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A useful advertisement for the BBC Reith Lectures

British tax funded broadcaster the BBC (it does not like the term “state broadcaster” as it prides itself on its political independence from the government of the day – although it shows no independence from collectivist ideology in general) does not run advertisements apart for what it considers good causes. Such as, of course, itself – BBC shows and other products.

The first “Director General” of the BBC, when it stopped being a commercial company, was a man called John Reith – and annual lectures are given in his name, the “Reith Lectures“. The BBC proudly advertises these lectures as a high culture jewel, something that no nasty commercial or charitable broadcaster would ever produce. Each year some establishment person actually lowers him or herself to speak to the unclean masses.

However, this year the endless advertisements were useful. The lecturer (a former head
of the Royal Society – although Newton, Boyle, and the others must be spinning in their graves) is to be a man of science, but of the modern sort in that the advertisements quote him saying that science must avoid investigating certain things – there are “doors that should remain closed”. This is an attitude that would have pleased the more extreme people in the Inquisition, but is unlikely to inspire children to question established orthodoxies – but, of course, questioning is no longer the function of “science”. Also the main modern functions of science appear to be to combat “climate change” (by supporting ever greater power for governments, pretending that more regulations and taxes will “save the planet” rather than be a corrupt scheme for special interests to gain money and power – by the way this is true even if, as may well be the case, the theory that human C02 emissions are a danger is correct, as such schemes as “Cap and Trade” will do nothing to reduce such emissions and such political scams are not part of science anyway) and to make sure that the “benefits of globalization are equitably shared”.

How “science” can be twisted so that this last nakedly political aim can be claimed to be part of it, I will never find out – as, of course, I will avoid the Reith Lectures as if they were the plague (which they are – the plague of ignorance and collectivist fanaticism), but I am still grateful for the advertisements for, as always with BBC advertisements, they warn people that the show being advertised is excrement, something to be avoided unless one enjoys stepping in excrement. However, if should be remembered that for children, especially for intelligent children interested in the world, such things as the “Reith Lecturers” are presented as key to the golden door of knowledge.

This is the tragedy – it is the most intelligent and hard working children who are ruined, those who hunger for knowledge are poisoned with a political message disguised as science (or history, or high culture). Not everyone has access to books (especially in modern times – the days when ordinary homes were full of serious works are long gone, at least in Britain), and many people are not first inspired by books in any case – they are inspired by the spoken word. And both the education system and the media (especially the broadcasting media) target such young people for ruination – for taking what is good in them, and turning it bad. Teaching them a rigid orthodoxy (which they must not question) which is really a mask for a political ideology – world egalitarianism, the “equitable sharing” of “the benefits of globalization”, with its basic denial of private property rights.

Perhaps, as so many tell me, the internet will save such young people – but perhaps it will not. I remain doubtful.

Oh and I, of course, remain open to correction – for example it is possible that the lecturer (his name did not make an impression on me – such beings being rather close to being parts of a hive mind anyway) may explain various new designs for atomic fission power stations in his lectures and discuss various approaches to nuclear fusion in great and enlightening detail. If he does I will have been, partly, refuted.

8 comments to A useful advertisement for the BBC Reith Lectures

  • Odd, I was reading about this very matter earlier today.

    Mencius Moldbug:

    [T]he progressive movement is actually far more corrupt than its banal kleptocratic predecessor, because it corrupts the very fields of knowledge on which all successful governments must rely.

  • I’m sorry, nearly everything this man comes out with is chock full of delicious nuggets of cognitive dissonance:

    When you ask experts, who claim to be performing a technical service in which individuals are interchangeable, to wield power – for example, when you exempt their advice from any independent review, or even allow them to control their own funding streams – you are basically sliding the Ring on to the collective fingers of some of the most important professions in a modern human society.

    For example, the scientist is the figure in modern society for whom it is easiest to cheat, because no one but a philosopher of science can determine whether his work is really science. Falsified science is easily detected; pseudoscience is not. And there are not a lot of philosophers, ever. And next to detecting pseudoeconomics, detecting pseudoscience is a piece of cake.

