This week’s events in Paris brought the meaning of the term ‘Global city’ into its full dimension and meaning. Sadly, the city’s boundaries seems to encompass the entire world.
Paris was our home for the past ten years, my daughter is Parisian in her identity more then she is anything else. We are experiencing this pan-european reality with great sadness, and with the deep understanding that terror will be an integral part of our life. We also understand, with the same degree of conviction, that the role we play in this horrific chapter in history, is the part of the ‘normal’ people. The ones who would insist on going to theater, movies, concerts, shopping or simply go out for a coffee. doesn’t sound like much in a soldier’s life, but we will do our bit.
Artzi’s column this week, was immersed in the Parisian tragedy, and here are my images along Artzi’s written words. For me, this is a message of hope.
Or why climate skeptics are wrong
Consensus science is a phrase often heard today in conjunction with anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Is there a consensus on AGW? There is. The tens of thousands of scientists who belong to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the American Meteorological Society, the American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and, most notably, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change all concur that AGW is in fact real. Why?
It is not because of the sheer number of scientists. After all, science is not conducted by poll. As Albert Einstein said in response to a 1931 book skeptical of relativity theory entitled 100 Authors against Einstein, “Why 100? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.” The answer is that there is a convergence of evidence from multiple lines of inquiry—pollen, tree rings, ice cores, corals, glacial and polar ice-cap melt, sea-level rise, ecological shifts, carbon dioxide increases, the unprecedented rate of temperature increase—that all converge to a singular conclusion. AGW doubters point to the occasional anomaly in a particular data set, as if one incongruity gainsays all the other lines of evidence. But that is not how consilience science works. For AGW skeptics to overturn the consensus, they would need to find flaws with all the lines of supportive evidence and show a consistent convergence of evidence toward a different theory that explains the data. (Creationists have the same problem overturning evolutionary theory.) This they have not done.
A 2013 study published in Environmental Research Letters by Australian researchers John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli and their colleagues examined 11,944 climate paper abstracts published from 1991 to 2011. Of those papers that stated a position on AGW, about 97 percent concluded that climate change is real and caused by humans. What about the remaining 3 percent or so of studies? What if they’re right? In a 2015 paper published in Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Rasmus Benestad of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Nuccitelli and their colleagues examined the 3 percent and found “a number of methodological flaws and a pattern of common mistakes.” That is, instead of the 3 percent of papers converging to a better explanation than that provided by the 97 percent, they failed to converge to anything.
“There is no cohesive, consistent alternative theory to human-caused global warming,” Nuccitelli concluded in an August 25, 2015, commentary in the Guardian. “Some blame global warming on the sun, others on orbital cycles of other planets, others on ocean cycles, and so on. There is a 97% expert consensus on a cohesive theory that’s overwhelmingly supported by the scientific evidence, but the 2–3% of papers that reject that consensus are all over the map, even contradicting each other. The one thing they seem to have in common is methodological flaws like cherry picking, curve fitting, ignoring inconvenient data, and disregarding known physics.” For example, one skeptical paper attributed climate change to lunar or solar cycles, but to make these models work for the 4,000-year period that the authors considered, they had to throw out 6,000 years’ worth of earlier data.
Such practices are deceptive and fail to further climate science when exposed by skeptical scrutiny, an integral element to the scientific process.
Itiel Dror of the JDI Center for the Forensic Sciences at University College London spoke about his research on “cognitive forensics”—how cognitive biases affect forensic scientists. For example, the hindsight bias can lead one to work backward from a suspect to the evidence, and then the confirmation bias can direct one to find additional confirming evidence for that suspect even if none exists. Dror discussed studies that show “that the same expert examiner, evaluating the same prints but within different contexts, may reach different and contradictory decisions.” Not just fingerprints. Even DNA analysis is subjective. “When 17 North American expert DNA examiners were asked for their interpretation of data from an adjudicated criminal case in that jurisdiction, they produced inconsistent interpretations,” Dror and his co-author wrote in a 2011 paper in Science and Justice.
No one knows how many innocent people have been convicted based on junk forensic science, but the National Research Council report recommends substantial funding increases to enable labs to conduct experiments to improve the validity and reliability of the many forensic subfields. Along with a National Commission on Forensic Science, which was established in 2013, it’s a start.
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An unconventional summit on the future of the Right.
July 17, 2015, National Journal
On a Friday in late June in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour outside Austin, some 30 shoeless, mostly libertarian, mostly moderate, mostly Republican guests gathered at the 720-acre, Eastern-inspired ranch of Whole Foods cofounder and co-CEO John Mackey, for a conference on the future of the GOP. It was 9:30 a.m., and another of their hosts, Rich Tafel, founder of the gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans, had just given the introduction to the first full day of the event, which would run until Sunday midday. During a break, attendees checked their phones and encountered some version of this headline: “5-4 Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide.” “Here we were in this group, trying to imagine the future Right,” businessman Ted Buerger tells me later, “and a doorway opened in the middle of those meetings and said, ‘What you are trying to create is what is going to be created.’ “
The conference, officially called the Conclave on the Future of the Right, was sponsored by the Institute for Cultural Evolution, which, since 2013, has been focused on “depolarizing” American politics. Mackey and Tafel, both senior fellows there, issued invitations to Republican and Republican-leaning independent “thought leaders”—including former Republican National Committee head Michael Steele, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida , and book publisher and Charles Koch scion Elizabeth Koch—who they believed would be receptive to their vision of a GOP that focuses less on divisive social issues. After decades of subordination to a Republican “base” composed of social conservatives, it seems, libertarians and others who have felt alienated from the party see an opportunity to seize the reins. The aim of this meeting was to engage some of them in a conversation about what their dream party might look like.
Rather than an attempt to talk strategy or tactics (“This is not about Republicans learning to speak Spanish,” Tafel joked), the conference was meant to be a summit of ideas, a first step toward achieving a consensus of the like-minded. The weekend was broken down into 11 sessions, each with a broad theme such as “Social/Value Issues,” or “The Role of the Media in the Future of the Right.” (For those interested, the agenda also included hiking and a dip in a swimming hole on the grounds.) Brief “conversation starters” led to facilitated discussions of 30 minutes to two hours, in a setting that itself was a stretch for some of those present. “It was rustic—more Wild West or rugged West,” but with “pictures of yogis and Eastern mystics,” says Nick Gillespie, editor of libertarian touchstone Reason.com. The group dined on vegan dishes that included a “chocolate pudding” made of avocado and dates, which, for those who didn’t normally adhere to the diet “kind of encapsulated part of what we were trying to do, which was to try and do things, or see things, differently,” Gillespie says.
To be sure, even among a group preselected for its open-mindedness and shared values, tensions arose. At the start of one session, David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, made the case for marriage and the two-parent family structure—whether the couple is straight, gay, or otherwise. Some of the more emphatic libertarians erupted at the mere introduction of the topic. (At one point after the gay-marriage decision came down, some participants began to debate why marriage laws were needed at all, but that conversation was quickly quashed.) “There are people who are very much in favor of lifestyle experimentation” and who wouldn’t want a party that simply “upheld traditional values,” says Michael Strong, a libertarian and cofounder of the nonprofit Radical Social Entrepreneurs.
The tension between order and liberty—and the question of how to maintain the uneasy alliance between social conservatives and libertarians—is hardly new. But the tenor of the conversations suggested that the attendees saw a future in which they and their values formed the GOP’s base, and social issues and their champions were no longer center stage. Their rethought, renewed party would be inclusive and proactive, and would stand for personal freedom, smaller government, and entrepreneurial capitalism.
That wouldn’t mean abandoning social conservatives, strategist Patrick Ruffini and others are quick to note. “I came at this through the political arena,” Ruffini says. “I don’t believe that marginalizing social conservatives within the Republican Party is necessarily a good strategy for moving forward. There still does need to be a coalition between all sides, and there needs to be mutual understanding and respect.” The question, says Tafel, is “how can we bring people forward with their values? Because a lot of those values are quite beautiful. Their faith, their family. They don’t need to abandon them,” he says. But “that fear-based stuff that has often been stuck with the traditional culture”—that has to go. Or, as Abner Mason, the CEO of ConsejoSano, an online health care company for Spanish speakers, put it, “We’ve got to leave the hate behind.”
So how to form an alliance with those they hope to supplant? One suggested outreach strategy was to step forward to defend social conservatives against the kind of cultural backlash many attendees predicted was nigh. “Now that social liberals have won on gay marriage, there’s the possibility that they’ll want to really force religious communities to adhere to a whole range of socially liberal positions,” for instance by attempting to revoke tax-exempt status for churches, says Strong. However, it is hard to know how far such a gesture would go with conservatives, Blankenhorn notes wryly, because there were none at the conference. “It’s not good to engage with someone in absentia,” he says. “Especially if you’re going to try and execute them.”
