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Brisbane Institute credibility down the tubes

July 23rd, 2009

For the last decade or so, the Brisbane Institute has played a prominent and constructive role in the intellectual life of this city. I’ve attended, and sometimes spoken at, quite a few of its functions. But I just got the news that the Institute is presenting a piece billed as an attack on Al Gore and presented by Jay Lehr of the US based Heartland Institute.

Even judged against the low bar set by climate delusionists in general, the Heartland Institute is a disgrace. Its most notable achievement was the publication of a list purporting to be of scientists whose work contradicted mainstream climate science. Such lists, common in the delusionists attempts to deny that they are pushing fringe science, usually contain large numbers of name with few or no relevant qualifications. The Heartland list was different. It contained the names of lots of genuine scientists, but misrepresented their position. Even when scientists protested against this misrepresentation, Heartland refused to take their names off the list on the basis that they (a bunch of rightwing hacks with no qualifications whatsoever) were better placed to interpret the results of scientific research than were the authors of that research.

The Heartland Institute has no legitimate place in public life and anyone who works for or with it brands themselves as a charlatan. It is to be hoped that the Brisbane Institute’s decision to promote Heartland’s lies is the result of a negligent failure to check on the credibility of their speakers rather than a decision to legitimise this body. Still, I suspect it will be a while before I am willing to work any more with them.

(Hat tip: Mike Smith)

Categories: Environment Tags:
  1. July 23rd, 2009 at 09:29 | #1

    You’re either with us or against us and John Quiggin is the arbiter. ;-)

  2. jquiggin
    July 23rd, 2009 at 09:40 | #2

    No enemies to the Right, eh Terje ? :-)

  3. July 23rd, 2009 at 09:45 | #3

    No enemies by choice anywhere John. Just a spectrum of disagreement on specific issues. Even on the John Quiggin blog I find things to agree with.

  4. Paul Norton
    July 23rd, 2009 at 09:50 | #4

    I’ve just read the chapter in Stephen Baxter’s novel Transcendence in which a project to combat global warming is sabotaged by a Christian conservative anti-environmentalist suicide bomber. How many current examples of life imitating art can we think of?

  5. July 23rd, 2009 at 09:50 | #5

    p.s. Lets talk about the Iraq war, drug prohibition, euthanasia, gun laws, anti-terrorism law, illegal immigration detention, gay marriage or a swag of other issues if you want to hear me disagree with the last Australian federal government of the “right” that we had.

  6. July 23rd, 2009 at 10:04 | #6

    p.p.s. Could we say that JQ has no enemies to the left?

  7. Dave McRae
    July 23rd, 2009 at 10:15 | #7

    That’s disgraceful of BI :(

    To sum up this anti-science lobby you’ve no need to go past their own smoking lounge website http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/10594/Welcome_to_Heartlands_Smokers_Lounge.html defending the science behind the health benefits of smoking

    And ta for defending them TerjeP – says alot about you as well

  8. July 23rd, 2009 at 10:21 | #8

    Where did I defend them?

  9. July 23rd, 2009 at 10:24 | #9

    Is that the mob that publishes or at least sponsors ‘Online Opinion’? It’s gone down the tubes too.

  10. July 23rd, 2009 at 10:25 | #10

    Also Dave which part of the smoking webpage are you claiming as anti-science?

  11. Dave McRae
    July 23rd, 2009 at 11:00 | #11

    Apologies if that came out harsh – I’ve just been outside for a fag and feeling much better as I tell myself :) – I’d love to believe ‘the sound science’ behind tobacco at that website – the ‘junk science’ as that website says regarding smoking related deaths and the 2nd hand smoke furphy – but I think I’d need a lobotomy first.

    (Whilst fagging on and reflecting, I was happily reminded of Tom Leher’s The Old Dope Peddler – if you don’t know of this bloke, do yourself a favour and google this, funny stuff)

    I find it incredulous that this mob’s science could be taken seriously at all – so the BI’s support of this crud must be an exercise in cynicism. Or, more kindly, maybe an example of “Exhibit B: The case for the negative” by the nutjobs themselves. A spiel from these clowns should be entertaining if one could be hopeful that they wont recruit more of the dimwitted but instead be a parody of the anti-science.

  12. July 23rd, 2009 at 11:23 | #12

    Dave – are you really a smoker? It’s a filthy habit you know.

  13. July 23rd, 2009 at 11:46 | #13

    Shorter JQ: Anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot & shall be ignored.

    This will not be possible, for the debate on global warming/climate change has not yet begun.

  14. Michael of Summer Hill
    July 23rd, 2009 at 11:57 | #14

    John, what the chalatans fail to understand is that the Federal Government’s Climate Ready Program is not a pipedream for today it has been reported 180 new green jobs will be created as a result of $13.4 million in grants for projects focusing on innovative climate change solutions ie a NSW business has been awarded over $458,000 to develop a unique air conditioning system up to 12 times more power efficient than traditional systems.

  15. Alice
    July 23rd, 2009 at 11:57 | #15

    One doesnt mind debate from an informed or scientific basis from either side but when they are supporting organised disseminators of delusions and lies like Heartland Id give them a miss too JQ.

    When did we get ever get positive rewarding progress by listening to or entertaining the ill informed, the misguided, the well paid to be non factual, the quacks and the charlatans like Heartland…

    then there were the inquisitors, the flat earth proponents, the alchemists, the anti Darwinists, the bloodletters of the bubonic plague and the EMH followers.

    There is efficiency of purpose somewhere in human science – I havent given up on reasoned and informed debate but at a certain point you cant debate with quacks those who act against scientific advance.

    The Brisbane Institute clearly risks damaging its own credibility by association. I support your decision JQ.

  16. Ben
    July 23rd, 2009 at 12:02 | #16

    An example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect or a deliberate Poe by the BI?

  17. Ben
    July 23rd, 2009 at 12:05 | #17

    Oops HTML error. Last link should be Poe

  18. melaleuca
    July 23rd, 2009 at 12:27 | #18

    One of the main arguments used by opponents of the AGW hypothesis is the claim that it is based on incomplete models and therefore not real science. Here well known skeptic Jen Marohasy complains about the AGW models- http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23411799-7583,00.html

    I note with interest how soft lefty Mark Bahnisch disses models when they likewise demonstrate an inconvenient truth, that being an increase in the minimum wage leading to an increase in unemployment-

    “What I’ve been saying to you is that the “marginal worker” will have their employment determined by a range of other factors than the rate of their pay. That’s completely missed by economic modelling, a lot of the time.”

    “Note also that economic modelling based on particular premises is not the same thing as an empirical study.”


    What is abundantly clear from all this is that ideologues on both the left and right bluster and bluff, using the exact same critiques of the mainstream science, when the mainstream position refutes their cherished beliefs.

  19. July 23rd, 2009 at 13:31 | #19

    Well said, melaleuca. Though possibly on the wrong blog :-)

    Professor, I think you’re being too harsh on the Brisbane Institute. Is their credibility really all the way down the tubes? One speaker from an organisation that you disagree with shouldn’t outweigh a decade’s worth of “constructive” work. And there’s a third possible motive for their choice – a misguided attempt to meet their aims of independence and non-partisanship by getting someone from the fringe, wrongly believing that will show “both sides” of the issue.

  20. July 23rd, 2009 at 14:02 | #20

    I tend to agree John. It’s fine, good even, to present opposing views from intelligent people with well reasoned arguments. The Heartland Institute does not fit into that category and giving them a platform doesn’t help anyone.

  21. fred
    July 23rd, 2009 at 18:17 | #21

    “Still, I suspect it will be a while before I am willing to work any more with them.”

    And that earns you points for integrity.
    Not all that common an item.

  22. Alice
    July 23rd, 2009 at 19:17 | #22

    If only more genuine reearchers would get behind JQ on this one and boycott Brisbane Institute..they are just playing to the baying front stalls..

  23. Alice
    July 23rd, 2009 at 19:26 | #23

    jarrah…if seats cost money Brisbane institute is “selling” rather than…. “there’s a third possible motive for their choice – a misguided attempt to meet their aims of independence and non-partisanship by getting someone from the fringe…
    Heartland isnt even fringe…dont even deserve that accreditation…and they know it. They are an organisation for sale to the highest bidder and the most well funded coporate who has a stake in halting progress on this front. When information is money they will construct whatever information is requested, and put hired “scientists” names on it and construct “fake journals” and tap sumpathetic “journos” in sympathetic media to market it …its a charade and an elaborate sham perpetrated by fraudsters intended to look like real research but its stinks like rotten fish.

    Brisbane Institute needs to get its head straight otherwise they are just as unreliable as the shoody work they are thinking of promoting..

    Yes, more should say “thanks but no thanks..”

  24. Crispin Bennett
    July 23rd, 2009 at 20:41 | #24

    Interesting to note that Brisinst is presenting Lehr “in association with” The Australian Climate Science Coalition. Don’t know anything about this group, but here are their first two core principles (no less):

    Global climate is always changing in accordance with natural causes and recent changes are not unusual.
    Science is rapidly evolving away from the view that humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gases’ are a cause of dangerous climate change.

    (from their mission statement here: “http://www.auscsc.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=54)

    I think that answers any question regarding the scientific intent of the Australian Climate Science Coalition. What are Brisinst doing collaborating with such clowns?

  25. Steve Bloom
    July 23rd, 2009 at 21:30 | #25

    Wow, per the BI blurb on the event (pasted below), it’s not just Heartland but the Australian Climate Science Coalition to boot. These folks have no standards at all. And what’s the connection to the law firm that produced the pdf?

    I notice that on August 4 they have Sylvia Earle introduced by Ove H-G, so maybe this is some sort of attempt to balance science with fraud?

    Regarding Lehr, he is rather elderly but does seem to have had a legitimate career as a hydrologist. A search turns up plenty of libertarian rants about environmentalists but no publications on climate, so I think we know what sort of critique of Gore he’ll be providing. If “rants” seems harsh, see here (pp. 10-12) for an argument by Lehr and a co-author finding a close match between the modern environmental movement and Nazi philosophy. I couldn’t locate any sign of the claimed economics chops, but all libertarians are skilled economists, right?


    The Brisbane Institute, in association with The Australian Climate Science Coalition, is hosting a public presentation by Dr Jay Lehr, Science Director of the Heartland Institute.

    Dr Lehr’s address focuses on the politial and economic consequences of introducing a scheme to tax an essential natural element of life on earth – carbon dioxide. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) Bill is the most important taxation and wealth transfer legislation to go before parliament in decades, yet the consequences of the legisaltion are poorly understood.

    Dr. Jay Lehr is a powerful, entertaining speaker who combines a deep understanding of both science and economics in describing the impact of advancing technologies on the local, regional, national, and global economy.

    Economist and futurist, Dr. Jay Lehr, makes people feel good about the environment and agriculture. He combines five decades of expertise and experience in Agricultural Economics, Agronomy, Environmental Science and Business Administration with the most contagious enthusiasm for the future.

    Dr Lehr has spoken to hundreds of groups, seminars, major news networks, radio programs and has written nineteen books to spread true science, educate on today’s hot topics and to dispel what he believes are the unfair and inaccurate claims made by environmental advocacy groups.

    Dr Lehr is an economist and environmental scientist who believes that the course of action provided under the CPRS Bill is a folly, which Australians should reject.

    Read about the Bill at:


  26. Chris Warren
    July 23rd, 2009 at 22:14 | #26

    The Heartland webpage is almost all right-wing denialist dogma – in essense non-science. I am surprised terjeP even queried it;

    The website claims;

    anti-smoking advocates personally profit by exaggerating the health threats of smoking.

    anti-smoking advocates personally profit by higher taxes

    anti-smoking advocates personally profit through bans on smoking in public places.

    the anti-smoking movement is not grassroots

    the anti-smoking movement is largely funded by taxpayers

    the anti smoking movement is left-liberal agenda

    independent policy experts suggest:

    * Smokers taxes exceed the cost they impose on society.

    * Public health campaign is based on junk science.

    * Litigation against the tobacco industry is abuse,

    * Litigation has “loaded the gun” for lawsuits against other industries.

    * Smoking bans hurt small businesses

    * Smoking bans violate private property rights.

    * The harm caused by smoking can be reduced by educating smokers.

    * Punishing smokers “for their own good” is repulsive ..

    There may be some science – but so what, opposite and better science would overwhelm it.

    The real interest of these “nicotine nitwits” is to keep profits flowing from the drug, and to reduce taxes, so profits are actually increased.

    Never stand between a capitalist and a dollar.

    Of course taxes on everything should be reduced, but we need a welfare state.

    I suppose taxes on nicotine could be cut but only if cigarettes were available on doctors prescription operating out of a drug referral centre.

  27. jquiggin
    July 23rd, 2009 at 22:43 | #27

    SATP and Terje,

    Even if these guys were on my side I wouldn’t give them the time of day. They are crooks pure and simple, as the post made clear. I’m disappointed that you feel the need to defend them (or to cavil at my criticism of them). This kind of misplaced solidarity killed the political left in the 70s, and it’s killing the right/libertarian side now.

  28. July 23rd, 2009 at 22:52 | #28

    I am strongly anti-smoking Chris Warren but some of the claims you ridicule are correct – in the US and Australia at least:

    The medical costs of smoking are less than the taxes collected – in fact the divergence here is vast if you consider only non-internalised smoking costs. This is the reason for the arrival of the ‘internalities literature’.

    The anti-smoking movement is mainly publicly funded.

    Its good to stick to facts and not to just be tribally left-wing.

