McCaleb: Public pensions in some ways mirror Madoff’s Ponzi scheme

“In a world full of lies, the most dangerous ones are those we tell ourselves.” 

― Diana B. Henriques

HBO debuted its original movie on Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff over the weekend. Based on Henriques’ book “The Wizard of Lies,” the film (and book) tells the chilling tale of Madoff’s fraudulent investment scheme in which more than 2,200 people lost almost $20 billion in retirement savings.

That is a lot of victims losing a lot of money.

But it’s peanuts compared to what public pensioners – in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere – stand to lose if drastic reform measures aren’t taken soon. More on this in a moment.

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud in which early investors see quality returns, not because their money was invested wisely as the investors are led to believe, but because new investors fund the payouts. The cycle perpetuates itself – more and more new investors are needed to continue to fund previous investors’ returns at an unbeknownst higher risk to themselves – until it inevitably collapses.

In Madoff’s case, the collapse occurred in 2008, after almost 30 years, when the housing bubble burst and the economy was sent into the Great Recession. Simplistically, far fewer new investors could be found, and prior investors, many hurting because of the turn in the economy, asked for their full investments back.

Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud. His victims suffered untold losses.

What’s the point of my Madoff history lesson?

A strong case can be made that public pensions are eerily similar to a Ponzi scheme, and that a similar collapse in some of the most underfunded systems in the country might be inevitable. That would mean an untold number of new victims that would make the Madoff case seem relatively minor by comparison.

The difference between a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme and the public pension crisis is that government is complicit in the latter, and that dedicated public servants, state retirees and taxpayers are the ones at risk.

I think we all can agree that taxpayers and state workers who have spent their careers serving residents, teachers included, don’t deserve that.

Doubt that will happen? Let’s start with Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory in the eastern Caribbean declared a form of bankruptcy (after Congressional approval) earlier this month because of massive debt that included $50 billion in underfunded pensions. In a story headlined “In Puerto Rico, pension fund works like a Ponzi scheme,” the New York Times reported the following:

“Puerto Rico, where the money to pay teachers’ pensions is expected to run out next year, has become a particularly extreme example of a problem facing states including Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: As teachers’ pension costs keep rising, young teachers are being squeezed — sometimes hard. One study found that more than three-fourths of all American teachers hired at age 25 will end up paying more into pension plans than they ever get back.”

For pensioners in Puerto Rico, where a recovery plan is still being devised, it could mean pennies of the dollar of what they were promised.

For current and future public pensioners, a similar fate awaits if drastic reforms don’t happen.

Take Illinois, whose five state pension funds are now underfunded by more than $130 billion, worst in the nation. At that deficit, the pension funds have in hand just about 37 cents of every dollar they will owe to current and future pensioners.

But it actually could be much worse than that.

Money set aside to fund pensions – from taxpayers and public employees – is invested to grow the dollar pool. But most pension systems have over-estimated the rate of returns on these investments. As recently as 2014, Illinois’ Teachers Retirement System projected an inflated 8 percent annual return rate. That projection was dropped to 7.5 percent three years ago. Just last year, Illinois’ State Employees Retirement System downgraded its rate of return estimate to 7 percent. Each of these downgrades cost Illinois taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually because the taxpayers are legally required to make up the difference.

What’s worse is that many investment professionals and ratings agencies say a more realistic rate of return is in the 3 to 4 percent range. If that’s the case, Illinois’ already staggering pension debt would balloon by tens of billions of dollars more. That could be devastating to younger state employees who still have decades to go before they retire. A younger teacher who is funding current retirees’ bloated pensions faces a potential collapse in the system, risking much or all of her retirement nest egg.

And as return estimates continue to drop, taxpayers are forced to pick up the ever-growing tab.

There is a partial solution.

Illinois state Sen. Dale Righter has filed legislation that would place all new state employees, including teachers, in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. State employees would contribute 8 percent of their salaries into the private investment account, and the state (taxpayers) would contribute an additional 7 percent.

While Righter’s plan wouldn’t solve Illinois’ $130 billion (likely more because of the overstated return on investments) pension deficit, it would relieve new hires of any concerns of a pension collapse and it would drastically slow Illinois’ ever-growing pension obligations. More action, particularly other structural reforms that will improve Illinois’ overall economy and increase its tax base, are needed to chip away at the deficit.

States that have adopted similar plans to Righter’s already are seeing fiscal improvements.

Unfortunately, many in the Illinois General Assembly continue to think that higher taxes are a major part of the solution. But we’ve been there and done that, and it hasn’t worked. It’s led to a stagnant economy and a mass exodus of Illinoisans to other states.

States such as Illinois and and their employees need drastic pension reform measures if they are to stave off a Madoff-like collapse.

It’s time we stop telling ourselves dangerous lies and get these reforms done.

By Dan McCaleb | From

Time for a New “Hiatus” in Warming, or Time for an Accelerated Warming Trend?

As you can tell from our blog volume, there’s been a blizzard of new and significant climate findings being published in the refereed literature, and here’s some things You Ought to Have a Look at concerning the recent “hiatus” in warming and what might happen to our (now) post-El Niño climate.

With President Trump still deciding on U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, new research suggests the Earth’s global mean surface temperature (GMST) will blow past the so-called 1.5°C Paris target in the next decade. But before making that ominous prediction, Henley and King (2017) provide us with a good history lesson on a taboo topic in climate science circles: the recent global warming “hiatus” or “pause” from 1998-2014. One could be forgiven for thinking the hiatus was “settled science” since it featured prominently in the 2013 IPCC AR5 assessment report. But a concerted effort has been made in recent years to discount the hiatus as an insignificant statistical artifact perhaps based upon bad observational data, or a conspiracy theory to distract the public and climate policymakers. Even acknowledging the existence of the “hiatus” is sufficient to be labeled as a climate change denier.

Social scientists, psychologists, and theologians of all stripes feared that widespread community acknowledgement of the hiatus would wither support for climate policy at such a pivotal juncture.

In a 2014 Nature Commentary (Boykoff Media discourse on the climate slowdown) saw the rise of the terms “hiatus and pause” in the media in 2013 as a “wasted opportunity” to highlight the conclusions of the IPCC AR5 report, which in itself ironically struggled with explaining the hiatus/pause (IPCC: Despite hiatus, climate change here to stay. Nature September 27, 2013). Amazingly, in a Nature interview a week prior to AR5’s release, assessment co-chair Thomas Stocker said this:
Comparing short-term observations with long-term model projections is inappropriate. We know that there is a lot of natural fluctuation in the climate system. A 15-year hiatus is not so unusual even though the jury is out as to what exactly may have caused the pause.
Claims that there might be something fundamentally wrong with climate models are “unjustified unless temperature were to remain constant for the next 20 years,” he said.

Except there was something fundamentally wrong with the climate models: they missed the pause! The IPCC was caught flat footed and their dodgy explanations were woefully inadequate and fueled continued questions about the credibility of future warming forecasts based exactly on those deficient climate models. What’s going on with this hiatus? A cacophony of explanations has filled the literature and media with several dominant themes: do not believe your lyin’ eyes – the data is wrong – and even if it is not, you are using it wrong. Karl et al. 2015 fixed the SST and buoy data, and (erroneously) claimed to have gotten rid of it. Cherry picking! The heat is sequestered in the depths of the ocean or the aerosols covered up the greenhouse gas signal. It’s enough to make you think climate “science” might not know what it is talking about!

Only a few years since the last (2013) UN climate report, there is now a strong scientific consensus on the cause of the recent global warming hiatus as well as the previous “big hiatus” from 1950s-1970s: a mode of natural variability called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) which could be colloquially called El Niño’s uncle. The mode operates on longer time scales than El Niño but it is intimately related as a driver of Pacific Ocean heat exchange with the atmosphere and therefore a dominant modulator of global temperature. In a March 2016 Nature Climate Change commentary (Fyfe et al.), eleven authors including climate scientists Benjamin Santer and Michael Mann persuasively “make sense of the early-2000s warming slowdown.” Their article provides evidence that directly contradicts claims that the hiatus was a conspiracy, or scientifically unfounded fiction. Several important points are made that deserve mentioning:

The recent hiatus occurred during a period of much higher greenhouse gas [GHG] forcing e.g. CO2 almost 100 ppm higher than the previous “big hiatus” slowdown in the 1950s-1970s. The authors rightly raise the question if the climate system is less sensitive to GHG forcing that previously thought or global temperatures will undergo a major warming “surge” once internal natural variability (e.g. IPO) flips sign.

The observed trends in global surface temperature warming were not consistent with climate modeling simulations. Indeed, using a baseline of 1972-2001, climate models failed to reproduce the slowdown during the early twenty-first century even as GHG forcing increased. The hiatus was neither an artifact of faulty data nor statistical cherry-picking – it was a physical change in the climate system that was measured across multiple independent observation types.

Climate scientists still need to know how variability (natural and anthropogenic) in the climate system works to attempt to model its changes through time regardless of political inconvenience.

Now back to the Henley and King (2017) piece that predicts a flip in the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation to a positive phase will lead to almost 0.5°C increase in global temperature by 2030. Based upon the RCP8.5 high emission scenarios (which are likely to be too high themselves), those same climate models that did not adequately predict the early 21st century hiatus are used to generate so-called warming trajectories.

Image adapted from Henley and King (2017)

Image adapted from Henley and King (2017)

How plausible is this extreme warming scenario? Regardless of the phase of the IPO, the model projections suggest an acceleration in the warming rates considerably above the hiatus period of the last 15-years. The authors allow for 0.1°C of warming from the recent strong El Niño as the offset for the “new” starting period, but that estimate is probably too low. We calculated the daily temperature anomaly from the JRA-55 reanalysis product—a new and probably more reliable temperature record–and apply a 30-day centered mean to highlight the enormous warming step with the 2015-2016 El Niño. Only an eyeball is necessary to see at least a 0.30°C upward step now into May 2017. Note that this is not carbon dioxide warming, and if we had a strong La Niña (the cold opposite of El Niño), we would expect a step down.

Is this warming now baked in (double entendre intended) to the climate system or will we descend to a lower level during the next year or two thanks to a La Niña? In other words, will the hiatus return, another one begin, or will the upward trajectory accelerate? Oh, and did we mention that we know of no climate model that warms the earth in jump-steps followed by long “hiatuses” after big El Niños?

I’m Not a Terrible Person, I Just Believe in Freedom

I see the look in my best friend’s eyes when I talk to her about free markets. She looks at me like she doesn’t know me. As if the friend that she has laughed and cried with, that she trusts, has been invaded by an inhuman body-snatcher.

But I only told her that developing countries have experienced great successes in their private schools (especially compared to public schools which cost three times as much for the same or worse results), that perhaps alternatives to failing public schools aren’t a bad thing, and that we need to guard against giving away our power because one day it might end up in the hands of a monster.

It makes sense to me, but I can tell she thinks that I no longer care about the experiences of minorities in America, the LGBT community, or women’s rights.

Not so! I must not be explaining myself to her accurately. Allow me an attempt to do so now.

E Pluribus Unum

I truly care about the people who live in our society. True, I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual woman who lives in the southern United States. Also true, I feel a strong connection with the disenfranchised people who are struggling to get by and to be accepted in the land of the free and abroad.

I don’t believe in freedom and capitalism because of some careless idea about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. I know that some people don’t have boots to stand in. And that is a shame. I feel for those people. I know how easily that could have been me, and still could be.

These are my people.

I think about the ways that we are the same. There are kind people in every group, who feel when strangers are hurting, who love animals and the environment, and who care about the lives of everyday Joes and Josephines. My people, the human race, all over the globe, they feel the power of music. They smile at babies, share meals, embrace. They’re innovators and explorers; long ago, they took to the seas, the mountains, and the moon. Scattered all over the planet, they look up at the same stars. They hope and dream.

I want more than prosperity for these people. I want opportunities. I certainly don’t want all of us to be equally screwed.

I acknowledge that I am privileged by experiences over which I have no control and that have nothing to do with the person that I am. For example, if I speak and write with “correct” grammar, no one calls me a credit to my race. If I am nonviolent, career-driven, or pursue an education, I am not labeled as ‘one of the good ones’. If I buy nude pantyhose, the nylon will actually resemble the color of my skin.

Like you, I have no control over the place of my birth or to what family I was born. The world is not just and we all fear the power of others to make us small. To make us disappear.

There are people a plane ride away from me who confront this reality daily. I’ve seen pictures of cities reduced to rubble and of kids who have only lived through war.

A majority of humanity wants the same things, to feel safe in the world, in our homes, on the street. It’s nice to be nice and what stops us? Nothing.

Power and Freedom

I’m not so naïve as to deny the impact of historical horrors and people with iron fists, whose amplified voices have moved feet and toppled innocents. As a people, we have flung salt at each other, thrown up walls, and tossed over exploding bombs. But every day we have an opportunity to be better than yesterday.

We give away our power so easily, out of fear and hate and hope. I want opportunity for you, just like I want opportunity for me. I also want your freedom, and mine.

The question of policy will always be: where do we draw the line?

I like to imagine my ideal government as a metal fence post. It has clearly defined geometry, a solid foundation, and within its structure, it stands strong. Society and people's lives twine around the post like vines, occupying the negative space, growing, flowering, reaching for the sun. The fence post doesn’t show favoritism, it doesn’t suppress or give one vine a boost. It is functional and useful and it stops right there.

