Friday, 27 May 2011

Super-injunctions, Twitter and Ryan Giggs

I really could care less what the tabloids have to say about the social or private life of celebrities. For many years, I have bought none of the smaller sheets except the ‘Daily Mail’ for this very reason. Why do I care which rock star is getting his end away with which model? Who gives a toss if some film star drank too much champagne in a bar? Will it affect my life? Will it influence the war on terror? Unlikely.

So when columnists lambaste their colleagues who have focused on Ryan Giggs' battle for anonymity in his affair with Imogen Thomas, it can seem a very moralistic and fair attitude at a first glance. Indeed, the argument per-se is sound. It's the bigger picture that is cause for concern, for the revelation of Giggs' identity is a massive safeguard for free press and freedom of information in general.

First of all, let's remind ourselves how a super-injunction works. A celebrity - or other person with wealth stretching well beyond the average - gets involved in any situation that could be deemed "scandalous" in the press. He or she, aware of the potential outrage, contacts a law firm - most probably a prestigious one such as Shillings or Carter-Ruck - and instructs them to take action. The firm contacts a court and, if all goes to plan, the judge will rule that the client's right to privacy outweighs the public interest. (Our constitution grants the press the right to report anything that is "in the public interest"). Said law firm then send out threatening letters to the mainstream media groups warning them of nasty consequences should they breach the order. The solicitors sit back and watch their bank balance shoot up, the celebrity can relax.

The potential problem should be obvious by now. The term 'public interest' is highly ambiguous. In the case of a man cheating on his wife, it may be straightforward, but ‘Private Eye’ magazine recently highlighted some other cases where the judge ruled the "public interest" was outweighed. They included:

- The effect a sexual relationship between two senior employees had on a major global business during a time when it hit difficulties.

- How a newspaper columnist and bestselling author blocked his ex-wife from writing a book or talking to a journalist about him. (This would be unconstitutional in the US).

- A well known sportsman who had affairs with at least three other people was granted anonymity even though the court recognised that in doing so, the behaviour of completely innocent people would be called into question.

- Several cases involving alleged blackmail where there is no record that police were even informed.

So we see that in many cases, the interpretation of balance between privacy and public interest may well have been seriously flawed, and the press have been censored as a result. But in the case of Giggs, perhaps there was some justification for privacy, so maybe justice was served? Hardly.

Giggs' injunction was not imposed in the interest of fairness or justice, it was enforced because he could afford to censor the media. Your average citizen simply cannot afford to go around taking out injunctions, even if they did manage something newsworthy. In essence, super-injunctions create a divide between rich and lower classes. The logical conclusion to this divide being the right of the wealthy to censor the press.

But Giggs made a fatal mistake: he ignored the 'Streisland Effect'. When he was named (alongside Gordon Ramsey and others) as a super-injunction holder by a user on Twitter, he instructed his law firm to contact Twitter and obtain the details of those who named him, with the obvious intent of pursuing their punishment. In short, he was attempting to control what people say on social media sites.

Let's be clear about the precedent Giggs was aiming to set here. He was attempting to impose a rule that if you or I shared a piece of true gossip on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media network, you could face court action for it. It doesn't matter that it was true, it doesn't matter that everyone knew it anyway, you'd still be faced with crippling legal costs, at best.

That's why I greatly admire the Lib Dem MP John Hemming for quite rightly using our old constitutional guard of parliamentary privilege in naming Ryan. Moreover I despise John Bercow - who represents everything that is wrong with the Conservative Party - for his rebuttal. I also applaud every one of the 70,000 or so who immediately jumped to name Ryan on Twitter, sending a clear message that people won't be told what they can and can't say on a social network site.

Ryan Giggs is a great footballer with a great record and lots of respect. Had he simply appeared in public with his wife and attempted to repair the damage he'd done, the "scandal" would be old news before long. Instead he choose to contribute to massive censorship and attempted bullying of internet users. In consequence he magnified knowledge of his affair tenfold. That he failed to succeeded in his attack on Twitter is something we should all be grateful for.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

On nuclear energy and the crisis in Japan

In keeping with my tendency to take on challenges, I now want to try and set the record straight regarding nuclear fuel, nuclear energy and the uproar that has surrounded it following the start of the ongoing crisis in Japan.

It almost goes without saying that the events in Japan were truly tragic, and I can only begin to imagine the pain felt by the Japanese people. My heart goes out to all who have suffered.