  29. Chris Warren
    July 23rd, 2009 at 23:32 | #29


    Go back and have a read of what I said. I do not know whetehr the claims are right or wrong.

    My point was that there was no science attached to them.

    I did not ridicule them – I quoted them – the so-called ridicule followed automatically as a consequence.

    Anyway I am having trouble with your logic:

    - where is your evidence that costs of smoking are less than taxes on smoking?

    - why should a tax on anything be less than the damage of that thing?

    - the anti-smoking movement is mainly public funded (presumably heatland was referring to the US movment)?

    - where are the facts you stick to?

    - what is tribally left-wing?

    Surely it is enough to be correct and scientific, without worrying whether the truth is left or not?

  30. philip travers
    July 24th, 2009 at 00:06 | #30

    Bores the lot of you,I doubt Quggin’s has any following at all in the U.S.A. And this is but a flea on a flea. KeeleyNet.comwhat’snew is the site that shows even the Rockefellers are definitely interested in algae,and some similar thoughts to myself.And Rense.com will have Mr.Lovell here up in arms.And no doubt Alex Jones ,and his PrisonPlanet.com and InfoWars.com ,will tell you by their links, how pathetic the fleas are here! Toss in David Irving Online Report to make you sleep well at night. And both DavidIcke.comand Rense.com show someone laughing at a Bernanke Report. Make sure the dog is warm though!

  31. July 24th, 2009 at 00:07 | #31

    For the evidence see Collins and Lapsley – it is well-known and widely discussed. Google it.

    Moreover this is science to this – there are attempts to measure the costs both internalised and non-internalised.

    You make these statements as examples of right wing rivalist dogma. You are expressing a view about their correctness.

    The reason taxes can be less than the damage of something is because the tax reflects the marginal unpaid social damage not the average total damage. It is basic externalities theory.

    The facts are in many places but the National Drug Reports and the books by Viscusi (e.g. ‘Smoke Filled Rooms’) contain them. In the Australian case costs are about one fifth of the revenues yielded by the taxes on cigarettes.

    Tribally left-wing means leaving your brains at the door and endorsing simplistic slogans. Many of the claims made by Heartland are foolish but I tire of these overexhuberant critiques that release a bit of anger but no logic.

  32. July 24th, 2009 at 00:23 | #32

    HC – good to see you shoot both ways. I wish more people did that.

  33. Chris O’Neill
    July 24th, 2009 at 01:04 | #33

    Tribally left-wing means leaving your brains at the door and endorsing simplistic slogans.

    So tribally right-wing means leaving your brains at the door and endorsing simplistic slogans. e.g. “The science is not settled.”

  34. John Mashey
    July 24th, 2009 at 03:00 | #34

    I seem to have lost a post, but others have covered much of it. I try again.

    I checked the BI website, Sourcewatch on BI, BI’s past and coming events. BI certainly *seems* like it’s been a pretty rational place.

    Were this presented as “Conservative thinktank’s view of climate legislation” as opposed to “science”, it might make perfect sense of presenting different political views. Someone labeled Heartland as non-science, but I think anti-science (“agnotology”) is more precise.

    But, I’d ask JQ to say more about his proposed course of action re BI, since I know nothing of them more than by looking at Web pages. I think there are 3 plausible cases:

    1) There has been some fundamental change of state at BI.
    2) They’ve often had environmental speakers, and maybe they thought they needed “balance”.
    3) ACSC proposed this, and it didn’t get checked out very well.

    JQ’s response seems appropriate for 1), but I always remember Napoleon’s advice on malice and incompetence. JQ: can you say more why you think it’s 1), or that not working with them is a productive response for 2) and 3)?

    BTW: if anyone wants a hint of what’s likely to be presented, go the Heartland Website, search for jay lehr climate, and look at the 7-page “talking points”.

  35. Krissd
    July 24th, 2009 at 08:43 | #35

    Im just amazed that there could be any questioning of the Prof’s position. If a serious intellectual organisation put on a presentation of Velikovsky’s ‘science’ or even if in this the year of Darwin promoted a creation view of the world attacking evolution would any make the accusation that critics are being “Tribally left-wing”. I seriously doubt it.

  36. Chris Warren
    July 24th, 2009 at 09:51 | #36


    Please focus. The point was not that papers exist or not. As I mentioned at #26, there may be science, but opposite and better science would overwhelm it.

    The point was to answer tergeP’s odd query at #10.

    So all this “google” that, stuff misses the point, unless you mean that Heartland should have done so.

    Citing authors like Collins and Lapsley, is irrelevant because the point was the lack of science on the Heartland webpage, queried by tergeP at #10.