    And if you can distort this input to the government, you have hacked the government. You, not the old boss machine, are in the driver’s seat. And the worst of it is – you haven’t even solved the frickin’ problem:

    The leader or leaders of that machine are the rulers of the community, even though they occupy no offices and cannot be held in any way publicly responsible.

    [ ed: from early progressive Hubert Croly complaining about corruption in gilded-age US ]
    The progressives have transferred this invidious position – job description, Ringwraith – from ward heelers to the scholarly tradition of the West. In the process, they have irreparably corrupted the scholarly tradition of the West. And they have not gotten rid of the ward heelers. At least in 1909 there were no (supposed) scholars who were also ward heelers. I’d take ten Boss Crokers for one Rajendra Pachauri.

  • I could not help but think of pseudo-philosophy, and whether (by definition) pseudo-philosophy is true philosophy.

    Best regards

  • On Paul’s main post, I must agree with him. The politicisation of science over the last few years has been truly awful.

    The unnamed lecturer (Lord Rees of Ludlow) is, I think, still President of the Royal Society until November. He and his predecessor (Lord May of Oxford, one-time Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) to the UK government) strike me as having done nothing overall for the credibility of science and for its proper contribution to wise government. Likewise Sir David King, the most recently erstwhile CSA. This is through their support for the belief that the contribution of CO2 to global warming is both the dominant effect and at a catastrophic level.

    See views here:
    Clamour of the Times
    Calder’s Updates
    Tim Worstall
    The Times

    However, unlike Paul, I plan to be listening in to at least the first of this year’s Reith Lectures, IIRC at 9am on Tuesday on Radio 4. At least for as long as I can tolerate. I’ll report back if there is anything useful to add to the above.

    Best regards

  • RRS

    Why does the habit of reification persist?

    The BBC is not an “it” which “prides itself;” or “considers good causes” etc., etc.

    The organization is an aggregate of persons (who may not be terribly “individual” by nature). It is they who pride themselves (in that cloak of corporate embodiment); like the town councils, quangos and the like – including that wrongly reified “The State.”

    These are just people using the social mechanisms and institutions in their daily lives.

    That said, the results of such aggreagte actions are really pretty lousy on a pretty consistent basis, largely because they are undertaken to to wage influence rather than respond to needs or desires (other than those of the members of the aggregate).

  • guy herbert

    A point of information:

    The lecturer’s name this year is Martin Rees. He is Astronomer Royal and president of the Royal Society, and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics in the University of Cambridge.

    From what I know of him, he is a real old-fashioned scientist, and has been one of the more sensible voices on the evaluation of risk in policy questions in recent years. I expect what he says will be interesting and well-argued – which is not universally the case with Reith Lecturers in recent years, though it usually is. It is unlikely that, whatever he says, his opinions will be offered without reference to evidence.

  • Well, I listened to the whole thing from Prof Martin Rees PRS (MR), live on Radio 4, including the introduction and Q&A session. I then had a repeat listen on the BBC podcast.

    I was distinctly disappointed, even irritated, with the poor scope of coverage and many attitudes that, IMHO, are incorrect.

    What I’d really like is to have a full transcript and give it a thorough fisking; however, so far, I’ve been unable to find one and I really don’t have time to transcribe the audio myself.

    Anyway here are a few comments.

    On Rees’ use of humour, there were several pathetically old ones, such as a variant of ‘sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits’. But I suppose recycling old jokes is no crime. The beaver one was new to me, but perhaps not to everyone; it followed shortly after his statement that he was using the term science to cover also engineering and technology. [Two beavers are looking at a big hydroelectric damm; one says to the other: “I didn’t actually build it, but it’s based on my idea.”]

    There was a whole load of ‘motherhood’.

    This included that science should be applied ‘optimally’; this is clearly appallingly poor use of the term, especially from a physicist and mathematician. Also, from a practical view, it’s barmy to claim that human use of anything should be considered as being or requiring more than a best effort.

    A whole load of his ‘motherhood’ embodied a presumption of centralised scientific decision-making, which is clearly statist.

