William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

National Academy Of Sciences Mistakes Politics For Science. Again

Only immoral people don’t buy these.

Sometimes I want to write but only tears will come.

I (a member of no party) quote from the opening of a recent “scientific” study published by that august organization, the National Academy of Sciences:

Although protecting the environment is likely to be a priority for political liberals (a category that typically corresponds to the Democratic Party in the United States), political conservatives (a category that typically corresponds to the Republican Party in the United States) may find that this issue conflicts with the ideology to which they subscribe.

Yes, lefties love the earth, would lay down their lives for her; they call her pet names (Gaia, Mother); they want to protect her, non-ideologically “save” here, because if they didn’t she would disappear into a quantum hole and forever vanish. Or something. Righties, the big meanies, want to dig that quantum hole; they want to destroy the environment because the only thing green they love is money; they would sooner pee in a snowbank than in a low-flush toilet: they have no choice, the ideology to which they subscribe won’t let them do anything but.

The peer-reviewed science paper is “Political ideology affects energy-efficiency attitudes and choices” by Dena Gromet and some other delightful intellectuals.

Gromet first asked some folks about their “moral obligation” to reduce “the level of carbon emissions that harm the environment.” After a needlessly complex statistical analysis he concluded “that more politically conservative individuals were less in favor of investment in energy-efficient technology than were those who were more politically liberal.” Which could also be put “liberals were more in favor of higher government spending.” Investment forsooth!

Gromet’s second great scientific “finding”: “In a real-choice context, more conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled.” It will turn out (see below) Gromet could equally have written, “liberal individuals were more likely to purchase a more expensive bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message.”

Gromet showed 210 people recruited from some college two light bulbs, a lethal-mercury-filled eco-bulb with or without the sticker “Protect the Environment” which cost either $0.50 or $1.50 and a paleolithic now-banned-to-protect-the-environment incandescent bulb which cost $0.50. Gromet gave people $2 for their troubles and another $2 to buy a bulb and were told they could keep the change after the “purchase.”

Participants were asked how their “choice would express to others who they were, their values, and their political beliefs, as well as how much it would affirm them”.

I bought a Butterfinger the other day and I recall thinking as I proudly slipped it into my shirt pocket—with enough wrapper sticking out for all to see—how much it affirmed me.

Anyway, Gromet ran some horrific regression input with all sorts of derived values and out popped a wee p-value which confirmed liberals though well of themselves for paying $1.50 for a bulb worth $0.50. I think. The actual analysis is a mess so it’s difficult to tell what happened.

As you can plainly see, this paper, cheerleading as it was for the liberal view, even though this bias was probably unintentional, has nothing to do with science. How moral it is to reduce CO2 is—need I say this?—a moral and not a scientific question. And anyway, the opinions of some people off the street after they were harangued with some left-leaning lecture aren’t even valuable as sociology.

And what does the experiment to buy affirmation bulbs prove? That people will drive their Priuses down to Wholefoods to spend five bucks per “organic” free-range carrot and then proudly put a sticker on their bumper announcing the same, and that others will cruise to the Winn Dixie in their F150s and load up on carrot cake and not feel a frisson of moral delight while doing do?

Big science is now (almost entirely?) a handmaiden of politics.

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Thanks to Rob Ryan for alerting us to this, um, paper.

17 Comments

  1. It IS depressing.

    I doubt anybody is against “energy saving devices” that make economic sense. It never seems to occur to some people that the Prius and the stickers and whatnot are ostentatious, self-aggrandizing displays. Not much different than the guy in the gaudy suit with a power tie and a $10K watch,

  2. Moral breakdown and ideology happened “in front” of this paper. As is, it is poor economic science work.
    Moral misdirection and ideology happened at the Government labeling these lightbulbs “green”, placing more value on reducing CO2 which not only ecosystem of Earth knows what to do with but vast majority of life on Earth finds useful than on real new danger this product introduces to the environment in insane quantities – mercury.
    We just have seen similar misdirection and results on large scale: WV chemical spill affecting almost million people and drinking water. Chemical used to make coal “clean”, to reduce CO2…

  3. This piece makes the claim that change in the law to mandate the more expensive bulbs was supported by the makers of light bulbs, who were facing the prospect of diminishing margins with increased competition: http://washingtonexaminer.com/industry-not-environmentalists-killed-incandescent-bulbs/article/2541430

  4. Katie,

    That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also supported by environmentalists. The intersection between politics and business makes for strange bedfellows.

  5. @Katie
    The environmental movement is populated by rent seekers trying to make money off the tax payers. For example, the American Wind Energy Association that promotes windmills which generate a piddling amount of erratic, unreliable, expensive electricity.

  6. Studies of, by and for the dimbulbs.

  7. Paddy O'Furniture

    January 11, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Not sure how much I’m actually saving anyway after I’ve installed my CFLs (50% of which burned out in the first year) that are powered by my solar panels that the electrical utility now surcharges me for since I no longer utilize the electricity from the power grid yet must continue pay for to maintain the infrastructure for everyone else (until they too switch to CFLs and solar panels, and then… ) Okay, none of that really happened to me, except the part about 50% of my CFLs burning out within the first year… still not happy about that one.

  8. And for such people (a good number of them female) that claim to care so dearly about non-handicapped already-born persons, and Mother Earth, they sure don’t give a damn about their sisters in China that are poisoned (probably daily in their practically indentured existence near the factories) nor the health of the unborn Chinese sisters child. And they only get one.

    The self-deceptive antics these people must go through to feel warm and fuzzy about themselves is exhausting to try and interpret. Narcissistic, brainwashed, bereft of critical thinking, the whole lot of them I say.

  9. It has to be a spoof….

  10. I guess I’m a data point. Bilious green labeling is a purchase turn-off to me (all other things being equal, which they never are).

  11. Wouldn’t a “National” Academy be politicized from the start?

  12. Did you notice a news about a father, Clifford Hall, was sentenced to 6 months in jail for paying too much child support?

    What I found from the comments is that conservatives commonly blame the judge (e.g. http://www.sott.net/article/271748-Father-sentenced-to-6-months-in-jail-for-paying-too-much-child-support) while liberals commonly blame the father (e.g. http://www.reddit.com/r/WTF/comments/1uzjji/man_jailed_for_trying_to_be_good_father/). So if I do a study based on responses to this story, I may conclude that conservatives care more child support than liberals.

  13. Yup. Science is dead. We’ve been living in the New Dark Ages for nearly 45 years now. In case you didn’t notice.

    If it weren’t for the achievements of past ages that remain tenuously with us, and the stalwart efforts of a few hermit monks to preserve some shards of rational thought, the bulk of humanity would be grubbing about on all fours.

    Be grateful, Ms. Gromet and ilk, that some farmer stoops to feed you. Or you’d be starved to death long before now. Darwin peeks around the corner. He’s looking for you.

  14. At fify cents each I would still spend my two dollar on 3 energy wasteful bulbs and one energy efficient bulb because I am already energy efficient*. As best I can tell the energy efficient bulbs are only practical for people who are energy inefficient and leave their lights on all the time so they aren’t constantly replacing their bulbs. I just went through my house and there are 10 bulbs used with some regularity and only 2 of them are used on anything which can be considered a continuous basis. 7 of the bulbs are used very rarely for more than a few minutes at a time and only 1 (the bathroom) is used regularly for more than a few minutes and it still gets turned on-and-off so much that energy saving bulbs burn out in no time.

    *actually I’m cheap, but being cheap results in energy efficiency.

  15. As a Prius owner I feel a bit offended at “are ostentatious, self-aggrandizing displays” and simialr comments. I’m no greenie leftie I bourght my Prius because the technology is clever, why waste all that energy breaking and at rest? The old internal engine has been great, and the Prius still has one, but we can now do better. Assuming all Prius owners are green wankers is no smarter than assuming all conservatives are gun-toting seal killers

  16. Briggs

    January 12, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Andrew Kennett,

    Exactly so. In fact, I have many eco-bulbs, in an effort to cut down on NYC’s obscene electricity bill (where the taxes, fees, additions are more than the juice used).

  17. Sounds like the numbers were a bit off. Or the eco-bulb was subsidized. Even though the price of compact fluorescents has dropped quite a bit over the last 5 years, they are still far more expensive than the old incandescents. Instead of $2, the researchers should have given the subjects $4 or $5, charged the real cost of the bulbs, and then seen what would happen.

    Also, they should have added a disclaimer that the 10,000-hour claim for the CFL’s is an outright lie. Maybe half that, if the buyer is lucky. (Incidentally, I’ve seen a small number of packages backing down from the absurd 10,000 hour claim recently.)

    And, yes, I have extensive experience with these things. Bought a whole bunch when PG&E was subsidizing them and have them almost everywhere in the house. But they don’t last anywhere near the absurd lifetime claims that were made. Frankly, I’m surprised some enterprising class action lawyer hasn’t already made himself rich on that one . . .

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