A common fallback position when losing an argument is to assault your adversary personally. Known as ad hominem, it involves “attacking an opponent’s motives or character rather than the policy or position they maintain.”
In climate science, those who employ this rhetorical tactic attack individuals who ask probing scientific questions. The attacks indicate that they know how inadequate their science is. It often works because of a deliberate campaign to exploit basic sensitivities: fear the sky is falling, guilt about not protecting the environment, guilt about the damage already done, fear and embarrassment of showing ignorance.
People who challenge the claims of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are often labeled “global warming skeptics”. Skeptics do not deny that warming occurred in modern times, but, sensibly, questioned the cause. The IPCC said it was due to human production of CO2. This is driven by a political agenda, not science, so any opposition is considered troublesome and requires silencing.
The IPCC claim is an unproven hypothesis. Science advances by proposing hypotheses that other scientists challenge in their proper role as skeptics. The word skeptic has markedly different public and scientific connotation; negative for the former and positive for the latter. Scientists act as skeptics by trying to disprove the hypothesis. Global warming skeptics are acting appropriately.
The IPCC hypothesis was untested. Professor Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that consensus was claimed before the research even began. The IPCC tried to prove the hypothesis, putting them in the untenable position of eliminating, ignoring, or manipulating anything that showed the hypothesis was wrong. They had to shoot the skeptics who were the messengers of the problems.
Evidence showing that the hypothesis was wrong continued to emerge. But the IPCC and the vast majority of mainstream media simply ignored it. IPCC projections were wrong because the hypothesis was wrong. That the skeptics were correct was verified as CO2 levels continued to rise, while temperatures leveled and declined. But instead of amending the science, as is proper science, alarmists simply changed the terminology. They stopped talking about global warming and started talking about climate change. Leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit for 2004 explained what was going on:
Asher Minns, Communication and Centre Manager at the Tyndall Centre, U.K.:Bo Kjellén, former Chief Climate Negotiator, Sweden; senior research fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute:
“In my experience, global warming freezing is already a bit of a public relations problem with the media.”
Bo Kjellén, former Chief Climate Negotiator, Sweden; senior research fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute:
“I agree with Nick that climate change might be a better labeling than global warming.”
Climate change was an ideal label because activist scientists could use it to explain any weather event; hotter, colder, wetter, drier, it was all climate change. The public would not know that such events are normal, so alarmists would have an endless supply of frightening examples. The public also does not know that climate change in general is normal. It has often occurred more quickly and with greater magnitude than most people are aware. Current conditions are well within normal.
Those who knew how much climate changes naturally were those previously called global warming skeptics. They now became climate change deniers with all the holocaust connotations of that word. The fallacy is that they were anything but deniers. Indeed, they spend their careers educating people about the amount of climate change that has and is occurring.
Next time you witness personal attacks on scientists, call the attacker to answer for this despicable tactic. Ask them to address the outstanding science questions only. A hand wave toward the IPCC in response is insufficient.
Soon, when someone calls a person a global warming skeptic or climate change denier, informed observers will come to see it as conclusive proof that the abuser knows nothing about climate or scientific method. Then, the attacker, not the scientist being attacked, will be shunned.