Home > Environment, Metablogging > Godwin quinella

Godwin quinella

May 19th, 2008

Just about everybody these days knows about Godwin’s Law, and its standard corollary, that the first person to introduce an allusion to the Nazis into an Internet debate automatically loses. Not, it would seem, Graham Young, chief editor of Online Opinion. In the course of an article denouncing the ABC’s Robyn Williams, he takes a sideswipe at me, calling me a brownshirt. Not content with his automatic loss, he goes for the quinella in this companion post, accusing Williams of being a communist.[1] Bizarrely, Young admits in comments that this allegation (now widely reproduced on the Internet) is untrue, but does not bother to correct the post, let along apologise.

The cause of all this: making some critical observations about various global warming “skeptics”. Young doesn’t (and can’t) deny the truth of these observations, which I suppose is why he feels the need to crank up his rhetoric to the point of this spectacular double Godwin with pike. Rather he complains that pointing such facts out is “not nice”.

I’ll be back with more on this later, I expect, but for the moment I’ll settle for the automatic win.

1. This is presented as a statement of fact rather than an analogy, which might, on some views, disqualify Young from the double Godwin, but qualifies him for a range of other awards.

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  1. Nick
    May 19th, 2008 at 17:59 | #1

    Reading your blogotariat link, I get the feeling that Young genuinely has no idea who Williams is, or what he’s achieved in thirty years of science broadcasting. He also seems to be simply clueless as to why a biology degree is more than useful on GW. As a member of the Liberals, he should be familiar with low recruitment and habitat loss.

  2. Joseph Clark
    May 19th, 2008 at 18:10 | #2

    “Godwin’s Law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Hitler or Nazis or their actions. It does not apply to discussions directly addressing genocide, propaganda, or other mainstays of the Nazi regime.”

    I guess Young would want an exemption from Godwin’s law on the grounds that he is attacking (what he sees as) propaganda.

  3. May 19th, 2008 at 18:17 | #3

    The incident cited in this post notwithstanding:

    Implying that one’s behaviour is of a “brownshirt” nature, and outright calling the same person a “nazi”, are horses of two entirely different colours.

    The behaviour of many of the true believers of global warming is certainly brownshirt in nature, and terming them thus in no way “automatically” loses a debate.

    If waiting until an opponent uses the term brownshirt is considered winning a debate, then someone has a few roos loose in the top paddock.

  4. pablo
    May 19th, 2008 at 18:21 | #4

    This stoush on OLO is recommended reading. Young’s dummy spit over Williams’ intro to Don Aitken’s ABC Okhams Razor contribution certainly didn’t upset Aitken who, to his credit, has been ready to respond to all-comers. Even the OLO publisher gets involved. Hopefully this is just the appetiser in a wakening call on global warming. It needs to be front and centre for mine

  5. May 19th, 2008 at 18:28 | #5

    Brownshirts & Communists in the one article.

    Are there any other baddies who measure up to those two & should also have been included?

    To get the full set of boogie-men there should have been at least one “Taliban”, perhaps an “IRA” or a “terrorist” (of the traditional Baader-Meinhof variety, rather than the modern Islamist variety)

    And would “Maoist” count, or is it a sub-set of “Communist”?

  6. Donald Oats
    May 19th, 2008 at 19:16 | #6

    I didn’t notice in the OLO article any mention of Don Aitkin’s lack of a physics degree, only Robyn William’s lack thereof — rhetoric instead of reason by the opinion writer as usual.

    In the past Robyn Williams has given quite a number of sceptics, including Bob Carter, Ian Plimer (and also sceptics not of the AGW flavour) airplay on quite respectful terms. Contrast that with Mike Duffy’s treatment of the majority scientific opinion on AGW, for example.

  7. jquiggin
    May 19th, 2008 at 20:07 | #7

    Counting #2 and #3, both justifying the use of Nazi analogies, we have a quadrella! At this point my knowledge of exotic bets is exhausted – can anyone point to the next step?

  8. Spiros
    May 19th, 2008 at 20:28 | #8

    There’s the Superfecta, where you have to pick the first six place getters, in order.

  9. May 19th, 2008 at 20:50 | #9

    Think this fits into the realm of the very exotic parlay bet.

    PARLAY -Similar to all up betting, you are required to make one selection in either three or four races. Parlay betting is actually a way to place multiple all up bets and therefore increase your chance of winning. To receive a dividend, at least two selections must be successful. Your final dividend is calculated by multiplying your initial investment by the dividend paid to each of your selections, for every successful all up bet. If two or more parlay selections are scratched, you are entitled to a refund on your investment.


