Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The central point about #traingate is this: Crowded trains are unsafe

The #Traingate spat between Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Branson hovers on the edge of farce, but there is a serious side to it.

I count myself among those who do not give a fart  whether or not there were empty seats available before JC sat on the floor.

The central fact is this: crowded trains are unsafe.

If the aisles are packed with standing people and the driver has to make an emergency stop, the mass of the people in the aisles has momentum, and that momentum, applied throughout the length of the carriage, can break bones and even crush someone to death. It is a Hillsborough waiting to happen.

Sure, people can be injured by someone in the seat opposite being thrown onto them in a crash; but let me say as a doctor that their injuries will be worse if 50 people are thrown onto them in a crash.

Standing is inevitable at certain times in the day. There must be statistics about this. The response should be to drive down standing time as fully as possible, without unnecessarily driving up empty seats in non-rush hours. This requires flexibility, sticking on extra carriages and trains to meet rush hours. Playing about with trains is good work, and should benefit from Green Wage Subsidy, GWS.

If the train companies whine that they cannot afford to pay the wages of people whose work makes people happier and saver, then they should bloody well lose the franchise, next time it comes up, to a state operated competitor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Brian Cox, Malcolm Roberts, empirical evidence for Climate Change

Prof Brian Cox had a TV discussion with Australian Senator Malcolm Roberts, who is a member of the One Nation Party (think UKIP). Roberts asked for empirical evidence that climate change is caused by humans. This is a fair question.

Empirical evidence is evidence that is based on observation and experience,  as opposed to reasoning from a strongly held belief.

There is a very interesting opposition between empiricism and reasoning that flows from strong belief.

For instance, if I believed very strongly in a free market, as an ideal, then the continued profitability of a number of big corporations becomes the most important principle in the modern world, I might argue that anything that threatened that profitability was absolutely and completely wrong.

Now, what is the empirical evidence that drives scientists to the conclusion that man made greenhouse gases are causing our planet to become dangerously warm?

The science gets to its conclusion in 4 steps:

  1. The Greenhouse Effect is real. Physical laws, arrived at by observation and experimentation, show us that without the greenhouse effect our planet would have an average surface temperature of -15*C, instead of the present +15*C.
  2. Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This was established by physicists using simple but elegant experiments at the end of the 19th century.
  3. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are observed to be increasing. The kind of carbon that we are finding points to an origin in the fossil fuels we have been burning. The levels of CO2 that we are producing are higher than natural variations going back tens of thousands of years.
  4. Earth surface temperatures have been observed to be increasing, and natural cycles that affect temperatures are inadequate to explain the increase. The only explanation that fits the observation is the enhanced greenhouse effect that we have produced.
  5. We have raised temperatures by about 1*C, and already we are seeing extreme heat, and extreme precipitation events. If we do not change our habits, these extremes will get worse.

So there is the summary of the empirical evidence - based on an enormous amount of observations and experimentation. Malcolm Roberts's question has been answered - but he will continue to argue, to deploy the 100-odd talking points that those in denial use. This is because his belief is that the profitability of the fossil fuel companies is the overriding priority in our world. He demands empiricism, but he personally is in fact a free market idealist. He reasons from the ideal - Free Market - and arrives at the conclusion that climate science is a massive conspiracy on the part of scientists to overthrow the Free Market. Malcolm Roberts is not the first politician to believe in impossibilities. Many in our present UK Government are in the same category, unfortunately. 

These politicians would be harmless oddities, were it not for the fact that a substantial minority of voters share their beliefs. Why? Because the Times, Telegraph, Mail, Sun and Express give voice to these beliefs. How can we stop them? By persuading corporations who claim to be environmentally and socially responsible to stop taking our advertisements in those papers.

That's how.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The effects of Brexit

This post is a list of the economic and other consequences of Brexit. 
It is subject to updates as new data comes along.
Feel free to make any further suggestions in the Comments slot.

  1. The FTSE 100 fell before and after the referendum, but recovered, and continues to gain 6 weeks after 
  2. Fall in the value of Sterling. Which means that our foreign holidays and imports (including food and clothing) are more expensive, but our exports are cheaper.
  3. Fall in funding for, and co-operation with, science.
  4. Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) shows a steep loss of confidence in services and manufacturing.
  5. Fall in number of City Jobs. Not necessarily a bad thing overall, though it might have consequences for tax revenue
  6. London house prices lose £30k Again not necessarily a bad thing, unless you just bought a house in London
The above are actual events. We also have predictions and expectations - which,  in economics, are can be effective in influencing events.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

It is not true to say that Daesh/ISIS has nothing to do with Islam

After each new atrocity by Daesh / ISIS, a solemn murmur can be heard from Muslims and some individuals on the "left": "This has nothing to do with Islam". 

