Posts tagged ‘media’

Banning Racists From Social Media Is Just Helping Them By Reducing Transparency on Their Distasteful Views

Via Engadget

Twitter is continuing to act on its promise to fight hate speech, however imperfectly. The site has banned Wisconsin Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen after he posted a racist image that placed the face of Cheddar Man (a dark-skinned British ancestor) over actress and soon-to-be-royal Meghan Markle, who's mixed race. The company said it didn't normally comment on individual accounts, but said the permanent suspension was due to "repeated violations" of its terms of service.

Nehlen, who's hoping to unseat Paul Ryan in the 2018 mid-term elections, has a long history of overtly expressing his racist views. Twitter suspended him for a week in January over anti-Semitic comments, and he has regularly promoted white supremacist ideology. In private, he used direct message groups to coordinate harassment campaigns. Breitbart supported Nehlen's ultimately unsuccessful run against Ryan in 2016, but distanced itself from him in December 2017.

As the title of the post implies, I am torn on this.  On the one hand, there is an argument that removing a powerful communications tool from bad people makes it harder to spread their, um, badness.  On the other hand, I am not sure that driving these folks underground is the right approach.  Sure, Nehlen has likely rallied some people of a similar mind to his side, but the flip side is that he has advertised himself to  LOT of people as having distasteful views.  I know that from my point of view, my awareness that awful folks like this still exist on the peripheries of power has grown from social media, whereas without it I likely might have convinced myself this sort of stuff was a thing of the past.

It reminds me what I wrote a while back about putting the Confederate flag on license plates:

Which brings me back to license plates.  If a state is going to create a license plate program where people can make statements with their license plates, then people should be able to make the statement they want to make.  ... Let's assume for a moment that everyone who wants to display this symbol [the Confederate battle flag] on their car is a racist. Shouldn't we be thrilled if they want to do so?  Here would be a program where racists would voluntarily self-identify to all as a racist (they would even pay extra to do so!)  What would be a greater public service?

To take this to an extreme, think about the effort to de-platform certain college speakers.  I like to imagine who the most extreme example of such a controversial college speaker would be, and I come up with that old standby, Adolf Hitler.  So what if in 1938 Adolf Hitler came to the States for a college speaking tour in 1938.  Couldn't that have been a good thing?  Many of the mistakes made by the world in 1938-1945 was underestimating both Germany's appetite for expansion and its ruthlessness in its approach to the Jews.  Wouldn't it have been better to listen to a bad guy and potentially get some clues to this future?

Do We Really Have to Craft Legislation With the Stupidest 0.0001% in Mind?

Via Zero Hedge:

A pair of New York politicians has introduced legislation that would force consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble to make their Tide Pod product less appetizing to human beings.

If passed, Senate bill S100A would require liquid detergent packets sold in the state of New York to be “designed in an opaque, uniform color that is not attractive to children and is not easily permeated by a child’s bite.”

The bill further states that each Tide Pod packet should be “enclosed in a separate, individual, non-permeable, child-resistant wrapper” and that the package they come in should have a warning label saying the product is “harmful if swallowed.”

These two legislators get their one news cycle of fame from this and 24 hours of virtue signalling how much they care, and the rest of humanity has to live with their stupidity for decades.

Even beyond the self-serving stupidity of even introducing such legislation, its specifics are even dumber, making sense only if the recent Tide pod consumption was somehow accidental, like an infant putting it in her mouth.  This regulation would have done pretty much zero to stop the recent insane social media challenge that drove a few people to eat these things.  Now when I put my little pod in the dishwasher, am I really going to have to struggle to get the thing out of some child-proof wrapper?  We can't just put every one in unopenable blister pack and be done with it?

I Saw a Lot of Arguments Against Immigration on Twitter Yesterday, But Most of Them Are Poor

Against my recent personal resolutions, I spent the last 24 hours active on Twitter.  My memory of the platform turned out to be largely correct -- it took only a little while on Twitter before I became a worse person, abandoning rational argumentation in favor of clever "gotcha" zings at people whose minds aren't going to be changed anyway. So I am going to respond to some of the things I saw here on the blog, rather than on Twitter.

Much of the traffic in my feed, the day after the President's State of the Union speech, centered around immigration.  As many of you know, I grew up an immigration restrictionist, but morphed over time into a largely open immigration supporter because I simply cannot come up with a moral justification for a free society restricting anyone's freedom of movement and association.  I became convinced (more on this in a second) that not only did immigration restrictions limit the rights of those trying to immigrate, but despite being native born, they limited my property and association rights.

Yes I have concerns and I think there are some valid arguments out there.  It is, for example, really hard to square open immigration with our current definitions of citizenship and various government benefit programs.  In addition, I am frequently concerned that we libertarians are being suckers on immigration, justifying immigration on the grounds of individual liberty and then having waves of immigrants who vote for things that limit personal liberty.  I see that already with "immigrants" moving from California to Arizona, who leave California because of the effects of the crazy regulation regime there and then come to Arizona and vote for all the same crazy stuff that ruined California.

But I actually saw neither of these arguments made all day.  Instead, I saw one form or another of these four arguments:

1.  There are individual examples of immigrants who did bad things. Trump's invocation of the MS-13 gang certainly set the tone for this, but I saw it all day.   This is a classic Conservative civilization-barbarism argument and tends to have immense appeal in that community.  But here is what is funny to me.  Conservatives (rightly in my opinion) oppose using tail-of-the-distribution individual weather events to "prove" climate change.  But those same Conservatives sure like to use rare individual acts of criminal behavior to "prove" immigration is dangerous.  Tied in with this is an observer bias -- the media only presents us with the extreme examples.  When the media only puts the weather on the news when it is extreme, it leads to a false impression that the weather is becoming more extreme.  When Fox News fills the news with crimes committed by immigrants, rather than say crimes committed by natives or acts of kindness committed by immigrants, it leads to a false impression that immigrants are all criminal barbarians making us less safe.  Which leads to #2:

2.  Immigrant crime is 100% preventable because we could just have kept them out.  This is a variation of the Skittles immigration meme that went around before the election, asking if one would voluntarily eat from a bowl of 1000 Skittles if one knew 2 or 3 were poisonous.  An example I saw of this yesterday was this:

I suppose this is correct on its face.  Because in any group of 10,000 randomly-selected human beings some will be criminals, such that banning any group from the country would also ban some criminals.  But the problem is that you could make this argument for any group.  Heck, you could use this equally well as an advertisement for abortion, because every 10,000 births you prevent will likely eliminate some criminals.  Because this argument is equally valid for any group one might ban from the country, it is not a valid argument against immigration.  You still have to say why you want to pick on immigrants vs. some other group.  The first thing Conservatives would say is, "Because they are illegal!" and I will deal with the rule of law argument below in #4.  But the other thing they might say is that immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than natives, an impression formed by wall-to-wall Fox News coverage over every alleged immigrant crime (see #1 above).  But this impression is simply not the case.  Study after study shows that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native born Americans.  If you really care about crime, immigrants are the last group you want to send away.  Here is one such study from Cato, but there are many.

3.  You lock the front door of your house, don't you?  An example of this argument is here:

The first problem with this argument is that it is fundamentally socialist.  Only in a socialist country is the entire country one entire single block of property.

I really hate the house analogy but if you simply have to use it, then don't think of the country as a house, think of it as a giant apartment building with 100 million apartments.   Each apartment has its own door and then there is a door into the building itself.  When people talk about immigration restrictions, they are talking about limiting who I can and cannot buzz into the front door to come up and visit me.

Bad analogy?  Well, I wasn't the one who started the whole stupid building analogy. Anyway, the correct way to put it is that if I want to hire someone from Mexico in my business, and I want to rent that person a place to live on my property, why do you get to lock the door barring that person from doing these things with me?  That is why I said above that immigration restrictions don't just limit the rights of immigrants, they limit my association and property rights as a native-born American.  I can't hire anyone I want.  I can't have anyone I want come visit me.  I can't rent my property to anyone I like.  I can only do all those things with a person who has been licensed by the Federal government to be able to interact with me in this country.  And those licenses are very scarce and hard to get.

4.  They're illegal!

I will admit the rule of law argument is seductive, but I have a couple of thoughts on it.

First, do you file and pay state use tax whenever you buy things over the Internet that have not had sales tax applied?  Do you pay all the proper employment taxes for your household help, or if they are contractors, file 1090's for what you paid them each year?  Do you always stay under the speed limit and come to a full and complete stop at every red light and stop sign?  Do you always have your dog on a leash in public areas that require it?  If the answer is "no", then stop lecturing me on the rule of law.

I know that the answer to the queries above is typically that those things are all trivial sh*t compared to breaking immigration laws.  Hmm, maybe or maybe not -- they are all basically victim-less, often paperwork crimes.  But here is another way to think of it.  You are breaking the law for some trivial reason, because you want to get to work 30 seconds faster or can't be bothered with an hour of paperwork.  Illegal immigrants are often breaking the law for life and death reasons.  Which of you is more admirable?  More than anything else about the immigration system, I hate that it takes people with qualities we generally admire -- they are trying to improve themselves, trying to make a better life for their kids, trying to find better jobs and schools -- and we turn them into criminals.  Trump is right about one thing -- many of these countries have been turned into sh*tholes by their governments.  I would like to think that if I were born in one, I would be doing everything I could to get out, laws or no laws.

Finally, I would observe that the statement "I am not against immigration, just illegal immigration" is just a cover for most people who say it.  If that were really true, we could fix it in a second -- just make it legal.  But few on the Conservative side are suggesting any such thing.

Thoughts on Challenging the Climate Orthodoxy

I have over several months been answering questions about my climate positions -- I think for a woman's school project but I honestly can't remember any more.  Anyway, I answered a question for her today and though I did not spend a ton of time on it, I thought I would share.

She asked:

Why do you find it unproductive to argue for something based on how many experts are agreeing to it? Wouldn't it be hubris to dismiss the fact that a number of experts are contradicting you on a subject that is pretty complex and is something that isn't nesessarily understood intuitively?

http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/05/my-interview-on-climate-with-esquire-middle-east.html .You state “I find judging science by counting scientists to be unproductive.”.  

