Where do I stand, and why?

By January 12, 2018Other

Judith Curry, of the Climate etc website, found herself involved in a wide-ranging Twitter debate which prompted her to summarise her position both in American politics and philosophically. I don’t use Twitter much, and am coming to the view that I should simply dispense with it, but I thought her summary position was well expressed, and thought further, why don’t I do the same? So here is mine, using her structure simply as a beginning. I have written about many of these points in the past, but here they are brought together.

My politics

I grew up in the country, and have always had a sympathy for country people in their lack of many of the amenities that attract people to the city. I joined the Country Party when I was young, and thought about running for parliament under its banner. I gave up in time, having neither the money nor the preparedness to endorse everything the party stood for. That was the early 1960s. Since then I have voted for Labor and the Liberals. I was much more sympathetic to Labor when I was younger. I thought, and still think, that the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1990 was the best Australian Government we have had in my working lifetime. The Rudd Government I think was the worst, the Gillard one not much better.

My philosophy

I am socially ‘progressive’ and economically ‘conservative’. I have probably been like that since my undergraduate years. I don’t recall any of my university teachers having been ideologically evangelistic, though most would have been on the Left, I think, and my parents never talked about politics at all. My guess is that they mostly voted Labor until they got to know the local MP (State and Federal), when they may have voted for him on personal grounds. I do know that writing for newspapers forced me to work out why I felt as I did, and how best I could defend that position. I don’t think my positions have changed much over the last thirty years. I was taught in the 1960s that data trumps theory, and that one should inspect all ‘data’ for flaws. I learned the phrase ‘GIGO’ in 1965, in the USA. It was a computer lab. term emphasizing the need for extreme care in inputting data.

On ideology

The end of the Soviet Union did not mean the end of ideology. It is everywhere, and I try my best to rid myself of it. All researchers need to be aware of their own ideologies, and do their utmost to think past them. One should be one’s own severest critic, and in my case that meant hours, days, of subjecting my own hypotheses to demolition. It didn’t always work. An Honours student wrote a lovely little article showing that I was quite wrong on an issue in which I had thought I was quite right. She was my own student, and I had to congratulate her. She went on to do a good PhD, too. Judith Currie has been impressed by the work of John Ralston Saul, a Canadian philosopher, ten years younger than me, whose early work in the 1980s was important to me. She has set out the characteristics of ideologues like this:

  1. Absence of doubt
  2. Intolerance of debate
  3. Appeal to authority
  4. A desire to convince others of the ideological ‘truth’, and
  5. A willingness to punish those who don’t concur.

There’s a lot of that about today. Perhaps there always was. But it is imperative that those who wish to debate issues seriously avoid these attributes. To want to debate at all carries with it a need to listen as well as talk, to be prepared to change one’s mind if the evidence warrants it, to argue from data and first principles, not from what others say, to be satisfied with helping others examine their own positions, and to avoid being a smart-arse.

My values

I’m not sure what JC meant by this, and her examples I would think of as societal goals rather than values. What do I value in others, and therefore for me? Open-ness, self-reliance, altruism, friendliness, intellectual honesty (see above). What do I want for my country? Those values expressed generally in our society. I do not like curbs on free speech like section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act. No doubt 18(d) would protect me in what I write, but the political correctness embodied in 18(c), and indeed in the Act itself, hinders the free exchange of views that is essential in a real democracy. If you see something in our society where you think there ought to be a change, lend a hand yourself first before you ask others or our various governments to lend a hand. I am not an internationalist, and believe that the world of nations is far too diverse for ‘world government’ to be sensible. So my energies are directed toward making Australia a better country. A lot follows from this value, and I may write about it again later this year.

Judith added ten ‘signs of intellectual honesty’, which others have mentioned in their comments, urging me to follow them. I try always to do so. They are these:

  • Show a willingness to publicly acknowledge that reasonable alternative viewpoints exist.
  • Be willing to publicly acknowledge and question one’s own assumptions and biases.
  • Be willing to publicly acknowledge where your argument is weak.
  • Be willing to publicly acknowledge when you are wrong.
  • Demonstrate consistency.
  • Address the argument instead of attacking the person making the argument.
  • When addressing an argument, do not misrepresent it.
  • Show a commitment to critical thinking.
  • Be willing to publicly acknowledge when a point or criticism is good.

Mainstream media 

I have written for newspapers for half a century, in all, a few million words. The papers included The Canberra Times (five years, once or twice a week), The National Times (twelve years, once a week), The Australian Financial Review (five years, once a week) and all the main city papers on an irregular basis. I have also done a lot of radio and television work, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. I get most of my basic news today from the Internet, but my television news now mostly from SBS.

I don’t read the newspapers any more, though my wife will point out anything she thinks would interest me. I keep waiting for one of the major papers to fall over. They are getting thinner and thinner, and there is not much difference in content between The Age, The SMH and The Canberra Times. I am much more conscious of editorial slant now than I used to be. Having written five years’ worth of editorials myself I do know how that process operates.

Engagement with the policy process

I have worked with government and ministers from both sides of politics and at the Federal and ACT levels pretty well continuously from 1981 to 2012. For the most part I found all the Ministers I worked with to be sensible, clear-headed and anxious to improve the area they were responsible for. I was allowed, sometimes encouraged, to propose courses of action, especially in the research funding and policy areas. People like me are needed in the policy process, to engage with a government and its needs. It is not always a happy engagement, and the bigger the task the more likely you are to receive flak. I have a good deal of sympathy with Ministers, and for anyone who engages with public politics. You do need a thick skin.

Why do I maintain this website and write for it?

I do so partly because I am used to writing for a public readership and speaking to a public audience. I try to follow the precepts that are outlined above. Newspapers these days are too poor to pay you for op.ed. pieces (which is, apart from my academic production,  essentially what I have written for fifty years), and I learned how to establish and run a website through the love and skills of my family. I think the future of mass communication will be increasingly a mixture of print and digital, with digital becoming more powerful. This website gets about 10,000 hits a month, and has received over 18,000 comments. I read every comment, but usually stay out of the debate unless I think the writer has missed a crucial point. I try to write one essay each week.

I get a good deal of email from people who want to express a view to me but don’t want to go on line. I’ll keep the website going  while I can, but my illness last November, which has not completely gone, tells me that I am not in fact immortal!

Afterthought: There is no end to this sort of introspection. It leads at once to the sort of society I think we have and how best to improve it. We are not perfect creatures and cannot create a perfect world. But we can always improve our situation in a particular direction, and I much prefer incremental changes to great visionary leaps that do not live up to their purpose and can be quite dysfunctional. That is another subject, I agree, but it is related to the above.






Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Aert Driessen says:

    Interesting piece Don, thank you. I have only read it once at this stage (but will come back to it) so will only respond ‘off the top’. Philosophically, we are opposites. I think of myself as a social conservative and an economic progressive (Go Trump!). So I voted NO in the SSM plebiscite because I saw no need for it — gays in a relationship wanted equal rights but they already had them, and I’m not fazed by budget deficits provided that borrowings re put to productive use. I have never been a member of a political party until very recently because I became angry with mainstream politics; I joined Cory’s Australian Conservatives. I have voted for both main parties in the past and agree with you on the Hawke Labour government; I also think that Keating did us all a favour by floating the $. You have felt driven to defend policy positions because you have been involved in their formation/implementation. I am the opposite. My politics (until recently) has been judged through the rear vision mirror. If I saw policies working, I voted for them. All my personal values are driven by one thing – gratitude – for the parents I had, for the schools they chose for me, particularly in this country (they lived in Hong Kong), for the people that helped me through university, for my varied career in earth science, for the woman I married, and for the children (4) we raised. Everything else flows naturally from that. Wishing you a speedier recovery; we miss you at lunch.

  • PeterE says:

    Yes, I liked it, especially the five characteristics of an ideology and the eight or so points for true debate and open-mindedness. I was for Menzies at school, persuaded that it was time at university -despite the ALP’s anti-Vietnam rantings – and considered that with Hawke elected it was time to return to my natural conservatism. I agree that the nation-State will be around for a long time; the communist systems and their pale reflection in, for example, the EU are powerful persuaders against internationalism. If you seek peace, prepare for war. I consider that Australia is under attack by ideologues and they have made significant progress. Just to pick one subject of contest, I am highly suspicious of moves towards a republic; most people are quite ignorant of how we are governed now and the many advantages of it. If anyone wants to persuade me otherwise, they had better have a damned good case. The good society must always be striven for: to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. Hawke was good but Howard was better.

  • Colin Davidson says:

    Thank you Don, for this thoughtful piece.
    My politics are slightly different, but my position on the fundamentals are the same:
    a. Freedom of speech, the only restriction being incitement to violence
    b. Equality under the law
    c. Truthful and lawful conduct by public officials (these are routinely flouted, climate-lying and climate-rorting are endemic)
    d. Supremacy of the people over parliament via the Constitution – the document which lays down the limits of power we allow our politicians to exercise.

    Saint Gough’s was a bad government, in my opinion the very worst, followed by the Rudd (dangerous, as he was of the opinion that he could never make a mistake) and Gillard (probably criminal, beholden to the unions and subject to blackmail by them) schemozzles. Until Whine Swan, I thought that I would never see the likes of Dr Jim again in my lifetime. How wrong can one be?

    But back to the hallowed Whitlam. The Constitution (see section 51) does not give the Commonwealth powers over transport (except railways), education or health. St Gough changed that without asking us. He should have. Today the Commonwealth spends vast fortunes on these, pork-barrelling and wastrelling our money, on things it is not responsible for or permitted to do under the document which says what we allow the Commonwealth to do.

    We should have been asked.

    St Gough didn’t like the Constitution much (Labor wants to get rid of the Senate), but fell foul of it. And when we were asked the question of whether he had been fairly sacked, we all said yes he had been, and that the Governor General was right to do so. Just in case we had got it wrong, a second election was held a couple of years later – with the result of a further large swing AGAINST Whitlam. The Labor party then got rid of him, so that he could be sanctified in later life, when people had forgotten how god-awful his government was..

    I agree that the Hawke governments were good ones, but that Keating disappointed. I agree with Peter that the Howard government was the best we have had, after Menzies.

    • Chris Warren says:

      There is a bit of lack of realism here:

      It is not sufficient to need:

      “Freedom of speech the only restriction being incitement to violence”

      We need to stop fraudsters advertising false schemes and scams. Nigerian crime gangs should be blocked from tricking vulnerable people out of their life savings.

      The Trade Practices Act restricts a lot of speech by dodgy businesses.

      The Therapeutic Goods Act also restricts what companies can say about their products.

      Public servants who receive information as part of their duties have no freedom of speech with this information.

      Many companies have clauses in their employee contracts restricting their comments.



      It is not possible for the people to have supremacy over Parliament when the people create Parliament in accordance with the Constitution. The sovereignty of Parliament in a democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Only the Constitution has supremacy over Parliament.

      So far ” the people” have no practical access to the High Court to challenge acts of Parliament although there may be some means of gaining leave to appeal. However this is would be an exception. In real life, when Parliament makes a decision, it over-rides whatever contradictory fancy some people may have. If “the people” disagree, they generally realise that the only realistic option is to change Parliament.

      In general public servants are truthful and act lawfully although there have been some findings from various Commissions Against Corruption.

      However the worse case I am aware of was by a covert Liberal party public servant Godwin Grech who seems to have manipulated facts based on some inappropriate communication with Senator Abetz’s office.

    • bb says:

      Yes Colin I agree Howard was the best Prime Minister I have known. I have shaken his hand personally and told him to his face.

  • David says:

    ‘signs of intellectual honesty’, ??

    Don why dont you give us some examples of where you think your arguments on AGW are weak etc.

    Show us how its done

    • Don Aitkin says:

      You’ll have to wait until I do the ten-year review of my 2008 paper, the one which so entrances you, David.

      • David says:

        Sorry to be awkward Don. But there is this also quote from you in 2013.

        “There is an increasing dissenting chorus telling us that ‘it is the sun, stupid’, and that we are in for a long cooling period.”

