William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Arguing About Climate Is Largely Pointless


Regular readers will already know that arguing with climate-of-doom True Believers is pointless. Don’t bother. A for instance. When my piece appeared at Crisis on the Pontifical Academy for Science’s climate theater, a certain reader said, in effect, “Don’t listen to Briggs. He’s not a scientist. He’s a nobody. Only listen to scientists.”

Skipping the obvious genetic fallacy, I wrote providing evidence of my (extensive) bona fides, not so much for him, but for others. My interlocutor then said that, in his eyes, I don’t qualify. He said my background was in “weather” and that I didn’t hold a tenured job (he always left out the majority of my experience). Only listen to “real” scientists, he said.

His grasp of the genetic fallacy would not be weakened. So I decided to tease him and pointed out that he was not a scientist and that nobody should listen to him. He wrote back saying, “Frankly, you don’t know what I am.” I replied that I’d call his bluff and asked to see his qualifications.

He took his time replying but finally said, “My bona fides are not in question. I have never claimed a expertise.” But he did claim he could repeat the claims of “real” scientists.

Several other readers had a go, but nothing could shake the poor fellow. Real scientists were those who told him what he wanted to hear, and pretend scientists were those men who told him what he didn’t. And he knew the real scientists were real because they told him what he wanted to hear.

This man represents the state of debate. Absolutely pointless. Dick Lindzen was right. Global warming belief is a (democratic) cult. Let me be a Martian slug with an IQ of 2, and let Martian slugs be famed for lying. Whatever claims I, the slug, made would still have to be tackled one by one. They could not be automatically dismissed because of my slugness. Logic 101.

If wasn’t credentials, it would have been something else. If I had said (which I did) that contrary to what the PAS claimed, there has been no increase in extreme weather, this man, or some other True Believer, would have said rainy days in this particular location in the month of May had increased from last year. If I rebutted that the claim of non-increase applied to strong storms and not rainy days, and that in any case changes in rainy days was consistent with non-increases in strong storms, the True Believer would have either have insisted his observation was sufficient, or he would have shifted his discussion to some other irrelevant point.

Pointless points. On and on.

Two ways you know you are dealing with an ideologue. One: he will never admit a point made by his opponent. If he knows, on a point, he is wrong, he will pass by it in silence. We saw this the other day in our discussion of the purposeful lowering of physical standards for women, something we were promised would never happen. It did happen. Did any of those who were for lowering standards comment on this failed promise? No, sir. They did not.

And we had two examples: lowering of standards in the military and in the fire department. Lowered standard proponents shifted the argument to “The feminized military here is doing well, in this small metric.” Another non admission. Most sorrowful was that the lowered standard for the woman in the fire department was passed by in utter silence. Don’t be in a fire in a politically correct city.

The second point, and perhaps the best single test: the ideologue will never be able to say what evidence would convince him he is wrong. This is because the ideologue starts from his belief and conforms the evidence he discovers to the ideology. The ideology is mother, the ideology is father. It is true and can only be true. It is so true that the victim is certain sure he is no ideologue.

Backing up this point (on a day of points) is, if you can believe it, Nature magazine. Somebody rejoicing under the name Oliver Geden (himself a minor True Believer) wrote the article “Climate advisers must maintain integrity” in which he said, “Everyday politics is therefore dominated not by evidence-based policy-making but by attempts at ‘policy-based evidence-making’.” Conforming facts to their ideology is what ideologues can’t help but do.


  1. Wait! I heard that true blue climate change ideologues hold IhD degrees from Universitartus Committiartum E Pluribus Unum. I think the place is somewhere in Kansas…over the rainbow!

  2. Lol! Only too true Mr. Briggs! I have never been able to convince anyone on the left of anything. It might be that I am a terrible debater, but I don’t think so. There have been times I have been arguing with people who pretty much no nothing except what they hear in the news and I could not budge them an inch.

    Here is a non-political example, I have a friend (actually conservative) who believes that pharmaceutical companies are secretly withholding the cure for cancer. I am a scientist with a PhD in Biochemistry, when I try to use facts, such as that there is not one cause for cancer or that although a bunch of different diseases are called cancer, they are not actually the same and thus there can not be one cure, he will not budge an inch. I provide much more evidence than that actually and still he won’t budge an inch or even say, hmmm I had not thought of that!

    It is this way with most things it seems like, I use to think man was somewhat logical, I don’t really think that any more!

  3. Briggs

    May 9, 2015 at 10:36 am


    Thank you. For the sake of curiosity, why does he think drug companies are holding out on us?

    Is it the same reason people think oil companies are hoarding their secret formula to run cars on water?

  4. A Climate Worrier begins by dismissing all arguments unless they come from qualified experts. Not unreasonable at face value. (And perfectly reasonable if we were dealing with an actual scientific topic.) For convenience the Climate Worrier gets to decide who are qualified and who aren’t, even though the Climate Worrier has no qualifications himself to arbitrate such matters and cheerfully admits they have no scientific qualifications themselves. Now cite papers from Spencer, or Lindzen, or Briggs or a hundred others. At this point the rules change because such papers are deemed junk or ‘denier’ papers. Oddly the non expert can now so expertly decide which papers are right and which are wrong and one is given no explanation for this remarkable level of expertise. By this stage though, they are probably calling you names anyway.

  5. Actually, you can’t argue with an ideologue on anything. I was surfing the net and landed on Media Matters and the Koch brothers. This is their comment about why the Koch brothers are evil and Soros, Steyer, etc are not.

    “The Kochs’ Political Work Benefits Them Financially.” Also, they are only into oil and gas, discriminating against renewables.

    The logic here: It’s okay for Duke Energy to give $2 million to the DNC and to build fossil fuel plants because (a) they donated to the “correct” side and (b) Duke also has wind plants, so they are nice people who care. It’s okay to use fossil fuels and make millions as long as you care and soak up tax subsidies on renewables. The Koch brothers should be congratulated for not stealing tax money from the American people for useless wind plants.

    None of this is rational in any way, yet the true believers continue to fill up comment boxes with the irrational drivel. It’s probably incurable…..

    (Speaking of global warming, it’s snowing here and we have a winter storm watch. I only mention this because the news media seems to only mention the hot weather and I don’t want the cold to be left out. Fairness in reporting and all that kind of thing.)

  6. In climatology, when people say “only listen to “real” scientists”, they are failing to define what constitutes “science”, or the sub-branch of climate. This will help isolate the particular expertise and skills that a scientist has over non-scientists.
    Lack of definition means so-called climate scientists are often talking about moral or policy perspectives of which they are very much in ignorance.

  7. I have, on occasion, wondered whether I’m on the wrong side of the argument by “denying”. Early in the game I was (based on the Sci-Fi extrapolations of AGW) a proponent. Then I read a series of articles by Lindzen, Singer and Seitz (former head of NAS) which convinced me there was no science in the AGW propositions. That convinces me that the AGW cause is phony and that it’s a waster of time to links or papers that proponents cite to bolster their cause.

    I’ve come across articles that try to snow people by bringing in profound scientific terms–e.g. the Fluctuation-Dissipation Theorem, the Clausius-Clapeyron equation–but their use of these is entirely misplaced. The authors citing the fluctuation-dissipation theorem did not know, or chose to ignore, that the theorem applies to second and first order displacements from equilibrium, which as Linzen has shown is far from the case in the real atmosphere.

    So we have a bunch of know-nothings who have to take the word of academics and government workers (I refuse to call them scientists) that hot is cold and black is white.

    It’s all the fault of the educational system that does not encourage or train for critical thinking.

  8. If you check the actual degrees of “climate scientists”, you will find they have degrees in physics and many other such fields. What makes them “qualified” is that they agree with the conclusion that humans are warming the planet and that it will be profoundly damaging, nothing more. There was no such degree as “climate science” until recently.

    I agree with Bob that the problem is the educational system does not teach critical thinking. However, there was also a redefinition of some logic–especially the Argument from Authority fallacy. Now it’s Argument from Inappropriate Authority fallacy. So you can actually vote in “scientific truth” if you pick the definition of an “appropriate” authority. When I took logic, there was no “inappropriate” in the title and my professor would probably have flunked me had I had the audacity to add such a term.

  9. Briggs,

    Yes, he thinks that since there is so much money to be made off of treatments that ‘don’t’ work, they’ll never release the ‘cure’ for cancer because they won’t make as much money since cancer will be cured once and for all.

    BTW, I like your blog, keep up the good work!

  10. Out of curiosity Dr. Briggs, can you point out a couple of examples of your own admission of a point made by your opponents? My memory is a bit hazy in thinking of examples.

  11. Briggs

    May 9, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Rob Ryan,

    That’s okay. There aren’t any requirements for reading this blog. I have one such example in the “what evidence?” link (you’ll now recall I started my career believing in climate models), plus dozens to hundreds in the classic environmental posts.

