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I used to be called a “know it all” but, by now I hope my readers know me better than that. I seek reality. I share my views because it’s the only way to test them. I invite constructive criticism, but not insult. I have equal tolerance of insulated ideologies as I do for insult, because such are insults to the human mind.

If an opinion is shared in public space, it is done so with the expectation that others will test the ideas proposed for their factual merit. If the author does not live up to this expectation, becoming unreasonably offended and/or resorting to insult, then the author is demanding nothing less than dark-age authority. That is to say, “my views ought to be held beyond reproach because I favour them”.

Excuse my language, but that is bullshit.

We get nowhere as an intelligent species by lusting over fantasy any more than we would wishfully thinking that some spell may cure our ailment. We need data, we need quality evidence, on which to base our statements and planning if we are to do better than simply gamble our way through life. I, for one, will not gamble the lives of my children on favourable ideas – my own or others. I seek reality because of this.

We are told never to debate religion and politics over the dinner table, but that is gutless. Surely the results of both mean as much to everyone present at the table and hopefully each wants the best for themselves, their family’s and for their friends. Why then cower away from such topics, when the results of such ideologies can negatively taint how an individual sees another, based purely on gender, race and sexual preference or when it could mean the difference between general prosperity and growing inequality?

I’m not weak nor am I under the impression that I am right. I’m entirely about testing ideas so that I can find an acceptable path forward so as I can watch my children grow into happy, confident and empowered adults. Without any fantasy of an awaiting “bonus level” beyond my mortality, my sole desire is to help to propagate a society that fulfils these objectives beyond my lifespan, to illustrate my love for my family. When I can no longer provide guidance, knowing that I helped build an easier environment for my family is, at least for me, the most rewarding and comforting outlook I can fathom.

And so I hold insulated ideologies the most insidious and inhumane affronts to our species. I will be damned if I stand by as such invasive mindlessness corrodes our societies. I thank anyone who critiques my thoughts, as you provide me the greatest gift in removing uncertainty from my life. Others that share this view are the few brave ones whom carry our species into a brighter future.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that the following may be somewhat pessimistic. It may even sound not unlike the rantings of a youth. However how can one be certain of an idea without first testing it?

From my dealings with the devoted (religious, alternative medicine and secular rejecters of science alike) I understand that the implied answer to my question above is not universal. That said…

We often hear of our power; that is our consumer power, our political power, our people power – all of which we sway with our wallets, our ballot forms and our numbers in turn. But what truth is there in it?

I suspect, not a lot.

Politically

Take firstly the political power. Democracy is clearly a failing process under the weight of interest dollars. In the US and to a lesser extent Australia and elsewhere, a successful candidate requires funding and such funding does not come from the general voter, but the wealthy. Funding a successful campaign thus leaves a candidate on some level owing to the funders.

This would seem to be the reason for the main parties of such countries tending to the right, without significant difference between them apart from extreme or central right objectives. The voter is frustrated that the political will simply does not speak for them.

Within Australia, it has been widely discussed, with contempt, how Gina Rinehart and fellows successfully undermined the mining tax, to ensure they did not return more to the commonwealth from their exploits of common resources.

How does the individual have political power where the candidates do not speak truly for them?

Consumer Sway

With consumer power, the situation is even more convoluted, due to the “middleman”. We are told that, if we do not like a product or agree with the company’s ethics, we would simply not buy the product.

Yet, in reality, we simply do not know where our money goes. With multi-national conglomerates, we may be deciding between two products ultimately owned by the same body, say Unilever.

Moreover, of the wealth generated from the product; production lines continually upgrade to automate the process as much as possible; where possible, the primary resources are sourced from third world producers whom accept lower returns. This all reduces overheads and in turn maximises company profits and shareholder returns. Yet the consumer is unaware of this erosion of local jobs and wealth creation, largely at their long-term expense.

How does the individual have consumer power where they are kept ignorant of movement of their money?

Numbers

What did the Occupy Movement achieve? Sleepless nights, I imagine, for the activists. Some air time to a serious problem (growing inequality), for a short time, for certain.

How many of these people involved have now returned to their lives in which, as consumers and voters, they continue to support, unwittingly, the very cause of their unrest? Effectively most, if not all of them.

Wherever middle class suburbia has not grabbed hold, people tend to spend less time at home. This is largely in the poorer communities around the world today and most places prior to the industrial revolution.

These people work harder than most of us can even imagine and when they are not working, they sleep. On the chance opportunity they do neither, they se friends and family. The reason being that their homes are basic and uninteresting, lucky to have many dividing walls. While we visualise it completely different, the reality is that the vast majority of humanity have always been born into and died within the slums.

The wealthy individual today has become something else.

The home in which we live is designed almost exclusively for mental masturbation. The “disposable” technology and furniture all provide us with an oasis of mindless entertainment in which we sit for countless hours, even at the expense of interacting with those whom we claim to love most dearly. Each individual plugged into a different device, paying for additional channels, internet access or the newest game at not only a financial expense, but a social one as well.

In short, we have been made into money trees, fertilised in a bed of mind-numbing stupidity, completely separated from our direct environment, peers and community.

How does the individual form part of a meaningful movement of minds where we are forever working, if we are unlucky or embedded within an environment perpetually distracted if not?

Individual Power

I opened this by highlighting the possibility that my recent thoughts have left me pessimistic and that may be the cause for such reflection. However, I’m unconvinced of this because I simply cannot see where, in a modern affluent democratic country, the genuine rights and capacity for change exist for the individual. We choose to live, just like everyone else or not and the latter option isn’t a real option in itself.

In this, I conclude I have found reason for the eventual submission of all individuals. It becomes easier to enjoy the stimuli of ones little plot and bloom and fruit into yet another money tree for harvest.

However, I personally find it increasingly distasteful, if not shameful to the individual and am forced to lament. I do so not from restlessness, but a lingering hope that there is something uniquely noble and valuable within our species that we have yet to acquire and all I find in its absence is mediocre sentiment and foolish, ego-centric amusement.

In a recent post, I made the point that the power of an idea is not with the transmitter, but entirely with the receiver. The only the difference (and I mean only) between Chris Monckton and, say, the walking sign, screaming hysterically that the end is near is the audience. The message is manic, obsessive and irrational in both cases, but the audience provide validity to the former over the latter.

In truth, my efforts have been focused upon such crackpots and in doing so, I’ve given them audience. Correcting an error airs the error and, from what I have seen, does little to improve the accuracy of information. The ardent climate “sceptic” remains committed, if not entrenched, regardless of the counterfactuals provided. The truther on fluoride, vaccination or creation remain as much so as well on their pet subject.

I’ve often convinced myself that my efforts are aimed, largely, to provide not a counterweight, but an example of the approach a true sceptic should take. This is critical thinking; do not simply believe a compelling argument, but investigate the evidence to see if it supports the conclusion. Yet, I’m no longer convinced that this is useful.

In fact, it costs me a lot of my personal time, it has brought me a lot of otherwise avoidable stress and recently it has gotten worse. I don’t receive huge traffic and yet what I have created has been provocative enough to merit genuine concern in my real life.

What frustrates me the most is that none of this even attempts to critique my work. I’m happy to be wrong, just prove it. Instead the target is the writer, leaving me convinced that I must in fact be correct and the opposing individuals simple do not wish to face reality.

 The Idea of Ideas

Dawkins “meme” seems revolutionary for the same reason the notion that free will is an illusion, as debated by Harris, sits so uneasy to most. In essence, it comes back to my point about the power of ideas.

We hold no ownership of ideas. Sure, an individual may provide new insight or invent something that changes how a society functions, but in truth, they only did so because of the background conditions that lead to that resolution. This is why our ancestors scratched out rudimentary agriculture around ten thousand years ago and not the tablet computer.

Ideas develop, sometimes fuse and eventually evolve, using us as hosts all along. Ideas belong to no-one. For this reason, the transmitter is of little importance.

Personally, I am certain that I am not ideological by nature.

Even as a child, my Lutheran upbringing never sat well with me. In my adolescence, I wanted to “believe” and researched what I could of numerous faiths to no avail.

Even an ideological basis to “environmentalism” cannot be labelled on me. I became passionate largely because I detested invasive weeds. I was passionate and naïve. My environmental message has changed due to my training and increasing education on the subject rather than  becoming solidified to a single position due to mounting counterfactuals.

Faithfully Online

This is what puts me at odds online. So much of my effort has been in addressing ideological positions or critiquing claims. This effort has largely been ineffective.

For the most part, I suspect the internet is not, as YouTube’s Thunderf00t puts it; “where religion goes to die,” but in fact the very opposite. The internet is one’s personal faith booster when reality stubbornly refuses to bend to a favoured position.

This is across the board; from the free-market ideologs, to the religious or pet-theorists, to even the environmental advocate or greeny-pretender, advocating a single solution to enormous problems (eg. like those whom push feverishly for nuclear power).

The internet is where propaganda thrives. It is not unlike the early days of the printing press and the audience then too had to learn new skills to avoid being taken for a ride. Of course, it was too often after their messiah had been proven false by the relentless erosion of time.

Futher, one online tool used is ‘troll bombardment’. If you call upon enough of your audience to comment wherever, you can provide a false impression of the general position. Again, the ability to critically analyse the material provided and then to critique such comments exposes such a hoax.

Yet, all of this typically falls on deaf ears or finds hostile and irrational knee-jerking from the faithful to a given position.

Unfaithful and Weary Writing From Here On

At this point, I’m not certain of the future of my writing online. Within the last couple days this has ebbed from outright shut down to where I currently sit.

This position comes back to ideas. Until the committed climate sceptic, anti-fluorider, anti-vax or creationist provides compelling scientific arguments, I will not report on it. The ideas I have tended to report on have been lousy and a waste of effort. Does one still need to argue that the earth is round or would such be a waste of effort? Likewise must similarly be said for all bad ideas.

I will focus on critical thinking, but I’ll find more productive avenues than relying upon examples from the various ideologs.

I will also return to discussing new science as it comes my way. The best way forth is forward and writing so much on backwards thinkers is simply not worth it.

Political posts will most likely completely disappear. I have no confidence in the Australian government and am reaching the conclusion that it has given up on the people in favour of undemocratic business interests and we are all worse off for it. Yet, the negative reaction to my writing here seems to be the greatest and is simply not worth pursuit.

Admittedly, I did have some preconceptions when I read the blurb for Rana Dajani’s recent article in Nature, How women scientists fare in the Arab world. Many secular individuals tend to expect, arguably with good reason, that gender equality is a pipe dream wherever religious fever is high – especially where the Abrahamic faiths are the dominant ideologies.

However, Rana’s article was far from what I had initially taken it for and, more importantly, makes a number of valuable points that relate to Western countries just as much as well as a continual argument I refer to on New Anthro regarding neo-liberal market economies.

Firstly, I have a slight criticism in that Rana makes the point that, for mothers as scientists, they cannot spend the additional time networking and taking part in mentoring programs outside business hours as they place family first – even if the father is with the children, this is no compensation to being there herself.

This might be the case for many women, the world over, for all I know. I think it says more about the men they marry. I know with great certainty that my own wife would disagree. I am as doting and involved as herself – with the only deficit being that I cannot feed our baby girl at this phase of life. We are committed to caring for our baby for the first few years of life (rather than childcare) and, when my wife is ready to return to work, we will juggle our shared commitments.

That said, Rana makes some valuable points regarding sexism that has permeated gender equality,

“The feminist movement was a good thing, but it was too focused on equality with men and failed to enable us to respect ourselves as women and to be proud of who we are.

“Our productivity, for instance, is measured on a male scale.”

Gender equality does not mean that both genders compete against one another in the Olympics for very good reasons. This is not to say that there are some jobs either sex is better enabled for or that a woman cannot follow a career path equal to a man (or, as it stands, have the right to do so), but only that she also has the right to adjust her career to have a family also (which, by sheer luck of nature does create a few “obstacles” to ones career, more so for her, at the very least around the pregnancy and birth, than it does for a male).

It is not sexist to point this fact out, but it is sexist to treat gender dependent biological factors as an excuse to discriminate unfairly through uneven weighting. In the modern information age, there is no reason why an individual should be unable to pursue their career and family obligations however they choose as long as they are able to meet their stated tasks. We should empower individuals, male or female, to be the best professional and parent they can be.

One should not exclude the other and yet, motherhood is a prevalent form of sexism that exists today.

Another point Rana made was brilliant;

“The years we spend taking care of children are not calculated as part of the gross domestic product of a country. What is more important — to build physical things or to nurture a human being?”

It is a point I have returned to again and again. I even quoted Andrew Mason, from the University of Southern Queensland, in The Human Island (revised version of which will be released within the week);

“The normal measure of an economy, which looks at Gross Domestic Product [GPD]… doesn’t really measure our lives, it just measure economic things. So if you go and buy some veggies from the supermarket, that contributes to GPD, so it looks good on the economy. But if you grow veggies in your own backyard, it doesn’t contribute to GPD. So things like car crashes contribute to GPD because, you know, people are employed fixing cars and looking after things and you know the people that go to hospital to be treated; all that contributes to GPD. Whereas going for a walk in the park doesn’t. So they’re trying to work out how to model economics that will more accurately reflect a happy society.”

Gross domestic product is a poor indicator of human flourishing and yet remains the grand messiah of the free world markets. The post-Global Financial Crisis stimulus packages aimed to get the economy rolling again, by urging consumers to buy material goods rather than reduce personal debt or increase personal savings. They were to help out a sick (and entirely dysfunctional) economy with the only benefit to the community expected to be, perhaps watching the next season of Big Brother in higher definition.

As Rana asks, what is more important, material goods or human well-being, or to use Andrew’s examples, the fitness and family time in going to the park or a busy hospital or mortuary with the results of a car crash?

