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Enemies of Science Archives
March 28, 2013
LAW/POLITICS: Same Sex Marriage Is Not the Same As Opposite Sex Marriage
At the core of the two same-sex marriage cases argued this week before the Supreme Court is the fundamental question of whether the Constitution requires the state and federal governments to treat same-sex marriage exactly the same as traditional, opposite-sex marriage for all purposes for all time, or whether it is permissible to draw reasoned distinctions between the two, ranging from California's simple reservation of the term "marriage" to opposite-sex couples to the federal government's comprehensive reservation of all federal benefits of marriage (including joint tax filings, Social Security benefits and immigration status) to opposite-sex couples. I respectfully submit that this should not be a difficult question. Common human experience, basic biology, and existing social science all confirm that there are significant differences between SSM and traditional marriage. Whether or not you support SSM as a political and policy matter, there should be no doubt as a legal matter that the state has the same legitimate right that it has always possessed to draw distinctions between the two in the many, many areas of law that touch on marriage and family life.
I have not, over the years, spent much time or energy on the battle over political recognition of same-sex marriage; while I don't think it's a wise idea, it is also not likely to have enormous consequences, for reasons I discuss below. Democracy works, however imperfectly: things done legislatively can be modified or undone the same way, can be adapted in different ways to the needs of different jurisdictions, and can be passed or amended with protections for conscientious dissent. Personally, for two decades, I've supported the "live and let live" option of civil unions, the moderate solution that allows people the freedom to choose whatever partner they want and make a life together, with the basic rights of contract, inheritance, hospital visitation and the like. Call it a marriage if you want, but without the official endorsement and coercive power of the state behind the name.
But the democratic process is one thing. A judicial determination that the Constitution prohibits recognition of any distinctions between the two institutions for all time would have much more far-reaching effects on our laws - effects we may not even be able to anticipate or foresee until creative lawyers have gone off to the races with this freshly-minted legal doctrine. We have seen, over and over, how changes in law and policy produce unforeseen or unintended consequences in the family and society; the institution of marriage in particular has buckled badly under a long series of liberal social experiments over the past five decades. You'd think that by now we would at least have learned to stop using irrevocable court decisions to open Pandora's Box.
It does the law no good to pretend things that are not so. Whatever the merits of SSM, it is not the same thing as marriage between a man and a woman, and the differences are neither irrational nor insignificant. Even if you support SSM, the only reasonable conclusion is that male-male or female-female marriage is not the same as male-female marriage. Let us count the most obvious ways.
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Marriage has many facets: it's an emotional coupling, a religious sacrament, an economic unit, and the basic building block of social organization of all kinds. But the aspect of marriage that is of most urgent interest to the state is its role in producing children and creating a home for them. Children are, literally, the future of the state: no kids, no future. They are also the aspect of married life that the state traditionally involves itself in most heavily, from child custody law to the substantial public role in education.
And there is no disputing the facts that (1) opposite-sex couples are dramatically more likely to produce children in marriage than same-sex couples; and (2) opposite-sex couples are dramatically more likely to produce children outside of marriage than same-sex couples. Both facts, combined with the state's interests in promoting the birth of children and having them reared in stable, two-parent homes, create a compelling state interest in promoting traditional opposite-sex marriage that simply does not exist in the case of SSM.
And that's before we get to the distinct question of whether same-sex marriages are truly the equivalent of a home with both a father and a mother.
A. Where Babies Come From
Even in an age when modern science can provide children without sex, virtually all of the world's children are the product of opposite-sex unions, for obvious reasons. If we evaluated our laws on the basis of common human experience accessible to the average voter - as was the case for the first century and a half of our democracy - that would be the end of the argument (the Bill of Rights has served us just fine even though it was adopted without the benefit of social-science studies). The available data, unsurprisingly, supports the same conclusion: far lower rates of child-rearing among same-sex couples.
I looked at this issue in 2011, in response to a New York Times writeup of 2009 Census Bureau data showing that "[a]bout a third of lesbians are parents, and a fifth of gay men are." A rising proportion of those children are adopted: 19%, up from 8% a decade ago, which is good news in that adoption is a good thing, but also a reminder of the distinction from how traditional marriages operate. A more recent American Community Survey report from the Census Bureau put the estimate at 593,000 same-sex couples, of whom 115,000 (19%) had children age 18 or under in the home - but 15.9% of those couples had no "own children" (a group that includes biological children, adopted and step-children), more than twice the rate of married couples with children in the home. Thus, the actual "own children" rate is 16.3%.
By contrast, looking at the 2010 CPS data and drilling into Table F1, we can see more detailed data on how opposite-sex married couples have families. Among married couples, there are 24.575 million families with "own children" under age 18 out of 58.41 million overall - 42.1%, or two and a half times the rate of same-sex couples. And when you break down the married couples by age, what you see is that the percentage with minor children in the home peaks at 83.8% of married couples age 35-39. Only about 15% of opposite-sex married couples between age 35-45 have no children living with them at all. You will look long and hard for a sub-sample of same-sex couples that looks anything like this. The bulk of couples with no children at home are senior citizens whose kids have grown up:
That's before you get to the question of how many children these families have. Comparative data is harder to come by on this point, but anecdotal experience suggests that there are very, very few same-sex couples with three or more children in the home. By contrast, in the peak childbearing years, we see that more than a quarter of married couples are families of five or more, and over 60% are families of four or more:
There are approximately 21,000 married same-sex couples in Canada, out of 6.29 million married couples. Same-sex couples (married and unmarried) constitute 0.8% of all couples in Canada; 9.4% of the 64,575 same-sex couples (including common-law and married) have children in the home, and 80% of these are lesbian couples. By contrast, 47.2% of heterosexual couples have children in the home.
(As an aside, we will encounter a few times in this essay the distinctions between gay men and lesbians; suffice to say that what can be generalized from the data about one group is not always true of the other. Gay men and gay women are still men and women.)
The evidence on this point is clear, and consistent with elementary biology and common experience: married opposite-sex couples are significantly more likely to be raising children than same-sex couples, and quite likely more children. A government interested in the next generation will rationally be much more interested in the opposite-sex couples.
B. Where Adults Come From
1. Motherhood And Its Deniers
Is there any rational basis to conclude that two parents of the same sex are not the equivalent of a mother and a father? You would think that common human experience tells us that of course there is. Not everything of value or importance in life can be quantified by social scientists. For example, in order to accept the proposition that same-sex parents are equal in all ways to opposite-sex parents, you must literally accept the conclusion that a mother adds nothing of unique value to a child's life that a man could not provide - no unique value to breastfeeding, no unique value to maternal love, no unique value to a female role model in the life of a young girl or to teach a young boy how to respect a female authority figure. (The same goes for the absence of male role models in two-female households, despite everything we know about the importance of fathers in the development of young men.) I submit that you do not have to be any sort of bigot to believe that mothers have a value no man can entirely replace, or to fear the consequences for family law if the United States Supreme Court holds that this is an irrational opinion.
The case for arguing that common sense and experience are wrong on this point rests wholly on appeals to social science - appeals that are deeply flawed. First of all, it's always hazardous to cast Constitutional rules in permanent concrete based on social science data that can be disproven by subsequent studies. The very nature of science is that it is subject to change, but courts are in the business of providing final and unchanging answers based on the evidence at a particular point in time. The Supreme Court in 1927 held, in Buck v. Bell, that states could forcibly sterilize the "unfit" (e.g., the mentally retarded) for the good of the state - a decision that rested on the widely-accepted eugenic and Malthusian economic theories of the day, now long since discredited. Buck's reliance on social science gave us this cringe-inducing passage from Justice Holmes for an 8-1 majority that included such distinguished Justices as William Howard Taft and Louis Brandeis:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes....Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
Skepticism of the limits of social science is not a sentiment unique to SSM opponents; as Rod Dreher has noted, it's nearly impossible to find supporters of SSM who could ever be persuaded by any social-science data to abandon that support, having decided in most cases that the issue is one of fundamental rights rather than utilitarian benefit to society.
2. Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics
All that aside, what does the social science say about the quantifiable merits of same-sex parents as opposed to traditional homes with a father and a mother? The answer is surprisingly unsatisfactory, if you're accustomed to thinking of social science as an all-seeing oracle. Certainly there is enough anecdotal evidence to support the idea that same-sex parents are capable of raising children well, but that's not the issue; as a comparison, we know that individual single moms can raise children well, but we also know from a vast body of literature that as a group, single moms are more likely to produce kids with a host of problems, both because single parenting is hard and because fathers are important. Similarly, the question is not the existence of some number of good and diligent same-sex parents, but whether same-sex parenting is so identical in all meaningful respects to traditional married parenting that no rational distinction could ever be drawn between the two.
Liberal commentators would have you believe that there is an unbroken chain of scientifically incontrovertible evidence showing that distinctions between opposite-sex and same-sex parents are inconceivable. Most prominent is the 2005 claim in a brief by the American Psychological Association that "[n]ot a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any signiﬁcant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents." Here's what the district court claimed in the Proposition 8 case:
Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy,successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.
And here's Nathaniel Frank, writing in Slate - before admitting that "none of this should matter" because he would support SSM "[e]ven if gay parenting did disadvantage kids":
"Rarely is there as much consensus in any area of social science as in the case of gay parenting," said Judith Stacey, the New York University sociologist who is one of the deans of gay parenting scholarship....
In fact, most of the studies in this area have suffered from a combination of flaws, which cannot be cured simply by repeating them over and over in multiple studies: (1) very small sample sizes, the bane of any kind of statistical study; (2) unrepresentative, often self-selected samples, (3) inherent biases in self-reporting by the parents; and (4) failure to choose a proper comparison group. Partly this is the inherent difficulty of the project, given the relative recency and rarity of such families. But there are also reasons to suspect that it reflects the political and social biases of the researchers.
The amicus brief filed in the Proposition 8 case by Leon Kass, Harvey Mansfield and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy lays out the general argument for why social science "consensus" reports like the APA's should be regarded more as political documents than science, and why social science in general and fields like sociology and psychology in particular are especially prone to left-leaning political bias that colors and enforces such consensuses. The brief describes the characteristics of the existing research:
One prominent study, for example, relied on a sample recruited entirely at lesbian events, in women's bookstores, and in lesbian newspapers. Others relied on samples as small as 18 or 33 or 44 cases. And most of them relied heavily on reports by parents about their children's well-being while the children were still under their own care.
(Citations omitted). This is the kind of "random" sampling that gives you internet polls won by Ron Paul. The perils of self-reporting by parents are especially noteworthy in this context, where the reporting parents are fully aware of the political purposes to which the research will be put. Yet the proponents adopt the familiar tactic of declaring that a "consensus" of a large number of studies endorsed by a large number of politically sympathetic scientists is conclusive of the issue, regardless of the actual scientific rigor of the studies themselves. We have seen this movie many times before.
