Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Evolution, ID, Creationism, and Science

Leslie Tomory writes on evolution in The Shock and Awe of Creation.

At the end this year celebrating Darwin’s work, it is regrettable that there still exists some tension between religion and evolutionary science, even if it does not stem so much from official doctrines as from the feelings of believers. Some of this tension is inevitable given the atheistic claims of evolutionism, but there are ways to reconcile evolutionary science with theistic philosophy, as many people have done, and as I have outlined here.

The science of evolutionary biology is very well established, and the residual tension between religion and evolutionary biology harms both. On one hand, it makes the scientific work evolutionary biologists suspect in the eyes of many, and on the other, it makes religion appear like a regressive force. It is far better to reject the bundling of evolutionary biology with evolutionism, the real crux of the problem, than to wage a war over the minutiae of evolutionary biology, which should not be problematic from a religious point of view. Finally, accepting theistic evolution does not diminish the beauty and awe we can feel when contemplating God’s creation. On the contrary, God’s is manifest in his works, including in evolution.

Wesley Elsberry has some comments on the piece:

That’s fine by me. But here is one of the issues that diminished my enjoyment of the piece.
Young earth creationists are the first and crudest variant of this reaction, but they are by no means the only one. The Intelligent Design (ID) movement accepts common descent to varying degrees, but rejects the established mechanisms of evolutionary change. The arguments of ID proponents are structured in the way I have outlined. Reacting to evolutionism, they have chosen to go on the attack against natural selection and genetic drift. They recognize that common descent is evident and they accept it.
Uh, no. There is one major “intelligent design” advocate, Michael Behe, who is on record saying that he has no particular reason to disagree with common descent, which is a rather different proposition from saying that he accepts common descent, much less that he feels that it is evident. Within the “intelligent design” movement, acceptance of common descent ranges from a (quite common) nil of the young-earth creationists in the movement to the grudging acquiescence of Mike Behe. Wherever one finds “intelligent design” material that addresses common descent, it uniformly seeks to make common descent seem less “evident” to the reader. Common descent is still quite plainly a target of “intelligent design” advocates, but it is also clear that they recognize they have a fine line to walk if they want to appear to be at all reasonable to the rest of the world. Have a look at “Of Pandas and People” and “Explore Evolution” sometime. When they talk to a “safe” audience, though, the stops often come off.

Judicial Watch's Ten Most Wanted corrupt politicians

Sen. Christopher Dodd
Sen. John Ensign
Rep. Barney Frank
Treas. Sec. Timothy Geithner
Atty Gen. Eric Holder
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr / Sen. Roland Burris
Pres. Barack Obama
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Rep. John Murtha (and the rest of the PMA seven)
Rep. Charles Rangel
Only one Republican in the lot.  Some of this may be, as Captain Ed Morrissey points out, that Republicans can't grant that much in the way of favors in the current political climate, and lobbyists have to watch their money too. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Steyn on ObamaCare

Mark Steyn gives his take on ObamaCare in Cross the River, Burn the Bridge.

My Republican friends often seem to miss the point in this debate: The so-called “public option” is not Page 3,079, Section (f), Clause VII. The entire bill is a public option — because that’s where it leads, remorselessly. The so-called “death panel” is not Page 2,721, Paragraph 19, Sub-section (d), but again the entire bill — because it inserts the power of the state between you and your doctor, and in effect assumes jurisdiction over your body. As the savvier Dems have always known, once you’ve crossed the Rubicon, you can endlessly re-reform your health reform until the end of time, and all the stuff you didn’t get this go-round will fall into place, and very quickly.

As I’ve been saying for over a year now, “health care” is the fast-track to a permanent left-of-center political culture. The unlovely Democrats on public display in the week before Christmas may seem like just a bunch of jelly-spined opportunists, grubby wardheelers and rapacious kleptocrats, but the smarter ones are showing great strategic clarity. Alas for the rest of us, Euro-style government on a Harry Reid/Chris Dodd/Ben Nelson scale will lead to ruin.

A few thoughts on Climategate

A few thoughts on Climategate

via by (Dale Amon (Belfast, Northern Ireland/Laramie, Wy)) on 12/28/09

I have waited awhile to chuck my tuppence into the 'Climategate' ring as I am not a true believer and have preferred to see how things played out over time. I personally favour the hypothesis that humans are causing some climatic effects but I do not believe the evidence is sufficient to prove my opinion correct. I have an open mind towards those who are weakly opposed, which is to say those who are waiting on data to prove me wrong. If one were to place my opinions on a dartboard, I would fall pretty close to the one labeled Bjorn Lomborg.

I am far more worried about the collateral damage the CRU researchers have caused. Their machinations, exposed by these 'Pentagon Papers' of the oughties, is damning and damaging to public trust in science. It opens the door to all sorts of pseudo-science by making their expositors appear superficially to be as trustworthy as the real thing. This is bad. This is very bad.

'Climategate' is not the first case of serious scientific fraud in recent years but may be the most damaging and far reaching one. Other well known cases included South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk who falsified his work on cloning and Bell Labs Physicist Jan Hendrik Schön who faked results in numerous papers. Schön used the same fake graph, with modified labels, in three totally different papers. That was just a starter. His massive misdeeds caused a gravity wave ripple through the Physics world as every paper citing his work had to be reconsidered.

Since all CRU citations must now be treated as problematic, the potential of 'Climategate' is not a ripple but a terrible and destructive tsunami. The researchers responsible for this have set their field back by years and should be disciplined by their peers accordingly. Cleaning primate cages is too good for them.

A second facet of 'Climategate' is the reported shortcomings in the model code base. Part of the document release included source code. In a discussion with Rand Simberg over breakfast in LA earlier this month I heard that some very knowledgeable open source programmers are having a go at it. If half of what he told me turns out to be true, the models used by IPCC are worse than useless.

I have several times in my career translated serious numerical modeling code from Fortran to modern languages and thus had to deal with the issues of validating the results. In the real world mistakes cost money and sometimes lives. Most recently I translated some aerodynamics code for a New Space company. I spent weeks doing nothing but validating and checking to be sure the output was reasonably trustworthy for questions within the realm of interest. When Rand told me the CRU model code did not even handle numeric overflows I was speechless.

Let me explain. Computers represent numbers in binary. Any signed representation (ie one that handles plus and minus) will use some formatting trick to differentiate the two. The problem is, if a positive number gets incremented to be one bit too big... it may suddenly become a negative number. Regardless of what does happen, any calculation using the value after an overflow might as well be a random number generator. The results are totally, utterly worthless. There is not a chance in hell that the output will be meaningful.

There are ways of dealing with this sort of thing but I will not go into that sort of techno-detail here. My goal is simply to point out that if the statements I heard are true, I must cease to believe the validity of any output from CRU and CRU related models.

There is really only one acceptable way for the field to recover credibility and reinvigorate trust. The code for models must all be made open source. It must be released into the public domain where experts in numerical programming can openly argue about the validity of the code, the mathematical techniques and the mathematical and physical simplifications and assumptions it contains.

I will no longer believe results which lack this corroboration. If an author refuses, I am going to assume they have misdeeds to hide.

Early in this article I said I lean towards pro on the hypothesis of human caused climate change. I should expound upon that a bit more. It is my belief that we are causing some change at present and if things went on as they are now there might be some serious, but not civilization threatening results.

However, things are not going to stay the same. A collapse in carbon output is going to occur and the reasons for it have nothing to do with cap and trade or Copenhagen or any other State or NGO foisted crisis plan. By the middle of this century liquid fuels such as gasoline will be generated using the Fischer-Tropsch process in some updated form. It will be carbon neutral because part of the feedstock will be free for the taking: atmospheric CO2. It will be split using either grid power, mechanical nanotechnology or genetically modified algae (some of which is purportedly working already). With the addition of energy, CO2 -> CO + O, and the Carbon Monoxide may be fed into the same FT process that was used to fuel the Nazi war machine. Towards the end of World War II this was nearly the only source of fuel available to Germany. Anyone who believes this technology is unproven on an industrial scale is simply historically ignorant.

