The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Climate change: The denial isn't just limited to the denialists

Fellow citizens...of the Earth and beyond...

Unsurprisingly, there has been much debate surrounding the recent fires in Australia and how such devastation is the result of human induced climate change.

Unsurprisingly, yet again, the usual suspects - taking time away from a busy schedule of defending the convicted paedophile George Pell - responded like this:

Once again, the undeniable is denied.

Yet, despite decades of warnings from all informed quarters - note, informed quarters, not News Ltd/2GB lackeys or conservative politicians - our collective response has been appalling, nay, criminal.

We continue to delude ourselves that somehow, miraculously, we will limit the warming of the Earth to 2 degrees. (Which, in itself, is not much comfort as 2 degrees would create enormous shifts in our weather patterns).

Based on our history there is no evidence for that expectation.

This graph explains, quite starkly, the true state of play:

So it's not just the denialists in all their ignorant arrogance that are refusing to see the reality; it's also the complacents, who have not taken the threat anywhere near seriously enough, and are thinking it can now all be stopped.

It can't.

Oh, and a very special mention to all those in the media who gave (and still give) equal time on air or in print to climate denialists in the ridiculous belief that they were providing balance - well done.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The state of play

Fellow citizens,

You can read the rubbish analysis of the polls written in The Australian newspaper and retold verbatim on 'high quality' TV morning shows like Channel Seven's Sunrise, or you can read the measured analysis by my colleagues William Bowe and Mark the Ballot.

They use two different methods of analysis, but both are highly rigorous and I have every confidence is an accurate reflection of the current state of play.

William Bowe's assessment

Mark the Ballot's assessment

"Putting the latest poll into my Bayesian aggregation yields the same result I had last week: Labor has 52.6 per cent of the two-party preferred (TPP) vote share. The Coalition has 47.4 per cent."

That is all.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Coalition's desperation is showing

Fellow citizens,

Scott Morrison warned today that the election of an ALP Government in May would result in a recession for Australia.

Prior to the 2007 election, John Howard and Peter Costello warned of the "Risk of a Rudd Recession" (see how clever they were with that little alliteration).

Prior to the 1983 election, Malcolm Fraser warned that the election of a Hawke Labor Government would see people's savings raided from their bank accounts and that they would be safer leaving their money under their beds.

To which Hawke replied: You can't put your money there, that's where the commies are.

What's the pattern here?

In 1983, the ALP won the election with 53.2% of the two party preferred vote and the equivalent of 90 seats.

In 2007, the ALP won the election with 52.7% of the two party preferred vote and 83 seats.

in 2019, the ALP is tracking currently in the polls at 53.2% of the two party preferred vote and 89 seats.

 Source: William Bowe - Pollbludger

Seems there's a clear correlation between the level of shrill from a Coalition government and the subsequent election of a Labor government.


Thursday, 28 February 2019

A question of character: John Howard on Michael Kirby & George Pell - compare and contrast

Fellow citizens,

Character: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual - noun, Oxford English Dictionary.

Yesterday, after knowing of the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for child sexual abuse, John Howard wrote a 'character reference' for Pell because, for Howard, the fact that Pell was found to be a paedophile did not "alter my opinion of the Cardinal".

In March 2002, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, under parliamentary privilege, accused the then High Court Justice Michael Kirby of hiring underage prostitutes and illegally using a commonwealth car to "trawl for rough trade at the Darlinghurst Wall" and that Kirby "played out his fantasies in a fee for service arrangement."

Far from condemning Heffernan, Howard said in parliament that Heffernan was "justified in using parliamentary privilege to air the matters which he did" and that "he holds very strongly to the views he expressed in the speech and he does not resile from them one iota."

Howard then said "the Senator in question enjoys both my affection and my friendship, and I know that he holds the views he has expressed on matters very deeply and very conscientiously."

He didn't leave it there.

Howard then went on the John Laws program to say that "your listeners will know that any kind of misbehaviour involving people under age would disqualify people from a whole lot of positions, not just being a High Court judge."

Heffernan's scurrilous and baseless accusations were proven to be a fabrication. Howard's role in the disgraceful affair will never be known.

