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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. Alexander McLeay
    May 20th, 2008 at 23:55 | #1

    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.

  2. Ernestine Gross
    May 21st, 2008 at 00:09 | #2

    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)’.

  3. May 21st, 2008 at 02:30 | #3

    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?

  4. Patrick Caldon
    May 21st, 2008 at 03:41 | #4

    Graham,

    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.

  5. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 05:27 | #5

    [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.

  6. 2 tanners
    May 21st, 2008 at 06:05 | #6

    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.

  7. frankis
    May 21st, 2008 at 06:37 | #7

    … 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.

  8. Paul Norton
    May 21st, 2008 at 07:56 | #8

    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.

  9. Alexander McLeay
    May 21st, 2008 at 08:41 | #9

    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 . . .

  10. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 09:40 | #10

    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.”

  11. jquiggin
    May 21st, 2008 at 09:45 | #11

    JM, this is usually caused by the inclusion of a forbidden word, such as one referring to g@ming 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.

  12. John Mashey
    May 21st, 2008 at 17:17 | #12

    (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.

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

    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.

  14. Stephen L
    May 22nd, 2008 at 18:48 | #14

    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.

  15. John Mashey
    May 23rd, 2008 at 02:50 | #15

    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.

    hence:
    “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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