Monday, November 30, 2009

Confusing Reports - Very Important!

I'm reading about the new CBO report on the Senate health bill and I have to admit that I'm confused. Democrats (and most left-leaning news sources) are praising the report as a boon to their cause, but it sure doesn't look that way to me.
According to the New York Times, "Before taking account of federal subsidies to help people buy insurance on their own, the budget office said the bill would tend to drive up premiums." Subsidies would drop the premiums by 56% to 59%, for those who receive subsidies but, for those who don't receive subsidies and have to buy insurance on the individual market (the self-employed and those who cannot buy insurance through an employer), there would be an average increase in premium costs of 10% to 13%. Those who buy insurance through their employer should expect relatively no difference in premium costs, according to the CBO. Wait a minute! Aren't those who can't get insurance through their employer exactly who this reform is supposed to be helping? And these are the people who can expect a 10% to 13% increase in premium costs. What a way to be helpful!
It gets worse, though. The budget office says, "the proposal would tend to increase premiums for people who are young and relatively healthy", in other words, the very people who wouldn't even ordinarily be buying insurance if they weren't being forced to do so. So not only are we forcing people by law to buy something they don't want, we're also forcing them to pay more for it than it should cost. While we're at it, we are penalizing the young and healthy, the very people who, by all natural standards, should be able to expect lower health insurance costs, the people who should be rewarded for not being high risk.
Indiana Senator Evan Bayh claims, "This study indicates that, for most Americans, the bill will have a modestly positive impact on their premium costs." Most Americans? Are you honestly going to try to tell us, with a straight face, that "most Americans" will be receiving federal subsidies? There is not a subsidy program in this country, of any type, that even a quarter of Americans qualify to receive. There is less than zero chance that this subsidy program will apply to "most Americans" and that the cost of that subsidy will be kept down to $450 Billion over 6-8 years (the CBO places the cost of the subsidies - not counting any other costs - at $450 Billion over the next 10 years but the subsidies don't even go into effect until 2014 or 2016, depending on which version of the law you read, so they really don't get to count the first 2-4 years).
This latest report makes it even more clear that we are being lied to. This bill will not result in universal coverage (despite being the claimed goal, it has been admitted from the beginning that this would not happen), it will raise health care costs for many Americans, and - if the accuracy of past CBO estimates on major federal programs is any indication - it will raise the deficit. Congressional and Senate Democrats are lying, plain and simple.
I don't deny that some form of health care reform is necessary, but this boondoggle isn't it. Please spread the word and do not be misled by the positive spin being applied by the Democrats and the media. This report states, in its own words, that young and healthy people will pay more for health insurance. This report states, in its own words, that those who do not receive federal subsidies will pay more for health insurance. This report states, in its own words, that this reform will not help the people this reform is meant to help. I don't care which side of the debate you're on. Read the report, not the spin, and realize that you're being sold a bill of goods. You're being lied to and it's about time you got angry!

Those Pesky Numbers Again

I came across a comment that simply must be addressed.

"During 2001 the IPCC made a number of predictions as to what would happen as a result of the climate change. It now turns out that the actual effects measured today are _worse_ than what was predicted. For example, the rise of the ocean level is 80% greater."

This is shoddy science at its worst and the fact that this meme is actually catching on is disturbing, to say the least.
First of all, I have to laugh at the use of "For example". The writer is apparently unaware of the fact that the claimed 80% increase is the only one of the 2001 predictions that is being held up as coming to pass. It is, in fact, the only one being talked about because none of the other predictions are even coming close.
So has there been an 80% increase in sea level measured in recent years? In words of one syllable of less, no, there has not. The only way this 80% number is achieved is by using two different sources for the beginning and ending figures. The 2001 predictions were based on tidal gauge measurements. The current claim of an 80% increase is based on satellite measurements. Anyone else notice how those two sentences do not contain the same words?
The difference here is important. We have been collecting data from sea level tidal gauges for over 200 years in some places (for example, data exists for Amsterdam as far back as 1700). We only began using satellites to measure sea levels in the mid-to-late 1990s. If you're counting, that's just over a decade, which is where a major problem comes in. According to studies using the larger tidal gauge data set, sea levels can vary widely from decade to decade and it requires multi-decade observation of data in order to identify discernible trends and understand the margin of error. We haven't been collecting satellite data for decades - we've only barely started the second decade of satellite observation of sea levels - so we cannot make accurate trend predictions from nor do we have anything resembling an accurate margin of error with satellite sea level measurements.
What makes this situation worse is that data from the two sources do not agree with each other. We are told that satellite data indicates an 80% increase, but that uses tidal gauge data as a starting point, and using tidal gauge data as an end point indicates no increase at all. I repeat: If you use tidal gauge data for the starting point and tidal gauge data for the ending point, there is no measurable increase in the rate of sea level rise. Tidal gauge data shows a sea level increase of approximately 1.8 mm per year for the last century and tidal gauge data still shows a sea level increase of approximately 1.8 mm per year. There seems to be something funny in this 80% math.
There are those who will claim that satellite data is more accurate than tidal gauge data. That may or may not be true, but it doesn't alter the point here in the slightest. Satellite data could be the most accurate data ever collected in the history of data collection and it would still be wrong if it used disagreeing, non-satellite data as its starting point. Tidal gauge data indicates sea levels and sea level increases far below those indicated by satellite data. If you're on a diet, do you use two different scales calibrated in different manners and to different degrees to determine your starting weight and how much weight you lose over time? Of course not! You don't have to be a climatologist or a physicist to know that would not give you accurate results, yet that is exactly what is being done with this 80% increase claim. There can only be one logical result when you start with a source that is measuring low and end with a source that is measuring high: a grossly inflated and highly inaccurate "increase".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Health Care Realities

