Archive for the ‘Fallacies’ Category

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Bad Government, No Snack

March 27, 2010

Libertarians amuse me. Particularly fascinating is their insistence that government can’t get anything right, and that somehow, miraculously, the free market will handle all manner of goods — market and non-market, exchange and non-exchange — with greater efficiency and better quality than any other possible social coordination mechanism. Most of the time, the insanity of libertarians is simply an amusing aside, too stupid to bother with. Sometimes, however, it’s a fabulous parody of itself, as in this humble video screed from Reason [sic]. Read the written article, watch the video below, and see how many logical fallacies you can spot.

I’ll play along too by commenting on the video. More after the jump…

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Punchface

March 14, 2010

Joe Romm wrote something on this article by Peter Gleick, and I just loved the Matt Groening cartoon, so I thought I should write something too.

Here is the way scientists think science works: Ideas and theories are proposed to explain the scientific principles we understand, the evidence we see all around us, and the mathematical models we use to test theories. Alternative theories compete. The ones that best explain reality are accepted, and any new idea must do a better job than the current one. And in this world, no alternative explanation for climate change has ever come close to doing a better job than the science produced by the climate community and represented by the IPCC and thousands of other reports. Indeed, the evidence that man-made climate change is already happening is compelling and overwhelming. And our water resources are especially vulnerable (see, for just one example, this previous blog post).

But the world of policy often doesn’t give a hoot for the world of science. That, of course, permits climate deniers to simply say “no, no, no” without having to come up with an idea that actually works better to explain what we see and know. That’s not science. It’s ideology.

This is a relatively common explanation of the conflict, and there are parts of it that I agree with — like the part about how scientists think science works, and also the part about policy not entirely giving a hoot about the world of science — but there are other parts that I think need a little more care. Namely, it’s not clear that climate denial is strictly speaking ideologically driven.

Oh, sure, some of it may be ideologically driven. Morano’s version of climate denial, for instance, seems pretty steeped in ideology. But some of it can’t be explained away by appeals to ideology.

Seems to me that a good bit of the denial comes in the form of competing ontological and epistemological claims, as well as competing views about what counts as good or reliable science.

It’s too easy to discount these views as ideological; but I’m afraid that doing so doesn’t do much to persuade those who are otherwise unpersuaded. By my lights, if the sticking point is actually over the robustness of the science, then the climate policy, the climate science , and the contrarian community that gets stuck on these points could use a good bit of reading in the philosophy of science.

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Spindly Man with Annoying Bow Tie Takes on Weather Hack with Annoying Logic

February 23, 2010

Or, climate ain’t weather (and climatology ain’t meteorology) redux

This week our good pal Max Boykoff appeared at the AAAS to argue that the media overstate the case of climate skeptics. You can read about that event here, in the local Boulder rag.

Meanwhile, in the High Country News, Tom Yulsman offers a response to a recent WSJ article critical of emissions reductions policies in Boulder. Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor responds to Yulsman and the WSJ in the comments. (h/t to Roger).

Finally, Bill Nye the Famous Nerdy Guy was pitted against the venerable meteorologist Joe Bastardi. Of interest here (to my students in particular), Nye calls out Bastardi on his use of the red herring. For my money, Nye has a far superior argument, though I wish he hadn’t raised the question of who has something to gain.

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Yes, Our Press Corps Is That Bad

February 15, 2010

I’ve seen the claim that Phil Jones has “admitted” that there has been no climate change since 1995  in several places, but I was startled tonight when my mild-mannered father — a scientifically-inclined, but otherwise disinterested and innocent dentist in quasi-rural Virginia — raised the question with me. “What’s the deal with one of the supposed great figures in climate science saying that there is no more climate change?” he asked.

Sigh.

