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In November 2000 I received a complimentary copy of a new microeconomics textbook by two professors at the University of Houston. The book's treatment of global warming was so amazing that I picked up some HTML (thanks Barb!!!) and brought their text onto the web, along with an email exchange with the authors, emails from the publisher, and a postscript. Read on and enjoy!
Ruffin and Gregory's text on global warming
From Ruffin, Roy J. and Paul R. Gregory, Principles of Microeconomics, 7th Edition (Boston: Addison Wesley, 2001), p. 380.
Example 5: Global WarmingThe Great Debate
The debate over global warming shows that no matter how much contrary evidence is presented, it does not matter. The popular sentiment by politicians, the press, and educators makes three disputable claims: (1) global warming is occurring, (2) global warming is caused by our consumption of fossil fuels, and (3) global warming is bad for our future. But every single one of these claims is disputed by reputable scientists. For example, the earth has gotten warmer over the past 300 years, but it is still on a cooling trend over the past several thousand years. A warm 1999-2000 winter is hardly conclusive scientific proof. Indeed, when a "scientific consensus" for global warming is presented in the press, that consensus is based on a group consisting largely of social scientists and educators who have no direct knowledge of climate science. There are in fact very few climatologists in the United States, and the majority of them are skeptical of global warming.
Most of the evidence for global warming is really based not so much on measurements but on models of global warming that predict it will occur. These predictions, however, have been systematically biased upward; each year the models have to be revised downward. When a model makes a false prediction, it should be rejected rather than used as a basis for policy. Actual measurements of atmospheric temperatures show no alarming trend.
It has been argued by some economists that even if global warming takes place, it may prove to be beneficial to society. Agricultural production may be stimulated, it will cost less to heat our homes, and we may spend more time fishing, swimming, and golfing.
But the biggest risk of doing something about global warming is that the costs of cutting carbon emissions will fall on the poorest members of our planetthe developing countries. Since economic development is energy intensive, raising the cost of using carbon resources will cut the economic growth rates of countries such as India and Mexico more than that of more advanced countries.
My email exhange with Ruffin and Gregory
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 2000 16:13:11 -0800 (PST)
Professors, Mr. Shea: I have received a desk copy of the 7th edition of your Principles of Microeconomics textbook, and I must say that I am astounded by your coverage of global warming. To say that "the debate over global warming shows that no matter how much contrary evidence is presented, it does not matter" is completely unprofessional, bringing to mind conspiracy theories and black helicopters rather than reasoned analysis worthy of an academic text. It also happens to be wrong, at least according to voices you should find respectable (see for example the November 16th edition of The Economist).
I encourage you (and you, Mr. Shea) to recall this textbook as misleading and untrustworthy. For my part, I am going to spread the word about your textbook and Mr. Shea's publishing house.
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2000 08:38:50 -0600
Dear Mr. Bauman: Received your e-mail. I think you must misunderstand the nature of the example on global warming. When we say that the issues are "debatable," this simply means that there are disagreements among scientists not that the notions are untrue. We're sorry to have alarmed you so much. Global warming is a serious issue, but one that should be addressed by scientific evidence and methods rather than a pros and cons approach that we seem to see. Global warming is certainly occurring. But there are questions dealing with its solution because the models themselves still need to be worked out until their predictions fit all the facts at our disposal--this is a point we have not yet reached. As a scientist, I believe that we must use testable and fully tested models of scientific questions. There is still the problem of the difference between atmospheric temperatures and earth-based measurements, and the models have not yet addressed this difference. This does not in any way deny global warming. Perhaps we should have used the word "controversial" rather than "debatable," but its a big book and wrong words are often used. In any case, this will give you a chance to show just how smart you are compared to the authors! Thanks for your comments; hopefully, in the next edition there will be more closure on this issue. Best regards, Roy Ruffin
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000 16:37:55 -0800 (PST)
Professor: Thanks for your reply. I am not at all troubled when you say that global warming is debatable; disclaimers such as "the balance of evidence suggests that..." appear everywhere. What troubles me is when you say that global warming is _not_ debatable, and that is clearly the message of your sidebar, beginning with the opening sentence: "The debate over global warming shows that no matter how much contrary evidence is presented, it does not matter." I cannot interpret this sentence (or the sidebar as a whole) in any way that is even remotely consistent with what you say in your email ("Global warming is a serious issue..."; "Global warming is certainly occurring..."; "[We] simply mean that there are disagreements among scientists...").