Salon, for example, touts one long-running study of 78 children of lesbian families over 25 years that found "zero percent of children reported physical or sexual abuse - not a one." Ezra Klein cites the author of an American Academy of Pediatrics brief in favor of SSM who describes this as "[t]he best study" available. But given the number of families involved and the self-selected nature of such a long-running sample, it is a stretch to consider this a significant finding applicable to the population as a whole. Albert Pujols opened last season by going 116 plate appearances without a home run; this does not make it irrational to be concerned about pitching to Albert Pujols.
The most detailed effort yet to open the hood and see what is actually inside these studies was performed by Loren Marks of the LSU School of Human Ecology, who published a paper in Social Science Research in 2012 examining the 59 published studies behind the APA's breezy assertion of a scientific consensus. (Marks did not examine the other 8 studies cited by the APA, which were "unpublished dissertations.") Marks opened his paper by comparing the research on same-sex families to the by-now bulletproof research showing the advantages of traditional married parents over "cohabiting, divorced, step, and single-parent families," noting that those studies used "large, representative samples" such as "four nationally representative longitudinal studies with more than 20,000 total participants." By contrast, Marks found:
-"[M]ore than three-fourths (77%) of the studies cited by the APA brief are based on small, nonrepresentative, convenience samples of fewer than 100 participants. Many of the non-representative samples contain far fewer than 100 participants, including one study with ﬁve participants"
Nobody who has not already made their mind up would find research of this nature conclusive of anything.
One recent study that attempted to fix the problems Marks identified was published in the same edition of the same journal by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus. Regnerus' study had - as he freely admitted - limitations of its own, discussed below. But the reaction to Regnerus' work - in contrast to how the badly flawed studies examined by Marks were swallowed uncritically - vividly illustrates why credible, unbiased research on this topic is so hard to come by.
Regnerus set out to do a truly randomly selected study over a large population sample, and to remove the problem of biased parental reporting by interviewing adults about their childhood experiences. His sample covered 15,000 respondents, and despite the subsequent firestorm, no problem was ever identified with his methods or the data he gathered. Unlike most of the prior research, the respondents with a "gay father" or "lesbian mother" (more on which below) were, respectively, 48% and 43% black or Hispanic. His findings were dramatic across numerous types of outcomes, detailing greatly elevated incidence of parental rape, parental pedophilia and suicidal tendencies; as he explained his findings,
Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things.
But Regnerus' effort faced the usual problem: his random sample, large as it was, turned up only a little over 200 respondents who said they had a parent who had been in a gay or lesbian relationship. And of those 200, only two - two! - reported that the parent's relationship was stable enough to cover their entire childhood (in both cases, the parents were lesbians):
In his original article, he reported that an initially-screened population of 15,000 young adults aged 18-39 yielded a set of 163 who said their mothers had had a same-sex relationship sometime during their childhood. (There were only 73 who said this of their fathers.)
As Regnerus' most prominent critic notes, "[a] woman could be identified as a 'lesbian mother' in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple." (Although the claim that he included one-night stands is silly, given that these were relationships recalled by their children in adulthood. The charge that Regnerus improperly classified people with homosexual relationships as homosexuals is also particularly odd, given the Left's usual insistence for Constitutional law purposes that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic, and it effectively reads the children of bisexuals out of the debate.)
Anyone familiar with how liberals respond to scientific findings they don't like can predict what happened next: immediately upon the publication of his study, Regnerus was subjected to a campaign of vilification aimed at discrediting his work, destroying his professional reputation and deterring any other scholar from pursuing a similar line of inquiry. The University of Texas convened an audit of his study to deal with the pressure campaign, and the editor of the journal hired a prominent, vocal critic of Regnerus to audit the peer-review process that led to its publication. Andrew Ferguson and Matthew Franck detail the blow-by-blow of this campaign to destroy Regnerus.
And by and large, Regnerus passed the audits. The UT audit found "no falsification of data, plagiarism or other serious ethical breaches constituting scientific misconduct." The journal audit grudgingly concluded the journal editor acted correctly, despite a lot of sniping by its hostile author at Regnerus and the peer reviewers. But the liberal blogs and newspapers continued to act as if Regnerus had been unmasked as a charlatan.
Twenty-seven scholars (including Marks) signed a joint letter defending Regnerus' sample selection:
[T]he demographics of his sample of young-adult children of same-sex parents - in terms of race and ethnicity - come close to resembling the demographics of children from same-sex families in another large, random, and representative study of gay and lesbian families by sociologist Michael Rosenfeld that has been well received in the media and in the academy...
(Emphasis mine; footnotes omitted).
The vehemence of the attacks on Regnerus, by people who were happy to tout far less reliable studies, ought to be a gigantic red flag to anyone tempted to view the social science in this area as the work of disinterested professionals who care only to find the truth. And any tour of the work of Marks, Regnerus and their critics should disabuse anyone of the notion that we have ironclad-for-all-time scientific proof of equal outcomes that should be cast permanently into Constitutional law. Given the many common-sense reasons, grounded in experience, to think that both fatherhood and motherhood have unique value, the overwhelming scientific evidence that traditional marriage is superior to all the other family structures that have been studied, the relative recency and rarity of same-sex parent households and the current state of the science, the most logical answer is that both Congress and the voters of the State of California could rationally conclude that a family with a mother and a father is preferable to a family with two mothers and no father or two fathers and no mother.
C. Traditional Marriage In Crisis
These are all reasons why the state should consider traditional marriage a more valued partner in bringing children into the world than SSM. By contrast, the battery of serious social problems that follow from unmarried pregnancies is - again, for obvious reasons - almost entirely a heterosexual phenomenon, and a growing one. As a result, the state's powerful interest in promoting opposite-sex marriage as an alternative to opposite-sex childbearing out of wedlock has no comparable counterpart among same-sex couples.
Is traditional marriage struggling? Absolutely, and that is precisely why this seems a most perverse time to bind the hands of the state in choosing its best ally in this process. Child-bearing trends in the U.S., as elsewhere, are headed in a very bad direction, both in terms of dramatically fewer children being born and a higher proportion being born out of wedlock:
20-somethings are driving America's all-time high level of nonmarital childbearing, which is now at 41% of all births, according to vital-statistics data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention....Between 1990 and 2008...the rate of nonmarital childbearing among 20-something women has risen by 27%.
That leads to an epidemic of fatherlessness:
In every state, the portion of families where children have two parents, rather than one, has dropped significantly over the past decade. Even as the country added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.
Scandinavian family dissolution has only been worsening. Between 1990 and 2000, Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate rose from 39 to 50 percent, while Sweden's rose from 47 to 55 percent. In Denmark out-of-wedlock births stayed level during the nineties (beginning at 46 percent and ending at 45 percent). But the leveling off seems to be a function of a slight increase in fertility among older couples, who marry only after multiple births (if they don't break up first). That shift masks the 25 percent increase during the nineties in cohabitation and unmarried parenthood among Danish couples (many of them young). About 60 percent of first born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents. The rise of fragile families based on cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing means that during the nineties, the total rate of family dissolution in Scandinavia significantly increased.
Correlation is not causation, but these are the three countries that were first to adopt same-sex marriage; what is debatable is whether the collapse of traditional marriage in those countries and the adoption of same-sex marriage were really both symptoms of a common, larger cause.
D. Strategies For Ignoring The Evidence
Defenders of SSM have two tried-and-true gambits to avoid the obvious and dramatic disparities between the two institutions in their relationship to the core roles of childbearing and childrearing. One is to argue that it's required for defenders of the current marriage laws to not only show that traditional marriage is different from SSM in ways that are important to society, but also provide social-science evidence that classifying them identically will directly cause quantifiable harm to traditional marriage. But this puts the cart before the horse. The first question is whether there's a rational basis for drawing a distinction, not providing conclusive social-science evidence that failure to make the distinction will cause quantifiable harm. We do not live in a world of infinite resources, and rational basis review traditionally allowed legislatures very broad latitude in choosing how to deploy them. If traditional marriage is much more intimately connected to the bearing and raising of children than SSM, then the state's interest in encouraging married child-rearing and discouraging unmarried child-rearing is ample justification for prioritizing marriage among opposite-sex couples, as the Defense of Marriage Act does, or for that matter reserving the privileged social status of the title "marriage," as Proposition 8 does.
The other argument is that the widely differential rates of childbearing are somehow a pretext because the state does not actually require opposite-sex couples to have children or even be able to have children. To start with, this is an interesting argument coming from liberal commentators who commonly rely on 'state of the median citizen' social-science data. Moreover, traditionally, infertility was grounds at law for divorce in states that had fault divorce regimes.
But even leaving that aside, there are multiple reasons why the state doesn't intrude on this question at the time of marriage. The most obvious is the numbers: opposite sex couples tend to have children, so simply confirming that a couple is a male and a female is a fairly strong basis for presuming the ability and intent to have kids without asking more invasive questions before issuing a license. Note the chart above showing rates of parenthood over 80% in the peak childbearing years. And young couples who aren't sure if they want kids may end up having them anyway, while couples who are past the age of having children often already have children from previous marriages and will provide them with a marital home. Nothing in rational-basis law forbids the government from providing a benefit to one group who is significantly more likely to produce the desired end.
II. Marriage and Divorce
A. Fewer Marriages?
A second major distinction between SSM and traditional marriage is that, even with traditional marriage in its current, battered state, experience has shown that same-sex couples get married at lower rates and may be less likely to stay together long-term. The rates of legal coupling are low to begin with:
[Among] marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and reciprocal-beneficiary relationships...the most recent U.S. Census data reveal that, in the last 15 years, only 150,000 same-sex couples have elected to take advantage of them - equivalent to around one in five of the self-identified same-sex couples in the United States....in the first four years when gay marriage was an option in trailblazing Massachusetts, there were an average of only about 3,000 per year, and that number included many who came from out of state.
The Williams Institute concluded that, "When a state allows marriage for same-sex couples, over 60 percent of those who marry come from other states" - a bubble effect that will disspate further if the institution stops being a novelty.
The good news, for opponents or skeptics of SSM, is that this suggests why political adoption of SSM is not actually that big a deal; the number of such unions is likely to remain vanishingly small. Saying that political enactment of SSM will destroy traditional marriage is like saying that eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's will make you fat. This reality is one of the main reasons why the storm and fury over this issue is so overrated compared to, say, 900,000 abortions a year.
