Thursday, February 9, 2012

Climate Skeptics Peddle Fallacies as Science

Recently the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) came out with an article "No Need to Panic About Global Warming," claiming that "distinguished scientists" have concluded that Global Warming isn't really happening after all.

Filled with fallacy heaped upon fallacy, this op-ed piece has the intellectual horse-power of "My Little Pony". Take, for instance, the claim that:
The fact is that CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 is a colorless and odorless gas, exhaled at high concentrations by each of us, and a key component of the biosphere's life cycle. Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth.
Since no climate scientist has ever claimed that CO2 is a pollutant or that the mere presence of CO2 causes Global Warming, this argument is what is called, in logic, a straw man.

The actual science of Global warming is pretty basic, but vastly different then this sad parody.

Just watch the following video, it makes pretty clear how Global Warming actually works:

Even worse, these "scientists" rest their main argument for denying that human-produced Climate Change is real on their (false) claim that the planet has not warmed over the last ten years at the rate that Global warming advocates had predicted.

This argument commits no obvious fallacy. Unfortunately for these skeptics, it contains more rubbish then your local dump. To begin with, that Climate Change is real, caused by human activity, and poses a serious threat does not require some specific set of exact temperature predictions for each decade. And it does not appear that many climate scientists make such exact predictions. But even more damning for the deniers is the following: In a rebuttle to the original op-ed, a group of top rate climate experts reply to this absurdity as follows:
Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.
Finally, when one claims that "experts" are arguing a position. One should probably use genuine experts. According to Media Matters of the 16 "experts" who pinned the original denier op-ed piece:

no more than 4 have published peer-reviewed research related to climate change, according to the Scopus database. While they may be prominent in their own fields, their credibility on the science of global warming is not comparable to that of researchers who specialize in this area. For instance, Jan Breslow is a physician, Burt Rutan is a retired airplane designer, Harrison Schmitt is a retired astronaut and former Republican politician, and Edward David is a retired electrical engineer, among others whose expertise lies elsewhere.

Even more disturbing, the lead name on this list, and ringleader of the pack of "concerned scientists," is one Claude Allegre a well-known fraud and hack who has published no peer reviewed papers refuting androgenic climate change.

"No need to Panic," also bristles with the kind of rhetoric and paranoia typical of pseudo-science: Allegations of conspiracy, attributing an almost superhuman power on part of the "Climate Change promoters" to silence dissent, a victim complex, and so forth.

To return to the Rebuttle of the original op-ed referred to above:
You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science. ...Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.
In Short, "No Need to Panic" appeals to the false authority of faux-experts regarding Climate Change, makes use of factually incorrect statements and fallacious arguments to claim that what the overwhelming majority of true experts in the field assert to be fact, and even explains their consensus as the product of a "conspiracy;" it fails on every level.

Bookmark and Share


  1. I have a few criticisms of your critique, which, in general, I think is a well formulated critique of the WSJ article. 1. Asserting that CO2 is not a pollutant and identifying the nature of it as largely naturally occurring is not a fallacy of any sort. It's just relevant information that is useful for the general public to know. Many years ago I used to confuse carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide and I thought carbon monoxide was the bad stuff and then I found out carbon dioxide was the supposed culprit in the controversy about climate change. On the other hand the mention that gardeners increase CO2 levels in their greenhouses certainly is a smokescreen. 2. I think it's questionable to predicate fact to anthropogenic global warming as you do in your closing line for a few reasons: The climate system is of a complexity that as of yet exceeds our full understanding so I think there is a role for some Socratic ignorance and humility in our stance towards it. The models in use are somewhat questionable and are just models not empirical observations. 3. The one strong suit of the WSJ article was its criticism of the carbon trading market and the net effect of other policies that would follow from a science, which is somewhat uncertain. You don't acknowledge the policy side of the article at all, which is vital information you omitted.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I see you are a very thoughtful and soberminded sckpetic. I disagree, of course, but I like your civil and thoughtful tone. You model well how to disagree but be civil.


Comments from many different points of view are welcome. But I will not publish any comments that are hateful, insulting, or filled with profanity. I welcome and encourage dialogue and disagreement but will not publish any hate speech.