Archives: October, 2013

Government “Shutdown” Shuts Down Beer

I’ve taken a lot of flak from establishment media types and angry federal employees for my contention that the hullabaloo over the so-called government “shutdown” is excessive. The fact is most government activities have not stopped and most government employees continue to work. However, one activity that has stopped – and, man, this is personal – is the approval of new beer labels and recipes.   

From USA Today (tip of the hat to my dad): 

All new beers that get bottled or canned to be sold across state lines must be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, known in the industry as the TTB. Federal workers must approve the label, as well as the recipe if it uses non-traditional ingredients, which many seasonal beers contain. While the TTB has stopped approving new recipes and labels, workers there are still collecting brewery taxes. 

Of course the feds are still collecting the taxes. In fact, big government and alcohol taxation is an American tradition!   

Protectionists vs. Patent Trolls

The United States International Trade Commission’s patent enforcement activities are under fire from two camps concerned about the agency’s excessive remedies for patent infringement.  In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, former commissioner Charlotte Lane lamented that the agency has become the “International Trolling Commission” where rent-seeking patent trolls can harass innovative U.S. companies. 

On the same day, the U.S. Trade Representative refused to veto an ITC import ban on certain Samsung smart phones, even though the administration recently vetoed a similar ban against Apple. The difference between the cases hinged on the ITC’s excessive enforcement of Samsung’s standard-essential patents. The veto may have looked like favoritism, but it was really about correcting the agency’s bad patent policy.

The good news is that momentum is gaining for significant reform of the ITC’s role in the patent system. Some good ideas for reform include ending ITC patent jurisdiction entirely, limiting the agency to enforcement of district court awards, or most likely, better aligning the ITC’s remedies for patent infringement with federal district courts.   

Climate Models’ Tendency to Simulate Too Much Warming and the IPCC’s Attempt to Cover That Up

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science, review interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press.

 

The biggest criticism to emerge so far regarding the new Fifth Assessment Report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that it generally fails to acknowledge how poorly climate model simulations of the earth’s temperature evolution compare with actual observations. If the models cannot accurately simulate known climate variability and change, using them for policy purposes is a fool’s errand.

There are two lines of evidence that converge to show that the climate models are largely failing to accurately simulate observed climate behavior.

The first is that a collection of about ten research papers (including 16 separate analyses) published in the scientific literature beginning in 2011 that collectively indicate that the earth’s equilibrium climate sensitivity—that is, how much the earth’s average surface temperature rises as a result of a doubling of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration—is about 2°C, give or take about 0.5°C (Figure 1). You can find details here

Figure 1. Climate sensitivity estimates from new research published since 2010 (colored), compared with range of estimates from the climate models incorporated into the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5; black). The arrows indicate the 5 to 95 percent confidence bounds for each estimate along with the best estimate (median of each probability density function; or the mean of multiple estimates; colored vertical line). Ring et al. (2012) present four estimates of the climate sensitivity and the red box encompasses those estimates. The light grey vertical bar is the mean of the 16 estimates from the new findings. The mean climate sensitivity (3.2°C) of the climate models used in the IPCC AR5 is 60 percent greater than the mean of recent estimates (2.0°C).

 

Suspending Egypt’s Military Aid: Too Little, Too Late

Three months since the military coup in Egypt, U.S. military aid to the country is being reconsidered. It appears that the administration will

withhold the delivery of several big-ticket items, including Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts and F-16 warplanes, as well as $260 million for the general Egyptian budget.

The details of the freeze have not been disclosed. But after its refusal to call the events in Egypt a coup and a half-hearted cancellation of joint military exercises scheduled for September, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is too small and too equivocal as the administration is stressing that it wants to keep a door open to restore the aid in its entirety. More importantly, the announcement comes too late to make a meaningful difference to Egyptians.

Why all the reluctance? For years, Americans were told that aid to Egypt was a mechanism that gave the U.S. government leverage over developments in the most populous Arab country. The only sense in which that has worked is that aid has helped to deeply entrench authoritarian rule in the country. Egypt’s military has slowly built an opaque economic empire and a network of patronage with very little accountability. And even if one believes that a strong military and an autocratic secular state is what it takes to save Egypt from becoming a theocracy, there is nothing for Americans to gain from being complicit in the process and in everything that might possibly go wrong.

