Archive for the ‘discourse analysis’ Category
In the discussion over at Climate Etc. a couple of weeks ago, there was a particularly clear instance of a move I see a lot–in the blogosphere, and in regular arguments:
I think most people who like science and are interested in climate science would welcome more “skeptic” arguments that meet the above criteria. It is a relief, even when disagreeing, to have some sort of a common language and set of expectations. Without that, argument is pointless, or to put it another way: The first thing you need to prove to me is that your ignorance is something that concerns me.
That’s exactly what I decline to do. The hockey stick needs no defense. Rather, you need to find some cogent explanation of why your ignorance of paleoclimate concerns me.
The writer here asserts that his position “needs no defense”; it’s up to his opponents to produce reasons–or in other words, they have the burden of proof.
Of course, both sides can make this move. Another writer comes back later in the discussion to assert that it’s the “hockey stick” [graph] that needs the defense:
There is no basis for discussion about AGW that starts with “the Hockey Stick is correct and unassailable”.
The true statment is “the Hockey Stick is part of a very large con game and until the AGW side acknowledges that and apologizes, nothing they say should be believed.” [Later:] AGW is discredited until it confesses its fraud.
And this argumentative move–“MY position stands until YOU meet your burden of proof”–isn’t just confined to the climate debate. Should genetically modified crops be presumed to be safe, until there is definitive evidence that they are harmful? Or by the precautionary principle should this kind of new technology be considered dangerous, until it is shown to be safe?
To straighten out what’s happening in these moves, I want to distinguish between (a) the way people are using “burden of proof” to manage their own, personal thinking, and (b) the way they are using it to manage the debate they are having with other people. For more on (a), proceed below; (b) will follow in the next post.
Back in the golden age of the climate controversy–say, about 18 months ago–there was a time when everybody was challenging everybody else to debate. I suppose you couldn’t click more than a few links before tripping over a gauntlet.
What does a formal debate offer that the ordinary disorderly flow of arguing in the blogosphere doesn’t? To pick up on a theme from my last post: a formal debate allows the participants to control what they are taking responsibility for–and to force others to take responsibility, too. Roger Pielke, Jr. is a masterful debater, and his recent challenge to critics of “climate pragmatism” shows this strategy at its finest.
Pathos (emotion), logos (reasoning), and ethos (character)–for persuasion, these three; but the greatest of these (according to Aristotle at least) is ethos. Work across the sprawling contemporary discipline of communication agrees; “source factors” like knowledgeability, credibility and likeability play a key role in getting a message across.
This raises the hope that some of our bitter public disputes over science might be resolved, if only we could find the right messenger; a scientist whose conspicuous dignity, integrity and authority would make him (or her) trusted by all sides in the dispute.
Alas, even if we could locate such a scientist-saint, this communication strategy would be unlikely to work. Read on to see how my own recent blogospheric experiences suggest why.
All right–here’s another test. Look at the image at the other end of the this link, and take note of what you see.
That diagram was “leaked” in an article on a progressive blog; apparently it’s some part of an study of the publicity surrounding the CRU emails. Beyond dividing the world of climate controversy evenly into two territories, however, it’s not at all clear (even after more explanation) what exactly it’s supposed to represent. What do these sizes, locations, connections mean?
Because the diagram is so ambiguous, it can act like a kind of Rorschach test. The observer can project her own views onto it, seeing them as confirmed or not. So I’m going to examine the reactions to this climate controversy ink blot among the people commenting on it at the leading climate skeptic blog Watt’s Up With That (WUWT). Here’s one comment:
What an enormous load of …
No mention of Greenpeace or WWF on the supporter’s network.
But, what’s even more absurd, listing the small skeptical network in such a way that it seems to be equivalent to the likes of the BBC, Nature, the World Bank, et al. And the IPCC seems to be set apart as neutral?!! The IPCC, with links to every government pushing the AGW agenda?
Give me a break already! The skeptical network is a miniscule David next to the supporter’s huge Goliath network.
Over the next few posts, I want to understand this view–the David/Goliath fallacy–by placing it within the broader range of views expressed by the WUWT community.