Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Debating the facts, who has the most to lose?

Joe Romm is one of the leading climate alarmists around and operates the ClimateProgress blog, which is associated with the left-wing Center for American Progress. Romm is one of the people the warming groupies turn to in order to learn their "talking points" in dealing with those big, bad, nasty skeptics.

Romm has been particularly unpleasant to Roger Pielke, Jr., perhaps because Pielke is also on the left side of the political spectrum but is most decidedly not a warming alarmist. Like most skeptics he does not deny warming (the deniers label is just one of the many inaccuracies that the alarmists like to push). But he also thinks the problems are grossly overstated and questions some of the science used to justify various political agendas.

Romm has used the usual tactic of sneer and smear that the alarmists seem to love. As much as they talk about science they really won't debate the science, instead they question the morality of their opponents, or their intelligence. That is not debate, that is the argument from intimidation that Rand exposed long ago.

Pielke offered to debate Romm and people put up a lot of money, to go to the charity of the choice of the debate victor. Romm immediately came up with multiple excuses as to why such a debate will never happen—mainly more of the same sneer and smear tactics again.

The matter started when Andy Revkin, a faithful alarmist who writes for The New York Times, said that Pielke should be part of the IPCC review of documents. In his typical hyperbolic fashion Romm called that suggestion "the most illogical climate post on Earth." It's not a bad suggestion, or a wrong suggestion. Nor is it just illogical. It is the most illogical post on Earth, which I guess means the most illogical post ever posted to the best of our knowledge. Wow! No sir, Romm isn't prone to exaggeration.

Romm then went on to attack Pielke in the same hyperbolic fashion saying that Pielke "is the single most disputed and debunked person in the entire realm of people who publish regularly on disasters and climate change." Wow! Now you know what to expect when he talks about the single warmest winter if the history of the planet and other such rot. Sneer, smear and gross exaggeration—that is the arsenal of the the warming alarmist in a nutshell.

Pielke offered to debate Romm and gave Romm virtually total control of the debate. Romm could veto any moderator for the debate. He could veto any resolution to be debated. He can pick the time and place of the debate. Foreign Policy magazine agreed to host the debate. And a donor would put up $20,000 to the charity of Romm's choice. None of that was good enough. Romm says that you can't trust audience votes at a debate because "antiscience ideologues" (the term he uses for scientists who disagree with his hysterical exaggerations) go to debates intending to lie.

I was wondering how they would explain three major debates I knew about—one in New York, one in London and one in Montreal—where the shift in audience perception was decidedly in favor of the skeptics. Apparently the reason the sneer, smear and exaggerate alarmists believe the audience is lying, even though many of the audience members are regular attendees at the series of debates.

Pielke says he is "offering Joe a chance to come out from behind his blog, where he bullies and systematically misrepresents my views. He has a chance to air his arguments about me in public and where I can respond to them directly. He will have a chance to explain why my views are so very wrong. At the same time, regardless of the outcome of the debate itself, we can do some good for people who need help, thanks to a generous donor."

Romm, of course, says that he won't debate because he doesn't want to give Pielke any publicity. That claim is disproved by the 75 posts he has written on his own site going after Pielke, including a recent 4,000 word extended attack. Pielke says: "Should Joe Romm turn down this offer, he will reveal his true colors to all -- a bully who hides behind his blog and who would rather call people names than engage in a serious policy debate on a topic of critical importance to our generation. There is no reason for Joe to turn this offer down, other than knowing that his arguments cannot stand up to scrutiny were he to emerge from behind his blog."

Mr Pielke doesn't understand that the entire purpose of the argument from intimidation is precisely to bully people into adopting a viewpoint. It is meant to bully. I think Rand's formulation of the argument was one of her more insightful contributions. She defined it:
There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: “Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X’s argument is false.” . . . The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality. In today’s epistemological jungle, that second method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as “The Argument from Intimidation.” The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”
Personally, when I see this argument used I conclude the user has an an empty intellectual quiver. They resort to the sneer and smear tactic because ultimately it's all they have. One reason, but only a small one, that I have to wonder if the skeptics aren't right, is because their opponents, the alarmists, act precisely the way individuals without good evidence act when debating opponents. They don't face the arguments head on, they instead use tactics to try and silence their opposition.

We saw precisely that in the emails from Climategate. Of course the alarmists immediately started screaming: "There's nothing to see here folks, move along." But the more people actually looked at the emails the more they concluded that there was most definitely something there worth discussing. Of course, Romm's talking points on the matter was to dismiss them and resort to sneer and smear. Consider this memorandum submitted to the British Parliament by the Institute for Physics. These are not scientific lightweights, nor are they known to be skeptics. In their submission to Parliament they said:
1. The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.

2. The CRU e-mails as published on the internet provide prima facie evidence of determined and co-ordinated refusals to comply with honourable scientific traditions and freedom of information law. The principle that scientists should be willing to expose their ideas and results to independent testing and replication by others, which requires the open exchange of data, procedures and materials, is vital. The lack of compliance has been confirmed by the findings of the Information Commissioner. This extends well beyond the CRU itself - most of the e-mails were exchanged with researchers in a number of other international institutions who are also involved in the formulation of the IPCC's conclusions on climate change.
They also say that the emails "eveal doubts as to the reliability of some of the reconstructions and raise questions as to the way in which they have been represented; for example, the apparent suppression, in graphics widely used by the IPCC, of proxy results for recent decades that do not agree with contemporary instrumental temperature measurements." They write that the emails show an intolerance that "impedes the process of scientific 'self correction', which is vital to the integrity of the scientific process..." And they indicate the "possibility of networks of like-minded researchers excluding newcomers."

The Institute says that the entire climate change network needs investigation, not just the one center in England. They write "there is need for a wider inquiry into the integrity of the scientific process in this field."

What went out with the Climate Research Unit, and Romm's actions, both seem manifestations of the same sort of attitude. Even though they act like people who know they are wrong, I suspect they are true believers who think they are absolutely, 100% correct—they are the fundamentalists of science, with an infallible, inerrant scripture (the IPCC report)—at least they like to think way. And like fundamentalists, they get downright nasty when someone questions the infallibility of their beliefs. The intolerance of fundamentalists exists because of their own insecurity. Deep down they fear they might be wrong. The more they fear that their arguments are false the more intolerant they become.

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