Indeed, many things have already gone wrong. The bloody aftermath of the coup might be just a foretaste of more violence looming on the horizon. Following the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has seen a rise in Islamic radicalization, especially in the Sinai. In the meantime, the secular government has shown itself no more capable of tackling the country’s numerous economic challenges than the thoroughly inept cabinet of Hisham Qandil. And as American money keeps flowing in, ordinary Egyptians will keep blaming the United States for the rebirth of the militarized authoritarian state in their country and for its ugly repercussions.

Just in Time for Halloween Come Some Scary Global Warming Predictions

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Global warming beater Justin Gillis of the New York Times had an article yesterday describing a new paper in the current issue of Nature magazine, the point of which seems to be scaring people with alarming global warming statistics.

Gillis’ article “By 2047, Coldest Years May Be Warmer Than Hottest in Past,” describes the results of a class-project-cum-Nature-article headed by Camilo Mora from the University of Hawaii at Manoa (please, no puns). The class assignment was to identify the year for each spot on the globe in which all future years were, according to climate model projections, warmer as a result of greenhouse gas emissions than the warmest year simulated by the models during the historical period 1860 to 2005. Mora and students termed this pivotal year the “climate departure.”

This work is significant, according to Gillis, because:

Thousands of scientific papers have been published about the model results, but the students identified one area of analysis that was missing. The results are usually reported as average temperature changes across the planet. But that gives little sense of how the temperature changes in specific places might compare with historical norms. “We wanted to give people a really relatable way to understand climate,” said Abby G. Frazier, a doctoral candidate in geography.

Perhaps Dr. Mora should have injected a little climate-science history in this class.

Looking at the time that a human climate signal will rise above the background noise is not particularly a novel concept. It’s commonplace. We would guess that a signal-to-noise ratio was probably present in the first papers describing the performance and output of the very first climate models.

After all, without such information it is impossible to put absolute changes in perspective.  Some measure of the statistical significance of climate change has been present in every climate assessment report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dating back to 1990.

In our presentation to the Science Policy Conference of the American Geophysical Union this summer, we even included a table listing the number of years into the future it would be before projected changes in precipitation across the U.S. rose above the level of nature variability. We guess we just didn’t give that year a catchy enough name like “climate departure,” because our results didn’t capture the attention of the press (nor were they very frightening).

But Gillis does manage to carve some new, scary Jack-o-Lanterns from the Mora study.

Here is his lead paragraph:

If greenhouse emissions continue their steady escalation, temperatures across most of the earth will rise to levels with no recorded precedent by the middle of this century, researchers said Wednesday.

Uh, correct us if we are wrong, but we already thought that global temperatures were reported to be at unprecedented levels in recorded history. According to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report:

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.

So, is this recycled news, or is the new paper saying that we have to wait until 2047 for that to happen? Well, whatever, it sounds B-A-D.

Or how about this one:

“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”

Hot Tub Time Machine came immediately to mind, but Gillis provided another scenario:

With the technique the Mora group used, it is possible to specify climate departure dates for individual cities. Under high emissions, climate departure for New York City will come in 2047, the paper found, plus or minus the five-year margin of error.

How scared should you be about passing the date of “climate departure”?

Not at all.

Drug Reimportation Is Back

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the prescription-drug importation issue is back. It’s a complex legal and economic issue about which I’ve written at length here and, more briefly, in the Journal here and here and in National Review here.

Federal law prohibits the “reimportation” of cheaper drugs from abroad. But Maine has moved to allow importation from Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia, prompting a federal suit by Maine pharmacy groups and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. 

Politicians in both parties are playing this, not surprisingly, as a battle between special interests and suffering patients. In an ideal world, of course, the market would set the prices of drugs—and I have urged moving in that direction—but when it comes to pricing the miracle drugs that have revolutionized modern medicine, we’re living in far from an ideal world.

In a nutshell, given the Food and Drug Administration’s safety and efficacy standards, it takes 12 to 15 years and upwards of a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market, but only pennies a pill to manufacture it thereafter. Obviously, drug companies need strong patent protection or they’d never undertake that research and development.

