The illogic of climate hysteria

By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

Special to the Financial Post (reposted here with permission from the author)

IMG_3846

Erin Delman, President of the Environmental Club, debates with Monckton - photo by Charlotte Lehman

“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 sceptical side of the case.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, 2300 years ago, listed the dozen commonest logical fallacies in human discourse in his book Sophistical Refutations. Not the least of these invalid arguments is what the mediaeval schoolmen would later call the argumentum ad populum – the consensus or headcount fallacy.

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 manmade 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 3 cm 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 manmade 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.

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Jenn Oates

Outstanding!

J.Hansford

Yes…. Two birds with one critical stone by Lord Monckton….. A smack in the chops for the AGW hypothesis and its flawed and false arguments…. and a poke in the eye about the standard of classical education in Western Universities during our current times.
Well done Mr Monckton. I heartily concur.

CRS, DrPH

Before Koch, Leeuwenhoek, Snow and others, there was a scientific consensus that bad smells (“miasmas”) were responsible for contagious diseases. The history of science is loaded with similar examples.

Bob Diaz

Very well said. If possible, I’d also love to see your presentation as a YouTube video.

Old woman of the north

Can we please all write to our education ministers requesting that Aristotle’s methods are made part of the compulsory curriculum in several subjects so all students are sure to meet it somewhere?

yes it is really stuff!

Another problem. A large fraction of the public at large…. the “little people”… just doesn’t know the skeptic side. They don’t know any of the arguments against the agw scam, at all. We desperately need an advertising campaign of 30 second type spots to penetrate the population. That would change the equation dramatically.

DR. Spock? argumentum vulcani.

Alex Heyworth

You can add to that list ignotum per ignotius and ignotum per aeque ignotum, both in frequent use by climate alarmists.

Dave N

Great summary. Alarmists have managed to cover at least 7 of Aristotles fallacies; that many is a strong indicator that their arguments are incredibly weak.

Philip Bradley

A few classes in the epistemology of science wouldn’t go amiss either.

Henry Clark

Good article, but it could use a slight correction:
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.
That is an obvious reference to Doran and Zimmerman 2009, but it was even worse than that description.
It referenced warming since the pre-1800s, not since 1950.
The two survey questions to which they got almost all saying yes were:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
Source: http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf
The “pre-1800s” were the Little Ice Age.
The so-called consensus reportedly found by the 2 survey questions was only that:
1) It is warmer now than in the Little Ice Age … obviously.
2) Humans have a significant effect on temperatures in the scientific sense of non-zero, which is something skeptics imply when talking about even the existence of the Urban Heat Island effect but does nothing to validate the CAGW movement’s claims of temperature rise vast enough to be a net negative at all in cost versus benefit. Most top skeptics (like Dr. Spencer, Dr. Lindzen, Dr. Shaviv, Dr. Svensmark, etc.) estimate that manmade CO2 has a small fraction of a degree Celsius effect, less warming than in the overall beneficial Holocene Climate Optimum.
Places like Wikipedia are careful to maintain dishonesty when reporting results by not mentioning the trick of asking about temperatures now compared to the Little Ice Age, trying to imply that there was 97% consensus with the claims of the CAGW movement despite there being nothing of the sort.

dave38

Cristopher Monckton is always worth reading and this is one his best. Outstanding!!

Poor old Macmillan must have been a slow reader if it took him four years to read Latta and MacBeath’s The Elements of Logic.

Magico

I’m shocked & surprised at this accusation.
It shows signs of downright racism.
It also wholly unfair…
… to Mr Spock.
🙂

(1) Where’s the iPod app for the above?
(2) I have the impression Aristotle didn’t speak Latin. So who’s behind the labels mentioned by Monckton? St. Thomas Aquinas?

Will Nelson

Ow ow ow…Latin.

Brian H

Ad hominem! Mr. Spock was simply insensitive, except when the rutting urge was in control every few years.

May you live long and prosper!

Willis Eschenbach

Well done that man …
w.

John

Those greens are brainwashed.. really.. It has become a religion for them….

Tenuk

While few in the UK still get the benefits of a classical education, there is still an opportunity for students to learn critical thinking.
Here, for example, is a brief synopsis of the syllabus for the AQA examining board’s foundation unit for A level Critical Thinking…
• recognise when reasoned argument is taking place;
• recognise the area of discourse to which a particular argument or debate belongs;
• classify and evaluate different kinds of claim;
• analyse and interpret texts involving argument to reveal the structure of the reasoning;
• identify assumptions that are implicit in an argument;
• evaluate arguments, understanding that there are varying standards for assessing their adequacy;
• consider consequences and their impact on arguments;
• consider the impact of additional evidence, counter-examples, analogies etc;
• identify ambiguity and vagueness and understand the importance of clarifying terms;
• distinguish between the reasoning in an argument and the use of persuasive language;
• recognise bad (flawed) arguments, and be able to identify what is wrong with them (fallacies);
• draw comparisons and contrasts;
• use their experience of analysis and evaluation to present cogent arguments;
• acquire a basic vocabulary of terms associated with reasoning, and use them appropriately
The current generation of MSM journalists would benefit gratefully from such a course.

