jet

Guns and butter?

A new working paper by Mirko Draca examines the impact of military procurement on economic growth. While military procurement is primarily justified from a security standpoint, it can also have significant impacts on the economy. However, there are opposing theories of how military procurement affects the economy relative to civilian sales or other government procurement: one side says that military spending may be more wasteful because it is too specialized and directed primarily at non-commercial activities, while the other side argues that military spending is better at stimulating innovation because firms are given incentives to push the technological frontier.

Draca finds support for the latter argument—that military spending provides outsized benefits for the economy. Using a database of U.S. military procurement from companies between 1966 and 2003, he examines the elasticity between defense spending and company-sponsored R&D and patenting, finding that a 1 percent increase in military procurement leads to a 0.07 percent increase in both corporate R&D spending and patenting. While this may seem small, it is twice the rate at which simple increases in civilian sales raises the same innovation indicators. Thus it appears that military spending, from … Read the rest

zombies1

If Manufacturing Employment is Dead Then Take a Look at China’s Zombie Apocalypse

Policy-making relies on narratives, and narratives often come from data. Or claim that they do. One story often told by economists—by everyone from Dani Rodrik to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee to James Kynge to Laurence Summers—is that China’s manufacturing sector has been shedding workers since the mid-1990s. This story leads us to believe that something like this is happening:

z-1

This argument ends up as a morality tale with serious policy implications: if even China, manufacturing powerhouse with wages developed countries cannot hope to compete with, is losing manufacturing jobs, then surely manufacturing jobs are obsolete and the U.S. is foolish to try to maintain them—let alone get them back.

Unfortunately, this story is based on a gross misreading of inaccurate evidence. There are three major problems. First, even based on a simplistic look at the data, it’s flat out wrong. Take a look at this chart that shows the actual manufacturing employment in China. (You may note that this chart only goes back to 1998, and that the peak of employment  underlying most claims was in 1996—more on that in a bit.)

z-2

Strangely enough this graph looks nothing … Read the rest

Pesticides

Points to Consider: Claims About Pesticide Toxicity are Based on Discredited Methods

Having failed to convince the public that biotech improved seeds present novel or unexamined risks, professional opponents are now working overtime to tar GMOs with the same brush they’ve used successfully to denigrate the use of synthetic chemistry in agriculture.  Papers that look scientific to the casual observer are frequently cited in these attempts. We take a closer look at one particularly good example of a bad example.

Original PaperRobin MesnageNicolas DefargeJoël Spiroux de VendômoisGilles-Eric Séralini.  2013.  Major Pesticides Are More Toxic to Human Cells Than Their Declared Active Principles. BioMed Research International (Impact Factor: 2.88). 12/2013; 2014(Article ID 179691).  DOI:10.1155/2014/179691

Published Analysis:

ScienceInsider:  “Pesticide Study Sparks Backlash

ravingscientist: “Séralini Has Done it Again!

In the Pipeline: “Pesticide Toxicity?

European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) Statement: “Séralini Study Fails to Meet Basic Scientific Standards

Primary Claims of the Original Paper:

  • Pesticide formulations as sold and used are up to 1000 times more toxic than the isolated substance that is tested and evaluated for safety

GMO Labels

Points to Consider: Flawed and False Arguments for Mandatory GM Food Labels

Opponents of agricultural innovation are in the second year of a massive campaign aimed at stampeding state legislatures into imposing mandatory labels on foods derived from crops improved through biotechnology. They cite a litany of justifications, none of which survives critical scrutiny. We take a closer look.

Original Article: Shubert, David, Why we Need GMO Labels, CNN, February 3, 2014

Primary Claims of the Article:

  • The lack of labeling requirements for GM foods is because of money spent in opposition by seed companies.
  • There is no consensus that these foods are safe.
  • Labeling is required to ensure safety and enable consumer choice.
  • Genetic engineering has not created any new varieties with “with increased yields and resistant to flooding and salt” as promised “When GMOs were introduced nearly 20 years ago.”

Salient Facts: Virtually every claim made is abundantly contradicted by data, experience, and the published scientific literature.

Rebuttal:

  • The lack of State labeling requirements for GM foods is because of money spent in opposition by seed companies.
    • Significant amounts of money have been spent by organic interests in support of labeling that would help expand their market share.
  • Read the rest

organic-milk

Points to Consider: Organic and Conventional Milk are Nutritionally Indistinguishable

Points to Consider: Organic and Conventional Milk are Nutritionally Indistinguishable

Organic advocates often claim foods produced through organic methods are superior in one way or another to other foods. Time and again research has failed to corroborate these claims Yet the convictions of organic advocates remain undented, reinforced by uncritical reporting and/or misleading papers. A classic in this genre is a recent publication wrongly claiming the nutritional superiority of organic milk. We take a closer look.

Original Paper:  Charles M. Benbrook, Gillian Butler,  Maged A. Latif,  Carlo Leifert,  Donald R. Davis.  2013 (December 9). Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States–Wide, 18-Month Study.   PLoS ONE 8(12): e82429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0082429

Published Analysis: Tamar Haspel, A Paper Touting the Benefits of Organic Milk for Heart Health May be Overselling the Drink, Washington Post, January 27, 2014

Primary Claims of the Original Paper: Organic milk is nutritionally superior because of higher levels of ω-3 fatty acids.

Salient Facts: The study reaffirms something long known: that cows fed diets rich in pasture and forage have higher levels of ω-3 fatty acids than those fed … Read the rest