Category Archives: Lack of Evidence

Argumentum ad Novi Eboraci Tempora

That would be "ad New York Times" I suppose.  I take as a matter or religious faith that global warming is a scientific issue, and that arguments concerning its reality or unreality should start and end there.  So when one frames the argument about global warming either in response to a Newsweek headline many years ago, or a New York Times article quoted out of context, I think that person is either not particularly well informed about how scientists work (they don't publish their work in the newspaper) or is just plain dishonest.  So George Will today frames his argument against the existence of a well-supported phenomenon by attacking the New York Times, as well as various context free quotes, meant–the quotes–to set up a pretty silly ad hominem.  

He writes:

Plateau in Temperatures

Adds Difficulty to Task

Of Reaching a Solution

— New York Times, Sept. 23

 

In this headline on a New York Times story about the difficulties confronting people alarmed about global warming, note the word "plateau." It dismisses the unpleasant — to some people — fact that global warming is maddeningly (to the same people) slow to vindicate their apocalyptic warnings about it.

The "difficulty" — the "intricate challenge," the Times says — is "building momentum" for carbon reduction "when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years." That was in the Times's first paragraph.

Whenever this guy quotes stuff, you'd better go read the original.  Here's what it says:

The plateau in temperatures has been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that the threat of global warming is overblown. And some climate experts worry that it could hamper treaty negotiations and slow the progress of legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Scientists say the pattern of the last decade — after a precipitous rise in average global temperatures in the 1990s — is a result of cyclical variations in ocean conditions and has no bearing on the long-term warming effects of greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere.

The part about the scientists is where the argument ought to be.  Will instead insists that the real discussion is the political question of how to keep non-scientists from wrongly concluding, as Will has in this very piece, that the leveling off of temperatures means it's all a crock.  That's the point of the argument.  Will cites this piece extensively, and he seems to have no notion of what it's about.  Here's what he says:

The Times reported that "scientists" — all of them? — say the 11 years of temperature stability has "no bearing," none, on long-term warming. Some scientists say "cool stretches are inevitable." Others say there may be growth of Arctic sea ice, but the growth will be "temporary." According to the Times, however, "scientists" say that "trying to communicate such scientific nuances to the public — and to policymakers — can be frustrating." 

The quoted bits give the impression of some kind of fudging on the Times' part (like the black and white and weird voice in political commercials).  In any case, as I understand it, the basic point is this: The globe has heated up seriously for a quite a while.  Recently it has leveled off, but it still remains much hotter, so to speak, than before.  This is not unlike a guy with a really bad fever, experiencing a bit of dip, say a dip to 102.  He's still got a fever. 

Anyway, now for the ad hominem part:

The Times says "a short-term trend gives ammunition to skeptics of climate change." Actually, what makes skeptics skeptical is the accumulating evidence that theories predicting catastrophe from man-made climate change are impervious to evidence. The theories are unfalsifiable, at least in the "short run." And the "short run" is defined as however many decades must pass until the evidence begins to fit the hypotheses.

The Post recently reported the theory of a University of Virginia professor emeritus who thinks that, many millennia ago, primitive agriculture — burning forests, creating methane-emitting rice paddies, etc. — produced enough greenhouse gases to warm the planet at least a degree. The theory is interesting. Even more interesting is the reaction to it by people such as the Columbia University professor who says it makes him "really upset" because it might encourage opponents of legislation combating global warming.

This professor emeritus fellow is the only scientist Will cites in favor of his skeptical stance.  Nonetheless, the worry among scientists, justifiable as this piece indicates, is that people with no expertise will misunderstand the significance of the data.

 

A vast social justice empire

This Kathleen Parker op-ed is a masterwork in insinuation.  The topic is ACORN, of course.  She has found a way to make ACORN the reason to be afraid of health care reform by linking them to a union, of all things.  

She writes:

You also don't talk about either organization without mention of Wade Rathke, co-founder of ACORN and founder of SEIU Local 100 in New Orleans. Rathke, who resigned from ACORN last year as "chief organizer" after it became known that his brother embezzled almost $1 million from the association, continues to run Local 100, as well as ACORN International, recently renamed Community Organizations International.

Rathke's social justice empire is so vast that he is more hydra than man. Nine heads are surely better than one when you're organizing communities in at least 12 countries. While Rathke and ACORN undoubtedly have done much good for impoverished people here and abroad, it appears likely that American taxpayers indirectly have been helping to underwrite unionizing activities and advance political goals through the commingling of Rathke's various interests.

A "social justice empire"?  Ponder that phrase for a moment.

The world in black and white

Does some of the criticism directed at Obama have to do with race?  Undoubtedly.  Does that mean the people from whom it issues are frothing at the mouth KKK-style racists?  No, obviously not.  Someone please tell David Brooks.  Here he is describing his experience last week at the 9/12 protests:

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back. I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.

Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

Notice that Brooks doesn't give us any reason to suppose that the two groups were from "the opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum."  I'm not even sure what it means to be from the opposite end of the "cultural spectrum" (black vs. white?) now that I think of it.  I find it remarkably odd that he would think of it this way, since it is obvious that the family reunion had nothing to do with the tea party protest–they weren't, after all, counter-protesters, they were just there.

More importantly, however, is the fact that he takes peaceful interaction between a white group of people and a black one to be evidence of the non-existence of racist motivations on the part of some (some some some) of the white people.  Is he expecting that they would treat the black people they meet rudely?

I think the accusations of a racial component to current anti-government feeling has something to do with certain celebrated conservative talkers fomenting fear among whites of racism directed at them–no., it's Obama who is a racist.  It might also have something to do with the fact that the mainstream media asking, every time a black man or woman does something, what Obama thinks of it.  What Obama has to contribute to the Kanye story is beyond me.  I wonder why no one is talking about Obama's take on the crazy child abductors in California.

The question mark fallacy

For the second third (behind Paul Krugman and Rush Limbaugh) most influential columnist in America, George Will, it seems politicizing things is now bad.  He writes:

"This is just the beginning," Yosi Sergant told participants in an Aug. 10 conference call that seems to have been organized by the National Endowment for the Arts and certainly was joined by a functionary from the White House Office of Public Engagement. The call was the beginning of the end of Sergant's short tenure as NEA flack — he has been reassigned. The call also was the beginning of a small scandal that illuminates something gargantuan — the Obama administration's incontinent lust to politicize everything. 

Incontinent lust?  Anyway, this argument, if you can call it that, suffers from the "question mark fallacy"–all of the premises end in question marks:

Did the White House initiate the conference call-cum-political pep rally? Or, even worse, did the NEA, an independent agency, spontaneously politicize itself? Something that reads awfully like an invitation went from Sergant's NEA e-mail address to a cohort of "artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, tastemakers, leaders or just plain cool people."

They were exhorted to participate in a conference call "to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda." The first core area mentioned was "health care."

Questions, your introduction to critical thinking teacher will tell you, are not statements.  They have no truth value.  Will is also guilty of the quotation mark fallacy–a signal someone has ripped a bunch of stuff out of context in order to make it look accurate (it's a quote!) and ominous (those are their actual words!).  This research, such as it is, is done by an assistant trolling the conservative blogosphere for the topic of the day.

Crap.  As for the quote itself, uou can read the actual email (in a screen capture) at the links in the quotation above; it's a call for people to get engaged in public service and volunteerism, which things, so it seems to Will, are political.  To suggest as much, I think, commits the everything-is-political fallacy: defining "political" so broadly that nothing does not qualify.  Of course, if that's the case, ergo, etc, as they say. 

This is Jonah Goldberg quality stuff here.  If Mr.Will keeps this up, he'll be lucky to be the thirty-fourth most influential pundit in America.

Propter hack

Michael Gerson, who liked George W. Bush and his notion of preventative war, does not like Barack Obama.  That's fine.  I don't know why the Washington Post has hired him to say as much however.  Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter, is a party operative, not a disinterested observer.  So when he remarks on how disappointing Obama's Presidency has been, you know something has gone right for Obama.  I remark on this not because I have it in for conservatives.  On the contrary, I'm keenly interested in actual conservative argument.  It's a shame, I think, that the Post hires such hacks (the same would go for Democratic party hacks, if there were any). 

Today Gerson writes:

In 1950, Lionel Trilling could write, "In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition." In 1980, as the Reagan revolution was starting, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded, "Of a sudden, the GOP has become the party of ideas."

Where now is the intellectual center of gravity — the thrill of innovation, the ideological momentum — in American politics? Not in the party of Obama.

This failure of imagination was on full display during Barack Obama's address to Congress. In a moment that demanded new policy to cut an ideological knot, or at least new arguments to restart the public debate, Obama saw fit to provide neither. His health speech turned out to be an environmental speech, devoted mainly to recycling. On every important element of his health proposal, he chose to double down and attack the motives of opponents. (Obama was the other public official who talked of a "lie" that evening.) Concerns about controlling health costs, the indirect promotion of abortion and the effect of a new entitlement on future deficits were dismissed but not answered. On health care, Obama takes his progressivism pure and simplistic.

This, I think, is a specious allegation of fallacy–Obama did attack the motives of his opponents, after pointing out, in the cases mentioned above by Gerson, that they have lied relentlessly about the content of the bills working their way through the system.  When someone, such as Gerson and the people he sophistically defends, distorts the simple and obvious facts open to everyone's inspection, it is well justified to wonder about their motives.  I wonder, indeed, about Gerson's motives in writing such silliness.  He doesn't, you'll notice, even bother to justify either (1) the allegation that Obama was lying or (2) that he attacked anyone's motives–and not their facts.  This kind of sophistry, I think, is worse than lying.  Gerson, or at least the Post (I know, don't laugh) ought to know better. 

Truly hilarious, however, is the idea that Obama is some kind of wicked hardcore lefty, taking his "progressivism pure and simplistic" when in fact he (1) spent the entire summer (not on vacation) trying to negotiate with Republicans and (2) in the very speech in question brought together elements from John McCain and George W.Bush.  Gerson writes:

This is the most consistent disappointment of Obama's young term. Given a historic opportunity to occupy the political center, to blur ideological lines, to reset the partisan debate through unexpected innovation, Obama has taken the most tired, most predictable agenda in American politics — the agenda of congressional liberalism — and made it his own. Elected on the promise to transcend old arguments of left and right, Obama has systematically reinforced them on domestic issues. A pork-laden stimulus. A highly centralized health reform. Eight months into Obama's term, American politics is covered in the cobwebs of past controversies. Obama has supporters, but he has ceased trying for converts.

This should surprise no one. Obama did not rise on Bill Clinton's political path — the path of a New Democrat, forced to win and govern in a red state. Obama was a conventional, congressional liberal in every way — except in his extraordinary abilities. His great talent was talent itself, not ideological innovation. And given the general Republican collapse of 2006 to 2008 — rooted in the initial unraveling of Iraq, the corruption of the Republican congressional majority and the financial meltdown — Obama did not need innovation to win. Only ability and the proper tone.

Not even close.  Notice, however, how Gerson does not bother anywhere in the piece to justify his whacky assertions.  It's as if he did not even see the speech. 

Deny or disparage

This op-ed by John Mackey, CEO of whole foods, has caused somewhat of a stir.  A bunch of people decided to boycott his store (and use his website to do so).  I prefer the raw capitalism of buying from the actual grower–but I guess that makes me some kind of communist.  Anyway, this morning I ran across a couple of tepid defenses of Mackey's op-ed.  Here, Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune, and here the newly rejuvenated Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post.

Mackey lays out a series of proposals that address access to health insurance (but don't guarantee it); the only one aimed at reducing costs (aside from being healthy) is tort reform.  I think tort reform is a dubious strategy for a libertarian–if you have any rights at all, you have a right to sue people for contract breech or for failure to perform up to a certain standard.  There is empirical research of a kind on that point, however, which would at least address the question as to whether tort reform would have any effect on medical costs.  Once that question is resolved, however, one would have to balance one's right to sue an incompetent doctor against the communist benefits of lowering health care costs across the board.  

In addition to offering these and other points, he runs some counter arguments against "socialism."  Since no one is offering socialism, or even socialized medicine (if you don't know that, step away from the microphone at the town hall, go to the local library [for free!] and read some newspapers) I can hardly applaud his courage.  

He runs a version of the "rights" argument as well.  I don't know where people pick up these arguments, but it's really silly.  For some reason people have framed this discussion as one about rights–namely about the rights they're losing in having greater access to health care.  Perhaps this explains why people show up at town hall meetings with guns.  As Wyatt Cenac on the Daily Show indicated yesterday, that makes about as much sense as showing up drunk (which is another thing you have a right to do).

Here, in any case, is Mackey's right's argument:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This "right" has never existed in America.

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

The idea that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (again–not a ruling legal document!) enumerate all of our "intrinsic" rights is silly.  It's silly because, as people should never tire of pointing out, the Constitution, on a careful reading (slightly more careful than Mackey's) says:

Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

There you have it folks.  A careful reading of the Constitution shows that you may have more rights than the Constitution says.

One more obvious point.  I think no one could seriously argue that the Constitution contains all intrinsic rights, such that their not being mentioned (see above, 9th Amendment) is evidence of their not existing.  That would be circular!

Slippery McCoy

The very idea of hate crimes laws drives some people deeply into the forest of confusion, where they forget that speech and belief is punished all of the time, and that doing so is not some kind of violation of one's constitutional rights.  One's constitutional rights have some common sense limits: I cannot shout "fire" in a crowded theater, I cannot say (as someone once said to me–seriously) "I'm going to put a cap in your ass."  Unable to countenance such distinctions, Richard Cohen, some kind of liberal columnist for the Washington Post, writes an extremely confused op-ed wherein he rejects the entire idea of hate crimes legislation.  The whole piece hinges on the following snippet in the Senate discussion of hate crimes laws:

 "A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim . . . but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected."

Let's do some googling before we read Cohen.  And when we do, we find that the passage he cites is not the definition of a hate crime, but rather a "finding."  Here is the definition:

the term “hate crime” has the meaning given such term in section 280003(a) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (28 U.S.C. 994 note).

Ok, so now more googling:

(a) DEFINITION- In this section, `hate crime' means a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.

Cohen ignores that–but refers instead to the "findings" of the new 2009 bill, and attacks that as if it were the very definition and sole motivation for their being hate crimes legislation.  That makes the rest of the argument a hollow man–in that he attacks an argument no actually makes.  He writes,

He [James von Brunn] also proves the stupidity of hate-crime laws. A prime justification for such laws is that some crimes really affect a class of people. The hate-crimes bill recently passed by the Senate puts it this way: "A prominent characteristic of a violent crime motivated by bias is that it devastates not just the actual victim . . . but frequently savages the community sharing the traits that caused the victim to be selected." No doubt. But how is this crime different from most other crimes? 

How is "pre-meditated murder" different from "unpremeditated murder"?  How is killing a police officer in the line of duty different from killing a rival mafioso?  Why is it especially heinous to commit offenses against children and the elderly?  Not all murders are the same, sometimes they have special conditions (premeditation), sometimes they have special victims (police, children, politicians).  None of this is unusual or strange.  

Cohen's argument stinks in other ways.  He alleges a slippery slope without attempting to establish it.

The real purpose of hate-crime laws is to reassure politically significant groups — blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays, etc. — that someone cares about them and takes their fears seriously. That's nice. It does not change the fact, though, that what's being punished is thought or speech. Johns is dead no matter what von Brunn believes. The penalty for murder is severe, so it's not as if the crime is not being punished. The added "late hit" of a hate crime is without any real consequence, except as a precedent for the punishment of belief or speech. Slippery slopes are supposedly all around us, I know, but this one is the real McCoy. 

Criminal acts of speech, thought, expression (and even religion) get punished all of the time.  It's not that hard to draw relevant distinctions (there will certainly be hard cases, but that's what the judiciary is for).

This op-ed is too full of confusion for one post, so I'll stop with the following:

I doubt that any group of drunken toughs is going to hesitate in their pummeling of a gay individual or an African American or a Jew on account of it being a hate crime.

Um–I really doubt this, but it also seems irrelevant.  

 

The stain of ignorance

In order further to induce skepticism about global warming, George Will now invokes the words of Mark Steyn, a man with no apparent education or expertise on climate science, who in turn rests his global warming denialism on someone who who has no education or expertise on climate science.  Will writes:

The costs of weaning the U.S. economy off much of its reliance on carbon are uncertain, but certainly large. The climatic benefits of doing so are uncertain but, given the behavior of those pesky 5 billion, almost certainly small, perhaps minuscule, even immeasurable. Fortunately, skepticism about the evidence that supposedly supports current alarmism about climate change is growing, as is evidence that, whatever the truth about the problem turns out to be, U.S. actions cannot be significantly ameliorative.

When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called upon "young Americans" to "get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon," another columnist, Mark Steyn, responded: "If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade."

Which could explain why the Mall does not reverberate with youthful clamors about carbon. And why, regarding climate change, the U.S. government, rushing to impose unilateral cap-and-trade burdens on the sagging U.S. economy, looks increasingly like someone who bought a closetful of platform shoes and bell-bottom slacks just as disco was dying.

For the Steyn reference, see here (for the lazy, Steyn's argument rests on the discredited paper of a non-scientist).  As a matter of logic, however, relying on the authority of someone else is a slightly more sound strategy than making stuff up–which is what Will did last time he talked about global warming.

Moderatism

This point from Harold Meyerson is where the health care debate ought to start:

Every other nation with an advanced economy long ago secured universal health care for its citizens — an achievement that the United States alone finds beyond the capacities of mortal man.

One might also add that health outcomes in those countries are generally superior to ours for sometimes half the money.  Notice also that the plans that these other countries have implemented are far to the "left," as it were, of anything being considered today.  In light of that, Michael Gerson's endorsement of centrism merely because it is centrism is baffling:  

Some may accuse such moderates of lacking in boldness or ambition. It is better than lacking in responsibility and good judgment.

I suppose I should mention that Gerson hasn't done anything (in the rest of the piece) to establish that moderates have exhibited anything like good judgment.  He has simply assumed that the moderate position is superior to the one advocated by "liberal interest groups."  Yet, as Meyerson points out, the fiscally responsible good judgment seems to be far to the left of anything being proposed.  Few also could deny that the current system has been a striking success for anyone not in the insurance business.  In light of the reality we face, and the possibilities actually realized in every other nation with an advanced economy, one wonders what the virtues of the moderate position, because it is the moderate position, must be.