  10. Alexander McLeay
    May 19th, 2008 at 22:48 | #10

    Steve, I think it’s fair to say that Godwin’s law fundamentally refers to to any circumstance in which extreme personal attacks are used to replace credible arguments. I certainly think anyone who resorts to personal attacks obviously has obviously run out of actual responses, and therefore has basically lost the argument.

    I will agree that calling someone’s behavior like a brownshirt’s is different from calling them a Nazi, but only in degree and not in kind. They both disqualify you and you’ve still lost.

  11. jquiggin
    May 19th, 2008 at 22:56 | #11

    Just to clarify, since people may not have followed the link, a brownshirt is a member of the SturmAbteilung (Storm Troopers) the armed militia of the Nazi Party.

    Calling someone a brownshirt is the same thing as calling them a Nazi, in much the same way as calling someone a Red is calling them a Communist (more precisely actually, since there are other parties that use red, but only the Nazis used brown).

  12. Ian Gould
    May 19th, 2008 at 22:57 | #12

    “The behaviour of many of the true believers of global warming is certainly brownshirt in nature, …”

    Yeah who could forget the way thousands of “skeptics” were dragged from their homes, beaten mercilessly and forced to watch as their homes and businesses were destroyed.

    Oh and lets not forget the mass torch-lit marches by thousands of heavily armed greens though major cities.

  13. May 20th, 2008 at 03:53 | #13

    Joseph Clark: I think what that means is that bringing up Nazis isn’t a Godwin if you’re discussing Nazis literally. (Those who currently defend the hyperbolic use of Nazi comparisons are just using the “Clinton did it too!” excuse. Bleh.)

    steve at the pub: you forgot one of the most popular group of bogeymen of all time: those guys who wrote “ad abolendam diversam haeresium pravitatem”.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  14. May 20th, 2008 at 09:10 | #14

    John, someone who throws the term “denier” around like you do has already lost the debate before it’s begun, on your preferred terms of engagement.

    I’m still waiting for your response to my last email, my preferred terms of engagement being argument rather than abuse.

  15. Joseph Clark
    May 20th, 2008 at 09:10 | #15

    Anyone who invokes Godwin’s law to win an argument is a total Nazi.

  16. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2008 at 09:26 | #16

    “someone who throws the term “denierâ€? around like you do”

    Actually, I have never used this term, and I avoid terms like this in part because of the possibility that they might be taken as a Godwin violation. I prefer “delusionist”.

    “my preferred terms of engagement being argument rather than abuse.”


  17. May 20th, 2008 at 09:29 | #17

    my preferred terms of engagement being argument rather than abuse

    Coming from someone who’s just accused several people of being nazis, that has to be the funniest thing i’ve read all year.

  18. Patrick B
    May 20th, 2008 at 09:38 | #18


    Could you address Nick @1 point regarding the relative weight given to a politcal science degree and a biology degree with regard to global warming? On the face of it any scientific qualification would appear to be more relevant that a humanities qualification but perhaps you have a convincing argument to the contrary? This is not to say that those who are qualified outside the sciences can’t make a cogent argument for their case, however you are using qualifications as the basis for your critique and I think you need to explain yourself. Unless, of course, you are an unqualified ignoramus which I’m sure you aren’t?

  19. May 20th, 2008 at 09:58 | #19

    Patrick B I suggest you go and read the article before you try to summarise the argument, because you have got it about 180 degrees wrong.

    I understand that you’re probably relying on Nick’s summary.

  20. Patrick B
    May 20th, 2008 at 10:13 | #20

    I am relying on the article referred to as a “companion post” in JQ’s post and dated the 27/04. In it you list Williams’ qualifications all of which are science related. You appear relucant to address Nick’s point. I am wont to conclude that you prefer a bit of argument from authority yourself given your position as editor and oft interviewed media personality.

  21. Mark Hayes
    May 20th, 2008 at 10:26 | #21

    “Actually, I have never used this term[denier], and I avoid terms like this in part because of the possibility that they might be taken as a Godwin violation” – JQ

    JQ (19/2/07) “Another own goal for the denialists?”
    (the term and derivatives used 5 times in that article…

    JQ (4/9/06)”The rest of the editorial contains allusions to all the denialist claptrap the Oz has been pushing for years now”

    JQ (24/1/06)”neither the judgement of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, nor the evidence that led them to that judgement, has had much effect on the denialists”

    etc etc

    Does denying that you use the term denier make you a denier?

