Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Climate Clique Cladistics

When I've tried this in the past people have got upset - probably because nobody likes to be put in boxes - however let me suggest some ways forward and we'll worry about labels later.

Clearly people engaged in the discussion on climate change differ in their views in multiple ways. Some people hold opinions that are very similar to large numbers of others. Some people hold very idiosyncratic views. It would be most respectful to only ever ascribe to each individual their exact position on every aspect of the issues - but, at the same time, there is often need to talk more generally. Apart from anything else this is a political issue and an issue in which there are, or there are perceived to be, sides (and agendas and movements and factions and groupings etc).

It is also safe to assume that on many issues a person holding one view is likely (but not certain) to hold a related view. It is conceivable that a person might think that temperatures have been rising and yet believe sea-levels are falling - but that would be a hard position to rationalise and not likely to be a characteristic of a group of people.

I would suggest that we can characterise views on a small number of issues. Because we would expect much correlation between those views there could be many ways of picking a more narrow set but I'll suggest a few to start off with.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Paranoid Style: Google versus Watts Up With That

Watts Up With That is a climate denial/skeptic/contrarian/delayer/whatever website run by weatherman Anthony Watts. It is most notable for promoting the notion that the temperature record is contaminated by poor data due to bad siting of weather station. It was also a key player in the blogosphere during 'climategate'.

However with 'climategate' more of a damp fizzle and with the surface station project a dead end WUWT is looking a bit lost.
Consequently WUWT made a sad plea for regular readers to make use of Google's "+1" service to boost WUWT profile. However there was also suggestion of a more sinister element! Google maybe (or definitely has or intends to or has plotted to) DOWNRANKED Watts Up With That!

Read more here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/06/1-us-for-googles-sake/#comments

It is, of course, utter rubbish but that hasn't stopped the commentators at WUWT digging deeper into more furious persecution fantasies. Many have proudly announced they would now only use Microsoft's rival search engine Bing - this despite people pointing out that WUWT doesn't rank any higher on Bing than Google.

The Centrist fallacy

Question: what does economist and NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman and British rightwing wingnuts have in common? While you are thinking, consider something else.

There is a truism about that somehow the centre of politics is the most sensible place to be. It is an ancient idea going back in Western civilisation at least to Aristotle. Clealry, sot it would seem, the proposals of the right and the left are too extreme, too radical, pushing society too quickly or too conservative and holding it back. At times of political polarisation wise heads pine for somesort of centrist compromise (never mind that one side in the polarised debate mya have once been that centrist compromise).

But is the centre always right? OK that is really just a strawman argument - everybody is wrong sometimes. The advantage of the centre over the left and right is that by seeking consensus and compromise it avoids extreme and dangerous policies. Consequently even if the centre is wrong it is never dangerously wrong.

that tale isn't true.
right now in Europe a great morality fable is playing out - the fable is called "the European single currency" and the moral of the tale is that centre can be as wrong as left and right.
The Euro seemed like a great idea. It was radical but not THAT radical - after all the USA has a single economy and a single currency. It was niether a particulalry leftwing proposal nor a rightwing one - but it was one loved by moderate parties in the big European nations (except the UK). It was a classic compromise - rather than a Europe choosing between dominance of the franc or the deustchmark, it would have a currency that was both and niether. It was both a bit of boost to the power of a central state but also a boost to a free-market economy. Most of all it was conventional wisdom and conventional wisdom is a powerful think.

The UK didn't join the euro. This was lucky for everybody. If it had, then when the GFC hit the UK (and with the UK's huge financial sector it hit the UK badly) the euro wasn't dragged down with the UK economy. Now though, the shoe is on the other foot - and the UK is partially insulated by the economic unraveling of Greece and Italy because the UK isn't in the Euro.

But why didn't the UK join? There are lots of reasons. It would be nice to think it was because some clear headed economists were rightfully questioning the conventional wisdom of how great a single currency would be (for example Paul Krugman). However the real reason was because of wingnut, nationalistic conservatives who have been relentlessy pushing an anti-European agenda in the UK. I have no doubt that must of the 'eurosceptic' wing of British conservatism are nuttier than fruitcake and indulge in a particularly potent brew of populism, paranoia and nationalism. Faced with slightly derange opposition joining the euro would have been a step to far for Britain's moderates. Which, in the end, was good news for everybody.