Sunday, March 25, 2007

Abolishing the Middlemen Won’t Make Health Care a Free Lunch
Proponents of single-payer national health insurance note that private health insurance has overhead costs of 10 to 25 percent of expenditures. Medicare, by contrast, has overhead costs of about 2 to 3 percent, and socialized European health care systems generally have low overhead costs as well. That is why single-payer supporters claim that we can save money by substituting government for private insurance. But this would shift overhead costs, not reduce them.

The monitoring, marketing and overhead costs of private insurance are what allow more expensive medical treatments through the door. It is precisely because competing insurance companies spend money evaluating the appropriateness of claims that they are willing to pay for so many heart bypasses, extra tests, private hospital rooms and CT scans. ...

...When it comes to these discretionary benefits, European systems are more likely to make people wait for them, more likely to make the service inconvenient or uncomfortable, or simply not make the services available in the first place. All of these features discourage those who don’t really need care, and, of course, some people simply go elsewhere and pay out of their own pockets. Either way, the overhead costs have been shifted onto patients and their families....

...Nor are Canadian and European health care systems as cheap as they look. Measuring health care expenditures as a share of national income does not count waiting costs or the lack of availability of many advanced technologies and treatments....

...But as populations age and the value of medical technology grows, the overhead costs of private insurance will prove an increasingly wise investment. For all its high immediate expenses, the American health care system is looking toward the future rather than the past. In the long run, the hidden and indirect costs of single-payer systems are harder to measure and thus are ultimately harder to control.

Middlemen and marketing costs have long been viewed with suspicion by critics of commerce. But these practices are usually signs of market sophistication, not waste. The gains from abolishing private insurance and its overhead costs are an illusion. TANSTAAFL, or “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keep politics out of science – and vice versa
...For me, the infuriating thing about this debate is that it overlooks the main problem with the mainstream science on global warming. No, not that it is wrong, or that it is ‘swindling’ people, but rather that it has become deeply, almost irrevocably politicised. As a layperson largely following this debate via my laptop, I can see that a scientific consensus has been reached which says there has been some global warming, and most scientists believe that man’s carbon emissions are contributing to that warming. There is still a clear need for debate, it seems, over whether manmade CO2 alone is the cause of warming, how much warmer the planet is likely to get, and what the consequences will be. The problem, however, is that this scientific consensus is being used by the powers-that-be to justify all sorts of inhumane, illiberal and repressive political measures, often with the support, or at least complicity, of the scientists.

Even when the science is ‘right’, it is never right to prostitute science for political ends. History shows us that the mixing of science and values, the use and abuse of science to direct the political and social life of a society, is never a good idea. It is bad for politics, and it is bad for science. ...

...Something very different – and dangerous – is happening with the science of global warming. Public figures are using the language of climate change science to force through a new political consensus. The scientific consensus around CO2 emissions and global warming is now used to justify reining in development, narrowing people’s ambitions, and policing our behaviour in an ever-more petty fashion. Elites don the garb of ‘scientific fact’ as a cover for their own loss of nerve and ambition, and as an argument for holding back the potential for further progress and development. From the demand for small-scale ‘sustainable development’ in Africa to new taxes designed to determine what kind of cars we Westerners drive and how many holidays we may take a year, politicians, activists and commentators increasingly marshal the men in white coats to show that we have no choice but to narrow our horizons because the science demands it.

In truth, there is no straight or logical line from the scientific finding that manmade CO2 is contributing to warming and the demand that we slow down development and change the way we live. Rather, such small-minded policies are a product of today’s politics of low expectations, which is dressed up in the language of science. In the past, humanity faced up to great challenges, whether they were thrown up by nature or by man’s own actions, by seeking to forge ahead and advance society, by applying the greatest minds to come up with solutions to our problems. Today we are told that the only legitimate response to predictions of global warming is to drive less, build less, develop less and generally do less in the here and now. George Monbiot confesses that one of his aims is to ‘make people so depressed about the state of the world that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel’ (2). The science demands it, apparently.

