October 29, 2012

Big Ideas

ABC Television

Sam Harris (1967):
Values reduce to facts about the wellbeing of conscious creatures. …
[We] are right to be more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects.
Because … there is an inner dimension there that can be modulated to a much greater degree by changes in the universe.
For changes in the universe to matter, they have to matter to some conscious system. …
(Can Science Determine Human Values?, 10 May 2011)

Mark Lewis [Lawyer]:
[The initial prosecution into phone hacking was the responsibility of] Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman.
[He subsequently left the Metropolitan Police to become] a journalist for The Times newspaper which belongs to Rupert Murdoch
[He] wrote an article which said, the phone hacking investigation in 2006 [— which uncovered one 'rogue reporter' —] was a 'proper' investigation [in which] 'not a stone was left unturned'. …
[His article was reprinted in the News of the World —] the very paper he should have been investigating …
(Politics and the Murdoch Press, 23 April 2012)

October 24, 2012

Reform and Support

Independent Media Inquiry

Professor Charles Sampford [Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law, Griffith University]:
[Effective regulation] can be seen as a form of risk management …
[A] kind of ‘institutional insurance’ against the misuse or abuse of power.
(p 283)

Twentieth Century Fund:
A free society cannot endure without a free press and the freedom of the press ultimately rests on … trust in its work.
(A Free and Responsive Press: The Twentieth Century Fund task force report for a national news council, Century Foundation Press, 1979)

The likely benefits of statutory regulation

  • The creation of an independent and transparent body for hearing complaints will right wrongs perpetrated by the media.
  • The improvement of journalistic standards.
  • Making the media, which exercises enormous power, accountable to their audiences and to those covered by the news.
  • Enabling the public to have confidence that journalistic standards will be upheld and that complaints will be resolved without fear or favour.
  • Enabling complaints that might otherwise have been resolved through lengthy and expensive litigation to be dealt in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Enhancing the public flow of information and the exchange of views.
(p 300)

October 22, 2012

Star Wars

Naomi Oreskes: Merchants of Doubt

[The Strategic Defense Initiative triggered a] backlash among the very scientists Reagan would need to build it. …
By May 1986, sixty-five hundred academic scientists had signed a pledge not to solicit or accept funds from the missile defense research program …
Scientists had never before refused to build a weapons system when the government had asked.
(p 43)

[In the 1950s] radioactive strontium had been detected in the baby teeth of children in St Louis.
Scientific work showed that it came from the US weapons testing site in Nevada, but for a long time the official position was to blame Soviet fallout.
(p 80)

October 17, 2012

Rights and Regulation

Independent Media Inquiry

AJ Liebling:
Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.
(The New Yorker, 14 May, 1960)
[Freedom] of expression is not an absolute right. …
[The] competing interests are the right to protect reputation and the public’s need to receive information and ideas.
(p 252)

An enforceable right of reply is a desirable reform for the media.
There are no significant moral or policy objections to such a right …
[There] are arguments against making a right of reply enforceable …
[However,] the advantages of enforcement outweigh the disadvantages of leaving [this to the goodwill of publishers.]
(p 260)

An enforceable right will only be needed in those cases where the media behaves contrary to their own codes.
(p 261)

October 15, 2012

Life Matters

ABC Radio National


Values and Ethics in Schools


Natasha Mitchell

  • Everybody Matters: A Memoir by Mary Robinson, 15 January 2013.
  • Values and ethics classes in schools, 28 September 2009.
    Philip Cam: Associate Professor, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales; Author, Thinking Together: Philosophical Inquiry for the Classroom.

    Richard Aedy:
    Should government schools be able to offer a secular ethics and values alternative who don't attend faith based lessons?
    In some states schools must offer … scripture or special religious education [SRE].
    The instruction's provided by representatives from different faiths in school hours.
    [Students] who opt out of religious education, can't really do anything else.
    So you hear stories of kids being put in the library, watching a DVD …
    At the moment, those kids aren't offered a secular alternative. …

    The [State] Education minister's just been presented with proposal to trial an ethics based complement to scripture in NSW state primary schools.
    The man who will devise the curriculum for the proposed trial, under the auspices of the St James Ethics Centre is [Philip Cam (an internationally recognized expert in the area of philosophical and ethical inquiry for children).]

    Philip Cam:
    [Religious education in schools] goes right back to the beginning of free secular state education system … when a bargain was struck with the churches.
    [When] the state took over education from the churches, they put in this provision, so that provision has been there since the late 19th century.
    It's part of the state legislation for education …

    In relation to the kids that go to scripture, they're getting an extra special extension of that … in terms of their own faith and beliefs or their parent's faith and belief system.
    The other kids are now not getting that extension.
    They're not getting that opportunity to think further about ethics frameworks. …

    [Some] faith based groups are actually interested in this.
    In having some ethics based material that they could use to strengthen what they do.
    So what's on offer here … is something that could be helpful to other faith based groups. …

    [In] part it's a social justice issue, because [at the moment,] if you don't have religion, you get nothing at all. …

    Richard Aedy:
    You have to opt out.
    You are automatically opted in.
    That's the default position. …

    Philip Cam:
    [And if] those kid's parents opt out …
    Why should [the kids] thereby be disadvantaged?
    Why should it be religion or nothing? …

    Richard Aedy:
    [The] Inter-church Commission of Religious Education in Schools [has] come out against this idea; even though the proposal does not advocate that ethcs and values based education replace religious education for those parents who want it. …

    Philip Cam:
    I'd understood that the St James Ethics Centre had made approaches to a number of faith based groups and, in fact, had a wide range of support from faith based groups. …

    Richard Aedy:
    The St James Ethics Centre has been working on this [since 2003.]

