Between Scientists & Citizens

Morano v. Bauman

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Is it possible to debate Marc Morano? Yes–especially if you’re not a climate scientist. Here’s a quick analysis of this recent debate between Morano and Yoram Bauman, Stand-Up Economist, sponsored by conservative student organizations at University of Minnesota. Bauman reviews the debate here.

Morano’s techniques are familiar–a “Gish Gallop” of an enormous number of small points, many of them based on cherrypicked data or overstated news reports. But Bauman manages to respond much more effectively than Morano’s usual adversaries. Why?

1. Morano’s rapid-fire talking points sound efficient when speaking turns are one minute each; they don’t translate well into longer speeches–for example, “four minute” opening statements with time limits not enforced.

2. Morano excels at taking out his opponents’ highly predictable talking points. Bauman didn’t give him many targets, though–instead, he aimed many of his arguments at taking out Morano’s talking points. Even without a transcript it’s clear: Bauman consistently starts his sentences with “Marc…, Marc….” Indeed, he seems to be one of the few people who have prepared to debate Morano by actually reading what Morano has said (made easier by Morano’s recent book). Bauman effectively turns the table, documenting Morano’s selective quoting and abuse of data in embarrassing detail. Morano does not effectively reply to any of these charges.

3.  Bauman did have one main positive line of argument that partially deflated some of Morano’s perennial themes. Why should we be confident in climate change? Bauman explicitly rejects relying on claims about scientific consensus–he’s willing to throw the National Academies overboard, and admit that the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is a political document, at least in part. Instead, he urges his listeners to adopt a commonsense view of science:  science makes predictions, and then finds out whether the predictions were true with data–in particular, data presented as graphs. The IPCC/scientists are not treated as authoritative sources, but as sources of predictions, And the graphs (even the ones using Morano’s preferred data sets) clearly trend upwards.

I’m not as confident as Bauman that we can run away from scientific authority, since there is a lot of work implicit in every graph. But this commonsense approach is likely to be attractive, especially to an audience of self-confident undergraduates, and perhaps even more to an audience of empirically-minded libertarians.

Morano as usual is well prepared with a response to the “predictions” argument; he presents a long series of ridiculous both/and predictions (malaria will increase! no, malaria will decrease!). But Bauman’s refusal to hide behind numbers of scientists means that Morano’s standard attacks on the “97% consensus” just fall flat.

4.  Bauman uses humor throughout, which is useful to engage attention and lighten interpersonal tension. In particular, Bauman uses humor when calling out Morano’s bad debate behavior–e.g., talking over him, changing the subject, making statements instead of questions. This gets the objections on the record without seeming victimized or aggrieved.

5.  Bauman scores two real hits on Morano. The first was his demonstration of the paucity of Morano’s empirical evidence. Bauman lets fall all the pages of Morano’s book that don’t have graphs–leaving only five pages, one of which (“20%!!!” Bauman points out) Morano apparently admits is flawed. Morano seems authentically hurt by this treatment of his book, and complains repeatedly until Bauman at last makes a humorous and kindly gesture and picks up the pages off the floor. This is the one instance I’ve seen where Morano appears upset in a debate.

The other is a theme that emerges halfway through the recording: Morano is getting old. Bauman portrays him as “obsessed with the past”–focusing on Medieval Warm Periods, not forward-looking (i.e., scientific) predictions. Or as stuck in the 1980s, reliving the old “imminent ice age” scandal. Or as a person who will be saying exactly the same thing 20 years from now. This ad hominem undermining of Morano’s credibility isn’t made directly, and is always leavened by humor; but it was pointed, compelling and also likely persuasive to a younger audience.

6. Final note: it was refreshing: right at the end of the recording, Morano asks Bauman how he’ll know if his carbon tax is working. That’s the kind of issue that actually deserves a debate.

Written by jeangoodwin

September 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Posted in cases

Tagged with , , ,

One Response

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  1. Thanks for this, Jean. One clarification: I wasn’t trying to say that we can or should “run away from scientific authority”. The fact that the “consensus” is supported by the IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and so many other scientific organizations is an important piece of evidence that should and will hold sway with many viewers. But ultimately it comes down to empirical evidence, and “ultimately” comes pretty quickly when you’re dealing with folks like Marc who think there’s a giant scientific conspiracy. Plus he’s happy to trot out examples (true examples!) of when the “scientific consensus” has crumbled in the past: tectonic plates, etc. So what I tried to say was: “Look, here are all these scientific organizations that have endorsed the idea that humans are changing the climate. But if you don’t want to listen to them, that’s fine: let’s go look at the data!

    Yoram Bauman

    September 25, 2018 at 8:32 am

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