Last weekend I posted an essay on what I considered to be a pointless invocation of Godwins Law by my friend James Delingpole:
(Note: For those of you who don’t know, Delingpole was the first to pick up on Climategate and give it MSM legs in the Telegraph, for that we owe him gratitude. )
In my essay I had harsh words for people on both sides of the climate debate, pointing out where there’s more than enough instances of blame to go around. Both sides have fallen into the Godwin’s Law trap. From Wikipedia:
Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) is an observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.
When James invoked Nuremberg comparisons, he became another Godwin’s Law statistic, joining some other loud voices on the AGW advocacy side of the debate.
Normally, when you point out where they’ve fallen into such a rhetorical trap, especially with friends, they thank you for helping them to realize this. I was quite surprised to find that Mr. Delingpole has made not one, but two critical responses to my essay:
After contemplation of his reaction, I wrote a thank you letter to James for the kind words that he did mention about me (to which he responded positively), and I have now condensed the problem of our differences down to what I believe is a simple misunderstanding on Mr. Delingpole’s part.
I wrote in my original essay:
My point is, no matter who says it, in whatever context, it will turn into a shouting match no matter how many qualifiers or caveats you attach to it, and we simply don’t need it, because all it does is polarize the tribal nature of the climate debate even further.
To Delingpole, take a cue from Dave Roberts at Grist: fix it and apologize. To Mann, Romm, and others, clean up your own house before taking your outrage further.
James took that as me suggesting that he should apologize to Dr. Michael Mann. No, I’d never make such a silly suggestion, because while Dr. Mann does have a right to be upset at what Mr. Delingpole wrote, as is typical of Dr. Mann, he took the issue, made it his own, inflated it, ran with it, and added his own brand of specially seasoned Team Outrage Sauce to it:
Should we be surprised at this inflation of Delingpole’s Godwin’s Law rhetorical flourish to “calling for my murder”? No, not at all, because Dr. Mann is quite good at taking small insignificant bits and turning them into issues, it’s what he does as his hockey stick critics will tell you.
But here’s where I think James missed a critical point, and that might be my fault for not making it clearer in my initial essay. I think my mistake was dashing off my original essay too quickly, which left some things open to interpretation.
I wasn’t suggesting James apologize to Dr. Mann, nooo, I was suggesting that James apologize to climate skeptics.
Why? Well, consider what goes on in the climate blogosphere on an almost daily basis. Since AGW proponents are having a hard time successfully arguing the science these days, what with the pause, climate sensitivity, IPCC modeling -vs- reality and other issues not working out like they hope, and with the public cooling their interest, AGW proponents rely more and more on rhetorical tricks to make their points. We see more and more hyperventilated media claims of every bit of odd weather being caused by global warming, only later to discover they are nothing but hype. We see desperately silly claims of “anything goes” when it comes to connecting AGW to weather, where no matter what the forecast and result, the unseen hand of AGW is to blame.
But, probably the most desperate examples being used by AGW proponents are the execrable tactics pioneered by Dr. Stephan Lewandowski of the University of Western Australia and his sidekick John Cook of Skeptical Science. Their tactic is the same as what was once employed in the communist USSR, a political abuse of psychiatry: paint your opponent as being mentally aberrant.
And, it is we individual climate skeptics who are the ones having to fight those rhetorical battles in the blogospheric trenches. We’ll now be in a defensive position over Delingpole’s article.
My issue with James Delingpole simply had to do with handing our opponents another tool to beat us up rhetorically with. When they want to use a broad brush to paint all climate skeptics as nutters, the last thing you want to do is indulge their fantasy by invoking Godwin’s Law, giving them rhetorical ammo that they’ll re-purpose and fire back at us. One thing I’ve learned is that climate extremists have no shame, they’ll take any issue and throw it back at us with wildly inflated claims, just look at Dr. Mann’s tweet above to see this in action.
In his letter to me James wrote that:
As a scientist you are inevitably going to think this is all about the science. it isn’t – and as I documented very carefully in Watermelons – it never was.
No, I’ve never thought that. While James and I fight the battle using different tools at our disposal, we both know that that battle lines of global warming/climate change are constantly blurred between science and politics. Some days they are entirely interchangeable as Al Gore, James Hansen, Joe Romm, Kevin Trenberth, Michael Mann, and Bill McKibben routinely demonstrate to us.
I simply think we shouldn’t hand our opponents new weapons (such as Godwin’s Law eruptions) that they will inevitably use against us; it just isn’t a good strategy. For those in the blogospheric trenches who will now be forced to defend Mr. Delingpole against hyperinflated claims of “calling for my murder” like Dr. Mann has made, I think Delingpole should offer a simple mea culpa to them for the extra difficulties they will now face in the battle.
James also wrote this in his letter to me:
We’re free and open in expressing our differences. Compare and contrast the way, for example, after Gleickgate the greens/alarmists throughout the blogosphere and the MSM pretty much closed ranks and got behind Gleick regardless of the gravity of his crime. Our side would just never do that. If any one of us was involved in serious malfeasance like identity theft, we’d be quick to condemn it.
Indeed we would, we police our own, which is why I’m pointing out this Godwin’s Law instance to James.
James does make some very good (and entertaining) rhetorical points though about the eco-oriented left , and you can read about them in his book: Watermelons: The Green Movement’s True Colors