Illogic and hysteria are good – it’s stops people thinking and may even start them panicking.
Just look for who is making money out of the panic and who is raising taxes based on it.
Finally who has seen their careers boosted from complete dunderhead to world famous, internationally aclaimed scientist!
As HL Mencken said years ago
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Roger

link to paper not correct?

Steve C

Thanks, Lord Monckton, for an easy walk through the Chamber of Logical Horrors which our alarmist friends inhabit. Unfortunately, as Dorothy Parker observed, “you can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think”, so we’ll undoubtedly be hearing a lot more of all these. As a philosophy graduate, I’d file most alarmist arguments under “modus horrendo horrens” (warning: philosophers’ joke!).

Howling Winds

How come people who can’t even comb their own hair, like Erin Delman, are always trying to save the planet?

Peter Miller

Nice article, but way above the head of the average alarmist.
Today’s ‘climate science’, as practiced by most government funded employees, is based on the concept of: Scary theories need more study, therefore they need more funding and more people to study them. To ensure funding, scary theories regularly mutate into very scary theories and so on.
The status quo today of ‘climate science’ is an industry, as Moncton correctly points out, which is mostly based on deceptions and fallacies.
As the CAGW cult’s apocalyptic prophecies fail to come to pass, so the very scary theories mutate further into terrifying theories. However, to support the terrifying theories it becomes increasingly necessary to alter the original data, with the ‘adjustment’ always being in the direction of supporting the terrifying theory.
The bottom line is this: The global warming experienced over the past century has been a mildly interesting natural phenomenom, which has been mostly beneficial for mankind, and er, well that’s it………………..

Dear Sir,
Very well written! Science is about deriving some sense out of the natural world. Human opinions are therefore not very helpful. Models describing our warming future contain a lot of suppositions, in other words opinions.

Andrew

Lord Monckton,
I enjoyed your article and feel better informed for it. My Latin is sadly lacking and my grasp of logic might turn-out to be too (!), nevertheless, at the risk of attracting derision I would like to propose the following potential logical fallacies for consideration:
1. The anti-humanist ideology of much of the environmental movement stems from a misrepresentation of the writings of the highly influential Thomas Malthus (1736-1834). These neo-fascistic groups incorrectly claim that Malthus wrote that mankind inevitably faced catastrophe (cf “Malthusian catastrophe”). Malthus never used that phrase and, in fact, indicated that human population pressure will, amongst other things, lead to an increase in food production; will influence individual decisions regarding fecundity in response to perceptions of cost/ benefits in relations to available resources. Therefore, I would like to propose the fallacy of ‘argument through the misrepresentation’ be added to the list.
2. Anti-humanist ideologues also fail to take into account that challenges of limited resources and related economic and environmental problems have always been met successfully by man and will likely continue to be met in the future through human ingenuity and inventiveness – nicely summed-up by the adage: ‘the stone-age didn’t end because humans ran out of stones’. I would therefore like to propose the fallacy of ‘overly-simplistic thinking’ be added to the list.
3. Inarguably, the Earth’s climate is a non-linear complex system. We can all agree on that I think. As such, our understanding of its physics is not properly approached by a reductionist or ‘sum of its parts’ analysis beloved by the CAGW cult in its hypnotic focus on atmospheric CO2. I therefore propose the fallacy of ‘inappropriate reductionism’ be added to the list.

Roger says: April 21, 2012 at 12:38 am
link to paper not correct?
——-
I found it easily enough from the front page.
http://opinion.financialpost.com/2012/04/20/aristotles-climate/

Terrific writing; brought a tear to my eye. So glad he didn’t ruin it all at the end by calling him ‘Dr. Spock’.

Researchers in many technical fields these days have little or no training in philosophy, almost certainly none in philosophy of science, and are unaware of the content of the general sceptical literature. This is why I assume so many in the climate sciences can posit an argument that takes the exact form of a logical fallacy and not realise it. Irrespective of whether a claim is true or not, an argument should not be structured in such a way as to meet all the criteria of a logical fallacy.
(Although certain individuals who identify as ‘sceptics’ also indulge in a fallacy of their own; the argument from personal incredulity, when they assert that CO2 is too small to have any measurable effect on the heat content of the atmosphere.)

Robertvdl

What would be the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere burning down your house ? We know that Greenpeace knows where we live. As a well known skeptic, you can still insure your home against fire?

R. de Haan
Ken Hall

Did anyone else hear Lord Monckton’s voice and tone in their heads when reading this? The man is an astounding debater and I am proud that he is UKIPs spokesperson on Climate and energy.

James Bull

My idea of the argument for AGW is like this for knowing what the time is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tjHlFPTwVk
James Bull

jhborn

Though my post-high-school education was all vocational and I therefore should be entitled to no opinion on the subject, it strikes me that the Lord M.’s post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc example was not quite on the money. ““For 60 years we have added CO2 to the atmosphere. That causes warming. Therefore the warming is our fault.” To this non-classicist, a more apt example would be ““For 60 years we have added CO2 to the atmosphere. Warming followed that CO2 enrichment. Therefore the warming is our fault.”

J. Seifert

Wonderful reading…..to be recommended for everybody…..
JS

Robertvdl

The problem is we can’t blame the young people who grew up in this system of Man Made Global Warming indoctrination. They are just like the Hitlerjugend and some of them just as dangerous.The problem is that they think they do good, that they are the ones that save the world. That is why dictators always first silence the educated opposition and use the youth.
http://youtu.be/jEdUWuT9D6Y
You think they would burn down your house?

Aristotle’s opinions–I repeat, opinions–held back physical science for 2,000 years. He was a renowned master of rhetoric, not of science, whose pedantic logic did not save him from spouting sheer nonsense. Indeed, that is why modern science is founded upon observation, not reason (the latter merely drives philosophy, which has been a general failure in the age of science). The rhetoricians–like Mr. Monckton–will always be with us, pretending to be masters of science. Science is a higher estate, and while I am a total denier of the climate consensus, I identify with true science, not rhetoric. This is just another angry, fevered rant, misleadingly couched as condescending pedantry, though it is well-intended, and I regret the need for it, for fever is the enemy of true reason. But I know the climate “debate” is really a political, fighting war, waged with words. Just don’t fool yourselves that it has advanced, or will advance, true science one whit.

Dave Mitchell

I always enjoy Lord Monckton’s contributions – he is a national treasure. It is an unfortunate aspect of education in the West that there is more emphasis on facts and knowledge rather than on critical thinking and analysis. One sees the effect of this daily in everything from political speeches (where we expect crooked thinking) to scientific discourse (where we do not). There is a delightful book by Robert H Thouless called ‘Straight and Crooked Thinking’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straight_and_Crooked_Thinking, in which the Aristotelean fallacies and many others are described in a very accessible manner. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who can both read and think. There is also a good list to be found here: http://www.philosophicalsociety.com/Logical%20Fallacies.htm#affirm-consequent
It is rather fun to go through the list of fallacies and identify examples from the AGW debate. Naturally, both sides of the argument lapse into fallacy, but one certainly sees some exquisite examples from those who attempt to defend an extremist point of view. On a personal note, I left the UK in 1989, and am daily saddened by the state of the British economy, the lack of foresight, the absence of scientific and engineering ability in government, the disastrous energy policies, the vulnerability of the UK to foreign sourced energy, the destruction of the nuclear/coal power sectors and the inevitable consequences in terms of expensive energy, the emergence of an energy-poor subclass of society (mainly pensioners/disadvantaged) and the loss of jobs and industry. It is astonishing how many governments fail to grasp the link between cheap, reliable energy and a successful economy. It is thinking embodied in a quote by the British Comedian Victoria Wood ‘Well, we don’t need coal, now that we’ve got electricity’. Successive British Governments have been seduced by the AGW fallacies, and perhaps only now are they beginning to realise what they have wrought. Lord Monckton – have you ever fancied a go at being Prime Minister? In Australia, where I lived for 15 years, the (Labour) government has also been seduced/cajoled as a result of populism and a Faustian deal with Greens and Independents to take power. A carbon tax is in now in place to penalise Australians who want to make a living and live a life. Ironically, Australia has been subject to the same mismanagement as Britain, in terms of energy and industry, but has been largely spared the consequences by a sustained mining boom, especially in coal and iron ore. Its biggest customer is China, which recently overtook the US as the World’s larger carbon (dioxide) emitter (a lot of it Australian-sourced carbon), and has an annual GDP growth rate in excess of 10% (and no carbon tax to speak of). Fortunately, South Africa, where I now live, is far more pragmatic than both the UK and Australia, albeit out of necessity. Having experienced extended rolling black-outs for several years due to mismanagement of the power infrastructure, the government-owned utility is currently frantically building 6GW of coal-fired base load capacity, and is contemplating a major nuclear expansion. The nice thing about reality is that it is immune to seduction by fallacious argument.

beesaman

Alarmism creeps in everywhere,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17777327
What a good job the ‘team’ has done!

Stacey

Very good and educativonal.
What about arumenti Taurus ad manurei 🙂

Somebody

There are countless fallacies used by the religious AGW dogma. Just an example: the fallacy of equivocation between a real temperature (a local temperature) with the ‘global temperature’, which is no physical temperature. It might be a metaphysical, a pseudo-scientific pseudo-temperature, but it’s not a physical temperature. A temperature for Earth cannot be defined. People should look more into the definitions. The physical ones, not the pseudo-scientifical ones. There is also a mighty equivocation between physical heat and the pseudoscientifical ‘heat’ they are using in the argumentation. Even for a real physical system (in the sense that physical parameters are used to describe it, instead of the pseudo-scientifical ones used by the AGW doctrine), one can have a rising temperature, with the sistem cooling (example: a system with an exothermal chemical reaction inside, which is cooled, but not enough to have the relationship they claim it is between ‘heating’ or ‘cooling’ and ‘temperature’), or a constant temperature (a cvasistatically heated water and ice mixture). So counterexamples can be presented even for simple systems, for the physical temperature and physical heat.
It’s very obvious that for the pseudo-scientifical ‘temperature’ is way easier to falsify the claim of heating, by presenting counterexamples (a single fact can falsify a theory, but not so with the true believers, though), just think of non homogeneous systems (big news: this is the case for Earth) and their pseudoscientifical average temperature. Simply letting them mix can lead to ‘cooling’ or ‘heating’ (in the AGW pseudo-scientific sense), depending on how they are in the initial state, how they mix, and how the pseudo-scientifical average temperature is defined. With no physical heating or cooling at all. Or even with the reverse of what the evolution of the pseudo-scientifical temperature ‘shows’. That is, the physical heat can have a different sign than the pseudo-scientifical heat. One can have physical cooling, with pseudo-scientifical ‘heating’ (that is, an increase in the pseudoscientifical average temperature). In very simple systems, way simpler than the Earth.

Otter

harrydhuffman (@harrydhuffman) says:
April 21, 2012 at 3:23 am
Aristotle’s opinions–I repeat, opinions–held back physical science for 2,000 years.
—-
Are we talking about the same ancient Greeks who had their own Computer, for determining the motion of the planets?

‘But I know the climate “debate” is really a political, fighting war, waged with words. Just don’t fool yourselves that it has advanced, or will advance, true science one whit.’

You know, we WON the war in Viet Nam. The North Vietnamese told us this, years later.
But it is written in the histories that we lost. Know why? Lying BASTARDS like john ‘effing’ kerry.
We won’t win the argument if we just stand back and let people like connolley, mann, hansen, suzuki and the like, continue to shriek uninterupted.

Pete in Cumbria UK

There are a dozen fig trees in a government building, in London. Very lovely, for some.
any alternatives would be “more expensive, disruptive and increase our carbon footprint”, a proposal to the Commons Finance and Services Committee will reportedly say.
They have beaten down the cost to the UK taxpayer of these trees from >£30,000pa to ~£18,000pa. Hurrah!
But, considering their ‘carbon footprint’ considerations, how much carbon resource had to be used to generate that £18,000? Someone somewhere had to have paid £18k’s worth in tax, involving some planetary resource (mostly carbon probably) and to pay £18k in tax would have had to do nearer £40k of work/resource use, in the UK.
Is Australian coal still going for AU$100 per ton? If so, I get roughly 60,000 tons of coal for my £40k. That is one helluva footprint for 12 trees. Per year.
And they think they’re doing good. Madness.

Pete in Cumbria UK

Calculator and brain fail, my battery’s nearly done and my coffee cup’s empty.
600 tons of coal is still one major heap of stuff tho innit.

Andrew

RE
harrydhuffman (@harrydhuffman) says:
@ April 21, 2012 at 3:23 am
“Aristotle’s opinions–I repeat, opinions–held back physical science for 2,000 years.”
————–
Wow… now that’s what I call an impressive set of opinions…!

Thanks, Christopher. Of your guest posts here at WUWT, I’ve enjoyed this one the most.

Who could call Aristotle “pedantic”? Someone who uses the word “rhetoricians”.
Sounds like he’s smart, but really not so much.