We are at liberty to add love, multiply our empathy, and forget to divide. But I believe the solution to our concerns is subtraction of power from the grasp of people who will take it.

Freedom as a life philosophy and free-market economics are about civil rights and allowing the people who need it most to build wealth. They are not about stepping on the poor or ignoring women’s and minority rights. There can be a balance between protecting people and allowing society to progress through spontaneous order.

According to Vox, 3.3 million women marched down US streets last Saturday. They did not do so by the grace of government. Individuals made choices; they used their agency and their civil rights to assemble, use speech, and protest. What will stop passionate people from fighting against injustice?

Politicians can only play catch-up. Culture, which you and I contribute to at every moment of our lives, defines what our society looks like and how people are treated. We don’t need Government to save Gotham. We have us.

Marianne March

Marianne March
Marianne is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she majored in Public Policy, with a minor in Economics. Follow her on twitter @mari_tweets.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Horrifying Video From Abortion Conference Shows Utter Disregard for Human Life

Lawyers for Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden released a new video on Thursday that exposed horrifying statements from leaders within the abortion industry.The video footage was obtained at National Abortion Federation conventions that took place in California in 2014 and 2015.

The National Abortion Federation describes itself as “the professional association of abortion providers.” It “exhibits and presents at numerous conferences … about topics related to abortion care.”

The video notes that “Planned Parenthood makes up about 50 percent of [the National Abortion Federation’s] members and leadership.”

The video opens with a Planned Parenthood medical director speaking on a panel about “heads that get stuck” and the “hemorrhages that we manage.”

Americans need an alternative to the mainstream media. But this can't be done alone. Find out more >>

She is later seen telling a panel: “Given that we might actually both agree that there’s violence in here, ask me why I come to work every day. Let’s just give them all the violence, it’s a person, it’s killing, let’s just give them all that.”

A Planned Parenthood abortionist then complains about how an unborn child “is a tough little object” and is “very difficult” to take apart.

A lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union is heard remarking, “When the skull is broken, that’s really sharp!” as the crowd laughs about the difficulty of “getting that skull out.”

Another Planned Parenthood official is seen speaking on a panel recalling that an “eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that is gross!” as the crowd laughs.

A procurement manager from StemExpress is seen commenting that there are “a lot of clinics that we work with that, I mean, it helps them out significantly.”

A Planned Parenthood official later says that “[t]he truth is that some might want to do it … to increase their revenues. And we can’t stop them.”

One would think the state of California would be concerned about what was said at these conferences.

But instead of looking into potential illegal profits from the transfer of fetal tissue, California is charging Center for Medical Progress journalists with 15 felonies for bringing these troubling questions to light in the first place.

California argues that the Center for Medical Progress unlawfully recorded the subjects of undercover videos without their consent.

When the charges were announced, Casey Mattox, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Signal that even in two-party consent states like California, “It’s well understood as a matter of First Amendment law that people have a right to be able to record their own conversations.”

He added:
These were publicly recorded conversations, they were recorded in restaurants and other places where Planned Parenthood officials should not have expected they had any privacy at all. I find it fascinating that the state of California is apparently very concerned about the privacy of Planned Parenthood officials, and much less concerned about getting to the truth of Planned Parenthood actually engaging in violations of the law by selling baby body parts.
As this concerning case makes its way through court, Americans should remember that Planned Parenthood receives over half a billion dollars from taxpayers each year.

Today’s video once again demonstrates the urgent need for policymakers to end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, its affiliates, and other abortion providers once and for all.

Funding could instead be redirected to centers that provide health care for women without entanglement in on-demand abortion.

Congress has the opportunity to deny Planned Parenthood certain federal funds in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare by ensuring the language includes a provision (just as the 2015 version of the bill did) that would disqualify Planned Parenthood affiliates from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for one year after the enactment of the bill.

Ultimately, Congress should send the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which passed in the House of Representatives in January, to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature.

Commentary by Melanie Israel. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Climate Budget Cuts Are Smart Management, Not an Attack on Science

It’s been described as a “slap in the face,” “slaughter,” “a punitive … assault on science, the environment, and indeed the planet.”

Aside from being inappropriate and irresponsible, these remarks are how some in the policy world and media have depicted cuts to global warming spending in President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal.

People seem to have forgotten—or perhaps never noticed—just how much the government spends on direct climate programs.

Trump’s budget proposal does in fact eliminate or cut a number of climate programs. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to realize there are legitimate justifications for doing so.

Even if the federal budget won’t be balanced on the back of eliminated climate programs, there are a number of basic problems with government climate spending.

1. Quite simply, there are a lot of global warming programs.

For all the Obama administration’s emphasis on global warming as an issue, the Government Accountability Office’s December 2016 assessment found only partial improvement in program management and could not yet determine if government standards showed whether programs were being effective, as they had only just been implemented.

The Government Accountability Office noted in 2009 that “the federal government’s emerging adaptation activities were carried out in an ad hoc manner and were not well coordinated across federal agencies, let alone with state and local governments.”

At least 18 federal agencies administer climate change activities, costing at least $77 billion between fiscal years 2008 and 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service.

2. Most of the money goes to green tech rather than science.    

If these technologies are economically viable, there will be plenty of private sector capital available to develop them. Hardworking taxpayers shouldn’t have to dump money into speculative or failing technology companies or pad the bottom lines of successful ones.

The Department of Energy is notorious for spending on research, development, demonstration, and commercialization of technologies like wind, solar, geothermal, electric vehicles, biofuels, coal carbon capture and sequestration, small nuclear, and batteries.

This has been particularly true in more recent years as a result of the Obama administration’s failed stimulus package, which funneled billions of dollars into energy technologies.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the bulk of federal climate spending has gone to technology development rather than science, wildlife, or international aid.

3. There’s a lot of wasteful spending.

While the Navy’s price per gallon may appear cheap, the actual total cost to the government is much higher.

Despite clear direction from Congress that fuels be cost-competitive, the executive branch camouflaged the costs of the Navy’s biofuel program by subsidizing it through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation program and the Department of Energy.

There are other much larger boondoggles, too. The Navy spent hundreds of millions of dollars on biofuels to meet a political objective to “jumpstart” a domestic biofuel economy with no strategic advantage for military capabilities.

There are many other equally ridiculous examples, such as an Environmental Protection Agency grant for “green” nail salon concepts in California.

As just one example of wasteful spending, Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney highlighted the National Science Foundation’s grant for a global warming musical. (The nearly $700,000 grant was awarded in 2010.)

4. International climate initiatives are fatally flawed.

There are a number of problems with America’s continued participation in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that has produced international global warming agreements and, most recently, the Paris Protocol.

One would think that an international climate conference aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be the perfect opportunity to have a teleconference to show some good faith. But instead, government officials from around the world fly to lavish venues while telling you to buy hybrids and eat less meat.

