The long, hot, summer

The long hot summer

Peter Martin writes an important article in today’s SMH:

When a guess is as good as a forecast
There’s a reward for staying with the pack. You’ll keep your job if you are wrong in good company, even if the people who act on your advice lose the lot.The shocking and little-acknowledged truth is that most expert forecasts are wrong. Not only wrong, but more wrong than if they had been generated at random.

He goes on to contrast economic experts with weather forecasters and pollsters like Nate Silver…

There are exceptions. Weather forecasters are especially good, as we are discovering right now. The New York Times data geek Nate Silver got the presidential election spot on. These exceptions tell us something. Neither Silver nor our weather forecasters think they are experts (Silver comes from sports rather than politics). They are guided by the data – regardless of who it offends – rather than their own judgment.

By contrast experts have reputations to protect. Whether they realise it or not they often play games, avoiding intellectual curiosity if it will leave them out on a limb away from the pack. They remember their good forecasts and bury the bad. Put plainly they are not the sort of people you would want providing economic advice that could have catastrophic consequences.

I would say the same thing applies to political forecasters: “they remember their good forecasts and bury the bad.”

  • How stupid must Phil Coorey feel now after all his breathlessly reported midnight phone calls from Labor insiders about Rudd’s imminent comeback ended with nothing.
  • Will Peter Hartcher ever be able to wipe the egg off his face for telling us that the last week of parliament, where so much time was spent on the AWU “scandal”, would be “the government’s greatest crisis”?
  • And then there was Michelle Grattan’s conclusion that Julia Gillard had no option other than to resign as Prime Minister for “the good of the party” over Slipper and Thomson.
  • Perhaps even more laughable was Dennis Shanahan’s demand that Gillard resign over his misreporting of the Bob Carr appointment!
  • Dennis scores a bar to his medallion for “Extraordinary Ineptness Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty” for his body of work, going back years, convolving into landslide wins any Newspoll figures that even hinted at support for the Coalition, and for relegating those that supported Labor to page 3 of The Australian.
  • As a last example, consider Shaun Carney’s 2011 assessment, developed over column miles of turgid patrician prose that, because the government was certain to be wiped out at the 2013 election, he need not discuss or analyse any of its policy measures or proposals. Neither did we need to worry about the Coalition’s lack of policies, as they were so certain to be elected. Our lot was to just to wait and see what they might be, and to accept them all when they appeared.

I’m sure you’ll all have your own prime examples of political commentators dropping a brick on their own feet, poking themselves in the eye with their own biros and parking on hillsides without engaging the handbrake.

Martin notes that “experts have reputations to protect.” In the case of economic “experts”, I go further to observe that in their professional work, they can get fired or even sued for advising clients to spend money on what turns out to be a Dutch tulip farm, but it’s a lot harder to sack someone or drag them into court if they advise restraint, and that advice turns out to be too conservative.

No-one ever got sued for telling customers not to spend their money, even if spending it might have made them a motza in return. The experts can always point to “poor fundamentals” – high price-to-earings ratios, “European Insolvency”, “The Looming Fiscal Cliff” or whatever – in defending themselves against such charges.

Likewise, on fundamentals, political columnists prefer to exclaim “Look at the polls!” in prognosticating future political developments. They present a series of polling snapshots, one after another, showing one side consistently in the lead and extrapolate this out to unavoidable victory by the time the election comes around. In doing so they claim a basis in “rock solid social research”.

Martin’s distinction between “experts” and journeymen – between economic forecasters and weather forecasters for example – has a parallel in the “race call” game of political punditry.

Any professional horse race caller who used a snapshot of the field in the back four furlongs to predict the winner at the finish post, who ignored the closing gap between first and second as the final turn was approached, and who then stuck to their early prediction, ignoring the leading jockey’s use of the whip in the final straight and the stride by stride improvement by the challenger, would lose his job immediately.

Yet this is exactly what the political “race callers” are doing.

Has there ever been a political article that doesn’t include a mandatory reference to “bad polls for the government”, even when there doesn’t seem to be a justification to do so?

Has there ever been an article that considers the government may have a strategy of coming from behind – after all it’s fairly orthodox politics to get the bad news and the hard yards out of the way first – or that it might be the Coalition’s turn for some hard luck, a resignation, a scandal or a leadership challenge?

The bad polls are just a series of snapshots. By taking the binary approach – whoever’s winning will stay in front and keep winning – the political “experts” permit themselves – and encourage their few remaining readers – to be lazy.

