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Tag Archives: Science

World-leading

2015, even at this early stage, has been a year of superheated politics and partisan disagreements. Labor, along with much of the rest of Australia, has been horrified by the Government’s approach to fiscal management. The cruel and heartless policies that are the inevitable result of considering vulnerability and need as moral failings, combined with the protection and mollycoddling provided to the rich and powerful – in the Liberal worldview, the morally superior – have disenfranchised large proportions of the Australian electorate.

In return, the Coalition continues to accuse Labor of profligacy and economic vandalism, of an inability to execute on policies and an amorphous raft of conspiracy theories about union corruption. They fudge figures and misrepresent data to support their contentions. As if Australia’s struggles with productivity and international trade competitiveness were not bad enough, the Coalition chooses to repeal taxes and forgo revenue and call it “Labor’s debt trajectory” when they don’t also remove the associated spending measures. [See, for example, the comments to this article.]

Misrepresentations and political rhetoric aside, there are indisputably economic headwinds in Australia’s future.

At the core of the political wordstorm is a simple cruel fact. Australia is not globally competitive. In a globalised world of trade – the world that Tony Abbott and the government are hell-bent on plunging us into via as many free trade agreements as possible – Australia cannot compete.

Australia – Expensive one day, dirt-poor the next

Australia cannot compete on the basis of manufacturing consumer goods. There is truth to the contention that our industrial relations regime is a drag on business competitiveness. Australians have quaint ideas about fair pay, about the importance of holidays, about the necessity of workplace safety. The hard truth is that the regulations in other countries are not as rigid as they are here. Manufacturing clothes in Bangladesh, as a pertinent example, is far cheaper than making them here. Australians generally feel that sweatshop conditions of virtual slavery are inappropriate for workers and should not be supported. Most of the time, we buy the cheaper clothes anyway. Occasionally a fire in factory makes the news and prompts Australians to check the origin of their goods, but these are temporary distractions.

Australia cannot compete on the basis of services. In a world where India and China, the heavyweights amongst a multitude of other nations all struggling to match America’s prosperity, are likely to have over a billion new entrants to the middle class in the next decade or two, there will always be someone overseas happy to provide the same services an Australian could provide, and for much less remuneration. Australia’s education market is currently competitive, but this cannot be expected to last. If Australia’s status as a prosperous nation were to flag, how long would an Australian university degree remain a desirable achievement?

In a global environment, goods and services can be sold either to a domestic or an international market. The important factor to consider is the trade deficit: the imbalance between goods and services produced by Australians and sold to the international market, and the goods and services produced by international markets and sold into Australia. The trade deficit at present is historically bad – and growing worse. This is the true unsustainability in Australia’s economy.

Australia’s current economy is underpinned by the resources sector. The ‘mining boom’ might be over but resources industries and royalties still bring in a large proportion of Australia’s revenue – at the expense of skills, resources, manpower and economic support to any other part of the Australian economy. The Coalition government is well aware of the imbalance in Australia’s output, and is determined to support the mining industries just as long as anyone, anywhere, is still willing to buy the raw materials we dig up. The deleterious effects to manufacturing, to refining, to science and non-mining industry, are well known, but the Coalition’s forward thinking appears to stretch no further than one or two elections ahead.

With a chronic trade deficit, with an economy utterly reliant on mining industries where the terms of trade are deteriorating with a concomitant effect on the country’s revenue and budget position, Australia is in critical need of a differentiating benefit. Australia has little to offer the world, but Australians have plenty they want to buy from the world. That’s a recipe guaranteed, over time, to make this country the “white trash of Asia”.

Neither major party appears to have a good solution in mind for this need. Politicians mouth about Australia being the “clever country” – whilst presiding over consecutive cuts to science and technology research, removal of subsidies to innovation and cuts to schools and universities, over a long time frame. It is true that science and technology are the underpinning of a progressive and prosperous nation. Unfortunately science and technology are the easy targets for a largely ignorant populace easily turned against “ivory tower academia”.