Carbon based grid power is already declining as a relative portion of US energy (30% according to a recent SciAm article). I expect that decline to accelerate as use of ever cheapening and ever improving solar panels really starts to bite. We will also see inputs from Space Based Solar Power growing explosively by 2050. New technology nuclear and perhaps even game changing wild cards like Polywell Fusion will be taking up major roles by then as well.

If you toss in the huge impacts nanotechnology will have on all facets of technological civilization and the expected population decline in the second half of the century one begins to wonder exactly what will be the climate change problem of 2100? If human CO2 inputs collapse and population declines what climatic impact will the modeling of that scenario show?

There is yet another wildcard to consider. What if we are about to hit a Maunder type solar minimum? There is debate on this issue but it is certainly not closed. Such a decline could cover any human global warming until long after we have transitioned to more modern energy sources.

We need Climate Science to cleanse itself of political hacks. Young scientists must learn that Science cannot save Politics... but Politics can certainly ruin Science. Let scientists generate science and leave politicians to deal in the realm of opinion and 'what people want'.

Mises Institute on Intellectual Property

Some recent links:
Here, here, and here.
The argument over ownership of intellectual property goes on.

Conserving doesn't

Jim Fedako at the Mises Economics Blog makes the case that:

Conserving conserves nothing


Flailing Panic in the Air

Peter Hitchens has a few suggestions for TSA while they're making a big show of doing something.

Flailing Panic in the Air

by ANM Blog on 12/28/09

Here we go again, another series of unreasonable panic responses to a terror incident in the air. As far as I am concerned, if Mr Abdulmutallab is convicted of the crime alleged against him he may go to jail forever. I hate such acts and believe in severe punishment for the people who plan or attempt them.

But is our reaction logical? First, from a reasonably careful reading of the reports of this event, I learn that the official global airline security system, and the parallel system of intrusive identity checks, to which all air travellers are subjected all the time, don't seem to have worked according to their own procedures. Is Lagos airport secure? If not, what exactly are the provisions, at Amsterdam or elsewhere, for dealing with passengers arriving from Lagos and intending to travel onward to other destinations? If there is any doubt about Lagos, anything short of a rigorous and unavoidable check on all such passengers would mean that the European and American airline security system was as strong as the security check at Lagos. Are we happy with that? Yet I haven't myself seen any clear answer to this question.

It appears to me that at some important point, Mr Abdulmutallab may well not have been properly searched. It also seems to me that this person, whose own father had astonishingly reported him to the US Embassy for suspicious and erratic behaviour, and was on an official watchlist, ought to have attracted special attention long before he boarded the Detroit flight. I mean, if someone's father (and in this case a powerful, wealthy and respected citizen) goes to these lengths, shouldn't every alarm bell shrill? What else are all these security systems for, if not to pass on such warnings to the people who can act on them?

Those responsible for these omissions should be located and disciplined, and the gaps plugged. But I fail to see why airline passengers should be punished, as planned, for the failings of the authorities. A ban on more than one piece of hand luggage seems to me to be wholly unrelated to this event, and mere opportunism. I am not quite sure why security is being stepped up at British airports, which were not even involved in this incident (unless it is security for passengers arriving from Lagos, in which case we need to ask why this needs to be stepped up). A ban on in-flight maps (and in some cases in-flight movies) seems to me to be verging on the insane. Are we also to be stripped of our watches, so we can't work out roughly where we are anyway? I take it that matey flight-deck announcements about speed and weather will also be banned, so as not to give terrorists help in working out the plane's position. Why not black the windows out, in case we recognise a lake, a river, a coastline or a mountain range?

And then there's the plan to strap bursting passengers, bloated with the water they've drunk to try to stop dehydration, and unsettled by pressurisation, into their seats for a whole hour before landing, with the lavatories locked. Pursue this unhinged logic a little further, and all passengers should be issued with giant nappies, blindfolded, shackled and tranquillised, Guantanamo-style - and not told where the plane is going, either. This is presumably the securocrats' dream, a wholly safe world where only officials can travel.

Airline security seems to me to have reached a point where it resembles collective punishment, and punishment of the wrong people. It wasn't the flying public that caused this mess. On the contrary, it was a passenger (as did those aboard United 93) who bravely tackled Mr Abdulmutallab. And I'm still anxious to know if this bomb was a real threat. The culprit, as I've said, presumably thought it was and so deserves everything he gets, if found guilty.

But are we making a huge bogeyman and a tight-knit organisation out of pathetic amateurs? Does anyone know, in a demonstrable and certain way a) if Richard Reid's shoe-bomb would actually have worked, in the unlikely event of him not being spotted setting fire to his footwear? b) if the liquid bomb could actually have been assembled in a useable form aboard a plane (we know a version of it would have gone off. We were shown that .We don't know, at least I don't in any reliable way, how hard it was to assemble, or whether that assembly was possible in flight.

I am not asking these questions rhetorically. I genuinely wish to know and would be grateful for any hard facts. It amazes me that these prosecutions take place and this vital detail seems to be skipped over, or assumed. I know it's irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of the perpetrators. But it's not irrelevant to us, or to the way we are governed. Let's hope it will be made clear in this case.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What kind of idiot is Janet Napolitano?

What kind of idiot is Janet Napolitano?

This kind:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that the thwarting of the attempt to blow up an Amsterdam-Detroit airline flight Christmas Day demonstrated that "the system worked."

Asked by CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" how that could be possible when the young Nigerian who has been charged with trying to set off the bomb was able to smuggle explosive liquid onto the jet, Napolitano responded: "We're asking the same questions."

She then went on to say that there's no suggestion the terrorist was improperly screened.

Sheez. We're led by incompetents. Napolitano should be fired post haste for this sort of idiocy.

Jonah Goldberg speaks for me:

Napolitano has a habit of arguing that DHS is a first responder outfit. Its mission is to deal with "man-caused-disasters" afer they occur. It appears she really believes it. If the White House wants to assure people that it takes the war on terror seriously (a term Robert Gibbs used this morning by the way), they could start by firing this patenly unqualified hack.

And then in 2012, we'll fire the unqualified hack responsible for appointing all the others found in this administration.

Global Warming: A closer look at the numbers

What fraction of the impact on global warming is due to gases released by human activity? That's the question addressed by: Global Warming: A closer look at the numbers

And the winning number is:

Adding up all anthropogenic greenhouse sources, the total human contribution to the greenhouse effect is around 0.28% (factoring in water vapor).

The take-away for readers:

Known causes of global climate change, like cyclical eccentricities in Earth's rotation and orbit, as well as variations in the sun's energy output, are the primary causes of climate cycles measured over the last half million years. However, secondary greenhouse effects stemming from changes in the ability of a warming atmosphere to support greater concentrations of gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide also appear to play a significant role. As demonstrated in the data above, of all Earth's greenhouse gases, water vapor is by far the dominant player.

The ability of humans to influence greenhouse water vapor is negligible. As such, individuals and groups whose agenda it is to require that human beings are the cause of global warming must discount or ignore the effects of water vapor to preserve their arguments, citing numbers similar to those in Table 4b . If political correctness and staying out of trouble aren't high priorities for you, go ahead and ask them how water vapor was handled in their models or statistics. Chances are, it wasn't!

T = k[CO2]?

Willis Eschenbach at Watts Up With That looks at The Unbearable Complexity of Climate

The naive assumption about climate change is that the temperature of the planet is proportional to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The linear assumption is that temperature T = k[CO2]. Well, maybe not linear, but some function where temperature increases with carbon dioxide levels: T = f([CO2]).

What does nature think happens? It's not obvious.

I take a sheet of plywood, and I cover it with some earth. I tilt it up so it slopes from one edge to the other. For our thought experiment, we’ll imagine that this is a hill that goes down to the ocean.
...I take a hose and I start running some water down from the top edge of my hill to make a model river. To my surprise, although the model river starts straight down the hill, it soon starts to wander. Before long, it has formed a meandering stream, which changes its course with time. Sections of the river form long loops, the channel changes, loops are cut off, new channels form, and after while we get something like this:

The most amazing part is that the process never stops. No matter how long we run the river experiment, the channel continues to change. What’s going on here?

