Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When it is not a strawman

For those who have never heard of this logical fallacy, a straw man is a criticism of an argument other than the actual one you're responding to. A Wikipedia entry explains it more formally: To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.[1]  
 E.g. I say Obama hasn't been a great president--you then counter by saying "Well he's not the worst ever."
A reader should always be on the lookout for this kind of dishonest, fallacious reasoning.

On the other hand, it is as equally dishonest to claim that an argument is a strawman when it is not one.  This article on global warming is an example of this. Recently, physicist Richard Muller and a team of scientists showed conclusively that the earth was warming and wrote an op-ed about his team's findings. The author of this article, James Delingpole, claims that global warming skeptics accept the fact that the planet is warming, and that Muller is making a straw man argument. But Delingpole is wrong: Mueller is not making a straw man argument.

Many skeptics do claim the earth is cooling.  As I pointed out in the comments beneath the article (moddem 38 is my screen name), a Google search for "global cooling" has 5 million + hits. (Try it now, if you don't believe me). Delingpole either hasn't followed the debate very closely, or (more likely) he's being dishonest. Being as Delingpole is a conservative ideologue with no expertise in the subject--one of his books is named "365 Ways to Drive a Liberal Crazy,"-- there's every reason to see his argument as a deliberate falsehood.

1 comment:

pvblivs said...

     Well, I look at the original. And it looks, at least on the surface, to be a strawman. It looks like it is saying that all the skeptics believe the planet is not warming. Yes, I did see the little bit at the end saying how much of the warming is man-made is unknown. And I was reminded of front-page accusations and back-page "corrections."
     The line "But now let me explain why you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer" certainly suggests that it is answering all skepticism. As many (most?) skeptics of human-caused global warming simply do not believe that man has a significant effect on climate change (which has been going on long before humans have been around) treating all skepticism as based on the notion that the planet is not warming is a strawman.
     To me, this looks like a strawman with a meant-to-be-overlooked disclaimer. You may disagree. But it is not unreasonable for someone to conclude that it was intended as a strawman.