significant component of the AGW dogma fed to the public for the past decade.

Not only is the science not a self-evident as proclaimed, our experience does not seem to suggest catastrophic warming:
  • Global warming? Not in South America, not this year.
  • It is enough that people are beginning to question the IPCC and what it doing.
And so, finally, its not really about the science: it is all about the politics.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Trust, News and Democracy

An important criterion for an effective, free democracy is the existence of an independent media, able to comment, inform and engage people in debate about issues in society. Two articles today illustrate how this ideal is difficult to achieve in practice, even within a nominally free and progressive democracy.

The first shows the editorial manipulation of an interview to create the story the media wanted, rather than the one it got. The second illustrates the overt manipulation of media for political purposes.

Sadly, these are not isolated examples. They reflect an ethos which suborns freedom and democracy in favour of an ideology wherein the end is used to justify the means: those manipulating and/or controlling the story are so sufficiently self-convinced by their own correctness and beliefs, that a sense of paranoia pervades all their actions and expressly non-democratic activities are justified as being in the name of democratic reform.

The examples above are a graphic reminder that personal ethics and collective morality are not slogans, nor sound bites, but a habit reflected in the daily practice of life.

As Ghandi taught:
  • We do not need to proselytise either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.
  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
  • My life is my message.
Sometimes new items appear just at the right time. This article further underscores the point about a free media and the selectivity which the mainstream media often chooses to employ in determining what news gets reported. It also underscores how significant a role blogs have played in breaking the information monopoly mainstream media outlets used to enjoy.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bias, the IPCC and validation

A quick cut to the key conclusions of Holland's excellent paper:

  • That the “hockey stick” should have been so comprehensively invalidated by two highly qualified, independent, peer reviewed studies and public hearings, and yet is retained in any guise by the IPCC in its latest AR4 report, indicates how insular and unscientific a body the IPCC has become.
  • Despite substantial research over the last 20 years by paleoclimatologists at significant expense to taxpayers, there is no historic temperature reconstruction that can accurately replicate the instrumental temperature record from 1860 to 2000, let alone to 2007.
  • Unless all important studies are independently verified, it cannot be said that the late 20th century warming was particularly exceptional. And especially so given that no global warming at all has occurred since 1998, a period of eight years over which atmospheric CO2 increased by 15 ppm (4%). It is crystal clear that natural causes are a possible explanation for the entire instrumental temperature record to date.
  • So far as I am aware, there is no empirical evidence published in refereed journals that invalidates this null hypothesis.
  • Wegman et al. showed that the paleoclimate field is heavily influenced by “a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis.” Similar small groups almost certainly exist in other key areas of climate science, such as amongst those scientists who study the instrumental temperature series or who perform the computer model attribution studies.
  • The IPCC WGI is effectively run by small groups of inbred scientists from UCAR, CRU and the Hadley Centre, who have a strong and disproportionate influence on its processes and agenda. Rather than the consensus of thousands of scientists, the IPCC conclusions represent the passionate belief of a small number of scientists whose funding and research careers depend heavily upon continuing alarm. The belief is then shared by a much larger number of environmentally and politically motivated individuals, organisations and also businesses that have evolved to service the emission reductions that the IPCC calls for.
  • The vested interests of these groups are powerful sources of bias.
About as conclusive a summation of the case against AGW as can be made. The science does not sustain the dogma. Period.

Climate Audit - by Steve McIntyre

Congratulations to Climate Audit which took home the vote as Best Science Blog at the 2007 weblog awards (out polling even those in the Best Blog category).

Interestingly, the vote stirred up a lot of controversy, not least of which was the "science" character of Climate Audit, the tenor of which did much to illuminate both the ignorance and prejudice of those making the claims. In particular, I liked the quick way people sought to dismiss and minimize a blog that had not even read.

No matter, Climate Audit was voted #1.
The strength and value of Steve McIntryre's work and of the Climate Audit blog (with its vociferous comment section and band or regular contributors) is clearly demonstrated in these posts, here , here, and here, and are further validated by this published paper by Holland.
The Hockey Stick is broken. Temperature data are not conclusive in their support of the AGW hypothesis. And, perhaps (maybe) a greater sense of accountability and due diligence might be emerging in climate science.

All of these factors are attributable to the efforts of Steve McIntrye and Ross McKittrick, given wider awareness by the #1 Science Blog, Climate Audit.

