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

    As I am a narcissistic Twink and the fall guy/front man for LNP Inc.? 🙂

  2. On twitter

    [Is it any surprise that most of Howard’s wasteful spending occurred in the lead up to election years? When all else fails, buy votes #auspol]

    I would add that if it were not for workchoices and the 9 consecutive interest rate rises, the vote buying would have worked in 2007

  3. victoria
    JI think it goes like this. It’s just a lot of whinging really.
    1. His Honour made a mistake by ruling that Ashby had made his claim as a political attack and ignored the real reason. So not fair! Sook, sook, whine.
    2.His Honour made a big mistake in saying that Mr Harmer wanted to hurt Slipper by introducing scandalous and irrelevant accusations. So not fair again.
    3. His Honour should not have dismissed the proceedings. So not fair that Twink Ashby didn’t get a chance to tel lthe court all the juicy details.
    4. All three above refer to abuses of process and so there should be an appeal.

  4. KM, thank you for the advice re bird netting, I am currently using bamboo over my vegetable beds to hang the netting over. I find bamboo is good as I can bend it to meet and hence make a tunnel of sorts.

    Denese, my apologies for delay in responding. Unfortunately I am unable to give you a brand name for the netting that I got from ebay, if it had one on it I have long ago removed it. I found it by ‘bird netting’ in the search function on ebay. Good luck with finding it, I seem to recall there being a number of sellers selling lengths up to 200m.

  5. “Imacca…that’s easy!…any one of the Lib’ women.”

    Hmmmmm……would involve taking money off old men. wonder who would take that on?? 🙂

  6. Greg Hunt sound like he’s got the barbed wire well and truly tied around the testicles.

    The problem with an electricity tax is that it is ineffective on both the demand and supply sides.

    On the demand side, the Government has acknowledged that power companies will simply pass higher electricity prices through to consumers. Electricity is however an essential service and therefore largely inelastic for consumers.

    An example of this was the massive 50 per cent price rise for NSW’s seven million residents over a recent five year period. This produced a bare 6 per cent decrease in per capita consumption over that period.

    Contrast this with the SMH’s report from October:

    Electricity sold into the east coast market in the three months since the tax started created on average 7.6 per cent less carbon dioxide for each megawatt hour of power, an analysis of figures compiled by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows.
    Greg Combet

    “It is signifigant that the emissions intensity of the electricity generation system has fallen in the first quarter of the carbon price” … Greg Combet.

    Read more:

    Who do youse believe?

    Ironically it’s probably the scare campaign over the 9% Carbon Tax, compared to hush-hush when the States were putting up prices by 50%.

    Foot meet bullet, Abbott.

  7. leonetwo

    So Ashby and Harmer reckon leave will be granted to appeal based on their whinge?! 🙂

  8. victoria
    Seems so. It looks like someone desperately want all the sordid sexual harassment stuff brought out in court and will stop at nothing to get that done. Money is no object.

  9. I actually find it sad that, essentially decent people, such as Greg Hunt, who wrote his Thesis fcs on an ETS, have sold their souls to the devils who pull the strings in the Liberal Party, in a lust for power, purely and simply.

    What happened to the personal integrity of the young man who wrote that Thesis?

    Would he be content to implement a policy, in government, that was a sham and a sop to the problem he so passionately cared about solving at University, before he became caught up in student politics?

    Just so he could, finally, become a Minister?

    I know I’d feel dirty, and like a soulless shell, if I was him in the same situation.

  10. So Ashby and Harmer reckon leave will be granted to appeal based on their whinge?! 🙂

    Unfortunately yes.

    As an abuse of process finding is pretty rare (forgive pun) they might get a hearing, just to make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

    However, to me it’s quite amazing, gob-smacking in fact, that an issue which – if genuine – could have been fixed over a cuppa, at a meeting between HR at Finance and the other two parties, has cost literally millions of dollars and taken the best part of a year to wind its way to the end of stage 1.

    Bizarre, simply bizarre.

    The amount of money that people are being forced to spend, particularly Slipper and the Commonwealth is a bloody outrage and a blight on the legal system.

    This case tells us that if you have backers with bottomless pockets you can ruin anyone – either financially or emotionally – virtually at will.

    And after all this waste, the AFP ges after Slipper over $900. A conviction could cost him his entire parliamentary superannuation benefit, with only pay-ins and contributions refunded, at nominal interest rates.

    I suspect someone, somewhere wants Slipper to retire before he’s convicted – saving his super – so that a by-election can be held.

    They will do anything… ANY thing to get into power, as they realize the longer they have to wait, the less their chances are at a proper, fair election.

  11. BB

    It is obvious they are trying to get Brough in the seat asap. Would like to know if the AFP are bothering to investigate as per Perrett’s letter.

  12. It’s getting a bit late to force Slipper into retirement. If he does opt to retire Anna Burke may well decide that Fisher can do without an MP until the next election. She is the one who decides if and when there will be a by-election.

    For more –

    Slipper can take his time with the court action, I’m sure his lawyers could find plenty of ways to make sure it drags on and on, if that’s what he wants to do.

    However – I think all that will happen is he’ll be asked to explain himself and then made to pay the lousy $900 back, plus perhaps a fine. If he gets a gaol sentence when that ‘I don’t do taxis’ prat who worked for Mirabella did not there’s something really smelly going on.

  13. Greg Hunt decent C@t?

    He calls a carbon price an electricity tax. You can make electricity without producing carbon emissions. In fact, that is the point. And if he did a thesis on an ETS then he knows he’s lying.

  14. …if he did a thesis on an ETS then he knows he’s lying.

    Thesis or not, he’s lying.

    Quite frankly I don’t know why the government keeps on about how they won’t repeal the Carbon Tax. They should be pushing the opposite barrel: declaring that they will be, screaming it fro the roof tops, and repealing all the other things as well, like the tax concessions and increased pensions etc.

    Saying they won’t suggests they’re lying. Pfft, so what? The punters will think they’ll get the best of both worlds.

    Saying they will, but will also repeal the goodies, will make the punters think about their hip-pockets.

    The truth is that the CT is a VERY avoidable tax. Just use a little less electricity, and you can pocket the consolation prizes on offer as clear profit.

    Perhaps what the government should worry about is if they find a way to say they’ll repeal the CT, but KEEP the goodies. That could be a danger.

    Remember: most punters think the Coalition are magicians with the economy, no matter how stupid that is.

  15. Greg Hunt’s thesis was not a Doctorate or a PhD. A much deeper analysis is required for a PhD. Too much is made about his studies on ETS. He was young when he picked that topic. As one matures one’s interests change. I don’t hold this against him. It’s his overall shiftiness I dislike. He rarely answers the questions being asked.

  16. Hunt also goes on with “on day one” guff. He says that should the ALP block the repealing legislation they will have an “immediate” double dissolution. Again being just a tad dishonest; as he well knows (or at least should) that it would be a minimum of 6 months, if not longer, for any DD trigger to be activated.

    I think the ALP should adopt the approach as outlined above by BB. Every time someone says they will repeal the carbon tax the next question should be wtte “so you will be lowering the tax free threshold back to $6,000”; or hitting them up with wtte you will be taking $x out of every pension.

    And they should be saying that LOUD AND CLEAR.

  17. I agree,

    The “they won’t reverse it” line is feeble. Reminding people of the goodies is positive. It is actually good policy…

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