One hand clapping

 

2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

The Australian, 30 June 2015

Climate scientist Will Steffen has found a solution for what he calls the “increasingly toxic, partisan, adversarial atmosphere” bedevilling civic debate.

He was galvanised by an opinion poll published in The Canberra Times that found ACT residents were going cold on the proposal to build a tramline in the federal capital. When the ACT government surveyed taxpayers 10 months ago 55 per cent thought it was a good idea. Now, according to a Reachtel poll of 1446 territory residents, support has fallen to lest than 39 per cent while more than 46 per cent oppose it.

Steffen smelled a rat. How could anyone fail to see the benefit of investing the best part of a billion bucks in a 12km light rail line from Civic to Gungahlin, wherever Gungahlin might be? Why would Canberrans not wave their hats at the prospect of travelling down Northbourne Avenue at a thrilling 30km an hour, a speed only marginally slower than George Stephenson’s Rocket? Steffen and co-author Barbara Norman spotted the outlier.

“Only 15.8 per cent of intending Liberal voters support light rail,” Steffen and Norman wrote in The Canberra Times last Thursday, “while for all other groups (Labor, Greens, Others and Undecided) support for light rail varied between 42 per cent and 63.5 per cent.

“That anomalously low level of support among Liberal voters immediately caught our attention and prompted us to reanalyse the poll results.”

The “strong skew” of Liberal-leaning respondents, claimed Steffen, “can easily generate a misleading impression of what the poll numbers are actually showing”. Steffen and Norman’s solution was to remove 446 Liberal voters from the result. The result of this “reanalysis”, claim the authors, is that 51.9 per cent support light rail, 3.2 per cent oppose and 14.9 per cent are undecided. There is no explanation of what became of the other 30 per cent but clearly they don’t count.

Write Steffen and Norman: “For the more than two-thirds of Canberrans who are not intending to vote for the Liberals, there is very strong support for light rail, a nearly 20 per cent lead over those who oppose it.”

So that’s settled, then. Everyone agrees a tram to nowhere underwritten by the taxpayers in the most car-friendly capital in the country is a wonderful idea. Everyone, that is, except those dolts who vote Liberal who don’t really count.

Why stop there? Why not apply the Steffen method to the 2013 election? After all, it works in Belarus where President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected with 79.6 per cent of the vote at the 2010 election, and appears to be in little hurry to organise another one.

This insight into Steffen’s methodology may cause us to look afresh at his startling claims about climate change and his forecasts for the end of the world as we know it. It also sheds light on the boorish behaviour of the expert classes who, rather than tackling opposing views with reasoned debate, simply mock their interlocutors’ stupidity.

A Senate inquiry into wind farms last month made the mistake of having a young project development manager called Joseph Hallenstein give evidence. Clearly too impatient to debate the matter point by point, Hallenstein tabled a copy of the cartoon First Dog on the Moon.

“It goes through the 765 symptoms of wind turbine syndrome,” smirked Hallenstein, “everything from crickets disappearing, to chicken eggs being all weird, to balance disturbance, falling off horses. I printed out black-and-white copies. I thought maybe you could get some pencils from reception and colour them in.”

The paradox of the sophisticated classes in the age of inclusiveness is they consider tolerance and forbearance to be chief among their virtues but show arrogant disregard for opinions other than their own.

“Absolute princes,” wrote John Stuart Mill, “or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects.”

Such a man is the ABC’s Rafael Epstein.

The high regard in which Epstein holds his own judgment surfaced in an interview he conducted last week with Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston last week over the right of terror-friendly fruitcakes to a voice on Q&A.

“Andrew Bolt … he doesn’t believe in the concept of the Stolen Generations,” said Epstein. “He has got a lot of strong questions on the science of climate change, many people would feel that they are irrefutable facts and that by questioning those things Andrew Bolt is in some way corroding the social fabric.

“Does that mean that we should all question the Herald Sun’s real commitment to cohesive society?”

“Are you trying to draw some equivalency between Zaky Mallah and Andrew Bolt?” asked Johnston. “Last time I looked Andrew hadn’t done 2 ½ years’ jail.”

The hapless Epstein should have withdrawn at that point, but instead he blundered on.

“I’m trying to get at whether or not it is fair to attack the ABC’s intentions towards the country around some coverage. Andrew Bolt is clearly very popular, I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of his columns, I don’t think this is the place to do that.

“However, if he is asking a lot of significant questions around the Stolen Generation and climate change science, and they are things that for many people, not for everyone, for many people they are irrefutable facts — can I then question the Herald Sun and say, well, you are in some way being corrosive.”

To disagree with Epstein and like-minded souls in the gated community known as the ABC is now, apparently, to corrode the social fabric.

The corporation’s reluctance to give a platform to contrary opinions is not, as it first appears, an illiberal act of censorship but a laudable attempt to protect social harmony. Naturally they support free expression, but some ideas — like mutations stored in the freezers of mad scientists — should never be allowed to escape. Mallah’s justification of Islamic terrorism may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least he didn’t rock the boat on climate change.