via Make magazine
via Make magazine
I found this as a draft but in the light of the previous post it seems apposite.
The sacking of Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is yet another demonstration, if one were needed, that the major parties in the UK (and many of the minor ones) see the politicians' role as one of control.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is an independent expert body that advises government on drug related issues in the UK. It was established under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. That Act works on the principle that drugs are classified by risk with Category A being the highest and Category C the lowest.
Back in 2007, the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to "review the classification of cannabis in the light of real public concern about the potential mental health effects of cannabis use and, in particular, the use of stronger strains of the drug."
They concluded that "after a most careful scrutiny of the totality of the available evidence, the majority of the Council’s members consider – based on its harmfulness to individuals and society – that cannabis should remain a Class C substance. It is judged that the harmfulness of cannabis more closely equates
with other Class C substances than with those currently classified as Class B.
In providing this advice, however, the Council wishes to emphasise that the use of cannabis is a significant public health issue. Cannabis can unquestionably cause harm to individuals and society. The Council therefore advises that strategies designed to minimise its use and adverse effects must be predominantly public health ones. Criminal justice measures – irrespective of classification – will have only a limited effect on usage."
Despite that evidence, the Government decided to reclassify Cannabis from Category C to Category B, in effect, because the PM had already made his mind up. He wasn't really looking for a review, he wanted a post hoc justification of his decision.
Of course this begs the question of whether this is an appropriate area for government to intervene in the first place...
I’ve finally got round to seeing ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. It is a fairly routine adventure story, topped off with great effects and lots of heroic ‘derring-do’. The nut jobs who complained about it as propaganda for the climate change lobby clearly need to get out more, because in the end the science in the film is there only to serve as a trigger for the action.
Some political points were made of course but they were nothing to do with climate change – I’m sure the irony of millions of illegal immigrants heading south over the Rio Grande into Mexico was not lost on US audiences for example. In the end though, to use the fact that a filmmaker takes liberties with the science of climate change for dramatic effect, as an argument against the reality is to say the least bizarre. I suspect that those who are still trying to deny what is going would be doing so in letters written in green ink if they didn’t have access to e-mail.
I don’t see such concern for scientific rigour in other films. As I've said before - how many buses can leap across 30 foot gaps in the roadway (Speed), how likely is it that a virus could be uploaded to a computer you've never seen, built using technology you have no idea about (Independence Day), how likely is it that you could clone a replica Hitler to take over the world (The Boys from Brazil) how likely is any of the action in any James Bond movie? And as for The Stepford Wives! Its one thing to criticise a move because it is badly written but really people - get a life!
The latest report from the IPCC seems to have finally demonstrated the reality of climate change and what we face over the next 100 years. The projections are frightening:
These predictions exclude areas of really tentative science. For example, there is no consensus about the effect of melting polar ice on currents like the Gulf Stream or about the speed with which it would happen. Because they have been excluded it is possible that the impact on sea levels would be much greater, while the impact on temperature is also uncertain. The scenario in The Day After Tomorrow is still one of the possibilities if rather more remote than once thought.
There are those scientific ignoramuses (ignorami?) who would argue that these uncertain impacts should have been included, thus widening the range of error. There are even more stupid people who decry the fact that scientists revise their views. Take this for example:
On July 24, 1974 Time Magazine published an article entitled "Another Ice Age?" Here's the first paragraph:
"As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age."
Their conclusion then was "The trend shows no indication of reversing"! And, wonders of wonders, the impossible to conceive "reversing" occurred!
Take care with this because there is some fast footwork going on. See how the conclusion ‘The trend shows no indication of reversing’ morphs into ‘impossible to conceive’? If that isn’t scientific stupidity it is intellectual dishonesty – which is even worse because it is deliberate.
However, giving these people the benefit of the doubt, they clearly do not understand the idea of scientific method and its impact on uncertainty or even the concept of statistical uncertainty. I don’t think it is accidental that the most outspoken opponents of the thesis of human driven climate change are politicians and economists. Both groups claim to have the answer to your every ill, neither group shows any sign of understanding science and in general they do not progress by admitting of uncertainty of any kind, let alone on issues such as this. In that respect I thought the exchanges between the politicians and the scientists in The Day After Tomorrow to be quite realistic, as the politicians struggle with the political impact of bad news.
Those who deny the fact of climate change and its human component seem to be resorting to ever more desperate arguments in vain attempts to undermine the basic facts. The latest uses tentative suggestions that Mars is coming out of an ice age as the basis for an argument that this proves climate change on Earth is not man made. They ignore the fact that Mars doesn’t have large bodies of water and that the drivers of its climate will therefore be very different to those on Earth. Consequently the same event – whether it be sunspots or cosmic rays or whatever else is flavour of the month – is likely to lead have different climatic consequences on the two planets. They also seem quite happy to use scientific data gathered over a relatively short timescale – and recognised by its authors as highly tentative - to dispute decades of work by thousands of scientists.
You may have come across Mr Myron Ebell (an economist), who argues that the whole thing is a conspiracy to do down the US. It is Mr Ebell, (not a climatologist) who claimed that the UK Chief Scientist didn’t know what he was talking about because he wasn’t a climatologist. Spot the flaw in that argument? I’ve seen Mr Ebell described as an intellectual terrorist and that isn’t wrong. He is certainly willing to shift his ground and argue black is white so I suppose we have to class him as a politician too. This site documents Ebell’s activities quite comprehensively.
