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Pathfinders

Climate sceptics pass ID test

 Those who think there is an element of doubt about human-caused climate change are of course correct, but only because there is always an element of doubt in science, and always will be. This does not mean, however, that there is an evenly balanced controversy, despite what the deniers claim. In science as in socialist theory there is rarely if ever proof, only a weight of evidence.  Pseudo-scientists exploit this lack of certainty to insinuate their own bogus ideas into the public consciousness, demanding in the name of free speech the right to air these ‘controversies’.

Does all this remind you of anything? Of course, evolution versus intelligent design! Coincidental then that in Texas the pro-ID lobby are now moving to align ID with climate change denial, in order to shoehorn the former back into school text books on the basis of the supposedly more respectable latter (‘Battle over climate science now spreads to US schoolrooms’, New Scientist, 13 March).

 Socialists must be on their guard against the misrepresentation of supposed controversies. Just because there is a Flat Earth Society doesn’t mean there is legitimate doubt about the shape of the planet. Pseudoscience isn’t just cranky, it’s downright dangerous. The MMR scare persuaded parents to disregard the scientific consensus and refuse to vaccinate their children, exposing them to risk, while tourists to Asia returned suffering from malaria because they believed their homeopathic remedies would protect them. Pseudoscience is an unscrupulous and dishonest fast-buck industry, and reacts to defeat by changing its argument, as with the recent MMR class action in the US. “They keep moving the goalposts”, remarks one scientist, “It’s the hallmark of pseudoscience”(‘Victory for vaccines’, New Scientist, 20 March). Workers need their wits about them, because capitalism is always finding ingenious ways to stitch them up.
 

All Quiet in the Western Front Room

 Pathfinders predicts that watching too much BBC iPlayer will lead directly to a net fall in wages. How come? Well, see if you can fault the logic. Currently, according to Microsoft’s own possibly somewhat self-serving trends analysis (EUROPE. LOGS ON. European Internet Trends of Today and Tomorrow, Microsoft.com/documents/uk, April 2009), while all patterns of media consumption are flat or, in the case of DVDs, declining, internet use is climbing inexorably. TV consumption at 11.5 hrs pw is set to be outstripped by internet use at 14.2 hrs pw by June 2010. There are of course a variety of reasons for this, among them people’s mania for buying and selling mostly useless tat (eBay) and reading and writing mostly useless tittle-tattle (blogs, Facebook etc).

 Still, one can’t be too curmudgeonly about a social trend that connects people more than they’ve ever been connected in living memory, especially if it gets them off the front room sofa too. People are eschewing the traditional sit-down-and-slurp-it-up TV diet in favour of an a-la-carte and on the move eclecticism. Microsoft estimates that one in seven of the age range 18-24 watch no live TV at all.

 This is affecting not only the pattern of what is being watched and when, but where. Increasingly the viewing audience is lounging in its bedroom with a laptop, so what does this mean for the lonely and neglected TV in the now rarely occupied front room? Do the householders succumb to the blandishments of TV manufacturers and buy yet more and bigger flat-screens, and soon to be had 3D TVs? Maybe, but probably not in this economic climate. Instead,  the TV goes on eBay with the rest of the junk and the front room stands ready for other purposes. The creative householder, mindful of the high cost of housing and the consequent demand for rented rooms, now decides to turn the vacant room to good account by sub-letting it. Thus, cyberspace turns TV space into living space.

 What happens? The sudden availability of rented accommodation creates a downward pressure on rents and also on housing demand and house prices. Seeing that workers are now paying less to live under a roof and therefore are being paid just that little bit too much, employers will put the squeeze on wages until they in turn show a net fall.

 Dare one go on? Increased friction between workers and employers, together with all this networking, media choosiness and increased domestic sociability will lead directly to an upsurge in political class consciousness and the emergence of a new revolutionary... oh, but wait, it’s time for the pills again.

 All this tireless internet activity has also, of course, raised the hypothetical question: what if somebody sabotages it? The House of Lords EU Home Affairs sub-committtee, charged with the task of investigating this question, has reported that the UK is very well placed to withstand a cyber-attack from persons unknown (China) or rogue states (China) or criminal masterminds (China). “Last year the UK government staged a simulation of a catastrophic nationwide failure of the phone network, codenamed operation White Noise” (‘UK can cope with cyber attack, says Lords committee’, BBC Online, 18 March). The phone networks promptly fell over each other’s feet in a straggly attempt to recover from this, however the fact that the UK did this experiment before the EU is what entitled the sub-committee to claim that the UK is ‘ahead’ in its war against non-specific cyber-crime (China) and thus claim a victory rather than a sprawling mess for Operation White Noise (Yellow Peril). Why all this paranoia? you ask. What evidence is there to suggest that persons unknown (China) are really expending every effort to bring down western civilisation, especially given that they already own most of its financial institutions? Well, the evidence is cold-war logical: our spooks are doing it to them, so they must be doing it back.

 Meanwhile, once again fortified with reality pills, Pathfinders wonders whether the odd internet shut-down would be so terrible anyway. According to Microsoft only 30 percent of internet traffic involves commerce while 65 percent is instant messaging and social networking. If nobody could text their friends for 24 hours they might regain all feeling in their thumbs and rediscover the art of conversations longer than four sentences but may otherwise be entirely unharmed.

 It seems barely a moment since the capitalist state fretted over the internet’s ability to undermine its power, and now here it is fretting over somebody’s ability to pull the plug. Among the several measures being suggested for emergency communications during a cyber shut-down the boffins seem to have overlooked a tried and tested system that would get us all out in the open air –bonfire beacons on every hillside from coast to city, just in case the Chinese invade. Instant messaging plus roasted chestnuts. Well, it worked with Napoleon.