Atheism and Science

Recently I came across the tweet  shown below and not for the first or last time it left me wondering if there is something wrong with my critical thinking skills.
Christian Guy (yes that appears to be his real name) is a new Special Adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron. He previously led the Centre for Social Justice so must know what he is talking about. However his praise for the quote shown below (taken from Prof John Lennox on faith, atheism and science, from his recent ‘Against the Flow’ lecture) left me puzzled.
As far as I can see the extract starts by attacking some ‘straw man’ arguments based on a misunderstanding of the term atheism and the process of science. It then goes on to quote a made up story that could not have taken place with real scientists and finishes with a statement that is not supported by the quoted text.

Christian Guy ‏@ChristianGuy_  Aug 3 Brilliant by @ProfJohnLennox on faith, atheism and science, from his recent 'Against the Flow' lecture.

My responses to the quoted extract:

  • Atheism is not the denial of the existence of God it is a disbelief in God. Disbelief is not the same as denial, it’s the absence of belief. It does not involve faith.  (Atheism is a faith the way that “not skiing” is a hobby.*)
  • We do not need faith to do science.  We do not need faith that the universe is accessible by the human mind.  We may work on this assumption backed up by evidence. Our mobile phones depend on relativity and quantum mechanics. The observable fact that these theories are so successful would seem to be strong evidence that our understanding is linked in some way to how the universe actually works. But we are not naive, science teaches us humility. We can’t be sure that our scientific progress is moving us closer to understanding the universe. We can’t even be sure that human minds are capable of understanding the universe or answering the fundamental questions about the universe.  We carry on – driven by curiosity, hope and evidence but not faith. Above all, a good scientist has the humility to accept that he or she may be mistaken.
  • No one believes that the “brain is the end product of a mindless unguided process” This is not a sufficient description of the process of evolution.
  • The final few concluding sentences do not seem to be supported by, or related to, any of the points in the selected passage.

I would be grateful if someone would let me know where I have made a mistake in my understanding of the text, or in my logic or reasoning.

In particular I would appreciate it if anyone could explain to me why the extract is “brilliant”.

I am not trying to be rude or offensive or a troll. I am simply puzzled that people who are clearly intelligent, well educated and have positions of power or influence can hold views that, as far as I can see, are self evidently flawed.

(* Quote attributed to Ricky Gervais)

Atrocious Daily Mail reporting incites a junior Doctor to respond

After reading this in the Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2580846/Accountant-fights-life-trainee-doctor-tried-unblock-windpipe-like-drain-tore-4cm-hole-it.html … junior doctor @JennyMHughes sent a response to the journalist (Emma Innes). You wont find it in the comment sections of the Daily Mail so I have reproduced it here:

Continue reading “Atrocious Daily Mail reporting incites a junior Doctor to respond”

BBC Wiltshire MORNING SHOW with Conservative MP for Salisbury John Glen

BBCWilts1

BBCWilts2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Glen is very keen to support constituents who don’t want wind farms near their properties but in this question and answer session on BBC Wiltshire local radio he failed to give the same support to those constituents who might have similar objections to fracking.

You can listen to the answer at this link, just move the slider to:   01:31:20     http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01np4wq  (Unfortunately this is no longer available on the BBC web site).

The question was clear and simple. It did not compare the pros and cons of the two technologies. The question simply asked Mr Glen to assure us that he would give the same support to his constituents worried about fracking as he had already promised to constituents worried about wind turbines.  That assurance was not forthcoming.

The reality is that the government wants to give local communities the power to reject wind farms but not fracking projects.

So much for the government’s “Localism Agenda”. In plain English this means that local communities are free to make their own decision only if those decisions coincide with government plans.

Summary (a text book example  of double standards and irrationality):

John Glen is against wind farms, against subsidising wind farms and in favour of giving local councils powers to reject wind farms.

John Glen is in favour of: fracking, in favour of subsidising fracking and in favour of giving local councils a financial incentive to approve fracking.

 Latest opinion poll results:
support for windfarms etc

 

 

Full letter from MPs to David Cameron on wind power subsidies:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9061554/Full-letter-from-MPs-to-David-Cameron-on-wind-power-subsidies.html

 

“Blow for George Osborne as Tory council chiefs oppose fracking in Chancellor’s constituency”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fracking/10574951/Blow-for-George-Osborne-as-Tory-council-chiefs-oppose-fracking-in-Chancellors-constituency.html

Fossil fuel generators get six times the constraint payments that wind does. But it doesn’t get reported. (H/T Wiltshire Clean Air Alliance):
http://www.scottishrenewables.com/news/sr-calls-greater-transparency-constraint-payments/

Barra turbine could be one of most productive in Western Europe: http://www.stornowaygazette.co.uk/news/local-headlines/barra-turbine-could-be-one-of-most-productive-in-western-europe-1-3267281

Emails reveal UK helped shale gas industry manage fracking opposition – Government officials accused of cheerleading for fracking by sharing ‘lines to take’ and meeting for post-dinner drinks:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/17/emails-uk-shale-gas-fracking-opposition?CMP=twt_gu

UK defeats European bid for fracking regulations – blocks attempts to make environmental safeguards legally binding:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/14/uk-defeats-european-bid-fracking-regulations

UPDATE 6th March 2014): Eric Pickles guilty of ‘double standards’ over energy planning applications: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/06/eric-pickles-double-standards-fracking-windfarm?utm_source=Energydesk+Daily+Email&utm_campaign=83885435a5-Energydesk_Dispatch5_9_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ad1a620334-83885435a5-50269929

Global Warming and Climate Change: The Reality

If you thought that cold weather in the UK meant that global warming isn’t happening, take a look at this (it shows temperature compared to the 20th Century average for the period Jan – May 2013):
201301-201305Check here for the latest monthly info: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/

 

 

If you thought that articles in the Mail or Telegraph claiming that temperatures haven’t increased for over ten years meant that we can discount global warming, take a look at this graph of global surface temperature change since 1970.

The animated graph shows how easy it is to show cooling, or no change in temperature, where there are large short temperature fluctuations but warming is still the long term trend.

 

Escalator_2012_500

See here for more: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

We haven’t hit the global warming pause button: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/jun/24/global-warming-pause-button

 

Leveson, Global Warming and the Lies of James Delingpole and the Daily Mail

One aspect of the Leveson inquiry that has been played down but is as important as the corrupt relationship between media and politicians is the lack of ethical or professional accountability of the press. There is no doubt that some of our national news papers have a scant regard for truth and honesty in their presentation of news and opinion.  In fact they are often little more than propaganda outlets for their owners, resulting in such levels of misinformation that it is almost impossible to have a sensible public debate on many issues.

Once such issue is Global Warming where papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph (and phony think tanks like Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Forum) have waged a particularly poisonous and vicious campaign to undermine not just climate science but science and rational debate in general.  In both papers there are a number of writers who have no qualms about misrepresenting facts and often simply lying.

Today  the latest example of this phenomenon is an article by James Delingpole in the Daily Mail about a report from the UK Met Office.  In his usual style Delingpole misrepresents or lies about nearly every aspect of the report.  In a civilised, democratic,  rational society, Delingpole and the Mail would be held to account and forced to issue a retraction and apology.

Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen, the Leveson report has been kicked into the long grass by David Cameron and the lies and deceit of the Mail and Delingpole will continue to poison any attempt at rational debate about climate science.

In the words of Winston Churchill (who stole them from Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon (19th C)  “A lie will be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on”

Here is the Delingpole article in the Daily Mail

Here is the Met Office’s response:

Resolving Confusion Over the Met Office Statement and Continued Global Warming  (Skeptical Science)

Was there ANYTHING in James Delingpole’s Daily Mail piece which was true?

 Met Office hits back at ‘inaccuracies’ in James Delingpole article (David Batty guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 January 2013)

BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme admits that it got the science wrong – yet again.  The editor and John Humphrys need to do a GCSE science Course – little hope of that.

 

 

Politics, Science and Evidence Based Policy

Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science: Over the Christmas period an article by Brian Cox and Robin Ince in the New Statesman sparked an interesting and refreshing discussion about the nature of science and its relation to politics.  The Cox – Ince article summarises the issues in layman’s terms and made the conclusions seem self evident. I found it impossible to disagree with any of their points.

Jack Stilgoe and Jon Butterworth both wrote critiques of the article which are well worth reading as are some of the accompanying comments.  (Good to see a mainly intelligent, thoughtful on line debate.)  However despite carefully studying these articles and responses I could not avoid the conclusion that the authors either misinterpreted what Cox- Ince were saying or were just nitpicking around the periphery of the issues.  Both well worth reading though.

Anther excellent article was Kenneth Perrott’s defence of  Cox – Ince.

Evidence-Based Policy: Immediately after Christmas a Twitter discussion about evidence based policy was initiated by a BBC R4 programme (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence) in which Medic and author Ben Goldacre explores the idea of Evidence-Based Policy and asks if it can ever become a reality in the UK.  This is essential listening for all politicians and anyone interested in the issues.  I have added some useful additional links on evidence based policy at the end of this post.

