Ken MacLeod's comments.
The title comes from two quotes:
“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.
“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders
If the lesson for scientists is that the era when they can practice their trade entirely separately from the rest of society is well and truly over, the lesson for environmentalists is equally harsh. Having spent years (once again, myself included) reminding the public of the horrifying potential consequences of climate change, and demanding major lifestyle change on the part of ordinary people, it seems that our message is not just falling on deaf ears – but may even be counterproductive.
We have to start accentuating the positive, rather than constantly invoking apocalypse. Getting off fossil fuels is a necessity, but that does not mean that people’s lives must be made harder or more austere. Forget all the “war economy” analogies, locally grown jam and appeals to save old clothes. Our message needs to be a forward-looking one of hope, prosperity and technological progress.
We also have to stop trying to make people feel guilty. No, flying isn’t analogous to child abuse. Polar bears won’t drop from the sky. Constantly accusing normal people of immoral behaviour is perhaps a way to get noticed, but not a clever way to win converts. And the normal people in question, upset at being accused of killing babies every time they step onto Ryanair, will be very susceptible to the first conspiracy theorist who whispers in their ear: “Don’t worry, it’s not true.”
“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”
These 33 words, it seems, are all most of them need to convince themselves they're living in a Michael Crichton novel, and they're an army of Davids, each lockstep blogpost slinging another shiny wet pebble from the brook at the glowering forehead of the Giant Green Climate Machine. And did you know that Al Gore is rich and Michael Moore is fat?
Few have stopped to think that 'adding in the real temp[erature]s' is a curious way to hide a decline in global temperatures, let alone that a decline in global temperatures for the past half-century would be hard to cover up. Even fewer have bothered to examine the context. What all this suggests to me is that the CRU scientists are probably right, and that most of the 'climate sceptics' are anything but sceptics.
The body in the library: crime authors discuss forensic science
I was going to blog about our very successful second Social Session, with Ian Rankin, Lin Anderson and Steve Sturdy, but I see that Edinburgh City Libraries' own blog has beaten me to it, with photos and everything.
If you haven't looked at it before, and even if you have, check it out. We now have around sixty items, some by established writers, others by new writers, and all with something worth saying and well said. And of course, if you have a poem, short story, flash fiction or personal reflection - or if you know anyone who does - inspired by genetics or genomics, you know what to do: Send it in.
We went out to Helmand to mentor the Afghan National Police without understanding the level they were at. We thought we would be arresting people, helping them to police efficiently. Instead we were literally training them how to point a gun on the ranges, and telling them why you should not stop cars and demand "taxes".
Most of them were corrupt and took drugs, particularly opium. The lads would go into police stations at night and they would be stoned; sometimes they would fire indiscriminately at nothing.
It was difficult just getting them to a basic level, to do things like man a post. They would take drugs, go to sleep, leave their post, have sex with each other.
Last Saturday I took part in a panel on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and the 'designer babies' controversy at Battle of Ideas, an annual festival of discussion organised by the Institute of Ideas (IoI). The panel, 'Frankenstein's Daughters: from science fiction to science fact?', sponsored by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Wellcome Trust, was chaired by Science Media Centre director Fiona Fox. Leading fertility specialist and practioner Dr Alan Thornhill opened with a presentation on the realities of PGD. Mark Henderson, science editor at The Times, argued that regulation must be based on what's possible, without 'straying into science fiction'. I agreed, but pointed out that science fiction has debated some current real issues decades in advance. Sandy Starr, of the Progress Educational Trust, added that science fiction, and bold speculation generally, keeps us in mind of the 'big picture', future possibilities, and moral arguments.
The audience response came from several different points of view, and a stimulating dialogue developed. Ann Furedi of BPAS, from the floor, questioned the widespread idea of ethics as being about what we shouldn't do, rather than about what we should - a point that turned my closing response into a little rant about just what a change there would be if more of us started thinking in terms of what we bloody well should be doing.
I stayed for the weekend (as a speaker, my hotel room paid for by the IoI, for which thanks) and attended as many events as I could fit in. They were for the most part just as interesting. I'm well aware that the IoI is controversial, and I don't agree with everything that they do and say, but I'll say this for them: Almost every knot of conversation I encountered, over two days and two long evenings, was a group of people arguing about ideas. You don't come across that very often, even at SF conventions.