Only in small towns, where leaders have time to think . . .

April 7, 2011

Years ago when I staffed a U.S. senator’s office, one of my tasks was to look through all the weekly newspapers in the state.    Back then subscriptions were cheap, and most senators would take out a subscription to these weeklies more to flatter the editors and publishers than to read.  We put them to use, first checking to see whether the clipping services were getting all the clips (mostly), and then on a hunch, to see what issues were raging in the state, well below the radar of the big city daily newspapers and broadcast outlets.

You can learn a lot.

Many of those old weekly newspapers are gone, now, victims to local populations that turn over in every recession, and to electronic news gathering services — and to general alienation:  People are not so sure they want to know what their neighbors are up to, these days.  Heck, many people aren’t sure they want to know their neighbors.

My own electronic news gatherers occasionally pull out something to think about from a minor news outlet.  For example, below is an opinion piece out of the Carrboro Citizen from Dan Coleman, a member of the town council in Carrboro, North Carolina.  I gather from the paper it is rather close to Chapel Hill, the home of the University of North Carolina (I haven’t checked a map).

But look at what this guy says.  He questions the wisdom of Adam Smith.  Adam Smith! It appears Coleman wasn’t led astray by all those Adam Smith neckties that were so popular in the Reagan administration.  He questions the true need for profits from corporations, and he wonders if there isn’t a higher duty for a corporation.

How many others like Dan Coleman are there, out there in America, relatively sane on all other accounts, and thinking?

How many bottom lines do we really need?

April 7, 2011 | Posted in: Opinion | 0 Responses

By Dan Coleman

Did you know that Carrboro’s Town Code incorporates a principle devised by Shell Oil? That’s right, the same Shell Oil that has been accused of human rights violations in Nigeria, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment and ­collaborating in the execution of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The same Shell Oil that has despoiled the Niger delta and was responsible for the largest freshwater oil spill ever.

With a record like this, it is little wonder that Shell came up with one of the corporate world’s more effective public relations concepts of recent years: the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), also known as People, Planet, Profit. It’s as if Shell was saying, sure you can criticize our environmental and humanitarian record but don’t forget, we have to make a profit.

Efforts to value people have dogged profiteering for over a century. The late 19th and early-to-mid-20th centuries were marked by many thousands of strikes by workers, more than 1,400 in the year 1886 alone. Many of these were met by violent strikebreakers backed up at times by military force. This is a struggle that continues in 2011 in Wisconsin and other states.

William Blake, Biography Online

William Blake

Through the efforts of these men and women, much of value was created: the weekend, workplace-safety standards, health care for workers, vacation and sick leave, etc. And each of these was wrested from the one bottom line that corporate America really cares about.

Despite William Blake offering the image of “dark satanic mills” as far back as 1804, the environmental impacts of industrial capitalism began to be understood with Rachel Carson’s 1962 publication of The Silent Spring. Within a decade, there was Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act and much more, each a challenge to the profit-focused priorities of capital.

Given the pre-eminent importance of profit-maximization, it is not surprising that corporations touting the Triple Bottom Line often oppose measures to combat global warming, oppose workers’ rights and oppose regulatory mechanisms to protect the health of people and planet.

History has taught us that Adam Smith was wrong when he offered the justification for prioritizing profit that “by pursuing his own interest [the businessman] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” If Smith were correct, companies like Shell would not have such a devastating impact on society and nature. In part, this impact results from profit being measured in a short timeframe, a year or even a quarter of a year, while sustainability requires a vision spanning, as the Iroquois put it, as much as seven generations.

But Smith was right that profit ought to serve human well-being. Therefore, it must be understood within an ethical system that places people and planet first. This holds true for the vague term “stakeholder value” that some, including Carrboro, use instead of profit. Who are the stakeholders if not people and planet?
The TBL offers nothing to help us navigate the inevitable contradictions between profit on the one hand and people/planet on the other. But, really, why should we have any social or political bottom lines at all?

It was social ecologist Murray Bookchin who bemoaned the cultural turn to the “grubby language” of the market economy, which has “replaced our most hallowed moral and spiritual expressions. We now ‘invest’ in our children, marriages, and relationships. … We live in a world of ‘trade-offs’ and we ask for the ‘bottom line’ of any emotional ‘transaction.’”