The online edition of USA Today carried an article this morning that did not paint a rosy picture for those pushing for health care legislation in America. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted over the weekend, 42% of respondents are opposed to passage of a bill as it stands and only 35% are in favor. While the article does not specifically say, I assume that the other 23% fell into the undecided category. There aren't too many surprises when the polling is broken up by party demographic demographics, with 76% of Democrats being in favor and 86% of Republicans being opposed. What is a touch surprising - and should be more than a touch alarming for the Powers That Be - is that 53% of polled independents were opposed. Independents are often the barometer and deciding factor in American politics and are credited as having been a large part of Obama's victory. If we are starting to see a majority independent opposition to the discussed health care bills, that should be a worrying factor for those pushing the bills.
I should note, for my overseas readers who may not be aware, that USA Today/Gallup polls tend to slant slightly to the left, meaning - in this context - that they would be more likely to err in favor of the health care bills. Please notice that I said "slightly" and don't mis-characterize that or assume that I am accusing them of anything. Everyone leans some direction at least slightly and I state this only so that it is known that I am not posting the results of a poll stacked against health care reform. These polls don't lean nearly as far left as ABC or Huffington Post polls, and they don't lean right like Rasmussen. Just consider this a Full Disclosure situation.
While I found this poll to be interesting, I found the comments to be even more interesting (Don't I always?). The most interesting thing about the comments was the fact that the vast majority of them - and I mean something approaching 99% - had absolutely nothing to do with the article. Here we had an article clearly and only about the public opinion on a given subject and most of the comments were nothing more than the same Copy&Paste "Republicans are evil and want you to die" or "Democrats are evil and want to enslave you" nonsense that dominates most of this debate. It's no wonder we can't get anything done when no one knows how to address the subject at hand.
Here's a test: When faced with the statement, "The majority of Americans polled are opposed to health care legislation as it is currently being discussed", how do you respond?
A. Republicans have sold their souls to the insurance companies and will do anything they can to maintain the status quo.
B. Democrats have sold their souls to the trial lawyers and will do anything they can to transform America into a socialist state.
C. We should find out why the majority of Americans are opposed and either change the legislation accordingly or better explain those parts that are currently misunderstood.
If you answered A or B then you need to go stand in the corner and remain silent for the rest of the debate because you are obviously incapable of having an adult conversation. An honest debate requires that you actually acknowledge and address what you are answering and, if you cannot or will not do that, you should not be part of the debate. Blithely parroting some popular slogan in response to every question asked or statement made doesn't help anything.
Allow me to give another example that drives me insane: "Where were you for the last 8 years?" If this question is coming out of your mouth or off the tip of your fingers - and it pops out dozens of times every single time someone points out the legality or Constitutional issues of some political action - then you need to stop and reconsider what you are saying. For one thing, many of us who complain now were complaining then and your insistence on ignoring this fact only makes you look willfully ignorant. It's not like there aren't plenty of online sources you can easily check to find conservative and independent voices speaking out against Bush policies. For another, and more important, thing, even if not one single voice complaining now was complaining then, does that really address the issue of the moment? Assume, for the sake of argument, that Bush really did every evil thing liberals accuse him of and that no conservative or independent voices spoke out against these actions. Would that give Obama a free pass? Is that really what you intend with this question? Are you truly willing the ignore Constitutional and legal issues out of petulant spite?
I titled this post "Health Care Realities", so I should return to that particular subject. Easy enough since one of the off topic comments on that USA Today article caught my attention more than others. It purported to be a list of unarguable facts regarding health care legislation, and we all know how much I love lists of "unarguable facts", so let's examine them.

