Monday, October 31, 2011

Conservative Thought / Karl Mannheim in From Karl Mannheim -- London: Transaction Publishers, 1993

Political labels get thrown around as though they mean something, but when pressed, it's not particularly easy to say what it means to be "liberal" or "conservative." Add to that "neoliberal," "neoconservative," "progressive," "socialist," "libertarian, "communist," "green," "leftist," "right-winger," and any number of other labels, and defining any of them seems pointless. Still, the political landscape is not without some noticeable groupings. In 1925, the sociologist Karl Mannheim published an essay entitled, "Conservative Thought" in which he argued that political groupings of this sort can be distinguished by specific "styles of thought" (though a style of thought will not be limited to politics). Styles of thought characterize more than just the subjective thinking of individuals. At the same time, they are not entirely objective. Individuals participate in a style of thought which will survive their coming and going, but it does not exist apart from the individuals.

To illustrate this theory, he examines conservatism during the first half of the 19th century in Germany. As he believes that styles of thought are highly nuanced, it is necessary to limit his claims to a small temporal and geographic range; however, he acknowledges that some similarities exist between temporally and spatially related populations. It may be more accurate to say that similarities exist between styles of thought in population that are in significant communication with each other or descend from the same ancestal style of thought.

In general, early 19th century German conservativism was a reaction to enlightenment rationalism, the central elements of which were constructed deductively from logical principles and embraced a theory of natural law in moral and political philosophy. This theory included the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the inalienable rights of man expressed in terms of negative freedom, and the justification of the state based on a social contract emerging from the state of nature. Enlightenment rationalism extolled constitutions and contracts and was prevalent among the new capitalist bourgeoisie and to some extent the proletariat. Above all, the enlightenment saw existing social arrangements as defective -- to be rectified by bringing about more just arrangements. This required enlightenment thinkers to step away from what is actual and image abstract, non-existing states of society that would be preferable to the present.

In contrast, German conservativism was firmly rooted in the actual world and saw the present as a culmination and continuation of the past which evolved as it did for good reason. Any change would need to be gradual. Conservativism employed a number of ideas or methods that are found in Hegel: dialectical, historicist logic; property, not as an alienable commodity, but as necessarily bound to its owner; and a positive concept of freedom. Persons where essentially unequal and their liberty was vested in their estate, not in themselves as individuals. In many respects, German conservativism romanticized medieval relations and employed the writers of the romantic movement to articulate their style of thinking.

Mannheim's effort to capture the essence of a socio-political movement in its style of thought is quite valuable. It goes beyond thinking of the social group as a collection of people adhering to a set of public policy positions, and provides some understanding of why those policy positions hang together. However, any effort to distill a complex socio-political phenomenon into a crisp, coherent theory is surely going to miss much of what is really happening in the world. Anomalies and counter-examples are sure to be readily found, but insofar as they can be incorporated into the social theory, one can conclude that a consistent socio-political current has been discovered at a specific time and place. Without knowing more about the place, period, and people that Mannheim studies, it is difficult to know how accurately he has captured the essentials of 19th century German conservatives, but no doubt he is not completely off the mark, and from my perspective, quite close to the mark.

Only a little of Mannheim's picture of 19th century German conservativism has survived to to become contemporary conservativism in Germany and elsewhere. Today, ethnic, religious, educational, and linguistic diversity, along with gender and sexual orientation differences complicate any analysis based on the early 19th century style of thought. One also wonders if Mannheim's analysis sufficiently includes class interests in understanding socio-political groupings. In many respects, contemporary conservativism is a descendant of the bourgeois capitalism of the enlightenment and only opportunistically inherits some of the attachment to the past that the older form of conservativism manifested. This suggests that was really motivates the style of thought that is conservativism, is a commitment to the interests of the dominant class, just as the 19th century's conservativism was a motivated by a commitment to the fading dominant class of the 18th century.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slow Reading / John Miedema -- Duluth, Minn.: Litwin Books, 2009

In 1986 Carlo Petrini formed an organization in Rome called "Slow Food" in reaction to the opening of a MacDonald's restaurant. He hoped to promote the pleasures that come from the consumption of fresh, locally grown food, produced from sustainable farming practices. His organization quickly turned into a world-wide movement as there were people everywhere who were fed up with the food-like products being churned out by multinational agribusiness companies and served up as "convenience foods." These foods are lacking in both nutrition and flavor, unless, of course, you include such flavorings as sugar, salt, and oil. The toll these food-like products are taking on our health and well being is incalculable. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments of over consumption plague us as never before.

John Miedema's book Slow Reading transfers the sentiment behind the slow food movement to our reading practices. The parallels are striking. One merely needs to substitute digital technology and the computer industry for agribusiness and one can see that the rush to make money from our consumption of information is doing to our mental lives what junk food is doing to our bodies; and just as the slow food movement seeks to recover the benefits of pre-industrial food production, a potential slow reading movement might recover the benefits of our pre-internet reading habits.

Many of Miedema's observations about reading digital texts versus books are obvious and uncontroversial. Any text that cannot be displayed in a few computer screens is unlikely to be read by anyone. Reading longer texts virtually requires a print copy. Print allows for a degree of concentration and reading comprehension that is nearly unobtainable from electronic texts. This may be due in part to the fact that reading a book involves more of one's body than reading a computer screen. One's hands, arms, and posture are involved in a way that they normally are not when reading a computer screen. Looking directly into the light of a computer screen is far more tiring than reading print on a page.

Then there are the intentional efforts to distract the reader that are built into most Web pages. Advertisement tempt us to abandon our reading and hyperlinks encourage us to follow tangent upon tangent until we lose track of what we originally set out to read. Even electronic texts that take up the full computer screen without hyperlinks are normally embedded in a browser that has scroll bars, "favorites" links, tabs, a clock, date, a search box, and sundry other icons that have nothing to do with the text. All of these distractions are absent from a printed book.

On the other hand, the very disadvantages of a digital text are its advantages. Digital texts are easily searched by computer algorithms and can be connected easily to any number of related texts. They often can be quickly copied and pasted into a new document, enlarged, reduced, tagged, annotated without damage to the original text. The benefits of electronic texts go on and on. Whether the printed text or the electronic text is superior depends on one's needs and intentions, but one important fact stands out: print encourages us to read slowly and carefully, allowing us to find more meaning in the text. That is, we are able to better understand what the author intended by writing the text in the first place. This leads to an important question that Miedema raises about how meaning is related to a text. Do we find meaning or create meaning when reading a text?

Slow Reading offers only sketchy answers to this question, but it does provide an admirable starting point. Finding meaning in a text can be contrasted with creating the meaning of the text, though certainly both are involved in any act of reading. Printed books guide us through the author's train of thought in the order and pace that the author intended. Each paragraph is present in the context of the book as a whole and this context refines and helps to disambiguate the meaning of any individual paragraph. We mostly are finding the meaning in the text. In contrast, an electronic text allow us to create meaning in a way that printed texts do not. This is a function of the ambiguous character of the snippets of electronic texts often displayed without significant context. We are free to draw our own original insight from an author's words, even to reverse the author's meaning completely. We can read the texts in any number of contexts which we create by navigating away from the text to other Web sites that strike us as related to the meaning we are constructing.

These two different reading activities are paradoxically both individual and communitarian. Reading a printed text to understand the author's meaning places the reader in a relatively solitary situation. One is usually reading alone in a room and is directly connected to a single text. At the same time, the print book reader is deeply engaged with a specific contribution by an author who is normally making a contribution to a larger and longer conversation of a community of authors. This links the reader to the larger, longer conversation. Any response the reader might have will be bounded to a great extent by the logic of that conversation. The reader becomes part of the community engaged in the conversation.

In contrast, the reader of an e-text is, of course, more immediately connected to an almost unlimited community of Web authors through sophisticated search tools that browse billions of texts, but the reader of an e-text is not deeply connected to anyone in this community. Search tools encourage the reader pick and choose short passages and construct an entirely new text that is built out of often unrelated or idiosyncratically related texts. The context of what one is reading may be an amalgam of statements in numerous unrelated conversations. The reader is not engaged in discovering the meaning of ideas in a specific on-going conversation within a community. The reader is acting more like a scientific investigator, searching the natural world (or in this case the world of Web texts) for observations that will allow the creation of a novel theory of the reader's own. In an important sense, reading on the Web often involves not engaging with others in a conversation, not listening to the author's full expression of an idea, but listening for what one wants to hear and appropriating the snippet of text for one's own solitary purposes.