Why do you believe it is unproductive to take such a point into serious consideration?

The way I see it. there is this kind of logic:

A math student works on a very complicated math problem from his homework and has all his justifications for his answer. However, it turns out that his math professor has a different answer-- which is saying something important. It would be a slippery slope for the student to posit that his answer is right and the professor's answer is wrong just because the justification he came up with on his own always leads him back to the same answer. (That is, unless he found out an explanation for why his professor got that answer, like say-- maybe the professor never worked out the problem by himself and looked at an answer key which was wrong.)

My off the cuff responses to the student:

  • This is not a simple math problem.  It is a super complex multi-variable chaotic system in which we are trying to attribute changes in one output variable (temperature) to a single input variable out of thousands or millions (CO2).  I think the majority of the hubris (given the state of our knowledge) is on the certainty side, not the doubting side.  I would observe, by the way, that many of the exact same people who use this "you must respect the experts" argument against climate skeptics themselves challenge many expert assertions, e.g. that minimum wages reduce employment or that GMO's are safe, that are supported by at least as many experts in those other fields.  You would be unusual if you personally do not disagree with some proposition that most of the "experts" support.
  • The way folks often describe science when trying to criticize climate skeptics sounds to me a lot more like religion than science.  Saying that there are fundamental assertions that one cannot challenge is a feature of religion, not true science.  Science is about having a theory, making predictions from that theory, and if those predictions consistently turn out to be true, then gaining confidence in the theory.  Many of global warming predictions have been wrong -- they have overestimated temperature increases to date, hurricanes and tornadoes are not getting more frequent, droughts are not getting more frequent, etc (do not confuse the frequency of these events in the news with their actual underlying frequency -- go live with the data at the NOAA to see that all these severe weather trends are dead flat).  But no one goes back and relooks at the model or theories and those that do point out these shortcomings, eg. skeptics, are threatened with censure.  Does not sound like science to me.
  • I am not without relevant expertise.  Though I don't have as deep of climate knowledge as some, I know a lot about modeling chaotic multivariable systems (in finance and economics) and know exactly what the shortcomings of models are and can recognize the patterns of many mistakes in climate that I have seen in other fields of modeling.  Further, the key difference skeptics have with alarmists is the expectation of strong positive feedbacks in the climate accelerating temperatures greatly.  My major and research work in college were in dynamic systems and feedbacks.  Climate scientists are positing that there is more positive feedback in the climate system than exists in any other stable natural system we know about.  That is worth some skepticism if one understands feedbacks.
  • The experts in climate would be a lot more credible if they were more transparent and open to discourse.  Instead, they frequently refuse to release their data (even on government-funded projects) for replication and carefully engineer peer review panels so no one who actually disagrees with them are on it.  It has been years since any climate "expert" has agreed to participate in a public debate.
  • The most important answer is that what the "experts" are saying and what the media and the general public are saying the experts are saying is completely different.  There is a bait and switch going on, where the majority (though maybe not the most vocal) of the experts are very careful and conservative (little c) in their claims, but they are portrayed as being all-in en masse on the most outrageous and spectacular of the claims by activists.  I would refer you to this article, but I will reprint below the key part to your question:

So let's come back to our original question -- what is it exactly that skeptics "deny."  As we have seen, most don't deny the greenhouse gas theory, or that the Earth has warmed some amount over the last several year.  They don't even deny that some of that warming has likely been via man-made CO2.  What they deny is the catastrophe -- they argue that the theory of strong climate positive feedback is flawed, and is greatly exaggerating the amount of warming we will see from man-made CO2.  And, they are simultaneously denying that most or all of past warming is man-made, and arguing instead that the amount that is natural and cyclic is being under-estimated.

So how about the "97% of scientists" who purportedly support global warming?  What proposition do they support?  Let's forget for a minute a variety of concerns about cherry-picking respondents in studies like this  (I am always reminded by such studies of the quote attributed, perhaps apocryphally,  to Pauline Kael that she couldn't understand how Nixon had won because no one she knew voted for him).  Let's look at the actual propositions the 97% agreed to in one such study conducted at the University of Illinois.  Here they are:
 
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
 
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
 
The 97% answered "risen" and "yes" to these two questions.  But depending on how one defines "significant" (is 20% a significant factor?) I could get 97% of a group of science-based skeptics to agree to the same answers.
 
So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate -- the two sides are debating different propositions!  In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side [see chart in the original], propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree.   When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gas theory is correct.    At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another;  at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

I could have also said that there were several times in class when I challenged the teacher on a math problem answer and I was right and they were wrong.  My wife-to-be was actually in one of these classes and can testify to the fact.

By the way, I find the last point I made about bait and switch to be surprisingly similar to problems I have arguing net neutrality.  The problem is that the FCC's actions under Obama were NOT net neutrality, they were applying early 1900's telephone regulation which pretty much killed innovation in that industry to the Internet.  Unfortunately, everyone calls those regulations "net neutrality" so if you oppose these dumb counter-productive regulations one is somehow against net neutrality when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

The Government Loves to Make Us All Criminals

Here in Phoenix, we use our fireplace pretty much once a year -- on Christmas Day, more as an aesthetic aid to the atmosphere and festivities rather than out of any real need for added warmth.  I bought a box of fire logs several years ago and there are still three left.

So of course the Arizona government, for seemingly the hundredth year in a row, has banned fires on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  They always have some story about some special weather condition or whatever, but oddly enough year-in and year-out these special conditions only seem to occur on Christmas.  Clearly, the ban is in place on these days because the government knows these are the only days people are interested in making fires, but the media every year credulously reports the situation like it is a total coincidence.

Politics, Peer Virtue-Signalling, And the Agency Problem

The other day Megan McArdle wrote an article entitled "The CFPB Fight Is Completely Pointless...Why is either side spending political capital for brief control over this agency?"  In short, the the folks on the Left who mostly populate the Elizabeth Warren / Barrack Obama created agency argue that deputy director Leandra English should become acting director after the current director stepped down.  President Trump argues he should be able to appoint the acting director (as the President would for any other agency) and appointed CFPB critic Mick Mulvaney.

My heart thrills as readily as anyone’s to the sight of a doomed soldier playing Horatius at the Bridge. But at least Horatius Cocles had a purpose: He secured an orderly retreat, allowing the army to live to fight another day. What, exactly, do [Leandra] English and her supporters hope to achieve, other than a spectacle for wonky Washingtonians?

The most they can get is a brief period of business as usual, during which it will be hard to enact binding decisions because the legitimacy of her leadership will be in doubt. At worst, they get a humiliating smackdown from the courts, cementing their place in history as elitists who thought they were above petty restraints like elections or the Constitution.

And in the broader political picture, if you think Mulvaney is a bad, dangerous man who will privilege the interests of rich bankers over those of ordinary Americans, you’d probably rather have him running the CFPB than in his current job -- overseeing the entire federal budget. Even if English wins and sends him back to OMB, this seems like a Pyrrhic victory for the left.

While most everyone else on the Internet seems to be able to automatically intuit everyone else's internal motivations, I don't claim to have that ability.  So I will offer one possible motive why Leandra English might see personal benefit from this otherwise pointless struggle.

It is no news to say that the US has arrayed itself into multiple tribes that hate each other.  The election of President Trump has only accelerated this.  Trump is so disliked by those on the Left that folks on the Left can score major points with their tribe by publicly opposing him, even when their effort is doomed and ultimately pointless.   Wendy Davis is a good example of a politician who greatly increased her status in the Left-tribe with an ultimately doomed filibuster of an abortion bill in Texas (so much so that a hagiographic movie is being made about her).  I have wondered whether several of the judges who have temporarily halted controversial but probably legal executive actions by Trump were not motivated as much by playing to the audience in their tribe as they were by making a thoughtful legal decision.

Which brings me to the agency problem, which Wikipedia defines thus:

The principal–agent problem, in political science and economics, (also known as agency dilemma or the agency problem) occurs when one person or entity (the "agent") is able to make decisions on behalf of, or that impact, another person or entity: the "principal".[1] This dilemma exists in circumstances where agents are motivated to act in their own best interests, which are contrary to those of their principals, and is an example of moral hazard.

Common examples of this relationship include corporate management (agent) and shareholders (principal), politicians (agent) and voters (principal), or brokers (agent) and markets (buyers and sellers, principals).[2] Consider a legal client (the principal) wondering whether their lawyer (the agent) is recommending protracted legal proceedings because it is truly necessary for the client's well being, or because it will generate income for the lawyer. In fact the problem can arise in almost any context where one party is being paid by another to do something where the agent has a small or nonexistent share in the outcome, whether in formal employment or a negotiated deal such as paying for household jobs or car repairs

I think too often people define the agency problem only about economic incentives, e.g. my broker only recommends the stocks that pay him the highest commission.  But most of us are motivated by many things in addition to money.

Consider the example of a media conglomerate with multiple cable channels.  The managers of this media conglomerate are mostly of the Left.  One of their channels is called the shooting channel and focuses on gun reviews and the shooting sports.  The channel needs a new president, and it hires Hannah Progressive, either internally or from another successful media company.  Hannah is a talented media person with a proven track record of building cable channels and a perfect fit in every way except that she is disdainful of the shooting sports and groups like the NRA.  But let's say that Hannah is a true professional and can put that aside.  But what may be harder to put aside is the reaction of her peers.  She is going to get teased, maybe even bullied, by folks in her social circles.  Her peers are going to look down on her, even if she is successful (maybe especially if she is successful).  There is going to be tremendous pressure on her, both from her social circle as well as well as when she thinks about future job prospects an the industry dominated by the Left, to virtue-signal to others on the Left.  She could be tempted to shift content, alliances, advertisers,etc. in ways that signal virtue to her tribe but might alienate her current viewers and actually hurt the financial results of her company.

