Archive for the 'Natural environment' Category
Monday, July 7th, 2014
A new series of articles commences with a polemic about the value of thinking outside the domain in which our own organisation is situated and how that can contribute to greater understanding than another seminar from people we already know.
Australia faces perhaps more challenges than at any time in its history. Many commentators and experts point to failure to confront climate change and the carbon emissions contributing to that, to the decline in attention to many aspects of humanity including immigration and asylum-seekers, to the continuing challenge for ‘White Australia’ of Indigenous peoples gaining genuine standing in their own country, to the continuing less than independent stance in foreign policy despite the evidence that simply forming an alliance with the nation currently most powerful carries severe dangers, to the risk averse nature of the political systems in investing in communications and transport infrastructure and much else.
Economically, inequality in Australia, increasingly an issue gaining serious attention not least because of the publication of Capital in the 21st Century by French economist Thomas Piketty, has been brought to the fore in discussions about the first Commonwealth government budget of Treasurer Joe Hockey. Amongst the many features of very great importance characterising the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the failure to appoint a Minister for Science and the abrogation of agreements with the states entered into by the Rudd and Gillard governments in respect of health and education. Education policies have already featured on this site.
The consistent assertions by Abbott government ministers of a budget emergency and a debt crisis requiring a budget featuring significant reductions in government outlays in many areas, the resulting pain to be “shared” across the board, have been comprehensively denied by many economists and commentators supported by numerous detailed studies.
It is intended that these issues will form the background to the essays in this section, In Australia.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Hoots No. 12 – 8 December 2009: Global Climate Change and Museum Advocacy
In some recent commentary on challenges facing museums over the next several decades, the issue of controversy and advocacy has been mentioned. For instance, over at Museum 3.0 in the Forum a post by Lynda Kelly reports item 5 of the nine big themes for 2010 identified by Australian Museum director Frank Howarth as “Increasing our advocacy: taking a stance on things that matter”.
It should not be thought that museums have not been dealing with controversy or been concerned with advocacy though sometimes that advocacy has been rather muted and some controversial issues have been avoided.
Lynda Kelly has posted a very useful brief commentary on this subject and referenced an article “Museum Authority Up for Grabs: The Latest Thing, or Following a Long Trend Line?” by Daniel Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center Museum program in the Fall 2009 issue of the journal Exhibitionist (p 6-10).
Global climate change is considered by many people to be the major issue confronting human society and the environment though in recent months people in some countries such as the US have put the issue at the bottom of their list of concerns. In this situation museums have the credibility and the responsibility to place in publicly accessible places information which is credible and authoritative.
If museums are concerned about advocacy then this issue – global climate change – is something to communicate about right now.
The Monday 7 December issue of the Sydney Morning Herald contained an article by Deborah Smith referring to a document on climate change put together by Brett Parris who is a Research Fellow at Monash University and Chief Economist for World Vision Australia.
Entitled “University tackles sceptics’ arguments” it commenced, “As World leaders gather in Copenhagen, efforts to undermine public confidence in the science of climate change have intensified. Sceptics have recently gained traction by exaggerating uncertainties in the research”.
Parris’ full document addresses 21 common objections to the arguments put forward in support of the proposition that global climate change is occurring and that it is due to activity of humans, principally through industrialization and the emissions of CO2. From my reading of documents at realclimate.org and other articles and presentations I would conclude that Parris’ document is as good a summary of the arguments and the evidence and an excellent refutation of the claims of others as I have seen.
One of the major parts of Parris’ document concerns the economic impacts of action to mitigate the effects of climate change. He points out that such action would have an impact of about 0.1 or 0.2 percent decline in income growth compared with “business as usual” (not taking account of an negative impact of climate change which is very important); this translates to a delay of four months or so by 2050 in reaching a certain target level.
At the end of the document, Parris quotes Nobel prize-winner in economics Paul Krugman: “Writing after the vote on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the US Congress, Krugman considered the implications of unmitigated climate change for the US economy and for future generations. He concluded that continued denial of the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change, with the aim of thwarting action to reduce emissions, was a form of treason:
“So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement. But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases. And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason “treason against the planet.”
Museums, especially natural history museums have concern for the natural environment and the future of the planet and life on it as a major focus of their endeavours. Whilst objectivity is often promoted as an important feature of the communications of museums, integrity must never be compromised. That includes a responsibility to communicate the latest understandings based on the best scientific research.