    Subsequently, he went on about science being a public good and hence justifying extensive government funding; Tim Worstall had something on this a few days ago, as I’ve already linked above. However, actually, one must not draw the case of ‘public good’ too widely. Some use of science is a public good, other use of science is not a public good. All knowledge of the natural world and of human society is surely good in some way, and so arguably a public good. But there is nothing in education and knowledge that is not of some good, but does that make all science (especially when, by his own admission, it includes engineering and technology) and education a public good. What I’m doing, sitting here blogging, is such a public good: it lets you have knowledge of my opinion (some of which, IMHO, is of value): so send me taxpayers’ £s straight away please. There is just not enough money to do all the public good that could be done: hence at least one reason for the bankruptcy of communism. Public good has a lost-opportunity cost, in other public goods and in non-public-good applications of money. As a scientist, MR should be naturally comparing such things as he should also be comparing the parsimony of scientific explanation, as per the recommendations of William of Occam.

    MR excused government handling of crisis issues of the Icelandic volcanic eruption and effect on air travel, BSE and vCJD, and of Swine Flu. On these, MR also stated that proper application of the actuarial approach would require greater government action, not less. Personally I doubt this, on the grounds of ignorance for sound policy-making of both probabities and of adverseness of outcome. This is to say nothing of the need for society to judge on the issue of utility of adverse cost (ie would the bad event be so bad, given the cost of protecting against it, that it would wreck the future of the paying society), rather than just living with the bad event should it happen. There is also, of course, an administrative cost to all insurance, that must be factored in to the cost side of cost-benefit analysis, and that can change the balance on a great many issues. Finally, the true cost of the protection, implemented through the so-called Precautionary Principle, is often massively understated. On all of these, MR also careful avoided describing the balance of an objective and rational view. He seemed to me to be saying that it is far better to pour money down the drain than to admit one’s own ignorance and powerlessness: that something must be done is just so scientific.

    MR did make the interesting point that there is no Chief Scientific Advisor at the Treasury, and added the joke that he thought they should be able to spare one economist to fund it.

    On the use of scientists, MR quoted the usual Churchill. Then he said it is not just the job of scientists to provide “facts to support policies”. IMHO, it’s worrying that he puts it that way round; a sort of reworded ‘cherry-picking’. Is it not rather the the job of scientists, and everyone else, to help find policies that are consistent with the actuality.

    The second lecture in MR’s four will cover ‘climate change’ (with other global issues). However, on Anthropogenic Global Warming (catastrophic or otherwise) he did draw the analogy of us being ill and ‘trusting the doctor’ as support for ‘the scientific consensus’. This is, of course, in interesting opposition to the Royal Society’s ‘on the word of no one’. Given his personal rhetorical skills, I would have thought it better to require technical experts to be able to explain their theories, and how they are sufficiently consistent with the evidence, and that the available evidence is sufficient for the importance of the decision. That way, the public might see such truth as there is, rather than a confusion of truth and plausible (or even implausible) fallacy.

    Later, concerning the ‘trust your doctor’ analogy, there was a good question on the trusting of a particular Doctor: Dr Andrew Wakefield of MMR fame. MR’s view seemed to be that one must trust the 99% consensus of the informed elite. There was not much though on who they are (unless it’s the government), and how does that work with the Icelandic volcanic eruption and effect on air travel, BSE and vCJD, and Swine Flu. Oh, they were wrong, but right at the time.

    There was a related question on the opinion on recreational drug policy and of Prof (also medical doctor) David Nutt. Prof Nutt as in the invited audience and asked polite and good questions (as well as clarifying that he was fired rather than resigned from that government advisory committee). To my surprise, MR publicly labelled the issue as “the Nutt Case”. Again IMHO, this did not contribute to any scientific argument, nor to any case on the relationship of scientists with government/public.

    Also during questions, there was more discussion of probabilities. MR went on with equating the swine flu purchase of tens of millions of pounds of vaccine with householders’ fire insurance. He kept rabbiting on about the need to insure things with less than 50% risk, but equating that to a public view that insuring things with less than 50% risk was a waste of money. Does MR really believe that the public thinks that fire insurance is a waste of money, unless your house burns down. What a strange view. Where is his evidence?

