Who Are Holocaust Deniers?
Hardcore Holocaust deniers are Nazis and antisemites. All Nazis are antisemites, but not all antisemites are Nazis. There are antisemites on the left as well as the right and some of them have become proponents of Holocaust denial. Most Holocaust deniers do not care what the truth is. Their goal is to spread anti-Jewish polemics under the guise of a a historical dispute. They also seek to win recruits to their cause by cloaking it in pseudo-academic regalia. Many deniers probably actually believe that the Final Solution was grossly exaggerated. Many of them make the argument that if it did not happen, it should have happened. These people wish to make hatred of Jews acceptable and mainstream. Some of them may acknowledge that the Nazis were violent and cruel, but they will often argue that the allies were the moral equivalent. Holocaust deniers do not have a compelling alternative narrative that explains the evidence of the Final Solution. Rather, they look for individual inconsistencies here and there. Sometimes they find minor inconsistencies between eye witnesses or between different accounts by different historians. What they fail to do is undermine the convergence of evidence for the big picture of what happened during the Final Solution. To paraphrase a truism, Holocaust denial is both true and important, it's just that the true parts are not important, and the important parts are not true.
There are Holocaust deniers who are not primarily motivated by hate. The emotions surrounding the issue often attract the mentally ill. The arguments sometimes trap the gullible. One may feel sorry for such people, but one need not treat their arguments with respect. The point of documenting the lies and half-truths of Holocaust deniers is not to enter in a debate with them or to try to convince them that they are wrong. Rather the point is to expose the arguments for the fallacies that they are so that future generations are not fooled by propaganda. Censoring lies is objectionable to me; I also think that it is not very effective. Making deniers martyrs to free speech just enhances their publicity, and publicity of any kind is what they seek.
There are a handful of Holocaust deniers who have changed their tune. In my view one should hate the behavior and not the individual. A Holocaust denier who cannot live in cognitive dissonance and changes his or her views should be welcomed, but one also has to understand that these people are the exception, not the rule. Most deniers will keep doing what they do. Let them die of old age in obscurity.
Climate Science Doubters
People who doubt the reality of climate science have very different approaches, and I think it helps to think about different reasons that people believe as they do. Below, I examine some of the diversity of approaches and discuss some of the issues involved. In doing so, it is explicitly not my intent to refute all the claims that doubters make. Rather, I am trying to take a step back and understand the human beings who make these claims. I do not think that they are motivated by hate.
It Snowed Yesterday and Al Gore Said He Invented the Internet
At the bottom of the chain are a group of people whose arguments against climate science amount to personal attacks on Al Gore or to note that the weather on a specific day happened to be cold. These people may not be the deepest thinkers, but that does not make them bad people. (Individual weather events do not prove or disprove the existence of long-term anthropogenic changes in climate. A long-term (20-30 years) trend in weather patterns may very well be attributable to global warming, but bad weather is nothing more than bad weather. Also Al Gore never said that he invented the Internet, not that Al Gore's credibility has anything to do with climate.)
For every person that thinks that last week's snowstorm disproves global warming, there is a person who thinks that Hurricane Katrina can be directly attributed to global warming, and such an argument is no better. Those who believe in climate change do not necessarily understand why they believe it at a level any deeper than those who do not believe it. That does not make them bad people either.
Scientific illiteracy is rampant in this country (and other countries). Most people have not caught up to 1905 in their thinking. That does not make them bad people. Not everyone is going to understand the intricacies of Hartree-Fock Theory or the Fifth Generation Mesoscale Model, but that does not mean that they cannot understand some of the basic principles that govern the world in which we live. It is incumbent upon scientists to try to teach these ideas.
Scientific illiteracy is a bigger problem than ignorance about global warming. A scientifically illiterate public will swing with the political winds, whatever the issue happens to be. That is not to downplay the seriousness of climate change, but I think the problem needs to be addressed at its roots. Controversy over climate science is a teachable moment. My primer on infrared spectroscopy and global warming is an attempt to take advantage of that.
"Social Clubs in Drag Disguise" or Go Team
Bob Dylan sings:
While some on principles baptizedI think there is something about human nature that causes us to root for the home team. Our team is right and good, whereas the other team is wrong and evil. The left-right dialectic in the United States has devolved into a sort of tribal warfare: if team 1 says the sky is blue, team 2 must say the sky is white. Let's face it, there are people in this country who believe or do not believe in climate change because that is the doctrine of their team. I do not think that this makes them bad people. In the case of climate science, the left happens to be more aligned with the evidence, but there are plenty of examples where the right is more in line with scientific evidence. The fact that a viewpoint lines up with the evidence does not mean that the person is right for the right reasons. An unquestioning belief in what is true is perhaps no better than an unquestioning belief in what is false, because ultimately both believers can be swayed by bad arguments.
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him
The only way out of this morass is actually to try to understand the content of the evidence.
Climate Change is a Hoax and Tinfoil Hats
There are those who claim something along the lines of global warming being an intentional conspiracy to impose socialism or enforce limitations on population growth. In fact, a resolution was introduced in the Utah legislature (and opposed by scientists at BYU!), claiming just that. There are claims from people in developing nations that global warming is a conspiracy to deprive them of the right to industrialize and from people in industrialized nations that it is a plot to share their wealth with poorer nations.
