Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Cherry picking – not science, but quotes

Screaming loony climate conspiracists (I will not dignify them as “sceptic”) are famous for cherry-picking data, but we forget that they also cherry pick people. Let one phrase out of a hundred sound like a prediction you can prove wrong, and they'll roll it out to prove you were wrong.

The SLCCs – pronounce it “slacks” if you like – have been on and on and on about the idea that Tim Flannery predicted unending drought forever in this interview with the ABC's Maxine McKew, which is the cherry-pick of cherry-picks.

Hence if Sydney gets a thunderstorm in March, you can guarantee that the editorial cannon fodder that are proud to fight on behalf of rich people that despise them will take it as proof that Flannery was wrong.

To save you from tl;dr, I'm going to parse the interview.

  1. Are weather patterns changing?
Flannery's answer: changes to wind patterns and the tropics moving south have changed rainfall in south-eastern Australia. He didn't say “every year will be a drought year” in answering the first question. Nothing he said answering McKew's first question is contradicted by events since.
  1. Is it more severe in eastern Australia?
Flannery: yes. “Something will need to change” to fill the Warragamba. Something did change, a flip in the Southern Oscillation. Nothing he said to McKew's second question is contradicted by events since.
  1. You can't be certain?
Flannery agrees. He says he thinks the science is pointing in the other direction. Nothing he said to McKew's third question is contradicted by events since.

The next question and answer are given verbatim with emphasis.

MAXINE McKEW: So does that mean, really, we're faced with - if that's right - back-to-back droughts and continuing thirsty cities?

TIM FLANNERY: Well, you can't predict the future; that's one of the things that you learn fairly early on, but if I could just say, the general patterns that we're seeing in the global circulation models - and these are very sophisticated computer tools, really, for looking at climate shift - are saying the same sort of thing that we're actually seeing on the ground. So when the models start confirming what you're observing on the ground, then there's some fairly strong basis for believing that we're understanding what's causing these weather shifts and these rainfall declines, and they do seem to be of a permanent nature. I don't think it's just a cycle. I'd love to be wrong, but I think the science is pointing in the other direction.

So – every aspect of that answer was qualified: Flannery didn't make an absolute prediction. He was doing his job, trying to explain the science – including the uncertainty. Nothing he said to McKew's fourth question is contradicted by events since.
  1. It will continue, and cities will be thirsty?
Flannery said “that looks to be the case”. Nothing he said to McKew's fifth question is contradicted by events since.
  1. What's the worst-case?
Note: this is asking not “what will happen?” but “what's the worst that might happen?”

Flannery: There are quite severe problems if current trends continue. Nothing he said to McKew's sixth question is contradicted by events since.
  1. Is drought preparation worthwile?
Flannery: Yes, “even if you think there's only a 10 per cent chance that this rainfall deficit's going to continue for another few years”. Nothing he said to McKew's seventh question is contradicted by events since.
  1. What about Western Australia?
Flannery: “Yet to be seen, yet to be determined”. Nothing he said to McKew's eighth question is contradicted by events since.
  1. South Australia and Victoria?
Flannery: Adelaide might have water quality problems. Melbourne is vulnerable to water deficits. Nothing he said to McKew's ninth question is contradicted by events since.

At this point, the discussion diverts to power and away from drought.

Hang on. In the nine questions about climate and drought, Tim Flannery said absolutely nothing that has been contradicted by events.

In other words, if your a slacker – a screaming loony climate conspiracist – like say Chris Kenny, the only way you can say one thunderstorm fits: “Don't think this is what Flannery meant when he said "..Sydney will be facing extreme difficulties with water.."”

In fact, if you think one thunderstorm disproves climate science, you're unfit to comment. Really. It's like a movie advertiser citing the word “unbelievable” in the advertisement, when the rest of the phrase was “rubbish”. 

Monday, March 03, 2014

A speech is not a story just because it's a speech

Really, it's too much. As in, Officially Too Much. The toad-eating supineness of the Australian tech press has me sick to the gullet.