They also cover their arses, in the same way that the economists predicting doom and gloom cover theirs: by referring to “the fundamentals”, whether those “fundamentals” be the economic situation in Greece, or a momentary voting intention gap between Opposition and government in the opinion polls. And just like the economic “experts”, political “experts” always forget their mistakes, no matter how grievous.

What Martin is really talking about, in my opinion, is the difference between “gurus” and “engineers”.

Gurus have notoriety and celebrity. Their predictions are cited by others as pseudo “proof” of a proposition. Hence we have Chris Pyne’s parliamentary citing, in and of itself, of Grattan’s call for the Julia Gillard’s resignation, as if such a grave step by a celebrated political columnist as to demand a resignation of the Prime Minister is justification enough for the PM to consider that career move seriously.

Engineers (and scientists, with the exception of Einstein and Richard Feynmann) are the journeymen of the prediction business. Nate Silver’s job was to clinically analyze the figures, using his own “patented” techniques – which, after all, involved mostly just looking at available, respectable polling figures dispassionately – and to predict the result of the Obama v. Romney election.

Silver didn’t chop and change his criteria for winning based on pawing through chicken giblets, or altering his definition of “success” as, say, Dennis Shanahan did and still does. Silver stuck to his guns and his techniques, professionally collected over a lifetime’s work, and turned out to be nearly 100% correct.

Weather forecasters use science to accurately predict the weather – floods, droughts, high winds, cyclones and catastrophic fire conditions – so that ordinary people, from farmers to commuters, will know in advance when to plant crops or to carry an umbrella.

Bigger stakes are in play when it comes down to predicting disastrous heatwaves, as in the last few days, so that emergency services can prepare to fight the resulting holocausts and citizens can prepare themselves to evacuate, if necessary. Lives are saved and property is protected by the work of such engineers in the weather forecasting game. They must get their predictions as right as possible.

But in the weather industry there are also gurus.

“Lord” Monckton is one. Professor Plimer is another.

Another an egregious example of the type, Andrew Bolt, depicts himself as a charismatic local leader of the “World Is Cooling” movement, styling those who follow the overwhelming verdict of climate science engineers as “Warmist Patsies” in one of his latest erudite pieces on the subject. It seems that putting “-ist” on the end of a word turns the target of the derogatory suffix into a fanatic. That these “Fanatics” comprise those who accept a body of opinion, relying on the very best that science can provide, cuts no ice with Bolt and his colleagues.

It should be noted that the word “scientist has an “-ist” at the end of it to. Coincidence? Maybe…

Climate Science became political Climate Guruism in Australia around the latter part of 2009, when Copenhagen failed and Tony Abbott was elected leader of the Liberal Party. Up until then consensus that global warming was not only real, but that it was down to anthropogenic reasons, was overwhelming in the polls, upwards of 90% according to a Newspoll survey in 2008.

What happened?

Politics is what happened.

Climate science was officially declared to be “crap” by the leader of one half of politics in Australia.

The herd followed.

What choice did Coalition supporters have but to examine their consciences on warming? Disbelieving in Climate Science allowed them to de-stress about the future. We are an optimistic species, after all. That’s part of our formula for success. Ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand, but humans do.

When political science grabbed climate science and ran with it, consensus got shoved out of the way. The morphing of climate into politics meant the death of climate, its transformation from a “science” into “perception”. Suddenly everyone’s opinion counted, and was as good as anyone else’s. In politics, perception is everything. Opinion is malleable. Facts are negotiable. It doesn’t hurt if you think Julia Gillard’s got a fat arse, either.

The Climate Gurus moved in. It was as if telling Newspoll that you no longer “believed” in global warming would render global warming nonexistent. The thought, rarely expressed in any reputable forum because it sounds so infantile to hold it, but real nevertheless, was that we could almost poll climate change away.

And if there was no global warming, then we didn’t need to combat it. Even if it did exist (highly unlikely, said the Climate Gurus) there was nothing we could do about it.

Legislative action for carbon pricing was pointless because it would take years to work and even then would only reduce world temperatures by 0.00000000000001 of a degree Celsius. Anyway, they don’t call Greenland “Greenland” for nothing… the Vikings used to have farms there, when it was warmer! No matter that there weren’t 7 billion people on Earth , balanced precariously between subsistence and starvation, back when the Vikings were calling the shots.

There was also the matter of the weather.

About every 14 years or so Sydney’s Warragamba Dam fills to capacity. It is around 90% now, and was overflowing a few short months ago. The last time it was so full was in 1998. The time before that was around 1984. Our climate moves in fairly regular cycles.