Scandalously, over the past five to 10 years the science of climate change has been used as a political weapon, both to transform our behaviour and to silence those who dare to question today’s narrow political outlook. And some mainstream scientists, by allowing this to happen, have been far more complicit in the bastardisation of science than those small numbers of climate change sceptics with their allegedly dodgy graphs. While mainstream science writers attack Martin Durkin and the various talking heads in his film for muddying the science on global warming, they seem blind to the far graver undermining of scientific integrity represented by the relentless politicisation of climate change science. ...

...In both Oxford and New York, serious scientists seem to be reacting against the use of science to tell a fearful and exaggerated tale about the fate awaiting humanity. In the words of Professor Hardaker, they seem uncomfortable with the mixing of ‘science’ (the data drawn up in labs and research units) and ‘unscientific assumptions’ (the notion that we are all doomed).

Also last week, in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Hans von Storch, one of Germany’s leading researchers on climate change, attacked scientists for ‘doom-mongering’ over global warming. Von Storch compared the moral message that is attached to today’s climate change science with earlier religious and mythical stories about the Earth punishing humanity for its hubris. ‘The fear of climatic catastrophes is an ancient one’, he said. ...

...The use and abuse of climate change science is bad for science, too. When politicians look to science for their moral authority, believing that scientists can provide a gravitas to their political campaigning, it inevitably pollutes science. The aim of science becomes less to uncover scientific truths than to lend authority to political prejudices – and science inevitably becomes bent in the process. While some scientists, such as those in Oxford, New York and Germany cited above, seem keen to resist the pollution of science by ‘unscientific assumptions’, others have unfortunately gone along with the use of their work to back up political campaigning.

As Professor Hardaker in Oxford pointed out, even an august body such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science talks about global warming in hysterical, unscientific terms, predicting ‘intensification of droughts, heatwaves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms….’ (6) The politicisation of the science of climate change may have the long-term effect of skewing the science, as some scientists fall for the promise of global authority – stardom, no less – if their findings can be made to fit in with today’s narrow political priorities.

There has been a great deal of witch-hunting of Martin Durkin and the contributors to his film The Great Global Warming Swindle over the past two weeks. This witch hunt does not only point to a high level of intolerance in the global warming debate – it also suggests widespread ignorance about who and what is really undermining science today. It is not Durkin, a lone filmmaker with few friends in high places, who is damaging science, but rather those mainstream figures in politics and the media who are using science for cynical and narrow political campaigns. ...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How Traffic Jams Are Made In City Hall
If you want to know why so few people use mass transit, meet Sue, a college administrator in Minneapolis. If anyone would use transit, Sue would. She's single, she lives in a condominium, and she can afford any additional out-of-pocket expense. She could use her city's Hiawatha Line, a light rail route newly completed at a cost of $715 million. But she doesn't, although she feels guilty about it. That's because her car gets her where she needs to go. Faster.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the typical driver in America's metropolitan areas takes 21 minutes to get from home to work. If you take public transit, the average commute stretches to 36 minutes. That's 71 percent longer. Workers in the New York metropolitan area have the longest commute: There it takes an average of 52 minutes to get to work, even though the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut mass transit systems are among the most extensive in the nation.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is about average. The typical commuter takes 21 minutes to get to work by car or 32 minutes by public transit. Congestion can be pretty bad: The average driver in the Twin Cities spends 43 hours-more than an entire work week-stuck in traffic every year. According to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, that costs Twin Cities drivers almost $1 billion in wasted time and fuel. But mass transit takes even longer, and it isn't as flexible as a car when it comes to picking where and when you'd like to go. Is it any wonder Sue drives to work rather than taking the bus or train?

The U.S. Department of Transportation puts the yearly cost of congestion at $168 billion. But the planning gurus who are supposed to solve our transportation problems are in the grip of transitphilia and autophobia; their beliefs about how cities and transportation work are grounded more in nostalgia than in a realistic view of the world we live in now. The public policies they design and try to enforce make it harder for us to get to work, pick up our kids from school, or go shopping. They are deliberately fostering congestion. In the words of David Solow, head of the Metrolink commuter rail in Southern California, congestion is "actually good" because "it drives people out of their cars."...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Skeptical Environmentalist's Response to Gore Plan
... On the issue of sea level change, Lomborg asked, “How is it possible that one of today’s strongest voices on climate change can say something so dramatically different from the est science (provided by the IPCC)?” He added, “IPCC estimates a foot, Gore tops them 20 times.”

