The power of the pen, when used irresponsibly, serves not to illuminate and progress human discourse, but to confuse and stifle it. Christopher Booker’s article does a disservice to climate skeptics and climate activists alike.
Christopher Booker’s article, “The world has never seen such freezing heat,” published yesterday in the UK’s Telegraph, attempts to come across as a shocking exposé of a blunder big enough potentially to bring climate change science to its knees. It falls considerably short. Instead, the writing is simply the latest in a series of posts designed to push the author’s own personal opinion against renewable energy and climate change action. This may be of little surprise as Mr. Booker has previously summed up climate change as “chicanery.”
Unfortunately, the credibility of Mr. Booker’s article as a rational piece of scientific journalism falls apart as early as the first paragraph under the weight of his personal bias. Moreover, the writing is so riddled with logical fallacies that the article actually does an injustice to the “climate skeptics” whose arguments it seeks to support.
Before listing some of the article’s bias and logical fallacies, one brief contextual note is necessary. It’s important to understand that science operates by searching for errors in existing theories and using those errors to improve the theories. Therefore, so-called “skeptics” play an important role in honing the accuracy of any theory. By locating inaccuracies, scientists can correct the theory to better model observable phenomena. However, the logic used in Mr. Booker’s article assumes that an error in a theory discredits or invalidates the entire theory. This is bad science writing. It undermines the mechanics of the scientific process and does a disservice to anybody earnestly interested in progressing the scientific body of knowledge.
Bias in “The world has never seen such freezing heat”
The writer uses strongly emotive words rather than rational language to sway readers. Emotive words reveal the author’s bias and strip the article of credibility as far as scientific journalism is concerned.
First, consider the negative emotional words used to describe climate change data and scientists studying climate change: surreal, blunder, alarm, notorious, startling, “huge question mark,” suffered, freak, lamely, extreme, dangers, glaring, confusion, scare, episode, hastily, etc.
Now consider the positive connotations behind words used to describe climate change skeptics: “expert readers,” leading, detailed, “astonishing discovery,” fame, “expert debunking,” etc.
A sampling of the logical fallacies in “The world has never seen such freezing heat”
Logical fallacy #1: hasty generalization. The writer infers that a single error made by the GISS brings into question all data GISS has ever published. This reasoning says, “you were wrong about X; therefore you must always be wrong about everything.”
Logical fallacy #2: ad hominem. The author engages in personal attacks of climate scientists. First, he describes a GISS spokesman as “lame” and he describes the GISS as lacking resources and quality control; second, the author implies that Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is either naive or gullible with language like “Dr. Pachauri … may believe what Dr. Hansen tells him.” The additional inferred bandwaggon logical fallacy here is “reasonable people would not believe Dr. Hansen.”
Logical fallacy #3: non causa pro causa. This is one of the most common types of logical errors committed in the argument against climate change. It confuses coincidence with causation. The author reasons in the following way: The weather in a few local areas was cold. Therefore, the global climate must be cold. The global climate is neither caused by local weather nor does it directly dictate local weather from day to day. What’s more, the climate change model does not predict uniformly hotter weather around the globe; it describes the average temperature around the globe. In other words, October snow in London does not mean the average global temperature is colder than normal.
Logical fallacy #4: genetic fallacy. The author links Al Gore to Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Hansen to the error. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it seeks to discredit the GISS in the eyes of anyone who dislikes Gore, who is a somewhat politically contentious figure. Secondly, it says that if the GISS is wrong about climate change (see hasty generalization), then Gore must also be wrong to the delight of his detractors. Genetic fallacies attempt to undermine an argument by undermining somebody credited with giving birth to the argument. Although climate science did not originate with Al Gore, he’s sometimes seen as the father of the current push to respond to climate change scenarios.
Logical fallacy #5: straw man. This type of fallacy essentially says, “This person supports argument X and this person is clearly a bad person, therefore argument X is wrong.” The author attributes responsibility for the GISS to Dr. Hansen. In fact, he stops just short of attributing all climate change science to Dr. Hansen. Then, he attacks Dr. Hansen. First, the author attributes a large amount of the recent global concern over climate change to Dr. Hansen in the sentence, “If there is one scientist more responsible than any other for the alarm over global warming it is Dr. Hansen….” (Note the heavily slanted use of the word alarm used to describe climate change science.) Then, he attempts to tie Dr. Hansen to “criminal” Greenpeace activity in order to discredit him, and by extension, the GISS, and by further extention, climate change.
Logical fallacy #6: proof by assertion. The author’s assertion that, “[global temperatures] have not been rising in recent years and since 2007 have dropped” is supported by no data other than the author’s own authority. This reasoning claims, “X is true because I say it is.”