Wednesday, 16 June 2010

How easy it is to fool the media with invented research results

People voting for the liberal parties have more sex than people voting for the social democrats.
Neveneffecten data driven how easy it is to fool the media
It’s one example of “funny” research that was presented in the Flemish press during the last year. Another story learnt us that on election day there’s a correlation between the colour of the clothes people are wearing and the party they will vote for. Original source for these stories is the bureau Data Driven which for the past days has been flooding the Flemish media with the results of such trivial research. 
One catch : the bureau doesn’t exist nor does the underlying research.
Belgian TV production company Woestijnvis invented all those stories as a part of a new TV-program that hasn’t aired yet. The hoax was discovered today by the newspaper Het Belang van Limburg.  The first appearance of a fake report by Data Driven appeared on June 9 2009 or more than a year ago. 
It definitely tells you something about the reliability of news stories appearing in the media. 

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Merchants of doubt – Oreskes & Conway

Naomi Oreskes EriK Conway Merchants of doubt global warming tobacco
If the name Naomi Oreskes rings a bell, it’s because she’s the person who wrote the frequently cited article Beyond the ivory tower, the scientific consensus on climate change which appeared in ScienceMag in 2004, an article in which she showed that the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that indeed there is man-made global warming.
In 2008 I already wrote a post in which prof. Oreskes has a closer look at the subject in her presentation The American Denial of Global Warming.
In the new book Merchants of doubt : How a handful of scientists obscured the Truth on issues from Tobacco smoke to Global Warming Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway explain what tobacco, the strategic defence initiative, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoking and climate change have got in common. All of these issues have gotten politicised by a bunch of free-market fundamentalists who preferred ideology over reality.
Gareth Renowden has good summary, but really i would recommend you to buy the book itself. It will help you to understand how important a person’s bias is, and how a public’s perception can be manipulated. Understanding the tactics used will make it easier to see through the flaws and manipulations. As a result, understanding the book gives a person a better understanding of the functioning of our society !

Friday, 11 June 2010

Tobacco Lobbyism : the (ab)use of people’s Free Market belief : A fascinating document in the legacy tobacco documents library


I’ve explained many times on this blog that one of the main tactics used by professional lobbyists is using a person’s existing beliefs by presenting the lobby-subject in such a manner it confirms the existing bias.
Indeed the lobby has learnt that if played well and they manage the convince their ‘victims’ of the link between the bias and the lobbyists’ agenda, subsequently the victims themselves will start to spread and copy the lobbyists’ message. In other words, for a great extent the dirty work of the lobbyist is being done by people who got misguided. All the lobbyist need to do is keep the fire alive.
Of course the stronger the bias is, the easier it is for the lobby to ‘guide’ people into buying their hidden agenda. This is one of the reasons libertarians often are easy targets. Especially when the lobby is using popular libertarian theme’s like “personal freedom”, “free market economics without any intervention” or on the other hand by using libertarian fears like the fear for “a world government”

In the attack on science there is a vast overrepresentation of Free Market / libertarian groups. In the field of tobacco regulations, there were the TICAP-conferences organised by The International Coalition Against Prohibition, a broad coalition of obscure organisations mostly focussed on issues involving ‘freedom’.

While of course there are professional lobbyists wandering such organisations and coalitions poking the fire, the vast majority of people involved are not dishonest at all, but mislead. Fooled by uncritically listening to what they want hear.

The very same thing is valid for the ARISE-story appearing in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Yes, it is clear that ARISE was a tool for the tobacco industry and the industry did control the budgets for the organisation. But, as i wrote on Tuesday i do not think that all the people who are mentioned as an ARISE-associate automatically are tobacco-lobbyists.

From the ARISE associates list (at least the names i recognize), my guess is John Luik is the industry-guy. My bet would be that the vast-majority of the ARISE-associates were academics with strong free-market beliefs who simply got manipulated by the professional spin.
From the lobby’s point of view, the first thing it needs to do is to identify people who are receptacle for the spinned message; And subsequently can be (ab)used by guiding them towards the point were they start spreading a message favourable for the industry.

