Arnold Kling  

A Turning Point?

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Those of us who are opposed to the concentration of power in the hands of technocrats have had much to be depressed about over the past year. However, sometimes fortunes change. I wonder if this past week will come to be viewed as a turning point.

1. The Climate Scientist E-mails. The conclusion I draw from them is that climate skeptics face a very hostile, er, climate when trying to speak up. The climate believers would say that this hostility is deserved. But I think that the net result of the emails is to put pressure on the believers going forward to make their case using more substance and less ad hominem and bullying.

2. The breast cancer guidelines. Douglas Kamerow and Steven Woolf defend the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.


The task force recommendation on breast self-examination was very narrow. The panel evaluated studies of the benefit of teaching breast self-examination techniques. Such studies have found no mortality benefits from teaching, only increased false positives. Since 1987, the task force has not recommended such teaching. All women, of course, should monitor their breasts and notify their doctors if they find a lump.

So doing breast self-exams is fine, but teaching breast self-exams causes false positives? Even the Post seemed to be embarrassed by this op-ed, titling it "Parsing the Mammogram Guidelines."

Not surprisingly, Robin Hanson defends the new guidelines,


In case there are any doubts, yes of course the recent panel advice to reduce breast cancer testing is right, and yes this bodes ill for US med spending.

My wife is a breast cancer survivor, with a tumor that was discovered during a self-exam when she was in her forties. Even though I am a big fan of doing research on the costs and benefits of various medical protocols, and even though a thorough analysis might vindicate the findings of this death panel task force, you won't find me among the supporters of the new guidelines.

In any case, if the controversy calls into question the desirability of central planning in health care, such controversy certainly is well deserved.

3. The stimulus is looking more and more like a joke. Certainly, the reports of "jobs created or saved" are laughable.

4. Although the Insiders continue to rally around the view that Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner saved us from something that Could Have Been Much Worse™, Friday's lead headline in the Washington Post suggested that some cracks are starting to appear. The article includes mention of Congressmen from both parties who last week called for Geithner to resign and a report that


Perhaps most troubling for the administration was that one of the few measures to succeed Thursday was an amendment by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) that would subject the Federal Reserve to unprecedented scrutiny. The amendment, which won bipartisan support in the House Financial Services Committee despite the reservations of administration officials, would allow the Government Accountability Office to audit all of the Fed's operations, including its decisions on interest rates and its transactions with foreign central banks.

5. Sarah Palin's book launch drew more media attention than mine. She was irrepressible, notwithstanding David Brooks calling her a "joke." Of course, Brooks praised Timothy Geithner. It is pretty easy to predict which side of the Insider/Outsider debate Brooks will take.

The Insiders were on the defensive this week. Is it a blip, or the start of a trend?


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Prakhar Goel writes:

A blip.

The insiders are a small organized group. The outsiders are diffuse with no decision structure. Its a foregone conclusion.

Doc Merlin writes:

Its a trend. This may sound like rhetoric but free people don't need a leader. The internet has fundamentally changed the nature of communication and the social order of our world. The people behind Wikipedia and Wikieaks would call it a democratizing influence but its not, it is even better. There is no voting, no ability for majorities even large majorities to force their will on minorities. The printing press and subsequent move to democratic systems in the 18th century allowed the will of the masses to ignore the will of the privileged few, and establish control over themselves as a group. The internet takes it one step farther. It allows all of us as individuals to act independently or as groups as we wish. It will be a great liberating force for us, and an empowering tool for all the individuals against the collective and elites.

Mike Gibson writes:

Blip.

The E.U. is consolidating. Health Care redistribution and rationing is coming down the pipeline. The stimulus is a joke but unrepealable. Leviathan still grows.

Blip. Blip. Boom.

steve writes:

I agree with doc that the internet is liberating in a similiar way to the printing press. But don't forget the liberating influence of the printing press didn't result in a straight line to freedom.

If I recall my history correctly, at first the Kings were able to use the press to increase their power at the expense of the lesser nobles. I suspect the average commoner was really only intimately familiar with the oppression of the local baron or duke and at first supported increasing the power of the King.

It wasn't until after the near total state of the sun king and a horrendous currency crisis that the French revolution occured. Something similiar may be happening now. Hopefully, it won't come to that.

