3rd September

A long week-end of string quartets in Banff – the Banff International String Quartets Competition (BISQC). Held every three years, ten string quartets (whose members have to be under 35 years old) compete for one of the biggest prizes in the string quartet world. We get to listen to wonderful music. They get to play alongside their peers and to connect with some of the great players, like David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet, one of the judges. They also have access to best educated audiences in the world – which includes many former players, many serious concert management people, instrument makers and just well informed concert goers. They also get to play a great repertoire, including a new piece commissioned by the competition – this year by Matthew Whittall, a Canadian who lives in Finland.

Quartets by Haydn, Bartok, Ligeti, Ravel, Mendelsohn, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Dvorak, Franck, Tchaikovsky, Purcell, Stravinsky, Schubert, Shostakovich, Prokoviev, Haas, Ades, Aurebach, Sciarrino, Schnittke, Rihm, Webern, Kurtag, Dutilleux filled the room with lush, rich and challenging sounds (especially the Sciarrino).

The audience spends breakfast, lunch and dinner discussing what they heave heard and their choices for winning quartets. Most of us got the top three – Marmen, Callisto and Viano – but none none of us anticipated that the judges would award two of them the top prize. For the firs time in the history of the competition (the first run was in 1983) the judges chose Marmen and Viano to share that prize. Callisto won the prize for second place. My friend and colleague Bill Ranking explains what they win here.

Musical competitions are difficult things. How do you make the choice from ten world-class quartets – all of them had won prizes and awards before Banff – who play different pieces of music in different ways? Even when they play the exact same piece – the Mark Whittall String Quartet Number 2 “Bright Ferment” – it is interpreted differently by each quartet. My own strategy, despite enthusiastic conversations with fellow BISQC’ers over meals and wine, is to simply hear the music. It’s moving, inspirational and emotional. The finalists playing of Beethoven was simply magnificent.

If you get a chance to hear Marmen or Viano near you – GO!

6th Septemeber

Shortly after being elected Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney asked a panel of people to find ways of reducing expenditure in Alberta so that Alberta could “balance its books” and become debt free. He did this: (a) after giving away $4.5 billion in tax cuts to already profitable corporations; and (b) eliminating Alberta’s carbon levy – an essential ingredient for the social license to operate asked for by the major oil and gas companies.

The “blue ribbon” panel, known as the MacKinnon panel after its chairperson, was asked to examine and make recommendations on:

  • department and agency trends and cost drivers
  • the governments fiscal outlook
  • a plan to balance the budget by 2022-23 without raising taxes
  • a new fiscal framework that requires future balanced budgets
  • a plan to retire the accumulated debt
  • an approach to government’s operating and capital budgeting, fiscal planning and reporting processes

The panel was heavily influenced by the fact that several members have ties to the Fraser Institute – a conservative think-tank, in part funded by the Koch brothers, which routinely trashes the idea of public good and public service and distorts data so as to make their case. The chair of the blue ribbon panel is a Fraser Institute associate.

The very premise of the panels work – do not look at revenue only at expenditure and balance the budget quickly and permanently – are flawed. No sensible organization would develop a financial strategy which did not look at revenues and the value of debt, especially with interest rates as low as they are now.

A profitable Canadian company has debt. They use it to create assets and future-focused investments to produce wealth. Air Canada does not but its aircraft with cash, it uses debt. Companies rarely buy property outright, they use debt.

Governments use debt to invest in the future – building schools, funding education, enabling public health, supporting infrastructure projects like roads, water systems, broadband. Debt is not a bad thing and the idea of being debt free is one of those nonsense ideas that Jason Kenney has been a proponent of for sometime. He sees debt as a sign of weakness, rather than seeing it as one of the tools of the job.

The issue is how much debt is manageable. Alberta’s net debt (debt-assets) per capita is the lowest in Canada and our net debt to GDP ratio is the lowest in Canada and amongst the lowest of any jurisdiction in the developed world.

