Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’

The fallacy of the middle ground

August 5, 2013

There’s been quite some climate discussion in the Political Science section of the Guardian lately. Warren Pearce had an invited post in which he asked the rhetorical question “Are climate sceptics the real champions of the scientific method?

He makes some good observations about the dynamics of the public debate and the nature of skepticism (e.g. most contrarians don’t deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect, but rather dispute the magnitude of warming that would result from an increased greenhouse effect). On the other hand, he misses the mark in other areas (e.g. he correctly describes how contrarians see themselves but doesn’t investigate how their argumentation really stacks up; often they are guilty of what they accuse mainstream science of).

My main beef with his piece though is his flawed argument of why a well-known contrarian blogger like Anthony Watts, according to Pearce, should be seen as someone who “seeks to uphold standards, through transparent and auditable scientific practice” and “a ‘mainstream’ sceptic who can challenge key areas of climate science without entering into pseudoscience”. Why this praise? Because Watts publicly disagreed with the fringe group Principia Scientific who deny the basic physics underlying the greenhouse effect (which was first established in the 19th century).

That is not a logical argument to make though: Regardless of what one may think of Watts, contrasting an extremist with someone who is even more extreme doesn’t make him mainstream. Regardless of what one thinks of Watts, contrasting someone who frequently flirts with pseudoscience with an all-out pseudo-science lover doesn’t free the former from any link with pseudo-science.

That is what I would call the fallacy of the middle ground.

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The Food Gap predicts 2.4 degrees by 2020? I don’t think so.

January 20, 2011

The Food Gap study by an Argentinian NGO contains an embarrassing mistake: As its first key finding, it sais:

Following the current business-as-usual path, by 2020: The temperature of the planet would be, at least, 2.4ºC warmer.

This is of course patently wrong, and it only takes a quick look at the IPCC projections to figure that out. Which makes it doubly embarrassing, since as the first guiding principle they state: 

The analysis is based on the scientific evidence and conclusions from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).

The Guardian has the story; Realclimate has the scientific context.

Now of course this is being spun as if it’s alarmist propaganda gone wrong. Even the otherwise sensible Keith seems to frame it that way. No organization that wants to be taken seriously though would knowingly put in a glaring error like that, as it clearly blows away any credibility they may have had. The most likely explanation is that they honestly believed their own calculation. 

What can be learnt from this:

– Make sure you have the required expertise to write your story, and if you don’t, get people with such expertise to advise you. Base yourself on a proper reading of the relevant literature and/or on people who do.

– If people alert you to an error, check it (or let it be checked), and then fix it, even if that means postponing a deadline or changing something for the gazzilionth time.

Their refusal to correct their mistake after it was pointed out to them is flabbergasting. How stubborn, how stupid. I hope they learnt their lesson.


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