John Jenkins writes:

Of course "teaching" leads to more false positives, in the same way the internet creates more hypochondriacs. The teaching heightens sensitivities, so that things that are normal, non-issues (like a pimple) result in trips to the doctor.

How many more people went to the doctor for "swine flu" this year, who otherwise would have self-treated with fluids and rest, but really wanted to know whether they had swine flu because, ZOMG, it's like totally dangerous.

The internet/printing press analogy doesn't quite hold, since the press was controllable because it was a large machine, and the crown licensed them. The internet is much, much more diffuse, and the whole licensing issue is no longer present (at least in North America, Europe and parts of Asia).

The transportation costs are also nearly zero, though in some countries it remains difficult to get a connection.

stephen writes:

http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/

It not just bullying.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

RE: "I think that the net result of the emails is to put pressure on the believers going forward to make their case using more substance and less ad hominem and bullying."

Hmmm... I think you're an insider to another inside, Arnold. I've always felt that the ad hominem and shortage of evidence comes from the skeptical community. I'm sure much of this is just in the eye of the beholder. I don't think "believers" are any more ad hominem prone than "skeptics" (interesting choice of terminology... "believers").

RE: "The stimulus is looking more and more like a joke. Certainly, the reports of "jobs created or saved" are laughable."

This is only because the administration is rallying around a political number, not an economic number - and you guys are taking the bait and paying attention to the political number. Those numbers on www.recovery.gov have nothing to do with multipliers, they have nothing to do with invested crowded in (or, alternatively crowded out), and therefore they have nothing to do with economics. I think the recovery.gov numbers are valuable for one reason - they provide the exact destination of a lot of the stimulus dollars. That will be useful for econometric work in the future. But these goofy "created or saved" numbers have nothing to do with an objective analysis of fiscal stimulus - they neither vindicate it nor damn it.

Matt writes:

Another possible piece of evidence of a turning point was this week's introductory skit on Saturday Night Live. A spoof of the joint press conference between Obama and Hu Jintao, it pretty much calls BS on the stimulus package, healthcare reform, the state of the national debt, the cash for clunkers program and the bailout of Wall Street.

That SNL feel this skit is something that will resonate with the current mood amongst the public seems to me like evidence for something of a change in the prevailing national political mood.

Vangel writes:

"The conclusion I draw from them is that climate skeptics face a very hostile, er, climate when trying to speak up. The climate believers would say that this hostility is deserved. But I think that the net result of the emails is to put pressure on the believers going forward to make their case using more substance and less ad hominem and bullying."

I am sorry but there is another conclusion; the AGW thesis cannot stand a challenge, which is what all valid scientific theories are supposed to be able to do. Conspiring to pick the right peer reviewer, or to do the right amount of splicing so that a trend can be hidden is not good science. It is actually academic fraud.

None of this should be a surprise because the Wegman Commission found the paleoclimate community to be inadequately familiar with adequate statistical techniques and too isolated from the statics experts. It also found that, "there was too much reliance on peer review, which was not necessarily independent." Sadly, all of the recommendations were ignored and the fraud was allowed to continue.

When the code used to process data contains, the text, "Uses "corrected” MXD – but shouldn’t usually
; plot past 1960 because these will be artificially adjusted to look closer to
; the real temperatures," it is easy to figure out what was meant by the e-mail comment, "I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline."

The bottom line is that most of the papers used to support the AGW theory were artificial constructions created by people who did not have unimpeachable data and statistical techniques. There is no real empirical evidence that supports the notion that human emissions of CO2 are a material driver of temperature change while there is plenty of evidence to suggest the opposite; that warming ocean water causes CO2 concentrations to increase. Until the IPCC can come up with a credible and transparent process none of its reports are to be taken seriously.

wm13 writes:

With respect to Congressional attacks on the Treasury and the Fed, Mr. Kling reminds me of those Iranian liberals who demonstrated against the shah and made common cause with the supporters of Khomeini. They didn't know what real repression and illiberalism would look like. Although I think the chances of Paultard lunatics actually seizing power are slim, the idea of Congress having more influence on economic policy is pretty frightening. You don't know how bad things could be.

steve writes:

@ wm13

LOL, wow.

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