When cycles are good, the “optimism gene” we all have (to counter our ability to contemplate a potentially bleak future) kicks in strongly. We hear things said like, “Perpetual drought? Look at the floodwaters! The dams are full!” Always look on the bright side of life…

Then there was “The Lie”. By impeccable logic, the punters and the Climate Gurus figured that if Julia Gillard could be construed to have “lied” about the Carbon Tax, then that meant Global Warming didn’t existand didn’t need to be countered.

The truth is, or so the “Warmist Patsy” scientists of the BOM, living high on the hog from their perks and travel entitlements say, it’s going to be a long hot summer.

In the words of the bureau just yesterday:

Large parts of central and southern Australia are currently under the influence of a persistent and widespread heatwave event. This event is ongoing with further significant records likely to be set. Further updates of this statement and associated significant observations will be made as they occur, and a full and comprehensive report on this significant climatic event will be made when the current event ends.

Note that the scientists writing the update do not refer to a “weather event”, but to a “climate event”.

The word “climate” is the difference between packing an umbrella on your way to work against changing a whole way of life. Climate is months and years. Weather is tomorrow, or this afternoon.

The statement above is seriously put. The words are chosen carefully.

It is more than a statement.

It is a warning.

Yet the political gurus, the (bullshit) artists who finesse the national discourse with their words of wisdom and their invaluable setting of “the context”, see only what the polls say.

  • Like dilettantes eating cake they speak of whole legislative volumes being repealed so that the Coalition’s “Green Army” of Grey Nomads can plant trees to soak up carbon (heh, heh).
  • They pontificate about Gillard’s “lie” as if that alone renders moot the climate disaster we have made for ourselves.
  • They giggle over Abbottisms like, “A tonne of carbon dioxide is essentially weightless” and write about the political implications of sending Carbon Compo cheques to dead people (dead people  in Lebanon, if they can be unearthed).
  • They make merry with the fate of our climate – and ultimately our planet – seeing only political points and thrusts, polling ups and downs, refusing to consider the catastrophic circumstances of ineffective action to turn this looming extinction event around.

They say “we are political scientists, not climate scientists.” Their guru status is shored up by the “fundamentals”: the polls look bad for acceptance of global warming, and hence for the government. Can’t argue with that, eh?

Take a recent example: the Slipper Saga.

What was more important tot he gurus about Peter Slipper was not that the government used the extra number he provided to stay in power after passing Carbon Pricing legislation, not that he proved an abuse of process involving senior members of the Coalition parties… but who said what to whom about a bottle of mussels, and (latterly) whether he drove out to Bungendore to buy a case of wine.

The brutality of politics must note that the government got what it wanted out of Slipper, and he got what he wanted out of the government. The government made the best of their side of the bargain, getting their Carbon Pricing legislation onto the books, while Peter looks like he might have frittered his glittering prizes away.

The mindless pack mentality of the gurus decrees that they must go after the ex-Speaker, obsessing over his pecadilloes and trivial misdemeanours, to justify the continents of column acres they have used trying to damage the government through him as a surrogate. The gurus like to be right, and even if they eventually forget when they were wrong, they’ll do their best to destroy anyone who gets in the way of one last try at self-justification.

Meanwhile the government got a result, an observation the gurus dismiss as almost trivial. Look at the polls.

The long, hot summer about to come will challenge the “Optimism Gene”. A low rainfall and high temperatures come to dominate our climate over the next few years the reality of what the journeymen scientists have been predicting will stage a comeback in the public’s minds.

In the short term, we may find that doubters from cattlemen under the Spooneristic influence of Barnarby Joyce, to even the dyed-in-the-wool Gillard haters like the gaggle of thugs at Bolt’s blog may be forced into intellectual meltdown by the return of inclement climate “events”: drought, heat and then more drought. They’ll get over it, if they’re honest with themselves.

Paradoxically, the government may find that the dreaded polls return to their favour with the aid of undeniable warming phenomena. If Climate Change is once again universally accepted, then legislative measures to combat it – already seen as pretty benign, if not profitable to those who had the wit to turn off a few lights in their domestic homes – will become more accepted.

Unsurprisingly, the few professional climate scientists I have spoken to are hesitant to publicly reveal their conclusions about global warming for fear of being hounded down and mocked as “Labor stooges”.

How strange it is that the emergency apparatuses of whole states can be mobilized when these same people warn of catastrophic fire conditions in the offing, yet they are vilified for their longer term predictions. They may not have to keep silent for much longer. The long, hot summer might do the trick for them.

