A Philosopher's Blog

Tax or Penalty?

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2012

Taxes (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

The United States Supreme Court ruled that the ACA is constitutional. However, there was an interesting twist in the ruling: while the administration’s main argument for the mandate was made in the context of commerce, this was rejected. Instead, the ruling noted that the ability to impose the penalty for not purchasing the insurance did legitimately fall under the right of congress to tax.

Not surprisingly, a rhetorical battle began shortly after the ruling regarding whether or not the penalty is a tax or not. The Republican’s main narrative is that the penalty is a tax and that it will be very bad indeed. The Democrat’s main narrative is that it is a penalty and that it is a necessary if not good thing. There is, of course, the question of what the truth of the matter might be.

Given the ruling, the Supreme Court’s view (or at least 5 of the 4 members) seems to be that the penalty is a tax. This is mainly because the power to impose the penalty comes under the power of congress to tax rather than being justified in regards to commerce. As such, the idea that it is a tax has a reasonable foundation. That said, it seems to be an unusual sort of tax in that it functions more like penalty-that is, one pays it for failing to do something that is required.

On the face of it, taking the penalty to be a tax is somewhat like taking a ticket for not wearing a seat belt (a common practice in the United States) to be a tax. After all, one has to pay a penalty for not following the requirement to wear a seatbelt just as one has to pay a penalty for not following the requirement to get insurance. It seems rather odd to call such penalties taxes. After all, folks generally don’t say things like “I was taxed for speeding today” or “I got taxed because I parked illegally.” In the case of penalties, they generally seem to aim at punishing people for what they did (or failed to do).

While taxes do cause pain, they generally seem to differ from penalties. After all, when I pay a sales tax, this does not seem to be a penalty (or maybe it is—perhaps I am getting punished for buying local rather than via Amazon.com). Similarly, when my salary is taxed, I find that unpleasant, but it is not intended to deter me from working. That is, it is taxing but not penalizing.

As such, the penalty would seem to be a penalty that has been legally justified under the power to tax.

The obvious reply to this is that this makes all the difference. While it is a penalty, it is justified under the power to tax and is thus a tax. This, of course, does raise a question about what justifies the state in imposing penalties. The state can, of course, arrest me, lock me up, take my property, and kill me and these are justified in terms other than taxes. That is, an execution is not a tax one pays with one’s life. If the state can impose such penalties to get people to do and not do things without them being taxes, then it seems to indicate that the penalty in the ACA could be so justified. The main difference is that the mechanism of imposition is via the IRS rather than via the police.

The obvious reply to this is that involving the IRS makes it a tax—after all, that is what they do.  If the penalty was handled another way by another agency, then it might not be a tax. But, if it is handled via the IRS, then it is a tax.

While this does have considerable appeal, there are other cases in which one agency performs a function that does not automatically make it a function of that sort. For example, the military sometimes functions in a police role or a firefighting role, but it would not be claimed that police functions or firefighting are thus combat actions because they are done by a government body that normally engages in combat. Likewise, just because the IRS is providing the mechanism by which the penalty operates, it need not be a tax.

The counter to this is, of course, to note that the IRS is handling it like a tax. So, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. So, the penalty is a tax.

At this point (if not earlier), readers might be wondering why it matters. After all, calling it a “tax” or calling it a “penalty” does nothing to change anything about the penalty/tax and this makes it seem to be a mere semantic point.

This does, in fact, seem to be the truth of the matter. The main dispute is not something substantial that would change the law if one side was right and the other wrong. Rather, it seems to be entirely a rhetorical battle. On the current typical Republican narrative, if something is a tax, then it is bad. So, if the penalty is a tax, then it is bad. By imposing this tax, the ACA is also bad.  Plus, Obama claimed he would not raise taxes for the non-wealthy and that the penalty is not a tax—so if it is a tax, he would be wrong twice. As such, the Republicans can score rhetorical points if it is seen as tax.

On the Democrat’s narrative, the penalty is a penalty, but it is what makes the ACA work and hence it is a good thing because the ACA is a good thing. Plus, the claim is that only a tiny percentage of people will actually be impacted by the penalty.

Thus, it does seem that the dispute is not over anything substantial but rather a rhetorical battle. This is not to say that the dispute is not important. It is, since there are political points to be won or lost here based on which label sticks. For those of us on the receiving end, whether it is a tax or penalty does not seem to change anything—either way we have to get insurance or pay. Or do we?

One part of the dispute that does have substance is the matter of the impact of the tax/penalty (perhaps it should be called a tanalty as a bi-partisan compromise). On the Republican narrative, it is supposed to be something both substantial and bad. On the Democrat’s narrative, it is supposed to be minor and good (or at least necessary).

Interestingly, Forbes did an analysis of the penalty that seems to indicate that both narratives are flawed.

It is estimated that, using today’s data, that about 7% of those under 65 would face the possibility of the tax/penalty. The other 93% either have insurance or are exempt from the penalty/tax.

Of those who might be subject to the tax/penalty some will probably buy insurance. About 60% of them will qualify for insurance subsidies. 3% of those possibly subject to the penalty/tax will have to pay full price. Of course, changes in 2014 (when the law goes into effect) could result in changes in these numbers. However, unless there are radical changes, the vast majority of people will not be subject to the tax/penalty.

But, suppose that a person is subject to the penalty/tax and a person refuses to get insurance. The Republican narrative is that this will be a significant tax while the Democrats claim it will not be that bad.

The price starts off at a modest $95 in 2014 and increases to $695 or 2.5% of your income (capping at $2,085—adjustable for inflation). While not something I would like to pay, the penalty/tax is not terribly high. Of course, I am sure that most folks would prefer to avoid paying it at all—which seems to be something that can easily be done.

While the law specifies that the IRS is to enforce the law by imposing a tax penalty, the law also prevents the IRS from using most of its standard tax enforcement methods. For example, the IRS is not permitted to treat the refusal to pay the tax penalty as a criminal act, thus eliminating that avenue of enforcement. Imposing a tax lien will also apparently be rather difficult. In fact, Professors Barry and Camp contend that the mandate is not very mandatory.

The main tool that the IRS does possess in the context of the ACA is that it can reduce a person’s refund. This does provide some bite since about 2/3 of taxpayers get a refund. This does lend some credence to the penalty being a tax—after all, by removing it from the refund it as if the person’s tax burden has increased. Of course, the overall result is the same as a penalty—a traffic ticket for $95 would have the same overall impact as the penalty in 2014.

Of course, even this bite is not as toothy as it might seem. After all, low income households are exempt from this tax penalty and hence their refunds would be untouched even if they decided to do without insurance.

