Saturday, April 21st 2012, 6:59 PM EDT
Aristotle’s logical fallacies are still relevant 2,300 years later
His fallacies are exemplified by the warming hysteria
‘But there’s a consensus!” shrieked the bossy environmentalist with the messy blonde hair.
“That, Madame, is intellectual baby-talk,” I replied.
I was about to give a talk questioning “global warming” hysteria at Union College, Schenectady. College climate extremists, led by my interlocutor, had set up a table at the door of the lecture theatre to deter students from hearing the skeptical side of the case.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, 2,300 years ago, listed the dozen commonest logical fallacies in human discourse in his book [external] Sophistical Refutations. Not the least of these invalid arguments is what the medieval schoolmen would later call the argumentum ad populum — the consensus or headcount fallacy.
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A fallacy is a deceptive argument that appears to be logically valid but is in fact invalid. Its conclusion will be unreliable at best, downright false at worst. One should not make the mistake of thinking that Aristotle’s fallacies are irrelevant archaisms. They are as crucial today as when he first wrote them down. Arguments founded upon any of his fallacies are unsound and unreliable, and that is that.
Startlingly, nearly all of the usual arguments for alarm about the climate are instances of Aristotle’s dozen fallacies of relevance or of presumption, not the least of which is the consensus fallacy.
Just because we are told that many people say they believe a thing to be so, that is no evidence that many people say it, still less that they believe it, still less that it is so. The mere fact of a consensus — even if there were one — tells us nothing whatsoever about whether the proposition to which the consensus supposedly assents is true or false.
Two surveys have purported to show that 97% of climate scientists supported the “consensus.” However, one survey was based on the views of just 77 scientists, far too small a sample to be scientific, and the proposition to which 75 of the 77 assented was merely to the effect that there has been warming since 1950.
The other paper did not state explicitly what question the scientists were asked and did not explain how they had been selected to remove bias. Evidentially, it was valueless. Yet that has not prevented the usual suspects from saying — falsely — that the “consensus” of 97% of all climate scientists is that man-made global warming is potentially catastrophic.
Some climate extremists say there is a “consensus of evidence.” However, evidence cannot hold or express an opinion. There has been no global warming for a decade and a half; sea level has been rising for eight years at a rate equivalent to just three centimetres per century; hurricane activity is at its lowest in the 30-year satellite record; global sea-ice extent has hardly changed in that time; Himalayan glaciers have not lost ice overall; ocean heat content is rising four and a half times more slowly than predicted; and the 50 million “climate refugees” that the UN had said would be displaced by 2010 simply do not exist. To date, the “consensus of evidence” does not support catastrophism.
“Ah,” say the believers, “but there is a consensus of scientists and learned societies.” That is the argumentum ad verecundiam, the reputation or appeal-to-authority fallacy. Merely because a group has a reputation, it may not deserve it; even if it deserves it, it may not be acting in accordance with it; and, even if it is, it may be wrong.
“But it’s only if we include a strong warming effect from man’s CO2 emissions that we can reproduce the observed warming of the past 60 years. We cannot think of any other reason for the warming.” That argument from the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC, is the argumentum ad ignorantiam, the fallacy of arguing from ignorance. We do not know why the warming has occurred. Arbitrarily to blame man is impermissible.
“The rate of global warming is accelerating. Therefore it is caused by us.” That is the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi, the red-herring fallacy. Even if global warming were accelerating, that would tell us nothing about whether we were to blame. The IPCC twice uses this fallacious argument in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. Even if its argument were not illogical, the warming rate is not increasing.The notion that it is accelerating was based on a statistical abuse that the IPCC has refused to correct.
Superficially, the red-herring fallacy may seem similar to the fallacy of argument from ignorance. However, it is subtly different. The argument from ignorance refers to fundamental ignorance of the matter of the argument (hence an arbitrary conclusion is reached): the red-herring fallacy refers to fundamental ignorance of the manner of conducting an argument (hence an irrelevant consideration is introduced).
“What about the cuddly polar bears?” That is the argumentum ad misericordiam, the fallacy of inappropriate pity. There are five times as many polar bears as there were in the 1940s — hardly the population profile of a species at imminent threat of extinction. There is no need to pity the bears (and they are not cuddly).
“For 60 years we have added CO2 to the atmosphere. That causes warming. Therefore the warming is our fault.” That is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, the argument from false cause. Merely because one event precedes another it does not necessarily cause it.
“We tell the computer models that there will be strong warming if we add CO2 to the air. The models show there will be a strong warming. Therefore the warming is our fault.” This is the argumentum ad petitionem principii, the circular-argument fallacy, where a premise is also the conclusion.
“Global warming caused Hurricane Katrina.” This is the inappropriate argument from the general to the particular that is the fallacy a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid, the fallacy of accident. Even the IPCC admits individual extreme-weather events cannot be ascribed to global warming. Hurricane Katrina was only Category 3 at landfall. The true reason for the damage was failure to maintain the sea walls.
“Arctic sea ice is melting: Therefore man-made global warming is a problem.” This is the inappropriate argument from the particular to the general that is the fallacy a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter, the fallacy of converse accident. The Arctic ice may be melting, but the Antarctic has been cooling for 30 years and the sea ice there is growing, so the decline in Arctic sea ice does not indicate a global problem.
“Monckton says he’s a member of the House of Lords, but the Clerk of the Parliaments says he isn’t, so everything he says is nonsense.” That is the argumentum ad hominem, the attack on the man rather than on his argument.
“We don’t care what the truth is. We want more taxation and regulation. We will use global warming as an excuse. If you disagree, we will haul you before the International Climate Court.” That is the nastiest of all the logical fallacies: The argumentum ad baculum, the argument of force.
In any previous generation, the fatuous cascade of fallacious arguments deployed by climate extremists in government, academe and the media in support of the now-collapsed climate scare would have been laughed down.
When the future British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan arrived at Oxford to study the classics, his tutor said: “Four years’ study will qualify you for nothing at all — except to recognize rot when you hear it.” The climate storyline is rot. To prevent further costly scams rooted in artful nonsense, perhaps we should restore universal classical education. As it is, what little logic our bossy environmentalists learn appears to come solely from Mr. Spock in Star Trek.
Christopher Monckton, third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, is a former policy advisor to U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher.