William Happer, a physicist at Princeton who specializes in optics and spectroscopy (study of wavelengths), authored an anti-global warming screed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal which could serve as a primer for propaganda techniques. The article pretends to prove the veracity of the its title “Global Warming Models Are Wrong Again,” but careful analysis reveals his arguments are built more on rhetorical tricks than on facts.
Whatever the quality of Happer’s scientific research, he is a superb propagandist. But when we pick apart some of the statements and assertions that Happer makes in this hapless article, we find he primarily uses propaganda techniques and not facts or logic to make his case. In the bullets below, Happer’s quotes are in italics:
What is happening to global temperatures in reality? The answer is: almost nothing for more than 10 years.” What Happer does is take a meaningless slice of time for climate change. If he looked at 200 years of data, he would see that the world is getting warmer. Making the last 10 years as the length of time in which to measure global warming uses a technique I call FRAMING, which occurs when you define a problem to get the answer you want.
“CO2 is not a pollutant. Life on earth flourished for hundreds of millions of years at much higher CO2 levels than we see today. Increasing CO2 levels will be a net benefit because cultivated plants grow better and are more resistant to drought at higher CO2 levels, and because warming and other supposedly harmful effects of CO2 have been greatly exaggerated. Nations with affordable energy from fossil fuels are more prosperous and healthy than those without.” Let’s forget the fact that the life that existed on earth with much higher levels of CO2 than today didn’t include humans or other large mammals. Let’s focus instead on the end of this paragraph, which is a NON SEQUITUR (which loosely means that it makes no sense or that A doesn’t really prove B): Although fossil fuels release CO2 that does not mean that you can disprove the theory that too much CO2 harms the Earth; it only means that cheap energy is necessary for nations to thrive.
“The direct warming due to doubling CO2 levels in the atmosphere can be calculated to cause a warming of about one degree Celsius. The IPCC computer models predict a much larger warming, three degrees Celsius or even more, because they assume changes in water vapor or clouds that supposedly amplify the direct warming from CO2. Many lines of observational evidence suggest that this “positive feedback” also has been greatly exaggerated.” Note that Happer gives attribution for a computer model that predicts global warming, but does not tell which studies or computer simulations disprove it. He uses the passive construction to AVOID ATTRIBUTION. If he changed the passive “can be calculated to cause…” to an active tense, “XYZ calculates,” grammar would force him to tell us who did the calculations. Many lines of observational evidence…,” begs the question, “Which lines?” and also avoids telling us who is following, making or observing these “lines.” If you believe in this research, sir, tell us who did it? But if Happer told us who did this so-called research he cites, we might find that it’s shoddy, has already been discounted, makes framing mistakes, was done by non-scientists or isn’t really research. We don’t really know unless Happer offers the citations.
“But there is no hard evidence this is true. After an unusually cold winter in 2011 (December 2010-February 2011) the winter of 2012 was unusually warm in the continental United States. But the winter of 2012 was bitter in Europe, Asia and Alaska.” Happer is ARGUING BY ANECDOTE. The argument by anecdote provides examples and assumes that we will extrapolate from those examples to the conclusion the writer or speaker wants us to draw. Happer talks about what has happened over the course of two years, when global warming is a process that has occurred over many decades; in this context, two years are only anecdotes, not statistically valid data.
“Nightly television pictures of the tragic destruction from tornadoes over the past months might make one wonder if the frequency of tornadoes is increasing, perhaps due to the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. But as one can read at Andrew Revkin’s New York Times blog, dotearth, ‘There is no evidence of any trend in the number of potent tornadoes (category F2 and up) over the past 50 years in the United States, even as global temperatures have risen markedly.'” The sentences I quote are the beginning of a multi-paragraph argument in which Happer proves without a doubt that the number of tornadoes have not increased in the United States (he never mentions the rest of the world). But who is saying it? I googled “tornadoes global warming” and could only come up with articles in which experts say that there has not been an increase in tornadoes. I could come up with articles in which experts say that there has not been an increase in tornadoes. I could come up with no article in which a scientist or a group has said that tornadoes have increased (except for a speculating weather personality or two trying to spice up coverage of a tornado). What Happer has done is set up a STRAW MAN, which means he creates an argument which is easy to destroy and then destroys it. And once again, he bases his argument on a NON SEQUITUR. He wants us to believe that just because there has not been an increase in tornadoes that there has been no global warming, nor damage from same. His reasoning is absurd, even if it builds on the idea that global warming will create more extreme weather. Extreme weather includes a lot more than tornadoes. I sense (but don’t know for a fact) that he selects tornadoes to discuss for precisely this reason, another example of FRAMING the argument to get the conclusion you want. Reduced to rhetorical principles, Happer frames the argument, then destroys a straw man, all so he can make a statement that’s a non sequitur.
Happer ends by invoking the sainted Richard Feynman on scientific research in general. He then closes with, “The most important component of climate science is careful, long-term observations of climate-related phenomena, from space, from land, and in the oceans. If observations do not support code predictions – like more extreme weather, or rapidly rising global temperatures – Feynman has told us what conclusions to draw about the theory.” If you only skim these last two paragraphs, you might come to the conclusion that Feynman, one of the most important physicists since Einstein, is against global warming. But all Feynman is saying is that science is based on facts.
Note that in this last paragraph, all Happer is really stating is that we should judge the theory of global warming on facts and if the facts aren’t there, the theory is wrong. His rhetoric avoids a direct statement about global warming. Some might call it a rhetorical flourish: the writer puts down the facts and we make the conclusion, a kind of 1+1=2 (or in the case of the implication that Happer wants us to draw, 1+1=3!).
But I think Happer is using this rhetorical device to avoid speaking directly, because he knows the facts are against him.