    When I looked I found large amounts of non-science dogma, which you seem to defend.

    The issue for me is not whether this dogma is right or wrong. My view is that it is rightwing denialist dogma presentally unscientifically by Heartland at the place point at by TergeP.

    Maybe you could email Heatland and help them out with their missing scientific methodology.

    You do not seem to be able to follow a logical argument. My question was “why” should a tax on a thing be less than the damage from the thing.

    I did not ask “how” can a tax be less than the damage. So it is clear you are not understanding things at all.

    How tax happens is logically different to why tax happens.

    So if, in Australia, costs are one one fifth of tax revenue, and there is still demand for nicotine why not increase taxes to 10 times the costs.

    Usually those who claim others have no logic – are in fact the most dimwitted of all.

    It is classic rightwing redneck tactic to start fuming all over the place expressing “anger” and piling confusion on top of confusion.

  37. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:03 | #37

    Hey Chris … I don’t suppose you attended Ryde HS in the early 70s … had a brother called Richard did you … just wondering …

  38. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:15 | #38

    CW says:

    “So if, in Australia, costs are one one fifth of tax revenue, and there is still demand for nicotine why not increase taxes to 10 times the costs.”

    Two reasons- Firstly, some people enjoy nicotine so much they are willing to accept the 50% chance tobacco use will shorten their life. Surely this is a matter of individual choice. Secondly, such a high rate of tax would reinvigorate the chop chop industry to such an extent that the law enforcement costs would probably exceed any additional revenues.

    May I suggest HC isn’t the dimwitted one.

  39. Chris Warren
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:28 | #39


    To my knowledge i have never been to Ryde although I was at a high school for part of the 70′s.

    In general I am allergic to Sydney.

  40. Chris Warren
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:35 | #40


    But this would mean jobs expand for law enforcement officers and for those who supply equipment to law enforcement officers.

    Have you taken this into account. What is the data source?

    However, if law enforcement costs become burdensome then the only sensible thing to do is as i suggested at #26.

    But this all depends on events, not theory.

  41. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:41 | #41

    “But this would mean jobs expand for law enforcement officers and for those who supply equipment to law enforcement officers.”

    How in hell could that be a good thing? You also neglect to mention the increased prison population.

  42. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 10:42 | #42


    I don’t ant to buy into labelling people in this thread dimwitted, but I suspect Chris was asking for an explicit rationale for matching a pigouvian tax take with costs associated with the behaviour that is its target. Yours seems to be based on the intrinsic value of individual choice and I’m inclined to agree.

    That said, cost accounting of these things, especially over human lifetimes, is always an imprecise business. Not all of the costs of certain behaviours on the legitimate interests of the community as a whole can be properly monetised and indeed some are cultural. This applies to some of the benefit side of the equation too. With an activity as apparently lethal as smoking tobacco, and given the impractibility and ethical untenability of withholding care, one can argue for generous allowances for costs and benefits — rsiking erring substantially on the side of price-based deterrence.

    Bearing in mind too that many who become life-long smokers start before an age at which informed consent is deemed possible, a high entry price makes good sense.

    There may of course be practical difficulties with excessive taxation, illicit trade in mind-altering substances being case in point. Having to erect a highly intrusive police state backed by strong sanctions to control contraband is also a public cost which ought not be trivialised. This though is aq feasibility question much more than an ethical one (though the two aren’t strictly separable).

    The considerations above apply with even greater force to the question of AGW-mitigation, since unlike the smoker who doesn’t greatly contaminate the air and disposes of his butt in ways that don’t start fires, emissions of surplus CO2 and other toxics is inevitably at the expense of the interests of the commons, and therewith is a significant increase in public costs and given the even greater scope for uncertainty in climate an even greater value needs to be allowed for potential error in cost estimates.

  43. Chris Warren
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:08 | #43

    Increasing the prison population may not be a good thing, but it is the natural end for capitalism.

    In the eighteenth century britain ended up as a prison for many, America has an extraordinary high imprisonment ratio.

    But, you are ignoring the fact I am not supportive of this, and did not introduce it, and I sqaid, that if law enforcement was burdensome there was another option.

    So why prattle on about the burdens of prison – its not relevant.

  44. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:12 | #44

    “With an activity as apparently lethal as smoking tobacco, and given the impractibility and ethical untenability of withholding care, one can argue for generous allowances for costs and benefits — rsiking erring substantially on the side of price-based deterrence.”

    I don’t disagree.

    Actually tobacco has at least one health benefit- smokers are less likely to get Parkinson’s disease- http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1125458

  45. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:17 | #45

    Don’t be dishonest, CW. You said:

    “But this would mean jobs expand for law enforcement officers and for those who supply equipment to law enforcement officers.