This is not true.

Daesh is deeply rooted in Islamic theology, and indeed, Daesh actually believes that the liberal mainstream Muslims who disavow them are apostate, and therefore deserve to be killed.

It is true that many of the young men who go to Syria to join Daesh, or who commit atrocities in the West alone or in small groups are often petty criminals and psychopaths, but Daesh as a movement is a manifestation of a stream of Islamic thought - a branch of Sunni faith known as Salafism, which appeared in the latter half of the 19th century. Salafism aims to return Islam to its 7th century roots, and is analogous to extreme Christian sects such as the Exclusive Brethren and Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church sect.

Al-Qaeda is a salafist movement, but it believes that the Caliphate and the Apocalypse prophesied in the Q'ran is going to come some time in the future.

The USP of Daesh is that it claims the actual Caliphate is happening now, and that Daesh is it.

The argument setting out this case is laid out in detail  in the Atlantic here.

The practical importance of this understanding is that it is inadequate for Muslims and their sympathisers simply to say that Daesh violence is "nothing to do with Islam".

Daesh does have a lot to do with Islam and this means that mainstream Muslims are obliged actively to separate themselves theologically from Daesh by declaring a fatwa against those who would join Daesh. This fatwa will not put an end to Daesh immediately, but it may reduce the flow of impressionable young people to Daesh. More importantly, it will frustrate the main objective of Daesh, which is to precipitate a full-scale war between the West and Islam. Instead, the fatwa will set the fault-line between the majority, peaceful Islamic community and Daesh.

Advertising Action on Climate Project correspondence with M&S

I posted here about the need for press reform in Britain. Soon after posting I found the excellent Advertising Action on Climate Project  which aims to bring pressure on the Mail, Sun, Times, Express and Telegraph by persuading companies to stop advertising with them until they stop publishing false information regarding climate change.

Here is my latest letter to the corporate social responsibility manager at M&S. They have been chosen because of their Plan A project, but many other companies will be approached in due course.

Hi Rowland

Many thanks for your speedy and thoughtful reply.

I have read your links, although my search did not actually turn up the polls showing that the UK public lags behind the rest of the world in perception of climate change.

However, I have been aware of this regrettable fact in a general way having read about it a couple of years ago.

You argue that a section of the UK media is simply following public opinion, printing climate sceptical stories because the public is sceptical of climate change.

First, the true responsibility of the journalist is to report the facts, and not to follow and reinforce any  misperceptions and false beliefs that the public already holds.
Second, we would argue that the public is being influenced by the line that this section of the media is pushing.

It is undeniable that media reports do affect the public's view of the salience of a topic.

The paper about public perception of CC following the flooding in 2014 ( )

shows in Fig 5 (p 24) that, after actual changes in weather, media reports were placed as important by the respondents.

You have probably already seen Donnachadh McCarthy's excellent briefing paper on the UK Climate sceptic press here: The list of "sceptic" headlines given in the paper is sobering. It is imperative that this continuous flow of misinformation is halted and reversed, but climate campaigners are in a catch-22 situation, because we cannot inform the public of the present and future dangers posed by climate change because the "sceptic" section of the media will block or distort our message.

Unfortunately, it is the case that loss of advertising revenue is the only lever that will cause sceptic owners and editors to reconsider their position.

I note that Lord Deben, for whom I have a great deal of respect, says "NGO and progressive business representation" is necessary to maintain the pressure on Government, and this, of course, is exactly what is happening in this correspondence.

You note that our campaign is starting with M&S, and correctly take it as a compliment. However, the campaign has only just started, and other companies will soon be under the same pressure as your good selves.
I fully understand that you would worry about denying yourselves advertising outlets. Let me would point out again that there are other more truthful media outlets that are available to you, and again that when it becomes public that M&S has withdrawn advertising revenue from a climate-denying paper, this will in itself be a free form of advertising. Moreover, it will give M&S a branding advantage against your competitors, marking you out as an ethical market operator. In particular it will give you an advantage over high-end competition from John Lewis.

You question the practicality of the action that we are asking you to take. The details are up to you, but rather than a big-bang, immediate advertising ban on all the papers identified by the Advertising Action on Climate Project (which we would prefer) you may opt for a more gradual approach, selecting the most recent and egregious statement by one paper, and ask for the item to be recalled and /or corrected, without which you will withdraw advertising.

Again, let me congratulate you for your concern about climate change, and thank you for considering taking this action.

Kind regards

Richard Lawson