B. More Divorces?
If same-sex marriages are rare, there are also indications (although the data on this is more uneven) that they may be less stable than opposite-sex marriages - the opposite of what you might expect in a population in which so few couples settle down in the first place. The Scandanavian experience provides long-term data:
In Norway, male same-sex marriages are 50 percent more likely to end in divorce than heterosexual marriages, and female same-sex marriages are an astonishing 167 percent more likely to be dissolved. In Sweden, the divorce risk for male-male partnerships is 50 percent higher than for heterosexual marriages, and the divorce risk for female partnerships is nearly double that for men. This should not be surprising: In the United States, women request approximately two-thirds of divorces in all forms of relationships - and have done so since the start of the 19th century - so it reasonably follows that relationships in which both partners are women are more likely to include someone who wishes to exit.
According to UCLA's Williams Institute, two-thirds of legally recognized same-sex couples in the United States are lesbian. (Solely on the "marriage" front, in Massachusetts's first four years, this statistic was 62 percent.)
Early experience in jurisdictions like the U.S. and the U.K. where same-sex marriage is relatively new tend to show a lower divorce rate for same-sex couples - but that should not be surprising, given that the early rush to the altar includes a backlog of couples who have already been together for years and are less likely than ordinary newlyweds to split. As California-based "non-traditional family law" practitioner Frederick Hertz writes at the Huffington Post:
I suspect that this can be attributed to the types of couples getting married in these early years of same-sex marriage, and not a testament to the stability of lesbian and gay relationships. There's no statistical data out yet on this particular dynamic, but in my experience as a lawyer working with same-sex couples, the partners getting married tend to be those who have already been together for some time. They already have weathered the stormy middle years of coupledom, and they are consciously committed to being a family. For that reason, we should not be surprised that they are not rushing to get divorced so quickly.
We can say with some certainty that experience shows that same-sex couples are much less likely to marry than opposite-sex couples. As to whether those marriages will be as durable, the most charitable conclusion is that we are a long way from having data that would show comparable rates of marital stability and longevity.
C. Traditional Marriage In Crisis, Redux
As I noted above, traditional marriage's virtues have not prevented it from suffering serious social decay as the primary unit for bearing and raising children. This has, in fact, been part of a broader loss of respect and fidelity to traditional marriage:
Only about half of Americans are married now, down from 72 percent in 1960, according to census data. The age at which one first gets married has risen by six years since 1960, and now only 20 percent of Americans get married before the age of 30. The number of new marriages each year is declining at a slow but steady rate. Put simply, if you are an unmarried adult today, you face a lower chance of ever getting married, a longer wait and higher divorce rates if you do get married. The Pew Research Center recently found that about 40 percent of unmarried adults believe that marriage is becoming obsolete.
The downward trend has continued in the latest Pew study, with the rate of new marriages per 1000 eligible adults dropping from 41.4 in 2008 to 36.4 in 2011, a 12% drop just since President Obama took office.
California has been the leader in this field, long ago obliterating the distinctions between marriage and cohabitation with liberal divorce laws, "palimony" and opposite-sex civil unions, all of which have been used as arguments in the Prop. 8 case for why there's not much left of traditional marriage in California to distinguish it from same-sex civil unions.
The causes of the decline of traditional marriage are numerous and beyond the scope of this essay. But with all the ground marriage has lost, the last thing it needs is a Supreme Court declaration that its role in childbearing and rearing and its traditional status in society and religion have no rational value.
I've stuck here to the mostly-quantifiable nuts and bolts of family formation, childbearing and rearing, and family dissolution. Of course, there's much more to marriage than that, as our social and religious traditions have long recognized. It is important to bear in mind that the Supreme Court originally cited the longstanding traditional status of marriage as the basis for the not-anywhere-in-the-text "fundamental" right to privacy, in the 1965 Griswold v Connecticut decision:
Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.
Indeed, as I have discussed before, the Ninth Circuit discussed at length the traditional social status of marriage as its basis for concluding that the challengers to Proposition 8 had suffered an injury to Constitutional rights by being unable to share in that status. Yet, in a bait-and-switch, the challengers argue that tradition only counts on one side of the scale: that they can demand a free ride on the social status of traditional marriage while denying that the courts can consider where that social status came from.
Tradition alone is an insufficient basis, of course, to sustain invidious forms of discrimination such as slavery. But as to the pragmatic question of what works for society, ignoring tradition is both anti-empirical and anti-democratic: anti-empirical because it turns a blind eye to the actual, practical experience of a much larger sample size of people than any social science study can measure, and anti-democratic because common experience is the very reason why we have government by and of the people in the first place rather than rule by self-appointed experts.
IV. Some Concluding Considerations
In evaluating and predicting what the Supreme Court might do in the two cases before it, it's important to recognize that - as is common in big, controversial cases - there are a welter of procedural and structural issues before the Court that could lead to the cases being disposed of without reaching the core question of equating the two types of marriage. For example, I'm sympathetic on policy grounds to the federalism argument in the DOMA case, specifically that Section 3 of DOMA should have allowed federal benefits such as tax treatment to be determined on the basis of whether the marriage was recognized in the state where the couple resides, rather than imposing a uniform federal definition applicable to all federal programs (some federal definition being needed for areas where the federal government has plenary legislative powers). The argument holds that domestic relations are traditionally left to the states under the Tenth Amendment, and thus even federal programs must use state-law definitions. But I am somewhat skeptical of the merits of the federalism argument as a constitutional mandate, as it could have far-reaching and unanticipated effects if there is not a logical stopping point. (Of course, a federalism resolution to the DOMA challenge becomes an empty husk if the Proposition 8 case tells the states to recognize SSM).
The California Proposition 8 case is not so easily disposed of; the Court can likely duck the issue only by declaring that the voters of the state of California are effectively not entitled to have their decisions represented in court, or that the challengers had no standing to sue. (This is a topic for another day, but the tendency of this sort of thing to happen is an argument for why popular referenda are not really a very effective tool - they are almost always challenged in court, and the voters are usually too disorganized and defenseless to stand up against a political establishment that is unwilling to obey the voters).
The libertarian argument for cutting the Gordian knot of whether to equate SSM with traditional marriage is to suggest that government get out of the marriage business altogether. Like so many libertarian arguments, this presents an excellent academic/"thought experiment" exercise, but is completely impractical as a real-world political solution. There are over a thousand federal laws that reference marriage, and many multiples of that across the country, including the whole body of family law (child custody, divorce courts, adoption, inheritance). Uprooting the entire structure and replacing it with something completely different - even if it was the clearly superior policy option - would be the political work of a generation, requiring a massive multi-jurisdictional legislative effort that would crowd out dealing with any other problem for many years. There is a good deal of sense and wisdom to the broad libertarian observation that we drive ourselves deeper into these debates every time we expand government's role in education, healthcare, retirement and other areas that are deeply entangled with family life (the Windsor DOMA case, for example, is an estate tax case). But there is simply no practical option to take the ball of marriage and go home, abandoning the debate over how to define marriage in the laws that remain; that just leaves the field entirely to left-wingers, who never, ever propose abandoning the levers of government.
And it won't stop there; it never does. I've written before of the Seven Stages of Liberal Legal Activism:
1. It's a free country, X should not be illegal.
Dana Loesch neatly sums up a handful of the recent examples of why the next stage from a Supreme Court ruling on "marriage equality" will be the legal persecution of anyone who, on religious grounds, refuses to get involved in the same-sex marriage business, a process for which the controversy over the HHS contraception mandate was merely a dry run. (More here with similar examples from the Canadian experience; in Denmark, the Parliament voted to mandate that churches perform same-sex weddings).
Now, many of the people pushing "marriage equality" and changing their Facebook profiles to a red equals sign are, of course, well-meaning; they have gay friends or relatives, or they're gay themselves, or they simply like the old-fashioned American ideal of equality. Who's not in favor of equality for everybody? But anyone who lived through the Sixties or Seventies remembers well how much damage can be done by well-meaning liberals who never understand what they are tearing down, or who they are empowering, or why our system of government has checks, balances, limitations and written laws. Good intentions are never an adequate substitute for the truth.
As conservatives, we take the world as it is. Marriage, as traditionally understood, has served us well, and today is in trouble for reasons that go far beyond SSM. But if the Supreme Court holds as a matter of law that many of the things of value in marriage - its unique role in bearing and begetting children, the distinct value of mothers and of fathers, its tendency to endure over time and promote monogamy, its social status developed by centuries of experience, its sacramental role in many major religious traditions - are irrational considerations, forbidden to even be considered by government policymakers, then we are headed down a very dark road indeed, one with no light of experience or historical precedent to guide us.
What could go wrong?
Disclaimer: as usual, my opinions are my own and do not represent those of my employer, clients, or anybody else but me.
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August 25, 2011
BASEBALL/SCIENCE: Bill James on Ignorance and Expertise
I have always thought that it was best not to define oneself, but to let the world say about you whatever it is that the world chooses to say. This is my first reference point for the Power of Ignorance. By not claiming to know exactly what it is that I am doing, I remain able to attempt whatever it is that I feel like attempting. It's a great advantage.
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+ + +
I want to point out to you in passing that "getting the answers right" had almost nothing to do with the success of my career. My reputation is based entirely on finding the right questions to ask - that is, in finding questions that have objective answers, but to which no one happens to know what the objective answer is. That's what I did 35 years ago; that's what I do now. When I do that, it makes almost no difference whether I get the answer right, or whether I get it a little bit wrong. Of course I do my very best to get the answers right, out of pride and caution, but it doesn't actually matter.
Science and knowledge were not settled then. Nor are they now. Indeed, nothing is ever settled - we start, because we cannot test every premise of our lives, with the traditions and conventional wisdom we inherit, because those are generally the result of copious trial and error in the past. Even for every baseball shibboleth James has tested and found wanting over time, many more that we don't even think of have endured because people played the game and found what worked. But we never stop testing new things, and gradually replacing the old ones by the same system of trial and error. That's how science works, just as it's how democracy or law or social tradition or free markets work.
There's much more - as I said, I left out huge chunks of the speech - so read the whole thing.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:13 AM | Baseball 2011 | Enemies of Science | Science | Comments (62) | TrackBack (0)
October 8, 2010
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Science and its Enemies on the Left: An Update
Scientific integrity and scientific progress continue to take a beating from the Left.
In Part I of my series of essays on Science and its Enemies on the Left, I looked at the toll of junk science, quackery and anti-technological Luddism and the role of the social and political Left in promoting all three. In Part II, I looked at politicized science (both the misuse of science by politicians and the politicization of scientists themselves) and the temptations presented to scientists by their ability to gain power through science.
I'm overdue to finish Part III of the series, but in the meantime, there have been enough additional examples of my thesis that it's worth taking an updated look at the myriad ways in which the agenda and interest groups of the political Left stand in the way of scientific integrity and scientific progress.
