Friday, July 14, 2006

 

The Wall Street Journal editorial: Hockey Stick Hokum

July 14, 2006; Page A12

It is routine these days to read in newspapers or hear -- almost anywhere the subject of climate change comes up -- that the 1990s were the "warmest decade in a millennium" and that 1998 was the warmest year in the last 1,000.

This assertion has become so accepted that it is often recited without qualification, and even without giving a source for the "fact." But a report soon to be released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee by three independent statisticians underlines yet again just how shaky this "consensus" view is, and how recent its vintage.

The claim originates from a 1999 paper by paleoclimatologist Michael Mann. Prior to Mr. Mann's work, the accepted view, as embodied in the U.N.'s 1990 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was that the world had undergone a warming period in the Middle Ages, followed by a mid-millennium cold spell and a subsequent warming period -- the current one. That consensus, as shown in the first of the two IPCC-provided graphs nearby, held that the Medieval warm period was considerably warmer than the present day.

Mr. Mann's 1999 paper eliminated the Medieval warm period from the history books, with the result being the bottom graph you see here. It's a man-made global-warming evangelist's dream, with a nice, steady temperature oscillation that persists for centuries followed by a dramatic climb over the past century. In 2001, the IPCC replaced the first graph with the second in its third report on climate change, and since then it has cropped up all over the place. Al Gore uses it in his movie.


The trouble is that there's no reason to believe that Mr. Mann, or his "hockey stick" graph of global temperature changes, is right. Questions were raised about Mr. Mann's paper almost as soon as it was published. In 2003, two Canadians, Ross McKitrick and Steven McIntyre, published an article in a peer-reviewed journal showing that Mr. Mann's methodology could produce hockey sticks from even random, trendless data.

The report commissioned by the House Energy Committee, due to be released today, backs up and reinforces that conclusion. The three researchers -- Edward J. Wegman of George Mason University, David W. Scott of Rice University and Yasmin H. Said of Johns Hopkins University -- are not climatologists; they're statisticians. Their task was to look at Mr. Mann's methods from a statistical perspective and assess their validity. Their conclusion is that Mr. Mann's papers are plagued by basic statistical errors that call his conclusions into doubt. Further, Professor Wegman's report upholds the finding of Messrs. McIntyre and McKitrick that Mr. Mann's methodology is biased toward producing "hockey stick" shaped graphs.

Mr. Wegman and his co-authors are careful to point out that doubts about temperatures in the early part of the millennium do not call into question more-recent temperature increases. But as you can see looking at these two charts, it's all about context. In the first, the present falls easily within a range of natural historical variation. The bottom chart looks alarming and discontinuous with the past, which is why global-warming alarmists have adopted it so eagerly.

In addition to debunking the hockey stick, Mr. Wegman goes a step further in his report, attempting to answer why Mr. Mann's mistakes were not exposed by his fellow climatologists. Instead, it fell to two outsiders, Messrs. McIntyre and McKitrick, to uncover the errors.

Mr. Wegman brings to bear a technique called social-network analysis to examine the community of climate researchers. His conclusion is that the coterie of most frequently published climatologists is so insular and close-knit that no effective independent review of the work of Mr. Mann is likely. "As analyzed in our social network," Mr. Wegman writes, "there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis." He continues: "However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility."

In other words, climate research often more closely resembles a mutual-admiration society than a competitive and open-minded search for scientific knowledge. And Mr. Wegman's social-network graphs suggest that Mr. Mann himself -- and his hockey stick -- is at the center of that network.

Mr. Wegman's report was initially requested by the House Energy Committee because some lawmakers were concerned that major decisions about our economy could be made on the basis of the dubious research embodied in the hockey stick. Some of the more partisan scientists and journalists howled that this was an attempt at intimidation. But as Mr. Wegman's paper shows, Congress was right to worry; his conclusions make "consensus" look more like group-think. And the dismissive reaction of the climate-research establishment to the McIntyre-McKitrick critique of the hockey stick confirms that impression.
 

Not Every Malpractice Claim Requires a Lawsuit, Congress Told

Barton: ‘System Obsessed with Blame’

WASHINGTON – Medical lawsuits sap time, money and efficiency from the health care system and the court-based medical liability process often fails to produce fair and consistent results for injured patients, experts told Congress on Thursday.

“The status quo fails to deliver,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, during a Health Subcommittee hearing on innovative medical liability solutions. “Patients must often endure years of long, drawn-out litigation before receiving compensation for their injuries. When compensation finally arrives, lawyers’ fees and expert witness fees often take the lion’s share of the award.”