  12. Hack,
    Do you think your friend is able to alter his conclusion if he discovered pharmaceutical companies would make far more money if they could cure all the various cancers today?
    Ask your friend, “Suppose “cancers” were cured by a drug , then would humans stop getting ill and dying of other disease? Would the human death rate drop? “Of course the answer is “No.” Some other disease would disable us, and death would overtake us all.
    The treatments sold for cancer cure would benefit the pharmaceutical companies as well as the treatment for the additional disease that would affect or kill us, at least doubling their sales!
    Pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, allied health professions all profit by curing disease.
    The more we successfully treat and cure disease the more it costs to stay well.

  13. “I agree with Bob that the problem is the educational system does not teach critical thinking.”

    I must disagree (gently) with both Bob and Sheri on this point and the reason is that critical thinking is not a teachable but an emergent property in a fortunate few. A good teacher can encourage this emergence or, as in most cases, squash it like a bug. This is done in the course of the teaching of fundamental skills including the much despised three Rs. Logic can be taught at some point but this is not the same thing as critical thinking.

    You must also realize that the teaching of critical skills is just another fad that sweeps through the educational system every decade or so. The name is periodically changed to protect the guilty. It was called problem solving skills for a while. Whatever it is called the attempt to teach the impossible always degenerates into busy work at best and indoctrination at worse and since the education system is largely controlled by socialists it is always leftist indoctrination. In the case introduced by Briggs it will be a critical examination of the motives of evil deniers.

    This would be much harder to do if we stuck to teachable and standard subjects using the methods of direct instruction. Dear Lord protect us from misguided attempts to teach critical thinking.

  14. Scotian: I will partially agree with your disagreement. While critical thinking often does not appear teachable, the fault may lie more in the methods employed than the actual possibility of critical thinking. I would agree there are people who do seem to incapable of this type of thinking, but I am not sure if the problem lies in their actually not being able to critically think or if it’s just a flat out refusal to employ critical thought.

    It seems fortunate I hit one of those periods where critical thinking was encouraged (I’m thinking that’s a better term than taught). Not that I would have paid any attention to attempts to stifle said thinking, but it made schooling easier to tolerate.

    Critical thinking in the case of Briggs would be looking at both sides, the science, etc. It would be asking if motives have anything to do with actual science and how much should we pay attention to ad hominem attacks, attempts to stifle discussion, etc. Critical thinking should not be one-sided, though admittedly, it probably is taught that way. True critical thinkers will note the complete lack of honesty and critical thinking in that approach.

    Misguided attempts are bad. Actual teaching of critical thinking is not. Sadly, most institutes of learning (a misnomer at best) do not have the skills nor probably the desire to properly teach critical thinking.

  15. Scotian, I also will respectfully, and partially (as does Sheri), disagree with your claim that critical thinking is innate rather than acquired.
    As one who has taught physics and chemistry courses to the vast unwashed–pre-meds and other students filling a science requirement) I can say that teaching a student the perfect gas laws, solving billiard ball collision problems, and is not usually a profitable enterprise (for them or the teacher). What should be taught as science to the non-scientist (and the scientist) is a history of science, showing how science has changed, how theories (e.g. phlogiston, the ether) have been discarded as experiments have proven them false and with this it would be nice to a have a little bit of the philosophy of science (although that is not a settled field)–the limits of a limitless science, to use Fr. Jaki’s apt title.
    If the history of science is taught, then the spirit of critical thinking that used to imbue science will also be taught.
    An aside: I’ve welcomed mistakes in problem answer sheets–they at least give the student some grounds to mistrust authority, and I’ve always said when I’ve made a mistake on the blackboard “that was to teach you to be watchful and mistrustful”–sometimes it was an excuse and less often it was true.

  16. and is not… should be “and so forth is not”… PROOF READ ! PROOF READ!!

  17. “Actually, you can’t argue with an ideologue on anything.”
    Corollary: Everyone is ideological about something.

    “critical thinking is an emergent property…”
    and in most places it emerges it is not wanted, e.g. NASA

    “he will never admit a point made by his opponent.”
    how many have admitted their models’ predictions are wrong?

  18. AGW zealots believe only what they want to believe, so presenting evidence contradicting their beliefs simply angers them. They do not change their beliefs.

  19. Bob, “disagree with your claim that critical thinking is innate rather than acquired.” I would disagree as well except that I didn’t say it was innate. This is why I like Willis’ quote-me rule. 😉 What I said was “critical thinking is not a teachable but an emergent property in a fortunate few.” This emergence must be encouraged and can not be taught in a course called “Critical Thinking” mainly because no one knows how to do that. There is probably a better analogy to coaching athletes than to teaching an academic subject.