What we do know is this:

In 2002, unsubstantiated allegations made under parliamentary privilege "involving people under age" were levelled at a High Court judge and Howard was all too keen to lend support to those allegations, bringing Kirby's character into question.

In 2019, a conviction of sexual abuse "involving people under age" has been recorded against Pell and Howard says this fact did not "alter my opinion of the Cardinal", in effect, saying that Pell's character is not in question.


Based on these facts, what can anyone say about Howard's character? 

Character: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual - noun, Oxford English Dictionary.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

The consistency of denial

Fellow citizens,

The pattern of denial is consistent.

The facts: A jury hears all the evidence and convicts Cardinal George Pell.

The opinion: I don't believe Pell is guilty.

The facts: Five International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports (over near 3 decades) and a special report in 2018 tells us that climate change is real and humans are the cause.

The opinion: I don't believe climate change is real.

Hippocrates: There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.

The opinion: I don't believe that either.


Monday, 25 February 2019

Ipsos poll hysteria explained

Fellow citizens,

Last week an opinion poll from Ipsos was published in the Fairfax press.

It seemed to 'show' a collapse in the ALP's vote and a surge in the Coalition's vote. The media ran wild with 'explanations' that 'the boats issue' had sunk the ALP again - just like in 2001 with Tampa - and that the Coalition was 'back in the game'.


Apart from the fact that Tampa is one of the biggest myths in our political polling history (the issue of September 11 2001 is totally airbrushed from media discussion about the causes for the result of the 2001 election) the Ipsos poll, heralded as a turning point, was just a statistical illusion as a result of sampling variation. That's all it was.

Prior to the release of the Ipsos poll last week, there was a poll released over the weekend by Galaxy in Queensland (conducted in the same week) which showed that there was an improvement in the ALP's position, not a deterioration.

That's Queensland, the state where boats is supposed to hit the hardest.

As soon as Ipsos was released, the Galaxy result was ignored by the press, because, I suspect, the Ipsos poll showed what the press expected to see.

There was no corroboration by any other pollster to support Ipsos, indeed, there was a total contradictory result from a more reliable pollster. Yet this didn't matter as Ipsos showed boats had hit hard - as the press 'knew' it would.

So the press had not only an unconfirmed report, it had a report that was disputed by a more reliable witness, and yet the press ran with the 'evidence' it wanted to run with.

Newspoll today - showing there is no collapse in the ALP vote and corroborating the Galaxy poll in Queensland - illustrates how unreliable that witness was, and how foolish the press had been.

None of this is new.

I have written about this for over 10 years.

This piece published in the SMH on April 3, 2010 is just one example (see below).

While I am fully aware that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I am optimistically hoping that this time all those who comment on polls read the piece and absorb the lesson.

"Why that surge in popularity could be a load of balls"

THE most recent Newspoll of federal voting intentions reported the two-party-preferred vote had changed by 4 percentage points since the previous poll.

The ALP had risen from 52 per cent to 56 per cent and the Coalition had fallen from 48 per cent to 44 per cent. This translates to more than half a million voters having changed their vote in the past fortnight. Is this realistic? What if the next Newspoll shows the two-party vote returning to ALP 52 per cent, Coalition 48 per cent? Would this mean over a half a million voters would have changed again? The short answer is: it's very unlikely.

This may be the one poll in 20, or 5 per cent, that is outside the pollsters' 95 per cent confidence range, termed a rogue poll, and so is unreliable.

However, if we assume this poll is not a rogue then the suggested change in vote may or may not be real. If we assume it's real, then the results indicate a trend towards the ALP with a magnitude of 4 percentage points - a very large and statistically unlikely figure. A trend towards the ALP is possible but the most likely explanation is that the change in voting intentions is as a result of sampling variation and so most probably represents an illusion.

Sampling variation is the unavoidable variation in results that occurs from poll to poll because we are polling a sample of the population and not the whole electorate. It is the most common explanation for changes in polling numbers, yet is the most misrepresented.

