Geek Manifesto, Mark Henderson: 2020 #4

Geek Manifesto argues we should include scientific method, and have respect for scientific opinion in all walks of life. It is full of examples of how failing to do this has led to poor decisions that waste public funds and even endanger lives.

I agree with the concept, and I liked the ideas for promoting critical, science-based thinking, like Skeptics in the pub (p 26) to encourage critical thinking, and the Harvard suggestion (p 85) for a prize to politicians who admit they were wrong.

I liked the aims of changing public and political opinion for the better, and fighting injustice, such as targetting science-minded constituencies with small, beatable majorities. Or the focus on getting scientists and science-minded lay people to actively engage where they see science is being ignored or picked at selectively to promote a political agenda. Sites like Fishbarrel that searches the internet for false medical claims, and Pledgebank to mobilise support for action.

I struggled with the view throughout that science is always right, always good. The book is very clear on how science self-checks, is peer-reviewed, and revises its opinion in the light of new evidence. But there are not many examples of science getting it wrong. It supports animal experimentation as best method available, but that has not always been effective to prevent dangerous pharmaceuticals getting to market. What about introducing cane toads to Australia – was science was involved in that decision? There’s a chapter at the end about Green politics being driven by an ideological approach of reducing consumerism, rather than allowing growth and ‘business as usual’ capitalism. I don’t see why the book does not tackle the science of population growth – it accepts that growth will happen and growth is the best way to deal with it.

Bit of a grind to get through – more like lengthy journalism than a manifesto – but overall worth it.


Reading 2019 – 2020

Here’s what 2019 looked like. I need to more than double my reading to hit target of 52 books. Maybe if I read shorter books? Crowds and Power, and A Dirty Little War were long reads, the latter very hard emotionally too. Still, sorry to see not many others have read it (or at least reported it on Goodreads).

The Diseconomics of Growth, H V Hodson: 2020 #2

Written in 1972, this is a straightforward, well-written explanation of how focusing on economic growth for returns, can mean we, and the planet, can suffer as a result.

Industry, individuals, investors, governments all want growth – it’s how we measure our success at whatever level, now as in 1972. Nothing is likely to change that short of a “believable threat of human extinction” (p.95). Hodson’s argument is that we could, instead of reaping instant reward for growth, use the growth to deal with the shortcomings of the current (then and now) economic system. So, dealing with the impacts of cheap, growth goods – pollution, noise, environmental degradation. “Higher productivity is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we have a choice of ends.” (p. 101) Instead of better spending power, we might choose a better environment.

Policies should discourage businesses and shareholders to “treat as income what is really the running-down of a capital asset”.

“The world has to live within its means, and the better off should show the way to the worse off”, (p. 192). Hodson invites us not to voluntarily lower our life standards, but to change them “to accord to a more sensible and far-sighted view of man’s place on the planet and his demands upon its resources” (p. 212).

Growth does not equal welfare for all of society or the planet itself. We can all reduce our “redundant consumption (p. 231), and take personal action (p. 236).

Almost four decades later I don’t think much has changed here. It was written before IT became as commonplace as it is today, before Chernobyl, before the Berlin wall was brought down, but its message of thinking long-term, and less selfishly still stands true.

Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe : 2020 #1

I don’t read anywhere near as much as I used to. To improve my attention span, and get back into the habit, the target is 52 books this year.

Dark Emu
Australian Aboriginals were not nomads, not solely hunter gatherers, before the arrival of colonists. That is the myth perpetrated by the colonists, sometimes redacting history, to support their own cause and interests.
Aboriginals had fixed agriculture and aquaculture. They had fixed housing, with towns of thousands. They were able to store food for long-term use, or for use at gatherings of many hundreds.
They used fire to keep the land stable, fruitful, and beneficial to themselves and wildlife. Right now, in Australia late 2019, and early 2020, this is significant as the land is burning out of control. Homes, lives and wildlife are being lost catastrophically. The ‘parkland’ the settlers found has degraded since then to the scrub and untamed, flammable forest of today.
They had a law (still do) to manage all of this. To keep their civilisation in harmony with their country.

All of this seems significant today when we exploit nature – the fires of recent weeks are a symbol of that.
All of this is backed up in the book with accounts from the settlers themselves.

Readable, fascinating, well-referenced.