Tuesday 25 January 2011

100 Authors Against Einstein - Scientific 'Consensus' and Scepticism

Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough! - Albert Einstein

Consensus is utterly irrelevant to science. The philosophy of science is devoid of consensus. What concerns science is not weight of numbers on the side of an argument, but what the facts are. What the evidence is.

I have just watched the BBC's latest Horizon program "Science Under Attack". In the program he goes on about overwhelming evidence of AGW, but offers only one tiny piece (tree rings used in spliced data), he talks about consensus (without understanding that consensus is meaningless in science and denying that there are enough professionals who are sceptical of AGW to make such an assertion plainly false), and he mocks 'extreme' scepticism.

Scepticism is the foundation of scientific principles - there is no 'fine line' as Nurse puts it between acceptable levels of scepticism and unacceptable levels. All scepticism is acceptable. When Einstein was in the minority of people against Newton's theory of relativity he would have been seen as going too far, questioning where it was not welcome. The facts were decided, there was 'consensus'. Before Einstein published his work, no contemporary scientist apparently disagreed with Newton's (now disproved) theory. Newton himself was working against the orthodoxy of his peers. Being in a minority dues not mean one is incorrect. Argumentum ad populum (or as used in this case, consensus gentium) is still a logical fallacy whether in the scientific community or within any other group (as is an appeal to authority, for those who keep going 'scientists say...').

Attempting to defend a purely scientific position using non-scientific methods such as attacks on 'sceptics' or 'deniers' (rather politicised language, something Nurse is apparently against) or appealing to logical fallacies is wrong. When debating science, only the science should be under scrutiny - not where money comes from nor what the political position of various groups are. Science and science alone.

I myself, fall into what is often caricatured as a 'climate-sceptic', I do not believe that human greenhouse gases are driving the Earth's climate upwards. Ignoring, for the time-being, all of the other, easily disproved nonsense about other things tacked to the side of the AGW debate (such as the spread of malaria), my belief bases itself on a few well known scientific principles.

1. Historically, CO2 has not driven climate, it has responded to warming centuries later. The greenhouse effect is real, but it is not a climate driver, just part of the conditions of climate. Every study done to date has confirmed this (as far as I am aware).
2. If the theory of Anthropomorphic Global Warming were true, the warming in the stratosphere would be warming at a much faster rate than the surface temperature rise (it is from here that the infra-red radiation is absorbed and transferred to heat energy to be conducted away). Both weather balloon data and satellite data show that this warming is not occurring.
3. The surface temperature record has become inaccurate due to the heat-island effect and other problems, meaning that it should be used with this in mind - it may paint a picture of warming faster than is happening.

I may not be a scientist, but I have read enough to be in an informed opinion, rather more than a large segment of the population.

To return the the BBC program, during the regular attacks on the position of sceptics, Nurse portrays the fight to be between science and sceptics. But he doesn't talk about the green lobby in any capacity, surely they are arguing against the 'sceptics' from an equally unscientific position, are they not? It was the green lobby which took the 'science' out of the labs and into governmental budgets - it was they who politicised the subject. Yet, when Nurse brings up the very same groups (not referred to as green lobby groups but anti-GM groups), he portrays them as in the same camp as the sceptics. Every mainstream book sceptical of global warming that I know of is also supportive of Genetically Modified crops; on this, sceptics are on the side of science, whilst the pro-AGW green lobby groups are against it. Yet it is not portrayed this way. Sceptics are regularly referred to as being anti-science, but in all cases, the majority look at the science, or at least what they can observe (such as the weather). Regularly we are told we are 'flat-earth' believers and that we disagree with everything. But when questioned, we turn to science, not flat-out denial. The opposite is true of believers of AGW and the green groups. They tend to not turn to evidence, but to assert bluntly that there is a consensus, that we should believe it. The data is not important, what matters is what they say scientists believe. It is deeply concerning that people who hold such opinions are listened to in public debates (see the Channel 4 program 'What the Green Movement Got Wrong' and the following televised debate if you wish to see such blunt assertions).

What have we learned from this, well, Nurse isn't a climate scientist, he has no specialism in the subject, he is no better placed to make such a documentary than I. He is an outsider to the science, trying to make sense of it. We have learned that the BBC is still strongly in support of AGW (but we were already aware of their bias here). We have learned that Paul Nurse has a poor understanding of the philosophy of science - he is rationalising his scientific beliefs with his assertion that the globe is warming and that it is caused by man. The only piece of the 'huge weight of evidence' offered up by the program is the widely discredited work on tree ring data. Where's the rest of it? Ice core surveys? Bog plant surveys? The evidence is not present, if the overwhelming weight of evidence does exist, it is yet to be seen.

It is surely time that we gave up with the blank assertions in the debate, I was able to see through them at fourteen, I can see through them now. If there was a consensus, it would be irrelevant. Scepticism is good and the only position a scientist should ever take. Scientists are not always right, especially when they are in a separate field to what is being discussed. Anyone who denies any of those points should not partake in such a debate, their view is surely clouded. The BBC would do well to take these points up, in the name of public service, however, it seems their collective [hive-]mind has already decided that we are guilty and must let the state take over. They have been waiting for the age of planners to come to Britain for far too long.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Education, Education, Relativism

It strikes me as odd how anyone can espouse a relativist viewpoint and not instantly realise that they're talking nonsense. All forms of relativism and the wider Postmodernist 'philosophy' (I always cringe when that non-thought is labelled as such, but I digress), are ridiculous and refuted by simple logic - not that I plan to go through a tedious philosophical explanation. Obviously some things are going to be better, or more worthwhile than others - the rejection of this plain truth seems to be the centre of the current wave of antipathy towards current Tory education policy.

Apparently doing courses that will be of no benefit whatsoever are equal to those that might be use use in day to day life, such as english and maths, or ones that give you a better understanding of the world, like geography, history, economics, the sciences and few others. These courses are the ones which will demonstrably prove valuable to the nations competitiveness and so on. If you want to go on about how much of a valuable investment education is, you need to look to these subjects. Music, for 99.9% of cases, is useless, as is art, as are many subjects not included in the new Baccalaureate.

Numbers of teachers have stood up to condemn the new scheme, notably starting with "hi I'm Joe Bloggs and I'm a teacher" or similar phrases, as if being a teacher automatically means that they know best. But teachers, like the rest of us, believe different things and have different education philosophies and styles. Being a teacher can give you a valuable insight, but by no means does it mean you are automatically right when it comes to education. Appeals to authority are logical fallacies and should be shunned as ridiculous more openly.

I'm not sure of the value of adding in a modern language into the Baccalaureate, if the options are French and German, what is the point? Anyone of import in French or German speaking countries speaks English already, and France is diminishing in importance in global affairs. If the languages on offer were Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Portuguese or Russian, I would see value in it, even Pashto would be fare more useful if we continue our absurd venture in Afghanistan. Most Germans are capable of speaking enough English to get by, and a large number of French can do too, we shouldn't waste our time speaking these languages, the lingua franca is now English, and the chances are it will be for quite a while - French is not likely to make a major comeback, in any case.

Aside from the language thing, the alterations by Gove are very good, so long as the government pays for education. If education is funded by the taxpayer, it should be an investment and an investment only. Subjects which do not have good returns should be dropped. If people want to take up learning to play an instrument, they can do so in their own time and with their own money. I do not want to pay for some kid to learn grade 1 guitar then stop caring. It isn't worth it.

People are on about choice in education, but none of them are suggesting the one and only thing that will guarantee choice - privatisation. Private schools generally have much higher attainment, and the people at them seem much more into the whole education thing. Private schools are typically more focused on the academic subjects outlined by Gove and suggests that he knows what he is on about, but if you want choice, you have to go private. Democratic schools are all private, as are all schools that do anything different to the norm. If schools get free reign but are run by the government, there will always be waste and there will be little incentive to perform well - a state system will always be inferior to a private system.

When people hear the term 'private school' they always think that the poor will be unable to afford it. This is borne out of ignorance. Across the world, it is private schools that teach the poor how to read, those in slums who want to have their kids educated send them to private schools. The reason that in this country the only private schools are expensive are because only premium services can be offered as an alternative to 'free' (or indirectly paid for) schools. If you have a free school, you are likely to send your children to it. Coupled with high taxes and various other disincentives for private enterprise, of course.

You really have two choices. Either you support Gove's plans and aim to make the education system in this country one of value, a real investment or you aim to privatise the system. Any other opinion is morally and intellectually bankrupt, unless someone can show me where my reasoning is lacking of course.

Monday 10 January 2011

Neutrality out the window on Palin

I have previously mentioned on facebook back in November that the BBC is biased when it comes to the Tea Party. Small Government advocates clearly isn't quite their cup of tea (isn't that a shocker?). I should be clear, I do not support Palin by any means (I'm an atheist for one thing, and she, like Glenn Beck are Conservatives, not Libertarians). I do however, support the general thrust of the Tea Party movement - a group that fundamentally want lower taxes and and much lower government spending coupled with being American constitutionalists, the idea appeals to me, even if many within it don't fit in with that image at all (and usually drawing the criticism).