Climate science is not the first time that people have argued for a secret cabal with a hidden agenda and it will not be the last. I suspect that most people who doubt climate science do not really believe these types of claims. They may at times find the language of conspiracy and hoax appealing out of a sense of partisanship, but they do not really believe in an active conspiracy. They may believe in the dangers of confirmation bias, however. Of course, there are some who legitimately believe in conspiracy and they may be unreachable by reason. Conspiracy arguments whether genuinely held, or argued because of partisanship do not deserve to be taken seriously. These types of arguments are an attempt to distract the conversation from the scientific evidence.
Those on the left often argue that climate science doubters are pawns of the coal and oil industry. Although there is evidence of a disinformation campaign currently underway, I do not think that focusing on this fact is helpful. The evidence for global warming is strong enough to stand on its own. Inquiry into that evidence should not be shut down because of a real or imagined ulterior motive on the part of those asking questions.
Falsus in Uno Falsus in Omnibus
There has recently been a lot of publicity about errors in the IPCC reports. I have written an analysis on the so-called Glacier-gate. It is a fact that the IPCC is not perfect. It is also a fact that there are some who believe in climate science that are willing to greet claims that agree with their point of view less critically than claims that do not. By publishing incorrect claims the IPCC has undermined public confidence in its credibility. It must rebuild its credibility. These facts do not undermine the evidence that the earth is warming and they do not change the fact that the basic science is accessible. Falsus in uno falsus in omnibus is a logical fallacy.
People who read about these controversies are confused. Being confused does not make them bad people. The road to credibility is by helping people to understand the science.
Scientists Who Doubt the Consensus
There are, in fact, in the scientific literature a few authors who have differed with the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. Lindzen and Choi are prime examples. Although their analysis has been criticized it should not be disregarded out of hand. Rather, one should read and understand the background on these issues. It is my view that such papers, even if they are wrong, help the scientific process. I understand that Lindzen and Choi are working to address some of the errors with their paper and it would be wrong to presume to know what conclusions they may reach when that analysis is complete.
One should not blow the impact of a single paper out of proportion, but one should not ignore the issues it raises either (even if they have been addressed by previous papers).
How to Proceed
It is my recommendation that people follow the evidence rather than leading it. Do not decide what you want to believe and then find evidence to support it. Rather look at the evidence that has been amassed. If something does not make sense to you, do not accept it. Neither should you reject it. Try to understand the argument or ask a scientist. Feynman said it best, "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
However, it is not the responsibility of scientists to address every possible question that an individual may bring up. Rather, it is incumbent upon the sincere questioner to do some homework. In fact, the exercise of doing that homework can be more enlightening than just getting a pat answer to a question. Those who claim that global warming is driven by the solar cycle owe it to themselves to learn how scientists account for the solar cycle. Those who claim that temperature rises can be accounted for by urban heat island effects, owe it to themselves to look at the scientific literature on corrections for these effects. Just because you do not know the answer to a question, does not mean that scientists have not considered it and addressed it.
Science is about evidence and theories that tie that evidence together. There is a common misconception that science "proves" facts. Nothing could be further from the truth. This misconception can be witnessed in the claim often repeated by Creationists that "Evolution is just a theory." Rather, it should be stated that Evolution by natural selection is the theory that explains the evidence. Creationists do not have a theory because they cannot account for all of the evidence. It is common parlance to hear someone say, "I have a theory that" followed by that person's opinion on some matter. That person does not have a theory, that person has an opinion or at best a hypothesis.
Given certain axioms, mathematicians can prove a theorem to apodeictic certainty. It does not matter whether the axioms are true or not. In the hypothetical world in which the axioms are true, the theorem follows with certainty.
The same does not take place in the real world. In the real world, there is evidence and explanations for that evidence. Some explanations are better than others. The universe could have been created yesterday by a purple cow that lives on the moon who implanted memories into my brain. I cannot disprove that possibility, but it does not seem as likely as my understanding of how my memories came to be.
We cannot have the same amount of certainty in all things. The Final Solution happened. I am as certain of that fact as I am of anything that I know about history. Evolution is valid: I am as certain of that as I am that molecules exist or infrared energy is a type of electromagnetic radiation.
I am not as certain about climate change, but I am persuaded that a preponderance of the evidence makes it more likely than not that the earth (and specifically the troposphere) is warming and will continue as a direct result of anthropogenic emission of carbon dioxide. I am not trying to argue that here, but I want to differentiate between the levels of certainty in the theory.
There is direct evidence carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing and are anthropogenic.
It is an extension of basic physics and chemistry that increasing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will warm the planet, and that if nothing else changed the earth would get hotter.
The earth is a dynamic system with complex feedback mechanisms. Currently, the best evidence is that these systems are acting in a way that amplifies the warming that would be expected from carbon dioxide alone in a static system.
To argue for or against climate change, one should try to understand the evidence that supports it. It is not an issue of personalities, of political agendas, or other diversions. It is an issue of evidence and physics.
If you do not believe in climate change, you are not a bad person, but you should be honest with yourself about whether you understand the evidence, or whether you are searching for evidence to confirm a preconceived agenda.
If you believe in climate change, good for you, but you should not believe it because I believe it. You should not believe it because you identify yourself with a "social club in drag disguise" that has ordained that climate science is valid. You should believe it, if the evidence leads you to believe it.
As I progress in writing this blog, I hope to explain some of that evidence. I hope that I can explain it in a way that is helpful to anyone regardless of what position that person may be inclined to believe.
- Why Revisionism Isn't
- Holocaust denial
- Denial and Deniers
- Debate with Deniers
- Misguided Youth
- Snopes: "claim: Vice-President Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet"
- Bob Dylan, "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
- First Published Response to Lindzen and Choi
- Peer Review and Peer Reviewed Comments
- Feynman quote