I frequently think about this in the context of how university presidents respond to protests, or how the NFL does so, or when seeing ESPN programming changes.  I have even seen it with programmers, working harder to impress their peers with the elegance of their code than to try to actually write things that serve the company and the customer.

Elon Musk Made the Kessel Run in Less Than Twelve Parsecs

I had to laugh at the stories the other day on the battery backup system Elon Musk and Tesla made for the Australian Power grid:

Tesla has completed its 100 megawatt Powerpack battery backup system in South Australia within 100 days (easily), as Elon Musk had promised. That means the company essentially won the "bet," and won't be on the hook for the entire cost of the project, estimated at $50 million. More importantly, it means that some 30,000 homes in South Australia will have a power backup in case there's no breeze at the Hornsdale Wind Farm located about two hours from Adelaide.

A megawatt is a measure of energy production or transmission rate.  As such, it is a perfectly appropriate way to size the capacity of a power plant that is assumed to have a continuous supply of fuel.  However, it is an extremely odd way to size a battery.  A battery has a fixed energy storage capacity, which is generally measured in watt-hours (or some conversion thereof). For example a 10 Wh battery would provide 10 watts for an hour before running out, or 5 watts for 2 hours, etc.  It is not clear if this is just a typo, that they really mean 100MWh, or if 100 megawatts is the peak discharge rate and they are being silent on exactly how long this lasts (ie how long can those 30,000 homes be powered?)  I checked the first 10 sources in a Google search and not a single media outlet that routinely chastises climate skeptics for being anti-science seems to have questioned the oddball and nearly meaningless 100MW figure.

I was going to compare the number on energy storage here and show that you could actually generate electricity from gas, not just store it, for well less than this.  But it is sort of hard to make the calculation when they don't get the units right.

By the way, if this is required to make wind power work, will we start seeing wind advocates building in $50 million batteries when they present their economics?  Any bets?

Reasonable People Will Disagree -- The Tesla Example

Too often people today in public discourse assume that those who disagree with them are bad people, or have bad motivations.  Or at best, they assume others don't have all the facts and have been influenced by some biased media source.

But perfectly well-motivated people with the exact same data can reach stunningly different conclusions.   A while back I signed up for a (free) investing website called Seeking Alpha.  In doing so, they asked me to list some of the stocks I followed, and they send me email alerts when those stocks have new articles on the site.  One of the securities I put in there was Tesla, so I have been watching the flow of articles on this one company.

It has been an amazing exercise!  Most all the authors are working with the exact same data set, in this case the financial reports and public statements of the company.  And each time new information comes out, there is an absolute flood of articles from different authors.  Many of which have completely opposite reactions to the data -- one says its wildly positive for x and y reasons, another says it is wildly negative for z reasons.  The timeline of articles on Tesla is here.

As a disclosure, I was short Tesla until the other day when I covered at the bottom of their big price drop.  Yay!  I finally made money on a short.  I think Tesla is a mess, and its merger with SolarCity borderline corrupt.  My brother-in-law, a successful entrepreneur in the tech space, thought the merger was brilliant and part of a grand strategy with Musk playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers.

Squishy Words That Create Problems For Using Results of Scientific Studies

The IPCC AR4 summary report had this critical conclusion:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.[7] It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)

I want to come back to this in a second, but here is a story the Bryan Caplan posted on his blog.  He is quoting from Tetlock and Gardner's Superforecasting

In March 1951 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 29-51 was published.  "Although it is impossible to determine which course of action the Kremlin is likely to adopt," the report concluded, "we believe that the extent of [Eastern European] military and propaganda preparations indicate that an attack on Yugoslavia in 1951 should be considered a serious possibility." ...But a few days later, [Sherman] Kent was chatting with a senior State Department official who casually asked, "By the way, what did you people mean by the expression 'serious possibility'?  What kind of odds did you have in mind?"  Kent said he was pessimistic.  He felt the odds were about 65 to 35 in favor of an attack.  The official was started.  He and his colleagues had taken "serious possibility" to mean much lower odds.

Disturbed, Kent went back to his team.  They had all agreed to use "serious possibility" in the NIE so Kent asked each person, in turn, what he thought it meant.  One analyst said it meant odds of about 80 to 20, or four times more likely than not that there would be an invasion.  Another thought it meant odds of 20 to 80 - exactly the opposite.  Other answers were scattered between these extremes.  Kent was floored.

Let's go back to the IPCC summary conclusion, which is quoted and used all over the place  (no one in the media ever actually digs into the charts and analysis, they just stop at this quote).  A few thoughts:

  1. This kind of conclusion is typical of team process and perhaps is a reason that large teams shouldn't do scientific studies.  We wouldn't have aspirin if 500 people all had to agree on a recommendation to allow it.
  2. Climate alarmists often claim "consensus".  Part of the way they get consensus is by excluding anyone who disagrees with them from the IPCC process and publication.  But even within the remaining core, scientists have vast differences in how they evaluate the data.  Consensus only exists because the conclusions use weasel words with uncertain meaning like "most"  and "significant"  (rather than a percentage) and "very likely" (rather than a probability).
  3. Is "most" 51% or 95%?  The difference between these two is almost a doubling of the implied temperature sensitivity to CO2  -- close to the magnitude of difference between lukewarmer and IPCC estimates.  Many skeptics (including myself) think past warming due to man might be 0.3-0.4C which is very nearly encompassed by "most".
  4. It may be that this uncertainty is treated as a feature, not a bug, by activists, who can take a word scientists meant to mean 51% and portray it as meaning nearly 100%.

For an example of this sort of thing taken to an extreme, arguably corrupt level, consider the original 97% global warming consensus survey which asked 77 scientists hand-selected from a pool of over 10,000 working on climate-related topics two questions.  Answering yes to the two questions put you in the 97%.  In the context of what was written above, note the wording:

That anything-but-scientific survey asked two questions. The first: “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”  Few would be expected to dispute this…the planet began thawing out of the “Little Ice Age” in the middle 19th century, predating the Industrial Revolution. (That was the coldest period since the last real Ice Age ended roughly 10,000 years ago.)

The second question asked: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” So what constitutes “significant”? Does “changing” include both cooling and warming… and for both “better” and “worse”? And which contributions…does this include land use changes, such as agriculture and deforestation?

Good Lord, I am a hated skeptic frequently derided as a denier and I would answer both "yes" and be in the 97% consensus.  So would most all of the prominent science-based skeptics you have ever heard of.

 

Shifting Mix is Often Ignored as the Reason Behind A Shifting Mean

I have written about this mix effect many times, eg here.  Imagine a corporate division that sells tables and chairs.  The CEO is reviewing this division's performance, and sees that their revenues are increasing but their profit margin is falling.  He asks his analyst to look into it - is it the tables or the chairs or both that are showing falling margins.  Our poor harassed analyst comes back and says, uh, neither.  The profit margins for both tables and chairs went up last year.  Well, the CEO asks, if revenues are up and all their component margins are going up, how is their total margin falling?  It turns out that tables make a much higher margin than chairs, and over the last year the company has seen a much higher growth in chair sales than table sales.  The mix is shifting towards a lower margin product and is bringing the averages down.  By the way, I can say with authority that this conversation is much harder when the analyst is yours truly and the CEO is famed tough (but talented) boss Chuck Knight of Emerson Electric.

Whether the media mentions this effect or not, it is happening all the time.  Here is an example from the WSJ:

One mystery of this economic expansion is that wage growth has remained slow even as the labor market has finally tightened. One widely cited culprit is historically low productivity growth. But a new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco adds a more optimistic, albeit paradoxical, explanation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that median weekly earnings had risen in July by a healthy 4.2% on an annual basis, the fastest growth in a decade. As labor markets tighten, employers typically increase wages. Until this past year, however, median weekly earnings growth had hovered near 2%, which is significantly less than the 3.25% average from 1983 to 2015.

So why haven’t wages risen faster amid an increase in hiring and unfilled jobs? One answer is that wages have actually been growing at a faster clip—around 4% to 5%—at least for full-time workers with steady jobs. But new full-time workers who are generally paid less than the retirees they replace are dragging down the average wage increase.

Researchers at the San Francisco Fed this week updated their 2016 paper that disaggregated the wages of full-time workers with steady employment from recent entrants—that is, new workers or those returning to full-time work. Their earlier analysis showed that average wage growth had slowed less than expected during the recession while staying relatively flat during the recovery.

That’s because workers who lost jobs during the recession were generally lower skilled and lower paid, so average weekly wages didn’t fall significantly. However, many of those workers have since been rehired at below-average wages, which has depressed the aggregate.

In prior expansions, wage growth has been driven mostly by continuously full-time employed workers, and the researchers find that’s still the case. Wage growth for these workers is now close to the pre-recession 2007 peak. But there are now many more workers who have been on the labor-force sidelines who are moving to full-time employment, thus creating a drag on wages.

This is frequently how mix shifts play out in the news.  Notice that there are actually two pieces of good news here:  1.  Wages for full-time workers who have been employed for a while are growing well and 2.  lower-skilled and less experienced workers who left the labor force are now getting jobs and returning to work.  However, when these are combined, the net is portrayed as bad news, ie wage growth in the US is sluggish.  Because the mix was ignored.

Last-Minute Whistle-Blowing Before An Expected Termination to Create A "Retaliation" Claim

A while back I wrote about this frustrating practice lawyers were training California employees to follow:

Years ago, in Ventura County California (where I am thankfully no longer doing business), a loyal employee approached our manager and told her of a meeting that had been held the night before for our employees at a local attorney's office.  The attorney was holding the meeting mainly because he was trying to drum up business, brainstorming with my employees how they might sue the company for a variety of fanciful wage and hour violations.  Fortunately, we tend to be squeaky clean on labor compliance, and the only vulnerable spot they found was on California break law, where shifting court decisions gave them an opening to extract a bit of money from the company over how we were managing lunch breaks.