Evidently, many in the press don’t bother much to parse the language of statisticians, or less charitably, some interpreters of science are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to bend a statement to suit their purposes. Real Climate, I think, nicely disassembles the bullshit. Here’s a quick quote of their analysis:

What Jones actually said is that, while the globe has nominally warmed since 1995, it is difficult to establish the statistical significance of that warming given the short nature of the time interval (1995-present) involved. The warming trend consequently doesn’t quite achieve statistical significance. But it is extremely difficult to establish a statistically significant trend over a time interval as short as 15 years–a point we have made countless times at RealClimate. It is also worth noting that the CRU record indicates slightly less warming than other global temperature estimates such as the GISS record.

Amazing how handily some statements can be twisted.

Plainly, this should serve not as an indictment of Jones or climate science, but of the reporters of climate science, of the mouthpieces of disinformation and obfuscation. It is also a warning about accuracy and nuance. Jones was being mighty nuanced in that interview. Such nuance yields gaping holes for sophists to exploit and for most people to peer through.

As a dentist, my father is actually reasonably familiar with statistical significance, but the nuance of Jones’s comment was lost on him. He just didn’t want to bother to dig much deeper, so he let it slide and went with the press’s narrative. For reasons that escape me, it’s an easy narrative to swallow, particularly if one is already inclined that way.

LATE ADDITION (moved up from comments):

The question posed to Jones, as it happens, is a loaded (or complex) question. There have been many such questions in recent months.

Here’s a parallel:

“Do you agree that from January 2009 until January 2010 there has been no statistically-significant global warming?”

That’s a question with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t response. “Yes, I agree” is accurate, but it’s accurate only because the scale is too small and it gives a misleading impression about climate science. “No, I don’t agree” is inaccurate, because it is wrong about statistical significance, and it too gives a misleading impression about climate science. Even to say in blanket fashion: “Yes, but only just” or “Yes, but only because your statistical significance is harder to demonstrate across shorter timespans” which is pretty close to what Jones said, gives a misleading impression.

I think it’s too much to expect that someone can identify some of these fallacies on the fly. I actually traffic in fallacies on a daily basis, and it can be very hard for me to identify them and call them by name.

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Nothing to See Here

February 3, 2010

Looks like Michael Mann and the climatology community at Penn State got an all (a mostly, largely, nearly, ninety-nine percent, practically) clear from the panel investigating them. [Props to JimR for keeping me accurate.] Read the report from Penn State here.

Actually, if you’re not associated with a university that pays a university subscription to climate wire, you may not be able to read that. Even still, I’m fairly sure I can quote this without copyright infringement:

An internal inquiry has largely cleared Pennsylvania State University climatologist Michael Mann of scientific misconduct, but the university said yesterday that it will continue to probe whether the researcher undermined public trust in science.

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Slaughter Your Second and nth Children, Jewish-Chinese People

February 2, 2010

Endorphin-addled confused-person Glenn Beck suggests here (without saying as much) that the climate change movement is akin to Chairman Mao Tse Haman demanding that the future children of all people on the earth be minced to shreds in the malicious air Cuisinarts that are now popping up around many unpopulated areas in the American west. He is correct.

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Be sure to paint your door post with the blood of kung pao lamb.

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Hitler was a Vegetarian

January 30, 2010

Joy of joys, Osama bin Laden has just gotten all up in our shit about our failure to act on climate change. It is a ticklish pleasure whenever history’s great super-villains lecture us on our moral failings.

Best part about this? It demonstrates, beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt — a doubtful shadow of reason? — the moral depravity of caring about the earth. Either that, or it illustrates just how cozy the enviros are with Al Qaida. Veritable jihadists next door, I tell you.

Meanwhile, it may have escaped the world’s attention, but both Hitler and Osama bin Laden are heterosexuals. Mighty curious, then, that the NFL would deign to ban this ad from the Superbowl. Coincidence? I think not.

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Good News Bears

January 17, 2010

Brian Leiter directs our attention — somewhat hyperbolically, I think — to this startling bit of wingnuttery from Charles Rowley, a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Given the closing quote, Leiter suggests that Rowley is calling for the assassination of the president. That’s a terrible thing to call for, of course, and it is maybe even true that Rowley is calling for that, but I’m here to rescue readers of Rowley’s ramblings from any such absurd conclusion.

