Fallacies of risk

by Judith Curry

In addition to traditional fallacies such as ad hominem, discussions of risk contain logical and argumentative fallacies that are specific to the subject-matter. Ten such fallacies are identified, that can commonly be found in public debates on risk. They are named as follows: the sheer size fallacy, the converse sheer size fallacy, the fallacy of naturalness, the ostrich’s fallacy, the proof-seeking fallacy, the delay fallacy, the technocratic fallacy, the consensus fallacy, the fallacy of pricing, and the infallability fallacy. – Sven Ove Hansson

The Pantateto Home Page has an article entitled Fallacies of Risk, excerpted from an article that appeared in Journal of Risk Research.  Excerpts of the excerpt:

Ever since Aristotle, fallacies have had a central role in the study and teaching of logical thinking and sound reasoning.  It is not difficult to find examples of traditional fallacies such as ad hominem in any major modern discussion of a controversial issue. Discussions on risk are no exception. In addition, the subject-matter of risk  seems to invite to fallacies of a more specific kind. The purpose of this short essay is to discuss ten logical and argumentative fallacies that can be found in public debates on risk.

1.  The Sheer Size Fallacy

X is accepted.
Y is a smaller risk than X.
Y should be accepted.

This is one of the commonest fallacies in the lore of risk. “You will have to accept this chemical exposure since the risk it gives rise to is smaller than the risk of being struck by lightning.” Or: “You must accept this technology, since the risks are smaller than that of a meteorite falling down on your head.”

The problem with these arguments is, of course, that we do not have a choice between the defended technology and the atmospheric phenomena referred to. Comparisons between risks can only be directly decision-guiding if they refer to objects that are alternatives in one and the same decision. When deciding whether or not to accept a certain pesticide, we need to compare it to other pesticides (or non-pesticide solutions) that can replace it.

Life can never be free of risks. We are forced by circumstances to live with some rather large risks, and we have also chosen to live with other, fairly large risks – typically because of the high value we assign to their associated benefits.

Strictly speaking, it is on most occasions wrong to speak of acceptance of a risk per se. Instead, the accepted object is a package or social alternative that contains the risk, its associated benefits, and possibly other factors that may influence a decision.

JC comment:  This fallacy seems to be at the heart of the precautionary principle when applied to a complex problem.

5.  The proof-seeking fallacy

There is no scientific proof that X is dangerous.
No action should be taken against X.

Science has fairly strict standards of proof. When determining whether or not a scientific hypothesis should be accepted for the time being, the onus of proof falls squarely to its adherents. Similarly, those who claim the existence of an as yet unproven phenomenon have the burden of proof. 

In many risk-related issues, standards and burdens of proof have to be different from those used for intrascientific purposes. Consider a case when there are fairly strong indications that a chemical substance may be highly toxic, although the evidence is not (yet) sufficient from a scientific point of view. It would not be wise to continue unprotected exposure to the substance until full scientific proof has been obtained. According to the precautionary principle, we must be prepared to take action in the absence of full scientific proof.

We can borrow terminology from statistics, and distinguish between two types of errors in scientific practice. The first of these consists in concluding that there is a phenomenon or an effect when there is in fact none (type I error, false positive). The second consists in missing an existing phenomenon or effect (type II error, false negative). In science, errors of type I are in general regarded as much more problematic than those of type II. In risk management, type II errors – such as believing a highly toxic substance to be harmless – are often the more serious ones. This is the reason why we must be prepared to accept more type I errors in order to avoid type II errors, i.e. to act in the absence of full proof of harmfulness.

JC comment:  The burden of proof and type I, II errors in context of climate change were discussed on the thread Climate Null(?) Hypothesis.

6.  The delay fallacy

If we wait we will know more about X._____
No decision about X should be made now.

In many if not most decisions about risk we lack some of the information that we would like to have. A common reaction to this predicament is to postpone the decision. It does not take much reflection to realize the problematic nature of this reaction. In the period when nothing is done, the problem may get worse. Therefore, it may very well be better to make an early decision on fairly incomplete information than to make a more well-informed decision at a later stage.

It must also be observed that in some cases, scientific uncertainty is recalcitrant and not resolvable through research, at least not in the short or medium run. Many of the technical issues involved in assessing risks are not properly speaking scientific but “transscientific“, i.e. they are “questions which can be asked of science and yet which cannot be answered by science“. A further complication is that new scientific information often gives rise to new scientific uncertainty. New results may cast doubt on previous standpoints, and they may also create new uncertainty by revealing mechanisms or phenomena that were previously unknown.

The search for new knowledge never ends, and there is almost no end to the amount of information that one may wish to have in a risk-related decision. Since the premise of the delay argument (“If we wait we will know more about X”) is true on all stages of a decision process, this argument can almost always be used to prevent risk-reducing actions. Therefore, from the viewpoint of risk reduction, the delay fallacy is one of the most dangerous fallacies of risk.

JC comments:  Joe Romm is big on this one, commonly chastising the ‘delayers.’

7.  The technocratic fallacy

It is a scientific issue how dangerous X is._____________
Scientists should decide whether or not X is acceptable.

It should be a trivial insight, but it needs to be repeated again and again: Competence to determine the nature and the magnitude of risks is not competence in deciding whether or not risks should be accepted. Decisions on risk must be based both on scientific information and on value judgments that cannot be derived from science.

There seems to be a fairly general tendency to describe issues of risk as “more scientific” than they really are. Wendy Wagner (1995) concluded from her study of the EPA and its external relations that there is a massive “science charade” going on: policy decisions are camouflaged as science. Instead of discussing, on the policy level, how to handle scientific uncertainty, authorities, industry, and environmentalists send forward scientists to argue about technical details that are not the real issue. In this way, the entire decision-making procedure is mischaracterized as much more “scientific” than it can actually be. This mischaracterization, Wagner says, can create obstacles to democratic participation in the decision-making process.

JC comment:  This one characterizes the public debate on climate change in spades, where it has been overly scientized.

8.  The consensus fallacy

We must ask the experts about X.______________________
We must ask the experts for a consensus opinion about X.

The conventional approach to science advising is to search for consensus so far as this is at all possible. Scientific expert committees have a strong tendency to opt for compromises whenever possible. Even if the initial differences of opinion are substantial, discussions are continued until consensus has been reached. It is extremely unusual for minority opinions to be published. Instead, committees of scientists end up with a unanimous – although sometimes watered down – opinion in issues that are controversial in the scientific community.

The search for consensus has many virtues, but in advisory expert committees it has the unfortunate effect of underplaying uncertainties and hiding away alternative scenarios that may otherwise have come up as minority opinions. If there is uncertainty in the interpretation of scientific data, then this uncertainy can often be reflected in a useful way in minority opinions. Therefore, it is wrong to believe that the report of a scientific or technical advisory committee is necessarily more useful if it is a consensus report.

There are also other ways in which scientific uncertainty can be reported. Scientists can (perhaps unanimously, perhaps not) describe scientific uncertainties in ways that are accessible to decision-makers. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does this in an interesting way: it systematically distinguishes between “what we know with certainty; what we are able to calculate with confidence and what the certainty of such analyses might be; what we predict with current models; and what our judgement will be, based on available data.” (Bolin 1993)

JC comment:  Bert Bolin was the ‘good guy’ in setting up the IPCC, but his ideas lost out to John Houghton’s push for consensus.  Re the problems with scientific consensus seeking in context of the climate change debate, see my paper No Consensus on Consensus.

9.  The fallacy of pricing

We have to weigh the risks of X against its benefits.
We must put a price on the risks of X.

There are many things that we cannot easily value in terms of money. I do not know which I prefer, $8000 or that my child gets a better mark in math.

Similar situations often arise in issues of risk, including those that involve the loss of human lives. We cannot pay unlimited amounts of money to save a life. The sums that we are prepared to pay in a specific situation will depend on the particular circumstances. Again, general-purpose prices are not useful as decision-guides.

To the contrary, such pricing will tend to hide away the fact that these are decisions under conditions that have all the characteristics of moral dilemmas. Our competence as decision-makers is increased if we recognize a moral dilemma when we have one, rather than misrepresenting it as an easily resolvable decision problem.

JC comment:  This issue is definitely there in the climate debate, whereby the greens bemoan that the issue of climate change has been taken over by the economists.

10.  The infallibility fallacy

 Experts and the public do not have the same attitude to X.
The public is wrong about X.

Much of the public opposition to risks has been directed at the risks inherent in complex technological systems, which can only be assessed through the combination of knowledge from several disciplines. From the viewpoint of experts, this is often seen primarily as a matter of information or communication: the public has to be informed. However, this is only part of the problem. There is also another aspect that is often neglected: The experts may be wrong.

When there is a wide divergence between the views of experts and those of the public, this is certainly a sign of failure in the social system for division of intellectual labour. However, it does not necessarily follow that this failure is located within the minds of the non-experts who distrust the experts. It cannot be a criterion of rationality that one takes experts for infallible.

JC comment:  This fallacy is at the heart of the public debate on climate change, putting the pause front and center in the debate.

Avoiding the fallacies

 A fallacy-free public discussion in a contested social issue is probably an idle dream. Therefore, the task of exposing fallacious reasoning is much like garbage collecting: Neither task can ever be completed, since new material to be treated arrives all the time. However, in neither case does the perpetuity of the task make it less urgent. In order to improve the intellectual quality of public discussions on risks it is essential that more academics take part in these discussions, acting as independent intellectuals whose mission is not to advocate a standpoint but to promote science and sound reasoning.

JC conclusions

To complicate all this, each of these fallacies also has a converse, i.e. they cut both ways.  In any event, these fallacies illustrate the complexity of reasoning about risk.

In trying to apply these fallacies to the public debate on climate change, particularly in context of climate change problem and its solution as irreducibly global, it is not at all straightforward to assess  the ‘urgent action needed’ or or ‘do nothing’ policies as being the preferred mode of action.

The opponents of ‘urgent action needed’ might accuse the proponents of the sheer size fallacy, the technocratic fallacy, the consensus fallacy, the infallibility fallacy.

The proponents of ‘urgent action needed’ might accuse their opponents of the proof-seeking fallacy, the delay fallacy, the fallacy of pricing.

The climate change policy problem arguable illustrates 7 of the 10 fallacies (I didn’t mention the converse sheer size fallacy, the fallacy of naturalness, the ostrich’s fallacy).  The sheer numbers of risk fallacies floating around this problem arguably reflects the wickedness of the climate change risk problem.

Avoiding logical fallacies is relatively straightforward.  Finding a balance between the consensus fallacy, the infallibility fallacy and the proof-seeking fallacy is at the heart of the problem for climate scientists, in terms of portraying the science in the appropriate way.  It is unfortunate that John Houghton won the day (over Bert Bolin) in the early years of the IPCC; this entire debate might have taken a very different trajectory if Bert Bolin’s strategy had been adopted.

201 responses to “Fallacies of risk

  1. Sir John Houghton (saw him speak, and had a chat after)
    (from his slides, and my comments))

    “Haven’t we first to tackle World
    Poverty, then Climate Change?


    because unless
    we tackle Climate Change now,
    the plight of many of the poorest
    will be enormously worse” – Houghton

    Sir John Houghton, no doubt sincerely believes that tackling future ‘climate change’ (man-made) is more important than the issues and hardships facing the worlds poor now.

    Sir John also considers (slide – pg 10) that ‘climate change’ action is very urgent saying we have seven years grace (The 10:10 Campaign seems to think planetary doom is in 4 years, here, here)

    “God is Creator
    Science is God’s science”
    “Pharoah & Joseph had
    7 YEARS
    So have we
    2016″ – Houghton

    I wrote about it, it seems like forever ago now.

    The event captured by wayback machine

    • Sir John Houhton needs to be made aware of simple facts. One such fact is is that the surest way to lift people out of poverty is to provide them with abundant, affordable, and reliable energy. In today’s world, that means fossil fuels, even the most evil of all, coal.

    • Sir John Houghton, no doubt sincerely believes that tackling future ‘climate change’ (man-made) is more important than the issues and hardships facing the worlds poor now.

      Maybe he does think that but it’s not possible to deduce it from your account of your conversation with him. What is he’s clearly saying there is we should not just tackle one and ignore the other.
      And he’s right.

      It is possible to tackle more than one problem at a time you know, especially when they impact on each other.

  2. Judith

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    You wrote- “In trying to apply these fallacies to the public debate on climate change, it is not straightforward to assess the ‘urgent action needed’ or ‘wait for better technologies’ or ‘do nothing’ policies as being the preferred mode of action.”
    I suggest there is an alternate not listed above. How about the 200 independent nations do what will actually do the most to actually prevent harms to their citizens- construct and maintain robust infrastructures? That is undeniably the surest path to prevent people from being harmed from adverse weather regardless of the cause and it is very clear that many nations have made this a very low priority.
    Imo, it seems like this obvious path to reduce harms is generally minimized by those who advocate the harms from AGW. How about these independent nations taking responsibility for the conditions in their countries???

    • Rob, I agree with this. The main argument is among those who think the problem and its solution are irreducibly global.

      • Judith
        Again, imo; the only overwhelming “irreducibly global” issue was/is the potential for a large rapid rise in sea level. It seems pretty clear that this is not happening and there seems to be no reliable evidence that it will occur at the “feared” levels. Take that one issue off the table and the debate/discussion changes.

      • We are definitely on the same page, that argument seems to be very slowly winning the day.

      • R. Gates, Skeptical Warmist

        Rob said:

        Again, imo; the only overwhelming “irreducibly global” issue was/is the potential for a large rapid rise in sea level.
        Right topic, wrong problem. Yes, the ocean is an “irreducibly global” issue, but even a rapid rise in sea level, while incovenient, would not necessarily be catastrophic– i.e. humans can move inland. What we can’t escape from is a breakdown of the biosphere in the ocean. We need that web of life to survive. The bulk of the effects from the energy imblance caused by the HCV are going on in the ocean. Every major recent study has come to the same conclusion– the oceans are in need of our most urgent attention.

      • Gates
        Rapid sea level rise is the largest issue projected by the IPCC to negatively impact agriculture production and thereby negatively impact humanity.
        You believe that CO2 is negatively impacting the oceans, but that is by no means undisputed. There are many ways that humans are damaging the oceans, but imo CO2 emissions is VERY low on that list.

      • Rob Starkey,

        Yes. Richard Tol (2011) shows that the projected sea level change to 2100 (not including sudden changes) would be a negligible net cost (see figure 3 here): http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/sites/default/files/climate_change.pdf

        In fact, the only significant cost of global warming is the increasing cost of energy late in the century. If we have cheaper energy than assumed (as perhaps we can), global warming would be net beneficial for all this century.

      • Well, another reason it’s considered a global problem needing a global solution is that CO2 is supposedly a well-mixed gas. Nonetheless, any climate change, if warmer to the good, and if colder to the bad, will have effects that benefit or damage locally or regionally, and the problems and solutions will then have to be managed locally, with, what else, politics, and er, grit.

        The changes can be expected to be unpredictable, thus alertness and imaginative preparation, all backed by, heh, cheap energy, is the best course forward.

      • R. Gates, Skeptical Warmist

        Rob Starkey said:

        “You believe that CO2 is negatively impacting the oceans, but that is by no means undisputed. There are many ways that humans are damaging the oceans, but imo CO2 emissions is VERY low on that list.”
        Rob, I am not an expert on the ocean biosphere, but I read every major paper that comes out on the health of the ocean biosphere, and there doesn’t seem to be much dispute about the oceans being in big trouble as we move forward toward 2100, and the main culprit centers back on anthropogenic CO2. Now you can have your “opinion” that CO2 is very low on the list of causes to the decline in ocean biosphere health, but that opinion would be in direct contrast to the majority of those who study marine health. So unless you’ve got something besides your opinion (as in actual research), I must go with that research. Certainly CO2 is not the only thing humans are doing to alter the ocean biosphere health, but it seems to be the most substantial and far reaching in terms of impact.

      • Rob,

        Kim has it about right, climate change is a global problem not because the impacts are necessarily global – some are but they will also be big differences from region to region. It’s because the causes are global – one country’s actions have an impact on every other. And while you’re right that it will be necessary for poorer countries to improve their infrastructure, to claim that the reason they have not done so up to now is that they simply chose not to is somewhat simplistic.

      • Gates
        From what I have read, the PH in the ocean at any specific location; often varies more over the course of a day than it will change over decades due to increasing CO2. I have not read anything creditable that makes me see ocean acidification as a significant concern. I’m personally more concerned about other methods humans use to pollute the oceans more than CO2.

        Andrew Adams
        There are many reasons that nations have not constructed and maintained robust infrastructure. In my experience, a major reason seems to be a culture of corruption in the country in question. Regardless of the cause, imo; it is a problem for that country to resolve. Independent nations are individually responsible. Yes, financing can often be from outside sources, but when you look deeper you find that the reason projects do not get built or built efficiently is a culture of corruption in the country in question. Again, not an issue for outsiders to correct.

      • Rob,

        Is seems to me the main reason that poor countries don’t build better infrastructure is that they are poor. That’s not to say that corruption doesn’t play a part – there tends to be higher levels of corruption in poor countries which in turn helps to keep them poor, it’s a kind of vicious circle (you could probably say the same applies to low energy consumption). But there are other factors as well, it’s a complex problem.
        Whether they should be left to sort it out themselves or wealthier countries should give them a helping hand is a value judgement. Personally I think we should.

      • Andrew
        With all due respect, I doubt that you have done much international business when you write that poor countries do not build infrastructure primarily because they are poor. Corruption exists largely because the national governments allow that culture to endure. (largely because it is profitable for those in power???) Examine the conditions is India as an example.

    • R. Gates, Skeptical Warmist

      Rob Starkey said:

      “How about the 200 independent nations do what will actually do the most to actually prevent harms to their citizens- construct and maintain robust infrastructures?”
      This is necessary and important, but not sufficient in and of itself. The most important “infrastructure” to be maintained is the biosphere itself. Climate change isn’t important only because of more severe weather, or that it might be a few tenths of a degree warmer on peak days. More important is the changes it can bring to the biosphere because it takes that healthy biosphere to support the feeding of the 7+ billion of us. Ultimately, the melting of ice or warming of the ocean and atmosphere is really most important because of the pressure (or complete breakdown) of the rather interrelated web of life that we depend on. Right now the majority of the effects of the human carbon volcano are going on where we can’t see them easily, but we can see them (and are) when we actually look more closely– and that’s in the ocean. Virtually every leading expert on the ocean and its biosphere will tell you the same thing– it’s in trouble, our HCV is the culprit, and we need to really take notice.

      • Gates
        Again, your fears of the changes are well communicated, but the objective data to justify that those fears are well founded are not.

  3. These are not actualy fallacies, more like analyses of the complexity of reasoning about risk. They cut both ways.

  4. Converse of the Delay Fallacy:
    If we wait we will know more about X.
    But X may be very dangerous.
    Therefore, we cannot afford to wait.

    This direction is a fallacy as well. We might not be able to afford to wait. But it may be that waiting is the best strategy. It’s a Bayesian question: How much are our current uncertainties costing us in terms of the value of our decisions? How much could our decisions gain in value if we took the time to learn more? It could be the value of the better decisions makes waiting the right strategy, even if that in some ways increases the risk.

  5. From the paper ” The experts may be wrong.”

    When it comes to the value of climate sensitivity,

    The experts ARE wrong. Period.

  6. This is in the morning papers.

    It is also in The Guardian.

    President Obama, David Cameron ,,and many other important politicians have stated unequivocally that the risk of adding too much CO2 to the atmosphere is unacceptable as it causes extreme, expensive, climate events. Now these pronouncements are coming back to bite the rich countries. The poor countries argue, with impeccable logic, that if the rich countries caused the problem, the rich countries should pay. To the tune of $100 billion per year.

    Surely the time has arrived when a politician who matters WANTS to believe that CAGW is a hoax.

  7. Judith –

    1. The Sheer Size Fallacy…

    JC comment: This fallacy seems to be at the heart of the precautionary principle when applied to a complex problem.


    That fallacy seems to be at the heart of your approach to “unintended consequences.”

    • Right,

      Precautionary principle is the method for countering The proof-seeking fallacy and The delay fallacy

      The problem is that every fallacy has its inverse fallacy. Thus overly emphasis of the precautionary principle leads to other fallacies (or wrong conclusions, if we wish to avoid the fallacy of calling every error on fallacy).

      • I wish the “solutions” offered under the guise of being “Precautionary” would themselves be analysed for likely and worst-case outcomes. Impoverishing populations and nations as an inevitable “unintended consequence” comes to mind.

      • Brian,

        That’s the largest problem with proposed strong climate policies. Not whether are good enough reasons to justify strong actions if they would be known to be effective and if they would be known not to have serious costs of some type at a level comparable to the expected benefits.

        There are weak policies that are surely net positive taking the risk aversion into account, but not policies that would really solve a major part of the potential risks of climate change.

      • Heh, to be inane, in one sense skepticism is just the precautionary principle applied to the precautionary principle. We need a differential calculus of risk.

      • In my opinion, the precautionary principle, as commonly applied, itself represents a fallacy all on its own, and nearly always leads to wrong conclusions and actions. I am a full-time sailor, living on my sailboat with my wife, and if we were to wait for every planned voyage to be proved safe in advance, we’d never get anywhere.

        Pekka has this right.

      • Not only does ever fallacy have its inverse, we all, also, dip into each of these fallacies on a regular basis at least to some degree. As much as these are fallacies, they exist for a reason. They reflect patterns in how we think. Each of these fallacies represent valid lines of thinking that become fallacies when they are stretched to far.

        The mother of all fallacies, IMO, is the one we see here so frequently: The belief that only those you are in disagreement with are subject to fallacious thinking.

      • blueice2hotsea

        Joshua: The mother of all fallacies […is the…] belief that only those you are in disagreement with are subject to fallacious thinking.

        And the first born child of all fallacies is finding fallacious thinking disagreeable only when exercised by those with whom you disagree.

      • Re: Precautionary principle. Many of you have seen this posted before; but perhaps it is worth repeating.

        Sunstein, Cass R. “Throwing Precaution to the Wind: Why the ‘Safe’ Choice Can Be Dangerous.” Opinion. Boston.com – The Boston Globe, July 13, 2008. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/07/13/throwing_precaution_to_the_wind

        Main point: “Yet the precautionary principle, for all its rhetorical appeal, is deeply incoherent. It is of course true that we should take precautions against some speculative dangers. But there are always risks on both sides of a decision; inaction can bring danger, but so can action. Precautions, in other words, themselves create risks – and hence the principle bans what it simultaneously requires.”

        “In the context of climate change, precautions are certainly a good idea. But what kinds of precautions? A high tax on carbon emissions would impose real risks – including increased hardship for people who can least afford it and very possibly increases in unemployment and hence poverty. A sensible climate change policy balances the costs and benefits of emissions reductions. If the policy includes costly (and hence risk-creating) precautions, it is because those precautions are justified by their benefits.

        “The nations of the world should take precautions, certainly. But they should not adopt the precautionary principle.

  8. This is a great discussion of a perpetual problem – especially in a society that debates in boiled-down 90-second sound bites that the debaters heard on the evening news.

    Far too few of those publicly discussing these issues have any understanding of the scientific method – or of the subtleties of any single component of the climate.

  9. The fallacy problem is compounded by the fact that greens in general and warmists in particular have obvious double standards when it comes to their own favorite arguments:
    the delay fallacy- This really is Joe Romm’s favorite, but he’s quite willing to wait forever, apparently, for policy that is pure from a partisan progressive standpoint. This has been going on for over two decades- less than the time it took for France to switch to nukes.
    the consensus fallacy– Scientific consensus must not be questioned! Except regarding GMO, vaccinations, nuclear power, fracking for natural gas, the effectiveness of wind and solar to replace coal, carbon markets, the reality of the pause (it’s not real, but here’s why it’s happening!), trends for extreme weather, etc etc etc.
    the fallacy of pricing– Price is no object, except when discussing nuclear power, which is too expensive even though nations that use it have the lowest energy prices. The cost of super-typhoons is relevant, but not allowed if the topic is whether spending to build solar panels on roofs in the woods in Germany in winter is the best way to influence typhoons.

    • RE: fracking for natural gas,
      North Texas is a good example of where risks of earthquakes were omitted from the public discussion when we went all-in on fracking for natural gas. I can believe that the geologist just didn’t have enough data to raise the issue but it’s time we reappraise the situation. The problem seems to be mostly related to the injection of waste water. So far all the earthquakes have been minor (less than 4.0), but recently the size and frequency has been increasing.
      We had 3 more yesterday (11/19/2013) just west of Ft. Worth.
      Maps provided by the U.S. Geological Survey show that from 1970 through the end of 2007, there were only two earthquakes in the area.
      Since the start of 2008, there have been 74 minor quakes in the area with heavy concentrations in Johnson, Ellis and Parker counties.

      If we force the drilling companies to recycle the waste water it will raise the the cost of producing natural gas. The trade off is betting that these earthquakes will stay confined to areas where the damage is minimal and risks to the water table are close to zero. There is also a slight risk that these man made changes to the regional rock strata could activate long dormant fault lines that run close to the Comanche Peak nuclear plants just south of DFW.
      What should we do?

      • Leonard Weinstein

        Earthquakes are caused when tension between parts of the Earth suddenly release. If a large number of small earthquakes are deliberately caused by injecting water, this likely releases the pent up tension slowly, rather than a very large single release. This would make a potentially single bad event not happen, but rather several small events, with much less damage. This is bad how?

      • “Like the desire for AGW, this is absolutely disgusting rationalization.”

        Freudian slip?

      • Not a Freudian slip. Many deniers such as lil Kim would like to see warming because they think it is too kold as it is. That’s why they give Kim the moniker koldie Kim.
        I prefer lil Kim cuz the rhymes are so weak.

      • Leonard,
        The topic is risk so what do you think of these numbers?
        Chance of a damaging earthquake under a populated area in the next 10 years? My guess is less than 10% Even if there was a 5.0 or greater earthquake the main danger will be from pollution or fire coming from broken gas/fuel lines and the cost will relatively small. There are several thousand miles of buried gas/oil/fuel pipelines under the DFW metroplex.
        Now the issue of damaging the water table is a bit more complex.
        What would be the chance of fracking and/or waste water injection contaminating the aquifer in the next 10 years? My guess is 30%. Here the problem becomes you can’t just reverse the damage. If it does happen the only solution I can think of will be to install filtering systems to remove toxic chemicals. It may not mater anyway since the State Water Board estimates we will run out of ground water in 20 years anyway.

    • Leonard Weinstein | November 21, 2013 at 8:42 am |

      If a large number of small earthquakes are deliberately caused by injecting water, this likely releases the pent up tension slowly, rather than a very large single release. This would make a potentially single bad event not happen, but rather several small events, with much less damage. This is bad how?

      Like the desire for AGW, this is absolutely disgusting rationalization. I suppose Leonard Weinstein would rather see fracking take place near Yellowstone, where it can release Old Geyser all at once.

      “The U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah and National Park Service scientists with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory maintain that they “see no evidence that another such cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the foreseeable future. Recurrence intervals of these events are neither regular nor predictable.”

      And if you don’t like what Wikipedia says, you are always free to change it.

      You can also change the Wikipedia entry for Denial where it explains how rationalization is a big part of denialism.

  10. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Short Summary  Ordinary plain-speaking god-fearing citizens like Wendell Berry are wholly right (morally, economically, responsibly, and scientifically) in thoughtfully rejecting “the gleeful yahoos, who are destroying the world, and the mindless oafs who abet them.”

    That part’s not complicated, eh Climate Etc readers?

    \scriptstyle\rule[2.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}\,\boldsymbol{\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}\,\heartsuit\,{\displaystyle\text{\bfseries!!!}}\,\heartsuit\,\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}}\ \rule[-0.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}

    • the murderous tobacco farmer? spare me his crappy poetry and worse moralizing.

    • So we are to take advice on risk from someone who lives in fear of a fictional, supernatural, entity?
      If someone were to give advice about, say, the correct way one should bury the dad and it was demonstrated that the individual had a fear of ghosts, would it alter your judgement of their advice?

  11. David Springer

    Risk alone is only half the discussion. Risk/reward is the whole enchilada. The reward for any practically achievable reduction in fossil fuel consumption is a reduction in global average temperature a hundred years from now so small as to be totally bereft of reward.

    Bjorn Lomborg sometimes seems like the only voice in academia with a sane assessment of various risk/reward strategies and outcomes.


  12. Re: 6 – The Delay Fallacy

    Correlation does not mean causation. This should be evident to everyone. Piracy has a high correlation with warming. Is it a cause? The fallacy of correlation means causation would dictate it is.

    But failing to determine causation means that doing something, just for the sake of doing something, means the problem can get worse from the remedy. That is the problem with the “delay fallacy”. If you have no clue what is happening, how are you going to mitigate it?

    This is a great article, but there is so much, it easily could have been 10 articles.

  13. The fallacy of 11 is that more people will read your article if you make 11 logical assertions rather than 9. Discuss.

    O/T, but a wiki article reports that the human record for polydactyly is 34 (including digits on the feet).

  14. I propose number 11 – The Oxymoronic Climate Urgency Fallacy.

    Self explanatory.

  15. Proceeding by baby steps everyone — even climate alarmists — surely must now agree that runaway global warming is impossible, right? It’s solar energy in / solar energy out: to the vast emptiness of space.

    Meanwhile, if conditions on Earth allow a tiny subset of humanity we know as Western academics, to lie to the people — i.e., the people of Western civilization — then, we will see the fall of Western civilization. We’re seeing that now.

  16. And then we have the ‘So What?’ fallacy

    Example: We have to stop supplying our energy needs by burning fossil fuels (CO2Bad):

    Because it is causing sea level to rise by 1 mm/year. So what? I know what cheap, plentiful energy gives me; what will I gain by giving it up in exchange for sea level to NOT rise by 1mm/year?

    Because warming is causing the polar ice cap to melt enough for the ‘Northwest Passage’ to be used for a month or two in the summers. So what? It has happened before with no discernible ill effects, why should I panic NOW, just because this time some group with a political ax to grind is blaming it on CO2? And if I agree to cutting our CO2 production by 90%, will the warners guarantee that the Dreaded Northwest Passage will NOT open in the summer?

