Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Matt Ridley: The perils of confirmation bias - part 3


Climate science needs gadflies

I argued in my last column that the way to combat confirmation bias-the tendency to behave like a defense attorney rather than a judge when assessing a theory in science-is to avoid monopoly. So long as there are competing scientific centers, some will prick the bubbles of theory reinforcement in which other scientists live.

For constructive critics, this is the problem with modern climate science. They don't think it's a conspiracy theory, but a monopoly that clings to one hypothesis (that carbon dioxide will cause dangerous global warming) and brooks less and less dissent. Again and again, climate skeptics are told they should respect the consensus, an admonition wholly against the tradition of science.

Matt Ridley: The perils of confirmation bias - part 2


What keeps scientists accurate is rivals' scepticism, not their own

If, as I argued in the first of these columns, scientists are just as prone as everybody else to confirmation bias to looking for evidence to support rather than test their ideas ­ then how is it that science, unlike cults and superstitions, does change its mind and find new things?

The answer was spelled out by the psychologist Raymond Nickerson of Tufts University in a paper written in 1998: "It is not so much the critical attitude that individual scientists have taken with respect to their own ideas that has given science the success it has enjoyed... but more the fact that individual scientists have been highly motivated to demonstrate that hypotheses that are held by some other scientist(s) are false."

Richard Epstein: Franklin Delano Obama

Eighty years ago, Franklin Roosevelt rode into office at the height of the depression. In many ways, the election of 1932 has much in common with the current campaign. The economic record from 1929 to 1933 was grim. Unemployment rates spiked to close to 25 percent from a pre-1929 figure of about 4 percent. World trade was down by about a third, partly in response to the ill-advised Smoot-Hawley tariffs of 1930, which sparked retaliation from around the globe. And a persistent deflation in the order of 20 percent meant many debtors could not repay their debt with these new expensive dollars.

Today’s situation is nowhere near as desperate as it was then, but there is little doubt that the nation has become stagnant and uneasy. Real economic growth has slowed and the future likely holds higher levels of insecurity and lower rates of growth. Today’s parents are no longer confident that their children will lead lives as fulfilling and as prosperous as their own. Falling expectations lead to rising discontent, and discontent leads to clarion calls for action.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mike Butler: Ducking for cover over spending

Issues at the Maori Language Commission, publicised in the past week by the Dominion Post, show that the State Services Commission, Te Puni Kokiri, and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, need to take steps to introduce the level of accountability that is expected in government departments.

The Dominion Post revealed:

1. Overpayments to board members of $124,000 not required to be repaid.

Mike Butler: The big water rights hold-up

A hold-up is a hold-up regardless of whether the perpetrator wears a hoodie and carries a knife, or whether there are a number of perpetrators sitting in a meeting hall dressed as lawyers. In the interim report into water and geothermal resources, released on Friday, the Waitangi Tribunal is holding up the government by waving the big stick of treaty settlement precedent to extract not only shares, but a significant interest in the power companies that the government plans to sell.

The New Zealand Maori Council, in conjunction with 10 co-claimant clans and tribes, filed the National Water and Geothermal Resources claim in February of this year, in response to a Government proposal to sell up to 49 per cent of shares in the power-generators Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Genesis Energy. One hundred and one individuals and entities registered an interest.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Frank Newman: RMA and land prices


Last week the Economist magazine ran an article reporting New Zealand has one the world's most over-valued housing markets. This may explain why. It involves a well-intentioned individual and a scruffy piece of land on the Tutukaka Coast 30 minutes north east of Whangarei.

The 6.6 hectares (16 acres) had been a forestry block that backed onto a coastal settlement. The pines were removed in 2005, and Pampas grass has been thriving ever since. He bought the land in 2006, with the intention of rezoning it from Coastal Countryside to Living. The proposal was for a low density residential development comprising 24 sections. A substantial area was to be set aside as a reserve for native revegetation, and included covenants preventing residents for owning dogs and cats, lest their pets prey upon local Kiwi which have been returning to the Coast is significant numbers.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Richard Epstein: Law of Unintended Consequences – The Obamacare Quagmire

Now that the Supreme Court has held President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) constitutional, mounting evidence suggests that the statute’s most ardent defenders may well come to rue the day. During the legal struggles over the ACA, its defenders both on and off the Supreme Court took for granted the proposition that the law would deliver on its major promise, which was to extend affordable coverage to the over 47 million people who now lack healthcare insurance, without disrupting the protection that others currently enjoy.

Unfortunately, these bold pronouncements failed to take into account the old and powerful economic law of unintended consequences. Sometimes these are positive, which is why the selfish actions of ordinary individuals in competitive markets prove socially beneficial. Adam Smith said that each individual “is led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” But those unintended consequences often turn bad in connection with the many forms of government regulation that limit the scope of contractual freedom, which the ACA does in a big way.

