Bikeshedding and Baloney 1

GIYF if you don’t know what the first word means. And now Google Is Your Friend is arguably what the first word means. Maybe the first word should have been bootstrapping. Sigh.

The title came to me in the last few days as I thought about how each of us can best preserve our sanity in a time of increasing madness. My answer: by avoiding both bikeshedding and baloney. But it’s easier said than done.

In my framing bikeshedding is avoidance of difficult thoughts by staying narrow in mind. And baloney is what happens, internally, and then externally, when we pretend to understand the big picture when we don’t.

Here’s an example from this morning.

That’s a high quality article by Hughes and Constable, one that avoids the scylla and charybdis I, in general, fear. But it means that Boris has bought and is selling baloney in his speech today.

And once baloney is on the prowl, it’s so easy to outbid the original mixer of metaphors. I give you Ed Davey:

I first heard the news of the prime minister’s original baloney just after 7am on Radio 5 Live. Later the presenters were enjoying that old Boris saying “Wind farms couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”. Should rice pudding be eaten with skin or without? They felt it was about 50/50 across the UK population and were expecting a deluge of calls.

A brilliant example of bikeshedding – because it shows the power of the thing. Who wants the complexity of trying to achieve balance in doing justice to the big picture? And when you do, being called a Nazi?

We’ll come to that. In the full series. For now, offshore wind will suffice.


  1. >The title came to me in the last few days as I thought about how each of us can best preserve our sanity in a time of increasing madness.

    Com’on now, You should know there ain’t no sanity clause.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Richard,

    It’s interesting that you should mention bikeshedding in the context of the climate debate. I first came across the term when looking for relevant cognitive biases to include in my WUWT article, ‘Playing the Cognitive Game’ (still available through all good search engines). I hadn’t heard of it before then, despite working in the software industry. Nevertheless, I do recall a behaviour that I think qualifies as a form of bikeshedding.

    For every new major software development project in which I had been involved, there was always a relatively relaxed period in the early stages during which there seemed plenty of time to tackle the important questions. Since all development was invariably modular, the most important question to be answered was the classic: Just exactly what is a module in software engineering? Hours upon hours would be wasted in meetings at which all opinions were solicited. Not until we were already well behind schedule would we then give up and start doing some hard work. Importantly, however, the question remained unanswered so that we could all return to it at the start of the next major project. I guess we all needed an excuse to delay the inevitable, and an unfocussed but seemingly important question (which didn’t really have a wrong answer) would do the trick nicely.

    I am long since retired but I see that the ‘what is a software module’ debate still rages on.


  3. I am most grateful for being educated into modern idioms: “bikeshedding” whatever next. But you’ve simply floored me by linking a German supernatural being with Tolkienesque embellishments and safety (which I thought was in Ridgeway’s bailiwick). Or is it all baloney?
    The addition of a 1 to your title imparts dread.


  4. We are truly led by a buffoon. I had thought his japery was 90% affected, & that he had at least one smart adviser. Seems not. Offering to arm wrestle or sprint race those who doubt his health?

    We have 10 GW of offshore wind now, and funnily enough, it, sometimes produces next to nothing. We are slated to have 67 GW by the deadline (term used advisedly) of 2050. That forest of fantasy will also sometimes produce next to naught. It will sometimes produce quite a bit.

    We are supposed to have 50 GW of solar too (don’t laugh). Our production is going to swing wildly from day to day and day to night. Sometimes there will be a massive surfeit. Other times, at night, with wind in the doldrums, we will have a huge shortfall. That is no way to power a modern civilisation.

    Boris speaks of tens of thousands, maybe millions, of green jobs. It should be pointed out to him that jobs in energy are a cost, not a benefit. We could all be employed generating green energy, were we all given an exercise bike hooked up to a dynamo. Most people could probably make a couple hundred watts for a while. It might take half an hour to boil a kettle, but think of the co-benefits! We’ll be as fit as butchers’ dogs, or whatever.

    We need as few jobs in energy as we can get away with, not as many as we can afford.

    The optimal spacing between the turbines is 15 times the rotor diameter, or so I have read. The new big ‘uns have rotor diameters of 150 m, for spacing of 2.25 km. (They also have hubs at 100m or more up, and their tip speed on a windy day will be >200 mph.) The spacing, using a hex grid gets to about 1 turbine per 3 km^2. If the plated power of our turbines is 5 MW, we would only be looking at a square 155 km on a side.

    And when the butcher is walking his dog on the beach, his faithful hound can gently pick up the dead kittiwake they see on the strand and dig a little hole for it in the dunes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. John: Thanks. I’ll come back to that this evening.

    Alan: I deeply empathise. But I just read this tweet.

    Brilliant. More soon.


  6. John:

    Not until we were already well behind schedule would we then give up and start doing some hard work.

    Yep, that’s bikeshedding. I can’t find ‘Playing the Cognitive Game’ though. I’d like to.

    Although widely used in software development these days, the term, as you’ll know, goes back to C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957. Discussing what colour to paint the bike-shed is so much easier than going into the gory details of constructing a new nuclear power plant. And that I thought made my putative title rather splendid in the context of the government’s baloney about offshore wind today.

    And that, Alan, also explains the dreaded ‘1’ at the end of the title. This wasn’t all I was thinking of saying under this moniker even yesterday but I do think the Radio 5 debate about whether to eat rice pudding with or without the skin is a lovely example of bikeshedding compared to the hard work Hughes and Constable have done, pointed to by Ridley.

    The trouble is, we all need to escape from grinding reality in some way or other. Reading Lord of the Rings was something that did the trick for me in years past but I haven’t tried it for a while.

    In the last year I’ve been thinking more about the year of my birth – 1957 as it happens. I realised it skewed my view of various events. Manchester United’s Munich Air Disaster was after I was born – in February 1958. Because I wasn’t of an age to take it in I always assumed it was before I was born. Same with the final ratification of the Treaty of Rome that formed the original European Economic Community. After I was born. Very, very strange.

    But is delving into such matters also bikeshedding? I tend to give myself some slack on that. The main thing to avoid is baloney. I’ll come back to it.


  7. Jit: All very well said, thanks. I got back to the subject on Twitter just now, having begun on Covid earlier in the day:

    Not for the first time I’m making a distinction between the two big areas but it’s a subtle one.

    Perhaps one of the most important points I wanted to bring out in this series (of at least two posts) is the need to learn from just about anyone in the crazy ferment our western world now presents. And what we say today I think affects our ability to do that. So as climate sceptics go I prefer Josh:

    to James:

    In fact I’d argue that ‘loathing and detesting’ is itself a form of bikeshedding. It blinds us to subtleties in the bigger picture.


  8. Richard
    “In fact I’d argue that ‘loathing and detesting’ is itself a form of bikeshedding. It blinds us to subtleties in the bigger picture.”
    If I were a member of the twitterati I would immediately counter with contrasting the viewing of an arboretum and perennial plants with elongated stems that support branches and leaves. But I suppose I would be “bikeshedding”. After decades of practice the paint on my shed is already thicker than the original walls.


  9. JIT: “We are supposed to have 50 GW of solar too (don’t laugh). Our production is going to swing wildly from day to day and day to night.”

    Interestingly, the less hours of annual sunshine duration countries have, the more of them there are that have greater amounts of deployed Solar energy installations (by MW) per-capita, even when levelised for GDP-per-capita (so it’s not just a case of rich countries affording more). There’s an interesting cultural tale behind this, including a chance happening regarding the global historical spread of irreligion.


  10. Andy: I had great satisfaction in deleting one of your comments on one of my threads. As requested.

    John: Thanks. Will read later. I want to say some things in reply to your comment on the other thread while there is still daylight.

    Alan: Thank you for quoting a key sentence of mine. I have to confess that I lack the plant biology to understand your rejoinder. Please do explain, as if to a four-year-old.


  11. Alan: Don’t call me Shirley, call me Homer. D’oh!

    Andrew Montford did a good article in the Spectator yesterday, entitled Boris’s wind power pledge won’t be cheap, starting and ending thus:

    Boris Johnson likes a big announcement. Back in his days as London mayor, he told us he was going to build a new airport on an island in the Thames estuary and a tree-lined ‘garden bridge’ further upstream. Although not as hare-brained as his more recent plan to build a bridge to Ireland, neither of these schemes ever came to anything.

    The implications for businesses and households in the UK are horrifying. Who would want to live in a a country that was set on such a destructive path? Who would want to invest in it? And when the Prime Minister claims that he’s going to create 60,000 jobs with his green spending spree, you have to wonder how many will jobs he will destroy along the way. We can only hope and pray that he is playing to the crowd again.

    That’s what we have to hope for. But it’s not all bad news for everyone:

    I didn’t have that info when I mentioned ‘Big Offshore Wind’ in my tweet to Spence and Steve Mc last night.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Richard: “I had great satisfaction in deleting one of your comments on one of my threads”

    You had great satisfaction in executing the juicy admin task of deleting a jpg with superfluous trailing white space?? Richard, I think this whole covid thing has affected you a lot more than you think 0: I’d say ‘you need to get out more’, but these days one can’t!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Look here, West, I don’t pay you to come on here and tell me to take it easy, I pay you … Well actually I don’t pay you. But otherwise Basil Fawlty had it right (talking to his chef, as a large rat was on the loose in the hotel with a health inspection looming). My models of English sanity are the best, y’see.

    On an entirely more serious note, check out the Twitter hashtag #IStandWithKeiraBell before the end of the day to see a groundswell of opinion rebelling against something else the Tory government got horribly wrong but has, thanks to Liz Truss, been putting right with true verve. Or read the Daily Mail’s IT worker, 23, who was given puberty-blocking drugs aged 16 is suing NHS gender clinic the Tavistock Centre to stop it from 'rushing' other teenagers into changing sex. Or here’s an introductory tweet:

    It looked impossible for things to change in this area only a few years ago. So worth taking in, if hope is in short supply.

    Liked by 1 person

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