Saturday, May 11, 2013

Argument from authority - depends on the authority

There has been much debate in the letters pages of the Scotsman recently about wind energy.  Stop Climate Chaos Scotland is a grouping of around 60 organisations including the Church of Scotland, Unison the trade union and the RSPB.  It is a pressure group dedicated to preventing emissions, enforcing the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and strengthening legislation to prevent climate change.

On Monday this week Tom Ballantine, its chair, had a letter published in the Scotsman in which he appealed for readers to listen to arguments from authority (which he described as facts) as opposed to the opinions of his opponents.
"The context for decisions on wind energy is the need to address the onward march of climate change.  On that score it does seem reasonable to base decisions on the opinion of climate change experts in the form of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  It's views on the man-made causes of climate change are shared by 97% of climate experts with relative expertise of the unconvinced 3 per cent "substantially below that of the huge majority"
So two arguments here.  Because they are experts and because they are in a majority they are right.  Not only are neither of the arguments a good way of establishing science, but the figures and 'facts' don't stand up.

So I responded with a letter published on Tuesday including this:
(Dangerous human caused climate change) is a fear which cannot be substantiated by his appeals to authority.  The paper he cites, Expert Credibility in Climate Change, was compiled by a partisan group of activist scientists whose definition of climate sceptics and climate experts lacks credibility.
Then on Wednesday Joss Blamire, from the industry pressure group Scottish Renewables, joined in to give dubious figures on how effective wind turbines are at 'tackling climate change, the greatest threat to the environment'.

On Thursday I countered with four challenges to the figures Joss used.

Friday saw Tom Ballantine come back repeating the rather ridiculous 97% figure without any attempt to justify it and professing ignorance of any brilliant scientists who disagreed with his position.

I responded today suggesting some reading for Mr Ballantine and why, in the face of uncertain evidence for dangerous climate change, we would be better to do nothing that do the wrong thing.  I note that Professor Tony Trevawas also gently deconstructed his 97% figure.

There are many other arguments and comments intertwined, including from a range of other contributors.
You can judge for yourself which are the better arguments at the six links above.

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