There are a variety of frameworks that speak to a more fundamental commitment to the well-being of all life. In an 1854 speech, Chief Seattle offered the notion of a web of life: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Aldo Leopold, in Arizona

Aldo Leopold, in Arizona, Arizona State Parks image

A century after Chief Seattle, Aldo Leopold articulated his land ethic in Sand County Almanac, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The biotic community, of course, includes humans.

We need the ability to truly place people and planet first and to reject the false, self-serving homilies offered by those who spread pavement and poverty in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Rather than seek simplistic nostrums, we may have to take the time to look hard at each decision, and bring a clear ethical sensibility, like that of Seattle or Leopold, to bear.

Dan Coleman is a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

Coleman may want to check the provenance of the Chief Seattle quote — but the thought is solid.

What do you think?


Science ethics: Ten biggest science paper retractions of 2010

January 18, 2011

Science uses a tough system to correct errors and prevent frauds.  Peer-review makes it difficult to get a paper into a journal, period, let alone one with hoaxed-up data or conclusions.  Still, out of the tens of thousands of serious science papers published each year, a few sneak through that shouldn’t, sometimes due to researcher error, sometimes due mix-ups in peer review, sometimes — rarely — due to outright fraud.

In the past 15 months political action to fight global warming took huge hits around December 2009 when a few thousand e-mails were hacked from computers at the Hadley Climate Research Unit in England, one of the leading groups in climate research that indicates a warming Earth.   Critics of Hadley made great hay about how the alleged wrong-doing in the e-mails meant that all climate research was wrong, or at least questionable.

So, I was greatly interested to stumble across this article in The Scientist, which lists what that magazine calls the “Top Retractions of 2010” — papers retracted for errors and ethical reasons.

None of the top retractions had anything to do with climate research.  One of the most under-reported stories of 2010 was that the claims of error and fraud by climate scientists were, themselves, hoaxes.  Looking at the list of top retractions, unless you were really looking for the climate papers, you might never notice.

Most of the retractions were in medicine and health.  Several were in cancer research.  False science in climate studies does not appear to be a major problem, measured by retractions.

Those who accuse climate scientists falsely don’t really have anything to retract in a formal sense.  They did no science work that was published.

When do people wake up and realize that global warming is a real problem, and we shouldn’t be fooled by political smears of the scientists who discover the data?


Making Boy Scouting a political football — shame on those outlets

July 27, 2010

When President Barack Obama met with a group of outstanding Boy Scouts in the Oval Office a few weeks ago to discuss policies affecting Scouting, and especially policies affecting children, teen agers and young adults in the U.S., very few conservative sites thought it important to cover.  Let’s be more precise:  No conservative Obama critics, nor much of anyone else, bothered to cover it.  I’d love to see links even of local media in the Scouts’ hometowns that printed a story or photo.

To the credit of the White House, neither did the press promote the meeting as a political point.  Scouting prefers not to be a political football, and Scouting policy asks that Scouts avoid even looking like politicking while in uniform. (Scouts are encouraged to participate in the political process, including through the three citizenship merit badges, which encourage Scouts to communicate their concerns about policy to elected representatives, while working for the merit badge and in the future as participating citizens.)

2010 is a grand year for Scouting.  It’s the centennial of Scouting’s coming to the United States.  There’s a special Scout Jamboree, being held at Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia (the last time the Jamboree will be held on federal property — that’s another story for another time).   It’s always fun when presidents come to the Jamboree and speak, but it’s not always possible.

But today, news comes that President Obama will send a video speech to the Scouts at the Jamboree, as has been done sometimes in the past.  Many of us are disappointed that President Obama will not appear in person; but some of us who have experience scheduling such things know that elected officials cannot make every appearance they would like to.  Presidential schedules in the modern world are particularly difficult; for an appearance at Fort A. P. Hill security must be imposed (even on a Scouting event), aircraft landing sites need to be arranged and secured . . . dealing with more than 30,000 Scouts becomes an onerous task.

Still, we’re disappointed.

