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The comic and the box of blinking colored lights

The last couple of days have been a bit surreal, haven’t they?

After all, how often does this box of blinking lights get into a blog altercation with a Libertarian comic over global warming? Actually, it was a commentary on bad reasoning, but global warming happened to be the topic. In the aftermath of my referring you, my readers, to comic Tim Slagle’s blog piece “rebutting” me and to another piece by him in which he used some–shall we say?–creative chemistry and thermodynamics to support a political argument, I’m not sure if I should feel guilty or not. This guilt exists mainly because I can’t help but feel a sense of schadenfreude in watching Tim’s increasing discomfiture as he tries to justify his ludicrous science to the point of falling back on saying, “It’s close enough for comedy.” (I figured as much.) On the other hand, it’s possible that over the last couple of days Tim’s actually been happier than a pig in mud because of the influx of “eggheads” to argue with. (I can’t tell but wouldn’t be surprised if the latter were the case.) Besides, he did get what I hope was a very nice spike in the traffic to his site. (After all, for a comic, any publicity is good publicity, right?) Also, although the vast majority of you were quite critical of him, I do note that Tim did appear to pick up at least one new fan, although I rather suspect it was simply because this new fan happens to have a rabid dislike of me more than any real affinity for Tim’s comedy. Either way, I hope he at least bought Tim’s CD or something else. Oh, wait. That particular commenter seems to hate my guts; if I tell him to buy Tim’s CD he’ll almost certainly not do it, and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from buying Tim’s CD. So S.H.A.M. Scam Sam, whatever you do, don’t buy a copy of Tim’s CD. It’ll really piss me off. And, whatever you do, don’t buy multiple copies.

I mean it.

In any case, although my readership is nowhere near as large as that of, say, P.Z. Myers, it’s still quite respectable by most blogging standards; so in the future I may have to be more careful about unleashing your awesome power. With great power comes great responsibility, you know. (Yes, that’s some shameless sucking up to my audience, hoping that you will read on, keep reading, and tell your friends what a great blog this is and get them to read too.)

As far as Tim’s rebuttal to me (nice Photoshop there, by the way; I actually did laugh at it), I don’t want to do a line-by-line fisking, because, yes, believe it or not, humorless clod that Tim apparently thinks that I am, I am actually aware that much of comedy consists of mocking people (the ad hominem) and, yes, I am familiar with Don Rickles (I love his stuff and am amazed that the guy is still sharp even as an octogenarian). Tim apparently didn’t bother to read the part where I mentioned that I understand that Al Gore is a nice, big, fat target for comedians. The point was that Tim was harping on Al Gore’s deficiencies, real or imagined, as though they were some sort of evidence that anthropogenic global warming is a bogus hypothesis. Now he says that he never claimed that global warming isn’t true. Wow. That’s certainly news to me after seeing his act, where he certainly gave the strong impression that’s what he believed, and afterwards perusing his blog and website. It’s also a hard claim for me to swallow after I came across his playing the “science was wrong beforegambit in this bit on his blog, in the context of likening a proposed change in nomenclature (the “demotion of Pluto” from planet status) to actual changes in scientific theories:

Science is obviously a highly flexible and constantly changing group of theories. Rather than being a hard discipline like Mathematics, it is based on continual questioning, discovery, and revision. In just the past 150 years we’ve learned that our ancestors were monkeys, there are particles smaller than atoms, and a huge explosion started it all.

Many things that were taught just a few generations ago, are now disputed. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, Geologists still believed that the Continents were fixed and immobile; today we know that they ride around the Earth on tectonic plates. Time was regarded as a constant, until Einstein suggested that it could actually be slowed down, by traveling very fast. (Standing in stark contrast to the adage: “Slow down, you’ll live longer.”) Dinosaurs, were once thought to be cold-blooded reptiles like Robert Blake, but are now considered the warm-blooded ancestors of birds.

So too, will our perceptions change about Global Warming. The modern theory is that CO2 has been warming up the atmosphere. Perhaps years from now, when the current upward temperature trend reverses, scientists will change their opinions. I suspect such is the motivation to replace the term “Global Warming,” with “Climate Change.” The Environmentalists are all repositioning themselves, in case they have to make an abrupt U-turn.

(Note to Tim: There’s a big difference between an argument over scientific nomenclature and an argument over the actual content of scientific hypotheses and theories.)

There’s more of the same sort of stuff all over Tim’s website and blog and even in his rebuttal, and in fact he references the above post in his rebuttal. So what was that about Tim not saying that he never denied that anthropogenic global warming is happening? In any case, he clearly misunderstands the nature of the scientific consensus as much as he does the significance of the Greenland ice study that he references elsewhere. Of course, maybe Tim isn’t being disingenuous when he says that he never said anthropogenic global warming is wrong. If that’s the case, then I’d just love to witness Tim state unequivocally that he thinks it is happening, why, and how much for the record, either here or on his blog.

