Terence Kealey on the economics of scientific research

Terence Kealey is the Vice-Chancellor at Buckingham University and he will be in Sydney next week for the Mont Pelerin Conference. In 1996 he published a book which has a few controversial ideas in it. I don’t recall any talk about it at the time and it was not on my radar when it turned up on the sale tables at the Sydney Uni book fair last month (culled from the Science Library, clean enough to be unread). So the $4 that I paid was a punt. But once started the narrative was gripping.

This is a summary of Terence Kealey, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, Macmillan, 1996. 380 pages.

A more detailed summary of the evidence and arguments can be found here.

The take-home message from this book is that governments should pull back from their dominant position in funding and from trying to direct research and development. The historical record indicates that wealth-generating technology is mainly developed on site, not in academic research laboratories and private enterprise can supply most if not all the necessary funds for both pure and applied research.

The first chapter on Francis Bacon and Adam Smith spells out the two competing models of the optimum relationship between state funding, basic research, technology and human welfare.

The Baconian model is linear.

State support -> Basic Research -> Technology -> Progress in human welfare

Adam Smith   

Old technology -> New Technology -> Wealth and Welfare

In this model, Basic Research has a give and take (arrows each way) relationship with New Technology. The State has no special role to play in the process.

Chapter 2. Research and Development in Antiquity. The early development of technology by the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, Greeks and even the Romans did not have any dynamism and remained arrested for long periods. In the case of the Greeks the leading philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle had contempt for trade and commerce, which is where practical developments in technology occur. The Roman empire degenerated into a tax-extraction machine and lost population by defection to the “barbarians” and by natural attrition as the productivity of nation declined.

The third chapter on The Dark Ages indicates that decline set in before the fall of the Roman empire and although arty types are scornful of this period it was a time when many economically important innovations occurred, notably the saddle, horse collar and tandem harness which increased the power from horses by a factor of four, and the crank which permitted many kinds of machines to be driven from a rotating shaft.

Chapter 4. The Commercial Revolution.

The small Italian states led the way with advances such as premium insurance, double-entry bookkeeping and the cheque. Merchants were the thin end of the wedge that opened  up the way from feudalism towards more open and productive societies. Italy was located in a good climate on the cross-roads of many trade routes by land and sea. The small principalities, protected for some time by mountains and the sea, permitted merchants to thrive and become the leaders of the small republican states.

Chapter 5. The Agricultural Revolution.

The Italian states were eventually invaded from all sides and the area of innovation shifted to Holland and England. Vital innovations such as crop rotation and systematic improvement of crops and pastures were driven by gentleman farmers such as “Turnip” Townsend and associations such as the Lunar Society which consisted of a mix of scientists, engineers and industrialists.  By 1850 agricultural productivity in Britain was increasing by 0.5% per annum, unprecedented in history. Laissez faire ruled (almost) and there was no state involvement in research or industry policy.

Chapter 6. The Industrial Revolution.

Between 1780 and 1860 the population of Britain tripled from 7.5M to 23M and the real per capita income double in real terms across all classes.

The drivers were increased productivity of machines and the movement of labour from the land (and Ireland) to the factories.  The driver of machine technology was NOT science as predicted by the Bacon but the improvement of existing technology by ingenious artisans such as Newcomen, Watt, Trevithic and Stephenson. Amazingly, the scientists were struggling to keep up with the tradesmen! Hooke (the scientist) told Newcomen that his idea would not work while he was developing it (fortunately he persisted) and Carnot’s work on thermodynamics was prompted by Watt’s steam engine which could not work according to the laws of science as they were understood by leading scientists at the time.

France followed the Bacon model and set up glittering science laboratories and institutions of learning, while the state ran on the basis of taxes extorted by an army of Farmers-General (tax farmers) working on a commission basis with draconian powers of search, detention and confiscation. Hence the Revolution, while the science laboratories produced scientific advances without any impact on technology or the wealth of the French people.

