Phony “Peer Review” tries to Undermine Climate Action in North Carolina

Thu, 2008-01-17 10:50Mitchell Anderson
Mitchell Anderson's picture

Phony “Peer Review” tries to Undermine Climate Action in North Carolina

Industry friendly “think” tanks have been working up a sweat this week in North Carolina to derail bipartisan climate action.

The John Locke Foundation issued two press releases in the last week citing a “peer-review” hatchet-job by the Beacon Hill Institute – attacking a recent report by the North Carolina Climate Action Plan Advisory Group (NC-CAPAG) and an accompanying jobs analysis from Appalachian State University.

The “peer-reviews” by the Beacon Hill Institute were apparently done at the request of the John Locke Foundation.

“Peer-review” usually means an independent evaluation by a variety of academics with expertise in a given field. This self-proclaimed “peer-review” appears to instead be done entirely within the Beacon Hill Institute with no outside input.

The Executive Director of the Beacon Hill Institute, David G. Tuerck is the former director of the Center for Research and Advertising at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – one of the leading groups continuing to fight a PR war against the mountain of scientific evidence for human-induced global warming.

Well known to DeSmogBlog, the AEI sent letters to scientists last year offering a payment of US$10,000 plus travel expenses and additional payments, in return for a critique of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

Incidentally, former ExxonMobil CEO Lee R. Raymond is on AEI's board of trustees.

As always, it is instructive to follow the money.

The John Locke Foundation apparently received $126,500 from organizations with ties to the fossil-fuel industry between fiscal 2002 and 2005. The American Enterprise Institute accepted over $1.8 million from oil giant ExxonMobil since 1998.

Why would the John Locke Foundation and Beacon Hill Institute care about discrediting the NC-CAPAG?

With the Bush Administration blocking meaningful action at the federal level, many states are now taking the lead in developing climate policies. It turns out these bipartisan policies undermine the chief talking point of those opposed to action – that climate action will harm the economy.

In North Carolina, as in other many other states, climate action plans offer economic development and emission reduction - simultaneously.

North Carolina's win-win model of climate action is something that the John Locke Foundation, the Beacon Hill Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, Exxon and other fellow travelers are hell-bent on denying and distorting – at any cost.

It is the strategy they used to confound consensus climate science. Now they are deploying the same methods to confound solutions.

Previous Comments

For sake of argument, let’s just assume that John Locke Foundation, Beacon Hill and whomever else are secretly Exxon Mobil in disguise. So what? You don’t include any facts to refute their critique.

Do you have any facts or are you just going to rely on an ad hominem attack?

If you read the tag at the top of the page, it says “We’re here to clear the PR pollution that clouds the science on climate change.”

As such letting people know who funds what when they otherwise would not know, is a good thing to do.

“The John Locke Foundation apparently received $126,500 from organizations with ties to the fossil-fuel industry between fiscal 2002 and 2005. The American Enterprise Institute accepted over $1.8 million from oil giant ExxonMobil since 1998.”

Ooooh! A whole $1.8 million over ten years!

And $126,000 over three years! Maybe they even got a few free ball point pens from Exxon, as well?

But since we’re on the subject, just how much is Internet gambling mogul John Lefebvre (of the Salt Spring Island/Malibu Lefebvres) bankrolling your PR operation here for? Could it be more than $126,000?

Just to put it all in perspective, guess how much professional lobbyists Greenpeace took in between 1994 and 2005? Well, if you guessed $2,190,752,550, you guessed right.

Oh, did I mention Greenpeace and $2.2 BILLION?

Now, you were saying something about $126,000 … ?

Greenpeace take in a measely 200 million dollars a year? Do you have a cite for that?

Yesterday, I wrote a comment on your attempt to accuse me of guilt by association. Yet, it hasn’t appeared. What’s up? Are you just taking your time, or are you too embarrassed by your sloppy accusations to post what I have to say?