    Have you taken this into account. “

  46. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:29 | #46


    True enough, though the cost savings to the whole community even allowing the 30% reduction the researchers infer would not have significant implications for the taxation regime. If the hypothesis were correct — that nicotine did indeed have a protective effect, then those current measures to abate smoking — nicotine patches — would make even more sense all round.

    The study outline doesn’t make clear either how much nicotine is assocated with how much reduction. It could be that the nicotine consumed by a 40-cigarette-per week smoker aupplies all of the protection and that after that, the marginal value was zero. One should avoid a composition fallacy.

    Accordingly, high taxes as a deterrent would still make sense if it drove smokers who smoked more than this to smoke an amount closer to entailing the optimal level of nicotine.

  47. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:32 | #47

    Also agreed, Fran.

  48. Chris Warren
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:36 | #48


    I don’t follow.

    What is dishonest about asking whether the jobs and other benefits were taken into account.

    Seems OK to me.

    I only query the logic of those who prattle on about “the burden”. As soon as the burden becomes the issue then there is another solution, and the burden issue disappears.

    So why prattle on about the burden?

    Only the dishonest cry dishonest.

  49. melaleuca
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:44 | #49

    The jobs are a cost as they have to be financed out of the taxpayers pocket, dumphy.

  50. John Mashey
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:46 | #50

    re3: #42 Fran
    You say:
    “Bearing in mind too that many who become life-long smokers start before an age at which informed consent is deemed possible, a high entry price makes good sense.”

    That is certainly true, but understates the case.

    See comments here and later followup at Harry Clarke (hc).

    It isn’t *many* life-long smokers, it’s most (by tobacco company internal documents):

    - 31% of smokers start after 18
    - less than 5% start after 24

    which means 69% started at 18 or before. To set addiction, people mostly need to start early, while their brains are developing rapidly. Of course, people vary by age range.

    I think that much of the discussion of societal costs is relevant, but in some sense obscures a much more fundamental issue, and certain people are quite happy to argue about costs, since it complexifies and obscures the more fundamental issue.

    Most human societies try very, very hard to protect children from getting permanently damaged by bad decisions before their judgement gets good enough. We don’t normally give car keys to 13-year-olds. People show ferocious protective (sometimes over-protective) behavior for their kids, and yet, 45 years after the USA Surgeon General’s report, the net effect is that teenage smoking is down, but still substantial, even in places that are pretty good.

    There is strong medical evidence of serious addiction vulnerability at a certain stage of life, and this property is relied upon by the cleverest marketeers in the world, eagerly helped out by folks like Joseph Bast @ Heartland.

    (IMHO) Arguments about *costs* are relevant for *adults*. If a 22/24-year-old wants to start smoking, and understands the consequences, go ahead, as long as others don’t have to pay for it. If there are societal costs, then one can argue…. but kids???

    There are plenty of dumb behaviors, some of which come from or turn into addictions … but it is hard to think of another one that pits the smartest marketeers in the world against children, and (at least in many places) poorer, less-educated children, and that depends so strongly on early addiction.

  51. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 12:05 | #51

    @John Mashey

    Oh I quite take your point, though we might debate the benchmarks at which informed consent is deemed possible. Differing jurisdictions have a variety of ideas about that.

    I think the case for being confident that consent is informed doesn’t really relate to age (though it’s obviously important). Most of us would be fibbing if we really avowed a strong and detailed grasp of the risks, costs and benefits of smoking to us and to the community as a whole. It follows that all the costs associated with ensuring that every putative smoker is fully seized of these matters and thus capable of weighing them ought, in theory, to be settled pro-rata on every smoking act. In practice this simply isn’t viable, any more than it’s realistic to ensure that anything like 100% of every near adult population is functionally numerate and literate, as desirable as that would be, so our deeming of informed consent takes the much easier path of picking a chronological age number and making that the benchmark, much as it does with sex. The number is intended to ensure administrative ease and certainty for all involved.

    But still, the costs remain, whatever the attached bureaucratic fiat and if as a matter of ethics we do want deterrence since conveying the scope of the harm precisely and adequately to most is impossible, then erring on the high side makes good ethical sense.


  52. John Mashey
    July 24th, 2009 at 13:25 | #52

    @Fran Barlow

    Age is indeed a quite imperfect indicator, but indeed the conventional choice. From past experience, some 15-year-olds have better judgement that some 25-year-olds.

    But let me try an analogy, and then a speculation.

