Clive Hamilton – A collectivist, ignorant of individual rights.

26 02 2010

A couple of libertarian bloggers have been noting the straw man arguments raised by Clive Hamilton in his articles on internet censorship and on climate skeptics.  eg/ the Mangled Thoughts blog post here and Catallaxy’s post here

I’m not going to waste too much of my time reading all of Clive’s opinion pieces.  However upon seeing Clive’s article “Web doesn’t belong to libertarians” I was floored by the intellectual laziness (or stupidity) right from the word go.  Even the title itself contains false implications.  Read the rest of this entry »


Did you know? The US government deliberately poisoned alcohol during the prohibition period resulting in thousands of deaths

24 02 2010

See article:  The Chemist’s War

The little told story of how the US government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences. 

“by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people”

“By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.”

The repeated use of the argument from authority by environmentalists

23 02 2010

H/T Catallaxy blog.  See

Catallaxy’s Samuel J has posted an interesting article by Frank Furedi on potential problems with the peer review system.  Frank talks about bias and double standards amongst reviwers.  He mentions the possibility that the publishing of certain reserach may be delayed by the peer review process.  And he highlights some IPCC hypocrisy.

What caught my attention however were the examples of well known scientists using peer review as an argument from authority.  ie: it seems like certain scientists will dismiss data simply because it is not peer reviewed.  And conversely it also seems that certain scientists regard all peer reviewed articles as infallable. 

As someone who has one whole peer reviewed article to his name 🙂 in the field of chemistry (I did an honours year at uni), I do think the peer review system is essential.  For example, peer review performs some very basic functions such as checking formatting or checking the legibility and labelling of figures. 

However once again we see evidence for environmentalists using the argument from authority, in a similar way as the consensus argument.  This argument is over used especially by politicians, the media and general public.  It seems prominent scientists are doing it too.  This is bad news considering the immense power of government common to our modern world. 

Here are a few of examples of the argument from authority from Frank’s article:

1) Boasting of his <George Monbiot’s> encounter with an opponent who challenged him to a debate on speed cameras, he wrote that “I accepted and floored him with a simple question”.  And predictably the question was: “Has he published his analysis in a peer-reviewed journal?”

2) Andrew Dessler, a climate-change researcher, also sought to floor his opponent, who apparently wrote a “denier op-ed” in The Wall Street Journal, by dismissing its value on the grounds that this newspaper is not peer reviewed.

3) Climate alarmists do not simply boast of their monopoly over peer-reviewed outlets, they also do their best to call into question peer-reviewed outlets that dare publish research that challenges their crusade.

When Cambridge University Press dared publish Bjorn Lomborg’s The Sceptical Environmentalist, it faced bitter criticism from campaigners who hinted that something had gone wrong with this publisher’s system of review.

4) As Reiner Grundman argued in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Politics, the IPCC “characterises outside critics as unscientific as they do not publish in peer-reviewed literature”.

Frank claims that the recently exposed poor standards of climate science can be explained thusly:

Sadly, there are far too many researchers for whom science has become an instrument for the realisation of a higher cause. As a result they are scientists in name but moralisers in practice.

I agree, however I think the problem is also epistemological.  These scientists probably don’t understand that the argument of authority is not scientific and it is not sound logic.

Penny Wong makes a common mistake in reasoning

19 02 2010

I am certainly no fan of the Australian federal minister for climate and water Penny Wong. 

Yesterday Wong gave a speech to the National Coastal Climate Change Forum.  The first I heard about it was in today’s Australian.  See article.  Apparently Wong has been peddling in her typical doomsday alarmism by saying “many of our sandy beaches could erode away or recede up to hundreds of metres over the coming century”. 

The Australian thankfully provided some common sense statements from geologist Bob Carter:

Bob Carter, a geologist and environmental scientist with James Cook University in Queensland, said Senator Wong’s comments appeared to be an attempt to panic the public.

Pointing to historical rates of sea level rise of an average 1.6mm per year globally over the past 100 years, Mr Carter said it was reasonable to expect a total rise of 16cm in a century.

Dr Carter said: “Have you noticed Bondi beach being destroyed in the past 100 years by that rise?”

He said that in some areas around the Australian coast, the sea level was actually getting lower.

“In some places, the geological substrata is sinking, which adds to sea-level rise, and in other places it’s rising, which subtracts from sea-level rise,” Dr Carter said.

Wong’s speech is full of empty assertion and ad hominem arguments.  But that’s typical of politics. 

Wong pressed my buttons with another comment – the same type of comment I have heard from many alarmists of late.  Climate change scare mongerers are IMO resorting to very weak arguments in order to ignore the Climategate affair, the poor academic standards of the IPCC  and the many other “inconvenient truths” that have been exposed year after year.  I can recall reading papers such as this one “Envrionmental effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide” over 10 years ago.  (I notice the group is still posting an updated version of this paper online, here.

So what exactly erked me to the point of writing this post?  This line: 

Wong: “In 20 years time, can we seriously look our children and grand children in the eye and say we sat on our hands because of a computer hacker?”

This is context dropping.  The important question is what did the hacker actually expose? 

Here’s just one example of what that hacker exposed:

Phil Jones’ promise to keep out two research papers from the IPCC report: “I will keep them out somehow, even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is,”

Seems like serious stuff to me.  I suppose Penny Wong doesn’t care because the words don’t take up much space. 

I’ve noticed similar errors from other sources and from scientist friends of mine.  For example, at Real, this statement: 

“The focus of the recent allegations is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.  Its three volumes are almost a thousand pages each, in small print
As far as we’re aware, so far only one–or at most two–legitimate errors have been found in the AR4″

Well I’m not so sure about the validity of that statement but suppose we take it at face value anyway. 

The alarmists are still making the mistake of appealing to consensus and authority as they have for years.  They are also dropping context.  It’s not the number of errors that matters.  It’s the content of the errors in question. 

It’s simply incorrect not to examine the factual content of evidence for errors, fraud, or poor academic standards.  You can’t just brush it off and say, it doesn’t matter because there’re not many problems.  Or in the case of Wong, brush off the Climategate scandal by saying it was just the work of a hacker. 

In concluding, once again Wong makes her socialist adgenda clear in her concluding remarks – the real problem I have with environmentalist ideology. 

Wong: “A big part of the work of governments will be setting the right conditions to help business and communities adapt”

In response, here’s a comment I posted at the ALS a couple of days ago:

“I think many people have been attempting to draw attention to the bigger issue (ie: socialism) for some time, I know I have.
Supporters of free markets should recognise that the IPCC and the environmentalist movement generally, are really about expanding political power. In a sense the science is actually irrelevent.
Effective technological progress and innovation are best achieved in a capitalist system.”

No warming since 1995!

15 02 2010

Click to see article.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

You’ve got to wonder when someone like Jones makes comments such as these.

Sam Harris – “The Price in Human Suffering of Being Open Minded”

15 02 2010

Sam’s preaching to the choir so to speak.  🙂

In a well-meaning attempt to be tolerant of other cultures and religions we often blithely subvert our values and morality, says Sam Harris, the outspoken critic of blind religious faith. We do this because we think that questions about good and evil or right and wrong cannot be answered definitively. But they can, he told a rapt audience at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference Thursday — and they should.

Well, I certainly like the title and the first paragraph although I think Harris’ ethical ideas ultimately rest on a vaguely defined notion of instinct (correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t read his books). 

I believe knowledge is knowledge no matter what category the subject matter.  I also believe in the law of identity – A is A, humans are humans, we eat, breathe, regulate our body temp at 37C etc and we have consciousness and all that entials; conceptual thought, self awareness, reasoning ability, etc.  Therefore, objective knowledge of sciences such as ethics, economics, psychology can be determined – even though these are not purely physical sciences. 

Apart from subjectivism and pragmatism, the biggest problem I see with modern day ethical ideas boils down to the relevent standard of morality.  For example, various religions treat God or a holy book as the standard, utilitarian ethics would regard society as the standard, Aristotle’s virtue ethics regards a virtuous man as the standard for determining virtue (although how do you define a virtuous man?). 

Quoting Ayn Rand: 

To challenge the basic premise of any discipline, one must begin at the beginning. In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what?

The whom, is you.  The what, is your life.

Objectivism treats individual human life as the standard of morality.  And by determining the fundamental traits of the human species, universal ethical principles (applicable to everyone) can also be developed.  eg/ The virtue of reason.

Two reasons why 99% of conspiracy theories are rubbish.

11 02 2010

Reason 1) The Objectivist concept of the “arbitrary”  See here

This concept is similar to “burden of proof“. 

Basically, there are millions of possibilities that can be dreamt up.  An infinite amount of wrong answers but only one right answer.  It would be foolish and impossible to attempt to assess every crazy idea someone dreams up within their mind.  You should have some hard evidence to even begin to consider a hypothesis. 

In the words of the famous scientist Wolfgang Pauli, an arbitrary assertion is “not even wrong”  – I love this saying.  Amongst scientists, this is the ultimate insult.  Via Wikipedia/ The phrase was coined by the early quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking.  Rudolf Peierls writes that “a friend showed [Pauli] the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong.’ ”

Reason 2) Governments are incompetent!  (obviously this reason only applies to government conspiracy theories) 

Do people really believe a government is capable of orchestrating an elaborate conspiracy and maintaining secrecy year after year?  My estimation is that most politicians struggle to tie their own shoe laces.  eg/ Our current prime minister can’t even explain himself to teenagers.  See article here  The idea that governments are good at covering up vast conspiracies is not impossible, but certainly improbable. 

 – But of course, that’s why they want you to believe.  🙂