A Peculiar Change

Hey guys. I happened to make a strange discovery today, and I figured I'd post a little about it as a welcome change of pace from the topics being discussed here lately. The discovery came about because a post written by a person involved in our recent discussions, Brandon R. Gates. I recently read a post he wrote about a week ago which is unrelated to anything being that was being discussed here. In it, he talks about the numbers of deaths caused by various technology used to produce energy. He gives a table:

Energy Source                 Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
----------------------------  ---------------------------------------------------
Coal – global average         100,000    (50% global electricity)
Coal – China                  170,000    (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S.                    10,000    (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil                            36,000    (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas                     4,000    (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass                24,000    (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop)                   440    (< 1% global electricity)
Wind                              150    (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average          1,400    (15% global electricity)
Hydro – U.S.                        0.01 (7% U.S. electricity)
Nuclear – global average           90    (17%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
Nuclear – U.S.                      0.01 (19% U.S. electricity)

Taken from an article posted on the Forbes website in June of 2012. What makes this interesting is it caused me to realize that article had been secretly edited just a few weeks ago to change these numbers.

This is what the table looked like on March 3rd of this year:

Energy Source                 Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
----------------------------  ---------------------------------------------------
Coal – global average         170,000    (50% global electricity)
Coal – China                  280,000    (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S.                    15,000    (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil                            36,000    (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas                     4,000    (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass                24,000    (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop)                   440    (< 1% global electricity)
Wind                              150    (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average          1,400    (15% global electricity)
Nuclear – global average           90    (17%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

The global average mortality rate for coal had been 170,000. Now it is 100,000. The Chinese mortality rate for coal was 280,000. Now it is 170,000. The United States mortality rate for coal was 15,000. Now it is 10,000. These are significant revisions reducing the stated dangers of using coal to produce electricity.

There is no explanation given for these changes. In fact, the changes aren't even disclosed. There is nothing to indicate to a reader that any changes were made much less explain why the changes were made. From June 13th of 2012 to March 3rd of 2016, the article contained one table. Then, sometime between March 3rd and March 9th of this year, it was changed to its current form.

I have no idea why this happened. I'm not going to try to guess. What I will say is this is incredibly bizarre. I don't know of any reason a journalist would make secret changes like this nearly four years after an article was published. There's no reason to. If there was an error that needed to be corrected, that is fine, but the correction needed to be disclosed with the error acknowledged so people could be made aware of it. If the article was changed for any other reason, then that's even worse.

There are a couple other points were taking note of. First, it wasn't just the figures for coal that got changed. Two lines were added to the table as well, a line for the mortality rate of "Hydro – U.S." and and a line for the mortality rate of "Nuclear - U.S."

Second, this is actually the second time this table has been changed. It initially was given as:

Energy Source                 Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
----------------------------  ---------------------------------------------------
Coal – global average         160,000    (50% global electricity)
Coal – China                  280,000    (75% China’s electricity)
Coal – U.S.                    15,000    (44% U.S. electricity)
Oil                            36,000    (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
Natural Gas                     4,000    (20% global electricity)
Biofuel/Biomass                24,000    (21% global energy)
Solar (rooftop)                   440    (< 1% global electricity)
Wind                              150    (~ 1% global electricity)
Hydro – global average          1,400    (15% global electricity)
Nuclear – global average           90    (17%  global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)

I assume the first line saying 160,000 instead of 170,000 was just a typo and that's why it was corrected quite quickly (within days). I don't think that is wrong, but it is worth noting given the history of this table appears murky.

5 comments

  1. Just cross posting what I posted at Lucia's that seems to be relevant to your post.

    Brandon R. Gates (Comment # [at Lucia's]145481)

    Here is a NIOSH doc (first doc found searching for pneumoconiosis in Bing) and it stated that there were 1766 deaths in the US in 1992, and I would expect that the number of deaths would have declined since that time in the year 2015. [in response to claim that there were 10,000 to $30,000 premature deaths in the US due to the coal industry]

    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/.....6-134d.pdf

    JD

  2. Second cross post from Lucia's:

    Brandon Gates:

    Here is another summary: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5328a1.htm

    The pertinent part states: “During 1968–2000, pneumoconiosis was recorded on 124,846 death certificates. Comparing 1968–1981 with 1982–2000, death rates among males declined 36% for CWP and approximately 70% for both silicosis and unspecified/other pneumoconiosis, but increased nearly 400% for asbestosis.”

    ….

    The source for the statistics was: “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) maintains a mortality surveillance system for respiratory diseases of occupational interest (2). The data are drawn from annual National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) multiple-cause-of-death mortality files, which include all deaths in the United States since 1968. For this report, pneumoconiosis deaths were identified during 1968–2000, the most recent year for which complete data are available, and include any death certificates for which an International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code* for CWP, silicosis, asbestosis, or unspecified/other pneumoconiosis was listed as either the underlying or contributing cause of death. Age-adjusted death rates (per million population per year) for periods of interest were calculated by using the mid-year population as a denominator. Age standardization was performed by using the 2000 U.S. Census population. ”

    JD

  3. Looking at the current version of the table, and focusing on the global electricity component, we have the following breakdown of electricity generation by source:
    coal - 50%
    oil - 8%
    natural gas - 20%
    hydro - 15%
    nuclear - 17%
    (plus minor contributions from solar & wind)

    Adding the percentages, the table attributes sources to over 110% of global electricity. Not sure that it makes a lot of difference to the "takeaway" conclusion, but it certainly raises questions about methodology, in addition to the stealth change which you've noted.

  4. JD Ohio, thanks. I don't know much about this topic so any extra information is appreciated.

    HaroldW, nice catch. I didn't think to check that. I would have never guessed they'd mess up something so simple. The more I look at this, the more interesteing it gets. Stop it!

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