Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Climate wars have given science bad name, say leading Australian academics

And they're right about that. Admitting that crooks have corrupted and slid past the peer review process and denouncing those crooks would be the first step to restoring the good name of science but they are not willing to go that far. In fact, by continuing to dignify fraud with the label of science they increase the damage to real science.

In any case, peer review is a very weak defence against deliberate fraud. The fact that both British and American climate researchers hid their raw data for many years was a smoking gun that alerted skeptics to the fact that fraud was going on but there is no mention of that below.

Also missing below is any mention of any scientific fact. Why? Because there ARE no facts showing man-caused global warming -- merely guesses dressed up as "models"

UNIVERSITY leaders are pressing for a public campaign to restore the intellectual and moral authority of Australian science in the wake of the climate wars. Peter Coaldrake [Best known for curbing freedom of speech at his university], chairman of Universities Australia and vice-chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, told the HES yesterday he was "concerned about the way the climate change debate has flowed", and would address the role of science in the formation of public policy at his National Press Club address next week. "It worries me that this tabloid decimation of science comes at a time when we have a major national issue in terms of the number of people taking science at university,"Professor Coaldrake said.

Margaret Sheil, chief executive of the Australian Research Council, said she was deeply concerned about the backlash generated by emails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, the criticisms of Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, head of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, and poor research on the rate of glacial melting in a 2007 UN report on climate change.

Professor Sheil said she feared that these black marks would spread to a "broader negative public perception" of science. "Anecdotally, we now see tabloids and talkback radio, and even some broadsheet newspapers, perpetuating these criticisms and the notion that `scientists just made stuff up'," she told the HES. "These sort of comments reflect a widespread lack of understanding of the nature of scientists and science more generally."

She urged university leaders to do more to explain the rigour of the scientific processes and peer review. "We also need to learn from the medical community to better engage with the community on these issues," she said. "The National Health and Medical Research Council, for example, has community representatives on a whole range of committees [that] build bridges and trust. Much of our collective science communication efforts are focused on engagement with science at the school level rather than the public at large."

Anna-Maria Arabia, executive director of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, called yesterday for concerted action by the funders, producers, advocates and consumers of science to "restore confidence in the scientific process and profession". Ms Arabia said scientists welcomed public debate and embraced scepticism. "In fact scientists would welcome a debate on current climate change that challenges the science with science. A scientist never regards peer-reviewed research as being beyond criticism. "But unbalanced debates pitching peer-reviewed science against opinion, anecdotal evidence or the loud voice of cashed-up lobby groups is not healthy.

"There needs to be a circuit-breaker. And the circuit-breaker is a deeper awareness of the importance of science as a discipline that is based on a time-honoured process called peer review. "Peer review allows ideas, scientific views to change, to be corrected. It allows experts to spot mistakes and omissions. Peer review allows scientists to rigorously test their ideas. It is the robust nature of this process that has given people confidence to fly in planes and feed their children nutritious food."

Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, said some populists had found it easy to denigrate science because many scientific conclusions in the field of climate change rested on a balance of probability rather than incontestable proof. "What concerns me is when you get people who are purporting to comment on the science and all they're doing is seeking to turn themselves into celebrities." he said. [The chubby one seems to think that ad hominem abuse is scholarly argument] He also scorned critics of the science who were from other disciplines. "The world can't do without science and if we denigrate it and belittle it and besmirch it by inappropriate behaviour we're in trouble," he said.

Professor Coaldrake said he was attempting to broaden the peak body's public role to include issues such as climate, immigration, ageing and open source information. In attempting to "bridge scientific knowledge, research and public policy", he was seeking a bigger public profile for "the thousands of people within our institutions with a contribution to make", he said.


Australian Labor party out on a limb as as ETS fairyland fractures

THE Rudd government stares down the gun barrel of one of the greatest policy and political retreats of the past generation that confounds its election strategy and its policy credibility.

"Cap and trade in America is dead, the idea is completely dead," Chicago-based global economist, David Hale, participant in the Australian American Leadership Dialogue and a long-time personal friend of Kevin Rudd, told The Australian this week. "The Democrats in the coal-burning states have effectively vetoed a cap-and-trade scheme and Republican gains in the mid-term congressional elections will only make it even more improbable. Cap and trade has been totally submerged in America's economic problems and unemployment near 10 per cent."

Hale says the US confronts a dual crisis of economics and governance with climate change relegated to a minority issue. "America seems crippled by the fiscal crisis," he says. "There is no remote sign of a political consensus about where we are going and my fear is that America is becoming ungovernable. The separation of powers in the US system is the real problem. It means we don't really have government policy, the way you do in Australia. We just have outcomes. There is no government control of the legislature to achieve its program. I think we are heading for some dark moments over the next few years."

Australians, unable to comprehend the scale of this sentiment, should refer to the Pew Research Centre report on the US in late January showing global warming rated the lowest priority, the last out of 21 issues, behind even moral decline, immigration, trade and lobbyists.

Only 28 per cent said global warming was a priority for the US compared with the economy, the highest rating, at 83 per cent, followed by jobs at 81 per cent. (While energy rated 49 per cent or the 11th priority in the US, this usually pertains to energy security, not cap-and-trade laws). Describing voter sentiment, the Pew Centre says: "Such a low rating is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11 per cent consider global warming a top priority compared with 43 per cent of Democrats and 25 per cent of independents."

The latest decisive shift in Australian business opinion comes from the Australian Industry Group and its chief executive, Heather Ridout. "I think the political consensus on climate change both domestically and internationally is now fractured," Ridout tells The Australian. "The emissions trading scheme is on life support. Copenhagen fell well short of expectations."

The AI Group national executive meets today and Ridout's comments leave only one conclusion: the responsible path for corporate Australia is to engage with the Rudd government to find an alternative strategy. Frankly, nobody, including the Rudd government, seems cognisant of what this involves. Ridout says: "Importantly, the way forward is not clear. As an organisation we will operate on the principles that we have already outlined. We continue to believe that a market-based approach is essential. Any scheme must take into account the competitiveness of Australian industry and the current international situation only reinforces this argument."

The Rudd government is stranded without any apparent game plan on its most important first-term policy (outside its response to the global financial crisis). It is rare for a national government to face this predicament in its first term. Labor seems unable to abandon its ETS yet unable to champion its ETS; it cannot tolerate the ignominy of policy retreat yet cannot declare it will take its beliefs to a double-dissolution election; it remains pledged to its ETS yet cannot fathom how to make its ETS the law of the land. Such uncertainties are understandable, yet they are dangerously debilitating for any government. In such a rapidly shifting policy and political climate, even fallback positions risk being rendered obsolete. As Ridout says, the way forward is not clear.

In the interim, Labor's response is to launch a furious series of spins, diversions and alternatives. The list is long: it will make health the main election issue; it will be brave enough to seek a double dissolution on the private health insurance rebate; criticism of its $250 million tax break for the television networks was just a Murdoch media conspiracy; and Tony Abbott is off the planet whenever he attacks the government.

Beneath such drum beating is a government whose world view on climate change is in eclipse and whose domestic political assumptions about climate change have been broken.

As a consequence Labor has lowered, dramatically, its ETS policy profile. Its tactic is to deny Abbott's scare by playing down its ETS. Great tactics, but what's the strategy? Where does this lead? Abbott's bite may be diminished, but what happens to Rudd's credibility? For how long does Labor stop talking about the moral challenge of the age? Is the ETS the policy that dare not bear its name?

Ross Garnaut brands the present phase "the waiting game". But "the agony game" better captures Labor's plight. Garnaut calls this "awaiting the international agreement" that "provides a sound basis for international trade in entitlements". But awaiting the global conditions to make an Australian ETS viable looks like a long wait.

In strategic terms Rudd has three options. They come under the brands belief, compromise and retreat.

The belief option is to stand by the ETS and seek its passage via the deadlock provisions of the constitution at a joint sitting after a successful double-dissolution election around August-September, which approximates a full-term parliament. This is strictly for a government that believes in its policy and its powers of persuasion. Such faith is visibly draining away from Rudd Labor.

The compromise option means radical policy surgery to the ETS, such as legislating a two-year fixed carbon price of about $20 a tonne to get the scheme operational, or even a carbon tax. This is one of Garnaut's options. But it presumably requires some deal with the Greens, a fateful political step that would only create a new set of policy and electoral problems for Rudd. The truth is Labor has not recovered from last year's collapse of its parliamentary strategy of joining with the Coalition to implement its policy.

It was Abbott's election as Liberal [Party] leader that ruined Rudd's entire game plan. The retreat option equates to admitting it is too hard to legislate a policy and too dangerous to make the issue an election centrepiece. Yet saying "no, we can't" would constitute a humiliation for Rudd, making it the worst in a series of unpalatable options.


Schools leaving students at the mercy of bullying

QUEENSLAND schools are failing to properly deal with the two worst kinds of bullying and often don't even check how their existing anti-bullying measures are working, the Government's own expert has warned.

Current approaches to tackling bullying inside the education system are unlikely to stem the growing menace of cyber-bullying. They also are unlikely to curb the effects of children deliberately excluding others. The stark warnings are contained in a highly anticipated report by Professor Ken Rigby, commissioned last year by the State Government. The report says cyber-bullying and social exclusion are "now seen as the most damaging of all to the mental health of targeted children".

After a review of the state's schools, Prof Rigby has concluded they are failing to follow up on how well their existing anti-bullying measures are working. "This needs to be remedied before schools can discover, with confidence, what works at their school," his report said.

Prof Rigby also warned the Government that it needed to continually provide the best new advice to its education department. He recommended every school be made to report annually on its anti-bullying tactics and then be encouraged to note them on their website.

One in three children are bullied in class almost daily, according to research released by Education Queensland last year.

The Rigby report, Enhancing Responses to Bullying in Queensland Schools, highlights a lack of education in schools about the range of anti-bullying measures available. It wasn't all bad, however, with Prof Rigby saying he was "much impressed" during his visits to state schools on their "dedication and sheer inventiveness on what was being done to address bullying". "I have worked with schools in every state in Australia, and it is not my impression that Queensland schools are less dedicated or less effective in dealing with bullying than any other state or territory," he said. "However, I do believe that a good deal of useful advice and guidance can and should be provided by the Department of Education and Training and by other educational jurisdictions."

Prof Rigby acknowledged he only visited a small sample of schools, with only staff and stakeholders – not parents or students – interviewed.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson said he would "carefully consider" the recommendations. Mr Wilson said the report was an important step in his commitment to dealing with bullying and behaviour in Queensland schools.


A profile of Tony Abbott, Australia's likely next conservative Prime Minister

IN the red corner stands Kevin Rudd, conservative man of strong religious conviction. In the blue corner stands Tony Abbott, conservative man of strong religious conviction. Standing between them, refereeing, are Australians who consider God to be less relevant than at any time in the history of this nation. Yet it sometimes feels like the state and the church have become one.

"Yeah," says Abbott, "but I don't bring religion into the square the way Rudd did and does. I am Catholic. I've always taken my religion seriously, even though I have struggled many times in vain to live up to its ideals. "I do not regard myself as a Christian politician. I regard myself as a politician who just happens to think religion matters. I would be appalled, absolutely appalled, to think religion drove anyone's politics in a secular democracy like ours." Abbott says his party never has, and never will, have an image of God watermarked on its ballot slips.

Abbott is moving about the country, visiting the troops, both the camouflaged kind and the party faithful, selling the message that while surviving the financial crisis made Rudd look good, the trifecta of low interest rates, high wages and low prices will not last. Doom is not sexy, but Abbott says: "Our job is to get the public to understand that the Rudd Government is making their situation worse." Things can "definitely get worse for Labor" over coming months. "We can win," he says. "It won't be easy. I'm not saying it's likely, but it is possible. "I don't go to the races often enough to be much good when it comes to odds. We are not a 50-50 chance, but we are not a rank outsider either."

Abbott has not had to reinvent himself for the role of leader. It would not be his style to become toned-down Tony and, besides, no one would buy it from a man who comes to the leadership as an already fully formed politician.

He stuck his jaw out yesterday when asked about his sex life, describing sex as one of life's great pleasures. But, he said, there were times when it was difficult to have sex: "Let's face it, it's almost impossible to have when you are on the campaign trail."