"1. This reform will not cover illegals or abortions."
This may be technically true as it stands now - though arguments can be made about enforcement with no teeth - but these two conditions are currently being hotly debated, so it is impossible to state as fact what their status will be in any final legislation.
"2. This reform will cost $130 billion less than not changing anything."
If you believe this, I have a bridge to sell. For starters, the CBO estimate did not claim that legislation would cost $130 Billion less than doing nothing. It claimed that a particular piece of legislation would reduce the deficit by $130 Billion over a given period of time. These are very different claims. Also, please identify one government program that has ever had an accurate cost estimate. These things inevitably cost more than their initial estimate and, when the initial estimate is over $800 Billion, $130 Billion can disappear in the blink of an eye.
"3. This reform will give preventative care to millions."
Give? Interesting choice of words. While technically true, this "fact" neglects to mention the millions of others who will be taken from to provide this gift.
"4. This reform will only raise taxes on the wealthiest people in this country, and they will still have cheaper taxes than they did under Reagan."
This is not only not a fact, it is a blatant lie. Among the taxes under consideration are taxes on businesses - including small businesses who are nowhere near the wealthiest in the nation - and taxes on so-called "Cadillac plans", many of which are held by middle class workers who happen to have jobs with people who have negotiated very good insurance policies. It is also arguable - and, I maintain, true - that any mandate requiring the purchase of insurance by people who choose not do so is, itself, a tax, and that is a tax that will affect many non-wealthy people.
"5. Tort reform will not lower the cost of health care as proven by Texas."
One state out of 50 proves the case for the whole? Interesting math you have there. Amusingly enough, even the CBO disagrees with you. While it might be arguable that tort reform would have a limited impact on lowering health care costs, it cannot honestly be argued that it would have no impact. It's also worth noting that those universal health care countries you people champion all the time all have some form of tort control as well.
"6. Interstate insurance is another way of saying, 'Take away state rights and give big government more power.'"
This, coming from someone who wants to hand control of the entire enchilada to big government. That's just too funny. Newsflash: The Constitution specifically allows for the regulation of interstate commerce. You may have heard that mentioned here and there.
"7. The #1 reason for unemployment in this country is the cost of health care."
What? See, even if you had tried solid arguments up to this point, you really lost credibility here. I suppose the banking and mortgage fiascoes that precipitated a full scale recession come in 2nd and 3rd? Never mind the fact that it is legislation currently under discussion that would link the cost of health care to employment, not the situation as it exists now.
"8. Poor people who get free ER visits will have to purchase insurance and pay something towards the public option. Even if they pay next to nothing, it will still be more then they pay now."
True to some extent, but there will also be subsidies covering many so they will still be getting free treatment and contributing nothing. In fact, the technical wording of this "fact" is false since "poor people" will be the ones receiving the subsidies and will still be paying nothing. It might also be argued that, since they will now have coverage, they will seek treatment more often and so actually cost the system more, rather than less. I'm just guessing here, but so are you. Neither of us is offering a fact on this one.
"9. People who are against this plan have no plans for themselves except "tort reform" and "interstate insurance", both of which I have already mentioned as bad plans."
And because you think they are bad plans, they are bad plans. Except that you didn't actually support the claim that they are bad plans and you haven't supported the claim that these two pieces are all the opposition is offering. There have been more than a dozen Republican and Independent plans put forward and dismissed or ignored. Do you honestly believe that these two options, reworded over and over again, are all those plans have offered?
"10. Insurance companies are spending more money to stop this reform, from the premiums we pay them, than ever before in the history of this country. They care about their bottom line and not about America."
They spent quite a bit in the 90s, so it's certainly debatable whether or not they are spending more than ever. However, it's their money. It doesn't matter if that money came in as your premiums, it's still their money. The money you spent at the grocery store doesn't continue to be your money after it's spent either. What I would be more concerned about is how much of my money the Democrats are spending to push the legislation. There is a difference, you see. That tax money they're spending actually does belong to us. Your last point is just a non-statement. Caring about the bottom line is their job. Caring about America is not. Don't get me wrong. Given a choice between a company that provides quality products/services and cares about America or a company that provides quality products/services but doesn't care about America, I'll choose the former whenever I can. That isn't really the point here, though. The point is that caring about the bottom line is not unAmerican, as you've tried to imply. Caring about the bottom line is one of the very things they are paid to do.