    Analogy: driving a car. Places set rules about:

    a) The earliest age that one might be allowed to drive a car.
    b) Age-related restrictions of various kinds, generally intended to avoid accident-prone behavior.
    c) More-or-less objective tests of driving skill and judgement, of various degrees of quality. One could of course wish for broader use of driving simulators and some kind of test that would identify drivers with poor judgement.

    Speculation: “age of consent” is really messy and vague. One could wish for some kind of medical test that identified addiction vulnerabilities, especially for a case like nicotine, where there really does seem to be a strong time window.

    Indeed, the costs remain, and erring on the high side is fine with me. Age 24 is probably find; 22 might be; 18 is probably still a bit low. I haven’t seen a good study with precise distributions, although I’d love to see such.

    Again, I’m not dismissing the cost issue. I’m just saying that it all too often causes people to ignore the weirdness of allowing a business that only exists by addicting children.

  53. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 13:39 | #53

    I’m inclined to agree with you John on the threshhold ages. Studies of adolescent brains focusing on the amygdala suggest that brains are probably not fully cognitively ‘adult’ until somewhere between 21 and 25, most of the time. Hence the problems with alcohol, cigarettes, driving etc.

    Still, in so far as a high entry cost imposes differential barriers on those under 25, and even more so on those under 21, 18 etc these seem justified. They are easier too than attempts at universal application of regulatory enforcement, plain packaging, placement out of sight etc much as these will remain necessary.

    A side note: I don’t buy the argument that corn-based ethanol forces up the cost of food (though it’s an irrational enterprise just the same) but does not an objection on rational land use apply to tobacco, alcohol etc?

  54. John Mashey
    July 24th, 2009 at 16:30 | #54

    Tobacco is relevant, given tobacco’s peculiar connection with climate anti-science via thinktanks and their funding patterns, especially obvious with Heartland, but which shows up with some other large thinktanks as well.

    I mentioned WHO on tobacco, i.e., deforestration in that thread at Harry Clarke. Forests are cleared not only to grow to tobacco, but burned to cure it. Hence, there is certainly a climate connection.

    I wouldn’t try getting into corn-based ethanol in *this* thread; too far off-topic, and it’s way more complicated than most people think. In the USA, the factors include weird, market-distorting structure of farm subsidies, especially since 1962; the emergence of huge agribusinesses; the disproportionate influence of rural states in the US Senate; corn overproduction; the lack of local petroleum in most corn-producing states; the established infrastructure/machinery for distributing corn, planting it, harvesting it, getting it efficiently to grain elevators at railways, etc.

    I’d really prefer switchgrass or miscanthus for numerous reasons,including EROEI, but some real issues must be overcome first. I sympathize with Iowa or Nebraska. From *their* point of view, corn-based ethanol is not at all irrational, but to understand that, it helps to have live farming experience, and most people don’t, so all this takes a lot of explanation.

  55. Fran Barlow
    July 24th, 2009 at 19:58 | #55

    From the POV of Iowa the problems are an externality … (cough)

    Agree on Panicum and Miscanthus which can alos have other agricultural benefits. Even sugar cane isn’t so crazy (though I’d prefer not to go there). Algae is also a serious possibility. Then there’s landfill gas, invasive plant species, ground fuel etc …

  56. philip travers
    July 25th, 2009 at 00:31 | #56

    And KeeleyNet.comwhat’snew some time back had a wonderful story about a man who invented a lighter than air machine that worked on the basis of a twist of a screw.Seeing hardly anyone even looks at screws today or even applies a electric current to them,the basics of just simple understandings of much simpler batteries and how things are in the background energies is overlooked..the story may not of been entirely factually.But you take a spiral screw that have sharp edges to cut into the timber and remain solidly there,and the simple reasoning starts to proceed.The comparison with vortice forces in water,and now even products that mimmick golf ball flight becomes apparent.Electricity likes sharp points and edges of a screw have as that edge a whole series of points.If a point of electricity emerges from a point,it then becomes a simple question of what material force would an electric point operate on to give enough lift from the turn of a screw!?That in someway is the question CERN is asking,with patterns of sub-molecular particles spinning in unique ways.He may have been this inventor a forerunner of material scientist,where looking at the grainiest configurations of metals takes place under advanced microscopy,and more and more is being found out how material aligns itself to remain material.A spring has similar qualities to a screw,and so does some metals curved over and pressure put on them like say some small plates of metal still seen here and there.The best shape for the flash of vapourisation for fuel use in cars has a sort of bell shape..I take stories like that very seriously,if you ever get to read it,because of some basic tenets of Wilhelm Reich ..mechanical charge mechanical discharge electrical charge electrical discharge.I have seen metal roofs effected by cold frosty nights and the corrugations behave shrinking and enlarging.The miracle of having debates about climate change..may bring us back to observing nature and forms.