Adding to that disappointment, comes now a group of harpy Obama critics, no friends of Scouting that I can determine, but anxious to claim this scheduling decision as some sort of snub to Scouting, and to the American flag.

Media Matters has the facts, and puts the scheduling stuff into perspective, “Overhyped conservative nonsense of the Day:  Obama hates the Boy Scouts.”  UpdateBlue Wave News has it in perspectiveWonkette’s satire, unfortunately, goes awry, but her heart and brain are in the right places.

The snub is by those critics who attempt to turn Scouting into a political football.  The insults are all from them.

Shame on them, collectively and individually:

Update: We’re going to have to add on a wing to accommodate the Wall of Shame:

Hmmmm.

I’ll wager none of those authors bothers to volunteer for Scouting.  I’d be surprised (and disappointed) to discover any were Scouts.  Scouting wouldn’t revoke their citizenship merit badges, but they’ve forgotten them, if they ever earned them.

Scouting faces severe hurdles these days, some of them I would say were placed by poobahs at the top of Scouting; these guys listed above are not helping.

Here are some tests to see which of these blogs and pundit outlets is friendly to Scouting:  Which of them covered the award, this morning of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award to Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee?  Which of them covered the dedication of the U.S. Postal Service’s stamp honoring the Scouting Centennial, today?  As of this moment, I can find no media coverage of these things at all, even by local media.

Why do these pundits cover Scouting only when it gives them a chance to make an unfair shot at a politician they don’t like?  Seriously, who is doing disservice to Scouting, and the nation?

Good news about Scouting’s 100th Year, and the Jamboree:


Stolen e-mails report: Scientists in the clear, science solid

July 7, 2010

So far it’s a shut out against the “skeptics” of global warming.*

From Science Insider (the AAAS breaking news blog):

The fifth and, so far, most thorough major investigation into the published mails from the University of East Angia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) has given the CRU a relatively clean bill of health. (See the full report.) The independent inquiry into so-called “Climategate”, instigated by UEA and headed by former civil servant Muir Russell, examined the conduct of the CRU scientists following allegations sparked by the so-called “Climategate” e-mails. It looked at selective use of data, subverting of peer review, and failure to respond fully to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The report was unequivocal in its backing of the scientists in terms of research integrity, though it did criticize their openness. “Their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt,” it said. In response to the assertion that CRU had withheld data, the report found that it was mostly not theirs to withhold but was easily accessible in public databases. One of the report’s authors, physicist Peter Clarke of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, told a press briefing today that they were able to download the relevant data “in a few minutes” and then process it in the same way as CRU had done, producing similar final results. “It took a couple of days of code writing,” he said. The authors found no evidence of bias by CRU in its selection of data. Allegations of misuse of tree ring data were also put aside.

Some of the 1000 e-mails that appeared on the Internet suggested that CRU Director Phil Jones had tried to influence peer review of papers he disagreed with and prevented them from being cited by reviews of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

On the subject of peer review, Russell said that expressing “robust opinions [about papers] was typical during peer review.” And after consulting with editors of the IPCC report, the panel concluded that the CRU scientists were “parts of teams and not individuals responsible for the wording of the reports,” Russell says.

Where the CRU scientists did fall down was in their openness to requests for data. “There was a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness,” Russell says. And the report criticizes UEA for failing to recognize its statutory requirements under the FOIA and also the risk to the reputation of the university and to the credibility of U.K. climate science. Panel member James Norton said that “now more than ever scientists need to be open. Scientists don’t own their own data and at most have a temporary lease.”

More:

_____________

*  They’ve complained about being called denialists — maybe we should start calling them “gullibles,” especially since they seized on the thin reed of these stolen e-mails to claim that the victimized scientists were the ones who had done something wrong, since they fell for the fourth-grade science project hoax, and since they fell for the Spanish bomb-in-the-mail hoax.


Michael Mann exhonerated again: E-mail thieves still at large

July 2, 2010

News from Pennsylvania State University.  The second investigation of Michael Mann, to determine whether he did not adhere to the high ethical standards of research scientists in activities revealed by e-mails stolen from East Anglia University late last year, concluded that Mann acted honorably.