    Because if we continue to burn fossil fuels, the TOE will rise by a degree or two over the next 50-100 years? So what? The TOE has been that high in the past, according to what I read here. Those periods were identified as ‘The Some Name or Another OPTIMUM’. Is climate that we call, in retrospect, OPTIMUM, a climate that should be avoided at all costs? Would it be worth all the effort to keep DC from getting as unbearably hot as Richmond? But sir, you don’t understand: The extra warm won’t be evenly distributed. While the AVERAGE TOE will only rise by 1-2 degrees–over 100 years, the changes to micro-climates will be MUCH more drastic, ALWAYS in the least desirable direction. Riiggghhhhttttt!

    And so on.

    I can look around me and see the benefits of having plenty of cheap energy. The ‘stick of GIVING UP cheap, plentiful energy and giving the government the power to make sure that we do it is also pretty obvious.
    Where are the ‘carrots’? A frozen Arctic Ocean, year round and a constant sea level, in perpetuity? Guaranteed?

    • Bob

      Sea level is not rising at 1 mm per year. It is closer to 3 mm per year and has been fairly steady at that rate since there have been reasonably consistant/reliable means of measurement. There is no reliable means to state that a reduction in CO2 emissions will reduce the rate of sea level rise in timescales that matter to humans.

      • @Rob

        “There is no reliable means to state that a reduction in CO2 emissions will reduce the rate of sea level rise in timescales that matter to humans.”

        My point exactly. Or that sea level rise is causally related in any way to anthropogenic CO2. But stopping the sea level from rising is ALWAYS cited as one of the most critical reasons to establish strict controls over CO2 emissions. Over century time spans, a rise in sea level of 5″ (my figure) or 15″ (your figure) would be unnoticeable to all except an extremely small subset of humanity; cutting CO2 emissions by 90% (or more, as some demand) would teach humanity at large the MEANING of the word ‘catastrophe’.

      • Bob

        I was not disagreeing with your basic conclusion, I was just trying to give you a little better information. Here is where you can get information on sea level rise. http://sealevel.colorado.edu/

        One of the things many people do not seem to realize is that a local level, changes in land height dominate sea level change in regards to what humans notice

      • Thanks Rob

        I used the 1mm/year because I have seen it here occasionally. I don’t really care, for the point of discussion, whether it is 1 or 3.

        1mm/year corresponds to a change of ocean volume of around 360km^3. Things that I, as a climate naif, KNOW affect volume are temperature (a few millidegrees would do the whole job), plate tectonics, which physically change the size and shape of the ocean basins, water extracted from aquifers and returned to the oceans, melting ice caps and glaciers, sediment from rivers, the constant rain of calcium carbonate from dead sea life, undersea eruptions of both superheated water and magma, and who knows what other factors that .I have never heard of.

        My beef is that the ‘climate experts’, given the above trivial list of ‘things affecting the level of the sea’, not only try to convince me that they can identify the subset of the 360km^3 that is contributed by not just CO2 but anthropogenic CO2 and that the consequences of our part are so dire that it justifies for all practical purposes the shut down of all fossil fuel consumption. And by the way, don’t even think of trying to replace the fossil fuels with nuclear, because we cannot dispose of the spent fuel in a method that is absolutely guaranteed to not leak a curie in the next 100k years or so–while we store it in the open in rusting barrels or on site in pools at the nuke plant. And hydro is also out, because where will the snail darters go and how will the salmon get upstream.


      • 3mm X 100 = 30cm = 1 foot. So what? The PV of any costs that imposes is indistinguishable from zero.

      • Subsidence? On the East Coast? Washington, DC perhaps? All the self-serving regulators?
        ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished

  17. Strictly speaking, it is on most occasions wrong to speak of acceptance of a risk per se. Instead, the accepted object is a package or social alternative that contains the risk, its associated benefits, and possibly other factors that may influence a decision.

    All of these arguments are based on the existence of good faith on both sides of an argument. The history of the DDT bans by Leftists puts the lie to that death-dealing figment of imagination.

    A push by those who are politically and ideologically motivated is all it takes to get the ball rolling. All it took to commence a pogrom against modernity was to trot out all of the fearmongering from the Ozone Depletion hoax and simply substitute CO2 for CFCs.

    How many people remember the peril of nuclear winter? Crichton shows how the entire concept was “from the outset the subject of a well-orchestrated media campaign” conducted for political ends. A Washington DC public-relations firm was paid $80,000 to publicize the research. The first appearance of the work in the peer-reviewed, scientific literature was in the December 23, 1983, issue of Science (Turco et al., 1983). But the dangers of nuclear winter had been heralded nearly two months earlier by Carl Sagan in the October 30, 1983, issue of Parade magazine, a supplement to Sunday newspapers (Seitz, 1986). By 1986, it was apparent that the conclusions of Turco et al. (1983) were suspect, and that the entire field of research was highly politicized. Writing in the January 23, 1986, issue of Nature, K. A. Emanuel (1986, p. 259) noted that “nuclear winter research…has become notorious for its lack of scientific integrity.” ~David Deming

    • You really believe-
      “The history of the DDT bans by Leftists puts the lie to that death-dealing figment of imagination.”

      that the banning of DDT was politically based??? It may well have not taken into account all the unintended consequences, but politicaly based??? I suggest “motivated reasoning” in action.

      • Environmentalists believed this relatively innocuous chemical was harmful to animals. It is hard to measure the success of the resulting global ban: if the real but unstated fear was overpopulation, the ban has caused genocide so… success? (See–e.g., Documentary Exposes the Horrific Human Cost of the DDT Ban: “3 Billion and Counting is named for the number of malaria victims worldwide throughout history. It exposes genocide in poor countries committed by bureaucrats in wealthy nations who kill with the stroke of a pen.”)

      • The first EPA secretary, William Ruckleshaus, ignored the findings of his own scientific panel when he issued the ban. It was entirely political at that time–DDT was a key symbolic issue leading to the legislation creating EPA and failing to ban would have gutted its political power and alienated its key constituencies.

    • blueice2hotsea

      Wagathon –

      Malaria eradication with DDT is not necessarily a given. Transmission must be suppressed until all hosts are no longer communicable (including birds, lizards and bats!). That way a cease in spraying (and subsequent rebound in mosquito population) will not result in a rebound in illness. (This also avoids DDT resistant mosquitoes.)

      Malaria eradication can be relatively easy on an island, peninsula or within a well-defined biome. For example, at the end of WWII, Italy used DDT to cure its own malaria problem, going from 4M+ to less than 800 cases in a single year.

      But how would do you do this, say, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Mosquitoes and habitats do not recognize national borders and warring factions do not necessarily cooperate.

      I agree that the global DDT ban was cold-blooded and pushed by left-environmentalists. And it no doubt increased the misery index of many poor nations. Yet there is reason for optimism.

      In the 20th century, there were some 20 monarchies and commonwealth African nations that were abolished and a dozen or so socialist/Marxist states created. Therefore, expect increased “humanitarian” concern by both left and right.

    • Wagathon, if you are right (and I think you are), how can we change things so that we can treat the next fear campaign on its merits from the start?

      • A beginning is not assuming good faith on the part of those who would outlaw Judeo-Christian principles of morality to make room for preaching situation ethics in the classrooms. For them the ends always justify the means so truth and the scientific method serve no useful purposes.

        We now live in the nation envisaged by the secular, socialist Eurocommies. Their wish is to force their plans upon our economy to determine our futures.

        Still other economists are “socialists,” of stronger or weaker varieties. In their view, the solution to poverty is more planning—wise government “experts” should plan and direct most everything in an economy. If it is pointed out that government control of factories and businesses has not worked well in the past, their response is that the wrong government experts were in charge. We simply need different experts, better ones, they say. In fact, if asked, they might even humbly suggest that they themselves might just be available to serve as these new experts—in a limited capacity, of course—at least initially. [William] Easterly refers to these economists as “Planners.” ~Grudem and Asmus

      • Much of it is driven by anti-corporate sentiments on the left. And it actually is happening right now- google the garbage about GMO and the “evil” corporation Monsanto.
        For another fun parallel, see the comments about ethanol mandates. When it became obvious that DDT bans were killing people, the environmentalists shifted gears and insisted the ban they demanded was never intended to be a ban. Now that the ethanol mandates are backfiring, they claim “who, me? We never wanted that!”
        And, of course, they killed nuclear power in the 70s and are now suddenly “concerned” that there are all these coal plants. “What? How’d that happen? It must be greedy energy companies and the Republicans who rejected alternatives!”

      • Wagathon: The key phrase is “Greater Good”. Never defined; easy to spot.

    • I got to talk to Bruce Ames once, whose test, “The Ames Test”, is used for determining how mutanogenic a compound is.
      During the late 60’s and early 70’s there was a consensus view that the biotica had evolved detoxification pathways which were ‘constrained’; that is, they evolved to detoxify compounds that were present in the environment prior to the manufacture of complex chemicals by humans.
      This hypothesis suggested that man-made compounds, especially organic halogenated compounds, would never be capable of being detoxified, would accumulate in cells, and cause damage, especially cancer.
      Ames had been part of the biochemical orthodoxy and believed that man-made chemicals would prove to be much more mutanogenic than ‘natural’ compounds. However, life has evolved very robust, generalist, methods to detoxify compounds. Ames was very surprised to find many natural compounds and combination of compounds, like Chinese Herb Tea, are mutanogenic and DDT wasn’t.
      So Ames, like all ethical scientist, changed his mind and trusted the data. He gave up believing that man-made chemical meant evil and spent his life finding out exactly what was and was not damaging to DNA.

  18. This is one of the commonest fallacies in the lore of risk. “You will have to accept this chemical exposure since the risk it gives rise to is smaller than the risk of being struck by lightning.” Or: “You must accept this technology, since the risks are smaller than that of a meteorite falling down on your head.”


    “global warming is a greater threat to humanity than terrorism”. ~Sir David King (former science advisor of the British government)

  19. Fact or fallacy?

    “The natural greenhouse effect is a myth, not a physical reality… a manufactured mirage.

    “Horrific visions of a rising sea level, melting pole caps and spreading deserts in North America and Europe are fictitious consequences of a fictitious physical mechanism which cannot be seen even in computer climate models.