The House has tried for several years to cap lawsuits, but the legislation dies in the Senate. Experts said there are other ways to reform the medical liability system while ensuring that injured patients still have options for fair compensation.

Some witnesses proposed a “health court” that would rely on judgments from neutral medical experts, instead of dueling expert witnesses that are common in liability trials. Another proposal encourages parties to settle malpractice claims before they go to trial.

Lawsuits often produce skewed results for patients, said Dr. Michelle Mello, Harvard University associate professor of health policy and law. Only 5 percent of patients injured in the hospital ever file liability claims, and of those that do, fewer than half receive compensation, she said.

“There is no denying the fact there is a medical liability crisis in this country,” said U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., Health Subcommittee chairman. “I do not need to repeat the staggering statistics about the astronomical rates of increase in the cost of medical liability insurance over the past few years or talk about the tens of billions of dollars wasted each year due to frivolous lawsuits and doctors forced to practice defensive medicine in order for us all to recognize that we have a legitimate crisis on our hands that must be addressed as soon as possible.”

Some worried that patients would lose the right to a jury trial. But Mello said studies showed that juries are reluctant to award compensation to patients. Fewer than one in four cases that go to a jury result in awards for the patient, while 61 percent of cases resolved out of court include compensation for the patient, she said.

Under a health court, judges trained on medical topics would rely on neutral experts to decide medical liability claims, witnesses said. The health court would include an appeal system that includes review by the standard court system, Mello said. Witnesses also said a health court would be similar to the system used to resolve workers compensation claims, which also bypasses juries.

The American Bar Association didn’t support the concept of health courts, instead favoring expanded use of dispute resolution and arbitration methods already used by courts, said Cheryl Niro, an incoming member of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Medical Professional Liability.

Health courts would add another level of bureaucracy to the court system, she said, while dispute resolution panels are already part of a court system with a simple, direct appeal process. Also, Niro said a health court couldn’t function like the workers compensation system because injured workers don’t have to prove fault, while injured patients still would.

A health court should also rely on a standard of “avoidability,” which is broader than the current standard of “negligence,” said Paul Barringer, general counsel for Common Good. Under this standard, only injuries that could have been avoided are eligible for compensation. More injured patients would receive compensation under this system, he said, while there is less emphasis on placing blame on individual health care providers. Witnesses said studies showed most medical errors are caused by flaws in the health care system, not through “bad apple” doctors.

“The current liability system is obsessed with finding somebody to blame,” Barton noted. “The one holding the scalpel or the last one to touch the patient when things went wrong is the automatic target. It seems to me that we are missing the real problem and that we are not any safer for it.”

University of Virginia Law Professor Jeffrey O’Connell touted the “early offer” proposal, which will let doctors offer to compensate injured patients before the case is taken to court.

Under this system, doctors accused of malpractice could offer to pay the patient economic and other damages. If the patient refuses the offer, they still have a right to take the doctor to court, O’Connell said, however, the case must then be proved under the stricter “gross negligence” standard.

“The present system protects everybody but those who need it,” O’Connell said. Those without health insurance who sue are essentially handed a “lottery ticket,” with a one-in-four chance of collecting, and not until six years later, he said.

One witness said that in many cases, a simple apology and explanation could avoid many hours of litigation. Often after injury, doctors and hospital administrators won’t talk with the patient for fear of that conversation being used against them in court. Margaret VanAmringe, vice president of public policy and government relations for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, said that “there is evidence that years of expensive and painful litigation ensued, when many families and patients are only looking for empathy and seeking answers.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

 

Committee OKs CFIUS Reform Bill On Bipartisan Voice Vote

WASHINGTON - Legislation to repair the sputtering process by which government officials review the national security aspects of major foreign investments was approved with broad bipartisan support in the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday.

The action follows proposals by China to buy an American oil company and from a Dubai firm to own and operate major ports in the U.S. Critics called the proposals threats to American security, and both ideas collapsed under the weight of public scrutiny.

"I want more foreign investment in America, not less, but I do not want the kind that would threaten our national security," Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, said.

He pointed out that the organization of department heads which permits or rejects certain investment proposals - the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS - "used to be nearly anonymous."

H.R. 5337, which was authored by U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., amends the Defense Production Act of 1950 to provide new criteria and processes for CFIUS to evaluate proposed transactions involving foreign investment in U.S. corporations.

