That’s Not an Ahgument – THIS, is an Ahgument

February 6, 2018

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember.

Talk Australian to me and I’ll listen all day.

John Cook’s new paper deconstructs climate fallacies, and shows how to inoculate against them.

Environmental Research Letters:

Misinformation can have significant societal consequences. For example, misinformation about climate change has confused the public and stalled support for mitigation policies. When people lack the expertise and skill to evaluate the science behind a claim, they typically rely on heuristics such as substituting judgment about something complex (i.e. climate science) with judgment about something simple (i.e. the character of people who speak about climate science) and are therefore vulnerable to misleading information. Inoculation theory offers one approach to effectively neutralize the influence of misinformation. Typically, inoculations convey resistance by providing people with information that counters misinformation.

In contrast, we propose inoculating against misinformation by explaining the fallacious reasoning within misleading denialist claims. We offer a strategy based on critical thinking methods to analyse and detect poor reasoning within denialist claims. This strategy includes detailing argument structure, determining the truth of the premises, and checking for validity, hidden premises, or ambiguous language. Focusing on argument structure also facilitates the identification of reasoning fallacies by locating them in the reasoning process.

Because this reason-based form of inoculation is based on general critical thinking methods, it offers the distinct advantage of being accessible to those who lack expertise in climate science. We applied this approach to 42 common denialist claims and find that they all demonstrate fallacious reasoning and fail to refute the scientific consensus regarding anthropogenic global warming. This comprehensive deconstruction and refutation of the most common denialist claims about climate change is designed to act as a resource for communicators and educators who teach climate science and/or critical thinking.

The Guardian:

Climate myths are often contradictory – it’s not warming, though it’s warming because of the sun, and really it’s all just an ocean cycle – but they all seem to share one thing in common: logical fallacies and reasoning errors.

John Cook, Peter Ellerton, and David Kinkead have just published a paper in Environmental Research Letters in which they examined 42 common climate myths and found that every single one demonstrates fallacious reasoning. For example, the authors made a video breaking down the logical flaws in the myth ‘climate changed naturally in the past so current climate change is natural.’

Cook has previously published research on using ‘misconception-based learning’to dislodge climate myths from peoples’ brains and replace them with facts, and beating denial by inoculating people against misinformers’ tricks. The idea is that when people are faced with a myth and a competing fact, the fact will more easily win out if the fallacy underpinning the myth is revealed. In fact, these concepts of misconception-based learning and inoculation against myths were the basis of the free online Denial101x course developed by Cook and colleagues.

Cook has previously published research on using ‘misconception-based learning’to dislodge climate myths from peoples’ brains and replace them with facts, and beating denial by inoculating people against misinformers’ tricks. The idea is that when people are faced with a myth and a competing fact, the fact will more easily win out if the fallacy underpinning the myth is revealed. In fact, these concepts of misconception-based learning and inoculation against myths were the basis of the free online Denial101x course developed by Cook and colleagues.

Step 1: Identify the claim being made. For example, the most popular contrarian argument: “Earth’s climate has changed naturally in the past, so current climate change is natural.”

Step 2: Construct the argument by identifying the premises leading to that conclusion. In this case, the first premise is that Earth’s climate has changed in the past through natural processes, and the second premise is that the climate is currently changing. So far, so good.

Step 3: Determine whether the argument is deductive, meaning that it starts out with a general statement and reaches a definitive conclusion. In our case, ‘current climate change is natural’ qualifies as a definitive conclusion.

Step 4: Check the argument for validity; does the conclusion follow from the premises? In our example, it doesn’t follow that current climate change must be natural because climate changed naturally in the past. However, we can fix that by weakening the conclusion to “the current climate change may not be the result of human activity.” But in its weakened state, the conclusion no longer refutes human-caused global warming.

Step 4a: Identify hidden premises. By adding an extra premise to make an invalid argument valid, we can gain a deeper understanding of why the argument is flawed. In this example, the hidden assumption is “if nature caused climate change in the past, it must always be the cause of climate change.” Adding this premise makes the argument logically valid, but makes it clear why the argument is false – it commits single cause fallacy, assuming that only one thing can cause climate change.

Step 5: Check to see if the argument relies on ambiguity. For example, the argument that human activity is not necessary to explain current climate change because natural and human factors can both cause climate change is ambiguous about the ‘climate change’ in question. Not all climate change is equal, and the rate of current change is more than 20 times faster than natural climate changes. Therefore, human activity is necessary to explain current climate change.

Step 6: If the argument hasn’t yet been ruled out, determine the truth of its premises. For example, the argument that “if something was the cause in the past, it will be the cause in the future” is invalid if the effect has multiple plausible causes or mechanisms (as with climate change). In our example, this is where the myth most obviously falls apart (although it had already failed in Step 4).

 

 

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5 Responses to “That’s Not an Ahgument – THIS, is an Ahgument”

  1. greenman3610 Says:

    posting for Larry Boudreau:

    As a relative newcomer and scientifically naive individual when it comes to the nut and bolts of climate science(no scientific background whatsoever), I have tried to emulate the above, albeit unknowingly and very unconvincingly I’m afraid, in several responses to online global warming/change deniers or their global cooling misinformation compatriots. However, it has become obvious to me that it isn’t the science at issue any more, it is the politics. The science is a cover.

    They seem to take the same stand against climate change science as the creationists/intelligent designers take against evolution because of which I tend to view them as one and the same. They see the debate as an attack on their religious beliefs and conflate it with their political beliefs, and/or vice versa. Few if any of them seem to able to discuss the actual science and none of them, and I do mean none of them can comprehend or understand the “big picture”. A denier’s argument is always based on one small aspect of a factor that affects climate change, often based on what they can see outside their window on any given day, as long as it is cold. Of course the opposite holds for the global cooling crowd. How do you counter these ideologues when to them the science is a sideshow?

    I’ll leave off with a question. Does anyone have any information on the progress of the Endangerment proceedings against the EPA’s Section 307(d) of the Clean Air Act,

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    A new paper shows that climate myths consistently fail critical thinking tests

    => Humans need to become smarter thinkers to beat climate denial


  3. Going back in time a little, but nothing has changed
    https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/news/2012-06-27/gop-opposes-critical-thinking/
    GOP Opposes Critical Thinking
    Party platform paints original ideas as a liberal conspiracy

    t’s official: The Republican Party of Texas opposes critical thinking. That’s right, drones, and it’s part of their official platform.

    “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/02/how-youtubes-algorithm-distorts-truth?


  4. Then of course we have the science papers

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2018/jan/24/murky-world-of-science-journals-a-new-frontier-for-climate-deniers?

    Murky world of ‘science’ journals a new frontier for climate deniers

    Deniers have found a platform in emerging publications that publish without rigorous review

    ‘These journals, and hundreds more like them … are part of a ballooning online industry offering to give academics a place to publish their work in return for a fee and minimal, if any, quality control

    From that there is a link to a resource identifying the “Journals” and publishers


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