Namely, Rowley’s logic is so manifestly abominable that even a merely moderately astute reader should ascertain that the concluding remarks are only randomly tacked on, and that the substance of the argument doesn’t affix to the concluding remarks.

Rowley uses this clever device to suggest that the current health care legislation signals a descent into tyranny:

Suppose, dear reader, that, while residing legally in the United States, you choose  not to purchase a daily newspaper.  Perhaps your choice is determined by a concern that all newspapers varnish the truth, perhaps by budgetary constraints.  Suppose that you choose not to outlay your monies on an annual vacation, perhaps because you believe that ‘your nest is always best’, perhaps because of budgetary constraints.  Suppose  that a bigot is elected to the presidency and ‘persuades’ Congress to require you to purchase a newspaper, or  to fine you for not so doing ; to require you to take an annual vacation, or to fine you for not so doing.  Would you not be alarmed, dear reader, by such an invasion of your liberty to engage or not to engage in specific market activities? Would you not view such an intervention as an act of tyranny much more serious than the eighteenth century interventions by King George III merely to tax certain kinds of consumption while yet leaving  his colonists  free to purchase or not to purchase the affected items?

Okay, suppose…

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A Thought Catastrophe

January 1, 2010

Aw hell. I sit down at my computer for a millisecond, nursing my hangover, only to read in the New York Times an inane snippet of garbage from a self-promoting windbag in my own discipline. Here, enjoy this preposterous goody-sack of bullshit to welcome in the New Year. It’s written by Denis Dutton, philosopher (AOS, aesthetics) at the University of Canterbury. You probably know him better from his editorship of the otherwise very nice Arts and Letters Daily, an online clearinghouse with links to good reading.

I won’t bore you with the boring stuff (which is most of it), but the gist of the essay is that, oops, Y2K was ridiculous. Isn’t it ha-ha funny how worried people were about the end of the world back in 1999? We were so dumb and gullible back then.

Now that Y2K has been shown to be a farce, it only stands to reason that all other worries about the end of the world are similarly ha-ha funny. Dutton’s reasoning, I submit, is impeccable. Catastrophes simply don’t happen. Y2K demonstrates this.

All that worry about a nuclear winter? How dumb. Didn’t happen, wasn’t going to happen. The 1980s anti-nuke activists were a tittering cabal of sissies. Chatter from Central Asia about planes and buildings got you concerned? Never you mind, it’s idle hysteria. Nothing could ever happen. Catastrophism is an elixir of the masses. Bell-ringers in Louisiana scaring your children with fables of impending hurricanes and floods? Don’t sweat it. That’s just a few self-interested fraidy-cats drumming up fear. There’s never been a catastrophe ever at all in the world. Never will be. Y2K tells us everything we need to know about periods of public hysteria. Evidence be damned.

And yes, you know where this is going.

As if on cue, in the last few paragraphs of his asinine mental flatulation, he throws an elbow into “climate catastrophism,” though he doesn’t elaborate much. That’s probably a good thing, because he doesn’t seem to have much to elaborate on. What you get is just “his view.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think the calamity frame is a serious problem for the climate debate. That’s not what bothers me about this essay. What bothers me is his stupid fracking hasty generalization that somehow Y2K serves as an extrapolatable case study in catastrophe hysteria. If you haven’t yet gotten the picture, this is a very weak argument.

(Yes, I have a hangover and yes, I’m cranky.)

UPDATE: Looks like Joe Romm sunk his teeth into this piece a few hours before I did.

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Gaia’s Fever

December 16, 2009

I can’t figure out whether to post this under false analogies, accident, or anthropomorphism, but it certainly falls under at least one (if not all) of those categories. I suspect it loses its intended effect because it is such a stretch to make the comparison. Nevertheless, here it is, allegedly from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division of Sustainable Development (though I can find no link to it on their official website).

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