Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Miscounting

Well, you certainly can't accuse the National Center for Science Education's Josh Rosenau of favoring any particular fallacy. Having shown some proficiency in guilt by association argumentation, and then diversifying into the fallacy of excluded middle and the ad hominem fallacy (perhaps his favorite), he is now inventing mathematical fallacies heretofore unknown.

Mathematics? Surely he will perform better in this field than he has in the other matters linked to above. He is after all, a scientist--or at least a scientist with training wheels on, in contrast to yours truly, whose last formal encounter with mathematics was college calculus, taken only under threat of not completing the university general education requirements.

But, alas, even mathematics seems to pose a challenge for our overexcitable science grad student.

I had pointed to the letter signed by 162 members of the American Physical Society, including one Nobel Prize winner and 12 members of the National Academies, contesting an official letter sent by APS leaders that we must pass legislation that will have devastating effects on our economy to prevent the End of the World as We Know It.

Here is Rosenau's response, from his post "On Counting":
Alas for Cothran, the APS has 47,189 members, so the dissent of 162 hardly undermines a claim of consensus.
Trouble is that's 162 more members that have gone individually on record in support of the organization's official stance. Rosenau apparently didn't note this paragraph in the letter from the dissenting APS members:
We know of no evidence that any of the “leaders” of the scientific community who signed the letter to you ever asked their membership for their opinions, before claiming to represent them on this important matter.
So we have 47,189 members whose positions are unknown and 162 members, some prominent, who are on record. In other words, the fact that there are 47,189 members doesn't mean anything, since we don't know where they stand.

But it doesn't matter. The End is Near. Just keep repeating it.


Lee said...

Just curious, Martin. Whenever you correct someone on grounds of fallacious reasoning, how often does your antagonist say, "I see your point. Thanks for helping me with that?"

Martin Cothran said...


Um, there was ... No. Okay, well there was the time when, ... well, no I guess that doesn't really apply either.

You got me. I can't remember.

Josh Rosenau said...

How many of the thousands of scientists who participated in the IPCC reports are APS members? They agreed that

More importantly, how many of the 162 letter-writers have actually submitted original research for peer review presenting evidence against the scientific consensus? Few if any.

As the authors of the IPCC assessment write:

"The insights and research results of individual scientists, even scientists of unquestioned genius, are thus confirmed or rejected in the peer-reviewed literature by the combined efforts of many other scientists. It is not the belief or opinion of the scientists that is important, but rather the results of this testing. Indeed, when Albert Einstein was informed of the publication of a book entitled 100 Authors Against Einstein, he is said to have remarked, ‘If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!’ (Hawking, 1988); however, that one opposing scientist would have needed proof in the form of testable results."

More significantly for the matter at hand, these scientists, through an open process allowing peer review and responses by editors to critiques, concluded that "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," and that "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [>90% confidence] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."

Such consensus is not undermined by letters from former TV weathermen, but by research. Alas for deniers, that research continues to strengthen the scientific consensus, not to weaken it.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a perhaps apocryphal story about the book published by 100 German "Aryan" physicists in Nazi Germany "refuting" Albert Einstein. When Einstein was told of the book, he simply said "if I am wrong, it would only take one person" If the 162 deniers want to change the APS position, they should actually be doing research.

Anonymous said...

oops! Josh knew the same ancedote!