    “What should be taught as science to the non-scientist (and the scientist) is a history of science, showing how science has changed …” This was a fashion for awhile but like all the rest it failed abysmally. It was part of the attempt to convert science courses into humanity courses. Worse than that, when taught by a non-scientist they invariably became an anti-science course under the general Marxist world view.

    I have taught the same kind of courses that you have and have come to the same conclusion as Euclid “there is no royal road to geometry”.

  20. Mysterian: I like your second point!

    Scotain: I am still not sure I agree that critical thinking is an emergent property that cannot be taught. I do think many people actively oppose its emergence in themselves. Still, I do think that with proper instruction, people can be taught. I would also note that it’s possible the reason it seems it cannot be successfully taught is the methods used were never appropriate (especially true in public schools). There are people I know that would present a huge challenge to try and teach them to use critical thinking, but again, I believe this to be due to a psychological resistance, not lacking in the ability in the first place. One of the reasons people don’t think critically is the “I do not want to be wrong or blamed” syndrome. As long as someone else said something, especially an “expert”, it’s not the believer’s fault they are wrong. It’s the “expert”. It’s a wonderful defense mechanism—skeptic (as in against religion and parapsychology) use it all the time. It stifles critical thinking there also.

  21. Noblesse Oblige

    May 9, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Yes, arguing with a believer is pointless, except when the unconvinced are listening. Then you play to them.

  22. Sheri, how would you teach critical thinking? What critical thinking methods would you use to determine if you had been successful?

    Also, many people are experts in finding flaws in other peoples’ arguments but totally incapable of seeing the flaws in their own. This is true even of professors of symbolic logic as well as you and I.

  23. Yes, of course people can errors in other’s arguments and not their own. That’s why come post their ideas and wait for others to find the flaws. (Some post for other reasons, of course.) No argument there.

    I’ll have to get back to you tomorrow on teaching critical thinking—out of time today. I suppose first I should find out how you define “critical thinking” before I dive into the explanation on how to teach it. Just to save a lot of time if we are not talking about the same thing. (I am asking for information, not to argue. I will use whatever definition you give me.)

  24. If I may weigh in briefly on ‘critical thinking skills’? The back-and-forth in these comments aptly illustrates my main point: in the absence of specific relevant background knowledge (often called ‘domain specific knowledge’) no critical thinking occurs, whether emergent, innate, or taught.

    The cognitive science research in the 1970s and 80s on what creates reading comprehension was already definitive. In the presence of relevant, specific, at-your-fingertips background knowledge, ‘comprehension’ is indeed an ’emergent’ property; that is, it occurs automatically. Absent specific relevant background knowledge, by contrast, comprehension is limited or even non-existent.

    Absent comprehension, ‘critical thinking’ cannot even begin, yes? Therefore, all efforts to teach ‘critical thinking’ on the hoof will fail empirically, because that’s simply not how our brains work.

    Within a specific domain, however, learning a field’s literature, including both its research findings and its current problematic: what questions it considers resolved, which are under active debate, which are considered too hard to tackle at the moment — which is to say, a kind of apprenticeship in the domain, is a good way to develop something like ‘critical thinking’ within the domain.

    One of my favorite examples is to ask people to ‘think critically’ about the linebacking corps of the local NFL team. What are the advantages of a 3-4? Do they have the personnel to do a 3-4 justice? What are the weaknesses of the team’s inside linebacker? And so forth. It becomes pretty clear pretty quickly how fundamental specific (and true!) relevant background knowledge is to thinking ‘critically’.

    So, in the absence of domain-specific knowledge of decades of empirical research on comprehension and ‘critical thinking’, not much critical thinking on ‘critical thinking’ can occur. Our brains work incisively only with reference to an enormous web of (true) knowledge, opinion, and research from others. Absent that, we’re all just sports fans, second-guessing the local football coach.

    This of course is not to say that decades of consistent relevant research on the topic is unassailable; just that it does need to be taken into account, lest critical thinking on ‘critical thinking’ simply run in circles ad infinitum.

    As to why it’s sometimes so difficult to convince people of something (and other times, how too-easy it is), that, as they say, is a subject for further research!

