Category: politics

Science under attack

If you haven’t seen this excellent BBC documentary, here’s your chance. Dellingpole shows himself up wonderfully and the connections between the climate denialists and other conspiracy theorist denialists are elegantly described.
It’s also nicely made, with the usual BBC production levels.
I hope they start showing this in schools.

following each other, going nowhere

jesus

flea market, Berlin

Follow-back buddies
When people chose to follow one of my blogs I take a look at theirs and I’m not particularly discriminatory regarding who I follow. They may appear a little more into flower photography or describing their train journeys or taking us on a quest to discover the meaning of existence than I, and that’s all okay with me.

Jesus!
If, however, the theme of the blog is an evangelical exuberance about someone’s personal relationship with the heavenly Jesus, or a detailed, point by point account of exactly how the world is wrong, including a handy cut out and keep list of what action must be taken to remedy the horrors that are about to unfold, thank you for your interest, but you won’t be getting followed by me. Don’t get me wrong, you believe what you want, we don’t have to agree on anything for me to follow you. My problem here is answers. You think you’ve found them. I don’t think you have.

I know, I know!
It’s nothing against your beliefs, in fact there are also a bunch of climate change denying libertarians who also receive the same reaction regardless of their chosen mystical associations. It’s the sense that you know what it’s all about that’s the problem here.

Clueless
I don’t know about much. One thing of which I’m sure is that things are pretty complicated. I see that in particle physics, I see that in astronomy, I see that in biology, paleontology, etymology, chemistry, epidemiology, and in fact everywhere where people actually keep asking questions and don’t settle for one answer. Complexity is all around us and it makes sense to me to try and grasp as much of it as we can while we’re here.

The unifying theory of nonsense
flea market
There’s always a temptation to try and look for an overarching pattern, some key to it all, some kind of big answer. Well, from what I understand of the universe, beyond certain theories within physics that have exactly zero effect on our daily lives, the idea of there being an answer to the question “what’s it all about?” seems trite.

But I really, really know it!
So if you are convinced that you have the answer to the big one, if you’re certain that you’re grasping the teleological key in your metaphysical hand, why not tuck it safely away in your pocket of wisdom. I don’t want it. If you’re so sure of everything, good. Well done! And I hope understand that my skepticism towards your simplified view of the world is not based on fear, or hate, or anger. No matter what your religion or ideology is, I’m just not that into it. There’s too much to learn about for one lifetime, too much to try and understand, too much to experience with eyes wide open, with a grounding in reality, with a basis in evidence. Far too much to spend time on fantasies, myths and traditions that tell us what we want to here, and not what we have truly discovered.

Magical mystery tour
cat monk worldOf course, I’m happy that people are certain about things. Sometimes I’m even a little jealous. But then I look a little closer, and I see a child on a bus journey, clutching her ticket with its destination neatly printed, eyes tightly closed, muttering with excitement about the wonderful place we’re heading to, or another child in a rage because the driver has taken a perceived wrong turn. This teleological certainty seems unproductive to me. So I look out the window, count the houses, note changes in the landscape, and most of all, enjoy the ride.

The buzz about neonicotinoids: Hive minding your own business.

ImageI noticed a request to sign a petition on facebook with the heading

BAN THE PESTICIDES THAT ARE KILLING BEES

I was also alerted to the same issue on facebook via a butterfly conservation page that said

Today the March of the Beekeepers, organised by Buglife and others, will advance on Parliament Square, Westminster to support a temporary ban of neonicotinoid pesticides. Could these pesticides affect butterflies and moths as well as bees?

and linked to details of a protest against neonicotinoid insecticides called March of the Beekeepers.

So, the claim is that neonicotinoid insecticides, having proven to be killing bees, may also be the cause of butterfly decline. Facebook messages followed in support of the march.

This seems like a good thing, right? The huge german company Bayer are manufacturing these pesticides, and there’s a ton of evidence to prove the connection between this stuff and the bees dying. Surely.