And this is how i come to the document i announced in the title of this post. To me, it appears to be a document made by a tobacco lobbyist in which he list the names of people he seems to think could be “used” for a tobacco-campaign using the “freedom”-bias. It’s the most fascinating document i ever read in the legacy tobacco documents library.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

BBL analyse Vlaamse partijprogramma's en hun milieustandpunten

Een analyse van de porgramma's van de verschillende partijen zoals die in het Nederland door het CPB werd opgesteld ben ik niet tegengekomen tussen de publicaties van het Belgische Federaal Planbureau.

De Bond Beter Leefmilieu daarentegen publiceerde deze analyse van de partijprogamma's. Hoewel de tekst uiteraard moet gelezen worden als zijnde afkomstig van een milieu-organisatie geeft het toch nog een redelijk accurate synthese van waar de verschillende Vlaamse Partijen voor staan die dit weekend naar de kiezer trekken.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Belgian Scientists Frank van Dun & Claude Javeau were paid by the tobacco lobby

The Belgian newspaper Le Soir today published an article Le lobby du tabac recrutait des profs d’unif (in English : The tobacco lobby recruted university professors) in which Le Soir claims sociologist Claude Javeau of the ULB and philopher of law Frank Van Dun of the UGent were paid by lobby tool ARISE to promote the conclusions of the tobacco lobby.
The tactics used by ARISE was putting tobacco in the same line as ‘daily little joys’ like drinking a cup of coffee or eating chocolate, stating these things increase your happiness in life. Tim Lambert had a closer look at the activities of ARISE in his post Just how many astroturf groups did tobacco fund?
The fact Van Dun was part of ARISE has long been known, Tim mentions him in the post above and i had a closer look at Van Dun’s tobacco activities last year in my post Libertarism, climate change and the tobacco lobby.
The online article of Le Soir is referring to the newspaper itself for the full details and unfortunately i don’t have this paper copy so i’m not really sure if there’s a deeper reason why they are publishing this article exactly today. Nor do i know where they get the information that both professors were paid for their affiliation with ARISE.
I always assumed Frank Van Dun was just a libertarian blinded by bias who got manipulated into the tobacco lobby by agents provocateurs and by not being able to switch of his own superstrong personal libertarian bias. And it’s because of this strong bias libertarians tend to end up in industry-spinned astroturf groups attacking ‘unwanted’ scientific conclusions. The only thing the industrial agents-provocateurs need to do is feed the bias. In case of tobacco subjects, the lobbyists just need to use the word “Freedom”.
They did so in the time of ARISE, and they still do so for the TICAP-conferences which show the symbiosis between libertarism and lobby : the TICAP-conferences were organised by libertarians and I’m actually pretty sure they honestly believe the sloganesque language around freedom that was spoken on that conference.
The only problem with the speakers they invited is that those guys were professional tobacco-lobby spokesman. The agents provocateurs feeding the bias. The i’m talking about lobbyists like John Luik, Gian Turci or Gio Batta Gori.
Unless Le Soir managed to find new information, i think Van Dun, even though he participated in conferences of ARISE, was not a tobacco lobbyist but ‘only’ a libertarian.
.

Le Soir dugg up a text from Javeau from 1994 titled Choix des plaisirs de vivre et de defense de la democratie (in English : “The choice for the pleasures in life and for defending democracy”) [sic]. in this text Javeau is playing with all the well know libertarians fears. An example of a sentence (p2) : Brave New World isn’t far away and we’ll be meeting to play 1984 with some delay.
So again, just like was the case for Van Dun, libertarism might be the real motivator behind Javeau’s actions. But for Javeau there's more. While in Le Soir he claims he was unaware ARISE was funded by the tobacco industry, a draft version of the IARC action plan for Belgium shows Javeau was deeply involved in a broader strategy to influence policy makers.

While I’m willing to give Frank Van Dun benefit of the doubt, things for Claude Javeau look worse. If i were Brussels University, I’d wanna have a chat with the man.

The Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Affairs analysis on climate change

vignet_stempotlood_271260hI don't know if there exists something similar in Belgium (if you know about it, please let me know) but with the upcoming elections the Dutch Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) wrote a report (in Dutch, pdf 218p.) in which they make an evaluation of what would be the effects on economy & environment of the political program of the different Dutch political parties.

The graph below shows how much the reduction in Greenhouse Gasses (Mton CO2 eq) would be for the different Dutch political parties.

The bar with highest reduction of course belongs to the Green-Left party (GL) while the lowest reduction is associated with the PVV of Geert Wilders and the right wing liberal party VVD.
Pre-election polls predict the winners of the elections tomorrow will be the two parties (PVV & VVD) that will insufficiently respond to the climate issue. The distortion of the Dutch Climate skeptics around the Klimatosoof & Climategate.nl (Theo Richel, Hans Labohm, Hajo Smit, Rypke Zeilmaker, Marcel Crok, etc) has proven to be successful.

An event like De Groene Rekenkamer’s “National Degreening Day” [sic] probably did have an impact on the politicians present that day, being Helma Neppérus (VVD) and Richard De Mos (PVV), both member of the Dutch Parliament.

And, this is the sad part, both Neppérus & De Mos are responsible for environmental issues within their respective parties. Or how poor understanding of science of a few people can have a gigantic impact on a country’s politics.

pbl-en-cpb-2010-overzicht1

edit The color codes mean :

  • blue = renewable
  • red = energy sector
  • green = traffic
  • yellow = other


h/t Bart Verheggen

Monday, 7 June 2010

Lord Christopher Monckton got pwned by John Abraham

For the few people who missed the news : professor John Abraham has gone where no man has gone before. He looked at a presentation and started to look at all the claims Monckton made, if necessary he contacted the original authors of a paper Monckton quoted, etc. It must have been an incredible time-consuming business, or why no-one ever attemped to make a full rebuttal like Abraham did.
Abraham explains how he got involved in rebutting Monckton in this article in The Guardian. In the article he also demonstrates Monckton is misquoting scientists and misinterpreting science over and over and over again. An example :
For instance, Monckton's claims that "Arctic sea ice is fine, steady for a decade" made reference to Alaskan research group (IARC).
I wrote to members of IARC and asked whether this was true. Both their chief scientist and director confirmed that Monckton was mistaken.
They also pointed me to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) for a second opinion.
A scientist there confirmed Monckton's error, as did Dr Ola Johannessen, whose work has shown ice loss in Greenland (Monckton reported that Johannessen's work showed that Greenland "was just fine".)
Next, I investigated Monckton's claim that the medieval period was warmer than today. Monckton showed a slide featuring nine researchers' works which, he claimed, proved that today's warming is not unusual – it was hotter in the past.
I wrote to these authors and I read their papers. It turned out that none of the authors or papers made the claims that Monckton attributed to them. This pattern of misinterpretation was becoming chronic.
The original version of Abraham’s full rebuttal can be found here, but it’s also available on Youtube, the first part is given below. The list with references used can be found here

Chris Monckton wrote this reply which above anything else is embarrassing. It takes his Lordship exactly five words to drop the word “Goebbelian” and it only goes downwards further on, an example :
So unusual is this attempt actually to meet us in argument, and so venomously ad hominem are Abraham’s artful puerilities, delivered in a nasal and irritatingly matey tone (at least we are spared his face — he looks like an overcooked prawn)
John Abraham gave this polite response to Monckton’s bewildering rant.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Earth is warming & the minds are heating