  25. Sheri, I suppose that the on-line dictionary definition is as good as any.


    The real problem is that there is no clear practical definition, as it is just a slogan, which is another reason why it is not teachable. You see this in one of the examples in my link: “The shift is most evident in our schools, where critical thinking has replaced rote learning as the central goal of education.” I don’t have to tell you how horrifying that sentence is. A realizable and important goal has been replaced by an unattainable one and thus destroyed modern education. One might almost think that was done on purpose. Whole word versus phonics, discovery learning, fuzzy math, and so on are all justified with the rubric of critical thinking skills. As you might guess, this is a pet peeve of mine. I’m not really trying to argue with you and Bob, just express a perspective.

  26. As to acquiring critical thinking skills, both camps make valid points. No, it can’t be taught directly in any sort of course. Amateur skeptical clubs try to teach each other critical thinking skills and such efforts always fail. You end up with a bunch of people who aren’t critical thinkers who now are overly confident in their ability to think critically. The usual method is to memorise some sort of list of informal fallacies and play the ‘spot the fallacy’ game. The problem with such an approach is that unskilled thinkers spot fallacies that don’t exist because they don’t understand the structure of an argument, and continue to construct logically fallacious arguments which they seem strangely blind to detecting self reflectively.

    But there are methods. I was taught David Hume’s philosophical system. I was asked to debunk it. I could not. I considered it perfect (as a first year student anyway). My professor then proceeded to deconstruct it. Then I was taught psychoanalytics. I was asked to critique it. I could not. It seemed able to explain everything. My professor tore it to shreds. First become a disciple. Then a detractor. Do this many times, and eventually one can no longer become a disciple of any ideology. That doesn’t make one infallible, but it does make one a critical thinker.

  27. Scotian and JohnK, your arguments are convincing (see–one can win an argument if it’s presented correctly!)…When I argue for history of science being taught, it is not necessarily to give students aptitude for critical thinking, but more or less to tip the sacred cow–show them how science has changed and how it has evolved, and most particularly that theories are proven or refuted by empirical evidence. And it should not be taught by academics in the humanities who don’t know what science is all about.
    John K, your thesis that in order to think critically requires specialized and deep knowledge of a subject is probably a good general rule; nevertheless there are general fallacies that people commit that only require a modest knowledge of logic, statistics and mathematics to recognize.

  28. It’s all well and fine to debate to the finer points of climate science, but it’s another to be just reflexively pro-coal and oil. You have some good points about modelling and statistical analysis, and that’s great. You do not have much to say about related subjects, which makes sense as they tend to be outside your specific purview. But you’re asking to throw out everything while only addressing a couple things, and that’s just not quality logic.


  29. If you reject the End Times claims of the Climate Worriers, which any rational educated person must, there is no sane reason to be anti-coal or oil. They are just as essential to our civilization as agriculture, modern medicine and democratic government.

  30. JMJ: By “reflexively pro-coal and oil” you would be referring to those who realize oil, gas, coal and nuclear are the only energy technologies that can keep people from living in poverty and provide for the modern world. Hydro and geothermal are limited in scope, wind and solar a complete waste. People are pro-coal and oil because oil/gas and coal work. Some of us have no desire to deprive humans of the benefits of inexpensive energy that is dependable 24/7. That, I hope, is not flawed logic but rather caring about our fellow human beings.

  31. I am still not sure I agree that critical thinking is an emergent property that cannot be taught.

    Strictly speaking, no subject is ‘taught’ if ‘taught’ means anything beyond guidance. The student either learns it (generalize examples, for example — hmm..a pun?) or they don’t.

    All that critical thinking requires is asking the question: “How can I be more certain this is likely right?” My engineering courses all ‘taught’ this by requiring multiple problem approaches to verify analysis results. They didn’t need to be complicated, sometimes it could be a s simple as taking resistor values at the extremes of zero and infinite in electrical circuits.

    The question seems to be actively dissuaded in places. Over at the aptly named Bad Astronomy site for example. the reliance on authority is more than encouraged and Heaven Forbid that the average person should attempt analysis just to see for themselves because “Gosh! What if they get it WRONG?” A strange attitude for a place that is supposedly pro-science. After first encountering this on climate subjects, I came to the realization that it permeated all topics on the site.

  32. Appeals to authority and consensus claims are useful rules of thumb. They don’t replace evidence but are useful if you don’t have the time to study the evidence. We’ve learned this time around that consensus claims can be manufactured and that it is very easy to confuse expert opinion with evidence . Eventually society will learn from these mistakes, but I’m sure they will make an entirely different set of them next time around.

  33. It’s all well and fine to debate to the finer points of climate science, but it’s another to be just reflexively pro-coal and oil.

    As Sheri said, coal and oil work and are inexpensive. Everything else is limited in some way that makes them worse choices for most people.

