Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Panic: 'Child cancer "link to pollution"', says BBC News today, reporting new research that suggests that women exposed to air pollution during pregnancy are more likely to have children that develop cancer in childhood. Professor George Knox of Birmingham University compared data on child cancer deaths between 1966 and 1980 with pollution records from 2001, and found that women living within one kilometre of a pollution source were between two and four times more likely to have children with cancer.

Don't panic: The immediate problem with this study is that the cancer data is at least 20 years older than the pollution data. Many older pollution sources will have disappeared or been diminished, as a result of changing regulations and the decline of UK manufacturing.

But even if the two sets of data referred to the same time period, this would still not provide an accurate measure of the exposure of women to these pollutants. Even when a pollution source is close by, the place someone lives does not necessarily best reflect their exposure. Surely some account would need to be taken of where they worked, too? Different weather conditions and housing might also have an effect.

In any event, international comparisons of childhood cancers suggest that environmental hazards are unlikely to be to blame. Dr Anthony Michalski from the Institute of Child Health told the BBC: 'The rates of most paediatric tumours are relatively similar in industrialised and non-industrialised countries and that would not be expected if this hypothesis was correct.'

Even Knox accepts that this research should not be of much concern to the general public. 'The risk of a random child having a cancer is about one in 1000. In the hotspots it is two to four in 1000 so it's still a low risk.' Yet, on the basis of this study, he believes that there should be a substantial shift in research into the causes of childhood cancer. The real problem is the publicity given to studies such as this, which tell us little about the true causes of childhood cancer, and can only serve to alarm parents.



Excerpts from an article by David Henderson, formerly (among other things) Head of the Economics and Statistics Department of the OECD

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a joint subsidiary of two international agencies, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It was created by the member governments of these two agencies in 1988. Since then it has produced three full-scale Assessment Reports, issued respectively in 1990, 1995 and 2001. Work is now in progress on the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which is due in 2007.

The Panel operates through three Working Groups. WGI is concerned with scientific aspects of climate change, WGII with the prospective impacts of such change and ways of adapting to it, and WGIII with mitigation of the impacts. Each of the Groups produced its own report as part of the Third Assessment Report. Alongside them was the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), prepared for WGIII, which provided in particular a range of projections of greenhouse gas emissions, covering the period from 1990 to 2100....

Over the past two and a half years or so, I and a co-author---Ian Castles, formerly Head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics---have put forward a joint critique of economic aspects of the work of the IPCC. While our main single target has been the SRES, our concerns extend to the IPCC process and milieu as a whole, including the Panel's sponsoring departments and agencies. Moreover, we have gone beyond criticism, by putting forward proposals for action. The main heads of our critique of the SRES can be summarised as follows:

* For the base year of 1990 it compares real GDP across countries on the basis of market exchange rates (MERs), rather than purchasing power parity (PPP) converters. These comparisons greatly overstate the differences in GDP per head between developing regions and OECD member countries.

* It gives a misleading account of the factors that bear on the choice between MERs and PPPs, and of the implications of such a choice.

* It builds in, for reasons that are open to question, rapid convergence in GDP per head between developing regions and OECD member countries. By thus assuming the substantial closure of a greatly overstated initial gap, it arrives at projections of output and GDP per head for developing regions which are higher than they would have been if the 1990 starting point had been correct, and high by comparison with other projections

* As a result, total projected world GDP is pushed up; and this in turn is reflected in higher projected emissions. Hence even the scenarios which show the lowest cumulative emissions over the present century do not in fact represent lower limits. The SRES projections do not, as is claimed for them, adequately encompass the full range of uncertainties about the future.

Our critique thus covers not only the results of the exercise, in the form of specific projections of emissions, but also the approach, the analytical basis of parts of the Report.

Our arguments have been strongly contested by authors who were involved with the SRES. Interested readers are referred to a series of articles that has appeared in recent issues of the journal Energy and Environment: the first four of these---two on each side---comprise the exchanges between us and the SRES authors, and three further articles have since appeared. Those who would prefer to invest considerably less time can be recommended, first, to two articles from the Economics Focus page of The Economist (15 February and 8 November, 2003), which weigh in on our side, and second, to an official press release issued by the IPCC in December 2003 and now posted, in a somewhat less impolite form than the original version, on the Panel's website. This latter document is concerned to expose our critique as baseless. Among other things, it states that 'In recent months some disinformation has been spread questioning the scenarios used by the IPCC'; and it refers to Castles and me as 'so called "two independent commentators"'. Along with our critique, our suggestions for change have been rejected by the Panel. The main proposals that we have made are three:

* That the SRES, because it is open to serious criticisms, should not be taken as the basis and starting point of AR4: an alternative and firmer basis should be sought, through less elaborate and more short-cut procedures than those of the SRES.

* That in assessing possible future developments in the world economy, and ways of projecting them, the involvement of economic historians and historically-minded economists should now be ensured---for the first time.

* That more generally, and going well beyond scenario-building, the IPCC process should be broadened, in particular through the active involvement, first, of national statistical offices in member countries, and second, of ministries of finance and economics.

As to the first of the above suggestions, the IPCC has determined that 'the SRES scenarios provide a credible and sound set of projections, appropriate for use in the AR4'. As to the other two, the Panel and its member governments appear as fully content with the present established procedures and arrangements for participation. The opening paragraph of the press release referred to above says of the IPCC that

"It mobilises the best experts from all over the world, who work diligently on bringing out the various reports,,, The Third Assessment Review of the IPCC was released in 2001 through the collective efforts of around 2000 experts from a diverse range of countries and disciplines. All of IPCC's reports go through a careful two stage review process by governments and experts and acceptance by the member governments composing the Panel".

In relation to economic aspects, there is good reason to question the claims to authority and representative status that the IPCC makes on its behalf. Those of us who are sceptics do not question the numbers of those involved, their diligence, or the existence and observance of formal review processes. But we think that when it comes to the treatment of leading economic issues, the milieu is neither fully competent nor adequately representative. We also hold that building in peer review is no safeguard against dubious assumptions, arguments and conclusions if the peers are all drawn from the same restricted professional milieu. A leading illustration of our case (it is not the only one) is the issue of MERs versus PPPs. Here the internationally agreed System of National Accounts (SNA), which dates from 1993, gives unambiguous guidance. In its opening chapter, it specifies (paragraph 1.38) that:

"When the objective is to compare the volumes of goods or services produced or consumed per head, data in national currencies must be converted into a common currency by means of purchasing power parities and not exchange rates ... Exchange rate converted data must not ,,, be interpreted as measures of the relative volumes of goods and services concerned".

Despite this ruling, misleading MER-based international comparisons have been uncritically made, not only by the SRES, but also in the reports of both WGII and WGIII; more recently, in a report issued by UNEP; and more recently still, in a document prepared for an IPCC-sponsored conference by one of the three current Vice-Chairs of the Panel. It seems probable that not one of the many participants in these various proceedings had heard of the SNA, and it is not referred to in either the text of the SRES or its 17 or so pages of references.

In the context of national accounts, there is a specific error in the SRES which, though only incidental, shows that mere numbers are no guarantee of representative status. On p. 115 of the Report the concept of GNP---now more usually referred to as GNI---is wrongly defined. This basic error was not picked up by any of the 53 authors, 4 review editors and 89 expert reviewers who are listed as participants in the preparation of the SRES.

In the IPCC press release referred to above, the statement is made that 'the economy does not change by using a different metrics (PPP or MEX), in the same way that the temperature does not change if you switch from degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit'. This assertion could be interpreted in different ways, but on any interpretation the analogy appears as false. Admittedly, not all economists would accept without qualification the case for using PPP-based converters, rather than some exchange-rate-based alternative; but even the sceptics do not argue that the choice is immaterial.

In the British case, it might be supposed that one or two members of the Government Economic Service, now said to be 800 strong, not to mention a person from the National Statistics Office, would have been drawn into the economic work of the IPCC and made it less unrepresentative. There is no sign of any such involvement. Speaking in the House of Lords last April on behalf of the responsible department, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Baroness Farrington said that 'the views of Mr Castles and Mr Henderson were considered extremely carefully,,, by the Government,,,' If such consideration has indeed been given, its results have not been communicated to me.

The economic content of AR4 can be strengthened only if new participants are brought into the process, and this can be achieved only if and in so far as member governments act accordingly: the IPCC milieu appears impervious to unofficial criticism. In this context, it is the central economic departments of state---treasuries, ministries of finance or economics, and organisations such as the US Council of Economic Advisers---that have a potentially key role. Up to now, and despite the large amounts that are at stake, they have been content to leave the handling of economic issues within the IPCC process to the departments and agencies directly concerned. The questionable treatment of these issues by the IPCC and its sponsoring organisations, which Castles and I have drawn attention to as independent outsiders, has apparently not been noticed by a single official in a single finance or economics ministry in a single country. It is high time for this situation to change, and for these latter departments to become involved.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

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