Guy Pearse’s high and dry argument

At the start of the month, I suggested that Guy Pearse, author of High and Dry, a critique of the Howard governmet’s climate change policies, use his wesbite’s ‘Clarifications and corrections’ page to correct the claim that Greg Lindsay had any responsibility for the government’s policies.

My argument was based on the facts that Lindsay has had nothing to say on the topic (which Pearse admits), and that the CIS had published only a handful of articles on climate change, and none for several years. It seemed to me to be a wildly implausible notion of ‘influence’, that all you have to do is print a few pieces and – hey presto! – the government adopts your policy. Strangely, given this theory of influence, my dozens of articles on higher education reform over more than seven years, not to mention my prior role as the actual Ministerial adviser on higher education, have failed to secure the desired outcome. Ditto many CIS policy suggestions on tax, welfare, and other subjects.

Now Pearse has responded to my post, and though he does, near the end, back-pedal a bit, it is mostly a flimsy exercise in guilt by association.

Since Pearse can find so little on climate change actually published by the CIS – the most recent thing he cites dates from 2002 – he resorts to highlighting comments by people ‘closely associated’ with the CIS. These include Hugh Morgan, Roger Bate, John Stone, Alex Robson, Alan Wood, and Jennifer Marohasy. While all have had something to do with the CIS, in the case of Wood, Stone and Marohasy it is very minor – one or two articles on other subjects or being part of the (defunct) CIS Economic Freedom Network. The others have had more extensive contact, but only Bate and Robson have recent involvement.

But given the CIS cannot control any of these people, how can it be responsible for what they say? It’s no more plausible than saying the CIS can control the PM. And nor do I accept, as an editor, that I should not publish people simply because they have said (or will say) other controversial things.

In the second last paragraph, Pearse realises that the logic of his position isn’t that strong:

let’s also be clear about Greg Lindsay’s influence. His apparently willingness to stand by while a host of CIS people have publicly pedaled denial and delay doesn’t make him responsible for Howard’s policy, but it is arguably one of the preconditions for the ‘carbon capture’ of John Howard by our worst polluting industries. (emphasis added)

That ‘arguably’ is a weasel word in this context. In the sense that someone could make the argument (eg Pearse) it’s right, but in sense of this being a plausible argument, it isn’t. What intellectual authority does Greg Lindsay have on climate change science that would make him convincing to these people over all the others arguing for greenhouse action?

Pearse also has a go at this post of mine on the fuss back in February over the American Enterprise Institute offering to pay climate change sceptics for the research. But this wasn’t a post giving my actual view on the science of climate change. This is the key paragraph:

It really is hard to see what the fuss is about. There is a political consensus that something needs to be done about climate change, not because we are necessarily 100% certain about the science, but because policymakers cannot do nothing in the face of potentially catastrophic risks. Few decisions are made with perfect information. But I cannot see that there is anything to be lost from continuing to hear from the sceptics, and that the sponsoring body once took some money from Exxon or has staff that once worked for Bush tells us little that is useful.

It’s a comment on policy process and public debate, which would not be seen as controversial on any other topic. There are very few topics where the heretic-hunting has reached the point where even proposing research that departs from the official line is in itself seen as deplorable. I do think this is a bad development, and I would think so regardless of my views on the actual science.

20 thoughts on “Guy Pearse’s high and dry argument

  1. Morgan, Wood and Stone are not people who are actually paid by the CISfor their opinions. They just happen to be given honourary titles. What the hell is this CIS Economic Freedom Network? I presume it just means they’re members? I mean if Morgan’s view on greenhouse are to be attributed to the CIS because he’s a fellow, then so are mine as an Adjunct Scholar, another honorary position. By the sorts of links that Pearse is drawing (attributing opinions of various honorary positions to CIS) the CIS is both for and against legalising hard drugs, for and against euthanasia, for and against gay marriage, for and against Mark Latham becoming PM. This is a pathetic attempt from a former Liberal hack.


  2. “What the hell is this CIS Economic Freedom Network? I presume it just means they’re members?”

    It was something Wolfgang used to provide information on loss of economic freedom, but so far as I know never had any official status.


  3. Great, so informal advisers too have their views attributed to the CIS.

    Is Pearse going to modify his rigorous methodology to include partners and ex-partners next? I once went out with someone who voted Green …


  4. Jason said, “I once went out with someone who voted Green ”

    And how did you feel after s/he dropped you because of your right-wing idolatry?


  5. She never did, Keith. I’ve never been dumped because of my politics.

    And unlike that lifelong sucker at the public teat Pearse I’ve never been a member of the highly discreditable Liberal party.


  6. Andrew,

    It seems from Pearse’s ‘comment’ that his argument rests on two syllogisms:

    ‘Person X holds opinion A.
    Person X is associated with the CIS.
    Therefore, the CIS holds opinion A.’


    ‘The CIS is reported to be John Howard’s favourite think tank.
    The CIS holds opinion A.
    Therefore, the CIS is recommending opinion A to John Howard.’

    The gaps in the logic and the lack of supporting evidence mean that the argument is a dud from start to finish.

    Unfortunately, logic and evidence don’t have much place in this debate. You and the CIS have been picked on by someone who is out of his depth intellectually, has a barrow to push, is comfortable writing hyperbole (eg ‘right wing economics obsessed radicals who want to transform society to reflect their disbelief in market failure’) and is writing about a ‘sexy’, media-friendly topic. You’re on a hiding to nothing.

    I like reading the arguments from your corner, but I doubt that they’re going to win you fair treatment.


  7. Jeremy – True, but as well to have it on the record. Though Pearse is perhaps not quite as lost a cause as some of the others. Most critics of ‘neoliberalism’ are bullshitters in the Harry Frankfurt sense; ie not so much liars as people who just don’t care whether what they say is correct or not. But Pearse has gone to the trouble of finding citations, which few of them do (even if he cannot correctly interpret what they mean for the proposition he is advancing). He is arguing that we should accept scientific evidence. And he was sufficiently concerned by my claims that he was wrong to try to address them.


  8. a host of CIS people have publicly pedaled denial and delay

    So they’re not even trying to peddle denial and delay? Does Greg Lindsay have no policy on effective use of the language?


  9. We do worry about the language and about truth. Clearly Pearse does not. His fictional characterisation of people and CIS is at least amusing to people who know better. Andrew Norton has done a marvellous job of outlining some of the errors and spurious connections that Pearse makes, but there are so many, there seemed little point in wasting much more time on them. Mind you, I thought trying to tie CIS to an op ed written by Hugh Morgan in the SMH in 2002 was especially insightful of Pearse. Morgan’s had no role at CIS since 1986 when he retired after having served a three year term on our Board. The SMH article didn’t say he had any connection whatsoever. But he is on the Board of the Reserve Bank, so it must be part of the conspiracy too. Hugh Morgan is listed as a Distinguished Fellow of the CIS, an honorific, but so is Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and more than a dozen other distinguished Australians and New Zealanders who have not only been significant participants in the development of the CIS, but who have also made great contributions to our countries. Oh, and the last half dozen federal politicians who have spoken on CIS platforms included Kevin Rudd and Craig Emerson, as well as John Howard and Kevin Andrews. I’ll stop at that.

    What a Grimm tale Pearse spins.


  10. Andrew Norton wrote:
    Most critics of ‘neoliberalism’ are bullshitters in the Harry Frankfurt sense;

    Comments policy:
    I’m going to take a hard line against those who use bad language

    What is it exactly, other than Pearse being a turncoat, has prompted this invective? He has already shown himself to be untrustworthy by abandoning the sinking ship. Continuing to pursue him will largely result in Pearse getting more attention which he doesn’t deserve. There’ll be plenty of other rodents splashing about in the water soon enough that throwing this one a life jacket seems gratuitous.


  11. DR – Frankfurt lifted ‘bullshitters’ above bad language. Anywway, I was saying that Pearse *wasn’t* a bullshitter in the Frankfurt sense. I was having a go at Pearse because he said silly things about me and my employer; it has nothing to do with the rest of his book (most of which I have not read) or any sinking ships he may be abandoning. If I am aware of incorrect statements about myself I will usually try to set the record straight.


  12. bullshitting is bad language?

    Poor petal, David Rubie. Don’t forget to cover the legs of your tables, Dave!


  13. Right on queue pops up the Laughing Libertarian, Jason Soon, master of rhetoric and rationality. Remember to send J-Ho a fathers day card this year old son, he needs all the friends he can get.


  14. Pingback: Deltoid
  15. All this conjecture and hair splitting is all very well, but you don’t seem to be addressing the guts of what he has to say about the Howard government’s behaviour concerning his ‘unnatural coupling’ with the big polluters!

    I realise he’s not saying anything that most of us in the real world haven’t already suspected to be true, but that he’s saying it now is rather pleasing to those of us who don’t think Howard has our best interests at heart.

    Which big polluter will Howard turn up on the board of after this election turfs him out, I wonder?


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