Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for October 2011

The Network of Global Control

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As the Occupy Wall Street movement transforms into Occupy X, and the protests against control of the world’s financial power spread, a new study has quantified the global network of ownership that concentrates that power. A paper published on October 26 in PloS ONE, The Network of Global Corporate Control by Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, Stefano Battiston from ETH Zurich, shows the 1%-40% figure of control is bang on the money.

The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.

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Written by Roger Jones

October 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

CEP gets up

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The government’s emissions trading legislation got up 74 votes to 72. The best legislation is the one that gets up so no complaints here and let’s move on.

My quick response to the Australian Science Media Centre:

It is good to see this legislation passed. Its main benefit will be in creating institutions and markets focussed on lower carbon technology, emissions production and in generating services for greater efficiency. It is clear from the number of industry comments so far, that this capacity is ready to go in many areas. The 2020 target is useful and can be amended but the critical target in the legislation is that of 80% reductions by 2050.

It’s also clear that the public wants to learn more about the legislation, what its benefits are and how both the costs and benefits affect them. A great deal of misinformation in the media and elsewhere has hindered this. The motives of those who cast doubt on the science in order to further their own agenda needs to be seriously questioned.

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Written by Roger Jones

October 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

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Manne on Bad News

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Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, authored the latest Quarterly Essay, Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation. He thesis is that The Australian has jettisoned the traditional newspaper role of reporter–analyst to become an active participant in federal and state politics. By becoming one of the most powerful political forces in the country, the paper enjoys “power without responsibility”.

The Australian and the rest of the News media stable leapt to the Oz’s defence against that-bully-Manne with a swathe of articles. They repeatedly defended their right to free speech; exclusive to themselves, of course. Chris Mitchell, editor of The Australian and key Manne target:

To paraphrase another high-profile commentator on media, I say to editors at Fairfax and the ABC, don’t publish crap just because it’s written by Rob Manne. Can’t be that hard (HT Mercurius).

Deltoid was mentioned by Manne for his long running The Australians War on Science series and has already summarised the Australian’s response; here’s a more in depth look at the chapter on climate change. Chris Mitchell, the editor since 2002, defends the paper’s stance of climate change, claiming:

The Australian in the past 10 years has published 29 pieces by climate change “deniers” — that is, three a year. In that period it has published thousands of news stories, opinion pieces and editorials on the issue. This paper has accepted man-made climate change since the 1980s.

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Written by Roger Jones

October 6, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Science controversy and communication

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Two new articles in Physics Today, one open access and the other behind a paywall (you need to be a member of a partner organisation to get access) cover science controversies and communicating the science of climate change.

The open access article, by Stephen Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at UNSW, is excellent (Steve also did a great presentation at Greenhouse 2011 on climate feedbacks). He covers past controversies surrounding Galileo and Copernicus and compares them with climate change. His argument skewers the contention that the Galileo movement puts up of the climate skeptic being the lone holder of true knowledge persecuted by the all-powerful Church of the Holy Global Warming Consensus.

Greenhouse warming today faces an even greater array of bogus counterarguments based on the uninformed interpretation of data from ice cores, erroneous views about natural carbon sources, alleged but unobserved alternative drivers of climate change, naive expectations of the time scales over which models and observations should match, and various forms of statistical chicanery and logical fallacy. Many of the arguments sound reasonable to an inexpert but intelligent layperson. Critics use the alleged flaws to attempt to discredit the entire field.

Debates between mainstream scientists and silver-tongued opponents cannot be won by the side of truth no matter how obvious the fallacies may be to an expert. Incredibly, as recently as the mid-19th century, a highly charismatic figure calling himself “Parallax” devoted two decades of his life to crisscrossing England arguing that Earth was flat. He debated legitimate astronomers—sometimes teams of them—in town-hall-type settings and wowed audiences. For similar reasons, Einstein himself gave up debating his critics early in the 1920s.

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Written by Roger Jones

October 6, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Manual on Scientific Evidence

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My email had a notice for the US National Academies Press and an interesting link in the just-published section. Their blurb:

The Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Third Edition, assists judges in managing cases involving complex scientific and technical evidence by describing the basic tenets of key scientific fields from which legal evidence is typically derived and by providing examples of cases in which that evidence has been used.

The chapter on How Science Works is really useful. It’s by David Goodstein, a physicist, and gives a quick tour through the development of the scientific method. It is an entertaining read, perhaps surprising for a manual. It starts with Francis Bacon who said the scientist should be an impartial observer of nature. Goodstein quickly skewers this – no serious thinker accepts that observation is done without prejudice – she must have assumptions about how the world works. Yet look around today, and you’ll find the Baconian ideal still alive and kicking (Plimer has it, for example. Ok, go ahead and laugh).

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Written by Roger Jones

October 5, 2011 at 9:12 am