Two cultures: This is another radio programme broadcast early in the new year that is worth listening to:  BBC R4 “The Two Cultures”.  Melvyn Bragg considers the 150-year history of the Two Cultures debate. In 1959 the novelist C.P. Snow delivered a lecture in Cambridge suggesting that intellectual life had become divided into two separate cultures: the arts and the humanities. This is still a problem today.  Includes an interview with Paul Nurse.

Cox – Ince articles and critiques:
Brian Cox and Robin Ince: Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science (New Statesman 18th Dec 2012)
Jack Stilgoe: Science and politics need counselling, not a separation  (Friday 21 December 2012)
Jon Butterworth: Science is not political, except when it is (Wednesday 26 December 2012)
Historians and sociologists lecture scientists – about science (Ken Perrott, 27th Dec 2012)


The BBC R4 programme on Evidence Based Policy:
BBC R4 programme (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Evidence)

Further links on Evidence Based Policy:
Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials (Cabinet office 14/6/2012)
LSE Blog on evidence based policy by Jeremy Hardie and Nancy Cartwrigh(19th Oct 2012)
National Institute of Economic and Social Research(www.niesr.ac.uk)
Innovations for Poverty Action and Dean Karlan (www.poverty-action.org)
Medical Research Council (www.mrc.ac.uk)
The Education Endowment Foundation(educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk)

BBC R4 Radio programme “The Two Cultures”:
BBC R4 “The Two Cultures”

Our Government is cutting spending on flood defences, coastguards, helicopters, rescue services, & local services. Who will rescue flooded communities in the future?

Flood defences:

At a time of increasing flood risk our government has cut back spending on current and future flood defences, as well as cutting back on the rescue services, coast guard etc.  There is no evidence that A4E, Serco, Capita, Virgin or any of the foreign owned water companies are going to step in and look after our flood defences without tax payers footing the bill and directors awarding themselves million pound bonuses for simply doing their job, or not, as so frequently happens.

We are already seeing results of this where promised flood defences have not been completed in time for the current wet weather.

In its enthusiasm to deregulate, the government has allowed the construction industry and property developers to write their own revision to the planning regulations allowing them greater freedom to construct housing when and where it suits them, which could, as in the past,  include flood plains and other areas susceptible to flooding. This of course would hold no risk to the developers, the risk being born mainly by homeowners and then by the tax payer.  (As climate change and increased risk of domestic flooding becomes apparent insurance companies are refusing to re-insure homes in flood prone areas)

For more information check these links:

John Vidal: The rain falls – while the government pulls the plug on flood defences  (The Guardian, Friday 28 December 2012)

Damian Carrington: Hundreds of UK flood defence schemes unbuilt due to budget cuts (The Guardian, Saturday 14 July 2012)

‘Battle of Ideas’ and ‘Spiked On Line’

I just happened to take look at the Battle of Ideas debates for 20th/21st Oct and noticed that the on line magazine Spiked seemed to be surprisingly well represented.  At least 12 of the speakers are either current or past writers for Spiked.  As a comparison the Guardian had 9 speakers.  As Spiked is a little known organisation with a right wing contrarian / libertarian agenda, this seems strange but not inconsistent with the concerns raised by commentators like George Monbiot.  Writers for ‘Spiked’ have complained that they are unfairly treated by the likes of Monbiot but as an independent observer it does seem strange to me that so many names from such a small publication appear in a set of debates arranged by an organisation that is promoting free and open debate.

Update:
The more I peruse the Battle of Ideas web site the more suspicious I become. Speakers from the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and ‘Spiked on line’ dominate the debates.  The writing of these same people dominate the suggested reading for the debates. In this example: Not in front of the children: are our kids oversexualised? , of eight articles in the suggested reading list, three were from Spiked on Line / Institute of Ideas writers all taking the same ideological stance.

The Institute of Ideas and Spiked on Line clearly have an ideological agenda which is fair enough.  But is their influence on the Battle of Ideas clear to all the attendees and speakers at the debates? I suspect not.

Updated Update:
When I look in detail at the content of items in ‘Battle of Ideas – Hot off the press‘ I cannot avoid the impression that there is an agenda to promote a particular set of ideas without this being made explicit.   Is this appropriate for a conference encouraging open debate?

Oh, and finally, it seems as if the ‘Battle of Ideas’ has an obsessive concern for the freedom of smokers but conversely little concern for the freedom of parents to bring up children in the absence of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.

