Gullible-gate

There’s not a lot new to be said about the leak of documents from the Heartland Institute, revealing that the Institute was channeling funds from far-right billionaires and corporations to a large number of self-described sceptics, notably including our own Bob Carter, who’s apparently on a monthly retainer, despite his prior claims of independence. Carter is of course, linked to the IPA, which has a long history of rejecting science for cash, most notably in its decades of work (still continuing) for the tobacco industry.

A few points might be worth restating, though:

* As regards the way in which the documents came into the public domain (still unclear, but Heartland alleges they were tricked into emailing them to the wrong person), Heartland and most of their supporters have shown themselves, unsurprisingly, to be stinking hypocrites. Heartland was among the leaders in publicizing and promoting the use of misleading excerpts from private emails in what they and others called “Climategate”. Now they scream about “stolen” documents, backed up by lots of the usual suspects. There’s an amusing response, with which I agree entirely, from some of the scientists victimised by Heartland and its criminal allies in the past.

* There is no such thing as an honest climate sceptic. Those who reject mainstream science are either conscious frauds or gullible believers. I can confidently predict that of the thousands of “sceptics” who made great play of the CRU email hack, no more than a handful will change their views, either on the substantive issue or on the credibility of people like Carter and institutions like Heartland, over this. Those who aren’t, like Carter, on the payroll are credulous dupes. While many low-information “sceptics” have simply been misled by reading the wrong material on the Internet, or trusting the wrong sources, the great majority of active opponents of climate science are complicit in their own deception, preferring to believe obvious lies because it suits their cultural and political prejudices.

* It may be worth restating the absurdity of the claim that genuine scientists (unlike Carter) are motivated by money. Leaving aside the absurdity of the suggestion that the scientists make their career choice because they were after a highly-paid job, there’s the fact that mainstream climate science has the overwhelming endorsement of scientists in all fields. It’s certainly true that the global warming problem has meant more funding for climate science, but there’s only so much in the budget, and much of this money has come at the expense of other fields which are no longer given priority status.

CSG: Behind the seams project

Blogs have played a significant role in expanding access to public debate on all sorts of issues. But, by the nature of blogging, the contributions have tended to be spasmodic, depending on the time, interest and access to relevant information of individual bloggers. A group of us, kicked off by Mark Bahnisch and others at Larvatus Prodeo, and with hosting from Crikey, have started a project to provide information and a forum for discussion about Coal Seam Gas in the context of the Queensland election, where it’s likely to be a hot issue.

You can get more info, and donate to support the project, here

To try and avoid scatter, I’m not allowing comments on this post. Ideally, wait for the site to go up at Crikey. I’ll foreshadow, though, that I don’t support a position of blanket opposition to CSG, which is likely to be something of a minority view in this context.

The zombie economics of austerity in Australia (updated again)

Yesterday’s Fin ran a piece from Stephen Kirchner and Robert Carling of the Centre for Independent Studies, under the headline “Give austerity a chance” which was a pretty accurate summary of the contents. It’s paywalled, but you may be able to read it by clicking here. The piece relies almost exclusively on the work of Alberto Alesina and his colleagues, promoting the zombie idea of expansionary austerity. As I pointed out here, the most influential of these pieces by Alesina and Ardagna, is riddled with errors, at least as it applies to Australia.

Although Kirchner is a blogger himself, he and his co-author could be forgiven for missing my post. But Alesina’s work is probably the most-refuted piece of economic analysis put out (though never published in a peer-reviewed journal) in recent decades. It’s been demolished not only by the usual suspects like Krugman and DeLong (and me), but by the Economist, the IMF and even by one of Alesina’s own co-authors, Roberto Perotti.

Charitably assuming that Kirchner and Carling had managed to miss just about every publication on the question of austerity in the last year, could they not have spent 30 seconds with Google before hitting “Send”? A search on Alesina+austerity reveals a torrent of criticism, none of which they mention.

It is hard to know which is worse – the possibility that Kirchner and Carling, presented by the CIS as expert economists, were ignorant of all this, or the alternative hypothesis that they knew it and decided not to mention it. Either way, it’s an appalling breach of elementary standards of research.

I’m pretty sure the facts have been brought to the attention of Kirchner and Carling. The honest thing to do would be to write to the Fin pointing out that the work on which they relied was, at best, highly controversial. If Kirchner, Carling and the CIS are unwilling to do this, we can draw the conclusion that they cannot be trusted in anything they write.

Update Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy has a lengthy reply, but the sole substantive criticism is that contrary to my parenthetical remark, Alesina and Ardagna did finally publish a peer-reviewed paper in 2010. But the work that was actually influential was done back in the 1990s. I’ll republish my blog post pointing out what a shoddy job that paper in describing developments in Australia. Davidson’s piece is notable for the lack of any substantive defence of Alesina’s work, and also for this , offered in response to my observation that the research in question had been comprehensively demolished by the IMF among many others

Fancy that – cutting edge research into a highly politicised aspect of public policy is “controversial”. Does Quiggin think AFR readers are so dumb they wouldn’t realise that?

So, next time you read an opinion piece from the CIS you can safely assume the caveat lector “This research is probably discredited, the authors almost certainly know it, but, if so, they’re not going to tell you”.

No one expects opinion pieces to be “fair and balanced”, but if you are going to rely on work that has been subject to serious and credible criticism, you should at least point out the main criticisms and (if possible) say briefly why you think they don’t stand up. As an example, Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level produces some striking evidence of relationships between inequality and bad social outcomes.. This work has been subject to a lot of criticism, not fatal in my view, but enough that it needs to be mentioned. I did this when I cited the work in Zombie Economics and then at greater length here

Further update While still not disputing any of the substantive points I’ve raised, Davidson digs deeper on the question of whether the original Alesina and Ardagna work was published in a peer-reviewed journal. The work was published in Economic Papers, which does not take unsolicited submissions. Rather the editors commission pieces, or you can propose a piece to them. That is, this is, as the webpage says, a policy forum, not an academic journal. Standard practice for publications of this kind is for the editors to approve (or return for revision, or, very rarely, reject) the pieces they’ve commissioned. This isn’t peer-review in the normal sense. I’ve always assumed that Economic Papers follows the standard practice in this respect, but Davidson is welcome to check it out, if he cares enough.

As a PS, I couldn’t resist checking a 700-comment thread on the US elections. I shouldn’t link, but I will. While there is plenty of not-so-innocent amusement to be had, what struck me was that most of the commenters appear to be creationists – the handful holding up the flag for evolution are getting hammered.

Not Lake Wobegon

I haven’t been paying much attention to the Oz since it went behind the paywall, but I happened to pick up a copy of today’s paper edition, and came across a fascinating piece by Christian Kerr (who, IIRC, used to write for Crikey as “Hillary Bray”). Trying to talk up public opposition to equal marriage as a reason for Labor hesitancy to push hard on the issue, he cites a survey showing that around 25 per cent of Australians agree with the proposition homosexuality is immoral. Conscious that 25 per cent is, well, a minority, he decides to look at individual electorates.

What’s really striking is Kerr’s discovery that ‘In 80 of the 150 federal electorates, an above-average number of people support the proposition’. I did some quick math of my own, and it turns out that 80 is almost exactly half of 150. So, next time you see a sample estimate that doesn’t suit your case, be sure to check subsamples. You, too, may find that half of them are above the average.