When it seemed that the tsunami had run its deadly course, the Japanese people must have begun to feel some relief, only to be struck by the nuclear plant explosions and enter a new streak of fear. That agony has been exploited by many in other countries, seeking to push their own agendas and gain under a mask of sympathy or pseudo-smugness. Aphisit Vejajiva, PM of Thailand, announced he had "always" opposed nuclear energy even before the crisis, though strangely it was not something he'd ever discussed before. Angela Merkel stated she would not be extending the life of expired nuclear reactors in Germany that were already de-commissioned anyway. A "green" campaigner in Australia said the accident was evidence that: " ..."when you pull the plug on reactors, they potentially lose control."

It's sad to see people with the temerity to spout such selfish and ignorant nonsense in the face of other's suffering, but even in the absence of such pain, the debate on nuclear energy is one driven by arrogance and received wisdom. The word "nuclear" is inextricably joined up with the word "bomb" in the psyche of most humans and conjures up images of explosions (duh), men in radiation suits and orange, yellow or green signs, perhaps we all have an image of a certain apocalyptic video game in mind, too. The reality is different.

Nuclear energy is the only truly viable, cost effective and clean form of fuel we currently are aware of. The events in Japan are yet to be fully understood but have certainly been misrepresented and the dangers of nuclear energy are vastly misunderstood. It's now time to understand the basics of nuclear energy nuclear energy as concisely as possible.

What is nuclear energy and how does it work?
An amazingly obvious and simple question, yet one I'll bet many anti-nuclear activists have little or no knowledge of. Don't believe me? Check for yourself, grab one of the most outspoken and ask them to give a scientific, factual description of the very basic mechanisms of nuclear reaction.

Nuclear energy usually uses Uranium-235, because this type produces spontaneous fission under the right conditions i.e. being hit with neutrons. When hit, the uranium will release other neutrons, because an atom has split. This all happens quicker than the blink of an eye and generates tremendous energy. To stop an excess of chain reactions (i.e. thrown of particles hitting other particles and so on) control rods are used to absorb excess  neutons and regulate temperature.

The whole process takes place in an environment very similar to a fossil fuel plant. Two separate bands of water are in flow around the reactor unit. One is kept around the uranium unit itself and is kept under high pressure to void boiling even at very high temperatures, the other never touches the first water unit but feeds off its heat, and uses that steam to power a motor that generates the electricity. Hardly sounds like the stuff of apocalyptic nightmares, eh?

The environment
The exact structure of nuclear buildings vary according to age. New plants have the reactors themselves surrounded by steel casing, concrete reinforcing (usually several feet thick), steel reinforcement rods and typically several more layers atop this. Many plants are built underground. In short - they are more protective than a president's bunker. The case in Japan is an absolute "worst case" scenario of a combination of earthquake, tsunami, fire and explosion in an aging plant and as we will see, there is no evidence of any serious damage yet.

The waste
Many anti-nuclear campaigners (they generally label themselves as such, without the "energy' tag as that might pin them down to specific detail or force them to acquire knowledge of their subject) cite concerns over nuclear waste, its transport and threats of radiation as their main concern.

The waste produced during nuclear fission is ionising radiation from uranium. Although Uranium-235 can be recycled, it usually isn't. Instead it is kept in seclusion until its radioactivity levels decrease, then it is transported in specially designed tanks to a disposal point. In the USA, these tanks have covered over 1.7 million miles without a single accident. Safety tests in the US have included a deliberate collision with a flaming vehicle at a speed of 150mph. The unit was completely unharmed. Indeed, there are no reported accidents caused by nuclear waste transportation.

The disaster in Japan and past events
In short, 3 Mile Island was actually a very minor incident that resulted in no hospitalisations. Chernobyl was a far bigger disaster, caused by Soviet-era reactors and operative incompetence. The design of the plant was very different to modern plats. To cite the latter incident as an argument against nuclear energy is like citing the Titanic as an argument against sea travel.
The ongoing crisis at Fukushima cannot yet be fully understood by anyone, which is why it is wrong for so many people to begin discussing it as if they have knowledge of the facts What is needed at present is a regularly updates log of actual events, combined with a pool of knowledge from qualified personnel about the structure and science in question, followed by a thorough investigation. The Nuclear Energy Institute is doing just this. Its latest post concerns the fire at the reactor and the possible reasons why a hydrogen leak has occurred. This fact sheet explains the known information.