  57. Jill Rush
    July 25th, 2009 at 10:58 | #57

    One of the powers we have is to withdraw our services and support (indirect and financial) from agencies that are promoting things that we don’t agree with. It seems perfectly reasonable to withdraw support of any kind from an agency that is prepared to support the views put forward by fraudsters. Sometimes agencies will take on less worthy points of view purportedly for “balance” when really it is about the balance of their bank accounts that is in question. That is why objections and withdrawal of support in the long term can be effective as the short term gain is outweighed by the long term losses.

    The fact that the fraudsters often discuss how much money is being made by those discussing the science of climate change supports the view that this is the aspect they resent. They expect others to not do anything unless there is a quid in it because that is their own motivation. Similarly when they say the science isn’t convincing what they are really suggesting is that they are not interested in science, don’t understand it and will beat up their own case to make more money.

  58. John Mashey
    July 26th, 2009 at 08:43 | #58

    JQ: regarding Heartland, is there a good/well-accepted adjective X to characterize entities that “privatize the profits and socialize the costs/risks”, especially relevant to the benefits?

    I’m wishing to find/build a scale in which:

    highest X: no real benefits, costs heavily socialized (tobacco)

    high X: useful (perhaps) products/services, but costs fairly narrowly socialized, i.e., often to company workers, geographic neighbors, and users. (asbestos, perhaps; some chemical products)

    high X: profits, useful products/services, but costs realized to be widely socialized, even to people who don’t use those products/services [fossil energy companies, i.e., *energy* is clearly useful, and we wouldn't have had the Industrial Revolution without coal; some of these are close the previous, depending on the local hits. I.e., coal mining in Wyoming and that in Appalachia are a bit different.]

    Very low X: consider a software company like Adobe Systems. I’d be hard-pressed to think of any cost or risk they’ve socialized.

    Heartland is a lobbying/PR firm that manages to be non-profit. It resents an appearance of being for free-market ideas, but if one has long dug into their finances (*not* easy!) one can speculate that most of their money comes from companies/foundations that privatize profit/socialize risk, as opposed to people who just want to minimize government size/hassle. Put another way, an entity can be fairly free-market (like “The Economist”), and not have spent their energy defending tobacco companies.

    This marketing approach (i.e., Heartland and some other thinktanks) seems to have been successful, i.e., it seems more cost-effective to use an entrepreneurial entity like this, than to create one’s own explicit front groups, which are often too easily traceable.

    Another advantage of Heartland’s approach might be what I’d call “throwing rocks from a crowd”:

    If you want to throw a rock at a policeman, don’t do it by yourself. Stand in the middle of the biggest crowd you can, and if you’re really lucky, police will shoot back, converting some innocent bystanders to your side.

    Anyway, can you point me at any relevant literature that might cover this already?

  59. jquiggin
    July 26th, 2009 at 09:31 | #59

    JM, I’m not immediately aware of any systematic study of this. One point I have become aware of is that, as regards thinktanks “non-profit, non-partisan” has little informational value. Since thinktanks have no real capital requirements, there’s no reason for them to have shareholders and therefore profits. If there’s any rent, it’s taken in high salaries and perks for the top managers. I guess, looking at ad agencies and similar, there’s no reason a thinktank couldn’t be for-profit, but then I guess it would be much harder to get donations, tax treatment would be different and so on. Similarly, non-partisan just means “not officially associated with a political party”.

  60. John Mashey
    July 26th, 2009 at 12:02 | #60

    Thanks. I’ve been looking at the flows of memes and money for anti-science, and if one compares:

    - ad agencies/PR firms/lobbyists
    - “nonprofit” thinktanks (the bigger of which do the same things)

    The latter not only have the tax advantages, and ability to pull broader support, but have strongly-visible public identities & brands of their own, independent of funders, more than the first group.

    I conjecture that such thinktanks have taken over roles previously played by things like Council for Tobacco Research/TIRC, TASSC, etc, i.e., it’s a different form of outsourcing.

    If you haven’t read Heartland’s 2008 Prospectus, it is educational. The funding trail is Byzantine^3, because:

    they get money directly from corporations, indviduals and foundations, of which the latter account for 71%. They make a big deal of not getting that much money from corporations.
    but some of those foundations get money from corporations or other foundations.
    and some foundations are set up with family fortunes based on particular companies, i.e., one thinks of the Scaife foundations (Gulf Oil, then Texaco, then Chevron).

    Of course, Heartland has long sought funding (for PR activities) from tobacco companies, easily findable in the Tobacco Archives.

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