What are websites for: Menadue and Manne

When I wrote my long response to John Menadue, I did so because I had suggested to him on previous occasions that he accepted the views of people like Ross Garnaut far too easily and without challenge. John had attacked Tony Abbott about the wind-farm issue as though all the truth was on his own side. Since I had just written a piece on the wind-farm issue I felt able to disagree, with chapter and verse.

And I expected some sort of response. My reply to him was full of references to other work. Surely he would put up his own defence. Not a bit of it. It seems that he has declined to respond in any way other than to suggest that I stay on my own website and not bother his. This is hugely disappointing to me. The wind-farm issue is a central policy problem for those who think that by building wind farms we are ‘combatting climate change’. I think building wind farms is a colossal waste of money, and I’ve shown why I think so. Not to engage in such a debate, if you are a policy analyst, as John Menadue is, is to elevate your own views from the world of rationality to the world of belief.

I could accept a response like ‘Well, there are other factors involved, like this and that.’ But simply to shut off debate, with a ‘Debate not wanted here’ sign is, to me, an almost craven response. It is suggestive of ‘Look I don’t have a decent response to your criticisms, and I don’t even want to think about them, So please go away.’

And of course, one’s instant reaction is that if this is the response to well-argued criticism on something  one knows a little about, how much can one trust the other perspectives that the website has. All this makes me feel that John Menadue, whom I have known since he was a Labor candidate for Hume in 1966 (no, even earlier, when he was on Gough Whitlam’s staff), is now too committed to his own point of view to be trusted on anything about policy. And that is a great pity.

I mentioned Robert Manne in the title because at the head of the piece of John’s to which I wrote a response there was a reference to a piece by Robert Manne extolling the virtues of the Pope’s Encyclical, about which I wrote a piece of my own. Now Robert Manne has twice been voted ‘Australia’s leading public intellectual’, though by whom is not mentioned. He is another commentator who declines to take notice of anything critical about the orthodoxy of global warming, and I took him to task for that intellectual failing three years ago.

Nothing has changed. Manne tells us that we are faced with a crisis of civilisation of equivalent depth but of an altogether different kind [to the ‘moral collapse’ after the Great War] – the gradual but apparently inexorable human-caused destruction of the condition of the Earth in which human life has flourished over the past several thousand years, at whose centre is the phenomenon we call either global warming or climate change. 

Manne goes on: During the past decade I have read scores of books and thousands of articles, many outstanding, examining from every conceivable angle and also trying to explain the wreckage we are knowingly inflicting on the Earth. Like what exactly, I want to ask, much too late of course. Robert and his papal mate need to read some more cheerful material, like the work of Jesse Asubel I referred to in a recent essay. It’s not as bad as you think, at all! Why haven’t you read the other side, the more positive, cheerful possibilities that the advance of human civilisation offer us?

Well, that would get in the way of the big, black awful future that Manne believes is coming, and ‘denialists’ like me (yes, he uses the term ‘climate change denialism’ in his essay) are just obstructionists in the pay of Big Oil or some other capitalist league of evil. I have never sorted out why Robert Manne thinks as he does. So much of his writing seems to me as almost a betrayal of the intellect. But I can see why John Menadue thought that Manne’s piece deserved honourable mention on his website.

Economists have techniques to use, and they need problems to solve. If you tell them that the world is coming to an awful crisis because of the the over-use of fossil fuels, they will design mechanisms for you that will avert the evil hour. It is not for them to question the problem you have provided them. It is enough for them to know how to tackle it.

Ross Garnaut indeed said in his Report that it wasn’t for him to question the validity of the problem. Science had spoken, and that was that. Anyway, he wanted the job. There is something to it, to be sure. Judith Curry calls global warming a ‘wicked problem’, meaning that it is not clear even there is a problem, and if there is it is not clear how to deal with it. I agree with her which is why I’m happy to be classed as a ‘lukewarmer’. Back to Robert Manne: he says it really is a terrible, awful and world-shattering problem, and there are those who deny it, too. So there’s support for the economists and policymakers who want to ‘fix’ it.

The test for me, with respect to websites, is whether they tolerate dissent. I was appalled that John Menadue wouldn’t tolerate a dissenting voice on his website. That instantly reduced greatly the value of everything that was on it. My own website has entered its fourth year, and has had nearly 500 comments. Not one has been expunged from the record, so to speak. I do put into the spam bin apparent references to one of my essays that turn to to be offers of Viagra or Cialis at cheap prices. But real comments from real people, no. Everyone gets their say. I try to respond to them all, too, which is a lot of work.

