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:
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.