Lying = Bad

October 25, 2010

Don Brown has “published” another “article” up on his blog. Every time he does this, he announces the post as if it’s a true-to-life article, or a paper, or some such peer-reviewed document. Here’s how he made the announcement on the Climate-L list:

A new article is available that encourages serious reflection on the harm and damage by well-financed scientific disinformation campaigns that goes far beyond reasonable skepticism and spreads utterly false scientific laims such as that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” or that there is “no evidence”of human causation. This is not skepticism but utter distortion.

The paper argues that those who want to claim no evidence of huge damages from human induced climate change are violating ethical responsibilities and that this is a serious problem calling for further reflection about how to classify such irresponsible behavior. The paper argues that there are ethical responsibilities that climate skeptics must follow. The article asks if this behavior should be classified as a new type of crime against humanity.

I don’t want to pick nits with Don, but really, this is a blog post. It’s not an article. It’s not a paper. It’s not published. It’s posted on a website that he controls. He can write about his infatuation with the sweat glands of badgers and mule deer for all we care, and it will still somehow make it into the public discourse.

And his point in this “article” is one that, I take it, is the obvious underlying normative claim of Merchants of Doubt, which is the book from which he starts his post: lying and fabricating information are unacceptable. Except that, Brown wants to classify this sort of fabrication as a crime against humanity. (No kidding.)

Here’s his conclusion:

The international community does not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.

Yeah, so…that’s crazy. But, hell, what’s a little hyperbole and embellishment between friends? As long as we’re criticizing hyperbole and embellishment, might as well have a taste from the punch bowl.


  1. then again there is an issue of at what point lying becomes a crime. there are a lot of bodies in the ground because of Fred Seitz lying about tobacco, for example.

  2. Nobody is allowed to be “wrong” or “misguided” anymore. If anybody says something that someone disagrees with it is usually characterized as a “lie”.

    News flash! Saying something you believe to be true cannot be a lie (by definition) – even if you turn out to wrong.

    In order for a person to lie, they have to have intent to deceive.

    This is often forgotten by people who accuse others of “lying”.

    The other thing about “intent to deceive” is that it requires reading someones mind – which is a very difficult task.

    Of course, some people think that anybody who disagrees with them is so wrong that there are only two possibilities: 1) they are stupid or 2) they know they are wrong but advocating their “wrong” position anyway and are therefore have to be “lying” and are therefore “evil”.

    It is a person who chooses the second possibility that would like to make being wrong a crime against humanity.

    I would like bloggers and commenter’s to hew to the actual definition of a “lie”, and allow for the possibility that a person actually believes what they are saying.

    We can still think they are wrong – but that does not necessarily make them a liar (or evil).

    Oh, by the way, there is also a third possibility – the person who is “wrong” can also turn out to be right.

    Bias alert – I believe that we have warmed and will warm around 1.2 degrees C by 2100, and that part of the warming we have experienced is caused by humans (and part that will occur is also caused by humans). However, I do not believe that climate sensitivity is as high as 3 to 6 degrees C. Therefore, I do not think the results of the increase in temperature will be as dire as some project. I believe that increased global temperature have and will give rise to changes which tend to cause negative feedback. So the oceans will not rise as much as some predict, not as much ice will melt as some predict, storms will not be as bad as some predict and not as many plants and animals will die as some predict.

    But hey – I could be wrong!

  3. Go read the Tobacco Archive to understand why intent to deceive and lies cost lives. One of Eli’s favorites, although not the worst one, is the proposal by Roger Bate that Philip Morris fund a new organization to fight malaria in order to distract the World Health Organization from confronting the tobacco plague. Following the links in the link to the documents, which if anything are even worse.

    And, yes, you are entitled to your opinion about everything, but on the other hand, given that just about everyone who has studied and written on climate signs off on 2-5 C per CO2 doubling, Eli also discounts it heavily and recommends the same to others.

  4. Eli:

    I don’t dispute that lies cost lives.

    I do dispute that everything you consider a lie is actually a lie.

    If may just be a disagreement.

    It all depends on something you do not know – the intent of the person making the statement you disagree with.

    As for discounting my opinion, I don’t blame you.

    I discount the experts.

    My plan is to wait until 2100 and actually measure, both the CO2 level and the global temperature.

    If the temperature has increased 2-5 C per CO2 doubling I will admit I am wrong.

    If the temperature has not increased 2-5 C per CO2 doubling I expect the IPCC to admit they were wrong.

    Of course, I would also expect the IPCC to say that whatever happens between now and 2100 caused the temperature to increase the less than 2-5 C per CO2 doubling – but you do what you can.

