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As an impressionable boy I thought that climate alarmists, environmental doomsdayers, anti-poverty crusaders, consumer safety crusaders and the like were working hard to make the world a better place. As a middle-aged adult, I have come to hold a slightly different view of these crusaders – that they really don’t give a damn about the things they are crusading for. I paint with a broad brush, so my apologies to those of you who consider yourselves outside the sphere of this post.

Why would I say that? Well, take a look at the entire “Climate Gate” issue. Ignoring the issues of scientific integrity – why would alarmists be disappointed to find evidence that perhaps the Earth is not getting hotter, or that man is not perhaps making things intolerably worse, or that the earth may not boil over? But they ARE disappointed. Look at the environmental doomsdayers, who can’t stop their now long-programmed rally cry – we are running out of resources, the population is too big, the water is dirty, the air is dirty, etc. Would they be warmed by this kind of evidence, and masses of evidence that the water and air are cleaner today than in the past? Heck no. Would they be warmed by the possibility that a completely clean energy source became a possibility? After all, we probably have enough natural gas in the US right now to replace dirtier fossil fuels for a very long time. And if nuclear, solar and other technologies made their breakthroughs we could have virtually unlimited amounts of power at our disposal? Of course not. In fact, there are “alternative energy” enthusiasts on record as essentially saying that the only alternative energy they approve of is human power and perhaps donkey power. Don’t believe me? Try this on for size. Many in favor of alternative energy actually do not give a hoot about it – because if we had cheap and abundant (but clean) energy, that would enable man to exert more and better control over his natural environment (even for the better) – and THAT is what the alternative energy crew despises.

If Environmentalism had anything to do with the environment, you would think folks would celebrate good news about the condition of the environment. But here is how they actually feel about things:

“On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.” (Quoted in Discover, pp. 45-48, Oct. 1989, see also American Physical Society, APS News August/September 1996). (source[2])

Even the science editor at Time Magazine has been quoted as saying, “I would freely admit that in this issue (environmentalism) we have crossed the boundary from news reporting to advocacy.”

The same is true for anti-poverty crusaders who refuse to deal with the overwhelming evidence that their most beloved programs are actually making poverty worse – rent control laws, minimum wage laws, workplace regulations, construction of public housing, public schooling. It is far easier to blame greedy capitalists for all the ills of the world than it is to look in the mirror. And the same is true for consumer safety crusaders. So what that the FDA kills over 50,000 per year because of its drug efficacy policies? So what if mandating seat belts doesn’t save lives? It is all well intentioned?

And so it goes with health care too. The reason for this post is this seemingly good and interesting finding from a couple of Rochester medical students. What is the finding? That obese people have a lower risk of sudden cardiac death as compared to non-obese people. So why I am all hot and bothered?

Read the article to find out. But you would think that such a result would at least prompt the question, “why are less obese people more at risk, and how might we help them?” But no, you would be wrong. The response seems to be, “we know fat people are unhealthy, so let’s try to figure out what is wrong with the study?” Note that good science would pursue both questions, and perhaps be a little more open minded about the latter. However, here is the real zinger for me, and the reason for this post:

When we started this study we were hoping the data would disprove the obesity paradox,ā€ said Bonnie Choy, co-lead author and a second year medical student

What? Is that science? I wonder if they tried to cook the data to get that result too! Are climate change researchers engaging in their work to disprove the skeptics, or to actually try to learn something about how the climate changes? So in health care, we are not dispassionately trying to understand cause and effect – we are hoping to find a result. But why, what is wrong with obesity? Why would it be so weird that one class of people has different health risks than another. Should we engage in research hoping to find that short people are more likely to die from some ailment?

But again, why the implicit railing on the obese? This is not the first paper I have read lately that has found evidence that being obese (at least slightly so) is not harmful to health and in fact may even be good for health outcomes. Given what we explored above regarding the other social warriors out there, I bet you can guess what I think about it. For a little hint, ask yourselves this – what would this finding, if replicated and true, say about what Heir Bloomberg is doing in New York regarding salt, trans-fats and who knows what next?

8 Responses to “Disappointed to Learn Good News?”

  1. Don says:

    “….what if mandating seat belts doesnā€™t save lives? It is all well intentioned?”

    I ceased to care about your argument when you wrote the above. You don’t even believe that wearing seat belts saves lives because it has been “mandated”. You are a prime example of what you so disdain! For you all mandates are wrong, even if they happen to be saving lives.

  2. wintercow20 says:

    Mandates are force, broadly applied. But that is not the point I want to make – because for others, applying force others is a virtue.