The analysis by the panel is also deeply flawed. They compared expenditures of the Alberta government with those of other provinces without considering: (a) the revenues of these provinces and their taxation strategy; (b) the debt levels of these provinces; and (c) the GDP per capita and wage rates in these provinces.

Alberta has the lowest program expenditure relative to GDP of any province in Canada. While the absolute number looks higher than in other Provinces, our GDP per capita is also much higher. One telling number – our government revenues as a % of GDP are the lowest in Canada.

I am all for efficiency, but privatization and public:private partnerships do not lead to efficiencies.

There will be more on this later, but the first read of the MacKinnon report tells me that this is not an evidence based analysis, but a purely political document with clear political intentions.

7th September

Lets take a stroll through the UK and see what has been happening.

Pupils at a school in Lewes protested against having to wear gender neutral school uniforms, where boys and girls both have to wear trousers. The student protested on the grounds of individuation, climate change and cost (not necessarily in that order). The police were called – all of them wearing trousers – and tried to reason with the students and their parents. The school sent girls wearing skirts home to change and boys wearing kilts to do the same. No one asked why uniforms were being worn at all.

The Duchess of Sussex, who has refused to go to Balmoral to spend time with the Queen, has gone to Queens in New York to watch her friend, Serena Williams, try to beat a nineteen year old Canadian at the US Open Tennis final. She flew on a commercial airline which was over an hour late. Her refusal to go to Balmoral was said to be because she thought that her son Archie was too young to travel – this despite just having taken him to Ibiza to spend time with Elton John and David Furnish. The real reason she didn’t go is because the Duke of Edinburgh had offered to take her on a drive around the estate – we all know that he is such a good driver.

Borish Johnson will, however, be spending time at Balmoral. The Queen intends to ask him “What the F*@! Are You Doing to My Country?”.  We all await his reply. It is suspected he will be found dead in ditch, since she will sign the Bill requiring him to look like a complete idiot on Monday. (The Bill compels him to ask for an extension of Article 50 if he cannot secure a new Brexit deal by October 19th. Borish said “I would rather be found dead in a ditch than be forced to ask for an extension to Article 50”).

Boris Johnson’s brother Jo – the sensible one – resigned both as an MP and as a member of his brothers administration. In doing so, he made clear that he put his own sanity before country and family. Boris’s father, Stanley, used to be a Member of the European parliament and worked for the EU Commission and the world bank. Like his eldest son Boris, Stanley is basically bonkers. Boris’s sister, Rachel, is a journalist with the Mail on Sunday and is a smart, intelligent woman with a New College Oxford degree in classics. She has also written several novels, one of which (Shire Hell) won the much sought after Bad Sex in Fiction Prize in 2008 which, she said, was “an absolute honour”.

Jeremy Corbyn, sometimes leader of the Labour Party, has said that he will not support calls for an election before mid-November. His strategy (sic) is based on the idea that Borish will by then either have secured a deal or will have broken the law which requires him to seek an extension of Article 50, making him vulnerable. Corbyn, also known as the dithering Marx-like allotment owner, would make a worse Prime Minister that Borish Johnson, but then Britain seems to be in the Big Brother House mode – with Downing Street the new Big Brother House where PM’s can be voted in and out with glee.

As parliament loses the plot and the Prime Minister loses his mind, the good news is that QI is back on the BBC. A comedy show masquerading as a quiz, it features the very sharp and fast thinking Sandi Toksvig and the not so fast thinking but very funny Alan Davis just being themselves. Good solid lesbian humour – just what Friday night needs.

The other good news is that the worst “comedy” show the BBC has shown in fifty years – Hold the Sunset – has ended. Despite having John Cleese, Alison Steadman, Jason Watkins, Sue Johnston, Rosie Cavaliero, Peter Egan and (the ubiquitous) Ann Reid in the cast, the writing was as dull as a Brexit memorandum from William Rees Mogg. Written by Charles McKeown (he cowrote The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus with Terry Gilliam) the number of laughs per episode is a negative number. In fact, there are more jokes per half hour in any tennis game played by Serena Williams. This is probably why the Duchess of Sussex has flown to New York so as to avoid having to watch this rubbish.

8th September

The proposition that school funding should be linked to simple indicators of student success as defined by high stakes testing assumes that teachers and administrators can make a real difference to learning outcomes across a number of students in sustained ways over time. This also assumes that high stakes testing are good indicators of what it is that students are learning and reflect fully the purpose of schools.

None of these assumptions are correct. Wealth, parental education and health are stronger indicators of outcomes on standardized tests. While teachers can make a difference to some students in a class, they cannot overcome the powerful effects of poverty, hunger, lack of educational experience within the family and social class for a cohort of students.Testing measures a narrow range of abilities on a specific day at a specific time. They are poor indicators of what students are capable of. The tests do not measure creativity, problem solving, teamwork, compassion, emotional intelligence, fun, play, artistic ability, musicality, communication, the sense of social responsibility and the passion that students demonstrate for a specific interest or ability. These are the things that teachers, students and schools focus on. Teaching is a creative, adaptive activity and is based on the needs of the students in the room. Teaching is not a delivery system for a governments ideology or the needs of a specific industry.

There is good evidence that when school resources depend on test results – especially when teachers are rewarded (or penalized) by these data – teachers teach to the test. This is not why we send students to school. We send students to school so that they can find their talents, build their skills, knowledge and understanding and engage in the collective enterprise of collaborative learning. Testing gets in the way – an evil that disrupts the work of learning. If we are to test students, let the student call the test when they are ready and when they feel it would be helpful to them.

This policy thrust has nothing to do with learning, students and improving teaching. It is about money. About reducing spending, transferring public funds to private interest and enabling commercial interests to profit. It has been pursued in other jurisdictions. It has not led to significant gains in learning outcomes, but has led to a fall in performance and increased teacher stress and burn out.

Alberta has one of the most successful school systems in the world. This policy will lead its standing in the world to fall and to strife within school systems and between schools. We should simply say “no thanks”. We will have to eventually if the policy is implemented. It is a policy that will create more problems than it solves.

9th September

As many will know, I am a psychologist by both training and disposition. I have written several books focused on psychological questions and work, including my most recent book with Sarajane Aris Beyond Resilience: From Mastery to Mystery – A Workbook for Personal Mastery and Change. I am bound by some professional ethics as a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and as a Chartered Psychologist. One of which inhibits my ability to “diagnose” someone without having undertaken a specific set of evaluations.

Nonetheless, I am able to comment on an analysis offered by others. In The Atlantic magazine, Peter Wehner suggest that Donald Trump is not well. His basic proposition is that, by temperament and disposition, Trump is unfit to be President of the United States. Peter worked in the White House for three US Presidents (both Bush’s and Ronald Raegan) . The two key paragraphs in his analysis are these:

Donald Trump’s disordered personality—his unhealthy patterns of thinking, functioning, and behaving—has become the defining characteristic of his presidency. It manifests itself in multiple ways: his extreme narcissism; his addiction to lying about things large and small, including his finances and bullying and silencing those who could expose them; his detachment from reality, including denying things he said even when there is video evidence to the contrary; his affinity for conspiracy theories; his demand for total loyalty from others while showing none to others; and his self-aggrandizement and petty cheating.

It manifests itself in Trump’s impulsiveness and vindictiveness; his craving for adulation; his misogynypredatory sexual behavior, and sexualization of his daughters; his open admiration for brutal dictators; his remorselessness; and his lack of empathy and sympathy, including attacking a family whose son died while fighting for this countrymocking a reporter with a disability, and ridiculing a former POW. (When asked about Trump’s feelings for his fellow human beings, Trump’s mentor, the notorious lawyer Roy Cohn, reportedly said, “He pisses ice water.”)