  22. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2008 at 10:48 | #22

    As you’ll see Mark, I switched to “delusionist” quite a while ago

    I admit I was playing a trick on Graham, by saying that I’d never used “denier” (which I haven’t), when I did use variants in the past. I thought it might force him into doing a bit of actual research, but it was not the right thing to do. Apologies for this.

  23. Andrew
    May 20th, 2008 at 11:12 | #23

    To me – delusionist is probably more insulting than denier. Delusionist implies a degree of stupidity or gullibility whereas ‘denier’ implies knowledge of the topic but a conscious choice to ‘deny’ the exist of AGW.

    The problem with these labels is that they tend to over-simplify debate on what is an incredibly complex topic.

    I, for example, happen to think that the science has proven AGW is real, but that the effects are probably being overstated by environmentalists and anti-consumer groups with broader agendas to push. My view is that we should be taking measures to reduce CO2 emissions today, but on a no regrets basis – in other words, lets do those things that are either low cost or actually have a positive economic benefit.

    I guess I’m going to be labelled a ‘delusionist’!

  24. CJ Morgan
    May 20th, 2008 at 11:27 | #24

    Yes, the OLO article and comments do make for interesting reading. Despite being aware of GY’s ‘delusionist’ bias, I was quite astonished at both the preciousness of his argument and the vituperous attacks on Williams, Quiggin and Lambert.

    Not a very good look for OLO or its publisher, I’m afraid.

  25. Tim M
    May 20th, 2008 at 13:05 | #25


    Anyone who’s been following this issue for a while would be well aware that the decision by Prof Quiggin and others to use terms like “denialist” and “delusionist” was borne of frustration at the endless repetition by AGW skeptics of specious, irrelevant, ad hominem, discredited or blatantly false talking points in support of their (constantly shifting) position.

    At some point, the defenders of AGW science simply gave up on trying to engage the skeptics in reasonable argument, since they appear to be immune to it.

    While it is dispiriting that discussion of the issue has fallen to this level, the blame for the decline lies squarely with the “delusionists”.

  26. May 20th, 2008 at 13:32 | #26

    Yay, the “Clinton did it too!” argument in full force!

    I wonder how this argument explains Young’s charges of the Climate Institute being ‘left-biased’, when the organization which hasn’t actually attacked him in any way?

    Or is it brownshirt tactics every time someone says something that might make him look bad?

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  27. Joseph Clark
    May 20th, 2008 at 14:26 | #27

    Tim M,

    Heaps of people annoy me but I try not to call them nasty names. But seriously, a lot of people have their first foray into GW discussions marked by being called names for asking reasonable questions. Some of these people fight back after being forced into a corner by shrieking activists; they write blogs, or blog posts, or articles to present the other side of the argument. The more names they get called, the more personal attacks and insults, the more persistent they become. But that’s just a handful of people. Most people will disengage after the initial barrage of insults, keep their questions to themselves, and write off the whole AGW movement as a bunch of brownshirts. There are a lot of these people.

  28. May 20th, 2008 at 15:14 | #28

    Joseph Clark goes, ‘Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too! Clinton did it too!’ Is this some kind of Pavlovian reflex or what?

    Some of these people fight back after being forced into a corner by shrieking activists

    Ah, “activists” as a pejorative. This is why I’m proposing to use the term “inactivists” (instead of “deniers”, “denialists”, “delayers”, “delusionists”, etc.) to describe those people who want to Do Nothing about global warming.

    If some people think “activism” is bad, then logic dictates that they should think that “inactivism” is good… so they have no good reason to be offended by the word “inactivists”. (Jonah Goldberg actually uses the term with pride.) If people get offended over the use of the term “inactivists” — and there are such people — then it just shows that they’re a bunch of bullying cowards.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  29. Tim M
    May 20th, 2008 at 15:28 | #29

    Joseph Clark, what you’ve said may well describe the experience of some, or even many, people who post comments on blogs concerning AGW (from any perspective on the issue), but it doesn’t reflect the reality, and history, of the presentation of information skeptical of AGW in the public arena.

    What it shows, perhaps, is one of the drawbacks of blog comments threads as a discussion forum – if the issue is controversial, threads can easily degenerate into ad hominem sh*tfights. But the behaviour of posters on comments threads should be differentiated from the publication of opinion pieces in blogs or any other public medium. That was what my comments were directed to.

