Sunday, November 25th 2012, 6:08 AM EST
The concept of the balance sheet is important to the provision of information over a wide range of human activities, particularly in science and finance.
The weasel words Off Balance Sheet have historically been used by shady businesses to hide items that represent hidden liabilities and risks.
They were a significant factor in the build up to the great financial crisis that still stalks the world economy. The technique is also used by politicians: notoriously, for example, by Britain’s New Labour Administration in the form of the Private Finance Initiative. The alarming scale of the liabilities only emerged after the departure from office of the instigator, Gordon Brown. It is still in use, however, in the form of stealth taxes: the outrageous cost of ineffectual wind-turbines and their deleterious effect on the National Grid, for example, is cynically loaded onto the energy bills to suffering customers and does not appear in the (allegedly now more open) taxation and expenditure figures. It is a cruel regressive tax that is responsible for a substantial and continuous increase in the miseries of real poverty
In science the balance sheet has mechanical equivalents, the chemical balance (scales), which measures mass, and the spring balance, which measures weight. There is also a theoretical equivalent, the powerful concept of the algebraic equation, which is the mainstay of all physical sciences. Because of universality of conservation laws, the balance sheet, or its near equivalents, appears regularly in scientific practice.
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One of the most difficult forms of balance sheet in science is the heat balance. The author’s old physics master had several memorable sayings, one of which was “The trouble with a heat balance is that it doesn’t”. Heat is difficult stuff to deal with: it tends to leak away or hide in the form of potential energy and then reappear; but cannot be measured directly. A very able late colleague of the author, one Martin Fleischmann2, was globally glorified and then crucified after reporting the results of an experiment that seemed to indicate excess heat, suggesting the possibility of cold fusion. It turned out to be unrepeatable. Some modern and less honest “scientists”, particularly in the field of climate, now keep their data and workings secret to fend off attempts at replication. This is more often than not publicly funded work and the fact that such corrupt practices are allowed is a testament to the poisoned condition of public science.
It is a great wonder of this age of information that a huge proportion of the activity is applied to the generation of misinformation. It is done for a variety of reasons – financial profit, fame, career advancement, political advantage, quasi-religious fanaticism etc., often in various combinations. To understand how this works it is useful to adopt a couple of old legal terms to divide it into two classes. Obreption is seeking to gain advantage by misstatement, i.e. lying. Subreption is trying to do it by concealing part of the truth.
The modern masters of obreption are the USA EPA. For example, they frequently state that some target “poison” has no lower limit of dose for lethality. They do this without adducing any evidence, even in statements made directly to members of Congress. This is an example of the “dosage fallacy” and is in direct contradiction to the first law of toxicology: that the poison is in the dose. Many long known “poisons” are now used as beneficial medications in small doses: e.g. Warfarin, deadly nightshade, foxglove etc. That this sort of systematic lying is widely tolerated is one of the great scandals of modern politics. In the field of deliberate disinformation, the EPA bestrides the world like a colossus. It has established statistical chicanery as a legitimate tool of government. It is the model for all the other campaigners, be they zealots or profiteers.
The modern masters of subreption are the promoters of global warming catastrophism. With the aid of their numerous fellow travellers in the establishment media they propagate grossly one sided accounts of various phenomena: e.g. glaciers retreating (when many are advancing), “record” loss of Arctic ice coverage (when there is a simultaneous record gain in the Antarctic) and most notorious of all Hiding The Decline in the notorious Climategate e-mails, followed by the even more contemptible subsequent political whitewash3, justifying employment of the greatly overused –gate suffix.. The 2006 Stern Report4 was the very model of sensationalist selective propaganda that inspired both tax gatherers and disaster fanatics. These people utilise a form of subreption known as phenology. It involves going through the catalogue of reported physical phenomena, then selecting and publishing those that appear to conform with their particular hypothesis. Any that do not are discarded. That the resultant list5 is ludicrously self-contradictory is blithely ignored, as ordinary readers are unlikely to check.
If you are in doubt about the amount of deliberate misleading that is going on, just look at one month (June 20106 for example, at random). Here are a few slightly less obvious examples:
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