Saturday, August 14, 2010

Radical findings or radical propaganda?

More junk science from the Left

By Peter Saunders

Last year, two socialist academics, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published a book called The Spirit Level which has had a huge impact in ‘progressive’ circles. In Britain, The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee likened Wilkinson to Charles Darwin, and The Independent was so impressed by the book it wanted to make ‘free-marketeers memorise it cover to cover.’

The book claims that the case for radical income redistribution in rich countries can be defended scientifically. It suggests that countries where incomes are more equally distributed do better on a range of social indicators – health, homicides, literacy, trustworthiness, teenage births, bullying – than more unequal countries. It concludes that even affluent people in unequal countries would benefit if incomes were spread more evenly.

Not everybody on the left has endorsed the book. Andrew Leigh at the Australian National University is one who has expressed caution, pointing out that life expectancy and infant mortality (two of Wilkinson and Pickett’s favourite indicators) have actually improved most rapidly in countries where incomes have widened the furthest.

But the real problem lies in Wilkinson and Pickett’s own data. I recently published a critique of their work available for free download here

There is, for a start, a problem in their choice of countries. They say they selected the 50 richest nations, but they only included 23, and they excluded several unequal countries with strong social profiles that would have undermined the patterns they wanted to find.

They were similarly selective in their choice of indicators. Imprisonment gets in, but not crime (except homicides). Drugs are in, but alcoholism is out. Murder is included, suicide is excluded. Social capital is measured by whether people say they trust each other, but membership of voluntary organisations is ignored. Using a different set of indicators, we could demonstrate the opposite of their hypothesis, that social problems appear to be worse in more egalitarian countries.

Then there are their graphs, like their plot of international homicide rates. It shows that 22 countries have similar rates but one (the United States) has a much higher rate. They happily fit a straight trend line, which is inevitably distorted by this single outlier. The line seems to show that homicides rise as inequality widens, but it’s nonsense. Britain has a lower homicide rate than Sweden, yet according to their trend line, homicides in the United Kingdom are much higher than in Sweden. They even suggest that, if Britain reduced income inequality to Swedish levels, the number of murders would fall by three-quarters! Utter rubbish.

As well as making spurious international comparisons, The Spirit Level analyses the 50 US states, arguing that more equal states have better social outcomes. But what’s driving this is not income distribution but ethnicity. The proportion of African-Americans in a state is, for example, 18 times more powerful than income inequality in predicting its infant mortality rate. But Wilkinson and Pickett never control for ethnicity, and in The Guardian, they even called me a ‘racist’ for daring to suggest that they should.

This is shabby stuff, propaganda masquerading as social science. But that won’t stop true believers using the book to push an egalitarian agenda. Two weeks ago, I debated with Wilkinson and Pickett in front of a sell-out audience at the Royal Society of Arts. Many in the audience had been marshalled by Wilkinson’s ‘Equality Trust’ (a pressure group formed to drive forward the book’s agenda). At the end, the chairman asked if anyone had changed their mind as a result of the debate. One brave soul in an audience of 200 raised his hand.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Aug. 13. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.


Our Real Gulf Disaster

Four months after the Deepwater Horizon spill — which President Obama called the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced” — the oil is disappearing, and fisheries are returning to normal. It turns out that this incident exposed some things that are seriously wrong in the world of oil — and I don’t mean exploding wells.

There was a broad-based failure on the part of the media, the science establishment, and the federal bureaucracy. With the nation and its leaders looking for facts, we got instead a massive plume of apocalyptic mythology and threats of Armageddon. In the Gulf, this misinformation has cost jobs, lowered property values, and devastated tourism, and its effects on national policy could be deep and far-reaching.

To get an idea of the scale of misinformation involved, consider how many of the most widely reported narratives about the spill — ones that have woven their way into the national consciousness — have turned out to be dubious. Some examples:

East Coast beaches are threatened. Everyone got the wrong idea about the magnitude of the spill from the very beginning. Simply put, while terrible, it was never going to be as big as most thought it would be. The spreading of this East Coast–beach meme was a joint operation of NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the media. In June, NCAR produced a slick computer-modeled animated video that showed a gigantic part of the spill making its way around the southern tip of Florida and up the East Coast. Oil covered everything from the Gulf to the Grand Banks. “BP oil slick could hit East Coast in weeks: government scientists,” dutifully reported the New York Daily News. CBS News, MSNBC, and many other media outlets chimed in in the same vein. The video was wildly popular on YouTube.

But then the government, in the form of a more senior bureaucracy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), disavowed the scenario.

Giant plumes of oil. By mid-May, oil was still comparatively scarce in the Gulf. Disappointed, the media began trying to figure out where it had gone. Marine researchers were drafted to provide the answer. Diluted oil was being found beneath the surface; but how diluted, no one was sure, and there was nothing vaguely resembling peer-reviewed literature.

Still, news reports implied or asserted that “enormous oil plumes” were waiting, like submerged monsters, to rise and attack unsuspecting beaches and wetlands. The New York Times summed up the media consensus on May 15: “Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.” The article quoted Samantha Joye, a marine-sciences professor at the University of Georgia, as saying that this oil was mixed with water in the consistency of “thin salad dressing.”

As with the bogus doomsday model, industry experts say the giant-plume threat was greatly overstated by scientists and further blown out of proportion by the media. According to Arthur Berman, a respected petroleum expert at Labyrinth Consulting Services in Sugar Land, Texas, the theory flunks basic physics. “Oil is lighter than water and rises above it in all known situations on this planet. The idea of underwater plumes defies everything that we know about physical laws and has distressed me from the outset about these unscientific reports.”