But why?
Known of this matters a jolt if nuclear energy is not the best source of energy for the future, but it is. It is very safe, remarkably efficient, clean and cost effective. No others source comes close except hydro-energy, for which we have yet to develop a cost effective system. Forget solar energy which cannot power the lights in a small house. Forget wind energy, for which an eight year old should be able to spot the flaws in the system. Fossil fuels are finite and bio-fuels are often the higher pollutants.

Any independent, scientifically minded and balanced investigation must surely conclude that nuclear energy is the way forward. Yes, it has dangers just like any fuel system -  natural gas has caused tragic deaths this year, coal mining causes more deaths per year on average than Chernobyl - but with the massive benefits of modern technology we finally have a chance to utilise a system that could play big part in preserving Earth and its environment for the future. It would be truly cruel to exploit the tragic deaths in Japan as an excuse to argue ignorantly, emotionally and bigotedly against it.

Sources and resources:

Nuclear Energy Institute

World Nuclear Association

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology

How stuff works - nuclear power

Radiation Answers

International Atomic Energy Agency

Monday, 31 January 2011

Ghost lab or ghost sham?

Sam is a student of mine. He's the son of two medical doctors and when other kids are playing with toys or blowing their pals to pieces on some online computer game, Sam is usually busy reading about the latest advances in science. At the age of nine, this boy can name all the layers of the atmosphere (how many of us can do that?), explain the components of a molecule or describe the differences between an amphibian and a fish, all in a foreign language. You see where I'm going here - Sam is a genius.

One recent morning I was discussing a fairy tale with the class. The topic of magic came up. "Do you believe in magic?"; I asked the class. Some of the kids said "yes", which will be no surprise to those who read my previous article. Sam said "no". "What about ghosts Sam, do you believe in them?" I ask; "Sometimes" says Sam. "Really? I'm surprised. Why do you believe in them?" I ask; "Because I saw something on the TV about them" says Sam. My heart sank. I already knew the answer to my next question but I had to check: "What show was it Sam?" I ask; "Ghost Lab" he replies.

For the uninitiated, "Ghost Lab" is a regular show that airs on National Geographic (in Asia, anyway) that purports to document a team touring the United States and examining familiar "haunted" areas with a variety of equipment and a mobile lab. The obvious implication being that it's all done scientifically.

The problem as I see it is that the show does nothing of the sort. From the very first episode there's a spin being put on events that would make a politician envious. We're shown a clip from Gettysburg supposedly taken by 'Ghost Lab' member Brad, of a group in military dress walking across a field. We're then told in the most sensational terms that the group just "disappeared" in broad daylight! How frightening! What we're not told is that the area of Gettysburg is - for obvious reasons - famous for re-enactment groups acting out old American battles. Oh, and the actual part where the mysterious group "disappear" just happened to be missed off of the film cut, the cameraman was busy running after the group you see, because he was so far away to begin with.

That piece of nonsense really sets the tone for the whole series where minor or non-events are treated as climaxes. A door opening "by itself" in a concert hall is accompanied by lots of screaming and is edited in with dramatic music. The "Ghost Lab" team's scientific analysis of the whole thing is that: "The door was shut hard and there's no breeze here".

Ghostly EVP voices are frequently played back to the camera. They're presented as fact, yet are so indecipherable that the viewer is given subtitles to make sure the ghost's message is clear. Again, the grand sum of scientific analysis offered is one person trying to recreate the voice message. When the volume level is found to be different, that's offered as proof that it was a spirit doing it the first time.

Both the aforementioned events happened in episode one and at the end of the investigation the team leader tells us the building is: "definitely haunted". His evidence? I just gave it to you.

The series continues in the same vein. In episode three - shot in some old 'wild west' town - a photo taken in a suitably notorious area was found to display a shadow. The team leader's immediate response was: "Hmmm....perhaps we should get this analaysed by Joe Nickell or some other expert so we can rule out natural phenomena before jumping to conclusions." No, I'm kidding of course, his real response was: "That's a shadow person right there!" jumping for joy as he did so. I could give further examples of the way it's all spun but I think you get the picture.

What gets my back up about all this is not that it's so cheesy. I understand TV shows need viewers and a truly scientific approach may have less appeal, but it's all presented so deceptively. It's not just my genius but young student Sam who has been taken in by this, it's a whole group of young people. I recently tried debating with a few fans of the show on Facebook and their defence of their favourite show was truly passionate. I almost felt mean for trying to dissuade them.

Those who value truly scientific principles and wish to peruse a better way to perform research than the 'Ghost Lab' crew could do worse than consult a published article on the Rochester University website (I'll link to it below) that explains how we can truly collect, measure, present and validate data in all types of scientific research.