He makes other points. I made some observations on my other blog site some time ago. I observed what the definition of narcissistic personality disorder is:

“A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. If you have NPD, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious, you often monopolize conversations, you may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior, and you may feel a sense of entitlement (when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry). At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.”  (The Mayo Clinic).

The Diagnostic State Manual version 5 (DSM-5) criteria for NPD includes these features:

  • Expecting to be recognized as superior.
  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents.
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people.
  • Requiring constant admiration.
  • Having a sense of entitlement.
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations.
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want.
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you.
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner.

Narcissistic personality disorder crosses the border of healthy confidence into thinking so highly of yourself that you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others. Witness, in Trump’s claims, his constant boast that “I know more than anyone about [fill in the blank]”.

I think most observers would agree that, by any measure, NPD is part of the Trump illness. But there is more. His recent attempts to pursue in vindictive ways those who disagree with him, his claims about Alabama and the Hurricane Dorian and his pursuit of scientists who disagree with his weather forecast (including those who made the original forecast) are all examples of what I called elsewhere “the eternal sunset of the thoughtless mind”.

The fact that his illness and NPD are being enabled and encouraged by members of his family and the GOP is what worries me more than his own behaviour (which is bad enough). In any “normal” family, treatment would be sought and his ability to make major decisions (like where to go for dinner, whether or not he should be allowed to drive, whether or not he would be allowed access to a Twitter account) would all by now have been managed by an intelligent wife, son, daughter. Instead, possibly out of fear of consequences, they are all encouraging him not only to persist but to seek permission to persist beyond 2020.

What should happen is the use of the clause in the Constitution of the United States that enables his removal from office. Section 4 of the 25th amendment says:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.[5]

Clearly, this is not going to happen. Mike Pence has no spine and no support for such an action, and congress (in the process of ensuring the legal basis for impeachment) would not act fast enough or decisively enough to make it happen. The Senate, still in the hands of the GOP, would be a block to this too.

So the world watches a specific form on mental illness impact us all.

10th September

Let’s take a walk around the world and see what is happening.

In London, John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons) has indicated that he will leave his role on October 31st as another birthday gift for me. Very nice. He has probably been the worst speaker of the House for some considerable time, showing his bias and making decisions that favoured Remainers over Brexiters. But he is going and should, if tradition is anything to go by, become Lord Bercow of No Fixed Abode.

In the US, continuing their destruction of democracy, the GOP has cancelled primaries and caucuses in four States despite the fact that Trump has challengers for the nomination. Trump calls the three people running against him “The Three Stooges”, but I think he’s just being a Groucho. The good news for the rest of us is that his popularity is falling as the economy shows signs of significant distress.

Meantime, Trump has fired John Bolton, who was his National Security Advisor until just a few hours ago. Suggested names for his replacement include Sarah Palin’s husband Todd, who will shortly be available as he has now filed for divorce from his wife on the grounds of her “difficult temperament”. Another option is Sean Hannity of Fox news, who is a fawning gullible dork – he would fit right in.

Borish Johnson has lost six straight votes in the House of Commons in a single week – more than any Prime Minister since the second world war. He has also lost his majority as well as his mind.  No one can see a way out of the fine mess he has got us all into, made worse by the Fixed Elections Act, which David Cameron steered through parliament. This removes the right of the Prime Minister to call an election and the right of the Queen to order a dissolution of parliament. So he’s stuck in a time-warp. Not even Dr. Who would like to deal with this situation.

Canada has a new Ambassador for China – Dominic Barton, the former Head of McKinsey. Good choice. Smart man. Tough job. China continues its political rise and the US continues its fall. In a news release today, it has opened its investment market to foreign trade without limits – its needs cash. The new overall cap on inward investment in China is now $300 billion, two thirds of which is now available. It is suffering from the trade war with the US, but it is seen by many to be a “victim” not the aggressor. Exports to the US are down 16%, but the US consumer and industry are paying twice for the tariffs (the tariffs and the subsidies Trump is gifting to help farmers and others “cope”).

