Tag Archives: Strawman argument

Realists need not apply…

Continuing from previous two posts on the “interview” of Nic Balthazar, something that was clear from the beginning was that Balthazar was not very keen on “realism”. I certainly can understand why and will explain it later in this post. One of those realists that Balhazar looked down on is a certain “climate critic” (whatever that may be) (translated from Dutch):

A climate critic was in De Morgen (Belgian newspaper) this weekend and he said two things a) that two percent [sic], that is not enough anyway, also we should not cheer about it. Even if we get there, it would be far too little and 2) [sic] there are many other important things for many people on this planet, namely, do I survive today? Do I survive this week?

My first thought was that it must be Bjørn Lomborg. He got, to my surprise (and that of many others), interviewed in that (left-wing) newspaper only about two weeks ago. I knew that Lomborg indeed claims that there are more important things than climate, but then, as far as I knew, he didn’t claim that “two degrees is not enough/far too little”.

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Learning critical thinking by following uncritically

When I read the new Cook et al 2018 paper for the first time, the one thing that stood out was that the example arguments were simplified versions of skeptical arguments, stripped down of any nuance and context, therefor not representative anymore. I already foresaw many posts in my future about these fabrications…

In the meanwhile I found the discussion of Barry Woods on Twitter, tirelessly calling out the many misrepresentations in the paper. The reaction of some of his opponents, that this doesn’t matter because the compiled arguments are fallacious anyway, puzzled me. I couldn’t grasp that they were just okay with:

  • The authors (or Cook and the SkS team) coming up with simplified, unnuanced arguments based on what they think their opponents believe
  • then Cook et al show that these simplified, unnuanced arguments are logically fallacious
  • thus providing proof that their opponents are wrong and therefor should be safely ignored when it comes to those issues.

That is about as close as one can get to a straw man argument. For those who are not familiar with this type of fallacy, according to wikipedia the definition of a straw man argument is (my emphasis):

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent.

The examples Cook et al used were textbook examples of this type of argument, but the defenders of the paper were undeterred by it or maybe did not understand the concept. It seemed to shed of them like water off a duck’s back. I couldn’t really understand that, given that it is pretty clear for everybody to see.

Until I found following tweet:

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Some fun with the escalator

Previous post about the “climate myth” that the “IPCC is alarmist” was about an actual statement from Dr. Roy Spencer that was contorted into something that was not recognizable as his statement anymore. In that post, I made the remark that fabricating arguments of the other side seems some sort of a habit of the “skeptical”science team. I have seen them doing the same thing several times before.

This week I bumped into yet another example in which the skepticalscience team, who are clearly alarmist, made up the “arguments” of the other side. That example is called the “escalator” and can be found in the right sidebar of their website.

For those who didn’t see the graph before, it is a moving gif depicting two scenarios. The first scenario depicts how the, ahem, “contrarians” see the graph with global surface temperatures since 1970:

escalator graph blue lines 625px

The moving gif slowly iterates through every blue trendline and at the end the blue lines disappear. Then these are replaced by one single red line showing how, ahem, “realists” see the same graph:

escalator graph red line 625px

Basically, those “contrarians” are so short-sighted that they see a series of cooling trends, while not recognizing the overall upward trend. Skepticalscience explain it as those contrarians don’t know the “difference between short-term noise and long-term signal” and “inappropriately cherrypick short time periods that show a cooling trend”. This:

simply because the endpoints are carefully chosen and the trend is dominated by short-term noise in the data.

At that time, I was already rolling over the floor laughing…

Those endpoints are indeed “carefully chosen”, let there be no doubt about that! But not by those “contrarians”. Most of those blue trendlines didn’t make any sense when it comes to their claims. Those blue lines were clearly chosen by the skepticalscience team themselves for maximum visual effect.

That is easy to see. First consider the source of this data:

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Déjà vu: fabricating a “skeptic” claim

Almost a week ago, I got a comment on my post about the framing of the Greenland melt as worse than it is. It contained two videos and two links. One of those links went to the skepticalscience website and the commenter encouraged me to read it in order to get more information on the reason why “the IPCC is too conservative with models”.

It was with mixed expectations that I followed the link to the climate myth “IPCC is alarmist” page. What started as a puzzling experience, culminated into something very funny.