Am I being paranoid? Anyone prepared to agree or disagree with my observations??

Final Conclusion I did not attend the 20/21 Oct Battle of Ideas but did follow the Twitter Feed.  From this  admittedly weak evidence it appeared that there were some interesting debates and many participants enjoyed the event. However the Tweets from the plenary indicated that this was first and foremost an opportunity for Furedi, Hume, Fox, et al to promote their idiosyncratic neoelibertarian views on freedom.  Their influence pervaded the two days.    I will follow future debates with renewed interest.

Here is the list of those I identified as being linked to Spiked that were speaking at the weekend’s debates (there may be more):

Duleep Allirajah, sports columnist, spiked; ‘long-suffering’ Crystal Palace fan

Tim Black, editor, spiked Review of Books; journalist, spiked

David Bowden, coordinator, UK Battle Satellites; poetry editor, Culture Wars; TV columnist, spiked

Neil Davenport, writer; head of sociology, JFS Sixth Form Centre; contributor, spiked

Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze

Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury; author,Wasted, Politics of Fear and On Tolerance: in defence of moral independence

Ann Furedi, chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service

Helene Guldberg, director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood and Just Another Ape?

Patrick Hayes, journalist and political commentator, spiked; columnist, Huffington Postand Free Society

Mick Hume, editor-at-large, spiked; author, There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press …and we need one more than ever

Rob Lyons, deputy editor, spiked; writer on science and risk; author, Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder

Brendan O’Neill, editor, spiked; author, Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas

References:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/dec/09/highereducation.uk2

http://rcpwatch.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/40/

http://www.skeptic.org.uk/magazine/articles/49-beware-the-ambassadors-of-science

http://www.spinwatch.org/blogs-mainmenu-29/andy-rowell-mainmenu-30/4203-coincidence-or-conspiracy

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=193769&sectioncode=26

Matt Ridley – failed banker and rightwing neolibertarian propagandist.

“Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley, FRSL, FMedSci, DL, known commonly as Matt Ridley, is a British scientist, journalist, and popular author and a member of the House of Lords.”  Sounds impressive doesn’t it? Now read on:

Hereditary Viscount, Mathew Ridley (The Rational Optimist) is promoted as “a renowned science writer, journalist, biologist, and businessman”. But what is carefully whitewashed out of his biography is the information that Matthew Ridley is a “failed banker”. Ridley was chairman* of the Northern Rock Bank (2004-2007) where his ill-considered investments in sub-prime mortgages led to the bank’s collapse and nationalization.  When it collapsed it suffered the first run on a British bank in 150 years and contributed to the near melt down of the financial system of the western world. The result was that this neolibertarian propagandist who believes in small government and low taxes had to go to the government and tax payer for a £27 billion bailout.

(* Note: his father had been chairman of Northern Rock before him so I guess Matt Ridley’s  Chairmanship at the bank  was another hereditary position – there is certainly no record of him getting the position through merit)

Although Ridley has a science degree he has never, to my knowledge, been a working scientist and has no expertise in Climate science and yet writes as if he is an authority on this subject.

Matt Ridley ruined Northern Rock.  Fred Goodwin ruined the Royal Bank of Scotland.  Fred Goodwin’s career is in tatters, he seems to have gone to ground and no one is asking his advice on anything and yet Matt Ridley seems to have no trouble getting his articles published, why?  Perhaps it is not the veracity of what he has to say but simply what he says that suits those right wing organisations that seem so keen to publish his work.

Before taking Ridley seriously, consider all those investors and employees of Northern Rock who have, and in many cases still are, suffering real financial hardship because of his incompetence, hubris and failed neolibertarian ideology.

Would you trust someone who, after a lifetime of privilege and entitlement, had caused the first run on a British Bank in over 150 years and then went to the tax payer for a £27 billion bailout?

UPDATE: (6th Feb 2013) Hereditary Viscount,  Matt Ridley, failed banker, ex Chair of failed Northern Rock, has been elected as hereditary Peer to the House of Lords by 24 hereditary peers.   21st Century?? Reward for failure?? Old boys club?? Member of the 1%.  Democracy???

UPDATE: (20th Nov 2013) The list of failed bankers who had managed to get top jobs in banking despite having no relevant prior experience gets longer by the week.   Here are the ones I know about: Andy Hornby (HBOS), Matt Ridley (Northern Rock), Fred Goodwin (RBS) and now Rev Paul Flowers (COOP BANK) all  managed to crash their bank – brilliant.  I dare say there are more – we probably only have to wait a week or two find out.

