Saturday, June 25, 2016

The failure of democracy

It is ironic that some of the comments about the impending departure of the UK from the EU have lauded the referendum as a successful exercise in democracy.  I note the Murdoch media in particular have hailed it thus:
"a triumph of democratic  reasoning" - The Australian
"democracy's victory" - Fox News

Okay, I apologise, Murdoch is an easy target.  But there have been plenty of others.

Irony, wry irony.  The truth is the complete opposite.  Even aside from Arrow's impossiblity theorum demonstrating the contradictions inherent in democracy, this vote was a spectacular failure, for a number of reasons

1.  One person's voice was much weightier than anyone else's: Peter Hargreaves, the billionaire who financed the Leave campaign.

2.  The outcome is sharp and total - and thus disenfranchises all those who voted against it.  Nearly half the population had a voice that didn't count, and they know they will suffer from it.

3.  None of the rest of the EU had a say in this - and it is such a momentous decision that it's easy to see scenarios where the whole of the European Union is destroyed.

4.  The devil is in the wording of a plebiscite (as John Howard knew when he effectively shot down Australia's Republic referendum).  David Cameron's overconfidence led to a simple wording for a complex choice.  As an example: if it had been worded "Will you vote to Leave if the European Union doesn't act on x, y, and z", a far greater proportion of Britons would have been better enfranchise, as would the EU.

5.  None of the rest of the world had a voice in this outcome - and we are likely to suffer economically because of it.  Worst case, global recession, is not yet beyond the possible.

You think it is axiomatic that only Britons should have a say?  That's democracy.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Homo floresiensis redated: the long game

The new discovery of further Homo floresiensis remains adds to our body of knowledge while asking as many questions as it answers.

The most significant new information is that floresienses had been on that small island from 700,000 to 55,000 years ago (at the minimum range).
Scientific consensus seems to be that they are a species of Homo.  Although their small stature is suggestive of the Homo predecessor Australopithecus,  it is instead due to insular dwarfism - which means that 700,00 years ago it was already long enough on that small island for it to have evolved smaller to match the scarcity of resources there.
That's an awfully long time to be stuck on an island!  They certainly didn't do much with their time there, compared to the achievements in the span of modern humans.  That indubitably reflects their smaller cranial capacity.
Yet before we disparage a long-static lineage, we need to remember that any such species has to be said to be well-adapted to its environment.  On that basis, they were better adapted than most hominin species, with current evidence showing a lengthier stay on this earth than most others.  That longevity may reflect the stability of the Flores island environment, with little competition from apex predators or other hominin.  Yet it has been said that on available evidence, they disappeared at around the same time modern humans passed through on the way to Australia.  That could be a giant coincidence of the specimens unearthed to date, but it reflects an apparent pattern of Homo sapiens' interaction with other hominin species.

My current questions:
What discussion does this open up about stasis?  There's a lot of possibilities.
Did floresiensis last any longer than 650,000 years?
Were they evolved from Homo erectus?
And in particular, since the original find was entirely due to Mike Morwood seeking an understanding of the migration story of the first Australians, what's the full story of hominin migration between Africa and Australia?  The fossil record suggests there is an awful lot more to be gleaned from digging up all the islands in Indonesia.  Let's hope the past disputes lead to more successful governance of future projects