In my personal opinion, the problems of disparity addressed by Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level or on The Equality Trust, protested against within the Occupy Movement and the continual rejection of all environmental degradation by certain groups of the community all come back to confidence that spawns from a modern day “prosperity” which has effectively removed human indicators from its internal regulation processes.

More consumers are needed. The quality of those consumers are not important. Hence the urge to work, to keep up with the Jones’s, the anxiety, the disconnection… Why we all too often wonder why we spend so much time doing what we are doing when we would rather be enjoying time with friends and family or undertaking hobbies or self-improvement opportunities.

The humanity is removed from our species primary productivity, which seems so absurd the more one thinks about it. I doubt many of us really appreciate such principles.

I initially planned a post of this nature on my personal and low traffic blog, but trashed it a mere few sentences in.

After reading Sam Harris’s article to the same effect, I became inspired again and completed a new post on the matter – this time upgrading it to New Anthro (because it does have implications for our future).

And then I got nervous and trashed this as well, a few hours before it was scheduled to go live.

Free speech is fundamental and I hate that, in Australia, I am allowing myself to be bullied out of it by a few aggressive and immoral individuals. They dodge standing national laws and demand – through fear and intimidation – that everyone submits to the laws of their personal ideologies.

Now, just as a personal note, I don’t consider myself anything. I’m not a theist, nor am I atheist any more than I am a believer or a nonbeliever of the literal existence of Humpty Dumpty. No-one would ask me to hold an opinion one way or another because the whole idea is absurd. To me, the obsession with deities and “life after death” rate just as high.

That said, I don’t care what anyone else thinks and practices in private. Unlike some nonbelievers (as opposed to unbelievers), I have no interest in pursuing any such individual on their private stomping grounds (please keep this in mind; I am not interested in the debate about religion, nor do I seek to render one mute over another).

It is only when they expect me to play Simon Says with their invisible friends that I go a little like Hulk (that is, foamy at the mouth and growl a bit and not green and shirtless).

Laws based on ‘cos my book says so, are nonsensical and unjustifiable. Even adherents know this or we would still have mass stoning events, slaves and believe handing over women, as though they were a piece of meat, to a mob to be acceptable, to name a few.

I expect moral laws in which one can express themselves openly and honestly to be essential for an ethical and improving society. The right to offend is essential – sometimes the best and/or more accurate ideas come from uncomfortable locations. Let the ideas be weighed and measured by the populous and see it they pass the test.

In one respect, the continual disgust felt towards actions carried out by characters like those of the Westboro Baptist Church stand as a true testament to the increasing morality of the majority. Violent or oppressive behaviour aimed at such people only brings one down to their level. It’s far better to take the high road as a whole and leave such disgraceful attitudes to the ages. It is, after all, beneath one. They’ll eventually fade away if they are ignored.

Such an attitude, I would hope, others would express if someone offends their particular faith. A measure of value and truth is how well an idea stands up to critical investigation, after all. If the faith is so paranoid about such scrutiny, well that’s telling.

It shouldn’t matter if someone breaks religious law when they are not an adherent to that religion. In my colourful life, guess I would have broken many rules applicable to the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Norse Myth, the Olympian Gods and any other faith brought to the table. I don’t know if that says anything about me really – other than I’m not interested in that particular doctrine.

My values are instead based on national law and empathy.

Nothing can be out of bounds in discussion for an open and free democratic country like Australia. By all means, it can be abhorrent, but not out of bounds. One should not be made fearful of “witch” burning mobs, beheading or other practice some idiot wants to revive from an age before effective sanitation simply because they offend someone else.

Yet drawing a stick figure and giving it the wrong name could lead to violence on the street, burning of flags and threats of terror in lieu of any actual national laws being broken.

That’s not on and politicians, as upholders of the constitution of the given state, should be brave enough to say, “Look, these morons created such media because they knew you would start jumping around like a headless chook. While I think they’re actions were pretty pathetic, you’ve made yourself look pretty silly too in how you’ve reacted. They said ‘jump’ and you did.”

While I’m not interested in following the example of such people, the truth of the matter is nothing more than that; they know how to incite behaviour objectionable in most secular states and let a few unbalanced people fill in the blanks, leaving the rest of us fearful and questioning just whom has moved in next door.

I’m not a fan of undertaking such activities, but I detest feeling like I’m unable to talk about it in fear of hateful retaliation. Through apologetic denouncement of the inciters by politicians and silence by the media and the general public, when we should be unified in deploring acts of terror, hate and reckless vilification, based entirely on religious law, we undo our own constitutions.

Too often we hear paranoid fears over government controls regarding environmental and social regulation (eg. it’s my liberty to smoke, that is, kill myself for corporate profit, if the truth be known), but where is the discussion regarding liberties against personal ideologies?

We don’t see outrage about the above behaviour in such discussions. In fact, the loudest protests for personal freedom tends to come from individuals with an ideological values package which includes many faith-drawn conclusions; eg. anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, anti-equality for sexual preference etc. Where’s the freedom of the individual when we cannot choose aspects of what we do, what we can research and whom we can share our life with?*

If the Hump-Dumptians were out on the streets with signs “Behead all those who scramble eggs”, “death to those who mock aviaries” and other signs to the same effect, with as much hatred and vilification as that seen by other groups, we have the right to protest. While they have the right themselves to protest and to personal lives lived within religious law, they do not have the right to impose such personal laws on the wider community through fear and intimidation.

If instead, the Hump-Dumptians said, “it’s against my faith to eat egg or question the spiritual meaning of birds”, so be it. That’s completely acceptable. In a society of growing morality, the right to dissent needs to persist. Poor choices will eventually be weeded out through articulate and intelligent criticism.

It’s one thing to play a game of Simon Says with your invisible friend and quite another to demand others join in as well or face violence / murder. Such behaviour should not be acceptable and we have the right to say so.

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*Such questions usually return the “floodgate” reply. Again, free and open debate will lead to the most rational conclusions. Censorship and blind taboo do nothing to improve human flourishing.

I spend a lot of time attacking the ideologies of what could be loosely termed strongly conservatives. Far less of my posts have targeted another group which too deserves as much criticism.

I, for one, thank Greenpeace for their activities in pursuing whaling operations. Not so much from an emotional view point, but from the view of preserving genetic diversity. Harvesting of the oceans is almost entirely unsustainable and until we can appropriately farm sea life sustainably (if it will ever be possible) I will not support fisheries on any level.

That said, their destruction of a CSIRO GM crop was a pathetic, emotionally fuelled gesture that will have no positive effect to their cause (unless they are simply attention seekers). Likewise, Nature recently published a news article about PETA activities to pressure the transporters of research animals.

Firstly, I do not support animal testing of cosmetic materials, but that said, this too is an emotionally fuelled gesture based more on an extreme ideology which contradicts the benefits such people have been able to enjoy in the modern age.

Animal testing is fundamental for safe medicines. It’s not enough to test the effects on living tissue (as psychological effects cannot be tested on non-conscious material), nor is it ethical to test directly on people*. Likewise, many such tests require certain genes to be present (or absent) to understand the relevant effects. This again requires fully formed animals of some sort.

Without such testing, it would have taken far longer for there to be conclusive evidence (at least, within the public arena) of the detrimental effects of cigarettes on our species; indeed the carcinogenic and otherwise poisonous properties of many materials that have (and still do) surround us.

The resulting data we have obtained for such testing has greatly improved the quality of human life and our understanding of ecology and animal behaviour (essential for conservation). Further testing will only increase our understanding of the brain, toxins, improved medicines, genetics, ecology and animal behaviour.

If any one of the PETA characters behind this movement have ever taken medicine (as opposed to the untested or tested-and-proven-not-to-work “alternative remedies”) to overcome an ailment (or to save their life), well, they are thus a hypocrite. They would expect such medicine to work and the only reason we have confidence of the abilities of such chemicals to do a certain job as well as knowing the side-effects is due to this process.

The same could be said about species conservation; behavioural ecology sometimes requires a sample group to be taken into the lab for behavioural as well as physiological studies. It’s also our work in genetics and population dynamics as well as animal testing which leads us to conclusions about gene pool and outbreeding coefficients. Saving the animals indeed means studying them.

It’s unlikely such actions will even do as PETA would like them to. Instead, other less favourable methods of transport will have to be considered – at the expense of the very animals PETA are trying to save.

From the Nature article;

In India, for example, the government’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), in Hyderabad, relies on Air India to ship specialized mouse strains to researchers and companies throughout the country. “From Hyderabad to Delhi by train would take more than 30 hours” and require an attendant, says Madan Chaturvedi, dean of life-sciences research at the University of Delhi. Without Air India transporting the animals, research at his institution “would definitely suffer”, he says.

Admittedly, it does serve as an ethical dilemma. If PETA genuinely stand for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, they would have more positive impact by working with researchers to set up a best practice policy. It would start with trying to eliminate needless animal testing where possible and then steps to ensure animals are handled appropriately. I wouldn’t be surprised if PETA learnt, through such an endeavour, that many researchers already act as ethically as possible.

Scientists are not the villains, riding on the back of some mutated rodent, out to take over the world that cartoons tend to portray. Believe it or not, they’re your average human, in a given profession, and like your average human they tend to be empathetic. They are not in the game to inflict cruelty for the sake of it.