Chapter 7. Economic History since 1870

This chapter is about the comparative economic performance of nations with some warnings about the valid and invalid comparisons that are often made. Invalid comparisons are often used to promote the Baconian approach to science with the aim of getting more state involvement by way of industry policy and public spending on science and education. A classic example is the comparison of Germany and Britain post 1870. Bismark’s warfare/welfare state sudsidised and protected local industries, especially steel. With the inflated cost of German steel it made sense for England to produce less and buy from Germany, still a lot of people just saw the decline of an industry, not wealth transfer from Germans to Britons. They also misread the play on technical education, being over-impressed by the network of state-funded technical colleges in Germany and forgetting about the 700+ industry-funded mechanics institutes that were established  in Britain between 1820 and 1850.

There is a stunning table on the economic performance of the current (1980) 16 richest nations from 1870 to 1980. These figures indicate  GDP per capita in 1870 adjusted to the $US in 1970.

Australia at 1393, UK 972, Belgium 925, Holland 831, Switzerland 786, US 764.

On an index of  productivity Australia scored 1.3 compared with UK 0.8, Holland US and Belgium 0.7. Australia was at the bottom in growth of productivity since that time.

Chapter 8.  Science Policies of the Twentieth Century

In this chapter Kealey traced the evolution of science policy in the US and Britain. They both started with a substantially laissez faire economy and also minimal state involvement in science, then during the 20th century the Baconians and the Czars of science took over and they went for central funding and control in a big way. For those who have been receptive to Kealey’s argument thus far, the results are  predictable (cw 18th century France).

Chapter 9.  The Economics of Research: Why the Linear Model Fails

The purpose of  the chapter is to test the linear (Baconian) model.

Government money -> academic science -> technology -> wealth

There are case studies of Government projects to develop and implement high tech systems and infrastructure. These include the European Community plan to develop High Definition TV, the Japanese fifth generation supercomputer program, the European Airbus project. In each case the lesson is clear. Massive sums of taxpayers money were wasted, or would have been wasted if the TV project had gone ahead.

What about the benefits of state funding for basic research. Kealey provides evidence that (a) basic research contributes next to nothing to progress in industry, compared with the on-site modification of existing plant and (b) industry will fund basic research anyway.

Chapter 10.  The Real Economics of Research

In this chapter Kealey looks at the economics of R&D and then the economics of academic science, in each case asking whether government funding is required to optimise spending.

He confirms three Laws of  Funding for Civil R&D.

First Law. The % of national GDP  spent increases with national DGP per capita.

Second Law. Public and private funding displace each other (compete). So public funds tend to displace private funds.

Third Law. The public/private displacement is not equal. Public funds displace a larger volume of private funds than the public input. (net loss)

Chapter 11.  The So-called Decline of British and American Science

In this chapter Kealey describes the regular explosions of anger by British scientists over the last three decades and the way they some of them regularly fudged the figures to give the impression that science is going down the drain for want of public funds. The evidence appears to indicate the contrary, namely robust growth and sustained quality.

British boffins medaled in productivity and quality of publications! On papers per capita of population Britain took bronze behind the US and Canada. In the most cited papers Britain took silver behind the US in life sciences and total citations, and bronze behind the US and Canada in chemical science and physical science.

If Britain did that well in the Olympic Games there would not be a lot of talk about the decline of British sport.

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27 Responses to Terence Kealey on the economics of scientific research

  1. Tom N. says:

    As I have commented previously, Rafe’s apparent move some time ago from ClubTroppo to Catallaxy vastly improved the average interest, quality and real-worldliness of posts on both sites.

    It is unfortunate, therefore, that Rafe should have chosen to return to clog up Troppo again with another detailed examination of niche-interest book that he eems to have stumbled accross at a remainders fair recently. Having seem him clog up Catallaxy with this stodge for the last few weeks – each chapter got its own treatment almost of long as this single summary post – I thought Troppodilians would be spared. Alas not.

    I guess we’re just lucky it wasn’t another Mises missive. Still, perhaps a once-a-decade post reminding readers that there is no end of in-depth summaries of books Rafe has read on Rafe’s own website would be a better use of his, and our, limited blog-writing and vetting resources.

  2. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Rafe, I have to confess that I’d be much more interested in this guy if he wasn’t associated with Mont Pelerin. As interesting as the subject might be, I didn’t read on, because anyone can blow these bubbles. The case for State sponsorship of science is intuitively very strong. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be interesting to have the idea interrogated, but you want the guy to be on the level. There are a lot of competing intellectual goods out there – I’ll spend my time with them.

    Next up – why the state should get out of policing, road building, and the provision of parks.