Back in November, you might remember a program called 'Tea Party America', with Andrew Neil around 10 minutes into the program, Neil off-handedly dismisses the entire Tea Party movement for using the word 'tyranny' (if Neil had any idea about the history of the Constitution, then maybe he wouldn't have picked up on this). From  this point onwards, Neil continually made references to the party being racist, driving one Tea Party organiser to tears. I find it hard to label the whole party as racist, given the number of candidates from ethnic minorities such as Allen West or, to the great surprise of the BBC-Guardian circle, Nikki Haley's election. So, not only do the BBC not do their research, but they are far too prepared to dismiss the movement. This should be a major concern for everyone who pays for the BBC. This is clear bias, even if you think the Tea Party are made up of 'nutters' (as one of my lefty friends called them, before repeatedly insulting my political position, as you do). To dismiss them without thought is not something that should be accepted at all. But apparently you only have to be neutral when reporting on the left. You can lay into the right or libertarians all you want. Ad hominem attacks on the right are fine, omissions of information are fine (like the curious omission of noting that Chayter was a Labourite when he was off to prison). Double standards again, and without question.

So why am I blogging this now? Well, the Tea Party are back in the news again, with the BBC blaming them - without the slightest bit of evidence or a second thought - for the attacks in Arizona. "It's Palin's fault!" they cry. First, what of the target thing? Well, pretty much every party has target seats, so using a target for them seems reasonable, and political parties regularly do this. If it had been Giffords in the sights, maybe you could claim otherwise, but the targets were the seats. How stupid/arrogant/unashamedly biased do you have to be to not notice this?

Ultimately, whatever happened, it was done by one person, presumably making his own decisions, to attack others. Unless he had been in the pay of Palin, you cannot blame Palin for this. Unless of course, you are actively looking to blame Palin, in which case... oh.

I did watch one of the guy's youtube videos yesterday. It was mostly about grammer and rather incoherent. Judging from what can be ascertained as yet, he was a lefty with some rather serious personal issues (aside from being a lefty, that is). But I will not jump to conclusions here - I didn't ever meet the guy. It would be overly presumptuous to suggest any motive as yet. Nobody knows yet, but it does appear to be an issue running from around '07 (when he had previously met Giffords) i.e. long before the Tea Party were around to persuade him.

The media (whatever their slant) should stop blaming Palin and the Tea Party for something that, as yet, has no link to them whatsoever. I would contend that the BBC's position is immoral. They are deliberately suggesting a connection to something they don't like - an anti-government position. Because anti-statist means their budgets getting cut and them being moved down to the position of say, a normal market competitor, rather than a monopolist.

As a final thought, the BBC do give me a lot of ammunition to work with. I wonder, will the Guardianistas ever concede that they are not, in fact, neutral?

N.B. BBC cosy with the left as usual, I see. I don't think I'll be watching the train thing if it comes out. Strictly comes Politics does worry me though. Does the almost-leader of Labour really think that politics is just a game to be played out on TV screens? I didn't really think he was that uncaring about the lives of people in this country.

Sunday 9 January 2011

How much entertainment is a public service?

Further to my previous posts regarding the BBC, I feel I should report the current standing. Last night I watched The Weather Man on Iplayer, I didn't personally think it was very good. I'm now watching The Men Who Stare at Goats. Filmfour (understandably) have to charge for you to watch films on their website. They cannot afford to do what the BBC does (and repeatedly complain about this, much to the ignorance of the left).

It cannot be denied that the BBC here is simply offering entertainment that could be provided by others. Why should people be forced to pay for The Incredibles, or any other entertainment for others? Before anyone complains that I am being hypocritical, seeing as I am forced to pay a TV licence, I feel the right to watch BBC programs (even though the vast majority of its programming is dreadful). If you looked at the total amount I have paid for TV licensing and the amount I would have to pay otherwise if I watched the equivalent programs, I would surely come out in deficit anyway.

But back to the point; why are the BBC buying out all of these films, removing the opportunity for other broadcasters to broadcast them and get the much needed viewers (from which they need to gain money)? Because they can. The BBC does not care if it drives everyone else out of the market, the market share for the BBC is going through the roof, and unlike Sky, you are forced to pay for it if you watch TV (and are always regarded as suspect if you don't). The BBC is, quite simply, irresponsible. If you want choice to still exist in a decade, the BBC needs to be axed, or at the very least, have a stronger charter enforced on it, leaving it with only the public service parts remaining. Another firm on the basis of Channel 4 could be set up if necessary to preserve the 'quality' services that do not fall under public services, but do away with TV licensing. Make them work for their money, like everybody else.

The Guardian continues to complain about Murdoch buying out the rest of Sky, but the BBC is still a much larger organisation (even by their own figures). If they really believed what they were on about over Guardian offices, they would also support breaking up the BBC. Alas, it seems more like an attempt to disable competitors that have different stances to the BBC and the Guardian. Double standards, methinks.

