Climate Science in the Age of Gruber—Part I: It’s all about the model

If you, gentle reader, have not had the opportunity to be outraged and personally insulted by MIT Economist Jonathan Gruber’s statements on “the stupidity of the American voter” and “a lack of transparency” making it possible to get Obamacare passed, you may have been out of the country, suffering a bad case of the flu, or relying on the mainstream media for news for the past month.

Gruber, a one-time darling of the left, created the now infamous GMSIM, or “Gruber Microeconomic Simulation Model,” a computer model upon which Obamacare, and before that, Romneycare, was built. Quite a few states have also paid Gruber hundreds of thousands of dollars for his healthcare modeling expertise.

The GMSIM model uses economic theory combined with actual experience to predict the results of any proposed health insurance law.

Obamacare is a law. Why does it need a Model?

A simulation model is simply a set of mathematical equations that takes data measured in the real world and manipulates it to predict what will happen in the future. A good model can predict with accuracy, while a poor model’s predictions usually won’t come true.

For example, a good weather model uses data about actual temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, etc., over a large geographic area, and runs a computer “simulation” to predict what temperature you can expect tomorrow, and the chances that it will rain.

A good model can predict with accuracy, while a poor model’s predictions usually won’t come true.

According to GMSIM documentation on the MIT website, Gruber and his team of grad students used data on 80,000 individuals and families, collected in the census, along with data from insurance companies, the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

This part of the model is pretty straightforward, as long as you trust the data coming from these organizations—which is not a question to be ignored, but let’s assume it’s OK for now.

Added to this real-world data, the economists input “varying information of policy parameters.” With this, they can predict the effect of different policy changes by converting changes in the law to estimated price changes. Or, in other words, it can predict how much insurance will cost for different groups of people, based on how the law is written.

Is Gruber’s Model Accurate?

Anyone can make a model, but the question remains, is the model accurate? An accurate model will predict the future accurately. An accurate weather model will predict the temperature a day or a week from now, and sure enough, the temperature will register fairly close to what was predicted. If not, the model sucks.

If the model does NOT accurately predict the future, modelers will often try to fix the situation using “fudge factors.” As defined by Google a fudge factor is “a figure included in a calculation to account for error or unanticipated circumstances, or to ensure a desired result.” (italics mine)

Computer modelers of all kinds throw fudge factors into their models

Computer modelers of all kinds throw fudge factors into their models in order to get their simulations to match what has happened in the real world. Fudge factors are one way the scientists running the simulations can make them come up with the answers that they want.

Another way to adjust the model to get the “right” answers is to change the starting point, ending point, or duration of the simulation run. For example, in modeling the costs of Obamacare, the clever lawmakers looked at a 10-year window of time, but deliberately delayed implementing some of the provisions for two or more years, so that the cost would be appear lower.

“Torturing” the Model

Gruber, who teaches Public Finance and Public Policy at MIT, knows how to “adjust” his model in order to change the outcome quite drastically.

In one of his infamous videos, he admits that “this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the [individual] mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” He understood that if it became clear that the mandate was a new tax imposed on them, the public would revolt.

This was unacceptable, politically, so Gruber and his “grubs” went to work to get the model to come up with a completely different answer. Of course, none of this was done in a closet. Congress actually “loaned” Gruber to the CBO to “help” them score the Obamacare law properly, as Max Baucus admitted on the Senate floor.

They discussed how to surreptitiously kill the health care tax benefit

Gruber is on record meeting with the head of the CBO in the Oval Office with President Obama, during which they discussed how to surreptitiously kill the health care tax benefit in such a way that no one would notice or complain.

After several months of messing with the model in order to get the right answers, in March 2010, CBO declared that Obamacare would become “deficit neutral” in 10 years, meaning that the costs of implementing the law averaged across that time would equal out the savings to the Federal Government. However, the law would only be in operation 6 of those 10 years, making the scorecard a joke.

The CBO’s finding, however tortured, was crucial in getting support for the bill in Congress, and was used as a cudgel to beat in the heads of conservatives and Republicans for months.

CBO, Other Models All Based on Gruber’s

According to a 2012 article in the New York Times Gruber spent decades developing his proprietary GMSIM model. Writer Catherine Rampell says that it was Gruber who convinced the administration that Obamacare could not work without the individual mandate (Don’t forget that Obama had run in 2008 on the position that a mandate was unconstitutional).

Futhermore, Rampell wrote, Gruber “has nearly cornered the market on the technical science behind these sorts of predictions.” She also quotes a different economist who claims that other similar models “all use Mr. Gruber’s work as a benchmark.”

Gruber is the only person you can go to for that kind of thing

“He’s the only person you can go to for that kind of thing,” Rampell quotes Harvard Economist David Cutler as saying, “which is why the White House reached out to him in the first place.”

In fact, the Obama Administration had no choice but to hire Gruber: his model is an inaccessible black box, due to its proprietary nature.

Persona non Gruber

But, perhaps most distressing for the way forward, is that Gruber’s GMSIM model, with its deliberately tortured and deceptive results, now forms the basis to which any future changes, updates or replacements to the Obamacare law will be scored.

And because the CBO doesn’t reveal how it calculates the costs of a particular bill, there is no way of telling exactly to what they will compare any future healthcare bills.

But according to J. Anderson writing in the Weekly Standard, “because the model that the CBO used in scoring Obamacare is the same one it uses today, any alternative to Obamacare that doesn’t include an individual mandate — which is to say, any conservative alternative — would be scored by the CBO as falling well short, in terms of coverage numbers.”

