Tag: Science

At the Green Party autumn conference, I attended an early morning panel discussion on population. I wrote about this in a recent blog post, describing the debate between a representative from Population Matters and Sebastian Power from the Green Party. I also mentioned that Sebastian offered during the debate to send references for his claims to anyone who was interested in what he said. Now that he has sent these around, I wanted to write a third (and hopefully final) blog entry on the population debate. Having followed up his references, I felt I had to write this because so many people in the conference audience and more widely will have heard his arguments and heard his claim that he based them on solid, scientific references. He also made the same arguments in an article for the internal magazine, Green World, and I have heard the same arguments from several other party members.…

Read More Do the ‘population doesn’t matter’ arguments stand up to their own evidence?

The population debate rumbles on. David Attenborough crashed back into the debate with a pretty crass set of remarks about not sending food aid to places struck by famine, earning lots of impassioned responses. The activist-comedian Robert Newman wrote an interesting piece pointing out that population growth is tailing off so claiming it really isn’t the issue, and so it continues, round and around. At the Green Party autumn conference, I attended an early morning panel discussion on population. We heard from a speaker from Population Matters, who argued that our impact on the rest of nature is a function of our population, our affluence (and inequality) and our technology. I explored this “IPAT” formula a bit in my previous blog entry. Then Sebastian Power made more or less the same case as Newman – that we suffer from (in his words) “rich white men” consuming too much, not too…

Read More What is the population question?

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett recently took a strong stance on migration, warning of the dangers that the other parties risk when stoking up public anger about population. She rightly suggested that we shouldn’t blame migrants for problems with the NHS, schools, housing and jobs. Instead, we should be concerned about the failure of misguided economic policies that have caused these problems. In response, three members of the Green Party wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that they, and many other Greens, are concerned about migration as well as the nasty rhetoric. The authors of the letter wrote: Many of her party’s supporters are as concerned as the rest of the public about a high level of net immigration, mainly because it is a major contributor to population growth. This adds to the uphill task of protecting our environment and moving the economy to an ecologically sustainable one. A…

Read More On migration, population and ecology

Here’s another message I have sent to the Today programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4. For readers unfamiliar with the programme, it is the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme. But the substance of this message is an all-too-frequent problem with their coverage. Unlike my last complaint, I just sent this one in as feedback. I didn’t feel it merited a formal complaint. If I get a reply I will post it below, as before. Regarding the item on npower’s report on energy prices, I was disappointed that the questioning seemed to ignore or underplay the urgency of decarbonising our energy supply. You rarely question the assumption that we must close the fiscal deficit, which is an economic construct and a subject much debated by economists. Yet you are happy to entertain the idea of ignoring our carbon deficit, which is a scientific fact beyond debate with 97% of…

Read More Ignoring the carbon deficit

The BBC broadcast a report today by Roger Harrabin entitled “has global warming stalled?“. You can follow the link to listen to the piece. I don’t often submit formal complaints, but I think the framing of the issue is so important that I submitted the following to the BBC complaints department. I have two specific complaints in relation to your Today programme piece on climate science broadcast on the 17th May. The first is that the report used misleading language about recent developments in the science. My second complaint is that the report gave undue attention to a marginal opinion. Roger Harrabin’s report contained some interesting interviews, but the presentation was entirely misleading. On my first, I believe it is misleading to suggest that the scientific establishment agrees that “global warming appears to have stalled” as he did in the opening segment. The media, including Radio 4, covered a Met…

Read More My complaint to the BBC

Ben Goldacre’s interesting programme on evidence-based policy making went out yesterday evening. Like so much of his work, I found myself alternately agreeing vigorously and disagreeing in exasperation. The trouble is not what he does say, but what he doesn’t. His central argument is a familiar one. In medicine, scientists determine what works using randomised controlled trials. Give one set of patients a pill, give another set a placebo, and see what difference the pill makes. Do this lots of times, trying to control for confounding variables (like the participants’ lifestyles) and if possible make it “double blind” by ensuring neither the participants nor the researchers conducting the test know which group anyone is in. This method gives us a high degree of certainty that some pills work while others don’t, or do so less well. It is far superior to simply acting on a hunch, monitoring a particular outcome…

Read More Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence

In the days since I wrote my first blog post on the Rothamsted GM wheat controversy I’ve spent more time reading up on GM than in the past nine years. It’s been a tortuous few days for me. As a big fan of the Bad Science movement who was loosely involved with improving the Green Party’s science policy; as the author of the 2012 London manifesto on which Jenny Jones and others stood, and somebody who has put a lot of my life in the last four years into helping her achieve great things on the London Assembly and Southwark Council; and as somebody who slightly sits on the fence on the GM debate; I’ve found myself agreeing with all quarters. On the eve of the protest I thought I’d put down a few more thoughts following the debate. There is a lot of nonsense from all quarters (but it’s…

Read More Rothamsted: things I’ve learned, things I want to know

Genetically modified food is one of those subjects that’s not known for reasoned debate. The public and anti-campaigners are often spooked by the Frankenstein weirdness of splicing genes without really understanding the science. Scientists and proponents are often convinced of the science while hastily dismissing wider social, economic and environmental considerations. As policy officer for the London region and author of our recent London elections manifesto it’s not a topic that I often cross paths with. I’ve a personal interest as I spoke against GM at one of the national debate events organised in 2003. I was an undergraduate student at the time, and spoke at my university – Reading – against some eminent scientists. I’m pretty sure 99% of the science I drew on in my argument was probably junk. I remain persuaded by many of the wider arguments I deployed, but like too many campaigners I cobbled together…

Read More The Rothamsted Wheat Trial (should Greens trash it?)

It’s unhappily easy for our earnest efforts to fall on deaf ears, especially if (like me) you’re a bit of an egg-head. It would be lovely if people listened attentively to our reasoned arguments, but any academic psychologist could tell you it ain’t so. The Bad Science movement has roundly bashed the media for dangerously misrepresenting science. Ben Goldacre angrily lays blame at the feet of humanities graduates (like me?) who write and make editorial decisions about scientific subjects without any understanding of the subject or even getting the basics of the scientific method. Just recently we have seen climate scientists have their names dragged through the mud by, er, journalists and editors who obviously don’t realise how much of a non-scandal “Climate Gate” really was. So do we fight back with Goldacre-style condescension, taking the arguments to pieces and shouting at humanities graduates like me? That probably won’t get…

Read More Don’t be such a scientist

Here’s another reason not to try and terrify people out of conspicuous consumption, aside from the basic flaws in the “eco angel” approach and recent evidence that moralising is putting people off ethical consumerism. Some interesting research by Swiss psychologists found that warnings about death has the ironic effect of making some smokers want to smoke even more! The reason? They derive a self-esteem boost from smoking; warnings about death sent these smokers to a trusty source of self esteem to overcome that downhearted feeling – death-bringing cigarettes! So next time you tell someone that buying too much crap might cause planetary collapse, it’s fairly likely that your nasty nagging well send them running for a standard Western self-esteem boost: shopping.

Read More Might eco-nagging encourage more shopping?