Because it appears now that my commments are making their way to your website, I will spell out, again, my reaction to your report on our work for the John Locke Foundation. The gist of your report, as it relates to the Beacon Hill Institute, is that we cannot be believed because I once worked for the American Enterprise Institute, which, you say, takes money from the oil companies. The asininity of that accusation may perhaps be most appreciated if you understand that it’s been more than 30 years since I worked at AEI and that my project there had absolutely no funding from the oil companies or anything to do with energy policy. Ironically, in fact, and as you may recall, the obsession those days was over global cooling, not warming. So perhaps my fault then was not doing enough to encourage fossil fuel consumption. I suppose, on the other hand, that I can be only relieved that you didn’t unearth any really damning evidence about my past. For example, you missed the fact that I have a second cousin who owns a gas station in California. And I’ve gone to a few dinner parties with people in the oil business. Missed all that, didn’t you? It would be interesting to see what you might have to say if you focused on the substance of our work rather than trying to put together this trumped-up charge of guilt by association. How’s this: If you find our work too hard to read, just get in touch with us and we’ll explain it to you.

Ironically, in fact, and as you may recall, the obsession those days was over global cooling, not warming.

Talk about asinine statements. Can you back this one up and show us how the global scientific community was obsessed with global cooling? No, you cannot because they were not.

VJ, further to your point, this link will back you up: http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/11/23/18534/222

Well, I might offer this, http://www.denisdutton.com/cooling_world.htm, as backup. Of course, I don’t know exactly who made up the “global scientifc community” in the 70s, any more than we know now who makes up that community, whatever it is. I suppose it may be defined to consist, at any moment, of every scientist who embraces the current fad.

“Global scientific community” means the scientists of the world. Even before the internet, they used to read each other’s papers, test each others’ conclusions, communicate by phone, letter, in person; meet at conventions and talk about what they were doing. There was no scientifc consensus in the 1970s that we needed to act to avert a global ice age in the next few decades.

Your link to a Newsweek article proves nothing but that some media person talked to a scientist, then wrote up their understanding of what the scientist had to say.

There are intelligent people reading this website. You are not going to get away with stupid arguments. As an economist, you should not argue the science without knowing what you are talking about. It damages your credibility.

The people at JLF and BHI are not being exactly honest when they claim to have peer-reviewed the report “North Carolina Energy Scenario Economic Impact Model”.

A quick review and you can find that they didn’t actually read the report but relied on “secondary sources”. Any ethical company (without a predetermined agenda) would have said “find someone else to do your dirty work or provide me with an actual copy of the report you want me to review”.

Unfortunately, as we all know, ethics is not one of the strong suits in the AGW denier game book.

I wonder who are included in the list of “secondary sources”, I bet they are all on the usual list of suspects.

Ian Forrester

I hope David G. Tuerck will answer you.

I am a senior economist with the Beacon Hill Institute and contributed to these studies. Some factual points in response to Ian:

There are two peer reviews. The review of the so called cost benefit study (NC-CAPAG report) was based entirely off of the original document. The report suffered from 3 fatel errors, it failed to estimate a dollar value for greenhouse gas reductions (thus it is not actually a cost benefit study), it confused costs for benefits, and had wildly unrealistic (and inconsistent) estimates of costs. It is a useless guide for policy makers. This peer review was based on the original document.

2) The other peer review was of the North Carolina Energy Scenario Economic Impact Model. This one was based on secondary sources BECAUSE THE RESEARCHERS REFUSE TO MAKE THEIR MODEL AVAILABLE FOR PEER REVIEW! We asked the researchers to make their model available, here’s the exact response we got:

Dr. Grady asked me to respond to your inquiry about modeling the economic impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation policies. We utilize an input-output model based on data sets derived from a piece of software called IMPLAN ( www.implan.com). We quantify the various economic stimuli associated with a policy and then run these through multipliers derived from the IMPLAN data. Unfortunately the model is based on proprietary data and calculations that we are not authorized to release so we can’t share a copy. However, a substantial literature exists related to these types of models that might serve some of your needs. See for example the work of Skip Laitner at the American Council for and Energy Efficient Economy. I also know the Regulatory Assistance Project in VT examined energy efficiency policies in New England using IMPLAN. Otherwise you might see if there are resources/faculty on your campus familiar with IMPLAN or similar software.

Best of luck and let me know how things progress.

David Ponder

We understand the Locke Foundation has also unsuccessfully attempted to obtain the original model and spreadsheets. If there is anything ethically suspicious going on here it’s when a group conducts a forcasting study to inform public policy and then refuses to share the precise way they calculated their numbers with the public or peer groups who are reviewing their work. Apparently we are all supposed to take their forcasts as fact without the ability to question them. That is not science or responsible citizenship.
So we were forced to review their model using secondary sources related to how they build their model combined with what we do know about it.