Miedema notes numerous advantages that come from "slow," "deep," or "close" reading, including educational and psychological benefits, but Slow Reading is most of all a paean to the pleasures of settling into a comfortable chair and losing oneself in a book. In this age of ubiquitous data smog, that's a very fine thing.

The Politics of Climate Change / Anthony Giddens -- Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 2009

The evidence is now quite clear: the global climate is changing rapidly and the consequences will be dire for vulnerable populations around the world. The younger members of our society may even live to see the complete collapse of civilization if the worst case scenarios pan out. In light of this, it is amazing that the political will to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change is so weak. According to Anthony Giddens, this is because the dangers of climate change remain a "back of the mind" issue, easily displaced by other more immediate concerns. Consequently, in The Politics of Climate Change, Giddens hopes to present a blueprint for creating "a politics of climate change" which will be capable of addressing the dangers we face.

Broadly speaking, Giddens's political programme relies on mobilizing existing social, political, and economic institutions. He is critical of the "Green movement" as exemplified by various Green Parties. Giddens complains that they have adopted an oppositional stance which will merely alienate the leaders of the institutions that need to be brought around to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This criticism makes the reasonable assumption that existing institutions will remain the governing force through the next century and will need to be brought into our efforts to address climate change.

Giddens's dismissal of the Green movement, however, gives too little weight to the view that the Green movement is the only social force that will consistently recognize the full dangers of climate change and keep the issue on the public agenda. This highlights the greatest weakness in The Politics of Climate Change: Giddens's politics of climate change are too divorced from a sociology of climate change which is the contribution that the Green movement makes to the discussion.

Giddens's work is nonetheless an important element in the discussion. Reading his work in conjunction with John Urry's Climate Change and Society and Pat Murphy's Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change provides a more holistic picture of how we might be able to address the dangers of climate change. Oppositional politics and the creation of low carbon alternative communities that model new, more benign institutions, have an important place in the politics of climate change; but Gidden's is correct that these new political and social institutions would do well not to completely alienate existing power structures. Opposition politics must still create ways that existing institutions can participate in the effort to move to a low carbon society.

Giddens's main prescription for building acceptance within existing institutions is to seek "political and economic convergence" between climate change mitigation and adaptation goals and other values held by the existing sources of political power. A prime example of this is energy independence. Giddens recognizes that it behooves the environmentalist movement to emphasize the importance of generating renewable (low carbon) domestic energy, not simple for the purpose of mitigating climate change, but to free the country from dependence of foreign oil. Institutions unconcerned about climate change can then be enlisted in the effort for reasons other than mitigating climate change.

The strongest element of Giddens's work is his treatment of economic strategies for reducing carbon emissions. Beginning with the principle that the polluter should pay for the costs of pollution, he makes a case for implementing a carbon tax. This is, according to Giddens, preferable to a cap and trade system or carbon rationing. These other methods are not without merit, but Giddens finds that cap and trade systems have not really achieved their purpose. A more rigorous system will be required to reduce emissions. Carbon rationing, while more rigorous, is, in Giddens's view, "impractical and unfeasible."

Giddens's attempt to directly address the requirements for creating a political consensus in favor of addressing climate change is most admirable and most of his observations and arguments are weighty and cogent. It is especially important that voices like his, which are firmly within the social and political establishment, be heard. He gives great legitimacy to positions and policies that otherwise would be dismissed as coming from the fringe. At the same time, his call to work with and from within existing institutions needlessly narrows the sphere of action. There will always be a tension between forces for change from within and from without existing institutions, but limiting the political programme to one or the other is not likely to yield the urgent and drastic change that is now required.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet / Mark Lynas -- Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2008

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is composed of three working groups. The second group is responsible for reporting on the impacts of climate change on the natural and human environment. Its most recent report (the fourth assessment report) makes for difficult reading and not simply because of its disturbing predictions. The prose is at best terse, sometimes to the point of being cryptic. Futhermore, while it describes the probable impacts of climate change, it does not clearly identify when these impacts will come about, neither on a temporal scale nor on a thermal scale. Thankfully, Mark Lynas has done an admirable job of partly filling this gap in his book Six Degrees.