As to the gurus, they will persist in their irrelevancy for a while, until they lose their jobs, with their companies – one by one – cut out from under them by falling stock prices, bogan buyouts, suicidal partisanship, and self-imposed attrition. Their predictions, surpassed by the randomness of a dartboard (in Martin’s words) will continue to be ignored, if anything, accelerating in fatuousness.

Scientists and engineers turn into gurus when they begin to believe their own publicity. But as the media tank runs dry there is only sludge left in it. In such a small and diminishing pond, only the dregs are left, ancient crocodiles devouring each other in the thickening mud, after they have done with devouring truth. Fewer and fewer will take what they read as gospel.

The long, hot summer about to devastate Australia will assist in that job nicely.

There’s an “-ist” is “assist”, too.

824 thoughts on “The long, hot, summer

  1. (click google link)

    NBN Co to ramp up rollout after exceeding 2012 construction target
    From: The Australian
    January 11, 2013 11:34AM

    THE company building Labor’s $37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) has declared that it will ramp up to a full rollout after slightly exceeding its 2012 target for construction of the massive project.

    Construction in areas covering 784,592 premises had begun or been completed by the end of December 2012, exceeding a target of 758,000 premises that was made earlier in the year, the NBN Co said in a statement.

  2. muttleymcgee,

    One thing I like to do with IE is disable all the add-ons… that’s enough geek talk from me 😀

  3. Gillard: To those survivors of child sexual abuse we are able to say, we want your voices to be heard

  4. Gillard: To those survivors of child sexual abuse we are able to say, we want your voices to be heard

    Guaranteed first question: “Where’s the money coming from?”

  5. Gillard appoints six commissioners to run the Royal Commission into child abuse. Justice Peter McClellan will lead the commission

  6. Gillard: The commission will prepare an interim report by no later than 30 June 2014

  7. Ashby seeking leave to appeal

  8. Roxon announces an investigative unit which will work with the commissioners and victims who come forward to give evidence #royalcommission

  9. The easiest $500 Anthony McClennan ever made:

    James Ashby Statement

    Friday, 11 January 2013

    An Application by James Ashby seeking Leave to Appeal Justice Rares’ decision of 12December has been lodged today with the Federal Court.

    An Application by Michael Harmer (Harmers Workplace Lawyers) also seeking Leave toAppeal Justice Rares’ decision will be lodged Monday with the Federal Court.

    Although there are many common grounds in the finding, Justice Rares made separate and distinct findings regarding Mr. Ashby and Mr, Harmer, so each presently is being separately legally represented in this Application.

    Harmers Workplace Lawyers continues to represent Mr. Ashby in his sexual harassmentcase against Mr. Slipper.

    Neither Mr. Ashby nor Mr. Harmer is available for interview.

    SpokespersonMedia ContactAnthony McClellanAMC MediaMob: 0433 122 360


    More QCs and SCs, more solicitors, more money required to support this poor, broke little twink, Ashby.

  10. The geek on twitter

    Ashby and Harmer seeking leave to appeal Justice Rares’ decision. On what grounds? Good luck with that. #AshbyConspiracy #WhosPaying #auspol

  11. Roxon emphasises #royalcommission will not replace police authorities or processes. Victims would still need to approach police

  12. Macklin: Funding for #royalcommission still being worked through. Victim advocate groups will need support for increase in demand

  13. And, yes, some smart arsk can’t wait to interrupt this serious Press Conference about the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission with a question about Kevin Bluddy Rudd and his attempt this morning to take the spotlight off the PM’s announcement today with his pipsqueak call to raise the Dole/Newstart. :gagging:

  14. Macklin: I acknowledge my remarks (on Newstart) were insensitive. I do understand that it is very hard to live on a very low income

  15. Hmm, so Jenny Macklin apologises for her ‘insensitive remarks’ re the Dole.
    I’m not really sure she should have apologised so fulsomely. However, it was a good thing in that it should kill the ongoing villification campaign directed at Minister Macklin.

  16. Includes list of commisioners.

    Too many blind to ‘vile crime’ of child sex abuse: PM
    January 11, 2013 – 1:44PM
    Judith Ireland and Bianca Hall

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard said too many people have turned a blind eye to the shocking crime of child sexual abuse, as she announced the terms of reference for the royal commission in Sydney on Friday.

    An oldie but goodie…

    Howard’s $2 billion ad splurge
    Jason Koutsoukis
    September 2, 2007

    PRIME Minister John Howard has spent nearly $2 billion on government advertising and information campaigns since coming to power 11 years ago.

    A Sunday Age investigation has found that just weeks from calling an election, the Government has 18 advertising campaigns on the air, with a $23 million climate change campaign to air after this week’s APEC conference.

