Ok, this post isn’t going to be interesting to your kids. Except for when you teach them to identify how others will try to misrepresent common sense in debate to win an argument. In the clip below Texas congressman Joe Barton reframes the argument of human caused climate change in absurdity.
This post isn’t about climate change, global warming or politics. I don’t particularly care what you think about the bible or politics. I do care what you know about science, which is why I post about it. What I do care about is making sense. When our elected politicians make up arguments that 5th graders would think up, then we have a problem. And we do indeed have a problem, because THEY ALL DO IT.
The Christian Science Monitor posted a great short article on why this particular argument is outrageously ridiculous.
“The preposterousness of Barton’s statement stems from his basic fallacy, flagrant even by Congressional standards, in which he refutes an obviously silly claim held by nobody, and then acts as though he had just refuted a not-obviously-silly claim held by almost every climate scientist in the world.” –Eoin O’Carroll in the Monitor
The important thing to note is that Barton’s statement in the video and why it’s so wrong has nothing to do with whether climate change is real, and whether or not climate change is being caused by human activity, and that is not the point of this article. It has to do with the well understood and well documented logical fallacy he’s making in that argument.
The Straw Man Fallacy
In that article, O’Carroll links to an article about The Straw Man Fallacy. This is one of the most common ways people who don’t understand an argument, or politicians who believe their constituents aren’t smart enough to understand the argument, use to get past the actual issue and talk about something else.
“Your reasoning contains the straw man fallacy whenever you attribute an easily refuted position to your opponent, one that the opponent wouldn’t endorse, and then proceed to attack the easily refuted position (the straw man) believing you have undermined the opponent’s actual position. If the misrepresentation is on purpose, then the straw man fallacy is caused by lying.” –Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
You Are Not So Smart
One of my favorite books I bought recently is You Are Not So Smart by David McRainey. This is a book about all the ways our human brains are wired and predisposed to make errors in intuition, judgement and logic such as the Straw Man. The book is well written and extremely interesting. It is full of references to clinical and university research while not being dense, dry and boring.
The book is written in short chapters that introduce a reason why we are not so smart, explain the science of why our brans make that mistake, the research around it and how you can be aware of it in the moment. The idea is that we can’t prevent our brains from making these mistakes, but the more we are aware of them, the more we can keep from falling into our own traps.
Teach your children well
I try to stay away from opinion on this blog. I don’t care what you believe, and I certainly don’t advocate you steer your children towards your political views. But I do suggest you learn about science and empiricism and gain a functional knowledge of the way science works so it doesn’t seem as confusing and impenetrable to you as it does to Joe Barton.
Science is not something you decide to believe or not believe any more than you would sit back in Rome and believe the world is round or flat. Science is cramming a stick in the ground and measuring the shadow. Science is going off the map and finding out for sure.
Also, buy You Are Not So Smart, read it and read it again and become more aware of the silly things we all do constantly. Then teach your kids to be more aware of these things and they’ll be smarter and more successful because of it.
Seen Any Good Straw Men Lately?
Post in the comments if you have heard a good example of a Straw Man Argument recently. Or any other basic and obvious fallacy committed by someone who should be aware enough to know better.