Canberra Times takes on the Petition Project

We’ll start with a definition today, as this is key to what follows:

Argument from Authority is an informal logical fallacy, formally known as argumentum ad verecundium, where an participant argues that a belief is correct because the person making the argument is an authority. (SkepticWiki)

The Canberra Times has taken over first place in the league table of AGW scaremongers from its stable mates The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald thanks to the work of Rosslyn Beeby and various opinion writers. In an article today, all the old tired clichés are pulled out of the bag one by one, including the “D” word, comparisons with tobacco lobby, funding of sceptics by “Big Oil”, and of course, rubbishing of the Petition Project:

As far as can be judged, some of the 31,000 were not graduates, very few were qualified in scientific disciplines, and almost none had any knowledge of climate change. The petition was organised by a Dr Frederick Seitz, a former president of the US Academy of Science in the 1960s, who worked as a consultant to the tobacco lobby in the 1970s, and who, apparently, has published little research of his own on any subject in 40 years, none of it on the science of climate change. The common strategy in climate change denial is not to offer serious scientific, economic or policy arguments against effective action, but to utilise prejudice, fear and inertia to undermine the case for action.

This is the classic, and fallacious, argument to authority. These 31,000 have “no” qualifications, therefore their opinion is not worth listening to. And it avoids the far more difficult task of addressing their actual arguments (which the writer doesn’t even try). Conversely, however, the fact that 31,000 signatures are on a petition likewise has little “authority” by itself. However, it demonstrates effectively that there is no consensus.

But as the writer appeals to authority, I am entitled to do the same. If he had bothered to take ten seconds do any research on the Petition Project he would have found the following information about the signatories:

  • 9,021 PhD; 6,961 MS; 2,240 MD and DVM; and 12,850 BS or equivalent academic degrees;
  • Atmospheric, environmental, and Earth sciences includes 3,697 scientists trained in specialties directly related to the physical environment of the Earth and the past and current phenomena that affect that environment;
  • Physics and aerospace sciences include 5,691 scientists trained in the fundamental physical and molecular properties of gases, liquids, and solids, which are essential to understanding the physical properties of the atmosphere and Earth; and
  • Engineering and general science includes 9,992 scientists trained primarily in the many engineering specialties

Whilst there are many scientists here that are not climate scientists, they are trained in a science discipline to a level that they can see, like me, that the wool is being pulled over their eyes, simply by looking at the evidence available. Proper scientists would never, ever, say, in respect of such a frighteningly complex and (relatively) poorly understood system such as the earth’s climate, that the debate was over or that the science was settled.

Again, as the writer has relied on authority, I am entitled to do the same (again). There were not 2500 scientists involved in the review of the IPCC’s 2007 report. As John McLean points out in his detailed expose of the IPCC review process (link – PDF):

more than 40 of the 53 authors of the crucial chapter of the IPCC 4AR had either worked together, co-authored papers together and in all probability acted as peer reviewers for each others’ work. Instead of being the product of a set of authors with a wide range of views, as the IPCC mandates, the key chapter comes from a narrow coterie of scientists.

The alarmists are the new deniers.

Read it here.

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