    Why would you think there is anything wrong with coal and oil (and presumably natural gas as well)? Great strides have been made in reducing pollution in the latter half of the 20th century. If anything pollution from fossil fuels has been decreasing as use increases . Despite this fossil fuels are still viewed as Evil Incarnate. It’s incomprehensible.

  34. Appeals to authority and consensus claims are useful rules of thumb. They don’t replace evidence but are useful if you don’t have the time to study the evidence.</i<

    Likely the reason climate science was hijacked to ram through a political agenda. If it weren't for that agenda, what climate science claims would be right up there with String Theory and Quantum Mechanics for most people. But there indeed will be a new authority for politics (like the theory of the undefined Sustainability) that would be impervious to critical thinking and falsification. The Pols are learning.

  35. Bob Ryan: “Out of curiosity Dr. Briggs, can you point out a couple of examples of your own admission of a point made by your opponents? ”

    Sorry, but on this occasion I can’t bite my tongue.

    To get certain of their ideas into a science journal, Dr. Briggs and three co-authors tricked those possibly defensible ideas out in what they incorrectly referred to as an “irreducibly simple model.” Rather than a model, what they disclosed really was an equation for calculating the output of any linear model that the user cares to plug into it in the form of the modeled system’s step response.

    Their press release characterized that equation as a “new, simple model” that was “developed over eight years” and was “so easy to use that a high-school math teacher or undergrad student can get credible results in minutes running it on a pocket scientific calculator.” The paper was described as “in effect, the manual for the model . . . demonstrating by examples how the model works.”

    But the equation was actually only old wine in new bottles except for one thing: it substituted multiplication by the stimulus for convolution with the stimulus’s derivative as a way to calculate the model’s response. That feature has no validity, and two of the authors’ three worked examples thereby produced grossly inaccurate results whose implications were opposite the real results’. The third example’s results were accurate only because that example was based on an assumption under which conventional convolution has for decades been known to collapse to simple multiplication. (But the inference Dr. Briggs and co-authors drew from that result was faulty.}

    Since to me it was immediately apparent that, whatever their expertise in other areas, the authors were in over their heads in linear-systems analysis, I gently brought up certain flaws in a post at WUWT by way of affording them the opportunity to recognize these errors on their own and correct them on their own initiative. Instead of availing themselves of the opportunity, they stonewalled, denying any problems and making largely baseless and incoherent arguments.

    This is unfortunate, since they (incorrectly, as it happens) characterized many probably correct conclusions as depending on this mathematically silly “model.” Apart from being inherently wrong,, it’s counterproductive from a public-perception viewpoint. Any bright undergraduate engineering student who happens to be taking a control-systems course and sees this paper by prominent skeptics will recognize their equation as malarkey and thereby be alienated from the skeptical viewpoint.

    It was largely the atrocious logic used by proponents of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming that made me a skeptic, but for impressionable undergraduates this paper could have the opposite effect.

    This was a case that cried out for admitting an error. No such admission has been forthcoming.

  36. Sheri and Dav, when people say “think outside the box,” well, you’re the box.


  37. [i]Scotian[/i] said: “Also, many people are experts in finding flaws in other peoples’ arguments but totally incapable of seeing the flaws in their own. This is true even of professors of symbolic logic as well as you and I.”

    My favorite example is when Boolos informed Quine that one of his undergraduate students had wrecked Quine’s explication of the Liar’s Paradox (‘Yields a falsehood when appended to its own quotation ‘yields a falsehood when appended to its own quotation) owing to [i]quotational ambiguity…[/i] (the title of the article Boolos wrote attempting a remedy).

    What I’d note is Quine’s response (quote Boolos): “Dear George, Thanks for Ernst’s paradox. I am delighted with it. But I find I am unable to cope with it, even when I have stopped laughing. Yours, Van.”

    Of course, Quine was [i]emeritus[/i] already…

  38. davideisenstadt

    May 10, 2015 at 2:06 am

    Joe Born writes:
    “Rather than a model, what they disclosed really was an equation for calculating the output of any linear model that the user cares to plug into it in the form of the modeled system’s step response.”
    Uh Joe…just what do you think a simple model is?
    Your ignorance is telling.
    Here is a simple linear model that purports to show the link between height and income (google it, if you dont believe that it has utility).
    Income=Bo+ B1(height)
    Really, models consist of equations. For you edification, the dependent variable is on one side, the independent variables are on the other side of the equation…”plug” in values for your independent variables on one side, get a value for the dependent variable on the other…its kind of the way equations work, you know.