Via Deltoid:

Penn State investigation concludes:

The Investigatory Committee, after careful review of all available evidence, determined that there is no substance to the allegation against Dr. Michael E. Mann, Professor, Department of Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University.

More specifically, the Investigatory Committee determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research, or other scholarly activities.

The decision of the Investigatory Committee was unanimous.

The person or persons who hacked into the computers at East Anglia University remain at large.

More:


Just in case you thought any climate contrarian remains sane . . .

February 2, 2010

Which of these would be accurate in showing the insanity, but not so sharp as to raise the hackles of the climate contrarians?

  • “Contrarians think Antarctic unworthy of protection”
  • “Denialists criticize efforts to keep Antarctic clean”
  • “Climate change critics’ brains have left the building”

Read these stories, and tell me.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted the delicate condition of the Antarctic with regard to its two main industries, fishing and tourism.  IPCC AR4 noted that the tourism industry takes steps to protect Antarctic environments made more vulnerable by melting.  (Footnote here; actual flyer here, assessment document here in Microsoft Word .doc format)

Contrarians come unglued, here at ClimateQuotes.com, and here at Air Vent.

It’s clear that the contrarians don’t have much experience in heavy documentation.  If you follow the links they provide, you quickly get to the paper provided by the tourist industry noting their precautions to prevent contamination, provided to meet a request by scientists from the Australian team, and based on information well vetted to the point that it includes substantial excerpts from what appears to be a peer-reviewed journal on the types of solutions suitable for decontaminating foreign boots in the Antarctic (Polar Record, vol. 41, no. 216, Jan. 2005, p. 39-45; it is actually the official journal of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, UK).  There is astounding and commendable attention to detail, much more than the contrarians can grok, it appears.

More troubling to the Boy Scout in me is the contrarians’ contempt for what is, really, Leave No Trace Camping carried to an Antarctic tourist stop.  This is part of the environment protection credo of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and it is sound policy that everyone should be teaching their children.

What is wrong with that?  Why do the contrarians mock wise policies?  Why do they make false claims against what amounts to good Scouting?

Leave No Trace logo

Contratians disapprove of the ethics of environmental stewardship?

One implicit complaint is that the footnote does not provide evidence of damage from climate change, in the Antarctic.  It’s clear that the critics have not followed the footnote path to see why the boot cleaning poster and directive were issued, nor to see what is the research or official government action that prompted the tourist companies to implement the procedure.

It appears in a section of the IPCC reports on effects of warming on industries in affected areas.  Only two industries are noted in the Antarctic, fishing and tourism.  After establishing the increased chance of problem organisms, including micro-organisms, showing up in Arctic and Antarctic areas as the areas warm, and after noting two plagues that killed penguins recently, from micro-organisms, the IPCC paper notes that concern to prevent such tragedies have so far required only boot decontamination, and it offers a link to the flyer provided by an Antarctic tour operators group.

Got that?  To show that the tour operators are affected, IPCC cited the flyer put out by the tour operators showing how and why they were changing their operations.  It’s a minor, almost trivial point.

At no point did IPCC’s report claim this procedure as evidence of warming, or the effects of warming.  So the claims of the contrarians and denialists are completely off base, as they’d recognize except for their own shouting for the lynching of science to proceed.

Criticism of IPCC for noting the good stewardship techniques used in the Antarctic comprises more political smear than scientific enlightenment, by a huge factor.  Voodoo science from the contrarians begets voodoo criticism.

Contrarians lack wisdom in posing this complaint of theirs.  This is one more point IPCC got right, factually and ethically.  IPCC should be commended for that.

Wall of Shame (update added on February 7)

Outlets that cite the boot reference, falsely or stupidly, as some sort of flaw in the IPCC report, and thereby demonstrate malevolent intentions, and not scientific (“malice” for you Times v. Sullivan fans):


Wattsupgate: Denialists claim all knowledge is wrong

January 31, 2010

It really is that bad.  Climate science denialists now attack any information simply for not being what they want it to be.  Lysenko’s Ghost smiles broadly.

Anthony Watts is just the most prominent of the bloggers making hoax charges of error and worse in the fourth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), because of a footnote that cites a rock climbing magazine.

