Archive for the ‘Behaviour’ Category

The substance of leadership lies in behaviour not in style

October 16, 2020

I was recently invited by our local college (gymnasium) to give a lecture about my views on leadership. I was a little surprised that some of the questions were focused on the style of leadership rather than on substance. For example, styles are sometimes classified as being:

  1. empathic or
  2. visionary or
  3. coaching or
  4. commanding or
  5. driving or
  6. democratic.

Without the need for cooperation, the word “leader” is undefined. Without a leader the word “leadership” is undefined. For me, leadership is entirely about behaviour. This classification of styles is not, in fact, about what constitutes leadership or even about different kinds of leadership. It is merely a list of styles which is entirely superficial. It places  an undue emphasis on form rather than on substance; on the cosmetics of what leadership looks like rather than the fundamental behaviour involved. The use of “democratic” as a qualifier for a leadership style merely panders to a fashionable sense of political correctness and is inherently self-contradictory. The behaviour needed for leadership is no different whether in a monarchy or a democracy or a dictatorship.  The behaviour is no different whether in the military or in government or in the corporate world or in sport. 

I prefer my own definition of what a leader is.

“A leader is a person who behaves in such a manner as to induce the necessary behaviour from others, individually and collectively, towards a goal”

With this definition, the various behavioural styles above only describe particular facets of behavioural interactions between a leader and others. A leader has just two functions, which are necessary and sufficient:

  1. To create and establish goals, and
  2. to induce the behaviour necessary from others, individually and collectively, towards those goals.

Behavioural styles of a leader are then, and must be, as varied as may be necessary to induce the required behaviour from others. Depending upon the size of the group involved and their competence, a leader will need to use different styles to motivate and encourage different members. He is the conductor of an orchestra of behaviours. He may have to be a tyrant occasionally, a commander with some, show empathy with others, or be consultative with a few. The style in play may well vary with different leaders and different members. Behavioural style may vary over time or depending upon the prevailing external conditions. The so-called “democratic” style is really a very particular style of behaviour. It is useful, at times, in getting consensus – if consensus is what is needed – when dealing, for example, with an expert group where all members have very high levels of specialized competence. Group members have different roles and can vary widely in competence. A consensus of the incompetent is of no great value. Any leader who generally subordinates his behaviour to the consensus, or to a majority view to determine decisions, effectively abdicates leadership. A “democratic” leadership is inherently contradictory. You can have leadership in a democracy but not democracy within leadership. Any “style” of leadership behaviour must always be subordinated to the primary function of inducing the behaviour necessary from others to achieve a goal.

By considering the two components separately, it becomes much easier not only to assess people for leadership roles but also to tailor education and training to suit particular individuals.

  1. Can the individual envision, create and establish goals? 
  2. Can the individual get the necessary behaviour from others?

It then naturally follows that being visionary and having skills for strategy or planning or forecasting or communication will be beneficial for goal-setting. Similarly, it becomes obvious that people-skills, motivation, communication, inspiration and persuasion are beneficial for getting the required behaviour from others. It is, I have found, counter-productive to over-think and unnecessarily complicate the basic principles. 

Leadership is about the effectiveness of the leader’s behaviour. The empirical evidence of 200,000 years as modern humans is that a group with leadership is more effective than one without. Leadership is a vector quantity with both magnitude and direction. The direction comes from the creation and setting of goals and the magnitude is a measure of the “goodness” of the leadership which, in turn, is a measure of the competence of the leader to induce the required behaviour of others.

I do not claim that leadership is easy. But I do claim that the principles of leadership are simple and straightforward.  A leader must be able to create and establish goals and must then be able to induce the behaviour of others towards those goals. It is complex but it is not more complicated than that.


Parts of Sweden burn while the Social Democrats fiddle

August 29, 2020

I was recruited to Sweden in the 1980s and stayed on. That makes me an immigrant, now a Swedish national of Indian origin, but where my “Indian culture”, in everyday life, is subordinated to the dominant, mainstream, “Swedish culture”. However my presence here probably does contribute – even if in very small measure – to bringing some little parts of my culture into the evolving mainstream.

In recent times, it has become very clear that parallel cultures have splintered society. Criminal (mainly immigrant) gangs have been running rampant in some parts of large cities in Sweden. There have created no-go areas with their own rules and social hierarchies. Cars are torched every weekend and kids are knifed as initiation events. Rival gangs bomb each others hangouts. They set up their own checkpoints, indulge in shoot-outs with rival gangs and even torture victims with methods that ISIS would be proud of. It may not be due to their religion, but I perceive Muslim immigrants as being hugely over-represented among the criminal gangs.

It is my contention that over the last 50 years the liberal left in Sweden (and in Europe) has not had the common sense (or the courage) to distinguish between multi-ethnic and multicultural. A multi-ethnic population needs a unifying culture to form a coherent society. Having multiple cultures without an over-riding culture only gives a fractured society. Having many cultures present as sub-cultures enriches society but multiculturalism tries to deny that one must dominate. Promoting multiculturalism prevents integration, and together with a multi-ethnic community can only give multiple, parallel, abrasive, communities which makes a fractured society inevitable.

The future of Europe is multi-ethnic but not multicultural

I have for long held the position that a society needs a single overriding culture to be a society. All cultures are dynamic and change as times change and as new groups may be assimilated into it. The new culture inevitably contains elements of what new communities bring to the table and the original culture of that community – in some adjusted form – can continue as a sub-culture, but subordinate to the overriding culture. What is not tenable is the idea that a single society can remain a single society when it is splintered into a collection of many parallel cultures (and which are not subordinate to an overriding culture). It has been the misguided, do-gooding, politically correct approach of the “liberal left” in Europe which has actively encouraged new communities to maintain the cultures of where they came from and remain separate to the existing, prevailing culture. There has been little emphasis on getting new communities to assimilate and a far greater emphasis on separateness. This approach has also given rise to the fear of demanding assimilation from new communities. That has in turn led – and not very surprisingly – to the immigrant ghettos, the no-go areas and large parts of the new population who cannot even speak the local language (into the 3rd generation in some cases).

I have a theory that part of the problem in Sweden is that governments have been so ashamed, and so afraid, of Sweden’s past role in promoting Race Biology and eugenics, that they have overcompensated and been blind to the folly of multiculturalism in a multi-ethnic community. Many of the leading politicians (including Social Democrats) of that time were part of the Eugenics Network which provided the Nazis with the academic legitimacy and support they needed for their own Race Biology theories. Gunnar and Alva Myrdal were among the leading Social Democrats who supported eugenics but so also did George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells and Leon Trotsky. The Sami and the Roma (rather than the Jews) were the main targets for Swedish eugenics.

Europe’s shame

The collective Swedish amnesia about sterilisation is difficult to explain. From the outset it was viewed as an integral and widely-proclaimed part of the Swedish welfare programme. … The Swedish commitment to eugenic sterilisation was especially emphasised in the widely-known writings of Alva and Gunnar Myrdal; their book on the Crisis of the Population Question of 1934 achieved best-seller status, and was translated into English in 1940. The sequel, Alva Myrdal’s Nation and Family, appeared in English in 1941. Both books forcefully argued the case for sterilisation on eugenic grounds, and the second described the work of the Swedish Royal Commission on Population, which produced a report on sterilisation in 1936. This led to strengthening of the sterilisation law, as a consequence of which the number of sterilisations increased and peaked shortly after World War II.

Though the Swedish eugenics movement started in 1909 and was most active before WW2, Sweden’s sterilisation policies continued all the way till 1976 under a series of Social Democrat governments.

Between 1934 and 1976, when the Sterilisation Act was finally repealed, 62,000 people, 90 percent of them women, were sterilised. 15-year-old teenagers were sterilised for “crimes” such as going to dance halls. One woman was sterilised in 1960 for being in a motorcycle gang. Orphans were sterilised as a condition of their release from children’s homes. Others were pinpointed on the basis of local neighbourhood gossip and personal grudges. Some were targeted because of their “low intelligence”, being of mixed race, being gypsies, or for physical defects.

Sweden’s Race Biology Institute included leading academics and politicians and played a crucial role in selling Eugenics not only to Germany but throughout Europe and the USA. (The origins of Planned Parenthood, for example, in the US lie with Margaret Sanger and eugenics and a desire to control black fertility).

Eugenics Sweden (pdf)

The eugenics network consisted mainly of academics from a variety of disciplines, but with medicine and biology dominating; connections with German scientists who would later shape Nazi biopolitics were strong. The paper ……. also outlines the eugenic vision of the institute’s first director, Herman Lundborg. In effect the network, and in particular Lundborg, promoted the view that politics should be guided by eugenics and by a genetically superior elite. The selling of eugenics in Sweden is an example of the co-production of science and social order.

Whether the overcompensation for the past eugenics connections is the main reason for promoting multiculturalism or not, the fact remains that Swedish cities are now paying the price for the stupidity of promoting multiculturalism in a multi-ethnic community.


 

The world adds 1,000 new murderers every day

August 28, 2020

Of all the causes of deaths, violent deaths probably account for 2 -3%. Intentional homicides globally account for less than 1% of all deaths, though in some countries it can be as high as 10%.

Some murderers kill more than one person. Say 2 of every 10 murderers kills two (10 murderers = 12 murders). That gives us 410,000 fresh murderers every year. Let us further suppose that murderers are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the general population. Even if we take the worst country homicide rate of 50/100,000 and assume that murderers are killed at the rate of 500/100,000, this only rids us of 2,050 murderers annually. The clearance rate of recorded homicides globally is probably less than 50%. However, clearance rates don’t affect the number of murderers in our midst. Execution rates are so low as to not be significant in reducing the growing population of the world’s murderers.

The incontrovertible reality is that we add over 1,000 murderers to the population every day.

Estimating how many murderers are around is more uncertain, but the arithmetic says it should currently be around 25 million (35 / 100,000 of population). To put that in perspective, any cricket match with 30,000 spectators would include 10 murderers in the crowd.


 

 

So how does a life sentence for Brenton Tarrant serve anyone?

August 26, 2020

UPDATE!

Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch terrorist, was today sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in prison without any possibility of parole.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there was no reason to speak his name any more and he deserved to have a lifetime of “complete and utter silence”.

The sentence serves no one.

I can only conclude that abolishing the death penalty is a form of sanctimonious cowardice.


The Christchurch terrorist (51 killed, 49 injured) has pleaded guilty and will probably be sentenced to a life sentence this week. He is 29 years old. If he gets parole after 17 years he will be out on somebody’s streets in 2037 at the age of 46. If not, he is going to cost New Zealand a great deal. He will either be subject to the righteous wrath of other prisoners or he will live in isolation. With the expected security to protect him from others in prison, the total cost of his imprisonment is likely to be more than 50 million dollars. If he gets transferred somehow to a prison in his native Australia, the cost will not be any less.

theconversation:

A minimum of 17 years is required for a murder committed as part of a terrorist act, and Tarrant has admitted to 51 such murders (among other crimes). ……. 

To lock Tarrant up in perpetuity will be very expensive. He is currently costing just over NZ$4,930 a day due to the extra levels of security, considerably more than the average of about $338 for a standard prisoner. The next two years alone will cost New Zealand taxpayers about $3.6 million. The final sum for the 29-year-old terrorist will depend on how long he lives and the ongoing level of security he requires. If he has a normal life span the cost may be in the tens of millions per decade.

He has been variously called a maggot, an animal, less than human, not human ……..

What then is the virtue in keeping him alive?

By what scale does his life weigh heavier than those of his 51 victims?  Before any of those 51 were killed, it would have been right and perfectly acceptable if an armed guard had shot the terrorist dead. However, after the 51 were dead, capital punishment is no longer acceptable. Clearly the lives of the 51 no longer count once they are dead.

And where went justice?


 

At the heart of entitlement culture lies the human rights delusion

August 3, 2020

Entitlement culture is exhibited by people with the belief and the attitude that the world (their families, their neighbours, their government, their employers, the rest of humanity) owes them something merely because they exist. The culture is toxic.

The culture of entitlement is a “you owe me” attitude, one where people believe that society, a company, or government owes them something and they do not have to earn or deliver value for what they receive. These people believe they are owed something because of who they are or what social group or union they belong to—not because of what they earn.

People who feel entitled take for granted what they have and keep asking for more, and the more they get the more they expect. They focus more on what they are owed than what they contribute. In a culture of entitlement, peer pressure to perform is replaced by peer pressure to conform to the lowest common denominator; looking good is more important than doing the right thing.

Image : Reddit

It is a “me” focus which is closely associated with narcissism. Societies which focus on rights and entitlements rather than performance and duties, reap entitlement cultures in return. When governments usurp the duties and responsibilities of individuals, parents, families, schools, and companies they downgrade responsibility and promote entitlements. It is not surprising that “Nanny States” which foster the abrogation of individual responsibilities encourage a sense of entitlement. Children grow up feeling entitled, without any obligations,  to an education, a job, a living and a vacation. Paradoxically, welfare safety nets designed to assist the less fortunate end up also inculcating a false sense of entitlement. The permanently unemployed and the permanent students are consequences. Those who feel entitled cannot feel indebted and this reduces their own sense of obligations. Entitlement attitudes are promoted whenever reward is decoupled from performance. Inevitably, such rewards, which would normally be earned, (respect, appreciation, promotion, ….) are then considered entitlements or “rights”.

At the heart of entitlement culture lies the focus on misguided and imaginary concepts of “rights” and “human rights” instead of duties. Far better to have conceived a “Bill of Duties” rather than a “Bill of Rights”.

The human rights delusion

The world does not owe any living things – including humans – anything, whether as individuals or as species. No species has any entitlement to exist. Human survival or happiness or suffering are resultant states, not entitlements. A so-called ” human right” is an entitlement to privilege; where an entitlement is a promise and a privilege is a position of advantage for an individual or a group. ………. The post-WW2 concept of “human rights” is as an artificial, social construct of universal entitlements of unconditional privilege. No qualification is required. It is of an imagined, social contract between every individual and the rest of humanity. The individual’s entitlements are to be considered free of the cost of any duties and are an obligation upon everybody else.

…….. The UN Declaration is about what behaviour all individuals are entitled to receive but never directly about how an individual should behave. It is about what everybody else owes an individual. It is insidious and subversive in that it justifies the idea of having entitlements without any corresponding obligations. …. Where is the UN Declaration on Human Duties?

……… The artificial “human rights” concept and its imaginary social contract is unbalanced and untenable. If there is no cost to the acquisition of human rights, then they can have no great value. ……. Entitlements without duties are no social contract and ultimately, anti-social. It is only by aligning desired behaviour with perceptions of self-interest (and not just the interests of others), that we will see a change in the desired direction.

A human is defined by behaviour exhibited, not by behaviour received. 

Received behaviour (and the perception of “rights”) emerge as reflections of behaviour actually exhibited. Achieving some desired level of received behaviour is better served by a sharp focus on the behaviour expected from each individual (by the local surrounding society), rather than the diffuse focus of what the whole universe owes as received behaviour to every individual.


 

It is time for “Human Resources” to be retired and to return to basics

July 30, 2020

I was pleased to see that in India’s New Education Policy the “Ministry of Human Resource and Development” was to return to its pre-1985 name of the “Ministry of Education”.  This is not a comment about the new policy but about the use of the term “Human Resource”. The Ministry of Education became the HRD Ministry in 1985 during Rajiv Gandhi’s time as Prime Minister. But this was, in hindsight, both misguided and counter-productive. The intention was to show how “modern” and up-to-date India was. In practice it shifted the focus from the core needs of Education to the cosmetics of being seen to be modern.

News18: The Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) has been renamed as the Ministry of Education following an approval from the Union Cabinet. The name change was a key recommendation of the draft New Education Policy, which has also been cleared in Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting. The HRD ministry name was adopted in 1985, during the tenure of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as it was changed from ministry of education.

The term “human resource” was first used in 1893 though entirely in a descriptive way. The concept of mobilizing, training and managing personnel and employees in industry grew in the first half of the 20th century. Later it spread into the Military and all Defense Industries as the Second World War demonstrated clearly the need for training, educating and managing large groups of personnel. After the war the concept of managing personnel relationships spread into every branch of commerce and even into government and bureaucracies. It used to be the Personnel Department until it became trendy and fashionable in the late 1970s for corporations to use the term “Human resources” to show how caring they were.

Human Resource: Pioneering economist John R. Commons mentioned “human resource” in his 1893 book The Distribution of Wealth but did not elaborate. The expression was used during the 1910s to 1930s to promote the idea that human beings are of worth (as in human dignity); by the early 1950s it meant people as a means to an end (for employers). Among scholars the first use of the phrase in that sense was in a 1958 report by economist E. Wight Bakke.

It is my contention that the use of the term “human resource” has been misleading and, on balance, more bad than good. It has enshrined the notion of people being just another commodity in the economic cycle. The use of the term “human resource” has helped to apply the same principles to people as those applying to raw materials (cost, security of supply, alternative suppliers, competition between suppliers). Seeing humans as resources rather than “personnel” has encouraged – and enabled – the corporate world to dehumanize people and shift and change to the cheapest resource available. The entire notion of outsourcing, which has became a major area of HR, is based on the same principles of shifting risks of fluctuating production volumes to sub-suppliers.

Personnel and employers once exhibited loyalty, trust, a sharing of goals and commitment. In both directions. Values evolve. Employers have become faceless and so have the resources they employ. Resources, after all, are consumable. They are to be fully utilized and then discarded and replaced. Brand loyalty from customers is highly valued and to be pursued. Employer/employee loyalty is of no relevance if it is not specified in the employment contract. The goals of a large corporation are rarely anything shared by all the cogs in the large wheel. Corporations, instead, have HR Departments to produce Vision Statements which are meaningless and shared by no one. Human resources, for their part, are required to perform to specification, be judged by Key Performance Indicators, are trained (not educated) and are discarded and written-off when non-performing or obsolete.

So I am very pleased to see Human Resource Development in India return to Education. And it is about time that Human Resources returned to being about People.


 

Social distance versus social distancing

July 28, 2020

Social distancing in public health is about physical distancing but social distance in sociology is about race and attitudes to ethnic difference.

Social Distancing

Although the term was introduced only in the 21st century, social-distancing measures date back to at least the 5th century BC. The Bible contains one of the earliest known references to the practice in the Book of Leviticus 13:46: “And the leper in whom the plague is… he shall dwell alone; [outside] the camp shall his habitation be.” During the Plague of Justinian of 541 to 542, Emperor Justinian enforced an ineffective quarantine on the Byzantine Empire, including dumping bodies into the sea; he predominantly blamed the widespread outbreak on “Jews, Samaritans, pagans, heretics, Arians, Montanists and homosexuals”. In modern times, social distancing measures have been successfully implemented in several epidemics. In St. Louis, shortly after the first cases of influenza were detected in the city during the 1918 flu pandemic, authorities implemented school closures, bans on public gatherings and other social-distancing interventions. The influenza fatality rates in St. Louis were much less than in Philadelphia, which had fewer cases of influenza but allowed a mass parade to continue and did not introduce social distancing until more than two weeks after its first cases. Authorities have encouraged or mandated social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However in sociology, social distance is all about race.

In sociology, social distance describes the distance between different groups in society, such as social class, race/ethnicity, gender or sexuality. Members of different groups mix less than members of the same group. It is the measure of nearness or intimacy that an individual or group feels towards another individual or group in a social network or the level of trust one group has for another and the extent of perceived likeness of beliefs

Bogardus Social Distance Scale (1925)

This scale was developed by Emory Bogardus in 1924 and named after him. It is one of the oldest and still in use, psychological attitude scales. Due to its unidimensional nature, prejudice or the lack of it towards only one community or group can be measured at one point in time. The Bogardus social distance scale is also known as a cumulative scale because an agreement with one item shows agreement with any number of preceding items ……… 

For example, the Bogardus social distance scale is set up as a series of questions that ask an individual or a respondent, their feelings or the closest degree of intimacy towards a member of a group in question. A score of 1 is assigned to each option, asking the individual what the closest degree of intimacy is that he or she would be willing to admit a member of the group in question. The following is asked:

  • Would you be willing to marry a member of this group? (1.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your close personal friend? (2.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your neighbor? (3.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as your colleague at work? (4.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group as a citizen of your country? (5.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group visit your country as a non-citizen? (6.0)
  • Would you be willing to have a member of this group be excluded from associating with your country in any way? (7.0)

The ratings of multiple people from one community is collected as a cumulative and the average of this number represents the value of the social distance scale.

The Bogardus scale tries to measure social differences between attitudes of members of different ethnic communities as perceived by members of one community. It does not address social distance within a community.

“Social media” can thus promote social distancing (public health) while reducing social distance (sociology).


 

The Wuhan virus and common sense

July 26, 2020

Common sense went on vacation sometime in March 2020.

It seems to be an extended vacation and it is not certain when it will return.

Virus sense

Lockdowns seem to be counterproductive. They solve nothing. Instead they extend the life of the virus and prolong the pandemic. They could have maximized the global death toll. The only positive is that they may reduce the load on the hospitals.

The two areas where Sweden got it wrong were:

  • they did not restrict infection sources from reaching the care homes, and
  • they locked up the elderly in their “infected prisons”

But all the rest they did right.


 

Epidemiology is still more art than science and sometimes just speculation

July 24, 2020

The Wuhan virus, after 6 months, is still not under control.

I have grown a little tired of being told by all kinds of people that they are just following the science in the fight against the Wuhan virus. What science? There is a widespread delusion that epidemiology is a “settled science”. Epidemiology is, in reality, a mix of science and art and of “social science” (which is always a politicized view of behaviour). It is about “the frequency and pattern of health events in a population”. With a little known virus, as in this case, epidemiology relies on models and speculation. When the speculation is garbage, the model results are also, necessarily, garbage. The model results have ranged from the ridiculously complacent to the grotesquely alarmist, but what they all have in common is that they are/were wrong. Nothing surprising in that. That is the nature of modelling. A mathematical model is nothing more than a crystal ball and model results are always forecasts of the future. The problem lies in the delusion that epidemiology is an exact science and that model results give a sound and certain basis for public policy.

In the absence of a vaccine we are being led (or misled) by politicians blindly following the epidemiologists’ speculations about both the characteristics of the unknown virus and about social behaviour. In the space of 4 months the “best” epidemiologists at the WHO have changed their view of the Wuhan virus from being “non communicable between humans”, to “communicable by liquid droplets between humans”, to now be of “air borne transmission”. The experts have been divided whether transmission is from the symptomatic or from the asymptomatic. There are as many speculative views about when herd immunity can be achieved as there are epidemiologists. No one really knows. Art not science. Herds are always moving and herd immunity depends upon leaving the weak behind. Public policy is floundering as it staggers from lockdowns to no lockdowns to social distancing, from masks to no masks to some masks to masks for some, and from testing those with symptoms to restricted testing to mass testing. There is no certainty about whether testing is to be for the virus or for antibodies to the virus.

The Center for Disease Control has this definition of epidemiology:

Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems.

But then they go on:

…. the practice of epidemiology is both a science and an art.

The reliance on speculation and the resulting weaknesses of epidemiology are well known and there are many scientific articles about spurious but statistically significant epidemiological forecasts. This article in the BMJ from 2004 is just an example.

The scandal of poor epidemiological research

Something surely must be wrong with epidemiology when the new editors of a leading journal in the field entitle their inaugural offering, “Epidemiology—is it time to call it a day?” Observational epidemiology has not had a good press in recent years. Conflicting results from epidemiological studies of the risks of daily life, such as coffee, hair dye, or hormones, are frequently and eagerly reported in the popular press, providing a constant source of anxiety for the public.  In many cases deeply held beliefs, given credibility by numerous observational studies over long periods of time, are challenged only when contradicted by randomised trials. In the most recent example, a Cochrane review of randomised trials shows that antioxidant vitamins do not prevent gastrointestinal cancer and may even increase all cause mortality. 
Now Pocock et al describe the quality and the litany of problems of 73 epidemiological studies published in January 2001 in general medical and specialist journals. …… Worryingly, Pocock et al find that the rationale behind the choice of confounders is usually unclear, and that the extent of adjustment varies greatly. They also confirm that observational studies often consider several exposures, outcomes, and subgroups. This results in multiple statistical tests of hypotheses and a high probability of finding associations that are statistically significant but spurious. 

Modern epidemiology starting from – say – the 1854 London cholera outbreak has vastly improved public health. But it is not just a science and it is certainly not a “settled science”. The Wuhan virus is not under control. The various public policy interventions (lockdowns of various kinds and the deselection of the old for treatment) have prolonged, rather than shortened, the outbreak. The lockdowns may have protected health systems while maximizing the number of deaths. In fact, politicians have often abdicated responsibility for public policy to epidemiologists and bureaucrats who have not been best-suited to make political decisions. In other cases public policy has exploited epidemiology to protect the system rather than protecting people.

This is not so much to criticize epidemiology as to criticize the manner in which public policy has misused epidemiology. Epidemiology can only be an input for determining public policy. It cannot replace common sense. And it is not a convenient shelter for politicians to hide behind.


 

The false alarmist, “environmental” themes which have misled the world

July 16, 2020

False is a kind word. In many cases the “environmental” alarmists have created fake alarms. So much so that real dangers have been ignored while fake crises have been trumpeted. There is little doubt in my mind that the world would have been better prepared for the Wuhan virus pandemic if we had not diverted resources to crises that never were, and probably never will be.

A prominent former alarmist, Michael Shellenberger, has seen some light:

I may seem like a strange person to be saying all of this. I have been a climate activist for 20 years and an environmentalist for 30.

But as an energy expert asked by the US congress to provide ­objective testimony, and invited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to serve as a reviewer of its next assessment report, I feel an obligation to apologise for how badly we environmentalists have misled the public.

Here are some facts few people know: 

  1. Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction” 
  2. The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”
  3. Climate change is not making natural disasters worse
  4. Fires have declined 25 per cent around the world since 2003
  5. The amount of land we use for meat — humankind’s biggest use of land — has declined by an area nearly as large as Alaska
  6. The build-up of wood fuel and more houses near forests, not climate change, explain why there are more, and more dangerous, fires in Australia and California
  7. Carbon emissions are declining in most rich nations and have been declining in Britain, Germany and France since the mid-1970s
  8. The Netherlands became rich, not poor, while adapting to life below sea level
  9. We produce 25 per cent more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter
  10. Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change
  11. Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels, and
  12. Preventing future pandemics requires more, not less, “industrial” agriculture.

Shellenberger argues in his book that:

  • Factories and modern farming are the keys to human liberation and environmental progress
  • The most important thing for saving the environment is producing more food, particularly meat, on less land
  • The most important thing for reducing pollution and emissions is moving from wood to coal to petrol to natural gas to uranium
  • 100 per cent renewables would require increasing the land used for energy from today’s 0.5 per cent to 50 per cent
  • We should want cities, farms, and power plants to have higher, not lower, power densities
  • Vegetarianism reduces one’s emissions by less than 4 per cent
  • Greenpeace didn’t save the whales — switching from whale oil to petroleum and palm oil did
  • “Free-range” beef would require 20 times more land and produce 300 per cent more emissions
  • Greenpeace dogmatism worsened forest fragmentation of the Amazon, and
  • The colonialist approach to gorilla conservation in the Congo produced a backlash that may have resulted in the killing of 250 elephants.

There are many other areas where the alarmist themes have become fashionable but are false and sometimes faked.

  • Population implosion rather than population explosion, is the main risk which requires mitigation
  • The ozone hole dances to its own music and not to human emissions.
  • In the 1970s Snowball Earth was imminent.
  • Now, Fireball Earth is upon us.
  • The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is not, in fact, significantly affected by man-made emissions.
  • There never was an acid-rain crisis in the 1970s.
  • There are more species alive now than ever before, and there are more “failed” species which need to go extinct.
  • Biodiversity is a result, not a goal.
  • At any time and in any biosphere there is an optimum for the number of species that can be supported.
  • There never has been a food crisis or an oil crisis or an energy crisis or a resource crisis.
  • The “water problem” is one of distribution not of quantity or availability.

Alarmist themes gradually dwindle as their catastrophes fail to materialize. But they take a long time to die out and while they live they cause an enormous waste of resources. However they do provide parasitic employment to the otherwise unemployable.


 


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