    But two points ought to be clear:

    (1) Caring about an argument is not really the point. What evidence would you need to “care” about it?

    (2) I am not as careless as you think – it is abundantly clear from economic evidence that mandating seatbelts has NOT saved lives at all. Sam Pelztman’s research was the first in a long line to prove it.

    Why? Because seatbelts, while making you safer conditionally on getting into an accident, are effectively lowering the price of risky and aggressive driving. When the price of something falls, you tend to see more of it (that is a law which has yet to be proven false).

    Thus, if seatbelts lower the cost of risky driving two factors are at play:

    (1) If you get in an accident, you indeed are safer
    (2) You get into more accidents.

    Whether (1) is bigger than (2) – which you are supposing is true, turns out to be an empirical question, not a matter of ideology or faith. It turns out that (2) is about the same size as (1), if not slightly larger. So on that metric alone, seat belts do NOT save lives.

    But what DO seat belts do? They still actually cause deaths. Why? Because with the increased accidents (these analyses control for all other factors which lead to more accidents, isolating the impact of seatbelts) people who are NOT in cars are more at risk. And we have found that bicyclists and pedestrians have in fact been more at risk for death and injury after the passage of seatbelt laws.

    But you will still argue with me I suspect. To which I will ask a question or two:

    (1) Would you drive more aggressively if I made your car safer?

    My guess is you would argue no. Then how would you answer the next question:

    (2) If I took away your seatbelt and your airbags and lightened your car by 1,000 pounds, would you drive a bit more cautiously?

    Most people say yes to (2) and I would suspect you would be inclined to say yes to that as well. But if that is indeed the case, then your answer to (1) has to be “yes” as well, as these are merely two ways of asking the same question.

    Further on the seatbelt idea – these things add a little bit of cost to every single car. We know the largest correlate to human safety is wealth. These seatbelts have a negative impact on wealth – which very clearly is bad for human safety. The above analyses do not account for these factors.

    And if customers valued safety, they would choose to buy cars with seatbelts and other safety features – in fact Ford was offering them well back into the 1950s. Is it not mildly curious why the legislation was passed and when? Did we ever stop to think if some company might stand to benefit from passing this law in the name of safety?

    Of course, if people truly cared about driving safety, they ought to pass a law requiring the installation of a sharp speak sticking out from the center of a steering wheel pointing at people’s hearts. But then again, I don’t believe that any of this is really about safety.

  3. wintercow20 says:

    And for the record, yes I would oppose mandates EVEN IF they saved lives. Bonus points for someone who can defend such a position without resorting to name calling.

  4. Harry says:

    Wintercow, we are free, right? That gets bonus points.

    But it’s just pork bellies, right? Does speedmaster or any of your friends want a pic of lithe Mike on the tee?

  5. Harry says:

    Wintercow, may I raise an entirely different, but presently pressing point, of interest to not only economists, but to us all?

    The Senate bill on health care exacts the medicare payroll tax on so-called “unearned” income for persons earning over $200,000 per year and for couples filing jointly over $250,000 per year. The new law provides that not only does the next dollar get taxed at 3.15%, or whatever the hell it is, but it taxes every dime of unearned income, similar to Pennsylvania’s tax system.

    I do not want to debate here whether this is fair, but rather to remark on how this will negatively affect return on investment. The effect will be to reduce the value of all capital assets, which will affect anyone who owns anything, reducing the market value of their 401-K’s, their houses, their land, and the residual value of their furniture or anything they own. This provision will affect a couple who both teach in New York public schools who make $200,000 per year, even though they think they have dodged a bullet, because their defined-benefit pension plan is going bust, and its problem will be aggravated further by another assault by government on owners of capital.

    To tie this in to government-financed education, isn’t it time to give our public school teachers a lesson where their best interests lie, which are congruent with the rest of us? Do they really want capital gains taxes to rise, real estate taxes to rise, and a 30% VAT to arise? Do they want to see their precious IRA’s and 401-K’s to drop like a lead sinker?

    Most public school teachers have been to Germany during summer vacation. Is Germany where they wish they were living?

  6. Speedmaster says:

    I think it was Milton Friedman (I could be mistaken) who claimed that if we REALLY wanted to get people to drive safer, we should mandated a large pointy, jagged piece of metal pointed out from the steering wheel, about an inch from the driver’s chest. I bet that would make people drive more cautiously. šŸ˜‰

  7. Speedmaster says:

    And if 55 saves lives, wouldn’t 45 save more? 35? …

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