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Superfreakonomics author Steven Levitt has been fighting against the myriad critics going after him for the many, many mistakes in (at least) the global warming section of the book. Interestingly, a phrase that keeps coming up in his rebuttals is "I'm not sure why that is blasphemy."

Blasphemy. Hmm.

What strikes me as interesting about the use of this term is that it (along with the use of "belief" and explicit references to "global warming religion") changes the frame of the discussion of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to something for which faith overrides analysis. By claiming that AGW scientists are simply pushing their beliefs, AGW critics can position themselves in front of the general public and the traditional media as simply having differing beliefs, in a social milieu in which multiplicity of faiths is a Good Thing (™). Attacking them for not believing in AGW is akin (in this framing) to attacking them for being Presbyterian. You may disagree with their beliefs, they say, but they have every right to believe what they want.

The parallel here is with scientific subjects such as evolution, the biological origins of sexual orientation, and the age of the universe, all of which have opponents who insist on framing all sides of the argument in terms of beliefs (you can probably add vaccinations to that pile, too). It's not just that they're faith based -- they insist that everyone else in the discussion is, too.

There's some utility for them in this. If the discussion around AGW (or evolution, or vaccinations) was solely scientific -- with the use of relatively objective evidence, open analysis, and a willingness to learn from mistakes -- the disbelievers would quickly lose all standing. The scientific evidence for AGW is simply so overwhelming that the only way to perpetuate a "debate" is by playing the belief card. As long as AGW deniers and "skeptics" can keep the framing religious, they can maintain their perceived legitimacy.

As far as I know, Steven Levitt does not adopt an explicitly religious view of the issues discussed in his book, and might even take offense at being lumped in with anti-vaxxers and creationists. But he's the one who has decided to frame his arguments in the language of faith and belief. The lesson is here is simple: pay attention to language. The messages and meanings underlying the terms chosen by interest groups can say more about them than they might intend.


Yeah, I've been observing this trend myself in recent years - a very large number of deniers claim that AGW is a faith, and not science.

And as a physicist, this frustrates me a great deal, especially since I actually feel kind of obligated to examine their claims in detail and provide a scientific rebuttal.

Exactly. Where is Carl Sagan (The Demon-Haunted World) when we need him?

Hmm, thanks for this post. You've articulated a major problem I've had with skeptics/deniers for a long time, but had heretofore been unable to pinpoint.

Another: "Enviro-nazis."

Often followed by:

"They just want to use global warming as an excuse to control out lives."

Really, how can you argue with someone who throws that out there?

Pay attention to language

That is precisely what rhetorical tricksters do when setting up their conceptual cantrips.

You don't argue with such people because they aren't interested in being persuaded. All you can do is point out the intellectual dishonesty of their presentation and leave it to the folk in the 'fourth wall' to make their own minds up.

Think about it this way. Global warming is an issue which will affect basically everybody on earth. Policies instituted based on it being anthropogenic or otherwise, or real or exagerated, will also affect most of the people on the earth.

That's a lot of people. Most of them are not climatologists. Heck, basic literacy on earth isn't even all that great.

So they cannot decide this issue on logic. They don't have the ability. However, they do need to think about it and vote about it, because the issue affects them.

So they have a whole bunch of scientists telling them it is real and anthropogenic and a smaller number saying otherwise, and they hear pundits and politicians saying how this will affect them.

Religion isn't the best framework, but it is the best available to a rather large chunk of humanity. Do they trust (in other words, have faith in) the national science academy? It intuitively feels like religion.

Spot on, Jamais.

"Why such venom directed at Flat-Earth Science? Could it be that it exposes the rigid orthodoxy and uncritical belief in a so-called 'Round Earth?' All we want to do is teach the controversy. Why such reluctance to consider all sides in the debate?"

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