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John Key: Evidence please!

Written By: - Date published: 6:17 am, June 2nd, 2011 - 55 comments
Categories: john key - Tags: , , , , , , , ,

John Key was characterised by some of his fellow money-men as “good antennae, no compass”, and he does seem to have a good gut instinct for (usually) saying what the average Kiwi wants to hear.  But sometimes going with your feelings isn’t enough.  Sometimes reality needs to intervene.

His willingness to go with his gut rather than evidence has been seen a lot recently.  And it will send our country down the wrong path.

My first recent egregious example was on Hard Talk:

John Key: Well that might be Mike Joy’s view, but I don’t share that view.

Sackur: But he is very well qualified, isn’t he? He’s looked, for example, at the number of species threatened with extinction in New Zealand, he’s looked at the fact that half your lakes, 90% of your lowland rivers, are now classed as polluted.

Key: Look, I’d hate to get into a flaming row with one of our academics, but he’s offering his view. […]

Sackur: Yeah but he’s a scientist, it’s based on research, it’s not an opinion he’s plucked from the air.

Key: He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview.

Key fails to understand the difference between a scientist whose job it is to gather evidence and weigh up the truth, and a lawyer whose job it is to present the best case for whichever side they are paid by.  He follows up his casual dismissal of science with New Zealand being “relatively 100% pure”.  He has also failed Mike Joy’s challenge to come up with another scientist with “a counterview”.

Whilst it is popular to dismiss economics as ‘the dismal science’, John Key has put a lot of trust in Treasury’s high GDP, job and wage growth forecasts, so certainly acts as though he believes them.  But when departing Treasury head John Whitehead stated in his final report and Q&A interview the measurable fact that New Zealand was the 7th least equal in the developed world (and that we need to do something about it), we got:

Key: Are we deeply unequal? I’m not sure that’s right. I haven’t had a really good look, apples with apples comparison. If you take New Zealand’s welfare system for starters, which we’ve just been discussing, that’s universally regarded as a more generous scheme than in many other countries. So at one end of the scale you could say New Zealand is arguably providing more support for a lot of people.

Once again he’s “not sure that’s right” trumps actual evidence.  And instead he comes up with an opinion that our welfare system is “universally regarded as … more generous” – even though it is significantly less generous than almost all of western and northern Europe or even Australia.

As another recent example yesterday the youth working group Key set up with  his science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman reported back.  It cited evidence that some schemes had limited effectiveness in reducing poor youth outcomes, or were even found to be harmful – including boot camps and military-style training and ‘Scared Straight’ programmes, where troubled youths meet convicts who attempt to scare them away from a life of crime.

Sir Peter: Our research suggests that many programmes have been introduced, albeit with good intent, that are unlikely to succeed as they are not supported by the evidence base, whereas other approaches likely to be effective have not been implemented.

John Key though knows Boot Camps are working – even if the evidence says otherwise:

Key: we can see with our own eyes that they work… The results speak for themselves.

Also released yesterday was the ECE working group’s report.  It calls for limits on how few trained teachers can be employed, starting at 50% and rising to 80%, with the re-introduction of incentives to have 100% qualified teachers.  All this with plenty of evidence that qualified teachers are important to young children’s success and Sir Peter Gluckman saying how important those early years are – by adolescence it’s all too late…

I’m wondering what Key’s response will be, and in which direction he will lead our country…

I have been meaning to post about Steven Joyce’s report into the economics of the Auckland Central Rail Loop.  Auckland Trains cover it very well.  The NZTA report would seem as car-biased and government-influenced as most NZTA reports, and the list of international experts backing Auckland Council’s much less pessimistic report certainly reads much more impressively.  Greg Presland at Future West points out that even the Auckland Council report fails to take into account Peak Oil, something that occurred in 2006 according to the IEA – and they should know.  We’ll see how $4/litre fuel affects 2041 car use projections…

Still, at least Joyce has the grace to make some evidence up to support his case, rather than saying he just knows Public Transport doesn’t work…

1954 Herald Cartoon of a previous National government stopping Auckland’s rail system…

55 comments on “John Key: Evidence please! ”

  1. Peter 1

    Very insightful, thanks for putting in the effort.

