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History

Books that have been important to me #5 The California detective: Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Society | One Comment

There is a time, when you are young and a reader, where you range widely, dipping into a genre here and another there. Long long ago I dipped into Agatha Christie, then saw The Mousetrap in London, and ranged over the English detective literature. I didn’t go back, really, but did so recently for one Agatha Christie, which I read in an hour or so and thought quite thin. C. P. Snow, about whose novels I wrote some time ago, did quite a good one, A Coat of Varnish (1978), where both the protagonist and the detective at the end know who…

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Can blog posts be better than journal articles?

By | Climate Change, Environment, Health, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 97 Comments

The Dutch experimental psychologist Daniel Lakens asked this question on his website, and I thought it was worth distilling for mine, since I have had a lot to do with journals and more recently with websites. There has been a deal of discussion recently about the lack of effective replication in both the medical area and others, so the rules about publication are worth thinking about. Before the ‘peer review’ cheer squad starts to chant, I should tell you that Lakens’s goal is to improve the quality of journal articles, not to replace articles with blog posts. He offers five reasons…

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Social Justice

By | Education, History, Politics, Society | 74 Comments

‘Social justice’ is a term that trips easily from the mouths of politicians and of others on what would be seen as the Left in our society. It is one of those things, like motherhood, that you can’t be opposed to. More widely, it is a favourite term of those in the United Nations who see the disparities in wealth and development across the world as inherently unjust. It is generally agreed to be a term coined by a Catholic philosopher in the 1840s, and owed its growing popularity to the conditions for people in the expanding towns and cities…

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How much inequality is enough?

By | ABC, Economy, History, Politics | 56 Comments

I was going to write about ‘social justice’, because it has been cropping up a few times in the last week or so. In fact this essay is about inequality, once again, because I want to deal with one aspect of it before embarking on ‘social justice’. And that aspect is how much inequality can a community accept without much unhappiness. It is well known in the literature that people in general consider their own economic position by comparing it with those whom they encounter constantly (hence ‘keeping up with the Joneses’) rather than with that of, for example, the Queen or Bill…

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The Social Cost of Carbon

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 51 Comments

I was going to write about Earth Hour once more, and for the last time, when I realised that it seemed to have passed its use-by date, for it seemed to have been almost unnoticed. There was no sign of it in Hobart, where I was on the hallowed night, and I couldn’t find out much about its effects in Canberra, where I have been for past Earth Hours. Earth Day passed too, without much fuss. So I have gone on to a subject I have been playing with for some years now, which is caught up in the phrase, ‘the Social…

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The March for Science

By | ABC, Climate Change, Education, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 119 Comments

I am writing this essay on the day of the March, which will happen in Washington DC and apparently 500 other cities, including several in Australia, where the March is happening as I write. What is it about? There is apparently a ‘war on science’, though who is conducting it is not clear. From its US website you can get this mission statement. The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders…

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Ending ‘the violence of prostitution’

By | Health, History, Media, Politics, Society | 19 Comments

A young woman (I’ve seen her photo) called Andrea Tokaji had a piece in one of our local newspapers, which I read quickly and then read more slowly and carefully. She is ‘a PhD candidate on gender-based violence’ and the Founding Director of Fighting for Justice Foundation. It’s an interesting website, and is largely about bringing and end to ‘human trafficking’, which includes sexual slavery, forced marriage, organ removal and forced labour. The International Labour Organization puts the current numbers at about 21 million, about two thirds in forced labour and a quarter in sexual exploitation of one kind or another. In…

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April Off-Topic Thread

By | ABC, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 105 Comments

Gary C says: April 2, 2017 at 8:48 pm (Edit) Don Two articles from 2016 supporting models: “Comparing models to the satellite datasets” : http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2016/05/comparing-models -to-the-satellite-datasets/ “Models” : Models Reply Don Aitkin says: April 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm (Edit) Gary, you get the honour of having the first comment in the new Off-Topic Thread. I’ll comment there.

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What is it that worries me about what the BoM and CSIRO tell us about climate change?

By | ABC, Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 262 Comments

Commenter Chris asked me, in a comment at my last essay, what are your concerns over BoM reporting or data use? I had intended to write about something else, but it seemed sensible to deal with this issue at once. I have written about the Bureau before (here, for example, and here), but to this direct question there is a straightforward reply. I’ll deal first with the more general issue of BoM (Bureau of Meteorology) reporting, and note first that it is directly linked, as anyone who reads the website will see, with CSIRO’s biennnial reports on the State of Climate. So my response to Chris covers both…

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Mathematics, my father and me

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Politics, Society | 47 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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