Anyway, in the course of the meeting, the attorney apparently advised our employees that if they ever thought they were about to get fired, they should quickly accuse someone in the company of harassment or discrimination or some other form of law-breaking.  By doing so, they made themselves suddenly much more difficult to fire, and left the company open to charges of retaliation if the company did indeed fire them.   In later years, we saw at least two employees at this location file discrimination or harassment claims literally hours before they were to be terminated for cause.   Since then, I have seen this behavior enough, all over the country, to believe that this is a strategy that is frequently taught to employees.

So now we have the James Damore / Google memo brouhaha, of which I generally choose not to comment except to say that it is worth skimming the memo and comparing its contents to how it is portrayed in the press just to see how unreliable the media is.  However, I wanted to note this bit (gated WSJ):

But before his firing, Mr. Damore had complained to the National Labor Relations Board about superiors “misrepresenting and shaming me.” Now he is arguing that his dismissal constitutes retaliation. This is a stretch, since the labor board’s purview doesn’t extend to individual workplace disputes. But Mr. Damore could still try to take Google to court.

It is going to get super-tedious if every employee starts lobbing in an 11th hour government complaint when they are anticipating termination just to set up grounds for a retaliation claim.  Except in the case of grievous fire-on-the-spot misdeeds, it is generally good practice to give employees warnings of poor performance and potential termination so they have a chance to correct such behavior.  Terminations can certainly stressful and disappointing and aggravating, but they shouldn't be a surprise.  But perhaps in the future this may change and ambush firings will become the norm to avoid this kind of thing.

I am Going To Make A Fortune in the New Legalized Marijuana Market.... Uh, Maybe Not

Here are Coyote's first three rules of business strategy:

  1. If people are entering the business for personal, passionate, non-monetary reasons then the business is likely going to suck.  When I say "suck", I mean there may be revenues and customers and even some profits, but that the returns on investment are going to be bad**.  Typically, the supply of products and services and the competitive intensity in an industry will equilibrate over time -- if profits are bad, some competitors exit and the supply glut eases.  But if people really love the industry and do not want to work anywhere else and get emotional benefits from working there, there always tends to be an oversupply problem.  For decades, maybe its whole history, the airline industry was like this.  The restaurant industry is this way as well.  The brew pub industry is really, really like this -- go to any city and check the list of small businesses for sale, and an absurd number will be brew pubs.
  2. If the business is frequently featured in the media as the up and coming place to be and the hot place to work, stay away.  Having the media advertising for new entrants is only going to increase the competitive intensity and exacerbate the oversupply problem that every fast-growing industry inevitably faces as it matures.
  3. Beware the lottery effect -- One or two people who made fortunes in the business mask the thousands who lost money (Freakonics had an article on the drug trade positing that it works just this way -- while many of us assume the illegal drug trade makes everyone in it rich, in fact only a few really do so and the vast majority are and always will be grinders making little money for high risk).  Even those people who made tons of money in hot businesses sometimes just had good timing to get out at the right time before the reckoning came.  Mark Cuban is famous as an internet billionaire, but in fact Broadcast.com, which he sold for over $5 billion to Yahoo, only had revenues in its last independent quarter of about $14 million and was losing money (that's barely four times larger than my small company).

When I was at Harvard Business School, the first two cases in the first week of strategy class were a really cool high-tech semiconductor fab and a company that makes brass water meters that are sold to utilities.  After we had read the cases but before we discussed them, the professor asked us which company we would like to work for.  Everyone wanted the tech firm.  But as we worked through the cases, it became clear that the semiconductor firm had an almost impossible profitability problem, while Rockwell water meters minted money.  I never forgot that lesson - seemingly boring industries could be quite attractive, and this lesson was later hammered home for me as I later was VP of corporate strategy for Emerson Electric, a company that was built around making money from boring but profitable industrial products businesses.

Of course there are exceptions, but almost every one of these have built some sort of competitive advantage that allowed them to rise above the rivalry.  Google and Facebook are sexy and make money, but they have built scale and network effect advantages that make them hard now to challenge.   Apple makes money now because it has created switching costs (try switching from an iPhone to an Android and ever being able to text again with iPhone users) and a powerful brand.  The NFL owners have enormously sexy businesses but have created a brand and other competitive restrictions that protect their positions (not to mention have perfected the art of sucking money out of taxpayers for stadiums).  But even looking at these examples, the world is littered with folks who tried to be in the same business and failed.  Remember Nokia, Blackberry, Motorola, Lycos, Yahoo, AOL, Netscape, USFL, XFL, Myspace, etc.  I don't really know how strategy is being taught today, but I was schooled at HBS in Michael Porter's five forces.  I still find this framework useful, and probably about as much as any layman needs to know about business strategy.

But what about marijuana?  There are a lot of people very passionate about marijuana.  It is easy to grow (I remember an ex-girlfriend way back in the eighties whose mom grew it in the attic) and easy to sell (there is plenty of retail space nowadays going begging, or there is always the internet).  Every time there is some expansion opportunity in the business (e.g. a new state legalizing) the fact is advertised all over the media.  Overall, most folks are going to fail and most investment is not going to have very good returns for all the reasons listed above.   For most entrants, marijuana is gong to suck as a business for years to come.   And, some states seem to be developing onerous licensing regimes, and this may allow a few folks with the coveted licenses to make pretty good money.  Some day there could well be someone who consolidates the business and builds a powerful consumer brand and drives down costs and increases scale that makes money in marijuana.  But that is years away and typically the person who leads this is not among the initial entrants.  Remember, the vast vast majority of folks who traveled to California in the 1849 gold rush never made a cent.

You can already see this in California (my emphasis added). 

California's marijuana growers are producing far more pot than is consumed in-state — and will be forced to reduce crops under new regulations that ban exports, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"We are producing too much," Allen told the Sacramento Press Club during a panel discussion, the Times reported; he added that state-licensed growers "are going to have to scale back. We are on a painful downsizing curve."

Estimates vary for just how much surplus California produces — anywhere from five times to 12 times what is consumed in-state, the Times reported.

 

** You can tell I have classical training in business strategy because my goal is return on investment.  One can argue, perhaps snarkily but also somewhat accurately, that there is a new school of thought that does not care about profitability, revenues, or return on investment but on getting larger and larger valuations from private investors based on either user counts or just general buzz.  I am entirely unschooled in this modern form of strategy.  However, the general strategy of getting someone to overpay for something from you is as old as time.  I mentioned Mark Cuban but there are many other examples.  Donald Trump seems to have made a lot of money from a related strategy of fleecing his debt holders.

So I Was Wrong Again -- American Politics and No Way Out

About 30 years ago there was a Kevin Costner movie called "No Way Out".  If you never saw it and ever intend to, there is a major spoiler coming.  Anyway, Costner is a military officer having a fling with a woman played by Sean Young, who is also having a fling with Costner's superior officer.  Sean Young turns up dead (probably a fantasy for the director since every director who worked with her wanted to kill her).  There is some sense that Costner's superior officer may be guilty, and Costner is named by the officer to lead the investigation, but with a twist -- the officer is trying to get the girl's death blamed on a mysterious Russian spy, who may or may not even be real, to divert attention from his adultery and possibly from the fact that he was probably the killer.  Things evolve, and it appears that Costner is going to be framed not only for the girl's death but also as the probably mythical spy.  The movie is about Costner desperately trying to escape this frame, and in the end is successful.  But in the final scene, Costner is seen speaking in Russian to his controller.  He is the spy!  The original accusation was totally without evidence, almost random, meant to divert attention from his superior's likely crimes, but by accident they turned out to be correct.

I feel like that with the Russian election hacking story.  For months I have said the Russian election hacking story was a nothing.  It made little sense and there was pretty much zero evidence.  It was dreamed up within 24 hours of the election by a Clinton campaign trying to divert attention and blame for their stunning loss.  I have called it many times the Obama birth certificate story of this election.

But it turns out that pursuing any Trump connection whatsoever with Russia has turned up some pretty grubby stories.  In particular, seeing a Presidential campaign -- and the President's son -- fawning over unfriendly foreign governments to get their hands on oppo research is just plain ugly.  That the Clinton campaign may have done shady things to get oppo research of their own is irrelevant to the ethics here (and perhaps one good justification for electing Republicans, since the media seems to be more aggressive at holding Republicans to account for such things).

Sorry.  I fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never underestimate the stupidity and ethical flexibility of politicians."

Postscript:  In general, my enforced absence from both twitter and highly partisan blogs is going quite well.  I will write more about it soon, but I have to mention this:  I had a small break in my isolation yesterday when I was scanning around the radio on a business trip.  I landed on Rush Limbaugh, and would have moved on immediately but the first words I heard out of his mouth were "golden showers".  OK, I was intrigued.  He then used that term about 3 more times in the next 60 seconds (apparently he was going with the "everybody does it" defense of Trump by accusing the Clintons of getting oppo research from the Ukraine, or whatever).  Anyway, any issue that has a Conservative talk show host discussing golden showers from Russian hookers can't be all bad.

Coke and Pepsi Healthcare Reform -- It's All About the Credit

Over the last several years, when the successes and failures of the PPACA/Obamacare/Health Care reform entirely accrued to Democrats, the Republicans fought against market stabilization funds as unwarranted subsidies for insurance companies.  My understanding is that the original PPACA included a market stabilization method, but it was written as being revenue neutral - ie funds from insurers who had healthier than average subscriber pools would be transferred to insurers who had sicker subscribers.  But soon, all insurers were losing money and premiums were rising and insurers were dropping out of the exchanges.  So President Obama transferred money from other sources to give extra market stabilization funds, e.g. subsidies, to insurers.  Republicans fought this action in the courts.  There was a principled position that Obama's actions were not legal, but Republicans were also happy to see the PPACA failing.  If Democrats in Congress could have made any one change to the PPACA last year, it likely would have been to increase these stabilization or subsidy funds, which I presume the Republicans would have fought.

Now, it is clear the public and the media is going to hang any future PPACA problems around Republican necks.  Whether this is fair or not is almost irrelevant -- one can see from Republican actions that they feel this to be true, at least in the Senate.  Because now Republicans are proposing market stabilization subsidies that are likely higher than Democrats would have even dreamed of asking for:

When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases its estimate of Senate Republicans’ Obamacare discussion draft this week, it will undoubtedly state that the bill will lower health insurance premiums. A whopping $65 billion in payments to insurers over the next three years virtually guarantees this over the short-term.

Indeed, Senate Republican staff have reportedly been telling members of Congress that the bill is designed to lower premiums between now and the 2020 election—hence the massive amounts of money for plan years through 2021, whose premiums will be announced in the heat of the next presidential campaign....

Section 106 of the bill creates two separate “stability funds,” one giving payments directly to insurers to “stabilize” state insurance markets, and the second giving money to states to improve their insurance markets or health care systems. The insurer stability fund contains $50 billion—$15 billion for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, and $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 and 2021. The fund for state innovation contains $62 billion, covering calendar years 2019 through 2026.

This goes against pretty much all of the principled reasons Republicans opposed Obamacare in the first place, but given the choice of following principle or using our tax money to help buy another couple years in power, both parties will always make the second choice.  Of course, being given all that they would have wanted last year, the Democrats will likely not sign on for this as they don't want to bail Republicans out any more than Republicans wanted to bail Democrats out.

AP Writes Over 1300 Words on the Loss Of Summer Jobs for Teens, Never Mentions Minimum Wage

If one is curious why the public is economically illiterate, look no further than our media.  The AP's Paul Wiseman managed to write 1300 words on the loss of teenage summer jobs, and even lists a series of what he considers to be the causes, without ever once mentioning the minimum wage or the substantial restrictions on teen employment in place in many states.  I do not know Paul Wiseman and so I will not guess at his motivations - whether ignorance or intentional obfuscation - but it is impossible to believe that this trend isn't in part due to the minimum wage.  As I wrote in the comments on the AZ Republic:

How is it possible to write over 1300 words on the disapearance of teenage summer jobs without once mentioning the minimum wage?

Two of the most substantial criticisms of the minimum wage are 1. it prices low-skilled workers out of the market (and there is no one more unskilled than an inexperienced teenager) and 2. it put 100% emphasis on pay as the only reward for work, while giving no credit for things like gaining valuable experience and skills. We clearly see both at work here, and it is likely no coincidence that we are seeing this article in the same year minimum wages went up by 25% in AZ, as they have in many other states.

By the way, in addition to the minimum wage, AZ (as has many other states) has established all sorts of laws to "protect" underrage workers by adding all sorts of special work rules and tracking requirements. In our business, which is a summer recreation business, we used to hire a lot of teenagers. Now we have a policy banning the hiring of them -- they are too expensive, they create too much liability, and the rules for their employment are too restrictive.

Without evidence, he treats it entirely as a supply problem, ie that teens are busy and are not looking for work. But the data do not support this.  The teen unemployment rate, defined as employment by teens actively looking for work, is up.  The workforce participation rate for teens is down, but the author has nothing but anecdotal evidence that this is a supply rather than a demand issue.  It could be because teens are busier or buried in their cell phones or whatever or it could be because they have given up looking for work.

What Differentiates Republicans and Democrats

I saw this chart from Cato a while back (click to enlarge)

With the proviso that it is super dangerous to analyze this sort of data by eyeballing a scatter chart, it sure looks to me like the difference between Republicans and Democrats is mainly on economic rather than social issues.  This is surprising, I suppose, because Democrats and the media focus most of their criticism on Republicans for being social dinosaurs, but it looks like the social issues are not as much of a discriminator.  I also find it surprising given recent the Republican affinity for what strike me as liberal economic ideas, including Trump's protectionism and the strong vote for a minimum wage in red-state Arizona.

I will say however that Bryan Caplan has been on this for years.  As he reiterated the other day,

I regretfully invoke my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right.  The heart of the left isn't helping the poor, or reducing inequality, or even minority rights.  The heart of the left is being anti-market.... The second half of my Simplistic Theory says: The heart of the right is being anti-left.

I like the way he puts the last bit, because I SURE would struggle to call modern Republicans pro-market.

In this post, by the way, Caplan is skeptical about the feasibility of progressive-libertarian concerted action on certain issues.  I know my friend Brink Lindsey is working on a book to be released in the fall which will make a case for such areas of cooperation.

I will say from my personal experience that as a libertarian I was able for years to make common cause with the Left on certain issues and on the Right for other issues.  I found, starting a couple of years ago when I tried to participate in the leadership of a pro gay marriage effort, that it was increasingly hard for me to work with the progressive Left.  To work with me, they demanded not just that I agree with the issue at hand, but that I also had to pass any number of other litmus tests unrelated to the issue we were working on -- ie I could not be allowed to work for gay marriage given that I had expressed skeptical opinions on the minimum wage and catastrophic man-made climate change.

How The Media Exaggerates to Scare You -- Often In Support of Growing the State

I find the WSJ to be more readable than most modern newspapers, but that does not mean it doesn't play exactly the same silly media games every other media outlet does.

This article is about a legitimately dangerous dam in California that is being rebuilt to accommodate new learning about how earthen dams behave in seismic events.  The authors attempt to extrapolate from this example to highlight a larger threat to the nation.  They use this chart:

A reader who is not careful and does not read the fine print, which means probably most all of them, will assume that "dangerous" and "hazardous" as used in this chart refers to dams that are somehow deficient.  But in fact, these terms in this chart refer only to the fact that IF a particular dam were to fail, people and property might be at risk.  The data here say nothing about whether these dams are somehow deficient.  Actually, if anything, I am surprised the number by this definition is as small as 30%.

The actual number of deficient dams that are dangerous to human life is actually an order of magnitude smaller than these numbers, as given in the text:

An estimated 27,380 or 30% of the 90,580 dams listed in the latest 2016 National Inventory of Dams are rated as posing a high or significant hazard. Of those, more than 2,170 are considered deficient and in need of upgrading, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The inventory by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t break out which ones are deficient.

So if we accept the ASCE numbers as valid (and I am always skeptical of their numbers, they tend to exaggerate in order to try to generate business for their profession) the actual numbers of dams that are really hazardous is no more than 2,170.  That strikes me as a reasonably high number, and certainly a good enough reason to write a story, but the media simply cannot help themselves and insist on exaggerating every risk higher than it is.

Karmic Justice: EU Does to Google What Google Did To Others With Net Neutrality

Google was (and is) a big supporter of Net Neutrality.  Content providers like Google (Google owns Youtube, among other large content sites) want to make sure that other content providers are not somehow given special treatment by the ISP's that provide the bandwidth for consumers to view these sites.  In particular, sites like Youtube and Netflix, which consume a HUGE percentage of the bandwidth at many ISP's, don't want to somehow pay any extra costs that might be imposed on content sites that use a lot of bandwidth.   I wrote this on net neutrality a few years ago:

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like.  There is a battle that goes on in the marketplace in virtually every communication medium between content creators and content deliverers.  We can certainly see this in cable TV, as media companies and the cable companies that deliver their product occasionally have battles that break out in public.   But one could argue similar things go on even in, say, shipping, where magazine publishers push for special postal rates and Amazon negotiates special bulk UPS rates.

In fact, this fight for rents across a vertical supply chain exists in virtually every industry.  Consumers will pay so much for a finished product.  Any vertical supply chain is constantly battling over how much each step in the chain gets of the final consumer price.

What "net neutrality" actually means is that certain people, including apparently the President, want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators (no surprise given Hollywood's support for Democrats).  Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP's a lot of money to provide.  But Netflix doesn't want the ISP's to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses - Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion's share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it.  Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators.

A typical ISP would see this relative usage of its bandwidth.  You can be assured everyone on this list is a huge net neutrality supporter.

Essentially, Google wanted to force ISP's to be common carriers, to be legally required to carry all traffic equally, even if certain traffic (like Google's Youtube) is about a million times more expensive to serve than other people's content.

But the point of this story is not about my issues with Net Neutrality.   The point of this story is Karma, or as we used to say it in the South, what "goes around, comes around."

The European Union’s antitrust watchdog in the coming weeks is set to hit Alphabet Inc.’s Google with a record fine for manipulating its search results to favor its own comparison-shopping service, according to people familiar with the matter.

The penalty against Google is expected to top the EU’s previous record fine levied on a company allegedly abusing its dominance: €1.06 billion (about $1.18 billion) against Intel Corp.in 2009.

The fine could reach as high as 10% of the company’s yearly revenue, which stood at $90.27 billion last year.

But more painful to Google than a sizable fine could be other consequences that come with the European Commission’s decision, including changes not only to the tech giant’s business practices with its shopping service but with other services as well. The EU’s decision could also embolden private litigants to seek compensation for damages at national courts.

The EU is likely to demand Google treat its own comparison shopping service equally with those of its competitors, such as Foundem.co.uk and Kelkoo.com Ltd., possibly requiring the search giant to make rival services more visible on its own platform than they are at present. Such companies rely on traffic to their site from search engines like Google’s.

Hah!  I think this is a terrible decision that has nothing to do with economic sanity or even right and wrong -- it has to do with the EU's frequent historic use of anti-trust law as a way to bash foreign competition of its domestic providers, to the detriment of its consumers.  But it certainly is Karma for Google.  The EU is demanding that Google's search engine become a common carrier, showing content from shopping sites equally and without favor or preference.  The EU is demanding of Google exactly what Google is demanding of ISP's, and wouldn't you know it, I don't think they are going to like it.

Arnold Kling on the Evolving State of US Politics

I loved Kling's book on the three languages of politics.  While I find this a bit depressing, I mostly agree

I think that I would have preferred that the elite stay “on top” as long as they acquired a higher regard for markets and lower regard for technocratic policies. What has been transpired is closer to the opposite. There was a seemingly successful revolt against the elite (although the elite is fighting back pretty hard), and meanwhile the elite has doubled down on its contempt for markets and its faith in technocracy.

I am disturbed about the news from college campuses. A view that capitalism is better than socialism, which I think belongs in the mainstream, seems to be on the fringe. Meanwhile, the intense, deranged focus on race and gender, which I think belongs on the fringe, seems to be mainstream.