One of the rules is that we should aim for a series of experiments. If we catch a "shadow person" on camera once, can we do it again, ever? If not, how does this contribute to scientific research? Another vital area is "controlled variables". In our 'Ghost Lab' show, a controlled variable might be something as basic as a door, for example. Keeping it locked, inaccessible and observed would make it much more impressive when it allegedly opens "by itself". Certainly it would be more convincing to scientists than simply stating "there's no breeze here".

One last rule discussed in the article and one I always keep as my own golden rule is also known as 'Occam's Razor'. It states: "Things need not be multiplied beyond necessity". What this means of course is that when we have a multitude of explanations for an event or occurrence, we should always choose the one that requires the least amount of assumptions and stays the closest to what we know to be true. So when a "shadow person" appears on a photograph, does a good scientist immediately conclude "Shadow person" - for which there exists zero evidence - or a probable error in the camera lens - an event that happens daily? When presented with creaky audio that may have a faint voice on it , does a good scientist first try to rule out living people or other natural noises, or immediately conclude that dead people are communicating via audio recorders with non-sequitur messages?

Again, I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture. Perhaps some readers could find an enjoyable hobby in reading the article and then watching the show to see how the whole team completely ignore scientific principles. All I ask in return for introducing such a fun filled thirty minutes is that the reader ensures any young viewers accompanying them are shown what nonsense it all is.

Rochester University's guide to the scientific method:

More on 'Occam's Razor':

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Greenfyre strikes back

Greenfyre - the man who "doesn't debate" - does not take criticism as well as he hands it out and has responded to the deconstruction in my previous post. Unlike Greenfyre, I allow people right of criticism so his original comments are welcome and untouched.

Now let's respond. My previous article was long so I'll make this rebuttal as quick as possible.

    GF says.... 

i) In that whole long screed you can't accurately quote & link a single specific [sic] to substantiate any of your claims ... that tells any thinking person all they need to know;

Any "thinking person" would see that I had made several links in the article. Since GF omits to mention what the "specific" is (irony, anyone?) this is a pretty appalling response.

   GF says....
ii) You need to look up "argumentum ad ignorantiam", you clearly do not understand it;

Here is the definition from as I specifically linked to in the article:

Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: (appeal to ignorance) the fallacy that a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false or that it is false simply because it has not been proved true. This error in reasoning is often expressed with influential rhetoric.

A. The informal structure has two basic patterns:

Statement p is unproved.
is true.

Statement not-p is unproved.
is true.

Let's look at the second basic pattern: "Statement not-p is unproved..." "Santa Claus does not exist" is an unproven statement, because a negative cannot be proven. We can show it's very unlikely that he exists and it would be impossible for him to visit every home in one night, but we cannot categorically prove he doesn't exist.

"The current global warming is not entirely due to anthropogenic activity" is an almost identical premise. The only exception being that basic theories of heat transfer and radiative forcing make it likely that some of the heating is being accelerated and slightly exacerbated due to man's activity. However the premise remains the same, it's impossible to prove that all the heating is not due to us humans.

So when it's pointed out that climate science is a new science, unbelievably complex and not yet understood fully by anyone, so we should be careful about abusing other opinions, then how is the argument ad Ignorantiam an acceptable response? It's not. It's simply saying: "I'm right, because you can't prove me wrong".

There's one more area I should be more clear about. In my article I mentioned:
His comment policy warns us that any "gibberish" will be deleted. His idea of "gibberish" is quite broad of course and includes theories relating to Climate Change papered by highly qualified scientists.

The actual wording of GF's comment policy is:
Comments that are not relevant to the post that they appear under or the evolving discussion will simply be moved or deleted, as will links to Denier spam known to be scientific gibberish

In short: "I'll censor anyone who disagrees or disputes with me". Notice what the final words link to;  the index already discussed that features "Skeptic  Vs Science"  arguments. Those "skeptic" arguments very loosely and sloppily cover arguments from sunspots and solar activity as discussed by astrophysicist Piers Corbyn, a dismissal of  the clear growth of Antarctica's sea ice as discussed by Syun-Ichi Akasofu. Perhaps most ludicrously of all it rejects the overwhelming evidence that the Medieval Warming Period was warmer than today. The lie to this is given by a plenitude of papers as disseminated by the Idso family, all respected scientists.

That's just three examples. So by describing arguments advanced by such people as "gibberish" seems a bit rich for an NGO. Minority? Maybe. Gibberish? Hardly. And apart from some bluster, we've now dealt with the full extent of GF's response. Perhaps now it's becoming clearer why he "won't debate".

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Dousing a damp Greenfyre - responding to personal criticism by Mike Kaulbars

You can learn a lot about a person from watching them argue. When feelings or values are questioned is when our words are most unguarded. Even the internet offers no escape, as we are about to see in our special little case study. I hope we may learn something about dealing with aggressive people in debate, use or misuse of logical arguments and climate change science on the way. Heck we might even get a glimpse at human nature and the art of misdirection thrown in somewhere, too.

How will we achieve this? By my deconstruction and rebuttal of a blog called Greenfyre, run by Mike Kaulbars. There's nothing really special about the blog in terms of popularity, content or design. In fact, it's very much a blog's version of Nicholas Cage; great things may be expected but mediocrity is always delivered. So why bother? Well, it's become personal. Mike has been abusive to me several times of late because I've challenged him to a debate on a neutral forum of his choice. He's sidestepped all those challenges and continued his abuse and censorship of my comments. That's his prerogative. This article is mine.

Yet in this petty squabble we can see a far bigger and more positive picture. Greenfyre's blog is very typical of environmentalists and their attitude to Climate Change and those who dissent with mainstream opinion. Every time you read the name "Greenfyre" in this article, don't think of one dull blog, think of the huge number of people around the world who hold a very similar point of view and reason in a similar way. There's a lot of insight and learning to be had if we look for it. However, before we start I should mention my own attitude to the Climate Change debate is briefly summarised here.

There are three issues I want to deal with here. One, the blog itself: its tone, its content and the manner of the blogger. Next is use of the 'denier' tag. Finally we'll analyse the logical constructions and method of debate used. At the end of this piece I'll link to some excellent sites that offer a wealth of scientific information on climate change. That will summarise my viewpoints on the science better than I could do myself.

The Greenfyre blog - alarmism at its best

Lest I make the debate more personal than needed, the easiest way for anyone to get a feel for Mike's blog (I'll call him "Greenfyre" or "GF" from now on for the same reason) is to take a look at the introductory page and browse around a little. It shouldn't take long for the picture to form.

When I first encountered GF's blog I asked an innocent question and was told by GF that I was "humiliating myself" along with some other niceties. More recently when I requested a debate, GF - the man who runs an entire blog based around argument - told me he "doesn't debate".

To his credit, GF is honest about the aggressive and bellicose nature of his blog. It's exactly what he states it is - a collection of arguments and responses. But of course there are two basic types of argument - rational or hysterical. The two are not mutually exclusive but the latter often occurs without the former. Rational argument is done calmly, with logic and a clear mind. Hysterical argument is usually aggressive - peppered with insults and anger and is designed merely to silence the opponent, rather than decide who is right.

Looking at GF's "tag cloud" in the right hand column of his blog tells us immediately what type of argument we are looking at. Three forms of the word "denier" make up the biggest clouds along with sensationalisms like "exposing deniers" and "climate justice" (whatever that means). A quick scan of articles draws a similar conclusion. Of his five most recent articles, three have nothing whatsoever to do with science. Indeed, two of them are simply pseudo-tutorials about how to infer someone who disagrees with his arguments is akin to a Nazi, another is simply a mockery of one person. The other two cover little science.

His comment policy warns us that any "gibberish" will be deleted. His idea of "gibberish" is quite broad of course and includes theories relating to Climate Change papered by highly qualified scientists.

There is a science section with a variety of links, but none of the links are authored by Mike and it is clearly a side-issue. Is such an approach productive? Would the unsure, the intelligent layman, the inquisitive or the shy be persuaded to follow and concur with the scientific beliefs of such a person? If not, how is the blog useful?

That's the problem when dealing in nothing but polemics. It's hard to keep rational when all you're doing is fighting with people. GF - like so many others -  has become fanatically sure he's right. Once a person reaches that stage, reason and facts challenging that belief become objects of anger or even hatred. Science is not immune to such emotions. The Roman Inquisition were sure they had science on their side when they sentenced Giordano Bruno to death for suggesting The Universe was infinite. 

The "Denier" tag

Denier: A person who denies

The 'Denier' tag is used - usually lazily and indiscriminately- by left wing and/or environmentalists against anyone who dissents with their views on climate change. The reason why such a label has been chosen should be obvious. The word has two implications. The first one is being in the wrong, as a person who 'denies' something usually has to defend themself against something and is usually placed on the defensive. The second, more subtle but powerful implication is the obvious association that I don't even need to specify.

When you hear the word, what are the pictures that follow? It's loved by alarmists for this reason. Its undertones are strong, obvious and sinister yet cannot be proven, in the same way it can't be proven that FIFA took a bung in their recent World Cup vote.

But the disgraceful tag isn't just immoral, it's plain wrong. What is it that "deniers" actually deny? That climate is changing? Of course not, climate is always changing. That it's getting hotter? Even leading sceptic Lord Monckton regularly publishes a report showing global temperatures, which are, of course, increasing. Do they deny that it's getting hotter because of humans? I've yet to find a single credible person who believes that anthropogenic activity does not play a single part in recent warming.

So how do those who use the "denier" designation get away with it then? Most of them don't. Challenge them on their meaning and they cannot take the argument as far as we've just taken it in the last paragraph. But a few will claim that "deniers" means anyone who disagrees with the mainstream viewpoint on global warming. Aha! So are we getting somewhere now? Not really.

The "mainstream" opinion on global warming is engineered by the IPCC (I've discussed them before), a panel of scientists who pool their ideas together. But IPCC members rarely agree on the exact amount of warming or exactly how responsible humans are for it, or any of the other statistics in their reports. Their reported estimates are a compromise of opinion. So what "deniers" actually dare to dispute is not the single viewpoint of any single human but a very broad range of compromised statistics from a group of people who also agree to being unsure.

So what is it that 'deniers' are 'denying'? Apparently we are denying that sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59 centimeters this century (as the IPCC warn). So if your own forecast is 17 centimeters, you're a denier. Not a "dissenter", a "disagreer", a "contrarian" or a "rebel", just an evil "denier".  Likewise, if you believe that average temperatures will rise by 1.0 degrees before 2100, you're a Nazi. But if you believe the rise will be 1.1 - 6.4 degrees, that's OK, you're inside the IPCC estimate, you're one of the good guys!

Oh and it doesn't matter that the IPCC have been wrong so many times before. ( one, two , three random examples. ) That's irrelevant propaganda, probably thrown out there by Nazis.

The use of logic and debate

As we've already seen, Greenfyre's blog is mainly based around polemics and argument rather than learning or informing people. But polemics and arguments can be deceptive and psychologically cogent when structured carefully.

We all know a good example of this - the last word. How many of us can really deny (no pun intended) that we feel better when we get the last word in an argument?  It takes a strong person to resist such a temptation. In the case of science, it shouldn't really matter what order the facts come in, but the way they are presented can influence people.

This is why GF links to an ostensibly neutral website that presents all the arguments from "Skeptics" (credit at least for avoiding the cheap-shot 'denier' tag) and then presenting the "science" as a response. Note that by using the term "science" on one side, it implies the 'skeptic" is not using science. In all 139 arguments, the skeptic' line is given first and the "science" second. This gives a strong impression that all "skeptic" lines have been answered and dealt with. That is not true, nor is it how a real debate works.

In a real debate, parties take turns to speak, analyse the opponent's arguments, point out flaws or faults in their argument and reinforce their own angle. If this can't be done, then an honest person should reconsider their own position.

A look at the list of arguments GF links to is a worry. The third argument - the 97% myth - has been proven as deception. The second argument is aimed at someone who denies humans cause any warming, and we've established how rare they are. The first argument - the sun is causing warming - is "debunked" by one single graph. One single graph to discuss a hugely complex, incredibly important and powerful topic.

I can't go through every listed argument but you get the point. Important issues are swept away simply by the way they are presented; as not having 'the last word'. This is a big deal, because it will heavily influence causal readers, the easily mislead and researchers.

GF is also aware of the power of the 'last word' and the way arguments are presented, which is why he "fisks" the comments of anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. 'Fisking' means taking apart a person's argument line by line and responding to it. This is a commonplace and perfectly fair tactic and I do it myself.  However GF actually does it with the person's original comments, the online equivalent of speaking over someone. It's not only rude, it's also prejudicing how the person comes across to other people. A similar tactic to the Scientologist method of publicly smearing anyone whom they think is about to speak out against them. Likewise, Greenfyre Mike has a "Dunce's Corner" for comments "too stupid to reply to". Needless to say, he is judge and jury about who gets sent there.

All these antics serve to make GF or anyone else feel secure. By always having the last word, they feel nobody can threaten their belief system and nobody can persuade others that their viewpoint is wrong either. It's not how honest science works, though.

Use of logical arguments, and lack thereof

It's not just back and forth argument that can be misued in scientific discussion.  Logical arguments can be used and abused in such circles and their effect can be just as powerful as the 'last word' psychology, especially when the recipient or target is unaware of what is happening. Let's take a look at a few examples....

The 'denier' tag is of course, ad-hominem attack. This has become so obvious that GF now uses this as a double bluff, claiming that anyone who uses the term doesn't know what it means.

Further arguments come into play. Clearly GF is playing  the "Argument By Vehemence". People don't like being insulted and many will shy away from argument if they believe it will happen.

We have yet more examples on the field of play. On one occasion I pointed out to Mike that Climate Science is new, incredibly complex and as such nowhere near fully understood. My point being that in such circumstances he could or should not label people as deniers for disagreeing with his opinions. He responded (well, fisked actually) that I was using argumentum ad ignorantiam, his inference suggesting something cannot be true because we don't understand it. Actually that's a poor use of the argument, a better explanation of it is here.

The irony of course is that the argument from ignorance is coming from the Greenfyre. Because Climate Science is so complex, there really is nobody who can lay claim to having all the knowledge or all the facts about what will happen. And therefore, since GF's arguments cannot be disproven, they must be true!

As with every other section, I could give further examples but you surely get the picture. For a good breakdown of logical fallacies, go here. When you see one being used, simply call it out.

In this article we've seen many of the ways that we can be deceived, mislead, manipulated or just plain bullied. We've also seen how some logical arguments can be used or misused. Simply knowing the techniques that some of these nasty aims can be achieved is often enough to defend against them.

But none of us are perfect. We're often better at deciding or misleading ourselves than anyone else. If readers - including Greenfyre - feel that I've been unfair or wrong in any of my conclusions, then my offer offer of a debate or simply a discussion still stands. In the meantime however, my own verdict is that Greenfyre may well have some solid scientific arguments but they are lost in the shrill voice of his angry rants. In that, we may be able to see the many faults of a person so convinced they are right.


Sites that generally disagree with IPCC opinion: - contains details of hundreds of peer reviewed science papers concerning climate change. Also has links to a highly informative alternative (to IPCC) climate change report.

http://www. - similar to the previous link - slightly more polemical than the above two sites but still highly informative. Christopher Monckton is  regular contributor to the site and is hated by many environmentalists for matching their aggressive tactics. - the most popular sceptic blog online. Sometimes has up to ten blogs per day. - an underrated site with a lot of research, graphs and data. - the site of Steve McIntyre, one half of the duo that exposed Al Gore's hockey stick graph fraud.

Sites that generally concur with mainstream theory: - Partly run by William Connelly , who is banned from Wikipedia for aggressive censorship and editing of GW articles and publishing links to his own site as source. Still useful though. - The IPCC site The UN's climate change site

Other sites of interest: - a fantastic and longs serving site dealing with sceptical views of most things paranormal. The only worry is that it has recently inserted a link to Greenfyre's blog. I can only think it was done as a personal favour. - Again, a list of faulty arguments - a site documenting public uses of weasel wording, another form of deception.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Why we should be happy Nick Griffin won

The problem with politics is that it suffers from a 'team sport' mentality. Followers of one party or ideology tend to cheer any misfortune of those that oppose them, regardless of the cost. This was definitely the case during the recent legal trial of the BNP which ended in a totally just way. The acquittal of the BNP (Nick Griffin) in the Courts of Justice this week was good for everyone who believes in democracy, regardless of what they think of the BNP.

There are minor and major points for this. The first minor point - I say 'minor' in the grand scheme of things - is that Griffin was obviously innocent. The BNP had been ordered to change their constitution (wrongly in my opinion) and had done so. Any ethnic race of person is now allowed to join the BNP. How the EHRC could claim that Griffin's following of court orders was "contempt of court" is beyond belief, and the EHRC case was never really made clear.

Second minor point: the case was clearly persecution.  Indeed, it's only since the BNP had two MEPs elected that these charges began to crop up. Cases against Griffin and the BNP have been thrown out of court over the last few years while MPs fiddling expenses, others abusing their position and those implicated in the Iraq war lies have walked away scot free.

And now we come to the major point, so please let me explain how crucial this is. Britain is arguably the oldest democracy in The World. It is also one of the most stable. No other major country has gone for so long without a coup, civil war or mutiny. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for this is the balance of our constitution. The three main elements - legislative (parliament) executive (Monarchy/Cabinet) and Judiciary (Courts) function so well because of their independence. As soon as one starts interfering with the other, you have problems, yet for each branch to become truly independent of each other often takes time. This is why less mature democracies such as Thailand, many African states and even some Eastern European states have endless political upheaval, often resulting in deaths, torture and persecution. Usually this stems from government interference with the legal system and other abuses of power.

This allegedly happened in Thailand, with Thaksin Shinwatra's political party being completely disbanded by the courts. Its reincarnation was then dissolved for the almighty offence of allowing its leader to appear on a TV cooking show while being employed as Prime Minister. It happened in Zinbabawae when Muagbe's opponents were repeatedly beaten, threatened and imprisoned. Of course it happened in Burma, too. Even in Italy, Belusconi's critics were often tailed and intimidated going round their daily duties.

The list of examples goes on and on. They all have one thing in common - they represent to some degree a corrupt, unhealthy and unsafe democracy which nobody in their right mind would choose over our own, despite its many imperfections.

What has this got to do with the BNP case? Everything. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is a government body bearing the common and tired disguise of a "quango" status. It is run, funded and selected by the government, without any public involvement whatsoever. So when the EHRC takes legal action to close down a party, it is essentially the government using your own money to eliminate its opposition.

It may be harsh to draw comparisons between British democracy and those countries just mentioned, but it's only thanks to the Courts of Justice that we can see the difference in the BNP case.

Let's be clear - I am not a BNP supporter. It doesn't make one iota of difference if you love or loathe the BNP. If Nick Griffin had been imprisoned in last fortnight's court hearing - there would be two victors. The first would be the government, because they would've eliminated a growing political threat in a sly, undemocratic and underhand way. The second victor would be the hate-filled, fanatical and violently vicious fringe bunch of so called "anti-fascists' who would have danced with great delight on the grave of the strongest, healthiest and - for all its faults - one of the best and most just constitutions in the world.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The case for boycotting the World Cup

Qatar's World Cup record (
This thesis statement is only going to be relevant to you, the reader, if you believe as I do that the World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 were dishonest, corrupt and just plain bad.

Not all people believe that. I've spoken to some folk who are pleased to see Qatar hosting the greatest of tournaments in 2022. Fine, if you support the nation of well under two million people with no current facilities, a totally inappropriate climate, no democracy and that has never, ever qualified for the tournament by merit or otherwise then I'm happy for you. My feelings about the process have already been stated, and that is why I believe that England and other well-known football nations should boycott at least one World Cup.

The aim of the boycott would be to discredit FIFA, register our disgust at the blatant corruption and megalomania going on within the group and most importantly pressure them to reform. We should make clear that we are not disputing the decisions already made as that would make us look sore losers, rather we have to press for reform so that the same farce cannot repeat itself in future.

More specifically, we must call for voting to be public, not secret. We should push for a disclosure of interests including any payments or lobbying interests of FIFA committee members in a similar way to the system used by western parliaments. We could also push for a public written summary of the final vote by each committee member, or some similar token of public interest. A statement of values and aims by FIFA in selecting candidate nations is essential, too. There has been one too many nations with human rights abuse, corruption and total lack of democracy involved in World Cup hosting lately and the pathetic argument from FIFA that gifting the tournament to them helps makes things better does not stand up the the tiniest amount of scrutiny.

Why would a boycott work? Well consider that FIFA has been compared to a global government in several circles this year. After all, they have income and power well above many nations. But while governments must gain legitimacy by appeasing voters or beating them into submission (Burma, Zimbabwe, etc.), FIFA gains its power by the football prestige of its members. If the countries mistreated in the voting such as Spain, Portugal, Japan, England, Belgium and Holland and even Australia and the US withdrew from the World Cup, that would strike a humongous blow to the tournament's prestige, popularity and profits. In other words, FIFA would lose out on everything they care for.

It's going to be hard. As a success-starved nation where football is the closest we have to a modern religion, it's going to be painful to watch a tournament and not have our lads to cheer. We'll get over it though, just like in USA '90 when we had to pretend we cared about the Irish side. Of course, we'll lose out financially too. Other nations will suffer a similar stress but it will be "short term pain for long term gain".

Perhaps the great Gary Lineker said it best: "People keep telling me we have to play the game differently, that we are too straight for our own good. I don't think that is the case. We just do things the right way. But if that is what has cost us the World Cup, then forget it - maybe it's not worth having."

Let's make it worth having again.