Well, the first thing that we can conclude is that, just as in our experiment with the steel block, simple physics simply doesn’t work in this situation. Simple physics says that things roll straight downhill, and clearly, that ain’t happening here … it is obvious we need better tools to analyze the flow of the river.

Are there mathematical tools that we can use to understand this system? Yes, but they are not simple. The breakthrough came in the 1990’s, with the discovery by Adrian Bejan of the Constructal Law. The Constructal Law applies to all flow systems which are far from equilibrium, like a river or the climate.

It turns out that these types of flow systems are not passive systems which can take up any configuration. Instead, they actively strive to maximize some aspect of the system. For the river, as for the climate, the system strives to maximize the sum of the energy moved and the energy lost through turbulence. See the discussion of these principles here, here, here, and here. There is also a website devoted to various applications of the Constructal Law here.

There are several conclusions that we can make from the application of the Constructal Law to flow systems:

1. Any flow system far from equilibrium is not free to take up any form as the climate models assume. Instead, it has a preferential state which it works actively to achieve.

2. This preferential state, however, is never achieved. Instead, the system constantly overshoots and undershoots that state, and does not settle down to one final form. The system never stops modifying its internal aspects to move towards the preferential state.

3. The results of changes in such a flow system are often counterintuitive. For example, suppose we want to shorten the river. Simple physics says it should be easy. So we cut through an oxbow bend, and it makes the river shorter … but only for a little while. Soon the river readjusts, and some other part of the river becomes longer. The length of the river is actively maintained by the system. Contrary to our simplistic assumptions, the length of the river is not changed by our actions.

So that’s the problem with “simple physics” and the climate. For example, simple physics predicts a simple linear relationship between the climate forcings and the temperature. People seriously believe that a change of X in the forcings will lead inevitably to a chance of A * X in the temperature. This is called the “climate sensitivity”, and is a fundamental assumption in the climate models. The IPCC says that if CO2 doubles, we will get a rise of around 3C in the global temperature. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim, only computer models. But the models assume this relationship, so they cannot be used to establish the relationship.

However, as rivers clearly show, there is no such simple relationship in a flow system far from equilibrium. We can’t cut through an oxbow to shorten the river, it just lengthens elsewhere to maintain the same total length. Instead of being affected by a change in the forcings, the system sets its own preferential operating conditions (e.g. length, temperature, etc.) based on the natural constraints and flow possibilities and other parameters of the system.

Final conclusion? Because climate is a flow system far from equilibrium, it is ruled by the Constructal Law. As a result, there is no physics-based reason to assume that increasing CO2 will make any difference to the global temperature, and the Constructal Law gives us reason to think that it may make no difference at all. In any case, regardless of Arrhenius, the “simple physics” relationship between CO2 and global temperature is something that we cannot simply assume to be true.

Voodoo Engineering

Jim Gammon & Admiral Ben Moreell write at American Thinker about Engineers, Scientific and Social

These social engineers - who appear to be more numerous and, at the moment, far more powerful, than we scientific engineers - are dedicated to the thesis that, by using the force of government, mankind in the mass can be changed and molded to conform to a master plan, in much the same way that engineering materials can be processed in accordance with preconceived designs.

We scientific engineers have the unchanging laws of chemistry, physics, and the other natural sciences to guide our efforts. By means of those laws, when we come to understand them, we can predict the behavior of the materials and forces of nature. But the social engineers either know nothing of nature's immutable laws, or choose to ignore them. Instead, they have their man-made and variable laws of compulsions, prohibitions, and other restrictions on the free actions of individuals. By means of these, they claim, they can compel the behavior of men in a manner that will redound to the good of mankind.

Warren Kozak: The Real Rules of War

Some Navy Seals are being court-martialed over allegedly mistreating a prisoner. The prisoner in question is the person who was the mastermind of an attack on four U.S. civilian contractors. They were killed, their bodies burned and dragged through the streets of Fallujah, and two of the bodies were hung from the Euphrates bridge.

The mastermind of this operation, Ahmed Hashim Abed, claims to have been mistreated, and has a fat lip to prove it.

In his article, The Real Rules of War, Warren Kozak recalls similar examples from World War II, as related by his father.

Were these violations of the Geneva Conventions? Definitely. Were they war crimes? Most likely. Were they wrong, given the times and the context?

In his book, Mr. Fussell probably sums up the feelings of many soldiers when he quotes a British captain, John Tonkin, who experienced a great deal of the war. "I have always felt," Capt. Tonkin said, "that the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can't."

While I'm all for civilized behavior, I think it's worth asking if such behavior, and the requirements for such behavior, have limits.

I'm recalling an old Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise becomes involved in a war between two planets. The planets have been at war for 500 years. The reason the war has lasted so long is that war has been civilized and sanitized. Attacks are mounted in computer simulations by one side, countered in computer simulations by the other side, and the results adjudicated by computer. Casualties report to distintegraton chambers where they are quickly, neatly, and painlessly killed.

Compliance is endured by the threat of returning to real war, with real property destruction, and real war casualties. In addition to the people disappearing in the main strike, there would be people with grave but non-lethal injuries (no apparent attempt was made to simulate these). There would be radiation resulting in any number of secondary deaths and injuries (again, I gather these were not factored in). There would be disruption of services, mass starvation, and all the horrors of a real war using real weapons against real people.

When Kirk destroyed the disintegration chamber and the computer that controlled the battle from one side, the leaders of that planet discovered they had a powerful incentive to make peace. War, no longer civilized, had become an effective deterrent to more war.

What Doctors and Patients Have to Lose Under ObamaCare

A couple of pieces in the Wall Street Journal from Thursday. First, Dr. Gottlieb, who is an internist and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a former senior official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and partner to a firm that invests in health-care companies, writes: What Doctors and Patients Have to Lose Under ObamaCare

It all starts with the sweeping power that the Senate bill gives to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency will be given the authority to unilaterally write new rules on when medical devices and drugs can be used, and how they should be priced. In particular, the Obama team wants to give the agency the power to decide when a cheaper medical option will suffice for a given problem and, in turn, when Medicare only has to pay for the least costly alternative.
The Senate health-care bill also exempts Medicare's actions from judicial review, taking away the right of patients to sue the government. Unlike existing Medicare coverage laws, patients won't have the ability to appeal any of the decisions of this new Medicare Commission.

Ironically, private health insurers must comply with new patient appeals rights under the Senate bill. The government has exempted itself from the same sort of protections.

Thus Medicare will have the power to control which medical devices surgeons use. But clamping down on expensive procedures also means the agency will need to have authority over the specialists themselves. The organization of doctors into mostly small, disaggregated practices always made it hard for a central bureaucracy to control individual physicians. ObamaCare tries to fix this by putting doctors on the financial hook for their treatment decisions.

Primary-care doctors who refer patients to specialists will face financial penalties under the plan. Doctors will see 5% of their Medicare pay cut when their "aggregated" use of resources is "at or above the 90th percentile of national utilization," according to the chairman's mark of Section 3003 of the bill. Doctors will feel financial pressure to limit referrals to costly specialists like surgeons, since these penalties will put the referring physician on the hook for the cost of the referral and perhaps any resulting procedures.

Next, the plan creates financial incentives for doctors to consolidate their practices. The idea here is that Medicare can more easily apply its regulations to institutions that manage large groups of doctors than it can to individual physicians. So the Obama plan imposes new costs on doctors who remain solo, mostly by increasing their overhead requirements—such as requiring three years of medical records every time a doctor orders routine medical equipment like wheelchairs.

The plan also offers doctors financial carrots if they give up their small practices and consolidate into larger medical groups, or become salaried employees of large institutions such as hospitals or "staff model" medical plans like Kaiser Permanente. One provision, laid out in Section 3022, allows doctors to share with the government any savings to the government they achieve by delivering less care—but only if physicians are part of groups caring for more than 5,000 Medicare patients and "have in place a leadership and management structure, including with regard to clinical and administrative systems."
Regulation of medicine has always been a local endeavor, and it's mostly the province of medical journals and professional medical societies to set clinical standards. This is for good reason. Medical practice evolves more quickly than even the underlying technologies that doctors use. This is especially true in surgery, where advances flow from experimentation by good doctors to try different surgical approaches.

