Friday, December 25, 2009

Brief Hiatus

Sunday I will be leaving to move cross-country for business reasons. During the move and the time it takes to get resettled, I will not have regular, dependable access to the internet or to my computer, so there will be no updates here at A Is A for (hopefully) a brief time. I'll be back to blogging and commenting on the absurd as soon as I can.
In the meantime, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Enjoy the season, love your families, and stay safe.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some Problems With The Climate Change Debate

I've spent the last few days participating in some online forums discussing Anthropogenic Climate Change and I've come up with a short list of what seems to me to be some of the biggest problems in the debate. Keep in mind that some of these issues can also be applied to any controversial, hot-button debate.

1. Appeals to Authority prove nothing and science does not run on consensus. If every scientist but one says that the sun moves around the Earth, the one who says the opposite is still right.
2. If Recorded Data plus Your Theory does not equal Observed Temperatures then Your Theory is wrong. Math does not make mistakes, but people who think they know more than they do make them often. No amount of "compelling evidence" can change this fact. In truth, if the math is wrong, this proves that you do not understand the "compelling evidence" as well as you claim.
3. If your own records and measurements show that the global mean temperature has been on a long-term warming trend for thousands of years then pointing out that the earth is still warming is not exactly Breaking News. Claiming that it will warm at an increased rate is not the same thing as demonstrating that it is warming at an increased rate.
4. Settled science stands up to scrutiny against all currently available data. It might be proven false (and become, once again, unsettled) with new data at some future time, but it cannot be shaky with current data and be considered "settled". Attempting to split hairs on the scientific definition of "proven" does not alter the scientific definition of "settled". The Laws of Thermodynamics are settled science. The Big Bang theory is not. Please take note of the differences.
5. If the centerpiece of your argument is "Anyone who disagrees with me is morally inferior" then there is probably something seriously wrong with your argument. The reality of "everyone with Opinion A is morally righteous and and everyone with Opinion B is morally inferior" is so vanishingly rare that this argument is almost never justified. By the same token, if your argument relies on "everyone who says X really means Y" then you are also most likely wrong. While some people do function this way, most people say things remarkably close to what they actually believe. When someone presents an argument for why they believe a certain way, pretending they have not done so - whether or not you agree with their opinion - does not magically justify your position.
6. You cannot justifiably demand that people only listen to respectable scientists and claim that anyone who disagrees with you is automatically not respectable. This is a form of circular logic and the only thing it proves is that you are not interested in honest debate.
7. Expecting people to accept your theory as evidence for your theory is also circular logic. If your evidence for catastrophe is modeled projections of what will happen, but these models are based on your theory, you don't actually have evidence. You have your theory, stated twice. We cannot debate your theory by first agreeing to assume your theory is correct.
8. Demanding that the people who are not arguing for radical and/or expensive change must prove you wrong really is not how this game is played. If you are the one demanding radical and/or expensive change then the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that this change is justified. I do not have to prove that a multi-thousand-year trend will not dramatically change in the immediate future. You have to prove that it will.
9. Demanding that everyone change everything to suit your theory before you have proven your theory to be valid doesn't make much sense. Declaring the argument to be over when people are still asking for evidence doesn't prove anything. When your theory relies heavily on predictions that have repeatedly not come true and forecasts that cannot be tested, you might want to rethink declaring the debate to be over.
10. Claims that an increase in global mean temperature will have environmentally catastrophic results when the historical record demonstrates the exact opposite also doesn't make much sense. While there are certainly temperature thresholds that would be catastrophic, not even worst case scenarios in AGW predictions come anywhere close to those numbers. Most of the scientists involved freely admit that their worst case scenarios are highly unlikely, so arguing for even worse cases scenarios is irrational and dishonest. By that token, it is extremely dishonest to excoriate the other side for using inflammatory scare tactics when you are using inflammatory scare tactics yourself.

There you go, my Top Ten list for problems with the Climate Change debate.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When Numbers Don't Add Up

For the last few months I have, off and on, been presenting you with phrases to watch out for, to know when someone is spouting nonsense and should possibly have his or her entire opinion considered suspect. Today, I bring you another such phrase: "Americans overwhelmingly support this plan."
First of all, the phrase is ludicrous because there has rarely been any plan that Americans "overwhelmingly" supported. Here's a hint for those who are linguistically challenged: 2%-3% majority is not overwhelming support. For today's discussion, however, we're not even talking about that small a majority. In fact, we're not talking about a majority at all.
I'm referring, of course, to the health care debate. It should come as no surprise that I follow news on this debate fairly closely and also that I spend a considerable amount of time on the comments sections of these news stories to see what the "regular" people are saying. "Americans overwhelmingly support this plan," is a comment I see rather often and, I have to admit, I'm wondering about the medication levels of the people who say such things. These comments tend to come either from people who are giddy about the prospects of their favorite bill passing with no problems (apparently oblivious to the wrangling and difficulties that are reported daily) or from people who are angry with politicians not instantly falling in line on their favorite bill (apparently oblivious to the sheer numbers of people who have voiced concerns with the bills in question). The real problem here is that these people are pulling these overwhelming numbers out of their dreams.
According to the most recent polls (most from mid-to-late November with the Rasmussen poll being from this past weekend), there is no overwhelming support for the health care plans currently under discussion. There isn't somewhat-in-favor support. There isn't even the smallest majority support. When asked their opinions on the current plans under discussion, every major poll finds more people opposed to than in favor of.

Rasmussen 41% in favor 51% opposed
Gallup/USA Today 44% in favor 49% opposed
Washington Post/ABC 48% in favor 49% opposed
Associated Press 41% in favor 43% opposed

You'll notice that I'm showing polls from both the left and right side of the political spectrum and none of them show the slightest majority in favor, let alone overwhelming support. In the interests of being fair, that AP poll does show that 86% of Americans favor doing something to reform our health care system. Perhaps that is how these people are coming up with the "overwhelmingly support" claim. Americans overwhelmingly support reforming our health care system in general. However, that same poll only shows 41% approval for the specific methods of reform currently under discussion. Yes, people want reform. No, they do not want this reform.
That has been my point all along. Contrary to the lies being perpetrated by the far Left, being opposed to the current plans under discussion does not equal being in favor of the status quo. It does not equal being in favor of sky-rocketing prices. It does not equal being in favor of just letting people die. It equals being opposed to the current plans under discussion, nothing more and nothing less. News flash: More people are opposed to the current plans under discussion than are in favor. That should be cause for concern and should clearly indicate that we need to re-examine the current plans under discussion.
These people are operating under the idea that it is better to do anything at all than to do nothing, and that has always been a bad ideal. It is politically expedient, mushy, feel-good thinking that has caused more harm in history than it has ever done good. Following this thinking opens up the way to making things much worse because it makes intentions, rather than results, the guiding factor. We need to stop this headlong rush to "do anything" and make sure that what we're doing can actually have good results. Lying about overwhelming support isn't going to help anyone when reality comes to collect the bill.