Retreat from reason

April 29, 2019

Professor Elizabeth Rata warns about the retreat from reason:

‘Critical times as a species’. These are extreme words, made more powerful recently by their author, Sir Peter Gluckman. Such language is usually, and rightly, used for climate matters so given the strength of his words we need to ask what on earth is going on with our social world.

A surge in an ongoing spat with academic colleagues provides a perfect example of the subversion of knowledge and its replacement by the ideological isms that Gluckman spoke of. These are the ideologies that strengthen in-groups, that draw on the culture of folk knowledges to justify their claims to truth.

Modern society had found another way to understand what it is to be human. We have, in only a few hundred years, developed a new language of reason, one replacing in-group beliefs, one enabling us to communicate across historical and cultural differences, one which has made democracy possible.

Reasoned communication is the way across the divide of difference. It requires leaving the past and its animosities behind. But this is very difficult. The past gives us a sense of security and belonging. The institutions of modern society which unite us don’t have the same pulling power as the rallying cries of the isms. No wonder ethnic nationalisms, nativisms, and populisms with their ‘us not you’ and ‘our culture not yours’ are winning out. Unexamined belief is more satisfying than reason – and its easier.

Those isms might unite people who fit the label, but they divide groups from the whole by focusing on differences rather than our common humanity.

But back to the spat. The names aren’t important although I must confess to being one of the parties. It’s a spat that would be of no interest whatsoever if it didn’t neatly capture the anti-knowledge movement of our times. What’s more, it shows how the ‘isms’ are now in the university, the very institution that should give us trust in knowledge. So what’s going on? In May, the Waikato Journal of Education will publish a superb example of anti-knowledge. It’s not very kind to me but that’s OK. I happily accepted the invitation to respond to the article using it as an opportunity to write about what has happened to knowledge. Surely this is the conversation that Gluckman wants – using reason as the conduit for engagement across difference. Unfortunately the conversation can’t happen. Why not?

For reasoned conversation to occur there needs to be agreement about reason itself. The premise informing all modern knowledge is that there is a reality which exists independently of us, the ‘knowers’. What’s more, we can know this reality.

Our intellectual activity is how we seek the truth of the natural and social worlds. Belief isn’t enough. But what happens when the premise of objective knowledge is rejected, when we say that the world is not independent of the person who knows it, and that we can’t use reason to understand it? This is the case with the article in the Waikato journal. For the authors there is an unbreakable knower-knowledge tie. They insist that there is no independent knowledge for us to share universally, that how we know something is always tied to who we are, and who we are comes from our culture. But without the idea of universal knowledge which is beyond culture we are doomed to talk past each other.

This sort of thinking – or should that be feeling? – takes us back centuries to when beliefs rather than facts held sway.

The knowledge spat used to surface in university circles (think the late Professor Peter Munz’s critique of Linda Smith’s book about indigenous methodologies), though less so now that cultural ‘ways of knowing’ are accepted, even by such august bodies as the New Zealand Royal Society. The Society should know better of course but the belief that knowledge belongs to the knower is a premise of the new dominant ideologies; of ethnic nationalisms, nativisms and populism, and the Society has succumbed.

We no longer trust in reasoned knowledge. Gluckman says: ideas are not contested civilly, people are attacked, falsehoods multiply. He’s right. The current era of enlightened reason may well be over unless we recognise what is happening. Reasoned conversation is needed more than ever, but when knowledge is tied to the knowing group, universal reason no longer allows us to converse across groups. By abandoning reason we are endangering our future as a species. We are certainly abandoning what makes democracy possible. Given that the knowledge-knower belief now underpins New Zealand’s localised curriculum our retreat from the idea of universal knowledge will be accelerated. Our educational institutions are the first to fall. Others will follow.

This is alarming.

Educational institutions, universities in particular, should be places where ideas can be debated, questioned and tested; where arguments should be well thought out, be using and settled by, reason and facts.

They should be active in advancing knowledge based on research and science, not belief.

If they are not they are no better than the sad places on social media where arguments degenerate into personal abuse, where feelings matter more than facts and emotion is a substitute for reason.


Rural round-up

September 29, 2018

Five things to know about the future of farming – Eloise Gibson:

Sir Peter Gluckman issued a flurry of reports in his last few months as Prime Minister’s science adviser. His final report to Jacinda Ardern made some striking points about the future of farming. Eloise Gibson digested the five main issues.

Methane matters

Don’t be fooled by anyone implying that methane doesn’t matter much in the scheme of things – cutting methane is crucial to New Zealand’s efforts to slow climate change. That, in essence, was one of the key messages from Gluckman’s final report to Jacinda Ardern.

