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.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Devon versus Islington.....

It's increasingly clear that the average Brit exhibits far more commonsense when it comes to environmental myths and magic than the chattering metropolitan elite. So today I am ignoring the Islington Guardian and the F(r)isky Independent to focus instead on that excellent regional rag, the Devon Western Morning News.

Here are three trenchant little pieces illustrating all too vividly the inconsistent nonsense that masquerades as the government's current (sparky pun there!) energy policy:

(a) 'Kyoto is dead, long live commonsense' (Western Morning News, April 6): "Perhaps when they notice that the sea has not risen to the extent that everyone is being driven from their homes, the general weather pattern is more than acceptable, the wind hardly blew for long periods last year (the Netherlands even complained about that) and, all in all, temperatures are in keeping with those we have enjoyed most of our lives, they will still be disappointed that they have been proved wrong."

(b) '"Madness of windfarms threatening our country"' (Western Morning News, April 1): "Businessman and broadcaster Noel Edmonds, who first raised concerns about windfarms in the Western Morning News, said yesterday: 'I am delighted that Country Life is taking this as seriously as we do. Hopefully, this will encourage other country organisations to follow suit.'"

(c) 'A winning biofuels plan for Gordon' (Western Morning News, March 31): "In his Budget, Gordon Brown missed an opportunity to help farmers, rural businesses and the environment. Taxes on biofuels remained constant.... With the economics of farming uncertain following the Mid-Term Review of the CAP, and the EU's continued use of set-aside to reduce the cropping area grown, an increase in biofuels could provide a significant extra income to farms."

EnviroSpin hopes to get out and about in the future to record this saner voice of Britain. There's more to life than The Gloomiad, The Indy, and The Ivy!

Let me egg you all on to have a wonderful clotted cream of an Easter. Philip.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The Indy is much wool(l)ier than The Groaniad.....

Having just wiped the floor with The Times by adopting unexpected caution in its environmental headlines (see blog below), the normally florid Groaniad now downs The Independent (a considerably easier opponent, of course):

'Experts discover first signs of BSE in sheep' (The Independent, April 8);
'Sheep found with BSE-like disease' (The Guardian, April 8).

Shear amazement.

Philip, marvelling at The New Guardian.
Headline mayhem.....

Well, shiver my glaciers! Today's good old Groaniad carries a more cautious 'global warming' headline than The Times:

'Global warming may melt Greenland's ice, warn scientists' (The Guardian, April 8);
'Catastrophe alert over melting ice from Greenland' (The Times, April 8).

One may say, one up to The Gloomiad there then. And the climate models may, of course, just melt into oblivion.

Moreover, The Gridiron also undoubtedly carries the best story of the day about Banksy and his exhibitionist museum rat: 'Smell a rat? Natural History Museum exhibits an unnatural specimen' (The Guardian, April 8).

So, with that excellent report in the 'Life' Section (see previous blog below), this is truly 'The Day of the Graunffid' (Seumas Milne notwithstanding, of course).

Philip, building up courage to look at The Independent! Coffee first.
Green theology leads to an Alice-in-Winderland energy policy.....

Yet again, the new 'Life' Section of The Groaniad brings the newspaper down to earth. May I recommend a careful and thoughtful read of the excellent interview with Professor Jim Skea in today's issue: 'Rising to power' ('Life' Section, The Guardian, April 8)? "Skea has just been appointed research director of the government's new energy research centre, a role that lobs him into the heart of one of the most complex and pressing issues the country will face in coming decades. His job is to ensure Britain can morph from a grey land of coal and oil burning to a greener land of renewable energy and imported gas without so much as a flicker of the lights."

Greatly to his credit, Skea provides a pretty realistic response. Reading between the reporting lines, the interview demonstrates vividly the immense problems of trying to develop a sane energy policy when one is trapped between the Green theology of the Kyoto Protocol and the Green theology of no nuclear power or GM (biofuels). For example, Skea is refreshingly candid about issues like wind power:

"Windpower can only do so much. Because you can never be sure where and when the wind blows, windpower has the well-known drawback of intermittency. If more than around 20% of your power comes from wind, says Skea, then managing this unreliability becomes a big problem."

And about hydrogen: "'The problem is that the cheapest way of making hydrogen is to use fossil fuels. So if you burn hydrogen to power a car, you actually end up emitting more carbon than if you burned conventional fuel."

Moreover, he even admits something that is normally pushed particularly quickly under the carpet: "As an island, though, Britain is responsible for a tiny fraction of the world's greenhouse gases." Quite.

