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Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies

April 6th, 2009 · 102 Comments

Via Brad Plumer, I see Cato’s Jerry Taylor is riled at responses to an open letter ad the Institute published in which a group of scientists signed off on a statement questioning the strength of the case for catastrophic climate change. I’m broadly sympathetic with his irritation at the proportion of ad hominem attacks in debates like these, but I’m not sure I agree with his bottom line in context:

An argument’s merit has nothing to do with the motives of the arguer, the credentials of the arguer, or the popularity of the argument. Full stop. No exceptions.

As a matter of logic, of course, that’s true, but I’m not sure it’s to the point when the proximate cause of the tussle is a single-page ad consisting mostly of signatures followed by credentials. We’re accustomed to calling the “argument from authority” a fallacy, but in fact, that’s what the vast majority of us have to go on most of the time.  Provided you ensure that authority’s authority actually applies to the field in question, it’s as good a strategy as any.

Obviously, when it comes to an argument between trained scientific specialists, they ought to ignore the consensus and deal directly with the argument on its merits. But most of us are not actually in any position to deal with the arguments on the merits.  Which, of course, is why the ad itself makes only a gesture in the direction of an argument and then proceeds to the long list of names.

Sometimes the arguments are such that the specialists can develop and summarize them to the point that an intelligent layman can evaluate them. But often—and I feel pretty sure here—that’s just not the case. Give me a topic I know fairly intimately, and I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. Convincing, at any rate, to an ordinary educated person with only passing acquaintance with the topic. A specialist would surely see through it, but in an argument between us, the lay observer wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell which of us really had the better case on the basis of the arguments alone—at least not without putting in the time to become something of a specialist himself.  Actually, I have a possible advantage here as a peddler of horseshit: I need only worry about what sounds plausible. If my opponent is trying to explain what’s true, he may be constrained to introduce concepts that take a while to explain and are hard to follow, trying the patience (and perhaps wounding the ego) of the audience.

Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes. A one-way hash is a kind of “fingerprint” for messages based on the same mathematical idea: It’s really easy to run the algorithm in one direction, but much harder and more time consuming to undo.  Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that  it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.”

If we don’t sometimes defer to the expert consensus, we’ll systematically tend to go wrong in the face of one-way-hash arguments, at least outside our own necessarily limited domains of knowledge.  Indeed, in such cases, trying to evaluate the arguments on their merits will tend to lead to an erroneous conclusion more often than simply trying to gauge the credibility of the various disputants. The problem, of course, is gauging your own competence level well enough to know when to assess arguments and when to assess arguers. Thanks to the perverse phenomenon psychologists have dubbed the Dunning-Kruger effect,  those who are least competent tend to have the most wildly inflated estimates of their own knowledge and competence. They don’t know enough to know that they don’t know, as it were.

That said, a side point about this from Ryan Avent:

That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.

At a higher level of abstraction, a purist libertarian position is arguably quite radically green.  That is, assuming the harm from climate change is demonstrable, every affected property owner gets a veto over “aggression” by carbon emitters, at least on a strict Rothbardian type of view.  That’s rather too strict for my taste, but I just mean to point out that the conflict with “libertarian beliefs” here isn’t really at the level of principle or theory. If climate change is actually going to be profoundly harmful, then it’s precisely the sort of problem libertarian principles say the state ought to be trying to solve.

Addendum: Perhaps I should’ve made this clearer, but I don’t mean to deny that as a sociological matter, a general aversion to regulatory solutions has left libertarians too prone to hope the problem can be wished away as long as someone out there with a Ph.D. remains unconvinced. But it also seems as though, at least in recent years, they’ve grown out of that a bit and we’re starting to see more useful debates about exactly how bad it’s going to be, exactly how much cost is worth bearing to ameliorate or delay it to such and such an extent, and so on.

Addendum II: In the comments Pithlord lives up to his moniker:

Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as Bayesian reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers.

Tags: General Philosophy · Libertarian Theory · Science


       

 

102 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Adam // Apr 6, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    I have a bunch of thoughts on this, but I’ll make just two small points. First, you claim that a fallacious argument needs to seem clever enough to maintain plausibility:

    If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.

    I am constantly amazed by how untrue this is. I spend a lot of time explaining climate change to lay audiences, and I constantly hear objections to which I want to respond, don’t you think scientists have already considered this? Don’t you think if climate change could be debunked by a simple argument involving human exhalation of carbon dioxide, we wouldn’t be having this discussion? People have astoundingly low thresholds for accepting ideologically comfortable information, however obviously suspect. I’m sure this is true in realms other than climate change, and I’m also sure this is true of Jerry Taylor.

    Second, your final point about libertarianism doesn’t really undercut Ryan Avent at all. I’ve long been interested to hear some kind of serious libertarian treatment of environmental issues, but instead all we get is warmed-over culture war bullshit from outfits like Cato. It’s true, libertarians *could* bring an interesting perspective to bear on environmental issues, but in practice they never do. Whether you call this a matter of ideology or simple partisanship hardly seems important. The point is that libertarians appear to hew to a fixed line, much as, to an extent, we all do.

  • 2 The Bellows » Radically Green // Apr 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    [...] from Julian Sanchez: At a higher level of abstraction, a purist libertarian position is arguably quite radically [...]

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Apr 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I don’t really mean to “undercut” Ryan. If the point is that libertarians have resisted the growing climate change consensus less on sound evidentiary grounds than because they’re averse to the kind of expansive government regulation that it justifies, even on their own premises… well, I think that’s clearly right as a sociological point.

    I really just meant to stress that this isn’t like (say) drug prohibition, where we might be biased toward downplaying the harms of drug use because we have an independent, principled reason to oppose prohibition even if marijuana is really terrible for you. Rather, this is a case where if catastrophic climate change is likely, and government has reasonable prospects of averting some of that harm, then the position on principle ought to be to want government to do something about it.

  • 4 arthegall // Apr 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    FWIW, I think when you say “most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry,” you actually mean most public-key cryptographic systems are based on one-way functions — and one in particular (RSA) is based on building one-way functions out of the presumed hardness of factoring large numbers.

    But there are plenty of cryptographic systems that aren’t public-key, and that are symmetric (AES, DES, and like a billion others). IANAE, but my understanding is that a lot of cryptographic protocols use a public-key system to exchange session-specific private keys, which are then used for all further communication…

    Or maybe it all depends on what you mean by “system.”

    At any rate, the asymmetry of one-way functions is a pretty powerful concept in cryptography, as well as other fields, but it’s by no means universal…

  • 5 salient // Apr 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Hopefully, this article will be sufficiently widely disseminated to ensure “one-way hash argument” enters the idiomatic lexicon. It’s the perfect phrase for that characteristic.

    A quibble: I think you meant to link to cryptographic hash functions.

  • 6 Jason // Apr 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    In three paragraphs you have stated exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate for some time now.