The regulation of medical devices and their pricing will also have consequences for patients by discouraging innovation. Most improvements in medical devices come incrementally, with each generation of a device having small but clinically relevant advance over prior versions. This owes to the underlying hardware, which turns on embedded software and microprocessors that themselves undergo constant upgrades.

But if Medicare starts pricing similar devices off one another—a form of the same "reference" pricing schemes used in Europe—manufacturers will start holding back the small changes. Instead, they will introduce new models every four or five years that are sufficiently unique to fall outside of Medicare's pricing scheme. Meanwhile, patients will have lost the benefit of regular improvements and annual upgrades that characterize medical devices today.

The impact of these provisions won't be confined to Medicare. Private insurance sold in the federally regulated "exchanges" will take cues from Medicare, since they're both managed from the same bureaucracy. Medicare will set the standard for medical care across the entire marketplace.

Mr. Obama promised that under his plan people wouldn't have to change their doctors. But it's clear that doctors will be forced to change how they make their medical decisions.

And then Karl Rove has: The Real Price of the Senate Health Bill

By now Majority Leader Harry Reid's explanation for how he is getting his health-care bill through the Senate has pinged its way across the country. "I don't know if there is a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them," he said this week. "And if they don't have something in it important to them, then it doesn't speak well of them." But take these comments two steps further and it becomes clear that how Mr. Reid reached unanimity in his caucus could hurt Democrats more than they realize.

First, taking Mr. Reid at his word means every Democratic senator got something. That implies there are even more howlers to discover that will dog Democrats next year.
... what we'll get for it all is rationed care and exploding deficits. Taxes start going up now, Medicare cuts begin after next fall's election, and spending for subsidies commences in five years. The price tag is not the first decade's announced $871 billion cost: It is $2.4 trillion. That's the cost of the tax credits in insurance exchanges, and the additional Medicaid costs the reform generates, over the first 10 years it's fully up and running, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers compiled by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee.

Mr. Reid greased a Christmas Eve Senate passage of his bill, but he did so in a way that taints the product. It will hinder the Obama administration's efforts to fashion a House-Senate conference bill, as well as that 40-year majority Democrats once thought was within their grasp.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sarah Palin and Death Panels

A brief review of What Sarah Palin actually said about "death panels", at the The Weekly Standard.

Let's take a look at what Palin actually wrote in her original August 7 post:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
It is perfectly clear that Palin is talking about rationing in general. She specifically made the argument that the government's refusing to pay the cost of health care will lead to rationing care, and she also wrote that her "baby with Down Syndrome" could be affected by such rationing. How would "end-of-life counseling" for the elderly cause the death of a disabled baby?
Obama himself acknowledged at an August 11 townhall that the "underlying argument" made by Palin was that his health care bill would "mean rationing of care":
If Obama recognized Palin was talking about rationing of care, why can't Politifact and other journalists understand that as well? On August 12, Palin responded to Obama and made an argument that the end-of-life counseling provisions could sway the decisions of the elderly. She quoted Charles Lane, who wrote: "So when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) denies that Section 1233 would 'place senior citizens in situations where they feel pressured to sign end-of-life directives that they would not otherwise sign,' I don’t think he’s being realistic." Feel free to disagree with that argument, but it's not a lie.

It may have been a mistake to emphasize this one provision too much. There were other provisions--like the unelected Medicare cutting panel--that would more clearly cause rationing. And most important is the broader argument that Obama's big-government program cannot add 30 million people to the health care system and slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare without causing rationing of care. Obamacare will put stress on the health care system, which will lead to delayed care.

Delayed care is denied care, and denied care will cause deaths. Conservatives have made this argument throughout the debate on Obamacare (for example, see Matthew Continetti and Ramesh Ponnuru). Tom Coburn addressed rationing in Obamacare in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

With their father's milk

An Israeli take on Scandinavian antisemitism, with English subtitles for those who don't speak Hebrew.

Fact-based debate on climate change

This list of bullet points from ICECAP

Greenhouse gases and their effects are well-known. Here are some of things we know:

• The most effective greenhouse gas is water vapor, comprising approximately 95 percent of the total greenhouse effect.

• Carbon dioxide concentration has been continually rising for nearly 100 years. It continues to rise, but carbon dioxide concentrations at present are near the lowest in geologic history.

• Temperature change correlation with carbon dioxide levels is not statistically significant.

• There are no data that definitively relate carbon dioxide levels to temperature changes.

• The greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide logarithmically declines with increasing concentration. At present levels, any additional carbon dioxide can have very little effect.

We also know a lot about Earth temperature changes:

• Global temperature changes naturally all of the time, in both directions and at many scales of intensity.

• The warmest year in the U.S. in the last century was 1934, not 1998. The U.S. has the best and most extensive temperature records in the world.

• Global temperature peaked in 1998 on the current 60-80 year cycle, and has been episodically declining ever since. This cooling absolutely falsifies claims that human carbon dioxide emissions are a controlling factor in Earth temperature.

• Voluminous historic records demonstrate the Medieval Climate Optimum (MCO) was real and that the “hockey stick” graphic that attempted to deny that fact was at best bad science. The MCO was considerably warmer than the end of the 20th century.

• During the last 100 years, temperature has both risen and fallen, including the present cooling. All the changes in temperature of the last 100 years are in normal historic ranges, both in absolute value and, most importantly, rate of change.

Contrary to many public statements:

• Effects of temperature change are absolutely independent of the cause of the temperature change.

• Global hurricane, cyclonic and major storm activity is near 30-year lows. Any increase in cost of damages by storms is a product of increasing population density in vulnerable areas such as along the shores and property value inflation, not due to any increase in frequency or severity of storms.

• Polar bears have survived and thrived over periods of extreme cold and extreme warmth over hundreds of thousands of years - extremes far in excess of modern temperature changes.

• The 2009 minimum Arctic ice extent was significantly larger than the previous two years. The 2009 Antarctic maximum ice extent was significantly above the 30-year average. There are only 30 years of records.

• Rate and magnitude of sea level changes observed during the last 100 years are within normal historical ranges. Current sea level rise is tiny and, at most, justifies a prediction of perhaps ten centimeters rise in this century.

The present climate debate is a classic conflict between data and computer programs. The computer programs are the source of concern over climate change and global warming, not the data. Data are measurements. Computer programs are artificial constructs.
I have been a reviewer of the last two IPCC reports, one of the several thousand scientists who purportedly are supporters of the IPCC view that humans control global temperature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of us try to bring better and more current science to the IPCC, but we usually fail. Recently we found out why. The whistleblower release of e-mails and files from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University has demonstrated scientific malfeasance and a sickening violation of scientific ethics.

If the game of Russian roulette with the environment that Adrian Melott contends is going on, is it how will we feed all the people when the cold of the inevitable Little Ice Age returns? It will return. We just don’t know when.

If You Like Your Health Plan, You Will NOT Be Able to Keep It

Maybe it's not just scare tactics after all. From Jim Lindgrin at the Volokh Conspiracy: If You Like Your Health Plan, You Will NOT Be Able to Keep It (links in original)

I like my employer’s health plan. Today I learned that under both the Senate and the House bills, I won’t be able to keep my plan. Both bills require reductions in health reimbursement benefits under my plan.

Both the Senate and the House health bills slash a significant part of my employer’s health plan — the Health Flexible Spending Account — restricting them to $2500 and restricting what they can used for.

That single change in my health plan (and my wife’s) will cause our family to pay a couple thousand dollars more each year in income taxes, and yet my FSA might still cause my employer’s plan to trigger the 40% Senate tax on Cadillac plans (I don’t know enough about the full cost of our plans to know).

Media Bias tested again

This report is from the UCLA Newsroom

While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

These are just a few of the surprising findings from a UCLA-led study, which is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."

"Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left," said co‑author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which will become available in mid-December.

Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker's support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where "100" is the most liberal and "0" is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low‑population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants — most of them college students — to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of U.S. lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo's method assigned both a similar ADA score.