It also ignores the Gulf’s well-known ability to break down oil. Berman points out that the Gulf has for millennia been a warm, rich ecological gumbo of natural oil seeps, oil-eating bacteria, and marine life that subsists on the bacteria. His research, he says, suggests that the spill represents at most four times as much oil as seeps into the Gulf naturally in a year — in other words, it is eminently digestible by the native ecosystem.

All this misinformation comes at a serious cost. Even if the administration quickly rescinds its ban on offshore drilling (cost: 50,000 jobs, more than $2 billion in lost wages), as appeared likely in early August, the economic impact of the spill and the paranoia surrounding it will be huge. Potential visitors and customers are scared.

* The real-estate company CoreLogic, as quoted by Bloomberg, says property values could fall by about $3 billion over the next few years along the Gulf, and as much as $56,000 for some houses.

* A trade group, the U.S. Travel Association, said the tourism industry in Florida alone could stand to lose up to $18.6 billion over the next three years from the BP oil spill, even though the well has been capped.

* There are dozens of anecdotal reports that no one is buying Gulf seafood, even in areas unaffected by the spill. Gulf Coast shrimpers and fishermen are in a tough spot: On one hand, as more areas of the Gulf are declared safe, they presumably won’t be able to collect compensation from BP or the government and will have to get back to work; on the other, no one’s buying their catch. Given the public fear of toxins in food, this problem could last a long time.

* Even if the drilling ban ends, regulatory uncertainty will exact a huge cost from oil firms and their shareholders. Some insider reports suggest that oil assets in the Gulf are already being disposed of at fire-sale prices.



Ethics and the Congressional Black Caucus

Waters, the representative for South Central Los Angeles since 1991, is one of America's premier racial hucksters. A notoriously nasty piece of work, she sided with the murderous rioters in what she called the post-Rodney King verdict "rebellion" and danced the electric slide with the Crips and the Bloods. (Who says she's not bipartisan?) So it's hardly surprising that she'd lump all of her problems on Whitey.

Waters is alleged to have offered special help for OneUnited, a minority-owned bank where her husband served on the board until April 2008. Her husband owned roughly $350,000 worth of OneUnited stock. If it didn't get bailed out by the Treasury Department, the bank would have gone under.

She insists she won't be anyone's "sacrificial lamb" and points to the fact that eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been subject to ethics investigations -- which she and many in the CBC suggest is no coincidence. And they're right.

But the culprit here isn't racism, it's the corruption that is almost inevitable when any politician -- black or white -- is given a job for life. Charlie Rangel, the 80-year-old deposed chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is also in ethical hot water for a list of reasons too lengthy to recount here (but they include failure to pay taxes on unreported income -- awkward, given that he was, until recently, in charge of writing the tax laws). Rangel, one of Washington's most charming characters, ran his office like a pasha -- because he could.

Indeed, that's long been the problem with the CBC: its scandalous lack of accountability. Because of racial gerrymandering (cynically abetted by the GOP in the 1980s), black representatives have been insulated even more than other incumbents from democratic competition. Worse, the older generation of CBCers in particular actually believe this claptrap about being the "conscience of the Congress" (the Caucus motto). This has put the CBC to the left not just of the average voter but the average black voter. Less than 10 percent of the CBC voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 2003, even though a majority of blacks support the ban. A majority of blacks oppose racial quotas and support school choice, but the CBC claims to speak for them when taking the opposite positions.

Caucus members pulled this off by invoking racial solidarity and Tammany Hall tactics in their districts, while maxing out the race card with the media and their non-black colleagues in Congress. And that's what Waters and Rangel are doing now, the former explicitly, the latter implicitly. Both are demanding an immediate trial, before the November elections, which would hammer even more nails into the Democratic coffin. In effect, they're saying, "Let us off the hook or we'll take you all down with us in a racial spectacle."




Last in credibility: The liberal campaign to discredit American health care: "While Republicans advocate repeal of President Obama’s sweeping health care reforms, Democrats are pulling out all the stops to build support for the legislation. And the president’s party has a not-so-secret weapon at its disposal: a network of well-funded academics and researchers working to discredit the existing health care system. The Commonwealth Fund, a liberal think tank headed by a former Democratic staffer, leads the effort. Typical of the Commonwealth Fund is a recent study claiming that the U.S. health care system ranks last when compared with seven industrialized countries.”

A welcome step towards freer trade: "President Obama today signed The Manufacturing Enhancement Act of 2010 into law. The bill, passed in Congress last month, will reduce or suspend some tariffs that American companies must pay to import certain materials to manufacture their products, which the president said today "will significantly lower costs for American companies across the manufacturing landscape." These companies, the president touted today, will be able to grow and hire more workers."

Bleak jobs report indicates more pain to come: "Commentators across the political spectrum had similar reactions to the dismal jobs numbers released by the government in August but markedly different prescriptions for solving the problem. Nonfarm payrolls fell by 131,000 in July, more than the drop of 60,000 economists had expected, the Labor Department reported. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement the government’s ‘disappointing employment report shows the economy shed 131,000 workers, mostly because of the winding down of the U.S. Census.’”

This recession is not like the others: "At 33 months [the current recession] is already more than three times longer than the average length of the other ten recessions we’ve had since WWII. There are no clear signs it will be ending anytime soon. Glimmers of a recovery appear from time to time, but most indicators remain depressed and many are worsening. On balance, the outlook is more negative than positive. Not since the Great Depression have we had two consecutive years of unemployment in excess of nine percent. What we’re seeing is economic stagnation.”


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Sean said...

Regarding "Last in credibility: The liberal campaign to discredit American health care":

One of the things they never tell you when they do these studies about how different countries "rank" in health care, is that having "Nationalized" is the most weighted item. So no matter how well all the other aspects of the US health system match up, because we don't have "Nationalized", health care we are automatically at the bottom of the list.