# Refinements

I think I might refine the definition of the argumentum ad imperfectionem somewhat today.  As I alleged the other day, ad imperfectionem fallacy occurs when one asserts that the minor errors in someone's argument may be justifiably exaggerated by opponents of that argument.  So, for instance, minor errors in a legal filing undermine one's entire case, not just those particular claims relevant to those errors.  For, after all, if there are a couple of typos, who knows what other kinds of serious errors there could be.  This, of course, is the response of a crazy person.  But not all crazy is the same, so it's worth it to take a closer look at the crazy.

On this description, the imperfectionem is a variation of the ignoratio elenchi (IE).  The ignoratio elenchi, sometimes called "missing the point" or–get this–"non sequitur", is a kind of a catch-all category of fallacy: any other basic failure of informal entailment gets thrown in here.  Here, for instance, is the way Patrick Hurley puts it in A Concise Introduction to Logic:

Missing the point illustrates a special form of irrelevance.  This fallacy occurs when the premises of an argument support one particular conclusion, but then a different conclusion, often vaguely related to the correct conclusion, is drawn.

….

but in some ways it serves as a catchall for arguments that are not clear instances of one or more of the other fallacies.

Textbooks will often use examples of IEs with outrageous conclusions where more moderate ones are available.  So, for instance, given the inevitable shortcomings in weather forecasts, one ought not to listen to them at all.  That's dumb, as weather forecasts are predictions, and predictions can be wrong.  Again, the conclusion of a crazy person.  This conclusion, in that particular example, is driven by the idea that any imperfection, however minor, in the assertions of one party are sufficient to create doubt about that party's entire case.

I think the argumentum ad imperfectionem is focused on the inference from the relatively minor shortcomings of one side to either (a) the truth of the opposite side (in which case it looks like a false dichotomy) or (b) to the conclusion that no one can really claim to know one's conclusion is true (in which case it looks like an appeal to ignorance) or finally (c) to the conclusion that the opposite side is relatively more justified.

I can think of examples of all three of these.  But for today, here's an example of (a):

(a) in the minds of many, the various quibbles and revisions involved in the science of global warming justify skepticism of the entire thesis.  Here's an example of that from the Washington Post:

"What's happened here is that there's an industry of climate-change denialists who are trying to make it seem as though you can't trust anything that is between the covers" of the panel's report, said Jeffrey Kargel, a professor at the University of Arizona who studies glaciers. "It's really heartbreaking to see this happen, and to see that the IPCC left themselves open" to being attacked.

That's not an example of an actual argument, as it is a report of someone else's argument.  But people really do make that allegation, unfortunately.

Maybe if I'm motivated I'll find examples of the others later.

# The Green Hornet

The only thing that makes George Will madder (and more incoherent) than "global warming" are teachers' unions.  Just as teachers' unions have singularly (without any interference from any other causal factor) been able to destroy public education and all that's good in America, environmentalists aim to destroy the economy for their Marxist political agenda.  I wish I were kidding:

What Friedrich Hayek called the "fatal conceit" — the idea that government can know the future's possibilities and can and should control the future's unfolding — is the left's agenda. The left exists to enlarge the state's supervision of life, narrowing individual choices in the name of collective goods. Hence the left's hostility to markets. And to automobiles — people going wherever they want whenever they want.

Today's "green left" is the old "red left" revised. Marx, a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist, prophesied deepening class conflict but thought that history's violent dialectic would culminate in a revolution that would usher in material abundance and such spontaneous cooperation that the state would wither away.

The green left preaches pessimism: Ineluctable scarcities (of energy, food, animal habitat, humans' living space) will require a perpetual regime of comprehensive rationing. The green left understands that the direct route to government control of almost everything is to stigmatize, as a planetary menace, something involved in almost everything — carbon.

He gets to this astoundingly moronic conclusion (that global warming is a myth perpetrated by "the left") by two main arguments.  First, he uncritically accepts of the word of a poorly qualified climate change deniers and climate change danger skeptics.  This time it's not Michael Crichton, science fiction author, but Nigel Lawson (that's Nigella's father), former British Cabinet member.  I can't determine what his specific expertise is here.  But it's obvious that he doesn't deny the fact of global warming–something which Will seems to do here.  He merely denies that it's a bad thing.  He writes (Will's quote):

"Over the past two-and-a-half-million years, a period during which the planet's climate fluctuated substantially, remarkably few of the earth's millions of plant and animal species became extinct. This applies not least, incidentally, to polar bears, which have been around for millennia, during which there is ample evidence that polar temperatures have varied considerably."

According to him at least, the climate is changing.  To be fair, of course, he'll probably deny that the cause is the presence of unabsorbed carbon in the atmosphere.  But that's a different claim from the one he's making above.  Scientists would agree of course that the earth's temperature has changed considerably over the years.  But not so drastically.  And not, at least not recently, because of carbon in the atmosphere.

Will's second argument is inconsistent with this first one.  He writes

Want to build a power plant in Arizona? A building in Florida? Do you want to drive an SUV? Or leave your cellphone charger plugged in overnight? Some judge might construe federal policy as proscribing these activities. Kempthorne says such uses of the act, unintended by those who wrote it in 1973, would be "wholly inappropriate." But in 1973, climate Cassandras were saying that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age" (Science Digest, February 1973).

This one holds that the climate is probably not changing, or that climatologists should not be believed, because in the 70s there was concern (in the popular media) about "a new ice age."  In other words, Will suggests there is some kind of inconsistency in the arguments of current climatologists because an article or two (and he always cites specific articles on this point–good for him!) claimed the opposite of what they now claim.  This, of course, hardly makes them inconsistent.  Besides, reports from the 70s popular media ought not be held up against the work of actual scientists.  You might hold it up against the current disaster-media complex, but that would be something else entirely.

In one final bit of craziness, he concludes the above paragraph with the following warning:

And no authors of the Constitution or the 14th Amendment intended to create a "fundamental" right to abortion, but there it is.

Lest you think we won't slide down the slippery slope to less autonomy of personal choices, just look at what happened with Roe v. Wade.