Gore’s prediction that if Greenland melted or broke up and slipped into the sea or if half of Greenland and half of Antarctica id the same thing, sea levels worldwide would increase between 18 and 20 feet, Lomborg said, is “simply positing a hypothetical and then in full graphic and gory detail showing us what – hypothetically – would happen to Miami, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Beijing, Shanghai, Dhaka and then New York.”

Lomborg said stronger and more frequent hurricanes have been cited as a calamity of global warming, yet the most reputable scientific sources have drawn no firm conclusions. “When Al Gore tells us that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ that global warming is making hurricanes more powerful and more destructive, it is incorrect.”

The recent increase in human suffering and economic impact as a result of tropical cyclones “has largely been caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions,” Lomborg said. “There are many more people, residing in much more vulnerable areas, with many more assets to lose,” he said. “In the U.S. today, the two coastal South Florida counties, Dade and Broward, are home to more people than the number of people who lived in 1930 in all 109 coastal counties stretching from Texas through irginia, along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.”

Gore’s assertions that malaria has increased as a result of global warming are similarly flawed, Lomborg said. “Like most stories, there is at core some truth to the claim that malaria will increase with temperature, but it is a small part compared to richness and health infrastructure,” he said. “Even if we could entirely stop global warming today…we would only change malaria risk in 2085 by 3.2 percent.” Even with a “stringent climate policy” Lomborg said studies show “there is little clear effect by the 2080s.”

“Compare this to current expectations that we can cut malaria incidence to about half to three‐fourths by 2015 for about $3 billion annually – or 2 percent of the cost of Kyoto,” Lomborg said. ...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rebels of the sun
IT says a lot about the complexity of climate science that we can put a man on the moon but we still can't predict the weather beyond the next few days. The warming of the planet, and man's contribution to this phenomenon, has become the top scientific issue of this generation.
Science by its very nature is an argument. But apparently not this one any more. Yet a minority of scientists are still lining up to challenge the accepted wisdom with their claim that global warming is being principally driven by the sun, not by human activity.

The mainstream view is that an accumulation of greenhouse gases, mostly due to human activity, is trapping too much of the sun's heat within our atmosphere. But the rebels against this dominant view suggest massive variations in the sun's heat radiation are far more influential in warming than accumulating greenhouse gases.

The UN-linked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the executive summary of the science of its fourth assessment report in February. It reported "90 per cent" certainty among consulted scientists that the 0.6C average temperature increase measured during the 20th century was largely caused by the release of greenhouse gases, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels by industrialised economies. In other words, by humans.

Although the scale of warming predictions had altered little during the preceding six years of research, politicians and mainstream climate-change scientists queued up to declare the argument about human-caused climate change was officially over.

Despite such confidence, hundreds of blogs across the world continue to run charged claims and counterclaims on the internet about the various positions adopted by climate scientists. The scale of the argument is unprecedented and reflects considerable uncertainty. By comparison, there are no blogs debating the validity of the periodic table of elements, for example. ...

...At least one of the 1500 "leading scientists" it quotes as its underpinning authority is also one of its staunchest critics, Richard Lindzen, who is Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a contributing author to this year's fourth IPCC assessment report but remains highly critical of how the panel operates, claiming it is largely a political process underpinned by science, which carefully stage-manages the release of its reports to maximise political impact.

The IPCC made headlines across the world in February with the release of the executive summary of its assessment report, which Lindzen says was severely modified by the political session that writes it and which is now modifying the full scientific report to fit for release in May. "That's a very funny procedure by most standards," he said. "You don't appeal to consensus if you have a scientific argument.

"Very few of the models are independent and they all share certain profound difficulties. They all get clouds hugely wrong and a small change in clouds has a much bigger effect than doubling CO2."

Bob Carter, who is a research professor in marine geology at James Cook University, says there are some excellent scientists involved in the IPCC process and the actual report is likely to be both sound and useful science. But he is even more scathing of the process.

"I think it is probably without precedent in any Western democratic process, the idea that you would publish an executive summary before the report and then openly say that 'we need a few more weeks to work on the report to make sure it is consistent with the executive summary'," he says.

