The Laboratory Library: Book Reviews

Climate Change Reconsidered: 
The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change

Climate Change Reconsidered: The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change
by S. Fred Singer and
Craig Idso

Reviewed by Karl Bohnak

NO OTHER AREA of scientific study ignites more passion and emotion than climate science. This is because the subject deals not just with natural science; it has crossed over into the realm of political science. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a sweeping climate change bill that includes controversial cap-and-trade legislation to limit greenhouses gas emissions. The Senate will consider the same bill soon. While the bill was squeaking through the House by the slimmest of margins, government scientists issued a report that stated, "Observations show warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the last 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases." Further, these scientists say that CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels must be cut now to prevent runaway warming, serious environmental damage and social upheaval.

A substantial number of scientists disagree with the above statements. One such group recently put together a book published by the free-market think tank The Heartland Institute. "Climate Change Reconsidered: The Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" provides a stark contrast to the certitude and alarming climate stories that emanate from major media outlets. This 880-page book argues that climate change — meaning human-caused climate change or global warming — is not a crisis.

The lead authors of the report are scientists S. Fred Singer and Craig Idso. Singer, an atmosphere and space physicist, is one of the most outspoken skeptics of man-made global warming. He has written numerous articles and editorial essays for major publications including Cosmos, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. In 2004, he co-authored "Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years." Idso is a geographer with a doctorate from Arizona State University, where he has lectured in meteorology. He is the founder, past president and current chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

Chapter by chapter, the authors dismantle fear of looming crises with published, often peer-reviewed work. The book is set up in such a way that one can access concise conclusions to each of the nine chapters in the opening executive summary. Each chapter deals with a specific area, beginning with the cornerstone of alarmist predictions, Global Climate Models (GCMs). The chapters are broken up into sections that outline studies and research from various parts of the world that question global warming orthodoxy. The end of each chapter contains a bibliography citing the research publications referred to in the text.

In Chapter 1, a question is posed: "Are GCMs capable in principle of producing a reliable forecast?" The authors say the answer is a resounding "No." It is shown that in effect, these models are mathematical representations of assumptions the scientists constructing these models have about how the global climate works. GCMs are shown to have deficiencies in their representation of the earth's radiation budget, clouds and precipitation. These and other physical properties are still not well understood. Since these models start out with faulty assumptions, their output is likely to be wrong. In addition, the book references the work of experts in scientific forecasting, which demonstrates that forecasts issued in 2007 by the U.N.'s International Panel of Climate Change violate more than half of the 140 principles of scientific forecasting.

The ensuing chapters deal with climate sensitivity, temperature, observations of glaciers, sea ice, precipitation and sea level. The role of the sun in global climate is examined in Chapter 5. Conventional global warming science assumes that the sun provides a relatively constant source of energy and any subtle changes in energy output are now dwarfed by growing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Key findings from around the world show that solar variability has a history of producing profound global climate changes and correlates much better with temperature and precipitation trends than levels of atmospheric CO2.

The concluding chapters examine extreme weather events, the biology of CO2 enhancement, species extinction and human health effects of CO2. One of the most ominous alarmist claims is that global warming will cause more extreme weather events. Peer-reviewed research shows no upsurge in such events over the last century. In fact, evidence is presented that explains that historically, extreme weather events like floods and droughts have occurred more frequently during colder episodes like the Little Ice Age. In the biological realm, increased CO2 is shown to be beneficial for most herbaceous plants. Experiments were done where CO2 levels were raised and plant yields increased. Production rates were even higher for woody plants when CO2 levels were raised. In the species section, the state of the poster-animal of global warming alarmism — the polar bear — is among the topics reviewed. Here, research shows that virtually all scientists agree that populations of this carnivore have increased since the 1970s, casting doubt on predictions that a warming world will threaten the animal. As for humans, there is no evidence that disease has increased with the minimal warming of the late 20th century. Life span has increased in all areas of the world due to technological advances fueled by carbon-based energy.

"Climate Change Reconsidered" is an excellent overview of the available peer-reviewed and other research that questions the premise that human emission of CO2 will cause catastrophic climate change. The work contains an exhaustive collection of scientific studies in support of this thesis, arranged in a well-organized format. It provides substance for the scientist while staying accessible to the layman. The book is an indispensable document cataloguing the case for skepticism of orthodox global warming science. It is a must-read, particularly for policymakers charged with the task of shaping America's environmental laws and energy future.

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The Fluoride Wars: How a Modest Public Health Measure Became America’s Longest-Running Political Melodrama

The Fluoride Wars: How a Modest Public Health Measure Became America’s Longest-Running Political Melodrama
by R. Allen Freeze, Jay H. Lehr

Reviewed by Ken Braun

THERE IS A wickedly satirical game called "Illuminati," the goal of which is to construct an improbable political conspiracy and conquer the world. For example, a player can leverage his "Anti-War Activists" card into a cabal that secretly lords over the Federal Reserve Bank, the Republican Party and the KGB (with the Anti-War Activists in turn answering to the likes of the "Boy Sprouts" or the Post Office). The fun is in creating the most absurd organizational chart, and I was reminded of this as I read "The Fluoride Wars: How a modest public health measure became America's longest-running political melodrama," a new book from R. Allan Freeze and Jay H. Lehr. Of course, there is an Illuminati card for "The Fiendish Fluoridators," and this book will leave you thinking that no satire will ever compete with the real thing.