The document prepared by Brett Parris is a comprehensive summary of what is known about global climate change and its consequences. The issue of how the threat is to be mitigated is a different matter. But at least as Parris shows various alternative suggestions that climate change is not occurring or that it is caused by factors other than human activity cannot be supported on the evidence. And neither can the assertion that addressing the threat will cause economic disruption of great magnitude!
Over at New Matilda an item entitled “The Global Copenhagen Editorial” published December 7 reports that “On Monday more than 50 newspapers across the world published a common editorial calling for global action on climate change” but you won’t read it in Australia
“The following editorial was published on Monday by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. Most of the newspapers featured it on their front page. But you won’t read it in Australia. According to a report in the Guardian, “The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, pulled out [of the joint initiative] at a late stage after the election of climate change sceptic Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition Liberal party recast the country’s debate on green issues.”
The editorial begins, “Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.
“Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.”
So what will your museum do?
Sunday, June 14th, 2009
- OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9 – June 15th, 2009
- Exhibitions at museums around the world cancelled or postponed, a review of developments in schools and education and conferences and reports on global climate change highlight urgency of meaningful and immediate response but conference in Bonn makes little progress. And specific initiatives mentioned by President Obama concerning relations between the USA and the Arab World.
OWL’S HOOTS NO. 9 – June 15th, 2009
Exhibitions at museums around the world cancelled or postponed, a review of developments in schools and education and conferences and reports on global climate change highlight urgency of meaningful and immediate response but conference in Bonn makes little progress. And specific initiatives mentioned by President Obama concerning relations between the USA and the Arab World.
Museum exhibitions casualties of recession: In “Eight museum exhibitions you won’t be seeing in L.A. anytime soon“ David Ng reports in the Los Angeles Times June 8 2009 that scores of museum exhibitions around the world have been cancelled or postponed. “As the recession continues to inflict damage in the well-appointed halls of the museum world, one of the most noteworthy side effects — on top of layoffs, ticket hikes and reduced hours of operation — is the cancellation and postponement of major exhibitions.”
They include “Subversion of the Images: Surrealism and Photography,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston scheduled for spring 2010, “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia” at the Field Museum in Chicago scheduled for 2009-10, “Imperial Mughal Albums From the Chester Beatty Library” scheduled for July 2009 at the Denver Art Museum and “Indian Contemporary Art” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, postponed from 2010.
Yet more on education and schools: By now it must be obvious to the reader that I think the research on education and all of the related issues in the US is really outstanding. One of the most excellent summaries of the issues was given in the address by Stephen W. Raudenbush, Lewis-Sebring Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Sociology and chair of the Committee on Education at the University of Chicago, at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference last year 2008. This address “The Brown Legacy and the O’Connor Challenge: Transforming Schools in the Images of Children’s Potential” is truly stunning! It is available as a pdfÂ and webcast .
It is clear to me that there is more than sufficient information available from peer reviewed research to make the right decisions on education and schooling from early childhood to university. The problem is that most people in positions of influence are wedded more to idealogy and belief in the rightness of their own experience rather than to finding genuine solutions.
Best practice does not involve league tables, private schools (or charter schools as in the US ““ though they are less hidebound by bureaucracy – or academies as in the UK) rather than public schools, performance pay, high stakes testing, closing schools that don’t perform, sacking principals, control by large central bureaucracies or any of the other often mentioned “˜solutions’. In the case of schooling they involve the best possible support for teachers and attention to best teaching practice and the aspirations of students, continually encouraging belief that the students can succeed, peer review of teaching practice and ongoing professional development for teachers as well as respect for the work of teachers within the community. It also involves a focus on schools which are “in need” for reasons such as low socio-economic status.
Global Climate Change: In the last couple of weeks, there were three major events concerning climate change. One conference and a report emhasized the urgency of signficant action but a conferenceÂ preparing for the meetings of governments in Copenhagen to chart a post Kyoto future made little progress. These events, concerning one of the one or two most important issues facing humanity, received scant attention. Instead, news broadcasts reported the upgrading to pandemic status of swine flu, an illness which presently poses virtually no threat at all!
Global Humanitarian Forum:Â Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s think-tank, the Global Humanitarian Forum, reported “change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming. By 2030, climate change could cost $600bn a year. By 2030 there will likely be increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths. Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year “” more than all the present world aid. You can read more in John Vidal’s article in The Guardian.
