Date: The issue of organophosphate pesticide (OP) poisoning was raised in 1976 when Levin (currently Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine), Rodnitzky (currently MD at University of Chicago) and Mick (Ph.D. at University of Iowa) suggested a possibility of adverse human psychological effects of OP exposure. [i] In the same year, Levin and Rodnitzky published another paper, claiming that “despite of methodological shortcomings”, investigators generally agree on the presence of several behavioral effects of OP poisoning.” [ii] Also in the same year, OP containers were required to be labeled as potentially hazardous for the first time in the U.K.

Forecast of the impending disaster: The paper indicated that that organophosphate compounds may be associated with anxiety and subtle psychological defects.

Forecasting method: Levin, Rodnitzky and Mick assessed psychological effects in 24 commercial pesticide farmers recently exposed to organophosphate agents on personality tests, anxiety scale, structured interview and cholinesterase level. Then, the results were compared to those of 24 controls (with substantially less exposure). The findings from this experiment could not establish a correlation between behavior abnormality and organophosphate exposure, and did not justify the subsequent public alarm.

Actions called for: In 1996, Congress enacted significant changes to the Food Quality Protection Act, directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure a “reasonable certainty of no harm due to pesticide” by evaluating pesticides against standards. By 2002, 14 out of 49 OP pesticides registered were canceled and 28 others have had considerable risk mitigation measures. [iii] In Australia, the National Registration Authority, the federal body which governs the registration of agricultural chemicals, called for a ban on organophosphate in all domestic situations and around animals that produce milk for human consumption. In 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture of Britain temporarily withdrew OP sheep dip from the market because the containers allowed the chemical to splash onto farmers’ hands and arms. More recently, in 2006, the agriculture committee of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized the increasing international and national concern over OP poisoning and set as a priority a ‘progressive ban on highly toxic pesticides’. FAO urges governments to comply with the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides.

Endorsement of and challenges to the forecast: Several active interest groups, such as Pesticide Action Networks (PAN), United Farm Workers (UFW), Total Environment Centre (TEC- Australia), strongly advocate for the removal of toxic pesticides in the market, including OP. In the 1990’s, some Gulf War veterans reported symptoms of chronic fatigue, memory loss and congenital defects and linked them to being sprayed with OP during the conflict. [iv] In Britain, anti-OP cause was led by attractive figures such as Countess of Mar, who was herself poisoned with OP dip in 1989.

Outcome of the forecast: To date, no scientific evidence proves a causal link between organophosphate pesticide exposure and psychological illness in human. In December 2007, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon of Britain said, "My Lords, the government have so far committed £4.1 million to research and development on whether organophosphates cause chronic ill health in humans. None of the research so far has confirmed this suggestion." [v]

A pdf version of this description is available here.


[i] Levin, H. S., Rodnitzky, R. L. & Mick, D. L. (1976). “Anxiety associated with exposure to organophosphate compounds,” Arch. Gen. Psych, 33.

[ii] Levin, H. S. & Rodnitzky, R. L. (1976). “Behavioral effects of organophosphate in man,” Clinical toxicology, 9(3): 391-403.

[iii] Food Quality Protection Act Available here.

[iv] Mackness, Bharti, Durrington, Paul N. & Mackness, Michael I. (2000). “Low Paraoxonase in Persian Gulf War Veterans Self-Reporting Gulf War Syndrome,” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 276 (2).

[v] House of Lords Publication 18 Dec 2007 : Column 571 Available here.

Date: Started in 1974, apparently based on a paper by G.E. Likens and F.H. Bormann, [i] who were professors of Ecology and Systems at Cornell University and Forest Ecology, Emeritus at Yale University, respectively, at the time.

Forecast of the impending disaster: Likens and Bormann predicted that sulfur oxides will increase “two- to fivefold by the year 2000”, and claimed that the effects of strong acids into natural system in the northeastern United States must be considered in proposals for new energy sources and in the development of air quality emission standards.

A November 20 (2009) search for
'acid rain' in Google Scholar found that three out of the top four links were to papers written by G. E. Likens. Likens & Bormann (1974) has 264 citations.

Forecasting method: Likens and Bormann provide a rambling discussion of some facts and conjectures about sulfur emissions and then offer their forecasts. Their paper does not descibe their forecasting procedure, nor do they make any reference to issues of forecasting methodology.

Actions called for: Government imposed regulations intended to reduce the emissions of SO2 and NOx by implementing programs proposed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and supported by politicians such as Senator Stafford and Senator Mitchell. [ii]

Endorsement of and challenges to the forecast: Experts from leading institutions (e.g. F.H. Bormann from Yale, Noye M. Johnson from Dartmouth, from G.E. Likens from Cornell) and special interest groups (Environmental Protection Agency), claimed that acid rain had wiped out fish in many lakes and streams, and that it poses a serious risk to human health. Likens, along with other scientists, even claimed that the current government action alone is not enough to fight against the long-term danger of acid rain. [iii] Alarming reports on the predicted effects of acid rain were given much coverage by the media from 1979.

Outcomes of the conflict: In the United States, the Acid Rain Program was implemented in 1990 under the Clean Air Act. The Program called for a total reduction of about 10 million tons of SO2 emissions by 2010 from most of the power plants in the country.[iv] The Acid Rain Program is still in effect yet the benefits of the reduction of SO2 emissions related to acid rain is undetermined. The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP), a 10-year, $537 million study sponsored by the federal government, found that special interest scare-mongering over acid rain was not based on facts, that acid rain cuased very little environmental damage, and that it posed virtually no risk to human health. [v] The NAPAP further proposed alternative solutions to the problem of acid lakes in the Northeast (the acidity of which were in fact unrelated to acid rain), such as adding limes in the lakes. This solution would cost less than $500,000, a fraction of the cost of the current regulations which have been estimated to amount to $1 to $2 billion per year. [vi] (EPA estimate of the cost required to the targeted SO2 emission reduction 2010. EPA reports that this is “only” one quarter of the original EPA estimates.)

A pdf version of this description is available here.


[ii] Jurgen Schmandt and Hilliard Roderick. (1990) Acid Rain and friendly neighbors: The policy dispute between Canada & the United States. USA: Duke University Press.

[iii] Likens, G. E. Driscoll, C. T. Buso, D. C. (1996) “Long-Term Effects of Acid Rain: Response and Recovery of a Forest Ecosystem,” Science, 5259, pg. 224-245.

[v] NAPAP 2005 Report

[vi] EPA 2008 Acid Rain Progress Report


Other Sources:

Simon, Julian L & Norman Myers. (1994) “Scarcity or Abundance? A debate on the environment,” Chapter 5: Atmospheric Issues. (available in www.juliansimon.com)

Brookes, Warren T. (1989) “The Continuing Mythodology about Acid Rain,” Human Events, pp.12-13.

Singer, S.F. "The answers on acid rain fall on deaf ears," The Wall Street Journal, 3/6/90. (available in Fort Freedom)

Date: Started in 1962 based on a book, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Forecast of impending disaster: DDT was claimed to be a dangerous cancer-causing chemical. Publication of the book was followed by what some called a national hysteria. The alarm over forecasts of DDT’s harmful effects combined concerns about the health and wellbeing of people with concerns about other species. Papers by scientists purported to demonstrate harmful effects on people from DDT exposure.

Forecasting method: A scenario based on the author’s speculations from various pieces of information about the effects of DDT. There was no direct evidence that DDT harmed people.

Actions called for: Governments were asked to ban exports of DDT and World Bank loans would be banned to countries that used DDT.

Endorsements of and challenges to the forecast: Leading scientists from institutions (such as Stanford University), politicians (such as Senator Al Gore,) and a report by a commission appointed by President Carter. The reports of the dangers were widely covered by the mass media.

Outcomes of the conflict: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of DDT following an 80-day hearing in 1972. Europe and Africa, under pressure from international agencies, did too. No actual harmful effects on humans have been found to result from DDT. Millions of people have died from mosquito-born diseases such as malaria. The EPA decision was based on two studies of animals: the first could not be replicated and the second used a flawed experimental design.

Source: Edwards (2004); Waite (1994)

A pdf version of this description is available here.

Date: Colonel Charles Howard-Bury publicly questioned Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Minister of Health, on his awareness of the use of tetraethyl lead (TEL)[i] ethyl in petrol. Petrol containing TEL was believed to harmful to human health after five workers died from a form of sudden lead poisoning at one of Standard Oil and General Motor’s facility in New Jersey in 1924.