Each year, the result is the same: symbolic commitments that shame industrialization and the use of fossil fuels with little to no actual impact on the climate.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority’s participation in the Paris Protocol should be cause enough to halt funding as Congress has stipulated under current law.

As the Trump budget proposes, the U.S. should also end funding to the quasi-scientific body behind the Paris Protocol—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This panel’s studies have been subject to bias, manipula­tion, and poor data.

5. There are major problems and gaps in climate science.

The fact is, climate modeling is at this point an inexact science. Models have proven to be inaccurate, and regulatory cost-benefit accounting metrics based on them are indefensible.

It is thus no surprise that massive government policies like the Paris Protocol and Clean Power Plan are demonstrably ineffective in addressing global temperatures.

There are many areas of disagreement and uncertainty among climate scientists, not to mention biologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, economists, and others with relevant expertise.

Exacerbating this is the role the federal government has played in toxifying the scientific debate on global warming. Rather than fostering scientific discovery in a field that is a mere few decades old, the federal government appears to have expressed bias in funding science that supports federal climate policies.

Science that challenges the current narrative is pilloried in the press and labeled “denialism,” whereas an intellectually honest approach would seek to understand and improve the science.

The debate is not improved by demands for RICO investigations or anti-science statements castigating those with different opinions as part of the “flat earth society” with their “heads in the sand,” and encouraging people to “find the deniers near you—and call them out today.”

We don’t need more spending on iterative studies telling us that coffee could be more expensive and snakes bigger thanks to global warming. We need better modeling, better understanding of basic science, more data, and a better, transparent discussion on climate science and climate policies.

Even after the president’s proposed cuts, there is plenty of money left in the federal budget to study and model the climate.

For instance, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, a division that includes many climate programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, would be cut by more than $150 million, but still retain a hefty $324 million.

Let’s also not forget the role that universities, nonprofits, and international organizations play in studying the global climate.

Eliminating wasteful spending, some of which has nothing to do with studying the science at all, is smart management, not an attack on science.

It’s time to end the boondoggles and hold the federal government’s climate science activities to the same standards of rationality and cost effectiveness as other government spending.

Commentary by Katie Tubb and Nicolas Loris. Originally published at The Daily Caller.

No Representation without Consent – Not Even from Unions

When the American colonists complained that the British subjected them to taxation without representation, the British responded that the colonists’ interests were represented in Parliament. The colonists rejected that argument on the grounds that they didn’t consent to that representation. The principle of no taxation without representation doesn’t constrain government if government can impose unwanted representation. A second principle – no representation without consent – is needed to give the first its meaning as a claim of right. That second principle is also applicable to the representation of workers by unions.

A Tale of Two Unions

In France, eight percent of workers are union members, but 98 percent of workers are bound by the terms of employment that unions negotiate. (Good luck to President Macron in his quest for labor law reform.) While some workers may not care that unions represent them without their consent, it is likely that many more resent the fact.

In the US, 10.7 percent of workers are union members, while 11.9 percent of workers are covered (Table I, All Wage and Salary Workers) by union-negotiated terms of employment. While the discrepancy is much smaller than it is in France, the same urgent question demands an answer: should anyone be forced to accept representation services from any private entity against his or her will?

In France, unions get their privilege of forced representation from laws that command employers, even employers whose employees are union-free, to deal with “works councils” when forming the terms and conditions of employment (as well as other business decision-making). Those same laws require that unions be the sole representatives of workers in the councils. French law makes forced representation legal, but it does not make it right or just.

In the US, the unions’ forced representation privilege emerges from Section 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). It is called “exclusive representation”: if a union gets at least 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise to vote in favor of the union’s representation, then all workers therein must be represented by the union – even those who voted against such representation and those who abstained from voting. As in France, American labor law makes forced representation legal; it does not make it right or just.

Unions vs. the Constitution

Unions defend exclusive representation on the grounds that it is democratic. All workers get to vote, and therefore all workers are bound by the outcome. Furthermore, unions argue, it is routine for private organizations such as clubs and fraternal associations to make many decisions on the basis of majority vote. So why should union representation be different?

Because it is different: government forces union representation to be decided by majority rule. Majority rule in clubs and fraternal associations is adopted without government coercion. Democracy is a form of government, and unions are not governments. In a democracy, a numerical minority is forced to give way to a numerical majority on matters that are within the appropriate scope of government. No one claims that because we live in a democratic country, numerical minorities must give in to numerical majorities about whether to associate with a specific church, if any. The First Amendment takes that decision out of the appropriate scope of government.

The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of association. It takes the question of whether numerical minorities must give in to numerical majorities with respect to whether to associate with a specific, or any, labor union out of the appropriate scope of government. Yet the NLRA forces individual workers in a numerical minority to give in to the will of the other individual workers in a numerical majority on the question of union representation. The NLRA trumps the First Amendment.

When the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the NLRA in its 1937 Jones & Laughlin decision, it did so on the basis of its reading of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. It arbitrarily asserted that “commerce” included localized manufacturing, contrary to a century of rulings to the contrary. The Court ignored the issue of forced representation.

This decision is a notorious example of results-based, rather than principles-based, jurisprudence. President Franklin Roosevelt threatened to pack the Court if the Justices didn’t decide in his favor on the Jones & Laughlin case. The sad fact is that too many Supreme Court justices can, and too often do, make it up as they go along to bring about the results they want or think they need.

One Vote for All Time

The unions’ appeal to democracy to justify exclusive representation is embarrassingly disingenuous. Once a union wins a representation election, it never again has to stand for reelection. For example, there are no members of the United Auto Workers currently employed making cars in Detroit who voted on union representation. The UAW won elections in the 1930s and 40s, and all the workers who voted in those elections are retired or deceased.

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s Act 10 did away with this one-vote-for-all-time rule as it applies to Wisconsin’s government employees by stipulating that once-elected unions must stand for reelection on a regular basis – just like the members of the Wisconsin Legislature must stand for re-election on a regular basis.

The unions call Walker a union buster. I call him a worker protector.

The Employee Rights Act, originally proposed in 2011 and re-submitted in the current (115th) Congress, would, if adopted, do away with the one-vote-for-all-time rule for all private-sector unions. It would require a new representation election when there has been at least a 50 percent turnover among employees since the last election.

That would be nice, but it is not nearly enough. The only way to adequately solve the problem of representation without consent is to abolish exclusive representation. Sadly, no one in Congress or in the White House is proposing to do so.

As a last resort, unions defend exclusive representation on the grounds that collective bargaining would be “too complicated” if employers had to deal with more than one union as well as union-free individual workers. This is a merely utilitarian argument which ignores the no-representation-without-consent principle. Moreover, it is proven to be a lie because, prior to the adoption of the NLRA in 1935, members-only bargaining was routine and successful (Charles W. Baird, “Toward Equality and Justice in Labor Markets,” The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies Summer 1995: 163-186, available from the author on request as a pdf file) Never underestimate the power of entrepreneurship to discover simple solutions to seemingly complicated puzzles.

The Right to Work

Much has been written recently about right-to-work (RTW) laws. The NLRA gives states the power to stipulate that, within their respective jurisdictions, no private-sector worker represented by a union against his or her will can be forced to pay for the unwanted representation. Twenty-eight states have adopted such laws, including prior bastions of union privilege such as Michigan, which did so in 2013.

Forced payment for unwanted union representation by government-sector workers is under attack in the courts. Many think that had it not been for the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, such coerced takings would be illegal today, but there is another case on this issue heading to the Supreme Court. If the Court agrees to hear the case, it is likely that all government employees will soon have RTW protection against forced takings by the unions that represent them, especially since Justice Neil Gorsuch has replaced Justice Scalia on the Court.

There is even a National Right-to-Work Act under consideration in the current Congress. If passed, no private-sector worker in the US could be forced to pay for unwanted union representation. But the prospects for enactment of this legislation are poor. Unions, notwithstanding their 10.7 percent market share, have too much political power, just as they do in France.

It is crucial to understand that RTW laws do nothing about representation without consent. Even with such laws, workers are still forced to accept unwanted union representation; they just don’t have to pay for it. If exclusive representation were abolished, right-to-work laws would be irrelevant. Only voluntary union members would have to pay union dues to pay for the representation services they want, and unions would only represent their voluntary members. That is one characteristic of any society that deserves to be called free.

Charles W. Baird

Charles W. Baird
Charles Baird is a professor of economics emeritus at California State University at East Bay.

He specializes in the law and economics of labor relations, a subject on which he has published several articles in refereed journals and numerous shorter pieces with FEE.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Behind closed doors: What the Piltdown Man hoax from 1912 can teach science today

In 1912, Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist in England, claimed he’d made one of the most important fossil discoveries ever. Ultimately, however, his “Piltdown Man” proved to be a hoax. By cleverly pairing a human skull with an orangutan’s jaw – stained to match and give the appearance of age – a mysterious forger duped the scientific world. The Conversation

In the decades between the find’s unearthing and the revelation it was fraudulent, people in the United States and around the world learned about Piltdown Man as a “missing link” connecting ape and man. Newspaper articles, scientific publications and museum exhibitions all presented Piltdown Man as a legitimate scientific discovery supporting a particular vision of human evolution.

Historians, science writers and others have investigated the Piltdown Man controversy over the years, shedding new light on the fraud. As we reconsider the nature of “facts,” “fake news” and knowledge production, it’s worthwhile to revisit the Piltdown Man episode.

At issue was not just the deliberate hoax, but also the incomplete flow of information about the purported human ancestor. Soon after the discovery, access to the original materials in England was cut off by a few gatekeepers. Science is suffocated when researchers are unable to reliably corroborate claims made by others. The same issues arise today, with the research community grappling with what’s been called a reproducibility crisis; scientists need access to evidence and data in order to replicate (or not) research results. The Piltdown Man controversy lends support to the modern open science movement, with its call for transparency at every step of the scientific process.

Piltdown Man believers kept tight control over who could get an up-close look at the fossils. Arthur Keith is pictured in the white coat, Charles Dawson over his left shoulder.
John Cooke

Limited firsthand access

Experts immediately cited the discovery of a large human-like cranium with a primitive-looking, ape-like jaw as a major breakthrough. Influential anatomists such as Sir Arthur Keith hailed Piltdown Man as authentic. The popular press on both sides of the Atlantic described prehistoric archaeology as a dramatic hunt for a missing link and came to embrace Piltdown Man within an oversimplified framework of human evolution.

But there were some scientists – notably British Museum curator Reginald A. Smith – who were skeptical from the outset. Doubters noted the major find was attributed to a previously little-known archaeologist.

Curators in the United States impatiently hoped to learn more. But transatlantic requests were denied by their counterparts in Britain who controlled access to the cranium and jaw, moving the bones to a secure vault at the Museum of Natural History in London. Rumors swirled.

Controversial Smithsonian curator Aleš Hrdlička describes in an annual report traveling to England himself:
“Regrettably… the specimen was not yet available for examination by outsiders, and so no original opinion can be given concerning its status. It represents doubtless one of the most interesting finds relating to man’s antiquity, though seemingly the last word had not yet been said as to its date and especially as to the physical characteristics of the being it stands for.”
Early in the 20th century, provocative claims about discoveries commonly circulated through letters, rumors and splashy newspaper articles suggesting major new finds. American museums were simultaneously intrigued and frustrated by word of significant finds like Piltdown Man. Some claims proved to be genuine, while many others were found to be falsified or misleading. With limited information, it was especially difficult to determine the validity of claims made by scientists abroad.

News about major discoveries might change planned exhibitions about human evolution or prehistory at museums in New York or Chicago, or influence what students were taught about human history. Uncertainty plagued museums in this regard, as their scientists tried to view skeletons firsthand on visits to European museums and to secure good casts or copies for their own collections. Even amid growing doubts, a major exhibition in San Diego that opened in 1915 prominently featured a Piltdown Man sculpture.

What’s the damage done?

This lack of transparency resulted in an absence of accurate information in the scientific community.

It ultimately took until the later decades of the 20th century for the Piltdown bones to be fully discredited. The hoax was likely created by Dawson himself, though who exactly concocted the scam is still debated – “Sherlock Holmes” author Arthur Conan Doyle’s name has even been mentioned as a possible perpetrator.

As Berkeley anthropologist Sherwood Washburn offered in a letter, “My opinion is that if more people had seen the originals sooner the fake would have been recognized.” Confusion had arisen because so few scholars were granted access to the original evidence.

Part of what finally put Piltdown Man to rest was the nature of new discoveries emerging. They informed researchers’ developing understanding of the human past and began turning much scientific attention away from Europe toward Asia and Africa.

While it is impossible to know with certainty, the Piltdown Man episode likely slowed scientific progress in the global search for human ancestors. What is clear is that the claims worked to muddle popular knowledge about human evolution.

Piltdown Man’s lessons for today

Museums still display Piltdown Man replicas, not as science but as cautionary reminder.
Anrie, CC BY-SA
The unknown forger behind Piltdown Man intentionally misled the world about human evolution. The false claims rippled through the news media and museum exhibitions. Without access to reliable sources, in this case the original bones, the fraudulent story of Piltdown Man spread like a slowly building wildfire.

The Piltdown Man controversy hints at the dangers of drawing conclusions based on limited or emerging information, for both the public and scientists. In some ways, the whole episode foreshadowed threats we face now from fake news and the spread of misinformation about science and many other topics. It is hard to get to the truth – whether about a news story or scientific theory – without access to the evidence supporting it.