    “More and more, the main tactic of CO2-greenhouse gas defenders seems to be to hide behind a mountain of pseudo-explanations that are unrelated to an academic education or even to physics training.”

    (Gerhard Gerlich and Ralf D. Tscheuschner, Falsification Of The Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within The Frame Of Physics)

    • Hello Wag,

      ““Horrific visions of a rising sea level, melting pole caps and spreading deserts in North America and Europe are fictitious consequences of a fictitious physical mechanism which cannot be seen even in computer climate models.”

      Rising sea level, spreading deserts? It would seem to me, being the most casual of observers, that rising sea levels, making more surface area for evaporation, would tend to put more water into the atmosphere, making more available for precipitation and deserts LESS likely. What am I missing here?

  20. Calling these all fallacies makes this a muddled mess. I almost stopped after the first one; weighing the relative risk of various factors is anything but a fallacy. It is a key tool in the risk management toolbox. There is no “sheer size fallacy,” and the rationale about choice is a non sequitur. As just one example, the risk caused by radiation exposure is entirely predicated upon sheer size. If you would be willing to move to Denver to take a better job (where cosmic rays significantly increase the incidence of cancer), you should not worry about the effects of Fukushima in Seattle. Where is the fallacy?

  21. American society used to be different. Success is possible when, as Grudem and Asmus (The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution) observed, “society believes that the earth is a place of opportunity.”

    If a society believes that developing the earth’s resources is morally right and in fact is approved by God (as evidenced by Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:6-9; 24:1), then people will think of the world as a place of opportunity, where hard work and inventiveness will lead to further discoveries of beneficial uses of the earth’s resources.

    “By contrast, in some primitive societies, the world is viewed primarily as a place of danger. People are unwilling to take risks because something bad might happen. In these places, economic development is viewed with fear and even moral condemnation, because change is more likely to bring harmful results than helpful ones.” ~Grudem and Asmus

    • And even if you don’t believe in God, the view stands. By and large, a truly moral society (i.e., in which individuals behave in ways which are good for them and good for others because they understand the nature of reality) is a prosperous society.

  22. Denizens might appreciate the fourth fallacy:

    4. The ostrich’s fallacy

    X does not give rise to any detectable risk.____
    [Ergo] X does not give rise to any unacceptable risk.

    • and its converse.

      • From unacceptable risk to undetectable risk?

        An example would be nice.

      • Well, I also kinda like ‘an undetectable risk is an acceptable risk’, sorta like CO2 seems.

        Note similarly ‘a detectable benefit is also an acceptable benefit’. God grant we’ll learn gratitude, for the serendipity, if for little else.

      • the opposite of the ostrich is chicken little.

      • kim I think it should be fables of risk rather than fallacies.

        think of all the fables and sayings we have around the topic.. its trans scientific..

      • Cilia, methinks, design that risk/benefit evaluators descend.

      • Folks: Many fables are distilled wisdom.

    • The ostrich fallacy went undetected by Denizens.
      The ostrich fallacy is not unacceptable to Denizens.

      • That ostrich’s refuse to sensibly react to danger, and instead place their heads in the ground, is a fallacy.
        People how know bugger all about the biosphere are unlikely to be able to understand the complexities of Earths climate.

      • “Fiction! Ostriches do NOT bury their heads in the sand.

        This tale originates from the fact that the male ostrich will dig a large hole (up to 6 to 8 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep) in the sand for the nest / eggs. Predators cannot see the eggs across the countryside which gives the nest a bit of protection. The hen as well as the rooster takes turns setting on the eggs and because of the indention in the ground, usually just blend into the horizon. All birds turn their eggs (with their beak) several times a day during the incubation period. From a distance it appears as though the bird has his/her head in the sand.

        An ostrich’s first response to fear is to run. Not only do they not stay to protect the eggs, they attempt to detract a predator to follow them. Due to the fact that they can run sustained speeds of about forty miles per hour, most predators are quickly lost and the eggs are safe.”

  23. It seems misleading to describe these statements as fallacies. They aren’t logical statements, but they are legitimate probabilistic factors — some much more useful, and more often useful, than others. Under conditions of uncertainty, we necessarily use probabilistic reasoning. Anyone who would reject the relevance of those factors in order to have a “fallacy-free” discussion, is being bug-house-level irrational. Geez! It’s ironic that this article gives us such a good example of why academics should stay the hell out of policy debates.

    Sorry for overstating and all that, but the sheer arrogance and wrong-headed condescension in the quoted article crystallizes the essence of so much that is irritating about academia.

    • Toby, I also found this article to be a somewhat pompous exercise in “teaching your grandmother how to suck eggs.”

      Modern social “science” practitioners just love creating lists and tables comprising either things we already know and/or things they just made up, in the hope that one day their particular list or table will be cited as ground-breaking stuff. A few of these have previously been published here, and they all have the same characteristics.

      That said, the author does make some interesting points in discussing his typology, and some good comments have been generated here as a result.

      But as you point out, making policy is not about ticking off boxes to make sure that you haven’t fallen for some “fallacy” or another. Politicians, potentates and military leaders have been making decisions for thousands of years without the benefit of modern sociology – and the successful ones made very good decisions nonetheless. I don’t think that Julius Caesar or Elizabeth 1 would have done anything differently because someone generated a list or a table of “fallacies.”

  24. 11. The Copenhagen fallacy

    Even if we can never know the truth about we can still control X.
    An Expert Central Authority will take a cut whenever the public uses X.

    The idea of a Global Temperature is a concept whereby centralized control over the worldwide production and distribution of goods and services is related to a meaningless average that is calculated by a central authority. Control will be accomplished by creating a carbon market whereby the cost of CO2 will become a global exchange rate.

    Avoiding the fallacies

    Climate alarmists argue that without central control over increases in atmospheric CO2 content, the result will be consequences that are worse than nuclear, radical Islamic terrorism and high youth unemployment. Find out who it is that is suffering from global warming and where they are located and why they are suffering because throughout human history global warming seems to have been a big net benefit to all of humanity whereas and central control over humanity has only resulted in increased misery, poverty and death.

    • Wag,
      I just finished the Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan and can’t figure out why the global CAGW activists don’t get that cold will impact more than a little increase of 2*C. I find myself rooting for another little ice age or Maunder minimum to reduce the noise from them but then realize lots of humans will be badly impacted. The climate reason Tonyb long records of CET show the patterns for climate changes. We shall see how the 15 or 16 or 17 year pause drives the stop the seas from rising crowd from cutting the coal industry and coal fired power plants in the east and mid west. Go nuclear in the south.

  25. I’ve never liked the word “proof” when it comes to scientific research. Proofs are for mathematics. In science there is only evidence, reflecting the fact that no scientific proposal is irrefutable and no fact is absolutely certain.

  26. They have missed perhaps the biggest fallacy of all : I’ll call it the Past Mistakes Fallacy. “They are wrong now, just like they were wrong before.”. You have all seen it used, and “they”/”them” can be different people. Climate sceptics are sowing doubt just like tobacco companies sowed doubt. Mainstream climate science is following the same path as Lysenkoism. Both may be true, but neither has any relevance other than underlying the need to assess each situation on its own merits. As JC says “each of these fallacies also has a converse, i.e. they cut both ways.”.[Note: fallacies 2-4 are missing in my browser, perhaps it was one of those.]

    10. The infallibility of experts : Science itself is belief in the fallibility of experts.

  27. Here is a fallacy that I find harder to deal with, but it must be done. “A death is a death.” It turns out that people do not feel as bad (prospectively) about deaths that occur from familiar causes, from situations where they feel they have some control, or from unintentional causes. So deaths from car accidents (familiar, partly agent-controllable, usually not caused intentionally) are weighted as less important per death than deaths from, say, terrorists blowing up a nuclear power plant leading to radiation poisoning (unfamiliar, not agent-controllable, caused by malicious intent). They will want to allocate a lot more resources to stop one death from the latter than from the former.

    And that cannot be “proved” to be irrational–it’s just a matter of preferences. If we respect consumer sovereignty here as in other decisions we will end up with what, to a technocrat applying the “all deaths cost the same” metric, are “wasteful” allocations on safety matters.

    • Certainly, consumer sovereignty must be inversely related to the growth of government, no? In the past those who placed a higher value on preventing death from car accidents purchased Volvos. Those who didn’t purchased Corvettes. Those who were willing to spin the wheel purchased VWs. And, Leftists engaged in fearmongering to prevent GM from competing against VW with the Corvair.

  28. Fallacy no. 6 really hit a home run for me (delay = denial).

    As the author notes, science is always improving:

    “Since the premise of the delay argument (“If we wait we will know more about X”) is true on all stages of a decision process, this argument can almost always be used to prevent risk-reducing actions.”

    While it is true that skeptics/delayers are more likely to use this argument against emission reductions for example, it is equally true this one fallacy has done the most destructive damage to science, with over zealous advocates making over confident predictions. As Lindzen says in a recent presentation:

    “…it sets back the science decades if not generations.”

    Advocates distort the science to suit there needs, I’d rather be on the right side of history with regards to science and acknowledge the uncertainty. How much emission reductions I should accept based on uncertain science? takes us into yet another series of fallacious arguments, so I’ll just say be as efficient as possible….drive a hybrid, change a light bulb, etc…be virtuous…….another can of worms.

    “The storms of my grandchildren” emotive argument is dependent on over confident science, if you actually cared about your grandkids, you’d make sure the science is correct rather than distort it, and cut down on “some” amount of emissions, move from coal to gas, etc..

    • You wrote: this argument can almost always be used to prevent risk-reducing actions.

      Just saying that doing something stupid is risk-reducing does not make it so.

      Climate is not understood well enough to know that the risk-reducing actions are not actually risk-increasing actions.

      Reducing CO2 will make green things not grow as well and require them to use more water.


  29. It is nice to know about logical “fallacies” as it is to know about cognitive biases. Such knowledge does not alter science nor government policy.

    For democratic governments, perception is king and that’s the end of the story. Spin = truth.

    Risk management is not far off government policy. One can try to estimate risk and harm but risk*harm will always have an element of value judgement.

