Friday, January 27, 2012

More Anti-Global Warming dishonesty

Apparently science is now a democracy because we keep hearing about scientists signing up and saying they disagree with global warming.  Take for example this new piece in the wall street journal entitled No need to panic about global warming bragging about being signed by 16 scientists.  Apparently the author of this opinion piece believes that facts can be voted on.

But science is not a democracy.  We cannot simply vote on what we want to be true, instead we must have evidence to find out what is true.  If we could vote on truth I would say its high time we held a vote on whether or not cancer exists.  Unfortunately, the fact that science is about evidence rather than getting names to support you is something that politicians and the general public don't seem to understand.

The very fact that those opposing global warming are resorting to polling names of those who oppose global warming as opposed to citing studies should clue us in to the fact that they are wrong.  If the evidence showed that the earth isn't warming then the warming denialists could cite to that evidence rather than just trying to find names to support them.  As it stands the only way for the global warming denialists to argue is to use rhetorical tricks to cover up the fact that all the evidence stands against them...

I am not a climate scientist and I won't go into the research supporting global warming but if you want to see the research then one starting point is wikipedia and you can check sources from there. What I want to do is attack the rhetoric of the Wall Street Journal opinion article.  I want to attack four of the dishonest rhetorical techniques used: 1) argument ad populum, 2)  assuming unsaid statements, 3) failure to follow an argument to its logical conclusion, and 4) quote mining.

1.  Argument Ad Populum
First as discussed above the article apparently thinks it can dictate facts by vote.  Clearly this is not true.  While it might make sense to get the opinion of scientists this only makes sense if the scientists have actually researched the subject.  Otherwise you are no better off asking a scientist than a lay person.  So if you really want to understand whether global warming is occurring you need to ask the experts, who almost unanimously agree that it is.

2.  Assuming Unsaid Statements
The article then goes on to note how a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Ivar Giaever, resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) because he did not agree with its position that global warming was "incontrovertible."  The article somehow leaps from this to the conclusion that the scientist does not believe in global warming which is completely unwarranted.

Giaever is quoted as saying "it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"  It appears Giaever is arguing over the use of the word "incontrovertible" and saying that global warming can't be conclusively proved in the same way we can prove the mass of a proton.  Thus, we are left unsure whether Giaever supports global warming or not.

3.  Failure to follow an argument to its logical conclusion
The Wall Street Journal argues that to determine why global warming is such a hot button issue we should "follow the money."  Great, easy, lets see... oil companies would lose lots of money if we stop burning fossil fuels and our economy might suffer if we have to use more expensive forms of energy.  Thus, it appears that the global warming debate is fueled by those big pockets that would lose money if global warming is real and we try to stop it.

Out of some insane delusion the Wall Street Journal doesn't follow the big money but instead follows the small money in a few hands of researchers.  The Journal accuses climate scientists of creating the controversy in order to get research dollars.   That is not following the money.  The money is all on the global warming denier side.  If research really did show that global warming wasn't happening then oil companies would long ago have funded reputable scientists to do the research.  Additionally, think of how much money a scientist could make from oil companies if she could prove global warming wasn't happening.  That scientist would be on the bankroll of every oil company and make way more working for them than she could from just doing research.

Not to mention the fact that the global warming skeptic Richard Mueller working at the Berkely Earth Surface Temperature group (a group funded with conservative dollars and supported by republicans) released preliminary research agreeing with the global warming position.  It was directly against Mueller's financial interest to make this finding and yet he still did.  Since Mueller was previously a disbeliever in global warming and then changed his mind after looking at the evidence while being funded by conservatives I think it is insane to claim that scientists have created global warming for the money.

Follow the money again Wall Street Journal and you'll find it points straight to the global warming deniers.

4) Quote Mining
The citing to the climategate emails by the Journal is highly dishonest because it is an obvious use of quotes out of context.  First, I want to say, it doesn't matter what one climate scientist says if the research that has been done is not contradicted.  Remember just because one scientist says something doesn't meant that it is true.  Science values evidence not statements of scientists.

Second, lets look at the quote from the climate scientist:
The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't.
Without context we cannot know what this means.  It might appear damning but that doesn't mean that it is.  What moment is being referred to?  How can they not account for it?  These are things we cannot know from just that quote.  But the Journal wants us to imagine that the quote means that there isn't actually warming happening anymore.  Without more we cannot make that jump.  I would guess there is a reason that just this sentence is quoted as opposed to the whole context it comes from. (Update: here is a link to a good explanation of this quote, thanks to Doc Sarvis)

If people want to argue against global warming then find some evidence.  As it stands right now global warming denialism is a conspiracy theory that is contradicted by all the available evidence.


  1. If you want to put the quote-mined comment in perspective see this article at Skeptocal science.

  2. Thanks Sarvis, great link. I always find it frustrating that people are willing to read so much into a single quoted sentence without wondering about the context. I didn't know the full context of that quote and have been way to busy to research it thus I was left pointing out that the quote was ambiguous and no more. Its nice to see that quote mine explained.