The David/Goliath fallacy
Here’s a test: for each of the following statements, identify whether it was written by a defender or a detractor of the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
 “The 21st century Goliath is [the forces on the other side from the author]. It is a powerful six-legged monster. In no order of strength, those legs are:…The total financial resources and power structure behind Goliath are staggering.”
 “The [other side’s] forces have owned the media in all but name on this issue, for decades. [The coverage is becoming more fair, and] when you’re Goliath, that kind of trend seems disturbing.”
 “I think that unfortunately this is sort of a classic David vs. Goliath type battle. [My] community isn’t organized — it doesn’t have a single politically driven motive, as the [other side does]. It’s not organized, it’s not well funded in terms of public outreach in the way that [people on the other side] are funded.”
We’re all familiar with the “ad hominem fallacy”–it consists of attacking your opponent instead of responding to her arguments. Although argumentation scholars disagree about what makes a fallacy a fallacy, the problems with the ad hominem fallacy seem clear. Attacking your opponent personally doesn’t show that his arguments are wrong, so it doesn’t really advance the debate. Further, it’s not a fair or decent way of treating any fellow human being, particularly one you’re communicating with.
I think that there’s another fallacy, as yet unrecognized, that’s created by turning the ad hominem fallacy inside out. Inspired by the quotes above and many others like them, I’m going to call it the “David/Goliath fallacy.” It consists of perceiving yourself to be a small David, being attacked by a great Goliath–and then responding in self-defense. Like the ad hominem, the defensive behavior is unlikely to advance the debate, and ends up being not a fair or decent way of treating your opponent.
The David/Goliath fallacy is prominent on both sides of the climate controversy. So in the following posts I want to expand on some remarks I made to Randy Olson on The Benshi, and try to see what the David/Goliath fallacy looks like in practice, assess whether defensiveness is really justified, and suggest some ways to avoid or defuse the fallacy. Meanwhile, here are the answers:
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