"I don't know how anybody can take them seriously. It's become a religion. I have no doubt that a number of the IPCC supporters genuinely believe. Others know very well that the evidence isn't there, but it suits them to believe. ...

...In his Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, former US vice-president Al Gore's central claim in his description of the science was his correlation of 650,000 years of temperature changes with atmospheric carbon concentrations using polar ice-core samples. Gore described the relationship as complex, but made the most of the theatre, climbing up on a crane to accentuate the scale of the increases in greenhouse gas. But the sceptics point to a paper published in Nature and Science magazines showing the historical relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature has the gas lagging, not leading.

That is, greenhouse gas rises occurred about 800 years later than allegedly matching temperature change, as the warming seas released more gas into the atmosphere and trapped it when cooling.

This doesn't discredit the mainstream theory that present levels of greenhouse gases are still well above historical levels, but it is one of several areas where even mainstream scientists believe Gore appears loose with the science to make his film more dramatic.

The CBC documentary referred to predictions of sea-level rises of up to 24m as a result of climate change. The IPCC predicts rises at worst of about 50cm by 2100. If it's not OK to mislead the public in criticising climate-change science, why is it OK to mislead people in selling it? ...

A man-made morality tale
...By contrast with the forecasts made by others, those essayed in the summary are quite circumspect. We can see this, briefly, in its treatment of temperatures, and at greater length in its treatment of ice and sea levels. The potential temperature rises projected in the summary are not dramatically different from those in the IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report. The ‘best estimate’ made by the summary is that of a temperature rise of between 1.8º and 4.0º by 2100. It considers ‘unlikely’ changes of less than 1.1º or more than 6.4º. Already this confirms the mischievousness of Monbiot and Stern. They mention figures as high as 11.5º (13).

What about ice and the sea? Gore warns that if Greenland’s or the Antarctic’s ice melt, sea levels would rise by up to six metres. His maps show the inundation of Florida, San Francisco, Beijing, Calcutta and the Netherlands. The front page of the UK Independent goes further. Invoking the summary as ‘the final warning’, environmentalist writer Mark Lynas says that, with a temperature rise of 5.4º, ‘the entire planet will become ice-free, and sea levels will be 70 metres higher than today’ (14). How do Gore’s six and the Independent’s 70 metres compare with the summary? It considers a variety of scenarios in which no special policies are implemented to deal with greenhouse emissions. Its conclusion: by 2100, sea levels could rise by between 18 and 59 centimetres.

All this is an order of magnitude less pessimistic than Gore and the Independent. When the summary speculates about ‘virtually complete elimination of the Greenland ice sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about seven metres’, that is in the context of melting being sustained not to 2100, but for millennia (15). And the Antarctic? The summary does say that a net loss of ice mass could occur if ‘dynamical ice discharge’ dominates the ice sheet – in other words, if bits of ice break off rather than melt. But it precedes that observation with the point that current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet ‘will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall’ (16).

Alarmists such as Gore make much of the recent suggestion that the world’s ice may be melting much more rapidly than previously thought. But once again the summary is more sober. It says: ‘Models used to date do not include the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, because a basis in published literature is lacking. The projections include a contribution due to increased ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but these flow rates could increase or decrease in the future.’ (17)

As for the newer studies, the summary suggests that increased melting might raise sea levels by between 10 and 20 centimetres. Larger values, it adds, cannot be excluded; but ‘understanding of these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood or provide a best estimate or an upper bound for sea level rise’ (18). All the most worrying scenarios for rises in sea levels rely on the melting of Greenland or Antarctic ice. As noted above, the IPCC suggests that such processes will take millennia. Gore, Monbiot and Stern and others claim that we should take seriously much shorter timescales. While the IPCC uses uncertainties about melting as a reason for withholding judgment, Stern, an economist, speculates that ocean warming and the acceleration of ice flows could lead to a ‘runaway discharge’ of ice. ...

Sun's pulses point to drenching rain
DROUGHT-BREAKING rains across eastern Australia have been predicted in new modelling by a scientist who believes massive pulses in the sun's magnetic field are helping to drive the Earth's climate systems.