  2. Lazy Susan 2

    The determination to by NAct to try and block the construction of the rail loop yet steadfastly continue to support the construction of the “holiday highway” defies all logic. Is this simply a result of a very powerful roading lobby or is there more going on here? Is the government trying to force the council into a PPP? Is there already a PPP set up for the “holiday highway”?

    I never use the existing tolled extension to the Northern Motorway both on principle and because it only minimally reduces journey times.

    BTW anyone not familiar with the Northern Motorway and using it to go north for the first time I suggest you ignore the “Free Route” signs if you want to avoid tolls as they get you to exit a junction before you need to. Go to the next exit as that is just before the toll and bypasses both Silverdale and most of Orewa and means the difference in jorney time toll versus is non-toll is minimal.

    • higherstandard 2.1

      Lazy S

      I do a clinic up at Wellsford twice a month, the toll road saves me around 20-25 minutes each way and I’m sure most of the people living in the warkworth/wellsford area and the freight companies coming find the same thing.

      • Lazy Susan 2.1.1

        Must be comparing with the “Free Route” described above and stopping for petrol and a pie in Silverdale HS. It doesn’t even take 20-25 minutes to drive from the Orewa exit to the end of the tolled section on the other side of the hill. Journey time saving is 10 minutes at best

        • higherstandard 2.1.1.1

          LS

          I’ve been doing the clinics up there for a number of years i can assure you it has improved my travel time between 20-25 minutes each way compared to prior to the toll road going in.

          Different strokes for different folks I prefer the toll road you prefer the original nothing wrong with that.

  3. TightyRighty 3

    So what, scientists who disagree with other scientists aren’t scientists? what a load of garbage. Of course it now proves john key doesn’t know anything because he knows that scientists who disagree with scientists can actually still be scientists.

    • Luva 3.1

      Not only that, what other anser could the Prime Minister and Tourism Minister of New Zealand given to an international audience. He dealt with a curly question by giving a plausible response and not conceeding that New Zealand sux

    • Pascal's bookie 3.2

      TR, what scientists would they be? Name 5.

      Luva, he could have said that the 100% pure is a marketing slogan not a scientific report, that we take it seriously and that we are doing x,y, and z in response to the disturbing levels of pollution we are seeing.

      • Puddleglum 3.2.1

        Exactly, P’sB. When adverts are taken to the Broadcasting Standards Authority as a result of a complaint, one of the most common defences is that ‘everyone knows’ what was notionally claimed is not 100% factual (e.g., that a hilux can climb vertical cliffs – Barry Crump/Scotty style).

        Key could easily have said, “Look, we don’t expect anyone to take the 100% Pure campaign 100% literally – we know we have environmental issues and we’re confronting them with x, y and z policies. But, let me be very clear about this: The quality of our environment and scenery is repeatedly shown to be what impresses our visitors. So we take our environmental issues seriously just because our visitors expect us to be doing the best we can to preserve the remarkable environment we still have. 100% pure makes a point – and we see it as a challenge to ourselves to maintain our environment to the highest quality.”

        It’s not hard to come up with a perfectly reasonable response to that question (I wrote the above off the top of my head with no edits) so long as (a) you know your stuff; and (b) you don’t have a default setting to be affably dismissive about ‘inconvenient truths’. 

        BTW, I’m not actually that keen on the slogan. It invites pretty obvious criticism.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1.1

          It’s actually very hard to come up with such a reasonable response when you aren’t doing x,y or z but are doing d,e and f which actually make the matter worse.

          NZ under the NActs are doing d,e and f.

          • Puddleglum 3.2.1.1.1

            I know, you’re right.

