Print Story They're Biutiful!
By TheophileEscargot (Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:20:21 PM EST) Reading, Theatre, Museums, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Merchants of Doubt". Watching: "The Battle of Algiers", "Biutiful". Theatre: "Becky Shaw". Museums. Web.

What I'm Reading
Finished Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. The subtitle pretty much says it all: the actual book is devoted to proving the case in rigorous detail.

The book goes through various public policy debates: smoking, acid rain, the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer, passive smoking, global warming, and DDT. The authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway show how in each case, the same small group of scientists, backed by the same network of right-wing think-tanks, produced contrarian arguments in an attempt to cast doubt on the scientific mainstream.

In each case, the same techniques were used. Mainstream science was attacked as "junk science". Equal time was demanded in the media, presenting the debate as an even one, though almost all scientists were on a single side. Doubts on the research were played up. Small alternative contributing factors were played up in an attempt to cast doubt on the mainstream explanation. The weight of evidence was ignored in favour of a microfocus on particular studies with odd results. The costs of action against the problem was played up.

In most of these cases, mainstream science won out in the end. However, by prolonging the debate they were able to win years or decades of time for the corporations troubled by the prospect of regulation. Moreover, in terms of the government and the media, the contrarians had a hugely disproportionate impact. The media was generally convinced that the issue was genuinely in doubt, politicians often convinced that the contrarians were correct.

The main scientists involved were Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer. I found it particularly depressing that they were at one point genuine scientists, studying my former discipline of Physics.

The authors believe that the motivations of these contrarians was ideological rather than financial. They carried out the same campaigns before the various institutions like the Marshall and Cato institutes started funding them. However, I suspect there must have been a financial incentive too: the corporations threatened by regulation funded the institutions, and the institutions kept them on their payrolls.

Nierenberg, Seitz, and Singer were cold war right-wingers who seem to have been true believers in free-market capitalism, and see any form of regulation as a kind of quasi-communist attempt to annihilate it. But if that was the whole story, it seems unlikely to me that they would choose to attack science to do it.

Overall, a sobering and depressing read. But it's highly convincing and a very important exposé of the exact methods used in the war on science. Essential reading.

Website, WP.

What I'm Watching
Saw the gritty sixties classic The Battle of Algiers on DVD.

Tense story showing how the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) used terrorism and demonstrations against the French, only to be hunted down by paratroops using brutal tactics of interrogation.

Very good movie, deserves its status as a classic.

What I'm Watching 2
Saw Biutiful at the cinema. Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a small-time player in the Barcelona underworld who starts to suffer illness.

Some may remember that I have a real dislike for movies where people with no real problems whine about them. This movie certainly doesn't fall under that category. Instead Uxbal struggles under a succession of burdens: cancer, a manic-depressive ex-wife, abused illegal immigrants, police raids, and seeing dead people.

Some seem to have complained that it makes the movie too depressing. I don't think so, but I think it does lead to a bit of a lack of focus: could maybe have cut it down to three or so disasters. I did find myself checking my watch a few times in the middle section.

However, the plot does gel by the end, and the movie finally comes around to a moving conclusion.

Overall, a pretty good movie if you're willing to go with it, but not a classic.

Saw Becky Shaw at the Almeida in Islington. American comedy by Gina Gionfriddo involving four characters with various degrees of emotional damage.

I loved this play: absolutely superb. The dialogue is crisp, with some hilarious lines. The characters are sharply observed and well acted, especially Daisy Haggard as the shrewdly unbalanced Becky. It's not just a lightweight comedy though: it has a few things to say about the way a certain generation handles relationships.

Great play, well worth seeing. Review, review, review, review.

Dropped in at Tate Britain to see a few things. Romantics is a free "from the collection" exhibition where they've hung a few other pictures from the same period alongside the Turners. A few interesting fantasy-like paintings there. Includes Richard Dadd's "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" as referenced in Pratchett's "The Wee Free Men".

Reasonable quality but nothing that's particularly unusual for London there. They have got a recent acquisition: some hand-coloured engravings of William Blake.

Downstairs they have a big Susan Hiller exhibition. This one's £10 to get in for non-members. Once again this veers a bit too much towards the conceptual for my taste. Some of the installations have some impact though. One room is densely draped with speakers dangling from wires, whispering accounts of UFO abductions. Another "Psi Girls", has four large screens showing movie clips of girls showing psychic powers, each washed with a different colour.

There are also large collections of postcards with similar imagery, for instance storm waves crashing across various seafronts. I think that might have been more impressive when it was made, but Flickr and Google Image Search make this kind of thing very easy to do now. It's called "Dedicated to the Unknown Artists": never quite sure if these things are actual tributes or look-at-the-schmucks pisstakes, though I generally suspect the latter.

Overall, not terrible, a few interesting things if you're passing.