Weather Channel founder dismisses global warming

Over at Icecap, the founder of the Weather Channel, John Coleman, has written about his views on global warming.  Calling global warming the 'greatest scam in history', Coleman goes on to explain its origins as a dominant ecomyth and does so in candid fashion.  His article is short, concise and easily understood: like a good weather report.  It also hints at a level of frustration at seeing a subject he obviously cares about being so carelessly manipulated by politicians, activists, the media and academics.
For regular readers of this blog, much of what Coleman says will be familiar.  What is significant about his comments are his own public credentials within the mainstream media and meteorology community.  As Noel Sheppard asks, how will the mainstream media react?  Will Coleman's remarks be ignored, or will they inspire some due diligence and honest reporting?
Coleman will not be easy to dismiss and may finally be the "public" figure necessary to lift scepticism about global warming into mainstream consciousness.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The dangers of DIY humanitarianism

The situation in Africa warrants a degree of despair and, for many, the time for direct action and intervention has long since past.  However, as this article discusses, the nuances of intervention, the morality of direct action and the implications for empowerment are just as valid when the acts are by humanitarian agencies and individuals as they are when another country intervenes militarily to affect change.
Most assuredly, direct action NGOs would not contemplate casting themselves in the same light as George Bush's US troops, but morally, philosophically and conceptually, how are their actions different?  When is outside intervention justified?  Or is accountability a much better criterion?  The end never justifies the means: this construct is the first to be lost when people assume their moral position obviates them from following the "rules" of engagement.
In many ways, this latest case once more reinforces the abject failure of the United Nations to function as a global meeting place for dialogue around such central governing constructs.

Flabby claims about food and cancer

This needs to be repeated again and again: despite the headlines, there are no connections between eating certain foods and being a certain weight and preventing cancer. As Basham and Luik point out:
  • the Women's Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial is the most recent, and one of the largest and most expensive, randomised controlled studies of the effect of diet and weight on breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease and stroke. It studied 49,000 American women over an eight-year period. The women in the intervention group ate diets that were low fat and high fibre with six servings of grains and five servings of vegetables and fruits per day.

    There were no statistically significant differences between the intervention group and the control group in the incidence of breast cancer, colon cancer, strokes or heart attacks. Ironically, the women following the 'healthy' diet designed to reduce cancer and heart disease didn't even weigh less than they did at the beginning of the study, or less than the women in the control group who continued to eat as they always had.

Not only did the prescribed diet fail to yield any of the predicted health benefits, diet alone was shown to be ineffective as a tool for weight loss.

If not for global warming, the obesity myth would be the biggest ecomyth presently being inflicted on people.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Housing as a new ecomyth

Housing has been an issue that has perplexed both state planners and the free market for decades. Question:
  • why are there no socialist countries without an overwhelming housing shortage?  why does provision of adequate housing defy state intervention, economic control and the imposition of central planning?
  • why does every successful capitalist nation have homeless people?
Not content with being one of those endemic problems of civilization, it appears housing is now emerging as a "new" crisis for some governments, complete with newly found green overtones.
It is interesting how new governments attempt to frame issues, give the appearance of action and court the favour of public opinion in sanctioning their "targets" (I'd say policy goals, but timelines that are 10 and 15 years hence are not legitimate policy goals for any one or two-term government: therefore they are, at best, hypothetical targets for spin consumption and recycling).
Housing is now a green issue.  But will the dogma add any insight and resolution, or merely act to further confuse and obscure inaction, inactivity and mis-management?
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, at least one segment of the population managed to solve their housing crisis.  The key? Action, not talk.  Doing, not demanding.  Empowerment, ownership, personal responsibility and, most of all, community.
The key aspect of any successful, sustainable activity is community.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Media,bias and issue framing

The media play a key role in public policy debates, acting to frame issues and give direction as to how the public receives information. Now a new study from Harvard has concluded what many have suspected for some time: all forms of media show bias towards leftist politics. Moreover, media coverage tends to focus on the politics of an issue and not its substance.

This situation is exacerbated by the tendency for many issues, especially ecomyths, to be presented in terms that over-simplify science, ignore counter-evidence and present a false, dogmatic representation of scientific information. A situation based characterized as pathological.

I am often asked after a presentation disputing ecomyths how so many other scientists and experts can persist in presenting their perspective if the information I have presented is indeed true.

My answer?

It is that others
either disagree (their beliefs are different), fail to see the whole picture (their expertise is more narrowly confined) and/or they are merely operating within a dominant paradigm wherein so much that underpins ecomyths is simply accepted as axiomatic -- so self-evident that it is accepted without question. Ideas are then framed within this dominant political narrative, and issues of scientific integrity and dispute are subsumed by the larger politics of science, groupthink and a culture that discourages dissent, independent thought and individual responsibility.

We are a culture with tremendous pressure and incentives for conformity. We are quick to censure and in a pervasive culture of fear, people learn quickly to adapt to the dominant paradigm of how society perceives an issue.

Of course, society rarely perceives an issue: individuals do. But most are not operating as free-thinking individuals and their knowledge is "framed" by the manner with which the media, educators and institutions of authority present information.