Jason Samenow of the Washington Post reports that the National Weather Service has replaced its “temperature sensor” (i.e., thermometer) at Reagan National Airport. The previous sensor had been criticized as producing readings that were upwardly biased.
Category Archives: Substantive Regulatory Issues
Brian Costa and Geoff Foster of the Wall Street Journal write about the fairly recent decline in actual fighting in baseball brawls. There’s an economic explanation, and it’s found in their story.
It is well-known that California is in drought. Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered massive reductions in water usage, which local water districts (not the State) must enforce at the residential level. Water districts are reducing consumption through rationing. Rationing is supposed to be better than market allocation because of a tradeoff between efficiency and equity. Efficient water allocation through markets is perceived as inequitable, and the pursuit of equitable allocation results in economic inefficiency.
A look at how water rationing works in California shows that it’s not very equitable.
Allocating by price is how markets work. Prices rise when supply is scarce and fall when supply is in surplus. In California, price is set by state regulation, not by markets. If price had been set by markets, there would be plenty of water available today despite the drought.
Why? Prices would have risen during the early stages of the drought, and continued to rise if supply declined further. But there would be greater supply because rising prices automatically lead to conservation. When price is determined by regulation instead of markets, there is little or no incentive to conserve. Today’s supply crisis is therefore not the result of drought; it’s a predictable consequence of setting the price below market. Quantity allocation (i.e., rationing) has caused a host of new problems, including the confiscation of historical water rights, ostracization and harassment of water “wasters,” the abandonment of longstanding environmental protection policies, conventional theft for profit, and even theft by a nudist colony,
California is responding to its regulatory induced shortage by doubling down on regulation. It is imposing ever more Draconian restrictions on consumption, and subjecting violators to escalating fines. State officials apparently believe that rationing is a fairer way to allocate scarce resources than allowing market prices.
Some California residents dislike rationing, believing that they should be allowed to consume whatever quantity they are willing to pay for. (How much they would choose to consume at market prices is unknown, but it is much less than they would choose to consume at the below-market, regulated prices they pay for the water they are allowed to buy.) This raises a question that is only rarely asked: Is water rationing really equitable? One way to look at equity is to compare people who are similarly situated to see if they are treated the same. (This is called horizontal equity in the public finance literature.)
An infographic published by the New York Times provides data on the daily per capita residential consumption in February 2015 (last winter) and July 2014 (last summer), and the daily residential consumption that will be allowed this summer. The tables below compare co-located communities in different parts of the State. This controls for climatic differences; other characteristics are averaged out.
|Water District||2/15||7/14||Summer 2015|
|City of Arcata||43||34||44|
|City of Eureka||87||135||128|
|City of Fortuna||78||127||121|
|Humboldt Bay MWD||111||139||135|
|Water District||2/15||7/14||Summer 2015|
|City of Lathrop||NA||NA||100|
|City of Lodi||78||348||236|
|City of Manteca||66||253||172|
|City of Stockton||56||165||155|
|Calif Water Services Co Stockton||54||105||98|
|City of Tracy||37||148||135|
|Water District||2/15||7/14||Summer 2015|
|City of Ceres||69||183||166|
|City of Modesto||100||316||246|
|City of Oakdale||69||234||216|
|City of Ripon||113||341||316|
|City of Riverbank||61||191||191|
|Water District||2/15||7/14||Summer 2015|
|City of Beverly Hills||162||281||236|
|Las Virgenes MWD||173||287||305|
|Golden State Water Co
|LA County Public Waterworks District 29||178||257||236|
|City of Santa Monica||79||119||99|
There are three obvious inequities in these data.
- People in wealthy communities receive greater water rations.
Look at the table for West Los Angeles and compare Beverly Hills and Las Virgenes with Culver City. This summer, residents in the former water districts will be allowed to consume 236 and 395 gallons per day. Residents of Culver City will get 85 gallons.
- People served by different water districts in the same neighborhood receive different rations.
These West Los Angeles water districts are neighbors. So are all the water districts in each table. Residents served by the City of Eureka will get almost three times as much water per capita as residents served by the City of Arcata. Residents served by the City of Ripon will receive almost twice the ration of residents of the City of Ceres. Residents served by the City of Lodi will receive 2.4 times the amount of residents served by the Stockton division of the California Water Services Company.
- Some people have to curtail water consumption a lot to stay below their rations, but others don’t have to do much at all, and still others get to increase their consumption.
Regardless of which water district serves them, residents of the Emerald Triangle don’t have to do much to stay within their water rations. Arcata residents get a 29% increase. Stockton area residents face summertime reductions ranging from 7% to 32% depending on which water district serves them. Culver City residents have to reduce daily consumption 32%, from 129 to 85 gallons per person, while those served by Los Virgenes get to increase their daily consumption from 287 to 305 gallons per person. The increase alone is 21% of the ration in Culver City.
All these differences might be efficient, though there is no evidence that they are. But it is hard to argue that they are equitable. By abandoning efficiency to avoid inequity, California has achieved neither efficiency nor equity.
Scientization is the practice of reducing policy, ethical and value disagreements to science. It is often committed by elected and appointed officials to avoid having to make difficult policy decisions. It is also widely practiced by scientists who want to make public policy decisions.
Recent stories about FDA drug advisory committee reviews give fairly obvious examples of the genre.
Thomas M. Burton of the Wall Street Journal reports:
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that the agency approve the cholesterol-lowering drug Praluent, the first of a wave of such cardiovascular drugs expected to raise billions of dollars in revenue and perhaps alter the treatment of cardiovascular disease.
But many panelists said the use of the drug should be limited to certain high-risk groups, such as people with very high cholesterol for genetic reasons because of a condition called familial hypercholesterolemia.
Several committee members revealed that they believe their role is to make policy, not just conduct objective scientific reviews. Burton again:
Panel member Brendan M. Everett, director of the cardiology inpatient service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said he would limit the drug’s immediate use to certain patients with genetic high cholesterol. “I would not allow broader use,” Dr. Everett said.
A few days ago, an FDA advisory committee recommended that the agency approve flibanserin to treat hypoactive sexual desire in women. Brigid Schulte of the Washington Post reports that the committee likely was influenced by “an afternoon of emotional testimony.” No such testimony would have been needed if the committee of scientists was debating science.
Schulte quotes one committee member who unabashedly opposed approval based on her personal opinions about what women really need:
Some panel members who voted against approval said that the data wasn’t good enough, and the benefits weren’t strong enough to warrant approval, given the side effects. “I recognize people are suffering,” said Diane Aronson. “I just think they deserve better.”
Reporting on this event, Andrew Pollack of the New York Times focused on the “intense lobbying campaign” put together by the manufacturer and women’s organizations:
The controversial campaign by some women’s groups to win federal approval was waged under the banner Even the Score, which accused the F.D.A. of gender bias because it had approved Viagra and other drugs to help men have sex while leaving women without options. The participants in the campaign had been brought together by a consultant to Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the developer of flibanserin.
Again, no such campaign would have been necessary if the advisory committee limited its role to reviewing the science. Indeed, given the extent to which FDA advisory committees have a preeminent role in drug approval decisions, lobbying campaigns should be expected, not surprising. What Pollock called “controversial” is not the science; it’s that the committee of scientists was reviewing ethical and value questions on which scientists have no expertise:
Is sexual desire a human right? And are women entitled to a little pink pill to help them feel it?
Pollock missed the true controversy: scientists were empaneled to review science but made policy decisions instead.
One reason scientization is endemic in FDA drug approval decisions is that the agency explicitly seeks policy advice from these external scientists and it usually defers to their policy judgment. In short, the FDA suffers from bilateral scientization: agency officials delegate policy choices to scientists, and scientists who serve on its advisory committees are happy to oblige. A bona fide scientific review would exclude such scientists from participating.
Science magazine, the flagship publication of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, has taken a reputational beating after the publication and retraction of the so-called gay canvassing paper by Michael LaCour and Donald Green. This resulted substantially from an appeal to the authority of the senior author and the editors’ desire that the results be correct. Add in a culture that discourages junior scholars and senior scholars alike from publicly questioning others’ work, and what’s left is an ineffective system of scholarly peer review.
Today, Science published a new article alleging for the first time that the observed recent pause in global warming is imaginary. Has Science repeated the errors it committed in the case of LaCour and Green (2014)?
The global warming article is authored by Thomas Karl and eight colleagues. From the abstract:
Much study has been devoted to the possible causes of an apparent decrease in the upward trend of global surface temperatures since 1998, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the global warming “hiatus.” Here we present an updated global surface temperature analysis that reveals that global trends are higher than reported by the IPCC, especially in recent decades, and that the central estimate for the rate of warming during the first 15 years of the 21st century is at least as great as the last half of the 20th century. These results do not support the notion of a “slowdown” in the increase of global surface temperature.
The article is accompanied by a news story that goes beyond what the authors publicly claimed, and even adds a little snark. Compare “These results do not support the notion of a ‘slowdown’ in the increase of global surface temperature,” the conclusion in the article’s abstract, with “Much-touted global warming pause never happened,” the title of the news story.
The news story quotes only researchers who broadly agree with the authors, and it treats this single study as a complete rebuttal of previous research. The first practice is incompatible with sound journalism; the second is incompatible with science.
The AAAS have been politically invested in global warming for many years, so there is reason to be concerned that the editors of Science published this article for the same reasons they published LaCour & Green (2014) — they appealed to the authority of the senior author and they wanted the results to be true. That desire is certainly conveyed in the accompanying news story.
To manage this conflict of interest, Science had a duty to ensure that its peer review of the Karl et al. article was extraordinarily rigorous and independent. One way to show that they fulfilled this duty would be to publish the reports of the peer reviewers.