“Flipper” Trudeau – also known as Mr. Dressup – is gearing up for the upcoming Canadian election. Andrew Scheer (also known as a former insurance salesman and a lightweight) will face off on October 21st. It looks like being a tight race, with many predicting a well hung parliament. This would be a first for some time. A little girl told me when I taught elementary school “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in” – in this case she could be right. The bookmakers have Scheer with a slight lead over Trudeau (1.83:1 versus 1.87:1), but there are a few weeks to go. Maxine Bernier – a cross between a Rottweiler and a buffoon –  stands no chance, according to the bookies (201:1), thank goodness. He is about as smart as the button that fell off my trousers in 1957.

17th September

During a long journey, like the one I just took from Asuncion (Paraguay) to Edmonton which took 32 hours, I was able to watch several movies and some TV.

The new BBC series Scarborough is very well written and funny – some really solid character development now emerging. Written by Darren Little, who also wrote Benidorm, has found a smart way of using his characters with dry northern humour. Having spent many weeks in the area this is filmed (and having read my sisters excellent history of Scarborough), there are also many scenes where I think “been there!”.

I also watched two episodes of The Capture (also BBC). This is a thriller with strong acting by all concerned focused on the manipulation of CCTV and video systems. Well worth watching. Sarah Haddock is the lead detective and does a great job.

Here are the films I managed to watch on this trip:

1985 – a film about a gay man who has HIV and has yet to tell his parents that he is gay never mind ill. Good tension, solid acting and a decent storyline, with a nice twist.

Extremely Wicked, Shocking, Evil and Vile – the film about Ted Bundy and his relationship with his wife and the nature of his dual personality. Terrific performance by Lily Collins, Zac Efron. John Malkovich is solid as the judge in the Florida trial and the performance of Jim Parsons (yes, Sheldon Cooper) as the prosecution lawyer is satisfactory (it will take us all a while to not see him as a nurd).

Cold Blood Legacy – a slow burn thriller with a lot of snow. Good performances by the two central characters – played by Jean Reno (cold killer) and Sarah Lind (would-be killer). Its not a fast action thing, but its worth the wait.

Late Night – this is Emma Thompson at the top of her form and a great little movie. Nice roles for Mandy Kaling (who wrote this and stars alongside Emma Thompson) and John Lithgow. We need to see more of these kinds of roles for Emma Thompson, though she was good in The Children’s Act.

Booksmart – I am getting too old for these coming of age movies, though this starts out better than most. Sadly, didn’t have the energy to finish it and I don’t think I have missed anything.

Fanatic – John Travolta plays an autistic man with a preoccupation. Again, I got bored waiting for something to happen and fell asleep.

19th September

I have been closely involved in elections. In Feb 1974 I was election agent for the Labour Party in Cardiff North – we lost, though had a good time. I was also close to the election which followed shortly after. I have been on TV as a commentator on elections and I have helped plan election strategy, both national and local.

So I look on the current Federal election in Canada with some experience of what it takes to win. But it is so dull. I mean really dull. The attempt to turn the election into a personality competition and the systematic ignoring of key issues – the future economy, the future of work.. I just cannot work up any energy.

What makes it worse is the way in which “debate” (sic) now takes place. We do not really talk policy and action, there is a lot of shouting and posing, especially on social media.

What I do know is what a little girl told me when I taught elementary school 1,000 years ago: “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in”.

I will be voting Liberal on the grounds that the conservative party policies neither reflect my values or make sense for Canada. You read it here first.

20th September

Well, things livened up in the election but not in a good way. Justin Trudeau in 2001 when he was teaching in Vancouver dressed up for a themed night and blacked his face. People are going crazy about his “racism” and “hyporcrisy”, especially now that several more examples of him doing black face have come to light.

