Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045

“What’s that you say, Robo-dog Lassie? You say the U.S. Marine Corps now has an elite squad of sci-fi writers?”

Yup. Their best three stories have been made public, published in a free PDF ebook as Science Fiction Futures: Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Their Marines magazine is also now featuring a monthly sci-fi column.



Factfulness and fish

I see that the great Hans Rosling is reported to be working on a major new book on positive world trends, according to Nature

“It has the working title Factfulness, and they hope it will inform everyone from schoolchildren to esteemed experts about how the world has changed”. The book will try to “erase preconceived ideas”.

Rosling specialises in ideas about poverty and world development, and is well known via his explanatory videos. Judging by those videos his book will certainly be worth reading, and may be especially interesting because he’s recently been outspoken about the use of misleading and tweaked NGO statistics for “advocacy purposes” at the government level. In the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, no less.

But the NGO/government level is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’, I’d suggest. Such statistical twiddling so easily slips over into boosting ‘awareness raising’ campaigns among the general public. Then it becomes essential to ongoing cycles of fund-raising among the pensioners and other regular givers. Eventually the organisational culture becomes so distorted that it normalises those who want to engage in blatant political point-scoring in the media — of the sort exemplified by Oxfam’s ongoing self-inflicted erosion of its brand values via skewed statistics, damaging itself among everyone except a small minority of Social Justice Worriers and other gullibles.

I wonder if all that will start to change, with Planet Trump and a parallel heightened awareness of the left’s ‘fake news’. In which case the wallet-opening headline-grabbing methods that NGOs learned during 1997-2017 may suddenly become less effective. Perhaps Rosling’s new book Factfulness will help to coax NGOs into adopting new and more honest approaches.


Of course sometimes it also happens that an NGO spots a perfectly genuine natural cyclical change, and seizes the bottom of the curve to shriek about ‘extinction’ — such as scary headlines about the extinction of the humble sardine in yesterday’s Daily Express: “Sardines under threat of EXTINCTION as overfishing pushes them towards being wiped out”. According to the NGO report being covered it appears that there is a real and growing threat of overfishing, of all sorts, off the west African coast — due to surging population growth, Chinese trawlers, new technologies, better roads and storage, new ports and canning factories, tourism growth etc. But the intention of Express‘s reporting is to make the casual skimming reader think: “if such a humble fish is set to go extinct, then the end of the world is nigh”. If that was really the intention of the report‘s writers — before the NGO’s press officer and the Express journalists tore into it — is unknown. But there are two factors which make one wonder about that.

Firstly, what the reader didn’t hear from the Express was that the world’s sardine population rolls naturally through immense multi-decade cycles of boom and near-total bust. According to my Google Scholar searches and some reading, the fish now appears to be about 18 months past a huge bust point in its global population. In a decade or so, it will be becoming abundant again. But by misleadingly screaming in capital letters about “EXTINCTION” the Express newspaper effectively discredits an apparently valid report about overfishing and the need for fish stock conservation.

Secondly, The Express also completely overlooked a huge international plan that has just been funded to try to deal with such problems. Also to stimulate serious aquaculture farming and sustainable inshore fisheries on suitable parts of the vast African coast.

Instead the newspaper shrieks that the good old British ‘sardines on toast’ are soon to be off the menu forever. One thus has to suspect that the NGO involved didn’t do very much to steer the newspaper toward information about sardine population trends or the World Bank mega-project. Much as I’ve recently come to admire the Express for its pro-Brexit stance, I have to say that its sardines story seems to have stepped across the ‘linkbait’ line and was borderline ‘fake news’ in its approach. In such a context I’d suggest that the profession of ‘newspaper fact-checker’ could usefully expand its remit, to have its members also ask “… and what optimistic facts have been been left out?”

African agriculture in 2016

Despite the drought, now easing1, “Important wins were notched up for African agriculture in 2016” says a well-researched and positive report by the Mail & Guardian Africa.

1. NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s Africa Hazards Outlook, January 12 – January 18, 2017: “Heavy rainfall is expected to provide relief for several moisture-stressed areas, but increase the risk of flooding in southeastern Africa.” The report’s map shows no areas of Africa are currently suffering “Severe Drought”, and “Drought” status is only affecting a small area of south-east Africa.

The Spectator Australia

Did you know that London’s The Spectator magazine has a The Spectator Australia edition? Me neither. Sample recent articles include “What went wrong with The Economist?” (on why The Economist magazine’s editorial tone has recently made a sharp left turn in its political outlook) and “Dangerous queen” (an excellent readable summary of the political left’s recent anti-Milo hysteria). The Milo article shows up in the UK edition under a Spectator Australia flash, but I can’t see the “What went wrong with The Economist?” article on the UK website. Spectator Australia has its own RSS news feed.

Gallup-ing toward books

A new Gallup survey finds “Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated”

“book reading is a classic tradition that has remained a constant in a faster-paced world, especially in comparison to the slump of other printed media such as newspapers and magazines.”

Just bear in mind that it’s a public poll, albeit by the industry-leading Gallup, and is thus inherently untrustworthy — given what we now know about the lack of reach and various unavoidable flaws that such traditional polling methods have.

Evidently there’s been no wholesale switch to audio books, interestingly…

“only 6% mostly experienced books in audio form”

It would have been interesting to see a breakdown of actual book titles that were polled, set against each demographic.

Incidentally there’s no RSS news feed(s) displayed by the Gallup website. Instead one is expected to sign up to one of those infernal email mailing-lists. But I’ve been able to dig out their main feeds, and they function fine: