From the way Oxford looks already, you can tell that it is going to be gorgeous in the summer. That is especially true for those of us who arrived in September and October; we’ve never been exposed to the verdant face of Oxford. I confess that it is something of a surprise to actually see leaves on a tree here.
The overall feeling created by long, bright days is quite at odds with the knowledge that there is a whole other term left. Eight more seminars, another batch of papers, and of course the research design essay. Having a room increasingly full of boxes combines with the sunshine to make me feel as though summer is very nearly here. Far better, for the moment, to focus on the short and medium term.
Running into Emily at the Codrington was enjoyable – a reminder of when we were there reading about the middle east and the interwar period the first time around. To study that time period and region in the same college and library where T.E. Lawrence wrote his two books and innumerable letters has a certain excellence of authenticity to it. Moving on: I am off to study international relations theory in the SSL.
This evening, I even managed to roll over my financial spreadsheets into the new fiscal year. Because it’s all done using formulas I’ve made myself, it’s no small task to shift so much information around. Updating and connecting four databases, listing information on seven accounts in two currencies and countries, along with two credit cards, is tricky. Doing all that under conditions where you document every transaction over the entire year, down to the penny, is really laborious. All the same, I prefer a system that I designed and hence understand to the incomprehensible datasets produced by programs like Quicken. Tax audits do not scare me. I even have all of the receipts more or less sorted.
The Skeptical Environmentalist
I am presently reading Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist: a book that has created a huge amount of controversy since it was released, because it questions the empirical basis for the idea that the global environment is undergoing severe degradation. There are two major kinds of arguments in the book, each of which is somewhat problematic to deal with:
- The empirical argument that, for instance, forest cover is increasing in Canada, while the Worldwatch Institute says that it is decreasing, and that the rate of contraction in places like Brazil is far lower than it is generally listed as being. These kinds of arguments are difficult to access because they turn on the level of credibility we assign to experts. While we could theoretically go look at the numbers themselves, we don’t know enough about the numbers to know which are important, which are credible, and why.
- The social and political argument about the character of what Lomborg calls ‘the litany’ of environmental decline: here, he is talking about the tendency to exaggerate, to accept bad figures more easily than good ones, and to manipulate data in ways that serve political ends. As in the first case, much of what he says is probably correct. The difficulty is in assessing the overall importance of competing claims, as well as the overall legitimacy of different claimants.
I shall write more about it as I progress through the book. I will be especially interested to see what he has to say about fisheries. Organizations like the Sea Around Us Project at UBC seem to employ the kind of rigorous statistical methods Lomborg espouses, and the picture they paint of the state of world fisheries is hardly a rosy one.