Argument from authority

It was really nice out today, and my windshield made it so I didn’t even have to dirty up the image digitally. Look at that.

I’m not sure how big a splash it made, but last week and op-ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled “Sixteen Concerned Scientists: No Need to Panic About Global Warming“.

People who are in denial of global warming love when they can round up some scientists that side with them. Making the assumption that all scientist are created equal, they think that it makes their argument stronger. In fact, it probably does make them look more sane in the eyes of the public. The general public, however, isn’t really equipped to understand if a scientist is credible in a field, or if they have any distinction of note.

It is an appeal or argument from authority. Which is, to quote Wikipedia (so you don’t have to click to see about the same amount of words)…

The appeal to authority may take several forms. As a statistical syllogism, it will have the following basic structure:[1]

Most of what authority a has to say on subject matter S is correct.
a says p about S.
Therefore, p is correct.

The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:[1][2]

  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.

The key part here is the second part.

The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:[1][2]

  1. The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
  2. A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.

For their appeal to authority to have weight, their authoroties must fit those criteria. So, do they? I don’t know. I don’t have the time or resources to check these people out. Forunately, Skeptical Science (great resource for climate change science and arguments) does, and has done so.

So what do they got to say?

The signatories of this newest letter are also worth noting for their lack of noteworthiness.  Although the climate denialist blogs have labeled them “luminaries” and “prominent scientists“, the list is actually quite underwhelming.  In fact, it only includes four scientists who have actually published climate research in peer-reviewed journals, and only two who have published climate research in the past three decades.  Nearly half of the list (at least 7 of 16) have received fossil fuel industry funding, and the list also includes an economist, a physician, a chemist, an aerospace engineer, and an astronaut/politician.

That knocks out number 1 under the “strength of this argument” section. Number 2  is easily shot out of the cannon as well.

The consensus on climate change is overwhelming. Let’s just stay on Skeptical Science, as that allows me to be lazy. Here’s a link to their page on the scientific consensus, and here’s what they have for us.

…a consensus in science is different from a political one. There is no vote. Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other’s work. All science depends on that which precedes it, and when one scientist builds on the work of another, he acknowledges the work of others through citations. The work that forms the foundation of climate change science is cited with great frequency by many other scientists, demonstrating that the theory is widely accepted – and relied upon.

In the scientific field of climate studies – which is informed by many different disciplines – the consensus is demonstrated by the number of scientists who have stopped arguing about what is causing climate change – and that’s nearly all of them. A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows thatnot a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused. 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way, focusing on methods or paleoclimate analysis (Oreskes 2004).

So strike point 2 off that list. 16 people vs. everyone else.

Those in denial should stop wasting their energy on this crap and instead put their energies towards helping us understand the mechanics of climate change and broadening our base of knowledge. There IS a lot of unknown there, but to refute the amount of evidence for anthropogenic climate change would require an equally massive body of evidence, and right now that doesn’t exist, and people have been looking for it for a LONG time.

I got a physics lab to type up. PEACE.

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