    Philip Cam:
    In the past … when this was taken to [two education] ministers in succession.
    One of the things that was suggested was that there wasn't a ground swell of support for this in the community. …
    In fact, once you start looking around in the community, you find there's a huge amount of support for this.
    [At] the NSW Parents and Citizens associations [AGM this year] there was absolutely unanimous support for this proposal. …

    [What's being proposed is] a 10 week pilot in [seven schools for] kids in the last 2 years of primary school. …
    What they would get is 10 different lessons, each on a different issue [—] friendship, bullying, lying and telling the truth, ganging up on kids …
    A whole range of things like that, that come within the experience of these kids in their everyday lives.
    [And] rather than now being told what to think about those things; they'd be presented with … problematic little scenarios that they could relate to. …
    They would discuss these [situations] in small groups and [as a class] with a view to exploring these issues together. …

    Richard Aedy:
    You want to give them the tools, to work things out for themselves. …

    Philip Cam:
    It's a matter of them using their reason, in the right sort of social setting.
    To think about, and reflect upon, conduct and ethical issues and ideas. …

    [It's] about wellbeing …
    Kid's who have been able to think about conduct, about issues and problems, and learnt how to deal with them, are going to be in a better position to take control of all the kinds of problems and issues that they have to confront in their lives than kids who have not had that opportunity.
    [Ethical] reflection, is something that could help to support that process.

October 13, 2012

John Grant

Green Army: Persons of Interest

John Kerry (1943):
You can be certain and be wrong.
(Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W Bush, Ron Suskind, New York Times, 2004, emphasis added)

Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953) — in response to Beria's doubts about the ideological soundness of their atomic weapons' scientists:
Leave them in peace.
We can always shoot them all later.
(p 269)

John Grant:
[A] 1997 survey found that 40% of US scientists believed they could communicate with God and that He was capable of answering their prayers. …
[Reassuringly] 87% of the US adult population believed the same thing, so a scientific education is … not entirely wasted.
(p 85, emphasis added)

Reality is not affected by human preferences …
(Corrupted Science, 2007, p 237)

October 12, 2012

Guy Pearse

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Coal in Electricity Generation in 2012

South Africa93%

(World Coal Association)

Guy Pearse:
[Australia is] the world's third-biggest carbon exporter (behind Saudi Arabia and Russia).
(On Borrowed Time and Borrowed Carbon, Goodbye to All That?, 2010)

[Since] 2000, the Lavoisier Group has co-ordinated the local fight against the science.
(p 34)

Harold Clough [Lavoisier Group, 28 August 2000]:
[The Kyoto Protocol is the] most serious challenge to our sovereignty since the Japanese fleet entered the Coral Sea on 3 May 1942.
(p 24)

Lavoisier Group:
[There's] an understanding in the [Howard] Cabinet that [climate] science is all crap.
(Quarry Vision, 2009, p 44)

Carbon Tracker / Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment:
… 60–80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of listed firms are unburnable.
[The] top 200 oil and gas and mining companies have allocated up to $674 billion in the last year for finding and developing more reserves and new ways of extracting them.
(Unburnable Carbon 2013: Wasted capital and stranded assets, p 4)

October 9, 2012

Merchants of Doubt

Naomi Oreskes

Brown and Williamson Tobacco:
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the general public.
(Memo to R A Pittman, 21 August 1969)

Frank Luntz (1962):
[A] compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth. …
Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.
Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.
(Republican Candidate Briefing, 2002)

Charles Krauthammer (1950):
With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism …
[The] Left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green.
Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will [soon] be regulating practically everything …
Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life …
(Washington Post)

Thomas Sowell (1930) [Hoover Institution]:
[There] has not been a mass murderer executed in the past half-century who has been responsible for as many deaths … as the sainted Rachel Carson. …
(Jewish World Review, 7 June 2001)

Tina Rosenberg (1960):
Silent Spring is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. …
(New York Times Magazine, 11 April 2004)

Pete Du Pont (1935):
[Environmental] controls were [considered] more important than the lives of human beings. …
(Wall Street Journal Online, 21 February 2007)

John Tierney (1953) [Science Columnist]:
[Silent Spring was a] hodgepodge of science and junk science. …
(New York Times, 2007)