    Civil engineers appear to manage catastrophic risk with large safety margins – eg calculated strength * fudge factor = design strength.

    For scientists, “scientific truth” is all that matters in the end. Science only gets closer to truth via rational skepticism and continued challenge of “accepted” theories. There is no room in science for “settled”.

  30. A fan of *MORE* discourse

    Yet another fallacy common to many aspects of climate-science — including but not limited to risk-management analyses — is the false perception of patterns in noisy data.

    For stunning examples, see Richard Henderson shows how to average multiple images of pure noise to obtain a startling secret of nature (Richard Henderson, “Avoiding the pitfalls of single particle cryo-electron microscopy: Einstein from noise”, PNAS, 2013).

    It is regrettable that the review criteria that Richard Henderson advocates are seldom (if ever) applied to purely statistical model-fit-to-data analyses of climate-data (this includes “stadium-wave” model fitting).

    Conclusion  Computationally intensive model-fitting is subject to subtle fallacies — fallacies to which authors themselves commonly are blind — in climate-change as in every other branch of science.

    Example  Does your research focus upon models predict that global-warming will pause (or even reverse)? If you computationally search the data deeply enough, with a sufficiently broad/complex model, you will fallaciously observe the phenomenon that you seek.

    One Remedy  Simple Hansen-style global-scale energy balance models avoid the over-computation fallacy.

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    • My word FOMD, you are full of it, Henderson was demonstrating that selection bias causes people to generate patterns they want. Thus, take 1000 series of noise, and select the 50 that have a sharp uptick at the end, then using some averaging process and you get a ‘Hockey Stick’.
      Web is determined to find a ‘signal’ in ‘noise’, the only problem is that there is no noise, only signals.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      DocMartyn says “Selection bias causes people to generate patterns they want. Thus, take 1000  series of noise  dynamical models, and select  the 50 that have a sharp uptick at the end,  the closest fit-to-data among 10,000 models using some averaging process, and you get a  ‘Hockey Stick’  “stadium wave”

      Assertion by DocMartyn, common-sense edits by FOMD.

      Thank you, DocMarty, for reminding Climate Etc readers of a fundamental principle of observational climate-change science: when Michael Mann-type analyses uses incorporate more paleo-data, then climate-change Hockey Sticks lengthen and strengthen, whereas when Wyatt/Curry-type analyses computationally choose among a larger set of empirical models, then Stadium Wave-type confidence-levels become statistically weaker.

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      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        DocMartyn asks “Why do you [FOMD]  lie  provide incomplete references so often?”

        Critique by DocMartyn, respectful scientific references by FOMD.

        The data sure look like a lengthening-and-strengthening Mann-style hockey stick, eh DocMartyn?

        Thank you DocMartyn, for your continuing help in motivating Climate Etc readers to thoughtfully study the “best available climate-change science”!

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      • FOMD.

        The Abraham temperature series looks nothing like a HS.

        get this straight. The key mann HS issue is the FLAT SHAFT.
        thats the reason why Briffa and olson planned a critique before Jones squashed their effort.

    • A fan of *MORE* discourse

      Steven Mosher claims (dubiously, and without justification) “Get this straight. The key Mann [Hockey-Stick] issue is the FLAT SHAFT.”

      Common Sense  Multiple Mann-style hockey-stick “blades” are lengthening decade-by-decade — as predicted by Hansen-consensus climate-science — and so the flatness (or otherwise) of the hockey-stick “shafts” are becoming increasingly nugatory.

      Gosh, isn’t that ordinary climate-change common sense, Steven Mosher?

      What post-hockeystick scapegoats will climate-change denialists embrace, do you imagine?

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      • The flatness of the shaft is not nugatory insofar as suppressed amplitude could lead us to believe that the climate less sensitive than it is. In other terms if the envelop of natural variability is larger than mann imagines then we need a LARGER buffer zone. For example, if the natural swings are +- .5C and you want to limit warming to 2C, then a natural swing could take you to 2.5C. so you want a larger buffer.

        stop being a moron.

      • A fan of *MORE* discourse

        Fervent Hockey-Stick denialists decry *both* the (relative) flatness of the “stick” and the (inexorable) lengthening of the “blade”!

        Ain’t that right, Steven Mosher?

        \scriptstyle\rule[2.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}\,\boldsymbol{\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}\,\heartsuit\,{\displaystyle\text{\bfseries!!!}}\,\heartsuit\,\overset{\scriptstyle\circ\wedge\circ}{\smile}}\ \rule[-0.25ex]{0.01pt}{0.01pt}

      • no FOMD.

        the blade complaints are

        1. ignoring proxies that diverge. As briffa noted including divergent
        proxies raises the MWP
        2. splicing

        please stop being an idiot.

      • Fan

        Here is the hockey stick on to which has been overpaid real world variability in the form of 50 year and decadal CET.


        The variability is much greater than dr Mann believes, with the largest hockey stick centred on the 1690 period


  31. Regarding the pricing fallacy, it’s not a fallacy. The example the guy gave isn’t even a risk factor. Money is a proxy for effort. Viewed that way, the right way to ask his personal question is “How much effort are you willing to expend to lower the risk your child’s grade will drop.”

    You can’t untie effort from risk evaluation, because there is a finite supply of effort.

    • It isn’t just effort – it’s also quality and is subject to social trends. It is also subject to manipulation by politicians. Not so simple, after all.

    • True, true what price do you put on the loss of liberty, the inevitable consequence of bigger and bigger government?

      The new norm is comprised of many things we see government doing today that is erasing what is necessary to return to a vibrant American economy. Free markets are hamstrung. Companies are directed and entire sectors of the economy are taken over by government. Opportunity and economic development are irrelevant. Private property rights are increasingly imperiled. The currency is not stable, tax rates are rising and economic freedom is falling. Insiders and special interests are exempted from the negative consequences of the laws they help pass. The justice system has become a crapshoot: it’s neither swift nor just, criminals are set free. There is no accountability for the Left’s ongoing corruption of the culture: the media is biased and the productive are preyed upon like fatted cows for slaughter. The government is too expensive. Politicians are bribing voters with handouts. Employers are demonized. Irrespective of merit and hard work, the freedom to become wealthy by legal means, has become politically incorrect. Government interferes in peoples’ free practice of religion. Even the Ten Commandments is under attack: character and truth don’t matter, facts are superfluous, there are no moral values nor respect for individual liberty nor honor in past traditions nor praise for being more productive and being a solver of real problems.

    • P.J. O’Rooke has written about the different types of money, including;

      your money you spend on someone else
      (buying your kid a computer for school)
      someone else’s money you spend on someone else
      (buying computers for schools using an education budget)
      your money you spend on you
      (buying yourself a home computer)
      and someone else’s money you spend on you
      (ordering a new workstation at work)

      He noted that specifications of the latter will be much better than the latter.

  32. it’s a prerequisite to be a lefty oriented, to believe in the phony GLOBAL warming

  33. Related to 5.
    There is a chance X is dangerous.
    Fallacious response: Keep doing X until we know more
    Practical response: Don’t do X until we know more
    The practical response is the one applied in almost all areas of safety. In this case X is fossil-fuel burning, but it could be a drug, a food type, driving full speed into a fog, etc. It is natural to slow or stop when there is an uncertain risk ahead. Uncertainty in the effects of a continued action leads naturally to caution in any example you could care to name (except apparently for some in fossil fuel burning).

    • Yes, but Pascal’s wager.

    • There are all kinds of uncertainties ahead. You seem to like to cherry pick your uncertainties. Why is that?

      • Yes, the sun could do something, asteroids and comets could do something, or volcanoes could do something, or Man could do an imitation of paleoclimate-changing volcanoes. There’s only one of these we have control over, however, and anyway it looks much more likely than the others as a near-term danger to the maintenance of current-era climate.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daminozide

      From memory, some people inquired if it was Okay to throw the apple products away, or if they had to be treated as toxic waste?

    • X is Sex. Stop doing it until you know it isn’t dangerous.

    • I gather you don’t drive then. Or fly. Or jog after dark. Or have electricity in your house .. or eat eggs .. or swim .. or go on a boat .. or ride a bicycle … or have sex … or …

    • CO2 is a trace gas.

      There is a trace of a chance that a manmade CO2 is dangerous.

      The 17 year pause in temperature rise while CO2 continues to rise suggests that there is not even a trace of a chance.

    • Jim D

      There is a chance X is dangerous.
      Fallacious response: Keep doing X until we know more
      Practical response: Don’t do X until we know more.

      If “X” is “burning fossil fuels”, your logic is flawed, for two simple reasons:

      Burning fossil fuels to gain access to a reliable, low-cost source of energy has arguably been one of the most important factors leading to the current affluence, quality of life and long life expectancy of (industrially developed) society.

      Drastically curtailing “burning fossil fuels” or slapping an onerous tax on CO2 emissions will reverse a significant portion of this affluence, and, in addition, will be even more harmful to the least affluent among us.

      So the “pain” of “don’t do X” would be great.

      There has been a lot of political posturing and arm-waving, but no specific actionable proposals that could have any perceptible impact on our planet’s future climate. None.

      So the “gain” of “don’t do X” is negligible.

      Great pain for negligible gain?

      Hardly sounds like a “practical response”, Jim.


  34. Why did you omit

    3. The fallacy of naturalness
    X is natural => X should be accepted.
    X is unnatural => X should be rejected

    I see this as being at the heart of the issue. Climatists usually assume that the natural state of the climate is optimum and any perturbing influence is bad. This is a fallacy. There is no reason to believe the state of the climate in the absence of any human influence is anything like optimal. Naturally speaking we know that we are headed towards ice age. Would it be wrong to intervene to prevent that? The fact that things like ice ages happen indicates that we should be prepared to be critical over what nature chooses to serve up in the way of climate. And since temperature is a continuum, the current natural temperature of the planet is almost certainly NOT optimal. The question we should be asking is whether we would we prefer it hotter or colder

    Similarly with CO2 levels. No reason to think the natural state is optimal. Perhaps we should ask the plants what level they would like.

  35. I’m not sure how to label it, but the common use of the “precautionary principle” is one-sided an illogical.

    The argument is that we must make (major) interventions in the economy “just in case” alarming global warming might otherwise happen.

