Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cybercrime amendment a shadow of “#Ozlog”

It’s like this: I don’t like it when people who consider themselves the “good guys” spread misinformation, apparently believing that it’s okay if it’s “for the cause”.

1.     The bill isn’t the same as the National Security Inquiry

Either because they’ve confused two government activities, or deliberately, some have conflated the Cybercrime Amendment Bill 2011 with the National Security Inquiry.

The NatSec Inquiry – which does include proposals for broad-scale data retention – never got as far as presenting even draft legislation: it’s reportedly been put on ice (although Nicola Roxon, Attorney-General, hasn't made a statement to that effect).

The Cybercrime Amendment Bill has, on the other hand, been in the pipeline since 2011.

2.     Why weren’t we consulted?

Some journalists and commentators have complained that there wasn’t a public consultation. There was: they’ve just forgotten it, because it took place in 2011 – or they took no notice of it anyhow.

3.     It’s not warrantless surveillance

Unlike whatever as-yet-undrafted proposals that may arise from the National Security Inquiry, the Cybercrime Amendment Bill doesn’t allow law enforcement to get information without a warrant.

The bill allows them to request storage, either covering someone’s communications for a single day, or communications for 30 days. Enforcement can only see the stored information if it gets a warrant – if it can’t get the warrant, the storage request expires and the data can no longer be held.

4.     If I’m defending the Act I must support it, right?


I like debates to work with the facts.

People who take misinformation into a political debate are fools, because they’re handing a get-out-of-jail-free card to their opponents. Someone – say, Nicola Roxon – gets to focus on correcting the misinformation, and doesn’t have to spend as much time explaining, justifying or defending the reality.

The National Security Inquiry will be revived. It will improve everybody’s debating position if they learn to work with facts rather than exaggerations and urban myths.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Climate change is wrong because …

Wired has this long piece by Matt Ridley. I’m not Wired, but I’m in a rebuttal kind of mood …

I’ll sum up Ridley’s argument this way: apocalyptic scientists are always wrong, so stop worrying about climate change.

The problems with the article are so many (his discussion of infectious disease gets down to the plainly silly) that I have to pick just the high points:

  1. Misdirection
  2. Blaming the scientist for the media
  3. Ignoring the caveats
  4. Misrepresentation

  1. Misdirection

Ridley is happy enough to attack Rachel Carson – but not over her science. He doesn’t address her writings at all; rather, he devotes more than 100 words to attacking not Carson, but “her chief inspiration” Wilhelm Hueper.

Ridley then goes on to smear Carson’s warnings about environmental chemicals and cancer with this throwaway: “cancer incidence and death rates … have been falling now for 20 years.” Cancer research, of course, has stood still that entire time, and DDT use has grown – right?

  1. Blaming the scientist for the media

In discussing air pollution, Ridley cites not a scientist as his first source, but Time. It’s a well-established way to attack science: blame the media’s handling of science stories on the scientists themselves (we saw this in 2011 and 2012 in the “faster than light neutrino” story: the press first played up the wildest possibility, then blamed the scientists when their preferred outcome didn’t eventuate).

Some scientists “throw the switch to vaudeville” – and frequently get called out by other scientists. More often, in my experience, the “apocalypse” happens when journalists cherry-pick the extreme end of the projections to get a better headline.

The majority of sources Ridley cites are not scientists, but journalists - with a couple of economists, one medical doctor, a politician and TV presenter thrown in for colour. In what way do their witterings cast doubt on sicence?

  1. Ignoring the caveat

Ridley then goes on to blame the scientists for presenting an apocalypse that didn’t happen. He freely admits that regulation helped cut air pollution emissions – but obfuscates the cause-and-effect: people applied regulation to polluters because the science predicted dangers. Blaming the scientist for the lack of apocalypse is just silly.

The caveat on DDT in the 60s, air pollution, and the ozone hole in the 80s was always the same caveat: “unless we do something”.

If government and private enterprises actually take action to avoid a problem – it’s stupid to then say “see? The science was wrong!”

