Some Common Global Warming Fallacies

The level of debate on global warming is shriekingly poor. Not that I have any hope of convincing the world to reject bad logic, but here are some of the more common fallacies making the rounds.

  1. The Consensus Appealing to “the” consensus is a form of the appeal-to-authority fallacy, but it is more so a stacking-the-deck fallacy. It works thusly: the IPCC goes out among the credentialed and asks, “Doest thou agree with me?” If the answer be “Aye”, the person is added to the Nice list; if it be “Nay”, the unfortunate is entered into the Persona Non Grata ledger. The IPCC then reports that there is a consensus among its membership, and that because this consensus is a consensus, its conclusions are beyond question.

    But “the” consensus is not a consensus of all climatologists. Your own author, for example, despite offering his services repeatedly—to be remunerated at the same rates as the rest of the Aye-sayers: he has to eat, after all—has never had his offer accepted. “The consensus” is therefore not a consensus in the plain English meaning of the word.

    Actually, of course, even some who say Nay make it onto the Nice list, but their views are not accorded equal weight with those of the leadership. See Judith Curry’s interesting post on “the” consensus for more on this (suggested by an anonymous reader).

  2. You’re no climatologist! The grandfather of all fallacies, the appeal to authority. This one generates more hilarity than any other. This fallacy occurs when a point made by a person outside “the” consensus is said to be invalid because the person making the point is not a “genuine” or “real” climatologist.

    First, if this fallacy was not one, then how can we explain that the IPCC could include so many non-genuine, un-real climatologists? A great chunk (even a majority?) of its members are economists, biologists, etc. Should we disbelieve what they say because these people are not genuine climatologists?

    An example of hilarity: musing on climate-gate, academic philosopher Gary Gutting writes in the New York Times,

    Some non-expert opponents of global warming have made much of a number of e-mails written and circulated among a handful of climate scientists that they see as evidence of bias toward global warming. But unless this group is willing to argue from this small (and questionable) sample to the general unreliability of climate science as a discipline, they have no alternative but to accept the consensus view of climate scientists that these e-mails do not undermine the core result of global warming.

    But, Gary, dear boy, just think: if you’re dismissing the claims of critics because they are “non-expert”, how then could you, as non-expert as they come, judge the IPCC’s claims to be valid? How can any non-expert “accept the consensus view”? I am an expert: I do not accept “the” consensus view. My expertise surely trumps yours. Therefore, you must believe what I say. If you retort that more experts take the opposite view than mine, and that therefore you choose to believe that what they say is true, then you have reduced truth to a vote. (Via Bishop Hill, via Randy Brich).

    This fallacy is pervasive and almost always used in Gutting’s form by civilians anxious not to learn any physics, but who are keen to shut up the other side.

    A person’s lack of credentials can be, and often is, relevant to why that person uttered a falsity, but it is irrelevant to proving the fallacy.

  3. The asinine comparison Technically known as the non sequitur, this one is most popular with politicians and pundits, and even the occasional academic philosopher. Examples here are legion. This is usually evidenced by calling somebody a “denier,” as pathetic a ploy as exists.

    It has also been used, in peer-reviewed publications, to compare disbelief if global warming as comparable for support of slavery. Whenever you hear we must not listen to the nay-sayers because we must “Save the planet,” or its many variants, you are hearing this fallacy.

  4. The economic fallacy See this post for complete details. The gist: the source of funding to the person who makes a statement is irrelevant to whether that statement is true or false. The source of funding could be, and often is, relevant to understanding why the person uttered a falsity, but it is irrelevant to proving the falsity.
  5. What you say hasn’t been peer reviewed! Yes, the appeal-to-authority in disguise. A statement is not true because a busy editor and two reviewers (who first look if their own papers are quoted in the paper under review) have said it is. Similarly, a statement is not false because it appears on a web site (and only reviewed in the comments).

    Again, a person’s failing to submit a statement to “peer approval” is, and often is, relevant to why that person uttered a falsity, but it is irrelevant to proving the fallacy.

20 Comments

  1. But Dr. Briggs, that’s just standard post normal science. Instead of refuting what someone says, you change the subject and call them names.

  2. Thank you for this excellent post. Logic is most accessible through examining fallacies, and nothing works like finding such “liberal” examples.