Labor has at least espoused some piecemeal policies aimed at diversifying Australia’s economic base. Its broadband policy (the original NBN plan) was a critical national infrastructure project intended to support the internet requirements of a country in a globally-connected world. Income from the MRRT was intended for an across-the-board cut to the corporate tax rate for small to medium enterprises. Australians are ruefully aware of the fate of these policies. In their place we have ongoing subsidies to fossil fuel industries and the active efforts of senior politicians to secure international venture funding for new mining projects regardless of the environmental cost. The Coalition is fighting a rearguard effort, a vain attempt to prop up the resources industries in this country. A generous evaluation indicates that they are fully aware of Australia’s weakness in every other area of the economy; but if this is the case, a wishful-thinking approach that hopes that Australian manufacturing can recover if we only pour more resources into non-manufacturing industries seems short-sighted, at best. Without a forward-thinking plan to provide Australia a new economic base, the future appears grim.

This author would like to suggest one possible set of policy priorities that could set Australia up for a useful participation in the 21st century global economy.

One possible solution

The first thing to note is that this is unashamedly a spending policy. It has to be. The old maxim is that you cannot tax your way to prosperity (a debatable proposition at best that I have only ever heard espoused from fiscal conservatives); equally, you cannot save your way into prosperity either. Labor understands this: you need to spend – otherwise known as “investing” – in order to reap greater benefits later. The Coalition also reluctantly admits this, but their approach is to acquire the required investment funds by selling things, and then to “invest” in a hands-off manner and hope that the economy will somehow grow just because there are more roads. The Coalition has taken some baby steps in this direction but it is likely that a hands-off approach will not be sufficient.

Funds are required for every useful investment. For this proposed policy, a significant amount of funding would be required. I don’t propose here to mandate a particular way to acquire these funds. Progressives might understand the value of borrowing the required funds, but if government borrowing is too poisonous a political concept at present, then there are a multitude of ways for further revenue to be secured. Let’s just posit a slight adjustment to the levels of superannuation tax breaks, earning $10bn a year. This mid-way figure might be able to appease those who argue against the abolition of the tax breaks while still reining in some of the worst rorting of the system. $10bn p.a. would be plenty of resources to fund the Future Industries Fund.

The Future Industries Fund – the FIF – would be tasked to identify and then intensively support six to ten high-value fields of scientific and technical research. These would be fields of endeavour where Australia has research capability or a natural advantage. As an example, we have almost squandered our natural advantages in the field of renewable energy: with our huge land mass, abundant sunshine and wind and low population, we have been and should be a world leader in this field. That we no longer are is a sad indictment on the policies of both sides of the spectrum. We could reclaim a world-leading position – if we wanted to.

There is the key phrase. “World-leading”. If Australia is going to compete in a global market, it needs something it can sell. That means something only Australia can or will make, or it means making something cheaper and/or better than others. We have already established that Australia cannot both make things cheaper and retain current standards of living for its people. If standard of living is a priority, we must aim to excel either by finding industries at which we can excel – such as the French making wines, or regions of Italy making shoes – or build new industries that put us ahead of the pack.

The proposed policy, the Future Industries Fund, would aim for the latter goal.

Because any spending fund is susceptible to gaming and fraud, the first priority for the FIF would be to establish an oversight group. This group would first be tasked to identify and report on the best industries for the fund to support. Renewable energy might be a logical choice – but we should not take the opinion of a blog author. Clear and firm criteria would have to be met, covering Australia’s current capability in the field, the state of each identified field in the rest of the world, and the potential for the field in creating and sustaining new saleable industries.

Having identified the areas of interest, the fund would transition to supporting scientific and technical research in these areas through a range of grants and subsidies. Obviously, this would include a re-funding of the CSIRO and of University research. Potentially, the government could take part ownership in the technologies which arose from funded research. Any revenue from this should be directed back into the FIF.

It’s not enough to be world-leading inventors and researchers. Research and development only employs a small proportion of the workforce. The FIF would also be tasked to support, again through grants and subsidies, industries that arose to capitalise on new technologies. In the hypothetical example of new solar energy technology, this would include not only the energy companies that build the solar farms, but also the artificers which build the parts for new solar energy projects; the engineering firms that build them and maintain them; the infrastructure companies that carry the energy to the people; and even the resellers that onsell the technology to the rest of the world. The FIF would also support university or TAFE courses that specialised in teaching the new technology, or provide scholarships in specific fields.

It’s not enough to establish a world-leading industry. As soon as you start selling the technology into the rest of the world, the clock starts ticking, and it will not take long before you have competitors in your market. Continued prosperity requires the FIF not to rest on its laurels. Having established an industry, an infrastructure, an educational framework, it needs to continue to support the research and technology that created it. It is necessary to keep pushing the envelope.

