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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
Subscribe now, or browse Back Issues.

Volume 9, Issue 38: September 17, 2007

  1. The Fallacy of Going to War for Oil
  2. Dirty Bombs or Wasteful Spending?
  3. Musharraf and the West
  4. Nature Posts Higgs’s Insights on Peer Review

1) The Fallacy of Going to War for Oil

Commenting on a statement in his new book that the Iraq War “is largely about oil,” Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan claims that before the war he told the White House that toppling Saddam Hussein was essential for securing world oil supplies. Greenspan’s view, however, represents a common misunderstanding refuted by Independent Institute Research Fellow David R. Henderson, author of the new Independent Policy Report, “Do We Need to Go to War for Oil?”

“Many people believe that foreign oil producers who export large quantities of oil can compel U.S. consumers to line up for gasoline,” writes Henderson. “While this belief became popular in the 1970s after OPEC reduced supply, it is false.” Only American-imposed price controls can have this effect, he argues in the 24-page paper.

The world market for oil acts like the game of musical chairs in which the number of chairs equals the number of players, Henderson explains. If, for example, the ruler of an oil-exporting country in the Middle East maintains output but cuts exports to the United States by 753,000 barrels a day, he must find a new buyer for that oil. The new buyer would in turn simply free up its former supplier’s product, making it available to the United States, with the increased cost to Americans of only about $1 per person per year.

“The only way a foreign oil producer can harm Americans is by cutting output, but that producer will then harm itself and also harm all other oil users, not just U.S. consumers,” Henderson continues. “This harm is likely to be well under 0.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).”

“Do We Need to Go to War for Oil?” by David R. Henderson (Independent Policy Report, 9/07)

Also see:

A New Oil Crisis? Not So Fast, by David Isenberg (Asia Times, 8/9/07)

“Troop Withdrawal: Looking Beyond Iraq,” featuring Ivan Eland, Leon T. Hadar, David R. Henderson, Charles Pena (Washington, DC, 9/21/07)

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2) Dirty Bombs or Wasteful Spending?

Using funds from the Department of Homeland Security, the Los Angeles Police Department recently purchased seven radiation-detection devices designed to help locate a “dirty bomb”—six hand-held devices and one designed for use in a helicopter. But because the devices have only an 800-foot detection radius, they will be of little use in protecting the 468-square-mile city from a dirty bomb, according to Independent Institute Senior Fellow Charles Peña.

The devices are also likely to detect a large number of “false positives,” according to Peña, because radioactive materials are used routinely in hospitals, research, and industry, and are found in common products such as fertilizers, ceramics, bananas, kitty litter, and smoke detectors. Fortunately, the dirty bomb threat to Los Angles is probably overstated, according to Peña.

“There are only two known cases—in Russia and Chechnya—of attempted terrorism using a radiological dispersion device,” writes Peña. Dirty bombs have been rare because they are relatively hard to construct and use. Furthermore, “the actual physical damage caused by a dirty bomb would likely be no more than if were a conventional bomb using the same amount of explosives,” writes Peña. One wonders whether Homeland Security and the LAPD have their priorities in order.

“Getting Them Before They Get Us,” by Charles V. Peña (9/17/07) Spanish Translation (forthcoming)

More by Charles Pena

“Troop Withdrawal: Looking Beyond Iraq,” featuring Ivan Eland, Leon T. Hadar, David R. Henderson, Charles Pena (Washington, DC, 9/21/07)

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3) Musharraf and the West

In his latest column, Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa takes Western governments to task for supporting General Pervez Musharraf “to lead the cause against Islamic fundamentalism in a region central to that struggle.” Musharraf, in fact, has had the opposite effect: His heavy repression of opposing political groups, such as the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League, has rid the country of the few means it had to dilute radical fundamentalism.

“For the umpteenth time in history, a military ruler who promised to bring order has generated worse disorders than those he set out to correct,” writes Vargas Llosa. “Leaders in Washington, London and other Western nations have now belatedly realized that dictatorship was not the solution to the problems that had been incubated during Pakistan’s democratic period. They should have known better.”

Not only has western support for Pakistan’s military rule undermined the development of strong democratic institutions, it has also increased suspicion about Western motives in the war on terrorism. “It will not be easy for a future civilian government in Islamabad to sell to the Pakistani public the idea that the liberal democracies of the West are their friends,” concludes Vargas Llosa.

“Pakistan’s Thug,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (9//07) Spanish Translation

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Center on Global Prosperity (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Director)

Visit our Spanish-language website.

Visit our Spanish-language blog.

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4) Nature Posts Higgs’s Insights on Peer Review

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs’s insights about peer review have found its way to a web log of one of world’s leading scientific magazines. Nature’s “Peer to Peer” blog examines the referring process for scientific articles submitted to the esteemed periodical, as well as on broader issues related to peer review.

“The peer-review process is not, contrary to popular belief, a nearly flawless system of Olympian scrutiny,” writes Higgs. “Any editor of a peer-reviewed journal who desires to reject or accept a submission can easily do so by choosing appropriate referees. Unfortunately, personal vendettas, ideological conflicts, professional jealousies, methodological disagreements, sheer self-promotion and irresponsibility are as much part of the scientific world as any other.”

After explaining why a peer-reviewed “scientific consensus” cannot be assumed to be free of bias, Higgs advises an attitude of caveat emptor. “Good rules of thumb for the non-scientist might be the following: government-funded research that is used to justify that government’s policy should be suspect, whether or not it’s peer-reviewed; and the research of scientists who appear at press conferences in the company of politicians or activists whose agendas they are there to support should be suspect, whether or not the work upholds the consensus opinion.”

“Peer Review and the Scientific Consensus,” by Robert Higgs (Nature, 9/17/07).

Also see:

“Peer Review, Publication in Top Journals, Scientific Consensus, and So Forth,” by Robert Higgs (5/7/07) Spanish Translation

More by Robert Higgs

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