    The terms “denialist” and “delusionist” are clearly labels, and they undoubtedly have pejorative connotations. By the same token, they are terms clearly intended to reflect what their users see in the opinions of those so labelled – that they should not be dignified with the term “skeptic”, as that term refers to thoughtful doubters, whereas the endless repetition of false and discredited claims (which is all too characteristic of AGW skeptic pieces) is not compatible with such a stance.

    But whatever the desirability or otherwise of terms like “denialist” and “delusionist”, they are in no way comparable to calling people brownshirts or nazis. That is simple slander. Which is the reason Godwin’s law was invented in the first place.

  30. Ian Gould
    May 20th, 2008 at 16:31 | #30

    “Heaps of people annoy me but I try not to call them nasty names. But seriously, a lot of people have their first foray into GW discussions marked by being called names for asking reasonable questions.”

    Yes names like eco-freaks, Green Nazis; socialist, Stalinist, Maoist; racist, Pol Pot supporter; baby killer; fraud, hoaxster; anti-poor; atni-science; con artist kool-aid drinkers; neo-pagans; Gaea-worshippers et cetera.

    Oh wait, those names all entirely justified, aren’t they Joppeh?

  31. Joseph Clark
    May 20th, 2008 at 16:37 | #31


    I’m not trying to justify name-calling on either side. I’m just saying that being rude is usually counter-productive.

  32. Joseph Clark
    May 20th, 2008 at 16:38 | #32

    And i’m sorry people called you those names. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  33. May 20th, 2008 at 17:01 | #33

    The term “denialist” derives from “denier” which in turn derives from “Holocaust denier”. It is a simile making a comparison to someone who is an apologist for Nazism. If John really recants from the term he can take all the references on his site to it down.

    He was offered the opportunity to write a response to my article on On Line Opinion, but he didn’t take it. Instead he went for an ad hominem attack here. From where I sit it looks like experimental proof that he uses “brown shirt tactics”.

  34. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2008 at 17:05 | #34

    Graham, you don’t need a lengthy chain of etymology like this to work out the meaning of “brownshirt”. Still, you now get credit for a triple Godwin.

    And you appear not to understand the meaning of “ad hominem”. Look it up.

  35. Patrick Caldon
    May 20th, 2008 at 17:10 | #35

    If you really recant from calling Williams a Marxist you can take all references to it on your site down.

  36. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2008 at 17:32 | #36

    Graham, I think if you read over the comments here and at your own site, you’ll realise that you’re not helping yourself, and particularly, not helping Online Opinion, with this kind of thing.

    As Patrick says, it’s not too late for a retraction of this unfortunate article and the post attacking Williams. I’d be happy to acknowledge it, and withdraw any personal criticism of you that you feel is unfair.

  37. Mark Hayes
    May 20th, 2008 at 17:42 | #37

    “Graham, If you really recant from calling Williams a Marxist you can take all references to it on your site down.”

    Should be no problem since the article doesn’t say Williams is a Marxist, merely mentions in passing that his father was.

    Its a bit of a stretch to invoke Godwin over the term ‘brown shirt’. The term has moved beyond a mere Nazi reference and taken on a meaning of its own – thuggish behaviour used to silence and figuratively terrorise opponents.
    It’s in the same vein as blitz(krieg). Are we to invoke Godwin the next time someone advocates a blitz on this or that activity?

  38. chrisl
    May 20th, 2008 at 17:57 | #38

    Is there any sane reason why the old favorite Denialist or the new favourite Delusionist has to be used at all? Surely a little scepticism of some of the more outrageous claims is a healthy thing.

  39. Patrick Caldon
    May 20th, 2008 at 18:22 | #39

    “Graham, If you really recant from calling Williams a Marxist you can take all references to it on your site down.”

    The site reads:

    “He has in the past, and perhaps to the present, been a supporter of communist politics”

    Now you might quibble and point out that the words “communist” and “Marxist” are distinct, and I would agree. Perhaps as distinct as “denier” and “denialist”. However distinguishing between either of these pairs of terms might be seen as puerile hair-splitting.

    That said “all references” have by no means been removed.

    I frankly don’t care if Graham Young thinks Williams is a Marxist (or a communist, or whatever breed of radical totalitarian leftist) or not, but it is a bit rich for him to waffle on about “recanting” and “removing all references” when he has this sort of thing on his own site.

  40. May 20th, 2008 at 18:37 | #40

    From Merriam-Webster Online:

    Main Entry: 1de·ni·erPronunciation: di-ˈnī(-ə)r, dē- Function: noun Date: 15th century

    No, “denier” doesn’t derive from “Holocaust denier”, because the Holocaust hadn’t existed in the 15th century.