I hope that you and Professor Gregory (and Mr. Shea, your publishing representative) will recognize this inconsistency and act accordingly. Your suggestion that this "misunderstanding" could be cleared up by using the word "controversial" rather than "debatable" is quite odd, if for no other reason than that words like "debate" appear only twice in your sidebar: once in the title ("Global Warming--The Great Debate") and once in the opening sentence (quoted above). Thereafter your sidebar features not equivocations but declarations ("There are in fact very few climatologists in the United States, and the majority of them are skeptical of global warming"). These declarations are based on a single suspect source (see my postscript below for details), appear to contain major factual inaccuracies, and are at odds with what you say in your own email.
I would suggest that your reputations as scholars (and Addison-Wesley's reputation as a trustworthy publishing house) are at stake here in much the same way that Paul Ehrlich's reputation was at stake in his ill-fated bet with Julian Simon. To his credit, Ehrlich at least had the honor and good sense to acknowledge his error and pay the cost. It will be to your credit if you do the same and recall your textbook.
PS. In your book you dismiss the "scientific consensus" on global warming as one "consisting largely of social scientists and educators who have no direct knowledge of climate science." Yet your own sidebar is based entirely on a lecture by the director of the Cato Institute's program on natural resources, a man who may himself have no direct knowledge of climate science. (He didn't return my emails, so I don't know for sure.) What I do know for sure is that some of his claims fail to stand up to scrutiny. For example, he says that "4,000+ scientists (70 of whom are Nobel Prize winners) have signed the so-called Heidelberg Appeal, which warns the industrialized world that no compelling evidence exists to justify controls of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions." I have located various copies of the Heidelberg Appeal on the web (for example, at www.heartland.org); all of them feature the identical text, and that text makes no mention of greenhouse gas emissions.
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000 22:50:43 -0500 (EST)
Dear Mr. Baum:
Your approach does not encourage discourse on the subject of global warming. I imagine that 99 out of 100 reports that reach the general public assert without doubt that global warming exists and will have dire consequences. When we cite an article that states that this may not be true, we are labelled as seeing "black helicopters" and declared "ignorant." We may reach the point soon where anyone who raises such questions will be penalized and punished. It is rather extreme to ask the withdrawal of a book that consists of almost 800 pages of good economic analysis because of a sentence that you disagree with. The offending sentence simply says that contrary evidence has been and continues to be ignored.
I truly hope that this is not your position. If so, it does discredit to the position that you espouse and suggests a witchhunt.
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 07:15:14 -0800 (PST)
Professor: Thank you for your email. At some point I hope that you and your coauthor can move beyond denial and anger and reach acceptance. What I hope you will accept is this:
Finally, I must point out that I have never declared you to be "ignorant", and I do not intend to. I think you have made a mistake, and I hope you take appropriate steps to acknowledge and correct that mistake.
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 10:31:34 -0500 (EST)
Your colleague declared us ignorant, not you. We don't seem to be progessing with these exchanges; therefore, this is my last one.
The Denouement: Emails from the economics editor at Addison-Wesley
Date: 11 Dec 2000 11:38:58 -0500
Dear Mr. Bauman:
Thank you for your recent query to our web site. David Shea has forwarded me your messages regarding Ruffin-Gregory and the example on global warming. I am sorry that the authors' treatment of this subject has offended you, and thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.
We are in the midst of reviewing the material in question. If you have further thoughts on this topic, please feel free to write to me at this email address. Written correspondence may be sent to the address listed below.
Again, many thanks for your valuable thoughts on this topic.
(My side of this email exchange is not at all interesting, so I'm skipping it...)
Date: 18 Dec 2000 09:21:42 -0500
Dear Mr. Bauman:
Thank you for your message and for your concern about our coverage of this issue. I will let you know the outcome of our discussions. It would be helpful if you could send to me (in a single email, if possible) the comments that you have gathered from climate scientists. I do not doubt the validity of your point of view, but having informed opinions from scientists may come in handy. Is there a chance that you could forward these to me by Monday afternoon?
I appreciate your willingness to assist us. I will be in touch soon.
Date: 24 Dec 2000 13:33:29 -0500
Thank you for forwarding these email messages. I appreciate all of your efforts! We will indeed modify the book's coverage of global warming in the next (i.e., third) printing.
Very best wishes for the holiday season--
Many thanks to all those who took the time to write to Ruffin and Gregory and/or to me about this issue--it seems like we've had some success!!! Someday I hope to come across the new printing of Ruffin and Gregory's textbook; if and when I do I will post their updated treatment of global warming...
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