Between Scientists & Citizens

Posts Tagged ‘arguments

Should climate scientists fly? An analysis of the arguments

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Climate skeptics have been accusing pro-climate-action advocates of hypocrisy since at least the day after the release of An Inconvenient Truth back in 2007. Flying has emerged as a particular focus in these arguments, likely because it is easy to document, ineliminably carbon intensive, and an “elite” activity. Celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Thompson) have also been particularly targeted, along with politicians (Bernie Sanders, Catherine McKenna, AOC). And, in minor ways, the climate scientists who are our key witnesses for the facts of climate change.

At the same time, some climate scientists and climate-concerned academics generally have been thinking about the carbon budgets of their research, and in particular about the flying that often takes up such a large portion of it. Individual scientists began to commit themselves to fly less at least as early as the mid-2000s, and networks/organizations with substantial presence on social media began to emerge a decade later.  These folks, too, have been building a case.

From the point of view of argumentation theory, this is rich material–a diverse array of arguers, a topic of the highest concern, an open consideration of scientists’ obligations in public controversies. So I recently completed a talk and paper (forthcoming in Informal Logic) analyzing the controversy. Some of what I said was pretty much “inside baseball,” plus I had to leave out many interesting digressions. So in a series of blog posts, I’m going to present parts of the analysis that I think may be of most interest to climate- and science-comm interested folks. If I don’t get derailed, I expect posts on:

  • The skeptics’ hypocrisy argument
  • Is the hypocrisy argument a fallacy, and so what?
  • Climate scientists’ (and academics’) reasons to fly less
  • I need to fly!  Self-justification, double standards, and argumentative justice
  • Should climate concerned people stop making arguments about flying less, and just talk about system change?
  • Several other topics.

Methodological note

This analysis is based on three corpora of data:

Corpus 1 consists of Twitter posts from January 2010-April 2020 containing keywords “climate” and “fly.” The 341K entries were probed by filtering for additional keywords, including scient*, hypocr*, argu* and related argument vocabulary.

Corpus 2 consists of online longform discourse–journalism, blog posts, podcasts etc. It was collected from URLs referenced in Corpus 1, by a convenience sample of material I had been collecting from interest in the topic, by an intentional search for otherwise underrepresented material from skeptics, and by a snowball sample of URLs referenced in any of the above. Total: 112 documents.

Corpus 3 consists of Twitter conversations–an original post and between 2 and several hundred replies, replies to those replies etc. These were collected by checking relevant tweets from Corpus 1, from a convenience sample of material I had been collecting, and by a snowball sample of conversations mentioned in other conversations. Total: 85 conversations.

See this methods note for more.

Written by jeangoodwin

June 25, 2020 at 11:21 am

Responsibility for polar bear arguments

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Harvey et al., “Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy” (2017) identifies an argumentative strategy used by those who question the links between climate change, arctic sea ice, and declining polar bear populations (TWQ):

the main strategy of denier blogs is therefore to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as “proxies” for AGW in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by association.”

Stripping this of its mixed metaphors, the claim is:  TWQ claim that by refuting the arguments about polar bears put forward by those on the side of the authors (or angels, TOTSOTA), they are refuting the existence and significance of AGW.

I think this is an accurate statement of one TWQ argumentative strategy which (unlike Harvey et al.) I will document below. However, Harvey et al. are mistaken in taking this strategy to be illegitimate. Quite the contrary: the TWQ strategy is a well-justified and strategic response to the case made by TOTSOTA. To throw in another metaphor:  TWQ polar bear arguments are TOTSOTA chickens coming home to roost.

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Written by jeangoodwin

April 21, 2018 at 2:27 pm

Making arguments expensive

with 41 comments

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.

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Written by jeangoodwin

August 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Debate in the blogosphere: A small case study

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Steve Patterson over at RAIL recently wrote a typically fine piece on How Comments are Killing the Commons.   Coming at the subject as a student of public discourse, I find myself a little more tolerant of the blogosphere’s “partisan clowning” etc.  I’m more curious about specific communication strategies we can adopt to make comment threads work.  Steve McIntrye of Climate Audit recently referenced an essay by myself & Michael Dahlstrom, and my participation in the comment threads gave me an opportunity to observe close up several helpful and unhelpful strategies at work.  Here are three things I learned about blogospheric debate, especially in contrast to communication in more face-to-face settings.