He has apologized and claims that since he became an MP he has also been “woken” to the subtleties of racism and homophobia and sexism and …well the list is pretty long.

I grew up in Britain in the 1950’s to 1970’s. Black face performers were on a TV show called The Black and White Minstrels, with one key performer being a Welshman called Dai Francis.The last broadcast of this show was 1978. It was acceptable to the BBC to run this for over a decade. After the show was cancelled on TV, it ran for another decade on stage around the UK, Australia and in New Zealand. In its prime, the TV show was watched by 21 million people each week and it spawned a number of #1 hit records.

Trudeau isnt the smartest hammer in the bag. But election are about more than personality – they are about actions and intentions. It would be wonderful to have people of great integrity in politics, but look around – Trump, Boris, Doug Ford, Andrew Scheer….I’ll take Trudeau anytime.

There are four weeks to go. As my old mentor Harold Wilson was fond of saying “a week is a long time in politics”. We’ll see.

The thought of the hypocritical Andrew Scheer winning this election is pretty unsettling. He is a classic neo-liberal who intends to make yesterday great again. Don’t let Trudeau’s Mr Dress Up debacle distract from the real issue: the future of Canada.

22nd September

I have a cold – well “man flu”. Box of tissues a day kind of cold. A cold which requires “it taste’s awful, but it works” medicine (a.k.a. Buckley’s). It makes it difficult to sleep so I am all out of sync. It also makes it difficult – well, let’s say impossible – to work. I cant focus for long enough to get coherent work done.

The good lady is always, as ever, helpful. She shows no interest in my malady and her nurse strategy is to treat me like the idiot I am. The advance nursing strategy is to see my cold as a symptom of my own stupid decisions to fly all over the world wearing a Jean Paul Sartre T-Shirt which says “Football is made more complicated by the presence of the opposing team” (on the back is Sartre – 10). Ah well..

Reflecting on man-fly-cold – I can focus for around 5-6 minutes then I kind of go into some zen state of misery and then I can start again. Reading a paragraph of the novel I am trying to get through can take ages. Trying to write a paragraph, or more critically design the keynote I am due to give next Saturday in BC, not possible. (Don’t panic, it will be fine).

These things don’t last forever, don’t require me to put on makeup and a black face, and don’t involve having to listen to Barry Manilow, so it is not all bad. It’s just a brief annoyance.

A fascinating feature of the US political scene is how reasonably normal policies – Medicare for all, tax the rich, end lobbying (a.k.a. as corruption) reduce income inequality, regulate banks and financial institutions, gun control, work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – are labelled as “revolutionary” or “socialist radical”. In Canada or the UK, these are standard liberal democrat positions. Elizabeth Warren is a radical – really? Not really. This multimillionaire (she is worth around $12 million) is offering what I have always understood to be Labour Party policies, but the modest and mild kind. Nothing at all radical about them, except in the US.

Biden’s stand on most issues seems (in UK terms) conservative and not much different from the pre-Trump GOP. He is not interested in change, not interested in the green new deal, not interested in taxing the rich in really significant ways. Indeed, his support within the democratic party suggests that he is basically the new Hilary.

The problem is that the US has no real understanding of just how bad a shape their country is in. Here are just a few of the issues:

• The United States has the highest prison and jail population (2,121,600 in adult facilities in 2016), and the highest incarceration rate in the world (655 per 100,000 population in 2016). In fact, 21% of the world’s prison population is incarnated in the US, even though the US represent less than 5% of the world’s population.
• The US ranks 31st in the world on its educational (K-12) performance based on the OECD Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) – Canada ranks 6th. In assessments of basic literacy, the US ranks 23rd in the world.
• The US military spending in 2019 is estimated at $683 billion. Since 9/11 the US has spent $6 trillion on wars and killed over 500,000 people.
40.6 million people live in poverty in the US – a rate of 12.7% of the population.
• While unemployment in the US is at historic lows, a partial reason for this is because so many people have simply given up looking for work – the participation rate in the US labour market is 62.9% – the lowest it has been since 1977.
• Inequality is growing in the US. In 2015, the top 1 percent of families made more than 25 times what families in the bottom 99 percent did
27.5 million people in the US have no health insurance of any kind – and the number of uninsured is rising.