  39. Briggs

    May 10, 2015 at 6:40 am


    An example from a well known person. “Those people who disagree with me aren’t scientists, but I know scientists and they say I’m right.”


  40. davideisenstadt: “Really, models consist of equations”

    Well, sure. But you’re confusing a statistical model with a model of a linear system.

    A model of a linear system tells how to infer responses from stimuli. One way of specifying a linear scalar model is to set forth its step response, i.e., its response to a stimulus that’s zero before t=0 and unity thereafter; since before we were born it has been known how to infer from a linear system’s step response that system’s response to other stimuli. For most practical purposes, the step response can be thought of as the model itself.

    A careful reading of the Moncton et al. paper would have revealed that the authors used their Eq’n (1) to infer from various stimuli the responses of models that had been specified by step responses in a paper by Gerard Roe. That is, Monckton et al. plugged those step responses into their Eq’n (1). In two of the three sets of worked examples the responses they got differed widely from the actual model responses.

    So they used their Eq’n (1), which they said encapsulated their “model,” instead as a way of calculating the responses of Roe’s models. And they got it wrong.

    The authors have never acknowledged their error.

  41. davideisenstadt

    May 10, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Joe born:
    read what you wrote:
    “Rather than a model, what they disclosed really was an equation for calculating the output of any linear model that the user cares to plug into it in the form of the modeled system’s step response.”
    conflate whatever issues you wish to conflate.
    ” But you’re confusing a statistical model with a model of a linear system.” Nothe authors proposed a simple model, and presented one.”
    No, I presented an example of a simple model, one that exhibited a linear response of pay to height.
    thats a statistical model, as much as any GCM is, mine happened to be a simple model.
    Perhaps if i clarify the relationship you are flailing away at …
    A linear model is a member of a subset of statistical models, that is, a linear model is a type of statistical model…all linear models are in fact bases on statistical analysis…not all models, however, exhibit a linear relationship between their independent and dependent variables.
    Linear regression is called that for a reason you know. (On the other hand, maybe you didn’t know that.)
    Your bleating and whining doesn’t really change that fact.
    I haven’t confused anything; it is you who misstated the authors’ stated purpose.
    You dont like their reification of reality?
    Fine, propose one that suits your tastes better.
    But what they presented was a simple model.
    In the end, all models are that are “linear” are “statistical” models, in fact any model that uses quantifiable information about an independent variable (or variables) to draw some inference about an dependent variable is a “statistical model”
    Again, if you dont like the authors analysis, fine.
    But dont claim that what they presented isn’t a model.

  42. JMJ: You do realize that my being the box means I contain your very rigid thinking, right? It also means I am neither inside nor outside the box in my thinking.

  43. davideisenstadt:

    Well, I’m not going to argue semantics. Monckton et al. purported to calculate the response of a model that Roe specified, and they got that response wrong. If you want to call the equation by which they got the wrong answer a model, fine. Whatever you want to call it, though, it got the wrong answer.

  44. Milton Hathaway

    May 10, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Critical thinking is an emergent property? Give me a break. I have periodically attended ‘root cause analysis’ classes, which certainly qualifies as a type of critical thinking, and one take-away for me is that humans by nature avoid it. This has far more to do with laziness and a disconnect from consequences than any inherent limitations in intellect. Critical thinking will occur on it’s own if there is a personal price to be paid for uncritical thinking. Training helps dramatically, but is insufficient without the personal motivation aspect.

    Take a person you view as dull and simple, put them on the witness stand in a case where the stakes are high, and watch them deftly outmaneuver that sharp high-paid attorney cross-examining them. Who was more motivated? When it comes to critical thinking, motivation is everything.

    “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” Thomas Sowell

  45. Milton: Yes, if there is no reward for critical thinking and no penalty for not doing so, people avoid the practice. It’s much easier to just blindly follow an authority than to think for one’s self.

    Scotian: Here’s a link that covers how to teach critical thinking:

  46. This post is another example of why arguing global warming is pointless. This comment serves the same purpose as this post.

    “A good man does not worry that others don’t understand him but that he doesn’t understand others,” said Confucius.

  47. JH: You sound just like brother claiming because people persecuted him for his beliefs, he was right, conspiracy theories and all. So he was a visionary, it seems, and, of course, right because people persecuted him. Who knew?

  48. Sheri, thanks for the link. It is an interesting overview on the difficulties of teaching critical thinking but the author does not present a preferred method. If I am reading it correctly the conclusion is that critical thinking is a quality that emerges when teaching other things, as I said.

