May 16, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: Scientific Authoritarians: The case for skepticism about climate scientists.

Appeals to authority aren’t necessarily fallacious, except in the realm of formal deductive logic, where they entail adopting the unfounded premise that the authority is infallible. In informal logic–such as political debate at its best–an appeal to authority can be a sound argument if the authority is both relevant and trusted. And when dealing with complicated matters in which one lacks specialized expertise. As Michael Gerson puts it in the Washington Post: “Our intuitions are useless here. The only possible answers come from science. And for non-scientists, this requires a modicum of trust in the scientific enterprise.”

Do you see the subtle problem with Gerson’s formulation? The injunction have trust after tossing aside your intuition is at best a contradiction in terms, at worst a con.

This columnist is probably as unqualified as Marcus or Lapidos to evaluate the scientific merits of global warmism. But because we distrust climate scientists, we’re with Rubio in being inclined to think it’s a bill of goods. The trouble for global-warmist journalists like Marcus and Lapidos is that an appeal to the authority of a distrusted source undermines rather than strengthens one’s argument.

When — like Michael Mann and his cohorts — you act like a charlatan trying to hide the ball, instead of like a scientist, people don’t trust you.