  41. May 20th, 2008 at 18:39 | #41

    And Joseph Clark, what were the “reasonable questions” that Young was asking again?

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  42. Mark Hayes
    May 20th, 2008 at 18:48 | #42

    The sentence you quote is neither in the article nor on the OLO site but in GY’s blog site.

    Saying someone supports communist policies doesn’t make them a Marxist. Hell, I supported their policies of perestroika and glasnost not to mention their anti-Nazi policies of 1941-1945….oops caught out by Godwin again -damn.

  43. May 20th, 2008 at 19:00 | #43

    “Saying someone supports communist policies doesn’t make them a Marxist.”

    No it doesn’t, but saying someone supports communist politics does make the accuser a card-carrying idiot.

    I can also quibble over Young’s use of the word “recant”, a word which is often associated with a certain not-very-nice people. Maybe I’ll bring it up when he starts comparing himself to Galileo.

    — bi, International Journal of Inactivism

  44. Patrick Caldon
    May 20th, 2008 at 19:57 | #44


    Since we seem to be on a hair-splitting crusade here, I did mention it was on G. Young’s “site”, by which I meant his blog, I guess this was unclear. I recant! However the difference between ones “politics” and “policies” are not of the hair-splitting variety. As bi points out above, a “supporter of xxx politics” really indicates a person who has taken the whole political manifesto on holus-bolus.

  45. jack strocchi
    May 20th, 2008 at 20:21 | #45

    We all think On-Line Opinion is a Good Thing so its a pity to see the editor wrap himself around his own axle over a momentary lapse of reason.

    Advice To Graham Young: When in a hole, stop digging. Or quit while you are not to far behind.

    I fixed a mental typo for you Jack (Clark to Young). If I’ve missed some subtle point, please correct me – JQ

  46. May 20th, 2008 at 20:58 | #46

    Look, in all seriousness, Young is an insignificant Liberal party hack with an ideological barrow to tow. Ignore him.

    Additionally, true skeptics must challenge current orthodoxy with evidence of similar (or better) quality. So called AGW skeptics have nothing of the sort.

  47. jquiggin
    May 20th, 2008 at 21:22 | #47

    “Surely a little scepticism of some of the more outrageous claims is a healthy thing.”

    This is the core of the problem. The use of the term “sceptic” incorporates the assumption that the findings of mainstream science should be regarded as “outrageous claims”.

  48. Alan
    May 20th, 2008 at 22:25 | #48

    One of Don Aitkin’s rhetorical ploys is to say “Now 385 parts per million is plainly not a lot” and later “But how does a small increase in a very small component have such a large apparent effect?”

    This is calculated to produce doubt in his target audience: “No, 385 parts per million is not much, how could it make a difference?”

    Speaking of small components, I wonder if they are equally sceptical when they take their recommended dose of 0.5 parts per million of little blue diamond performance enhancer.

    I’ll pay a lot more attention to Don Aitkin, satp, Graham Young et al. when I see their qualifications in fluid dynamics, molecular physics and thermodynamics.

  49. May 20th, 2008 at 22:44 | #49

    The interesting thing about this thread is that it is a distraction (presumably intentional) from my examination of the damage that Quiggin has done to a number of men’s reputations. Quiggin confects outrage at my accurate description of him as using brownshirt tactics, because that is an easy way of avoiding facing his unethical behaviour with respect to Singer and Landscheidt and their contributions to the climate change debate.

    This damage is far in excess of any damage that might accrue to him from my accurate assessment of his unethical behaviour.

    His post is also inaccurate. Despite Quiggin’s assertion that I said Williams was a Communist, I never did. I posted a list of things which I thought I knew and invited comments and clarifications. I was the one who clarified his political position, and I was the one who posted the clarification. According to John Quiggin you apparently can’t ask a question on the Internet.

    For that matter, saying that someone uses brownshirt tactics is not the same thing as saying they are a brownshirt.

    John Quiggin asks for a retraction of my article, but it is he who ought to be retracting and apologising.

  50. May 20th, 2008 at 23:41 | #50

    Writing that Landscheidt was an amateur climatologist when, in fact, Landscheidt was an amateur climatologist, does not damage his reputation. Nor is the same as burning a synagogue.

    And according to Young, by posting this comment I am using brown-shirt tactics.