  1. Misrepresentation

“There was an international agreement to cease using CFCs by 1996. But the predicted recovery of the ozone layer never happened: The hole stopped growing before the ban took effect”, Ridley writes.

First and foremost: on the current trend, Ridley is flat-out wrong. According to NASA, the peak size of the Southern Hemisphere ozone hole in 2011 was 12 percent smaller than in 2006.

More seriously, Ridley isn’t presenting the whole facts on the CFC phaseout:

  1. The 1996 ban was the end of the reduction process, not the beginning; and
  2. Developing nations were given until 2010 to complete their phase-out.

In Australia, for example, nearly 90 percent of CFC reduction predated the 1996 ban agreed in the Montreal Protocol. Any sensible developed nation did likewise.

We should also remember that the protocol gave developing nations until 2010 to complete their phase-out. I don’t propose researching the trajectory of the entire developing world, but you get the point: emissions stopped growing, and so did the ozone hole. But we have a lot of CFCs still to get out of the system.

Scientists said “if emissions continue to rise, this will happen”. Politicians took their advice (and the economy didn’t collapse for lack of CFCs), and emissions didn’t rise.

Only reluctantly – and late in the article – does Ridley note that some of the “apocalyptic” scenarios he derides were “averted by action”.

Action followed scientific fact; it’s depressing that people will still smear scientists because of what journalists write about them.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

MSM as mutual masterbatorium

“The Internet ate my homework” is the lamest excuse that exists. Ask the solipsistic morons in mainstream media why their publishers are in trouble, they’ll include “the Internet” in the answer. Ask retailers the same question, get the same answer.

“The Internet” isn’t the problem: people who can’t adjust to new circumstances are the problem.

The problem, in media, is at least partly that the big publishers are turning themselves into a stupid parody of journalism, in which stories about journalism are somehow given equal billing with real stories about facts and events.

Item: The Paul Kelly incident

Like Laurie Oakes, Paul Kelly now only exists as an outlet for his self-importance. He lets out his sail, and blows to make wind. Paul Kelly has an asinine and infantile tantrum at the Prime Minister on TV – and suddenly there’s a story.

Since the story doesn’t have a fact worth its name to stand on, it’s now all about Paul Kelly’s tantrum. So what goes around the rest of the mainstream outlets is “Kelly said” and “Gillard denied”. That isn’t a story – and it doesn’t rate on the give-a-shit meter of anybody except the Canberra class: a curious bunch of people whose minds are addled by living in a cloistered world in which every story is validated by the consensus endorsement of every outlet running the same damn story.

Everybody’s agreed that their news agenda is the Right News Agenda. If the punters are fleeing the publications, it’s not because the news outlets are boring them to death. It couldn’t be: this must be a story, because everybody rates it as front-page, top-billing, This Is An Important Story.

Rather than being bored rigid, the punters are heading elsewhere. Who’s right?

Item: News Scoops Fairfax Board Negotiations

This is even better than the first example: News Limited claiming to be privy to Fairfax board negotiations.

It’s not only that the story is pointless to absolutely every reader except that small handful (a) who actually work in the media and (b) care (which given those two conditions must be a vanishingly small number).

It’s that every News Limited staffer and shill was sent out on Twitter to pimp the stupid story.

It’s that the only point to the entire story is to let News Limited tell the world it got a chance to stick its thumb in the Fairfax eye, to “singe the beard of the King of Spain”, to pimp its ability to piss in its competitor’s teacup.

What infantile bunch of self-abusers can possibly think that its ability to be a corporate bully is something the rest of the world considers “news”? To be more direct: who cares? You can plant a stool pigeon in the Fairfax board: well done, News Limited, that’s right up there with snooping citizens’ phone messages, buying crooks in the UK, and practicing jihad against science.

If Murdoch’s nasty, polluted, corrupt empire collapses, and its brood of coprophiles have to abandon this absurd pretence at News, journalism will endure. We’ll just have to find some way to do without this crap.