 

 UPDATE (18th Oct 2013): Matt Ridley has published yet another of his irrationally optimistic articles “Why climate change is good for the world” This has, as usual, been taken up enthusiastically by the right wing press so here is a useful rebuttal:
“Lord Ridley’s flawed article in ‘The Spectator'” ( Bob Ward, London School of Economics, Grantham Institute, Oct 2013):
http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/Media/Commentary/2013/Oct/lord-ridleys-flawed-article-spectator.aspx

See also:

“What Matt Ridley won’t tell you about climate change impacts” (17 October 2013 by Chris Hope)  http://www.chrishopepolicy.com/2013/10/what-matt-ridley-wont-tell-you-about-climate-change-impacts/

“No, climate change will not be good for the world” (Duncan Geere New Statesman 17 OCTOBER 2013):
http://www.chrishopepolicy.com/2013/10/what-matt-ridley-wont-tell-you-about-climate-change-impacts/

UPDate (March 2014):  “Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm” in the Wall Street Journal is the latest disinformation from Matt Ridley.  Here is a response:  Matt Ridley op-ed is a laundry list of IPCC misrepresentations.  http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/author/climatesciencewatch/

 

See the links below for more information on this so called ‘expert’:

Matt Ridley – Wired for Lukewarm Catastrophe (Skeptical Science 29 Aug 2012)

The Ridley Riddle Part One: The Red Queen (Skeptical Science 30 July 2011)

The Ridley Riddle Part Two: The White Queen (Skeptical Science 7 Aug 2011)

The Ridley Riddle Part Three: Like a Northern Rock (Skeptical Science 12 Aug 2011)

The Right’s Whitewashing Of History (Liam McLaughlin, Huffington Post, 10/09/2012)

Matt Ridley – The Man Who Wants to Northern Rock the Planet (George Monbiot June 1 2010)

Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist is telling the rich what they want to hear – The ex-Northern Rock man is in denial about his book’s mistakes (George Monbiot, Guardian 18th June 2010)

If the Northern Rock fiasco was a morality tale, it was more about hubris than greed (Giles Fraser, The Guardian, Friday 14 September 2012)

“Cherry-picked reality: How fantasy is maintained by false scepticism” A critique of Matt Ridley’s “Rational Optimist” (warning – a lengthy article but worth reading if you have time)  http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/06/matt-ridley-comments.html … (New Scientist 10th June 2010)

 UPDATE 24th July 2014: New article by George Monbiot illustrating once again the bankruptcy of the neo-liberal agenda:
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jul/24/price-nature-neoliberal-capital-road-ruin

 

Wiltshire Council ordered to consult public over wind farm plan

Some political groups have a problem with reality – it does not fit their ideology. Similarly they have a problem with public debate and democracy, which tend to hinder the passing of laws and regulations that cannot be backed up with evidence and rational argument.

And so:

On June 26th, with no prior consultation, Wiltshire Council voted through an amendment to Policy 42 of its Core Strategy Submission Document that will effectively prevent wind turbines from being built anywhere in Wiltshire.  It was claimed that this amendment was based on safety concerns but these have absolutely no basis in fact or reality.  This was an attempt at subverting democracy for ideological reasons.

Onshore wind is one of the safest forms of energy generation. There are no recorded cases of any member of the public being killed or seriously injured during the normal operation of a wind turbine.

Suggesting that safety was the reason for the amendment was, at best, disingenuous. (Click here for a fact and evidence based view of the safety issues)

Trying to slip the amendment through without consultation makes a mockery of the government’s ‘Localism’ agenda.

Luckily a planning inspector has told Wiltshire Council they must go back and consult the public.

If you would like to be involved in that consultation go to the Wiltshire Clean Energy Alliance and sign up to be kept informed about the process or just return here – I will post more information about the consultation when it is available).

There is obviously a debate to be had about siting of wind farms and some of this will be subjective but the technical side of the argument – safety, efficiency cost, environmental pros and cons etc., must be based on facts, evidence and rational debate not prejudice and ideology. Wiltshire Council have made a serious error of judgment in trying to slip through a doctrinaire policy amendment without consultation.  It is up to us to ensure that this is not repeated.

Anger over wind power strategy (Salisbury Journal, 22nd Aug 2012)

Wiltshire’s wind regulation: blowing evidence-based policymaking out of the window

Daily Telegraph & Daily Mail get Wind Farm Study 100% wrong

100 Tories revolt over Wind Farms part 2

100 Tories revolt over wind farms