The First Argument, Not the Last

The favorite argument of catastrophists in taking on skeptics is "all skeptics are funded by Exxon."  Such ad hominem rebuttals to skeptics are common, such as…

…comments like those of James Wang of Environmental Defense, who says that scientists who publish results against the consensus are “mostly in the pocket of oil companies”; and those of the, yes, United Kingdom’s Royal Society that say that there “are some individuals and organisations, some of which are funded by the US oil industry, that seek to undermine the science of climate change and the work of the IPCC”

and even from the editor of Science magazine:

As data accumulate, denialists retreat to the safety of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page or seek social relaxation with old pals from the tobacco lobby from whom they first learned to "teach the controversy."

Here is my thought on this subject.  There is nothing wrong with mentioning potential biases in your opponent as part of your argument.  For example, it is OK to argue "My opponent has X and Y biases, which should make us suspicious of his study.  Let’s remember these as we look into the details of his argument to see his errors…"  In this case, pointing to potential biases is an acceptable first argument before taking on issues with the opponent’s arguments.  Unfortunately, climate catastrophists use such charges as their last and only argument.  The believe they can stick the "QED" in right after the mention of Exxon funding, and then not bother to actually deal with the details.

Postscript:  William Briggs makes a nice point on the skeptic funding issue that I have made before:

The editors at Climate Resistance have written an interesting article about the “Well funded ‘Well-funded-Denial-Machine’ Denial Machine”, which details Greenpeace’s chagrin on finding that other organizations are lobbying as vigorously as they are, and that these counter-lobbyists actually have funding! For example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank “advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government”, got, Greenpeace claims, about 2 million dollars from Exxon Mobil from 1998 to 2005. The CEI has used some of this money to argue that punitive greenhouse laws aren’t needed. Greenpeace sees this oil money as ill-gotten and say that it taints all that touch it. But Greenpeace fails to point out that, over the same period, they got about 2 billion dollars! (Was any of that from Exxon, Greenpeace?)

So even though Greenpeace got 1000 times more than the CEI got, it helped CEI to effectively stop enlightenment and “was enough to stall worldwide action on climate change.” These “goats” have power!

Most skeptics are well aware that climate catastrophists themselves have strong financial incentives to continue to declare the sky is falling, but we don’t rely on this fact as 100% or even 10% of our "scientific" argument.

  • dearieme

    The Royal Society’s antics on various issues recently are very saddening. It was once a glorious institution.

  • dreamin

    I think that’s an excellent point. I frequently debate global warming on internet message boards. Once in a while I cite a particular scientist or a particular paper in support of a point I am making.

    More often than not, the warmers’ response is to simply state that the scientist receives funding from the energy industry. Or that the paper is not published in a peer review journal. And nothing more.

    Sheesh! What about the merits of the argument?

    Actually, this ties in closely with the whole “consensus” issue. It seems like the warmers are constantly trying to avoid debating the merits of the issues.

  • It happens in other political fields as well. MEMRI, an organisation that translates Arab news media into English, is routinely trashed on the British Left merely because it is an Israeli-based organisation, and therefore ipso facto its translations are biased. No need to go any further.

  • PhilA

    I saw a post – alas I remember not where offhand but someone here may – analysing the breakdown of “climate experts” in the IPCC reports and noting the high proportion who were actually economists, social scientists etc rather than genuine (or even alleged) climate scientists. My observation from that, looking at the variety of departments and posts listed, was to wonder just how many of IPCC’s “experts” would be out of a job if AGW were no longer regarded as significant – I suspect the answer is “most”.

    So who are they “in the pocket of” then?

  • dreamin, that has been precisely my experience in threads on AGW as well.

    The worst part is that it didn’t even occur to me to really look at the numbers involved when it comes to funding either ‘side’. I hang my head in shame that I believed both ‘sides’ to be pretty much equally financed, without doing my due diligence first.
    Indeed, when I have looked at the dollar amounts dredged up by Greenpeace at what has allegedly been spent on this vast supposedly and hugely successful ‘disinformation’ campaign, all I could think of is: This is all they’ve got?

    Aside from ‘coal interests’ the only oil company ever mentioned is Exxon. Are they too lazy to look through the IRS returns of other petroleum companies or do the rest not bother funding anyone on the subject? According to the same exxon-secrets site: “several organizations and journalists have confirmed that ExxonMobil is the only known oil company to fund a network of organizations that deny the science and urgency of global warming”. So we’re then left with ‘coal interests’ but since none of the companies are famous or have their logo plastered on gas stations or have bad PR in the form of oily ducks from a 1989 spill it leaves them without an easy target to channel hatred towards.
    On top of that, it’s a pittance compared to Gore’s 300 million, or the war chests available to Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, WWF, etc.

    A good case for that well-known psychological defense mechanism known as ‘projection’ seems to be quite prevalent among these types.