Let’s start with the things that puzzled me. I was presented this link so I could find some information about the “inherent conservatism of climate models”, yet I didn’t even see the word “model”, nor in the title, nor in the post. Also, the url suggested that the article was about the “IPCC scientific consensus” and the title sounded as if it was about the “IPCC underestimating climate response”.

skepticalscience: climate myth: ipcc is alarmist

Initially I had the impression that I was presented the wrong url.

The most puzzling thing however was that the subject of the webpage (the “climate myth” that the “IPCC is alarmist”) was unrelated to the skeptical statement from Roy Spencer that was given as an example:

“Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change.” (Roy Spencer)

I didn’t find the claim that “the IPCC is alarmist” in this statement. So I followed the link to Spencer’s post and also found exactly 0 (zero) instances of “alarmist” or even “alarm” in that post. The subject of the post was in fact about the IPCC ignoring natural variability by focusing completely on external forcing (anthropogenic greenhouse gases), a focus Spencer considers unscientific. That is not the same as “the IPCC is alarmist”.

But, if that claim was not in the summary and also not in the Spencer’s post, then where does that “IPCC is alarmist” claim comes from?!?!

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The framing of the “contradictions” in Wonderland

alice-in-wonderland framing

In previous post I wrote about how skeptics were treated in a different way than the consensus scientists when it comes to how they have been cited. This post will build on that and I will demonstrate the mechanisms how skeptics were painted as having contradictory, incoherent beliefs. Not necessarily because that is true in reality, but because it was framed that way by the researchers who looked in a biased way to the skeptic position.

Let’s pick up with previous story in which there was the example of the statement “Future climate cannot be predicted”, which makes the suggestion that skeptics believe that any future climate at any time-scale can not be predicted.

However, the actual claim in the cited (newspaper) article was: “mathematical models can’t predict what the average global temperature will be in 100 years”. That is a completely different ball game and this generic “future climate can not be predicted” is not representative for the actual statement. In this case we saw that, when looking at their own example, there were two scientists who made observations, connected this with known cycles and made an extrapolation for the close future.

Using the generic “future climate can not be predicted” claim would indeed be contradictory with the prediction of a coming ice age, but in the example (that the authors provided themselves) there was no contradiction at all. The claim was about the predictive power of the mathematical model over 100 years, not about what could happen over the next decades on the basis of observations and known cycles.

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In Wonderland, consensus science is done in scientific journals and “contrarian” science in newspapers

Still looking at the “Alice in Wonderland” paper of Lewandowsky, Cook and Lloyd. The theme that I noticed in the previous posts was that the authors misrepresent the skeptics by not giving context and nuance, therefor skeptics looked stupid and ignorant. There is apparently another way in which this effect is achieved in this paper.

I found this when I looked somewhat deeper in table 1, in which contradicting arguments from contrarians were listed. I started with the first row (“Future climate cannot be predicted” vs. “We are heading into an ice age”):

aiw table1 row1

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Lewandowsky and Cook in Wonderland: “incoherent skeptic views” or “incoherent views of the authors on skeptic views”?

As a realist and an ex-believer, if I learned something in the last eight years, it is a more nuanced story than how it is brought, which is not picked up by believers. They view skeptics/realists as people that stubbornly reject “the science” and act as a brake for progress.

Been there, done that.

However, when I looked deeper into the matter, I realized that it is a much more nuanced story and context is very important.

I came across a very recent paper The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism by Lewandowsky, Cook and Lloyd. The authors of this paper seemed to completely neglect nuances and avoids giving any context. More, they seem to have elevated misrepresenting the arguments of skeptics to a true art form. It is the most elaborate form of straw man reasoning that I even saw (or probably will see).

alice in wonderland paper

On the bright side, I think this paper is a good basis for explaining the arguments of the skeptics and show how they are misrepresented. Most, if not all, will be presented in this paper.

This post will be about the abstract of this paper and how skeptics are (misre)presented there (attention for skeptics with a high blood pressure: it is even worse in the paper itself).

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The three S’s of climate change: Simple, Serious and Solvable

Just after finishing last post, I found a link to a video of an actual debate between a alarmist and an skeptic.

denning 2016-08-31

The debate was between Scott Denning (from the alarmist side) and Jay Lehr (from the skeptical side). My respect for Denning who debated for the alarmist side. That is not the easiest thing to do in a room full of skeptics. The theme was the 10th anniversary of “An inconvenient Truth”. Although it was not a particularly thrilling debate and rather long (90+ minutes) I took it to task to watch it until the end.