Readers are reminded on Page 5 of the greatest fluoridated water satire of them all: Col. Jack D. Ripper from the 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove," who went mad and started a nuclear war, convinced that fluoridated public water was a communist plot to rob Americans of their "precious bodily fluids." But in real-world 1950, the "threat" of Soviet water tampering was seriously advanced in Stevens Point, Wisc., as one of the reasons to vote down public water fluoridation. Well before the fictional Col. Ripper used bombs to fight off "commie fluoride," these real voters became the first community in America to get the job done with ballots.

Though the issues would change, Stevens Point would have many imitators in the decades that followed. Just during the 2000 election, 14 of the 26 communities holding a referendum on public water fluoridation voted against it.

Freeze and Lehr are both well-regarded researchers in environmental and water quality, and much of this book is a highly readable scientific history of why and how the introduction of fluoride to the American diet has radically transformed public health for the better by stamping out tooth decay. It is a fine science lesson regarding dosage and risk calculation, and a solid history book as well. If nothing else, it should substantially upgrade the waiting room reading material at many dental offices.

But it's much more entertaining than all that. It would be forgivable to assume (as I did) that the book should be strongly pro-science and thus contain much mockery of the anti-fluoridation zealots. This it does do, but that's far from the whole story. On Page 7, those with a "strong opinion" about the issue are warned that they should "try to park it in a corner for a while." Like the conspiracy game, it turns out that in "The Fluoride Wars," little is ever quite as you suspect.

For example, there is the ironic revelation that ol' Col. Ripper might have been just a tiny bit right! In 1994, a reputable FDA researcher recommended further investigation after finding hints of a potentially slight — but still statistically significant — correlation between communities with fluoridated water and decreasing fertility in women. (Thankfully, the research found no reason to mention the defunct Soviet Empire as an aggravating factor.)

As with many substances that are beneficial in small doses, fluoride in larger doses can cause harm that is known (such as discolored teeth and crippling skeletal fluorosis) or harm still unproven (such as infertility). In this, there is another historical irony: The original federal investigation into fluoridated water was undertaken to help prevent the discoloration of teeth that occurs when people live in communities with too much natural fluoride in their water supply. In the course of this research, the extraordinary cavity-fighting benefit of fluoride was discovered, leading to an about-face by the government and a decision to promote adding fluoride to the vast majority of water supplies that don't have it naturally.

The authors take the reader through the morass of potential and proven side effects, and also pay a prolonged visit to the completely outrageous and baseless health allegations made against fluoride. In all of this there are whiplash-inducing ideological turns as fears from the political "Right" about Soviet plots morph into (or just join with) unhinged accusations from the "Left," such as one which holds that the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa) foisted water fluoridation on Americans as a profitable means of getting rid of their industrial pollutants. Pretty soon, you get the impression that the "Fiendish Fluoridators" have enemies everywhere, including at the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and even the labor union that represents the research employees who help establish safe drinking water standards for the federal government.

But as it turns out, some of these critics are not anti-science zealots, and they have serious points worth considering. While there is no question that fluoride makes a valuable health contribution in countries (such as this one) with citizens who consume refined sugar by the truckload, Freeze and Lehr believe that we should give more thought to what a proper dosage is. Unlike in 1945, when Grand Rapids, Mich., became the first municipality to get fluoridated water, today, nearly all toothpaste is heavily fluoridated. We also now have routine applications of fluoride from dental offices; mouth rinses contain it; and many of the packaged foods and beverages we buy are made with fluoridated water. "The Fluoride Wars" makes a convincing case that if you are at least a middle-income American with access to dental care, yet with no fluoride in your tap water, then you are still very likely to get more than the optimal fluoride dose needed to protect your teeth.

So, are Americans living in fluoridated water communities flirting with overdose? Well, in 1997, the authors of one of the most popular dental school textbooks called for a 30 percent reduction in the recommended supplemental fluoride dosage added to municipal water systems. Freeze and Lehr state that the "need for a reduction in overall fluoride levels was in the air" when the American Association of Public Health Dentistry's annual conference in 1994 featured a symposium titled "Fluoride: How Much of a Good Thing?"

Yet the federal government's recommended dosage for fluoride content in municipal water systems has remained virtually unchanged. Why? Loosely paraphrasing and somewhat oversimplifying a more complex argument, the book concludes that this is because after fighting for decades with anti-fluoridation zealots (and often getting beaten by their propaganda at the local ballot box), some of the strongest proponents of public water fluoridation in the dental establishment started refusing to pay attention to any evidence undercutting the wisdom of their past recommendations, often out of a subconscious fear that it would put too much intellectual ammunition into enemy hands. For legitimate American researchers who have uncovered hints of harm relating to our current fluoride dosage level, this institutional phobia has sometimes meant difficulty in getting published in American dental journals and even career-threatening ostracism. (Tellingly, many of those excluded do manage to publish instead in comparable European journals.)

It should be no surprise that the anti-fluoride zealots have long alleged a dark corporate and/or governmental conspiracy to suppress the "real story" about the evils of fluoride toxicity. But as it turns out, clumsy attempts by the champions of fluoridated water to hide real information appears to have come about because of - and as a paranoid defense mechanism against — those very accusations by anti-fluoride zealots regarding far more sinister and elaborate plots. In "The Fluoride Wars," you discover that it is the conspiracy theorists themselves who secretly hold the puppet strings — even though they don't know it.

How much fluoride should we put in the water? The authors conclude that it's a question that isn't easy to answer when the people looking into it are screaming at each other, making things up (some of the louder anti-fluoride zealots), or hiding some of the truth because they're afraid of what might be done with it (some dogmatic pro-fluoridation proponents). This book isn't really about teeth and fluoride; it's about how we go about making informed decisions regarding science and public policy. And no matter what you think you already know about that, Freeze and Lehr have something to teach you.

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