    Indeed, in a world where there is too much information and not enough time, even highly educated people can be convinced by “one-way hash arguments” if the material is specialized enough. Hence, we look to referents to guide us–the affiliations of the author, the author’s past history and implied motivations, the context within which the debate takes place. These are usually more easily understood. Whether or not they in fact bear on the arguments is irrelevant, for we come to assume that *everyone* deals in one-way hash arguments.

    In essence, then, educated people (like myself) become highly tuned to sussing out ulterior motives, rather than evaluating arguments on their merits. We become expert interpreters of references, rather than evaluators of fact and logic.

  • 7 Julian Sanchez // Apr 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    arthegall-
    Yeah, I was thinking of the public key handshake that opens sessions, even if the session itself is encrypted with a symmetric algorithm.

    Jason-
    That’s actually a great follow-up point: The more complexity renders us unable to directly evaluate arguments, the more we let those skills atrophy and instead develop our sensitivity to the credibility of the arguer. But that shift in emphasis itself makes us still more dependent on expertise… nasty little feedback loop.

  • 8 Libertarians and Climate Change — Objectively Biased // Apr 7, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    [...] to climate change. He’s taken this beating for good reason, in my opinion. A few of the best, from Julian Sanchez: At a higher level of abstraction, a purist libertarian position is arguably quite [...]

  • 9 Jeremy Pober // Apr 7, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Julian,
    I agree with your basic point @ryan, but I worry that by calling the problem sociological (which is a true albeit vague statement) is that we might end up thinking of it as merely sociological, and I think there’s more going on.

    Avent isn’t the first blogger to make the criticism that libertarianism is somehow averse to empirical evidence when its implications favor regulation. A while ago, I respondedto Yglesias and Ezra Klein (the latter of whom cited you today in agreement, in some irony) making similar but more general claims.

    The thing is, I think, as I said then and again more recently, that the problem is neither a necessary implication of libertarian principles nor is it a mere accident of social custom. Rather, it’s a by-product of the fact that there’s a market for intellectual-sounding justifications for bad conservative ideas, and people who call themselves libertarian are often the most willing to take the job.

  • 10 Not quite peer-reviewed Monday, but related! « info-fetishist // Apr 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    [...] 7, 2009 by Anne-Marie So slammed, so briefly (well, for me).  Via CrookedTimber, a pointed to this post by Julian Sanchez on argumentative fallacies, experts, non-experts and debates about clima…. It’s well worth reading, especially if you are interested in the question of how non-experts [...]

  • 11 Pithlord // Apr 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as Bayesian reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers.

  • 12 Brian Egan // Apr 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Very interesting post!

    “Indeed, in such cases, trying to evaluate the arguments on their merits will tend to lead to an erroneous conclusion more often than simply trying to gauge the credibility of the various disputants.”

    I find my best solution is to evaluate the merits of arguments I can follow to determine the relative credibility of each side. For example, when people say “We’re experiencing Global Cooling.” It’s easy to look at the graph and recognize that, yes, since 2006 the last two years the temperature has dropped. However, it’s easy to spot that 2006 is a cherry picked date (much like the oft-used 1998), and that “Global cooling” conclusion is really quite ridiculous when you extend your endpoint to the beginning of recorded data.

    The fact that people who reject the GW hypothesis try to claim there’s global cooling is mathematical ineptitude at best, and deceptive horseshit at worst. Either way, that side loses a great deal of credibility based on the poor merits of an argument I can comprehend.

    After reviewing a number of arguments like this (scientists in the 70s said there was going to be global cooling [no they didn't], It’s the Urban Heat Island effect! [no it's not, that's accounted for], Minnesota is sure experiencing a cold snap [Minnesota isn't the globe]), you often begin to find a pattern of credibility in one direction.

    That way we can evaluate the merits of the basic arguments as well, but as part of the credibility evaluation. If one side is messing up the little stuff, it’s hard to take their in-depth analyses as seriously.

    This does lead us down the credibility track — the fallacy from authority — but at least it’s a considered rather than blind authority.

    Thanks for your time!

  • 13 icehawk // Apr 8, 2009 at 5:32 am

    An analogy you may find apt, which comes from the word of educational research:

    If you’re doing a multi-choice test and you can’t choose between two possible answers that seem likely, pick the longer one.

    The reason relates to the effect you mention: it’s easy to come up with brief good-seeming bullshit but describing the truth takes precision and attention to detail. So a test-writer can quickly rattle off brief, punchy distractors but very often has to spend more words on the correct answer.

    [ As an aside: Writing good multi-choice tests is harder than you might think. Of course the pros writing the big exams (SATs et cetera) do the maths to make sure that their distractors average as long as their real answers. But most test writers aren't pros of that type, and tests written by a normal college prof or school teacher are very susceptible to this effect. ]

  • 14 Michael Turner // Apr 8, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Hopefully, this article will be sufficiently widely disseminated to ensure “one-way hash argument” enters the idiomatic lexicon.

    Most excellent. We’ll know it’s firmly planted when the folk etymology of it is asserted to be something about smoking a certain Lebanese export that causes people to talk but not listen, spout but not think. “Cramer’s been smoking One Way Hash again.” I like the sound of it already.

  • 15 Barry // Apr 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Julian: “As a matter of logic, of course, that’s true,…”

    I beg to disagree. That sort of logic falls under the rubric ‘lies told to children’, something which applies only under certain ritualized games (i.e., formal debate). IMHO, it hampers seeking the truth. As an example, not how few times Iraq War supporters could appear in public, without their opponents calling them on their previous errors.

  • 16 Chris G // Apr 8, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Picking up on Pithlord’s comment a bit (brilliantly put), one might think of it in terms of the amount of information we actually gain from a source’s opinion.

    Cato has entirely predictable opinions on economic topics; it is unsurprising that there exist scientists who believe the global warming threat is exaggerated; and it is unsurprising that Cato could elicit their signatures for the ad. The probability of global warming, and its expected severity, are changed very little by the ad’s existence.

    But in an extreme example, if Cato came around to the opinion of most environmentalists, or conversely if a group like WWF started questioning the science, that would significantly raise/lower the chances of global warming in my mind.

    I think more ideally, we’ve got a lot to learn directly from experts whose judgments we deem to be independent of ideology (such independence is of course insufficient for trust). The question is then how we may effectively aggregate those opinions *ourselves* without relying on Cato or WWF to do it for us. And if we don’t have the resources for such direct aggregation, how biased (or predictable) is the aggregation we rely on, the “meta-authority” so to speak?

  • 17 Eli Rabett // Apr 8, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Well, as proof of what you say, some of those “scientists” were dentists or worse. As a matter of fact a lot of them were worse, for example

    James DeMeo, Ph.D, University Of Kansas (retired).

    Well the Ph.D. is for real, and it is from the University of Kansas, where James got his Ph.D. in 1986, but other than that Cato is writing science fiction. DeMeo’s CV says that while he was a graduate student at Kansas he was an instructor. Wanna bet he was a Teaching Assistant.