Friday 7 January 2011

Reflections as a Student - Riots, Cuts and Morality

The whole issue of student fees and the connected protests (and riots) has fallen out of the news and to a large degree the leftist militia has begun to run out of steam (they apparently all still needed to go home and open their benefits of mutual trade over Christmas). I feel, as a student, that I should give my opinions on the subject (and to a certain extent the wider UK uncut groupings).

The idea that one should resort to violence in protest of an government policy is utterly abhorrent and immoral. The claims that "windows can be replaced" in defence of violence is bizarre - the damage is still done and is still wrong to deliberately, negatively affect others. Resorting to violence to get your way (no matter how minor) is effectively terrorism. I'm not trying to put bombings and smashing windows on an equal footing, the one is obviously a great deal worse than the other. It is still exactly the same mindset, and exactly the same justifications are provided - "by doing X we get to have Y, no matter how bad X is", whether that is to destroy the west, 'free' Northern Ireland or get other people to pay for an ignorant person to gain a higher level of education (note: higher level not standard of education). First of all, I should note that history tells us that such terrorist or terrorist-lite actions tend to damage the causes they aim to promote. Look at the polls for after the student riots, or alternatively, the support both in parliamentary votes in in polls once the Suffragettes replaced the Suffragists in the public conciousness. The West has not fallen, Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK and the student fees bill passed its vote.

So, what of fees? Surely, as a student I want education free, don't I? Does education not help society? No it does not, I would say, not in and of itself anyway. Education in its current form, or perhaps more, Educational Qualifications such as A levels and degrees are nothing but paper. Education in this way does not help society, there is no evidence of this. Degrees are proofs of an individual's ability to perform to certain standards. If more people do degrees (i.e. high supply) then the value will fall. If degrees are made easier, then again, the value will fall (in the same way a cheaply made computer will be worth less than one made to last). The reason that I am doing a degree is to give myself better job prospects in the future. I don't pretend that I don't enjoy the life. I have plenty of spare time to read interesting books and a large academic library to use, I get plenty of money to spend on frivolous things without necessarily having to do much work to get it. I do agree that I should pay this money, and the money to fund my tuition back once I have finished. It is only fair that I pay for the benefits that I receive, especially I am the main (if not sole) beneficiary of these benefits. It seems moral and fair to me.

The idea that it is not fair that others got their education 'free' and current students do not seems to lack any analysis or moral underscoring. I will ignore the fact that the word fair has become almost meaningless in the common debate and focus on the less covered errors of judgement here. First, nobody ever gets anything free. The current generation have paid for most of the costs of their education through taxation. The government only really has two sources of revenue - taxation and borrowing (not going into the more detailed area of interests on loans to other governments). In order to pay for the 'free' education, the money has to come from one of these sources. Thus they have paid for it in tax, as borrowing is simply taxation deferred (or taxation that was not seen as politically acceptable at the time of spending). Considering the current state of public finances, ignoring the closeness the nation is to bankruptcy, for the university education of 43% of the young to be funded, the money would have to come through higher borrowing. This higher borrowing would come in the form of taxation of both current students in their later life and the as yet unborn. There is no free lunch to be had.

Secondly, where is the morals behind the "its not fair" point of view? Why does an individual have a right to an education paid for by others? If he is the person with the most to gain from it, why should he not pay? Considering that more people are attending university now than ever before, you have run out of people to tax for it. Most of the people who would pay for this free education never went to university themselves. This point should be self-evident. The only way to defend it morally is if you hold a highly politically charged, Socialist position (or else are morally self-contradictory) and argue to tax the rich. This I find rather ironic, considering that the protesters who have taken over university buildings across the country have been the first to condemn the Coalition for what they describe as "ideological" cuts. To the point though, taxing the rich more heavily is not to be recommended from an economic standpoint. We have high levels of tax avoidance in this country precisely because tax is already high. The higher the taxes and the fewer the loopholes, the less is done here and the more is done elsewhere. It is well demonstrated that high tax leads to capital flight in all forms. This directly damages the economy. This is all but irrefutable. Taxing more heavily is not the solution. cutting is the only solution because we are spending above affordable levels.

The left are complaining about a nominal cut of 3.3%. This is about the smallest realistic amount we can afford to cut by. Less than this (or no cutting at all) would lead to inevitable stagnation of the economy. Even the current level of cuts is so small (to the extent that there are no cuts in real terms) as to make a decade of lost growth a real possibility or even a likelihood. To hold the opinions that there should be no cuts, and/or that others should pay for your education is ridiculous; both in my opinion morally and quite demonstrably, in economic terms. If one thing was made abundantly clear under Labour it is that higher spending does not make for better public services. Those who still cling to this maxim are doing nothing but sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming nonsense. Please, for the future of the country, admit that you are wrong.