The basis of Lynas's book is scholarship done at the Earth Sciences Library at Oxford University. Lynas systematically scoured articles in peer reviewed journals and classified their predictions of impacts according to temperature increases degree by degree. The literature estimates impacts for temperature increases ranging from less than one degree Celsius to five degrees Celsius. Occasionally impacts are discussed for more than five degrees. This provided a convenient structure for Lynas's book: each of his six substantive chapters describes the effects of progressively greater temperature increases. Lynas makes no attempt to predict when these increases might occur as this depends on the public policies we adopt.

Broadly speaking, the impacts of increases up to two degrees Celsius are in the manageable range, though they will certainly be extremely problematic for regions most vulnerable to climate change. Indeed, we have already experienced enough unusual weather events consistent with climate change to say that the impacts of climate change are upon us. The 2003 heat wave that dominated Europe for three months, for example, is estimated to have killed 22,000 to 35,000 people. Lynas describes this event in his "Two Degrees" chapter, suggesting that such heat waves would become common in such a world. It is noteworthy, that reasonable assumptions about our future carbon emissions would make a two or three degree increase likely.

As the temperature rises into the third degree, predictions of cataclysmic consequences become common in the scientific literature. Dangerous feedbacks will begin to play an important role in increasing the Earth's surface temperature. For example, the Amazon and other rain forests are likely to begin burning away, causing a loss of moisture. As the forest floor dries out, it will begin releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses locked in the peat and soil. The permanent ice covering Greenland is also likely to begin melting at an accelerated pace. This will raise sea level, of course, but it will also lower the elevation of the ice pack and dump increasing quantities of ice into the surrounding water, thus raising the local temperature in Greenland and accelerating the melting process in another dangerous feedback. Food production will be severely disrupted by flooding and droughts around the world.

By the fourth degree increase, the nightmare truly begins. Both the Ross and Ronne ice shelves of the Antarctic could become unstable. Were one or both to collapse (as did the Wordie, Larsen A, and Larsen B ice shelves) the rate of glacier melt from the Antarctic mainland would increase dramatically leading to a rapid rise in sea level. By the fifth degree increase "an entirely new planet is coming into being....The remaining ice sheets are eventually eliminated from both poles. Rain forests have already burned up and disappeared, rising sea levels have inundated coastal cities and are beginning to penetrate far inland into continental interiors. Humans are herded into shrinking 'zones of habitability' by the twin crises of drought and flood."

As early as the third degree of warming, methane hydrates will begin to be released from the Arctic Ocean floor and from melting permafrost. Methane hydrates are greenhouse gasses that are far more potent than carbon dioxide. By the fifth degree of increase, the quantities of methane hydrates released into the atmosphere are likely to be staggering and will trigger a feedback that might make the planet entirely uninhabitable.

Lynas does not find many predictions in the scientific literature about the consequences of a sixth degree of warming; however, it is recognized as a possibility, particularly if there are enough strong feedbacks to push the planet to an new equilibrium that is far warmer than what we now experience. In Storms of My Grandchildren, NASA climatologist James Hansen raises the possibility of "the Venus Syndrome" in which the greenhouse effect extinguishes all life on Earth. Lynas thinks it is unlikely that the changes to the climate will extinguish human life, but were the planet to reach the high end of the range of warming predictions, such a possibility is not negligible.

The methodology behind Lynas's book is sound and the presentation of his scholarship is illuminating. I doubt that there is a better general summation of the scientific literature as it pertains to the effects of climate change. Six Degrees is a cogent account of the future we likely face. Despite its dispassionate tone, it is a clarion call for action to mitigate the disaster that is likely to unfold during the lifetimes of the younger members of our world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Scientists / Roy W. Spencer -- N.Y.: Encounter Books, 2010

Lately, I've read several books by authors who deny either the reality, the causes, or the dangers of climate change. I have sought out the most well-respected denial authors to be sure that I have seen the best arguments. They run the gamut from patently false to cleverly specious. Several climate deniers clearly seem intent on disregarding science and promoting confusion in an effort to advance their economic or political goals. It is not clear to me that these are Roy Spencer's motives. He seems quite sincere, if perhaps a little over confident; however, there is circumstantial evidence that his scientific judgement is clouded by other motives. In any case, his scientific research is highly suspect.

