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.
We came across a pair of interesting, but somewhat involved reads this week on the interface of science and science policy when it comes to climate change. We’ll give you a little something to chew on from each one, but suggest that you ought you have a look at them at length to appreciate them in full.
First up is a piece, “The Limits of Knowledge and the Climate Change Debate” appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of the Cato Journal by Brian J. L. Berry, Jayshree Bihari, and Euel Elliott in which the authors examine the “increasingly contentious confrontation over the conduct of science, the question of what constitutes scientific certainty, and the connection between science and policymaking.”
The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly posts in which Senior Fellow Patrick J. Michaels reviews 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 Current Wisdom only comments on science appearing in the refereed, peer-reviewed literature, or that has been peer-screened prior to presentation at a scientific congress.
It seems like everyone, from exalted climate scientists to late-night amateur tweeters, can get a bit over-excited about short-term fluctuations, reading into them deep cosmic and political meaning, when they are likely the statistical hiccups of our mathematically surly atmosphere.
There’s been some major errors in forecasts of recent trends. Perhaps the most famous were made by NASA’s James Hansen in 1988, who overestimated warming between then and now by a whopping 40% or so.
But it is easy to get snookered by short-term fluctuations. As shown in Figure 1, it is quite obvious that there has been virtually no net change in temperature since 1997, allowing for the fact that measurement errors in global average surface temperature are easily a tenth of a degree or more. (The magnitude of those errors will be considered in a future Current Wisdom).
Figure 1. Annual global average surface temperature anomaly (°C), 1997-2010 (data source: Hadley Center).
Some who are concerned about environmental regulation without good science have seized upon this 13-year stretch as “proof” that there is no such thing as global warming driven by carbon dioxide. More on that at the end of this Wisdom.
Similarly, periods of seemingly rapid warming can prompt scientists to see changes where there aren’t any.
Consider a landmark paper published in 2000 in Geophysical Research Letters by Tom Karl, a prominent researcher who is the head of our National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and who just finished a stint as President of the American Meteorological Society. He couldn’t resist the climatic blip that was occurred prior to the current stagnation of warming, namely the very warm episode of the late 1990s.
Cooler heads at the time noted that it was an artifact of the great El Nino of 1997-98, a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific that has been coming and going for millions of years.
Nonetheless, the paper was published and accompanied by a flashy press release titled “Global warming may be accelerating.”
What Karl did was to examine the 16 consecutive months of record-high temperatures (beginning in May, 1997) and to calculate the chance that this could happen, given the fairly pokey warming rate—approximately 0.17°C (0.31°F) per decade, that was occurring. He concluded there was less than a five percent probability, unless the warming rate had suddenly increased.
At the end of last week, the Labor Department reported that the share of private-sector workers who belong to labor unions fell to its lowest level in more than a century.
In 2009, the “union density” in the private sector fell to 7.2 percent, the lowest it has been since 1900. The recession caused the number of private-sector union members to fall by 10 percent last year, with the heaviest losses in manufacturing and construction.
Not surprisingly, union membership held steady in the public sector, with the share of government workers belonging to unions actually inching up to 37.4 percent. Unionization is more viable in the public sector because the additional costs imposed by unions can be passed along to captive taxpayers.
The economics of unionization are much different in the private sector, as I argue in an article in the latest issue of the Cato Journal now available online. In a competitive market, producers cannot pass the costs of unionization on to consumers without the real risk of losing market share to non-unionized rivals. This is a major, self-serving reason why organized labor typically opposes competition-enhancing trade agreements with other countries. (See the chart below from my Cato Journal article.)
The drop in union members was also another piece of bad news for the Democratic Party last week. As labor unions have become relatively more important as a constituency within the Democratic Party, they have become increasingly irrelevant in the private economy. Unions will find it more and more difficult to generate the funds for their political activities if the number of dues-paying members continues to slide.
This issue includes Greek economists Michael Mitsopoulos and Theodore Pelagidis on "Vikings in Greece: Kleptocratic Interest Groups in a Closed, Rent-Seeking Economy" as well as Peter Leeson, author of The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, writing (with David Skarbek) on the effects of foreign aid. As for taxes, well, editor Jim Dorn has assembled a number of useful papers:
- Andrew T. Young on taxing, spending, and "fiscal illusion"
- Michael J. New on the "starve the beast" hypothesis
- Alan Reynolds on Paul Krugman's misunderstanding of the monetary and fiscal lessons of the Great Depression and Japan's lost decade
And on the general rapaciousness of the state, don't miss Jason Kuznicki's careful review of government racial discrimination from the end of Reconstruction until the civil rights movement.