Committee lawmakers approved by voice vote an amendment that eliminated the CFIUS vice-chair position, which H.R. 5337 would have created. The amendment also would designate the secretary of commerce as the CFIUS chair. Members of both parties were concerned about the Homeland Security secretary becoming the permanent vice-chair.

"It is not clear to me why the newest member of the CFIUS process is better suited to evaluate the nature of these transactions than an agency, such as Commerce, that has been involved since the beginning," said Barton.

CFIUS attracted recent attention with its approval of the Dubai Ports World purchase of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. Under the sale, DP World took over a U.S. subsidiary with operations at ports including New York, Miami and New Orleans. After lawmakers opposed DP World running American port terminals, the company announced plans to sell its U.S. operations.

And last July, a bid for Unocal by CNOOC, in which the Chinese government has a 70 percent stake, led the House and Senate conference committee on the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to require a 120-day study on the U.S. security implications of a purchase by a Chinese company before CFUIS could begin its formal review.

At Tuesday's hearing, the four witnesses were all supportive of H.R. 5337, saying that it improved transparency and congressional oversight over CFIUS, though some had further recommendations for the bill.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin with the Council on Foreign Relations echoed the concern about the newly minted vice-chair position.

"H.R. 5337 also designates Homeland Security to be the vice-chair of CFIUS, which raises the larger issue of the role of homeland security in national security reviews. A danger is setting a standard for national security that is either overly broad or indistinct," Holtz-Eakin said. "I believe that homeland security should be seen as an integral part of the traditional focus on national security and not as a separate, new or elevated consideration. From this perspective, the Department of Homeland Security has operational roles that contribute to national security."

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. agreed at the hearing that it was time to update the law regarding CFIUS. "We in Congress need to carefully balance the need for proper security actions with legitimate need for foreign investment in the United States," Rogers said. "The world has changed. We need CFIUS to change with it."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

 

Barton: Congress Must Strike Right Balance In Keeping Children Safe on the Internet

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, made the following statement today during the Telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee hearing entitled "H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006."

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to extend a personal welcome to my good friend, personal friend of long standing, the attorney general of Texas, Greg Abbott. Glad to have you here, General. We appreciate you being willing to testify on this small panel of seven other people. We appreciate your humility and we certainly appreciate your service to the state of Texas and with extension, some of the things you're doing for the citizens of our entire country.

"We're here today to have a legislative hearing on H.R. 5319, the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006. It has been authored by Congressman Fitzpatrick who is also with us here on the dais. I'd like to welcome some of our witnesses who have testified before Mr. Whitfield's subcommittee, who has been holding a series of hearings on this problem. We have Mr. Chris Kelly from Facebook and we have Ms. Parry Aftab from WebSafety.org. They've already participated in Mr. Whitfield's hearings and we are glad to have you hear for the legislative hearing. We were not able to get a representative of MySpace to testify at today's hearing, which I think is unfortunate.

"The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has been holding a series of hearings to investigate the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet. These hearings have focused on the growing Internet child pornography trade and the tools that sexual predators use to victimize our children. We've also tried to determine what, if anything, is being done, or can be done, to find, prosecute and convict the child predators in our society. The oversight subcommittee has heard from the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, law enforcement agencies, children that have been subjected to sexual abuse. We've also heard from victims advocates and some of the Internet Service Providers.

"H.R. 5319 would target children's use of social networking Web sites and chat rooms in schools and libraries. As participation in these Internet 'social communities' rises to record numbers, so do news reports of a multitude of potential dangers that they pose.

"There is no question that the Internet does and will continue to provide innovative benefits to society. However, we must take steps now to protect our children. This is a priority of this subcommittee and also the full committee and I might add it's a priority on both sides of the aisle. Mr. Dingell shares this concern just as much as I do. We need to prevent predators from using the Internet, and social networking sites in particular, to prey on our children.

"I think our witnesses today are going to give us a better understand the social networking phenomenon and the benefits and the problems it creates. If we can understand this, it will enable us to strike the right balance regarding the appropriate role for the federal government and federal legislation play in helping our educators keep our children safe on the Internet.

"It would seem to me that H.R. 5319 is a step in the right direction. Schools and libraries that receive universal service subsidies have an obligation to ensure that their subsidized communications services do not become a hunting ground for pedophiles. If social networking sites are not taking the necessary precautions to prevent the exploitation of children, then, at the very least, Congress should prohibit the use of federally mandated funds to access Internet sites that put children in harm's way.

"Again, I want to thank Attorney General Abbott for being here. I thank the other witnesses for being here and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling this hearing."

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