  51. Alexander McLeay
    May 20th, 2008 at 23:55 | #51

    John Quiggin : I must disagree that calling a person a Nazi is the same as calling their “ tactics ” brownshirt; over the time since the Second Word War, I think “ Nazi ” has got a worse meaning, and “ brownshirt ” has become less shocking through overuse. There’s also a distinction between someone’s self and their actions. But reasonable people are allowed to disagree, so I won’t pursue the point, and in either case it was inappropriate.

    However, Bi the Inactivist said : I can also quibble over Young’s use of the word “ recant â€?, a word which is often associated with a certain not-very-nice people. Maybe I’ll bring it up when he starts comparing himself to Galileo.

    Hm. The same Galileo who was an arrogant fool and insulted his temporal ruler and betrayed a friend at a time when doing that sort of thing could get you killed ? Whose excessive and insulting behavior set his cause back — a cause that was certainly considered respectable in the Catholic world, even if it was still looked at sceptically — possibly hundreds of years ?

    Pardon me ; I get irritated by the mainstream anti-Catholic view of Galileo, but I do see how comparisons between Galileo and the current Global Warming debate could be apt.

  52. Ernestine Gross
    May 21st, 2008 at 00:09 | #52

    Graham Young,

    I’ve been reading John Quiggin’s blog-site for over three years. I cannot recall any posts which would even vaguely corroborate your claims of ‘brownshirt tactics’ on his part.

    You offered the rather mysterious notion of an “experimental proof” (33) in support of your, IMO, false assertion that he uses “brownshirt tactics”. A few lines later (49), your ‘experimental-proof-assertion’ has become an “accurate descriptionâ€?. Mr Young, how should I put it – I am bored.

    With reference to your own etymology (33) of the term ‘brownshirt’, your usage of this words in relation to this blog-site is, IMHO, an insult to the Holocaust victims.

    Your perception that John Quiggin does not allow questions on the Internet is, I am afraid, wrong. I asked one a few days ago and got an answer. Perhaps you could try out your “experimental proof method� using your good self as the subject, starting off with ‘distraction (presumably intentional)’.

  53. May 21st, 2008 at 02:30 | #53

    Alexander McLeay:

    “[Galileo, w]hose excessive and insulting behavior set his cause back — a cause that was certainly considered respectable in the Catholic world, even if it was still looked at sceptically — possibly hundreds of years ?”

    Well, if by “excessive” and insulting you’re referring to Tim Lambert’s act of commenting on other web sites, and John Quiggin’s act of not commenting on other web sites, then yes, it’s “excessive”. And unlike global warming, heliocentrism won’t lead to mass disasters if you get it wrong.

    Actually there’s another interesting parallel between the AGW “debate” and Galileo’s trial. In the Galileo case, Pope Urban VIII was angered because Galileo didn’t give equal weightage to his view and the Pope’s. Which group of people nowadays are asking precisely for the same type of “balance” and “equal time” asked for by Pope Urban?

  54. Patrick Caldon
    May 21st, 2008 at 03:41 | #54


    You’re making a big hoo-dee-doo about “recanting” in these comments. Apparently posting clarifications elsewhere on a site is not sufficient. It seems that to recant properly, one must delete incorrect references and statements. It seems an odd standard, but if you want to hold it it would seem reasonable to apply it to your own endeavors.

    You’re also making a big hoo-dee-doo about statements damaging reputations. Most people would describe an analogy to a “lifeblood sucking tick” as insulting, at minimum, but maybe in the context of a robust debate it’s ok. Most people would say that the statement “John employs brownshirt tactics” has the effect of damaging John’s reputation, if the statement is at all credible. Again, in the context of a robust debate between grown adults maybe this is fine.

    However it seems that your friends have reputations which are like delicate flowers, and the slightest breath will irreparably bruise them, whereas your opponents have reputations of forged steel, incapable of being harm even by the most vitrolic of expression. I leave it to you to answer why it is the case that it seems so easy to damage the reputation of those whom you agree with but so hard to damage that of those with whom you disagree.