Gruber himself has quickly become persona non grata in the Democratic Party

Even though Gruber himself has quickly become persona non grata in the Democratic Party, his GMSIM model lives on, spreading deceit and mayhem wherever it is found.

But how does this cautionary tale of a computer model run amok relate to Climate Science? We’ll discuss that in the next article.

NEXT UP: Climate Science in the Age of Gruber, Part II: Models, Models Everywhere


Contrarian scientist Lennart Bengtsson slammed by climate cabal

This week, a renowned climate scientist and research fellow at the University of Reading in the UK was treated to the same sort of emotional blackmail doled out to Galileo in the 17th century by the Roman Catholic Church for publishing theories that disputed the sanctioned scientific views of that day.

Lennart Bengtsson has a long and distinguished career in the mainstream of climate science. The 79-year-old meteorologist has published some 225 peer-reviewed articles and was Head of Research for the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting) from 1975-1981 and Director from 1982-1990. He also was Director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg from 1990-2001 and from 2008 was Director of the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland.

However, Bengtsson has long questioned why climate models are not able to accurately predict the climate. In an interview with Hans von Storch, Bengtsson said that he is concerned that the global temperature rise of only about 1-1/3 degrees Farenheit since the end of the 19th century doesn’t match the large increase in greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by burning of fossil fuels.

Climate models don’t match the real world

It is an established fact that the Earth’s average temperature has not risen at all in the last 17 years.

Bengtsson is concerned that the United Nations’ IPCC group, which regularly puts out reports on the sad state of the world’s climate, is not paying enough attention to this fact, nor to the lack of ocean surface warming and the increases in Antarctic sea ice in the last several years.

Furthermore, he told von Storch, he began to be dismayed by the way the science behind the IPCC report was being used to advance a purely political agenda.

In fact, President Obama’s newly released National Climate Assessment report relies heavily on the IPCC report. The NCA will be the basis of the EPA’s upcoming regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, which is expected to cause the price of energy to skyrocket, and in the process, cut quite a few jobs.

Climate science ‘not ready for prime time’

This “dramatic makeover of the power industry” based on a science that is not yet well understood is exactly what has Bengtsson worried. “Climate science must be focused to understand such matters much better and for this reason it is appropriate to have an open mind and not follow the IPCC as believers of a religious faith,” he told von Storch.

His doubt and questions eventually led him to join a think tank called the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which the mainstream climate science community regards with disdain, though its members come from every flavor of the political spectrum.

Though he doesn’t agree with all the scientists at GWPF, Bengtsson said he believes there should be a variety of opinions aired about such a complex system as the Earth’s climate. And furthermore, he is interested in the group’s desire to use science to help society adapt to changes in climate that occur in the future, such as, for example, using nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels.

Brutal backlash

Unfortunately, the collaboration was short lived. Within a week after his announcement, Bengtsson wrote an email to the GWPF to resign his new position, due to the vicious backlash he received from the mainstream climate science community. In it, he wrote:

“I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety….

It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.”

–Lennart Bengtsson

One of the most striking claims Bengtsson made is that “the pressure had mainly come from climate scientists in the US,” and specifically a scientist who works for the U.S. Government, who insisted on removing his name from a paper co-authored with Bengtsson.

This “My Way or the Highway” approach reminds me of what President Obama, incidentally the head of the U.S. Government, expressed this past week, when he said, “We’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate.”


Politicizing Climate Science – 3.0

UPDATE: See independent scientists’ critique of the National Climate Assessment.

With much fanfare, President Obama today released the final version of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA). In order to impress upon the public that drastic changes in the weather, such as rain and heat and lightning and snowstorms, are caused by human activities, the Administration put on a dog-and-pony show, complete with TV Weather Presenter/Actor Al Roker.

The final NCA report contains hundreds of pages of dire warnings about how we despicable humans are causing climate disruptions of all sorts, due to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants, factories and cars.

In advance of the parade of eight TV weatherpersons, White House counselor John Podesta announced, like John the Baptist in the wilderness preparing the Way of the Lord, that Republicans in Congress would not be able to stop the inevitable: Obama’s climate agenda.

word cloud - politicsPodesta’s pronouncement revealed that the real purpose of the latest report is to provide political cover for new Executive Orders, which will result in more environmental regulations designed to kill the coal industry and hamstring the rest of the country with “necessarily skyrocketing” electricity prices.

The Climate Science Supplement

Wanting to skip the report’s political palaver, Ms. Contrarian Scientist hunted for the science behind it, which, she hoped, could be found in one of the Appendices, labeled the “Climate Science Supplement.”

The Supplement was written by a long list of scientists, including Katherine Hayhoe, Evangelical Christian and former science adviser to Newt Gingrich.

Remember how, during the 2012 primaries, Newt recanted his former support for global warming and in the process, distanced himself from Ms. Hayhoe? Well, it’s payback time, and this is intended as a direct smear on Republicans. As for Ms. Hayhoe, she has become something of a celebrity in the global warming crowd these days.

After the Supplement’s list of authors, we find 12 “Supplemental Messages” that the scientists divined during their years-long assessment of the “best available science.”

These “messages” remind Ms. Contrarian Scientist of the “talking points” that Ben Rhodes wanted Susan Rice to emphasize on the Sunday Talk shows after the massacre of our Ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.

The very first Supplemental Message asserts that, although climate changes in the past have been caused by natural factors, human activities are now the dominant agents of change. Oh, really? Humans have more effect on the climate of Earth than the Sun? Or than the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the planet?

It was all too much. Ms. Contrarian Scientist had to take a break from the politics and leave the real science for another day.