  3. d.philosophy,

    Do you mean in the part (from your link) where he says this?

    The irrelevant appeal to authority is a type of genetic fallacy, attempting to judge a belief by its origin rather than by the arguments for and against the belief. If the belief originated with an authoritative person, then the belief is held to be true. However, even authoritative persons can hold false beliefs.

  4. All good stuff but what, in your view, is the best argument in support of CAGW? I’ve always thought that it should be the best arguments of an opponent that should be addressed not the manifest dross disposed of above.

    Just a thought.

  5. The key to understanding the nature of human society and its intellectual level is to understand that little thought has ever been given to truth and centuries of detailed study have been devoted to the subject of how to win arguments even when you are wrong. Most humans would rather destroy the Earth than to admit they are wrong about anything. “Saving Face” is the first commandment, the final solution, the ultimate faith.

    When fools rushed in to declare that the Globe Is Warming! and it is the fault of Big Oil Business and Profits and Industry, all the ignorant, envious, little misanthropes who love to hate the rich and popular and successful fell in love with the theory and began to proclaim it with the most righteous and impressive side of their huge personalities.

    As a result, there is now no hope that they will ever admit they were wrong. They will employ every fallacy listed by the ancient Greeks, every obfuscation invented by the worst politicians, every word-gaming strategy devised by rhetorical debate cheats down through the ages. They are devoted not to science or truth, but to avoiding embarrassment. And there is no more powerful motive among humans.

  6. Not a single so-called “fallacy” listed here refutes of the mountain of scientific evidence for global warming. This piece is mis-titled.

  7. co2hound,

    Yes it warms, no one denies the warming. Mr. Butler suffers the same misconception about deniers that you do.

    The question at hand is “What is causing the warming?”

  8. I keep hearing about this ‘mountain of evidence’ for CO2 induced AGW that Leslie and others of her ilk keep referring to. In ten years of closely following this subject, I have yet to see anyone produce anything that could be called evidence to back up the claim. I’m waiting, Les!

  9. co2hound says: And yet it warms.

    Ahem – Not significantly in 14 years, but that’s just one of those pesky “facts,” I know….

    Leslie says: “the mountain of scientific evidence for global warming”

    Would help if the globe were actually warming – see my first comment.

    Facts – the kool-aid of the “deniers!”

  10. One very big part of this debate not mentioned here is falsifiability of a theory. Nowhere within the AGW band is there a prediction that can be falsifiable. Currently we are outside the predicted error bars for forecasts of global temps. These “measured” temps are even on the high end due to massaging by the various reporting agencies and measurement error. But still, even with that, the theory is not falsified. We hear excuses and other hogwash. There is no mid troposphere hot spot in the in the tropics as predicted by the theory, and still it isn’t falsified. We were to have no snow during the winters in North America and Europe, despite the fact that I am having drifts 8-10 ft tall in my back yard. And still it isn’t falsified. A theory that cannot be falsified is no longer a scientific statement but a religious belief.

    The data does not support the theory, and the purveyors of this religion are utilizing the only tool they have left, dogma and intimidation. Tools of religious oppressors. Even their priests like Al Gore do not live the life that he wants all of the unclean to follow. They travel by jet to the conferences, and care not for the CO2 generated, while paying for fake indulgences with other people’s money to save their soul. This is a religion of oppression and control, nothing else.

  11. While falsifiability may not be appropriate for certain portions of the debate, especially as you note in probabilistic discussions, there are other predictions that are testable with sufficient accuracy and resolution that are physical phenomena. One of those is the mid tropospheric warming the the tropical latitudes. No matter if they use satellite or radiosonde data this hot spot isn’t there. This phenomena is central to the physical models used to predict the continued heating from the CO2 positive feedback mechanism, and it isn’t there.

    The theorists have learned from their initial mistakes, and stopped making hard predictions. They know that making hard predictions make their prognostications testable. So while these probabilistic predictions may not be absolutely falsifiable we should not allow them to use this sloppy science as an out. Thus, I still claim that if you want me to invest money to ameliorate a theoretical problem, I need some assurance that it is accurate, and that means it must be testable. Also, at some point when the warming has not materialized as predicted over an extended period of time, you cannot hold onto the theory, no matter the probabilities.