As I read the article, I both admired and felt sorry for Skea. Real-world energy supply can only be predicated on energy needs and on a full-range of energy options, not on environmental fears and paranoia. Green theology can only lead to an Alice-in-Winderland policy that in the end will blow us all away. I might as well start painting the roses.

Congratulations to the 'Life' Section for a valuable piece of reportage. Pity the rest of the newspaper doesn't follow suit. For the record, a couple of key topics are not really developed in the interview, including the long-term geological storage of carbon and clean coal (gasification, etc.).

Philip, feeling more like the old walrus daily. Breakfast - anyone for mock turtle soup? It's gloooooooorious! Souper even.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Cyberspace and science: legitimate questions.....

Science and scientists - not to mention knowledge sensu lato - are facing a challenge as great as, if not greater than, that of the book and of the imprimatur. How are science and knowledge to be 'legitimised' within the 'post-modern-modern' world of cyberspace?

Already, 'information' and 'ideas', in all their virtual forms and flourishes, have broken free from the library and from the journal, from the masonic lodge of the learned society, and from Coleridge's clerisy, from the pantheon of the 'ordained' and of the 'elect'. They can no longer be peer-monitored (at one and the same time a most valuable and a most dangerous process), or sifted, or blocked, or controlled. From bomb-making to boulean logic, from wicca to warp drives, it is out there somewhere. Lyotard saw science as becoming 'legitimised' by the 'social bond', but that bond has already been broken and is being replaced by the anarchy and the freedom of cyberspace, cyberchitchat and cyberchaos.

Now, at last, if but tentatively, these issues are being recognised, debated and addressed - 'Scientists seek "map of science"' (BBC Science/Nature Online News, March 7):

"Scientists need new ways to monitor the progress of science in the digital age, according to reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

"Researchers maintain that the very nature of knowledge is different in the digital age because information held on computers can be cross-referenced and linked."

"That opens new possibilities and presents new problems of extracting meaningful and relevant information from largely unorganised data collections."

But the questions are deeper than this? Who now legitimises and controls cyberknowledge? In the New Cyber Age, what is, and where resides, a societal sense of 'truth', however transient?

In terms of Michel Foucault, we are 'playing' in an entirely new space, in which, to quote Jean Baudrillard (1983), "the real does not disappear to the benefit of the imaginary, it disappears to the benefit of the more real than the real: the hyperreal." Now the simulacrum rules.

Philip, needing a very real gin and tonic, a little shaken, not stirred!
The deconstructor deconstructed deconstructs.....

"What larks, Pip!" Those fine sparring partners of mine at The Groaniad are having some fun today at Stotty's expense. (And why not? Dr. Anne nearly spilt her morning tea with an outburst of unalloyed joy and ribaldry - "Serves you right!", she supportingly observed.) I had, of course, hoped to make Pseuds Corner in Private Eye, but 'Eco soundings' more than compensates with: 'Exercising his write' (The Guardian, April 7 - there is also the big 'Aaaaaahh!' factor of a cute little hedgehog to enjoy. Snuffles all round).

Now, to show you that this deconstructor can deconstruct with some degree of impartiality, I list below for your edification the competing metalanguages (those delightfully delectable loquacious Lacanian 'points de capiton') of risk, for (1) a 'leftist' authoritarian green environmentalist and (2) a 'neo-con' libertarian free-marketeer. Just take your pick. Both represent powerful hegemonic myths of the current age and whether you become 'enslaved' by one or the other probably has more to do with your own psychology and background than anything else - what we might call your 'Inherited Susceptibility Language Factor' (ISeLF). So here goes:

(1) equilibrium; stability; harmony; balance; fragile; precaution; command; control; sustainability; utopia;

(2) non-equilibrium; instability; dynamism; tough; adventurous; freedom; adaptability; entrepreneurship; flexibility; heterotopia.

Moreover, because it is, after all, Against the Grainiad, let's quote that old class-war horse, Terry Eagleton (1986): "To 'deconstruct', then, is to reinscribe and resituate meanings, events and objects within broader movements and structures; it is, so to speak, to reverse the imposing tapestry in order to expose in all its unglamorously dishevelled tangle the threads constituting the well heeled image it presents to the world."

Moi, pretentious! Never. But Eagleton's metaphor is unquestionably brilliant.

Philip, now urgently needing to deconstruct breakfast before "all that is solid melts into air." [PS: mild objection - I like some 'organic' food, although Kyoto is without doubt a crock.]

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

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