Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Score one for the good guys

This... is how I like my activism:

Members of Greenpeace posing as wood buyers bought 30 metric tons of timber in a remote Brazilian state bordering Bolivia, used an agent to obtain permits that falsely stated the wood had been legally cut, and then parked the truckload in front of a police station in Sao Paulo. 

Nice way to make a serious point and grab the necessary headlines. 'Nuff said. 

However, bearing in mind the number of complicit official individuals, I do wonder (it was not mentioned) what kind of follow-up there will be on those involved. I merely ask because activist groups do tend to prefer the big hit and tire as easily as the rest of us with the grubby follow-up.

It is worth pondering the creation of an online 'Hall of Shame' where those caught with dodgy digits dipping where they don't belong get posted for all to enjoy (legal stuff permitting). Even a tad closer to home.

One for the new year's evolutions on Junkk.com?

The proof is in the pudding?

This from the New York Times:

Entitled 'Global Trend: More Science, More Fraud', it's inspired mainly by the South Korean cloning scandal, but highlights this as part of a global explosion in research that is outstripping the mechanisms meant to guard against error and fraud.

The article goes on to suggest an initially reassuring triple safety net to catch dishonesty and bad research comprising peer review, which starts with experts advising governments about what research to finance [I think I could raise a cynical eyebrow on how effective that is in the real world]. Then comes the referee system, which has journals ask reviewers to judge if manuscripts merit publication. The last is replication, whereby independent scientists see if the work holds up.

Equating the rarified world of medical research with tabloid TV journalism is a leap, but I was pondering this last night as I watched a programme about what we'll be eating this Christmas. Fortunately I have never been fussed about turkey, but any vestige of desire to try was snuffed out by what I saw. 

Frankly I think I'd have been down to a spout omlette by the end, because they even had guys (you know you're getting old when Professors look like grad students) in white coats showing us our Xmas pud was a toxic wasteland. 

And that's just the organic brigade hooking up with a media industry on the hunt for a quick max yuk-rating ratings-fest. But soem of these academics were pretty cred-worthy. And post-CSI, show me a bit of whirly lab kit and I'm convinced.

So it's hard to imagine the goings-on when it comes to getting objective information of things like climate change.

As the piece ended: 'While millions of articles are never read or cited - and some are written simply to pad résumés - others enter the pressure cooker of scientific [and biomedical] promotion, becoming lucrative elements of companies' [to which I could add any interest group from governments with a target looming to pressure groups with a fighting fund to fill] business strategies.

Quite. Makes it hard to know who to trust, doesn't it?

Substance abuse

I used to believe, and indeed here have often advocated that 'something is better than nothing'. Now I wonder. 

Because my acceptance of this notion was predicated on the assumption that the something in question would be an interim measure only in place until a much better something could be developed. 

However, recently I am starting to suspect that often certain 'somethings' are actually worse than nothing, because the way such high-powered games now get played seems to have been changed by the players.

Selfless statesmanship is well and truly on the back burner. Even national interest seems quaint.

In the pursuit of a legacy that egos demand be basked in during their lifetime, and no matter how tenuous its substance and the heck with the consequences once they are gone, few politicians' or policymakers' ambitions seem to extend to actually make a real difference. Instead the new measure seems to be seen to have 'succeeded' in 'making something happen', slightly irresepctive of what that might be.

And it's pretty much across the board, from sanctions on nukes to consensus on emissions. 

The latter of course is an area I tend to track more closely in this job, and hence being the one to which this blog most refers. For instance, what was issued so triumphantly in the communiques of the majority of the mainstream attendees (from all corners, and some quite 'passionate') at the recent Montreal climate event does not seem to me to translate into very much.

So I just wonder whether a bunch of folk saying 'progress has been made' or 'views were expressed' or 'most were agreed' really gets us anywhere other than to make it all go away for a while. And that means the public shrug and keep on doing what comes naturally. 

So maybe there is a case for a full-on, 'all or nothing' deal so that it gets thrust into, and stays on top of the agenda until something is sorted out that will make a difference.

At least one consequence of global warming is that Hell may actually freeze over.