    The Sunday Age investigation has also shown that since the last election in 2004, Mr Howard has spent a record $850 million of taxpayers’ money on government advertising. The Government disputes this figure. “It’s probably closer to $400 million,” said Peter Phelps, chief of staff to Special Minister of State Gary Nairn.


    According to Melbourne University academic Sally Young, the author of Government Communication in Australia, the Howard Government’s spending on advertising is among the highest per head in the world. “It’s up there with only a few other countries,” she said.

  17. I thought Jenny M was brave to apologise. People tend to appreciate a bit of humble talk. It’s just that the Libs rarely, if at all, do apologise and are not really expected to to so. Double standards.

  18. Thank you! Leroy and victoria!

    Seriously good choices for Commissioners, what? A psychiatrist was clever thinking on the part of the government. I wonder if the Churches lobbied for a Commissioner representative? Someone like Frank Brennan, who is an esteemed lawyer as well as Lay Priest. If so, they got slapped down, well and truly.

  19. I also note and proffer the opinion that Ashby and Harmer finally let the world know they were Seeking Leave to Appeal on the same day that the Royal Commissioners were announced. Hoping to not get too much scrutiny?

    Well, is there any way we can find out who the lawyers are that will be representing them, for a start?

  20. A little late, but here is the KM patented frame for a good tree netting. Take 4 or 6 star pickets lengthed to suit, insert at regular intervals around the plant/s to be covered, then take 2 or 3 lengths of plastic conduit and attach them to the star pickets such as they intersect at the centre where they should be tied securely by such as common plastic ties, keeping any protuberances at the bottom. Slide your netting over the frame and use doubled over wire hammered into the ground as anchors for the net as required to prevent birds and animals crawling under.
    If your tree is too high for one set of steel posts to do the job, do as before, but use 6 posts, then get another 6 posts, stand them beside the originals, connect the conduit to the additional posts instead of the originals, slide the net over the frame then raise the frame to the required height. Use the holes already predrilled in the posts to attach the posts at the appropriate height using old wireto hold in place.Make sure that each post is tied in at least 2 places (I use 3)
    Reverse the procedure to take down the nets.
    Use the same materials with a shadecloth to protect plants from winter frosts amd winds.
    I have been using this method for some years, and works well. If you find the price of steel posts a bit exxcy, try a clearing sale in the bush, or a disposal at a building company. In Canberra I always use the builders recycling outlets.
    Good luck.

  21. Have just been listening to 2GB…

    Thrust of today’s argument is that Global Warming is not real, as China is allegedly experiencing its coldest winter on record and it’s still snowing somewhere else.

    National Australian heatwave of literally unprecedented dimensions and severity put down to “it’s always hot in summer” and “bushfires are always with us,” then segue onto “mongrels” who light bushfires deliberately, with burning them at the stake suggested as fitting punishment.

    Many now remembering that they used to go to the beach at night in the 1960s, it was so hot, could “fry an egg on my old Dad’s car bonnet” etc. etc. with final comment, “Hot? The youngsters today don’t know what ‘hot’ is!”

    Problem solved with general agreement that the Carbon Tax hasn’t brought temperatures down in the past 6 months of its operation, so doesn’t work + Bludgers at BOM should be sacked.


    That is all.

  22. BB

    Do any of these people who call into 2gb heard of something called airconditioning now being in most homes. Something that was not around in the sixties!

  23. HaveAchat

    January 11, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Reference bird netting, I found mine on ebay and have been using it for two years so far without it breaking except for where I stood the ladder on it and

    have chat just got home saw this from this morning

    did it have a brand name please

  24. Still with the getting Climate and Weather mixed up. Sigh. Plus believing that if the government has done something about Climate Change changes should already be happening.

  25. kezza2…Just had all my posts deleted on The Drum article by Hunt… doesn’t pay to go against the right-wing bias over there!

  26. No doubt: Coalition will scrap the carbon tax

    And. Will they scrap the Tax Free Threshold rise?
    Will they scrap the Pension Increases and Compensation?

    Not only that, look above to the link I posted about Newman ‘scrapping’ the Solar Dawn project.

    They are dangerous.

  27. jeezuz!..BB… gotta have nuts of Kryptonite to listen to that feculence (thank you thes’) over there!

  28. “No doubt: Coalition government will scrap carbon tax”

    Ok Greg, so who draws the short straw and gets to tell the pensioners that they get a pension cut as they don’t need the compensation any more?? 🙂

  29. leonetwo


    I have looked at the application. It is unclear to me the grounds on which Ashby is seeking leave?

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