If proven, the research will make the prediction of floods and droughts in Australia far more reliable and influence models projecting future climate change.

Robert Baker, from the University of New England, claims to have found a strong relationship between the rhythmic pulsing of the sun's magnetic field and weather systems, particularly in the southern hemisphere. ...

...It also suggests there may be a longer 500-year solar cycle, which may help explain climate variability over the past centuries, including periods of unexplained climate variability such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age....

Monday, March 19, 2007

The surprising truth about America's infant-mortality rate
Last year, a widely distributed report from the group Save the Children, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, tied the United States with Malta and Slovakia for the second-worst infant-mortality rate among developed nations (at about six per 1,000 live births). "I'm always amazed to see where the United States is," a Rand researcher said of the list. "We are the wealthiest country in the world," a Save the Children spokesperson agreed, yet many "are not getting the health care they need."

Comparing infant mortality rates between countries is fraught with uncertainty—after all, it's hard to argue that every country's figures are reliable. But it's still worth asking what more we can do to stop babies from dying. Defined as death before one year of age, infant mortality frequently gets framed in the United States as a problem of insufficient health-care funding. In December, for example, a New York Times column blamed it on the lack of a single-payer health insurer. However, a closer look reveals the counterintuitive possibility that high infant mortality in the United States might be the unintended side effect of increased spending on medical care.

Infant deaths in poor nations are roughly six times more common than in developed areas and result mainly from easily treated infections like diarrhea in the first few months. By contrast, the majority of deaths in developed countries result from extreme prematurity or birth defects that kill a newborn in the first few days or weeks of life. According to a 2002 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least a third of all infant mortality in the United States arises from complications of prematurity; other studies assert the figure is closer to half. Thus—at the risk of oversimplifying—infant mortality in the United States principally is a problem of premature birth, which today complicates just over one in 10 pregnancies.

To reduce infant mortality, then, we need to prevent premature births, and if that fails, improve care of premature babies once born. (Prematurity is also linked to other problems; for example, it's the leading cause of mental retardation and cerebral palsy in children.) But modern medicine isn't good at preventing prematurity—just the opposite. Better and more affordable medical care actually has worsened the rate of prematurity, and likely the rate of infant mortality, by making fertility treatment widespread. According to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report, the numbers of women using assistive reproductive technology doubled from 1996 to 2002. At least half of their pregnancies culminated in multiple births (twins or more), which are at high risk of premature delivery....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Any shade of politics you like, so long as it’s green
...This week’s explosion of hot air over global warming marks a new record in the denigration of political language. Behind the overcooked talk about changing the world and saving the planet, the crusade against global warming represents the latest stage in the politics of low expectations and small-mindedness. And far from climate change being a battlefield for any big political ‘war’, the issue is being used to confine debate to an even narrower, more conformist strip of ground.

We have been told many times by political leaders that ours is the era when ‘choice’ is king. Now we can see what they meant. We can choose any shade of politics we like, just so long as it is green. This fits into the pattern of what they call ‘informed choice’, whereby we are expected to make the choices that they inform us are the correct ones.

If we hope to live in a democratic society, any attempt to limit political debate or banish alternative views must be seriously put to question. And there are good reasons for questioning this new political consensus that are quite separate from any debate about the science of climate change. First because, despite the bold talk of all the party leaders, it represents the abdication of political leadership. And second because it reflects an underlying anti-humanist mood in public life. ...

...With their public standing at an all-time low, politicians are attracted to the issue of climate change because it allows them to scramble out of the mire and back on to the moral high ground. Rather than fending off endless allegations of sleaze or trying to explain why they cannot run a decent health service, Blair and Brown are set free to make portentous speeches about saving the planet. And instead of tackling the tricky issues of coming up with alternative policies on the economy or Iraq, Cameron can strike statesmanlike poses while hugging a glacier.

Blair’s remarks this week hinted at how he has suddenly seized upon the global warming issue to provide an ersatz sense of mission for his faltering government. ‘People that have been in Downing Street over the years have faced issues to do with the Cold War, the Depression and the rise of fascism’, the prime minister told a group of teenagers. ‘Climate change is a bit of a different type of challenge, but a challenge I believe is the biggest long-term threat facing our world.’ By recasting climate change as a sort of Nazi or Soviet threat facing the current generation of leaders, Blair elevates himself on to a higher plane of history.