On Sunday, everyone had a chance to offer one or two words summing up his or her experience; common choices, according to the 12 participants I interviewed, were “refreshed,” “renewed,” and “optimistic.” Tafel says he will write a summary of the conversations, which he’ll send to participants to edit. If enough people are comfortable with the idea, he’ll publish it as a signed manifesto. The reception that document gets could dictate what happens next. But he’s confident that they’re on the right track, and that something will happen. Just like the idea of gay marriage 20 years ago, the concept of the future Right “sounds so far-fetched,” Tafel says. “But I have no doubt that what we’re doing is going to actually transform it. You have to have ideas first. And you have to stand alone first for a while.”
‘If fair trade does deliver higher incomes for farmers, it may prove too successful for its own good’
In 2001, the world price of coffee sank to its lowest ebb for decades, threatening dreadful hardship for the often-poor farmers who grow the sainted berry. It was also around that time that fair trade coffee seemed to come of age, with a common certification mark launched in 2002, and the product becoming a familiar sight in supermarkets and coffee chains.
The premise of fair trade is that the disparity between poor coffee farmers and prosperous drinkers presents both a problem and an opportunity. The problem is that farmers often live a precarious existence: geographically isolated and growing a crop with a volatile price. The opportunity is that many western consumers care about the earnings and conditions of the people who grow their coffee, and have some money to spare if only it might reach those people.
Unlike a taxi driver or a waiter, you can’t just tip the guy who grew your coffee. The fair trade answer to the conundrum is a labelling scheme: an inspector verifies that all is well on the farm, with good conditions and a higher price paid for coffee; this information is conveyed to consumers by way of a recognisable trademark, the most famous of which is the Fairtrade logo. It’s an appealing idea — a voluntary scheme that helps people who want to help people. (Or rather, several voluntary schemes: there is more than one fair trade label, alongside diverse certification schemes such as Organic or Rainforest Alliance.) Who wouldn’t want a better deal for farmers who are poor and work hard? But there are problems with the idea too.
The most obvious problem is that this labelling scheme costs money. Flocert, a certification body set up by the Fairtrade Labelling Organization, charges farmer co-operatives €538 merely to apply for certification, plus an initial audit fee of €1,466 even for a small co-op. Cynics might suspect bureaucratic bloat but the costs may well be real. It cannot be cheap to check pay and conditions in some remote Peruvian coffee plantation. But every euro spent on certification is a euro that the farmer cannot spend on his family. And larger co-operatives from richer, better-connected countries are more likely to find it worthwhile to pay for certification. For this reason, economist and fair trade critic Ndongo Sylla says that fair trade benefits “the rich”. That seems too strong; but it is certainly a challenge for the fair trade model to reach the poorest.
A second problem is that fair trade certification cannot guarantee fair trade sales. If coffee importers want to put the Fairtrade mark on their coffee, they must find a Fairtrade certified producer and pay the Fairtrade price, which reflects both a modest premium and a guaranteed minimum price. But importers are not obliged to buy fair trade coffee and may avoid it when it gets too expensive, exactly when the premium is most needed. A study by Christopher Bacon found that during the price slump of 2000 and 2001, Nicaraguan coffee farmers were earning twice as much per pound when selling fair trade coffee as when selling the uncertified stuff. But much of their coffee could not find a buyer at such rates and was sold at market rates instead; as a result, the average price premium, while substantial, was much lower at around a third.
Another study, by Tina Beuchelt and Manfred Zeller, found the fair trade certified farmers in Nicaragua started at a similar income level to conventional farmers and, if anything, slipped backwards. A recent survey by Raluca Dragusanu, Nathan Nunn, and Daniele Giovannucci was more upbeat but still found the evidence in favour of fair trade “mixed and incomplete”.
A final irony is that if fair trade does deliver higher incomes for farmers, it may prove too successful for its own good. If coffee farmers are able to sell more coffee at a premium price, more people will want to become coffee farmers. One possible result is that the market price for uncertified coffee falls and, on balance, coffee farmers are no better off.
As the development economist Paul Collier once wrote, fair trade certified farmers “get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty”. It is a telling point. For all the good I may wish the people who make my coffee, a globalised tip jar makes a precarious foundation for their future prosperity.
Written for and first published at ft.com.