  55. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 05:27 | #55

    [possible duplicate, was having posting problems]
    Obviously, there are no hard and fast definitions, but a common usage I like is:

    a) Denialist – someone who makes a career of it, sometimes for direct economic interest [Western fuels], for pay, for ideology, or for some combination. For such, the bottom line is:
    “There shall be no meaningful restrictions on CO2.”The arguments may change over time, but the bottom line doesn’t, as can be seen from Fred Singer’s books.

    b) Denier – the much larger number of amateurs (there is definitely a role for amateurs!) who read the relevant blogs, instantly accept the flimsiest evidence that AGW has been dispelled, and repeat the same arguments endlessly, and either don’t understand the workings of science or don’t want to.

    c) Then there are real skeptics in the classic sense, who taking nothign on faith, but can be convinced by evidence, and want to learn. Sometimes it’s hard to tell b) from c), and it’s always kind to give them the benefit of the the doubt, especially if they are asking questions rather than asserting nonsense. Of course, a real skeptic would normally say, after a little study:

    – the weight of mainstream scientific opinion is very strong on one side.
    – but, I have a list of concerns, and I’ll ask questions and study.
    – I may learn to understand things that are now puzzling, and new evidence may come to light
    – over time, evidence will either pile up behind my concerns, or those concerns will dissipate.

    For example, at one point, satellite disagreements with ground stations were a legitimate concern, but that’s gone [there were errors in the satellite computations].

    In general, real skeptics with any scientific background, but with no econonomic|ideological axes to grind, study the problem, and after a while come to the obvious conclusion.

    A good question to ask somebody in b|c is “What’s your list of concerns, if resolved, would cause you to accept the mainstream consensus?”

    If there is no finite list, they are likely b).

    Rather than arguing and name-calling, a really effective technique to separate b) from c) is to direct them to John Cook’s Skeptical Science, a nicely-organized resource. In particular, if someone writes a long piece filled with standard wrong arguments, you just tersely list John’s code#s there, many readers start to get the point of repetition of long-debunked ideas.

    A hint of b) occurs when someone rarely gives references to where they got their ideas, and won’t even when asked. I once had a discussion at a party with a woman who stated with absolute certainty there was not the slightest evidence of global warming. I asked how she knew. She said she’d researched it thoroughly. I asked if she talked to scientists, attended lectures, read IPCC documents. [This is near Stanford, where lectures by world-class scientists are frequent.] She said not, but she’d researched it thoroughly. So, I asked her what her sources were. At that point, she got very angry, reiterated that her research was thorough, but didn’t name any sources … although I could guess them pretty well.

  56. 2 tanners
    May 21st, 2008 at 06:05 | #56

    Note to GY

    You’ve been caught making gratuitous insults and have been unable to substantiate them. Godwin aside, brownshirt tactics involve physical intimidation (propaganda belonged to Goebbels). Your article made no claims to flights of poetic fancy. Justify the claim or apologise.

    Note to JQ

    Never argue with an idiot. You know the rest.

  57. frankis
    May 21st, 2008 at 06:37 | #57

    … my examination of the damage that Quiggin has done to a number of men’s reputations. Quiggin confects outrage at my accurate description of him as using brownshirt tactics, because that is an easy way of avoiding facing his unethical behaviour …

    Graham Young won’t take the advice (of course) but he really ought to be seeking the counsel of wiser friends before making any more of his foolish comments in public.

    He’s making his own reputation just as the likes of Fred Singer have made theirs.

  58. Paul Norton
    May 21st, 2008 at 07:56 | #58

    I endorse Jack Strocchi’s comments at #45, and I do so as someone who has always found Graham Young to be reasonable and courteous in my own dealings with him, and who regrets that Graham has not displayed his better self in the current dispute.

  59. Alexander McLeay
    May 21st, 2008 at 08:41 | #59

    Actually there’s another interesting parallel between the AGW “debate� and Galileo’s trial. In the Galileo case, Pope Urban VIII was angered because Galileo didn’t give equal weightage to his view and the Pope’s. Which group of people nowadays are asking precisely for the same type of “balance� and “equal time� asked for by Pope Urban?

    Another completely unfair comparison. Geocentrism wasn’t based solely on religious bigotry ; there were legitimate reasons to believe it. You’ve got to make some concessions when your scientific technologies are 16th/17th century.

    People who decry anthropogenic global warming have 21st century technologies and 21st century politics. They keep presenting the rejection of their null hypothesis as being comparable with past rejections of outlandish and unintuitive theories that turned out to be in broad detail correct. Quiggin’s “ delusionists ” can be compared to Galileo only if your aim is to make them look bad by comparing them against the most falsely overrated natural philosopher of the millenium, and comparisons against the Catholic Church of the day are unfair on the Church. Unfortunately, I think too many people don’t follow the history of science . . .

  60. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 09:40 | #60

    Is anyone else getting:

    “Precondition Failed

    The precondition on the request for the URL /wp-comments-post.php evaluated to false.”