Ian - you need to get your facts straight before you throw out ethical accusations.

Note, our work has taken no position on global warming one way or another. We are economists, not climate scientists. We stayed within our disciplinary area of expertise. The studies we peer reviewed claimed to model the economic impacts of carbon reduction. We find their estimates to be unreliable and in fact very irresponsilby estimated. Regardless of your position on climate change a responsible citizen should want these policy choices based on correct information. So unless you can point out where our peer review is wrong, merely ignoring and slandering it because it points out that carbon reductions won’t be “economically costless” doesn’t strike me as reasoned discourse. It strikes me as commentary from ideological zealots who wish to blindly pursue a single agenda with no regard for truth or informed decision making. Perhaps that is all than can be expected from a weblog but if so that’s a sad commentary on today’s society.

Seems to me that there is a vast difference in the ethical standards of economists and scientists. No scientists worthy of the name would claim to “peer review” a report he had not read. It seems to me that there are too many economists involved in trying to put their spin on AGW.

Ian Forrester

Ian,
An apology would have sufficed. I’m tired of your baseless slander. Read the report. We disclose up front exactly what we read and what the review is based on. The same things we find problems with are in the model that is peer reviewed. Here are the flaws we found:


The model is so flawed that its results are not credible. There are four serious problems – apart from the lack of documentation and public access to the model – which are listed here and discussed in further detail below.
1. The use of a multiplier analysis is not appropriate in a full-employment context.
2. The model does not allow the changing price of electricity to affect production or determine the price of Gross State Product (GSP), with the ultimately nonsensical result that GSP is projected to rise when electricity is produced inefficiently, and to fall when electricity is produced with higher efficiency.
3. The assertions about what determines investment – the key driver of this input-output model – are too optimistic.
4. The assumptions about the evolution of energy costs over time are implausible.

Problems (1). and (2) could be remedied with the use of a computable general equilibrium model (as noted by Rose and Wei, p.5), while the issues raised in (3) and (4) could be addressed on the basis of a wider review of the available literature.

Which of those four flaws do not apply to the model in question? If the answer is that they all apply then we have identified what is wrong with the model used in North Carolina.
Is your blabbering intended to distract from the analysis? Tell me which of the 4 above do not apply to the North Carolina model. Otherwise you are just creating a distraction from reasoned discourse. If all 4 apply then the question is do they discredit the results generated by the model. We clearly think they fately discredit the models conclusions. If you disagree, that is where reasoned discourse would begin.
Before you spout off about ethics in physical science or economics you should learn what scholarly discourse is.

Benjamin, why should Ian apologize? He said nothing worth feeling sorry about.

So, the studies were peer-reviewed in the field of economics and not in terms of climate or environmental science. That means that, OK, maybe the economics are sound (though I would have thought the Stern Review would have been a more encompassing report), but the climatology or environmental science has not been tested.

Until the climatology or environmental aspects of the report are tested and have passed the scientific (and not just economic) peer-review test, this report should not be given any credibility or attention, as there are significant scientific references in it.

I apologize on behalf of the Beacon Hill Institute to all the honest people who have been taken in by their unethical report writing techniques.

People with your ethics disgust me, there are names for people who behave as you do.

Ian Forrester

Always nice to have another lecture on ethics. But here’s I would expect of an ethical scientist: that, upon encountering unsubstantiated, half-baked ideas about some important issue, he would speak out and expose those ideas for what they are. What is unethical, I think,is to remain silent in the face of junk science that people start to take seriously. Even more unethical is to defend junk science in the face of the fact that it is has been debunked and should be believed by no one. Why don’t you climate change guys just stick to what you know, or think you know, and leave the economics to the economists?

I think this shows exactly where the Beacon Hill Institute is coming from. They know nothing about climate science but are willing to say that climate science is only “half baked ideas.”

You should have the following watermarked on all pages of your reports “We won’t let the facts interfere with your bottom line” because that is exactly how you appear to anyone who is being honest about climate science.

Ian Forrester

David Tuerck, you do not demonstrate any knowledge of science, therefore how can you judge what is and is not junk science?

Seems to me that the main problem here is “junk economics.”