In the face of this, it would seem that the Republican narrative that the tax will be a significant burden seems to be untrue. After all, it will not apply to the vast majority of people, the price itself will be fairly low, and it seems that even those subject to it stand a good chance of being able to avoid it. At most, it will impact those who are well off enough to afford insurance and who will receive a refund and who do not have insurance. That will probably be a rather small number of people.

Ironically, the same facts that seem to defeat the Republican narrative also seem to undercut the main point of the tax penalty. The ACA requires that pre-existing conditions can no longer be a factor in a person qualifying for a policy or its cost. Naturally, the insurance companies are in the business of making money, so they need to cover the additional costs this will impose on them. The tax penalty is supposed to be onerous enough to push people into buying insurance, but it does not seem to be harsh enough or certain enough to serve that function. It also does not seem that it will generate enough revenue to help offset the increased cost. This, interestingly enough, does support another Republican narrative, namely that the ACA is supposed to increase insurance costs. Somewhat ironically, this narrative seems plausible because of the seeming implausibility of another Republican narrative. After all, if the tax penalty were as onerous and sweeping as has been claimed, then it would either push people to buy insurance or provide revenue to offset their failure to do so. As such, it would seem that both parties appear to be in error. That, I am sure, shocks no on.

Enhanced by Zemanta

108 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. T. J. Babson said, on July 6, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    The big difference between a tax and a penalty is that if you pay a penalty if you break the law, whereas you pay a tax to comply with the law.

    The key question is whether you have broken the law by not buying health insurance. If it is a mandate, you have broken the law by not buying health insurance. If it is a tax, you have not broken the law by not buying health insurance.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      The law seems to mandate that people buy insurance, so that would seem to make it a penalty by that definition.

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

        The Supreme Court ruled that Congress does not have the power to mandate that you buy insurance, but does have the power to tax you if you do not have insurance.

        This is quite obvious if you think about it, because there is no difference between giving someone a tax credit for buying solar panels vs. giving someone a tax credit for buying health insurance.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2012 at 6:08 pm

          True, it could be looked at as a sort of tax credit that everyone who buys insurance gets by default. Those who don’t buy it, lose that credit. Actually, giving people a tax credit for getting insurance would probably be a better idea than imposing a penalty. The credit could be calculated by what the uninsured cost, on average. That way, the state passes the savings on to us.

          I would much prefer a health care system that had more reasonable pricing so that people could afford basic care without insurance and there could be insurance for the big stuff. This would, however, require major changes in the entire system.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on July 6, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Mike, back when you decided not to purchase health insurance, would you have changed your mind given the new law?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Of course, it is important to note that I “decided” not to buy health insurance in the same way that I “decided” not to buy my own truck or house during that time: while it was something I needed, the price was way too high relative to my income. So I did without. I rode my bike to work and lived in tiny apartment with my girlfriend.

      Supposedly the ACA will allow people to shop for insurance and the prices will be comparable for everyone. If this had been the case, I probably would have bought insurance.

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

        Are you sure you weren’t one of these guys?

        • magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm

          Yup. That’s pretty much what it amounts to.

        • magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 5:43 pm

          Conservative estimate says that 45% of the uninsured would be able to get health insurance right now if they wanted it. Either could afford it but don’t buy it, or could be covered by an already existing program but have not applied for the coverage. And that doesn’t even speak to the people that could and do get state coverage of some sort and hospital charities, which pay out millions a year.

          So lets mess with a huge portion of our economy and tinker with the best doctors and hospitals in the world for what? And let’s not talk about the huge amount of bureaucracy we’re adding. It makes me shudder.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2012 at 6:11 pm

            But that means that most people (55%) who don’t have it can’t get it right now if they want it. Assuming your number is correct, that seems to be a problem. Also, there is the question of what “would be able to get” means. Does it mean that they can reasonably afford it (that is, they are using the money not spent on insurance for mere luxury rather than things like food, rent, and so on) or is it the case that they could get it by undergoing economic hardship? When I was an adjunct, I probably could have gotten insurance by spending a big chunk of my income on insurance. However, that would hardly be a good option.

          • Anonymous said, on July 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm

            “It makes me shudder.”
            there’s a pill for that. Glaxo markets it for 150 bucks a pill.

            • magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

              No, I work for a living and have insurance. Thanks.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm

              So that will be $5 a pill.

            • magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm

              By the way, insurance drove the cost of that pill up. Wait until everyone has insurance.

            • Anonymous said, on July 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm

              Insurance. All by itself.
              Is there noone in this country who works for a living and can’t afford insurance?

            • magus71 said, on July 8, 2012 at 10:47 am

              Very few. Cell phones, cable, and booze are more important. Which is fine. This is America, the land of choices.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm

          Yes. I was getting paid $2,000 a class as an adjunct and I looked at my options for buying insurance on my own. The price, as you might imagine, was rather high. High enough that I “decided” to gamble and go without it. My previous job was being a graduate student TA, which rather limited my options in terms of carrying over insurance from my previous job (I had student insurance).

          • T. J. Babsoni said, on July 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm

            So are we back to the hard working construction guys supporting the impecunious adjunct professors of the world? Apparently the $100 per month was too much.

  3. Steve Capone said, on July 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I was wondering about some of the same issues you raise at the outset of this post when I read the decision last week and my very basic understanding is this: the justification for X need not be the same as the (reasonably described as accurate and perhaps alternate) description of X. It’s justified under the taxing power, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a tax.

    It’s a stretch in commonsense thinking but it is coherent reasoning, at least. My 2c.

  4. magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Sure, Mike and Anonymous can argue with a Bible thumping right wing zealot such as myself, but are you really going to argue with an atheist, libertarian and intellectual such as Nick Gillespie?

    • T. J. Babson said, on July 7, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      Nice video. Like most on the Left, the woman is impervious to facts.

      • magus71 said, on July 7, 2012 at 8:41 pm

        She’s a complete moron. What amazes me is that I get up in the morning, brew some coffee, and when I’m on vacation such s now, or have a weekend off, I get to ponder news articles and the such and sometimes write about what I read. As an auto-didactic layman, I think of things that seem so obvious and wonder why others haven’t made the same connections. Like, if you give everyone insurance, the costs will go up. The only way the costs will not go up is if government rations hospital beds and equipment, or controls prices. This is so basic. But then I think–well, someone who’s studied this much more than me must know better, that’s why they’re not talking about it. But then I usually find out that facts are no weapon against the stubborn living in an opulent society. People encapsulated in a society made by their betters can come up with all kinds of nonsense and get by just fine.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm

          Sometimes what seems obvious is not actually true. What all know today is often denied tomorrow.