    I could go on, but would have to re-listen to the 45 minutes again.

    I did not think much of the risk assessment science (or maybe that’s maths); I did not think much of the science policy. Nor (pace Guy) did I find everything quite ‘old fashioned science’ in the way that I remember it: just more demonstration of the perennial and persuasive nature of rhetoric over rationality.

    If anyone finds a link to a transcript, I’d appreciate that being posted. The 45 minute podcast is available at Reith lectures 2010 – lecture one: The Scientific Citizen

    Best regards

  • Paul Marks

    RRS – quite so.

    However, there is such a thing as an institutional environment.

    For example, I am sure there are free market folk at the BBC – but is it likely they will control the main thrust of an organization that depends on state financing and is governed by state regulations?

    Guy Herbert:

    My post was inspired by what the man said in his ads – your tone indicates that either you do not believe what I said about them (fair enough – listen to the ads yourself) or you think that a nice person saying nasty things must be my fault (i.e. that my ears are always open for the bad things that people say, but ignore the good in the same people).

    You are partly correct – in that I am not nice at all (I tend to assume people are guilty till they prove their innocence – which is certainly not nice). However, you are mistaken in thinking that the “nice people” really are nice, they are not, in fact they are even more nasty than me (as you may discover personally one day).

    I am a nasty man who supports a good belief system (libertarianism) – a system of idea that tells me that I must not do (even if I had the chance to do) various things that I would enjoy doing (such as killing people for the “crime” of not agreeing with me).

    Now think about people who hold to a radically different belief system – it does not matter what you call it (statism, Progressivism, collectivism……) as long as you can bring yourself to accept that such a belief system, way of looking at the world, exists. And you already know this – and have known for many years.

    Now let us say that such people start off really fluffy (totally different from me) – how long do you think they will stay that way?

    After all human beings are not angels – humans have a dark side (a very dark side).

    Now give them a set of beliefs that hold that it is O.K. (even noble) to lie, cheat, rob, murder (and so on), for the good of the cause.

    What sorts of things do you think they will end up doing? Even if they started out really nice.

    Again you know all this Guy – and have known it for many years.

    “But Paul, Lord Rees of Ludlow is JUST NOT LIKE THAT”.

    Perhaps he is not Guy – I must accept your personal judgement about his moral charactor.

    Besides – Ludlow is a wonderful town (one of the nicest towns I have visited – although I will never see it again), and anyone who names himself after Ludlow can not be all bad (perhaps he was born there – or lives there now).

    However, the gentleman’s words ally him with people who are just as I describe above.

    For further information I recommend Edmund Burke’s “Letter to a Noble Lord” to you. It does not matter that Lord Rees is a life peer rather than a hereditory one – the work is still valid.

    Most likely you have read this work – but have another look.

    Burke is not saying that the Duke of Bedford is not a nice man (perhaps he is a very nice man) – but the noble lord is opening the door to the forces of Hell. And that is a rather bad thing to do.

    Lastly there is a big error at the end of my post.

    I do not make a clear distinction between SCIENCE (how things are – what causes X) and TECHNOLGY (how we can do things – by making clever kit).

    Of course the original Royal Society did not stress the difference either – but that is no excuse for me to not stress it.

    However, if Nigel Sedgwick is correct, Lord Rees is not talking about science (i.e. he is not describing how the physical universe works) or technology (how we can make better machines taking advantage of how the universe works).

    Instead is (as his own ads suggested he would) talking about the place of science in public policy – political talk (even if he pretends, perhaps even to himself, that it is not political talk).

    This is what I predicted – but it is still a pity.

    You see I believe that Guy Herbert is CORRECT – Lord Rees most likely has a lot of interesting knowledge about the universe.

    But he will not spend most of his lecturers explaining this knowledge.

    Instead most lecture time will be spent spreading the various attitudes that open the door for the collectivists. Opening the gates of Hell.

    Which is unfortuntate.