Consider the following example: imagine you have a bag of 100 balls, 50 black and 50 white. You randomly select 10 balls from the bag. For your sample to accurately reflect the 50/50 split between the white balls and the black balls, you should have pulled out five white balls and five black, but you would not be at all surprised if you pulled out only three white balls and seven black. You would put it down to a chance variation in the sample. You would not immediately assume that while the bag did originally have 50 white balls and 50 black balls, the make-up of balls in the bag had now changed to 30 white and 70 black to reflect the sample.

Equally, if after replacing the first sample your next sample pulled out seven white balls and only three black, you would not be surprised and would put it down to a chance variation. You would not believe that the make-up of the balls in the bag had changed once more to now be 70 white and 30 black to reflect the new sample and would understand that it is the samples of 10 that are varying, not the original 100.

In other words, you would not conclude that the make-up of the balls in the bag was ''volatile'', first ''swinging'' to the black balls and then back to the white balls. In political terms these sampling variations tend to be seen as a ''poll surge'' followed by a ''poll slump'', but are more likely to be a statistical illusion. In a poll it is possible that reported changes in voting intentions, compared with the last poll, are accurate reflections of shifts in the mood of the population, but it is more probable that it is just sampling variation.

This highlights the problems associated with poll-to-poll analysis and reinforces the need to examine polling data over time. With this Newspoll, the most sensible approach would be to wait for another few polls from at least two pollsters before drawing any definitive conclusions. However, this won't occur, because the political world, participants and observers alike, is obsessed with using polling as a real-time measure of the state of the political parties. Thus every movement, big or small, must mean something. Consumed by the 24-hour news cycle, the political world assumes the real world is equally consumed and therefore poll movements must reflect the voters' response to the last fortnight's political events.

There is a Latin phrase, ''astra non mentiuntur sed astrologi bene mentiuntur de astris'', that translates as ''the stars never lie but the astrologers lie about the stars''.

Just as the astrological world is confident there is meaning in the movement of the stars, the political world is equally confident that there is meaning in the movement of the polls. As for those in the real world, they believe there is meaning only when it says what they want to hear.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Tony Abbott is in huge trouble.

Fellow citizens,

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is in very grave danger of losing the seat of Warringah. One that he has held since 1994.

The challenge from Independent Zali Steggall is very real, very serious and could ultimately prove to be very successful.

There are several pieces of evidence that lead me to draw that conclusion.

1 - Quantitative

The only polling data on Warringah that we have to date was conducted in September 2018 by ReachTEL - before any Independents had nominated to run in the seat for the 2019 election (see below).

It showed that there was a primary vote swing of 12% against Abbott and a two party preferred swing of 7%.

Abbott's two party preferred lead was down to 54% to 46% when he was facing a challenge from the proverbial 'empty chair'.

He was already vulnerable.

This is reminiscent of the challenge to his leadership in February 2015 when Abbott came within 12 votes of losing to no contender - the empty chair - and six months later he was gone.

2 - Electoral History

In the 2016 Federal Election, Independent James Mathison (among others) challenged Abbott for the seat of Warringah.

It was reported by Phil Coorey [AFR 19 April 2017] that Abbott was so worried about losing the seat that he appealed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for assistance in the final week to ensure the seat was held.

"Malcolm Turnbull intervened personally during the final week of last year's election campaign to help 'save' Tony Abbott after internal party polling showed the former prime minister was so unpopular in his own seat of Warringah he risked losing it in a landslide."

3 - Qualitative

I have friends and relatives who live in and near the seat of Warringah.

All of them - ALL.OF.THEM. - tell me that the anger against Abbott is white hot and that the "voters can't wait to get rid of him".

While there's been a growing and significant dissatisfaction with Abbott over several issues - especially his intransigence over effective action on climate change - it was his campaign against Equal Marriage that was the "final straw".

Despite the people of Warringah casting a 75% vote in favour of Equal Marriage - the 10th highest vote by seat in the nation - Abbott abstained from voting in the parliament.

"He doesn't represent us, he represents himself" is the refrain I hear - one that Zali Steggall has already used.

The father of cartoonist Fiona Katauskas - Don Katauskas - is so incensed with Abbott for being a "total wrecker who has selfishly damaged the Liberal Party for nothing", that he took to the streets of Manly with sandwich boards urging voters to get rid of Abbott (see photos below).