The media environment is awful. Outrage is what sells. Moderation has fallen by the wayside.

 

The "Trend" In Airline Incidents is Probably Just Publication Bias

I use the term "publication bias" to describe how easy it is to confuse the frequency with which the media reports on a phenomena with the underlying frequency of the phenomena itself.  A great example is Summer of the Shark:

...let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark." The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida. Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks. Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks. In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks. However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks. The data showed that 2001 actually was a down year for shark attacks.

A lot of folks are now commenting on the apparent "spate" of airline incidents.  This "spate" began with United dragging Dr. David Dao, a man who would not give up his seat for a United employee, off an aircraft.  Seemingly every day sees a new story.  This headline about "yet another airline incident" is typical.

I have no data on the underlying phenomenon here, but I would be willing to bet there is no upward trend in airline incidents of this sort.  My guess is that the combination of increasingly ubiquitous cell phone cameras, publication platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and most importantly a focus by the media on looking for this sort of story after the United incident are causing an uptick in coverage rather than an uptick in actual incidents.

History's Most Common Epistemology

The other day I was explaining to a young person what the word "epistemology" means.  To keep things simple, I said it is how you know what you know, or in terms of political discussion, how you know you are right.  They asked for an example.  I said that the use of logic and reason beginning from a set of givens or first principles is one approach to epsitemology.  They said they assumed everyone used that approach.  I told them that I thought not -- that, by my observation, the most common epistemology through history has been: "I was told it by a high status person in my family or tribe."  Based on sampling of social media, I still think this is still the case today.

How The Left Is Changing the Meaning of Words to Reduce Freedom -- The Phrase "Incite Violence"

A surprising number of folks on the Left of late seem to be advocating for restrictions on free speech -- Howard Dean is among the latest.  One of the arguments they use is that, they say, it is illegal in one's speech to "incite violence".  Folks like Glenn Reynolds and Eugene Volokh have responded with legal analyses of this statement, but I want to point out something slightly different -- that in the way the Left is using this phrase, the meaning has been shifted in very dangerous ways.

First, some basic legal background, and on First Amendment issues I find it is always safe to run to Eugene Volokh for help:

To be sure, there are some kinds of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment. But those narrow exceptions have nothing to do with “hate speech” in any conventionally used sense of the term. For instance, there is an exception for “fighting words” — face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are likely to start an immediate fight. ....

The same is true of the other narrow exceptions, such as for true threats of illegal conduct or incitement intended to and likely to produce imminent illegal conduct (i.e., illegal conduct in the next few hours or maybe days, as opposed to some illegal conduct some time in the future). Indeed, threatening to kill someone because he’s black (or white), or intentionally inciting someone to a likely and immediate attack on someone because he’s Muslim (or Christian or Jewish), can be made a crime. But this isn’t because it’s “hate speech”; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend.

So it is illegal to "incite violence" though this exception to free speech is typically very narrow.  As I understand it, a KKK speaker who shouts from the podium, "look, a black guy just walked in, everybody go beat him up" would probably be guilty of inciting violence if the crowd immediately beat the guy up.  A BLM speaker who shouted as part of his speech that the crowd needed to fight back against police oppression would likely not be guilty of inciting violence if, some months later, one of the audience members assaulted a police officer.

But what all of this has in common is speakers telling their supporters to go out and commit violence against some other person or group.  The violence incited is by the speakers supporters and is specifically urged on by the speaker.  But this is not how the Left is using the term "incite violence".  The Left is using this term to refer to violence by opponents of the speaker attempting to prevent the speaker from being heard.  For example,  when folks argue that Ann Coulter cannot speak at Berkeley because she will "incite violence", they don't mean that she is expected to stand up and urge her supporters to go do violence against others -- they mean that they expect her opponents to be violent.

This is a horrible newspeak redefinition of a term.  It is implying that a speaker is responsible for the violence by those who oppose her.  By this definition, the socialists of 1932 Germany were guilty of "inciting violence" whenever  Nazi brownshirts tried to brutally shut down socialist meetings and speeches.

I am not sure why the Left is so good at this - perhaps because most of the media is sympathetic to the Left and is willing to let them define the terms of the debate.  The Left has successfully performed a similar bit of verbal judo with the claim that Russians "hacked" the last election.  By calling leaks of Democratic private correspondence "hacking the election", they have successfully left the impression among many that the Russians actually manipulated vote totals, something for which there is zero evidence and really no credible story of how it might have been done.

As a Significant Potential Beneficiary of Trump's Tax Plan, I Will Say It Makes No Sense

Trump's tax plan makes little sense to me, and much of what I have seen written about it today is so full of misunderstandings about taxes and small businesses, I thought I would try to supply a bit of context for my contention that the plan makes no sense.  As a caveat, Trump is seldom careful when he chooses words, so it could well be that I am working off of a media misinterpretation of his proposal.

I own an S-Corporation, which is the source of nearly all my personal income.  In an S-Corporation, there is no corporate income tax per se.  The corporation fills out an (extensive) set of tax forms, but the corporation does not write a check based on the corporate return.  Instead, whatever amount is on the bottom line as taxable income in the corporate return passes through to my personal income tax return, where it is added to any other income I have (e.g. I pay myself a salary from the company, I get some interest income, etc) and I am taxed on that total based on my personal income tax rate.

For an individual owner, this structure makes a lot of sense, and this can best be understood by looking at the alternative, which is a traditional C-corporation.  In a traditional C corporation, the corporation has a tax return just as in the S corp but, and this is a big difference, the corporation actually pays taxes based on this return on a corporate tax schedule.  But the income is still sitting in the corporation.  If the individual who owns the corporation wants this money, and presumably she does as why else be in business, then the corporation must dividend this money to the owner.  The dividend triggers a second taxable event -- that dividend of the after-tax profits of the C corporation is then taxed again in the individual's tax return.  I read today in the Wall Street Journal that "the appeal of becoming a pass-through business jumped after a 1986 U.S. tax overhaul set the top rate for individuals lower than the top rate for corporations."  I don't think this is at all true -- the appeal was never one of differential rates, because to get income in an owner's pocket always has required it be taxed at individual rates.  The appeal of the S corp is that the income does not need to be taxed a second time, at the corporation level.

In being the owner-operator of a C corp, one has to constantly worry about the double taxation problem.  A popular solution is for the owner to simply pay himself the entire expected income of the corporation as a salary, this effectively eliminates the corporate level tax as there is no income left to tax, and so all the income is taxed on the individual's return as salary.  Another popular dodge has been to lend rather than dividend the corporate income to the owners.   This eliminates it being taxable on the individual return at the time the income is passed over, but this merely defers individual taxes until the loan is forgiven or until the company is sold or liquidated and the loan netted out.

S-corp owners like myself don't have to worry about all this mess -- the decision as to how much I pay myself in salary vs. how much I get paid in dividends is largely irrelevant to my taxes.  If the company has income, before owner's salary, of $100,000 then my taxes are essentially the same whether I take $95,000 in salary or $5,000 in salary -- all $100,000 is going to get taxed at the individual rate on my 1040 whether I call it salary or corporate income -- this is true because on the income statement, the owner's salary is a deduction from income, so income goes up by the same amount that the owner's salary goes down.  (Note that this is not exactly correct -- there is a small difference in that a higher salary increases payroll taxes somewhat that are not incurred on dividends).

I can't totally figure out how the Trump plan is intended to work, in part because one can argue that the S-corp corporate rate is already zero, so what does it mean to "lower" it to 15%?  But my best guess is that he is saying that for pass-through entities like S-Corps, pass through income would only get taxed on the individual 1040 at a maximum of 15% while the rest would get taxed at the regular rate, whatever that is.  There is a lot that is unclear - for example, for purposes of computing tax brackets for the rest of my income, does the pass-through income count?  But assuming all this is sorted out, owners like myself would find ourselves with a strange set of new incentives.  For example, depending on my tax bracket, my incentive would likely be to pay myself nothing in salary.  Anything I pay myself in salary would be taxed at a higher rate, apparently, than anything that passes through as income.

My guess is that someone is confused here, either in communicating or putting together this plan (given Trump's haphazardness and lack of precision in communication, I would bet on the communication error).  The WSJ described the pass-through rate being dropped to 15% in parallel with the C-C0rp max rate dropping to 15%, but those two rates are not at all parallel.  The C-Corp rate is part of a double taxation chain.  For that income to be useful to anyone, it has to pass through (either as dividends or higher equity prices) to individuals who pay individual taxes on the income as well.  So in this plan as described, income in C-Corps that are then passed on to their owners as dividends are taxed at 15% + individual rate.  But the income tax for S-Corp income passed to its owners about be 15% total.

Look, I will happily take this, but if this plan is really being described well, it is stupid and senseless.  Someone doesn't really understand pass-through entities.

My alternative is still to get rid of the corporate tax code completely.  Forget all the costs spent on corporate tax lawyers and all the distortive things corporations do to manage taxes.  Tax everything once, when it reaches the 1040.  Here is my plan I have proposed on a number of occasions (pass-throughs would be kept as-is, this is for C-Corps):

So here is my simply two-point plan

  1. Eliminate the corporate income tax.  Entirely
  2. Tax dividends and capital gains as regular income on individual tax returns

Done.  All corporate profits get taxed but only when they pass through to individuals as capital gains or dividends.  I think this would actually raise more money but rates could be adjusted (or better yet deductions eliminated) if needs to keep it neutral.

The Continuing Climate Disconnect and the Climate Bait and Switch

I am at an impasse.  Here is my dilemma:  I don't know if the media is purposely obfuscating the climate debate or whether they are just ignorant and scientifically illiterate.  For now, because I am a happy soul that does not like making dark assumptions about other people's motivations, so I am going to give the media the benefit of the doubt and just assume they are ignorant.  But it is getting harder to reach this conclusion, because for it to be ignorance, it has to be serial ignorance lasting many years and crossing thousands of people.

The other day, in response to an article at Skeptical Science, I wrote about the typical media myths in the climate debate that make actual conversation about the theory so difficult.  The first one I listed was this:

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because they deny the obvious truth of warming from greenhouse gasses like CO2"

In fact, if you read the article, most of the prominent climate skeptics (plus me, as a non-prominent one) totally accept greenhouse gas theory and that CO2, acting alone, would warm the Earth by 1-1.2C.  What we are skeptical of is the very net high positive feedbacks (and believe me, for those of you not familiar with dynamic systems analysis, these numbers are very large for stable natural systems) assumed to multiply this initial warming many-fold.

This is just tremendously frustrating, in part because climate alarmists (at least in the media) don't seem to understand their own theory.  I constantly have to patiently explain that the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming (or climate change if you prefer) is a two part theory, and that warming forecasts are based on two independent chained theories:  First, CO2 acting as a green house gas incrementally warms the earth and second, large net positive feedbacks in the Earth's climate multiply this initial warming many times.  The majority of the warming actually comes from the second theory, not greenhouse gas theory, but every time I am in a debate or interview situation one of the early questions is "how can you deny greenhouse gas theory, it is settled science?"   This is what I call the climate bait and switch -- skeptics have issues with the second theory but the media and climate alarmists only want to argue about the first.

Robert Tracinski at the Federalist highlights a really good example of this:

In a CNBC interview, the host asked, “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?” Pruitt answered: “No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

This is a pretty reasonable answer.  It is simply absurd to argue that CO2 (at a current atmospheric concentration of 0.04%) is the "primary control knob for climate".  CO2 is obviously part of a large and complex equation with many, many variables, but calling it the primary control knob is like saying that the sugar industry is the primary control knob for the US economy.

But back to the issue of the climate bait and switch.  Here is NPR responding to Pruitt's comments.  Can you guess what they say?

Those statements are at odds with an overwhelming body of scientific evidence showing that humans are causing the climate to warm by releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. The view that CO2 is a major heat-trapping gas is supported by reams of data, included data collected by government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Greenhouse gas theory is settled science!  But Pruitt has never, in anything I have read, disagreed with greenhouse gas theory.  He just thinks the effects have been exaggerated.  But here is the media, yet again, ignoring the actual arguments of skeptics and trying to recast their position as denying greenhouse gas theory.  The media sets up this false dichotomy that either you accept that CO2 is "the primary control knob of climate" or you deny CO2 is a greenhouse gas at all.  They allow no intermediate position, despite the fact that both of these choices are scientifically absurd.

Mr. Tracinski goes on to make the same point I often make, so I will let him do it in his own words since I don't seem to have any success explaining it:

The question is not whether carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The question is whether it is the “primary control knob for the climate.” The question is whether it is the greenhouse gas, the one factor that dominates all other factors.

There is good reason for skepticism. For one thing, just on the “basic science,” Pruitt is absolutely correct. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but it is not the most powerful greenhouse gas, by a long shot. Water vapor is far more effective at trapping heat and releasing it back to the atmosphere, primarily because it absorbs a lot more radiation in the infrared spectrum, which is released as heat.

That’s why all of the climate theories that project runaway global warming use water vapor to juice up the relatively small impact of carbon dioxide itself. They posit a “feedback loop” in which carbon dioxide increases temperatures, which increases the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which increases temperatures even more. These models need a more powerful greenhouse gas to magnify the effect of carbon dioxide.

But does it really work that way? By how much does water vapor magnify the impact of carbon dioxide? And is that effect dampened by other factors? Consider cloud formation: more water in the atmosphere means more clouds, which reflect sunlight back into space and have a cooling effect that counteracts the warming effect. But by how much?

The answer is that nobody really knows. There are varying estimates for “climate sensitivity,” that is, how sensitive global temperatures are to increases in carbon dioxide. They range from a relatively trivial impact—less than one degree Celsius warming from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide—to more than five degrees.

 

 

So Skeptical Science Is "Correcting" Me

I really wasn't going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called "Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes," but several readers have asked me about it and it's Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes.  I may skip parts of his critique.  That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let's defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it.  As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.

Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!

The author begins his critique this way:

Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on "catastrophic man-man global warming theory." This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer's Forbes article. Also searching "catastrophic man-made climate change" I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.

In Mr. Meyer's article he claims this is the "core theory" and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.

Hey, thanks for making my point!  I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate.   They use phrases like "climate denier" for folks like me which make no sense, since I don't deny there is a climate.  Clearly "climate denier" is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly?  Merely saying "global warming" as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects.  Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).

With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do  -- I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss.  It's not just global warming, it's man-made global warming.  And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent.  I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?)  The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like "climate denier" just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.

However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase "catastrophic man-made global warming" might be wrong and offers no alternative framing.  I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan's ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested -- if advocates for climate action do not think "Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming" is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?

So Is Feedback a Critical Assumption or Not?

I really don't want to repeat my article, but it is useful to understand my thesis:  Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory is actually a two-part theory, with two chained steps.  In the first, CO2 (and methane and other stuff) act as greenhouse gasses and incrementally warm the planet (about 1-1.2C per doubling of CO2 levels).  In the second step, via a second theory unrelated to greenhouse gas theory, the initial warming from greenhouse gasses is multiplied several times by positive feedbacks that dominate the Earth's climate system, up to the IPCC's estimate of 3-5 C per doubling.  Most of the projected warming in forecasts, such as those from the IPCC, are actually from this second step.  My position is that I largely agree with the first step, which is well understood, but believe there is little real understanding of the second, that feedbacks could be net positive or negative, and that scientists either over-estimate their certainty on feedbacks or, more commonly, bury the feedback assumptions and don't even talk about them in public.

As an aside, I have presented this in front of many climate scientists and no one has really disputed that my summary of the logic is correct (they have of course disputed my skepticism with the feedback number).  In fact Wikipedia, no climate denier, has this in their article about climate sensitivity:

CO2 climate sensitivity has a component directly due to radiative forcing by CO2, and a further contribution arising from climate feedbacks, both positive and negative. "Without any feedbacks, a doubling of CO2 (which amounts to a forcing of 3.7 W/m2) would result in 1 °C global warming, which is easy to calculate and is undisputed. The remaining uncertainty is due entirely to feedbacks in the system, namely, the water vapor feedback, the ice-albedo feedback, the cloud feedback, and the lapse rate feedback";[12] addition of these feedbacks leads to a value of the sensitivity to CO2 doubling of approximately 3 °C ± 1.5 °C, which corresponds to a value of λ of 0.8 K/(W/m2).

In a critique, I would expect someone to say, "your description of the theories is wrong because of X" or "I agree with your basic description of the theories but think there are good reasons why we expect feedbacks to be strongly positive".  But this is what we get instead from Mr. Honeycutt

New errors pop up when trying to describe this "theory" where he attempts to describe water vapor feedbacks. He states that the IPCC "assumed" a strong positive feedbackfrom water vapor. The IPCC doesn't assume anything. The IPCC is a collection of leading experts in their fields who ware painstakingly cataloguing the scientific research. Meyer also makes an error suggesting the IPCC "just add" 2-4°C onto the 1°C for CO2 warming. Such figures, again, are completely manufactured by Meyer. They don't jibe with climate sensitivity figures and he provides no reference to what he means with figures like these.

The IPCC actually produces graphs such as the following to quantify forcings on the climate system, which also very clearly indicate levels of scientific understanding and uncertainty ranges.

He follows with a IPCC chart that showing forcing number estimates for different atmospheric components and the range of IPCC climate sensitivity forecasts, then says

By comparison, the IPCC and research scientists take the uncertainties involved with climateforcings and feedbacks very seriously. They clearly quantify and document them. The net result of the research suggests that our climate's sensitivity to forcing centers around 3°C for doubling CO2 concentrations. The low end probability is ~1.5°C, and the IPCC clearly state that anything lower than this is highly improbable.

My first thought is a snarky one, that it is interesting to see someone from a site with the word "skeptical" in the title go in for such a full-bore appeal to authority.  But to the substance, I am certainly familiar with all the IPCC forcing charts, and what is more, that these charts include a self-assessment by the IPCC about how confident they are in their estimates.  Since that self-assessment never is supported by any methodology or analysis in the reports, or any neutral third-party review, I take it with a grain of salt.

But to the rest, if one wants to discuss climate change with a lay audience, it is not wildly useful to start spewing out forcing numbers that have little meaning to the reader, and which the reader has no ability to connect to what they really care about, ie how much temperatures may rise.

More tellingly, though, after I spend most of my article discussing how the media frequently merges the effects of greenhouse gasses acting alone with the effects of feedbacks in the system that multiply or reduce these direct effects, Mr. Honeycutt does just that, offering forcing numbers that, if I read them correctly, include both direct effects and feedback multipliers.

The reason why it is useful to separate the direct warming effect from CO2 from the follow-on effects of feedback multipliers is the level of certainty we have in assessing their values.  We can figure out pretty precisely the absorption and reradiation characteristics of CO2 in a laboratory.  We can't do anything similar with feedbacks -- they must be inferred using various (all to-date imperfect) approaches to isolating feedback effects from everything else in the climate.  An example from another field might be useful.  Let's say we want to know the economic effect of hosting the Superbowl in Phoenix.  It is pretty easy to measure the direct effects, like the money spent on tickets for the event.  But when we look at the total system, things get really hard.  Sure we had people come in spending money on the Superbowl, but maybe we had fewer tourists doing other things, or maybe increased spending at the Superbowl was offset by less spending at movies or amusement parks.  We might compare that day's revenues to other years, but other years might have had different weather, different population, and a million other small differences that affect the outcome.  Sorting through all these literally millions of changing variables to get the net effect of hosting the Superbowl is hard (and in fact for the last Superbowl hosted in Arizona, academic groups have come up with a huge array of numbers that range all the way from highly positive to negative for the net economic effect).  The one difference between this example and what scientists have to do to isolate effects of individual inputs to the climate system is that the climate problem is much harder.