  3. Alan says:

    Chapter 4. The Commercial Revolution.

    The small Italian states led the way with advances such as premium insurance, double-entry bookkeeping and the cheque. Merchants were the thin end of the wedge that opened up the way from feudalism towards more open and productive societies. Italy was located in a good climate on the cross-roads of many trade routes by land and sea. The small principalities, protected for some time by mountains and the sea, permitted merchants to thrive and become the leaders of the small republican states.

    I am not sure what period Chapter IV is associated with but I assume the first half of this millennium, a time when Italy suffered attack and invasion by Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, Germans, French, Spanish, Turks and the significant institutional shift was from small communes to the subversion of republican government by emergent dynasties of mercenaries (d’Hautevilles, Sforzas), bankers (Medicis) or foreign princes (Hohenstauffen and Angevins). It defies reason to describe the small Italian states as happily protected by mountain and sea. I don’t know that I’d describe terrorist oligarchies like Venice or centralised autocracies like Sicily and Milan, as more open and productive societies.

  4. conrad says:

    “The historical record indicates that wealth-generating technology is mainly developed on site, not in academic research laboratories and private enterprise can supply most if not all the necessary funds for both pure and applied research”

    1) Actually, for pure research, this is basically rubbish. Try looking up the history of super-conductors, nuclear fission, cloning or stem-cells.

    2) There are also lots of areas which don’t get examined for large amounts of time simply because they make less money than other things that achieve some of the same goals. For example, many behavioral treatments for various psychological disorders have better efficacy than the chemical treatments (and generally provide an additive effect if combined). The only reason we know this is thanks to public funding, and the fact that there is historical trend towards giving out psychotropic lollies and not using non-drug treatments is not because the psychotropic lollies are always better.

    3) It’s not clear to me that science today follows the same rules as science yesterday. Many of the projects these days are huge and have needed huge teams to succeed. This idea that one person can make miraculous discoveries simply doesn’t work in many fields.

    4) The main place I agree that funding is misdirected is when governments want applied, money making research (cf. applied research), which is exactly what is happening now. If there are projects that private industry can do better because the outcome is more immediate, then it should be left to private industry. Of course, a lot of the time, that’s a false dichotomy.

  5. Gummo Trotsky says:

    …historical record indicates that wealth-generating technology is mainly developed on site…

    R & D isn’t always about wealth generation. Something Merck, to it’s credit, recognised in the case of treatment of Onchocerciasis with Ivermectin.

    And in the case of the fabulous Lombardi Brothers – pioneers of the English industrial revolution with their child-labour operated silk mill, the wealth-generating technology wasn’t developed on site – it was nicked from the Italians.

  6. Rafe says:

    Nicholas, I don’t understand why a person’s ideas should be dismissed out of hand because they are associated with the Mont Pelerin Society. Why do you assume that he is not on the level? Are you prepared to extend that claim to all the people associated with the Mont Pelerin Society? On what grounds?

    The case for public involvement is intuitively strong because of the domination of Baconian ideas in the 20th century. Kealey’s book purports to be evidence based, with statistics, dates and references. I have given a straight feed on his ideas because although the argument is counter-intuitive it appears to hold up when you do a gestalt switch and think about things from a different point of view. Some important examples are not controversial, though they surprised me, for example I did not realise that private funds supported the Royal Institute where Faraday did his fundamental research on electricity.

    Alan, your concerns are addressed in the relevant chapter. The Italians enjoyed a widow of opportunity which closed due to invasions from three sides. The key point is not the moralty of the merchant princes but commercial innovations that made them rich and improved opportunities for everyone else as well.

    Conrad, a few examples, even many examples do not refute the claim about the funding capacity of the private sector. Just for a start you might like to ask yourself where public funds come from in the first place.

  7. Alan says:

    And yet there was no point during the Later Middle Ages when small Italian states were protected from invasion by mountain and sea. In reality the period was one of continuous warfare between different parties within the Italian states, between Italian powers themselves and also between Italian states and foreign invaders.

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Rafe,

    I’ve just seen too much tendentious stuff from these guys Rafe. I’m interested in contrarian research Rafe, I really am. But tendentious research (particularly where it’s associated with an ideological line) is very often the opposite of contrarian research. It’s party line research.