          • magus71 said, on July 10, 2012 at 4:08 pm

            Well she should address the facts he’s throwing out there. It’s the same with global warming: Why no warming in 15 years?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

              NOAA data indicates warming:

              Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.74°C (plus or minus 0.18°C) since the late-19th century, and the linear trend for the past 50 years of 0.13°C (plus or minus 0.03°C) per decade is nearly twice that for the past 100 years. The warming has not been globally uniform. Some areas (including parts of the southeastern U.S. and parts of the North Atlantic) have, in fact, cooled slightly over the last century. The recent warmth has been greatest over North America and Eurasia between 40 and 70°N. Lastly, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.

              But, suppose that we decide to doubt that it is getting warmer. This still leaves plenty of problems to address, such as the increased frequency and severity of storms.

            • magus71 said, on July 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm

              This report just out today.


              Scientists should try to answer the question as to why is has not warmed in the last 15 years. Skeptics have never said there is no warming and cooling, only that there is little proof that any recent warming (15 years ago) is anthropogenic. And since the charts indicate that CO2 increases occur *after* warming, there are clearly other factors at work here.

              You talk about data since the end of the 19th century. That is not even close to a large enough sample to make an argument in either direction.

              I’d like to hear the scientific reason that there’s been no warming in the last 15 years. As scientists, it is their duty to discover the mechanism that is in effect here, since it seems to indicate their are many other factors besides man-made CO2.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

              The data seems to show that there has been a warming trend.

              The tree ring study certainly does add interesting data. The earth does seem to undergo temperature fluctuations-for example, there was the little ice age (1350-1850) that had a significant impact on world history. Interestingly, one hypothesis for this temperature drop after the medieval warm period is the effect of the plague. That is, it killed so many people that the human impact on the climate was reduced.

              Unfortunately, climate has become a political issue with political sides that have a stake in pushing one side or the other. Since people tend to disengage reason when it comes to ideology, the chances of a rational discussion of the matter is thus reduced.

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 7, 2012 at 8:56 pm

        For example, Mike doesn’t understand that the more government spends on entitlements the less there is to spend on important things like education, research, and infrastructure. Entitlement spending grows and drives out all other forms of spending.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

        That is true, but only because most people are impervious to facts.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 10, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      I’ll argue with anyone.

  5. magus71 said, on July 11, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Because science is important to me:

    “The authors state that anthropogenically-induced climate change is projected by climate models to increase the frequency, severity and probability of extreme meteorological phenomena; and many climate alarmists claim that we have been experiencing this effect of global warming…the nine researchers analyzed 11,873 annually-resolved and absolutely-dated ring-width measurement series from living and historical fir trees that had been sampled across France, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic, and which continuously spanned the AD 962-2007 period…discovered there was “a fairly uniform distribution of hydroclimatic extremes throughout the Medieval Climate Anomaly, Little Ice Age and Recent Global Warming,”…extreme hydroclimatic phenomena were found to not be amplified in either number or strength in response to global warming, which leads one to suspect that the same likely holds true for other portions of the planet, in contradiction of vociferous climate-alarmist claims to the contrary.” [Ulf Büntgen, Rudolf Brázdil, Karl-Uwe Heussner, Jutta Hofmann, Raymond Kontic, Tomáš Kyncl, Christian Pfister, Kateřina Chromá, Willy Tegel 2011″: Quaternary Science Reviews]


    • T. J. Babson said, on July 11, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      The greenhouse effect is very real–it is why you car gets so warm on a sunny day. There is every reason to believe that CO2 will warm the planet a degree or so.

      But, as Warren Meyer says:

      It is important to begin by emphasizing that few skeptics doubt or deny that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas or that it and other greenhouse gasses (water vapor being the most important) help to warm the surface of the Earth. Further, few skeptics deny that man is probably contributing to higher CO2 levels through his burning of fossil fuels, though remember we are talking about a maximum total change in atmospheric CO2 concentration due to man of about 0.01% over the last 100 years.

      What skeptics deny is the catastrophe, the notion that man’s incremental contributions to CO2 levels will create catastrophic warming and wildly adverse climate changes. To understand the skeptic’s position requires understanding something about the alarmists’ case that is seldom discussed in the press: the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming is actually comprised of two separate, linked theories, of which only the first is frequently discussed in the media.

      The first theory is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels (approximately what we might see under the more extreme emission assumptions for the next century) will lead to about a degree Celsius of warming. Though some quibble over the number – it might be a half degree, it might be a degree and a half – most skeptics, alarmists and even the UN’s IPCC are roughly in agreement on this fact.

      But one degree due to the all the CO2 emissions we might see over the next century is hardly a catastrophe. The catastrophe, then, comes from the second theory, that the climate is dominated by positive feedbacks (basically acceleration factors) that multiply the warming from CO2 many fold. Thus one degree of warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 might be multiplied to five or eight or even more degrees.

      This second theory is the source of most of the predicted warming – not greenhouse gas theory per se but the notion that the Earth’s climate (unlike nearly every other natural system) is dominated by positive feedbacks. This is the main proposition that skeptics doubt, and it is by far the weakest part of the alarmist case. One can argue whether the one degree of warming from CO2 is “settled science” (I think that is a crazy term to apply to any science this young), but the three, five, eight degrees from feedback are not at all settled. In fact, they are not even very well supported.


      • magus71 said, on July 11, 2012 at 8:01 pm


        Please watch this and tell me what you think. It’s the best documentary I’ve seen on why global warming, as the theory now stands, is very questionable.

        • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

          Yes, well worth watching. I saw it a while back and re-watched about half of it. If you listen carefully I don’t think anyone in the video disputes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that increasing levels of CO2 will tend to warm the earth. What they are mainly disputing is that CO2 is the main driving force of climate change, and that the warming over the last 100 years is mainly attributable to CO2.

          Personally, I think it makes sense to move toward cleaner, renewable energy sources. Coal is especially bad not only because of the CO2, but it also puts mercury and other heavy metals into the air.

          That said, what needs to happen is to really focus basic research efforts on energy so that renewable energy becomes economically competitive. So far the actual funding for research does not match the rhetoric. For example, the DOE has funded a couple of research “Hubs” at $25M/yr. This is a drop in the bucket compared to what is required.

          • WTP said, on July 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

            This is where government has a role in solving problems, but not by funding companies or funding reasearch, which are extremely wasteful and warp the markets. Instead, offering prizes for viable solutions is a much better approach. Much like what was done by the British Board of Longitude in the early 18th century.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 11:39 am

              I don’t have a problem with prizes, but how do you announce a prize for something like graphene which had not been discovered yet? And how will the people who do the research get trained? It takes years to learn how to do state-of-the-art research.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

              Government funding definitely has a place. After all, basic research is costly and does not reliably yield profits. Many advances in science and technology have resulted from state funded research, often through universities. This way the cost is spread out and the results can benefit everyone-assuming they are positive. For some recent examples, see http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2012/0406rnd_benefits.shtml

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

              Prizes are also a good option, as you note. More recently, prizes have helped spur on development of robotics technology and space technology.

          • magus71 said, on July 12, 2012 at 11:51 am

            I just hate the outrageous claims that are made about global warming. And how science and scientists have become shills.

            You are correct, it never disputes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. I

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

              I agree that too many climate scientists believe that it is OK to exaggerate and distort their results in support of a “higher good.” Also, the idea that questioning scientific results is somehow being “anti-science” is also a very dangerous path, and this in particular has angered people like Ivar Giaevar and Freeman Dyson. It simply rubs good scientists the wrong way to tell them that they shouldn’t question the “consensus.” Of course they should!

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm

              What evidence do you have of such a widespread belief?

              Scientists are generally fine with challenging scientific results. Read through any issue of Scientific America and you will see repeated references to disagreements among scientists and questioning of results. That is what those folks do.

              What seems to annoy some scientists is when well supported theories are subject to criticism that is unfounded. For example, when people say that evolution is just a theory and do so on the basis of religious views rather than providing actual counter-evidence, scientists tend to get a bit annoyed. Of course, people get annoyed when someone writes an essay about telelogical theories being scientific (got some nice hate mail on that one) so sometimes the annoyance is not well founded.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm

              It is odd to say that science and scientists are shills. After all, some of the data you use to argue against climate change also comes from scientists using science. While some scientists have political leanings and perhaps even agendas, the methodology of science aims at self-correction and there is a strong system of review for articles. Scientists are rather critical of each other challenges to theories are the norm.

              Also, scientists generally do not have a financial stake in the matter-that is, they typically do not own companies whose profits depend on people accepting climate change. In contrast, the major opponents of the notion of climate change have a clear profit motivation. To accuse the scientists of being shills requires showing that they have financial and other connections that would bias them. Unless, of course, one wants to just assume that scientists hate corporations.

            • magus71 said, on July 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm

              Obviously I don’t mean all scientists. Watch that video I posted. Some scientists have been shills for research money.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

              True-there are some scientists who do that. There is considerable debate in academic circles about the ethics of accepting money or support when there is the possibility of bias. For example, when companies that sell sports stuff pay for research into the efficacy of their drinks, bars and gels, there is the concern that the results might be “massaged” a bit.

              Also, thanks to budget cuts in education, professors and researches have to scrounge for money. I’ve considered going Nascar and getting corporate patches for my suit.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

              Start here, Mike:

              Richard C. J. Somerville, a climatologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography near San Diego, is one of a growing array of scientists who have chosen to move beyond studying heat transfer and cloud physics and take on the role of activist: prodding society to move aggressively to cut greenhouse gases.

              It is a sticky position, and comes with risks, not the least of which is the potential for opponents of gas restrictions to raise questions about a scientist-advocate’s objectivity back in the research world. But Dr. Somerville, who has also contributed to several reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the risks that attend further silence, in the face of ever-growing emissions of heat-trapping gases, are far greater.


            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

              Interesting read.

              Of course, the article does note that scientists generally do not do this: “It is very tough in general to get scientists to make policy advocacy statements. It goes against the grain. They are more comfortable just doing research. Some scientists are opposed to any scientist doing any form of policy advocacy. Most are politically naive, I should think. I certainly am.”

              Assuming this is accurate, this indicates that scientists are not generally inclined to “shill.”

              There are, of course, some points worth considering. One is that when a scientist starts engaging in advocacy, then their credibility can be weakened to the degree that they seem to be biased by this advocacy. A second is that it seems reasonable for scientists to advocate in some matters. For example, think of a scientist doing research on obesity who advocates that people should eat less, eat better and exercise more. While she might be accused of being an enemy of the food industry and an advocate, to simply say “well, my research says that people are suffering horrible health problems because of obesity, but I cannot advocate because I am a scientist” would seem to be morally irresponsible.

              As such, a scientist would need to weigh the impact on her credibility against her moral responsibility.

              In any case, a scientist who advocates in his field of expertise still has more credibility than non-experts. After all, the non-experts have all the bias but none of the expertise of the scientists. So, I’d take a scientist advocate’s claim over that of a non-expert advocate, although I would still consider the biasing factors influencing both.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm

              And then there is this very serious paper on SSRN. Evidence abounds that many climate scientists have behaved more like advocates than pure scientists.

              Key sentence:

              A review of the peer-edited literature reveals a systematic tendency of the climate establishment to engage in a variety of stylized rhetorical techniques that seem to oversell what is actually known about climate change while concealing fundamental uncertainties and open questions regarding many of the key processes involved in climate change.

              Legal scholarship has come to accept as true the various pronouncements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientists who have been active in the movement for greenhouse gas (ghg) emission reductions to combat global warming. The only criticism that legal scholars have had of the story told by this group of activist scientists – what may be called the climate establishment – is that it is too conservative in not paying enough attention to possible catastrophic harm from potentially very high temperature increases.

              This paper departs from such faith in the climate establishment by comparing the picture of climate science presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other global warming scientist advocates with the peer-edited scientific literature on climate change. A review of the peer-edited literature reveals a systematic tendency of the climate establishment to engage in a variety of stylized rhetorical techniques that seem to oversell what is actually known about climate change while concealing fundamental uncertainties and open questions regarding many of the key processes involved in climate change. Fundamental open questions include not only the size but the direction of feedback effects that are responsible for the bulk of the temperature increase predicted to result from atmospheric greenhouse gas increases: while climate models all presume that such feedback effects are on balance strongly positive, more and more peer-edited scientific papers seem to suggest that feedback effects may be small or even negative. The cross-examination conducted in this paper reveals many additional areas where the peer-edited literature seems to conflict with the picture painted by establishment climate science, ranging from the magnitude of 20th century surface temperature increases and their relation to past temperatures; the possibility that inherent variability in the earth’s non-linear climate system, and not increases in CO2, may explain observed late 20th century warming; the ability of climate models to actually explain past temperatures; and, finally, substantial doubt about the methodological validity of models used to make highly publicized predictions of global warming impacts such as species loss.

              Insofar as establishment climate science has glossed over and minimized such fundamental questions and uncertainties in climate science, it has created widespread misimpressions that have serious consequences for optimal policy design. Such misimpressions uniformly tend to support the case for rapid and costly decarbonization of the American economy, yet they characterize the work of even the most rigorous legal scholars. A more balanced and nuanced view of the existing state of climate science supports much more gradual and easily reversible policies regarding greenhouse gas emission reduction, and also urges a redirection in public funding of climate science away from the continued subsidization of refinements of computer models and toward increased spending on the development of standardized observational datasets against which existing climate models can be tested.


            • magus71 said, on July 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm

              Mike and TJ,

              The link I posted to the WSJ article written and endorsed by 16 scientists who say that the current model for global warming is very questionable quotes one of the scientists in the “Climategate” incident where emails were grabbed. In one email the scientists writes something to the effect of:

              “We can’t explain the lack of warming in the last 10 years and that’s a real shame.”

              Couple of points here:

              1) This is the exact point I made before I even read that quote. It is such a glaringly obvious problem that even a layman like myself applying some basic logic notices a problem. Apparently the experts know it’s a problem also!

              2) Mike glosses over these issues by merely stating the science is well grounded. There’s all kinds of problems with the models.

              3) Again referring to the WSJ article. The writers say that many scientists have rejected the current model and many more want to but fear losing credibility and being excommunicated form the church of global warming.

              4) Some, including Mike, try to make it sound as if this is so well decided it’s like denying the Earth orbits the sun. Surely this is a subject that needs much more studying before we can use terms like “indisputable”.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

              16 is a small number relative to those who disagree with them. Why go with the 16 you just happen to agree with rather than the vast majority whose view you disagree with?

              Clearly, climate change is real-the climate does change. However, I would not say that the claim that human activity is warming the earth, etc. has been established to the “earth orbits the sun” level. However, it has been reasonably well established by the majority of experts.

              Also, the idea that our large scale activities (clearing entire forests, burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, paving the land, and so on) seems to be quite sensible. After all, we do know that minor natural changes can have an impact on the climate, so it would seem to follow that human activity has an impact as well.

              In any case, what we would do to address climate change also often seems like reasonable things to do for other reasons. So, even if the climate is not changing, it seems like a good idea to lower our dependence on fossil fuels and to pollute less.

            • Anonymous said, on July 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm

              Surely this is a subject that needs much more studying before we can use terms like “indisputable”.
              Couldn’t agree more there . Even some of the most likely candidates for the word “indisputable” are debated. But as I point out in an earlier post, the real issue isn’t whether the ‘issue’—be it climate change., global warming, whatever the current term is , is indisputable. I
              t’s not indisputable that I will have a serious automobile accident, that my house will burn down, that my heart will stop abruptly at age 40 leaving my two boys fatherless. . . The issue is if those are possible future events that I care about and that I deem worth taking out insurance against. It’s of some concern to me if I die because my heart stops due to a problem with my aortic valve or because of abnormal electrical activity . It’s of much greater current concern to me if I haven’t had the common sense to buy insurance that will help provide for my family after I’m gone.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm


              Insurance is a good way of thinking about it. There are plenty of good reasons to move toward renewable energy, but we should (and can) do it without ruining our economy and radically changing our lifestyle.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

              We can do that without ruining our economy. Besides, doing that is the job of the financial institutions, not the folks who handle renewable energy.

            • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:38 am

              TJ: Sometimes serious (not radical) changes in lifestyle are necessary.
              But the question of “ruining our economy” is a matter of concern. It’s part of the area that I was just referring to when I wrote ” the issue is if those are possible future events that I care about and that I deem worth taking out insurance against. It’s of some concern to me if I die because my heart stops due to a problem with my aortic valve or because of abnormal electrical activity . It’s of much greater current concern to me if I haven’t had the common sense to buy insurance that will help provide for my family after I’m gone.” and it’s most of what I was referring to in my 10:57 pm below. First, will taking major, effective steps toward dealing with possibly disastrous effects for mankind ruin the economy? The concept of what will or will not ruin the economy, itself, is a prediction too often based on ideology not on anything more concrete. The future possiblity of ruin is not an established fact. Perhaps, just perhaps, solutions can be sought and found that will perhaps, strengthen the economy rather than destroy it. . .

      • Anonymous said, on July 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm

        At this point neither side has, as I see it, enough convincing data to prove that a global climate catastrophe will or will not happen in the future. Predicting the future isn’t easy. Any assertion that the temperature is going to rise by 1 or 2 or more degrees in the next century, based on gathered data is still just a prediction . It may be the best conclusion given data can provide. . .but it’s a prediction.
        But, I buy insurance on my house, my car, and my health, because I can’t predict the future. I trust you do, too. Most sane people do. So I look around me, I look at the melting ice caps and the immediately increasing number of catastrophic weather events, and I make a decision: Do I purchase insurance to cover unpredictable future climate catastrophes or not? Do I weigh the possible positive/negative results of buying that insurance? Which choice(s) might —note I use the word ‘might’— lead most quickly to mankind’s demise? What are we doing now to reduce pollution or develop technology that will could allow third world countries to prosper without fossil fuels?
        We’ve been depending on fossil fuels to blast our way through the industrial age into the technological era. Must other nations take that same path? We could even help them in that regard and in turn help ourselves by continuing to seek alternatives. Why is the area of energy one area that some people shy away from in this regard? We sent a man into space. Was that more important than developing alternative fuels? Must we use up all of our natural reserves of oil, coal, and gas, or could be continue searching for something better beyond solar, wind, or nuclear energy? These questions can’t be cherry-picked. They must all be considered, along with others that better minds than ours can contemplate—assuming they get their heads out of their ideological butts. Saying the climate-change theory has its weaknesses isn’t enough, when one honestly considers the possible consequences of a right or wrong answer to the question “Is the climate changing?”

  6. Anonymous said, on July 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t feel like forking over $35.95 to access this whole article. Did those esteemed scientists really write “. . .in contradiction of vociferous climate-alarmist claims to the contrary.”? It’s not in the abstract that appears when I click on the ref you provide.

    • T. J. Babson said, on July 11, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      Look here, biomass–I mean, Anonymous:


    • magus71 said, on July 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      Sorry–I linked to the original paper instead of the site that provided the link and quote.

      But..here’s a copy of the study and a quote that matches the one embedded in my above comment:


      Page 1 “A fairly uniform distribution of hydroclimatic extremes
      throughout the Medieval Climate Anomaly, Little Ice Age and Recent Global Warming may question the
      common believe that frequency and severity of such events closely relates to climate mean stages. This
      joint dendro-documentary approach not only allows extreme climate conditions of the industrial era to
      be placed against the backdrop of natural variations, but also probably helps to constrain climate model
      simulations over exceptional long timescales.”

    • Anonymous said, on July 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Thanks. The words weren’t there, and I wondered what happened to them.Just checking.
      I’m inquisitive. Give me a list of unemployment figures in states with new Republican governors, and I automatically have to post the list of unemployment figs for states with new Democratic governors. As answers to science and math problems don’t prove a student knows how he got the final figure, numbers are meaningless to me without facts . Any teacher who’d accept a student’s answer without seeing the work behind it would be shirking his duty. Only by knowing how the final fig was arrived at can we make any valid assertion about the meaning of the numbers. Thus, I want to know more about the various factors that accounted for the differences from state to state. I find it a bit simplistic to think it has everything to do with the governor’s party affiliation and nothing to do with other factors. No one’s convinced me otherwise, yet.