Socioeconomics. Does Chinese trade boost Euro innovation? Inequality and the crisis:

Borrowing and higher debt leverage appears to have helped the poor and the middle-class to cope with the erosion of their relative income position by borrowing to maintain higher living standards. Meanwhile, the rich accumulated more and more assets and in particular invested in assets backed by loans to the poor and the middle class. The consequence of having a lower increase in consumption inequality compared to income inequality has therefore been a higher wealth inequality.
Video. A few seconds of Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. Gang fight turns deadly.

Sci/Tech. Student uses telepresence bot, via. The strange persistence of rockets, Mefi comment. Tree octopus exposes net illiteracy. Is Darth a boy or girl in Volkswagen ad?

Pics. Bioluminescence. Light skeletons. ConDem calendar.

Local. Heston Blumenthal restaurant goes old school.

Politics. NY Times and Julian Assange. Child safety vetting scheme too be scrapped (good policy from ConDems if true).

Articles. When London was capital of America. Government Grime and the EMA Kids (via nebbish). Incredible Cross-Sections guy. Does this metric make my company look big? (via nobbystyles).

< dashed hopes | Dishonesty breeds paranoia >
They're Biutiful! | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden)
Is Darth a boy or girl in Volkswagen ad? by duxup (4.00 / 1) #1 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 01:58:53 PM EST
I'm going with a boy.  It seemed pretty logical to me that he would try to use his powers to mess with his sister's stuff like any sibling might do.

Merchants of Doubt by Herring (4.00 / 2) #2 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 02:05:58 PM EST
Sounds a bit too depressing for me at the moment. But anyway, what gets me is that it's quite a jump from opposing regulation to attempting to cover stuff up. My thinking is that the "free market" can only work if everyone has all the information. Maybe their just nutters.

Nothing excuses the behaviour of the media though.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

Fuck! by Herring (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 02:24:37 PM EST
They're dammit.

(Would anyone have noticed?)

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
syntax error unmatched parenthese on spoiler by georgeha (4.00 / 1) #3 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 02:08:19 PM EST
Battle of Algiers is on Netflix, instantly, IIRC, maybe some day the wife and kids will be away for a weekend, so I can watch it.

Thanks, fixed! [nt] by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #4 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 02:09:50 PM EST

It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Random... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 06:22:08 PM EST
 I think you posted before, Physicists and Mech Eng. and Comp Sci. are the worst types for imagining they know more than experts in other fields about those other fields...

On that note... it'd be nice of Neal Stephenson would name some of: "There is no shortage of proposals for radically innovative space launch schemes that, if they worked, would get us across the valley to other hilltops considerably higher than the one we are standing on now" - as it is, it's a mixed article. I always welcome the recognition of path dependence - and launch insurance surely is a problem, but the whole thing would be stronger if he could name a viable technology being kept down by these economic forces...

Company metrics is fun, I'll have to remember that Walmart employs twice the number of people as the NHS for the next time the Chinese Army/Indian Railways comes up...

how do you by tierrasimbolica (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 07:24:53 PM EST
cover up the spoilers like that?  would like to know for future use.  thanks

Spoilers by Scrymarch (4.00 / 3) #8 Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 11:19:59 PM EST
awesome by tierrasimbolica (4.00 / 1) #12 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 12:31:11 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Merchants of Doubt by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #9 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 04:38:27 AM EST
Jesus, are the right actually evil?

I've moved house and lost my Tate card in the process. It's a Kafka-esque nightmare. Dying to see some of the new exhibitions.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Actually evil? by ambrosen (4.00 / 4) #10 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 05:24:15 AM EST
Yeah, I realised this kind of thing existed when I read about the Trafigura/Ivory Coast stuff before Christmas (also, closer to home, yours particularly, Turner & Newall asbestos).

It's pretty shocking, given that so much political debate is tedious and frustrating precisely because people believe those on the other side are evil/naive/dim/patronising, etc. So when people actually are, it needs a major reconfiguration of ideas.

[ Parent ]
It's a difficult one by Herring (4.00 / 1) #11 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 05:28:43 AM EST
Much of the time, I don't really consider "evil" as such to really exist. There's misguided, greedy, deluded ... but then you hear about stuff like this and think maybe there's something in the concept after all.

You can't inspire people with facts
- Small Gods

[ Parent ]
If we can agree on the existence of evil by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #13 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 08:01:23 PM EST
... then let's lock these guys up with Mao, Stalin and Mussolini and call it quits for both wings.

Iambic Web Certified

[ Parent ]
depends on what you mean by "the right" by lm (4.00 / 2) #14 Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 09:47:19 PM EST
IMO, one ought to distinguish between the so-called "merchants of doubt" described in the book and those who take the doubt that they peddle on good faith.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
The Battle of Algiers. by Tonatiuh (2.00 / 0) #15 Sat Mar 05, 2011 at 05:03:46 AM EST
Pontecorvo, the director of this classic, used just regular people perfectly cast for even the smallest of roles.

In the interview that accompanies the DVD I got, he says that as long as a face is interesting you can make an interesting movie, a massive statement when one thinks about the millions in offer for recognizable actors of sometimes dubious abilities.

They're Biutiful! | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden)