A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Thanks goodness for Simon Hoggart.....

A pearl in the clammy oyster of British journalism, Simon Hoggart is one of the few remaining jewels in the fading tiara that is The Guardian's People's Palace of Print, as he filters out, yet again, the pious plankton of modern ecocant:-

'Yesterday Middlesbrough, today the world' (The Guardian, December 20):-

"Of course the centenary of the first successful man-powered flight this week has brought out in hives all the ecological fundamentalists who are outraged that almost anyone can now afford to go nearly anywhere in the world. It's not just pollution they're worried about, or the effects of mass tourism. What they really hate is giving people freedom to go where they please and to do what they like once they get there. I've noticed, over the years, that the doom-sayers are almost invariably middle-class, and that their jeremiads only get going when working-class people start to enjoy the same advantages they've had. Nobody bothered much about cars until they became available to almost everyone."

"When they see a flight leave for Carcassonne, even the ghastly Ryanair, they see the coming end of the planet. I see a hundred or so ordinary, not especially rich people, off to enjoy marvellous food, wine, scenery and French culture. I raise a glass to the Wright brothers and their magnificent invention, and to the confusion of the eco-warriors."

Brilliant, as ever - and there is nobody more elitist than an eco-fanatic! I've met quite a few.....

The DNOC of Dave the Spart,
Still prefers the horse and cart;
The masses are just out of luck,
No planes, or cars, just nice organic tuck;
Pay up, pay up, and play the game,
Travel by cart - it's just the same;
"I say, old chap! It's not quite on
When things are done by everyone!
So save the world you nasty proles -
Annabel! - Get out the Rolls!"

Philip in deep admiration of The Hoggart School of Wisdom and Wisecracks.

Friday, December 19, 2003

It's enough to make you see RED.....

"Bush causing global warming on Mars," says FofM

By Our Mars Correspondent, Alien Green at The Daily Universe

AN ALARMING new report warns that the Red Planet, Mars, is melting because of global warming ('Mars emerging from Ice Age, data suggest', Space.com, December 8).

Environmentalists say this is because of the Space SUVs that we are currently blasting into space, like Beagle 2, which is doggedly due to land on Mars on Christmas Day, 2003 ('Beagle glides solo towards Mars', BBC News Online, December 19). Will there be room between the rocks?

Ms. Solar Flare of the NGO, Friends of Mars (FofMars), is especially worried by the pyrotechnic device which was fired to release a loaded spring that pushed Beagle 2 away from the mother spacecraft. "We shouldn't be sending things into space like this. What would Darwin have said? They are heating the ice and causing it to melt. Just look at the black bits. This could create water asteroids that will drip down to Earth and flood us all, especially in the developing world. The old Martian canals are just not big enough to absorb the flow."

Julian Scope of MarsWatch agrees, but says it's all Mr. Bush's fault: "Bush has forced Europe to compete in space by his red-rag attitudes. It's just another example of red-neck American greed and capitalism ruining the universe."

Dr. Dan Dare of SUVs for Space, however, disagrees: "Nah! This is great. Boy's own stuff. I do hope we get them there Martians - it 'ould be great to race 'em round the Isidis Planitia - kinda Crater Wars. And no worries - we'll all have heat-resistant shields and are cushioned by airbags."

But Ms Flare remains deeply worried: "Just think, 'Mars Express' will have to fire rockets to blast itself into orbit around the planet. That could be disastrous. The solder of the universal plumbing system could be affected."

Unfortunately, Space SUVs were exempted from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, as, indeed, was Mars. "It's enough to make you see RED," said Mr. Tommy Teacher, MP for Old Moores Almanac. "We're all doomed, including ET!"

Your The Daily Universe People's Poll: "Is Alien Bush causing global meltdown on Mysterious Mars?"

"Yes - I say Greedy Bush is!": text - RedPlanet@you're sure right;
"No.": text - RedPlanet@you're sure wrong.

Copyright: © The Daily Universe 2003 - "No worrisome meteor left unturned!" Lots of advertising space available, including premium black holes.

"Go, Go, Go, Beagle 2!" It's exciting. Philip in Festive Mood.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

And now The Economist weighs in for Lomborg and for free speech.....

Hard on the heels of The Financial Times comes an excellent snippet in the heavyweight The Economist (December 18): 'A reprieve for free speech'. Here is what The Economist thought of the original finding:

"This finding, and the total absence of evidence or argument to support it, struck many as bizarre. Having read the DCSD's report, we ourselves concluded, 'The panel's ruling—objectively speaking—is incompetent and shameful.'"

Absolutely. Five stars***** for The Economist too! They have done particularly well to get this into their latest issue. Now, let's see what The Guardian and The Indy do? They are a day late already!

Philip. And so to bed. Tomorrow will be another Pepys into the anti-Enlightenment world of our (non)-modern media.
Five stars to The Financial Times on Lomborg's vindication.....

As the first serious UK newspaper to report the overturning of the decision against Bjorn Lomborg (and in a fine 'Editorial Comment' too), The Financial Times gains our Five Star reporting rating*****: 'Lomborg cleared' (The Financial Times, December 18):

[The decision] "... was damningly overturned by the Danish Ministry of Science, which found that the committees had not discovered any bias in Mr Lomborg's choice of data and that criticism of his working methods was "completely void of argumentation". The criticisms continue. The committees used sloppy and emotive language that - perhaps deliberately - obscured the fact that they had in fact cleared Mr Lomborg of gross negligence and an intent to deceive. They failed adequately to assess whether they had proper jurisdiction over the book. They used improper procedures. They failed to assess whether Mr Lomborg's work had been peer reviewed. They had not offered Mr Lomborg a chance to respond. And they allowed his accusers too much time to make their case."

"That is enough about the Danish committees on scientific dishonesty; suffice it to say that the science ministry has at last restored Denmark's sinking scientific reputation. Now scientists, politicians and the media should attempt to learn... lessons from this ludicrous episode."

Do read the whole comment. Congratulations to the old FT. But where is The Grauniad et al., I wonder? We are waiting! I think some apologies are in order.

Philip. Coffee and a toast to Lomborg.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Egg (and Danish bacon) all over The Guardian - the case against Bjorn Lomborg is remitted.....

Oh! What glorious irony! On the very day that The Guardian gloats (yet again) over the l'affaire Lomborg and his challenging book, The Skeptical Environmentalist [see 'Eco Gongs 2003' (Society Section, Environment, December 17)*], our doughty viking warrior is defended by the Danish Ministry of Science: 'Lomborg Decision Overturned by Danish Ministry of Science' (December 17).

My heartiest congratulations to Bjorn, who is one of the nicest and most honest men you could possibly meet. I have heard him lecture, and his care for the data is something one or two of our newspapers might emulate with advantage. Bjorn's treatment over the last two years has been some of the most disgraceful in the annals of academe, and reporting on the matter in the British press largely dire - our ever-friendly The Guardian, for example, was even lambasted by Private Eye for its coverage. And now we have this:-

"The Ministry finds that the DCSD judgment was not backed up by documentation, and was 'completely void of argumentation' for the claims of dishonesty and lack of good scientific practice."

"The Ministry characterises the DCSD's treatment of the case as 'dissatisfactory', 'deserving criticism' and 'emotional' and points out a number of significant errors. The DSCD's verdict has consequently been remitted."

Here is a .pdf giving an overview of the Ministry's landmark decision: 'Overview'.

*And here (relish it!) is The Groooaaniad's schoolboy gloat of this morning on which they must now be choking: "International Contrarian Award goes to Sceptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg, who this year was accused by a Danish scientific committee of gross negligence and 'not comprehending science'. It said: 'Objectively speaking, the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty.'" Great timing lads!

Bravo for Bjorn - and well done The Danish Ministry of Science. One up to them - candour will out. Now, let's see how this is covered by our media!

Philip the Viking. ('Stott' is, of course, of Danish origin.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

More hype than heat.....

Our good friend Alex K. poors cold water over the heated hype of summer: 'Heat high for 2003 but no record' (BBC Science News Online, December 16):

"Despite expectations that it would turn out the hottest year ever, 2003 looks unlikely to enter the record books."

"The UK experienced a cooler October than usual, which helped to kill any chance of setting a new British record."

Oh! I am sad! I don't really think any comment is required, do you? [By the way, we also had the coldest September night since 1931 on Boscombe Down in Wiltshire - now I didn't see that widely covered in our ever-balanced media, did you?).

Philip. Hot water bottle time! Or, a nip of whisky, of course.
Thomas Jefferson and the curse of 'Present-Mindedness'.....

One of the spider-holes into which the modern historian can too easily fall is that of 'Present-Mindedness' about past generations, whereby history is rewritten anachronistically by reference to constructs and knowledges that post-date the period in question.

I have just, sadly, read a classic example of this curse in the latest issue of what is usually such a sound magazine, namely History Today. The offending piece is entitled 'Thomas Jefferson and the environment' (History Today, 54 (1), January, 2004, pp. 48 - 53). In essence, this critiques the role of Thomas Jefferson by a full frontal assault on order, rationality, and the Enlightenment project itself.

A deconstruction of the language employed in the article is revealing. I will give four brief examples [my comments are in square brackets]:-

(a) Picture caption, p. 48: "Belfield Farm by Charles William Peale, c. 1816, a romantic image of farming that was swamped by Jeffersonian rationalistic practice." [Note the use of the emotive word 'swamped' which immediately denegrates the idea of 'rationalistic practice'.]

(b) Text, p. 50: "Yet this Enlightenment-inspired imposition of order on the unkempt farm landscape was environmentally devastating." [Note the use of the word 'imposition' and, more openly, the attribute of 'devastating'. Others, of course, might argue that the process was part of the creation of one of the greatest states the world has ever known! Note also the favourable contrasting of 'unkempt' with the (unfavourable) idea of 'order', for which read another blast of anti-rationalism.]

(c) Text, p. 50: "His faith in the superiority of a rationalist order, however, obscured the need to adapt production goals to sustainable environmental parameters." [What can one say about such a passage in a history article? "Sustainable environmental parameters"! For goodness sake, this is a trope that didn't come into being until nearly 200 years later and, even today, it is largely nonsense. And what about the pure New Labour-speak of 'production goals'? And then there is the gauche language - it is hardly "... all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights", is it? As the new draft European Constitution exemplifies so painfully, we live in a lesser age where language is concerned. But again, note the attack is on 'a rationalist order'.

And many thanks to Ophelia Benson over at Butterflies and Wheels for pointing out to me the egregious use of the word 'faith' at the start of this passage, relating to Jefferson's faith in (her lovely word) 'pesky' Enlightenment rationalism. It always has to be faith - science, religion, whatever.]

(d) Picture caption, p.48: "Thomas Jefferson, by Jean-Antoine Houdon, with the typical American gridded field patterns for which he is ultimately responsible." [Note the use of the word 'ultimately' to make sure we know precisely who is to blame for modern America. Some people, by the way, (including my old Professor of Historical Geography) find these immensely beautiful.]

This is pernicious stuff, about Jefferson, about the history and development of America, and about the Enlightenment itself. It is part of the new cuddly bunny thinking about the world which bedevils the post-agricultural and post-industrial paranoid rich North. And, by Jove, the article is not going to let poor old Jefferson off the 'New Age' hook: "It might be argued that Jefferson himself is not historically culpable, that these are unintended consequences, the product of processes of which he and his contempories had no knowledge. But they did flow from a will to power that is inherent in Enlightenment rationalism..." (p. 53).

If I'm allowed a touch of 'Present-Mindedness', I would say a resounding: "Thank goodness for Jefferson and his Enlightenment project. We could do with more of it around today!" I vote for Jefferson (minus slaves - and that was condemned in his own lifetime and is thus fair criticism) any day.

Philip for science, reason and order. And wine!

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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