Posts tagged ‘Richard Nixon’

Explaining the Flaw in Kevin Drum's (and Apparently Science Magazine's) Climate Chart

I won't repeat the analysis, you need to see it here.  Here is the chart in question:


My argument is that the smoothing and relatively low sampling intervals in the early data very likely mask variations similar to what we are seeing in the last 100 years -- ie they greatly exaggerate the smoothness of history and create a false impression that recent temperature changes are unprecedented (also the grey range bands are self-evidently garbage, but that is another story).

Drum's response was that "it was published in Science."  Apparently, this sort of appeal to authority is what passes for data analysis in the climate world.

Well, maybe I did not explain the issue well.  So I found a political analysis that may help Kevin Drum see the problem.  This is from an actual blog post by Dave Manuel (this seems to be such a common data analysis fallacy that I found an example on the first page of my first Google search).  It is an analysis of average GDP growth by President.  I don't know this Dave Manuel guy and can't comment on the data quality, but let's assume the data is correct for a moment.  Quoting from his post:

Here are the individual performances of each president since 1948:

1948-1952 (Harry S. Truman, Democrat), +4.82%

1953-1960 (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican), +3%

1961-1964 (John F. Kennedy / Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +4.65%

1965-1968 (Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +5.05%

1969-1972 (Richard Nixon, Republican), +3%

1973-1976 (Richard Nixon / Gerald Ford, Republican), +2.6%

1977-1980 (Jimmy Carter, Democrat), +3.25%

1981-1988 (Ronald Reagan, Republican), 3.4%

1989-1992 (George H. W. Bush, Republican), 2.17%

1993-2000 (Bill Clinton, Democrat), 3.88%

2001-2008 (George W. Bush, Republican), +2.09%

2009 (Barack Obama, Democrat), -2.6%

Let's put this data in a chart:

click to enlarge


Look, a hockey stick , right?   Obama is the worst, right?

In fact there is a big problem with this analysis, even if the data is correct.  And I bet Kevin Drum can get it right away, even though it is the exact same problem as on his climate chart.

The problem is that a single year of Obama's is compared to four or eight years for other presidents.  These earlier presidents may well have had individual down economic years - in fact, Reagan's first year was almost certainly a down year for GDP.  But that kind of volatility is masked because the data points for the other presidents represent much more time, effectively smoothing variability.

Now, this chart has a difference in sampling frequency of 4-8x between the previous presidents and Obama.  This made a huge difference here, but it is a trivial difference compared to the 1 million times greater sampling frequency of modern temperature data vs. historical data obtained by looking at proxies (such as ice cores and tree rings).  And, unlike this chart, the method of sampling is very different across time with temperature - thermometers today are far more reliable and linear measurement devices than trees or ice.  In our GDP example, this problem roughly equates to trying to compare the GDP under Obama (with all the economic data we collate today) to, say, the economic growth rate under Henry the VIII.  Or perhaps under Ramses II.   If I showed that GDP growth in a single month under Obama was less than the average over 66 years under Ramses II, and tried to draw some conclusion from that, I think someone might challenge my analysis.  Unless of course it appears in Science, then it must be beyond question.

Larry Craig

OK, I have resisted commenting on Larry Craig.  My reactions are:

  1. We are so off topic here it is unbelievable.  For Congress, exercising arbitrary powers over individuals in violation of the intent, if not the letter, of the Constitution:  OK.  Playing footsie in the bathroom: Not OK
  2. Are we really going to have a Congressman resign for tapping his foot in a public bathroom while a man who had $100,000 in cash bribe money found in his freezer still sits in office?
  3. Why is it that Democrats, against their political beliefs, feel the need to criticize Republicans for being gay while Republicans feel the need to criticize Democrats for having large homes and SUVs?
  4. Do we really pay police officers to sit on the toilet for hours and try to catch men who are soliciting consensual sex?  And if so, do they also pay female officers to patrol for the same thing among women?  This is a real threat to us?

David Bernstein has more.  Via TJIC.

Update:  A reader pointed out to me I had a fairly relevant passage in my novel BMOC, when the Senator is confronted with his $50,000 earmark nominally for a "women's consulting company" turned out to be directed at a house of prostitution [edited to remove the more raunchy terminology]:

Taking a deep
breath, [the Senator's aid] said, "Senator, there is a reason that this one is not going
away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn't give a shit about a few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if the
teaser is "˜Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.' The Today Show doesn't interview the
contractors benefiting from a useless bridge."

"However, everybody and his dog will tune in if
the teaser is "˜Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at eleven'. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening
News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news? Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch "“ Dan Rather will be interviewing
hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God's sakes
Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker."

"And you know
what?" Givens continued, his voice rising. "The whole act makes me sick. All
these media types are going to be piously turning up their nose at you and
those women, while at the same time making more money for themselves off those
prostitutes than those women ever made for themselves on their back. It's rank
hypocrisy but it's the facts of life in Washington,
and I shouldn't have to be explaining this to you."

"You guys in the
Senate can get away with a lot, as long as long as a) you don't get caught or
b) the scandal is so boring or complex that it won't sell newspapers. Hell, I saw a poll the other day that a
substantial percentage of Americans to this day don't understand or even
believe what Richard Nixon did wrong. But if you polled those same people, every freaking one of them would
say that they knew and believed that Bill Clinton [fooled around with] an intern. What's the difference? Sex. Bill Clinton was impeached and lost his law license, not because he did
or did not commit fraud with Whitewater Development Corp., but because he lied
about [sex with] a young girl."

Why Aren't We Seeing Long Gas Lines

An email from a friend recently got me thinking about why, despite rising prices and tight worldwide demand, we aren't seeing gas station lines this year, like we did during oil shocks of the early and late 70's.  I remember both well, but the later shocks resonate with me more because as a newly minted 16-year-old driver, I was given the family job of driving around town hunting for gas for the family cars.

My first thought was that it was related to the speed and sharpness of the supply discontinuity.  Certainly the 1972 embargo represented a sharp supply change which took the world market a while to absorb, and what we have seen of late has been more gradual.  This is certainly part of the explanation, but incomplete, as the gas lines of the late 1970's were not accompanied by a similar discontinuity.  I might add that many economists at the time might have said that the speed should not matter that much, since it was accepted at the time that energy demand was inelastic, that it did not change much with price.  Therefore, the speed would not matter, since the market's corrective mechanism of price would not work well anyway.  Since then, we have learned that energy demand is very elastic, and that usage will adjust itself based on price.

My second thought was that regulation has a role in the explanantion.  Usually, when you see people queing up for a product or service, it means that prices or supply or both have been artificially limited.  Certainly last year's gas lines we got in Phoenix were almost entirely due to regulation.  Here in Phoenix, the government requires a blend of gas used no where else in the country.  The gas comes in from another state via a single pipeline.  Mobil tried for years to build a small refinery here to produce this blend closer to the market, but were never allowed by state regulators.  So, last year when the pipeline broke, we had shortages.  Our intrepid governor, as most politicians love to do in an oil shortage, blamed greedy gas station operators and oil companies for the problem.  However, when it came time to issuing her plan for dealing with the crisis, here were the first three steps:

  • Temporarily repeal regulations setting the unique gas blend for Phoenix
  • Temporarily repeal regulations on truckers to allow them to better take up the transportation slack
  • Reevaluate regulations that have restricted the construction of a refinery in Arizona

LOL, so it is all the oil companies' faults but the solution was to repeal three sets of government regulations.  Much the same situation occured in the early 70's.  Richard Nixon was probably one of the worst presidents from an economics standpoint that we have had in the last half century.  Few people remember just how close we got to a government program of gas rationing and how loud the calls were for nationalisatoin of oil companies.  Fortunately this never happened, but other bad stuff did.  For example, the markets ability to close the supply-demand gap were limited by a number of pricing controls on oil and other energy subsitutes, regulations that were not repealed until nearly a decade later.  Even weirder, the US government put in place distribution rules that said that oil companies had to send each market (I think it was done county by county) the same proportion of supply as in the year before the embargo.  I am not sure what fear drove this rule, but the result was chaotic.  For example, the previous summer lots of people drove cross-country for vacation, filling up out on the interstate in the countryside.  With shortages, no one wanted to drive long distance.  As a result, rural areas typically had plenty of gas, and cities were running out.  Demand patterns shifted (duh) but the government would not allow supply distribution to shift to match.

The final, and perhaps most important reason, though, that we have not had long gas lines is because people are not expecting them.  Fear of gas lines is a self-fulfilling prophacy, for the following reason:

Take the example of 1972, and we will use typical numbers of that era.  Lets say there were 100 million cars each with an average 20 gallon tank.  Lets
say normally, people refill their tank when it is ¼ full, so on
average their tank is 5/8 full.  Doing the math, there are 5/8 times 20 times 100
million gallons actually in cars or about 1,250 million gallons.  That's right - one of the largest single inventories of gas in this country is in people's tanks.

Now, lets say
due to supply panic, everyone suddenly refills at ¾ full. No one wants to be caught short (I remember in the 1970's, people would wait in line to put a gallon or two in their tanks -- it was nuts).  In this case, on average they
are 7/8 full or there are a total of 1750 Million gallons in cars' tanks.  So, in the space of
what might be two or three days, people suddenly demand 500 million gallons above and
beyond their normal usage to increase their tank's inventory.  Boom, stations are
out of gas, which causes people to feel even less secure without a full tank, so
they inventory more (many in spare gas cans) and the problem gets

One of the conspiracy theories of the 1970's was that we had gas lines because oil companies were holding tankers offshore waiting for prices to rise (the early 1970's were the point in time where the leadership banner for conspiracy theory nuts was handed off from the right wing to the left).  The irony is that the answer to the "mystery" of where all the gasoline inventory went was right under people's noses.  If an average tanker of the time carried 500,000 barrels of oil, and each barrel of crude oil produces about 20 gallons of gasoline (in addition to all of the other fuels) then then the act of gassing up cars faster caused 50 tanker loads of oil to disapear into people's gas tanks.  The "missing oil" was right in their garage!