    I read Against Intellectual Monopoly which is a strong (libertarian – if you like) tirade against IP. It was damn good contrarian research. I can’t think of anything from the fellow travellers of the MP society that comes close.

    I obviously can’t argue with you that in principle if we had all the time in the world, you wouldn’t prejudge anyone based on their membership of an ideological sect (OK, that’s a bit rude about some, but it’s not too wide of the mark for many).

    But since we don’t have all the time in the world, the idea that one doesn’t use one’s judgement to shape where one gives attention is – well pre-Baconian.

    And perhaps this guy coins the expression ‘Baconian’ science, but it’s pretty straight economics that where there’s inadequate appropriability and very high costs, there’ll be inadequate investment in an activity. I’d call it ‘Smithian’ or ‘Marshallian’ rather than Bacon, whom I associate with the idea that science comes not from accumulating facts but by asking questions.

  9. observa says:

    There’s no doubt public funding has produced the politicising of science, nowhere more obvious than in climate science-
    http://joannenova.com.au/2010/10/is-science-a-rigorous-skill-or-just-rote-specialties/#more-3404
    There can be a similar push on to oversell science to the private sector too, a la Y2K, but there is a natural economic pushback (checks and balances) to doomsday scenarios that hasn’t been as forthcoming with the public purse and the rise and rise of climatology.

  10. conrad says:

    “Conrad, a few examples, even many examples do not refute the claim about the funding capacity of the private sector. Just for a start you might like to ask yourself where public funds come from in the first place.”

    Rafe, it’s not just a few examples, since nuclear fission is one of the most important advances of the 20th century. It powers a good of chunk of the world. Some of the companies that inherited that technology, like AREVA, are still partially owned by governments today. I could point out that if nuclear fusion becomes viable, it will be from public money also, so there you have an apriori prediction form a technology that doesn’t exist now, and wouldn’t exist otherwise.

    Are you saying that shouldn’t have been funded? How about superconductors, should they not have been funded either? or the advanced medical technologies we all use? It seems to me that initial parts of these big complex projects with huge timelines are generally government funded. On this note, it’s interesting to have a look at lists of inventions of the 20th century (e.g. here) and see how many were private or publicly funded.

    I’m also completely aware of where the money comes from. Of course, a lot of that money goes to things that wouldn’t have been invented otherwise, and that technology then goes on to be used for free from industry. That includes, for example, almost all of the maths and statistics used today, some materials technology etc. . None of that is going to change unless we allow patents that go for far longer than now and patents on things we don’t now, and it’s hard to see that being a good thing.

  11. Nicholas Gruen says:

    “Just for a start you might like to ask yourself where public funds come from in the first place.”

    What kind of comment is that? We’re talking about whether funding should be collective or private. The fact that collective funding is, well collected from private sources? Well what is that supposed to prove?

  12. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Conrad,

    As you intimate, extending patents would be costly (very costly I’d say). But it would bring virtually no offsetting benefits whatever. As we concluded in a Staff Paper at the Productivity Commission (then Industry Commission) (pdf).

    Even if IP producers can perfectly predict that a particular IP investment will generate a patent which will retain its value through to its twentieth year, the our year (25 per cent) extension in patent terms would only increase the net present value of the patent at the time it is ‘sealed’ (granted) by 5 per cent. If, as seems more likely, the IP producer expects the value of his or her patent to fall over time — or is unwilling to bank on any belief that it will not — the extra four years’ protection could increase incentives to produce patents by as little as half a percent.

  13. Gummo Trotsky says:

    There can be a similar push on to oversell science to the private sector too, a la Y2K, but there is a natural economic pushback (checks and balances) to doomsday scenarios that hasn’t been as forthcoming with the public purse and the rise and rise of climatology.

    Ha! There was no natural economic pushback to Y2K. Everybody bought it and blew their IT budgets on preventing the largely non-existent problem. As for the remarks on climatology – that’s just conspiracy theory.

    And Joanne Nova – whose major contribution to the climate debate is a short pamphlet on how to be resolutely close-minded and turn discussions on global warming into heated argument – isn’t someone I’d rate as a credible source on any science.

  14. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Seems Vice-Chancellor Terry is something of an intellectual jack-of-all trades: a medical biochemist who writes books on economic history and provides academic advice to the Global Warming Policy Foundation. He’ll be talking in Sydney about what “Climategate” teaches us about science. I suspect this will provide much of his material.