    And yet, the precautionary principle, if used consistently, should be applied also to those interventions. We should also take precautions rather than intervening – *just in case* those interventions would cause grave economic and social (and consequentially, environmental) damage – to a system (human society) easily more complex than climate.

  36. > If we were to accept, in addition, all proposed new risks that are small in comparison to some risk that we have already accepted, then we would all be dead.

    A interesting thought.

  37. The “zero risk fallacy” didn’t make the list? IMO the zero risk fallacy is far and away the single most important fallacy in thinking about risks. The author says in passing “Life can never be free of risks,” as if this point is so widely accepted that we need not pause to talk about it. Yet nowadays, a skinned knee brings on soul-searching and a demand that policy makers put an end to skinned knees. Sheesh.

  38. What about the fallacy of action? Where’s the evidence that the action so far (Kyoto Protocol for example) has reduced any CO2 emissions? It’s an empty bureacratic verbiage and climate profiteering, nothing else. It’s an enormous waste of time, energy and money, and the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.

  39. Fallacies normally apply to assertions of fact: I assert X, therefore Y is true. Ethical statements (We ought to do X, or We must do X) such as are used in policy really don’t fit the classical fallacy paradigm at all. Consider the difference between :

    I am large and heavy; therefore, I ought to lose weight.
    My body mass index is high; therefore, I am subject to significant health risks.

    The first is really a general observation followed by an ethical assertion. The latter is measurable and can be subjected to a logical or scientific test.

    Many if these examples fit into the former category and would be considered ethical assertions, not fallacies. To mislabel an ethical assertion as a fallacy borders on an ad hominem argument by attacking the integrity of the assertion rather than having an honest argument about what our individual, community, and national priorities ought to be.

    • Good point: the Leftist agenda underlying climate alarmism is an ad hom attack on everyone that chose to purchase a SUV over a Chevy Volt.

  40. All of these fallacies only exist in the minds of people who don’t actually perform risk assessment. Therefore, this topic just becomes another nucleus for punters to spout their ignorant drivel.

  41. I wished I could have posted this yesterday so someone else could take a wack at it. I feel a little inadequate to make proper assessments but on the face of it it looks like this statement is NOT a fallacy:

    “The science is settled, Gore told the lawmakers. Carbon-dioxide emissions — from cars, power plants, buildings and other sources — are heating the Earth’s atmosphere.”

    From Wiki:
    A fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning. An argument can be fallacious whether or not its conclusion is true.

    I find the Gore’s reasoning is perfectly valid and logical.

    Fallacies of presumption fail to prove the conclusion by assuming the conclusion in the proof.

    Did he assume the conclusion in the proof? The conclusion was the ‘science is settled’. Saying CO2 from… heats the atmosphere is his proof of the ‘science is settled’ but he didn’t assume that he tried to prove it.

    Fallacies of weak inference fail to prove the conclusion with insufficient evidence.

    Here you could say yes that is insufficient evidence but in inferring science as the scientific community you’d have to say there is a huge amount of evidence to support this.

    Fallacies of distraction fail to prove the conclusion with irrelevant evidence, like emotion.

    I don’t find that to be an emotional statement. Maybe, as always, an emotional Gore but not an emotional statement.

    Fallacies of ambiguity fail to prove the conclusion due to vagueness in words, phrases, or grammar.

    That statement is not at all vague it is very precise

    • Here is Gore’s statement is a fallacy: “In a system as complex and chaotic as climate, actions with just one factor out of the thousands involved,” which is what Stott says government scientists are doing with their obsession with atmospheric CO2 levels, “may even trigger unexpected consequences. It is vital to remember that, for such a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system, not doing something (i.e., not emitting gases) is as unpredictable as doing something (i.e., emitting gases). Even if we closed down every factory, crushed every car and aeroplane, turned off all energy production, and threw 4 billion people worldwide out of work, climate would still change, and often dramatically. Unfortunately, we would all be too poor to do anything about it.”

      • Thanks Wagathon,

        I will take that to mean that you are addressing the first definition at Wiki as that doesn’t seem to fall in any of the other types of fallacies that I presented from wiki ?

        A fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning. An argument can be fallacious whether or not its conclusion is true.

        I take it that you are saying that Gore uses poor reasoning? Now this is not lost on me, I have read a lot of literature that decouples CO2 from temperature in fact that is where my name label comes from in that the end of ordovician period had an as yet fully explained radical drop in temperature with very high CO2 atmosphere.

        I know that is not what you were arguing, I’m just saying there is evidence against the conclusion that the ‘science is settled’. You are saying that the climate would change anyway even if humans were some how able to cease and desist. But this still does not invalidate Gore’s reasoning as there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that CO2 causes an increase in temperature. Just saying that Climate will change regardless of what humans do does not invalidate Gore’s saying CO2 causes a rise in temperature. See what I’m saying is that Gore’s reasoning is good even if it is false and that complies with wiki’s definition whereby it would not be a fallacy, maybe wrong but not a fallacy. I know it sounds like I’m parcing words but I’m just going by their definition.

        To show that Gore is using poor reasoning would be that the statement is illogical and I can’t find where it is illogical. He says A) ‘science is settled’ B) ‘CO2 causes warming’; therefore B=A. He could be wrong about B and therefore wrong about A. But is there enough evidence to show that the evidence against CO2 warming entirely refutes the evidence for CO2 warming? I think you would have to show that to show that his reasoning itself is bad wouldn’t you?

      • Stott is saying we know so little we could as easily assume we might cause more harm by Not emitting CO2.

      • Oh,I see what your saying is that he can’t use CO2 causes warming as an argument because there is a lack of evidence as to the harm of that. It still doesn’t address whether or not CO2 causes warming but I guess you could argue that it is a non sequitur. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that.

      • It seems the only thing we can be fairly sure about is that a human signal does not exist at all without manipulating the data and pointing to statistical models that real world observations invalidate altogether. The only correlation observed between increased CO2 and global warming, is the other way around: the historical record shows that increases in atmospheric CO2 follow periods of global warming. The lag time is measured in centuries – 1000±500 years (Wahlen et al. 1999).

      • Yeah I saw something like that on Tisdale’s site. I appreciate mention of that paper, I’ll have to check it out.

  42. How about the fallacy of believing we must act now because the Earth can’t wait any longer?

  43. @ordvic

    “But this still does not invalidate Gore’s reasoning as there is plenty of evidence to support the idea that CO2 causes an increase in temperature. ”

    Just a bit of a quibble: There are theories that CO2 causes warming–going back into the 1800s, in fact. There are models based on theories that CO2 causes warming. There is data collected for many years showing that except for seasonal and/or diurnal ‘ripples’, CO2 has been increasing monotonically since we first began measuring it, while the TOE curve has had several periods where its slope has been positive and others when its slope was negative. We have, most importantly, had volume of ex cathedra pronouncements from self identified ‘climate experts’ that not only did CO2 cause the temperature rise, but that anthropogenic CO2 was the primary factor controlling the TOE. And that furthermore, anyone who had the slightest doubt that anthropogenic CO2 drove the TOE was borderline insane, an unprincipled shill of the fossil fuel companies, an incompetent scientist, or all the above.

    What there is not is any actual data, collected by instruments appropriate to the task, that provides convincing evidence that anthropogenic CO2, within the limits of our measurement system, has ANY measurable impact on the TOE.

    The most dangerous aspect of CAGW is the willingness of ‘Climate Scientists’, exclusively paid by politicians, to MAKE ex cathedra pronouncements as to the catastrophic nature of anthropogenic CO2 that can–and is being–used by the politicians to justify their regulation and/or taxing of any and all activities that have a ‘carbon signature’.

    That, rather than any postulated, but not yet measured, effect of CO2 on the TOE, is why AGW poses an existential threat to humanity. I have heard all sorts of predictions of human tragedy resulting from a couple of degrees of ACO2 driven increase in the TOE, spread over century time scales; now lets hear what life will be like living in a society whose CO2 signature is 10% of ours, or less, run by politicians who have the will and the power to ‘make it stick’.

    I actually AM terrified of Anthropogenic CO2, or would be if I were not already in my 70’s; NONE of my angst is related in any way to its affects on either the TOE or the climate in general. For an ‘old guy’, the predictable devastation from the coming onslaught of taxes and regulations, ostensibly justified as being required to ‘Save the Planet’, is becoming a little like viewing a train wreck: You can see it coming. It is happening in slow motion. It is entertaining, in a macabre sort of way. Lives, maybe even my own, since I am an unwilling ‘passenger’, will be lost or ruined. And there is absolutely nothing that I, or Jim Cripwell, can say or do to stop it.

    • Bob Ludwick

      Yes the CAGW gravy train is headed for a train wreck, indeed.

      But, looking at the Warsaw debacle (which followed similar fiascos at Cancun and Copenhagen), it appears to me that the wheels are about to come off of the CAGW train as it is losing its momentum and grinding to a screeching halt.

      No question that it is still a multi-billion dollar juggernaut and will not die painlessly.

      And there will be casualties, as it finally derails and heads for the ditch.

      But I give the whole irrational hysteria no more than ten years to die down completely and be replaced by some other stupid, politician-sponsored, taxpayer-funded boondoggle.

      If Mother Nature keeps playing along with a continuation of the pause in warming (despite unabated human GHG emissions and concentrations reaching record levels), the demise of CAGW hysteria may come even sooner.

      But then maybe I’m an optimist (unlike Jim Cripwell).


  44. look before you leap.
    he who hesitates is lost.

    the early bird gets the worm.
    slow and steady wins the race,

    the sky is falling
    dont stick your head in the sand.

    where logic and math and science fail us we fall back on our most primitive forms of reasoning.

    • a stitch in time saves nine
      (increasing joblessness in the garment repair industry)

      the early bird gets the worm
      (the early worm gets eaten by the bird)

      a penny saved is a penny earned
      (a penny earned is a penny taxed)

      drink is the curse of the working class
      (work is the curse of the drinking class)


    • where logic and math and science fail us we fall back on our most primitive forms of reasoning.

      And when science, itself, falls back to the most primitive form of reasoning (arguments driven by fear and guilt), we lose all rational logic.

      It’s all happening at the (Warsaw) zoo.