    DeMeo is, well, unique. His day job is head of the Orgone Biophysical Research Lab. What is that you ask, something near Salem, OR. Close, but no, poor bunnies, a follower of William Reich, an around the bend psychiatrist from the last century. One of Freuds kookier successors. DeMeo himself could give Piers Corbyn a run for his money.

    It goes downhill from there

  • 18 Michael Turner // Apr 8, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    The probability of global warming, and its expected severity, are changed very little by the ad’s existence.

    Perhaps, but you cannot prove this absolutely without resort to a theory of Orgone Energy. ;-)

    No, really: I see your point. It would be nice if you could factor ideology out of these debates. The best you can say in this one (AFAIK) is that scientists generally tend to be very slightly right of center, but scientists nevertheless generally buy AGW. That’s not really enough, though, because what you really want is a climate science focus.

    Here’s an example I like: not so many years ago, James Hansen suggested that efforts should focus, in the near term, on curbing emissions of GHGs other than CO2. Limit CO2 emissions over the long term, just not right then. His theory was that the investment required for curbing non-CO2 GHGs would have much greater bang for the buck, while leaving fossil-fueled economic growth to continue on, effectively untrammeled. You’d be making a dent in the interim, while increasing the total wealth available to make a larger dent, later on. It was a proposal for how to optimize the investment.

    I don’t think Hansen holds this position now. However, for me, knowing that he had proposed it at all makes his other positions generally more credible. It identifies him (to me, anyway) as a creative thinker, as being no enemy of economic growth per se, not much of an ideologue at all.

  • 19 Thoreau // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:46 am

    Good post, Julian. And good comment by pithlord.

    Stepping away from AGW, for a moment, it’s worth noting that even experts will often have a hard time debunking arguments from a bullshit artist. For instance, a paleontologist may be great at debunking creationist arguments regarding the fossil record, but may not be able to refute the specifics of a creationist argument regarding some proteins involved in blood clotting and the possibility that these proteins are “too complex.” Oh, the paleontologist probably knows enough to detect the BS and explain the basic ideas, but if the creationist has done his homework he can probably toss out enough minutiae on blood clotting to make himself look better-informed than the paleontologist.

    I mean, hell, I’m a theoretical physicist, and I would have trouble arguing with a cold fusion afficionado. He could probably start going on about the specifics of some experiments that I have not in fact examined personally, and then talk about some details of a particular mechanism that I am not an expert on. And if he tosses out enough detail, guess who seems to be better informed? (Hint: Not me.)

  • 20 Thoreau // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:52 am

    BTW, part of the problem here is that the paleontologist or the theoretical physicist is, as the good guy, obligated to follow certain rules of rigor. Can I make a confident assertion about an experiment where I am not an expert on the specific methods? Can I really just rule out a phenomenon if somebody comes along with a detailed mechanism and I don’t know enough to find a hole in the mechanism?

    So if I get into a rhetorical battle with a bullshit artist, I may be forced to back down on certain points, because I have to be honest in the statements I make. The bullshit artist doesn’t play by those rules.

  • 21 Barry // Apr 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Adding on to Thoreau’s points – PZ Myers once pointed out that the job of a creationist was easier, because all that the creationist had to do was BS and critique (and not even validly critique). Biologists have to do actual science.

    The classic example being the ‘Gish Gallop'; just throw out assertions as fast as possible, knowing that it takes seconds to assert, but minutes to disprove an assertion.

  • 22 Science Reading Roundup § Unqualified Offerings // Apr 10, 2009 at 1:35 am

    [...] Julian Sanchez has a nice post on appealing to “expert [...]

  • 23 dhex // Apr 10, 2009 at 8:59 am

    “The bullshit artist doesn’t play by those rules.”

    definitely a handicap.

    on the plus side, people are already going to believe whichever set of experts (or “experts”) they are already inclined to believe; my example along these lines is the uninformed “believer” of evolution contra the uninformed believer of creationism/ID. neither is actually very well-informed, and one just happens to be on the side of the angles – har har – because of their pre-existing biases.

  • 24 TGGP // Apr 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Thanks to the perverse phenomenon psychologists have dubbed the Dunning-Kruger effect, those who are least competent tend to have the most wildly inflated estimates of their own knowledge and competence.
    Further studies have shown that all are skill unaware.

  • 25 Have Coffee Will Write » Blog Archive » WHAT IT MEANS TO BE OPEN MINDED… // Apr 12, 2009 at 10:11 am

    [...] Daily Dish, which also linked to Julian Sanchez’s excellent discussion of agrumentative fallacies yesterday. Posted in Superstition & Ignorance, Video, What They [...]

  • 26 The “one-way hash” argument « Michael Jeans // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    [...] hash” argument Posted 12 April 2009 Filed under: Web | Tags: American politics | Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies from Julian [...]

  • 27 Good Things I read this week, 4/10 edition « Rortybomb // Apr 12, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    [...] Things I read this week, 4/10 edition Posted in Uncategorized by Mike on April 10, 2009 Julian Sanchez: We’re accustomed to calling the “argument from authority” a fallacym but in fact, that’s [...]

  • 28 k_michael // Apr 13, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Two things come to the top of my mind.

    First, regarding the phenomenon whereby a BS artist can learn enough about some specific obscure detail to appear as though a strong argument is being presented: there is an old saying, “If you can’t impress them with brilliance, baffle ‘em with BS”. This is actually practical advice, because most people *are* baffled by the BS, especially when presented with confidence and, most importantly, volume.

    Second, regarding the “controversy” regarding AGW, two things seem primary to me; first is, one needs to examine who benefits from the ‘pro-AGW’ and ‘anti-AGW’ arguments – in the case of ‘pro-AGW’, some companies will benefit, but the end-goal is for all people (and living things0 to benefit, whereas, in the case fo the anti-AGW argument, it seems to always end at teh benefit being to short-term Big Oil profits; the second thing regarding the “controversy” is, IMO, the most important question, namely: What is the worst that can happen if the ‘pro-AGW’ people are wrong and we choose to buckle down and go green “unnecessarily”, and what is conversely the worst that can happen if the anti-AGW people are wrong but we’ve followed their “drill baby drill” mantra with NO investment in either renewable energy or environmental remediation?

    The fact is that the people concerned about AGW take a long-term view – as in, sustainable quality of life for a great many generations to come, whereas the AGW denilaists are myopic, concerned only with profits (or not paying taxes) the next 5 or 10 years.

    That in and of itself should indicate the suspect motives of teh latter.

  • 29 Julian Sanchez talks about the “one way hash argument” « International Journal of Inactivism — Mindless Link Propagation section // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:00 am

    [...] am on April 14, 2009 | # | 0 Via Michael Tobis: Julian Sanchez says: [...] there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” [...]

  • 30 bi -- IJI // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Michael Turner:

    We’ll know it’s firmly planted when the folk etymology of it is asserted to be something about smoking a certain Lebanese export that causes people to talk but not listen, spout but not think. “Cramer’s been smoking One Way Hash again.” I like the sound of it already.