He said the inquiry about his sex life, linked to giving things up for Lent, was a very good question. "When I was a schoolboy, my great Jesuit mentor, Father Costello, said it was much better to do something positive in Lent than to give something up," he says. "And he said that we shouldn't have a hair shirt mentality where we were against the good things of life - we should have a heroic mindset where we went out to try to make the most of life."

That might be tricky to reconcile with his recent comments that he would advise his daughters to abstain from sex until marriage and not give away their virginity too lightly.

If it is correct that people find Abbott physically appealing, the question remains whether women in particular like traditional-values Abbott. "Look, I'm not going to get into this issue because that was then and now is now. My position is well known and it hasn't changed," he says. "I just observe that my view, Kevin Rudd's view and (NSW Premier) Kristina Keneally's view are all pretty similar, and yet journalists aren't rushing around interrogating Kevin Rudd and Kristina Keneally about their view."

His point is reasonable. It also reaffirms that today's voters see nuance rather than vast chasms when choosing between Liberal and Labor.

Asked if there was any circumstance where the death penalty should apply, Abbott says there are some crimes so horrific that it maybe the only adequate penalty. "But look, it's not my policy to reintroduce the death penalty. If the matter ever came before the federal Parliament it would be a conscience vote," he says.

Abbott has not changed: his role has. "I think that moving into a leadership position gives the public a licence to rethink their view about you. "I think when someone changes positions, go from one job to another job, even strongly held and entrenched views can change. "The other point I'd make is that I think people who follow politics closely and have an understanding of public life, actually quite appreciate there are some roles which are necessary and valuable but not naturally popular. "The person who fills those roles is often quite respected even if not necessarily widely liked."

Does he like Rudd? "We don't see each other in a context which is conducive to the normal growth of affection," Abbott says. But there was a time, 10 years ago, when they got along. Faith brought them together, on Monday nights, when former Liberal MP Ross Cameron held religious fellowship meetings in his parliamentary office. "In those days, I was impressed by (Rudd's) willingness to participate in something which tended to be dominated by Coalition MPs. "I know on occasion Rudd was given to understand by (Labor) that he was letting the side down by fraternising with the enemy. "And I respected Rudd for that and I found, in those days, much to like in the bloke. I also occasionally thought he was a little bit more in love with the sound of his own voice than he should have been. Nevertheless I did find much to like in him in those days.

"Since then, as I guess both of us have got closer to the pointy end of debate, you tend to be focusing on things that drive out affection. "That's not to say in a different context I couldn't find him pretty likeable."

In 2006, Rudd, then in opposition, published an essay entitled "Faith in Politics". It rankles Abbott to this day. Rudd had named his most admired 20th-century person as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis. Rudd talked of the importance of taking belief into office, but making sure God was not hijacked for political purposes. Rudd then attacked John Howard's party for asking people to vote for them because they were Christians with defined views of private sexual morality, and because they chanted the mantra of family values.

"In short, the thing I found obnoxious was the way he was trying to exploit his undoubtedly sincere Christianity as a political marketing tool," Abbott says. "I thought that was a bit of a low thing to do. "He was saying that's what you guys were trying to do, wasn't he? Which I think was complete crap. Absolute complete crap. He was wrong. Absolutely wrong. "He was unable then, and would be unable now, to find any example of a senior Coalition politician saying, 'Vote for me because I'm a Christian'. "No one did, no one would. But Rudd was saying, 'Vote for me because I'm a Christian'.

What he was saying was that the Labor Party was a more Christian party than the Coalition because at the heart of the Gospel, he said, was social justice. "I don't want to get into a new argument with him over that, but I thought at the time it was both self-serving and wrong."

Proof that the campaign is under way is how little spare time Abbott has. The best way to pin him down is to jump on a plane and interview him at 10,000m. Up close he's a good-looking bloke who holds his 53 years well. The long years in government, and now Opposition, have not worn him down. He seems to be chasing minds, rather than hearts. He feels no need to present as a great Aussie bloke who, for instance, just loves his cricket.