There would, of course, be failures. Any new scientific or technical research runs the risk of dead ends, the chance that new technologies developed would be too expensive or too difficult or too ahead of their time to be marketable. Soemtimes, financial support can address this. Renewable energy technologies used to be hugely expensive; with time and continued government support across the globe, the cost has fallen to the point that solar and wind are becoming cheaper than coal, at least in some markets. The FIF would not rely on “the market” to build a new technology up to scale; if the aim is to push the envelope then artificial support is required.

But in some cases, the technologies just might not work. It might require more funding than is worthwhile to find economies of scale. It must be accepted that sometimes a field of research initially seen as promising might turn out to be a failure. Competitors in other countries might make breakthroughs that put them years ahead of the pack and relegate FIF projects to also-rans. In such cases, the FIF must be prepared to redefine its areas of interest and write off the funding already provided.

A progressive vision

Conservatives will likely look at these proposals and choke on their tea. This proposal is for a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy with a whole raft of administrators, where research if funded with no clear business case or projected return on investment, where the government takes an active role in picking and supporting winners. All of this is anathema to the Liberal worldview. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the Liberal worldview, and we’re starting to see where it leads.

This is a simple proposal from a single blog author. There is no Treasury behind this idea. The Universities have not provided expert opinion. But if one hack author can design a set of policies intended to address the fundamental problem facing Australia’s economy, how much more could a progressive political party with the resources of government behind it achieve? I put this proposal forward for discussion. Let’s start reframing the conversation and hope that the political machine is listening.

Bringing Science back from the brink

In the field of communication, the transaction of important information is an integral part of society. Nicole Clark demonstrates, that the future of the scientific profession in Australia also relies heavily on communication practice, for delivering important and critical information regarding the emphasis of Climate Change.

Image courtesy of smh.com.auIn today’s modern society, in Australia science is failing to communicate to the broader social perspective. It is with a fervent attitude that we can only deduce that somewhere along the lines, the realism of scientific consensus has been misrepresented in social discourse. External influences, such as conglomerate media structures and political organisations, have distorted the relevant complexity of science, leading to an overt perversion of scientific reverence.  So how can we bring science back from the brink? And, as it is said on the Australian five dollar bill – (“The greatest question which we have to consider is”) . . . What among all influences is the most crucial foreground for science to regain its lost confidence in social discourse?

Climate change is absolute, the globe is warming and long-term weather patterns are being altered (IPCC, 2011). Now in the era of irreversible change – never has it been more appropriate, or more important to communicate scientific consensus. The purpose of this aricle is not to investigate why scientific consensus is currently being ignored, but to identify which existing barriers in science communication methods could be adapted, to become effective at bringing science back from the brink and back into the slipstream of society. In this article, I evaluate the nominal pathways in which scientific knowledge is distributed – both internally among peers and externally among the public; to further highlight the complexities and barriers scientific professionals are faced with regarding effective communication of climate change science. I then offer possible solutions as to how such barriers may be overcome, by demonstrating which approaches are most likely to succeed and which approaches are most likely to fail.

Information about the workings of the world falls under the profession of science. Scientists report implicit logical arguments through the use of mathematics, statistics and physical evidence (Manly, 1992) and therefore, have a unique way of communicating which is abstract from mainstream society and traditional literature (Dawson et al, 2010). Literature often contains jargon and complex mathematical equations and often does not adhere to a broader range of audience (Knight, 2006).

Scientific literature is put into context in a scientific report. The format forms the basis for all scientific fields and includes: a title, an abstract (summary), aims, introduction, methods, results (findings) discussion and conclusion (Dawson et al, 2010). Scientific reports do not serve a purpose in the public eye. Information is compiled, analysed and reviewed dictating complex concise information. Reports in science assist with studies being repeated by fellow scientists, without bias (Manly, 1992). As it is generally accepted, communication is a learned practice in society (West and Turner, 2010) and scientists learn to communicate effectively among each other for the purpose of expanding knowledge for an internal profession.