He isn’t alone of course – take this comment on the Guardian Comment is Free site.
Environmentalists just form the rump of the social scientist west-hating morons who are actually willing the environment to collapse so they can say I told you so and blame the US.
Sadly such hysteria is all too common. It probably means a dim future for our children and grandchildren.
According to an interesting book called Deep Simplicity by John Gribbin, the frequency of earthquakes of different sizes follows what is called a ‘power law’. In other words for every 1000 quakes of magnitude 5 there are roughly 100 of magnitude 6 , 10 of magnitude 7 etc. While this is of course highly relevant if you live in San Francisco or Kobe, it has much wider implications. This law underpins the mathematics of fractals, so beloved of many computer users. Most importantly however it is scale independent – in other words large earthquakes are less likely than small ones, but do not require some unusual event to trigger them. After a large earthquake event it may be reassuring to think that it will be some time before the next one, but both statistics and the ‘power law’ say otherwise.
Looking at where the power law applies raises some interesting questions, which strike at the root of many of our cherished beliefs. As an example consider the traffic jam which occurs without any apparent cause on an otherwise free flowing road. Research at the University of Duisburg (p148) found that the number of jams of different sizes also follows a power law – in other words you don’t need a large event such as a crash to trigger a jam, it can be something as small as a car getting too close to the one in front and having to brake. Secondly however as the density of traffic increases traffic can be kept moving more smoothly by restricting the top speed, because this reduces the difference between the time to brake and the time to accelerate away again. This is the principle of the variable speed limits on the M25 and being tried elsewhere. So it really is true that if every one obeys the speed limit they get to their destination quicker.
This is interesting for other reasons too - the interaction of vehicles on the road is normally self-managing yet here is an instance where external intervention actually improves things – something likely to give libertarians apoplexy. After all - if libertarians can argue against traffic lights as an infringement of individual liberty, how will they view externally imposed speed limits?
The traffic signal was originally put up to replace the police officer on intersection duty. A police officer has the power to stop people for probable cause. If he stops someone without cause, he is abusing his power of office. Is the unnecessary delay at red lights on speculation that a driver will cause an accident an exercise of governmental power under color of law any less abusive than the action of a police officer who stops you on an unfounded suspicion that you are about to commit a crime? Traffic signal installation should not only be avoided because federal guidelines advise it and because of the damage it causes, but because the courts have ruled that the government, to protect constitutional rights, must show it uses the least restrictive means of furthering its goals. A control device that causes traffic jams is unlikely to qualify as a least restrictive means of achieving the goals the government claims to pursue.
In another example, Benoit Mandelbrot (he of fractal fame) found that the price fluctuations of commodities such as steel or cotton on the NY Stock Exchange also followed a power law. The implication of this is that large events, like for example the Stock Market crash of 1987, can happen as a result of a small trigger and don’t require an extraordinary event. More to the point the size of the outcome seems to be independent of the input. At first sight this seems to give support to those who argue against centralised economic planning since a given interest rate change can have wildly different outcomes. I assume this applies whether the rates are set by government or as now by the Monetary Policy Committee of an Independent bank of England.
This does not of course mean that human intervention cannot have an impact, only that it is unpredictable. The most important area here is probably climate change. It appears for example that species extinctions also follow a power law – meteor impacts may have triggered mass extinction for example at the time the K-T boundary was laid down, but equally large (or larger) impacts before and since have not triggered extinctions on the same scale.
If this argument holds up, it has huge implications for international policy. It would be impossible for example to predict with any certainty how effective the actions proposed in the Kyoto treaty might be, but equally we cannot predict with any certainty the impacts of what we are already doing. If ever there was a wicked problem then surely this is one.
Charlie Brooker in today's Guardian:
Install this driver. Now update it. Now update it again. Register to login to our website. Then validate your membership. Forgot your password? Click here. Now there. Fill out this form. And this one. And this one. Please wait while TimeJettison Pro examines your system. Download latest patch file. Please wait while patch file examines own navel. Remove cable. Insert cable. Gently tease USB port with cable. Yeah, that's it baby. That's the way. Now show us your bum or I'm deleting your inbox.
Buried away in the comments and the inevitable discussion of property rights on this post about the iniquities of mobile phones at Samizdata.net is this beautifully simple idea.
Maybe they need to introduce a Friendly "quiet" signal, not a jammer, so that when detected it switches to a non audible ring? Places such as conference centres, meeting rooms etc, would have these very small transmitters that send the quiet signal.
This would be an excellent addition to future mobile phone standards.
Posted by Rob Read at October 25, 2004 05:03 PM
From the New Scientist feedback column comes this gem of marketing hype
FINALLY, with so much attention being paid to not squandering resources here on planet Earth, it's good to know that there are people out there who also care about the fate of the sun. Julie Miles bought a solar-powered calculator recently that, she was assured, would switch itself off after a few minutes of activity in order to "conserve solar energy".
I'm not sure why the film 'The day after tomorrow' should be getting such attacks for its bad science - see for example this from Philip Stott.
IT IS FICTION!!! Got it? FICTION!
After all - how many buses can leap across 30 foot gaps in the roadway (Speed), how likely is it that a virus could be uploaded to a computer you've never seen, built using technology you have no idea about (Independence Day), how likely is it that you could clone a replica Hitler to take over the world (The Boys from Brazil) how likely is any of the action in any James Bond movie?
And as for The Stepford Wives!!
Its one thing to criticise a move because it is badly written but really people - get a life!