Debunking Oreskes part 1: A wall of vagueness

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7 Responses

  1. Rodney Nichols says:

    Keep it up. Excellent piece. Have been a long time colleague of one of the so-called “merchants of doubt,” I welcome this review of the evidence and of the purveyors of slurs.

  2. dagfinn says:

    Thank you very much. And sorry if it took long to approve your comment. This blog is quite new, and yours was the first non-spam comment. 😉

  3. Ted Horoschak says:

    I’d like to offer some criticism. Let me say first, I’ve not read the Oreskes book, and I haven’t read your entire series on it here, though I intend to. I’ve not followed the meme, I have no stake in it, and the first I’ve encountered it was on Judith Curry’s website which led me here.

    Now, my criticism. If you’re going to offer to “debunk” some idea or other, it would seem to me to be a good idea not to begin by committing a series of fallacies from the get go. Though you may rally true-believers, which if that is what you want, great, but you will discurage anyone who is actually open on the topic from reading.

    You might ask, what fallacies?

    Let’s start with the paragraph that begins “That is an interesting paradox in itself”… what claim are you making? Given your next criticism, one might think you’d take pains not to be vague about your own claims, but try as I might, I can find not definite claim. It SEEMS you are suggesting that the lack of a response somehow calls the book into question. It could just be that you want to point out the paradox… yet, truly, there is no paradox to point out. Not every criticism draws a response, and there are a thousand reasons that this may be the case. So, I can only conclude that what you are doing it suggesting that “hey there is something fishy going on here”, which, to me, is cheating in the world of “debunking” something.

    The next thing that gave me serious doubts about your approach was this:
    “I can’t prove that, of course. There is no way to know for sure what’s not in the book. I can only say that I’ve read most of the book two or three times searching for something solid. ”

    Very plainly, either you are working off of a principle that is demonstrably false, or what? Of course there is a way to know that something is not in a book … read the book! I can’t even understand why you would make such a claim…. this alone, makes me think that nothing else of value will appear in this series…

    • dagfinn says:

      Ted Horoschak:

      “It could just be that you want to point out the paradox… yet, truly, there is no paradox to point out. Not every criticism draws a response, and there are a thousand reasons that this may be the case. So, I can only conclude that what you are doing it suggesting that “hey there is something fishy going on here”, which, to me, is cheating in the world of “debunking” something.”

      Good point. I suppose I can only say that I agree with you. What I call a paradox in this case is something that seems odd, but as you point out, there could be many reasons for it. My intention was not to claim that it proves anything.

      “Of course there is a way to know that something is not in a book … read the book! I can’t even understand why you would make such a claim…. this alone, makes me think that nothing else of value will appear in this series…”

      I may have expressed myself poorly. I’m only saying that there is no way for me to prove to you the absence of anything in the book. I can quote what’s there, but I have no way of demonstrating what’s not there.

      • Ted Horoschak says:

        You are right that you have no means of demonstrating to me that its not there. But, I would think, saying “I’ve read the book and its not there” suffices because your reader can always go read the book to verify your claim. This isn’t any different really, than giving a quote from the book. That doesn’t prove to me that it’s in the book, but I can always read the book for myself, especially if you give me a page number making my job easier to verify for myself.

        The problem here, of course, is that you didn’t exhaustively read the book yourself, as you stated:
        ” I can only say that I’ve read most of the book two or three times searching for something solid.”
        I’m not sure what “most” is in this context, though it’s probably fair to say at least half the book plus one page. That however, would leave me with sufficient doubt as to whether, really, it’s not in the book, and so, somewhat undercuts your argument. And, I’m forced to ask myself, is reading the whole thing really too much to expect before -debunking- something? For, criticizing half an argument seems, well, likely to produce a bunch of good points which upon closer inspection aren’t good points at all…

        Yet, it may be that I am being too harsh here. But, I am seeing a trend of “debunkers” who make bad arguments and rely on fallacies, rendering everything called “debunking” just so much more noise. Even the term itself, “debunking” is being to suggest to me a certain kind of bias a-priori. Ah, that idea, it’s been “debunked”… can’t you not see that article over there “debunking the idea”… why would there be that article over there with that name if it weren’t true. So the one debunks the other, as if accumulating debunking titles in anticipation of a patent war…

        If “debunking” is to be real debunking, then we ought at least hold the debunkers to some tighter standards.

        Anyway, I digress. I don’t mean to lay all debunker’s fallacies at your feet. And I promise to read the rest of your atrticle series 🙂

  4. dagfinn says:

    I can see that I didn’t express myself clearly. I have read all of the book, of course. And the most relevant parts two or three times. Some chapters are less relevant to the main points. The discussion of DDT, for instance. (The may even be mostly correct about DDT; I haven’t studied the matter closely.)

    Also, I share your concern about the term “debunking”. It’s often very cheap.

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