As you probably know, five telltale techniques of science deniers have been documented. These are: fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry-picking and conspiracy theorising. This article is about an example of logical fallacies and conspiracy theories.
Red herrings and non sequiturs - logical fallacies
A guest at WUWT today (archived here) has decided that climate science is a hoax because:
- there are differences of opinion among biologists about the definition of species, and
- Lubos Motl's blog suggests there are still things being learnt about quantum physics.
...in real science any state of agreement is labile at best – and establishing a consensus is about the last thing on peoples’ minds. I would go so far as to say that under these conditions, as often as not, a leading idea is a target to take aim at rather than a flag to rally ‘round.What he has decided in his wisdom is that climate science is a hoax because scientists agree that greenhouse gases are what keeps the Earth warm.
Here are some more appropriate analogies:
- Evolution vs greenhouse warming - there is a scientific consensus that both are real
- Ocean oscillations vs species differentiation - there are differences of opinion on exactly what constitutes both
- Atoms and molecules emit radiation when going from a high energy state to a lower energy state - this notion is applicable to both quantum mechanics and atmospheric physics. There is a scientific consensus on that score.
There is evidence that Rick Wallace doesn't know very much science, otherwise he'd know that new knowledge is built on a foundation of knowledge about which there is general consensus among scientists. That's not saying that the consensus cannot change. Changing consensus is out of the ordinary. It takes a lot of evidence and a strong matching theory to persuade scientists to shift from a previous consensus. It doesn't happen often but it does happen.
The strawman and the conspiracy theory
Rick Wallace then shifts to conspiracy ideation. There are seven criteria that have been listed as common to conspiracy ideation. These include "self-sealing reasoning", "over-riding suspicion" and "persecuted victim".
Rick demonstrates some of these. After wrongly claiming that scientists don't try to figure out an interpretation they can agree on (ie consensus), he wrote:
Obviously, this cast of mind is utterly different from what we find in the AGW arena. Which in itself is compelling evidence that the motivations are different in normal science and in (C)AGW.I'd call that "self-sealing reasoning". He seems to be arguing that scientists agreeing that adding greenhouse gases to the air is causing global warming, is proof that scientists are not motivated by science. The implication being that the science must be wrong.
If Rick's use of "CAGW" isn't enough to persuade you that he is a science denier, think about how he attributes a different motivation to climate scientists than to biologists and physicists. He doesn't say what the motivation is, but what he wrote next gives a clue:
What is perhaps most fascinating about modern spectacles like the AGW movement (and here I’m thinking in particular of the Moscow show trials of the 1930s) is that the truth is always right there in front of everyone – and it is always apparent to those who can see. For such people, and this is true of most (but probably not all) AGW skeptics, the fact that some sort of charade is in progress is obvious, even if one does not characterize it in those terms.There's your "over-riding suspicion". First he talks about a "modern spectacle" and calls anthropogenic global warming a "movement". Then he brings up some "Moscow show trials". This seems like an appeal to the deniers who believe that climate science is a communist plot. He next talks about "truth", which he doesn't define but appears to expect WUWT readers to understand him. Then he talks about a "charade", again without defining what he means. In fact the entire paragraph is a gobbledegook denierism of the conspiracy theory kind. There's more. Rick weaves his conspiracy theory from a straw man:
Once this is understood it also becomes clear why these affairs are always imbued with an air of intimidation. (In fact, perhaps more than anything else, this aspect is what gives the game away.) This is something that is never present in real scientific discourse, even on those occasions when things get nasty. In such cases (for example the controversy over the wave nature of light in the early 19th century), scientists may get catty, and they may even act to keep work out of print (by negative reviews). But there is no real intimidation (at least none that I know of, and I have some personal experience in this department); there is never a covert message to the effect that, “This is the proper account – and you had better not contradict it!”Hark the persecuted victim who is subjected to some unspecified intimidation. You'll recall how Anthony Watts and Tim Ball wrote in those same terms when they compared climate science deniers to Velikovsky. Rick doesn't give any examples of intimidation (but clearly doesn't think creationists or flat-earthers or anti-vaxxers or HIV deniers get intimidated by scientists). At WUWT it's enough to claim that climate scientists are bullies (and HW is full of hate). No evidence is required or expected.
In fact in his entire article Rick doesn't say what part of climate science he accepts or rejects. He mentions no details at all. Perhaps he's afraid he'll be bullied, or worse - ridiculed :)
From the WUWT comments
There are only six thoughts at the time of writing, and most aren't worth copying. These are probably the best of them:
March 10, 2016 at 3:27 am
March 10, 2016 at 3:50 am
Good article, but I was mislead a bit by the use of “normal science” in the title. I was thinking something more “Kuhnian” was in store.
References and further reading
The 5 telltale techniques of climate change denial - article by John Cook at CNN, July 2015
Curses! It's a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over - HotWhopper article, July 2015
Crank magnet WUWT defends pseudo-science and promotes Velikovskyism "in the context of learning" - HotWhopper article, March 2016