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

        The numbers don’t lie, Anon. Here are some more numbers:

        Take a guess: Who do you think pays more in corporate taxes, companies with CEOs who favor the Republican party, or those with CEOs who tend toward the Democrats?

        If you guessed the latter, you’re wrong, according to a paper that will be presented Aug. 7 at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association in Washington, D.C. The study, which was led by researchers at the University of Arizona, finds that companies helmed by executives who lean Republican each pay an average of $12 million more in annual taxes than companies headed by Democratic-leaning managers. With a mean pretax income of $541 million for companies in the sample, the difference results in an extra 2.22 percent in taxes paid.


        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

          Hardly surprising, given how close GE is to Obama. While Obama gets painted as a socialist, he has a lot of corporate friends. Of course, one could point out that Marx himself was supported by the wealthy Engels.

          • magus71 said, on July 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm

            We never expect socialists to live up to their expectations of others.

          • T. J. Babson said, on July 12, 2012 at 8:17 pm

            This tends to confirm my belief that the reason Republicans don’t like taxes is that they are the ones who actually pay their taxes.

            • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

              And they believe no one else does. . . 🙂

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

              No one likes taxes. Not even Dr. Who:

              Leela: These “taxes”; they are a sacrifice to the Gods?
              The Doctor: Taxes are much more painful.

  7. magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I went waaay back to my old blog (The Political Realist–Post-Modern Political Views) just to be sure I’ve been consistent for the last 5 years. I believe I have:

    This is Al Gore speaking. You can trust me. If you can read this message, please run to the nearest exit, make your way to your hybrid automobile, and carefully drive to your nearest Barnes & Noble. Or you can fly there with me, in my private jet, where I’m scheduled to meet with dozens of lauding women who don’t shave their armpits, don’t wear makeup and carry copies of Why Do I Think I’m Nothing Without A Man? in large wicker purses. Within, purchase any one of my books. Hidden in the sacred tomes, you will find wisdom passed down from liberal extremists for generations. I’ve touched it up a bit so you’ll think it’s all new. And I’ll be on MTV also, telling you that within ten years, we’ll all be the proverbial slow-boiling frog, each of us contently watching our skin poach away and smelling the sweetness of our own cooking flesh. Anyway, wanna grab lunch?

    Okay, alright, that wasn’t Al Gore. I made it up. But it was still good. Admit it, you laughed. I couldn’t help but think of poor Al as I read an article from the April edition of Newsweek. The article is written by guest writer Richard Lindzen, MIT professor of meteorology. In it, he expounds many of the things I’ve said all along about global warming. Like:

    -There has been a net warming of the earth of the the last century and a half, though there have been notable periods of cooling too.

    -Human greenhouse gasses are probably contributing at some level.

    -That being said, Lindzen hits us with a big–SO WHAT?

    -There is no scientific evidence to support the statement that global warming will contribute to an impending catastrophe.

    -The earth is always warming or cooling

    -We don’t know what the optimal temperature of the Earth is.

    -There is no evidence of increase in the frequency of extreme weather patterns. The World Meteorological Organization says so. Just because the news shows every bad thunderstorm taking place in Zimbabwe doesn’t mean it didn’t happen that way 1000 years ago.

    -Sea levels have been increasing since the last ice age.

    -The models have been wrong so far–the temperature hasn’t risen as fast as they predicted they would after a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    -There was a large warming period between 1050-1300. As far as I know William the Conqueror and his peeps weren’t driving Hummers then.

    I’ve touched on almost all aspects of this excellent article, but here’s the link so you can read it for yourself: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17997788/site/newsweek/#storyContinued

    Finally, it seems that the only change that liberals really want is an overhaul of traditional Christian values. Conservatives are usually charged with resisting change. I don’t see it. Liberals want to make sure that no animal ever faces extinction despite the fact that said animal may be following the survival of the fittest edict. “Curse you Darwin, for decimating the Dodo, but, but bless you Darwin for ridding us of God!”

    When change stops, we will die. It’s called the heat-death and the universe will face it in some 100 trillion trillion trillion years or so. Everything will be in complete homeostasis and the libs will be in Xanadu.

    • magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      The link in the above pasted blog post no longer works, but here is a link to an article in the WSJ written by Richard Lindzen, the MIT scientist noted:


    • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      That next to last paragraph: Are traditional Christian values for or against extinction? If extinction is part of the survival of the fittest concept which itself lends support to the idea of evolution, why would traditional Christians, many of whom believe evolution is hooey, be for extinction? Not to mention the possible extinction of mankind if the worst predictions of the results of the greenhouse effect or global warming or climate change are correct,even in part. Making a possibly bad bet based on lack of evidence: We don’t know what the optimal temperature of the Earth is. I’d posit that there are many things we don’t know and may never know. The important thing is not to let that lack of absolute knowledge prevent you from making the best possible decision. That decision will be a matter of opinion—as often as not likely driven by ideological forces that even the holder of the opinion recognizes.

      If I and/or a group of like=minded individuals bet, based on lack of hard, irrefutable evidence, that there is no God, whom do we harm if we’re wrong? Ourselves. If you and a bunch of like-minded people bet that there’s probably no way man’s activities will, by their effects on the climate, irreparably harm mankind, who will be harmed if no one responds to the possible negative results? Everyone. Which is the most Christian approach? Choosing to harm everyone or choosing to possibly harm only oneself?

      • T. J. Babson said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:08 pm

        So when Rachael Carson started her crusade against DDT, did she “choose” for millions of Africans to needlessly die from malaria? Because that was the end result.

        Don’t assume that when people think differently than you their motives are less pure.

        There are much better ways to improve the world than to dwell on climate change:

        So what proposed solutions are at the bottom of the list? At number 30, the lowest priority is a proposal to mitigate man-made global warming by cutting the emissions of greenhouse gases. This ranking caused some consternation among the European journalists at the press conference. Nobelist and University of Maryland economist Thomas Schelling noted that part of the reason for the low ranking is that spending $75 billion on cutting greenhouses gases would achieve almost nothing. In fact, the climate change analysis presented to the panel found that spending $800 billion until 2100 would yield just $685 billion in climate change benefits.


        • magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm

          Kyoto Protocol=FAIL

        • magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

          Here’s another perfect example of a scientist (very famous in the diet science world) who lied and cherry-picked data to get the results he wanted–Ancel Keys:

          • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm

            Is this guy anything like that diet guru Dr. who had the strange ideas about alcohol consumption? What’s his name?

            • magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm

              Dr. Greg Ellis. I don’t think he’s like Keys but maybe he’s like the guys over at Harvard:


            • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:55 pm

              This before I go:
              You have to read to the end of the article to find what the good Dr. Ellis omitted in the presentation you provided:
              “A drink is considered a 12-ounce beer, an ounce of hard alcohol, or five ounces of wine.”
              There’s also clear and definite mention of a particular age group .

              Specifics can be significant. Lack of specifics can be deadly.

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 6:52 am

              This is only one study. There are numerous others that are not age specific but show that people who drink alcohol have lower death rates and are thinner than people who do not.

              Yes, I opened two more cans of worms.

            • Anonymous said, on July 14, 2012 at 9:12 am

              And those ‘numerous’ other studies all say or imply that the one can imbibe to one’s heart’s content and get healthier? Did the studies include any alcoholics? Homeless “rummies”? I sense that you like alcohol, but. . .

            • magus71 said, on July 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

              Obviously one can drink too much, just as one can eat too many potatoes. I would drink three cans of beer before I would eat three potatoes.

            • Anonymous said, on July 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

              I will give this drive-by media report a bit of credit. It gets much more specific than the Ellis piece. But it still falls far short of the kind of specificity that the last sentence of the Harvard.edu link you provided: A drink is considered a 12-ounce beer, an ounce of hard alcohol, or five ounces of wine.” Allow me to elaborate.

              “things radically change” when consumption goes beyond these levels,”—Woe is me that the specificity does not get past the most basic numbers: Two/Four. We live in an age where measuring amounts is as easy as pushing a button, but the researchers can’t specify an amount like 5 oz. This report—as represented by the main stream media—‘does’ say this, however, and it’s very important:
              “Our findings, while confirming the hazards of excess drinking, indicate potential windows of alcohol intake that may confer a net beneficial effect of moderate drinking, at least in terms of survival,” *

              Again, the questions are: What gets emphasis in the article and what necessary specifics are provided? Here’s the article headline:
              “Want to live longer? Toss back a few cocktails” I’m shocked. Shocked, I say!!!! That there’s not a string of exclamations marks after ‘cocktails’.
              What kind of cocktails? This from a government (O, lordy!!) site. “How strong is your mixed drink or cocktail? Depending on the recipe, you can have one, two, or more ‘standard’ drinks in one cocktail or mixed drink.” ** Check out the standards at the site.

              How many is a few? Peter 3:20
              “…where in few,that is,EIGHT…” “The United States Marine Corps has been using the slogan, “We’re looking for a few good men,” for well over two hundred years now”**

              You can see the problem here. With the Italian advice, as filtered through the media (mis?)representation, one could have, on a daily basis, three, or eight, or many more drinks of very generally specified size, depenidng on how you interpret ‘a few’ and ‘excess’ and ‘moderate’ etc. With this kind of advice, a guy or girll could become a fall-down booze-hound in no time at all.

              * Ah. SURVIVAL! Now I see how this all links in to climate change. And because it deals with health, it fits with the health care bill. And that links to the tax/ penalty issue. And there’s a tax (penalty?) on alcohol and tobacco! We’ve come full circle and then some!!!
              ** http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/ToolsResources/CocktailCalculator.asp
              *** http://www.smithvillechurch.org/html/we_re_looking_for_a_few_good_m.html

            • magus71 said, on July 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

              “drive-by media report”

              Have you been listening to Rush Limbaugh? 🙂 :

            • Anonymous said, on July 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm

              Have I been? If we’re talking present perfect continuous tense— with an emphasis on continuous— no. I haven’t partaken of his ‘interesting’ world view since the Fluke flap. Before that I I was a very occasional listener over a twenty-four year period. I didn’t listen often enough to get the d-d-d-d-d-d-ditto d-d-d-d-d-disease.

              I like this:
              Kohler apparently decided that they figuratively didn’t want to deal with his s**t anymore. I’d like to know how many of these companies have returned to the Rush fold.How many were there just for exposure to an audience, and how many were there for the ideological trip?

            • Anonymous said, on July 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm

              “I didn’t listen often enough to get the d-d-d-d-d-d-ditto d-d-d-d-d-disease. ”

              Oops! “Before that I I was a very occasional listener over a twenty-four year period.”
              Is this a legit typo, or am I already infected? I’ve never smoked, yet my fingers have of late been smelling of old nicotine stains.

              Dear Harlan: I walked up to a complete stranger last week and told him “I’m a man you could totally trust with your wife, your daughter, and your pets overnight” Should I be worried? Can I stop this. . .this ‘thing’ before it eats more of my brain?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm

            True-there have been a few scientists who have acted improperly. But what does this prove, beyond the fact that some scientists act improperly? Does this discredit all scientists?

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm

              Mike, there is a fair bit of evidence that the scientific literature is much more careful about its claims than what we read in the press.

              I would even venture to say that what Magus is supporting is closer to the scientific literature than what you are supporting.


            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 14, 2012 at 3:43 pm

              My main claims are:

              1) The majority of scientific experts on climate agree that human activity probably influences the climate.
              2) Scientists generally do not “cheat” on their data.
              3) The majority of climate scientists are not primarily motivated by anti-fossil fuel political ideology or economic interests in green technology.
              4) The majority of scientists accept that new data can change their views.
              5) Scientists generally subject scientific claims to reasonable scrutiny and review.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

              One point of concern I have is that the paper is written by a lawyer. While he is associated with PERC, his qualifications in assessing scientific journals would be rather limited (that is, he would be as credible as any other intelligent, educated non-expert). This is not to say that he is wrong, just to say that a lawyer would not be my first choice when looking for expertise in matters of science.

              Naturally, the same claim can be made against me-while I have published in environmental ethics and have done philosophy of science, I am not a climate scientist. This is why I defer to the majority of qualified experts.

              I do, of course, disagree with folks who claim that climate change has been shown to be beyond doubt. Of course, I also disagree with folks who claim that the existence of anything has been proven beyond doubt.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm

              And yet won’t the laws regarding climate change be drafted by lawyers? Isn’t it important that what they read is reflective of the scientific literature?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm

              Some lawyers will no doubt be involved in drafting the laws. But drafting laws about X need not make someone an expert about X.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm

              My main claims are:

              1) The majority of scientific experts on climate agree that human activity probably influences the climate.
              2) Scientists generally do not “cheat” on their data.
              3) The majority of climate scientists are not primarily motivated by anti-fossil fuel political ideology or economic interests in green technology.
              4) The majority of scientists accept that new data can change their views.
              5) Scientists generally subject scientific claims to reasonable scrutiny and review.

              All perfectly consistent with being a skeptic. Maybe you are a skeptic?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm

              Most philosophers are skeptics to one degree or another.