"A media person would have never done this study," said Groseclose, a UCLA political science professor, whose research and teaching focuses on the U.S. Congress. "It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don't think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to congressional speeches."

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

"Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets — Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill," Groseclose said. "If these newscasters weren't centrist, staffers for one of the campaign teams would have objected and insisted on other moderators."

The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC's "World News Tonight" and NBC's "Nightly News" to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

"If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox's 'Special Report' as ABC's 'World News' and NBC's 'Nightly News,' then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news," said Milyo, an associate professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Five news outlets — "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown," Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and the Drudge Report — were in a statistical dead heat in the race for the most centrist news outlet. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

An additional feature of the study shows how each outlet compares in political orientation with actual lawmakers. The news pages of The Wall Street Journal scored a little to the left of the average American Democrat, as determined by the average ADA score of all Democrats in Congress (85 versus 84). With scores in the mid-70s, CBS' "Evening News" and The New York Times looked similar to Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who has an ADA score of 74.

Most of the outlets were less liberal than Lieberman but more liberal than former Sen. John Breaux, D-La. Those media outlets included the Drudge Report, ABC's "World News Tonight," NBC's "Nightly News," USA Today, NBC's "Today Show," Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, NPR's "Morning Edition," CBS' "Early Show" and The Washington Post.

Since Groseclose and Milyo were more concerned with bias in news reporting than opinion pieces, which are designed to stake a political position, they omitted editorials and Op‑Eds from their tallies. This is one reason their study finds The Wall Street Journal more liberal than conventional wisdom asserts.

Another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom was that the Drudge Report was slightly left of center.

"One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other Web sites," said Groseclose. "Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media."

Yet another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom relates to National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet. But according to the UCLA-University of Missouri study, it ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.

"By our estimate, NPR hardly differs from the average mainstream news outlet," Groseclose said. "Its score is approximately equal to those of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and its score is slightly more conservative than The Washington Post's. If anything, government‑funded outlets in our sample have a slightly lower average ADA score (61), than the private outlets in our sample (62.8)."

The researchers took numerous steps to safeguard against bias — or the appearance of same — in the work, which took close to three years to complete. They went to great lengths to ensure that as many research assistants supported Democratic candidate Al Gore in the 2000 election as supported President George Bush. They also sought no outside funding, a rarity in scholarly research.

"No matter the results, we feared our findings would've been suspect if we'd received support from any group that could be perceived as right- or left-leaning, so we consciously decided to fund this project only with our own salaries and research funds that our own universities provided," Groseclose said.

The results break new ground.

"Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers," Groseclose said. "Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity — politicians."

Don't break health care in the US

"If we end up adopting a system more like what they have in Canada and in Western Europe, it may seem that things are going just fine, except for the fact that there are stillbirths in the area of innovation -- innovations that we could have had; treatments that we could have had; drugs that we could have had, but we'll never see them, and we'll never realize that we could have been living longer, happier lives."
--Economist Glen Whitman

The Illegal-Settlements Myth

Discussion in Commentary Magazine: The Illegal-Settlements Myth

The conviction that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal is now so commonly accepted, it hardly seems as though the matter is even open for discussion. But it is. Decades of argument about the issue have obscured the complex nature of the specific legal question about which a supposedly overwhelming verdict of guilty has been rendered against settlement policy. There can be no doubt that this avalanche of negative opinion has been deeply influenced by the settlements’ unpopularity around the world and even within Israel itself. Yet, while one may debate the wisdom of Israeli settlements, the idea that they are imprudent is quite different from branding them as illegal. Indeed, the analysis underlying the conclusion that the settlements violate international law depends entirely on an acceptance of the Palestinian narrative that the West Bank is “Arab” land. Followed to its logical conclusion—as some have done—this narrative precludes the legitimacy of Israel itself.
International-law arguments against the settlements have rested primarily upon two sources. First are the 1907 Hague Regulations, whose provisions are primarily designed to protect the interests of a temporarily ousted sovereign in the context of a short-term occupation. Second is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, the first international agreement designed specifically to protect civilians during wartime.

While Israel was not and is not a party to the Hague Regulations, the Israeli Supreme Court has generally regarded its provisions as part of customary international law (that is, law generally observed by nations even if they have not signed an international agreement to that effect) and hence applicable to Israel. The regulations are transparently geared toward short-term occupations during which a peace treaty is negotiated between the victorious and defeated nations. The “no’s” of Khartoum signaled that there would be no quick negotiations.

Nonetheless, Israel established and maintains a military administration overseeing the West Bank in accordance with the Hague Regulations, probably the only military power since World War II other than the United States (in Iraq) that has done so. For example, consistent with Article 43 of the Regulations, which calls on the occupant to “respect, . . . unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country,” Israel has for the most part continued to follow Jordanian law in the West Bank, despite its position that Jordan itself had illegally occupied it. Israel’s stance has been criticized as contradictory, but general continuance of Jordanian law can be justified on grounds of legal stability and long-term reliance reflected in most legal systems, including international law.
Settlement opponents more frequently cite the Fourth Geneva Convention these days for their legal arguments. They specifically charge that the settlements violate Article 49(6), which states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.”

Frequently, this sentence is cited as if its meaning is transparent and its application to the establishment of Israeli settlements beyond dispute. Neither is the case.

To settlement opponents, the word “transfer” in Article 49(6) connotes that any transfer of the occupying power’s civilian population, voluntary or involuntary, is prohibited. However, the first paragraph of Article 49 complicates that case. It reads: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” Unquestionably, any forcible transfer of populations is illegal. But what about voluntary movements with the antecedent permission or subsequent acquiescence by the occupant?

Even settlement opponents concede that many settlements closest to Palestinian population areas, on the central mountain range of the West Bank, were built without government permission and often contrary to governmental policy; their continued existence forced the government to recognize the settlement as an existing fact. Given this history, it is questionable to claim that Israel “transferred” those settlers.

Gee, in light of this, was the evacuation of the settlements in Gaza legal?

Christmas Rant

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Stage Right Outs Himself

Big Hollywood » I Am Stage Right

It has been almost one year since I began writing here at the Big Blogs of When it all began, I was motivated by the events that brought down Sacramento Music Theatre executive Scott Eckern. Ironically, his story, which inspired this new avocation also served as a real-life lesson in the new political world we inhabit. You see, Mr. Eckern was forced to resign his position because it was discovered that he donated money to the anti-same sex marriage Prop. 8 campaign. Knowing that, I would have been a fool to put my name on the things I’ve written here. So, “Stage Right” was born.
I have reached the point where I can no longer hide behind the warm embrace of anonymity while I stand shoulder to shoulder with such brave and noble colleagues. I no longer fear professional retribution nearly as much I fear the direction of my government and the lack of candid analysis from the professional journalists charged with the responsibility of critically analyzing that government.

So, to that end: My name is Larry O’Connor.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Statistical Computing Package

A letter in Jerry Pournelle's mail column: Current Chaos Manor mail

I used SAS on the job for about ten years. I came to loathe it. It has plenty of high-quality canned statistical routines, but if you need something that's not in any of the cans, things get ugly pretty quickly.

Far better is R from

Aside from its technical superiority, R has the advantage of being open-source and available for downloading without charge, while SAS costs Big Bucks. Remember the uproar over Microsoft going to annual-subscription-based pricing? Well, SAS has been that way from the beginning: when your subscription runs out, SAS *stops*working*. How cool is *that*??

I've been very happy with Open Office for a couple of years now. I imagine other open source ware can also be quite good.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Climate in history

Here's a video description of the "hockey stick" temperature increase as viewed with a bit of perspective. The perspective is provided by examination of ice cores.

Is design overrated?

Hot Air » The illusion of design

Why is health insurance so expensive that the poor cannot afford it? The Left believes this is a failure of the free market, with greedy health-insurance companies callously pricing their product out of reach, and slapping exorbitant premiums on anyone who isn’t the picture of health. The true answer is that government is primarily responsible for distortions in the health insurance market, dating back to the wage controls that made it commonplace for employers to offer health benefits as a means of attracting skilled employees. The law preventing the sale of health insurance across state lines is an example of government-induced price distortions. For a contrasting example of medical services becoming more affordable in response to free-market competition, consider the constantly falling price of Lasik eye surgery. The Left refuses to think clearly on this subject, and maintains that health care is a “human right” that should be available “free” to everyone.