Forecast of impending disaster: Philip J. Landrigan (M.D. and Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center) published a study (1976) that suggested there might be a correlation between lead exposure and a child’s IQ.[ii] In a later study (2002), he claimed leaded petrol was a leading cause of lead exposure and stated that lead exposure can cause a wide range of illness in adults and poses especially high risks for children, affecting their neurological development, growth and intelligence. [iii]

Forecasting Method: Landrigan, in his 1976 study, evaluated the prevalence, sources and health consequences of lead absorption among children living near a primary lead smelter and found that increased lead exposure was associated with anemia and slow nerve conduction. No direct causal relation was found between them. Later claims of dangerous health effects of lead poisoning from motor vehicle exhaust were primarily based on informal observations and expert opinions.

Actions called for: Col. Howard-Bury, “in view of the great dangers that there are of lead poisoning,” called for a ban of the use of leaded ethyl in 1928. Organic chemist Derek Bryce-Smith began a campaign to ban lead in petrol in the late-1960s that was picked up by housewife Jill Runnette and others[iv]. In 1970’s, soon after Landrigan’s study was published, U.S. Congress called for a federal ban on leaded petrol.

Endorsements of and challenges to the forecast: The danger of leaded gasoline received unfavorable publicity in mid-1920 mostly by The New York World I and by some labor union publication, which named TEL as the “loony gas”. The forecast was also endorsed by experts at leading institutions such as Alice Hamilton, (Harvard Medical School), and Dr. Yandell Henderson (Yale University), which added credence to the public fear of leaded gas. Dr. Clair Patterson (California Institute of Technology) was the first to scientifically identify the presence of lead in the environment due to human activity, predominately automobile exhaust, in 1953.[v] When the U.S. Senate Committee was conducting hearings in 1966 in regards to the Clean Air Act, Senator Ed Muskie focused on the dangers of lead in gasoline.[vi] In addition, interests groups such as the Asian Development Bank, The World Bank, and the World Health Organization, are taking global initiative to achieve gasoline lead phase-out in different countries. The prediction that lead in petrol was causing a major public health problem was, however, challenged by industry scientists and spokespeople. In contrast to the alarms over lead in the popular press, technical journals and medical experts remained skeptical. Dr. H.E. Howe, the editor of Industrial and Chemical Engineering, and Dr. H.C. Parmelee, editor of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, for example, did not support the forecast. Dr. Robert A. Kehoe, a physician consulting for ethyl, said "the major significance of the events of May, 1925 lay in the fact that they created in the public mind an apprehension concerning hazards associated with the distribution and use of leaded gasoline which, while wholly unjustified, was so great and so widespread as to require official action on the part of the health authorities of the U.S. government." [vii]

Outcomes of the conflict: In 1973, the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) began an enforced phase out of the use of TEL that called for a phase down of lead to one tenth of a gram per gallon by 1986. The EPA had eliminated almost all lead in gasoline by 1996. EPA Administrator, Carol M. Browner claimed “the elimination of lead from gas is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.” More recently, there has been international effort from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to achieve global gasoline lead phase-out, with focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite these policies, there is no scientific evidence that shows that lead from vehicle exhaust poses danger as an air pollutant. That is because most is dropped as a lead bromide powder onto the ground.[viii] To date, the EPA has not been able to explain the falling blood lead levels to less than 50% of their 1935 figure throughout middle 20th century when petrol emissions had actually risen by 700%. Landrigan’s testing of the effects of lead poisoning on children and was then generalized to adults. However, children are more susceptible to harmful effects because their chance of intake is higher because they have a natural tendency to put things in their mouths, placing them at higher risk of lead intake. Additionally, children have higher physiological uptake rates and are still in the developmental phases, enabling lead content in the environment to be more influential. These same effects have not shown to be applicable to adult populations as they are larger and can withstand exposure to greater quantities of lead, more than might result from automobile exhaust, before toxicity becomes an issue.[ix]

A pdf version of this description is available here.


[i] Hansard. "Petrol (Lead Tetraethyl)." Official Report of debates in Parliament. 01 03 1928. Millbank Systems, Web. 21 Nov 2009.

[ii] P. Landrigan, E. Baker, Jr., R. Feldman, D. Cox, K. Eden, W. Orenstein, J. Mather, A. Yankel, I. Lindern (1976), “Increased lead absorption with anemia and slowed nerve conduction in children near a lead smelter”, The Journal of Pediatrics, 89 (6).

[iii] Landrigan, Phillip J. (2002), “The worldwide problem of lead in petrol”. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 80 (10).