In The Great Global Warming Blunder Spencer writes, "I find it difficult to believe that I am the first researcher to figure out what I describe in this book. Either I'm smarter than the rest of the world's climate scientists -- which seems unlikely -- or there are other scientists who also have evidence that global warming could be mostly natural, but have been hiding it." What escapes Spencer is that he simply may be wrong and that the rest of the world's climate scientists understand that he is wrong.

To his credit, Spencer addresses the most important questions for the science of climate change: what temperature feedbacks exist and are they on balance positive or negative? Spencer's answers depend on his assessment of the effects of clouds and cloud formation. It is in "Chapter 5: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Scientists" that he presents his case. While his book is written for a lay audience, Chapter 5 necessarily becomes a bit more technical. It is not, however, by any stretch of the imagination, of the quality of professional peer reviewed science. As such, Spencer fails to make a clear case for his lay audience and provides insufficient detail to withstand scientific scrutiny.

The chapter is of a piece with a number of articles by Spencer which the scientific community has panned. Most recently, Spencer published an article in the journal Remote Sensing which was trumpeted by him, his University, the right-wing blogosphere, and the traditional media. Forbes Magazine wrote that Spencer's data "blow a gaping hole in global warming alarmism." In contrast, Spencer's article was soundly refuted by climate scientists. The certainty of the refutation prompted Wolfgang Wagner, the editor-in-chief of Remote Sensing, to revisit his decision to publish it. Upon review, he determined that it was not of publishable quality and, taking responsibility for his lapse in editorial rigor, Wagner resigned his editorship.

In his resignation announcement, Wagner wrote that there were "fundamental methodological errors" and "false claims" in Spencer's paper, and that "comparable studies published by other authors have already been refuted in open discussions and to some extent also in the literature, a fact which was ignored by Spencer and Braswell in their paper." He concluded, "I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal." While it is not unusual that scientific papers meet criticism after publication, the resignation of an editor-in-chief is quite unusual. This underscores the weakness of Spencer's research.

There is, however, much in The Great Global Warming Blunder that has little to do with climate science and a lot to do with economics and politics. The views that Spencer presents are familiar: (1) free market economic policies will produce sufficient wealth to deal with whatever future problems climate change might pose and (2) regulation of greenhouse gas emissions will cripple economies and prevent us from alleviating more pressing humanitarian problems. These arguments fail for two reasons.

First, they are predicated on an economic theory that is controversial in the best of times. Since the onset of the 2008 depression, the prospect of economic growth under any economic regime appears doubtful, particularly as the era of cheap energy is over. Employing the world's current wealth to mitigate the effects of global warming may be our first and last chance to escape disaster.

Second, the arguments against addressing global warming now require that the effects of climate change will not be as damaging as the scientists believes. If the widely-reviewed scientific research is correct, then no amount of accumulated wealth will be able to reverse the disastrous feedbacks that are expected from a 3 degree centigrade increase in the world's surface temperature. (For an excellent, well-researched description of the consequences we can expect from rising temperatures, degree by degree, see Mark Lynas's Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.)

Spencer asks us to risk everything on his faith in free markets and his widely criticized research. The real "great global warming blunder" would be if we were to listen to Spencer and delay action to mitigate global warming.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years / S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery -- Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007

Over the past 25 years, nearly all working climate scientists arrived at the conclusion that the Earth is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for it. The method for reaching these conclusions involved amassing a wide range of direct temperature readings, including surface thermometers, weather balloons, satellite measurements, and numerous proxy measures. The proxy measurements included tree ring data and ice core samples. By joining these data with our knowledge of various climate forcing factors (e.g., greenhouse gases, particulate matter from volcanoes, variations in solar radiation, periodic weather cycles), computer models explain not only past temperature changes, but also can make predictions about future temperatures. The most recent IPCC report examined the results from 24 computer models to arrive at their conclusions: again, the Earth is warming and human activity is largely responsible for it.

Just one year following the publication of the IPCC report, S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery published a book directly contradicting these conclusions. They asserted that "the only explanation for modern warming that is supported by physical evidence" is a 1,500 year climate cycle known as the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle. The conclusion they draw from this is that we must concentrate our efforts in adapting to climate change and not trying to mitigate it through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Above all, we must not regulate carbon emissions.

