Home > Lexophiles' Locale > Lexophiles’ Locale: Heated Debate Edition

Lexophiles’ Locale: Heated Debate Edition

The Greek Pyrrhonians were extreme in their skepticism. Doubt wasn’t enough; to them, knowledge was impossible… “and they’re not even sure about that.” Modern skepticism differs. Although all knowledge is provisional, reasonable people can accept a proposition as true if the convergence of evidence overwhelms all but the most radical doubts.

I’m no Pyrrhonian, but one of their tactics to defuse their dogmatic and credulous opponents delights me. Sarah Bakewell in How To Live or A Life of Montaigne explains:

Pyrrhonians accordingly deal with all the problems life can throw at them by means of a single word which acts as shorthand for this maneuver: in Greek, epokhe. It means “I suspend judgement.” Or, in a different rendition given in French by Montaigne himself, je soutiens: “I hold back.”

Epokhe wonderfully captures how to deal with unsupported claims and arguments. As much as the humble method enchants me… there is a limit.

Recently, I debated one of my political antagonists, Rick, at his blog Let’s Get Political on the evidence for climate change. Rick uncritically cited a Daily Mail article that wrote, “the fact that the world has not warmed for 15 years.” It’s a common talking point among global warming denialists. I pointed out the Earth clearly has warmed over the last 15 years:

In response, he appealed to another graph that seems to show stagnant temperatures or even “cooling.”

Yet that deceit was done by constraining the dates (and not even in the timeframe under discussion): Here’s the same HadCRUT sourced data if you look at the full timespan:

Furthermore, this graph’s data doesn’t even capture all the warming or the full extent of the trend. Follow the link above for a deeper explanation.

Rick then implicitly utilizes epokhe.

[My comments intended] to show how one can pull a graph or a statistic out of thin air to support one’s position either way.


My “official” position is that there are too many conflicting positions and immoral manipulations of mean data to meet predetermined ends

Unfortunately, we see epokhe used as a dodge rather than a reasonable philosophical stance. Notice the game he and others in the anti-science crowd play.

How to Manufacture Global Warming Controversy: or How to Undermine All Knowledge in 3 Easy Steps.  

Step 1: Claim the evidence shows global warming isn’t happening.

Step 2: When confronted with data that illustrates the temperature is rising, present a graph that seems to show the opposite.

Step 3: When the anti-global warming graphic is exposed as misleading or dishonest, proclaim that as confirmation that statistics and graphs can be “used to support global warming or to deny it.” No need to show that the evidence demonstrating global warming is wrong!

Moreover, his intellectual nihilism only drains the life from evidence that contradicts his worldview. Rick and other skeptics of convenience don’t ever seem to cast doubt on “evidence” against global warming such as the misleading graph and the Daily Mail assertion.

If you’re interested in reading our whole debate go here.


[update]: In Rick’s last comment in our long back-and-forth he argues he “readily agreed that the temperatures have been rising.” That’s false. He appears to have stopped allowing comments and won’t publish my rebuttal (if I seem a bit exasperated it might make sense in context). I’ll post it here below the fold for interested readers:

Dear Rick,

My entire argument… every signal response emphasized my point that the Daily Mail was wrong that the earth has warmed in the last 15 years. You NEVER disagreed with that. That you’re now claiming you “readily agreed” the earth was warming by saying that the earth is heating up “with periods of transient cooling” is unpersuasive.

First of all, you certainly didn’t say you think the global is warming. You write, “Until there is near universal agreement that global warming is more than a transient trend alternating…” Where in that sentence does it say that you, Rick, agrees that global warming is trend? Excuse me for not assuming that was the suggestion either. The rest of that comment explained how you don’t trust statistics and that the “mean data” was manipulated. So not only did you not say that you “readily agreed” that global warming is happening the suggestion is exactly the opposite.

Second of all, where are the “periods of transient cooling in any of the data span we’re discussing? In the last 15 (the time I’m talking about, remember?) there is no trend of “global cooling.” Even further back there is no trend. I assume you don’t mean a single year being less than a degree cooler means we have “global cooling” right? Calling global warming a “transient trend” would mean the warming is only very brief. The trend of warming has been steady since AT LEAST 1950, but even from, say, 1900 the trend is fairly consistently unidirectional.

Either way, the timeframe under discussion was the past 15 years. And you still couldn’t find the energy to acknowledge my contention that the Daily Mail is wrong.

Here’s some of the rest of the evidence that you didn’t “readily agree” to anything and I shouldn’t be faulted for thinking you were disagreeing with me:

Dan: “To suggest that we don’t have enough evidence that the earth is warming is unreasonable.” and “You write, ‘until there is near universal agreement’ we can’t know who’s right.” and “I’m asking you to acknowledge[…] the earth’s temperature is trending upward.”

Rick: “If global warming is indeed a fact” (“If” doesn’t usually imply “readily admit”) and “Yeah, maybe you are right” and “So far, trying to prove climate change exists is second only to proving that God exists.” [I see no qualifier of “man-made” climate change –DB]

Dan: “You’re really telling me, we can’t know after decades of research the general direction of the temperature on earth? Just the temperature!?” and “You seem so dogmatically committed to your ideological position that you can’t even acknowledge that the earth’s temperature has been rising.”

Rick: “I am still waiting for proof” and “Your insistence that your data is truthful and opposing data is false is more representative of a dogmatic position than my unwillingness to accept either side at this point in time.”

[I only insisted that my data showed the earth is warming. I specifically argued I’m not talking about a man-made cause in this argument. –DB]

Even now you’re still arguing “that temperatures could be viewed either way.” What are you talking about? If you’re upside down? The trend is only in one direction. And then you say your “thought was that you were looking for a blanket statement that global warming existed with the implication that man was the cause.” Why would you think that when I specially argued otherwise? The origin of this debate was: “I’d just like to point out that when the Daily Mail writes, “the fact that the world has not warmed for 15 years” they are just flat wrong.” and “I’m not suggesting I’m going to convince you of the reality of man-made global warming and all its implications, but we should at least be able to agree on some basic facts.”

I guess it’s too difficult to have a debate with you if you can’t get past basic reading comprehension. But just for the record scientists were not “caught manipulating the data” if by manipulating you mean something deceptive. They were cleared by multiple investigations and anyone who took the time to understand what those emails meant in context wouldn’t be saying the things you do.

  1. --Rick
    December 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Let’s get a couple of things clear. The article I put up was focused on “scientists” once again hurting their own cause by getting caught cheating on the data they were collecting, assimilating and reporting. Do you remember this paragraph?

    “After a cluster of disconcerting e-mails and documents surfaced last week from climate scientists associated with the “Climategate” scandal of 2009, it was reported Sunday that top British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) executives sought advice from Britain’s leading green activist research center. Released on November 22, the leaked e-mails and documents reveal climate “experts” collaborating to plot devious schemes to further their global-warming agenda.”

    Instead of discussing this, you opted to insist on an admission that the climate temperatures have risen during the past 15 years. I agree that they have risen, but what I won’t agree to and what you seem to want is some indication that the rise is man made; otherwise, why would you go after the more innocuous form of misrepresentation while ignoring the e-mail exchanges in light of an already embarrassing scandal by a group that was considered the tip of the global warming exploration spear?

    I do appreciate you graph and your studied information, but there are other disciplines of science who are indirectly uncovering past global temperature records from a variety of sources, such as:

    “…by mapping the distribution of ancient coals, desert deposits, tropical soils, salt deposits, glacial material, as well as the distribution of plants and animals that are sensitive to climate, such as alligators, palm trees & mangrove swamps.”.

    If it graphs that you like, here’s one to contemplate that goes ummmm…a few million years back along with a description of methods, sources and 3D maps that include the global position of continents over those millennia [Precambrian Age through to Today] This looks like a sine wave…a bit erratic, but a sine wave never the less. Please not the temperature during the Cambrian – Ordovician periods, then again during the cusp of the Permian/Triassic periods, and again during the Tertiary periods. Notice how much longer the warming periods are compared to the cooling cycles [which are far more dangerous to life] as the last bottom represents the last great ice age which occurred during the Pleistocene era.

    Now for a final comparison, compare the graph above to the one I just linked to and tell me who is holding the short straw. And for the record, I told you after you pissed me off that I was going to take the last word. I gave you one more opportunity that I had not intended to out of courtesy; then, I kept my word. As I stated during the first reply to your goading comment, I had no intention, desire or time to debate this issue with you, but you managed to get under my skin rather quickly simply because you overlooked the wrong reported as the main point of the news report and instead tried to obfuscate the wrong-doing by the scientists and the BBC with a bit of misdirection.

    In sum, global warming is occurring, but I have yet to be convinced that the cause is anthropomorphic. I’m also certain that deserved or not, the scientist’s whose work I’ve linked to is about to be labeled a quack, an ostrich, a tool of big business, or some other such non-sense, but that is your prerogative and I won’t be back to dispute any remarks you make; so, take advantage and give it your best for your fans. Have a nice day…I’m out of here. Hopefully, this little tiff will bring in enough visitors to your site to make all of the time and energy I’ve spent typing worth while.


    • December 2, 2011 at 12:21 am

      I’m not sure why you find it so odd that I’d like claims to be accurate. The Daily Mail was wrong and it should have been corrected for your readers and others. You could have acknowledged that and moved on. Instead you spent all your time declaring that the temperature data was manipulated and insisting that stats and graphs can be used deceptively by both sides.

      You’re welcome to make whatever argument you like, but you’re not welcome to your own facts. Establishing accuracy is not misdirection, it’s essential for sound reasoning. I’m happy to debate environmental policy or climate change more generally, but it took 2 days to bore through your obscurantism only to get an admission that the earth’s temperature is trending upward. That’s why I’m starting small and simple.

      I’m not going to prove anthropomorphic global warming to you in a few comments (especially without agreeing to a few basic facts). But just to reply briefly to some of your points:

      Of course the earth has natural fluctuations in climate over millions of years. That does not suggest that humans aren’t contributing to modern warming. Every winter here in New England it snows on all the ski mountains – that doesn’t mean that snow machines aren’t adding to the snowpack.

      How do scientists know that burning fossil fuels is one of the major sources of recent rising temperatures? Well the Earth’s temperature can only increase for 2 basic reasons: more heat coming fromspace and/or more heat being trapped here. Scientists take all the potential causes and measure their impact ratio to the rise in temperature. Turns out increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere from man is the largest contributor.

      They’ve ruled out other potential culprits.

      The reality is that the evidence for man-made global warming is overwhelming.

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