[iv] Lean, G. (1999). Change at the pumps: The slow death of lead. The Independent, 26 December. Available here.

[v] “1995 Tyler Laureate Clair C. Patterson." Tyler Prixe for Environmental Achievement. 1995. University of Southern California, Web. 28 Nov 2009.

[vi] Booker C. & North R. (2007) “Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth.” The Cromwell Press. London.

[vii] Stanton P. Nickerson, "Tetraethyl Lead: A Product of American Research," Journal of Chemical Education 31, (Nov. 1954), p. 567.

[viii] Booker C. & North R. (2007) “Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth.” The Cromwell Press. London.

[ix] Tong, von Schirnding, & Prapamontol. “Environmental lead exposure: a public health problem of global

dimensions.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 78.9 (2000): Print

Applying structured analogies to the global warming alarm movement

A project directed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A copy of the current draft working paper from this project, titled "The global warming alarm: Forecasts from the structured analogies method," is available here (updated 31 March , 2011).

The structured analogies procedure we used for this study was as follows:

  1. Identify possible analogies by searching the literature and by asking experts with different viewpoints to nominate analogies to the target situation: alarm over dangerous manmade global warming.
  2. Screen the possible analogies to ensure they meet the stated criteria and that the outcomes are known.
  3. Code the relevant characteristics of the analogous situations.
  4. Forecast target situation outcomes by using a predetermined mechanical rule to select the outcomes of the analogies.

Here is how we posed the question to the experts:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other organizations and individuals have warned that unless manmade emissions of carbon dioxide are reduced substantially, temperatures will increase and people and the natural world will suffer serious harm. Some people believe it is already too late to avoid some of that harm.
Have there been other situations that involved widespread alarm over predictions of serious harm that could only be averted at considerable cost? We are particularly interested in alarms endorsed by experts and accepted as serious by relevant authorities.”

We screened the proposed analogies to find those for which the outcomes were known and that met the criteria of similarity to the global warming alarm. Our criteria for similarity were that the situations must have involved alarms that were:

  1. based on forecasts of material human catastrophe arising from effects of human activity on the physical environment,
  2. endorsed by scientists, politicians, and media, and
  3. accompanied by calls for strong action

In the table below is the list of analogies after we screened the proposed analogies using the above criteria. To date, we have prepared descriptions for seven of them and posted descriptions by others for two of them. Links to the descriptions are provided in the table.

After we had compiled our list, we found that Julian L. Simon had compiled a similar list in his book The Ultimate Resource 2 under the chapter title of "Bad environmental and resource scares". We have reproduced that material here on this site with the kind permission of the Simon family. In the light of Julian Simon's list, we are looking at expanding our list of analogies to the global warming scare.

Analogies to the alarm over dangerous manmade global warming

Analogy

Year

1

Population growth and famine (Malthus)

1798

2

Timber famine economic threat

1865

3

Uncontrolled reproduction and degeneration (Eugenics)

1883

4

Lead in petrol and brain and organ damage

1928

5

Soil erosion agricultural production threat

1934

6

Asbestos and lung disease

1939

7

Fluoride in drinking water health effects

1945

8

DDT and cancer

1962

9

Population growth and famine (Ehrlich)

1968

10

Global cooling; through to 1975

1970

11

Supersonic airliners, the ozone hole, and skin cancer, etc.

1970

12

Environmental tobacco smoke health effects

1971

13

Population growth and famine (Meadows)

1972

14

Industrial production and acid rain

1974

15

Organophosphate pesticide poisoning

1976

16

Electrical wiring and cancer, etc.

1979

17

CFCs, the ozone hole, and skin cancer, etc.

1985

18

Listeria in cheese

1985

19

Radon in homes and lung cancer

1985

20

Salmonella in eggs

1988

21

Environmental toxins and breast cancer

1990

22

Mad cow disease (BSE)

1996

23

Dioxin in Belgian poultry

1999

24

Mercury in fish effect on nervous system development, 1; 2

2004

25

Mercury in childhood inoculations and autism

2005

26

Cell phone towers and cancer, etc.

2008

 


The following table lists analogies that were proposed, but that did not meet our criteria.

Proposed analogies that did not meet our criteria

 

The following table shows our coding of analogies.


The Global Warming Analogies Forecasting Project is a study in progress. We seek peer review, especially with evidence that would challenge our findings or conclusions. Please send us your This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..