Monday, June 12, 2006

Duckspeak on Doublethink

According to Dr Jennifer Marohasy of the IPA:

Doublethink is when we hold two contradictory beliefs in our minds simultaneously and accept both of them. Doublethink has been described as a form of trained, willful blindness to contradictions ...
Personally, I think that misses some of the subtleties of classic Orwellian doublethink, as outlined in the postscript to 1984, where Orwell describes his synthetic language, Newspeak and its usage. For example, the Newspeak word duckspeak can be used pejoratively, to dismiss the oratory of an opponent of IngSoc, or in praising a particularly good Party orator - who might be a doubleplusgood duckspeaker.

According to Dr Marohasy, Doublethink is rife in debate on the management of the Murray-Darling Basin - not at the IPA of course, but in the halls of academia, the smoky back-rooms of envirnmental activists, the halls of political power and of course, the offices of the bureaucrats. Take for example, Risks to the shared water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin, Part 2 of the MDBC's recent report on the state of the Basin, in particular, the section on Groundwater Extraction:
It begins by stating that "groundwater stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally". It goes on to explain different ways that groundwater extraction can lead to reduced stream flows...
The first thing that might strike you - it certainly struck me - about this beginning is the lower case "g" in groundwater. Surely, if the section begins with this statement, "groundwater" ought to be capitalised. Well, let's take a look at the section and see how it does begin:
Groundwater is a valuable resource in the Basin. As discussed in the first report in this two part series, groundwater extraction has increased in recent years. In some parts of the Basin, groundwater stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally. [my emphasis]
Well, Dr Marohasy's selected quote is near the beginning - it's no further than two full sentences and an adverbial phrase in. And I suppose Dr Marohasy's presentation of the quote is more accurate than something like this:
Groundwater ... stores are declining at alarming rates and this may jeopardise its future use locally.
But then, if Dr Marohasy had gone that route, the prescence of an ellipsis would have given a lot of readers the hint that the quote was being massaged a little, in the manner of book blurbs and movie posters.

Ah, but where is the double think? Probably here:
Read on [for about two pages of technical discussion] and there is reference to high levels of groundwater extraction in the Shepparton-Katunga region contributing to salinity mitigation...
So there you have it - groundwater extraction bad, because it may jeopardise groundwater supplies (locally) into the future, groundwater extraction good because it mitigates salinity. Except that according to Dr Marohasy, we're not really talking about groundwater extraction in the Shepparton-Katunga region - it's actually:
... code for salt interception schemes are a form of groundwater extraction. [sic]
And here's what the report actually says about the Shepparton-Katunga region:
Other areas where extraction rates are high at present, such as the Shepparton-Katunga and Lower Murrumbidgee regions, have a similarly high level of risk [of environmental damage, particularly to rivers fed by the groundwater aquifers - I think]. However, the situation here is complicated by the presence of a semi-confining layer. In the Shepparton-Katunga region, high levels of extraction contribute to salinity mitigation.
From here on, Dr Marohasy's post lapses into confusion, as she works hew way to posing the question:
But hang-on, how much lower do we want to push Murray River salt levels and what is the tradeoff in terms of lost groundwater?
Lost? The report says nothing about lost groundwater - unless you count groundwater that can't be extracted from aquifers, because the result is an adverse impact on river water quality, as "lost". Read on, and the confusion culminates in this parting question:
At what point will there be a realization that river salinity and rising groundwater are no longer key issues, the real issue is disappearing groundwater and it is likely to be exacerbated by the next salt interception scheme?
I'd like to know where this groundwater is disappearing to. Is there, perhaps, some process of cold fusion going on in Murray-Darling basin aquifers that is turning some of the water into helium and free oxygen? If so, that wouldn't be such a bad thing, if we could find a way to harness to energy that's being released - it might be bad news for the Murray, but it's good news for greenhouse gas emissions.

(Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo)

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