    Win. :-)

    * * *

    About “one-way hash” arguments, there are certain fallacious arguments which look hard to debunk on first sight, but aren’t actually so. (A cryptographic trapdoor, if you will.)

    E.g. When one says “climate has always changed”, it’s like a murder suspect saying “people have always died”. Saying that a few hundred ppm of carbon dioxide can’t affect the global climate is like saying that a small amount of poison can’t kill a person.

    bi

  • 31 The problem with judging an argument by its merits » Mind of Dan // Apr 14, 2009 at 1:59 am

    [...] As a matter of logic, of course judging an argument by it’s merits is the only way to go. There is one major problem however, most of us simply aren’t in a position to judge an argument by its merits, and given a skilled peddler of horseshit attempting to judge an argument by its merits can easily lead us in the wrong direction thanks to what Julian Sanchez  calls the “one way hash” argument.  [...]

  • 32 ScruffyDan // Apr 14, 2009 at 2:16 am

    Very well written. I have made similar points several times, but never as eloquently as you.

    Well done.

  • 33 Thoughts on juries for intellectual property lawsuits | Freedom to Tinker // Apr 14, 2009 at 8:45 am

    [...] discussion shows up in a recent blog post by Julian Sanchez and a followup by Eric Rescorla. Sanchez’s thesis is that it’s much easier to make a scientific [...]

  • 34 Thoughts on juries for intellectual property lawsuits // Apr 14, 2009 at 10:51 am

    [...] discussion shows up in a recent blog post by Julian Sanchez and a followup by Eric Rescorla. Sanchez’s thesis is that it’s much easier to make a scientific [...]

  • 35 Max // Apr 15, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    “An argument’s merit has nothing to do with the motives of the arguer, the credentials of the arguer, or the popularity of the argument. Full stop. ”

    Doesn’t this also mean the signatures on the ad itself carry no weight? One might as well have the signatures of Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears and Ginger Spice.

  • 36 Graham Shevlin // Apr 21, 2009 at 9:18 am

    This is an excellent posting, but it does miss a key point in the whole climate change debate.
    Those of us who have read George Lakoff’s book “Moral Politics” and it’s spin-off books such as “Don’t Think Of An Elephant” recognize many of the “arguments” presented by climate change skeptics and deniers as examples of framing. The plausibility or credibility of the argument is almost irrelevant. The objective is to get a catch-phrase or concept (what Lakoff terms a reference frame) out there into the public sphere from which a position can be argued. As Lakoff points out, if you can do that, and force your opponents to use your language, you already have the advantage.
    When I see what looks superficially like a pile of half-baked nonsense masquerading as an argument on any complex subject these days, the first question I ask myself is: is this actually an attempt at an argument, or is it really an attempt to seed a reference frame? I think if you go and look at a lot of the assertions being peddled by climate change skeptics and deniers (especially those deniers who are being wholly or partially funded by organizations engaging in special pleading) they are really attempting to seed reference frames in order to have a concept to key off in subsequent debates.

  • 37 On bullsh*t and science journalism « A Fistful of Science // Apr 24, 2009 at 12:55 am

    [...] bullsh*t and science journalism By JR Minkel Reading Mike the Mad Biologist quote Julian Sanchez on the asymmetrical advantage of bullshit says a lot about what it’s like to be a science [...]

  • 38 bi -- IJI // Apr 25, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Graham Shevlin:

    And what, pray, is this ‘reference frame’ in the climate change ‘debate’?

    bi

  • 39 Luke O'Connor // Apr 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    A really excellent post, which I came to via a link from a security blog where the author was berating you for improper use of cryptography terminology. As a former cryptographer, I think the analogy captures the essence of the issue very well – there can be a huge discrepency between the effort to convincingly state a false argument and the effort to debunk it.

    I think the term “one-way hash argument” is a bit wordy, and I would prefer “hashed argument” (if that does not mean a messy argument), a “product argument” or even a “boiled egg argument” (boiling is very hard to undo).

    A second point is that being an expert in a topic and being able to argue about a topic (especially to a lay audience) are two very different skills, and few people with the former have the latter. The real worry is that there are seemingly many people who only have the latter generic skill, and they are the worry. A good football player may not make a good commentator but a good commentator may need never have played football. It’s not all about knowledge and credentials when it comes to pursuasion.

  • 40 links for 2009-05-15 « tom // May 16, 2009 at 12:15 am

    [...] Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.” (tags: blog climatechange arguments logic) [...]

  • 41 links for 2009-05-15 « Tom Seymour // May 16, 2009 at 4:15 am

    [...] Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.” (tags: blog climatechange arguments logic) [...]

  • 42 A Comment on the NBA Draft and Some Cutting and Pasting « The Wages of Wins Journal // May 26, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    [...] few weeks ago Julian Sanchez offered the following comment on the climate change debate.  What Sanchez had to say was then [...]

  • 43 Perils of pop philosophy // Jun 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    [...] given only very sporadic attention since my undergrad days. Second, it’s something of a one-way hash: For every confused or muddled claim, it would take about a dozen paragraphs of explication to make [...]

  • 44 DeafScribe // Jun 2, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Mark Twain would’ve grasped the one-way hash concept immediately.

    As he put it, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

  • 45 Oblat // Jun 2, 2009 at 7:46 am

    >In essence, then, educated people (like myself) become highly tuned to sussing out ulterior motives, rather than evaluating arguments on their merits. We become expert interpreters of references, rather than evaluators of fact and logic.

    Yes because the real issue domain isn’t science at all, it’s politics – and politics is not about logic it’s about power relationships.

    One problem is that most people think that science is the same as politics, it is not supposed to be, the processes in science are supposed to be very different. But science is used as a political tool to justify a political stance.

    One way hashes is a minor part of the problem – It’s not that people don’t know enough to understand the logic of disproving something – they can’t even understand the case for their position itself.

    Unless you are a climatologist it is nonsensical to be reasoning about the science of climate change – you know far too little. But it is valid to ask the far simpler political question of who is benefiting from what positions.

    The climate change deniers cant ask that question because their position is that there is a global conspiracy of climate change scientists who simply out of spite want to destroy the worlds economy. This is so fanciful that it’s no wonder that they are all for discussing anything but politics.