Not only that, I learn greatly from reading other points of view. I get things wrong, and make errors of other kinds. The comments remind me that I am as liable to error as the next person, and that makes me keener to get it right the first time. Websites that don’t accept criticism cannot be about the world of ideas but are a kind of preaching. That points to religion ,not to science and really finding out about the world and our role in it.


Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Alan Gould says:

    To take a cheerful view of the locked doors on websites like The Menadue or The Manne, one can identify behind those shutters the beleaguered mentality and such, able to feed only on itself, is inevitably going to become tedious to others, tedious to itself, and thereby wither. The damage to public life and waste of public resource while this withering happens is, of course, shameful, but one does at least see that an intransigence has put a date on itself. Along with Aert, I suspect the weather itself will reverse the AGW orthodoxy, and then the socio-pathologists will get to work on trying to retrospectively diagnose the illness that took hold of the human mind on the issue of climate at the cusp of the 20th/21st Centuries and did so much to corrupt the protocols of fair discourse that had accrued since Enlightenment times.
    But good on your gadfly-ism.

  • Dasher says:

    The response does not surprise me but it does disappoint me. Its the same thinking that would silence Bjorn Lomborg. A sad reflection on some of our senior intellectuals.

  • JMO says:

    I share your disappointment Don, and your last sentence encapsulates it well. I seems CAGW has firmly caught the imagination of the doomsters and needlessly worrying the wider populace.

    I have just returned from a funeral in Sydney, at the wake one of my wife’s cousin’s daughter (now with small children) came up to me and asked for a dance. She told she was worried about climate change and as she knew I was into Astronomy asked me, was it all true we are heading into catastrophe. I briefly explained about solar cycles, historic global warm and cold periods, the present warm period, a likely cooling period in the near future and why CO2 is such a weak “greenhouse” gas compared to water vapour. She commented how relieved she was to hear such positive views and thanked me for putting her at ease.

    This is not the first time this has happened to me. Last year I stayed a few nights with a retired teacher on Prince Edward Is who is a keen (and taught) environmentalist. On our last evening he raised his concerns on climate change. I expressed my views and why I have those views on the subject. Next morning as my wife and myself were about to drive off, he thanked me for visiting, putting him at ease and being so uplifting.

    Every period in history has had people who foretell a dark future, find a narrative fad and use it as a vehicle to promote their pessimism.

    • Don Amoore says:

      JMO, I wish I had your talent and expertise to convince the concerned. I usually get the “But 97% say it is all settled ” and closed ears. Keep it up – maybe on a public forum??

      • dlb says:

        The 97% has been a real coup for Cook and his cronies.
        I wonder what they have planned next?

      • JMO says:

        Thanks Don Amoore. I have thought about a public forum, at this stage I keep at the individual (or small group level). I have noticed the more left or alarmist the person is, the aggro, belligerent and ruder they become.

  • David says:

    I appreciate the opportunity to dissent on your site. 🙂

    • dlb says:

      At least David you roll up every day at Don’s backyard with bat and ball.
      Unlike the big kids such as Menadue who are very choosy with whom they play.

    • Dasher says:

      Agree with dlb, I hate echo chambers where everyone agrees with everyone else……So David what do you think of the Menadue’s reluctance to engage a bloke of Don’s stature…hardly a nutter even if you disagree with him (noting that you could not say why on the last essay) Oh and what about the silencing of Bjorn Lomborg by our esteemed intellectuals? Too important an issue for discussion perhaps?

      • David says:

        1. I think Menadue should respond to Don.

        2. Lomborg situation ? I don’t fully understand

        – He could write a grant application like everybody else.

        – The Govt could farm the project off to the IPA.

        Lomborg’s argument is that AGW over rated and in the short term Western governments would be better served by devoting their resources to alleviating third world poverty. His position is we should worry about AGW, later.

        But the Abbott government is cutting money out of foreign aid. So I am not convinced.

        What do you think?