So much for facts. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It would be nice, though, if people tried to focus on facts in such an important debate.

Monday, November 23, 2009

UK Government Cashing In On Green Lies

I wouldn't take nearly so much issue with the modern environmental movement if it wasn't so completely characterized by lies, hypocrisy, and fear-mongering misrepresentation of facts. I believe in taking care of the environment. I believe in the principle of "don't foul your own nest". I have always believed in recycling. I have always abhorred littering and waste. I was an environmentalist before being so was fashionable. However, I refuse to be associated with the absurd lies and manipulations of the modern movement.
It's too bad that governments don't feel compelled to be bound by such high standards.
The United Kingdom has launched a new environmental propaganda website, Act On CO2, that is meant to tell people the "truth" about climate change and correct any myths that might be floating around. It's quite a shame that the site actually perpetuates the myths instead of doing anything about correcting them.
If you go to the very first tab, "Climate change: the facts", and then click on the very first subject heading, "Rising temperatures and the greenhouse effect", the very first thing you'll see is the usual fear-mongering paragraph unsupported by any facts. Worse, actually, what little "facts" do get introduced are used in an extremely misleading manner.
According to this paragraph, "In the last 100 years the Earth has warmed by 0.74°C (and by 0.4°C since the 1970s) ..." This would be the misleading use of facts. Can it really be true that I somehow have so much greater an understanding of math than the average reader in the UK? You can't compare ".74 over 100 years" with ".4 since the 1970s". 1970s? 1970-what? 1971? 1975? 1979? Believe it or not, when figuring with such small numbers, knowing the exact starting figure used is very important. The math shown here also does not make clear if the temperature increase has been .4 per year, .4 over the given years, or what. Math is a precise, unambiguous language and using it in such a sloppy fashion demonstrates either sloppy or unethical workmanship from those involved.
[If math gives you a headache, you might want to skip the next paragraph. Fair warning.]
For the record, I did the math as best I could, using their sloppy figures. Assuming we take, as a starting year, 1975 and round up so that we are dealing with a 40-year period, and assuming an average per year temperature increase of .0074 (since they didn't include their baseline figure in this schlock, I had to take the expedient of dividing their .74 temperature by 100 years - this estimate will be off because of the implied increase over the last 40 years, but I can't know how far off because they didn't include the necessary data - however, at such small numbers, it cannot possibly be too far off). Using that .0074 as a baseline, we find that the expected 40-year increase for this century would be .296. Since we are, by necessity, estimating, we can easily and properly call that .3. So we expected a .3 increase over a 40-year period and got a .4 increase. That's 1/10th of a point higher than expected. Well within the margin of error ratio for any accepted statistical polling. That's an above-expected increase of only .0025 per year. Those numbers don't sound nearly as dramatic when expressed properly, do they?
[End of math paragraph. Those of you who dislike math may continue reading now.]
That mangled math sentence goes on to say, "meaning that global sea levels have gone up, glaciers and sea ice has melted, floods and droughts are on the increase, and heatwaves are worse." Where to begin. Where to begin.
If we go to "The effect of climate change on the UK", we get an expansion on the sea-level rise claim that will help to show the misrepresentation of facts here. "The sea-level rise across the UK is projected to be between 20cm and 80cm by 2100." Sea levels have been rising since the end of the last Ice Age. They have been relatively stable for the last 2-3000 years only in comparison to the first several thousand years. They have still been rising. 19th Century sea level rise is estimated at an average of 1.8mm per year (I know, I know, math again, but it will be minimal this time). In order to reach even the smallest of those UK estimates, the rate of sea level rise would have to increase by a factor of at least 10 and it would have to do it soon. So is sea level rise speeding up? Not according to the physical evidence. Sea level rise today is still estimated at 1.8mm per year. Satellite data would seem to indicate a sea level rise of 3.1mm per year over the last decade (even if true, still an increase by a factor less than 2, far from 10), but we have only been collecting satellite data since 1993, barely over 10 years. According to the same study that established these theories, conducted by Simon Holgate of the U.K.’s Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in 2007, sea level rise has fluctuated dramatically from decade to decade since 1904, which means that one decade of Simon Holgate of the U.K.’s Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory data is nowhere near enough to draw long term conclusions. The fact remains that tidal gauges, the same technology used to achieve the previous estimates, have not shown any increase in the rate of sea level rise.
Glaciers and sea ice have been melting. What no one wants to mention is that they've also been re-freezing and that they've been doing both at the same time, depending on where you look. Antarctic ice (both sea and land-based) is actually increasing, not decreasing. In some areas, Antarctic ice levels are currently above seasonal norms. If decreasing ice in one part of the world automatically means warming, doesn't increasing ice in another part of the world automatically mean cooling? Of course it doesn't work that way, but that's what the alarmists want you to believe on their side of the equation. The truth of the matter is that we haven't been studying or observing major ice sheets anywhere near long enough to truly know what "normal" is or to know what either the melting or the freezing means. We're just guessing, and everyone wants you to believe that the guesses of their side carry more weight than the guesses of the other side but it's not true. Without scientific data to support it, a guess is a guess is a guess, and there is currently a severe shortage of scientific data.
The rest of that alarmist nonsense is just that: nonsense. There is not one piece of evidence that the rate of floods or droughts has increased anywhere. As far as I have found, this website does not make mention of this funny little "fact" anywhere else either. There is plenty of talk about the floods and droughts that "will" come, but nothing at all to support the claim that they are already occurring. They don't really say anything else about the heat wave claim either, except to make mention of a seasonal heat wave that occurred six years ago (and has not been repeated) and then claim that such heat waves will become normal by the 2040s or 2050s. If you're not expecting this for 30-40 years, why is your opening paragraph claiming that it is already happening?
If a government is going to publish facts, it should publish facts. This mixed up propaganda piece is not facts. It's an attempt to scare people into playing along before the Copenhagen talks. I'm not sure what the tax situation is in the UK, but I definitely think they should be wondering about their money being wasted on this fluff piece. If such shoddy work is the best the alarmists can muster, it's no wonder they're most famous for huge meetings that generally accomplish nothing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Hottest Scandal In Ages

