I’m no scientist (nor, probably, are you), but I can recognize a blatant example of reductio ad absurdum when I see one.
Take, for example, THIS COLUMN by notorious global-warming denier Robert Bryce in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
The carbon taxers/limiters have lost. Carbon-dioxide emissions have been the environmental issue of the past decade. Over that time period, Al Gore became a world-renowned figure for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” for which he won an Oscar. In 2007, he, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), collected a Nobel Peace Prize for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.” That same year, the IPCC released its fourth assessment report, which declared that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likelydue to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.” (Emphasis in original.)
Two years later, Copenhagen became the epicenter of a world-wide media frenzy as some 5,000 journalists, along with some 100 world leaders and scores of celebrities, descended on the Danish capital to witness what was billed as the best opportunity to impose a global tax or limit on carbon dioxide.
The result? Nothing, aside from promises by various countries to get serious—really serious—about carbon emissions sometime soon.
Here’s a reality check: During the same decade that Mr. Gore and the IPCC dominated the environmental debate, global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.
Get it? The world, on the whole, is not heeding Al Gore’s warning about the dangers of greenhouse-gas emissions. Ergo, those warnings are bogus.
But wait. Bryce gets even sillier:
The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.
That’s a classic bait-and-switch. The first sentence in that paragraph is a claim that the science on climate change “is not settled.” The rest of the paragraph has nothing to do with climate science. Rather, it’s a thinly-veiled argument that scientific theories are just that — mere theories — and should not be confused with solid facts.
This kind of specious thinking is common among creationists who contend that evolution is only a theory. As Laurence Moran wrote in a PIECE to which I linked in a previous post:
Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.
Moreover, “fact” doesn’t mean “absolute certainty”; there ain’t no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are not about the empirical world. Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
But getting back to Bryce’s ridiculous column in the Journal, Jonathan Chait deftly parries his thrust HERE:
The argument goes like this: We can’t be completely sure about any scientific conclusion, not even the theory of relativity, so we might as well listen to the best scientific conclusions available. Bryce starts down that path, but veers off: Since we can’t be sure of any science, let’s ignore climate science. He doesn’t seem to realize he’s made the case for ignoring all science.
I have an idea — why don’t you jump out your window? We can’t be completely sure about the theory of gravity!