        • Dasher says:

          The Lomborg situation is one where (in a nutshell) he was to head an organisation funded by the federal Governemnt within the university of WA to investigate a wide range of issues in a high level multi discipline group..including cost effective studies of unspecified matters, but which I would expect, with Lomborgs background would include climate change. Groups at the WA uni prevented the venture because they thought Lomborg a “denier” which he most certainly is not, and frankly they did not want to engage with a man who may have different views on climate change than their views. The caravan has now moved on to Flinders university and they have been met with a similar reception.

          The Government has provided the money and the Universities appeared comfortable with the idea but mis- appreciated the loonies in their midst and caved in. Simply outrageous for a centre of learning.

          Moving it to the IPA hardly gets these medieval academics off the hook…if they can’t even discuss any differences what hope do we have ? are they so unsure of their positions that they can’t defend them?

          I heard and read Lomborg (including on the ABC where his measured knowledgeable style made him a real handful) He is not a ratbag and has a perspective which in my opinion is worth hearing….name calling is not good enough..particular form academics who should know better.

          Abbott cutting money from foreign aid?…what’s your point?



          • David says:

            Well Lomborg is arguing that resources should be redirected from reducing CO2 to helping the third world. So the Abbott Government like the first bit of Lomborg’s proposition (the ignore AGW) but not the second bit, (more help for the third world).

          • JimboR says:

            I think it’s a little unfair to say the Abbott Govt. doesn’t like spending money on CO2 reduction. In fact, they’re spending a fortune on it. Get your bid in for the next auction…. money truly does grow on trees.


          • JMO says:

            Thanks for the link JimboR. In April 2015 the average abatement cost per tonne of CO2 is $13-95; a little over half of the carbon tax which we were paying under the dying days of our previous government. If you are truly worried about rising CO2 emissions you would have to say this government is implementing a better deal.

            But of course the latte sipping left green lunies are only using CAGW as one vehicle to deliver their hate for Abbott, coal, mining and western economy generally

          • JimboR says:

            Actually, the carbon tax would have transitioned to an ETS based on Euro prices (tanked) by now, so yes… this government is spending way more of my hard earned on CO2 abatement. And there’s no end in sight… they’re going to have to continue to spend ever increasing amounts forever (or change their position on CO2 emissions).

          • David says:

            We drink flat white.

          • Margaret says:

            Gosh, I just looked at my smartphone and saw this and if I could attach a photo you’d see I’m having one as I write. What a life this is, talk about entitled, sip sip.

          • Dasher says:

            Thats one of those arguments I would expect from a green haired undergraduate David….we most certainly contribute and will continue to do so, but we reserve the right to adjust as we see fit..its not all or nothing mate.

  • Gordon Watson says:

    Don, thought provoking as usual and thank you for your voice. Your willingness to debate and discuss ideas provides a certain clarity and honesty that many today are afraid to put on the table through fear of being set up on by a connected community of marauding keyboard jockeys too willing to accept the hollow words as gospel.

  • David says:

    The Lomborg question would be a good one for Don.

    Don you used to head the ARC.What do you think of the idea of Govt coming in over the top of ARC and directing how research funds are to be spent.

    • David says:

      Not just the area of research but also which researchers are to get the gig.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Not in favour at all. Having said that, governments everywhere have a tendency to set up research teams to pursue certain lines of enquiry. We used to have them for education, for marine sciences, for agricultural economics and so on. Over time enthusiasm for them waxes and wanes.

        As to your second question, as far as I know governments have never told anyone who should get the research money. Often that doesn’t matter. Oliphant told the Chifley Government that Australia should be in the forefront of research in physics and it provided an enormous amount for an experimental machine to the ANU, where Oliphant was.

        • dlb says:

          Was it money well spent? or did Sir Mark’s machine invite puns with his name.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            It was a good idea in the 1940s, but not by the time the machine was finally able to run. Physics had passed it by.

    • Boyfromtottenham says:

      David, my understanding of the Lomborg affair is that the federal govt wants to give a university $4 million to set up an Economics research centre, with Lomborg as the (figure)head, presumably to provide an alternative view on the economics of AGW, ‘renewables’ vs traditional energy generation, etc. IMO the two universities that have turned down the offer because of a backlash from their students / staff have demonstrated that they do not deserve the title of University, being a place where knowledge is created, validated and passed on to students. If the offer keeps getting rebuffed, the government will have gathered valuable ammunition with which to argue that the university sector needs a new broom put through it, if only to determine who actually runs these places these days, the management or the students and academic staff.

Leave a Reply