    If it is

  5. 1. Eli is quite careful about calling out lies.
    2. You ain’t gonna make it to 2100, so that is somewhere between whistful desire and a flat out lie. See Eli is very careful.
    3. If the world is at 2.x CO2 by 2100 which seems likely, the ship has sailed. You want an analogy, try turning an aircraft carrier on a dime. You have missed the point that CO2 accumulates. It’s one of those gifts that keep on giving

  6. Eli:

    2. I intend to make it to 2100. So while I may turn out to be wrong, it is not a lie. It may be wishful thinking.

  7. RickA,

    You might want to consider how far you are willing to go with this “I’m not lying – I’m merely delusional” defense.

  8. Luminous Beauty:

    If I were delusional, and really thought something which you were convinced I was objectively wrong about, I would merely be “wrong” – not a liar.

    Why – because lying involves intentional deception.

    So lying is a matter of intent – not of being right or wrong.

    Not every person who is wrong is a liar.

    Einstein was not lying when he said God does not play dice (rejecting quantum mechanics).

    So far, the weight of authority believes he was wrong about quantum mechanics.

    The standard model incorporates quantum mechanics.

    What I am doing is not defending lying – merely reminding you what lying is.

    A person who wears an aluminum hat to prevent aliens from reading their minds (i.e. delusional) is not lying about why they are wearing their hat – even if you do not objectively believe that aliens are trying to read their thoughts.

    You are free to call that person wrong (or even deluded) – but do not call that person a liar. That would be inaccurate.

  9. Rick,

    The human mind does not necessarily function in a perfectly rational manner.

    When someone clings to a particular rationalization for some belief (or disbelief) against all evidence to the contrary, we say that person is in denial. If they persist in defending that false belief, even when confronted repeatedly by unequivocal circumstance, we say that person is an habitual liar. When they have internalized those falsehoods to the degree they cannot distinguish between truth and lies, we say they are a pathological liar.

    You may be lying to yourself and sincerely believing your own lies. Both lying and deluded. And wrong.

  10. Luminous Beauty:

    I have to confess I don’t know what you think I am lying about (or deluded about).

    Are you talking about my waiting until 2100 to see what the actual warming and/or cooling is, to measure whether or not my opinion on global warming is right or wrong?

    Granted, I would be 140 years old when 2100 rolls around. Perhaps you think it delusional to allow for the possibility that I will live to 140? Of course, I admit that it is unlikely – but I think that it is at least conceivable that life could be extended to 140 years by 2100. We have tacked on 22 years to average life expectancy just in the last century.

    Or are you talking about my opinion on global warming itself?

    Perhaps you think I am delusional in believing that we “will warm around 1.2 degrees C by 2100”. A 1.2 C increase from current temperatures is the increase we can expect from the extra CO2, but without any amplification effect. Or perhaps you think I am delusional for thinking the current climate sensitivity number is to high?

    My opinion is either right or wrong – but my opinion is not a lie (because I believe it – as stated).

    I suspect you are one of those people who think that anybody who disagrees with you is a liar, and simply misuses the word.

  11. Rick,

    Yes, you are delusional for believing that there is no amplification.

    If relative humidity stays constant, and there is no reason to believe it won’t and the evidence is that it is doing so, it will very likely double the forcing from CO2. We are already seeing a change in planetary albedo from reduced Arctic sea ice and spring and summer snow cover. The evidence from several empirical modes of observation and the best and most comprehensive theoretical calculations converge on a 90% confidence of a sensitivity of 2C – 4.5C for a doubling of CO2. For you to take what is at best a 1:20 odds bet that sensitivity will lie outside of that range and only in one direction, believing in some phantasmagorical countervailing negative feedback for which there is zero to none empirical evidence and precious little, if any, credible theoretical basis, is irrational.

    The fact that you are aware of what is a robust scientific consensus of knowledgeable opinion and yet cling to your ignorant and irrational science free opinion, for no better reason than you do not want to accept it, is evidence you are, at the very least, lying to yourself.

    Also, I think you are confused about, or else consciously confusing, the distinction between legal perjury and intellectual dishonesty.

  12. At 90% confidence isn’t it more like 1:10 odds.

    I think 1:20 would be a 95% confidence level.

    I hope you have never purchased a lottery ticket.

    Otherwise you would be delusional.

  13. Rick,

    Each tail of the distribution outside of the 90% confidence limit represents 5%, and that for a symmetric distribution. In this case the tails are not evenly distributed.

    You are only considering one tail for your dubious and irrational belief, and that is the weaker of the two. I was being generous.

    Any simple fool should know better than wasting money on lottery tickets. You don’t, apparently. But then again, you’ve been known to fall for St. Steven McIntyre’s little game of three card monte.

    Skeptical, you are not. A real loser, though, that you can bet on!

  14. For you to insult me, I must first value your opinion.

  15. It’s not an insult. It’s an objective assessment.

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