What may turn out to be the biggest scandal in the climate change debate since that debate began has exploded across the internet. If you haven't seen the headlines yet, it appears that an unknown Russian hacker broke into the database of The University of East Anglia's (England) Hadley Climatic Research Centre and published to the internet thousands of documents and emails, all related to climate research and all previously unseen by the public. (I should state here, for the record, that the hacker is assumed to be Russian because the original ftp source for the leaked documents was on a Russian server, but no one, to my knowledge, has yet claimed credit.) I haven't gone through the documents myself - according to sources, there are nearly 4,000 documents, not counting emails - but excerpts indicate that there are numerous discussions of hiding or manipulating data, deleting potentially troublesome emails, uncertainties among the scientists themselves, and methods for discrediting and sidelining scientific journals not supportive of prevailing theories.
That all sounds pretty juicy, though everyone is still quick to tack on the "alleged" part, since no one has actually confirmed that the documents are real. Of course, no one has actually denied the legitimacy of the documents either. In fact, Philip Jones, the Director of the CRU and frequent star of the emails in question, has confirmed the reality of at least some of the emails, though he has claimed, both, that they are taken out of context and that he does not remember the context. How does one make both of those claims at once?
The spin is already out. The skeptics are cherry picking the documents; it's a publicity stunt to derail the upcoming Copenhagen talks; scientists may say things more openly in "private" emails but that doesn't undermine the research itself; etc.
I'll point out again that we're talking about 4,000 documents plus emails. The hack (which, by the way, has been confirmed) took place three days ago. The documents were released today. What kind of army would be necessary to cherry pick through that many documents in such a short time? More to the point, how many documents were actually acquired if they were cherry picked and that many were still released?
I have no doubt that the timing - and thus the accusations of publicity stunt - is quite real and intentional, but so what? If you were trying to get out a message that so many people refuse to hear, wouldn't you time your move for maximum impact as well? I'm sure it makes the spinners feel better, but it doesn't really change the argument.
As for the underlying research, that's a joke. The whole problem is the shoddy nature of the underlying research. Part of what's being discussed in those emails is the very real (and embarrassing) fact that real world data has not conformed to predicted data. Predictive models only have value if they can accurately plot the past and/or their predictions accurately model the ongoing present. Neither of these has ever been true in the ongoing climate change debate! There has not been a single climate change model that has accurately plotted climate patterns of the past and there has not been a single climate change prediction that has come true. Not one! They have been using, updating, and "improving" these models since the 1970's, and they haven't gotten a prediction right yet.
The alarmists will continue to spin and they will do their best to dismiss this scandal, but there is a growing number of people who have legitimate doubts. This scandal may mean much to them. If nothing else, it will underline and exclamation point the fact that the alarmists are not the neutral, honest, scientific observers they claim to be.