So, I decided to take a look at some of the evidence on offer, linked from the campaign. Here’s their science (a very short pdf). Now, straight away, I have little problem. They say

…independent studies showed serious sub-lethal impacts on non-target invertebrates.

which suggests to me that nobody is talking about the killing of bees, oh, except for the

BAN THE PESTICIDES THAT ARE KILLING BEES

people.

Secondly, I have a problem with the way they casually broaden out the category to include any environmental impact, including earthworms and mammals, however interesting that is, when the issue at hand is bees. To me this looks like cherry picking, although it’s very hard to be certain because the most relevant sounding studies listed are seemingly unavailable (google-wise).

For a little balance, I came across the Scientific Beekeeping site which appears to present quite a different story.

Yes, bees can be effected by this pesticide when dosed enough. It appears to be general scientific consensus, seen here in the Relatively objective reviews section, however, that it is very unlikely to be the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

My concern is that people are allowing their political judgement (perhaps a suspicion of companies like Bayer, and a dislike of “unnatural” pesticides) to cloud their scientific judgment. In my view, this situation could become another mass moral panic, resulting in a blanket ban. My fear is that the campaigners will move on to some other issue and the bees will keep dying.

The science is not simple here, and the slogans of the marchers (who I suspect may not be exclusively beekeepers) do not reflect the scientific complexity, resulting in an emotion-driven movement that is unlikely to be productive.

PIK

PIK

The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

I went here today. There are actually a whole group of beautiful old buildings around here, including the famous Einsteinturm, but I posted this photo because this is the building that supplies a great deal of info to the IPCC and other groups, and they’re just generally a good bunch of scientists doing what they can. So often so much good work is done behind nondescript buildings, but in this case they’re pretty!

Margaret Thatcher on Climate Change and Environment

Just to provide a little balance, here’s Thatcher arguing clearly, and scientifically accurately, for dramatic action to combat anthropogenic climate change at the UN back in 1989.
I believe that when people are right, they’re right, and very few people are all wrong.

She suddenly goes on about how the magic of the free markets will fix everything around the 20 minute mark, but other than that…

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

This is the full CSpan version. My eyes get moist listening, not because I miss Ms. Thatcher, I had no special fondness for her, but because I miss what we once had in pre-Fox America –  a dialogue with intelligent conservatives who took the time to actually think, feel, reason, and deduct. A common set of basic human values, and a respect for fact and science.

Can you imagine a contemporary Republican making glowing mention of Darwin? (first 5 minutes)

thatchpalin

It’s 36 minutes. Worth playing in the background, or if you don’t have time, see the Yale video I produced using this footage,  and commentary below in another post.

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Margaret Thatcher, compassion, and letting things go.

I strongly objected to many of Margaret Thatcher’s decisions, her support of apartheid, Clause 28, the sinking of the Belgrano, the selling off of the things the people of Britain already owned, the list goes on, I didn’t like her style, her tone, I didn’t even like her voice, but I don’t demonize her. 

Policies that were considered racist and homophobic are now long forgotten. In many respects she lost the culture wars, and her brand of social conservatism has faded away, whereas no subsequent government has seen fit to roll back any of her economic changes. 

Would Britain have become more liberal sooner without Thatcher? Perhaps, but we’ll never know for sure. 

Did the people of Britain agree with the economic changes? Well, neo-liberalism has been the political consensus ever since.

I distinctly remember a sense that hers was a government lacking in compassion. Their faith in free markets appeared to have little time for the weak, the slow, and the vulnerable. I found this baffling at the time. I couldn’t understand how people could look down with such distain upon frailty. 

I’m reminded of this because I see that same distain now. That same lack of compassion. 

 

There was a time to be angry at Thatcher. There was a time to stand up and push against the neo-liberal economic revolution. There was a time to reject the materialism, to forgo the benefits of deregulation, to fight for a sense of community against rampant individualism. 

You missed that time, Britain. You chose not to take that opportunity.

Well, you made that decision all those years ago, you bought that Thatcherite dream, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that many of you ejected any sense of compassion along the way. Being compassionate towards people you like is no compassion at all.

There’s nothing to rage against here, and nothing to celebrate. 

An old woman died. My tribal allegiances died long ago.