Liberals insist it is simply unthinkable to allow financial considerations to impact the distribution of this essential human right. As Kirsten Powers put it recently, “Americans will die if we don’t provide universal health insurance.” Because money is the instrument through which free people express their will and make choices, the argument for socialized medicine boils down to the superiority of design and control over competition and choice.

So, in summary, the case for nationalizing health insurance is that health care cannot be entrusted to the unpredictability and greed of the free market. The individual purchasing decisions of free men and women are too chaotic. The only way to ensure access to health care for everyone is for the State to install a massive, strictly enforced system, complete with huge fines and jail time for those who fail to comply. This system would be superior to the free market, because it would be carefully designed by brilliant minds… engineered to deliver an incredibly complex, ever-changing service to hundreds of millions of Americans.

Is anyone stupid enough to think a “carefully designed system” is what the Democrats are about to drop on us?
Far from being a brilliant plan constructed by top doctors and financial experts in a government brain trust, this health-care bill is a twisted, deformed political document, seen in its entirety by only a few high-ranking politicians belonging to a single political party. Its components have not been precisely crafted as part of a fantastic system calibrated to ensure the maximum access to quality health care for all Americans.

The bill is not being examined with transparency and careful deliberation by representatives who behave as humble servants of the people and their Constitution. Instead, it’s being hastily rammed through in the dead of night, over the objection of powerful majorities of the American people, with desperate last-minute deals cut to acquire the necessary votes, financed by vast sums of taxpayer money. The primary consideration is not crafting the most sophisticated and intelligent health care reform… it’s getting a bill pushed through before angry voters have a chance to blast the Democrats out of Congress. Look at it this way: if the average middle-class American paid about $5000 in federal income tax last year, then you might be one of the 20,000 people who paid for Mary Landrieu’s vote, in the hope of giving Barack Obama a bill to sign as a Christmas present.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hurricanes and warming

While it is impossible to link a single weather event to global warming, scientists warn that tropical storms like Cyclone Aila could become more severe. The global cost of climate-related disaster has increased relentlessly over the past half-century. The cause is not global warming, however. Rather it is rising concentrations of people and infrastructure along coastlines.

Roger A. Pielke Jr. noted in a 2005 paper for Environmental Science and Policy that if everything else stays the same but we halt global warming, there would still be a 500% increase in hurricane damage in 50 years time. If global warming continues but we halt the number of people moving into harms' way, the increase in hurricane damage would be less than 10%. If the entire world had signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, and its binding restrictions were to last all the way until 2050, the predicted reduction in global warming could cut hurricane damage by half a percentage point.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate Scientists and Ethics: Some Advice from a Finance Professor

American Thinker: Climate Scientists and Ethics: Some Advice from a Finance Professor

Lessons from finance

What does this say about the integrity of other academics, such as finance professors?

I believe that finance academics are much more resistant to unethical behavior because we believe in a number of "best practices." I strongly recommend these practices to the climate science community:

Data should be made publicly available at a reasonable cost.

Data shold be respected, theories not

Don't create institutions that decide whether an academic debate is closed.

Don't become captive to a political movement or an industry.

100 reasons why climate change is natural

Daily Express | Climate change is natural: 100 reasons why

HERE are the 100 reasons, released in a dossier issued by the European Foundation, why climate change is natural and not man-made:

Monday, December 14, 2009

When Science Becomes a Casualty of Politics

Cathy Young writes on CRUdGATE: When Science Becomes a Casualty of Politics

In the unfolding debate over "ClimateGate," the affair of the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia that offer an inconvenient peek behind the curtain of climate science, one thing is clear. Virtually every commentator's position on the issue—is this a scandal that exposes global warming as a scientific sham, or a faux scandal stoked by climate-change denial propaganda?—can be predicted by his or her politics. You can look at the byline or the publication, and predict with near-100 percent accuracy what the article will say.
There is no doubt that refusal to accept human-made climate change is often self-serving. But the other side has blinders and selfish motives of its own. "Going green" has turned into a vast industry in its own right—as well as a religion with its own brand of zealotry. For many, global warming is the secular equivalent of a biblical disaster sent by God to punish humankind for its errant (capitalist) ways. Those who embrace environmentalism as a faith have no interest in scientific and technological solutions to climate change—such as nuclear power—that do not include imposing drastic regulations on markets and curbs on consumption.

In theory, science should be above such motives. Yet, at the very least, the scientists who back strong measures against global warming have not objected to the alarmism, the political fanaticism, or the pseudo-spiritual drivel promoted by many of the crusaders in this cause.

Public trust is something scientists must work hard to maintain. When it comes to science and public policy, the average citizen usually has to trust scientists—whose word he or she has to take on faith almost as much as a religious believer takes the word of a priest. Once that trust is undermined, as it has been in recent years, science becomes a casualty of politics.

Climategate: some context

Charlie Martin at Pajamas Media looks at the ‘Divergence Problem’.

The green line is the version we saw above as part of the IPCC report, and the red line is the full series — which goes down rather dramatically, instead of up as the story suggested. If the full Briffa series had been included, the figure would look rather different. The hook upward, the blade of the hockey stick, would have been much less dramatic, the implied global warming much less significant. By truncating the data as they did, the global warming looks much worse.

And as the Climategate emails show, this was the result of a long discussion of how to best deal with “pressure to present a nice tidy story.” A story that fit the IPCC’s political goals, whether it suited the science or not.

Michael Laprarie at Wizbang states:

It seems clear from the emails between the CRU scientists, and their generally testy attitude toward those who would question their work, that deep down they are uncertain whether their work would stand up against rigorous scientific scrutiny. Yet there is no doubt that this group of scientists still believes they are on the right track -- they are convinced that greenhouse-induced global warming is real, and that if mankind does not immediately begin altering the way he interacts with the planet, permanent damage will be done. They further believe that attempts question their work are actually harming the planet, since such questions inevitably lead to delays in governing bodies implementing climate change policies.

To this end, they had no problem starting with a conclusion (which is the antithesis of good scientific research, even if you believe that you are right) and selectively using the "right" data in order to support their conclusion. It seems they were also interested in guiding the UN and other international policy-making organizations toward making the "right" policy decisions. In their own eyes they were blameless -- after all, they were the last best hope to save the world.

Is it Always Better to Have Health Insurance?

Dr. Jane Orient asks, Is it Always Better to Have Health Insurance? (Hat tip: Big Government)

Yet some people I know, even doctors, do not want to buy health insurance.

And I know of at least one person who was very lucky to have had hers cancelled.

Here’s her story. She told an acquaintance, who happened to be a physician, about her eye symptoms. “Wouldn’t you know! I lost my insurance a couple months ago, and now this!”

The physician happened to have an ophthalmoscope in her truck, and took a look in the patient’s eye. Then she called a retinal surgery practice and told the receptionist the patient’s history, and the results of the limited examination she could do. She thought the patient might have a detached retina.

The receptionist asked what type of insurance the patient had and was told she had none.

“Oh, self pay,” the receptionist said.

The technician said to send her over. “And by the way, ask her not to eat or drink anything in case she needs an operation.”

The outcome? The patient was seen within a couple hours, diagnosed, and treated immediately. Fortunately, she just had a retinal tear and a lot of blood in her eye. A simple in-office procedure probably prevented a detachment. The bill: $900. She’ll pay it off over time.

“What’s an eye worth?” she asked.

Now, what would have happened if the Medicaid program hadn’t cut her off—because she earns $100/month too much? In that case, she wouldn’t have had to worry about the bill.

But—the receptionist would have had to say: “You’ll need to fax over a referral.”

A Medicaid patient can’t be billed, except for a nominal copayment. Without a referral, Medicaid can’t be billed. So if the specialist, or in this case subspecialist, sees the patient, he cannot be paid. Moreover, he is probably violating a rule and conceivably might be prosecuted for soliciting business (that’s called “fraud”). Discounts and freebies are marketing strategies, after all, and the poor and vulnerable have to be protected.

Not just any doctor can give the patient a referral. This doctor couldn’t. It has to be the patient’s primary care provider, who is contracted with the patient’s plan. And the specialist has to be in the plan too.

Say that a seizure patient needs to see a neurologist promptly to have his medications adjusted. Sorry, the emergency room doctor can’t write the referral. Neither can the hospitalist who is discharging the patient from the hospital. It has to be the “primary.” If the primary happens to know the patient, he might just send the referral. But most of the time, the patient will have to come in. The primary won’t want to risk getting an unnecessary referral or an incident of “inadequate documentation” on his report card.

For a retinal problem, there are probably three hurdles: the primary gatekeeper (who might not even think of the diagnosis), then the general ophthalmologist (who will make the diagnosis but can’t treat it), and finally the subspecialist. All probably have waiting times for appointments, especially for Medicaid patients. Most doctors can’t afford to see very many of those.

Not just Medicaid, but all managed-care plans have a structure like that. It’s part of the cost-containment strategy. I know of three insured patients who had retinal detachments. They all had premonitory symptoms, and they all—eventually—had elaborate and costly operations, as many as six procedures. They were “covered,” and they didn’t get a bill for $900, but they had a poor visual outcome that might have been prevented by prompt treatment.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why the left wants a "fairness doctrine"

Dafydd at Big Lizards notes how hollywood is making political arguments in their product. Big Lizards:Blog:Entry “How to Win a Political Argument Without Really Trying”. His main point:

Does it work? I'm afraid it probably does; a well-written show, as I'm informed Law & Order is (I've never watched it), grabs the viewer by the throat and drags him into that world. Once there, characters become real people; evil characters become actual bad guys subject to hisses and hurled tomatoes; and it's absurdly easy to gin up real anger at the villain of the piece. When that "villain" is a real person in the real world, fiction slops over into reality, and a real person becomes subject to attacks based upon scenarios in a fictional parallel universe.

A screenwriter needn't prove his case using evidence and analysis; he simply creates a storyline in which his personal political and ideological opinions all turn out to be true. Mirabile dictu! As I've said since paleozoic times, it's child's play to win an argument when you get to script both sides.

You'd think the Hollywood Left might worry that a "fairness doctrine" would impact this, but:

Liberals constantly whine that we should resurrect the putative "Fairness Doctrine;" but it we ever did (may God forbid, if He exists), and if it was applied fairly and consistently, broadcast television would take a much greater punch in the mouth than would even talk radio, because these fiction shows almost never give "equal time" to the Right.

So why do they support the doctrine? Because they know it would in fact be administered corruptly, only being used against conservative messaging, not liberal. Just as when liberals voted for Barack H. Obama, knowing (nudge, wink) that his frequent denunciations of partisanship, demagoguery, corruption, profligate spending, and his support for unbiased science and for our two wars, were never intended to be taken seriously or pursued even-handedly.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Explaining bad design in ID/IOT

Darwin's main challenge in developing his theory of evolution was how to explain good design. The challenge for Intelligent Design/Intelligent Origin Theory (ID/IOT) is to explain why bad design exists.

Here's a piece from The Panda's Thumb:

One of the problems intelligent design proponents face is how to deal with bad biological designs. There are lots of examples–Oolon Colluphid of The Secular Cafe has a handy annotated list of 96 of them.


Intelligent design creationists in general use three basic arguments in dealing with the issue of suboptimal designs. First, they argue that the suboptimality results from "devolution." What were once optimal designs have degenerated due to the vicissitudes of time and the second law of thermodynamics, or for some, Adam and Eve's screw-up in the Garden–those of the YEC persuasion commonly attribute that degeneration (along with predation and parasitism) to the Fall. This is one of AIG's approaches. Meyer also has used the "design decay" argument–see here.

A second argument is to claim that a given design really isn't suboptimal. For example, in an interview attributed to Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator, Meyer reportedly claimed that the inverted vertebrate retina was "a tradeoff that allows the eye to process the vast amount of oxygen it needs in vertebrates" [p.87] (and also see AIG's argument to this effect).

The third approach is to wave off questions about purportedly bad design as a theological issue, not a scientific one: Who are we to make assumptions about the Designer's unknowable (to science) intentions and motives? 'ID is real science and we don't do theology.' See here and here for examples.


A more serious problem for Meyer's so-called "prediction" is that his two conjectures–hidden functional logic or evidence of decay–do not exhaust the universe of possible design explanations. There are at least three more possibilities: (c) an incompetent designer; (d) design by committee or competing designers; or (e) a whimsical designer (see here for examples of the invocation of whimsy on the part of a designer from Disco Dancers William Dembski, Philip Johnson, and Jonathan Witt).

There's no reason to exclude those three additional conjectures; they have no less warrant than Meyer's pair. All three are consistent with the evidence. In fact, on the evidence it seems to me that the property most appropriately assigned to a putative designer is malevolence: the world/universe really is a cruel and unpleasant place for the great majority of living things.

Given no principled constraints on the designer(s)' properties, ID has no explanatory power and no scientific value. Theories in science have (at least) three basic functions: (1) to explain observed phenomena, in the sense of identifying applicable initial conditions, relevant variables, and causal mechanisms that operate(d) to produce the observed phenomena; (2) to constrain what is possible by placing boundaries on what can happen if the theory is (small "t") true–this is my preferred gloss of 'testable/falsifiable'; and (3) to engender a rich and fruitful research program that leads to new knowledge of how the world works, to a clearer understanding of phenomena in the domain of applicability of the theory, and (this is tertiary but not irrelevant) to the devising of potentially useful applications/technology. Intelligent design "theory" does none of those things: it is a scientific and explanatory void.

Those Responsive Government Bureaucrats

Those Responsive Government Bureaucrats

Here's a letter that I sent this morning to the St. Petersburg Times:

Former Miami Herald employee Robert Steinback, pleading for greater government control of health-care markets, writes: "I don't understand people who fear government bureaucrats – who have no profit motive and ultimately must answer to the people – yet feel fully at ease with corporate bureaucrats whose sole interest is the bottom line and answer only to shareholders" ("Matter of life, death," Dec. 9).

I wonder how Mr. Steinback would reply to a proposal that newspapers be run, not by profit-seeking owners, but by government bureaucrats.  If he means what he says in your pages, then his reply would go something like this: "Wonderful idea!  Privately owned and operated newspapers are run solely to maximize the bottom line, so the public gets screwed.  But with government bureaucrats running newspapers, reporting and all other newspaper operations will surely improve.  Because government bureaucrats are unconcerned with profits and ultimately must answer to the people, we can be confident that newspaper operations will be efficient and unfailing serve the public."

Now, if Mr. Steinback would reply differently – that is, if he would object to government operation of newspapers – I then wonder what has become of his inability to understand those of us who distrust government bureaucrats.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Climates of Hunger

That was the title of a book I read in the late 70s.  Its thesis was that the current warm climate, so conducive to agriculture, is a rarity over the history of the planet.  Most of the record shows the planet in an ice age, with the interglacial periods lasting about ten thousand years.
Our current interglacial period started....
...about ten thousand years ago.
I still have this book somewhere in my library.
Now, from the Foresight Institute, we have some charts:
The first one, calculating temperature from oxygen isotope ratios in snow, shows a definite hockey stick:
A larger scale chart, showing the beginning of the current interglacial period, gives us a nice bit of perspective:
For longer-term perspective, though, one has to use other ice cores.  Here's one from Vostok, Antarctica:
And thus, the basic premise of "Climates of Hunger". For most of the history we can access, the planet has been considerably less conducive to agriculture.  And that may be what we're heading for in the next century or two.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Creationism: Still crazy after all these years

Creationism: Still crazy after all these years

Eugenie C. ScottEugenie C. Scott

Now available on NCSE's YouTube channel: Eugenie C. Scott's "Creationism: Still crazy after all these years," a presentation at the 2009 Atheist Alliance International conference in Burbank, California. Scott describes the evolving history of the antievolution movement in the United States, from attempts to balance the teaching of evolution with "creation science" or "intelligent design" to the present spate of stealth creationist tactics such as "academic freedom" and (in Texas) "all sides of scientific evidence."

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Boxer and Analogies

Clayton Cramer wrote:
...the bigger issue here is Boxer's misunderstanding of how analogies work. Boxer clearly doesn't understand that the moral discomfort that most Americans have with abortion isn't about sex; it's about killing what is going to be, in a very short time, a human being. And this is analogous to Viagra in what way?
Viagra helps men (and presumably their wives) achieve sexual satisfaction. This is not truly necessary from a health standpoint, but has no other morally worrisome aspects to it. Is Boxer arguing that abortion is some sort of sexual satisfaction procedure?
I'm less than impressed with Senator Boxer's mental prowess, so I think it's quite possible that she may have said "Viagra" when she meant something else.  "Vasectomy" has a slight chance of being somewhat analogous to abortion.  At least some people consider abortion a form of birth control.  Boxer may have gotten Viagra and Vasectomy mixed up.  After all, they both begin with the letter "V".
And I believe the Catholic Church is opposed to vasectomies, so that might be the connection she'd use to justify the analogy.
I'm willing to credit her with being clueless and stupid, but only within human limits.  (I may be wrong, of course.)
...............Karl Lembke

Monday, December 07, 2009

Computer Models vs. Physical Evidence

John at Powerline posts on the subject of Computer Models vs. Physical Evidence. Bottom line:

...we know that those computer models are wrong, because they can't account for the past, they can't explain the geographic and atmospheric distribution of temperatures, and the current flat-to-cooling trend lies outside of the range of temperatures that they predict.

John Ray on ClimateGate


One thing I am NOT putting up is any of the "defenses" by the IPCC and others in answer to "ClimateGate". Why? Because I have yet to find ONE such defence that mentions a single scientific fact. All the defences are solely ad hominem. They say that something is right because of who said it. Such arguments are among the classic informal fallacies of logic and deserve no respect from anybody at any time. So on to some more factual reports and commentaries -- JR

Peer review, science, and climate-gate

Michael Jennings has some comments on peer review and how it can be corrupted. Peer review and open science |

Traditional journal based scientific peer review works as follows. A researcher does his research and writes his paper. He then submits the paper to the editor of a journal. The editor of the journal then sends the paper to a number (usually two or three) of other researchers in the same field. These researchers then write short reports on the paper outlining what is good or bad about it and usually suggesting improvements, along with a recommendation as to whether the paper should be accepted by the journal. The reports are then forwarded to the author of the paper, who responds to suggested changes and then sends a revised version of the paper to the journal. After possibly several repetitions of this, an accepted paper will eventually be published in the journal.
There are various ways in which this process can be corrupted, but (certainly in the field I worked in) this generally did not happen. Publishers of journals made a point of appointing people of integrity as editors. It was in their self-interest to do this, because the long term consequences of not doing so would be a loss of credibility for the journal. The danger, always, is that authors, editors, and referees all end up coming from the same clique, in which such a process can be corrupted.

Another danger is that fields become isolated from each other, and workers in one field do not properly absorb knowledge and techniques from other fields. Many scientists (and non-scientists) for that matter use a great deal of statistics in their work, and do a great deal of computer programming in their work. Often, they will not be experts in either statistics or computer programming. Sometimes they will do good work from a statistical perspective, and write good computer code. On the other hand, if their work is to be published in peer reviewed journals, and the referees for the papers selected by those peer reviewed journals are not experts in statistics or computer science, and use similarly sloppy methods themselves, then poorer quality work can at times be gotten away with (similarly, you should beware of anyone in business or finance who tells you that his "proprietary black box model" tells this, and that he cannot show it to you because it is "proprietary". Similar situations of sloppy code and statistics are endemic here, too).
Peer review matters professionally. If you are submitting a Ph.D. thesis and the work in it has already been published in reputable, peer reviewed journals, then your examiners have little work to do. If you are applying for an academic job, or for promotion or tenure, then your publication record in peer reviewed journals is central to the process. However, the peer reviewed journals are a way of keeping score. Amongst physicists at least, they are not where the work is done or how it is communicated.

We have in recent weeks heard calls from various people for science to adopt a model more resembling open source software - one aspect of which is opening access to the evolution of work to more people than a small number of officially appointed referees. The "Many eyes make all bugs shallow" philosophy surely has wider reference than just to software, although when a good portion of the work is software, it's probably even more relevant.

However, what has been less reported is that in many fields, particularly the most quantitative fields, this model already exists. The physicists got there first, partly because they got the internet a decade before most other fields. However, many others have followed. The question should be, "If not, why not?"

Health Reform Will Raise Insurance Prices

Blue Cross has found that the Health Reform bill will raise insurance rates. Health Reform Will Raise Insurance Prices - Both the CBO and Blue Cross / Blue Shield have concluded the Reform will raise prices.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has found that premiums in the individual market will rise on average by 54% over the status quo, which translates into an extra $3,341 a year for families and $1,576 for singles. The White House denounced the report as a "sham" before it was even released, which shows how seriously it takes such concerns.

The Congressional Budget Office also found this week that ObamaCare will boost premiums in the individual market by as much as 13%. But the White House called that a triumph because the higher costs will be offset by taxpayer subsidies that will be transferred to the federal balance sheet.

The Blue Cross study is in fact more precise than CBO's because it is based on real market data, rather than modeling assumptions. The association mined the actuarial data from its six million individual or small-business policies, nearly one-eighth of those sold in the U.S.

CRU looks to “big oil” for support

Among the messages found in the CRU data dump: Climategate: CRU looks to “big oil” for support. I guess it's the oil companies hedging their bets.

AP Whitewashes Public Statement on Whitewashed ACORN Investigation

Charles Johnson trumpets this report as showing no criminal activity on the part of ACORN. Andrew Breitbart takes issue with that finding. Big Government: AP Whitewashes My Public Statement on Whitewashed ACORN Investigation

Go read for yourself.

Here, too.

And Shocking!! Report Paid For By ACORN Exonerates Them

Fast Facts About Climategate

Charlie Martin has a collection of links and fast facts about the climate scandal. Pajamas Media » Fast Facts About Climategate

The "fast facts" are:

The Climategate files held many embarrassing revelations. They appear to show collusion on the part of many of the top names in climate science:
  • to subvert peer review and prevent publication of papers that didn’t completely agree with the favored theory;
  • to manipulate data, and the analysis of data, to make the best case for the favored theory;
  • to avoid releasing their data under the Freedom of Information laws in the U.S. and UK.
About the Science
  • The consensus is not scientific as much as it is political.
    What we find out from the emails is that Jones and a number of others were using underhanded manipulations to suppress scientific publications that disagreed with the CO2-caused AGW theory. There is no scientific consensus if all the science isn’t being considered.
  • There’s a difference between “global warming,” “anthropogenic (caused by humans) global warming,” and “anthropogenic global warming caused by CO2.”
  • The Climategate files don’t call global warming into question, but they make some of the science of anthropogenic global warming more suspect, and they make it clear that “forcings” other than CO2 have not been fairly considered.
  • There has clearly been significant warming in the last 400 years — since the “Little Ice Age”. That’s how we know it was the Little Ice Age.
  • There is good reason to believe that humans may be accounting for some warming — and some cooling, for that matter. But we don’t know how much.
  • The case for all or most of the warming being due to CO2 was not as unquestionable as it was presented to be, and from the Climategate files we know that even that case was being slanted significantly.
  • There is more than one “smoking gun” email (see here, here, here, here, here, and more)
  • … but the program codes are much more significant than the emails
  • … and the program codes will be yielding new surprises for a while to come.
About the Politics
  • Science invariably has politics involved. That’s because science is invariably done by people.
  • The key to science is “trust but verify”: you trust the science because you are assured you can verify it if necessary. The Climategate files show the CRU clique wanted to be trusted, but didn’t want to be verified.
  • The science was being used politically long before we think it was.
About the Finances:
  • “Global warming” was a big source of grants and funding.
  • “Global warming scientists” got to go to all the best conferences. (Tahiti? Gstaad?)
  • Ultimately, there are billions of dollars to be made off of “global warming.”