A Hot Topic (Cont.)

Other shoes continue to drop in the ongoing story about the activities of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which is regularly cited as one of the world’s leading proponents of the global warming hypothesis.  I’ve previously noted the curious e-mails obtained as a result of a criminal computer hacking episode.  Now the CRU has admitted that much of the raw data that it accumulated, and that formed the basis for its global warming findings, have been discarded, purportedly due to lack of storage space.   The linked article reports that a statement on the CRU’s website states that, while the raw data has been discarded, the CRU has retained what it calls its “value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

This decision seems extraordinarily unscientific to me.  One of the hallmarks of the scientific method, as I understand it, is to collect data based on tests, experiments, or other procedures, publish the data, and then let scientists elsewhere see whether they can recreate those results by following the identified procedures.  If other scientists can’t recreate the results reportedly obtained by a claimed procedure to achieve “cold fusion,” for example, they can legitimately question the legitimacy of the underlying study that claimed those results.  By discarding the raw data and keeping only data that has been modified in some way — whatever “quality controlled and homogenised” might mean — the CRU scientists have made it impossible to verify, or disprove, their claims.  If storage space was really that scarce, why would you discard the original data rather than the modified data?

I think scientists generally have credibility with the public not just because they are viewed as smarter than the average citizens, but also because they are viewed as neutral, objective observers who are engaged in an abstract quest for truth.   The CRU episode shows just how far that perception is from the reality of modern science — at least as it is practiced by some “scientists.”  When scientists discard raw data, refuse to share other data, and attempt to quash dissenting views, they are not acting as scientists but as proponents of a particular position.  They don’t deserve the credibility that we normally assign to scientific views — and others are coming to that same conclusion.

I hope that our government at least recognizes that this incident raises fundamental credibility issues that cannot be ignored.  Before we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to reshape our economy and our energy infrastructure in an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are the supposed cause of climate change under the global warming hypothesis, which should at least insist that the scientific basis for that decision be the product of true science — where data is openly and completely published, opposing views are fully and fairly heard, and hypotheses are tested and verified.  Until that happens, we are building our policies on faith, not science.

Cash For Christmas?

A relatively new book, entitled Scroogenomics:Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, argues that holiday shopping is wealth destroying because we end up buying presents people don’t want.  The author, Joel Waldfogel, is an economist who makes a classic economics argument — that resources are most wisely allocated by people who make decisions for themselves, in view of their specific needs.  He argues that the farther you get from people you really know — spouses and immediate family — and into the realm of nieces, nephews, co-workers, and the like, the more likely you are to buy something ill-considered that is left unused.  Gift cards aren’t the most efficient response to this problem, either, because about 10 percent of gift cards never get redeemed.  An interview with the author is here.

Let’s face it, though — the Seinfeld episode hit the nail on the head.  Giving cash for Christmas, or for a birthday, is widely viewed as a cold, thoughtless, last-minute gift.  This perception seems a bit unfair to me.  I can honestly say that every time I’ve received a check for a birthday or a holiday I have used the money with grateful appreciation.  I can’t say the same for the tangible gifts I’ve received — and I know that, over the years, I’ve picked out many real clunkers for friends and loved ones, too.

The only drawback to giving cash, in my view, is a non-economic one.  I feel good when I think about what Kish and the boys might want for Christmas and then actually buy presents for them.  I don’t get that feeling by writing a check.  But maybe I can get that feeling by limiting my feel-good, but otherwise wealth-destroying, purchases to a few carefully considered stocking stuffers.