For Abbott, sport is personal, a place where he has assessed himself. He boxed for Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar: "Getting into the boxing ring was scary. Um, packing down against Steve Finnane in my second game of first grade rugby was scary." Of knowing fear in recent times, he says: "Getting caught in a big set at Golf Course Reef at Mollymook - it's pretty scary to see a big wall of white water coming towards you, knowing you're going to get hammered and knowing there's probably a couple of equally big walls of white water behind it and you probably aren't going to be able to paddle out quickly enough to avoid it."

Abbott also said he'd had "a couple of hairy moments driving a car", and, as if to prove the point, on Wednesday he almost became a political footnote when his Commonwealth car was almost wiped out by a truck at a highway-side media stop near Geelong. "My life didn't flash before my eyes," he says. "I think the only word that had passed my lips was a short one beginning with F as I saw the truck go past."

Abbott does not fear Rudd. But would he have been better off letting Malcolm Turnbull destroy himself on behalf of the Liberals in this election? Because that's the way things work - isn't it? Australians give leaders a second term? "We didn't give (post-Great Depression Labor prime minister) Jimmy Scullin a second chance, and we only gave Gough Whitlam three years," he says.

If you removed Abbott's budgie smugglers, you'd find "Liberal" branded on his hide. You'd find no such mark on Turnbull when he stepped out of his Calvin Kleins. It was about Turnbull, not the party, and insiders feared he could have destroyed the Liberals. "But he didn't," says Abbott. "Political parties are resilient beasts. The only thing about political parties is they can go through difficult times where people worry about their survival, let alone their success, yet just a few months later everything can be different. "There's a cycle in politics, and when you're at the wrong end of the cycle, things look pretty bad. But there are a few problems that political parties are subject to that can't be cured by victory."

Where are you in that cycle? "Normally, it takes longer than three years for the political cycle to turn. But again that depends very much of the general environment in which governments are operating and the political competence of the government of the day. "I just don't think that the Rudd Government is quite the bunch of political geniuses people thought a few months ago."

On the question of asylum seekers, Abbott has announced a Howard II policy, the only difference being that he won't set up another Nauru or Manus Island to process refugee applicants. He thinks "it ought to be possible to reduce the flow, and if you can reduce the flow, then Christmas Island should be able to cope". He'll do this by reinstating temporary protection visas that will give no guarantee of permanent residency. But he agrees that under Howard, most refugees with TPVs ended up staying - and there's no reason the same wouldn't happen again.

Christmas Island, already close to capacity, will certainly overflow. But won't asylum seekers simply scuttle their boats and demand rescue - as they're already doing? He admits this is so. He will need to find Another Solution.

I ask whether he felt any sense of thrill for Barack Obama in victory. "I felt happy for Obama, because what greater honour could a politician have than becoming president of the United States?" he says. But the real thrill for Abbott was this: "I felt pleased for America, because it would be much harder for America's critics to say there was something fundamentally racist about America. Having said that, if I had been in America I would have been voting for McCain because I reckon he had, on balance, better policies."

Abbott does not believe Rudd should be attacked for being an awkward facsimile of a normal bloke. "I think Rudd's problems are not his personality. I think he's broken a lot of promises and he seems more comfortable with process than with performance. "I mean, he's a great one for setting up committees and claiming that as an achievement of itself. "We've lost count, but early on in the life of the Rudd Government I think we counted up about 150 separate reviews, committees, inquiries and other processes that had been put in place. "A lot of these don't come to anything. That's why people think he's all talk and no action."

He credits Rudd as a "highly intelligent bloke" but says the public can't get a handle on him: "I think the public want to know who the real Kevin Rudd is."

Abbott does seem to know himself. His team does not need to closely media-manage Abbott's mouth - just his time. "Yeah, look, I don't regard myself as God's gift to politics, and I don't regard myself as anything other than a flawed and fallible human being. I think, despite all that, I'm reasonably comfortable in my own skin," he says.


1 comment:

Paul said...

If Abbott can just go on being himself he's got the potential to be a three term PM. He's everything someone like me gets told he should oppose, and I look forward to his inauguration.

(and just quietly, the speedos work for me too, not that I want to see him in them standing at the dispatch box, but still...)