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 6:01 pm

              No. Just a reminder that scientists are more moral than anyone else. And they can do a lot of damage, as I believe Keyes did. I believe Keyes has cost thousands or more, and early death.

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 11:38 pm

              not* more moral

          • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

            “Here’s another perfect example of a scientist (very famous in the diet science world) who lied and cherry-picked data to get the results he wanted–Ancel Keys.”

            Magus–you need to be careful saying that Keys lied. It is very hard to try to make sense of data, and it is very easy to fool oneself. I’m sure Keys believed what he was saying, but he was just not a very good scientist.

            Gary Taubes talks about Keys and others in his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” At the end of the book Taubes comes out and says that most of these people were not actually doing science. And then because they were at Harvard and Yale what they said was accepted uncritically by the government.

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 11:35 pm

              From what I’ve read Keys intentionally picked the countries he knew would had low heart disease and low meat consumption. He knew there were others that did not fit his bias, and avoided showing the data.

              “And that was the beginning of it all. From Keys and his Seven Countries Study came all the recommendations to cut back on fat, stop eating eggs and cheese, substitute the new-fangled vegetable oils for traditional animal fats. It’s what started us on the road that led to statins. But here’s the thing:

              Keys faked his data. Oh, it’s absolutely true that he had a lovely graph showing seven countries with their rates of saturated fat consumption paralleling their rates of heart disease. However, Keys had data from 22 countries. And when you look at the data for all 22 countries, the tidy rising line vanishes…But the bottom line is that Ancel Keys lied. He dressed his personal opinions up in the garb of science and trotted them out to change public policy — and it worked.”

              I suspect he was doing the same thing some of the climate scientists were caught doing: Fudging because they felt it would be harmful in the long run as laypersons would misinterpret their data and findings. Similar things happened in the famous Framingham study which was the first study to show that alcohol consumption correlated highly with lesser rates of heart disease. The scientists were originally told to keep this to themselves, though it was eventually released.

              But I agree that Keys was a bad scientist. Maybe he was fooling himself.

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 11:40 pm

              Ugggh. Tired, mis-typing and forgetting links:


            • Anonymous said, on July 15, 2012 at 8:03 am

              How does consuming a bottle or two of bourbon a day correlate with heart disease? Dr Ellis didn’t think it necessary to set limits on consumption. Alcohol is alcohol. Consumption at any rate is consumption. Consumption by any age or sex is consumption. Yet Ellis didn’t specify such in that interview. Did he specify such in his books or CDs? (I’m certain he must have CDs) like the guys over at Harvard did? Even if he did get specific in his book. . .isn’t it kind of dangerous sending him out on the road misinforming the easily misinformed general populace?

            • magus71 said, on July 15, 2012 at 10:53 am

              Up to 4 drinks a day is healthy:


              I realize this is not what we were taught when we were young. Thus the power of culture, which takes decades if not centuries to change.

            • T. J. Babson said, on July 20, 2012 at 11:02 pm

              Excellent interview with Gary Taubes. Keys is mentioned at the 4:55 mark.

            • magus71 said, on July 21, 2012 at 12:10 am

              And think, even in the information age how long it’s taking to get the word out. Most people refuse to believe it. By the time it’s fully accepted, it’ll be 100 years. Great video.

        • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm

          We seem to know for certain an awful lot about climate change—considering how little, apparently , is known at all. . .

          You may be misconstruing what I wrote in your sentence “Don’t assume that when people think differently than you their motives are less pure.” I actually wrote “That decision will be a matter of opinion—as often as not likely driven by ideological forces that even the holder of the opinion recognizes.” First, that “that even the holder of the opinion does not recognize”. Second, I didn’t write “more often than not” I wrote ” as often as not”. There currently seem to be mixed opinions about DDT No one, i believe is marching to return to using DDT for general agricultural purpose in the US. Bringing it back in Third World countries is a matter of identifying the worst of two or more choices and choosing the choice that is currently the best. I’m guessing that a safe effective alternative would eliminate DDT for good. Third, the only way you could construe that sentence in the negative light that you did is if you feel that being driven by ideological forces is a bad thing. I don’t. I think an ideology is bad only when it is the sole driver an individual’s actions. When it overpowers common sense. And/or when any sense humanity is left in the ideological dust. Carson certainly did not fit that description.

          • Anonymous said, on July 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

            This change (to the change) 😦
            “First, “‘that even the holder of the opinion recognizes ” SHOULD have read
            “First, that even the holder of the opinion does not recognize. ”
            It’s late. I’m gonna get some sleep.

          • T. J. Babson said, on July 14, 2012 at 8:16 am

            “Which is the most Christian approach? Choosing to harm everyone or choosing to possibly harm only oneself?”

            This was the sentence. If someone doesn’t agree with you they are “choosing to harm everyone.”

            • magus71 said, on July 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

              Isn’t the argument not if we should harm people, but what things actually will harm people? We know that denying industrial means to people in many areas of the world will harm them. The idea that global warming will cause catastrophe is highly dubious, and yet is the idea that was spread by Al Gore’s ridiculous movie and many people still believe it.

            • Anonymous said, on July 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

              No. I was just posing the question about the Christian approach based on this intriguing statement in your original post: “Finally, it seems that the only change that liberals really want is an overhaul of traditional Christian values.” and where the concept of harming others fits within the Christian view. I tried to get some response from you about what Christian values have to do with climate change/global warming. . . It didn’t make sense then. I wrote my post saying why I thought so. You haven’t explained it yet.

              There’s nothing in that post that says that I feel ” If someone doesn’t agree with [me]they are “choosing to harm everyone.” I asked the question; I didn’t answer it. A lot of people disagree with me who aren’t choosing anything. Because they don’t have the balls. Or because have good points on their side. Or because they haven’t found a convincing argument to make me agree with them.

            • Anonymous said, on July 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

              magus–I don’t think so. Not entirely. It seems to me it’s a bit more refined than that. There’s also the matter of the ‘degree’ of possible or likely harm. And the level of dubiety. It’s a problem worthy of a super computer. Number of certain deaths if we don’t do x in this situation . 100% certain? Number of deaths if we don’t do x in a less certain (but still not unlikely) situation).

  8. magus71 said, on July 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Think my response got stuck in Mike’s filter.

  9. magus71 said, on July 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Ok–so I wrote a post that explains why I have a problem with some scientific conclusions being drawn today bug me. Would you agree Mike that this is essentially a problem of empiricism vs. rationalism? And that both isms have their limits and uses?


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      Rationalism seems to be a necessary assumption for knowledge, even for the empiricist. After all, one cannot use the senses to confirm that the senses provide knowledge. There must be an a priori assumption that they do this. Of course, rationalism also ends up being circular: it must be assumed that we can trust reason, which begs the question as to whether we know anything or not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: