Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Science in Politics (part one of infinity)

Firstly, my apologies for not posting for some time. I have been very busy and chose to let the blog slip rather than my work or personal relationships, I hope you understand.

I am a great believer in evidence, logic and reason as the basis for political decision making – that necessarily has to include the softer and less well defined sciences of sociology and psychology – but where possible the best evidence available should guide decision making rather than dogma or 'gut feeling'. It is therefore with some dismay that science and evidence being repeatedly sidelined in the name of political ideology or naked “lowest common denominator” approval seeking. Let me give a few examples from various parts of the political spectrum, the 'traditional' and religious right may carry the lions share of the guilt here, but the left and liberals are far from innocent.

The Liberals:

Generally my views (I hope generally guided by the best evidence and not just taste) would put me somewhere in the 'liberal' and slightly left position. However, there exists a substantial fraction, quite possibly a majority, in this camp who embrace pseudo-science, woolly post-modernist thinking and close their eyes to the evidence. This can probability trace its roots to the hippy and green movements, with some classic examples being organic foods, alternative 'medicine' (many of the Lib Dems in the UK signed up to an early day motion in support of homoeopathy - if your MP or candidate is on that list you could email them and see if they actually know what homoeopathy is and remind them there is an election coming up), extreme cultural relativism (eg, allowing religious groups to mistreat 'their own' children in the name of cultural equality and tolerance), and my personal greatest bug-bare; outright rejection of nuclear power without discussion.
If one examines the long term energy security situation, the environmental consequences of fossil fuel economy, growing demand for energy based on energy intensive economy coupled with continued population growth and the cost and practicalities of alternatives then it is obvious we can't sustain our lifestyle based on either conventional technology or solar / wind power. Short of nuclear fusion becoming a practical proposition very soon (appears unlikely despite good progress) nuclear fission looks to be the best hope we have of maintaining our lifestyle without unacceptable consequences for others around and after us. I would guess that this actually has much of its origins in the pre-1990s where the word 'nuclear' could not be used without conjuring up all too possible apocalyptic visions of WW3 or memories of accidents in early, badly designed and run power plants such as Chernobyl.
Either way, look up 4th Gen nuclear power plants. They are mostly 'safe' by design. I would certainly rather live down wind from a new nuclear power plant than a coal fired one. That's not to say nuclear power is risk free or a panacea, but it should not be absolutely ruled out of consideration as part of future energy policy.

“If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out”

The infamously named 'Nutt Sack' affair.

  • The Digital Economy Bill which I have commented on previously.

  • The Conservatives:
  • Extremely strict policies on personal drug use and internet 'piracy'.
  • Criminal justice system based on punishment rather than public protection and rehabilitation.
  • 'Trickle down' economics – all be it much watered down from the US neocon approach.
  • Legislative and economic promotion of 'Traditional' (actually Victorian) 'family values'.

  • These are just a very few examples picked off the top of my recent memory, there are doubtless other examples more deserving of inclusion. The point is that politics often totally fails to reflect the evidence and can lag 50 years behind the science (racial differences, smoking promotion, the information age, climate, drugs law, rehabilitation, transport policy, education techniques and content, health policy, fertility and abortion, etc). But why?
    I'll be giving my thoughts on that soon, but I'd like to hear what others think. Also feel free to post your 'favourite' recent example of anti-scientific policy...

    Sunday, 10 January 2010

    Ok, xmas break over.. More on the Uganda child killers..

    The BBC has some more on the terrible things going on in Uganda here.

    This is related to the issues I wrote about here and here.

    Monday, 14 December 2009

    BA staff vote for suicide strike

    Bad news for anyone planning of international travel over xmas.
    Reported here.

    Seems like a stupid idea to me. I don't know enough to say if their issues have merit, and one could certainly argue that BA should have put more aside when times were good, but to strike now will help no-one and will lead to more job losses.

    Sunday, 13 December 2009

    Berlusconi given a knuckle sandwich.

    Italy head man, Silvio Berlusconi has apparently received a punch to the face from an angry protester.
    In my opinion Berlusconi has made a bit of a joke of Italian politics and has to much control of media, judges and other politicians to be trusted with the top political job too. However, I doubt that giving him a split lip is the best way forward.

    BBC have covered this here. I'm sure there we will all be sick of this being repeated on the news within an hour.


    Edit: It turned out to be a model cathedral which was used as a weapon.

    In Tamiflu we trust.. but maybe we shouldn't.

    This is somewhat old news, but I think it is the first systematic review of neuraminidase inhibitor drugs (Tamiflu, etc). If you don't want to read it then the super-executive summary is that it is only mildly effective as a treatment and almost worthless ans a preventative. There have also been cases of resistant H1N1 reported, so there is no good reason for healthy people to be taking Tamiflu and no-one should be hoarding the medication.

    Some beautiful spirals from Russian rocket booster.

    The Norwegians seem to have all the luck when it comes to sky gazing. They get very little light polution, they get the aurora, and now they have amazing rocket ejecta spirals. I would have loved to see this.

    Of course the various breeds of loons, nuts and conspiracy theorists are all over this. Phil Plait has covered the story here and here.

    On another note: those in the UK lucky enough to have a clear sky should expect to see a meteor shower, which should peak (~2/minute) at ~2200 this evening. The show is courtesy of the Geminid meteors.

    Friday, 11 December 2009

    I'm Back!

    At last my ISP have got their act together, so I'm back. They haven't had the good manners to even tell me why I have had no internet for so long. I certainly won't be renewing my contract.

    I'll be posting more shortly, I'm a bit behind on everything 'net related at the moment.

    Wednesday, 2 December 2009

    Quick Update & Nigerian Witch Hunter Claiming Religious Discrimination

    Well my internet is still off at home, so I'm posting from work. I have no idea when it will be back, maybe they started the disconnections early ;-)

    On a more serious matter:
    It appears that one of the key fanatics behind the child witch hunts in Nigeria, Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church, is claiming that her religious freedoms have been infringed and is claiming ~$800,000 in damages. The claim is based on the arrest of some members of her group who were disrupting and stealing from a conference on child rights and the problems caused by belief in witchcraft.
    If you want to find out more, a lot of information will be turned up by a google search on her name.
    There is a petition asking for her and her organisation to be brought to justice which you can sign if you agree with what they are calling for.

    Tuesday, 1 December 2009

    My ISP... experiencing some problems at the moment, meaning that I am posting this from a friends house. Hopefully I'll be back on line soon and posting some more content.

    Sunday, 29 November 2009

    Homoeopathy Discussed By Parliamentary Comity.

    Homoeopathy has recently been the focus of an 'evidence check' by a parliamentary sub-comity on science and technology. The video is available, as are all the written submissions.
    The most interesting bit to my mind is where the gentleman from Boots (a large UK pharmacist chain) admits that there is no reason to believe that homoeopathic remedies are effective, despite Boots being one of the largest retailers of such 'treatments'. I'm already well aware of both the evidence of effectiveness (almost entirely negative) and the theoretical background (comical) of homeopathy so I found the rest of the video either frustrating or nothing new. If there is no reason on a theoretical basis to believe that something might work and plenty of empirical evidence showing that it does not then surely the tax payer should not be funding it on the NHS and it should not be sold as an active medicine? People can still buy it if they want, but it should not be marketed as an effective treatment.