Ever since the mid-1990s, nearly every tech journalist in the world has coveted both the credibility and the pay packet of the Real Business Journalist. See, you can take any press-ganged loser from the tech press, slide them into a job with (say) the Australian Financial Review, and effectively double their income.

A douche with a tech masthead is one-half a douche in business media. That's the cold equation that makes the tech press wank and dribble to prove their worth in front of suits, all the world over.

And it's really, really easy to make a tech journalist make them think they're AFR-fodder: expose them to suits.

Get a tech journalist in front of a speech by a CEO – or even better, to the extent of “do you need a towel sir?”, an interview with a CEO – and you have a stenographer.

Drop on a lunch with free booze and they'll use the table-napkin in place of the towel.

As far as I can see from what I've read from the speech Telstra's CEO, David Thodey, gave today, he said nothing remarkable. He delivered a boilerplate piece that had been written by one hand, PR-tested by another, market-tested by another, and lawyered by another. Four hands on one wank, which should say something but probably doesn't.

It's like a cornflake, really: telling the nutritional value between the speech and the paper it was written on would get you down to quantum physics.

But journalists present at the speech have things to prove: (1) it's worth my absence from the office; (2) I'm a journalist who can report a speech; and (3) I can extract nourishment out of the cardboard, if need be.

Thodey. Said. Nothing.

Nothing new, nothing of note, nothing of value, nothing that wouldn't worry some investors, nothing that wouldn't make some market smart-alecks think they had an inside run on some kind of information.

Because that, dear media, is his job. Never, ever do anything but reassure the investors.

Really: if David Thodey says “Telstra wants to be more intimate with its customers” – the only aspect worth reporting is that it's a statement of such visceral creepiness that you'd bloody sign on with Vodafone to avoid it.

If he says he's going to “protect shareholder value”, it's both his obligation and a repetition of the same chorus he's sung throughout his whole incumbency.

He said “digital first”? In case you idiots weren't watching, the entire Telstra network went digital while you were anticipating your first date. Like, that was 1990s news kiddies.

The customer is number one?” – I've never known of a Telstra CEO who didn't manage some variation on that theme. And my history of Telstra goes back to the late 1980s when it was still “Telecom”.

I'm sick utterly to my epiglottis with the idea that “a speech is a story merely because it was given”. What, the CEO didn't fall over on the stairs, declare himself a communist, come out in front of an audience, or grope the nearest biped before he came on stage? He just stood behind a microphone and read a script?

That's a speech. It's not a story. Save me.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Dear supermarket shoppers …

Dear supermarket shoppers,

The reason my wife moves slowly is that she's sick. We're really sorry for the frustration it causes you, that you may have to either break your stride or change direction for a second.

The reason she suffers brief confusion is that her illness carried with it a little bit of brain damage. So she may, on occasion, take longer to choose a product at a shelf than it would take you. Again, we're sorry.

The reason I'm protective of her, and put my hand between your trolley or basket and her back, is that it takes very little to break her bones.

Your impatience does not give you license to shove her with your trolley, as has happened. Nor to poke her with your basket. Nor, because you're a six-footer with an attitude problem, to use your height and weight against her.

Lumbar 3 and 4 have already been fractured by a shopping trolley; I'm not jumping at shadows here.

What confuses me most of all is how much hostility is offered. Ms T didn't jump your queue or speak rudely to you. All that Ms T does is move slowly, and sometimes, take a moment longer to choose an item from the shelf.

If we get a passive-aggressive “excuse me” as you reach past her face, that's tolerable (albeit rude). But it goes far beyond that: there are many, many people who are enraged by the sight of someone moving slowly near them, and want to push them, prod them, punish them for frailty.

Back in December, I put my hand between an oncoming trolley and Ms T's back. I didn't speak, nor did I actually look at the person pushing the trolley: I simply saw it about to collide, and prevented the collision. For this, I received a torrent of abuse.

Why? What drives a successful and healthy thirty- or forty-something, most usually a man, to regard someone moving slowly somewhere within his field of vision as an affront?

That, I can't answer. But when I see people falling for the idea that the disability pension (which we don't receive) somehow encourages scroungers, and then I see them in the supermarket, I weep for the creeping nastiness that is poisoning Australia's society.