The rise and rise of the politics of global warming also reveals another big problem with leaders today. Lacking any of the political authority of their predecessors, they are continually looking for something else to lean on as a source of public legitimacy. Here they have sought to latch on to the science of climate change. They are dragging scientists on to the stage to try to justify their own petty authoritarian policies, in an echo of the way that the tobacco industry once used men in white coats to advertise its wares....

...Let us leave aside for now the vexed and complex question of the actual science of climate change. I am no climatologist, but then you surely do not need to be to see that the simplistic, conformist politics of global warming are about something else. Even if we were to accept that some of the far-reaching expert predictions about climate change were true, there would be no necessary straight line from those scientists’ estimates to the sort of policies now being proposed by Brown or David Miliband or Cameron. Instead, they are using the language of science to express their own politics of low expectations and policing our behaviour. ...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype
Hollywood has a thing for Al Gore and his three-alarm film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won an Academy Award for best documentary. So do many environmentalists, who praise him as a visionary, and many scientists, who laud him for raising public awareness of climate change.

But part of his scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.

“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”...

...Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. “Climate change is a real and serious problem” that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. “The cacophony of screaming,” he added, “does not help.”

So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period....

...“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that “our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this” threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” Dr. Easterbrook told the group. “And I’m not a Republican.”

Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming’s effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.

“For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims,” Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. “We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts.”...

Expedition Highlighting Global Warming Called Off Due to Extreme Cold
A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite. The explorers, Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen, on Saturday called off what was intended to be a 530-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean after Arnesen suffered frostbite in three of her toes, and extreme cold temperatures drained the batteries in some of their electronic equipment....

Friday, March 09, 2007

‘Apocalypse my arse’
Martin Durkin has a hangover. And a cold. He spent last night, Thursday 8 March, watching the Channel 4 screening of his film The Great Global Warming Swindle in a pub with friends and colleagues. ‘It’s better than watching it at home. That can be an isolating experience. You become convinced you’re the only person in the country watching it.’ Now, this morning, he has some things to get off his chest – about the green movement’s demonisation of him for daring to question environmentalist orthodoxy; the ‘soft censorship’ of his earlier programmes; and the endless revelations that he had an apparently dodgy Marxist background.

‘Shock, horror’, he says. ‘Exposing that a journalist has a Marxist background is like exposing that he wears trousers.’

Durkin’s latest film has won him the accolade – or perhaps slur – of being the ‘anti-Al Gore’. Where the American president-who-never-was transformed his rather dull PowerPoint presentation on the threat of global warming into a marginally less dull big box office flick – An Inconvenient Truth – Durkin has directed a 90-minute made-for-TV movie that basically says: ‘Everything you know about global warming is wrong!’ ...

...Professor Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, one of the world’s leading experts on malaria, was a revelation. He explained how he had to threaten legal action against the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to have his name removed from the list of ‘2,000 of the world’s leading scientists’ who apparently backed its summary published last month. The problem? Professor Reiter didn’t back it, instead arguing that it was a ‘sham’. The IPCC ‘make it seem that all the top scientists are agreed, but it’s not true’, he said.

And leaving to one side the science of global warming, there was also some stirring stuff on the impact of the environmentalist ethos on political debate and human ambition – especially in relation to the developing world. Many of the talking heads argued that our obsession with restraining development in order to ‘save the planet’ will consign the world’s poorest to a life of grime and squalor. And, ironically, pollution. As one contributor pointed out, the smoke from cowshit and other items that some in the developing world burn in order to warm their homes – because they don’t have electricity and because the only solution put forward for their predicament is that they should use expensive and ineffectual ‘sustainable’ solar and wind power – is recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the worst pollutants in the world. Tens of thousands of children in the developing world die every year from respiratory problems brought on by such in-house smog. It is peasantry, rather than modernity, that kills them; shit, not cars. ...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Top Secret: We're Wiretapping You

It could be a scene from Kafka or Brazil. Imagine a government agency, in a bureaucratic foul-up, accidentally gives you a copy of a document marked "top secret." And it contains a log of some of your private phone calls.