UN Climate Conference: The UN Climate Conference in Bonn closed Friday (June 12th) after a “12 day marahon”. As reported by D-W World , “with no deal on CO2 emission targets the delegations failed to achieve any major step towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol… The goal was to work towards a draft of a new treaty to combat global warming – but many analysts say they’re disappointed with the meagre results. At the end of the negotiating sessions, the rift between industrial and emerging nations seemed bigger than before. And even within those two blocs, there was little agreement except on the fundamental fact that action is needed.”
St James’s Palace Memorandum: Prince Charles recently hosted a meeting of 20 of the World’s Nobel Prize Winners including the heroic Kenyan Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The St James’s Palace Memorandum calls for a global deal on climate change that matches the scale and urgency of the human, ecological and economic crises facing the world today. It urges governments at all levels, as well as the scientific community, to join with business and civil society to seize hold of this historic opportunity to transform our carbon-intensive economies into sustainable and equitable systems. “We must recognize the fierce urgency of now.”
The statement also says this: “The robust scientific process, by which this evidence has been gathered, should be used as a clear mandate to accelerate the actions that need to be taken. Political leaders cannot possibly ask for a more robust, evidence-based call for action.”
And this: “Decarbonising our economy offers a multitude of benefits, from addressing energy security to stimulating unprecedented technological innovation. A zero carbon economy is an ultimate necessity and must be seriously explored now.” You can read more in another article by John Vidal in The Guardian.
President Obama in Cairo ““ the future of relations between the West and the Arab World: In the reportage of PresidentÂ Obama’s address from Cairo University much has been made of the six issues he raised – violent extremism,Â relations between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights and economic development and opportunity.
In pursuit of these he specifically said, “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create jobs. We will open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new Science Envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, and grow new crops. And today I am announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.”
I didn’t hear any mention of these promises in any of the commentary. David Frost on Al Jazeera (“Frost over the World”) features interviews on reactions to Obama’s speech. There is a huge amount of superficial clap trap on various blogs and websites in response to this speech!
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
- OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8 – June 3rd, 2009
- In general the process of evaluation of teachers’ performance has been completely unsatisfactory; it is no wonder many teachers object to performance pay! There are parallels with many other organisations. Are museums irrelevant? Sea levels have risen! Two books on science and a wonderful review of books on Darwin and evolution by Richard Lewontin who asks, “What if Charles’ nose had been larger?”
OWL’S HOOTS NO. 8 – June 3rd, 2009
In general the process of evaluation of teachers’ performance has been completely unsatisfactory; it is no wonder many teachers object to performance pay! There are parallels with many other organisations. Are museums irrelevant? Sea levels have risen! Two books on science and a wonderful review of books on Darwin and evolution by Richard Lewontin who asks, “What if Charles’ nose had been larger?”
Teacher evaluation and ‘loose coupling’: Elizabeth Kleinhenz & Lawrence Ingvarson of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Australia (Research Papers in Education Vol. 19, No. 1, March 2004) investigated the processes for teacher assessment in “Teacher Accountability in Australia: current policies and practices and their relation to improvement of teaching and learning”. It seems that like most of the research on schooling and teaching, little notice has been taken of it. There are parallels with what happens in performance assessment in most organisations.
Kleinhenz and Ingvarson begin with the following statement. “If teaching well is something most teachers can learn to do over time, not just a bundle of personality traits, insightful formative assessment and coaching systems are vital. If experienced and effective teachers are to be kept close to the classroom and provide leadership to other teachers, professionally credible summative assessments systems will be needed that can provide them with the recognition they deserve for evidence of high levels of professional development.”
They observe, “In most cases, assessment is related to promotion to position of additional responsibility where the tasks have little to do with teaching. “There are wide gaps between managerially designed and implemented procedures and the realities of what teachers actually know and do-the “technical core’ of teaching. … In most Australian schools and systems, we suspect, teachers’ real work remains well and truly buffered from the kind of professional scrutiny that could contribute to its improvement and provide the public with genuine guarantees of its effectiveness and quality.”