            All I can say in my defence is that, when I wrote it, that point was swirling around in the back of my mind but never made it to the page …

    • Carol 3.3

      Key’s response was that the scientific evidence & the scientific process doesn’t matter. He’ll make his decisions without looking at the science, then he’ll go find a scientist/s that supports his views and ignore the rest – thumbing his nose at the whole premise of science, based on rigorously collected data and evidence.

      • Jim Nald 3.3.1

        Surely he is not like an opportunist who is a well-practised con artiste !

    • Craig Glen Eden 3.4

      The point is Tighty, Key does not get his info from scientists to offer a counter view its Shonkey’s view on the spot repeating his bias eg boot camps

      This is the trouble when you create/ pitch every decision/policy to the level of a morning tea discussion/sound bite. Sooner or latter and sadly it has been much latter commentators are going to realize hey that 170,000 new job line, I have heard that before didn’t you promise that last budget.

      As the commentators start to cast a considered analysis of what National is dishing up Key is going to look more and more “oh shucks”.

      • Jim Nald 3.4.1

        Shonkey pitches his policy to morning tea discussion level … and he’ll be gone by lunchtime.

  4. queenstfarmer 4

    Key fails to understand the difference between a scientist whose job it is to gather evidence and weigh up the truth, and a lawyer whose job it is to present the best case for whichever side they are paid by.

    No, I’d say he has it right, and you have it wrong with that very naiive statement.

    I presume you are not saying that every scientist comes to the same conclusion on every matter, are you? What would you say about industry-sponsored (directly or indirectly) scientific research? Or, as you raised the law, expert scientific witnesses who give conflicting evidence for each side? Or, scientific “truths” that are later overturned?

    I should say that I agree with Dr Joy’s comments (well the ones I read) and there are real problems that need urgent action.

    • Carol 4.1

      Key still needs to engage with the science. He didn’t show he had looked at diverse scientific arguments & evidence, and had made an informed decision based on the evidence he looked at. He gave no alternative scientific argument – just said he was sure he could find one. Courts, judges, juries till need to look closely at the scientific evidence they are presented with and make judgements based on their critical evaluation of the evidence.

      The general public can base their opinions on whatever they like – phases of the moon, tossing a coin, the colour of a politician’s eyes, whatever – it doesn’t make them correct in their judgements. But we expect our MPs, Ministers & PM to make decisions based on a knowledge, and careful critical evaluation, of the most rigorous available evidence.

      • Jim Nald 4.1.1

        Shonkey does not make evidence-based decisions but gambles with policy while the media jackpot is there to pull. He is happy to indulge in speculative policy-making and take NZ into a new dark age of governing based on irrationality.

      • ianmac 4.1.2

        +1 Carol

    • queenstfarmer, you’re quite right. As Popper argued, science and the growth of scientific knowledge, doesn’t depend upon any characteristic of individual scientists (e.g., impartiality, curiosity, intelligence, etc.). It depends upon the social institutions that support it – e.g., peer review; scholarly journals; open communication between scientists; education, etc.. So, some – maybe many – scientists might be pushing a barrow, in terms of what view of the facts (or what facts) they are committed to. From Popper’s point of view, however, that doesn’t matter so long as the institutions of science continue.

      But (there’s always a ‘but’), what those institutions do (or are supposed to do) is create a current body of knowledge (note, not ‘truth’) around which there is some, or even considerable, consensus and a further area of research that remains contested, debated and, possibly, publicly controversial. In an ideal world, that latter area then becomes exposed to the ‘competition of ideas’ from multitudinous scientists and scientific research studies in the hope that some resolution or consensus will be reached there as well. 

      So far as I can tell, however, Key was confusing the former area of scientific knowledge (i.e., about the reality of issues to do with biodiversity, lake pollution, etc.) with the latter (i.e., areas with remaining fundamental disagreement). Joy’s points, so far as I can see, were definitely within the category of consensual, accepted knowledge – at least at present – so it is simply naive for Key to say he could find other scientists who might seriously contest Joy’s claims and that each of these views are ‘equivalent’, which is the implication (unless, of course, Key knows of some intense debate over those issues currently raging in scientific journals?).

