May 24, 2012 | Graham

Give blogs to us, not tame think tanks

News that no-one visits the two blogs that the federal government will give $53,000 over three months to a couple of think tanks to run is hardly surprising. We foretold it all 13 years ago when we set up On Line Opinion and The National Forum, and it’s been confirmed many times since.

Online publishing and engagement is a specialist field and it requires not just specialists operators, but organisations that bring their own audience, reputation and ethos.

Governments are generally hopeless at this sort of thing, so the federal government was heading in the right direction, but with the wrong operators.

If you were going to outsource your blogs, why wouldn’t you give them to an organisation that:

  • Already publishes widely in the areas you are interested in
  • Has an established audience of 80,000 influential readers with a propensity to comment and engage
  • Performs widely respected online research with a panel of 13,000
  • Pioneered online political consultation in Australia – we hosted a series of discussions on the way forward for Labor involving Mark Latham, Carmen Lawrence and Lindsay Tanner in 2002
  • Understands not just social media, but viral marketing
  • Has a reputation for fierce independence and impartiality
  • Is so efficient it has dispensed with even the smell from the oily rag?
It’s ironic that at the moment we’re running a feature on the bequest of Labor to the nation, and despite offering a free kick to any Labor member or supporter who wants to publish on our site we’re scratching for content.
Quite simply we think that Labor has a story to tell, but I’m finding it frustrating finding anyone to tell it.
It seems this government  not only doesn’t know a good thing when it sees one, but is happy to invest in a couple of duds.
But we don’t hold any grudges. We’d even be happy to help the Lowy Institute and the Australia Institute of International Affairs make a success of their own efforts…for a fee. But this site and this site aren’t going to cut it.



Posted by Graham at 5:41 pm | Comments (16) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

May 15, 2012 | Graham

More drunks vote left-wing and believe in global warming

There’s a lot of stupid research around (and I use the word “stupid” advisedly). There’s so much of it, that I think to the “tech boom” and the “housing boom” we could add the “academic study boom”. And like the other two it appears to be the result of too much money chasing too few goods.

The stupidest I’ve seen for some time is this one which claims to show that more intelligent people drink more alcohol than less intelligent people. They claim to control for social class and income amongst other things and advance the thesis that:

Drinking alcohol is evolutionarily novel, so the Hypothesis would predict that more intelligent people drink more alcohol than less intelligent people.

So people who do things that our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago (the time horizon they use as the benchmark for what is “evolutionarily novel”) didn’t do are more intelligent than the rest of us? Putting aside the issue that the evidence for use of psychotropic drugs goes back beyond that time horizon, does that mean that smokers are more intelligent than the rest, or people who drive cars and fly in aeroplanes?

You can have a bit of fun putting stupid research results together. For example there have been other research projects recently claiming that higher IQ individuals are more likely to vote left-wing than the average, or that “climate change denial” is a mental disorder.

All of which seems to suggest, controlling for social class and income, that heavier drinkers are more likely to vote Labor and believe in climate change. Which is just as likely to be true as the studies, but not likely to be true at all.


Posted by Graham at 7:19 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Science

May 13, 2012 | Ronda Jambe

Quadruple bottom line but only three D printing

Did you also drop your jaw, stunned, when you first heard about 3D printing?

How can that be? Surely this is something way down the track…

But having seen how sci fi influenced real science on the show Prophets of Science Fiction, I understand these things are often closer than we think.

And many of the products we are already using have been made with ‘additive manufacturing’.

It brings together digitisation, new carbon fibre materials, and business concepts such as just in time, mass customisation, the long tail, and probably others.

It links to the ‘Maker Community’, that sees anything as makable, and they collaborate to assist each other.

I want it. My byword for using digital photography to iterate, modify, and improve collages and drawings has always been: Once you digitise, all is forgiven.

And once you digitise, say, a key shape as a 3D design, you can (almost) never lose your key, because you can just go to a kiosk, put your thumb drive in, and print another, perhaps in a different colour. That much is just around the corner. And there goes the job of key-cutter in the local mall. But other jobs will come into existence.

More exciting will be the way this leap forward will transform manufacturing, in both the developed and less developed world. The Economist, my faithful informer, called it the third industrial revolution in a cover feature, and goes into some detail about the impacts. Manufacturing will become smaller, more flexible, and much more dependent on highly skilled sets of minds. And much less dependent on labour – the factory concept will fade away.

This much is comprehensible, very exciting and optimistic. What a clever bunch we are! or rather you, somewhere out there, as this is all godlike in my estimation.

My deeper interest is in the environmental, ethical and spiritual dimension of these changes. Can we do well by doing smart, kind, and please, beautiful?

And governance, accountability, the full quadruple bottom line. Where are we going? How fast? and what do we need to do to change the direction of spaceship earth?

Very bad, very fast are the answers to the first two questions. All the indicators for climate change are in the ‘worst case ‘ area. Please correct me if I overstate the problem.

And last week, Liberal House of Assembly member Brendan Smith in the ACT called the bluff on the accountability of the ACT Greens: He simply pointed out that after four years of holding the balance of power in the ACT, the most recent State of the Environment report for Canberra reported declining environmental indicators in many areas.

Those who voted for the Greens, he points out, have not received vindication. No return on that democratic investment, as Canberra veers ever closer to a massive housing glut with inadequate public transport.

A friend commutes from Canberra to Queanbeyan, which has ridiculous traffic at many times of the day. She sensibly suggested that we make use of the train line between neighboring Queanbeyan and Kingston. Kingston is near the Parliamentary Triangle and the entertainment areas in Manuka, in a sensible world commuters would pull their bikes into an open carriage, and ride the short distance at the other end.

But no policy docs I found included this part in the proposals for light rail, not even the Greens. Too holistic to think across jurisdictions? To me, Canberra is becoming ugly in patches, and that is part of my quadruple bottom line. Now I’m going to water the corriander.






Posted by Ronda Jambe at 9:55 am | Comments Off on Quadruple bottom line but only three D printing |
Filed under: Economics

May 03, 2012 | Ronda Jambe

I can’t change your mind about climate

Because we will never get to evidence-based policy if we can’t agree on evidence-based science.

Last week’s program on the ABC, ‘I can change your mind about climate’ was a brave but flawed attempt to get to consensus. Young Anna Rose was marvelous, polite, restrained, and charming. Old Nick Minchin was less gracious at some points, and seemed to fall back on economic arguments whenever the data were particularly convincing.

But just because he believes (and so do I) that action to mitigate, much less slow, climate change will be hugely difficult, disruptive and expensive, that doesn’t change the physics.

Once again I turn to the trusty and conservative Economist magazine, which provides these charts for simplistic interpretation:

One of the misstatements that surfaced early in the TV doco was that the oceans haven’t warmed. But all the data shows they have. Look a bit further on the link above, and you will see that the importance of the oceans as carbon sinks and the value of the damage climate change might do to the world’s oceans is a ‘2 trillion dollar question’.

We dither while the time bomb ticks. Queensland will be extremely vulnerable from at least two perspectives: when the CO2 hits the atmospheric fan the coastal costs alone will be devastating, and when coal becomes valueless and that one basket full of black eggs spills many will find themselves singing Mammy like a minstrel with black soot on their faces.


Posted by Ronda Jambe at 5:30 pm | Comments (11) |
Filed under: Uncategorized