Category Archives: ABC

Mathematics, my father and me

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Politics, Society | 15 Comments

(Robyn Williams, of the ABC’s Science program, read my piece in Quadrant about how my own world-view came to be formed, and asked could I do an Ockham’s razor broadcast about my father, mathematics and me. This is the outcome. It was broadcast on Sunday March 12th and interested readers can download the audio  here.)   If you grew up in New South Wales in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, there’s a good chance that you studied maths with the help of the textbooks written by two high school teachers, A. G. Aitkin and B. N. Farlow. I knew the…

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Books that have been important to me #4 Barbara and Allan Pease: Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps

By | ABC, Books, Education, Health, History, Humour, Media, Society | 137 Comments

In 1998, my wife and I were driving through northern New South Wales, and had the radio on. Margaret Throsby introduced her guest, Allan Pease, told us the name of his new book, and said something like, ‘Now I want to take issue with you at once about the title. I can read a map as well as any man!’ ‘How do you do it?’ he asked. ‘Well, I point it in the direction we are travelling and it’s straightforward.’ ‘That’s exactly the point of the title,’ he responded. ‘Most men can read a map however it is pointed, but most…

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A final thought on 2016 Australian warming

By | ABC, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 211 Comments

In an earlier essay this year, I used the useful maps prepared by Professor Ole Humlum of www.climate4you to ponder about how hot it actually was in Australia last year. I did so because of claims that the year was the hottest ever, as it was said to be for the world. When I wrote the piece I did not have access to the summary for the whole year, but I now have it, and it is displayed below. These data are from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, which is part of NASA, and they show the relative change between…

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Exit right, Cory Bernardi

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Economy, Environment, History, Humour, Media, Politics, Society | 165 Comments

I have not met Senator Bernardi, but I’ve read  some of his writing. From what I have read in the media and on line, it might surprise some people to learn that in fact he is a published author. His seven books include two for children, the rest being about politics, collections of his own opinion pieces, and a book that did well in the review sections, The Conservative Revolution. Thus far the talk has all been about how his defection from the Liberal Party is another destabilising factor for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Since Bernardi is unlikely to vote for anything…

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What is it all for?

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Media, Politics, Society | 220 Comments

This essay is a companion piece, or a sequel, to my second one this year, on ‘mating’, which I see as the basic dynamo of human societies — not so much the meeting and mating of boy and girl, but the collective consequences of those matings, the growth and shape of human populations over time. This essay takes the argument a little further. My work on political attitudes and behaviour suggested that most young people acquire a more or less tepid version of their parents’ political attitudes while they are at home. Things change when they go out into the wider…

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In terms of temperature, what sort of a year did we have in Australia?

By | ABC, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 480 Comments

For the past decade or so, each January has produced a news headline about whether or not this year has been the hottest ever. It seems to be agreed that 2016 was the hottest ever, but with a statistically insignificant increase over 2015, and only a tiny bit above 1998. In 2015, 2016 and 1998 the spike was due to an el Nino, which subsided quickly. As I have argued before, there is no human being who has ever experienced a global average temperature, unless coincidentally, and for a moment or two. What we want to know is what our own environment…

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Truthiness and factiness

By | ABC, Climate Change, Education, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 278 Comments

Both of these terms were coined by an American satirist, Stephen Colbert, more than ten years ago. With respect to ‘truthiness’, he said We’re not talking about truth. ‘We’re talking about something that seems like truth — the truth we want to exist’. He thought that the ‘word police’ would object that ’truthiness’ was not a word, but in fact the next year Merriam-Webster pronounced ‘truthiness’ as its word of the year. I’ll leave ‘factiness’ for a moment. What did Colbert mean by truthiness? In an interview with The Onion he expanded on its meaning in this way: It used…

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The message still hasn’t sunk in

By | ABC, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Language, Media, Politics | 129 Comments

Nearly a fortnight after Donald Trump became President-elect of the United States we are still reading commentary in the media that suggests the writers still can’t believe it. Something has gone badly wrong with the world, and that bad wrong must be put right. The day after the result Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club (for which outfit, climate change and the need to stop it are more important than anything else) put out this message: This hurts. There’s no way right now to ease the shock and dismay of what we’re facing this morning. The pain is real — and so much…

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The day of shock and horror

By | ABC, Climate Change, History, Media, Politics, Society | 150 Comments

For months now I have been asking various friends and people close to me, who say they can’t stand Donald Trump, whether they had read anything he has written or viewed any of his speeches. I wasn’t a Trump supporter, and I am too distant from the American period in my life and work to be able to judge him properly. But my question was usually waved away. The reason for asking was that all we saw of Trump in Australia was a succession of ten-second clips from speeches, usually showing the Republican contender saying something thought to be outrageous. On numerous occasions,…

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Making sense of the ACT elections

By | ABC, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Language, Media, Politics, Society | 69 Comments

I thought I would pass on the American presidential election, having no vote and disliking both candidates about equally. Instead I thought I would write about the recent ACT elections, which are now done and dusted. Unusually, given the complications of the voting system, it was all over by ten o’clock on polling day. The Liberal Leader conceded defeat and the Labor Leader claimed victory. Within a week it was plain Labor had twelve seats, the Greens two and the Liberals eleven. There will be another four years of Labor rule in the ACT, in a quasi Coalition with the Greens, and in…

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