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A. Fudged Environmental Data
You didn't think it ended with "Climategate," did you? The liberal San Francisco Chronicle reports on how a California agency used inflated, alarmist data to rush through costly environmental restrictions that helped push the state deeper into recession:
California grossly miscalculated pollution levels in a scientific analysis used to toughen the state's clean-air standards, and scientists have spent the past several months revising data and planning a significant weakening of the landmark regulation, The Chronicle has found.
Researchers have found that the board's excuse - that it failed to foresee how much emissions would fall with the economic downturn - doesn't hold water (unsurprisingly, since these sorts of "mistakes" always seem to lean in the same direction):
While air board officials and other defenders of the board's science point to the economy as a major factor in the overestimates, Harley found that prior to the recession the board's estimates of nitrous oxide were too high by a factor of 4.5 and its estimate of particulate matter was off by a factor of 3.1, an extraordinarily high amount to be off scientifically.
The voters this fall will get the chance to render their own verdict on the board's junk science:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has promised to suspend the law for at least a year, while Democrat Jerry Brown supports the law. California voters, meanwhile, will vote on Proposition 23, a November initiative to suspend AB32 until the unemployment rate - now at 12.4 percent in California - falls to 5.5 percent or less for a year.
Perhaps not-unrelatedly, it turns out that the CARB's lead scientist on this initiative got his Ph.D. in statistics from a mail-order diploma mill.
And of course, the inquiries into Climategate itself roll on; Clive Crook, who prefaced his article with an assurance that he believes in global warming, nonetheless savaged efforts to whitewash the scientific misconduct involved:
The Penn State inquiry exonerating Michael Mann -- the paleoclimatologist who came up with "the hockey stick" -- would be difficult to parody. Three of four allegations are dismissed out of hand at the outset: the inquiry announces that, for "lack of credible evidence", it will not even investigate them. (At this, MIT's Richard Lindzen tells the committee, "It's thoroughly amazing. I mean these issues are explicitly stated in the emails. I'm wondering what's going on?" The report continues: "The Investigatory Committee did not respond to Dr Lindzen's statement. Instead, [his] attention was directed to the fourth allegation.") Moving on, the report then says, in effect, that Mann is a distinguished scholar, a successful raiser of research funding, a man admired by his peers -- so any allegation of academic impropriety must be false.
Crook's piece on similar efforts to whitewash the CRU's misconduct is worth reading in full, as is streiff's entertaining takedown of Mann's efforts to defend his tattered reputation. The British government has reacted by basically pressuring scientists into signing what James Taranto - only mildly exaggerating - termed a loyalty oath to the government's scientific pronouncements:
The Met Office has embarked on an urgent exercise to bolster the reputation of climate-change science after the furore over stolen e-mails.
One scientist told The Times he felt under pressure to sign. "The Met Office is a major employer of scientists and has long had a policy of only appointing and working with those who subscribe to their views on man-made global warming," he said.
Meanwhile, the Watts Up With That site has undertaken a massive study of the sources of temperature data, and its report (caution: link opens a 209-page PDF) finds major problems in the whole data-collection process:
It was necessitated by the extraordinary revelations in the recently released CRU emails, including the admissions of Ian "Harry" Harris, the CRU programmer. He lamented about "[The] hopeless state of their (CRU) database. No uniform data integrity, it's just a catalogue of issues that continues to grow as they're found" and "Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. This whole project is SUCH A MESS. No wonder I needed therapy!!" CRU member, Phil Jones, candidly confessed in a BBC interview that "his surface temperature data are in such disarray they probably cannot be verified or replicated."
The 15-point summary of conclusions on pp-6-7 is worth reading even if you don't have time for the full report. Examples:
Instrumental temperature data for the pre-satellite era (1850-1980) have been so widely, systematically, and uni-directionally tampered with that it cannot be credibly asserted there has been any significant "global warming" in the 20th century.
Global terrestrial temperature data are compromised because more than three-quarters of the 6,000 stations that once reported are no longer being used in data trend analyses.
In the oceans, data are missing and uncertainties are substantial. Changes in data sets introduced a step warming in 2009.
Due to recently increasing frequency of eschewing rural stations and favoring urban airports as the primary temperature data sources, global terrestrial temperature data bases are thus seriously flawed and can no longer be representative of both urban and rural environments. The resulting data is therefore problematic when used to assess climate trends or VALIDATE model forecasts.
Garbage in, garbage out; the problem goes all the way to the root of the data that underlies not just the theory but the reliability of models that can only be tested against this ever-shifting landscape of unreliable data.
B. Obama Administration Again Squashes Unfavorable Reports
The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster. . .
The Administration played a similar game when it came to its moratorium on offshore drilling, pretending to have "peer-reviewed" scientific support it didn't actually have:
The White House issued a blanket moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. Obama cited a report commissioned by the Interior Department that purported to recommend the ban.
That pattern extends as well to social-science surveys:
Seventy percent of American parents and 53.5 percent of American adolescents believe sex before marriage is wrong, according to a federally funded study released Monday by the Administration of Children and Families, an agency within the Health and Human Services Department....
C. Quackery and Luddism
As I have noted before, while liberal commentators are quick to deride the beliefs of ordinary citizens on the Right, there is plenty of fodder on the Left; Moe Lane notes a Pew survey showing that "somewhere around 30% of Democrats believe in a whole range of New Age stuff, explicitly including astrology." And as I observed in Part I of this series, one of the ugliest manifestations of that worldview is the campaign by hysterics like Jenny McCarthy and Robert Kennedy jr. against vaccine manufacturers, and the inevitable (as a result) popular movement against vaccinating children. The grim result: an outbreak of whooping cough in California so bad even the relentlessly anti-modern-medicine Huffington Post was forced to acknowledge it:
State health officials reported Thursday that California is on track to break a 55-year record for whooping cough infections in an epidemic that has already claimed the lives of nine infants.
Many parents forgo vaccines for their children because of concerns about autism, typically fueled by misinformation on the Internet, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a University of California-San Diego professor and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Doug Bandow looked back in June at the career of the late Stephen Schneider, a global warming alarmist who had, earlier in his career, been a "new Ice Age" alarmist (oh, that settled science!). Here's an extended quote from a 1992 piece on Schneider, which captures all too well the mindset of his school of scientist-activist (or perhaps, activist-scientist):
"It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides [of the global warming question] as though it were a question of balance," he told the Boston Globe recently. "Given the distribution of views, with groups like the National Academy of Science expressing strong scientific conern, it is irresponsible to give equal time to a few people standing out in left field."...
That would be hyperbole like when Robert F. Kennedy jr. blamed Haley Barbour for Hurricane Katrina in the pages of the Huffington Post, just before the hurricane hit New Orleans: "Perhaps it was Barbour's memo that caused Katrina, at the last moment, to spare New Orleans and save its worst flailings for the Mississippi coast." Or, more recently, Al Gore getting caught spinning bogus science again at the Copenhagen summit:
Mr Gore, speaking at the Copenhagen climate change summit, stated the latest research showed that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in five years.
And it's not just climate science but the nanny state too: as Jacob Sullum has documented in Reason, New York City's war on salt rests on a very shaky scientific foundation.
The Left's menace to science continues, unabated. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:28 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)
February 9, 2010
POLITICS/SCIENCE: The NY Times' IPCC Alibi Falls Flat
One and a half cheers to the NY Times for the article "Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel," which admits to some of the scientific and ethical problems facing the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri. But the Times being the Times, while it lays out some of the damning facts, it omits key damaging details (especially regarding the egregiously amateurish nature of the IPCC's errors regarding the Himalayan glaciers) and otherwise spends the rest of the article trying to explain away Dr. Pachauri's problems, with hilarious results.
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The most hilarious of these is the Times' effort to instruct you, the reader, on why there's no financial conflict of interest in payments received by Dr. Pachauri from various businesses with interests in the panel's work - emphasis mine:
Several of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths: While Dr. Pachauri does act as a paid consultant and adviser to many companies, he makes no money from these activities, he said. The payments go to the Energy and Resources Institute, the prestigious nonprofit research center based in Delhi that he founded in 1982 and still leads, where the money finances charitable projects like Lighting a Billion Lives, which provides solar lanterns in rural India.
Sounds like those critics are way off base, right? The man gives all the money to charity. So, where does his money come from?
Dr. Pachauri, 69, said the only work income he received was a salary from the Energy and Resources Institute: about $49,000, according to his 2009 Indian tax return, which he provided to The New York Times. The return also lists $16,000 in other income, most of it interest on accounts in Indian banks.
That's right: his primary source of income is his employment by the same entity that receives the payments! This is like saying that a lawyer makes no money off bringing clients to her firm...which then pays her salary.
In response to the recent criticisms, Dr. Pachauri provided an accounting of some of his outside consulting fees paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. Those include about $140,000 from Deutsche Bank, $25,000 from Credit Suisse, $80,000 from Toyota and $48,750 from Yale. He has recently begun work as a strategic adviser for Pegasus, the investment firm, but has not yet attended a meeting, and no money has yet been paid to the Energy and Resources Institute. He has also provided advice free of charge to groups like the Chicago Climate Exchange.
If you are keeping score at home, that's $293,750 to the Energy and Resources Institute - enough to fund six years' salary at ERI for Dr. Pachauri. So much for the notion that there's no financial interest at stake.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong per se with climate scientists doing business with green technology companies or others with interests in their scientific work. But as I have noted before, neither should scientists who receive such funds be treated as Solomonic icons of disinterest, while they assail their critics as paid shills of industry. It's healthier to remember that everybody has an angle and a bias - and look deeper at the data, the theories and the integrity and transparency of the process used.
But the Times' effort to spin this one away is just pathetic.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:37 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 2, 2010
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Surrender on Autism
The Lancet, a once-respectable scientific journal, has conceded and retracted a now-discredited 1998 study claiming to show a link between vaccines and autism. Of course, the genie loosed by that piece of junk science can't be so easily put back in its bottle, but score another one for science and a defeat for its left-wing enemies.
On a similar note, yet another scandal involving hackery posing as climate science at the IPCC.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:48 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2010 | Science | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 2009
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(A)
In the first installment of this series, I looked at the real dangers to scientific integrity and scientific progress presented by junk science, quackery and Luddism promoted and practiced by the cultural and political Left, including the use of bad science in product liability lawsuits and the Left's attacks on vaccination, nuclear power and genetically engineered crops.
In this second part, we look at politicized science and the temptations of power. Part II is posted in its entirety at The New Ledger but my site won't support a single post that long.