        Given your newly stated penchant for admitting your errors, mistakes, falsehoods etc perhaps you might like to have a stab at reconciling this statement with Dr Spencer’s UAH data set.

      • David says:

        I will look forward to it.

      • PeterD says:

        Hullo David and Don,

        Given Don’s explicit framework statement of values, politics, ideology etc it is not unreasonable for you to invite Don to clarify where his arguments are most vulnerable to challenge. In fact, I recall that Don has discussed such points of challenge over the years. What emerges in your exchange to an occasional visitor to this site is the subtext of ‘touchiness’ and elements of personal skirmishes. Not that conflict and difference are unhealthy: in fact, the clash of ideas, rebuttal and argumentation, the presentation of a reasoned case, are values that Don has supported across his professional life.

        When you couch your question in terms of ‘honesty’ (essentially questioning his integrity) and when Don uses the word ‘entrances’ (suggesting you are mesmerised by slight issues, even a baubles), you both introduce personal elements into the discussion, static so to speak, that does not advance discussion. These could be construed as more about the ‘person’ rather than ‘the argument’ in Judith Curry’s parlance.

        If I were a AGW supporter, the points of doubt that would most concern me would be questions around how robust and scientific have been the modelling, methodology, the scientific ‘consensus’, conclusions etc. If the case for AGM has been overstated or erroneous, as many argue, there are significant economics involved: could all the resources, energy, money, expertise etc invested in AGM have been better invested elsewhere to ensure higher returns for citizens, for councils, countries, the world etc?

        If I were an AGW sceptic, the points of doubt that would most concern me would be the fear that if in the decades ahead, for instance, it became quite clear that global warming was indeed undeniable, and that the lives of millions of people would be devastated by this phenomenon, and that I had unwittingly contributed to shielding people from this reality during a critical period, then I would have done a huge disservice, and to paraphrase Hamlet words: “I am myself indifferent honest, but I could accuse myself of such a sin, it had been better my mother had not borne me.”

        These doubts are however about primal fears. Discussions around AGM need to be based on scientific evidence and valid reasoning so that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. This site has generally promoted such discussion and hence its value. But this latest posting of Don’s invites a metacognitive perspective and reflective dimension that are not commonly discussed.

        • David says:

          Peter D. I liked the balance in your post, pros and cons etc.

          What I am suggesting is Don approach his writing the way you do.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Peter D., my use of ‘entrance’ was intended to be humorous and ironic. David is, as far as I know, the only commenter who keeps returning to the 2008 paper. That paper was based on the data available at the time, and my remarks in it likewise based on what was known at the time. The times have changed, and likewise some of my expectations. As it happens, my five-year review of it suggested that I had got things about right, but later in the year I’ll do it again.

          Sorry that you felt offended.

          • bb says:

            In the Australian today 17th January there is an article about staying away from toxic people I think perhaps we should all read it.

          • Chris Warren says:


            It is enough that you have read it.

            Maybe best to stay away from toxic newspapers?

  • JimboR says:

    “However the worse case I am aware of was by a covert Liberal party public servant Godwin Grech who seems to have manipulated facts based on some inappropriate communication with Senator Abetz’s office.”

    I reckon Senator Bill Heffernan’s faked comcar dockets would have to be right up there. At least in that case it cost him his job and reputation.

    Abetz’s career is littered with constant “oops sorry, I made that up, let’s move on” fake apologies.

    • spangled drongo says:

      “However the worse case I am aware of was by a covert Liberal party public servant Godwin Grech who seems to have manipulated facts based on some inappropriate communication with Senator Abetz’s office.”

      Yes, jimb, there are a lot worse than GG:

      “In relation to Godwin Grech, the auditor-general found that his inquiry into the implementation of the OzCar scheme “raised serious questions as to whether the code of conduct has been breached by Mr Grech.”

      And a Senate committee, which reported in November 2009, cleared Grech of charges of contempt.”

      Whereas blokes like Eddie Obeid, Ian MacDonald and Gordon Nuttall have been locked up for years.

    • PeterD says:

      I could have been more accurate about the word ‘entrances’: mesmerised, fixated upon, fascinated by, preoccupied with, can’t refrain from returning to, etc. Whatever way you interpret it, it is a form of fixation that is perhaps unhealthy, certainly not a positive form of engagement.

