More on Freedom Boy

Perhaps I did Mr Wilson a disservice in my post yesterday.  His position may indeed be heroic.  I looked up the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.  I found the following.

The objects of the body:

About us

Expert advice to do the most good

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre is a think tank that researches the smartest solutions for the world’s biggest problems, advising policy makers and philanthropists how to spend their money most effectively.

Its governance:

Board and directors

Bjorn Lomborg, President and Founder
Roland Mathiasson, Executive Vice President, Secretary, and Assistant Treasurer
Scott Calahan, Treasurer, Member of Compensation Committee, and Independent Director
Loretta Michaels, Member of Compensation Committee and Independent Director

Executive Assistant, Zsuzsa Horvath +1 347 903 0979

Advisory panel

Professor Henrik Lando, Copenhagen Business School
Spence T. Olin, Professor
Douglass C. North, Washington University in St. Louis
Professor Martin Paldam, COMMA

That does not look to be the most august academic or scientific body on the planet.  Mr Calahan looks to have the plum job.  A number of questions may arise.  One is: what makes a director ‘independent’?

Under the heading, ‘Cutting carbon emissions’, I find this:

Climate economist Prof Dr Richard Tol examines the costs and benefits of cutting carbon under different scenarios.

He finds: ‘A well-designed gradual policy of carbon cuts could substantially reduce emissions at low cost to society.  Ill-designed policies, or policies that seek to do too much too soon can be orders of magnitude more expensive.  While the academic literature has focussed on the former, policy makers have opted.’

Unfortunately, the think tank cuts out there, and we are left to dangle.  Their introduction to the subject is, however, a bit of a tease:

Climate change is real and man-made.  It will come as a big surprise that climate change from 1900 to 2025 has mostly been a net benefit, rising to increase welfare about 1.5% GDP per year.

The people at the CCC were obviously thrilled to bits to sign up a ‘global top-ranked university’ WA.  The website, however, has not caught up with the news that the university has realised that it has been sold a pup.  The link to the sign-up page – with a photo of the moving hand and, I suspect, the besieged Vice-Chancellor who is coming to terms with the phrase ‘due diligence’ – has this.

Do good vs feel good

The consensus methodology engages economists and sector experts to identify solutions that actually work and do the most social good for every dollar spent.

I cannot find on the site a statement of the academic credentials of Dr Lomborg, apart from a reference to Ph D.  In fact I cannot find any academic credentials for anyone on the site.  All I can find for COMMA is that it is a punctuation mark.

As bullshit goes, this is world class – indeed, it is out of this world.

Just think what the ‘Do good vs feel good’ crowd could do in a bull session with our Human Rights Commissioner.  You may recall his view is that policy is not about evidence and that the direction of policy is primarily decided by the questions you ask.  Lawyers are right on to this.  There are some questions you never ask, but some naughty lawyers frame their question so as to attract a certain answer – from their own client.

And this mode of policy formation may not, in truth, be sound.  Imagine a parent advising a teenage child on their first hit of booze, sex, or ice.  ‘Well, dear, it depends on the question you ask.  If you only ask whether that will make the night go off with a bang, go for it.  If you want to be here and look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow, drop it.’  That may just be too open-ended for some parents and all children.  Was part of the problem that Dr Lomborg knew which questions not to ask, and how to frame questions that would please him and his backers?

And we might be wary of Mr Wilson’s view that there is no one correct answer in public policy.  That may or may not be the case.  It may again depend on how you frame the question.  But there may be any number of bad answers.  I dare say that even Mr Wilson’s famous tolerance would draw the line at the resolutions on policy of IS.

The difficulty in which the UWA got itself can be understood by looking at other possible manifestations.  Say that Julia Gillard while PM appointed a former adviser to herself on climate change to head a think tank at Melbourne University through a body that her government funded and the function of which will be to give advice on policy issues on climate change.  Mr Abbott appoints an ecclesiastical adviser to head up a think tank at a Catholic University that is not shy of monumental controversy to provide advice funded by his government on mild uncontroversial issues like abortion and euthanasia.  The Southern Evangelical Baptist Church persuades a cash-strapped Latrobe University to host a think tank on creationism – when they are accused of selling out to people who deny science, they invoke freedom of speech, the glorious roles of universities in dissent, and Socrates, and Aristotle, and Galileo, and anyone else who swam against the tide and paid for it.  The idiots and frauds become heroes.

The short point is that we do not want our universities to prostitute themselves in the hands of bullshit artists.  Even Mr Wilson might understand that.

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