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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

An internally inconsistent straw man from the Cornwall Alliance

Sou | 6:21 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

A few months ago the pseudo-religious science-denying cult the Cornwall Alliance posted a bunch of denialist videos on YouTube. I didn’t watch most of them, though a few hundred people have.  One of them did catch my eye. It had the title: Greener on the Other Side - Attacking the Person, Not the Argument, Is Wrong.

I liked the message, however it struck me as a possible example of a straw man logical fallacy. Still, I wondered if there were going to be examples given where the research was sound, but was criticised solely because of the funding source. (I realised it was probably too much to hope that the Cornwall Alliance would be telling fake sceptics to stop attacking climate scientists and instead read their research.) Anyway, I watched the entire one minute and thirty second video almost through to the end (missing only the final long promo). I thought I'd check to see if the argument was supported by examples or if it was just another logical fallacy typical of science deniers.

There weren’t any examples given. It was pure straw man through and through. However it turned out to be more than just a straw man fallacy. The very short video contradicted itself. Below is the transcript so you can see for yourself.

David Kreutzer
, Economist, Heritage Foundation: Saying that people who are skeptics of climate change are doing the bidding of the big oil or coal or whatever is an easy way out to avoid the actual debate.

Thomas P. Sheahen, SEPP; Those who are accusing anyone who skeptical are making the mistake called ad hominem. They attack the man for what he is saying rather than attack the content of what he says, and that's a terrible mistake to make.

Timothy Ball, Professor of Geography, wrongly described as Professor of Climatology, retired: It doesn't matter who funds you. If your science is peer-reviewed it is tested by your peers, it's the quality of your science that’t important not who funded it.

Harold Doiron, Right Climate Stuff: I don't see why the funding source should influence the quality of the research.

Timothy Ball (again): They've distorted that by saying okay if it’s money from an oil company that’s tainted, but money from government or money from Greenpeace for example doesn't come with a political agenda to attach. And in fact government money comes with an even more tightly dictated agenda to it than oil money.

I couldn’t resist commenting under the video:
The message here is that it doesn't matter who funds research, be it polluters (or the tobacco industry) or anyone with a vested or non-vested interest. It's the quality of the research that counts. So far so good.

That is, as Tim Ball says, unless the research is funded by the government, then it does matter. The research quality no longer matters, the research is (automatically) tainted by something or the other.

Got it!

Great conspiracy theory from a bunch of committed science deniers. (That's an ad hom by the way).


  1. Having watched the video and read the comments my feelings are these.
    1 There is no way one can say there is a disconnect from a disconnect between source of funding and paper.
    2 If your funding comes from gasp a government then it will be reviewed to ensure it has substance.
    3 If your funding comes from a gasp private think tank it will be reviewed to ensure what exactly ?????
    Lets not beat about the bush the situation is simple.
    NO scientist is making up rubbish findings this is never going to happen.
    No scientist will find any paper that is peer reviewed by his peers, if it has errors or has false finding, published.
    There is no collusion here it is a simple tried and well thought out process.
    As to the said gentleman and his conclusions i have one word to describe {[" Delusions "]} sorry but is possibly the best description.

  2. Please use Discus i beg you

    1. I understand the popularity of Discus, but from what I read it's not favoured by other Google bloggers who've tried it, and once committed it's hard to undo or revert. (That is why I've no plans to shift comments to Discus.)

  3. Ahhh it is a good ol' "bait and switch" video. Pay careful attention to what Tim Ball says, he is delivering the actual "message".

  4. I had thought there was a story about Richard Lindzen getting the science wrong on behalf of Peabody Coal in the news at the moment. It can't be true then.

    1. I don't think Lindzen is wrong because Peabody, no. He's wrong because his science is bad, employing fallacious reasoning and not supported by evidence.

  5. Tim Ball is right that the government can strongly affect what research gets funded. For example, Bush, Harper, Abbott/Trumbull, and Cameron all were cutting climate research and other research that made them look bad. They also all muzzled their scientists (though Bush was forced to back down) to make sure they only talked a government-approved message.

    I'm having trouble finding a centrist government that does anything like this.

    1. Cameron's had to climb down on the research limitations, Abbot's no longer in government, and Trumbull's looking shakier. Bush's government tried more to directly effect the scientists, but they didn't manage to stop the data making it through, which is why the Pentagon produced a bunch of position and threat analysis on climate change, particularly around the newly opened polar routes to northern Siberia. I'm not entirely disgreeing with your point, it's just that they tend to be short term efforts, and geographically isolated. Without a doubt there is an effort by the coal industry to _directly oppose_ the science, but they've effectively lost the war, although skirmishes still exist. Now here's hoping that people see the Trump candidacy for the utter nightmare that it is.


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