No, That’s Not An Argument…Really, It’s Not.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my acquaintances on social media had sent me to a link to an obviously (to me at any rate) ideologically partisan blog, that linking to an also obviously partisan interview on another blog, one with a climate change contrarian, in hopes, perhaps, of magically getting me to ‘see the Truth™’ and instantly transforming me into a climate change contrarian with a flash of mystic pixie dust, or the powder of Ibn Ghazi sprinkled ‘pon while making the Voorish sign…

Not that there’s anything bad about pixies, mind you…at least they’re a bit less antisocial than gremlins in those IT communities of make-believe.

*Ahem.*

Well, neither the blog nor interview was anything but pure politics and so hardly scientifically compelling, I posted a response to her via private message, with only minor edits [in brackets] for context in this blog entry:

“One thing I’ve learned about science over the last seven years is that no matter what you may personally believe, its results don’t depend on religion, politics, or ideology; they don’t depend on what you had for breakfast, what party you campaign for, or what you disapprove of; and they don’t depend on the agenda of an imaginary Evil Leftist (or Centrist, or Rightist) Conspiracy™.

Trying to debunk science with politics, or anything else [but science itself], shows a mistaken view of how science works, what it is, and what it’s for; Whatever you may think, science is an evidence-based enterprise, not “What do we want to vote on today?” or an electoral primary.

I have standards as to which arguments support the claims they are alleged to. None of these implies any need for perfect absolute proof, just minimum cogency:

1. They must be cast in the most neutral, objective language possible, avoiding ideological buzzwords and partisan slogans. This is simply known as writing professionally.

2. They must commit the fewest possible errors in reasoning, avoiding as many logical and rhetorical fallacies as can be managed. The argument’s conclusion must follow from the premises reasonably.

3. They must commit the fewest possible factual errors and inaccuracies. Any facts the premises are based on must really exist as claimed…out-of-context factoids and half-truths are not acceptable legal tender. Those damnable standards again.

Any argument failing even one of these tests has no leg to stand on, and cannot serve as reliable support for the claims it makes.

If offers a claim without the evidence it purports to, and so may be dismissed without evidence against it, as there is none for it [as per Christopher Hitchens’ Dictum].”

Whether the blog and interview it linked to that she sent me (I read both) was simply a quick attempt at ideological conversion, or an actual argument, is irrelevant.

The attempt in its own way was admirable: We all want others to accept the truth as we see it. The trouble is, however, that often what we consider to be true is frequently not. That’s the consequence of living in a universe with phenomena, like climate change, whose policy implications often run counter to what our political, religious, and economic or other ideologies tell us.

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From the beginning, my Twitter timeline has shown me history as it unfolds… the Arab Spring, the U.S. congressional elections of 2010… the disastrous Gulf oil spill… last March, the Japanese trifecta of disasters in the form of tsunami, earthquake, and the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and even now the Occupy Wallstreet movement.

Though purely physical events, and their resulting need for disaster relief efforts, have been prominent, those involving the policy and politics of humans have been at the forefront of social networking sites, and by far have the largest number of interested persons keeping up with them.

I’ve seen the word get out on Twitter and in the blogosphere even faster than the usual news outlets, and though the accuracy of what’s said is often unreliable, not all of it is.

The notions of bias and error are parasitic on the concept of getting at least something right…we really can know things, so it is nihilistic, and incoherent, to say that we cannot know anything because it’s all fatally in error.

Counterfeit money entails the existence of at least some genuine legal tender, or the term is meaningless.

I personally dislike politics…not one of my favored subjects, but I’ve been schooling myself on political issues, and here and there my readers may have noticed a post dealing, however obliquely, with some form of politically-charged topic, though I prefer to limit myself to those that concern science funding, science education, and policy decisions based on science.

All good science has political ramifications, because it frequently finds itself at odds with the reigning champions of a particular ideology, those with little love for facts or the fact-finders when these conflict with the agenda of those in positions of authority.

I think, though I find politics not much to my liking, that attempts by those in authority to gain it and retain it through corrupt, dishonest, unethical and frequently illegal means need to be vigilantly checked by skeptical eyes trained upon their intent and misdeeds.

Why vigilance?

Because those who would control others through greed, selfishness and intolerance are tireless, well-funded, and with powerful lobbies controlling them or under their control, depending on which way the money is flowing.

In an era of political, ideological and religious extremism, we who value what rights we either have or can make for ourselves have a rightful interest in checking the power plays of whoever we find ourselves opposed to. That’s what free-thinking is about.

Carl Sagan, in one of his last interviews once said “If we are not able to ask skeptical questions…to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs.” And I feel that at no time in our history, save perhaps the first American Revolution, has that been more true than the present.

[Last Update: 12/02/2011 – Grammatical Correction in Paragraph #6]