  49. Scotian: Yes, the author does refer to critical thinking as a skill, but feels everyone has the skill. I consider getting a child to use a skill they have as teaching, even if I’m not directly teaching that skill.

    Part of the interest I have in this is when I was in school, we had to take standardized tests every year. No teacher “taught to the test” like you read and hear constant complaints about today. Somehow, we managed to learn things and then apply them to new questions presented on the tests. I suspect it was because teachers spent time teaching actual academic subjects and not all the other stuff schools try to teach today. That gave us a knowledge base that could be used to extrapolate to the tests. We did not have to be taught the test.

    In the sense that one cannot directly teach critical thinking, I would have to say that statement is correct. One can encourage a child to think critically, give him an adequate background of various subjects and guide the child to use his critical thinking skill. I consider that as teaching, though I am reading you as not agreeing. That’s fine–we actually agree to a large degree here.

  50. Sheri, “Yes, the author does refer to critical thinking as a skill, but feels everyone has the skill.”

    Actually in the last paragraph of the article the author says that critical thinking is not a skill which means he also cannot have said that everyone has it. He says, in this same paragraph, that there are metacognitive strategies that make critical thinking more likely which to me means that it is an emergent quality that does not emerge in everyone or anyone all of the time.

  51. In my experience, the one essential part of critical thinking is asking questions. In teaching the “Socratic Method” helps the student to become familiar with doing this. You try to understand the assumptions, the approximations, etc. It’s useful, of course, only if the respondee answers truthfully and fully.

  52. “respondee”??? …the one who is going to answer the question.

  53. The cited article is vague. Since the author did not communicate any useful information I’m not inclined to accept the presumption that he has any expertise. Some of his example problems were contrived and frankly, incorrect. The author claimed critical thinking was not a skill that could be taught but then back peddled somewhat by stating it might be partly teachable.

  54. Will: Maybe another article will be to your liking.

    We are decending into the “my word is right and yours is wrong” arena, a place I hastily exit. If it’s all about semantics, it’s a waste of time. I don’t have the time to waste. I would present my own case, but since we’ve delved into the semantics arena, it’s pointless. Whether or not critical thinking is a skill that education can elicite or is something that can be taught through formulas on a chalk board really doesn’t matter. The question is can we, in education, get children to think critically, no matter what the method and what we call the method? I maintain it’s yes, others say no. However, now that we are at word games, there will be no discussion of the actual question, so there’s no reason to continue.

  55. Sheri it’s not a semantic word game. Trying to establish whether critical thinking can be taught requires critical thinking skills. From my observations and experiences with the amateur skeptical community, I do not believe it can be taught. (These groups focus on teaching each other critical thinking skills and completely fail.)

    Willingham’s cited article seems to only describe two components of critical thinking: meta problem solving strategies, i.e., the ability to apply a solution in one field to another, and domain knowledge. I.e., expertise. The ability to solve problems, and having some knowledge of what you’re talking about, are both prerequisites for critical thinking, but hardly sufficient. Misapplication of meta problem solving strategies, for example, can result in the opposite of critical thinking.

    Another person here expressed the idea that people aren’t critical thinkers because they are lazy. This has nothing much to do with critical thinking. Being ignorant of a topic is not the same as being unable to weigh evidence. The reason why most people cannot think critically is because they become emotionally invested in a particular ‘solution’. Once they have acquired the emotional investment, they will seek out information that conforms to their world view and ignore or attempt to explain away evidence that does not. Objectivity is no longer seen as important cultural intellectual value. (Yes, blame “Progressives” if you wish. ) Because so few can take their feelings out of their intellectual inquiries, there are very few critical thinkers around.

  56. Will: You cite failed examples of trying to teach critical thinking, but failed attempts are not proof that it cannot be taught. Just that it has not been.

  57. Sheri,

    As my old university lecturer tried to impart when attempting to teach his class, statements of truth are asymmetrical. Which was another way of saying that the burden of proof rests with the one making the positive claim. I argue you can’t defrost a frozen chicken in 10 minutes. You claim you can. It’s your job to demonstrate how. You can’t turn around and declare it *is* possible because nobody has proved it’s *impossible. * It’s a bit like stating that nobody can reject the claim that CO2 won’t cause catastrophic warming, because nobody can absolutely prove that it won’t.

  58. It’s more like all of the models of climate change are broken, but that does not prove CO2 is not responsible for the warming. The theory is not disproven but rather shown to fail under specific parameters. If one moves outside those parameters the theory may be correct.

    I know you want examples of success, but right now I don’t have time to further explore this. My claim can stand as an unproven hypothesis for now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