The Early Days of a Better Nation

Saturday, November 28, 2009



Guilt-tripping and hair shirts not way to go, hair-shirted Green guilt-tripper admits

Mark Lynas, who recently welcomed recession and rising oil prices, and compared flying to planting mass-casualty long-delayed time-bombs, has had something of a change of heart:
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.”

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Thursday, November 26, 2009



New poem on The Human Genre Project

'Communication Breakdown', by ecologist Julian Derry, author of Darwin in Scotland and the rather more technical Piospheres.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009



CRU hackers reveal: Climate science conducted by human beings!

The right-wing blogosphere is having a pearl-clutching fit of the vapours, modulated by a little concern trolling, over this:
“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.

And the seamy side of science, which has got poor old George Monbiot to issue a gleefully hailed apology and a disgraceful call for resignations? Science corrupted by politics? Bollocks, I say. That's what science - all science - is like. Peter Watts nails it.

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"It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star."

Thomas L. Friedman on how Red China's going Green could leave the US running to catch up. (Via.)

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Monday, November 23, 2009



Darwin discussed tonight at McEwan Hall

Late notice, I know, but a panel of distinguished academics are discussing Darwin tonight at the McEwan Hall, Teviot Place, Edinburgh. Online bookings full, but spaces available - ask at the door.

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Friday, November 20, 2009



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.

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Friday, November 13, 2009



Three new poems


Three new poems up this week at The Human Genre Project: joseph merrick's bones by Angie Werren, Chromosome 2: love remembered by Chris S. Packard, and a witty haiku/senryu by Edinburgh poet Juliet Wilson.

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.

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Monday, November 09, 2009



Chris Harman, 1942 - 2009

Chris Harman, who since the 1960s was a leading thinker and activist in the Socialist Workers Party (Britain), died on Friday. Although I didn't know him personally, his writings had a huge effect on my life, as they did on many thousands of others.

Condolences to all those who did know him, particularly his family and friends.

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Friday, November 06, 2009



Why We Fight

A 'senior serving soldier' tells The Independent about some problems with training the Afghan police:
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.
What?

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Battle of Ideas

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.

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