Whether to ignore, eliminate or “stabilise” methane, the single biggest climate impact from cattle farming, has been major feature of debate about New Zealand’s proposed Zero Carbon Bill. . .

American farmers don’t need subsidies – Garland S. Tucker III:

Margaret Thatcher is said to have quipped, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” New Zealand has discovered that this result may not be all bad. In the mid 1980s, New Zealand faced bankruptcy. The tab for years of socialistic policies had finally come due. The Labour government was forced to act quickly and drastically to cut expenditures. 

The New Zealand economy was — and still is — heavily dependent on agriculture. Farmers and farm prices had been subsidized for years through a multitude of government programs. In 1984, the government eliminated over 30 subsidy programs, not gradually, but overnight. The ruling Labour Party predicted an economic disaster. They foresaw a mass exodus of farmers and fully expected to be forced to reinstate some type of subsidy program . .

Central Otago shearer to receive recognition – Pam Jones:

Central Otago’s shearing industry will honour one of its own in a double-billing today.

Alexandra woolhandler and shearer Pagan Karauria will not only be recognised as a Master Woolhandler at the annual New Zealand Merino Championships, but will also feature in a film about the shearing industry being launched in Alexandra.

Karauria is profiled in the film She Shears, which is about five women working in the shearing industry. It will screen at the Otago Daily Times Theatre in the Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery this afternoon at 4pm.

She will be present for the screening and take part in a question and answer session afterwards. . .

Teddies, a trophy and Trans-Tasman rivalry – Pam Jones:

It features shearing and woolhandling royalty, alongside “teddy bear” novices.

And there is also some “good old-fashioned” transtasman rivalry to boot, as Australasia’s best compete at this weekend’s New Zealand Merino Shearing Championships in Alexandra.

Up to 200 shearers and woolhandlers were competing at the two-day event, including Damien Boyle, of Australia, who had won the event’s open shearing category seven times, event organising committee member Graeme Bell said. . .

NZ export log market hurt by US trade war with China: – Tina Morrison

(BusinessDesk) – New Zealand’s export log market took a hit from the trade dispute between the US and China as the declining value of the yuan crimps the buying power of the country’s largest log market.

The average price for New Zealand A-grade export logs dropped to US$133/JAS from US$141/JAS in August, and US$145/JAS in July, and is now the lowest since June 2017, according to AgriHQ’s Forestry Market Report for September. . .

Renewable diesel – an opportunity for the forest industry:

Most people in New Zealand are not aware that technology has been commercialised in the United States for the production of fully drop-in renewable diesel made from cellulosic feedstocks. This renewable diesel is a direct substitute for mineral diesel and meets all of the New Zealand specifications other than density (kilograms per litre). But it makes up for that by having a high energy density per kilogram so that the amount of energy per litre of fuel is equal to, or in some cases better than, that of fossil fuel diesel. . .

Cavalier to sell scouring interest, focus on carpets: – Gavin Evans:

Sept. 27 (BusinessDesk) – Cavalier Corp is close to selling its stake in New Zealand’s only wool scourer as part of a plan to reduce debt and free up capital to invest in carpet manufacturing.

The firm owns 27.5 percent of Cavalier Wool Holdings, alongside global giant Lempriere Wool, Accident Compensation Corp and Direct Capital. The scourer, known as CWH, operates plants in Napier and Timaru with a combined capacity of 100 million kilograms annually. . .

King Salmon braced for ‘disappointing’ fish farm relocation decision –  Pattrick Smellie

(BusinessDesk) – New Zealand King Salmon hopes it will be allowed to move around half of nine square hectares of its Marlborough Sounds fish farms to better locations, but is braced for a “disappointing” outcome for both the company’s growth and environmental outcomes.

Speaking to BusinessDesk at the Aquaculture New Zealand conference in Blenheim, NZKS managing director Grant Rosewarne expressed frustration at the likelihood of a “sub-optimal outcome”. . .

Coromandel dairy farmers lead the way through new genetics:

In 1995 Andrew and Maree Palmer saw the value of being part of CRV Ambreed’s progeny testing programme so jumped on board and haven’t looked back.

Andrew and Maree have had a hand in developing many generations of daughter proven sires.

Today, they’re still part of the herd improvement company’s progeny testing programme and reckon they’re doing their bit to strengthen the value of the national dairy herd. . .


We need to talk about GM

September 24, 2018

We need to talk about genetic modification, former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman says.

Sir Peter Gluckman says the debate over whether to use genetically edited grasses to combat greenhouse gas emissions is more philosophical than scientific.

It’s also more emotional and political than rational.

