Topic: Energy and Environment

Spring Regulation Issue: Oil, Obamacare and Tech Innovation

This week, Cato released the Spring issue of Regulation.

The cover article, by economist Pierre Lemieux, argues that the recent oil price decline is at least partly the result of increased supply from the extraction of shale oil.  The increased supply allows the economy to produce more goods. This benefits some people, if not all of them.  Thus, contrary to some commentary in the press, cheaper oil prices cannot harm the economy as a whole.

A related article examines the dramatic increase in crude oil transported by trains and whether additional safety regulation of tank car design should be enacted.  Economist Feler Bose argues that companies have an incentive to reduce accidents to reduce insurance rates.  Thus less-obvious ways to prevent accidents, like better track maintenance, may be more cost-effective and undertaken voluntarily to reduce insurance costs.

The issue has three articles on health policy.  Cal State Northridge professor Shirley Svorny describes how state medical licensure boards do very little to discipline doctors who cause medical errors.  Instead, medical quality is created by the private decisions of individual hospitals to grant privileges to doctors to treat patients and the decisions of specialty boards, such as those that govern cardiology, to certify members as qualified.  A second article concludes that the regulation of electronic cigarettes is likely, even though the evidence for adverse health effects is thin, because a powerful coalition of existing cigarette companies and anti-smoking activists would benefit. A third article examines questionable legal maneuvering by states to implement aspects of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Finally, two articles describe the regulation of emerging technologies. The first, by Oxford’s Pythagoras Petratos, examines nanotechnology and argues that both the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are ill-suited to regulate this complex technology. This bureaucratic burden could slow nanotech innovation in the United States. The second article, by Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution, describes the regulation of so-called “biosimilar” drugs.  Biosimilars are “generic” versions of patented biologic drugs, which are produced by living cells through genetic engineering rather than the chemical reactions used to produce traditional patented and generic prescription drugs.  He concludes that clinical trials will be necessary to prove biosimilarity and thus “biosimilar” drugs will not be cheap like traditional generic drugs.

Score a Victory for Cruz over Brown in Most Recent Climate Change Scuffle

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.”

On Sunday, in anticipation of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) announcement that he intends to run for president, California governor Jerry Brown (D), declared to NBC’s Meet the Press Cruz was “absolutely unfit to be running for office.” Why? Because of Cruz’s stance on climate change—some of which Cruz laid out on late night TV last week.

But comparing Cruz’s comments on Late Night with Seth Meyers and Brown’s remarks on Meet the Press, it is pretty clear that it is Gov. Brown who needs to spend more time familiarizing himself with the scientific literature on climate change and especially its associations with extreme weather events.

Apparently Gov. Brown is convinced that climate change, or rather the apparently scarier-sounding “climate disruption” Brown prefers, is behind the ongoing drought in California, not to mention the East Coast’s cold and snowy winter.

Cruz, on the other hand, told a more restrained story—that data doesn’t support many alarmist claims and that satellites show no warming during the past 17 years while climate models expected warming—one which comports better with the science that he portrayed.

While there is certainly more to the story than Cruz went into in his brief appearance with Seth Meyers, he is right, that according to satellite observations of the earth’s lower atmosphere as compiled by researchers at Remote Sensing Systems, there has been no overall temperature increase during the past 17 years.

You Ought to Have a Look: Intimidation in Science

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

Talk of interference, intimidation, and abridgement of scientific freedom continues to make the news this week—and increasingly is taking the form of pushback against recently announced congressional investigations into sources of scientific research funding.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial offering a “round of applause for those pushing back, providing the bullies a public lesson in the First Amendment.” Highlighted in their coverage were efforts by the Cato Institute, Heartland Institute and Koch Industries condemning attempts to “silence public debate” on climate change. From the WSJ:

Democrats and their allies have failed to persuade Americans that climate change is so serious that it warrants sweeping new political controls on American energy and industry. So liberals are trying to silence those who are winning the argument. We’re glad to see the dissenters aren’t intimidated.

Also unintimidated by attempts abridge academic freedom is Alice Dreger, professor of Medical Education-Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University and a historian of science and medicine. Dreger has a new book out titled Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists and the Search for Justice in Science that describes how activists try to intimidate researchers when the activists disagree with the researchers’ work.

Roger Pielke Jr. reviews the book for Nature. From his blog, leading into his review, Roger describes why he empathizes with Dreger:

You Ought to Have a Look: The Price Is Right, the Letters Are Wrong, and Climate Research Is Booming

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

The Wall Street Journal last week, in its Notable and Quotable section highlighted a set of rather enlightened tweets from a perhaps, at first glance, a rather unusual source—Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune fame.  Here are a couple particularly interesting/amusing ones from the WSJ coverage:

Feb. 27: New rule: you can’t trust research financed by corporations. Only government-funded research is pure and unbiased.

Feb. 20: Bad climate news. The hockey stick is frozen solid.

Feb. 15: Weather isn’t climate. Weather can be colder but climate warming. Climate is warming whether the weather is…um, uh…

Jan. 10: Tried to pay for lunch with a carbon credit. Had to switch to Visa.

Nov. 18: Thinking of bypassing the wheel & the puzzles, and determining winners by executive action. Will save a lot of time.

Turns out Sajak, a former TV weatherman, is no stranger to global warming skepticism (or controversy). In fact, recently he wrote an article for titled “I Deny I’m a Denier,” in which he derides climate change alarmists for the vicious attacks he gets whenever he expresses his less-than-alarming opinions via his @patsajak twitter feed.  He then goes on to outline why he is a “skeptic in the matter of man-made global warming”:

I’m also often reminded by my global warming (climate change?) Twitter buddies that climate is not weather. The fact that it’s extraordinarily cold in particular areas at particular times does not negate their argument. The climate—hockey stick and all—will doom us if we do not act quickly and drastically. I find the climate vs. weather argument interesting because weather events can only prove their point; they cannot disprove it. The historically calm Gulf hurricane period since Katrina—despite predictions of increasingly strong and devastating storms—can be explained away. However, it’s a safe bet that, had the last decade been marked by more violent activity, it would have been more evidence that The End Days were near. Snowless winters in England are a sign of the climate changing times, but when the snow and ice return…well, it’s weather, not climate.

So here we are. The science is settled. Extreme weather of any kind confirms it. Weather that seems to fly in the face of predictions is irrelevant. So how can one possibly deny all that? I can’t, because I’m not a scientist. But can’t I be just the teeniest bit skeptical?

The rest of Sajak’s post describes his treatment at the hands of his detractors. The whole thing is worth checking out. Y_U _UGHT T_ HA_E A L__K!

A Message from Cato’s Center for the Study of Science

As we’ve mentioned before on the Cato blog, over the past few weeks some members of Congress have been sending letters of intimidation to researchers whose scientific findings were politically inconvenient to the members’ policy proposals. First, seven scientists working at public universities were harassed by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). This was followed by letters to 100 organizations, ranging from private companies to think tanks, attempting to create a whisper campaign of allegations of impropriety. My boss, Cato CEO John Allison, received one of these letters.

Mr. Allison’s response to the letter he received from Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is reproduced below the jump.

We at the Center for the Study of Science, as with the rest of the Cato Institute, are very proud not only of the quality of the work we produce but also of our values—and those morals compel us to not bow to those using their authority as a weapon to silence legitimate scientific inquiry.

The actions of these members of Congress are exactly why Cato’s Center for the Study of Science was founded: the government wishes to use science as a weapon to increase its political power, then use that political power to create a more convenient political climate. We wish to change this climate of fear into one of truth—and we would like to extend an invitation to Sens. Markey, Boxer, and Whitehouse to join us.

Global Warming: Good for Bad and Bad for Good?

Another day, another negative impact from pernicious global warming caused by humanity’s relentless quest for self-betterment.

Today, it is our coffee supply that is in jeopardy. Earlier this week, global warming was melting mummies in Chile. Last week, it was blamed for war in Syria. Turns out that global warming is a highly selective beast—it only harms the things we love, while enhancing the things we don’t.

Penguins? Polar bears? Songbirds? Coffee?

Harms. Harms. Harms. Harms.

Jellyfish? Poison ivy? Ragweed? War?

Helps. Helps. Helps. Helps.

Mummies are sort of a special case.  If they were roaming around attacking people, we’d imagine that global warming would empower them. But in this case, the mummies are harmlessly laying around in the (apparently poorly climate-controlled) vaults in a museum in Chile.  There, they are a natural treasure. So, predictably, global warming is causing harm. 

Record Spending on Transit

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has issued its annual press release trumpeting the growth in transit ridership. Naturally, it selectively uses the data in order to get the best media attention.

For example, it claims that 2014 ridership set a record, which is true only if you don’t count any year between 1912 and 1957, during all of which transit carried far more people than it does today with almost no subsidies. Transit carried just under 10.8 billion trips in 2014, an increase of 101 million trips over 2013 but less than the 11.0 billion trips carried in 1956 (which doesn’t even include commuter rail and several other forms of transit that APTA counts today).

Second, APTA fails to note that all of the growth in ridership can be accounted for by increased usage of the New York City subway system. While national ridership grew by 101 million trips, APTA’s own ridership report shows that New York subway ridership grew by 107 million trips, or nearly 6 million more than the national gain. Without New York subways, whose ridership grew because of New York City’s rapid job growth, APTA would have had to report a national decline in ridership. Transit ridership grew in some cities, but it declined in many others, including Albuquerque, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Norfolk, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco (Muni), San Jose, and St. Louis, to name a few.