  45. Somewhat relating to ‘falacies of risk’, or at least the man y falacious arguments that have caused us to wast over 20 years of bad policies to try to fix the climate, Bjorn Lomborg has an excellent opinion piece in today’s Australian. He must have been listening to me! :) It’s behind a pay wall so I’ll post it in full below.

    A green future for all
    Bjorn Lomborg

    “THE past 20 years of international climate negotiations have essentially achieved nothing.
    Japan’s courageous announcement that it is scrapping its unrealistic targets and focusing on research and development of green technologies actually could be the beginning of a breakthrough for smarter climate policies.
    Japan has acknowledged that its previous greenhouse gas reduction target of 25 per cent below 1990 levels is unfeasible, and that it is more realistic its emissions will increase 3 per cent by 2020. Predictably, this has provoked critiques from the ongoing climate summit in Warsaw.
    UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and EU delegates expressed their regret and disappointment, China was dismayed, while activists called it outrageous and a slap in the face for poor countries.Yet Japan has simply given up on the approach to climate policy that has failed for the past 20 years, promising carbon cuts that later don’t materialise or only do so at trivial levels with very high and unsustainable costs.
    Instead, almost everyone seems to have ignored that Japan has promised to spend $110 billion ($118bn) across five years from private and public sources for innovation in environmental and energy technologies. This approach strongly differs from conventional policies to address global warming, and unfortunately it is not even on the agenda in Warsaw: instead of pouring more money into subsidising inefficient renewables, we could make much cheaper, but more effective, investments in research and development into new energy sources.
    As it turns out, this is the smartest approach to tackle climate change, and it could particularly help poor countries that rely on cheap energy to power their growth. Japan could – incredible as it sounds – end up showing the world how to tackle global warming effectively.
    The world is spending about $1bn a day on today’s inefficient renewables – a projected $359bn this year. But $100bn a year invested worldwide in R&D would be hundreds of times more effective. This is the conclusion of a panel of economists working with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.
    Yet in Warsaw, climate summits persist in hoping for a globally binding agreement on cutting carbon emissions. This was the essence of the failed 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Most of the big CO2 emitters (China and India) had no Kyoto-imposed limits, or left the process (the US), or didn’t keep their promises (Canada).
    Only the Europeans and a few others remain devoted to significant expenses for tiny outcomes.
    The EU is committed to cutting carbon emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. This will cost, according to an averaging of all the available energy-economic models, $250bn a year.
    By the end of the century (after a total cost of more than $20 trillion), this will reduce the projected temperature increase by a mere 0.05C.
    Rich countries install wind turbines and solar panels, which emit less CO2 but remain expensive and provide intermittent power. Spain spends almost 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on subsidies for renewables, more than it spends on higher education. Such policies are not sustainable, and they are policies most countries want to emulate. We can’t hope to push through a treaty in Warsaw, or anywhere else, forcing people to dramatically move to costlier, less reliable energy sources.
    Despite all the summits and the many trillions of dollars in subsidies for inefficient green technologies, CO2 emissions have risen by about 57 per cent since 1990. We need to look at a different approach instead of backing the wrong horse, over and over again. The economics show that the smartest long-term solution is to focus on innovating future green energy through R&D, rather than subsidising its current use.
    Such innovation would push down the costs for future generations of wind, solar and other amazing possibilities. If green technology could be cheaper than fossil fuels, everyone would switch, not just a token number of well-meaning rich people. We would not need to convene yet more climate summits that eventually come to nothing.
    A smart climate summit solution should instead get all nations to commit spending 0.2 per cent of their GDP (about $100bn globally) on R&D into green energy sources. Analyses show this could solve global warming in the medium term by creating cheap, green energy sources everyone wants.
    Instead of criticising the Japanese government for abandoning an approach that repeatedly failed, we should applaud it for looking at the bigger picture and committing to a policy that could meet the challenge of global warming.
    Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School. ”

      • Willard

        It’s a question of resource allocation, a concept that Gleick apparently does not comprehend (but Lomborg does).


      • > It’s a question of resource allocation […]

        Bjorn’s line “solving these urgent problems would cost almost nothing” (paraphrasing) comes at a price: one can’t use it and invoke “it’s about resource allocation” line.

        It’s a question of allocating proper rhetorical resources.


        The fallacies behind the very idea of “solving poverty” are left as an exercise to the readers.

    • Here’s mu short summary of the take-away messages:

      THE past 20 years of international climate negotiations have essentially achieved nothing.

      Japan could – incredible as it sounds – end up showing the world how to tackle global warming effectively.

      Only the Europeans and a few others remain devoted to significant expenses for tiny outcomes.

      By the end of the century (after a total cost [to the EU] of more than $20 trillion), [the EU policies] will reduce the projected temperature increase by a mere 0.05C.

      Renewable energy is expensive and ineffective.

      Innovation would push down the costs for future generations of wind, solar and other amazing possibilities [read ‘nuclear’, but not yet ready to say the hated ‘N’ word to his followers.] If green technology could be cheaper than fossil fuels, everyone would switch, not just a token number of well-meaning rich people. We would not need to convene yet more climate summits that eventually come to nothing.

      – See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/a-green-future-for-all/story-fni1hfs5-1226765589148#sthash.mzEtlTji.dpu

    • Peter Lang

      Thanks for posting Lomborgs op-ed.

      The green energy R+D fund makes good sense – but this is not what the Warsaw delegates want.

      They want handouts from the “guilty (developed) West”.

      But it looks like they are not getting them, so there is much “wailing, lamenting and gnashing of teeth”.


      • We should starve these elitist big guvuhmint spenders
        of funds from the public purse. Including our “own’ ABC
        in OZ, which cost the taxpayers $1.03 billion last financial
        year, most $65 million on wages , super and other
        entitlements. (

  46. The “Warsaw Concerto” has hit a sour note:

    Environment Groups Walk Out Of Warsaw COP19 Climate Change Talks


    Greenpeace International, WWF, Oxfam International, ActionAid International, Friends of the Earth Europe and the International Trade Union Confederation joined the walkout.

    Looks like things aren’t going too well for these green lobby groups…as the awareness hits them in the face that politicians are a fickle bunch.

    Has CAGW lost its sexiness?


    • “Britain sent a blunt message to developing countries yesterday that it would not give in to their demands for compensation for weather-related disasters, which, many scientists say, climate change has worsened. A group of 130 countries, including China, India and Brazil, are demanding that a new UN institution be created to measure “loss and damage” from storms, such as the typhoon in the Philippines that killed several thousand and destroyed or damaged more than 700,000 homes.” –Ben Webster, The Times, 21 November 2013

      David Cameron has ordered ministers to ditch the ‘green crap’ blamed for driving up energy bills and making business uncompetitive, it is claimed. The Prime Minister, who once pledged to lead the ‘greenest government ever’, has publicly promised to ‘roll back’ green taxes, which add more than £110 a year to average fuel bills. But a senior Tory source said Mr Cameron’s message in private is far blunter. The source said: ‘He’s telling everyone, “We’ve got to get rid of all this green crap.” He’s absolutely focused on it.’ Tory high command has also privately abandoned Mr Cameron’s pre-election mantra ‘vote blue, go green’. ‘It’s vote blue, get real, now – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t get the memo,’ the source said. Downing Street denied the claims and said: “We do not recognise this at all.” -–Daily Mail, 21 November 2013

  47. “Tell me, @BjornLomborg; since when have climate and poverty mitigation been mutually exclusive? @PeterGleick”

    Well, the short answer is that they became mutually exclusive the instant the experts at the pointy end of the logic, math, and science pyramid decreed that preventing catastrophic climate change required that we reduce anthropogenic CO2 by 90+%.

    Where energy is not plentiful and relatively inexpensive, there will be poverty. If we collectively reduce our ‘carbon signature’ by 90+% energy will be scarce and expensive everywhere. And poverty for the proles will reign. The nomenklatura, as always, will have nothing to worry about.

    • > If we collectively reduce our ‘carbon signature’ by 90+% energy will be scarce and expensive everywhere. And poverty for the proles will reign.

      Futurological arguments that omit to take into facts like the proles, who consume little energy compared to non-proles, are already poor under business as usual.

      Not without assuming that reducing the carbon signature is not required at all.

      In a blog post entitled Fallacies of Risk, no less.

      • If you are trying to convince me that you believe that reducing the world’s carbon footprint by 90+% will have no negative impact on the average standard of living, will not increase the percentage of the poverty stricken or, heaven forbid that we will on average become MORE affluent, you are smoking something that if NOT illegal, probably should be. And I say that as someone who is on principle opposed to drug laws.

        And to address your second point, until ‘climate’ does something dramatically out of character relative to the climate of the last ten thousand years or so I assume exactly that: reducing the carbon signature is not required. Or, frankly, desirable, in the sense that there are some empirical advantages to increased CO2 and, so far, exactly zero EM{IRICAL disadvantages. I admit that there are hundreds to thousands of ‘bad’ things that have been declared, ex cathedra, to be the consequences of anthropogenic CO2 (and oddly, NO ‘good’ things), but they are exactly that: ex cathedra declarations, with no empirical evidence.

        On the other hand I may ask you: What will the ‘TOE’ be in 50-100 years if we continue with business as usual, what will the TOE be in the same time frame if we ‘fight climate change’ by reducing our CO2 signature by 90+%, and why is the ‘fight climate change’ scenario better to the tune of a few trillion dollars?

  48. When I saw the title of this post I thought it would bring much-needed rationality to the debate on risk. But on reading it it turns out to be a Luddites charter. A better title would have been “10 reasons we must go back to the Stone Age NOW”.

    If I wake up one morning and receive the revelation that nuts and bolts are dangerous, with the help of (presumably safe?) social media I could quickly start a new movement against nuts and bolts. Anyone arguing against me would be guilty of all ten of these risk fallacies.

    I think I’ll start a new website and call it STONEAGENOW.

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  51. A civil engineer once told me: “We call it a margin of safety, but, in reality, it is a margin of ignorance.”

  52. Pingback: The Fallacies of Risk | Planet3.0

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  55. Sven Ove Hansson

    Needless to say I do not support the interpretations in this blogpost of my article. It is amazing that it could be used to support standpoints that go against the current consensus in climate science which I of course endorse. Please read my article as a whole instead of this distortion. /Sven Ove Hansson