Existing Pathways: Public barriers

External

Occasionally, scientific concern requires broad range perception. Science, as any other written or spoken communication, is likely to become lost in translation, if not properly transcribed. For instance, a road repairman probably would not know that the critical issue between long wave radiation and depletion of the allotrope: ozone; is just another way of discussing chemical reactions that cause a hole in the ozone layer and global warming, adversely changing the climate. In this instance, the ineffective communication path results in scientists failing to convey a message of critical importance. Only a clear message is effective through communication channels to reach all audience (written communications that inform and influence, 2006). Therefore, complex scientific jargon and scientific language creates a barrier and the message is misunderstood. The result: the road repairman likely did not get the critical message about climate change.

Internal

Unique communication within science is both important and necessary, because it allows complexities to be explained in critical detail, helping scientists to work together (Dawson et al, 2010). Critical information and knowledge is internally communicated. For example, a biologist does not have a universal name for all bacteria. The name ‘bacteria’, is not enough information for the ecologist, a colleague to understand. There are many different species of bacteria, and if not specified the ecologist would not know what specific species to study. Further information is required in order to conduct a study on chemical reactions in prokaryote bacteria communities.  An internal pathway such as this, allows specific knowledge to be passed on, from one scientist to another. Without such explicit communication, future external understanding can never eventuate. The result of this specific pathway: the biologist can conduct the study in a concise and highly detailed manor using explicit scientific jargon, which is then communicated to the associate ecologist, who then repeats the study and adds to the findings on this complex topic. With the internal pathway the result, through effective communication- the ecologist is able to bring to light a solid scientific theory. However necessary the internal pathway may be, it too can be identified as another public barrier.

Adapting pathways

In external public understanding, the method in which information is passed on is critical, failure to pass a message on, leads to a receiver that is unclear as to what information they are given (West et al, 2010). The external pathway mentioned above in this case, became lost in translation and created a barrier, despite the attempted communication of the concept (ozone depletion), was critically important for general public understanding. Hence, the use of jargon precariously added complexities in this nominal pathway.  Knight (2006), suggests, scientists can both send a message and still tell a story; all without the use of complexities. Therefore, adapting this pathway though removal of jargon – while still explaining the causality of ozone depletion and global warming, may allow the public to gain understanding- without the complexity of science; where it is hoped they will still interpret the broader perspective of the concept.

Internal pathways, allow for effective communication among peers and among different scientific disciplines. In this pathway of communication- when studying bacteria communities, we can see that information regarding this scientific knowledge, will experience innate problems with translation to the public. While the internal communication is extremely critical to the progression of modern science, it leaves little avenue for appropriate public distribution. Wray et al (2008) explain, to overcome a barrier it is important to understand that end products, when properly transcribed can still be translated. Therefore, by re-developing an internal pathway, there is no loss of those fundamental and core components of the concept. In this way, scientists do not remove a concept, they adapt the pathway for the public only; while internally, the progression of modern science continues.

Connecting the public to science

Keys (1997) explains, people are more likely to respond to a scientific concept if it appears to effect them more directly. Therefore, relatable interactions are a good way to bridge the gap in communication barriers. Scientists can relate to their audience by developing a pathway from the internal communication and adapting the external communication pathway. With these adaptations and with the exclusion of jargon and or complexities, they can still relay complex information in a readable yet comprehensive format. As a result, a likely pathway between scientists and the public can be established. It is also important to understand that the outcome of scientific studies, though developed internally, can and should be later transformed to meet public comprehension. However, the scientist should still keep close eye to communicate the fundamental and core components within the scientific discipline. However, it should also be rigorously monitored, as they are scientific concepts and should always be addressed as such.

Nisbet and Scheufele (2009) explain, scientists should be looking at adapting a foreground of communication that is firmly grounded in the construct of society, one that aims to inform the notion of complex concepts in a simple yet thought provoking format. It is important to understand, that this extends further than just telling the public as if a news story. It goes beyond this format, to the substratum of audience interaction. If scientists adapt pathways of communication, they can interact with a broader audience and then transgress these elements to business and or possible political relationships, including social and education conventions and public information sessions; which lead into the formation of interpersonal relationships with possible stakeholders. To further adapt these concepts, it is important to establish a communication in which the public can relate to these relationships- forming relationships that aim to establish a meaningful connection with all involved. Individuals and groups are more likely to respond to relationships when they notice a propensity (behavioural tendency) for a meaningful purpose or idea connected to them (Wray et al, 2008).