Angela Logomasini:
Carson was wrong, and millions of people continue to pay the price. …
(San Francisco Examiner, 28 May 2007)

Millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm …
That person is Rachel Carson.
(Dangerous Legacy, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 21 April 2009)

Linda Lear:
It is one of the great paradoxes of the human condition that, while we are almost paranoid in our vigilance in regard to taking toxins into our bodies, we are all but oblivious to the possibility of poisoning our planet.
(Introduction to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962)

Rachel Carson Was Right

[Rachel Carson (1907–1964) is an American hero …
[A] courageous woman who … called our attention to the harms of indiscriminate pesticide use …
(p 216)

DDT does
  • cause cancer …
  • affect human health, and …
  • cost human lives. …
There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that millions of lives have been needlessly lost [due to the withdrawal of DDT.]
[In fact,] there is substantial scientific evidence that a good deal of harm — both to humans and the other species [—] has been avoided. …
(p 229, emphasis added)

An Orwellian Problem

The network of right-wing foundations, the corporations that fund them, and the journalists who echo their claims have created a tremendous problem for American science.
[Of] the fifty six "environmentally skeptical" books published in the 1990s, 92 percent were linked to these right-wing foundations (only thirteen were published in the 1980s, and 100 percent were linked to the foundations).
Scientists have faced an ongoing misrepresentation of scientific evidence and historical facts that brands them as public enemies — even mass murderers — on the basis of phony facts. …

[The] Soviet Union routinely engaged in historical cleansing, erasing real events and real people from their official histories and even official photographs. …
The right-wing defenders of American liberty have now done the same.
(p 236)

[Pollution is a "negative externality", which imposes costs] on people who [do] not benefit from the economic activity that produced them.
DDT imposed enormous external costs through the destruction of ecosystems; acid rain, secondhand smoke, the ozone hole, and global warming did the same.
[These are] all market failures [requiring government] intervention [to address them.]
This is why free market ideologues and old Cold Warriors joined together to fight them.
(p 237)

[Cold Warriors like] Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, Robert Jastrow and Bill Nierenberg, and later Dixy Lee Ray … joined forces with the [worshippers] of the free market:
  • to blame the messenger,
  • to undermine science,
  • to deny the truth, and
  • to market doubt.
[They] embraced … the very things they had hated Soviet Communism for:
  • its lies,
  • its deceit,
  • its denial of the very realities it had created. …
If science … challenged the freedom of free enterprise … then they would fight it as they would fight any enemy.
(p 238)

[Science is showing] that certain kinds of [freedom] are not sustainable — [such as] the liberty to pollute.
[It is] showing that Isaiah Berlin was right: liberty for wolves does indeed mean death to lambs.
(p 239)

Science and Democracy

[On the issue of persistent pesticides,] science and democracy worked as they were supposed to.
Independent scientific experts summarized the evidence.
Polls showed that the public supported strong legislation to protect the environment.
… Nixon supported the creation of the EPA not because he was a visionary environmentalist, but because he knew that the environment would be an important issue in the 1972 presidential election.
Our leaders acted in concert with both science and the will of the people.
(p 222)

October 2, 2012


Independent Media Inquiry

Paul Chadwick [Media Ethics Commentator, 1996]:
[Media] concentration has reached the point where no legislature would have the courage to enact a statutory scheme of journalism ethics and then to enforce it against the largest media outlets.
(p 209)

Alan Rusbridger [Editor In Chief, The Guardian, Orwell Memorial Lecture, 2011]:
The simplest explanation [for the lack of action] is a combination of fear, dominance and immunity.
People were frightened of this very big, very powerful company and the man who ran it. …
[News International] had become the untouchables of British public life.
(p 210)

British Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport:
[We] believe that statutory regulation of the press is a hallmark of authoritarianism and risks undermining democracy.
[Self-regulation] must be seen to be effective if calls for statutory intervention are to be resisted.
(February 2011)

Of the 25 countries deemed to have the greatest freedom of the press, 21 have systems of self-regulation.
(p 221)

[There] is general agreement in the codes on the values and standards that publishers and journalists should observe. …
On the other hand, there are few effective institutional measures for enforcing the codes. …

An ombudsman could be an effective accountability mechanism.
[However, few have been appointed, and fewer still given sufficient power to be effective.]
(p 203)

[There is a clear impression that the Australian] media will not tolerate, let alone finance, an effective industry regulator.
The principal basis for resisting reform is that it is an attack on a free press. …

[Given that the media] accepted the idea of press regulation by having set up the [Australian Press Council; it follows logically] that that regulation should be effective. …

[It is questionable whether] the effect on freedom of the press is any different in substance [if] the underpinning for the complaints body is statutory or, as with the APC, contractual.
The real objection to statutory backing is about how the power might be misused in the future …
(p 244, italics added)

[The Australian Press Council] accepts that to implement the reforms [necessary for it to] become an effective regulator, government … support is required [in the areas of:]
  • funding,
  • the conferral of powers of investigation and enforcement and
  • the mandating … of membership.
(p 242)