Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gore is a Hypocrite! So What? Fallacious Tricks of a Conservative Pundit

Peter Schweizer, Author of Do as I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, and a "research fellow at the Hoover Institution" recently had a column published in USA Today (8-10-06) entitled Gore Isn't Quite as Green as He's Led the World to Believe. The article is available here at least for the time being.

As might be expected from the titles of Schweizer's book and column, the piece is devoted to exposing Gore for being an environmental hypocrite. Schweizer opens with paraphrases and quotes from the web site and film An Inconvenient Truth. (I have yet to see the film so I can't comment on their veracity). Apparently Gore is imploring his fellow U.S. and world citizen's to embrace a "carbon-neutral lifestyle" like he has allegedly done himself, so as to help slow down and hopefully reverse the trend of global warming. That is we should drive less, drive more fuel efficient cars, use less energy in the home etc..

Citing public records Schweizer goes on to claim that Gore is not living up to his recommendations. He has three homes, and has not signed up to pay a few extra pennies to use and support wind generated power. Gore also owns large stock holdings in Occidental Petroleum and receives royalties from a zinc mine. So there you have it, Gore is an environmentalist hypocrite. And maybe he is.

Schweizer states, "The issue here is not simply Gore's hypocrisy; its a question of his credibility". If he believes that global warming is the threat he says it is, why has he not taken the measures he recommends to the rest of us?

Perhaps he is a little to set in his ways? While yes, it would be better if Al Gore followed his own recommendations, it really doesn't matter.

To illustrate, imagine you are a 40-50 year old overweight male. You smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, eat donuts for breakfast, fast-food for lunch, and for dinner frequent your favorite steak house for a thick juicy T-bone, baked potato, and you don't skimp on the butter and sour cream. You don't exercise and are out of breath after one flight of stairs.

You go to your doctor for a check-up. He alerts you to the fact that you are in big trouble and on the road to a heart attack. He advises you to quit smoking ASAP, urges you to go on one of those "heart healthy" diets, and to start a very light exercise regimen. Anything more strenuous would likely provoke the heart attack you hope to avoid.

That evening over dinner at the steak house you tell your friend what your doctor told you. Coincidentally, you spy your doctor at the other side of the room. He sits there reclining while taking a long drag from his after dinner cigarette. Your friend, whose name is Peter Schweizer, exclaims, "that doctor is a hypocrite and his credibility is in question, if he thinks that your diet and smoking are slowly killing you, why does he do the same? I wouldn't worry too much about your health".

Now you should ask yourself, did your doctor base his assessment of your health, and recommendations for improvement on the best available medical science? Probably so. Is your doctor a hypocrite? Does it even matter? No it does not. I would worry more about both the moral integrity or reasoning skills of your nay-saying friend.

As for the case of Al Gore and the film An Inconvenient Truth we should ask the following questions. Are the claims of the film an honest portrayal of the consensus of the scientific community who study climate change? Is global warming an empirical fact? If it is, does the theory offered by climatologists to explain this global warming seem plausible. That is, has the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities within the last one-hundred and fifty years produced excessive green house gasses, that have in turn raised average global temperatures? What are the predicted consequences of global warming? How grave are they? Are they serious enough that we should take measures to slow down and hopefully reverse the global warming trend?

It is true that there are scientists, apparently a minority, who claim that it is uncertain the extent to which human actions are causing global warming. They may also be skeptical of the predicted consequences. There may be uncertainty around various issues of global warming, but that is a poor excuse for not taking action. In fact, the existence of uncertainty gives more weight to the argument for action on global warming.

There are many questions that we need to ask about global warming and its consequences. We should not be distracted by the issue of Gore's hypocrisy. It simply doesn't matter. If you can't stomach Al Gore, and even if you can, better to further investigate the issue from popular science magazines like Scientific American, American Scientist, Discover; or read books written by climatologists, or ones by science journalists who interview these specialists. And if you're really hardcore, go to the peer reviewed journal literature. Allegedly this is what Al Gore has done. His arguments should not simply be dismissed because he does not live up to the standard of a "carbon-nuetral lifestyle" that he promotes. Furthermore, while individual lifestyle choices may help to address the problem of global warming, what is needed are changes in national and international policy.

This dirty rhetorical trick by Schweizer is one of the informal fallacies called "poisoning the well." Arguments should be assessed on their merits regardless of the personal faults of the person making them. And Schweizer should know better. Schweizer is a "research fellow" at the Hoover Institution. On his biography page it states he received his Master of Philosophy from Oxford University. It is astounding that a person with a background in philosophy from any university, let alone Oxford, would openly employ such elementary fallacies such as these. This is evidence of a complete lack of intellectual integrity and honesty.

The Hoover Institution is a well known conservative think tank, and allegedly a scholarly one which is based at the very prestigious Stanford University. It appears that what the Hoover Institution at least in part does is support trivial research for use as propaganda. Further investigation of their web site reveals that they sponsor "media fellows" These "media fellows" are from a broad range of news media institutions, including those characterized by the right as "the liberal media." Is this further evidence of the Hoover Institutions support and education of propagandists?

No comments: