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← Two equally bad fallacies

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

Were there two fallacies listed there?

On the "what's your least favourite fallacy?" question, I don't think I could narrow that massive shortlist down to just one, but there is one fallacy in particular I'd like to discuss because I've never seen it discussed anywhere else but have repeatedly spotted it being used on richarddawkins.net (not by typical posters, of course). You mentioned climate change deniers. Well, here's one to do with them that really riles me.

Someone comes on and says they're agnostic on the topic because, while they're familiar with the case for the scientific consensus, they've also read the deniers' case against it and can't work out for themselves which side is better, so you can't just go through the facts to convince them because apparently assessing facts exceeds their intellectual capacity. So what else can you do? You could point out they have no excuse for not accepting the scientific consensus, but they'll go on and on and on about how technically the consensus itself doesn't prove anything, but rather the reasons for the consensus do ... you know, the very reasons you can't use to persuade them for the aforesaid reason?

That only leaves you with one option: demand they reveal what deniers' arguments they genuinely think could in principle be right because they don't know enough stuff to realise what's wrong with those arguments, then debunk those arguments. Ah, but they have a trick there too; they keep coming up with more and more and more of them. That all the other ones were rubbish never sinks in. It's as if no matter how many episodes of "Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed" they've seen, this trick whose method they don't know might be genuinely supernatural.

I suppose technically this is a family of mutually supporting fallacies: 1. If I've heard the case for and against a claim and am too ignorant to realise which one is better, agnosticism is OK, or even best. 2. A "scientific consensus" is just as big an argument from authority or popularity as anything else using the word "consensus". (The definition of a scientific consensus is an overwhelming majority of the relevant experts on a topic agreeing for reasons explicitly traceable to the performance of ideas in peer-reviewed literature, findings proving reproducible but not successfully debunked. This isn't just a case of a vote being taken on this issue.) 3. No matter how long the one-sided whack-a-mole has gone on, agnosticism is STILL appropriate.

Plus these guys will always make the same basic mistakes like confusing climate with weather, denying they've done so when you point it out, then reiterating their "argument" in such a way as to repeat that confusion.

Also, they've always got some kind of science degree - an irrelevant one, but they do have on. They wouldn't be lying, right?

Mon, 30 Jan 2012 18:49:36 UTC | #912756