III. Polticized Science
Many of the worst kinds of junk science and quackery are to be found when science is used to advance political agendas. The corrupting influence of money has nothing on the corrupting influence of political power. And contrary to what the Left may wish you to believe, the espousal of left-wing causes that advocate the expansion of such power is not an ennobling but a corrupting influence on scientific integrity. As I will discuss below, the current controversy involving climate researchers - the "Climategate" scandal triggered by the release of emails by the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Great Britian - vividly illustrates this.
There are at two main hazards presented when science is marshalled in political argument. One, politicians may take scientific data gathered in good faith and misrepresent, overstate or suppress it - witness John Kerry overstating the growth of carbon emissions by a factor of 32 for a recent example that didn't stand up to even mininal scrutiny. And two, scientists themselves may become willing pawns in the circulation of bad science for political ends. Recent history shows that the agenda of greater government control of society pushed by the Democrats and others on the Left has often been abetted by bad science.
A. The Politics of Stem Cell Research
The most notorious recent example of politicians running far ahead of any scientific basis for their claims, of course, came from Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who in the course of a diatribe about the miraculous promise of embryonic stem cell research, declared in October 2004, the day after the death of actor Christopher Reeve:
If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
Nancy Pelosi likewise claimed that embryonic stem cells had "the biblical power to cure," and Ron Reagan told the 2004 Democratic Convention, "How'd you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine." Of course, no such thing was or is imminent:
In January 2003, a science writer for the New York Times admitted: "For all the handwringing by scientists, you might think that therapeutic cloning is on the verge of curing a disease or two. . . . Almost all researchers, when questioned, confess that such accomplishments are more dream than reality."
But Edwards and Pelosi had elections to win. And scientists who should have known better went along for the ride:
In the summer before the 2004 presidential election, Ron McKay, from the National Institutes of Health, admitted that he and his fellow scientists had generally failed to correct the media's false reports about the promise of stem cells - but that was all right, he told the Washington Post, since ordinary people "need a fairy tale." They require, he said, "a story line that's relatively simple to understand."
In fact, the hot story in embryonic stem cell research in the middle years of the Bush Administration was a South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang, looking at the use of stem cells for spinal cord research who claimed to have implanted cloned human stem cells in a cloned dog - results that turned out to be fraudulent. And proponents of embryonic stem cell research had fallen for it:
For all the major scientific journals, embryonic research had become what Robert P. George and Eric Cohen would call "a litmus test for being pro-science and the central front in the alleged war of scientific reason against religious barbarians." Science magazine had fast-tracked Hwang's work to let America know the cost of President Bush's refusal to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Scientific American published a mea culpa for all scientific journals, and it is, George and Cohen pointed out, "remarkable for both its honesty and remorse: 'Hwang is guilty of raising false expectations, but too many of us held the ladder for him.'"
This would not be the last time scientists made themselves willing pawns of the Left at the expense of their integrity.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(B)
B. Anthropogenic Global Warming
More recently than the stem cell controversy, we have the series of mushrooming controversies - most spectacularly the "Climategate" scandal - over Anthropgenic Global Warming (AGW), i.e., the theory that human industry is responsible, by means of carbon emissions, for an upward trend in global temperatures. AGW is very important to the Obama Administration and its allies in the Democratic Party and on the international Left; recall Barack Obama's grandiloquent pronouncement that people would remember of his clinching of the Democratic nomination in June 2008 that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal". But AGW theory and its adherents are rotten with bad science.
1. The EPA Report
The first sign that the new Administration was willing to push the barriers between science and politics in support of its AGW agenda was this spring's flap over the Obama Administration's suppression of an EPA report that contradicted the agency's decision to classify CO2 (the most natural of gases, being that it is exhaled by human beings) as a "pollutant" - a decision that has been used to justify "cap-and-trade" legislation as well as administrative actions on the issue without the need for legislation (the latter being supported by an agency "finding" released in April by the EPA and finalized in November that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare). This episode was a fairly classic example of how government policymaking in areas of scientific expertise remains more about politics than about science. Read the summary overview of that report here, and Ben Domenech's writeup here. Michelle Malkin sums up the kind of critique presented in the report:
[I]t spotlights EPA's reliance on out-of-date research, uncritical recycling of United Nations data, and omission of new developments, including a continued decline in global temperatures and a new consensus that future hurricane behavior won't be different than in the past.
Chris Mooney, the liberal author of the "Republican War on Science" book, went so far as to argue that because he disagreed with its conclusions, the EPA was right to suppress the report. Of course, this is rather a far cry from the arguments made during the Bush years that about the dangers of suppressing scientific skepticism and dissent; the orthodoxy must be enforced.
Given its policy aims, it is not surprising that the Administration was hesitant to publish a report that contradicted the AGW narrative. In fact, the AGW hypothesis presents the most egregious example in recent years - in terms of its sheer scale - of thoroughly politicized science. The AGW debate merits consideration at some length here because of its centrality to a policy debate affecting a vast proportion of human economic activity and the copious examples it provides of the corruption of politicized science. Put simply, any reasonable person who looks at the evidence must conclude that the proponents of AGW theory are political advocates first and scientists, if at all, a distant second.
Now, it may well be true - it is certainly possible - that the Earth is presently in a warming trend, and that such a trend can be projected into the future, and that human activity is responsible for that trend, and even that changes in future economic structures could alter that trend. All of that may be true, and it may be false; science is supposed to help us find the answers to such questions, and to tell us honestly if the answers cannot in confidence be found. Science is not about identifying what is possible or plausible or arguable and then asserting it as fact; it's about following the evidence wherever it may lead, to determine whether a particular hypothesis is proven, disproven, unproven or inherently unprovable. (Unprovable theories aren't without their uses in science, if they remain the most likely explanation for a set of facts - but such explanatory theories ought not to be asserted as fact, and they make a shaky basis for sweeping and disruptive public policy initiatives.)
If you were to construct a checklist of the warning signs of bad science, the campaign to persuade the public of AGW would tick off basically every box: the refusal to share data, to the point of outright destroying it; the manipulation of the peer-review process to skew results; the constant changing of models and predictions to avoid having them subject to testing against hard evidence; the campaign of alarmism and demonization of skeptics; the rank appeals to authority and consensus in place of reasoned discussion of the evidence. Only the most credulous rubes could believe the proponents of AGW without a raised eyebrow at these tactics.
2. Warming? What Warming?
The reason why AGW has such political salience, of course, is that it is used as justification for vast governmental controls over economic activity - long a project of the Left, but now with the newly-added patina of physical science as support for the same old programs. In order to justify the massive dislocations that would be caused by such controls, it is necessary not only that AGW be unquestioned, but that it be menacing; thus, we get things like a scientific advisor to the British Government claiming that AGW will annihilate 90% of the world's population if the temperature rises four degrees Celsius. And in some cases, the rush to make dire predictions founders on the most banal forms of sloppiness, as when the IPCC predicted the demise of Himalayan glaciers by 2035, when the data said 2350. A digit here, a digit there...
The need to generate predictions of doom is a double-edged sword. One of the problems at the heart of AGW theory, and which has caused no end of difficulty for its proponents, is that it is a predictive model, yet proponents of the theory keep having to change what it predicts to avoid ever allowing the theory to be falsifiable. A theory of global warming, after all, presupposes that the Earth is getting warmer, and indeed the entire basis for convincing anyone that the theory holds water is to point to the correlation between increasing industrial emissions of carbon and recent increases in global temperature. But even before you get to the questions of (1) whether the historical temperature readings are accurately recorded and presented and (2) whether correlation equals causation, you run up against the fact that persistent alarmist predictions that the warming trend would continue have not panned out.
As you may recall, the headline-grabber that made AGW a political issue in the 1990s was the famous "hockey stick" graph produced by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, so-called because it showed a sharp upward spike in global temperatures, shaped like the blade of a hockey stick, near the end of the 20th century. The hockey stick, in turn, was premised in good part upon historical temperature data derived from a database of tree ring measurements maintained by the CRU. Mann's hockey stick was never the sole source of AGW theory, and the CRU was never the sole source of historical data, but the hockey stick graph was central to the project of capturing the public imagination and turning a scientific theory into a political juggernaut. The clear implication to anyone looking at the hockey stick was that at precisely the time of accelerating industrialization, we had entered a period of accelerating increase in global temperatures that would continue unchecked into the future. Correlation being easily confused with causation, much of the public simply accepted that the increase in carbon emissions resulting from increasing industrialization must have been the cause of the temperature spike; the two patterns were too visually striking to be coincidence.
While many scientists were convinced of the logic of computer models of how a "greenhouse effect" would work in transmuting carbon emissions into increased temperatures, scientists could never prove that their models of how carbon emissions affected the Earth's temperature were correct; you can't conduct an experiment on something as large and complex as a planet and its entire surroundings in the solar system, and there was no historical precedent for the Earth's industrialization, only a long history on this and other planets of climates changing without human intervention. But with the hockey stick, nobody needed to question the underlying logic of causation anymore than they do in the case of lung cancer and smoking (i.e., it's still not known how smoking causes lung cancer, but the statistical correlation over innumerable studies covering a very large sample is so strong that nobody today seriously disputes the causal connection despite the absence of a known mechanism - much of epidemiology works that way).
Unfortunately for the proponents of AGW, it turns out in retrospect that the hockey stick was just a figment of small and incomplete samples. You can read fuller explanations here and here, but I will summarize them briefly. Basically, the original "hockey stick" did two things: not only did it show a sharp upward spike in temperatures in the late 20th century, but it also rebutted the contention that this could be a natural phenomenon by showing the lowest temperatures in 1032, in the midst of what had been believed to be the "Medieval Warm Period." That hockey stock was premised on a 1995 paper that "depended on 3 short tree ring cores from the Polar Urals whose dating was very problematic," and when additional data became available in 1999, the updated temperature series was not published, but rather replaced with a new study from Yamal, also in Russia. But to skeptic Steve McIntyre, the Yamal data - collected in two sets - didn't add up, and he embarked on a years-long battle to get all the data to review independently. When he finally did, in September 2009, the resulting sample - using a larger sample size for late 20th century data - changed the shape of the "stick" to eliminate the blade (as well as modifying the medieval results), leaving something much more clearly resembling a random walk of statistical noise. You can see the results in this graph from McIntyre's site: the red line is the Mann/CRU hockey-stick graph, the black line is the data left out of the stick, and the green line is what you get when you combine the two sets:
At least eight papers purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC's assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the British climate research centre CRU at the University East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors.
The hockey stick isn't the only such example, as illustrated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data wrongly showing a non-existent and persistent spike in ocean temperatures in 2001.