Science, Climate Change and the future

Scientists are renowned for adapting methodology and study design. The study of climate change science is by no means any different from any scientific discipline. As I outlined above, adapting the means of communication pathways  in science are by far the best method for communicating complex scientific concepts such as climate change. But in lure of what has been discussed above, we are left with inherit complexities in the notion of communicating this imperative concept. So now, we are left to decide which adaptations will work best in the critical need to communicate the foundations of climate change science? How can we create communication pathways that will bring to light the innate problems society faces with immanent changes to climate? There is no doubt that as I write this – I am faced with my own complexities, but from an outspoken perspective as it has always been said, the most important communication method is establishing an effective pathway. Below, I give my personal explanation as to how communication pathways to the public can be established.

Image courtesy of econews.com.au

Image courtesy of econews.com.au

First and foremost, I feel it is extremely necessary that science communication pathways to the public, seek to remove the inherit complexities associated with jargon and complex mathematical concepts- as well as removing the notion of trying to translate too much information. Information, which is not connected to the key concepts in a vital way. For example, going back to the concept of the hole in the ozone layer, to effectively translate this idea on climate change, scientists should err on the side of caution when using jargon. Firstly, let’s imagine the road repairman is a community stake holder, in this case it would be important to form a strong interpersonal relationship with the individual (the road repairman). I feel this scientific concept would better be described, by explaining to the individual, how climate change will affect him and his respective community; and just how important the idea of climate change is to future generations in his community. Furthermore, it would be important to translate this information in a simple format. A format that eliminates, the need to express any concepts that should only represent communication avenues of an internal nature.

Therefore, ‘what not to do’ in this instance would be, explaining the concept using too much jargon and complexities, or discussing scientific names of chemical species. For example: ‘Ozone, Carbon Dioxide and Chlorofluocarbons are reacting with OLR in the stratosphere, they cause the global temperature to rise, influencing the global weather patterns which regulate high and low pressure systems. Consequently, this sort of level of relation is inappropriate to establish a meaningful connection with this particular individual, and the respective social structures in which the individual represents. At the most, the road repairman probably recognises key words such as: carbon, stratosphere and systems, but using complex jargon together with complex explanations is inadequate, because this is internal communication used among science professionals and is unfit for public consumption. The explanations are too detailed and saturated in explicit scientific consensus. This automatically creates a barrier, which is ineffective to create a pathway whereby public understanding is achieved. Therefore, it is highly important to avoid that internal pathway used by scientists, in favour of something more appropriate such as the external. At this point, if such a barrier is not overcome an individual is unable to relate themselves to the concept in a meaningful way.

The alternative, explain that ‘scientists are certain that the interactions occurring inside the atmosphere have been impacted since the industrial revolution. These impacts are warming the globe, which causes the climates to shift and change, which affects the wet and dry periods we experience in the weather’. Lastly, explain ‘reducing these impacts will allow for a reduction in these climate shifts’. If at least some relationship is established, a communication pathway may be opened, and through the use of these adapted external communication methods, this may create meaning for the individual. They may then notice the propensity to connect with the concept of climate change science; and develop an idea of individual purpose for understanding the inner workings of climate change – as they can then relate to how it will impact them on an individual and or community/stakeholder level.

Conclusion

The innate problem that surrounds the perversion of public discourse in the field of science, is surrounded with complexities in its self, and undoubtedly requires rigorous scientific study. That being said, from a discussion stand point only, I have outlined a few key concepts which I feel are most effective for the nature of translating this complex scientific idea – climate change. Clear communication is essential. Therefore communication that is free from jargon, complex scientific information, as well a removal of unnecessary explanations of scientific relationships (not connected to foundational concepts) – will help bridge the gap between barriers which we currently see plaguing the view of scientific emphasis in public discourse.

Removing such barriers, will allow for the establishment of relationships that will seek to improve the communication pathways, forming relatable aspects of science that connect the individual to the concept to provide purpose and meaning to the broader social perception. These interactions must be centred around meaningful relationships that always seek to obtain a strong connection with scientific professionals. They must provoke audience interaction and always be centred around simple translations that all social participants can understand.

Such pathways, will allow for science and critical science concepts, to be incorporated back into Australian society. These methods alone, will undoubtedly assist scientific professionals to illustrate the critical need for climate change initiatives, and bring science into the slip-stream, thus- back from the brink.

References

Dawson,M,M., Dawson,B,A.., and Overfield, J,A., (2010), Communication Skills for the Biosciences.Wiley-Blackwell publishing, United Kingdom

Keys, C. W. (1999). Revitalizing instruction in scientific genres: Connecting knowledge production with writing to learn in science. Science Education83(2), 115-130.

Knight, D. (2006). Public understanding of science: A history of communicating scientific ideas (1st ed.). USA and Canada: Taylor & Francis e-library.

Manly, B. F. (1992). The Design and Analysis of Research Studies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mitigation, C. C. (2011). IPCC special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation.

Nisbet, M. C., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009). What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. American Journal of Botany96(10), 1767-1778.

West, R., & Turner, Lynne, H. (2010). Introducing communication theory: analysis and application (Ch.5) Symbolic interaction theory(pp.76-91). New York, N.Y.: McGraw Hill.

Wray, R. J., Becker, S. M., Henderson, N., Glik, D., Jupka, K., Middleton, S., … & Mitchell, E. W. (2008). Communicating with the public about emerging health threats: lessons from the Pre-Event Message Development Project.American Journal of Public Health98(12).

(2006). Written communications that inform and influence. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

This article was first published on “Science in Australian Society” and reproduced with permission.

Crap, Hogwash, Wikipedia and Other Strong Evidence

Abbott

“I mean in the end this whole thing is a question of fact, not faith, or it should be a question of fact not faith and we can discover whether the planet is warming or not by measurement. And it seems that notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world’s warming has stopped. Now admittedly we are still pretty warm by recent historical standards but there doesn’t appear to have been any appreciable warming since the late 1990s.”

Tony Abbott: A REALIST’S APPROACH TO CLIMATE CHANGE Speech – July, 2009

From Abbott’s Interview with Andrew Bolt:

Bolt: (Volunteering to fight) the fires. Was there an element of running away from the office?

PM: Ha! Mate, I got up to the station at 4pm Saturday and I got back to the station at 10 Sunday morning. So there’s no question of running away from the office, because the office is closed then. The office is closed.

AB: I’ve been struck by the insanity of the reaction in the media and outside, particularly linking the fires to global warming and blaming you for making them worse potentially by scrapping the carbon tax.

PM: I suppose, you might say, that they are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause, but this idea that every time we have a fire or a flood it proves that climate change is real is bizarre, ’cause since the earliest days of European settlement in Australia, we’ve had fires and floods, and we’ve had worse fires and worse floods in the past than the ones we are currently experiencing. And the thing is that at some point in the future, every record will be broken, but that doesn’t prove anything about climate change. It just proves that the longer the period of time, the more possibility of extreme events … The one in 500 year flood is always a bigger flood than the one in 100 year flood.

Bolt: The ABC, though, has run on almost every current affairs show an almost constant barrage of stuff linking climate change to these fires.

Abbott: That is complete hogwash.

Bolt: It is time to really question the bias of the ABC?

Abbott: But people are always questioning the “bias” of the ABC.

Later in the same interview:

PM: I would say that there tends to be an ABC view of the world, and it’s not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with. But, others would say that there’s a News Limited view of the world.

     From “The most depressing Discovery about the Brain, Ever”

“In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth.

Nyan and his collaborators have been running experiments trying to answer this terrifying question about American voters: Do facts matter?

The answer, basically,  is no.  When people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.”

And just in case you missed it at the time:

“I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.” (Tony Abbott, quoted on the “ABC 7.30 Report” (27 July 2009).

People are entitled to their own point of view. We all accept that. It’s a free country, after all. I’m sure that Andrew Bolt would agree that we’re all entitled to express a point of view. Even if it’s demonstrably wrong. For goodness sake, if Bolt had to rely on facts for his point of view, he wouldn’t have a column.

The trouble with the exchange of opinions is that it very rarely goes beyond, “You’re wrong and  I’m right, therefore nothing you have to say could change my mind.”

And so I find our beloved leader’s comments – the ones I highlighted – in the Bolt interview disturbing. Tony Abbott seems to be saying that extreme events aren’t evidence of anything, and it doesn’t matter how many we have, that’s just the nature of things. Records are made to be broken, after all.

This is fairly consistent with the way in which climate deniers view things. One extreme weather event is just the exception. Two is just coincidence. Three, well, that’s the norm – we have weather like this all the time.

Now, I think that there is a discussion to be had about how much of a link can be drawn between climate change and the current bushfires. And I have some sympathy for the view that maybe Adam Bandt could have timed his comments a little more sensitively. I can accept that we’ve always had large bushfires and that, in the distant past, some of them even occured in October.

However, I think that we need to actually look very closely at the evidence – even if it means hours on the computer looking up Wikipedia. To say, as one person wrote in response to the Climate Council’s Bushfires and Climate Change in Australia – The Facts (which suggested that bushfires in the last thirty years had been more frequent),  that we had large bushfires in the past too. The person then went on to talk of three over the space of sixty years prior to 1983.

It’s difficult to argue about climate change when people like Bolt and Abbott seem to suggest that every event can be taken in isolation and therefore nothing is part of any pattern. Bolt may be right. There may be no significant warming. But he is no more of less qualified to assert his position than the bloke down at the pub who tells me that Greater Western Sydney will make next year’s Grand Final. He is not an expert and lacks formal training in the area – something that he is quick to point out about those he disagrees with. After arguing for years that the climate is actually cooling, Bolt jumped on the IPCC report which suggested the planet wasn’t WARMING as fast as they predicted, completely ignoring the fact that this went against his contention.

So, records are always being broken, according to the Prime Minister. Linking the fires to climate change is “complete hogwash”. We don’t need a Climate Commission to look at evidence. We know these things. Who needs a Science Minister? It’s either part of trade, or something you do at school. Science, itself, what’s that?

As for the Audit Commission, who thinks that they may recommend delaying or scaling back the Liberal’s Direct Action initiatives?

 

The Cassandra Effect, Abbott and Boiling a Frog. Dr Who?

abbott

Image courtesy of actu.org.au

I step out of the phone box. I look around. Picking up a paper, I see the date September 16th, 2009. Either the time travel has worked or this newsstand is selling very old newspapers. Rudd is enormously popular. There is a headline that the latest polling has Labor ahead 60.5 to 39.5 two party preferred. It’s not too late. I need to warn people. Perhaps we can stop this happening.

I make my way to the pub opposite Trades Hall. I stick my head in. “I’ve come from the future to warn you all.” A couple of people look up, but most people go on drinking. “I come from the Year 2013 and Tony Abbott is PRIME MINISTER.” A couple of people look up and laugh.

“Have another drink,” shouts somebody. There is more laughter.

Obviously, this is not an effective way to communicate. I go to the bar and order a scotch. One of the men smiles and says, “Good one!”

I shake my head. “I know it must seem incredible, but it’s all true.”

“So just four years after Labor save us from the GFC, we elect the Liberals. And not just the Liberals, Tony Abbott?”

“Yes,” I say, gulping my drink quickly.

“Fascinating, so why do we elect him?”

“Because the economy’s a mess and the borders are weak,” I repeat the Abbott mantras.

“Oh, inflation get’s out of control and interest rates soar?”

“No.”

“Unemployment goes through the roof.”

“No, um, it’s lower than it is now, I think.”

“We’re invaded by a foreign power?”

“No, there a lot of asylum seeker boats. Well, a few anyway.”

“That’s no reason to vote out a government.”

“Well, it happens. Shortly after Rudd is returned to the Leadership.”

“Returned?”

“Yes, Julia Gillard replaces him, because he becomes very unpopular after Abbott becomes Leader of the Liberals and the Senate block the ETS.”

“So why does he become unpopular if it’s Abbott that blocks the ETS?”

“Um, I don’t know. Anyway, all this is unimportant, I’m here to try and stop it happening!”

“Sort of like Arnie!” I look blank. “In The Terminator,” he explains.

“Sort of.” I remember the instructions for boiling a frog. If you do it slowly, the frog doesn’t notice.

“Ok, so what’s he like? As PM.”

I can tell that he’s humouring me, but I continue. “Well, one of his first acts is to abolish the Ministry for Climate Change.”

“I suppose that he incorporates it into one of the other departments like Science.”

“Oh, there’s no Ministry for Science, that becomes part of Industry.”

He smiles, “Next you’ll be saying he gets rid of all the women in the Cabinet.”

“He does. Well, Julie Bishop’s still there. She’s in charge of Foreign Affairs.”

“I see,” he smirks.

“It’s all true. And Abbott takes over as the Minister for Women’s Affairs.”

“You’re from the future, you say?”

“Yep.”

“And I suppose that you’ve got some explanation for how you got here?”

“Yes, Dr Who lent me his TARDIS. How else?”

“Ah,” he says, “at last you’re telling me something I can believe.”

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