Certainly new information flows much more rapidly today – thanks to the internet and social media – potentially a partial corrective to the problems connected to misleading claims. However, scientists and others still need access to accurate and reliable information from original sources. With the Piltdown Man remains locked away in a secure museum vault, speculation and misinformation flourished.

Support is now building for an open access research model: When possible and appropriate, original materials, data and preliminary findings should be made available to others in the field. Scientists also work to balance how quickly they publish new research: It takes time to do careful work, but keeping finds hidden away for too long also impedes progress and understanding.

Excavations continue in the hobbit cave in Indonesia.
Bryn Pinzgauer, CC BY
Consider a 2003 find from Indonesia that was as shocking as the discovery of Piltdown Man: a nearly complete female skeleton researchers suggested was from a tiny human ancestor they called Homo floresiensis (commonly nicknamed “hobbit”). Media speculation ran wild early on about this new species added to our family tree, but paleoanthropology has evolved a great deal since Piltdown Man.

Scientists from several different groups worked to understand the discovery – seeking related finds and going back to the original fossils to systematically assess the claim. Soon additional detailed scientific publications began to emerge, allowing the scientific community to continue to add to the evidence and better scrutinize the discovery. To date, the teeth of at many as 12 individuals have been found.

Homo floresiensis are likely a genuinely groundbreaking discovery – hopefully the more transparent way the research unfolded makes this easier to untangle than Dawson’s claims a century ago. Thoughtful collaboration, making data available openly, more effective popular science communication and multiple channels of accurate information may help us better respond to the next Piltdown Man.

Samuel Redman, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scientist: Sea Ice Expanding, Driven by Falling Temperatures

While there’s been thousands of legacy media stories about the very real decline in summer sea-ice extent in the Arctic Ocean, we can’t find one about the statistically significant increase in Antarctic sea ice that has been observed at the same time.

Also, comparisons between forecast temperature trends down there and what’s been observed are also very few and far between. Here’s one published in 2015:

Observed (blue) and model-forecast (red) Antarctic sea-ice extent published by Shu et al. (2015) shows a large and growing discrepancy, but for unknown reasons, their illustration ends in 2005.

Observed (blue) and model-forecast (red) Antarctic sea-ice extent published by Shu et al. (2015) shows a large and growing discrepancy, but for unknown reasons, their illustration ends in 2005.

For those who utilize and trust in the scientific method, forming policy (especially multi-trillion dollar policies!) on the basis of what could or might happen in the future seems imprudent. Sound policy, in contrast, is best formulated when it is based upon repeated and verifiable observations that are consistent with the projections of climate models. As shown above, this does not appear to be the case with the vast ice field that surrounds Antarctica.

According to the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), CO2-induced global warming will result in a considerable reduction in sea ice extent in the Southern Hemisphere. Specifically, the report predicts a multi-model average decrease of between 16 and 67 percent in the summer and 8 to 30 percent in the winter by the end of the century (IPCC, 2013). Given the fact that atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased by 20 percent over the past four decades, evidence of sea ice decline should be evident in the observational data if such model predictions are correct. But are they?

Thanks to a recent paper in the Journal of Climate by Josefino Comiso and colleagues, we now know what’s driving the increase in sea-ice down there. It’s—wait for it—cooling temperatures over the ocean surrounding Antarctica.

This team of six researchers set out to produce an updated and enhanced dataset of sea ice extent and area for the Southern Hemisphere for the period 1978 to 2015. The key enhancement over prior datasets included an improved cloud masking technique that eliminated anomalously high or low sea ice values, assuring that their work is the most definitive study of Antarctic sea ice trends to date.

The six scientists report the existence of a long-term increasing trend in both sea ice extent and area over the period of study (see figure below), with the former measure increasing by 1.7 percent per decade and the latter by 2.5 percent per decade.

Figure 1. Monthly anomalies of Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent (left panel) and area (right panel) derived using the newly enhanced SB2 data (black) of Comiso et al. and the older SBA data (red) prior to the enhancements made by Comiso et al. Trend lines for each data set are also shown and the trend values with statistical errors are provided. Source: Comiso et al. (2017).

Figure 1. Monthly anomalies of Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent (left panel) and area (right panel) derived using the newly enhanced SB2 data (black) of Comiso et al. and the older SBA data (red) prior to the enhancements made by Comiso et al. Trend lines for each data set are also shown and the trend values with statistical errors are provided. Source: Comiso et al. (2017).

With regard to these observed increases, Comiso et al. confirm “the trend in Antarctic sea ice cover is positive,” adding “the trend is even more positive than previously reported because prior to 2015 the sea ice extent was anomalously high for a few years, with the record high recorded in 2014 when the ice extent was more than 20 x 106 km2 for the first time during the satellite era.”

They compared satellite-based estimates of temperature over the ocean/ice and found a very high negative correlation between ice cover and temperature. So, the large and systematic increase in ice extent must be related to a cooling over the sea-ice region throughout the 36-year period of record in this study.

Why is this important? Much like the problems with the missing “tropical hot spot” we noted last month, Antarctic sea-ice modulates a cascade of meteorology. When it’s gone, or in decline, as is the forecast from the climate models, much more of the sun’s energy goes into the ocean, as that energy is only very poorly absorbed by ice, which means an enhanced warming of the Southern Ocean. That has effects on Antarctica itself, where slightly warmed surrounding waters will dramatically increase snowfall on the continent. The fact that there are only glimmerings of this showing up (if at all) should have tipped people off that something was very wrong with the temperature forecast for the nearby ocean.

Consequently, it is clear that despite a 20 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, and model predictions to the contrary, sea ice in the Antarctic has expanded for decades. Such observations are in direct opposition to the model-based predictions of the IPCC.

(N.B. as noted in our May Day post, the Antarctic ice sensor crashed last April, and subsequent data appears to be very unreliable and, in some cases, physically impossible.)


Comiso, J.C., Gersten, R.A., Stock, L.V., Turner, J., Perez, G.J. and Cho, K. 2017. Positive trend in the Antarctic sea ice cover and associated changes in surface temperature. Journal of Climate 30: 2251-2267.

IPCC. 2013. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 1535 pp.

Shu, Q., et al., 2015.  Assessment of sea ice simulations in the CMIP5 models.  The Cryosphere 9, 399-409.

By CRAIG D. IDSO and PATRICK J. MICHAELS. Originally published at The Cato InstituteCreative Commons License This work by Cato Institute is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The Earth is getting greener. Environmentalists want to stop that.

A recent Science paper by J-F. Busteri and 30 named coauthors assisted by 239 volunteers found, looking at global drylands (about 40% of land areas fall into this category), that we had undercounted global forest cover by a whopping “at least 9%.” 239 people were required to examine over 210,000 0.5 hectare (1.2 acre) sample plots in GoogleEarth, and classify the cover as open or forested. Here’s the resultant cool map:

This has been the subject of a flood of recent stories, blog posts, tweets, and whatever concerning Bastin et al. But here at the Center for the Study of Science, we’re value added, so here’s some added value.

Last year, Zaichin Zhu and 31 coauthors published a remarkable analysis of global vegetation change since satellite sensors became operational in the late 1970s. The vast majority of the globe’s vegetated area shows greening, with 25-50% of that area showing a statistically significant change, while only 4% of the vegetated area is significantly browning. Here’s the mind-boggling map:

Trends in Leaf Area Index, 1978-2009. Positive tones are greening, negative are browning, and the dots delineate where the changes are statistically significant. There is approximately 9 times more area significantly greening up than browning down.

Trends in Leaf Area Index, 1978-2009. Positive tones are greening, negative are browning, and the dots delineate where the changes are statistically significant. There is approximately 9 times more area significantly greening up than browning down. 

Hope you’re sitting down for the money quote:
We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models show that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend…
And the other greening driver that stood out from the statistical noise was—you guessed it—climate change.

Now, just for fun, toggle back and forth between the two maps. As you can see, virtually every place where there’s newly detected forest is greening, and a large number of these are doing it in a statistically significant fashion. This may lead to a remarkable hypothesis—that one of the reasons the forested regions were undercounted in previous surveys (among other reasons) is that there wasn’t enough vegetation present to meet Bastin’s criterion for “forest,” which is greater than 10% tree cover, and carbon dioxide and global warming changed that.


Bastin, F-L., et al., 2017. The extent of forest in dryland biomes. Science 356, 635-638.

Zhu, Z., et al., 2016. Greening of the earth and its drivers. Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/


Commentary by Patrick Michaels. Originally published by The Cato Institute.

What’s behind the fidget spinner fad?

When I asked a colleague if he knew about fidget spinners, he responded: “I’d never heard of them until last week, when my daughter told me she had to have one.” The Conversation

Many parents must be having that conversation with their elementary school-age kids; as of this writing, fidget spinners held the top 16 spots in Amazon’s rankings of the most popular toys, and 43 of the top 50. Add fidget cubes (a spinner cousin), and fidget toys hold 49 of the top 50 rankings.

Fidget spinners, it seems, have become this year’s leading toy fad. I’m a sociologist who has studied fads, and the rapid popularity, media attention and concerns over a new toy craze are a familiar story. As for adults’ confusion about the purpose of the fidget spinner – for many kids, that’s probably part of its appeal.

Don’t know what a fidget spinner is? Not to worry – most people who aren’t in touch with school-age children don’t have a clue. (When I asked a class of 30 college students, only two knew what they were.)

A fidget spinner has two or three paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core. Squeeze the core, give the blades a flick and they spin. That’s it. With a price between US$3 and $4 and available in all sorts of color schemes, many children can carry around a pocketful.

Some tricks of the trade.

Fidget spinners have attracted all sorts of commentary. Some schools have banned them as a distraction, and there are worries that they may disrupt students’ learning. Others argue that fidget spinners can calm special needs students. But most simply categorize them as a craze or fad – the most recent in a long line of toys that children have swarmed to.

The hula hoop is probably the most famous. Over the course of a few months in 1958, an estimated 25 million were sold – enough so that every child in America between the ages of five and 11 could have owned one. Soon, however, most hula hoops stopped spinning and began collecting dust. Similar toys fads include troll dolls, super balls, Rubik’s cubes, Beanie Babies and jelly bracelets.

It’s impossible to predict which toys will become the focus of faddish enthusiasm. It helps if the price tag falls within a child’s budget, if it’s small enough to be brought to school and if it appeals to both boys and girls. But these aren’t hard and fast rules. Cabbage Patch Kids ($25 – equivalent to about $60 today) hit it big in 1983 when frustrated, holiday present-buying adults competed for the limited supply of dolls in stores. (They were eventually issued “adoption certificates” that could be exchanged for the dolls when production runs caught up with demand.)

A happy customer displays his newly purchased Cabbage Patch Kid doll in 1983 as he leaves a South Bellingham, Massachusetts storefront crowded with people hoping to make a similar purchase.

Adults are often ambivalent about children’s fads. Some get caught up in the enthusiasm, like those who invested in the Beanie Baby bubble, convinced that the toys could only grow more valuable with each passing year. (They didn’t.)

Others try to read meanings into toy fads. Progressives might worry that children are being exploited, separated from their allowance money by “Big Toy” marketers. (“Wouldn’t it be better if children played with wooden blocks, instead of commercialized plastic?”)

And conservatives might fear that toys will corrupt children’s values. During the jelly bracelet craze, some claimed that those thin rings of plastic gel were actually dangerous sex bracelets, with each color referring to a particular sexual act (and having one’s bracelet broken required the wearer to perform that act). Of course, critics of all stripes can suspect that the toys distract kids from their responsibilities to focus on their studies.

All of this exaggerates the significance of toy fads. Play is undeniably important to childhood development, but particular toys rarely have dramatic effects. Most parents have probably given a small child a nicely wrapped present, only to have the child ignore the gift in favor of playing with the ribbon. Adults imagine that war toys or sexist toys or racist toys or meat toys (which trouble vegetarians) or occult toys (which concern evangelicals) will produce adults with bad values, but it’s hard to find much evidence to support those claims. No doubt some women who are feminists owned a Barbie as a kid.

Toy fads are important because they represent something novel, different. An important part of childhood is gradually separating yourself from your family and becoming your own person. We can see this when middle-school children announce a taste for music that diverges from what their parents enjoy; it’s a way of declaring, “I’m my own person.”

We can imagine slightly younger kids comparing fidget spinners – yours is an interesting color or really sparkles when it spins, while mine spins for a really long time. Fidget spinners are all the more fun to the degree they’re subterranean, with most adults clueless.

They’re getting a lot of attention today, but like all fads their novelty will inevitably fade: They’ll soon be stuffed in the corners of dresser drawers, waiting to provide little jolts of nostalgia when they’re rediscovered a few years down the road.

Joel Best, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Arguments why God (very probably) exists

The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percent of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.Such trends have ironically been taking place even as, I would argue, the probability for the existence of a supernatural god have been rising. In my 2015 book, “God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God,” I look at physics, the philosophy of human consciousness, evolutionary biology, mathematics, the history of religion and theology to explore whether such a god exists. I should say that I am trained originally as an economist, but have been working at the intersection of economics, environmentalism and theology since the 1990s.

Laws of math

In 1960 the Princeton physicist – and subsequent Nobel Prize winner – Eugene Wigner raised a fundamental question: Why did the natural world always – so far as we know – obey laws of mathematics?