If you had - as many AGW proponents did, in the 1990s - begun to make short-term predictions about climate trends along the lines of continuation of the Mann/CRU hockey stick trends, you would have been grievously wrong, as in fact all such predictions have proven. Since AGW rose to prominence as a political project, the past decade has shown no growth in global temperatures since the natural El Nino temperature surge of 1998. One study after another has shown that the Earth simply has not gotten warmer in the past 11 years:
[In the fall of 2009], Britain's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research added more fuel to the fire with its latest calculations of global average temperatures. According to the Hadley figures, the world grew warmer by 0.07 degrees Celsius from 1999 to 2008, and not by the 0.2 degrees Celsius assumed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And, say the British experts, when their figure is adjusted for two naturally occurring climate phenomena, El Niño and La Niña, the resulting temperature trend is reduced to 0.0 degrees Celsius -- in other words, a standstill.
[M]ean ice anomaly -- defined as the seasonally-adjusted difference between the current value and the average from 1979-2000, varies much more slowly. That anomaly now stands at just under zero, a value identical to one recorded at the end of 1979, the year satellite record-keeping began.
Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery. Bill Chapman, a researcher with the UIUC's Arctic Center, tells DailyTech this was due in part to colder temperatures in the region. Chapman says wind patterns have also been weaker this year. Strong winds can slow ice formation as well as forcing ice into warmer waters where it will melt.
The response of proponents of AGW: change the predictions so they don't risk being disproven by events, as illustrated by this report from September 2009:
Forecasts of climate change are about to go seriously out of kilter. One of the world's top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.
In candid mood, climate scientists avoided blaming nature for their faltering predictions, however. "Model biases are also still a serious problem. We have a long way to go to get them right. They are hurting our forecasts," said Tim Stockdale of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK.
Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study.
The analysis focuses on the temperature increase that would occur if levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution levels. The current best guess for this number - which is a useful way to gauge how sensitive the climate is to rising carbon levels - is that it lies between 2.0 C and 4.5 C. And there is a small chance that the temperature rise could be up to 8C or higher.
AGW theory's inability to accurately predict global temperatures has gotten so bad that it has spurred a movement to rebrand "global warming" as "climate change," a moniker so vague that it can never be disproven (climates change; that's what they do, and have for all of Earth's history). The latest fad is "climate collapse," apparently because "change" wasn't scary enough. The ever-shifting definition of what the problem is, what it's called, and how it could be measured is a classic symptom of bad, politicized science. The constant goalpost-moving may be a drearisome feature of politics, but it's not supposed to be how science works.
Rebranding the AGW hypothesis allows things like Al Gore's scare tactics based on supposed trends projected from short-term fluctuations in natural disasters. In the specific example of Gore's misuse of disaster data, the question may be more one of politicians abusing scientific data than the underlying data being politicized, but both are problematic. It's unhelpful to have leading political figures running around telling us that "I hold in my hand a list of dire climate predictions" that nobody can subject to dispassionate review. Fortunately, the resort to dire predictions about natural disasters, like predictions about temperature, are subject to correction by events; we just finished an unusually mild hurricane season for the second time in four years, which is not at all the "climate change" that Gore is threatening (in fact, predictions of 2009 the hurricane season were also inaccurate). But not to worry; the predictions will just continue being kicked out further down the time horizon to ensure that they can't ever be disproven conclusively.
3. Consensus? What Consensus?
Given the mounting failure of efforts to convince the public that bad weather - or unseasonably good weather, either will do - is scientific proof of AGW, the theory's proponents have instead turned to appeals to authority, insisting that there is an ironclad scientific consensus that proves the theory to be true, and demanding that the citizenry trust the consensus because they're scientists.
This ought to set off serious alarm bells. To begin with, anyone remotely familiar with the history of science understands that scientific consensuses are made to be broken; most of the really important new scientific theories and discoveries since Aristotle have come from the overturning of an existing and erroneous consensus. If consensus was the end of science, we would have to consign Einstein, Darwin, and Newton to the ash heap of history.
Students of human nature should be equally alarmed. The proponents of policies supported by the "consensus" have sought to freeze that consensus in amber by embodying it in a series of reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international bureaucratic institution honored by another international bureaucratic institution with a Nobel Peace Prize. But the IPCC's reports are worth no more than the sum of their parts, especially given that only a fraction of the vaunted 2,500 scientists signing onto the IPCC reports have personally conducted sufficient research to validate AGW theory from their own personal experience and expertise.
The effort to compile an "official" scientific "consensus" into a single document, approved by governments, has exacerbated the pressures to politicize policy-relevant science. So too has been the tendency to pretend as if resolving the scientific questions will resolve policy disputes.
Government-backed and -enforced scientific consensuses have a dire history, the most notorious example of which was the work of Soviet geneticist Trofim Lysenko:
Lysenko...ruled the life sciences of Soviet Russia from the late 1920s until the early 1960s. He had a theory which fit Marxism perfectly: acquired characteristics can be inherited. This is not true, of course, but Lysenko had the Politburo and Stalin behind him. It was science that fit the political needs of the Bolsheviks, and so it was science backed by the awful power of the party and the state.
As I will discuss below, the "Climategate" emails strike at the heart of the credibility of the IPCC reports. As the Future of Capitalism blog observes of the CRU emails:
On the broader question of climate change science, the group-think suggested by the emails is bad for the scientific process, and as Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it's often a precursor to a paradigm shift that, when it comes, is adamantly resisted at first. Just ask Galileo. And for a flavor of the way that the elite reacts to the questioning of the climate change consensus, check out how the once-dignified New Yorker handled Superfreakonomics, and the way that handling was praised by the Nobel laureate New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Self-reinforcing orthodoxies have a way of being punctured in fields other than science, too, whether it is a single party's apparent dominance in Washington or mindless and widespread optimism about rising house prices.
(It should be borne in mind that groupthink and ideological bias are in addition to the far-from-foolproof nature of peer review in the first place; like any human endeavor, peer review can be and sometimes is also undone by ordinary cronyism or simple laziness or haste, as in the recent example of a scientific journal accepting for publication a nonsense article generated by a computer program, a scandal that resulted in the resignation of the journal's editor).
Proponents of the AGW consensus as definitionally unassailable have circled their wagons against the danger of free thinkers by attacking their critics as paid shills of industry. Unsurprisingly, given that carbon-emitting industries have an enormous amount to lose from the policy proposals at issue, the targeted industries have in fact sought to fund anybody who might question the forces arrayed against them. But in science, the proper remedy for self-interested assertion is transparency and replication of methods, not "na, na, na, I'm not listening."
The incessant attacks on the financial motivations of the skeptics - in addition to being antithetical to the whole project of scientific inquiry by means of evaluation of the evidence rather than argument ad hominem - not only ignores the fact that the proponents have great incentives of their own in terms of aggrandizing their political power, it also ignores that there's quite a lot of money in AGW too. As Vladimir at RedState notes:
[Employees and scientists funded by the IPCC] work for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course they believe in Climate Change; it says "Climate Change" on their paychecks! The global warming opinions of organizations like the American Petroleum Institute have always been treated with skepticism; why should we not consider the source when it comes to the IPCC's studies?
Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he'd been awarded in the 1990s....
And of course, the CRU's funding includes money from the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA. Another email shows concerns that the Commerce Department would grow "suspicious" of the CRU's activities. And the desire to keep the money flowing clearly affected AGW proponents' view of the legitimacy of criticism, as illustrated by this October 2009 email from the Climategate files:
How should I respond to the below? [an article questioning AGW theory] (I'm in the process of trying to persuade Siemens Corp. (a company with half a million employees in 190 countries!) to donate me a little cash to do some CO2 measurments here in the UK - looking promising, so the last thing I need is news articles calling into question (again) observed temperature increases--
Despite the confident assertion of consensus issued ex cathedra by the IPCC and the heavy costs in acrimony and ad hominem assault to dissenting scientists, the skeptics, organized politically by Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe, have found no shortage of scientists willing to question the "consensus" on AGW. Senator Inhofe has released reports in 2007 & 2009 quoting more than 700 dissenting scientists, many of them quite distinguished. (One of the more distinguished skeptics is profiled by the New York Times here). Ditto for the direst predictions of climate-change disaster:
[I]f there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Morner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story. Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about. The reason why Dr Morner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".
In fact, one rarely has to look far for legitimate scientific skepticism about AGW climate models, even among those who buy into some aspects of AGW theory. Bjorn Lomborg, a skeptic who believes in AGW but argues that it's been overblown, notes that "there are reputable peer-reviewed studies out there that show that because we have pumped out so much CO2 in the atmosphere, we haven't gone into a new Ice Age.". A July 2009 article in Science argued that cloud behavior is a major player in global warming, and that if so, "almost all climate models have got it wrong." Others note that the historical evidence shows that the models don't account for or understand all the factors at work:
[A] new study published online [in July 2009] in the journal Nature Geoscience ... found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.
To anyone who cares about the scientific search for truth, questions of this nature are an invitation to further research. To the political zealots who regard further inquiry as damnable heresy, they are simply quibbles to be brushed aside.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:39 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(C)
4. Not So Interested In Sharing
Even before the Climategate story broke, we learned perhaps the most damning fact of all about the CRU: its refusal to share the raw data that purports to demonstrate that the Earth is getting warmer. There is nothing more essential to scientific integrity than the willingness to share data to enable everyone - colleagues, competitors, skeptics - to peer-review the conclusions drawn by applying your processes to that data. In a world of many minds, you can never know who will bring new insight to a problem, and the spirit of open inquiry demands that the largest number of minds be brought to bear on any problem. Yet, AGW proponents have fought tooth and nail to avoid sharing their data, until CRU admitted this summer that critical data supporting the AGW hypothesis has been tampered with to the point where it is no longer accessible in its original, unadulterated form:
In the early 1980s, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, scientists at the United Kingdom's University of East Anglia established the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to produce the world's first comprehensive history of surface temperature. It's known in the trade as the "Jones and Wigley" record for its authors, Phil Jones and Tom Wigley, and it served as the primary reference standard for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2007. It was this record that prompted the IPCC to claim a "discernible human influence on global climate."
In June 2009, Georgia Tech's Peter Webster told Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre that he had requested raw data [regarding global temperatures], and Jones freely gave it to him. So McIntyre promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same data. Despite having been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to present his analyses of millennial temperatures, McIntyre was told that he couldn't have the data because he wasn't an "academic." So his colleague Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, asked for the data. He was turned down, too.
Roger Pielke Jr., an esteemed professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, then requested the raw data from Jones. Jones responded:Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.
Jones' email response to McIntyre included a classic example of the mindset of politicized science:
We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.
Anyone familiar with data storage throughout the short history of the computer age knows this is nonsense. Transfer of data from various systems to newer systems has been accomplished without real difficulty all thorough its development. What Jones is trying very hard to do is one of two things a) hide data that he's pretty sure won't support his conclusion or b) admitting to a damningly unscientific procedure which should, without his ability to produce and share the original data, call into serious question any findings he's presented.
[T]he raw data on which the landmark 1996 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based its conclusion has been destroyed. The University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit acknowledged in August that it discarded data that, in addition to the IPCC report, has been cited by other international studies as the main justification for severe restrictions on carbon emissions worldwide.
More here on additional shenanigans with CRU's computer models. As the CRU emails reveal, the destruction of data was something of a pattern driven by the need to avoid scrutiny:
A May 2008 email from Mr. Jones with the subject line "IPCC & FOI" asked recipients to "delete any emails you may have had" about data submitted for an IPCC report. The British Freedom of Information Act makes it a crime to delete material subject to an FOI request; such a request had been made earlier that month.
As things stood until mid-November 2009, the refusal to share raw data was bad enough. But it was about to get uglier.
5. "Hide The Decline"
The "Climategate" revelation of the CRU emails - which show deliberations among the CRU's scientists and with allies such as Prof. Mann - came from an unknown source, almost certainly as a byproduct of McIntyre's battle to get the concealed data. But no one now seriously contests their authenticity, and they are damning in the extent to which they confirm all the worst suspicions about the politicization of the science underlying AGW theory at an institution that has been a central player in shaping the IPCC's "consensus" reports:
In global warming circles, the CRU wields outsize influence: it claims the world's largest temperature data set, and its work and mathematical models were incorporated into the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report. That report, in turn, is what the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged it "relies on most heavily" when concluding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and should be regulated.
I can't hope to catalog here the full scope of the CRU emails - for example, accounts of the scientists cheering the death of one skeptic and musing about punching another in the face or questioning the motivations of their critics and comparing them to critics of Obama's health care plan - but will hit a few of the high points. The emails show CRU personnel frankly admitting the political process' impact on the science
Other emails include one in which Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit told Mr. Mann that "I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same"...
More broadly, they reveal a point of view in which facts need to be found to fit the theory rather than the other way around. Here's one email response to the BBC piece linked above regarding the lack of warming over the past 11 years:
The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.
In what is now the most notorious email, Jones, in a 1999 message to Mann and four others, discussed imitating a "trick" used by Mann to "hide the decline" in certain post-1960 temperatures (context explained here and here):
Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
This graph shows precisely the impact of Jones' trick on the dataset at issue:
A similar attitude is found in a 2009 email to Jones from Wigley, presenting strategies to "explain" a "warming blip" in the data from the 1940s - again, the sort of thing one does if presenting data in an argumentative format, rather than in the spirit of disinterested inquiry:
Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly explain the 1940s warming blip. If you look at the attached plot you will see that theland also shows the 1940s blip (as I'm sure you know).
A similar example of Jones insisting that the data can't be right if it contradicts his "gut feeling" is discussed here, and here an example of the CRU crew's reactions to questions raised by skeptics that they recognized as having some validity. And the examples of the CRU's misconduct may not be isolated incidents, as examination of official data at NASA and in the New Zealand government’s temperature records suggests.
Another of the alarming but - to observers of the AGW debate - unsurprising revelations was the extent to which the CRU cabal sought to control the peer-review process to determine its outcome:
Here's what Phil Jones of the CRU and his colleague Michael Mann of Penn State mean by "peer review." When Climate Research published a paper dissenting from the Jones-Mann "consensus," Jones demanded that the journal "rid itself of this troublesome editor," and Mann advised that "we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers."
Eduardo Zorita, a German climate researcher who reviewed papers for Climate Research, has called for three of the leading (Jones, Mann, and Stefan Rahmstorf) to be ousted from the IPCC, arguing that the CRU emails confirm what was already known by climate researchers about the corruption of the process:
I may confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU-files. They depict a realistic, I would say even harmless, picture of what the real research in the area of the climate of the past millennium has been in the last years. The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.
Others have also come forward with stories of Jones' involvement in using peer review to stifle dissenting points of view. The structure of scientific peer review and of academia more broadly unfortunately creates opportunities for politicized groups to capture these institutions and enforce their particular brand of groupthink in a field like climate science. The critical way this is done - hinted at by Jones' threat to "redefine" peer review - is the existence of gatekeepers. An establishment consisting of a comparatively small number of people controls publication, which controls who gets to get jobs in academia and who has to go out into business. That establishment also controls or influences grant funding (which is often government grant funding, depending on the field), which controls whose jobs are made permanent with tenure and whose aren't. You have to publish and get funding to get and keep your job. If the gatekeepers refuse to publish or fund any dissenters, and they do refuse, then scientific consensus is not reached by reasoning but manufactured by brute force.
The kind of thinking apparent in the CRU emails is so common among AGW proponents that they are sometimes unafraid to say it aloud. Economist Thomas Schelling told The Atlantic that "It's a tough sell. And probably you have to find ways to exaggerate the threat" before musing that "I sometimes wish that we could have, over the next five or ten years, a lot of horrid things happening -- you know, like tornadoes in the Midwest and so forth -- that would get people very concerned about climate change."
Some environmentalists, like British leftist George Monbiot, found Climategate too much to stomach, leading calls for Jones to step down. But the head of the IPCC, after the fashion of all UN bodies, has circled the wagons around the Climategate miscreants; while he chastised them for being "indiscreet" in putting their comments in writing, he "said an independent inquiry into the emails would achieve little, but there should be a criminal investigation into how the emails came to light."
The Obama Administration's response, as the President prepares to journey to Copenhagen to promote new restrictions on the U.S. economy in the name of preventing AGW, has similarly been one of sheer denial of the need for re-examination of the science:
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed this afternoon, and the White House nonetheless believes "climate change is happening."
Ms. Browner initially shrugged when asked about the e-mails, saying she didn't have a reaction. But when a reporter followed up, she said she will stick with the consensus of the 2,500 climate scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change who concluded global warming is happening and is most likely being pushed by human actions.
"It's important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in all branches of science," Holdren told the House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
This is unsurprising, since the email archive includes Holdren's own emails sharing support and suggestions with a number of the Climategate figures.
Pay no attention, in other words, to the politicized hacks behind the curtain; just know they have reached a "consensus."
C. Cutting The Corners
The assiduous use of shady science for political ends usually runs further under the radar than John Edwards' snake oil or the Climategate scandal. As liberal Slate writer Will Saletan admits of efforts to use politicized junk science to prop up "sin taxes" on junk food and fast food as a means of meddling with individuals' personal choices:
To justify taxes on unhealthy food, the lifestyle regulators are stretching the evidence about obesity and addiction.... Liberals like to talk about a Republican war on science, but it turns out that they're just as willing to bend facts. In wars of piety, science has no friends.
And Congressional liberals can be quite as uninterested in science when acting on product safety scares driven by junk science, quackery or Luddism, as NPR noted earlier this year:
A new federal ban on chemical compounds used in rubber duckies and other toys isn't necessary, say the government scientists who studied the problem.
Overlawyered has extensive archives on the the Boxer-and-Feinstein-pushed legislation in question, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and its disastrous effects in practice - another reminder that injecting bad science into politics has real-world consequences. In fact, there is ample historical precedent, in the hard sciences as well as in social science, for left-wing political and social agendas to drive scientific hackwork whose influence far outstrips anyone's ability to replicate its underlying research:
Consider the residue of such frauds as Rachel Carson, Alfred Kinsey, and Margaret Mead. Carson's invented findings and unscientific methods led to the banning of DDT, which in turn cost the lives of tens of millions of children in undeveloped nations. Kinsey's tortuously doctored "sex research," as Dr. Judith Riesman has so amply demonstrated, was not only invented to sate his perverted lusts, but created scientific myths about normal and abnormal behavior which haunt us to this day. Mead also simply invented research to fit her idea of what the science of anthropology ought to be in order to justify her own immature and immoral behavior. Carson, Kinsey, and Mead had an agenda before they did any research, and this agenda governed everything else.
Which brings us to the root cause of politicized science: the temptation of power.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(D)
IV. The Temptation of Power
Politicized science is, itself, a subset of the most profound problem of scientific integrity: the temptation presented when science is freed from the restraints that accompany all other forms of human activity, from accountability to moral opprobrium to external civilian oversight. When experts rule, the first casualty is the quality of their expertise.
The siren song of scientific triumphalism was graphically on display throughout the multi-year controversy over embryonic stem cell research. The conservative objection to such research was that it not only entailed the destruction of human embryos, but envisioned the future creation of more embryos - each containing a genetically unique human identity - solely for the purpose of destroying them in the process of scientific research. Even moreso than the question of the humanity of unborn fetuses growing in the womb, the question of whether to regard embryos outside the womb as fully human due to their distinct genetic identity is one on which people of good faith disagree. There is understandable reluctance to face the consequences of granting any legal status to an embryo, especially because embryos are routinely created with no prospect of a full human life in the process of in vitro fertilization, and by and large our society has settled without much debate on the legality and propriety of in vitro fertilization.
President Bush, weighing the moral calculus involved, reached a compromise decision - explained in a nationally televised address in August 2001 - to provide for the first time federal funding for stem cell research, whether or not it involved stem cells derived from the destruction of embryos, but drawing the line at taxpayer funding for any research that would entail the destruction of future embryos. Bush's compromise was not morally satisfying or entirely principled from anyone's perspective, but it was an attempt to balance the moral and practical considerations surrounding some of the thorniest problems of modern bioethics.
Honest critics of Bush's decision argued that Bush had drawn the line in the wrong place, and that embryos should not carry any moral weight. But those voices were few. By far the loudest talking point from the Democrats was that Bush had committed the offense of placing moral restraints of any kind on science. This was, we were told, "anti-science" or a "war on science," and as discussed above it set off an orgy of exaggerations of the promises of the science involved. At the core of the argument was the assertion that religious people in particular should not dare to speak against the morality of anything scientists might wish to explore.
The constant insistence by the Democrats that scientific progress should brook no moral restraint, and that anyone standing in the way of this particular scientific project was a dangerous theocrat, was positively chilling. Because science, with its great power not only over human liberty but human life itself, is if anything one of the human activities most in need of our most strenuous moral faculties. Biochemists and climatologists need to be subjected to civilian oversight and the moral conscience of society for precisely the same reasons as soldiers, economists, central bankers, lawyers, spies, diplomats, epidemiologists, rocket scientists, urban planners, and every other form of expert.
The temptation of the unrestrained expert comes in two stages. First, the expert in pretty much anything is subject to tunnel vision, and the greater the expertise, the greater the risk of such a focus. The expert is apt to have a limitless appetite for resources while ignoring competing social priorities. He may demand policies that maximize the ends sought by his discipline, while ignoring countervailing considerations and interests. He may refuse to accept any moral restraints or limitations on his methods or the uses of his creations.
Tunnel vision is only the beginning, however. Because the expert who learns that the recitation of jargon and the appeal to authority effectively exempts him from moral or social scrutiny has made the most dangerous discovery known to man: the ability to get away with virtually anything. Because if people will let you talk your way into money and influence with good science on the grounds that they do not understand it or have no right to obstruct it, what is to stop the expert from using bad science from accomplishing the same end, if they layman isn't equipped to tell the difference between the two?
Every scientist dreams of a world without ethics. Whenever a scientist sees a set of twins, he or she secretly wonders what would happen if you surgically swapped their faces. They already have a chamber set up to harness the power of their screams as they gradually realize what has happened. Every day, ethics barely prevent experiments like this from being carried out.
The Nazis are obviously the extreme example, as is often the case, but the argument ad Hitlerum is a useful moral guidepost for precisely that reason: it reminds us why we insist that scientists, like everyone else, be subject to moral restraints and the skeptical eye of their fellow man. Because otherwise you do things like appointing a "science czar" who has written approvingly of compulsory abortion and sterilization as a solution to overpopulation.
In a society not yet as far gone as Nazi Germany, Climategate is what happens when scientists think nobody is looking, or at least that nobody is competent or willing to call them out. Given power, or the ability to influence those in power, the scientists have acted the way human beings have always acted around power. And because the Left provides greater scope than the Right for the exercise of power over civil society in the name of what science says is good for us - and because it denies the sources of moral remonstrance that can stand as a bulwark against scientific hubris - it will continue to offer the greatest temptations for scientists to be seduced by power.
In Part III: Dogma and the starvation of science and technology.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2009
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part I
Liberals have dined out at length in recent years on the charge that the Bush Administration and the cultural Right spent the Bush years engaging in a "war on science." Since political power passed to the Democrats, President Obama has practically dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back for "restor[ing] our commitment to science". But power in the hands of the Left is no boon to science. Quite the contrary.
Whatever one thinks of the validity of the "war on science" charge against the Right, the threats to scientific integrity and scientific progress from the Left are numerous, and they are very real. In this three-part series, I'll consider six major species of dangers to science and the role of the Left (inside and outside of government) in promoting them.
I. Junk Science
While definitions of science differ, most of us learned in grammar school and high school the basic concepts. Science is, as Karl Popper famously defined it, the testing of falsifiable propositions. In other words, you start with a hypothesis that seems to be supported by certain facts, but that would be proven false if certain other things happened, and you test to see if you can make those things happen. The process of experimentation - whether by laboratory experiments, statistical regressions, archaeological digs, or myriad other methods of testing hypotheses about past events or present processes - can take a variety of forms. But the mental approach to science should remain common: the scientist, being human, may seek a desired conclusion, but is expected to use a method of testing for the truth that keeps the finding of truth always as its ultimate goal (wherever the chips may fall). Perhaps more importantly, the process must be transparent in its methods, so that later researchers can replicate the method to ensure that the same test in different hands produces the same result. Scientists, to be scientists, must never say "trust me, I'm a scientist" or "I'm a scientist, don't question my work," and must never demand acceptance of theories that cannot be put to a test they could fail; they must share information and accept correction with a spirit of collegial search for a common and provable truth.
Those are the ideals; humans, being human, often fall short of them. This shouldn't shock us, but we should see the failures for what they are: bad science.
Probably the most pervasive cause of bad science, and one in which the Left and its component interest groups are heavily complicit, is junk science. Junk science is, broadly speaking, opinion or outright deception masquerading as science, for the purpose of persuading people of something that's untrue, unprovable or at least unproven. Junk science shows up in many places, but is most frequently encountered in the courtroom, and its motives are often more or less baldly about money.
The proliferation of junk science in the courts is notorious and widespread, and while the federal courts in particular have tried to crack down on it since the Supreme Court's 1992 Daubert decision authorized trial judges to act as 'gatekeepers,' the job of keeping junk science away from juries falls mainly to individual judges who may not necessarily have the scientific training themselves to spot all the charlatans. Much of modern litigation turns on expert witnesses of various stripes, from products liability experts to economists, and a good many of these are effectively professional testifying experts. That, in and of itself, need not be a bad thing; just as with lawyers, there are many honorable and principled professional experts, but many lazy hacks and cheap scam artists as well. Every lawyer knows that with enough monetary incentives, you can eventually find someone with a couple of degrees to say almost anything if you're not picky.
The personal injury plaintiffs' bar - one of the Democrats' core constituencies - is by far the most notorious offender in this regard. The incentives for junk science are especially powerful on the plaintiffs' side, since a novel scientific theory, in and of itself, can create from whole cloth an industry that will use governmental power to transfer millions or billions of dollars of wealth (a defendant can lose the battle of the experts but win a case on another basis, but a successful plaintiff must have an expert). There's an awful lot of money to be extracted through the use of junk science. It is no accident that it is customarily the plaintiffs' bar that resists efforts to have judges take a more active role in screening expert witnesses to determine the reliability of their processes. Asbestos litigation alone has produced more scientific scandals than one could possibly recount. Consider as a sample studies of vast disparities in diagnoses of asbestosis by unaffiliated and plaintiff-affiliated physicians. The Wall Street Journal has exhaustively catalogued the use of junk science to perpetrate a massive products liability fraud against Dole Foods in Nicaragua. The list could go on and on. Michael Fumento explains a typical example from the silicone breast implant litigation:
Consider the case of Dr. Nir Kossovsky of the UCLA, an inventor of one of the types of tests the FDA warned against. Kossovsky is one of the best-known critics of silicone implants, has testified at the FDA hearings that resulted in the essential ban on silicone breast implants, and is a regular expert witness for plaintiffs in implant- related trials.
More of the same here.
II. Quackery and Luddism
Another longstanding threat to science is the twin scourge of quackery and Luddism. While there is likewise a lot of money in quackery, and sometimes money in Luddism as well, there is a subtle difference in their genesis. Junk science may be principally driven by the needs of its suppliers, who know what they want to prove and need scientific experts to bend their processes to reach the desired results. But true quackery comes from somewhere different: it arises from existing demand, from the needs of people to believe things that science can't supply. Quacks prey on popular gullibility about quasi-scientific-sounding cure-alls, while Luddites (the heirs of the British protestors against the Industrial Revolution) thrive on irrational fears and superstitions about technological progress. The social, cultural and political Left is heavily complicit in both phenomena.
For a good illsutration of what this looks like, David Gorski has an exhaustive look at how the Huffington Post has made itself a haven for the opponents of modern medical science. It's worth reading the whole thing, which details the site's madness for anti-medical and anti-scientific quackery ranging from campaigns against vaccines to enthusiasm for all sorts of bizarre homeopathy, much of which is reflective of the Hollywood culture that pervades the site. The sort of quackery pushed by the HuffPo and its allies includes a lot of traditional junk science as well (for example, plaintiffs' lawyers pushing assaults on vaccine makers in the hopes of hitting a judgment jackpot in court) but the rot runs deeper than that, from the Left's neverending quest for substitutes for religion and commerce and its conspiracy theories about business.
We see all of this at work in the causes the HuffPo flacks for. Parents of children with autism need to blame some evil external force for their children's condition. New Age spirituality fills the gap created by rejection of traditional faiths, and offers the promise of patent-medicine style cures where modern medicine is short of answers. Diet gurus of every kind prey on the widespread chase for the magic weight-loss pill, just as the purveyors of sexual remedies prey on deeper insecurities. Some of these forces go beyond politics, but New Age hokum and hostility to vaccines and other successful products are unmistakably phenomena of the cultural Left. The campaign against vaccine manufacturers has drawn support from icons of the Democratic party:
US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called "Deadly Immunity." In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.
The hysteria - contradicted by numerous peer-reviewed studies - has real consequences:
In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children's diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California's affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).
Left-wing Luddism is also at work in the outright hysteria, especially in Europe, regarding things like genetically modified "frankenfood" and nanotechnology, here at home in the form of fear of nuclear power and food irradiation; in each case the unfocused, irrational fear comes first, and the pseudoscience used to justify it comes later. Thus, despite the sterling safety record of nuclear power everywhere outside the Soviet Union, and its crucial role in the power systems of countries like France and Japan, we have not had a nuclear power plant built in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
The environmental Left is especially guilty of this sort of thing, creating bugaboos grounded in public fear and ignorance about technology ranging from 1989's notorious Alar scare to 2001's hysteria about microscopic quantities of arsenic in drinking water, to "Gulf War Syndrome." Over and over we see the Left pressing to convince the public that unseen forces of technology and business - from pesticides to power lines - are conspiring to make them sick, and insisting that once such an assertion is made, the burden is on the skeptic of such crazes to produce conclusive scientific proof to the contrary. The process of disinterested analysis of the evidence and testing of falsifiable hypotheses falls swiftly by the wayside. Science itself becomes the enemy. Anyone who spent time wringing their hands over Bush-era policies with any degree of sincerity should find this all deeply alarming.
In Part II: Politicized science and the temptations of power.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
May 8, 2009
Stretching the science to sell 'climate change.' The politicization of science proceeds apace.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:57 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2009
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Does The Greenhouse Even Work?
Matthew Hoy looks at some new scientific research on whether the causal mechanism ascribed to manmade global warming even works. As is generally true with complex scientific theories about causation, there's no "case closed" moment here, but it's another piece of the puzzle for those who view such things with scientific skepticism rather than religious/political fervor.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:51 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
December 13, 2004
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Getting Warmer
The Mad Hibernian's post on Friday on Michael Crichton's new book questioning "global warming" and similar environmental dogmas (which followed on this powerful speech by Crichton last year denouncing global warming theories) prompted some interesting comments and links. Now, I'm no expert on the subject myself, but I did think it was worth repeating here something I said in the comments to that post. I'm very skeptical of hearing "global warming" discussed as if it is a single concept, like "the earth is round." Basically, "global warming," as I understand its popular meaning, is really three different concepts:
1. The earth has, for some period of time, been getting warmer.
2. This past warming trend is not a random or cyclical phenomenon but is a trend that will continue into the future unless interrupted by human intervention.
3. The past trend and its continuation into the future are the results of specifically identifiable human activities, i.e., carbon emissions.
It is entirely possible to believe #1 without believing #2 and #3, or even to believe #1 and #2 without believing #3. Beware of anyone who tries to use evidence supporting just one of those propositions to convince you of all three.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2004 | Science | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)