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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Inference to the best explanation

To this day, less than 50% of Americans believe we cause global warming. This is quite a strong indicator of the efficacy of judiciously spent corporate lobby money.

I remember a spoof on "Dr. Kildare" in Mad Magazine, decades ago, that taught me more about persuasion than all my years of schooling. Roughly, the older, mentoring doctor says to the young one: "Have a cigarette." "No, thanks, I don't smoke," replies the intern. "Never say that!" thunders his elder. "Our show is paid for by cigarette companies. One scene with an actor in a white lab coat, smoking, nullifies a hundred studies showing that smoking will kill you."

Use of bogus argument -- "Buy this kind of car and you will get girls because there is a girl standing by this car and she is smiling" is common in mercantile/political discourse. It relies upon an appearance of reason by substituting a proximity -- a thing seen with another thing -- for a leg of a three legged deductive argument.

We ought to be able to recognize such arguments and reject them out of hand, but it's difficult to do; they appeal to our lizard brains and it takes a lot of coffee, and some will power, to fend them off with our prefrontal lobes.

Anyone can accidentally introduce fallacy into argumentation -- I do it quite frequently. But when you follow the money, you find more and more instances of it being done deliberately, by corporate spokespeople, think tank seminarians, Administration mouthpieces, and assorted "mainstream" journalists.

[Ironic understatement warning]. In other words, where there is oil to be sold there are lies to be told.

Free speech? Certainly. But it is an abuse of the commons, which is the thing most liberals are talking about when they complain about "conservative" strategy. I submit that the strategies in question are not conservative at all, nor represent the views or intent of true conservatives, who respect reason, freedom, and equality in ways that would put a good many liberals to shame.

Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone on the left abandoned whining and everyone on the right abandoned bullying and we all came together to preserve the commons through civil discourse?

Beginning with a respect for replicable science done well?


Here is a comprehensive "How We Know Global Warming is Anthropogenic" slideshow (opens in Acrobat Reader) which can be used as the basis of an unusually intelligent discussion of the issue:

Explains, with great clarity, the meaning of scientific consensus and gives us a hint of what's at stake when the noise of bogus argumentation is used to "refute" good, clean, ordinary science.

Consensus-building in science, says Oreskes, is done by noting a convergence among findings arrived at through:

1. Methodological standards, or the use of procedures known to have produced reliable conclusions.
2. Evidential standards, or the consideration of kinds of evidence known to work well with established methods.
3. Performance standards, or the consideration of the meaning of "reliable."
4. Inference to the best explanation, or the awareness that the proposal of frivolous explanations is not to be regarded as equivalent to the proposal of testable hypotheses. Occam's razor, really: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. In other words, if you pull an ice core out of Greenland's (disappearing) ice cap with 150,000 annual strata in it, you may find conversation with people who regard the Earth as 7,000 years old -- well -- frustrating, especially when they want to write your laws.
5. Community standards, or the appeal to consensus as to best practice in 1. through 4. above.

Found at: Only In It for the Gold.


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