Ian,
I note you have chosen not to articulate which of the 4 flaws do not apply to the model. I ask you again, which doesn’t apply?
Judging from your posts and ad hominem attacks it seems that you have decided that any policy to curb GHG emmissions is good, any argument against a policy is bad. Are you even interested in whether a particular argument is correct or not? I guess not. Our reports and my posts have not said whether Global warming is good or bad, whether NC’s policies will impact warming, or anything of the sort. I’ve said, and our reviews document, that invoking the economic arguments that the NC group invokes are bogus. That’s all. You’ve said nothing to refute this. Nor has anyone here. This blog seems more like a choir of religous zealots who attack anything that does not support their favored policy. Not all arguments in favor of any position are good. Why the BS and ad hominems instead of actually dealing with what our report says?
This is my last post to this blog. I have articles publish and refuse to waste anymore time with wackos on an internet weblog. I fear that by responding to you (plural) at all we have only raised your delusional sense of self importance on your non scientific home website.

If there is an objective party reading this weblog please check out our actual peer reviews here:

http://johnlocke.org/site-docs/research/Peer2/index.html
and here:
http://johnlocke.org/site-docs/research/Peer1/index.html

and judge for yourself. As far as I can tell there is no one on this website who has said a single substantive critizism of either of them. Nor do they intend to.

The rest of you can have fun writing notes to each other and feeling important. Try not to blow too much hot air. Our climate is at stake.

The John Locke report takes issue with the creation of 23,500 new jobs in North Carolina which (good for them) is currently blessed with a low unemployment rate.
Unless I’m reading this very wrong, the John Locke people seem to think the only way these new positions will be filled is by stealing someone from another job.
Is there a barrier of some sort preventing people from other states applying for employment in North Carolina?

Tom, it is no wonder that the John Locke Foundation and Beacon Hill Institute reports take issue with job creating projects since they think that jobs are “an inconvenience”. Check out this link:

http://www.capewind.org/article123.htm

Here is a quote from one of their reports: ‘In the case of Cape Wind creating jobs BHI didn’t count that as a benefit because “…jobs are a cost not a benefit. Jobs are a cost because people have to be paid for the inconvenience, exertion and discipline that they demand”’.

For full disclosure, I did not read the actual report but relied on “secondary sources”.

It seems as if BHI really has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with reasons to deny support for the projects which they choose (or are paid) to report on.

Ian Forrester

Ian, if you get a chance, perhaps you should read the BHI report on the Cape Wind Project…
http://www.beaconhill.org/BHIStudies/Windmills2004/ CapeWindEconAnalysis31604.pdf
…it has some real zingers in it and I’ve only managed to get to page 12 of a 34 page report. I’ll finish it tonight after I deal with my “inconvenient” job…
But here’s a quote from page 12:
“Although emissions from fossil fuel use are likely to continue falling as technology advances, we assume no such further improvements here. If anything, this leads to an overstatement of the emissions reductions that we attribute to the Cape Wind Project.”
Gee, I always thought windmills were ZERO emission…

You might wonder how I have the ___ to submit a comment at all. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth mentioning that I have great doubts about the economic modeling for cost-benefit analyses relevant to AGW discussions, regardless of the outcome. I have felt this way since the late 90’s. The atmospheric scientists at the time had physical models and powerful computer simulations yielding quantitative predictions of global temperature change. They thought that, in terms of welfare, that temperature increase implied a significant cost. The ecological models describing those costs were not very sophisticated (and I think they still have a long way to go). Think tanks and media outlets (Fraser Institute and Edmonton Sun, to name two to which I was exposed) claimed that doing something about AGW would “ruin the economy”. Those claims were based on nothing; there were no models to criticize. It seemed to me that it was unfair that the work of some was being dismissed by people whose own projections were even more fragile. It seems to me that this pattern is unchanged in the last decade.

Steve L, your comment (unlike many posted on this blog) deserves a serious response. It may well be true that the planet is growing warmer. It may also be true that expanding economic activity is contributing significantly to this state of affairs. I’m sure that, if the planet is growing warmer, there will be negative (and maybe some positive) consequences for the planet. The problem is what to recommend in terms of a policy response. Let me state most emphatically that I am not aware of any proposed policy responses that might ruin the economy, at least none that have a chance of going anywhere politically. Not yet anyway (though I’m sure that there are some tree-huggers who secretly want to return us all to 18th century living standards.) So no responsible modeler would make any such claim. Also, I understand the frustration of people, particularly scientists, who see great harm unfolding and who can’t figure out a way to stop it. The problem for them (and hence for the rest of us) is that a genuine solution would require cooperation between industrial countries that can’t be made to cooperate on anything. Maybe there won’t be any cooperation until melting ice caps (if that happens) simply make it happen. I personally don’t have a clue whether the globe is warming or not, whether ice caps will met or not or whether economic activity has anything to do with any of this. But I do know something about frustration (as in commenting on the more idiotic comments that have appeared on this site). So what happens is that the anti-global-warming crowd, in their frustration, start making unsupportable and unsupported claims about the benefits of anti-global-warming legislation. And that’s where we step in. It’s one thing to pitch a solution that has a real chance of making things better and that promises real benefits. It’s another thing to trump up phony claims about job creation and the like in order to sell such legislation to gullible politicians who want to feel good but who don’t have a single reason to believe that their efforts, taken alone, will make a difference. If you want to pitch a solution that will bring the U.S., India, China,Russia and the other major economies together to effect a solution that does make a difference and if you want us to sort out the economic costs and benefits, then please let us know. We’d love to take on that job with every thought to getting the right answer. But please also don’t ally yourself with critics of our work who, in their frustration, attack our ethics and vent their disgust, without a clue of their own about our methods or intentions.

Tuerck said: “But please also don’t ally yourself with critics of our work who, in their frustration, attack our ethics and vent their disgust, without a clue of their own about our methods or intentions”.

After a quick search of the internet and reading your comments here we know exactly what your intents are. They are two fold: firstly you will say anything, no matter how “half baked” it seems, to support whoever gives you money; secondly, you will do your best to challenge the science behind AGW.

Ian Forrester

Well, Ian, thanks for that. Now we know that your entire position regarding our work rests on what you see as our motives. Never a word of substance from you, since quite clearly you have nothing substantive to say. Also, it appears that you can’t read. I write that I have no opinion on whether global warming is occurring or not and you cast me as anti-anti-global warming. As for the science behind anti-global warming, you are claiming to espouse a science-based political agenda. Probably you want any non-scientist who doesn’t embrace this agenda to just shut up. Well, we’re not shutting up. I recall other such agendas from the past. For example, the science-based agenda advocating eugenics that was popular some years ago. Fortunately, the dissidents didn’t shut up then, and we’re not shutting up now. So you go on your next rant now, but you’ll be hearing no more from me. I have other anti-climate-change reports to debunk.

Never mind any policy based on the science, you cannot even bring yourself to acknowledge the increasing scientific evidence that shows anthropogenic global warming is indeed occurring and costing us money right now. How can you advocate any useful economic policy when you cannot recognize or admit what is really happening in the environment? Economical studies are no good unless they are first grounded in reality.

David, there’s no need to bring up the whole eugenics thing again. You’ll lose any credibility you might have had bringing up the Nazi subject.

As for your criticism of Ian, he is on the right side of the science. He, like I, subscribe to the consensus view (i.e. the IPCC view), that the planet is warming and it is primarily the result of human activities which emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contribute to deforestation, and by other means. The peer-reviewed literature corroborates this, as few, if any, studies which have passed the peer-review test refute or attempt to refute the IPCC’s conclusions. Also, this “peer-review” to which I refer is a climate science peer-review test (and not an economic peer-review test), meaning that the reports published in the scientific journals are not burdened by flaws.

You have left no doubt about what your views are. I hope that people reading about you will be able to make more informed decisions regarding your “peer reviewed” reports

Ian Forrester

Steve, these people write about various aspects of the economics of climate change, among other topics: http://www.progressive-economics.ca/category/climate-change/

I have to admit I stumbled onto this page through Google. It’s an interesting debate. Evidently Scientists aren’t very good Economists, but it doesn’t matter because Scientists cannot be questioned!!

It’s not surprising all the economic data the Scientists used is garbage. It’s not their field of expertise. Isn’t this the same argument used against Bjorn Lomborg when he dabbles in science? How come it’s a bad thing when Lomborg does it, but it’s perfectly okay when it is the other way around?

Let’s face it… blaming “evil energy” companies every time there’s dissent is a tired argument. How can anyone be surprised that skeptical scientists aren’t researching this topic? No one is funding that type of research, and every scientist that comes out against the theory is labeled a heretic. It’s not a good research environment.

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