Jean-Marie Dedecker klimaatverandering Lijst Dedecker
The main topic of the Belgian elections of next week is the tensions between the Dutch speaking north and the French speaking south part. Officially the main issue is the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde problem which is immobilizing the entire countries politics for three consecutive years already. Many people consider this to be a new episode in splitting the country and indeed i think politics have crossed the point of no return into the direction of separation.
The nationalist issues are getting nearly all the attention in the campaigns, while other serious topics (financial crisis anyone?) or the environment are getting neglected. Because of the elections campaign, the new book “Earth is warming and the minds are heating” of Jean Marie Dedecker received little attention.
Jean-Marie Dedecker is the leader of right-liberal Party Dedecker (LDD). Yes the party is named after himself. Jean-Dedecker in the past has been highly critical of environmentalism in general and climate science in specific in his book Recht(s) voor de raap. I have quoted the most relevant part of the book in the post Lijst Dedeckers view on Climate Change.
Dedecker wrote his new book after “extensive study” (reading 50 books) on the subjects of climate change and ecologism, things he calls “The new state religion”. Dedecker says :
We should stop listening to prophecies which, just like 2000 years ago, announce the end of the world. We’re not Jehovah's witnesses, are we?
TV-program Phara had an interview (in Dutch) with Dedecker (Is ecologisme een nieuwe religie?'>video) in which he’s talking about the “Climate Vatican”, “Mass Hysteria” and “Psychosis” without being able to give any substantial support for those hollow words. Besides a lot of nagging, Dedecker uses embarrassing arguments like Climate changed before.
The conservative newspaper De Standaard summarized the general feeling Dedecker’s book ‘Earth is warming & the minds are heating’ provoked in Belgium by making a wordplay in an article about the book-launch titled “Earth is warming and Dedecker evaporates”. Indeed, only two years after his huge electoral success, hardly anyone seems to care any more about Jean-Marie Dedecker, his party LDD or the books he writes.
Or as Geert Lambert, senator for SLP writes : The discourse of Dedecker got stuck in the past (in Dutch). Of course, Hans Labohm sees things differently and thinks Dedecker’s view will have some influence in Belgian politics. Once again Hans isn’t able to distinguish what he would want to from what is reality.
Meanwhile 1700 people joined the Facebook group “Dedecker zou beter zijn muil houden over ecologie” (loosely translated : It would be wiser if Dedecker would just keep his mouth shut about ecology)

Friday, 4 June 2010

Quotes of the Day

This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation (Albert Einstein, 1920)
Joss Garman has a highly recommended post in which he’s having a closer look on Dutch researcher Jeroen Van Dongen’s paper “On Einstein's opponents, and other crackpots” and the Climate denial activists’ parallel to anti-relativity movement of the 1920s.
(h/t Scruffydan)

On the other side of the spectrum, Sarah Palin blames environmentalists for the BP oil-spill in the Mexican Gulf in a Facebook post that uses one of the most awkward forms of backwards reasoning i’ve read in a long time :
With your [environmentalists'] nonsensical efforts to lock up safer drilling areas, all you're doing is outsourcing energy development, which makes us more controlled by foreign countries, less safe, and less prosperous on a dirtier planet. Your hypocrisy is showing. You're not preventing environmental hazards; you're outsourcing them and making drilling more dangerous.
Extreme deep water drilling is not the preferred choice to meet our country's energy needs, but your protests and lawsuits and lies about onshore and shallow water drilling have locked up safer areas. It's catching up with you. The tragic, unprecedented deep water Gulf oil spill proves it.
Oh dear

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Klimaatkeuze.nl

Both in Belgium and Holland elections will be held this month. Yet in both countries the climate topic seems to be rather absent on the political agenda for the moment.
Nevertheless the Dutch anti-nuclear energy platform WISE made an inventory of the viewpoint on climate change of the different Dutch political parties and their approach the subject. The result is given on the website Klimaatkeuze (“climate choice”, Dutch only).

WISE sent 11 questions to the parties and the resulting answers are given on the homepage of Klimaatkeuze. Except for the PVV-party of Geert Wilders as they decided to not cooperate in the project.
On climategate.nl, vocal PVV-supporter Hajo Smit thinks the overview-table with an empty column for the PVV indeliberately summarizes the party’s viewpoint :
“the Blanco column of PVV is the perfect symbolism of what this party is all about : "there is no climate crisis, CO2 isn’t a threat, there’s no need for a specific policy”
The thermometer image at the right gives the evaluation WISE made of the different political programs : the lower the party name is on the agenda, the more they are willing to invest in the climate change issue. The red line at the bottom (just below SP) depicts the international 2°C rise target. As can be seen, only two Dutch parties have a program that aims to stay below this target !!