Here’s the trouble for Watts:  There is no indication that the citation is in error in any way.  Watts’s move is more fitting of King George III’s campaign against Ben Franklin’s lightning rods, the prosecution of John Peter Zenger, the pre-World War II campaign against Einstein’s work because he was born a Jew, or the hoary old Red Channels campaign against Texas history told by John Henry Faulk.  It’s as bad as the Texas State Board of Education’s attack on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Watts’ and others’ complaint is simply that Climbing magazine’s story on the worldwide retreat of glaciers suitable for climbing is not published in a juried science journal.

In other words, they indict the science, not because it’s wrong — they have no evidence to counter it — but because it’s too American Patriot correct Jewish left Texan mistakenly thought to be political well-known, too accessible, (small “d”) democratically-reported.

And of course, any comment that points that out at Watts’s blog goes into long-term “moderation,” keeping it from the light of day in the best tradition of the Crown’s defense of Gov. Cosby’s misadministration of New York (see “John Peter Zenger”).  Watts said in a quote that should have been attributed to the Daily Telegraph:

The IPCC’s remit is to provide an authoritative assessment of scientific evidence on climate change.

In its most recent report, it stated that observed reductions in mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa was being caused by global warming, citing two papers as the source of the information.

However, it can be revealed that one of the sources quoted was a feature article published in a popular magazine for climbers which was based on anecdotal evidence from mountaineers about the changes they were witnessing on the mountainsides around them.

The other was a dissertation written by a geography student, studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree, at the University of Berne in Switzerland that quoted interviews with mountain guides in the Alps.

The revelations, uncovered by The Sunday Telegraph, have raised fresh questions about the quality of the information contained in the report, which was published in 2007.

It comes after officials for the panel were forced earlier this month to retract inaccurate claims in the IPCC’s report about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

By those standards, Watts’s own readers should eschew his blog — it’s not peer reviewed science by any stretch, and Watts isn’t an established authority in climate science (he’s not even working for an advanced degree).  Consistency isn’t a virtue or concern among climate change denialists.  Watt’s entire modus operandi is much more anecdotal than the story in Climbing, which was written by a physicist/climber who studies climate change in the world’s mountains.

And did you notice?  They’re whining about research done by a scientist in pursuit of a degree, complaining about the second citation.  That’s the exaclty kind of research that they claim the magazine article is not.  Their complaint is, it appears, that a scientist in pursuit of education is not the right “kind” of person to do climate research. It’s the chilling sort of bigotry that we spent so much time in the 20th century fighting against.  In the 21st century, though, it appears one can still get away with demonizing knowledge, education and research, part of the campaign to indict “elitism,” the same sort of elitism aspired to by America’s founders.  Too much of the criticism against scientists involved in documenting global warming is the cheap bigotry the critics claim to find in science, falsely claimed in my view.

Topsy-turvy.

And the glaciers?  Yeah, the evidence tends to show they are in trouble.  Those Himalayan glaciers?  The IPCC report was accurate in everything except the speed at which the glaciers decline — they should be with us for another three centuries, not just 50 years, if we can reduce warming back to 1990s levels (oddly, denialists rarely deal with the facts of accelerating warming, preferring to point to a local snowstorm as a rebuttal of all knowledge about climate).

Oh, and the research?  The author of the story in Climbing magazine is Mark Bowen.  Dr. Bowen’s Ph.D. is in physics from MIT. He’s a climber, and he researches climate change on the world’s highest mountains.  His 2005 book, Thin Ice, focused tightly on what we can learn about climate from the world’s highest mountains.   Bowen is the expert Anthony Watts would like to be.

Bowen’s newest book:  Censoring Science:  Inside the political attack on James Hansen and the truth of global warming. Watts doesn’t want anyone to read that book.  It is easy to imagine Watt’s s attack is, he hopes, pre-emptive, against Bowen’s book.

I’ll wager Watts hasn’t read the article in Climbing, and didn’t know who Bowen was when he launched his attack, though.  The denials of bias coming out of the denialists’ camp will be interesting to watch.

Let the denialists roll out the rope far enough, they’ll inevitably hang themselves.

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