The notion that the Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle is primarily responsible for the recent global warming is puzzling; after all, research conducted even before Singer and Avery's assertion indicates that the Dansgaard-Oescher cycle is part of a periodic heat transfer between the southern and northern hemisphere. It is not evidence of or responsible for overall global warming. The Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle is based on an ice core taken from Greenland and as such is evidence of local temperature changes. It is, however, properly generalized to the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and is believed to be connected to temperature changes in the southern hemisphere by the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

Why Singer and Avery would advance such a flimsy argument might be understood by noting the past and current role that Singer and Avery play in scientific debates. Singer began his career in physics studying the atmosphere, but eventually became more prominent as a government adviser, producing relatively little primary research. He is among a handful of scientists that have been involved in campaigns to sew doubt about scientific results that might lead to the regulation of harmful substances. Singer sought to discredit the science showing the link between CFCs and ozone depletion, the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke, and now the role of carbon dioxide in warming the planet. His work has been supported by the George C. Marshall Institute and the Heartland Institute (two libertarian think tanks), the tobacco industry's public relations firm APCO, and several major oil companies. Perhaps the one unifying theme in his scientific assertions is that any scientific result that might compromise the freedom of corporations to do as they please is, according to Singer, suspect.

Dennis Avery's climate science expertise is highly dubious. He is neither a climate scientist nor a meteorologists. He is an environmental economist specializing in agriculture. Currently, he is the director of the libertarian Hudson Institution's Center for Global Food Issues. His blog posts indicate that he is primarily concerned with promoting free market government policies against environmental regulation.

Unstoppable Global Warming should be added to the growing list of faux science monographs cluttering up the literature on climate change. There are certainly important controversies within climate science. It's unfortunately that they are not receiving greater public attention, while groundless, frivolous, and most likely disingenuous critiques of science are getting published by climate change deniers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Heaven and Earth / Ian Plimer -- Lanham, Md.: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2009

A propaganda war is in full swing over the facts of, effects of, and responses to climate change. Anyone interested in how the public understanding of any topic, particularly scientific topics, can hardly witness the struggle dispassionately. Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth stands as a major offensive by the "skeptical" forces. Close analysis reveals that it is, however, a paper tiger, but in a propaganda war, a paper tiger can be just as dangerous as a real one, if it is not effectively countered.

Heaven and Earth is ostensibly a well-referenced tome packed with scientific observations and conclusion, but upon closer examination, its credibility becomes suspect. Most obvious of all is Plimer's numerous graphs and illustration. They are poorly presented, often unintelligible, unreferenced, and unexplained by the surrounding text. Next most obvious is the lack of references for important claims. One frequently is provided with supporting references for tangential and uncontroversial claims, but when a claim that is critical to Plimer's argument is presented, it usually rests only on Plimer's authority. In the rare instances when it does receive a citation, it often refers to studies that have been discredited by subsequent research.

As early as the third chapter, one gets the general picture: Heaven and Earth is faux research. It has all the trappings of a scientific monograph, without any real substance. It is a blizzard of unrelated facts about earth science, some of which can be employed to give the appearance of an argument against one or another conclusion that has been established by legitimate scientific research. One might be tempted to do more than sample the remaining chapters to look for a change in the tone or substance, but fortunately others have provided a detailed critical examination of the work. This can be found at The critique is edited by Ian G. Enting of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems at the University of Melbourne. Conscientiously sampling the remaining chapters of Heaven and Earth and cross checking the criticism assembled by Ian Enting is enough to verify that the first three chapters are fully representative of the whole of the book.

The main question one is left with is why such a work would be written and published in the first place. Simply examining the source of and seeking the motives for the work is, of course, not enough to credit or discredit it, but once it has been discredited on scientific grounds, an examination of its source and motives provides insight into its role in the propaganda war.

Plimer is a geologist closely associated with the mining and energy industry, working for or sitting on the board of directors for at least four companies. He is also promoted by the Heartland Institute, the mission of which is "to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Such solutions include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in health care, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies."

While it is not immediately evident that these are Plimer's motives in publishing Heaven and Earth, Plimer's perspectives on economics and government are made clear enough and are in line with the Heartland Institute. Plimer appears to be a willing spokesperson for politically and economically motivated interest groups that need someone to give the appearance of scientific support for claims that have been discredited among the vast majority of working scientists. The shoddiness of Plimer's Heaven and Earth is clear enough to any mildly skeptical reader. It naturally leads one to question the motives of its author and anyone promoting it.