Now, Don Katauskas is not your typical "bleeding heart leftie". He has never voted for the ALP. He has always supported the Coalition.

Like many who emigrated from Eastern Europe to escape the clutches of the Soviet regime, he loathes communism and by extension any party to the left of Genghis Khan.

Plus his experience as a small businessman having to deal with some of the more obstinate union leaders and their destructive ways has reinforced his right of centre position.

His enmity to the ALP has been long standing, and while he lives in the electorate of Bradfield, he felt so enraged at Abbott that he was motivated to travel to Warringah to walk the streets of the electorate urging his removal.

He visited three times and his feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Thirty-eight positive comments and only three negative.

One elector sung out to Don, "F*** Abbott!", to which Don replied, "I'd rather not!"

4 - The example of Bennelong in 2007

When Maxine McKew nominated to run against John Howard for the 2007 election, I knew Howard was in deep trouble.

The view from the press at the time was that Howard was a wily campaigner and that he would be very difficult to defeat.

The first polls in the seat showed McKew was going to win and every poll after that showed the same, and on election night the result was the same. Howard lost.

He suffered a 5.5% two party preferred swing and that was on the back of the 3.5% swing he'd already suffered in the 2004 Federal Election as a result of the challenge of Andrew Wilkie (as a Green).

What is often overlooked is that Maxine McKew not only won but came within 150 votes of out polling Howard on first preferences.

What is also often overlooked is that Howard - the 'wily campaigner' - was voted out by Liberal voters. The seat of Bennelong was later reclaimed by John Alexander for the Liberal Party in 2010 and has been held ever since.

The voters who shifted against Howard were Liberal supporters who had had enough of his reactionary ways and were looking for a new way forward; then having removed him, shifted back to normal transmission.

5 - Betting market changes

Prior to the announcement that Zali Steggall was challenging Abbott, the price for Abbott to win was 1.55 and the "Independent" 2.20.

That translated to a win chance probability for Abbott of 59% and the "Independent" 41%.

Already not very convincing for a "safe seat".

Following Zali Steggall's announcement, the market shifted quickly.

Abbott blew out to 2.15 and the "Independent" shortened to 1.70.

That translated to a win chance probability for Abbott of only 44% and the "Independent" 56%.

Even less convincing for a "safe seat".

The challenge ahead

In the 2016 Federal Election, Abbott won the two candidate preferred vote over the Green candidate 53,346 votes to 33,320.

Zali Steggall will need to shift over to her side about 10,000 voters who gave their voting preference to Abbott at the last election.

In other words, about 1 in 5 of those voters.

Think that's too onerous?

In the 2018 Wentworth by-election, Dr Kerryn Phelps shifted about twice that number (around 20,000) to her side, or about 1 in 3.5 voters who supported the Coalition in the 2016 election

The 20,000 voters that Kerryn Phelps shifted in Wentworth were Liberal voters, the voters who despatched John Howard in Bennelong were Liberal voters, and the voters who will support Zali Steggall in Warringah and send Tony Abbott off to political oblivion will be Liberal voters.

We shall watch with great interest.

Blog Archive

Our home

Our home
Earthrise over the moon (click on picture to view film)

The pale blue dot

The pale blue dot
Earth viewed from Saturn (click on picture to view film clip)

Our neighbourhood

Our neighbourhood
The Solar System (click on picture to view film)

Our Home Galaxy

Our Home Galaxy
The Milky Way (click on picture to view film)

A sister galaxy

A sister galaxy
Andromeda (click on picture to view film)

Another sister galaxy

Another sister galaxy
Triangulum (click on picture to view short film clip)

The Local Group of Galaxies

The Local Group of Galaxies
Our Galactic Neighbourhood (click on picture to view film clip).

Our farthest view of the Universe

Our farthest view of the Universe
Hubble's farthest view (click on picture to view film clip)

The virgo super cluster of galaxies

The virgo super cluster of galaxies
Galaxies within 100 million light years (click on picture to view film clip)

Galaxies within 1 billion light years

Galaxies within 1 billion light years