  • 46 David // Jun 2, 2009 at 8:16 am

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the biggest scam of ‘scholarly’ one-way hashery perpetrated in this generation. Dr. Alan Sokal and his article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” in the ‘scholarly’ journal Social Text. His set the standard for hashing and the failures of reliance on authority. Another, far most insidious example is the recent admission by publishing giant Reed Elsiver that “…it had failed to meet its own “high standards for disclosure” when it produced a magazine that pretended to be an independent scientific journal but was actually a marketing front for Merck’s anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx. The Amsterdam-based publisher is part of the Reed Elsevier group, which produces the Lancet, the authoritative medical journal that has accused Merck of selling Vioxx after it became aware of the drug’s heart risks. “http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25441167-23289,00.html

    In both cases we are left with ‘hashed’ arguments which are compounded by the rubber stamp of authority. Thus, while it may be reasonable to rely on ad verecundiam arguments under average circumstances as the author and numerous comments above claim (and on which most of Madison Ave. is build), my lack of any clear guidelines to tell me when not to trust that authority lead me to believe that even while I choose to listen to a particular authority, it should retain it’s seating as not just a fallacy but among the most dangerous for it’s capacity for catastrophic deceptions such as the above.

  • 47 Yargnad // Jun 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

    It sounds like you have let the cat out the bag. I don’t think Republicans would like you giving away their secrets. Hopefully they won’t understand concepts like one-way hash, completely glaze over, and continue to perpetuate Rush and O’Reilly’s “Talking Points.”

  • 48 Tin King // Jun 2, 2009 at 9:07 am

    I think I would agree with you in general, but no one seems to have pointed out that you are close to arguing something which you would probably disagree with. Consider this:

    “We must let the scientific priesthood decide on the infallible truth (of today), while us laypeople just have blind faith that they are following the ancient epistemological rituals. Do not listen to the heretics who question our consensus!”

    I’m sure you’d think that the scientific method is able to accept heresy that is based on reason, but how would you test that hypothesis without first accepting the scientific method?

    I guess science isn’t that far from faith after all.

  • 49 BillK // Jun 2, 2009 at 9:47 am

    The notion of a one way hash argument is interesting but is really just a clever and elegant pejorative; it’s descriptive but not predictive.

    Without taking sides in the global warming debate, I notice that most (all?) of the posters on this topic seem to believe that they are competent to judge the scientific merits of that debate by making an informal assessment of the rhetoric on each side.

    Not to put too a fine a point on it, that’s BS. Qui bono is a legal notion, not a scientific one. A scientific argument is tested by the data not by reputation. If you use reputation as a proxy, you’re merely admitting that you are not competent or you are too lazy to judge the scientific merits.

    If the warming models are sufficiently accurate, we will look back and see just how misguided the those obnoxious deniers were. On the other hand, if global average temperatures do not increase then the hysterics will have been proven wrong and we’ll be entitled to kick their asses.

    The scientific debate is rancorous but in the literature the signal to noise ratio is high. In popular forums (like this one) it approaches zero. Science is always difficult and often tedious and is best left to the people who do it for a living. Too many people have opinions that they really cannot justify, in fact do not even know how to justify. Doing climate research, cosmology or genetics, requires particular skills and training that most people do not possess. Without those skills and that training opinions are worthless.

  • 50 Mike // Jun 2, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Excellent article.

    To some of the other posters – although I will go along with you on the veracity of the global warming hypothesis, I think some of you do those who mistrust it (or more importantly, mistrust the proposed solutions to it) a disservice.

    “Scientists” (as if we were such a well-defined and homogeneous group) may not have ulterior motives for pushing end of the world catastrophe scenarios, but the individual authors of various papers do (it gets them name recognition, or even just justifies all of the effort they are doing). That isn’t the core concern, though. The problem is that by the time global warming science filters down to the policy level, it has been so warped as to lose any relationship to sound scientific concerns.

    I have unfortunately heard very few reasoned arguments about the cost benefit analysis of ways to stop global warming, especially regarding how anything we do will affect the developing world. It is entirely possible that the end result of the increased government control over industry, active brakes on economic development that emission caps will cause, and possible wasted government expenditure on green technologies that are evaluated based on their political correctness more than merit could result in a worse long-term situation than the expected results of continued emissions.

    Note that I say the expected results, as media depictions of global warming (ie, what most people know to base their decisions on) range from Venusian destruction to slightly longer harvests.

    Emission cap proponents also seem to ignore concerns about global power balance as the US trades economic concerns for ecological ones while its rival countries do not.

    All this is in addition to the real human cost of increasing the base price for energy.

    Libertarians (I would argue, anyway) see the problem as not so in need of immediate action that market forces will not eventually solve it – witness the massive increase in investment in green technologies when oil prices rose, without government intervention. They would argue that the only way we will come up with an effective solution is when it is driven by market forces, rather than politics, and that the only real solution in the long term is new technology that makes it cheaper to be green than to burn coal.

    Now, of course this all falls on its head if we do not have enough time between when the market forces for greener solutions materialize and when we need to have our emissions cut to be able to do anything. Nor does it excuse the fact that many conservatives and libertarians ignore the science for global warming because one possible (and possibly, the best) solution for it involves government intervention.

    But there are… if not good arguments, at least concerns that we have, based on the politics of it, and unfortunately the movement has become political enough to cast aspersions on the science behind it, warranted or not. As some have said here – unless we know enough to interpret the journal papers ourselves, we can only rely on authority, and the authorities who voices actually get to the people are all political.

  • 51 Steven Devijver // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Obviously, when it comes to an argument between trained scientific specialists, they ought to ignore the consensus and deal directly with the argument on its merits. But most of us are not actually in any position to deal with the arguments on the merits.

    Whenever there is scientific proof there doesn’t need to a consensus. There is no such thing as a consensus on the law of gravity. Instead we all assume there is sufficient proof, or we don’t give our peculiar attraction to the ground a second thought.

    A consensus is only required when it is impossible to acquire proof through the scientific method, that is in the absence of proof. A scientific consensus is then the same as a square circle: it doesn’t make sense.

    Steven

  • 52 Patrick Glennon // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:27 am

    When you start thinking about thinking, I think it is easy to go down rabbit holes. The question seems to be “how do you evaluate the merits of an argument you don’t understand”, with the result being “check if the argument is from someone smart who is doing what they are smart at”. I think it’s already been asked here indirectly, but my question is, why are you evaluating an argument you don’t understand? The answer is already given, you do so for political reasons, not scientific. And if you are doing so for political reasons, then I fail to see how weighing it on the merits of authority is any more or less valid than weighing it on the merits of your own preconceptions. Both are suspect, and I’m not sure that there is a reliable quantitative difference between those flawed approaches.

    Still, I can’t help but find the discussion fascinating…

  • 53 C. Conrad Cady // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:44 am

    The term “one-way hash” has little or nothing to do with the difficulty of factoring large products of primes.

    The author writes: A one-way hash is a kind of “fingerprint” for messages based on the same mathematical idea: It’s really easy to run the algorithm in one direction, but much harder and more time consuming to undo.

    A hash function is a lossy calculation which comes up with a number based on a large set of data. Two different large sets of data can (but are unlikely to) come up with the same number. It is not possible to reverse a hash and come up with the original data, because a hash function loses much of the information.

    Public key cryptography relies on the multiplication of two large prime numbers. Given the product, it is *very* hard to go backward and figure out the original two primes, but it is possible. That is called a “trap-door” algorithm, and has a sort of “one-wayness” which is confusing the author. But trap-door algorithms have little or nothing to do with hash functions.

