Columns from a conservative (or classical-liberal) perspective are veritable magnets to the ill- informed, the uninformed, and often to the well-informed, who just happen to be either wrong or illogical in their arguments. And sometimes, they are both wrong and illogical.
Such was the case with a letter to the editor this past week that took issue with my latest column on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) (or climate change as it is now called, since the globe hasn’t warmed at all since 1998, contrary to all of the AGW alarmist’s computer models.) Usually with such detractors, I simply pen a response to their missives clarifying issues and addressing the areas where they felt I had erred.
This particular letter, however, provided a superb teachable moment, and as such, warranted a more formal and analytical response that all can learn from (conservatives and liberals alike.) For that is how I perceive my role, to stimulate thought, reflection, and to provide factual information oftentimes beyond the purview of the mainstream media, from whence most in our society glean their “knowledge.”
A retired chemistry professor, who is undoubtedly superbly competent in his discipline, authored the letter that didn’t even address the points made in my column. Due to the logical fallacies employed (three of which I will focus on), his argument was null and void, constituting little more than wasted column inches (except for the didactic value.)
Remember, a logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid. Logicians have identified nearly eighty such fallacies, many of which are employed on a daily basis by those who seek to influence us. But the logical fallacies employed in the professor’s letter represent some of the most widely used inanities.
The most commonly used logical fallacy is the ad hominem, which is literally a verbal attack on the purveyor, or the messenger. It evades addressing the substance of the original argument and goes after the one making the argument. This was employed superbly by the professor, as he not only assailed me personally, but did the same against a source I cited (who authored a peer-reviewed piece referenced in the column) rather than addressing the substance of our combined arguments.
He also used a variant of the ad hominem, the poisoning the well fallacy, where adverse information about someone is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the targeted person says, whether relevant to the current issue or not. He used this in reference to Dr. Roy Spencer, a source I cited, when he cavalierly dismissed his perspective by calling Spencer “an avowed creationist” and exclaiming “Aha, now I understand!” In other words, all of Spencer’s credentials and expertise as the lead research climatologist at the University of Alabama (and his background as a NASA scientist and the senior scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center) were dismissed because he’s a creationist. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the invalidity of such a specious position.
And finally, the writer used the appeal to authority fallacy by including “PhD: after his name. This is done to assert a self-perceived superiority as an authority, regardless of discipline or expertise, in order to persuade.
Actually, much of the AGW alarmists’ argument is based on logical fallacies, which invalidate and vitiate their spurious claims. For example, Post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” This fallacy confuses correlation with causation. “Because the earth warmed 1 degree Celsius during the past century, which also happened to coincide with increased manmade CO2 emissions, it must be causal” is the erroneous premise. The empirical data show that it was correlation, rather than causation, since warming has not continued over the past 15 years while emissions have increased dramatically.
Closely related is the regression fallacy, which ascribes cause where none exists. This fallacy is created by failing to account for natural fluctuations in global temperatures or other factors (such as solar activity, which empirically tracks varying global temperatures with great precision as opposed to manmade CO2 emissions.)
They also employ the faulty generalization fallacy, where a broad generalization (AGW) is concluded from weak premises (negligible correlation with actual CO2 emissions).
AGW alarmists also rely heavily on the Argumentum ad populum, also known as the bandwagon argument, where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many believe it to be so. They must totally ignore the over 1100 peer-reviewed research pieces challenging the AGW “consensus” in the process.
Perhaps most egregious, however, is their appeal to emotion. Relying on the false premises of their arguments, AGW alarmists attempt to compel us to be “green” lest we destroy the earth with our collective .0083% contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is little more than fear-mongering for the express purpose of controlling, regulating, and taxing human activity.
Most distressing about the detractor’s letter is the evidence provided that, even in academia, the dominant teaching approach is to tell students what to think, rather than teaching them how to think. Even if we don’t remember all of the varied logical fallacies employed to persuade us on a daily basis, just a critical thought process can reveal the errors in logic employed to make us a submissive and obedient mass to be controlled and told what to think by the mainstream media, ideologically motivated academicians, and politicians.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Author’s Note: Below is the letter to the editor referenced in the column, as well as a link to the column that precipitated the letter.
Letter to the Editor 07/09/13
Idaho State Journal
Once again Journal columnist Richard Larsen indulges his personal belief that he is a scientist by writing an article (June 23) on “his” perception of global warming.
I can tolerate this based on our freedom of speech, although I must say that his idea of science leaves much to be desired.
What I cannot tolerate is his obvious misinformation by omission. I took the time to read his comments and noted that he bases these on the work of a Dr. Roy Spencer. I am a practicing scientist, but had never heard of him. So I did a literature search for Dr. Spencer’s works.
His vita from the University of Alabama is less than impressive, listing six publications of which only four are scientific papers, and I cannot attest to the quality of the journals in which he has published.
Upon further searching for Spencer’s credentials, I found that he is an avowed creationist. Aha, now I understand! As one of my creationist students once said to me, “We don’t have to worry about overpopulation of the earth, if there are too many people, God will send us a war.”
It all becomes so simple, doesn’t it?
Returning to Mr. Larsen, he never once mentioned that Spencer was a creationist. He never once mentioned that Spencer’s vita is stunningly sparse (for comparison, in my field, it is usual for an average researcher to have 50 to 100 publications). Nor did he mention that Spencer’s recent interview on the website Catholic Online was thoroughly panned.
Dennis P. Strommen, Ph.D., Inkom