In responding to Mr. Honeycutt, I cannot honestly tell if Mr. Honeycutt is refuting this formulation of the problem (ie incremental warming from greenhouse gas effects of CO2 is increased to much higher, catastrophic levels by a second theory that the earth is dominated by strong positive feedbacks) or merely disputing my assertion that the second half of this proposition is not well-proven.

Missing the Point on Past Temperatures

Mr. Honeycutt has a number of problems with my discussion of past temperatures.  First, he doesn't like my saying that warming from pre-industrial times was 0.7C.  Mea culpa, it was probably 0.8C when I wrote the article.  He also does not like the satellite temperature measurement, because it measures temperatures in the lower troposphere (a couple miles up in the atmosphere) rather than at the surface.  He is absolutely correct, but you know what?  I am skeptical of both land and space data sets.  They both have their flaws.  Land surface temperatures, especially near the poles and in places like Africa, are widely spaced requiring a lot of interpolation.  They are also subject to a number of biases, such as from changing land use and urbanization.  Satellite data tends to cover larger swaths of the Earth, but have to be corrected for orbital decay and other satellite aging factors.  And as the author mentioned, they measure temperatures in the lower troposphere rather than the surface.  However, since the IPCC says that the most warming from greenhouse gasses should be in the lower troposphere, even greater than the warming on the surface, satellites strike me as a useful tool to look for a global warming signal.   That is why I always use both.  (As an aside, Mr. Honeycutt departs from his appeals to IPCC authority by advocating two land surface data sets NOT chosen by the IPCC as their lead data set -- I use the Hadley CRUT4 because this is what the IPCC uses as their gold standard).

But all this misses the point of why I introduced past temperatures in the first place.  My thesis was that past warming was not consistent with high CO2 temperature sensitivity numbers.  I used charts in the article but I can repeat the logic simply here.  Sensitivity numbers in the IPCC are the warming expected per doubling of CO2 levels.  Since pre-industrial times we have increased global CO2 concentrations from about 270ppm  (or 0.0270%) to about 405 ppm.  This increase of 135pp from 270ppm is conveniently (for the math) about 50% of a doubling.  Because the ratio between concentration and temperature is logarithmic, at 50% of a doubling we should see 57% of the doubling effect.  So for an IPCC sensitivity of 3C per doubling, since pre-industrial times we should have seen a warming of .57 x 3 =  1.7C.  We are nowhere close to this, even if every tenth of degree of warming over the last 100 years was man-made (a proposition with which I would disagree).  At the high end of the IPCC range, around 5C, we would have had to see 2.85C of warming to date.  At the low end of 1.5C, which the author calls unlikely, we would have seen about 0.86C of historical warming.  If one argues that manmade warming is only about half the past warming, then the sensitivity would have to be less than 1C  (by the way, this disconnect only gets larger if one considers greenhouse gasses other than CO2).

There are plenty of potential arguments one could counter with.  One could argue that time delays are really long or that man-made aerosols are masking past warming -- and we could have a nice back and forth on the topic.  Instead we just get printouts from models.  Seriously, is that how skeptical folks approach science, accepting black box model output that embodies hundreds or even thousands of potential GIGO assumptions and inputs?  I would love someone to show me in a sort of waterfall chart how one gets from 1.7C of expected warming from 270-405ppm to Hadley CRUT4 actual warming around 0.8C.  Doesn't anyone feel the need to reconcile their forecasts to actual observations?

There are really good reasons to distrust models.  If Donald Trump wanted to invest $100 million in building new military bases, and said that he had a computer model from experts with graphs that show the plan will grow GNP by a trillion dollars, would you automatically accept the model?  If GNP only grew by $200 million instead of by a trillion, would you want a reconciliation and explanation?

There are also good reasons to distrust climate models and forecasts.  James Hansen's models he used in his famous testimony in front of Congress in 1988 over-predicted warming rates by quite a bit (full explanation here).  Since people argue endlessly over this chart about how to center and zero the graphs, it is much easier just to look at implied warming rates:

Even the IPCC finds itself questioning its past warming forecasts:

These forecast failures are not meant as proof the theory is wrong, merely that there is good reason to be skeptical of computer model output as somehow the last word in a debate.

Actually, Missing the Whole Point of the Article

I had naively thought that the title of the article "Understanding the Global Warming Debate" (rather than, say, "Climate Alarmists Are Big Fat Liars") might be a clue I was trying outline the terms of the debate and the skeptic position in it rather than put a detailed dagger through the heart of, say, climate models.

I wrote this article based on my extreme frustration in the climate debate.  I have no problem with folks disagreeing with me  - in enjoy it.  But I was frustrated that the skeptic argument was being mis-portrayed and folks were arguing about the wrong things.  Specifically, I was frustrated with both of these two arguments that were frequently thrown in my face:

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because they deny the obvious truth of warming from greenhouse gasses like CO2"

In fact, if you read the article, most of the prominent climate skeptics (plus me, as a non-prominent one) totally accept greenhouse gas theory and that CO2, acting alone, would warm the Earth by 1-1.2C.  What we are skeptical of is the very net high positive feedbacks (and believe me, for those of you not familiar with dynamic systems analysis, these numbers are very large for stable natural systems) assumed to multiply this initial warming many-fold.  Of all the folks I have talked to in the past, perhaps less than 1% were familiar with the fact that warming forecasts were a chain of not one but two theories, both greenhouse gas theory and the theory that the Earth's atmosphere is dominated by strong net positive feedbacks.  Even if the audience does not choose to agree with my skepticism over feedback levels, isn't this education of the public about the basic theory useful?  The author accuses me of purposeful obfuscation, but for those of us who are skeptical, it is odd that alarmists seem to resist discussing the second part of the theory.  Could it be that the evidence for strong positive feedbacks dominating the Earth's long-term-stable greenhouse gas theory is not as strong as that for greenhouse gas theory?  Evidence for high atmospheric positive feedbacks simply HAS to be weaker than that for greenhouse gas theory, not only because they have been studied less time but more importantly because it is orders of magnitude harder to parse out values of feedbacks in a complex system than it is to measure the absorption and emission spectrum of a gas in a laboratory.

  • "Climate deniers are anti-science morons and liars because there is a 97% consensus behind global warming theory.

Well, studies have shown a 97% agreement on .. something.  This comes back to the first part of this post.  If one is sloppy about the proposition being tested, then it is easier to get widespread agreement.  The original study that arrived at the 97% number asked two questions -- "do you think the world has warmed in the last century" and "do you think a significant part of this warming has been due to man".  97% of scientists said yes.  But I, called a climate denier, would have said yes to both as well.  Alarmists attempt to shut off debate with skeptics by siting 97% agreement with propositions that have little or nothing to do with skeptics' arguments.  Try asking a large group of scientists if they think that the world will warm 3C per doubling of CO2 levels, the proposition with which I disagree, and I guarantee you are not going to get anywhere near 97%.  This is simply a bait and switch.

I will conclude with his conclusion:

Meyer ends with an unjustifiable conclusion, stating:

So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate — the two sides are debating different propositions!  In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side, propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree.   When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gastheory is correct.    At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another;  at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

The positions he's put forth in this article are the epitome of lazy analysis and scientific illiteracy. He's bizarrely framed his entire discussion attempting to attack the positions of the IPCC, a body composed of the world's leading researchers, as being scientifically illiterate. One has to ask, from where does his own "literacy" if not from leading climateresearchers? It's certainly not based in the available published research which the IPCC reports are based on.

In this, perhaps he's inadvertently answering his own questions in a manner that he would prefer to reject. What are "skeptics" denying? Answer: The scientific research.

Well, first, I would advise him to work on his reading comprehension scores.  I called the media scientifically illiterate, not the IPCC and researchers.  The basic framework of greenhouse gas incremental warming multiplied many times by assumed positive net feedbacks is in the scientific literature and the IPCC -- my frustration is that the feedback theory seldom enters the public debate and media articles, despite the fact that the feedback theory is the source of the majority of projected warming and is the heart of many climate skeptic's criticisms of the theory.

And with that, the "skeptical science" article ends with an appeal to authority.

Postscript:  Thinking about it more, at some level I find this article weirdly totalitarian, particularly the last paragraph where I am described as doing nothing but polluting the climate discussion.  Here he writes:

Forbes is a very high profile publication and thus someone there, at Forbes, decided that it was fine and well to give this person an internet soapbox to promote a position rejecting the climate science which he has absolutely no expertise. He is not genuinely adding to the discussion on climate change but is being placed into a position as someone to listen to. Meyer is polluting the discussion with misinformation and poor analysis which has no bearing on the actual issue of climate change. And thanks to Google, these types of discussions, lacking in any substance, are given equal weight to actual science due to the traffic they generate.

This seems an oddly extreme response to someone who:

  • agrees in the linked article that the world has warmed over the last century
  • agrees in the linked article that a good chunk of that warming is due to manmade CO2
  • agrees in the linked article that CO2 acting as a greenhouse gas will increase temperatures, acting alone, by about 1-1.2C per doubling
  • argues for a form of carbon tax (in a different article)
  • but disagrees on the magnitude of added warming from net feedback effects.

It seems that we have moved beyond "you are either with us or against us" and entered the realm of "you are either entirely with us on every single detail or you are against us".

Postscript #2:  Something else has been bothering me about this critique and I think I can finally put it into words  -- the critique is sort of science without thought, a regurgitation of the canon whenever I diverge from orthodoxy without actually considering the arguments presented.

Look, there are tens of thousands of people talking past each other on climate issues.  One of the things I try to do, if nothing else to bring something new to the discussion, is try to reframe the discussion in more useful and accesible terms, often with different sorts of graphs.  Sometimes these are useful reframings, and sometimes not, but I do know that in general I am a heck of a lot better at creating charts to communicate with a lay audience than is the IPCC or most of the prominent folks on either side of the climate debate.  This is why getting feedback (as in this critique) that I use different words to summarize the issue or that I do not use the standard charts everyone else xeroxes out of the IPCC reports (as did Mr. Honeycutt) is not very helpful.