Lomborg’s Electric Dreams

Context The University of Western Australia has recently accepted A$4 million to set up an ‘Australian Consensus Centre’ under the auspices of Bjorn Lomborg (Update: Since writing this post, UWA has cancelled the contract, citing widespread staff opposition). Lomborg is a public intellectual known for developing a cost-benefit approach to major global challenges and producing results that often downplay the relative importance of action on climate change. He is, undoubtedly, a bête noire for some climate activists. But in the interest of benefit of the doubt, I decided to try to take an impartial look at his work. I will blog later on the methodology of his ‘Consensus Center’ approach. This blog is the result of a careful reading and ‘fact checking’ of a recent op-ed Lomborg wrote USA Today on electric cars. Continue reading

Gates Foundation is too big to ignore the politics of poverty

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2015 annual letteroutlines their vision for global development and poverty reduction. The letter outlines four areas where they expect breakthroughs over the next 15 years to transform the lives of the world’s poor for the better.

However, critics accuse them of being complicit in a “tyranny of experts”, which reduces development assistance to quick-fix solutions that do nothing to resolve the political problems that are seen as the main underlying cause of poverty.

Is the Gates Foundation, which spends more on development aid than most governments, doing more harm than good? How can this philanthropic body and others be encouraged to tackle the political as well as technological challenges of development? Continue reading

A Modest Defence of Citation Metrics

The ongoing review and consultation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on of the use of metrics in the REF process has reinvigorated a wider debate over research metrics more generally. A thorough critique authored by Meera Sabaratnam and Paul Kirby has set the academic blogosphere alight.  While they raise important points, however, I would offer a modest defence of the use of metrics in research evaluation. Continue reading

On Žižek on Charlie: Chicken soup for the liberal democratic soul

Slavoj Žižek has penned a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack in the New Statesman. It purports to be a view, from the “radical Left,” of the psychology of fundamentalist violence and the failure of liberal democracy to confront this meaningfully. Denuded of its eloquent language and erudite references, however, Žižek provides us with nothing more than a few trite clichés that fit well within the liberal democratic paradigm. Continue reading