Mike Butler: Treatygate campaign causes stir

I hope advertising specialist John Ansell succeeds in getting a referendum asking "Do you want New Zealand to be a colour blind state, with one law for all, and no racial favouritism? A further referendum on race may cause the government to re-think race-based affirmative action.

The Otago University student magazine Critic obtained documents from controversial race campaigner Louis Crimp, setting out Ansell’s plan for a $2-million campaign aiming to make New Zealand a 'colourblind' (racially neutral) state. An article in Critic prompted coverage by TV3, the National Business Review, the Southland Times, TVNZ’s Te Karere programme, as well as reactions from commentators and bloggers.

Mike Butler: 'Rangatiratanga' means 'possession'

The Human Rights Commission is collecting views about current practice of “rangatiratanga”, according to the commission’s website. The July 20 posting titled “Rangatiratanga in the 20th century” displays either woeful ignorance or is pushing a separatist programme when it says “rangatira affirmed their rangatiratanga, their authority to protect and develop their taonga, through the treaty”. Is this what “rangatiratanga” means?

Actually, the word “rangatiratanga” was used in the Maori text to translate the word “possession”. Since the treaty was drafted in English then translated into Maori, the intent and meaning of the treaty is crystal clear in the English draft, and, as a result of limited Maori vocabulary in 1840 and a limited understanding of the concepts of sovereignty and ownership by Maori, the intent and meaning became less clear in the Maori translation.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sandra Goudie: Rural Property Lockdown

Already Regional Councils require farm plans to some degree, activities became discretionary for any property identified as being a “significant natural area” (SNA), and fencing is becoming increasingly compulsory, and at least in one case a discretionary activity.

Practically any remnant of bush can be classified as an SNA on the basis of maintaining a corridor. People have had their lives turned upside down as they battle to understand what is happening while at the same time trying to defend their love of the land and ethic of stewardship.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Karl du Fresne: State Radio Reports Maori Gods angry at asset sales


Due respect for Maori culture is one thing. Expecting us to swallow wild superstition is quite another – yet I heard a reporter on Morning Report this morning solemnly relaying a Maori warning that recent volcanic activity on White Island and Mt Tongariro was a sign that Ruamoko, the god of earthquakes and volcanoes, was unhappy about the way the government was proceeding with the partial sale of state assets.

This comes only a couple of weeks after the Maori Council’s lawyer, Felix Geiringer, invoked the Maori belief in taniwha at the Waitangi Tribunal hearing on water rights.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mike Butler: Anti-tour protest and destabilization

Some years ago, when I met a couple from sectarian strife-torn Northern Ireland, I mentioned that some of my forebears came from there. “Catholic or Prottie?” was the instant, instinctive response. The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand prompts a similar question of what side were you on? The issue was recycled in the drama “Rage” aired on TV One on Sunday, of which I happened to see the tail end.

I happened to be out of New Zealand in 1981 so missed the turmoil that went on between July 19 and September 12, 1981. But in all the heat generated in the self-righteous protests about the apartheid policies that separated South Africa into racial communities, naive protesters seemed unaware that they were being used as pawns in a battle for the control of southern Africa.

Fiona Mackenzie: Visionary Leadership Needed for NZ

Four years ago, I was excited at the prospect of a real sense of direction emerging for New Zealand. After 3 terms of Labour refusing to take advantage of prosperous times to lift our game, I was sure the new Government would have it all worked out. National was keeping this vision under wraps in the very competitive, pre-election environment – but they did have one, didn’t they?

Well, I was quickly disappointed and it’s been a painful lesson. The last four years has only reminded me of the old maxim – "Never make assumptions. They will inevitably be wrong." We have just another Government intent on doing what it takes to stay in power rather than lead us to greatness.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mike Butler: How to abolish Waitangi Tribunal

Since Rodney Hide’s column in today’s New Zealand Herald has kicked up a torrent of comments, here’s all you might like to know about the Waitangi Tribunal

a.What is the Waitangi Tribunal and why was it established?

In a bid to get Maori nationalist protest off the streets and provide an avenue for Maori grievance, the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 set up the Waitangi Tribunal as a permanent commission of inquiry to examine any claim by Maori over any law, regulation, or acts, omissions, policies, or practices of the Crown that may have given offence, and gave a handful of unelected tribunal members the exclusive authority to interpret the treaty. The Act was the first legal recognition of the treaty. The Act aimed to examine current policies and practices against principles of the treaty but it did not allow the tribunal to investigate historical breaches. The Act was passed a couple of days befor the Maori Land March led by Dame Whina Cooper delivered a 60,000-signature petition to Prime Minister Bill Rowling.

Mike Butler: Devonport snub one of many

A submission by Devonport residents opposing the inclusion of Narrow Neck land in a treaty settlement failed to impress the Maori Affairs select committee, the members of which alleged mistrust and misunderstanding. Three months after a heated hearing at Orakei Marae, the committee recommended that the Ngati Whatua o Orakei Claims Settlement Bill should pass including 3.2ha of Defence Force land as commercial redress, and told the residents to establish a good relationship with Ngati Whatua because they will be neighbours. (1)

Local board chairman Chris Darby said he was not surprised by the outcome because “the line of questioning from the committee was laced with so much predetermination”. Perhaps Mr Darby does not yet realize that this “predetermination” characterizes all select discussions of treaty settlement bills, because all treaty settlements become legally binding once the agreement is signed and the passage of the bill through parliament is a drawn-out time-consuming rubber-stamp exercise.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Karl du Fresne: A quiet demographic revolution

Here’s a statistic that might radically change your perception of the country you live in: in the 2006 census, nearly 40 percent of the people living in Auckland were born overseas. As Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley pointed out  recently on the TV programme Q+A, that makes Auckland one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

Spoonley observed that New Zealanders tend to equate large immigrant populations with megacities like London and Los Angeles. Many of us – and I include myself here – still mistakenly regard Australia as a more multicultural society than ours, because for decades it was.

Kevin Donnelly: Level the playing field and you'll lose the competitive Olympic edge

GIVEN events over the first week of the Olympics, it's clear that many are unhappy with how winners and losers are chosen and the system of awarding medals. In some cases, such as that of Australia's James Magnussen, who failed to win gold by 0.01 of a second, the argument is that if the results are so close then both first and second deserve gold.

And one only needs to see the emotional distress suffered by those who fail to win gold, such as Stephanie Rice, to realise the irreparable emotional and psychological damage caused by an unhealthy focus on coming first. Add the suspicion that some contestants are taking performance-enhancing drugs and there's no doubt the modern Olympics no longer embodies the ancient ideals on which the Games were based.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mike Butler: Freethinker faults treaty fictions

The somewhat bland title “When two cultures meet, the New Zealand experience” camouflages a book that rips apart the treaty orthodoxy that has fuddled governments for the past 30 years, and points a finger at an array of celebrated academics who have dressed up their beliefs as fact, either out of evangelical zeal or for financial benefit.

Author John Robinson, a former university lecturer and research scientist with an MSc degree in maths and physics from Auckland University, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, knows all about the findings-falsification business because he worked for the government for 16 years, from 1986 to 2002, crunching numbers concerning Maori life expectancy, infant mortality, health, education, offending, imprisonment.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Phil McDermott: Irresponsible inner city behaviour


The latest in urban design - new public spaces for the dispossessed
In my last blog I raised the question of whether purchasing land for a possible rail link through the city would reduce the attractiveness of the inner city living by laying waste to a corridor cutting through it – shades of the motorway madness of the 1950s and 60s.  I suggested that this will increase the anti-social behaviour after dark that so worries CBD residents and visitors.

So it was interesting to see in the New Zealand Herald today the concern over the use of vacant city sites as places of refuge for people deemed anti-social and particularly as sites for binge drinking.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ron Smith: Terrorism, Murder, and Madness

Is James Holmes, the perpetrator of the Aurora (Denver) massacre, insane?  He has certainly been working hard at his arraignment to create that impression, with much eye-rolling and empty stares.  Is the man responsible for the Oslo killings of twelve months ago (Anders Breivic), insane?  He has been insisting that he is not.  Moreover, the families of his victims are also clear that he is not insane because they do not wish him to avoid punishment.  Both men committed mass murder but is there a plausible explanation for their behaviour, in either case, that might make it something other than madness?

The legal test for insanity in the Anglo-Saxon tradition is much as it was when first promulgated in 1843, in relation to the case of Daniel McNaughton, the so-called, ‘McNaughton Rules’.  To be acquitted by reason of insanity, a defendant needs to clearly prove that, at the time of committing the act, he was labouring under such ‘defect of reason’ as not to appreciate its ‘nature and quality’.  He did not know what he was doing, or if he did know, he did not know it was wrong. 

Matt Ridley: The perils of confirmation bias - part 1


How scientists collect positive evidence rather than test theories: There's a myth out there that has gained the status of a cliché: that scientists love proving themselves wrong, that the first thing they do after constructing a hypothesis is to try to falsify it. Professors tell students that this is the essence of science.

Yet most scientists behave very differently in practice. They not only become strongly attached to their own theories; they perpetually look for evidence that supports rather than challenges their theories. Like defense attorneys building a case, they collect confirming evidence.