The real greenhouse denialists, part four

As media reports of today’s release of the annual Lowy Institute opinion survey noted, the masses may want climate change stopped as a general principle, but there isn’t much that they are prepared to personally do about it. They may not deny the reality of climate change, but they do deny any seriously responsibility for it.

When asked how much they were prepared to pay extra on their monthly electricity bill to help solve climate change, a fifth of Lowy’s respondents wouldn’t pay anything, 32% would pay $10 or less, 20% would pay $11 to $20, and just 19% would pay $21 or more. Those refusing to pay anything is down on the 28% in marginal seats last November according to a Climate Institute survey, but perhaps if the mortgage-belt nature of many marginals were taken into account there would be no real difference between the polls.

Perhaps the more interesting aspect of Lowy’s survey was that climate change had slipped as a foreign policy goal from 75% rating it as very important last year to 66% this year, though global warming as a critical threat to Australia’s interests is more stable at 66% also, down only 2% on the year.

Economic issues seem to be driving this change, with the biggest increase in foreign policy goals being ‘strengthening the Australian economy’, up from 60% to 70%. But given that respondents could if they wanted class every issue as ‘very important’ the drop in ‘tackling climate change’ seems significant.

Perhaps the public is getting bored of the daily prediction of disaster. I may have missed later ads in the government’s climate change advertising campaign (I spent most of the month in Japan), but what I saw before I left was just repeating the same old messages any non-comatose person has already heard hundreds of times before. Something different has to be said to regain attention, such as how much all this is really going to cost Australian consumers.

Mixing at school (again)

Commenter Charles isn’t giving up on his claim that country public schools confer particular advantages in tolerance-producing social mixing:

In the country you go to school with the doctor’s kids (unless they are sent off to a private school, in which case the doctor’s kids miss out, they really don’t know what they missed and really aren’t in a position to comment) and the kids of the local drunk. …

I think the issue is important, private schools segregate the student population, in my view it is a real problem and going forward we are going to suffer for it.

There are too few doctors in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes to say anything meaningful about whether they are more likely to send their kids to government schools in the country than the city. But professionals generally are more likely to send, or have sent, their oldest child to a government school in the country than the city, 68% compared to 54% (2005 figures).

I doubt tolerance would be enhanced by the children of doctors and drunks mixing. For the doctor’s kids, seeing the products of social pathology first-hand could be rather more off-putting than thinking about the children of drunks in the abstract, as unfortunate victims of circumstance. And for the drunk’s kids, the doctor’s kids could well seem like terrible snobs.
Continue reading “Mixing at school (again)”

Is $12 billion a year being sent overseas for drugs?

According to a report in The Age,

The Australian Crime Commission’s estimates suggest authorities are drastically underestimating the quantity of drugs crossing the nation’s borders without detection.

“The estimates at the moment range between $4 billion and $12 billion a year. We are not saying at the moment which end of the scale is right or wrong, but what we are saying is it is significant,” [ACC chief executive] Mr Milroy said.

The most recent official estimate, for 2004, put the figure at $382 million.

$12 billion seems rather a lot for the nation’s drug users to be sending overseas. Doing a quick calculation based on the AIHW drug survey it amounts to about $4,200 per drug user.

But by far the most common illicit drug is cannibas, which is not a big import. Another Australian Crime Commission report says that low prices and plentiful local supply mean that it is not attractive to drug importers.

If we restrict the user pool to other drugs, $12 billion means about $9,000 per drug user (though presumably some people appear several times in the separate numbers for each drug).

I suppose that is possible, but the most common of the other drugs, ecstasy, costs only $30-$40 a pill, and for many people is an occasional party drug, not something they need every day.

I won’t give this number the dubious research category yet, but the range of between $4 billion a year and three times that amount suggests that at minimum this is a very premature release of the results.

Sub-prime courses and students?

As Rafe and others have pointed out, the US financial meltdown is giving market critics a long-awaited opportunity. Indeed, over the last few years things had grown so desperate for them that they had given up arguing that capitalism didn’t work, and instead resorted Clive Hamilton-style to claiming that it worked too well, causing unhappiness and trashing the planet.

But now the argument is swinging back to markets don’t work. The National Tertiary Education Union is jumping on this bandwagon as the Bradley committee considers the future of Australian higher education, with several submissions (including of course mine) calling for relaxing quantity and price controls.

In this week’s Higher Education Supplement of The Australian, NTEU Policy and Research coordinator Paul Kneist says:

Opening up the higher education sector to competition to give potential students greater choice no doubt echoes the calls for financial deregulation in the ’80s.

Specialised private providers with lower costs will enter the market. Student choice will increase and the cost of a higher education qualification may fall. Universities will be forced to respond if they are to remain competitive.

However, will increased competition and lower prices result in lower entry standards and a lowering of the quality of education being delivered? Will there be a proliferation of sub-prime qualifications?

Continue reading “Sub-prime courses and students?”

Country and city prejudices

Commenter Conrad questioned the claim by commenter Charles that country schools teach tolerance better than city schools.

I don’t have any direct measures of tolerance by region, but we do have survey evidence on ethnic attitudes by region. The 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes included several social distance questions, which ask what degree of closeness the respondent is prepared to have with a member of a particular group. The categories are welcome as family member, welcome as close friend, have as next door neighbour, welcome as work mates, allow as Australian citizen, have as visitor only, and keep out of Australia altogether.

There was also a question asking respondents to classify where they lived. I have looked at three locations – rural and small town combined, outer metropolitan, and inner metropolitan.

I looked only at the extremes – what proportion of people in each locality either wanted a high social distance, keep out of Australia or have as a visitor only, or were happy with a low social distance, have as family member or as a close friend.
Continue reading “Country and city prejudices”

Does plagiarism by politicians matter?

Someone in Malcolm Turnbull’s office has had a very bad day. It seems that material he or she gave to Julie Bishop, the new Shadow Treasurer, was lifted from The Wall Street Journal. Bishop was subsequently accused of plagiarism.

In some cases plagiarism is clearly a problem. But it is hard to get worked up about it when committed by a politician.

If the sin in plagiarism is passing off other people’s work as your own, then for senior politician it is a sin that they commit just about every day. They rely heavily on advisers (and for those in government, bureaucrats) to prepare speeches, media releases, position papers and correspondence. Their staff are trying to second-guess the politician – to say what he or she would say, if he or she had the time – but nevertheless the words are not the politician’s. Using other people’s words is an occupational necessity; there would be massive efficiency loses if we pedantically insisted on personal authorship.

In this case, the words were copied from someone who was not employed by a politician. But the words were just a news report of information that was widely available in any case, on how the proposed US financial sector rescue package would work. There is no ethical issue here in giving credit to the intellectual or creative work of others, as there is in some plagiarism cases.

Politicians and their staff should paraphrase to spare us these tiresome controversies. But the fact that the Bishop/WSJ borrowing was reported at all reflects the application of norms of original work that properly apply to creative endeavours or when testing student knowledge, but which have little relevance to politics.

Secularism in schools

In the SMH yesterday, longtime public school advocate Jane Caro criticised the spread of religion into NSW public schools, under the sponsorship of the Howard government’s school chaplaincy program. There had also been criticism earlier in the month about Hillsong recruiting at public schools.

Caro complains that

For those of us, however, who have deliberately chosen secular education for our children, such a religious invasion of our public schools is unequivocally unwelcome.

My reading of the 19th century debates on the introduction of public education was that the idea was more for the schools to be non-sectarian than to encourage secularism. This was a way of persuading people of different faiths to send their kids to the same schools. They would do it much more reluctantly if they thought that either other religions or no religion were to be taught. To this day, the NSW Education Act (section 30) leaves open the possibility of non-sectarian religious instruction in public schools:

In government schools, the education is to consist of strictly non-sectarian and secular instruction. The words secular instruction are to be taken to include general religious education as distinct from dogmatic or polemical theology.

But it seems to me that we have preference mismatching in schooling. Continue reading “Secularism in schools”

Higher education narratives

According to the SMH report of the latest ANU Poll:

UNIVERSITIES are no longer seen primarily as centres of learning but as corporations most concerned about the bottom line.

And indeed 48% of respondents agreed with universities ‘mainly care about the bottom line’ compared to 39% who agreed that ‘universities mainly care about education’.

Yet 71% say universities are doing an excellent or good job (compared to 46% saying the same of public schools). Perhaps the bottom line/education question was a dumb one, since the two are interdependent – no education, no money; no money, no education. Yet it appeals to the narrative of the public education lobby, a narrative faithfully reinforced by the SMH over many years.

The public education narrative was also reflected in other answers. 70% of respondents thought that it had become more difficult for students from poorer families to get into university over the last ten years.
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Conservative educational delusions

Leading up to the federal election, I welcomed the ALP’s policy calling for a national curriculum based, as it was, on a conservative agenda very much like the Howard government’s approach to reshaping the teaching of history and English.

The fear was that the devil would be in the detail… [italics added]

Education commentator Kevin Donnelly in today’s Australian, complaining about the appointment of left-wing historian Stuart Macintyre to the National Curriculum Board.

The great conservative educational delusion of the last five years has been – I hesitate, unfortunately, to use ‘was’ – the idea of a national curriculum. Behind this was the assumption that conservative educators could control one national curriculum more easily than six state-based curriculum systems. A momentary glance at electoral history should have shown that assumption to be nonsense, as today’s report confirms.

While I sympathise with Donnelly’s long-running critique of ‘progressive’ education, I think he has been much weaker on institutional issues. His comment today that the ‘devil is in the detail’ is symptomatic of this.

The devil isn’t in the detail of curriculum board appointments. The devil is in the design of curriculum structures. Any system that allows a change of government to drive curriculum, rather than parental choices via a competitive school system, is a bad one, even if it temporarily leads to good appointments under some governments.

The climate change ends and means gap

We still don’t have any polling on what global impact the Australian public believes our proposed emissions trading scheme would have, but this morning’s Newspoll does explore opinion on the strategic issue of whether Australia should act alone or wait for other countries.

While a clear majority – 61% – say we should act even if other countries do not, 36% either think we should wait or don’t believe we should have an emissions training scheme at all.

This fits a common pattern in polling on this subject of the massive majorities believing in climate change (at least mid-80s) shrinking when it comes to any specific action.

The medium and long-term politics of climate change policy continue to remain hard to predict.