Only through working with researcher can such groups truly understand what work is actually being done (rather than what the read in their pamphlets and understand from hear-say within their group) and work to ensure that important work is done to the highest ethical standards possible. Bullying others into a certain ideological framework will only lead to worsening the conditions of such animals and isolating such extreme ideologies even further… It’s counterproductive to mantra of PETA and hypocritical to the benefits its members enjoy in the modern world.

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* There isn’t a version of the reality that I’ve heard that would not exploit the vulnerable and unnecessarily threaten human life.

As another foot note; I suspect many fans of PETA and alike, whom reject any animal testing / food supply, would have rejoiced at the recent study, by Séralini et al. 2012 that suggested a link between tumours and GM foods. Of course, this conclusion could have only been drawn by animal testing (whether or not the implications indeed turn out to have the impact, or meaning, those now trumpeting its message – without reading the paper or relevant material surrounding it, some of which is summarised by Butler here as well as an illuminating editorial here – would hope it to have).

It’s not so black and white.

I must admit, I’ve been lazy in contributing to the wider scientific communication network over the last year. I was once in continual contact with a wide range of communicators, scientists and advocates, however with my attention focused elsewhere throughout mid-2011 to mid-2012 and in some ways allowing the endless swarm of trolls burn me out, my heart just wasn’t in it.

The people whom have been patiently keeping tabs on my site through this period (for which I am very thankful) would have noticed a return to regular posting. My plan is a new post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at a set time, with random posts around that. I am also keen to build up the former connections I once had as well as many more.

With that in mind, in resurfacing to the subject matter – that is (in my case), issues that impact our immediate future – I have found that the arena is becoming dirtier and, well, more pathetic.

The actions behind the whole Climate-gate saga where nothing more than a criminal act; private information was stolen from research facilities. For all the hype and bung “nails in the coffin”, all that happened was theft and unfounded noise. One would have thought, if there was indeed a genuine case of fraudulent behaviour, such material would be teeming with it. That we have a couple quotes, taken out of context illustrates the point I return to again and again – committed sceptics are in no way interested in the science.

But it gets worse.

I only recently learnt about the hacking and theft of private material from the forum of Skeptical Science and again the same pathetic quote mining. Geez; someone said we need a conspiracy to save humanity, OMG – the crazy environmentalists are duped by, I don’t know, bankers, the devil, Zombie Stalin, in the grand scheme to produce the one world government… this one quote proves it all!!!

No it doesn’t. It was one of the cuff comment that wasn’t really entertained and even if it was; these are people writing on one website… come on, get over it.

A perfectly valid reply to Jo Nova’s equivalent (not to mention, hysterical) comic.

Entertainers of this delusion are simply looking for confirmation to their warped perception of the world. This proves the whole conspiracy! When you have no expectations, when you don’t have a strong ideology to prop up, you have no need for confirmation bias. It’s a wonderfully liberating place to be – although, I must admit it is isolating.

This is because the same types of events are occurring against the contrarians. This has happened to Jo Nova (from what I’ve heard, twice in the last year) with her site being bombarded by traffic and shut down.

Now this act too demonstrates no interest in the science. The science may never have actually come into it at all, instead it is purely a battle between the two major political wings; a battle that has resorted to cyber terrorism and has long included bullying. It’s increasingly an affront to free speech as much as the Islamic backlash, insisting global adherence to religious law.

I’m not really in favour of the petition against letting Anthony Watts pollute the air ways with his nauseating brand of hype and misinformation or the online petition in response to the, somewhat typical, thoughtless rant of the near senile Alan Jones.

In the spirit of free speech, I say; let them speak! Let every last loud mouth, zealot, hypocrite and idiot stand on a soap box and record their thoughts and values.

If it wasn’t for this, we wouldn’t have the brilliantly funny video presentations by Peter Hadfield and the world would be a poorer place for it.

Think about it; by letting every last people write or present themselves, they are effectively telling their decedents what kind of person they are. The black and white photos from rallies against racial equality look horrid by today’s standards. We can judge them, as we do the Westboro Baptist Church, for what they were and what people like Monckton, Alan Jones and Watts write and say. We have the right to object to their rubbish, which itself is recorded.

What I feel is being overlooked is the true cause for all this angst (in those who counter the contrarian position); the proliferators of nonsense and ideology have lulled us to confuse “equal” for “fair”. They demand “equal” time to sprout their contempt for reason, when what they deserve is “fair” time.

To quote Eugenie Scott;

“Now let’s just say that I find all of this research and peer review to be burdensome and let’s say that it’s so much easier for me to go to a state legislator and convince him to pass a law that determines that [my idea] goes directly to the class room without having to go through all that tedious research and review. You can imagine that my colleagues would be rather annoyed at me and I would be strongly criticised by my colleagues for the unfairness of my cutting to the head of the line. They had to go through a very laborious process… I took a short cut.”

Fair air time for Anthony would be a 30 second bite, in which he can say, “I don’t like it,” following a 30 minute presentation of the best information we now have due to critical investigation by the leading experts on the matter. We should be petitioning for fair weighted media on the important subjects – weighted by its empirical credibility and not political popularity. That’s the fight worth fighting.

Outside of this, as I’ve hinted throughout this post, we should have a laugh at what is really funny: Many of these people actually believe there is a secret agenda to create a one world socialistic government! Many of these people actually believe in various conspiracies dating back to the Middle Ages – even John Tyndall must be involved somehow! Many of these people still believe the warming trend in the data is entirely the result of urbanisation encroachment on weather stations! Many of these people actually believe that an invisible superhero is the sole agent behind our climate (the seasons too were in this boat until we understood the tilt in the Earth’s axis)…

These, and many more similar arguments, are hilarious. We should acknowledge just how far off the spectrum into some dark and dank extreme pocket they arrive from. By taking them seriously – without credible empirical evidence – we unfairly give them weight, in fact, equal weight.

I’m totally against censorship and all in favour of transparency and fairness. Let everyone share their thoughts, demand empirical evidence and weigh their ideas accordingly, just don’t resort to this juvenile warfare.

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.

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*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.

The more I reflect on what I have learnt regarding the inherent cultural values associated with factual evidence (such as that relating to evolution, climate change etc) and from discussions with others on the subject, I’m drawn to one point which I feel is potentially the most difficult to overcome by those who reject evidence to maintain a favoured view point.

This is a fear of a loss in control supposed by “committed sceptics” of a given subject.

With those who accept the high certainty of such finding, in general, I find they are happy to acknowledge their own shortcomings and prefer to embrace acquisition of high quality information over a need for absolute certainty. This of course can lead to flying off the spectrum entirely (especially where critical evaluation of information is neglected) and into the ether of “anything is possible and thus everything is really unknowable”, which I have also encountered.

On the other hand, I find a panicked reply when reasoned debate fails a committed sceptic.

A creationist once told me he would prefer to be evolved from a wolf then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence. Most others claim that morality is meaningless if evolution is true.

A committed sceptic once told me that he welcomed the tropical summers of the UK then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence regarding climate change. Most others talk about the end of the civilised world if it’s accepted as true (eg. initiatives aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will send us back to the Stone Age).

Listen to the language; morality would be lost… society as we know it – the hard won civilizations we have created – will be destroyed; the primary value at heart here is a sense of purpose, of meaning, both personally and communally. If this instinctive meaning to one’s life is “lost” absurd propositions are likely and fatalism inevitable. If X is true, well, all hell will break loose…

Of course it wouldn’t.

We have incredibly strong evidence to support the theory that the universe is more than 13 billion years old and of our genetic relationship with all other life on this planet; of evolved diversity.

We have conducted studies that conclusively demonstrate empathy and altruism in other species. Morality exists not due to divine implantation in our minds and/or soul, but due to increasingly well understood social behaviour which is not unique to our species.

What’s more, our morality is not a written and thus stagnant code hardwired on our brains, as unchangeable as they would be on stone tablets. Instead they are evolving – arguably for the better – with subsequent generations (read, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman).

Likewise, climate change is true – it has occurred for reasons understood previously without human influence or consequence, however, this time is different only in that latter points.

Climate change is always punctuated with great changes to species abundance, distribution and regional weather patterns however, so far, life has persisted.

Fatalism and committed scepticism only reduces our potential for effective adaptation. And it is in this point that I feel the concern over a loss of control is unwarranted. It is a misunderstanding control entirely.

Surely we have given up the days in which a daily, weekly, monthly or other pivotal points in time required a sacrifice to ensure the gods favoured us with good weather (for our crops and well-being).

Sure we may laugh, but such events are written even into the stories of the god of Abraham and, within my own lifetime, people in developed countries have turned to rainmakers for help. It is laughable to think such devices enable control over the elements – giving up expected favour or assistance by the gods or other magical methods isn’t to give up control, only a delusion of it.*

On the other hand, we clearly do have control over the global climate. We’re currently and inadvertently conducting such geo-engineering. We have the control on how much heat we wish to trap and what kind of global climate we want.

Thinking about it in this way, imagine in the future that we knew that the axis of the Earth’s spin, the orbit around the sun or solar activity (or a combination of these factors) were to send us into another cold or warmer phase (science has given us the tools to make such prediction). We could alter the concentration of greenhouse gases to ensure we maintain a climate similar to the Holocene, ensuring food production, human well-being and species protection.

We also have the power to control how well we adapt to any unavoidable changes, in advance, if we so choose to acknowledge the projections. The results of our efforts may not even be evident until long after we have handed the keys on to future generations. This demonstrates not only control, but wisdom.