    Actually, I have a possible advantage here as a peddler of horseshit: I need only worry about what sounds plausible. If my opponent is trying to explain what’s true, he may be constrained to introduce concepts that take a while to explain and are hard to follow, trying the patience (and perhaps wounding the ego) of the audience.

    Indeed. This is a brilliant article because it uses the same plausible tactics to explain the term “one-way hash argument” that the article itself describes.

  • 54 Tom // Jun 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    It should be noted that the “difficulty” of factoring integers is literally a matter of faith. The problem has stood the “test of time”, and therefore, it’s considered a hard problem because the mathematicians, cryptographers, computer scientists, and hobbyists have found it to be difficult. To date, there is no proof whatsoever that factoring is hard.

    In other words, by believing that factoring is hard, you’ve fallen victim to yet another argument from authority.

  • 55 Mike // Jun 2, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    What definition of “hard” is there aside from “we haven’t found an easy way to do it yet”?

  • 56 Julian Sanchez // Jun 2, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Conrad-
    Yeah, my phrasing here is suboptimal. I brought up cryptography because I figured it was the example of a one-way function that would be most familiar to readers. I didn’t mean to imply that fingerprint hashes were produced by the same mathematical process, I was just trying to lead with the example I figured people would recognize of “easy to go from A->B, hard or impossible to go from B->A”.

  • 57 Alan // Jun 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    With respect to creationism and other pseudo-scientific claptrap, mentioned by Thoreau, one need only recall that by definition, a scientific theory makes testable claims. As creationism (and “scientific atheism” too, for that matter) make no testable claims, their assertions do not qualify as scientific theories.

    You gotta love the way creationists and their ilk work though. “Evolution is not a proven fact,” they say. Absolutely brilliant. What a frame (in the Lakoff sense). By stating the blindingly obvious, that a certain widely accepted theory is not a proven fact, the public is led down the garden path to a completely false conclusion.

  • 58 Lonny Eachus // Jun 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    At the risk of seeming to be a troll, I have to state that in my opinion, many of the arguments I see in the comments are just so much BS, or are not very relevant to the topic at hand.

    People NEED to keep in mind that the climate debate is NOT about “global warming”. We know the earth has been warming. It has been doing so for approximately 6,000 years. The relevant questions here are (and are only): “How much, if any, is caused by man?” and “What, if anything, can we do about it?”

    As for the first question, “consensus” is not science, even assuming that such a consensus indeed exists. (Naomi Oreskes “study” on the subject — the source of most claims of “conensus” — has been widely discredited.) Also, there ARE some sound scientific reasons to be skeptical about the “greenhouse gas” models of warming. For example, the upper atmosphere is not warming in proportion to the surface temperature to the extent that would be necessary if these models were correct. There is actually a great deal of scientific — not political — data that suggest a certain amount of skepticism is warranted [understatement], regardless of whether that position is a popular one today.

    As for the second question, there is a good bit of evidence that there is little we can do about much of the warming that is taking place, even with the best will in the world and a lot of resources. Economist Bjorn Lomborg takes the stance that we would be much better off spending our money and labor tackling other problems, and he is not alone in this belief. (You can see his TED talk on YouTube).

    It is completely irresponsible to claim that Libertarians, for political rather than scientific reasons, reject the idea of “global warming” in the face of “overwhelming evidence” or “global scientific consensus”. There are at least three errors or omissions in that claim:

    (1) Nobody is denying “global warming”. The issue is whether man is generating enough greenhouse gases to significantly change the environment.

    (2) The scientific evidence is not, and never has been, “overwhelming”. In fact it is rather sparse, and much of what there is, is questionable. Even some of the scientists who did the original climate studies on which the IPCC reports were based have tried to remove themselves and their studies from the reports, on the basis that their data does not support the conclusions reached by those reports. See the letter from Chris Landsea (http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/science_policy_general/000318chris_landsea_leaves.html), explaining why he no longer support the IPCC. This is just one example of many… don’t believe me, spend some time on Google and find these things for yourself. By the way, that letter explains pretty clearly that there is no data showing that global warming will lead to more frequent or stronger hurricanes. (Contrary to popular belief and “consensus” reporting.)

    (3) There is no “global scientific consensus” on the matter, and there never has been. That claim has been based on a non-peer-reviewed paper by Naomi Oreskes, for which she informally (and incorrectly) surveyed scientific papers on the subject. Her searches used blatantly flawed parameters; in effect her results were cherry-picked.

    (4) And lastly, to say that skepticism is based on political motives, rather than science, is to try to read someone’s mind. Because there are a number of good (and skeptical) minds at Cato, I respectfully suggest that maybe they did their homework, much as I have, and concluded that the evidence for human-caused greenhouse warming is woefully anemic.

  • 59 Climatebabes! // Jun 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    If you can’t follow the scientific argument you have to either choose s scientist you trust or learn about the science. In either case it is only the science, the facts you can attack.

    People have to choose their own experts. If these experts spout nonsese, they can be attacked on that.

    The whole purpose of peer review is to let this process take place within the communictyof proeple comfortable with facts and reasoning. If the largest scientific peer group draws a conclusion, that is basically the best opinion around.

    Let’s not waste time on this nonsense, lets educate people about climate change!

  • 60 iaw4 // Jun 2, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    you should look at “informational cascades”, e.g., on wikipedia. IC are a prominent economic explanation why we all listen to experts—to the point, where we may all go wrong, even if every single one of us is doing the right thing.

  • 61 Mike // Jun 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    As a developer, I think your analogy of a hashed argument is great. However your big miss here is in the notion that a layman’s lack of knowledge in a particular field makes him unable to decipher an argument on it’s merits.

    I’ve posted a length response on my blog at:
    http://www.lightandreason.com/2009/06/importance-of-layman.html

  • 62 Jay // Jun 2, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I’d argue it works both ways. On all sides of the argument, the ability of idiots to give marketable points and overcome more correct but less marketable ones means real debate of any sort is lost.

    I always worry, for example, that global warming is suffering from a “stairway to heaven” effect. Whenever people see a trend, then assume that trend will continue indefinitely without limits. The recession was caused by this effect where people figured their million dollar homes would continue to increase in value indefinitely (despite the fact that only so many people could afford a million dollar home to begin with), and an entire section of the economy grew up around profiting indefinitely. Similarly, people imagine global warming causing earth to become like Venus. The problem with this idea is that fossil fuels are caused by old biomass. Therefore, there’s an upper limit to the amount of temperature increase we can see by burning what is essentially old biomass. Since we have some idea of the amount of fossil fuels available, we should be able to easily determine the final effect of global warming without trying to scare people with the ‘rate of change’ argument.

    Because of the time spent on more marketable discussions on both sides, my ideas will never be addressed.

  • 63 Tennis Guy // Jun 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I’m beyond skeptical of the AGW argument; I’ll go so far as to say it’s a scam on a number of levels.

    It seems to me that climate science is not the kind of science well connected to a profit making enterprise, meaning if you want funding in the field, manufacturing a “climate crisis” is self serving.

    “The relevant questions here are (and are only): “How much, if any, is caused by man?” and “What, if anything, can we do about it?””

    There is a third relevant question: what is the “optimal” climate for the earth? What’s to say a warmer earth, or an earth with more CO2 is necessarily bad?

    In addition to self-serving scientists, there are legions of environmental regulators whose livelihoods are dependent on having something to regulate. Now that tailpipe emissions of harmful gasses are negligible, what’s left to regulate? CO2!

    I’ve experienced first hand the air pollution in China. I’ve also seen people living in conditions most westerners can’t imagine. It may very well be a net benefit to the Chinese to have dirty air and cheap energy from coal, until such time as their economy can afford the luxury of adding the cost necessary to clean up the air.

    Also, if “global warming” is settled science, why the need to change the moniker to “global climate change?” My understanding is that the earth stopped warming sometime in the late 1990s.
    .
    .

  • 64 Jay // Jun 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Hey, fourth relevant question: “Given that we should be able to determine the final effects of global warming (since fossil fuels are limited), is the final result of burning fossil fuels significant enough to spend fossil fuel resources reducing greenhouse gas emissions?”

  • 65 Remy Dyer // Jun 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Instead of “one way hash” , how about “entrophic” or “disorderly”?
    Maybe “devil in the details”?

    Entropy increases in the same direction as time does, and it takes a lot of effort to undo an increase in disorder;- It’s much easier to make a mess then it is to clean one up.

    Perhaps the automatic response of the scientifically minded – to explain and expose said devil – is a response best avoided in public debate?
    As those who hunt down truth in it’s natural habitat, we perhaps have an overdeveloped kill instinct for such devils – since most of what a scientist/engineer does is often plagued by such.
    Therefore the strength of the “entropic” attack is that it manipulates us to respond in lengthy and dry form.
    Perhaps a better response would just be to laugh – in order to most succinctly express the hilarity hidden in their argument? Maybe then apologise to the audience with “I’m sorry, for those that don’t see the humour – it’s an in-joke in the field.” And then move on to the attack.

  • 66 BillR // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    I clicked over here from Slashdot. Quite a shock of opposite extremes. There the writing is blunt to the point of brutality. Here the writing is so wordy as to be almost unintelligible. I think you should take one of your paragraphs to mind (Dunning-Kruger effect), and brush up on your writing skills. I think you could have made your point in about one half to two thirds the space, and made it more readable without sacrificing content.

  • 67 EvilCON » Argument from Authority // Jun 2, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    [...] Sanchez makes an interesting point that most of us rely on authority and the credibility of specialists when trying to decide the merits of … and it’s probably not a bad strategy. Between two specialists, the argument is going to come [...]

  • 68 Julian Sanchez // Jun 3, 2009 at 1:10 am

    Gosh, I guess I’l have to try and find the time to “brush up” on my writing skills.

  • 69 Ibod Catooga // Jun 3, 2009 at 2:50 am

    Giving an anal sex to a special cat does not work.

    Trust me, do NOT try it.

  • 70 markjaroski's status on Thursday, 04-Jun-09 19:42:59 UTC - Identi.ca // Jun 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    [...] not the first nor will I be the last to bookmark this: http://ur1.ca/56go #debate #reason # [...]

  • 71 RickRussellTX // Jun 4, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    “Without those skills and that training opinions are worthless.”

    True, but people with those skills are rarely interested in helping to make policy. And even if they were, there is a completely different set of skills necessary to break in to the policy-making sphere.

    So, it seems like it’s incumbent on the rest of us — who are in neither the policy-making position nor the science-investigating position — to make it clear to our leaders that we want them to seek out the most well-supported scientific positions that hold the greatest consensus in the scientific community.

    It’s not really giving up control to the scientists, because that consensus isn’t really controlled by scientists in any overt or direct way.

  • 72 “One-Way Hash Arguements” | Ken's Blog // Jun 5, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    [...] This is what I’ve been desperately trying to define. Well, he’s done the work and coined the phrase. I shall be using it much. Filed under: Uncategorized No Comments Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) ( subscribe to comments on this post ) [...]

  • 73 Stefano Bertolo // Jun 6, 2009 at 11:33 am

    The one way hash problem had been noted by Schopenhauer in his “Art of Controversy”

    http://coolhaus.de/art-of-controversy/erist28.htm

  • 74 Joey Giraud // Jun 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Excellent point, and Pithlord’s point is one of my favorites too, only I put it as “51% right is good enough until something better comes along.”

  • 75 Sarah // Jun 12, 2009 at 12:00 am

    i’ve read everyone. Thanks Julian I’m relieved to read someone trying to unpick the dreadful mess the Climate problem has descended into. As soon as it was declared from on high that the debate was over (who was that man?) the whole thing was no longer about Science but politics.
    The problem might be put this way if “The Science” relies on “The People” to act collectively you need the take that into account. Libertarian beliefs have liberated the creativity of The People and if we are to move forward this unproductive clash of ideologies has to end. Otherwise collective action to “Save the Planet” is impossible anyway.
    Following Luke “one way hash argument” works for me though I think a valve works the same way. “Valve argument” lacks descriptive appeal.
    PS Bravo Brian you echoed my thoughts.
    Yes David hashed arguments are everywhere going in both directions which tells you that the discussion has polarised and honesty has little to do with it, winning the clash is everything.
    A few phrases stand out for me “* denier (=heretic)” an ad hominem attack that’s more statement of religion rather than science. “Carbon Pollution” means the speaker is primarily interested in Politics and the Climate Change problem is a tool for something else.

  • 76 On organization, and implications thereof « The Journey of an Improbable Seeker // Jun 14, 2009 at 1:53 am

    [...] jump out at you, please understand that I may gloss over some significant facts.  Please read this and this for the gist of the pitfalls here.  There’s also the fact that while I know a lot [...]

  • 77 Hi, Bob // Jun 17, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    [...] among the readers of this humble blog. I’m slightly chagrined to see the idea of the “one-way hash argument” invoked on behalf of copyright maximalism: Julian Sanchez from CATO has discussed [...]

  • 78 Challenger Disaster vs One-Way Hash Arguments | News With Numbers // Jun 23, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    [...] blogger Julian Sanchez coined the phrase “one-way hash argument” to describe how easy it is to throw up FUD in what passes for public debates these days and how [...]

  • 79 CasdraBlog » Blog Archive » links for 2009-06-25 // Jun 25, 2009 at 7:01 am

    [...] Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies (tags: politics globalwarming) [...]

  • 80 BlogBites. Like sound bites. But without the sound. » Blog Archive » Give me a topic I know fairly intimately, and I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. // Jun 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    [...] me a topic I know fairly intimately, and I can often make a convincing case for absolute horseshit. Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies   « So unless you’re into brief but outrageous Twitter news from Mashable that [...]

  • 81 pudge // Jul 2, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Sigh.

    Here’s the thing.

    Even a layman can see that the science for anthropogenic global warming is extremely flawed, because at a *basic* level, it doesn’t follow the scientific method. Falsifiability, control experiments, and so on are thrown out the window, just because they are “hard.” And when I say “hard,” I mean, of course, “impossible:” we cannot create an alternate Earth and see what would happen without man-made CO2 (yet), for example. But that’s no excuse. Scientists should not dismiss the flaws in their methods just because they are “hard.”

    The obvious fact is — even to a layman — that AGW is simply scientists’ best guess. It’s not a fact, and the debate isn’t over.

    It’s one thing to say that when a doctor tells me that I have high blood pressure, and that a certain pill will reduce my blood pressure, I should believe him: without understanding how the pill works, I understand that there’s actual science that demonstrates to a very high degree of certainty that it has this effect on blood pressure.

    Unfortunately, without having a deep understanding of the actual reactions, I also understand that there’s been demonstrated no significant causative effect from man-made CO2 in the atomosphere on the temperature of the Earth. To put AGW science on the same level as other “scientific expert” claims we deal with on a daily basis is unreasonable.

    It’s like DNA evidence in courts: for years it was essentially inadmissable, not because we doubted the scientists, but because we needed to really understand not the exact science, but the methods, the theories, and so on. We were not willing to just hand over such an important thing to scientists and call it a day. It was a process.

    We do not need to wait for scientists to disagree on a topic (although, of course, many do disagree on this one). We can simply demand that they show us how they’ve dealt with the flaws in their methodology; how they come to the conclusion that it could not be some other unidentified phenomena instead of CO2; etc., and if they can’t, we can choose to accept it as merely their opinion, rather than as an operative fact.

    Which is what it is.

    The choice is not between believing AGW happens and believing it does not. We can choose the rational, third option: recognizing that we, in fact, don’t know. That the debate is not over.

    (And this, of course, also leads us to the problem of Pascal’s Wager … the problem being that it’s a nonsensical form of argument, that many pro-AGW people try to use to convince us to engage in all manner of reforms “just in case” it’s true. But that’s another topic.)

    The problem is, of course, when we recognize we don’t know, the zealots recognize they are less likely to get passed the policy changes they want, so they engage in the worst kind of destructive and dishonest argumentation: pretending their largely unsubstantiated opinion is fact, so they can get their way.

    They are well-meaning, mostly. But they’re still wrong.

  • 82 composer777 // Aug 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Which makes me wonder, is the term one-way hash argument a one-way hash argument?

    A one way hash is a metaphor for what the author describes in only the most autistic sense, in the sense that one could say that it’s easier for one side to make up something than it is for another side to come up with a truthful rebuttal. But, other than that, I don’t see how a one-way hash explains or add insight this phenomena. Fact is, it doesn’t, it just makes it sound good, kind of like a one-way hash argument makes false statements sound good by dressing them up in technical jargon. I think one could come up with a better metaphor for what is going on here than one-way hash. Then again, maybe “one-way hash” should stick, after all, it’s a bit ironic that the metaphor that is claimed to explain it does not.

  • 83 Health Care and the “One Way Hash” | Extreme Conservatives // Sep 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    [...] Sanchez, now a research fellow at the Cato Institute, has dubbed arguments of this sort "one way hash arguments." The term is a nod to one way hash [...]

  • 84 Fred Trotter » Who owns the data // Oct 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    [...] But asking the question at all is a hash argument. [...]

  • 85 Media balance « Sköne Oke // Dec 17, 2009 at 9:00 am

    [...] Julian Sanchez makes some valid contributions: We’re accustomed to calling the “argument from authority” a fallacy, but in fact, that’s [...]

  • 86 Paul M. Jones » Blog Archive » Logical Fallacy vs Bayesian Reasoning // Dec 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    [...] via Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies. [...]

  • 87 Veritas // Jan 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    How low can it go? It is amazing to see the depths of those who only have ad hominem to share:

    http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/19458

    Andrew Weaver, IPCC Computer Modeler and Political Chameleon
    By Dr. Tim Ball Friday, January 29, 2010

    … among the most duplicitous and disingenuous members of the IPCC as Lead author and participant in the chapter on computer models.
    Blah blah
    Dr David Keith who lives in Alberta, but is a rabid devotee of the IPCC and the alarmist views on climate change. His views are easily explained. His research requires considerable.
    Blah blah perverted
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    Blah blah bullyboy
    Blah blah, climate scientists that could only – even in the most generous of terms – be described as scandalous, and almost certainly criminal.
    Blah blah blah. By Dr. Tim Ball Friday, January 29, 2010

  • 88 Why Bullshit Often Sounds Better Than The Real Thing « Gravity Loss // Jan 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    [...] 2010.01.31 by gravityloss From all places, a libertarian, who is arguing for laymen to trust experts. Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of [...]

  • 89 Marion Delgado // Feb 3, 2010 at 2:56 am

    Where are you finding mature and honest libertarians? Who actually want to do anything but exploit and harm other people?

    I think it’s a relatively pure scam, equivalent to the divine right of kings c. the Middle Ages. And, if anything, the libertarians of today are worse than those of yesteryear.

  • 90 100 Ways to Kill a Concept « Unapologetically Unstructured // Aug 23, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    [...] a post on “One Way Hash” Arguments, a term coined by Julian Sanchez in his excellent post on Climate Change and Argumentative Fallacies . The context of Sanchez’s post is a discussion about the difficulties of refuting false [...]

  • 91 A Skeptical Chat With…Dan Moutal of ‘Irregular Climate’ | Michigan Skeptics Association // Oct 24, 2010 at 10:36 am

    [...] detailed explanation in order to demonstrate why they are wrong. Julian Sanchez calls this a “one way hash argument” because these arguments are easy to make, but difficult to [...]

  • 92 mp3 editor free download // Mar 23, 2012 at 11:28 am

    yes, climate changes. But it is changing all the time.
    the weather went crazy a couple of years ago and everyone was like ‘OMG what’s happening, when are we gonna die?” it is changing all the time: that’s just how things work.
    some changes are provoked by a man, and scientists do their best to improve situation if it’s possible.
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  • 93 The problem with judging an argument by its merits | Mind of Dan // Jul 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    [...] As a matter of logic, of course judging an argument by it’s merits is the only way to go. There is one major problem however, most of us simply aren’t in a position to judge an argument by its merits, and given a skilled peddler of horseshit, attempting to judge an argument by its merits can easily lead us in the wrong direction thanks to what Julian Sanchez  calls the “one way hash” argument. [...]

  • 94 Who Owns Patient Data? | The Health Care Blog // Jul 11, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    [...] Raising the question of ownership at all is a hash argument. What is a hash argument? Here’s how Julian Sanchez describes it: [...]

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