Disillusioned commentary on Australian financial sector, politics, business, media... with attention occasionally distracted to the world outside... and intermittent reminder that rage is a more life-conserving irrationality than despair.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Lowe blows

Ian Lowe is emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University and has recently been elected President of the Australian Conservation Foundation following the previous incumbent's startling switch from environmentalist to politician, a switch set to rival that of Cindarella's coach at midnight.

Lowe writes a weekly column in the Australian edition of New Scientist.

Last week he reported that, according to a study released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics:
While the proportion of [Australian] people saying they are satisfied with the quality of piped water increased from 64 per cent in 1994 to 70 per cent last year, the numbers buying bottled water grew in the same period from 3 per cent of households to more than 20 per cent.

Why would that be?

All Australian metropolitan water supplies are safe to drink and, while Adelaide water probably holds the wooden spoon in palatability, it didn't kill me when I lived there.

Economists describe some goods as positional. We buy them, not for their inherent properties but because in some way they say who we are (or who we want people to believe we are). Buying Mt Franklin bottled water instead of asking for a jug from the tap, or even better, buying imported Perrier water makes for us a show of supposed discernment that less knowledgeable and less affluent people cannot afford.

Mercedes Benz motorcars, private schools for the children, Mexican beer and French champaigne may all have qualities that we prefer above those in more widely used products, but their key attraction is positional.

Lowe has another interesting observation in New Scientist this week.

He writes:

Attempts to report science in a balanced way can give a misleading impression. That was the conclusion of an interesting analysis of reporting of climate change in the US press...

The majority of reports put roughly equal emphasis on science which shows that fossil fuel use is changing climate and on the persisting view that the changes are are part of natural variability.

Economist Paul Krugman put it this way, five years ago:

... the mainstream media are fanatically determined to seem evenhanded. One of the great jokes of American politics is the insistence by conservatives that the media have a liberal bias. The truth is that reporters have failed to call Mr. Bush to account on even the most outrageous misstatements, presumably for fear that they might be accused of partisanship. If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline "Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point." After all, the earth isn't perfectly spherical.

Nothing's changed.


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