The former Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister spoke to The Country’s Jamie Mackay about his report released this week in which he suggests New Zealand needs to have a “national conversation,” about using GMOs in agriculture.

“What I’ve raised in the report is just that if we’re serious about climate change, if we’re serious about environmental protection, if we’re serious about a reduction in predators and protecting biodiversity, we perhaps need to think again about whether the technologies which are increasingly being used offshore have got a role to play in New Zealand.” . . 

There are widespread calls for farmers to play their part in reducing emissions but many of those agitating for that are also opposed to allowing GM.

It is a tool widely used in other countries that is being denied to New Zealand farmers.

Mackay wonders if consumers will want to eat products from animals that have grazed on genetically modified grass, but Gluckman says this is already happening.

“Around the world consumers are eating lots of meat and lots of milk that are coming from genetically modified crops now … it’s been going on at least for a decade broadly around the world.”

It’s also in a lot of the food we’ve been eating for years. Most corn and soy that we import will have come from GM crops.

Gluckman says the issue is more “philosophical rather than a scientific debate” with a number of countries ruling that gene editing does not need the same regulatory controls as gene modification, but “other countries are not so certain.”

Gluckman believes there needs to be a discussion around the use of GM grasses before New Zealand begins testing them.

“I think that in theory it’s possible in New Zealand. It’s just that in practice it’s not possible and I think one would need a much broader national conversation to look through the issues which are largely more philosophical and values-based than they are scientifically based.”

We saw huge areas of corn when we were in Colorado and Nebraska on an IrrigationNZ tour 10 days ago.

All of it was genetically modified.

Farmers there have been producing GM crops for years with no problems in the field or in the market.

They told us it had both economic and environmental benefits. It yielded better and required fewer chemicals to grow.

AgResearch is trialing GM grass in the USA because it can’t do it here. The grass has the potential to make a significant reduction to methane emissions.

Opponents of the technology say it could risk our reputation for producing clean and green feed.

Surely the risk our competitors will be gaining the benefits of GM grass and marketing their meat as cleaner and greener is even greater.

Science is rarely 100% settled. But after decades of use in many countries there has been no evidence of any problems with GM that would put our farming at risk, and plenty of evidence of the benefits.

New Zealand needs to start talking about GM and the  conversation must be based on science and facts, not emotion and philosophy.


Rural round-up

September 16, 2018

No answers and more mystery animal killings in South Island :

The identity of a South Island livestock killer remains a mystery.

Nine months ago Peter McLeod, who farms in Kauri Bush near Dunedin, was left with nine dead lambs – cattle from neighbouring farms were also shot and killed.

But the culprit was never caught.

Earlier this week three newborn lambs were killed in Mosgiel, bringing back bad memories for Mr McLeod. . .

B+LNZ welcomes Sir Peter Gluckman’s report on agricultural emissions:

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) welcomes the final report from the Prime Minister’s former Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman which effectively endorses B+LNZ’s approach for individual farm plans as a tool for helping the agricultural sector play its part in combating climate change.

In May of this year in launching its Environment Strategy B+LNZ set itself two ambitious goals – for the sheep and beef sector to be carbon neutral by 2050 and for every farm to have an active farm plan by the end of 2021. . .

Women want more time off-farms:

Rural women want more time off-farm, better sleep and more exercise to improve their wellbeing, a Farmstrong survey has found.

More than 800 farming women did the survey online or at in-depth, face-to-face interviews.

“There was also a high interest in other topics that Farmstrong focuses on including nutrition and thinking strategies to deal with the ups and downs of farming,” Farmstrong project manager Gerard Vaughan said.

“Some of the other topic areas that the survey revealed women are interested in include mindfulness, relaxation techniques, self-confidence and self-compassion.  . .

First NZ lifts Fonterra Fund to neutral; ComCom reiterates doubts on milk price asset beta – Rebecca Howard:

 (BusinessDesk) – First New Zealand Capital lifted its rating on the Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund to ‘neutral’ from ‘underperform’ and said the first signs of a change in approach look encouraging.

Fonterra’s full-year loss was disappointing but “with the recent changes in board chair (with annual election of three directors coming up) and CEO (interim) it was encouraging to see FSF take no time in fronting up and acknowledging the issues,” analyst Arie Dekker said. . .

Moths to combat horehound:

Two moths may now be imported into New Zealand to combat invasive horehound, following a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

The Horehound Biocontrol Group, a collective of farmers whose crops are infested with horehound, applied to introduce the horehound plume moth and horehound clearwing moth to attack the weed. Its application was supported by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) sustainable farming fund. . .