But when they go to market a new drug, they find a relatively free market only in America. Everywhere else they face socialized medical systems and strict price controls, so they segment markets and price their drugs differentially, garnering such profits as they can from each market. Naturally, therefore, they have to guard against “parallel markets”—vendors in low-price markets reselling the drugs (at a profit) in high-price markets, especially when supply limitations and no-resale contracts are legally suspect. That’s where the reimportation ban comes in. If low-price drugs sold abroad flood the American market, displacing higher-priced domestic drugs, there go the profits—and there goes the R&D needed to discover new drugs.

Naturally, Americans resent having to subsidize the rest of the world, in effect, which is why letting them import cheap drugs from abroad plays so well politically. But we’re faced here with a Hobson’s Choice—which I’ve only sketched in this post. As I said, it’s a complex issue, involving treaty arrangements, patent law, and much more, rooted ultimately in the socialized medical systems we find abroad, toward which, alas, we ourselves are moving. In fact, the ultimate aim of many of the reimportation proponents is to have the federal government subsidize, if not do, the R&D needed to bring new drugs on line. Talk about bad medicine.    

Understanding The IPCC Climate Assessment

Each IPCC report seems to be required to conclude that the case for an international agreement to curb carbon dioxide has grown stronger. That is to say the IPCC report (and especially the press release accompanying the summary) is a political document, and as George Orwell noted, political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

With respect to climate, we have had 17 years without warming; all models show greater tropical warming than has been observed since 1978; and arctic sea ice is suddenly showing surprising growth. And yet, as the discrepancies between models and observations increase, the IPCC insists that its confidence in the model predictions is greater than ever.

Referring to the 17 year ‘pause,’ the IPCC allows for two possibilities: that the sensitivity of the climate to increasing greenhouse gases is less than models project and that the heat added by increasing CO2 is ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean. Both possibilities contradict alarming claims.

With low sensitivity, economic analyses suggest that warming under 2C would likely be beneficial to the earth. Heat ‘hiding’ in the deep ocean would mean that current IPCC models fail to describe heat exchange between surface waters and the deep ocean. Such exchanges are essential features of natural climate variability, and all IPCC claims of attribution of warming to mans activities depend on the assumption that the models accurately portray this natural variability.

In attempting to convince the public to accept the need to for the environmental movement’s agenda, continual reference is made to consensus. This is dishonest not because of the absence of a consensus, but because the consensus concerning such things as the existence of irregular (and small compared to normal regional variability) net warming since about 1850, the existence of climate change (which has occurred over the earths entire existence), the fact that added greenhouse gases should have some impact (though small unless the climate system acts so as to greatly amplify this effect) over the past 60 years with little impact before then, and the fact that greenhouse gases have increased over the past 200 years or so, and that their greenhouse impact is already about 80% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 are all perfectly consistent with there being no serious problem. Even the text of the IPCC Scientific Assessment agrees that catastrophic consequences are highly unlikely, and that connections of warming to extreme weather have not been found. The IPCC iconic statement that there is a high degree of certainty that most of the warming of the past 50 years is due to man’s emissions is, whether true or not, completely consistent with there being no problem. To say that most of a small change is due to man is hardly an argument for the likelihood of large changes.

Carbon restriction policies, to have any effect on climate, would require that the most extreme projections of dangerous climate actually be correct, and would require massive reductions in the use of energy to be universally adopted. There is little question that such reductions would have negative impacts on income, development, the environment, and food availability and cost – especially for the poor. This would clearly be immoral.

By contrast, the reasonable and moral policy would be to foster economic growth, poverty reduction and well being in order that societies be better able to deal with climate change regardless of its origin. Mitigation policies appear to have the opposite effect without significantly reducing the hypothetical risk of any changes in climate. While reducing vulnerability to climate change is a worthy goal, blind support for mitigation measures – regardless of the invalidity of the claims – constitutes what might be called bankrupt morality.

It is not sufficient for actions to artificially fulfill people’s need for transcendent aspirations in order for the actions to be considered moral. Needless to add, support of global warming alarm hardly constitutes intelligent respect for science.

Cross-posted from The Global Warming Policy Foundation