It’s also probably worth briefly reiterating that, as Tim said, he asked me whether there was any science to support Al Gore’s discussion of the possibility of sea level rising 20 feet due to global warming. His dancing around the point does not change the fact that I did just as I was requested. I provided the origin of that particular anti-global warming talking point and showed that Al Gore’s estimate was within the worst case scenario estimated by climate change models as described in the IPCC report. That’s all that was asked for, and that’s what I provided. I did not say what should be done about it or how likely that outcome is; I only provided a source that showed that the estimate was within bounds of current science and that the whole “20 feet versus 23 inches” canard was a nothing more than a distortion to make Al Gore look like a raving fearmonger. I did not comment on the likelihood of either scenario relative to each other. If Tim thinks Al Gore is a raving fearmonger, that example was a very poor one to use to make his case.

The most interesting and perhaps revealing point Tim makes, however, is in response to my taking him to task for his apparent belief that the motivation behind scientists who believe that anthropogenic global warming is a problem and that we need to do something to decrease carbon emissions:

This was another ad hominem attack, I used to generate a little levity. Just between you and me, it’s semi-autobiographical. I was that geeky kid with allergies and asthma, who got beat up for lunch money, and creamed on the dodgeball court. And I understand how such a childhood can translate into bitterness and envy…

My speculation is, that smart kids who are bullied in school, grow up to be bullies themselves. Only, they become intellectual bullies. My liberal use of insults on stage is one symptom of that syndrome. Your need to publish the response to my question on your blog, without even asking me if I would mind, is another. (I’d have given you permission, I just would have liked if you asked first, and given me fair warning that I needed to prepare a rebuttal). Such behavior is indicative of someone still hurting from those dodgeball welts. I think perhaps, the reason you didn’t find the bit funny. is because it made those welts sting again. Your remark about getting laid a lot, doesn’t do much to alleviate my suspicions either.

Geez, see what I get for trying to be self-deprecating? That’ll teach me never to give a comic an opening like that and just to stick with, at least as far as blogging is concerned, the arrogant computer shtick of my nom de blog and the God complex that the stereotype of surgeons requires of me.

Let’s parse this a bit. Because Tim had a geeky childhood and admits to possibly having compensated by being a comic who apparently gets off on mockery (as all good comics presumably do to some extent or another), he assumes that I’m the same, only using a different medium. That inference, even if it were true, is of course a non sequitur. Not only is it irrelevant to whether my criticism was valid or not, but Tim has no evidence whatsoever other than his generalizing of his personal experience to speculate that most global warming scientists suffered such severe geek-induced childhood and adolescent traumas of not being one of the cool kids or that they as a group are anything less than solidly middle class and above (which most tenured and tenure-track university faculty are, by the way). Even if his combining his experience with the stereotype of scientists as poor, asocial geeks were valid, he has no evidence whatsoever that this motivates climate scientists more than the actual scientific evidence. More importantly, he has no evidence whatsoever that such base motivations would lead these scientists to promulgate “bogus” science just to fulfill their revenge fantasies.

What startles me most about this line of attack is that, at its core, it’s purely an appeal to emotion, not to reason, based on a common stereotype of scientists in the media and Tim’s own apparent childhood experiences. There are no hard facts, no hard data, no nothing, other than Tim’s feelings and obvious contempt for scientists as geek-boys and -girls who, he assumes, are burning with envy for the things they can’t have and thus have hatched this whole global warming thing in order to keep the beautiful people they can’t sleep with from owning the big SUVs and palatial houses that they as impoverished scientists can never have. For someone who likes to represent himself as rational and skeptical (as most Libertarians seem to like to do, in my experience), this is not a rational argument (or even reason-based comedic mockery); rather it’s pure emotion, in essence a poisoning the well fallacy, designed to whip up contempt and anger against those “power-hungry egghead” scientists telling us what we should do. In fact, this sort of “envy of the cool rich kids” seems to be a recurring theme in Tim’s writing. Having only seen him perform once, I don’t know if it’s a recurring theme in his comedy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is.

Whatever the case, I guess it just goes to show that it isn’t just leftists who are able and willing to play on emotion rather than appeal to reason and science. Appealing to stereotypes and emotion might sometimes make for good comedy, but it’s a poor substitute for political argument, and Tim seems to use it for both–and to continue to use it for both, given that he repeated and defended the argument outside of his comedy act and has used a variation of it in his political writings.

The surrealism continues.

Oh, and by the way, happy Bastille Day.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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