And this list does not even mention immigration (a policy mess), climate change, infrastructure (decaying fast). The US needs someone like Warren to “wake up” and to realize that the idea of “American exceptionalism” (“the greatest country in the world”) is a nonsense. Indeed, if a resident of Ohio wants to experience the American dream, they need to live in Norway!

27th September

Many of my colleagues do not understand science and how science works. They speak of science in terms of consensus and “the science is settled” as if to say “no point in looking at new evidence, new theories, new understanding, new interpretations of evidence” – which is a clear misunderstanding of science as a process and as a discipline.

The motto of the Royal Society is ‘nullius in verba’, which is roughly translated as ‘take nobody’s word for it’. Their point is that scientists should make up their own minds about what the evidence says and design experiments or additional studies to demonstrate whether something is true or false.

The trigger for all of this is the idea that, in relation to climate change, the science is “settled” and that 97% of all climate scientists agree that this is the case (which is just not true). Underlying this view is a fundamental tension between two competing conceptions of scientific inquiry: the consensual view of science versus the dissension view.  Under the consensual approach, the goal of science is a consensus of rational opinion over the widest possible field.  The opposing view of science is that of dissension, whereby scientific progress occurs via subversion of consensus in favor of new experiments, ideas and theories. The related component of this is to regard science as at the vanguard of social action as opposed to being a resource to inform those who are tasked with the development of policy resulting from scientific inquiry.

I would commend this article from Judith Curry – a climate scientist – which explores these issues and this book which explores the nature of the “consensus” in environmental science.

A lot of this misunderstanding comes from not being clear what the role of the UN’s IPCC is. It is not a scientific body, but a policy review body which has scientific input. Its mandate is to look just at human causes of climate change – not at alternative theories.

Judith Curry ends a review of the book with this statement: “Lets open up the scientific debate on climate change and celebrate disagreement and use it to push the knowledge frontier of climate science.  The whole consensus thing has done little to reduce global CO2 emissions, which was the point of the whole exercise.  It’s time for new approaches to both science and policy.” This aligns with my own view.

Let us just look at one example: the link between climate change and the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. In 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that:

Globally, there is low confidence in attribution of changes in tropical cyclone activity to human influence. This is due to insufficient observational evidence, lack of physical understanding of the links between anthropogenic drivers of climate and tropical cyclone activity, and the low level of agreement between studies as to the relative importance of [natural variability and man-made forcing].

Last month, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Task Force, consisting of eleven international experts on hurricanes and climate change, published two assessment reports. Unlike the IPCC’s, which are required to focus on consensus statements, the WMO reports discussed disagreement among the authors, distinguishing the issues on which there was substantial agreement among the authors from those on which there was substantial disagreement owing in part to limited evidence. This is, in my view, good science and also can be found in relation to any issue connected with climate. A reasonable assessment of the link between climate change, hurricanes and public policy can be found here.

As our students march today in support of action on climate change, let is also teach them to be more questioning of science and more challenging of notions like “scientific consensus”. Let us share with them the “old theories” of disease and how these theories were replaced by our better and deeper understanding of biology, ecology and patterns of social interaction. Let us help them understand that Einstein was laughed at when he first started talking about E=MC2. Let us explore why the whole idea of plate tectonics (the grinding of the earth plates which creates earthquakes) was rejected, since the “consensus” (sic) was with another theory. Let’s use today to help them see science as being never satisfied with a simple answer.