    This reminds an old programmer of messages isomorphic to “You have an error in your program. Fix it it and try again.”

  61. jquiggin
    May 21st, 2008 at 09:45 | #61

    JM, this is usually caused by the inclusion of a forbidden word, such as one referring to [email protected] establishments or used in ads about male disorders. (Hint: the name one well-known political ideology includes that of a popular drug for these disorders). My ISP rejects these before they even get to Akismet.

    Long comments increase the risk of this kind of thing.

  62. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 17:17 | #62

    (Thanks, it was the G*mbling in Burton’s title)
    re: #23 Andrew:

    Some “environmentalists and anti-consumer groups”, may have gotten ahead of science, exaggerated science, or in extreme cases, think it’s good for everyone to return to an imagined idyllic pre-Industrial Revolution life.

    Of course, it is a common strategy for professional denialists to point at extreme “alarmists”, knowing that many people will react negatively to the source of the ideas, whether right or wrong. Of course, as evidence as piled up, and scientists moved towards greater concern, there is the tactic of tarring them:
    Google: james hansen alarmist

    Suppose one ignores all of the above. Here’s a small sample of people I’ve met that I find hard to ignore:

    Peter Darbee, CEO of a major gas & electric utility.
    “Peter Darbee, now winding up his second year as chief exec of PG&E Corp., is a self-professed conservative and no great friend to progressive causes.” Read how a classical skeptic [not a denier] went about learning, changed his position, and started taking action to change his utility, among other things, replacing 28 of 35 senior executives. The company website is here.

    Nobel Physicist Burton Richter, in G*mbling with the future.
    I heard this talk years ago, in a local town meeting, and his verbal comments were *rather firm*. If you look at the slides, and have seen AIT, you may notice some resemblance.

    Geoscientist Lord Ron Oxburgh, ex-Chairman of Shell Oil, who is really very worried for the planet. I’ve known him for years – if he’s worried, I’m scared.

    I’ll listen to specific reasons why I should ignore what they say, as I’d be truly delighted if their concerns were baseless. *Anyone* can be wrong, but I wouldn’t casually ignore what such people say.

  63. Peter Wood
    May 21st, 2008 at 18:13 | #63

    Apparently Tim Flannery is a ‘ ratbag‘ because of his suggestion that if we don’t mitigate global warming enough then we will have to pump large amounts of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere in order to create enough global dimming to offset the greenhouse effect.

  64. Stephen L
    May 22nd, 2008 at 18:48 | #64

    I think whole “debate” is more significant than it may appear. I’m hardly the only one to comment on the shortage of serious, genuine right-wind commentators in Australia.

    By serious and genuine I mean people who try as far as possible to avoid blatant distortions or outright lies, who generally avoid character assassination or abuse and are willing to acknowledge when they have facts wrong.

    Hardly anyone of any political stripe meets these criteria all the time, but there are a lot of commentators, here and overseas, who manage most of the time. Andrew Norton is the outstanding Australian example of someone on the right who fits this description. I’d always thought Graham Young was another.

    Writing an article like this places that reputation under threat. Carrying on in the manner he has since pretty much trashes it permanently. This would be irrelevant if there were dozens of others in the category, but there are so few that taking one name out diminishes the size of the group significantly. And what that says about the state of debate in Australia is actually quite important.

  65. John Mashey
    May 23rd, 2008 at 02:50 | #65

    re: #64
    Yes; although being in CA, I’m outside this particular political set of arguments, but I’m certainly happy when:

    a) Different political and policy viewpoints are well articulated, as there is room for reasonable people to disagree, for instance over:

    – the balance of functions between government, corporations, associations, and individuals.

    – within government, the balance of functions between different levels of government [here, I’ve got 4+ levels, i.e., town, county, state, Federal, and the + represents some complex meshes of intergovernmental things that operate among SF Bay Area entities].

    b) There is some balance between political parties, whatever shape they take. In a few places, I’ve seen long-term dominance by one party be OK, but usually, it makes me very nervous.

    However, I would say that a good way for some political party or members thereof to marginalize themselves is to steadfastly deny real *science*for a long time. it may work tactically, but in the long term, it catches up with you.

    In particular, in the Web Era, if one wants to take public positions on things, it is far easier than it used to be for anyone to backtrack, much easier than trying to track down copies of newspapers.

    “X is false … X is false …”

    “Oh, maybe X is true, and I need a voice at the table to decide the policy to deal with X.”

    “Go away, your judgement is worthless, and you;’ve spent years denying X in the face of overpowering evidence.”

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