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Written by jeangoodwin

July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Morano Analysis #9: Lessons learned

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All right!  If there are any readers who have followed along this far, maybe it’s now time to draw some dividends from all the work of closely analysis?  Going back over all the posts on the Maslin v. Morano exchange, here are some tips & tricks, in case you end up facing off against an advocate like Marc Morano.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 24, 2010 at 8:03 am

Morano analysis #8: repeating oneself all over again

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Let’s return one last time to the Morano v. Maslin debate.  I’ve been saying some favorable things about Marc Morano’s skill as an advocate.  But what about the fact that he–and in fact this whole debate–is boring?  Haven’t we heard all these arguments before, over and over again?  Yes–and it’s a good thing, too.
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Written by jeangoodwin

March 22, 2010 at 11:44 am

Morano Analysis #7: Scientific consensus

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This mini-debate between  Maslin and Morano first caught my attention because of Morano’s “accusation” that Maslin was using an “appeal to authority,” and Maslin’s assertion of something like a scientific consensus in reply. Claims that the IPCC represents an authoritative “consensus” have been prominent in representations of the IPCC’s reports since the very beginning, and in one of my current projects I’m trying to figure out how consensus claims  work (or don’t).  The example here, though small, is worth examining closely.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Morano Analysis #6: The appeal to authority, by the numbers

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I have to feel sorry for Maslin. Once he’s accepted AGW as the central issue in this debate, he’s taken responsibility for presenting evidence of a centuries-long, world-wide, multi-system process. And he’s got about 60 seconds to get the job done. As we’ve seen, he can invite his audience to “look at” the evidence or he can remind them of some vivid event that they’ve already experienced. But the former isn’t going to help him meet his burden of proof now, and the latter is misleading and thus easy for Morano to knock down. The appeal to authority is a third option; can Maslin pull it off?

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 15, 2010 at 10:20 am

Morano Analysis #5: The adverse witness

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As a second way in to assessing the arguments in this debate, let’s examine how the two debaters deal with one bit of testimonial evidence they actually share.

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Written by jeangoodwin

March 13, 2010 at 10:30 am

“framing” the debate, yet again

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So, here’s another example of the logos/pathos (or statistics/example, or abstract/concrete) problem for climate change communication I was talking about yesterday.  A communication consultant advises:

A better setting for talking about climate science is a real time impact of climate change, be it a record heat wave or record heavy rains followed by heavy flooding. There is no denying what your eyes can see. Last fall’s record setting flood in Atlanta was a textbook example of the kind of impact that should be highlighted. Only months earlier, NOAA had released a consensus science report documenting the trend of increased heavy precipitation during the fall months in the southeastern United States. NOAA identified climate change as driving the trend and predicted more of the same for the future.

Some have argued that focusing on current weather can be tricky. However, advocates were forced to do just that when opponents focused on the recent snowstorms as “proof” that global warming was oversold. Advocates were successful in pushing back on climate change deniers in that instance, and the same effort should be applied to upcoming heat waves, droughts and flooding, events that fit the pattern of increasing extreme events that scientists have clearly documented and predicted will only increase as the impacts of climate change intensify.

via Reframing the debate on climate science « Climate Progress.

Which is it?  Is an extreme weather event supposed to be presented as an “impact” caused by climate change? Or does it just “fit the pattern” (i.e., is consistent with) what scientists have predicted?

I’m not sure what the “success” advocates achieved explaining the recent cold weather.  Was it success in arguing that any particular weather event we experience gives us no basis for inferring the general state of the climate?  If so, that’s a success that AGW-skeptics will also achieve, if advocates keep insisting that a hot summer demonstrates global warming.

Written by jeangoodwin

March 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Posted in stray remarks

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