    • PeterD says:

      Hi Don: I was not in the least offended but as an old English teacher I am interested in the linguistic exchange and this interaction is extremely mild in terms of some that have occurred in the past. You have courageously tried to deal with this through the Off-topic thread. In fact, on many sites this is the case. I appreciated your original posting but some of the criteria are very difficult to adhere to – for all of us! Balance, objectivity, rationality, careful sifting and interpretation of evidence: all are worthy ideals.

      • margaret says:

        Yes they are worthy ideals … but very difficult for people who find both equanimity of spirit combined with articulation at an intellectual level challenging. This is probably ninety percent of people.
        Also, suppressing emotions is a very Anglo male trait and not necessarily life-enhancing.

  • spangled drongo says:

    I stand against this sort of stupidity which is happening to Western Nations:

    “Mass immigration means an America in 2050 with no core majority, made up of minorities of every race, color, religion and culture on earth, a continent-wide replica of the wonderful diversity we see today in the U.N. General Assembly.

    Such a country has never existed before. Are we on the Yellow Brick Road to the new Utopia – or on the path to national suicide?”


    • PeterD says:

      Hi Margaret

      You wrote: “suppressing emotions is a very Anglo male trait and not necessarily life-enhancing.”

      In the context of this forum, the Judith Curry/Don Aitkin focus is on critical thinking and the quality of argument.

      I am not sure of how true your statement is – especially when I consider the word ‘Stoic’ which is associated with ancient Greece; or when I read Shakespeare, Donne, Eliot, Hopkins, Yeats to name just a few poets who write in an Anglo tradition.

      It’s interesting that D. H. Lawrence wrote: “Say it strong and say it hot”. Not sure if he was referring to sex, sport, passion generally etc.

      Some readers, I believe, would view the first part of your statement as a stereotype but I am interested in the ‘life-enhancing’ dimension of aspect.

      If you believe that AGW is an impending, potential disaster, threatening our environment, our world etc I can see why a term such as ‘not necessarily life-enhancing’ might be relevant.

      But the point at issue here is the language of science, its methodology, etc. It seems to me that scientific discussion, reporting etc should be conducted empirically, objectively, evidence-based etc.

      Does this mean that scientists are devoid of emotion, or care little when they win a Nobel prize or have their findings published etc? No – certainly not. Does it mean that scientists are not motivated by deep passion and concerns? No. Does it mean that climate change scientists don’t care deeply and passionately about their findings? No

      Does it mean that analysis, interpretation, the methodology of arriving at one’s findings are best conducted in language that is devoid of emotion? To my way of thinking, yes, and there are many arguments to support this.

      That is why Judith Curry’s signs of intellectual honesty(I prefer intellectual rigour) that are part of this forum discussion are of value.

      [Just in an off-topic mode: I read yesterday about a US female academic linguist who has analysed Donald Trump’s language over the last two years. She argues that he is departing from the established paradigm in the sense that most US Presidents, in their speeches, writing, interviews etc, speak in an educated, formal manner but this has prevented them from communicating effectively with those who are poor, uneducated, illiterate etc. She argues that Trump is able to reach a strata of society that previous presidents have not engaged so effectively. I am not endorsing Trump’s policies etc but his linguistic style achieves his objectives. Slip-ups like ‘shit-holes’ of course are counterproductive to other agendas he was seeking to negotiate.]

      • margaret says:

        Yes PeterD, my comment belonged in the off-topic thread and I’m basing the Anglo male trait remark on personal experience as a woman of Anglo background with a family history of men damaged by the first and second world wars. I read somewhere a quote “You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you” – that is a time and place thing – wrong time wrong place and war will sweep you up. Ramifications ensue for the generations to come.
        I think your off-topic comment about the way Trump has been able to communicate with the poor, uneducated and illiterate is interesting and even more interesting is why he resonates with so many wealthy, educated and literate.
        But again, I comment in the wrong forum . . . like a mosquito on the wall zooming in on those who sleep.

  • spangled drongo says:

    We need more like Michelle:

    “While she has a knack for making complex science comprehensible, it was her plea not to dumb science down that resonated. In an Australia Day address last year, she attacked attempts to “feminise’’ high school physics by replacing maths formulas with essays.”

    “I’m glad it’s had a positive impact. People have talked to me about changing the NSW curriculum and bringing maths back in.”


  • spangled drongo says:

    Where Larry Pickering stands:

    Many of us came from convict backgrounds, sent in to exile for stealing a coat or a loaf of bread or a silver spoon.

    Some came for murder and robbery or prostitution. Tough people.

    Many came from China to work on the Gold Fields.

    Some came from Italy to work on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity scheme.

    Some came from Hungary during the Revolution.

    Some came from Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

    But they came for a chance to work and start a new life.

    And they worked hard !!

    The Greeks, Serbs, and Irish, so many more that it would be impossible to name.

    There were no hand-outs, no privileges offered.
    These people were given a chance to start a new life, in Australia, to become Australians. And Australians they became.

    They learned English and embraced our country while offering the gift of their food and culture and music.

    We accepted that gift and sat together at the same table and laughed and drank their wine, ate their food, danced to their music and married and loved their people. As they did us.

    I have spoken with friends from Hungarian, Italian etc, backgrounds and, while they embrace and celebrate their roots, they consider themselves Australian.

    The common denominator with this terrible situation that we find ourselves in is that our current immigrant population do not want to embrace our culture but to destroy it.

    They do not want to learn our language, but to annihilate it.

    They do not want to work but to get us to work for them.

    When our feminists ignore the genital mutilation, oppression of women, rape of little children of both sexes, we have a problem.

    When our Politicians condemn an elected member of the Dutch Parliament for coming to Australia to speak his views, we have a problem.

    When Australians are callously murdered in cold blood by immigrants of any Nationality, Religion or Race and our Government offers sympathy to the family of the perpetrator of the crime before offering sympathy to the family of the victim, then we have a problem.

    When Australians are living below the poverty line and have nowhere to live while immigrants of any Nationality, Religion or Race are prioritised, then we have a problem.

    When 16,000 English-speaking skilled-professional workers are refused visas and 12,000 uneducated, non-English speaking refugees are accepted, then, guess what, we have a problem.

    When Australians are called racists and bigots for speaking out about their concerns about the above, then again, we as a Nation, have a problem.

    When people prefer to debate the best bachelor or best contestant on X Factor to debating our Nation’s future, our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future, well, you got it, we have a problem.

    When our news is censored and we have to delve in to the internet to find out what is happening in the world and in our own country, dare I say, we have a problem.

    The one thing that sets Australia apart from almost any other Nation on Earth is the Aussie spirit. It can be seen as a “she’ll be right mate” attitude that suggests apathy; or “she’ll be right mate” because we will take care of it.

    I went and saw “Bridge of Lies” yesterday and it is well worth the watch.

    The Berlin Wall was put up to separate two different Political views. It was a physical wall.

    Today, we have a wall being built in Australia.

    It is not made of bricks and mortar. It is made of censorship, Political Correctness and insidious manipulation through media control, Acts of Parliament and Social media trolls.

    There is no razor wire, no watch towers. Just the ability to call someone a racist.

    I am reminded of the words in the old childhood saying: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones – but words will never hurt me.”

    Well today, apparently words can hurt you, but only if you live on the side of the wall that our Government and Politicians have elected as the “right” side of the wall.

    No longer are people in Australia even able to scale a wall. Bullets are not needed.

    To shoot us down, all that is needed is to call us racists or bigots.

    I am hoping that the Aussie “she’ll be right mate” translates to “don’t worry,

    we will take care of it” and rise up and say that this is our country

    Friends, this is not a Refugee crisis.

    This is an Australia Crisis.

    I fear that it will be too late if something does not happen while we still have enough Aussies left.

    ~ Larry Pickering

  • spangled drongo says:

    This is what Pickering refers to:

    “Depressingly, it is booming, as the corruption of Sharia in the name of Islam, and its attendant misogyny, expands around the globe, sweeping all before it in an orgy of violence and terror.”


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