While in some cases applicants for promotion can submit details of their work, in many cases they are simply asked to address criteria that relate to the position. It is not that which is of concern but that promotion – higher pay – is only possible by taking responsibility for administrative and organisational tasks such as dealing with complaints, timetabling, student grouping and events. Further, the panel reviewing the applications spend little time on the process despite the consequences of appointment. Principals generally manage the process but may delegate it. In particular, genuine leadership which is essential to successful school is absent. Think of many other organisations employing large numbers of technical professional people. (Think also of successful orchestra conductors!)
The management expert Karl Weick (“Educational organizations as loosely coupled systems”, Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 1976) developed ‘loose coupling theory’ to describe this gap between the technical core, rewards and ‘actors’.
Some education systems including New South Wales and some parts of the American (US) system have developed better arrangements which in particular provide for promotion based on technical competence and involve careful review of performance through peer review.
Some economists, politicians and parents are fond of advocating paying teachers on the basis of their performance. If the evaluation process is no good what would be gained by such a system. And what about formative evaluation?
Are museums irrelevant?: Bob Janes has recently had published a book with this title; he has summarised his views at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. I have commented on issues relevant to this at an earlier post on my site – and an associated essay and more recently and at “Managerialism buried (I wish)” My comments on this book and the responses are on Museum 3.0 and also at the Palazzo Strossi Foundation site. Etc etc
Sea Level Rise! In “Refugees Join List of Climate-Change Issues” (New York Times May 28, 2009) Neil MacFarquar reports that Huene, an island in the Carteret chain in the South Pacfic, has been bisected by the sea. “With their boundless vistas of turquoise water framed by swaying coconut palms, the Carteret Islands northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland might seem the idyllic spot to be a castaway.But sea levels have risen so much that during the annual king tide season, November to March, the roiling ocean blocks the view from one island to the next, and residents stash their possessions in fishing nets strung between the palm trees.”
Wonderful books on science! On the Science Show on ABC Radio National on 30 May Marcus Chown discussed some of the ideas explored in his latest book, “Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You” and Michael Brooks discussed some of the ideas in his latest book, “Thirteen Things that Don’t Make Sense”: the anomalies in science, such as dark matter, dark energy and varrying physical constants, are in a way, the only things that matter.
Richard C. Lewontin, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University and author of “The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change” and “Biology as Ideology” and other books reviews, in the New York Review of Books for May 28, a number of books about Charles Darwin – there are a huge number published this year, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th of the publication of “The Origin of Species”.
Lewontin begins, “When I was a student I was enjoined to reject the “Cleopatra’s Nose” theory of history, so called after Pascal’s remark in the PensÃ©es : “Cleopatra’s nose: if it had been shorter, everything in the world would have changed.” The intent was not to dismiss biography as a way into the structuring of a historical narrative, but to reject the idea that the properties, ideas, or actions of some particular person were the necessary conditions for the unfolding of events in the world. If Josef Djugashvili had never been born, someone else could have been Stalin.”
Lewontin concludes, “It seems that Cleopatra’s is not the only nose in question. In his brief Autobiography Darwin writes of his successful visit to Captain FitzRoy to arrange for his trip on the Beagle:
“Afterwards, on becoming very intimate with Fitz-Roy, I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater, and was convinced that he could judge of a man’s character by the outline of his features; and he doubted that anyone with my nose should possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage. But I think he was afterwards well satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely.
“But what if it had been bigger?”
Lewontin’s article, as always, is terrific and full of very interesting ideas.
Saturday, May 2nd, 2009
Owl’s Hoots No. 4, 3 May 2009: Human origins, new species of animals from Papua New Guinea highlands, President Obama speaks about returning science to its proper place. And advice from Delta Airlines CEO: a matter of judgment, an essential skill in short supply. Two important birthdays!
Human Origins: In the AAAS weekly magazine Science for 1 May 2009 (Vol. 324. no. 5927, p. 575) an international team of scientists led by Sarah Tishkoff from the University of Pennsylvania reports on a study of genetic material from 113 populations of Africans from across the continent. The study finds Africans to have been descended from 14 ancestral populations, which often correlate with language and cultural groups. All hunter-gatherers and pygmies in Africa today shared ancestors 35,000 years ago. East Africa was the source of the great migration that populated the rest of the world. The team also found that African-American individuals, on average, to have mixed ancestry from all over western Africa, which will make it difficult to trace roots to specific ethnic groups.
In BBC News Online 1 May 2009 Victoria Gill gives a brief summary.
New species of animals found in Papua New Guinea: Numerous reports summarise a Conservation International (CI) led Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) expedition to Papua New Guinea’s highlands wilderness by scientists from Papua New Guinea and the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Montclair State University. The expedition discovered numerous new species amongst the 600 species collected. Included were 50 spiders new to science including a new Jumping Spider. The three new frogs include a tiny brown frog with a sharp chirping call (Oreophryne sp.), a bright green tree frog with enormous eyes (Nyctimystes sp.), and a torrent-dwelling frog that has a loud ringing call (Litoria sp.).
President Obama speaks to the US National Academy of Sciences: Here are a few extracts from President Obama’s speech of April 27; there are several sources for this speech. (Obama honored a special education teacher and former police officer at the White House on April 28 as the 2009 National Teacher of the Year.)
“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”
“I believe it is not in our character, the American character, to follow. It’s our character to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. So I’m here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science.”
“The pursuit of discovery half a century ago fueled our prosperity and our success as a nation in the half century that followed. The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another 50 years. That’s how we will ensure that our children and their children will look back on this generation’s work as that which defined the progress and delivered the prosperity of the 21st century.
“This work begins with a historic commitment to basic science and applied research, from the labs of renowned universities to the proving grounds of innovative companies.”
“… scientific innovation offers us a chance to achieve prosperity. It has offered us benefits that have improved our health and our lives — improvements we take too easily for granted. But it gives us something more. At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it.
And some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long-held views. Science can’t answer every question, and indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be. Science cannot supplant our ethics or our values, our principles or our faith. But science can inform those things and help put those values — these moral sentiments, that faith — can put those things to work — to feed a child, or to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this Earth.”
Lessons from US Airlines: One would not generally look to US airlines, many of which are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, for lessons. Unless it is Southwest Airlines. However, in “He Wants Subjects, Verbs and Objects“, Adam Bryant (New York Times April 25, 2009)Â reports an interview with Richard Anderson, chief executive of Delta Air Lines. Some extracts:
The most important leadership lesson learned: “I’ve learned to be patient and not lose my temper. And the reason that’s important is everything you do is an example, and people look at everything you do and take a signal from everything you do.”
Other things learned: “You’ve got to be thankful to the people who get the work done, and you’ve got to be thankful to your customers. So, I find myself, more and more, writing hand-written notes to people. I must write a half a dozen a day.”
Hiring: “Typically, when you’re hiring a vice president of a company, they already have the rÃ©sumÃ© and they already have the experience base. And so what you’re trying to find out about are the intangibles of leadership, communication style and the ability to, today, really adapt to change.
“I like to ask people what they’ve read, what are the last three or four books they’ve read, and what did they enjoy about those. And to really understand them as individuals because, you know, the résumés you get are wonderful résumés. Wonderful education, great work history. So you have to probe a little bit deeper into the human intangibles, because we’ve all seen many instances where people had perfect résumés, but weren’t effective in an organization.
“So it’s not just education and experience. It’s education, experience and the human factor. The situational awareness that a person has and their ability to fit into an organization and then be successful in the organization. It’s a whole series of intangibles that are almost gut instincts about people.”
Recruitment, like everything else that is important, is a matter of judgment!
Judgment: It’s in extremely short supply! I keep a list of poor judgments concerning people who have turned out to be successful, like J.S Bach. The latest two on my list are author David Gutterson (“Snow Falling on Cedars” and “East of the Mountains”) and Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. Gutterson’s book “Snow Falling on Cedars”, about Japanese Americans in a small island in the US in World War 2, was turned down by many publishers: it has sold millions of copies and been translated into many languages.
Peter Sculthorpe’s String Quartet No. 6 was described by a critic as sounding like an elephant dragging [something across a tiled roof]. But, along with his Sun Music, the piece led to a contract with Faber Music, a rare honour! (Sculthorpe is interviewed by a number of people including Phillip Adams on “Late Night Live” and Andrew Ford on “The Music Show” as he approaches his 80th birthday!)
Pete Seeger turns 90 today (3 May). Seeger was sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of Congress ““ he refused to sing for the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in August 1955 and he remained on a network television blacklist until the late 1960s, but the verdict was reversed in 1962. At the conclusion of the concert for the inauguration of President Obama, Seeger performed, “This Land is Our Land”.
Next week: More nonsense about the “International Museum” and global climate change: what value are the governments of nation states?