As argued by scholars such as Philip Davis and Reuben Hersh, mathematics exists independent of physical reality. It is the job of mathematicians to discover the realities of this separate world of mathematical laws and concepts. Physicists then put the mathematics to use according to the rules of prediction and confirmed observation of the scientific method.

But modern mathematics generally is formulated before any natural observations are made, and many mathematical laws today have no known existing physical analogues.

Einstein Memorial, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
Wally Gobetz, CC BY-ND

Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity, for example, was based on theoretical mathematics developed 50 years earlier by the great German mathematician Bernhard Riemann that did not have any known practical applications at the time of its intellectual creation.

In some cases the physicist also discovers the mathematics. Isaac Newton was considered among the greatest mathematicians as well as physicists of the 17th century. Other physicists sought his help in finding a mathematics that would predict the workings of the solar system. He found it in the mathematical law of gravity, based in part on his discovery of calculus.

At the time, however, many people initially resisted Newton’s conclusions because they seemed to be “occult.” How could two distant objects in the solar system be drawn toward one another, acting according to a precise mathematical law? Indeed, Newton made strenuous efforts over his lifetime to find a natural explanation, but in the end he could say only that it is the will of God.

Despite the many other enormous advances of modern physics, little has changed in this regard. As Wigner wrote, “the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and there is no rational explanation for it.”

In other words, as I argue in my book, it takes the existence of some kind of a god to make the mathematical underpinnings of the universe comprehensible.

Math and other worlds

In 2004 the great British physicist Roger Penrose put forward a vision of a universe composed of three independently existing worlds – mathematics, the material world and human consciousness. As Penrose acknowledged, it was a complete puzzle to him how the three interacted with one another outside the ability of any scientific or other conventionally rational model.

How can physical atoms and molecules, for example, create something that exists in a separate domain that has no physical existence: human consciousness?

It is a mystery that lies beyond science.

Elizabethe, CC BY-NC-ND

This mystery is the same one that existed in the Greek worldview of Plato, who believed that abstract ideas (above all mathematical) first existed outside any physical reality. The material world that we experience as part of our human existence is an imperfect reflection of these prior formal ideals. As the scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Ian Mueller, writes in “Mathematics And The Divine,” the realm of such ideals is that of God.

Indeed, in 2014 the MIT physicist Max Tegmark argues in “Our Mathematical Universe” that mathematics is the fundamental world reality that drives the universe. As I would say, mathematics is operating in a god-like fashion.

The mystery of human consciousness

The workings of human consciousness are similarly miraculous. Like the laws of mathematics, consciousness has no physical presence in the world; the images and thoughts in our consciousness have no measurable dimensions.

Yet, our nonphysical thoughts somehow mysteriously guide the actions of our physical human bodies. This is no more scientifically explicable than the mysterious ability of nonphysical mathematical constructions to determine the workings of a separate physical world.

Until recently, the scientifically unfathomable quality of human consciousness inhibited the very scholarly discussion of the subject. Since the 1970s, however, it has become a leading area of inquiry among philosophers.

Recognizing that he could not reconcile his own scientific materialism with the existence of a nonphysical world of human consciousness, a leading atheist, Daniel Dennett, in 1991 took the radical step of denying that consciousness even exists.

Finding this altogether implausible, as most people do, another leading philosopher, Thomas Nagel, wrote in 2012 that, given the scientifically inexplicable – the “intractable” – character of human consciousness, “we will have to leave [scientific] materialism behind” as a complete basis for understanding the world of human existence.

As an atheist, Nagel does not offer religious belief as an alternative, but I would argue that the supernatural character of the workings of human consciousness adds grounds for raising the probability of the existence of a supernatural god.

Evolution and faith

Evolution is a contentious subject in American public life. According to Pew, 98 percent of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science “believe humans evolved over time” while only a minority of Americans “fully accept evolution through natural selection.”

As I say in my book, I should emphasize that I am not questioning the reality of natural biological evolution. What is interesting to me, however, are the fierce arguments that have taken place between professional evolutionary biologists. A number of developments in evolutionary theory have challenged traditional Darwinist – and later neo-Darwinist – views that emphasize random genetic mutations and gradual evolutionary selection by the process of survival of the fittest.

From the 1970s onwards, the Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould created controversy by positing a different view, “punctuated equilibrium,” to the slow and gradual evolution of species as theorized by Darwin.

In 2011, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist James Shapiro argued that, remarkably enough, many micro-evolutionary processes worked as though guided by a purposeful “sentience” of the evolving plant and animal organisms themselves. “The capacity of living organisms to alter their own heredity is undeniable,” he wrote. “Our current ideas about evolution have to incorporate this basic fact of life.”

A number of scientists, such as Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “see no conflict between believing in God and accepting the contemporary theory of evolution,” as the American Association for the Advancement of Science points out.

For my part, the most recent developments in evolutionary biology have increased the probability of a god.

Miraculous ideas at the same time?

For the past 10,000 years at a minimum, the most important changes in human existence have been driven by cultural developments occurring in the realm of human ideas.

In the Axial Age (commonly dated from 800 to 200 B.C.), world-transforming ideas such as Buddhism, Confucianism, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the Hebrew Old Testament almost miraculously appeared at about the same time in India, China, ancient Greece and among the Jews in the Middle East, groups having little interaction with one another.

Many world-transforming ideas, such as Buddhism, appeared in the world around the same time.
Karyn Christner, CC BY

The development of the scientific method in the 17th century in Europe and its modern further advances have had at least as great a set of world-transforming consequences. There have been many historical theories, but none capable, I would argue, of explaining as fundamentally transformational a set of events as the rise of the modern world. It was a revolution in human thought, operating outside any explanations grounded in scientific materialism, that drove the process.

That all these astonishing things happened within the conscious workings of human minds, functioning outside physical reality, offers further rational evidence, in my view, for the conclusion that human beings may well be made “in the image of [a] God.”

Different forms of worship

In his commencement address to Kenyon College in 2005, the American novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace said that: “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

Even though Karl Marx, for example, condemned the illusion of religion, his followers, ironically, worshiped Marxism. The American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre thus wrote that for much of the 20th century, Marxism was the “historical successor of Christianity,” claiming to show the faithful the one correct path to a new heaven on Earth.

In several of my books, I have explored how Marxism and other such “economic religions” were characteristic of much of the modern age. So Christianity, I would argue, did not disappear as much as it reappeared in many such disguised forms of “secular religion.”

That the Christian essence, as arose out of Judaism, showed such great staying power amidst the extraordinary political, economic, intellectual and other radical changes of the modern age is another reason I offer for thinking that the existence of a god is very probable.

Note from Editor of The Conversation US: This is a revised version of the original piece. We have done so to make explicit the author’s expertise with regard to the subject of this article. We have also incorporated important context that was missing in the original version. The Conversation

Robert H. Nelson, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.