We truly are capable of being masters of our domain. However, we remain victims instead to our own delusions and preoccupation with fatalism. As stated above, the worst fears expressed by committed sceptics are simply unjustified and in truth masked the real fear; a fear in losing control. The reality is, as is so commonly the case, the very opposite. In letting go of false “certainties”, tied to a delusion of control, we can instead own our future.

While I believe if push came to shove, we would battle on under change and persist, however, I would like to think we could instead value real certainty and real control which is already within our grasp.

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*Even if there is a god(s) – which is not the point of this article – we always claim their ways to be mysterious, favouring or ignoring for their own reason, leading us back to same point; it is thus a delusion of control under such “mystery”.

I have been a student or employee of a few universities now and one thing I noticed they all share is a proliferation of proud posters, website “ads” and statements of their successes in progressive work.

As far as I can tell, this ought to be their primary position. Anything else would be squandering their unique assortment of resources.

Universities and colleges can be places comprising thousands of staff and students focused on enhancing our understanding of the natural world, human health and social justice. They often take up large plots of land and require large quantities of resources (especially water and electricity). They can also be large sources of pollution and chemical use (eg. waste, various gases, radiation, etc).

If they are not asking themselves, ‘How could we be more efficient in the use of X?’ or ‘How could we reduce the waste of Y?’ well they are not making use of the cluster of thinkers and doers at their disposal. Likewise, if they are not asking themselves, ‘How can we improve well-being within a community?’ and applying various social experiments within their (often vast) community (or subsets within their community), well, again they are missing a unique opportunity.

Too often we cry that the government should do something about problem B, however – and this touches on the point I was making in my previous article – most often there isn’t an acceptable example of the contrary locally. Take, for instance, old growth forest loss or the recent noise around the carbon tax in Australia.

In the former, what are the alternatives? White Australia is heavily culturally coupled to logging as it is the sheep industry (which too is unsustainable). Examples of countries that do otherwise are countries that live different with different cultural values. Look at Japan for instance. The protection of their woodlands does relate strongly to other cultural options – such as limited (if at all) land meat production and much higher urban density to that “expected” within white Australian culture. Germany is another country with a strong focus woodland protection and even though it is, like white Australian culture, western European, it is still a different way of life to ours and the two hundred years of ‘a sunburnt country’ mentality.

Likewise the carbon tax plays on a fear that our politicians are relentlessly screaming wolf about; it’ll ruin the economy. This is very much a cultural value. Most people in Australia hold the right to free enterprise as one of the highest virtues. We’re probably not unlike our counterparts in the US in that we praise the success of others who were able to secure a large chunk of wealth for themselves. Look at Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Both are, in general, viewed as “go-getters” (although, this is far from universal).

The carbon tax is seen as an attack on this cultural value (as is the mining tax, and the goods and services tax etc). A “big fat tax on everyone”, as Abbott drilled into the public is an affront to a prime cultural value held by most Australians. So foreign is the contrary position, it may feel that it’s not unlikely one would hear comparisons to socialism or communism. Fears of an Orwellian state run rampant.

Yet, within our own communities, we have large sub-communities, with a large amount of assorted resources and a drive for knowledge. From these communities, we could (or should) have a playground for testing local cultural values, under the guise of resource management and social well-being (that is to say, improvement in these fields would be the quest). The medical schools already do this – so why is it too much to expect third year or post-grad students to be asking questions like, ‘How can we make the campus more biophilic?’ or ‘How can we lead to lower stress and improved learning rates within the students?’ or ‘What can be done to manage X resource more efficiently within the campus?’

Such answers could be profound as it would not be restricted simply to factual answers, but also within a cultural context. It could be thus more easily applied within the wider community than, say, expecting Australians to adopt practices from abroad simply because they are more efficient.

The one thing to be wary of however, is the potential grounds for xenophobia that is created if we put too much emphasis in culture. Again, I feel that tertiary education provides a good tool. They are, in Australia, multicultural communities. Posing questions and developing answers within this sub-group could reflect Australia, as a whole, and thus present answers to a wide range of problems – within that cultural context discussed above.

I started this article by saying that, from what I’ve witnessed, universities are doing this and proudly sharing this fact via various media. I would like to see more of it – especially aimed at student project development and across a wider scope than I am aware of occurring so far.

It would also be useful for the students of natural science as it would give their studies a social aspect that is sometimes lacking (not always, as I am aware with the natural resource management components of my own degree) and hopefully an awareness of the impacts their future careers could have on politics and their local communities. It could also provide an avenue for learning science communication to such students. Most importantly, it would help to couple facts, or at least greater certainty, to cultural values that could be more readily applied to the greater community beyond the campus boundary.

Work of the Moth