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Books

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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The history of a working life

By | Books, Education, History, Politics, Research, Society | 30 Comments

At high school, and even as an undergraduate, I didn’t give much thought to my future working life. I would be a high-school teacher like my Dad and Mum. I had a clear acquaintance with the school system, and it seemed to have decent holidays, which I was used to. I would finally have to have a job of some kind, and the only one I had any interest in was teaching at school, preferably high school. I managed to get a teachers college scholarship to university, and that seemed to come with a Commonwealth scholarship offsetting whatever costs were…

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Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society

By | Books, Climate Change, Environment, Politics, Religion, Research | 117 Comments

I have mentioned before, with great approval (here and here), the English-born mathematician, astronomer  and physicist Freeman Dyson, who is 94, and has spent most of his working life at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study. I have been to Princeton a few times, but did not meet him, though I have had supper in Albert Einstein’s house there (and that was eerie). Dyson is extraordinarily diverse in his interests, and that may explain why he never won a Nobel Prize, though he has won a stack of other prizes in several fields. His friend, the late Oliver Sacks, remarked that A…

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Climate change and electric vehicles

By | Books, Climate Change, Environment, Health, History, Politics, Religion, Research | 128 Comments

I’ve put the dual citizenship essay on hold for a week, partly because yet another person has decided that he might be at risk. He is only the President of the Senate, but there you are. There may be more, and the issue is getting more important by the day, because of the manner in which the High Court chose to decide the question. Instead I have my eye on a report presented to the relevant Minister in the ACT about the State of the Environment (in the ACT) in 2015. The Commissioner is Professor Kate Auty, and she formerly…

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Books that have been important to me #7 Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Music, Politics, Research, Society | 21 Comments

In the middle 1990s I was asked to give a plenary address at an education conference, and you can find its text here, or if the link doesn’t work, by going in the masthead to my Writings, then to Educational, then to ‘Who Counts?’ What follows here is based on that speech. The beginning of my speech was based on a series of questions that had troubled me throughout my working life, as to just what ‘intelligence’ was, and why it was so important. I was usually near the top in my classes at school, but rarely at the very…

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