There was however one thing that really caught my attention. Scott Denning said at 05:35 (after explaining that his disagreements with the movie are mostly on matters of emphasis rather than accuracy):

The way I prefer to talk about climate change, I call it the three S’s of climate change. Easy to remember, three words, they all start with the letter “S”:

  1. Simple
  2. Serious
  3. Solvable

He referenced a couple times to the three S’s throughout the video, so it seemed important to him.

With all respect, but I don’t actually agree with any of those three. I also notice some order in those three points and uncertainties will increase when advancing through this list.

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The debate is over and all that


Since some years I have grown a thicker skin when it comes to reading climate communications. That is certainly needed at this side of the debate. I thought I had seen it all. That was until I saw this video: Crossing the 2014 Climate Divide: Scientists, Skeptics & the Media, starring Suzanne Goldenberg (U.S. Environment Correspondent, The Guardian) and Dr. Naomi Oreskes, (Professor of History of Science, Harvard University). One mispresentations after the other and I only just listened to the first part were Goldenberg explains about her stance on skeptics.

Basically it went like this: the debate is over, science is settled. Now we have to go on and work out solutions in stead of devoting time to the skeptics that are already far behind the issue.

How on earth does she know all those things for sure? I have read some articles she wrote and, beside some quotes of experts, they didn’t really deal with the science. Yet she shows no shred of doubt when saying that the science is settled and action is needed. It looks like an unconditional trust in (climate) science, at least in the alarmist part of it. The interesting part of it is that her trust in the debate being settled is rooted into something else than science.

But we have been there many times before. It shows my age, but I lived in a time where stomach ulcers were still caused by stress, population on earth was too large already and we would have problem feeding ourselves before the end of the 20th century, in our generation we would freeze to death by an imminent ice age, we would develop skin cancers because of exposure by UV rays coming through the ozone hole, in Northern Europe there wouldn’t be much forests left at the end of the 1990s and Finnish lakes would be without fish, and so on and so on. Although in retrospect they were wrong, sometimes spectacularly wrong, yet science was considered trustworthy also back then. We seemed to have learned nothing from our history.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say that science is useless of invalid. Knowledge is an continuous process, we learn more about earth, nature, ourself when we go along. But it is a bit ridiculous to declare absolute knowledge about complex research areas like the climate when we have only limited data.

Is that unconditional trust in the media warranted? Maybe, maybe not. From my personal experience I really doubt it. Just a few non-scientific things that show me it is probably not:

  • When looking at what gets into the mainstream media, it is sometimes much different than what the scientific paper says. Sometimes even the contrary!
  • Scientists in the media seem to talk more like politicians. Other motives than science could be involved here.
  • The climategate emails learned that high profile climate scientists expressed their doubts towards each other, but to the press they said they were absolutely sure about the science.
  • The unequivocal proof that Global Warming is caused by our CO2 emissions is not showed yet. And, given the complexity of the research area, that proof will not easy to give.
  • That elusive 95% certainty that is repeated often, is only the opinion of a subset of the climate scientists, it is not a calculated value.
  • Predictions of how global warming is affecting our lives is ever changing and the theory has to be adjusted every time something unexpected happens. This shows me that there are still large gaps in the science.
  • Reliable data of for example global temperature, ice area,… is only being gathered since a couple decades ago (sometimes even a decade ago like ocean temperature). That is just a tiny blip on climate scale. The data gathered before that time is sparse and is “convenience sampling” data. Not much trust can be given to results coming out of that.
  • The alarm isn’t caused by the empirical data, but by the climate models that suggest doom and gloom in the far future.
  • It is not surprising that scientists thought we might be responsible for the warming of the 1980s-1990s. If CO2, being a greenhouse gas, causes warming, more of it should surely cause more warming. But it is surprising to hear scientists say in the media that they are sure that additional anthropogenic CO2 will cause disasters, even though there is little empirical data that supports this.

None of this prove that the absolute truths of the climate scientists in the media are not trustworthy, but it shows me that other motives than scientific could be at stake here.

When hearing Goldenberg talk about the divide it is clear the “settled science” and “the consensus” is really important. Not for the science, it doesn’t advance via consensus. But for the public it is: that settled science makes it easier for those who want to silence their opponents and facilitate climate policies.