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Books

Waste Not, Water Not

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Education, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Society | 13 Comments

First, a note about my capacity to deal with comments. The treatment I am on causes fatigue, and means also that everything else I do that might once have taken ten minutes now takes twenty. So I’m progressing slowly with responses to comments, and also writing a new piece every few days, not to mention completing a new book. I seem to slip behind everywhere. Where I think I ought to comment I’ll do so in time. Waste  The ABC seems to be hammering me, and all other viewers and listeners, about its ‘war on waste’. The last episode was…

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The changing Australian culture

By | Books, Economy, Education, Food & Wine, History, Language, Media, Politics, Society, Sport, Theatre | 20 Comments

To write a new website essay is now a challenge, but I feel up to it. And I’ve wanted to write about this subject at a little length, rather than as a series of asides. It is built around a most interesting book by the always interesting John Carroll, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at La Trobe University. Land of the Golden Cities is published by Connor Court, and my copy took me a month to acquire. And then I got ill. But reading it brought back a platoon of memories. Here are three. Late 1950s. Two of us, senior undergraduates,…

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Why write a thriller?

By | Books, Language, Society | 23 Comments

First, the bad news. I’ve written briefly about this before, but the fuller news is worse. Over the past six weeks I have had increasing pain in my back, not low down (L5) which has been my companion for 35 years, but quite a lot higher. At about the same time, but perhaps a month earlier, I noticed another pain in my left thigh, a pain which worsened and eventually stopped my playing tennis. My chiropractor (35 years in attendance) could not find anything to stop the pains, and proposed an X-Ray. The observed result was a fracture at T8….

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Is Western Civilisation worth studying?

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Media, Politics, Research, Society | 46 Comments

The back-story to this essay is the bequest of Paul Ramsay, businessman and philanthropist, to ensure that what he saw as the true gifts of what we commonly call Western civilisation were taught and appreciated. He felt that they were being forgotten, ignored — worse, ignorantly rejected, and by those who should above all recognise and respect them. So he put some $3 billion into a Trust some of which was to establish teachers and scholarships in Australian universities to ensure that what he wanted happened. He had in mind, I think, the ‘Great Books’ curriculum famous at Chicago. It…

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Three cheers for Pollyanna

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Media, Politics, Society | 85 Comments

One commenter to my last essay thought that I had ‘a Pollyanna view of the world’. I didn’t think it was a compliment, but it gave me the focus for another essay, which follows naturally from the last two. What has been most interesting in the Comments to these two essays about progress has been the determination on the part of some readers to continue to see the world as bad, dangerous, awful, unequal, unfair, what you will, in the face of good global data that don’t say the opposite, exactly, but make the point that for the great majority out…

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Why aren’t more people ‘factful’?

By | Books, Climate Change, Education, Environment, Health, History, Media, Politics, Research, Society | 68 Comments

I have written about the Swedish medico and educator Hans Rosling before, and have greatly enjoyed his TED talks, especially this one. He and his son and daughter have produced a book, Factfulness. Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. I had learned from the inside back cover that he has died, and that his book is a kind of summary of his world-view, and his earnest hope that people will become more optimistic about the future. They should, because his story, based mostly on data produced by agencies of the UN…

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The May Off-Topic Thread

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 22 Comments

This thread is for ideas and comments that are not directly relevant to the weekly essay. I’ll start this one with a link to another essay written by Michael Schellenberger, a well-known American environmentalist, who is running for Governor of California. It is not really about the US at all, but about the way in which alternative energy sources are affecting (upwards) the price of electricity, and is therefore directly relevant to we who live Down Under, because the same elements apply. Somewhere I have seen a Part Two, and when I find it I’ll link it too. How Solar…

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Why isn’t more research reproducible?

By | Books, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 60 Comments

Some six years ago I wrote an essay about John Ioannidis, now at Stanford, who stirred up the medical research community with a paper arguing that more than half of all medical research papers could not be trusted because the work described in them could not be replicated. Ioannidis’s original work dates from 2005, but he and others have moved into other areas as well as medicine. The amount of money wasted because of poor research, both by private enterprise and by governments, is enormous. From time to time since I have heard murmurings that positive things are happening in…

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A Cool Look at Global Warming, ten years later PART I

By | ABC, Books, Climate Change, Environment, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 89 Comments

In April 2008 I delivered a paper to the ACT Division of the Planning Institute of Australia about the threat of global warming. Some months later we were to have the Copenhagen Climate Conference that was to solve all humanity’s problems. Many leaders said we had only a few weeks/months/years to save the planet. Al Gore, walking on stage to get his Nobel Peace Prize, barked to an interviewer that ‘the science is settled!’ Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been rocketing up, and so had seemed to be global temperature. So 2008 was a year where global warming was…

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Whose universities are they, anyway?

By | Books, Education, History, Politics, Research, Society | 25 Comments

The publication of three books about the recent past and possible future of higher education, not to mention articles in journals and on the Internet, suggest that all is not well in academe. While all has never, at least since the end of the second world war, been well in academe (the AVCC first used the word ‘crisis’ in 1947), it may be true that the level of tension within higher education today is notably high. The three books are Glyn Davis’s The Australian Idea of a University, Stuart Macintyre’s No End of a Lesson, and my own Critical Mass….

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