    • Ben Clark 4.3

      Coming from a science background, I most certainly do not claim that every scientist will reach the same conclusions.

      But it should be each scientist’s own legitimate conclusions, based on the evidence, weighing it up against various hypotheses. Not presenting one side to their benefit. Scientific (or any expert) evidence in court is meant to be similarly independent and their best conclusions based on the evidence, even if it is being presented by one side or ‘tother. Industry sponsored research should also still be independent (altho there are issues there occasionally).

      But as Carol and PB have already said – there is no: “here’s a different valid scientific view” or “I dispute the evidence because”, just a casual dismissal of its worth compared to what Key believes. He’s not even finding one outlier scientist challenging the consensus to dispute it.

      As I said with Steven Joyce – I may not believe his evidence for his case, but at least he’s presenting some.

      Key’s technique is quite clever though – you can’t dispute the substance of his argument if there isn’t any there…

      • Puddleglum 4.3.1

        Agree completely. In a sense my comment was an attempt to simply argue that it doesn’t matter what the individual scientist might be motivated by – it’s the social process of science that gives us some confidence about what ‘stays standing’ as knowledge.

        Of course, all scientists – and all people – should act in the best of possible faiths (‘good faith’). Individuals don’t necessarily do that, however (there’s plenty of psychological science on that point, too, irrespective of the ‘expert’ status of someone). The history of science is littered with prominent scientists pushing ‘barrows’ – e.g., R.J. Fisher’s defence of smoking on the basis of some statistical argument about the basis of the, then very persuasive, scientific evidence (while being supported by tobacco companies in his research).

        And, ‘yes’, Key’s “I could find a scientist with a different view” argument is totally inept and shows no understanding of either the ideal or actual scientific process (Joy would be shot down in flames – by other scientists – if he was making outrageous claims unsupported by the present state of scientific knowledge – especially if he was claiming that they represented the ‘state of the art’ in that area.).

        I was also, of course, putting far too generous an interpretation on Key’s position when I said he was ‘confused’. He was simply being (conveniently) ignorant.

  5. If Key perfers his Gut to real evidence he would fit in well with the green party, they are all about their ideology and not the facts. (Im not talking about climate change either, because I beleive that is real)

    • onsos 5.1

      What are you talking about? Or is this just one of those vague generalisations that doesn’t need evidence?

  6. William Joyce 6

    It’s the free market applied to science – all facts are contestable, any constant can be redefined in order to reset the frame of a debate, and (something the right do so well) any contrary evidence can be overcome by stating your ideological mantra over and over again until you foam at the mouth and fall over backwards.
    This last habit, (foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards) was first identified by one “Monty Python”, a used car sales man of Leeds, four decades ago in his ground breaking study of members of the British conservative party.
    Unfortunately we don’t see any of that in NZ. Instead we have do have the repeating of mantra followed by compliant indifference from the cleverly mesmerised MSM who move on to their next scripted question.
    I for one would enjoy watching John Key if he did foam at the mouth and fall over backwards on occasion – but then I guess he’s just a one trick pony.

  7. Carol 7

    Righties are doing well in this discussion in employing a creative mix of the Rules of Disinformation (author unknown):

    Jackel’s 25 rules of disinformation

    In my estimation they have drawn on Rules # 1, 4, 9, 14, 15, 20, 22 at least.

    Brett is also employing Rule #7

  8. ianmac 8

    “Key: we can see with our own eyes that they work… The results speak for themselves.” re Boot Camps.
    You see the next question should be, “What is the evidence Mr Key and what are the results that speak for themselves, which refute Dr Gluckman’s research?”

    Neither Key nor the Minister are willing to release the data on, for instance, the reoffending rate of graduates. They have been asked in Questions but won’t say which suggests that the news isn’t good.