OneFortyOne announces intention to purchase Manuka Island forest estate:

Australian forestry company, OneFortyOne (OFO) has announced its intention to purchase the Manuka Island forest estate in the Wairau Valley near Blenheim. The proposed purchase is now being reviewed by the Overseas Investment Office.

The Manuka Island estate is approximately 2000 hectares of forest and currently owned by Merrill and Ring. Manuka Island will be integrated and managed as one forest estate by Nelson Management Ltd, the management company for Nelson Forests. . .

On the farm: a guide to rural New Zealand life:

What’s happening on farms and orchards around Aotearoa New Zealand? Each week Country Life reporters talk to people in rural areas across the country to find out.

Te Tai Tokerau, Northland, turned a corner this week, the days were warmer and soil temperatures have lifted. Pasture covers are still a little ratty but in the next week grass will start growing faster than the stock can eat it. . .

Inspiring the next generation of farmers – sense of purpose – Livestock Farming:

We asked influencers in the industry why young people should choose farming as a career, they were both practical and poetic in their responses. The study of agriculture grows in popularity but how do we convey the realities of farming to encourage lengthy careers? As a strong community, it is important to show the enthusiasm and pride we have in our jobs.

RECONNECTION WITH FARMING

With meat and dairy products readily available 24-hours-a-day and even delivered to the door, it’s easy for people to forget about farming origins: “The moment that people domesticated plants and animals, settled down, and began to produce the kind of society in which most of us live today.” There is an evident rift between farming and the food on people’s plates. . .

 


GM could be greener

July 2, 2018

Outgoing Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman says it’s time to reignite the debate on genetic modification.

Speaking on TVNZ 1’s Q+A this morning, Sir Peter told Corin Dann that debate needed to be more constructive and less polarising than it had been in the past.

“The science is as settled as it will be; that is, it’s safe, that there are no significant ecological or health concerns associated with the use of advanced genetic technologies. That does not mean that society automatically will accept them. And what we need is a conversation which we’ve not had in a long time, and it needs to be, I think, more constructive and less polarised than in the past,” he said.

“We’re facing issues of biosecurity; we’re facing issues of predators and the desire to be predator-free; we’re facing the fact that our farming system needs to change because of the environmental impact of the greenhouse gas emissions, the water quality issues, etcetera. We are, fundamentally, a biologically-based economy.

“Now, the science is pretty secure, and science can never be absolute. And everything about life is about rational decisions with some degree of uncertainty. But the uncertainty here is minimal to nil, very, very low. I think it’s a conversation we need to have.” . . 

Anyone who thinks New Zealand is GM free is dreaming.

While GM is tightly controlled here, there is nothing to stop food with GM ingredients being imported and  imported corn and soy products are just two which are likely to have GM components.

Jo Goodhew said in her valedictory statement:

. . .  it is high time New Zealanders woke up to the importance of genetically modified organisms to our future in the fields of health, plant, and animal genetics, and, through that, environmental protection. Gene editing can help us cure cancers, eradicate wilding pines as well as four-legged pests, develop grasses that assist us to reduce methane emissions, and so much more. The debate has to be less about fear of the unknown, and more about safe and proven science. . . 

GM has been around for decades with no evidence of harm to human health or the environment.

GM has the potential to improve human and animal health; food production, reduce the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and provide safer alternatives for disease, weed and pest control than conventional products.

GM could be a greener solution to many problems if, to paraphrase Jo, the debate moved from fear of the unknown to safe and proven science.


Shouldn’t smoke anything in other people’s houses

June 27, 2018

Chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman has found there is no evidence that contamination from smoking meth poses a risk to health.

• Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive stimulant used illicitly in New Zealand and around the world. It is obtained either through smuggling into the country, or by being manufactured locally in clandestine laboratories (meth labs). These meth labs may be found in residential dwellings, commercial accommodation, and even vehicles. 

• A dwelling can become contaminated with methamphetamine residues if the drug is manufactured or smoked within it. Smoking usually results in much lower residue levels compared with manufacture. . . 

• Passive, third-hand exposure to methamphetamine can arise through residing in a dwelling previously used as a clandestine meth lab, or where a significant amount of methamphetamine has been smoked. Former meth labs generally have relatively high levels of methamphetamine residue on sampled surfaces (levels greater than 30 μg of methamphetamine per 100 cm2 surface area are thought to be indicative of manufacturing activity). There is some evidence for adverse physiological and behavioural symptoms associated with third-hand exposure to former meth labs that used solvent-based production methods, but these symptoms mostly relate to the other toxic chemicals in the environment released during the manufacturing process, rather than to methamphetamine itself.