  12. Richard P,

    The point I make is not just pedantic, but concerns how we should look at uncertainty fundamentally. What you are saying is pragmatic, and it is one in which I am in full agreement: the probability for certain beliefs is so low that they are not worth acting upon. But a belief having a low probability, no matter how low, is not the belief’s falsification. I would reserve that term only for those events which can be derived to be false.

    This view is also practical. If you tell the die-hard climatologist that his beliefs have been “falsified”, he will be right to dismiss you, and to continue to hold to his theory. But if we can demonstrate to him that his belief is highly improbable—by making him understand the full source of uncertainty—then we have a chance of converting him.

    (And there are no worries about possibly offending me. It is very difficult to do.)

  13. It has indeed been falsified. With manmade gases on the rise and indeed raging upward for scores of years, multiple decades, it’s very, very easy to test whether there is even any Greenhouse Gas Effect, at ALL.

    All one has to do, is reference the fields which are impacted by atmospheric infra-red, and see if they’ve been screaming bloody murder for the past decades, about ‘rising atmospheric infra-red and rising effects of atmospheric heat increases’

    All anyone would have had to have done in the past years is ask the i.r. telescopy and optical telescopy fields, if their viewing has been being compromised by the ‘rising atmospheric heat.’

    See if the infra-red telescopy field hasn’t been producing the copious records of rising atmospheric infra red destroying their viewing, there IS no rising atmospheric infra red. Heat.

    So the fact they’re silent seals that.

    Also the optical telescopy field could not hide from the fact that the definition of HEAT on GAS is:

    what?

    M.O.T.I.O.N, kids.

    and if there’s more HEAT there must be more MOTION.

    The name of MOTION of the atmosphere from HEAT is ‘atmospheric scintillation’ or as most people know it, the stars twinkling over those twink pseudo-scientists’ heads.

    And there’s a VERY GOOD REASON, that not ONE student:

    not ONE professor

    not ONE Global Warmer

    has simply gone and gotten photographs from early 20th century to mid, then late, to present, of sections of the sky on or around the same dates,

    and pointed out the RISING HEAT meaning RISING MOTION meaning DIMINISHED VIEWING due to RISING DISTORTION.

    And do you know why they haven’t? They haven’t, because anyone who’s checked has found not more
    but less

    atmospheric heat.

    Hence distortion.

    Remember they build assemblies that flex the mirrors of telescopes to ADJUST for HEAT DISTORTION.

    Why is it that the people in charge of these haven’t come forward saying ‘See, here we have the amount of deflection of the mirrors it took to adjust for atmospheric heat in the past,

    and here’s how much MORE deflection of the mirrors it takes NOW to normalize the objects viewed.”

    They haven’t, because there ISN’T any more distortion of the mirrors needed.

    And if kids, all these things aren’t happening,

    there MUST by the DEFINITION of HEAT

    not be any more of the stuff in the atmosphere.

    Period.

    Not sometimes, not on Tuesdays, not after a La Nina, it must by definition not be happening because if it WAS,

    you couldn’t SUPPRESS the evidence, it was.

    So that means so long to there ever having been any hope of there even being a G.H.G. EFFECT

    much less any warming since the mid 1990s.

    There’s a reason these clowns were hiding their work: the math that turns out to not be real math, the temps that turn out to not be real temps, the various MANDATORY SIGNATURES in the realm of PHYSICS that MUST BE THERE if there’s any G.H.G. Effect at ALL.

    None of it’s there.
    If it was, the infra red telescopy and optical telescopy fields wouldn’t be able to be kept quiet.

    Indeed last April, a study that lasted 14 years came out about atmospheric infra red over the Midwest U.S.A. – a place claimed to be prime for the false G.H.G. Hypothesis’ effects, to be noteworthy.

    After 14 years with ever increasing RATES of manmade gases and ever increasing AMOUNTS of various gases,

    there’s LESS atmospheric infra red.

    So that’s FOUR ways to simply check and see if the baloney they claimed is true.

    It wasn’t.
    It isn’t.
    It won’t be.

    There’s no such thing as a G.H.G. Effect no matter WHO claimed the infra-red telescopy field is blind and they, are all-seeing.

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