You read it and ponder it and wonder what it all means. Then, two months later, the FBI shows up at your door, demands the document back and orders you to forget you ever saw it.

By all accounts, that's what happened to Washington D.C. attorney Wendell Belew in August 2004. And it happened at a time when no one outside a small group of high-ranking officials and workaday spooks knew the National Security Agency was listening in on Americans' phone calls without warrants. Belew didn't know what to make of the episode. But now, thanks to that government gaffe, he and a colleague have the distinction of being the only Americans who can prove they were specifically eavesdropped upon by the NSA's surveillance program.

The pair are seeking $1 million each in a closely watched lawsuit against the government, which experts say represents the greatest chance, among over 50 different lawsuits, of convincing a key judge to declare the program illegal....

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Allegre's second thoughts
The Deniers -- The National Post's series on scientists who buck the conventional wisdom on climate science

Claude Allegre, one of France's leading socialists and among her most celebrated scientists, was among the first to sound the alarm about the dangers of global warming....

...His break with what he now sees as environmental cant on climate change came in September, in an article entitled "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" in l' Express, the French weekly. His article cited evidence that Antarctica is gaining ice and that Kilimanjaro's retreating snow caps, among other global-warming concerns, come from natural causes. "The cause of this climate change is unknown," he states matter of factly. There is no basis for saying, as most do, that the "science is settled."...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Shamen on the NHS, it’s away with the fairies

Tom and Donna (not their real names) are professional shamen. They teach classes in shamanism at a “foundation”, where you can learn “soul retrieval healing”, help the dead “continue their journey into the Hereafter”, and investigate “the Fairy Kingdom”.

These soul retrievers and Fairy Kingdom investigators also work for the NHS — where, according to Tom’s foundation profile, they “use complementary therapies to help those with mental health difficulties”.

Shaman therapies are not the only unorthodox treatments for which the NHS will gladly pay. Taxpayers are also subsidising Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) “therapy”, in which, according to one NHS trust, “subtle energies” are reordered via “tapping with the fingertips to stimulate certain meridian energy points while the client is ‘tuned in’ to the problem”.

The inventor of EFT notes on his website that he “is not a licensed health professional”, which doesn’t stop him promoting it as an effective treatment for diabetes — unsurprising, since it works for “just about every emotional, health and performance issue you can name”.

If EFT doesn’t do the job, an NHS foot massage might help. Reflexologists believe that each part of the foot maps to a different organ, and that massaging a particular point can treat that organ. Medical doctors think it’s absurd.

This is not to say that the NHS doesn’t have a sceptical side — even it is dubious about homeopathy, pointing out that “no evidence has been found” to support the key homeopathic principle that water retains a “memory” of molecules that have been filtered out of it, and that pure distilled water is an effective treatment for a host of conditions.

Since the NHS believes that the entire basis of homeopathy is “contrary to scientific knowledge”, the obvious question becomes: why is it funding five homeopathic hospitals? Most depressing of all for the rational taxpayer is the NHS Directory for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which aims to promote “dowsers”, “flower therapists” and “crystal healers”.

We’ve just learnt that some hospitals are removing every third light bulb to save money, and that nurses are being paid half the minimum wage — or being asked to work for nothing — at others.

That’s how bad the financial crisis has become. Meanwhile, the National Health Service is employing shaman fairy enthusiasts as psychological counsellors,...

Mac Hammond: "I would almost welcome an IRS audit"
Pastor Mac Hammond acknowledged Sunday that he is well-compensated by Living Word Christian Center, and affirmed many of the charges against him, but justified his financial dealings with the church, saying "If I don't understand the principles that govern increase, I can't preach them."

Rhetorically, he asked, "Is this a self-serving message? Not at all."

In a detailed and often defiant hour-long sermon, Hammond claimed that his dealings with the church have been directed by scripture and by God, and that God's "Holy Ghost siphon" was directing money from sinners to his church, and to him.

Hammond took pains to note that he "[chose] not to believe the media is abusing its authority," adding that "They're going to have a hard time figuring out what kind of church we are." However, he was harshly critical of the idea that "spirituality and materialism don't go together."

"It takes wealth, folks, to establish God's covenant on Earth," he said. "It takes money to buy airtime. It takes money to be influential. If you have no money, you can't even love, because love is about giving and not being a burden."...

...Hammond characterized $1.9 million in personal loans as "simply vehicles of compensation used by the board," and said he had paid all loans back by 2005.

He also defended his purchase and subsequent lease-back of airplanes to the church, saying the demands on his time from other churches meant that "The only way we could [visit other churches nationwide] was to have our own airplane."

Hammond acknowledged that he was leasing the plane back to the church for more than he was paying monthly for the plane, but said the lease had been established at "fair market value," and allowed him to take advantage of tax breaks for depreciation on the airplane. He also said that the money he made on the deal was simply part of his compensation.

Hammond also chided the media for claims that the church had purchased him two condos in Florida. "I don't own two condos in Florida. That is an inaccuracy. Better than that, I own two houses, Amen!"

Hammond said he had made the purchases as "investments," and claimed that the property value had doubled. He made similar claims about a hangar purchased by the church.

Hammond defended himself against charges that he was being greedy, noting that he was "the largest contributor in the history of this church." He claimed that since 2001, he and his wife have donated $2 million to the church.

But Hammond was unapologetic for earning a significant salary from the church.

"I am very, very well compensated. God has provided for me in a way that is super-abundant," he said.

Hammond closed with a carefully calibrated shot at the media.

"I believe the media wants to tell the truth. But the media has such a power over public opinion that it can be a real temptation to manipulate the truth just enough to serve an agenda."

Hammond closed his sermon to a standing ovation, and the passing of the collection basket....

'Global Warming Is Lies' Claims Documentary
Accepted theories about man causing global warming are "lies" claims a controversial new TV documentary.

'The Great Global Warming Swindle' - backed by eminent scientists - is set to rock the accepted consensus that climate change is being driven by humans.

The programme, to be screened on Channel 4 on Thursday March 8, will see a series of respected scientists attack the "propaganda" that they claim is killing the world's poor.

Even the co-founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, is shown, claiming African countries should be encouraged to burn more CO2....

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Conquering Cancer with Private Medicine
Few things in life are as terrifying as a diagnosis of cancer. But for millions in the United States, the news just got a little bit better. Death rates for those suffering from cancer are actually beginning to drop. In particular, death rates have declined for the four most common forms of cancer: lung, colorectal, prostate and female breast cancers. Overall, fewer U.S. citizens died of cancer than at anytime in the past 70 years.

While there are many reasons for this welcome trend, one reason is the much-maligned U.S. free-market health care system.

The one common characteristic of all national health care systems, including Canada's, is that they ration care. Sometimes, they ration it explicitly, denying certain types of treatment altogether. More often, they ration indirectly, imposing global budgets that limit the availability of high-tech medical equipment, or which require long waits for patients seeking treatment.

In the United States, by contrast, there are no such limits, meaning that the most advanced treatment options are far more available. This translates directly into saved lives.

Take prostate cancer, for example. Even though U.S. men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than their counterparts in other countries, they are less likely to die from the disease. Less than one out of five American men with prostate cancer will die from it, but 57% of British men and nearly half of French and German men will. Even in Canada, a quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer, die from the disease.

That is, in part, because in most countries with national health insurance, the preferred treatment for prostate cancer is ... to do nothing. Prostate cancer is a slow disease. Most patients are older and will live for several years after diagnosis. Therefore, it is not cost-effective in a world of socialized medicine to treat the disease aggressively. The approach saves money, but comes at a human cost.

Similar results can be found for other forms of cancer. For instance, just 30% of U.S. citizens diagnosed with colon cancer die from it, compared to 74% in Britain, 62% in New Zealand, 58% in France, 57% in Germany, 53% in Australia, and 36% in Canada. ...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human, Cause for Warming, Scientist Says
...Mars, too, appears to be enjoying more mild and balmy temperatures.

In 2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions revealed that the carbon dioxide "ice caps" near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.

Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

"The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said.

Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.

"Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance," Abdussamatov said. ...

..."The solar irradiance began to drop in the 1990s, and a minimum will be reached by approximately 2040," Abdussamatov said. "It will cause a steep cooling of the climate on Earth in 15 to 20 years."