« Rachel Johnson - No one gives a huq about my blog.... | Main | Advice to New Fathers »

Climate Change Skeptics - Undemocratic Sophists engaging in an “epistemological filibuster”

Manufactroversy

The Art of Creating Controversy Where None Existed

With all the sophisticated sophistry besieging mass audiences today, there is a need for the study of rhetoric now more than ever before. This is especially the case when it comes to the contemporary assault on science known as manufactured controversy: when significant disagreement doesn’t exist inside the scientific community, but is successfully invented for a public audience to achieve specific political ends.

Three recent examples of manufactured controversy are global warming skepticism, AIDS dissent in South Africa, and the intelligent design movement’s “teach the controversy” campaign. The first of these has been called an “epistemological filibuster” because it magnifies the uncertainty surrounding a scientific truth claim in order to delay the adoption of a policy that is warranted by that science.....

As a scholar of rhetoric, I have studied some modern cases of manufactured controversy to discover how to best confute these contemporary sophists, and I have come up with some preliminary hypotheses about what makes their arguments so persuasive to a public audience. First, they skillfully invoke values that are shared by the scientific community and the American public alike, like free speech, skeptical inquiry, and the revolutionary force of new ideas against a repressive orthodoxy. It is difficult to argue against someone who invokes these values without seeming unscientific or un-American. Second, they exploit a tension between the technical and public spheres in postmodern American life; highly specialized scientific experts can’t spare the time to engage in careful public communication, and are then surprised when the public distrusts, fears, or opposes them. Third, today’s sophists exploit a public misconception about what science is, portraying it as a structure of complete consensus built from the steady accumulation of unassailable data; any dissent by any scientist is then seen as evidence that there’s no consensus, and thus truth must not have been discovered yet. A more accurate portrayal of science sees it as a process of debate among a community of experts in which one side outweighs the other in the balance of the argument, and that side is declared the winner; a few skeptics might remain, but they’re vastly outnumbered by the rest, and the democratic process of science moves forward with the collective weight of the majority of expert opinion. Scientists buy into this democratic process when they enter the profession, so that a call for the winning side to share power in the science classroom with the losers, or to continue debating an issue that has already been settled for the vast majority of scientists so that policy makers can delay taking action on their findings, seems particularly undemocratic to most of them.

Leah Ceccarelli is an associate professor in the Communication Department at the University of Washington. She teaches rhetoric and is the author of the award-winning book Shaping Science with Rhetoric.


Stick to rhetoric - science isn't democratic, at least discovering the truth isn't. When only one person believed that balls of different weights would fall from the tower at the same rate he was right and the consensus wrong.

As Wikipedia says: An argumentum ad populum (Latin: "appeal to the people"), in logic, is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or all people believe it; it alleges that "If many believe so, it is so." In ethics this argument is stated, "If many find it acceptable, it is acceptable."

This type of argument is known by several names including appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to the people, argument by consensus, authority of the many, and bandwagon fallacy, and in Latin by the names argumentum ad populum ("appeal to the people"), argumentum ad numerum ("appeal to the number"), and consensus gentium ("agreement of the clans"). It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect, and of the Chinese proverb "three men make a tiger".

Comments

The real weakness in the argument is the pace. New discoveries in science are not usually considered settled until they have held up for decades. That is why last years Nobel Prize in Physics was given for discoveries made in 1988 - and that's a short time, possible only because the science is embedded in new technologies that have been in widespread use for a few years.

For something more difficult to prove -- something that can't be verified by experiment -- the time for establishing it as fact is longer. Take the K-T asteroid impact theory for instance: put forward around 1979, it was by the late 90s considered probably the best available for the events it describes. Even now, it is not considered established fact, and journals publish papers criticising it and putting forward alternatives.

The AGW theory has been accelerated from a new theory to school textbook and political debates, because of its significance. This is understandable, but given that the normal schedule has been accelerated for what are essentially political reasons, it is quite unreasonable to attack opponents of the theory for politicising it. If it were not political, it would still be being kicked around in the obscurity of the technical journals.

I feel the need to point out that generally in the case of a 'scientific consensus' most scientists will believe a particular hypothesis or theory because it fits the observed evidence and passes any tests designed to disprove it. In the case of "balls of different weights falling at different speeds" it is clear that anyone believing that has not performed an experiment to test it.
Therefore, this is not a case of argumentum ad populum, unlike, for example, many religious arguments.

If [AGW] were not political, it would still be being kicked around in the obscurity of the technical journals.

This is probably true.

I think this relates well to a general suppression of information which generates 'consuming robots'. Media control, and government indoctrination under the guise of education, are the order of the day. TV is just electronic soma. It is indeed a 'Brave New World'.

If the controversy is over, the science settled, why does James Hansen feel he has to bully a publisher of a textbook which has been in print for several years?
http://www.foe.org/textbook/Hansen_Letter.pdf
Even on official NASA stationary! He must be worried about something, global cooling, maybe?

All pretty much true.

It's amazing how the warmists have managed to manipulate the news media and get their dubious message changed into received "fact".

Quite an object lesson for the rest of us really.

Post a comment