    So Key’s response that Boot Camps work is a lie.

    • Jim Nald 8.1

      “we can see with our own eyes that they work” ?

      well, if we are blind, we need some of his Whitechapel eyes

  9. jackal 9

    There is a serious issue here in that not only is John Key deluded, he is perpetuating an untruth that most people will see through. This is ultimately damaging to New Zealand’s credibility in more than one way. You can check where John Key is happy to swim on this Facebook page:

    http://on.fb.me/mfpi13

  10. lyndon 10

    Earlier in the year Kim Workman got some stats on the Fresh Start reoffending rates and Key was asked about it in the press. It was a bit odd. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1102/S00111/scoop-audio-pms-presser-gillard-the-gap-and-boot-camps.htm

    An OIA Rory MacKinnon got pretty much said they didn’t have a plan for evaluating the programmes; so I doubt at this point that it’s possible.

    Might be worth trawling back through parliament questions as well; Key seems to have taken up variations on ‘I don’t accept that’ as an immediate response to inconvenient factual statements this year.

    I recall it on immigration to australia being up and (either in parliament of at a press conference) doubting the rise in ECE costs (per Stats NZ) applied across the whole country. One or two others?

    At least one acrimonious argument has concluded that, in Parliament, that sort of thing is allowed. But that doesn’t mean he should be allowed to get away with it.

    • Bunji 10.1

      Yes, we definitely saw it on the 2 instances you mention (immigration to Aus & ECE costs).

      It needs following up with: “You may not accept that Mr Key, but that doesn’t stop it being true… (and what are you going to do about it)”

    • ianmac 10.2

      Thanks Lyndon. That Workman item was back in February. It also flies in the face of Key’s defence of the Boot Camps.
      “The Ministry of Social Development staff should not be blamed for the poor outcome. The programme design was forced on them by those who knew that the measure would have popular public support.” said Mr Workman. A bit like the Herceptin decision.
      Mr Key told the News Conference that 50% recidivism was a good result for the Boot Camp.
      Excuse me for my eyebrows meeting my scalp!

  11. Maui 11

    .. and now a multi-millionaire ex-Merrill Lynch hitman brings you

    a ‘beneficiaries and bludgers’ dog-whistle campaign

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/social-issues/news/article.cfm?c_id=87&objectid=10729115

    • Bored 11.1

      Theme tune for the National Election Campaign….Kill the Poor, (Dead Kennedys).

      • Maui 11.1.1

        One thing I don’t understand is the role of the Exclusive Brethren in all this. There was footage in the film ‘Hollow Men’ of him meeting with them. Were they a conduit for external funding ?

        • Bored 11.1.1.1

          Easy Maui, if you are one of the Brethren you have poll position in Heaven and on Earth, God is on your side and nobody else is as worthy and deserving as you. God has favoured you, beneficiaries are not favoured by God (or else they would not be beneficiaries) therefore they are not worthy of your favours (or tax). In fact they are the spawn of the Devil.

    • marsman 11.2

      ‘pushing 100,000 beneficiaries into work within the next decade’ What is it with these Tory arseholes that everything needs to be punitive if it concerns people, it is always the people’s fault.No mention of creating, or at least fostering the creation of, JOBS. They fuck the economy then blame someone else for it. Men-boys, bully-boys.

  12. Nick C 12

    “Key fails to understand the difference between a scientist whose job it is to gather evidence and weigh up the truth, and a lawyer whose job it is to present the best case for whichever side they are paid by.”

    See this just makes me think you are making shit up as you go along. Lawyers perform a huge variety of tasks, one of which is to advocate for a client. But often clients will simply want their unbiased legal opinion as to whether the law favours them on any particular set of facts.

    • Hanswurst 12.1

      Not really. You see, a statement like, “He’s one academic, and like lawyers, I can provide you with another one that will give you a counterview,” strongly suggests that he might be paying someone to give the point of view that he wants. The post isn’t criticising the practice of law per se, but the job performed by a lawyer when advocating for particular moneyed interests.

  13. deemac 13

    his self-belief in the face of inconvenient facts reminds me of Tony Blair. At his peak Blair could sell snow to eskimos; it took ten long years for most of the public and media to see through him. If Key’s aura lasts that long we will be left with a very nasty situation indeed in NZ…

  14. JonL 14

    “Whilst it is popular to dismiss economics as ‘the dismal science’”
    Economics is not a Science!
    Nor are “Social Sciences”, – they are more, self serving, self fulfilling fantasies……

  15. randal 15

    unfortunately the only thing he undersatnds is bond yields and who to sell the duds to.
    see “liars poker”

  16. wtl 16

    Does any one know of Gluckman’s respose to Key’s statements? If I was Gluckman I would be pretty peeved by the PM publicly discounting the in-depth scientific report like that. Gluckman really should make it an issue and take a principled stance about this – tell the government publicly that this is something that is important, and we must do a lot better by implementing evidence-based policy in this area. Otherwise the report was a waste of time and why stay on as the PM’s science advisor if you are only there for show?

  17. Chris 17

    So many silly comments here that are not going to change any election outcomes. It might make people feel good on this forum here but otherwise it does diddly squat in the real world. Suggest starting to sort out the lefts in-house problems first will be a major step to recovery. At present Labor are being a totally ineffective opposition. Labour has failed to make any traction in 2 1/2 years – why ? There appears to be a dearth of collective IQ here about this fact.
    Sometimes one needs to take the red tinted glasses off to see the truth. Opposition bashing certainly does not work. Realistically however any real change will not happen this side of the election.

  18. HC 18

    Gut instinct = superstitious efforts to read the future out of the extracted guts of an animal. Yeah right! That is what Don Key is all about. No substance, no proof, no integrity, no sincerity, just populist appearance and uncommitted words of no plans and no solutions. Trust in me and we will get there, is the message. Not trust in me, because I have the knowledge and evidence. Sadly too many Kiwis just so busy trying to survive neither have the time or make the effort to see behind this facade and analyse what is really going on.

  19. vanakast 19

    John Key could do nothing, and his plan would still be superior to both the Greens & Labour.

    • McFlock 19.1

      Only for 1% of the population.
       
       

    • HC 19.2

      vanakast: You believe in elitism and a preference for the rich, that is the only explanation for your unqualified comment!

  20. pepeketua 20

    he’s at it again!!! this morning in the Southland Times, John Key says he has ‘no problem’ (he’s so casual and cool) with lignite mining in Southland, despite Dr James Hansen’s recent warnings, AND THEN, when asked about the increasing dairying in Southland contributing to the catastrophic collapse of the internationally recognised Waituna Lagoon, he says “But NZ’s water quality is second only to Iceland”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/5094448/PM-backs-mining-souths-lignite/

    BUT, hang on, that study (which he also quoted in the BBC Hardtalk interview – how embarrassing!) was a social science study based on people’s perceptions! Media 7 have been the only media outlet who bothered to dig into it – see here http://tvnz.co.nz/media7/s6-e16-extra-video-4181157

    ANYONE OUT THERE? there must be some (good) journos trawling this site??? come on guys?
    *cries*

    • HC 20.1

      Perfect comment! Most of the media is in private ownership and does in fact practice some voluntary form of self-censorship. Also have many real journalist jobs been cut. There is very little investigative journalism, so many stories do never really come to the surface!

      The Chief Editors are also selecting what may appeal most to the public, whether it is headlines about crimes, disasters and similar stuff.

      Most people are not scientists and have little patience to look at matters thoroughly.

      What the government departments do in the areas of the environment is equally done in tourism, economic and social areas of concern. So we get the figures that the government wants or allows us to get.

      That is why alternative media like the Standard need to play a special and crucial role in exposing all this.

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