    Jeez Rafe, how do you find these guys?

  15. Gummo Trotsky says:

    It gets better and better – Kealey’s latest book is Sex, Science & Profits: How people evolved to make money:

    …an evolutionary and economic history of humanity, showing how the roots of barter, trade and the contract are embedded in human nature and how markets work on the evolutionary principles of natural selection…

    I gather from this review that in it, Kealey regurgitates much material from his 1996 book.

  16. Rafe says:

    Conrad, your examples are all from the 20th century when taxation and the expansion of public funding caused a huge shift in the balance of private/public research. Kealey’s case studies indicate that many advances that I associated with public funding were achieved in partnership with industry or originated in private industry.

    In my view the primary driver of good research is integration with practice, with effective personal and institutional linkages between the research laboratory and the factory or the farm as we achieved in Australian rural research. This was mostly public funding but I think the linkages were the key, not the source of funds.

    http://www.the-rathouse.com/2010/Aust-rural-research.html

  17. conrad says:

    “Kealey’s case studies indicate that many advances that I associated with public funding were achieved in partnership with industry or originated in private industry.”

    Rafe, as I pointed out in less words earlier, I think in terms of scientific discovery, there’s not much point in going back too far in history, because the way we do a lot of science now doesn’t have much precedent. If you want to go to the moon, for example, you won’t be doing it by yourself and you won’t be doing it in a small team, and the same is true for many many projects. Given the 20th century was a sensational century for scientific achievement (it’s hard to think of a better one), perhaps the way science was funded wasn’t done too badly even in hindsight (either that or the private/public shift is simply a corrleation that would have had no bearing on the outcomes, which I find hard to believe).

    It’s also still the case that lots of science these days has private support, but it isn’t the whole gamut (not even close), and there are certainly areas which would never get much funding because they simply don’t make enough money in the medium term or because there is too much risk in what the outcome will be (like nuclear fusion), it’s clear they never will make enough money even if they do have obvious money making applications (new forms of antibiotics), or because they won’t make money at all (e.g., most mathematics). Without public funding, these areas would all disappear, and when something that arises that could use them, the decades of work that has been done developing them would still need to be done, and that’s not even considering when discovery goes the other direcation — i.e., when areas like mathematics drive inventions vs. inventions needing mathematics to be used.

    A good example of this latter one for economists is the introduction of techniques like structural equation modeling and multi-level analysis. Before some people paid out of the public pocket invented these, the way people could approach analysing various problems was quite different to what we can do now. Thus there is a general benefit for the innunmerable people using these ideas, but almost no benefit to the individuals that came up with it (apart from the fact that some of us think they’re really smart and that they probably made a few bucks from promotions and out of their books from being really smart).

  18. Gummo Trotsky says:

    In addition to the areas of scientific research conrad’s just outlined, there are areas such as environmental science and public health where findings might be inimical to wealth generation – for example, the research that led to the banning of leaded petrol. Leaded petrol was wealth, or rather profit, generating for the oil companies, but putting vaporised lead into the atmosphere was demonstrated to be a bad idea from a health point of view.

    It’s difficult to imagine a private corporation focussed on “wealth-generating” research investing much into research on the possible adverse effects of its wealth generating technologies unless, perhaps, it was required to by regulation.

  19. Rafe says:

    Thanks Nicholas, the claim of tendentiousness needs to be considered on a case by case basis and I don’t which particular cases you have in mind. I appreciate that there is not the time to read everything and we have to rely on a steer from other people to stuff that is off our regular beat. Hence my steer to Kealey.

    Of course it is not necessary for a supporter of the MPS to endorse everything that the members say. There is a recent book that is critical of the Mont Pelerin Society and I consider that it is somewhat tendentious.
    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2010/02/12/a-leftie-look-at-the-mont-pelerin-society/

    Conrad, I hear what you are saying and I can see a role for states in things like the international supercolider project which cost multi billions. But even in a project of that size, you can see potential for the private sector if it was not crowded out in the 20th by the public sector plus taxation.

    The moon shot is not a good example from your point of view, what did science or humanity gain from sending men to the moon? Nowadays the private sector is sending satellites into space and may be prepared to do the same for people who are prepared to pay.

    Gummo, I don’t think that the regulatory role of the state represents a case against the private funding of R&D. Laissez faire does not mean a zero state!

  20. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Rafe,

    The beast you’re flogging here isn’t a dead horse – it’s a stillborn foal. Let’s take an example from Kealey’s more recent book, as described in that Times review:

    What does marijuana tell us about the government funding of science? Well, a vast amount of taxpayers’ money around the world is spent on agricultural research to improve yields. Yet, according to Terence Kealey, pot-growers manage nicely without that aid and have developed “ever stronger and ever more disease-resistant strains” of literally mind-blowing potency.

    Which is great for pot-growers, and dope dealers – and very wealth-generating for them – and hazardous to the health of their consumers. There’s growing evidence linking pot to psychosis, particularly in teenagers. But research into that isn’t “wealth-generating” for the producers so they don’t do it. It’s done by medical researchers funded through the public purse. Necessarily so.

    The case of lung cancer and tobacco is similar – and we know that the major US tobacco companies ignored, and suppressed their own private research on the link between the two in pursuit of their only corporate social responsibility, that of making a profit.

    No one here is arguing that there should not be private research – you are spruiking the work of an author who argues (with considerable historical inaccuracy, it seems) that there should be no public research. And, as usual, steadfastly misreading counter-arguments to your position.

  21. Ken Miles says:

    In my real life, I work as a materials scientist in the private sector (for a profitable company which isn’t funded by government grants etc) and don’t see any evidence of public funding crowding us out. Quite the opposite – without publically funded research, we wouldn’t have had the knowledge base to develop our products.

  22. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Rafe, you’ve got to admit, that stuff about marijuana is pretty funny. Apparently our Rural R&D Corporations didn’t smoke enough dope.

    Sorry, silly cheap shot, but I mean really!

  23. Tel says:

    Leaded petrol was wealth, or rather profit, generating for the oil companies, but putting vaporised lead into the atmosphere was demonstrated to be a bad idea from a health point of view.

    Lead was removed from petrol because it interfered with the lambda sensors used by computer controlled engine management systems. The transition was sold to be public as an environmental improvement, but the lead was replaced with benzine which is considerably more toxic (and probably makes bigger profits for the oil companies since they need to get rid of the benzine somehow, and the lead compounds would have been a buy-in ingredient).

    The anti-lead brigade went on in the belief that they actually had a purpose and banned lead in solder; the argument being that since everyone knows the Roman Empire collapsed because they were all poisoned by lead pipes, and since solder is used in the modern world to join copper pipes, we must remove the tiny trace of lead that can be picked up by water passing over a few square millimeters of join. I wish I were joking.

    The disaster of tin whiskers then moved into the electronic industry such that no device made from lead-free solder can ever be fully reliable (this includes the Airbus by the way, Boeing regularly push for exemptions). So are governments round the world putting forward research money to regularly sweep Airbus circuit boards with a microscope looking for filaments 1/10th the thickness of a human hair? Hell no! If they found one, there would be freak-outs.

    There’s growing evidence linking pot to psychosis, particularly in teenagers.

    Maybe you can find just one single government-funded study attempting to prove that MJ is safe…

    The primary two reasons for government money in research are military (where government will never trust anyone other than themselves with the results) and control over research direction (by systematically displacing private funding, they can decide who gets the research grants and implicitly decide which answers they should deliver).

    I probably don’t need to convince anyone about the military angle, but I highly recommend everyone read the story of Ed Krug who researched Acid Rain for many years paid by the EPA — until he started discovering the “wrong” results, after which the EPA cut his funding and started blatantly discrediting everything he did.

    Of course there is a bog-simple way to figure out if Ed Krug was right or wrong, given that the Clean Air Act of 1990 forced the reduction of sulfate emissions, we merely need to check the 20 year trend in the Adirondack lakes. The answer happens to be that a very tiny increase in long term average pH has been seen, but much smaller than the normal natural variation. In effect, the Clean Air Act of 1990 has achieved next to nothing for acidity in these lakes — strangely pretty much what Ed Krug predicted. Of course, plenty of people have good explanations of why Krug is still wrong, even when he got it right, but that’s the way of political science.

    Back in 1915 there were trout in these lakes, the theory being that eliminating acid rain would bring them back — once again Ed Krug was right, the trout survival situation is no better than it was 20 years ago. On a brighter note, the EPA is sure making money out of the issue.

  24. Gummo Trotsky says:

    Tel,

    In Australia, at least, the phase out of leaded petrol began in 2000, under the National Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000 – during the Howard era. Seems to me that such an act would have appeared unnecessary to the Howard government if the motor industry, and the oil industry, had told them forcefully enough that leaded petrol wasn’t going to be a long term problem because lambda sensors in new cars made it obsolete. Besides that, your questionable reinvention of history doesn’t address the point that there was no profit, for either the car industry, or the oil industry, in researching the health effects of lead emissions from vehicles.

    Your dismissive discussion of the “anti-lead brigade” who were fool enough to accept the replacement of tetra-ethyl lead with even more toxic benzene is pretty egregious, and scientifically ignorant. Unlike benzene, lead is a chemical element – burning it in a car engine doesn’t change its chemistry, or its toxicity. Benzene, in contrast, is a highly combustible organic compound so if it appears in an engine exhaust that’s a sign that the engine isn’t burning efficiently. In a properly functioning engine, it would be conveerted to CO2 and water vapour.

    No, I doubt that I could find one government study saying that marijuana is safe. The recent studies show that as its become more “mind-blowing” it has become more hazardous for some users.

    As for the tale of Ed Krug – you’re so far off the mark on the leaded petrol and benzene stuff that I’d like to see some actual sources on that.

  25. Tel says:

    The leaded petrol slowly destroys the lambda sensor, that’s why it was a problem.

    Benzene, in contrast, is a highly combustible organic compound so if it appears in an engine exhaust that’s a sign that the engine isn’t burning efficiently. In a properly functioning engine, it would be conveerted to CO2 and water vapour.

    Meanwhile in the real world, engines don’t perfectly burn their fuel. The addition of a catalytic converter helps to re-burn some of the hydrocarbons (no improvement to overall efficiency, because the afterburn energy just goes into keeping the converter hot), thus improving the situation but leaded petrol also slowly damages the catalytic converter so this is another reason why lead had to go (vehicle owners rarely spend a lot of money replacing a non-functional catalytic converter, so long as they have a functional vehicle).

    That still leaves evaporative emissions caused by fuel handling, fuel storage, and inevitable fuel spills. A bigger problem if you work at a petrol station or live near one.

    Of course, the health effects of tiny quantities of lead over a large population are essentially impossible to measure because they are extremely small, and the health effects of tiny quantities of benzine are also equally small. The main complaint about vehicle emissions was photochemical smog, which was highly visible. This is produced by NOx and unburnt hydrocarbons, and this is the primary reason the catalytic converter and lambda sensors were brought in to begin with. The visible aspects having be dealt with, the newly created problem of benzine can be relegated to experts arguing over invisible things.

    As for the tale of Ed Krug – you’re so far off the mark on the leaded petrol and benzene stuff that I’d like to see some actual sources on that.

    Actually you are the one who does not understand how engines work, but plenty of educational material on both topics can be found with your favourite internet search engine. If you want measurements that prove a lack of progress in reducing acidity over the previous 20 years you would probably be interested in “Adirondack Lakes Survey Data”.

  26. Rafe says:

    The pot example just indicates that effective R&D can get done by private enterprise. Hardly news if you read the 1996 book.

    As for the public health aspect of pot, that happens to fall into the area of concern where I spend my working life. We recognise a problem with people who smoke too much pot but we have to spend a deal of time hosing down politicians and conservative community activists who want to beat up the possible connection beween pot smoking and psychosis. Whichever way that pans out I don’t see how it undermines anything that Kealey wrote in the book that I have read.

  27. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Kealey was on LifeMatters today.

    There was nothing in his voice that made him sound obviously mad, which was a definite plus. I’m also very tolerant of the idea that privately funded science – especially philanthropically funded science will be better – more useful – science than government funded science.

    He said that when Margaret Thatcher cut government funding for science more science was funded and left the reader with the general impression that this was a pretty general law. So it seems pretty simple really. Just get rid of the science budget and there’ll be no holding science back.

    He also mentioned the Gates Foundation a few times. So I presume that, consistent with the theory, Bill and Warren’s hundred odd billion was heard sluicing into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at just the time that the American Government cut back science funding by around $100 billion. Eerie yes, a coincidence – surely not!

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