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.
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