• However, there are no published (or robust, unpublished) data relating to health risks of residing in a dwelling formerly used only for smoking methamphetamine. Yet, given the relatively low number of confirmed meth labs found, and the very low average levels of methamphetamine found in most houses that test positive for the drug, most New Zealanders will only ever encounter very low levels of residue that are the result of methamphetamine use. . . 

In the past meth users were evicted from state houses, now Housing NZ will let meth users stay in their houses and try to get them help.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said Housing New Zealand is a landlord for some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

He said if the agency discovers a tenant is smoking meth, it will try to help them. . . 

He said the response from Housing NZ now was to treat people using meth as a health issue.

“Under the old government the policy was to make that person homeless – the worst possible thing that you could do.

“If someone’s got a drug addiction problem, you couldn’t do anything more calculated than to make them vulnerable to greater risk in their health, and in fact incurring greater expense to the taxpayer than throwing them out of their home and making them homeless.

“Housing New Zealand is a landlord … they’re not the police.

There is merit in treating drug use as a health issue and  trying to find help for addicts.

But I am concerned that this policy sends a message it’s fine to smoke in other people’s houses.

All landlords have the right to tell tenants they can’t smoke anything – legal or illegal – in their houses.

We have a strict no smoking rule in all our farm houses. One of our sharemilkers goes further, telling his staff the whole farm is smoke-free.

Property owners and employers have a right to do that.

Another thing to remember is that no evidence of harm is not the same as proof of no harm.

Science is rarely settled and regardless of what the research has found, I wouldn’t want to live in a house where people had been smoking meth.


Rural round-up

October 18, 2017

Farmers see land ownership as a privilege – Steve Wyn-Harris:

A society without poets is a sterile and desolate place. Thus, I often read Bruce Bisset’s pieces.

In his column on October 13 he says “Even the No 8 wire ingenuity factor is taking a hit these days because of the alleged urban/rural divide – a divide almost entirely in the minds of farmers, arising only because they are reluctant to face the fact the industrial farming model they’ve bought into is a land (and water) killer.”

For a poet this is a remarkably long sentence possibly reflecting a pay per word incentive and impressively links farming ingenuity, urban/rural divides and the evils of industrial farming into one thought. A performance even crazy and erratic Byron and Pushkin would be proud of. . . 

Farmers decry stock on roads bylaw – Logan Church:

Farmers on Banks Peninsula near Christchurch are concerned about the effects of a proposed bylaw that would regulate the movement of stock on some roads.

Cows and sheep walking in mobs down the district’s roads has been a common sight for years, an easy way for farmers to move them from one land parcel to another.

Tim Coop’s family had been farming on the Banks Peninsula for over a century, and said the tighter rules would make it more complicated to move them on some neighbouring public roads.

“It would mean a lot of extra costs with pilot vehicles on very low speed, low volume roads,” he said. . . 

Gluckman speech identifies challenges and opportunities in clean, green synthetic foods:

New Zealand’s chief scientist says synthetic foods pose a real threat to agricultural exporters, but better regulation of genetic modification could create an equally large opportunity.

Speaking to the NZBio Conference in Wellington, the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, said the main threat to New Zealand’s economy was from synthetic milks, such as the yeast-based milk created by San Francisco company, Perfect Day.

“I think if there is an existential risk for New Zealand, this is where it lies,” he said. . . 

T&G Global looks to sell food processing T&G Foods unit – Rebecca Howard:

(BusinessDesk) – T&G Global, the fruit marketing firm controlled by Germany’s BayWa, wants to sell its food processing subsidiary T&G Foods as the apple processing business has been hurt by a decline in fruit volumes and a slide in apple juice concentrate prices.

The company reviewed the unit’s operations and determined it’s non-core and consequently should be either sold, rationalised or closed, it said in a statement. Expressions of interest close on Nov. 15. . . 

Women are only good for . . . My Busy Country Life:

This is a subject that from time to time plays on my mind and I know as I write it I will possibly have a hit put on me for not standing by my fellow females. I was born and raised on a farm and from a very early age I was never made feel I couldn’t do anything on the farm I wanted to do, I was never told I should stay inside or that a farm wasn’t really a place for a girl/woman. I went everywhere with my dad from sheep sales to shows and never did I feel I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. As I got older more and more responsibility was given to me and I was left at times to deal with vets or cattle dealers and what I said to them stood and I was always backed by my Dad. I grew up knowing that I was equal to any man if I so chose to do a certain job from driving a tractor to lambing ewes and all the men I dealt with treated me the same.

I now live with a house of men and I still feel I am treated as an equal, I am not given any special treatment because I am female and am expected to muck in when needed as is everyone else. . . 


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