The Rhetoric of Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer’s column that appeared in the Albany (NY) Times Union February 24 is a fine example of rhetoric in service of bias. He begins by asserting his neutrality on climate change (neither a believer nor a denier, he!). Then he sets up a Straw Man, decrying scientists who claim to predict what will happen, based on models of climate change. Then he introduces a Scare and Contempt Factor: these guys are wearing white lab coats! This distorts climate modeling. A good model will describe accurately what has happened in the past, and then extrapolate events to come, based on a variety of assumptions. It is correct that these models do not predict the same scenario, because the assumptions and equations may differ. No realistic modeller will bet heavily on the accuracy of these extrapolations. However, it is noteworthy that the models project continued increases in temperature. The trend of increased temperature is significant and extends back in time for many decades. The alleged stasis of the last 15 years is not significant by comparison with this trend. Citing this is another example of rhetoric in service of bias – Cherry Picking a small data set to discredit a large data set. In case you should think Mr. Krauthammer ill-qualified to pronounce on climate change, he introduces an Appeal to Authority: the opinions of two atmospheric scientists who have critiqued the accuracy of these models. And if you think they might not count for much (given that hundreds of other climate scientists support the idea that climate is changing), he doubles down on appealing to authority by citing the opinions of the Very Famous Physicist Freeman Dyson. Dyson also criticizes the consensus view on climate change, even though you might wonder if Dyson is more qualified than Krauthammer to comment on the results of people working in a totally different field than his own. Rather than give us a chance to consider why many climate scientists might legitimately adopt a single position on the issue, Krauthammer implies that they are all in a Conspiracy with one another. His final rhetorical flourish is to call those he wishes to discredit a nasty name. Krauthammer chose the word “Whore”. It is hard to imagine anything more contemptible.

Teach students truth about life

The Associated Press item on the Faith and Values page “Evolution debate draws full house at museum,” Feb. 8, covered in three uncritical paragraphs the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham and left the last word to the creationist Mr. Ham.
That Mr. Nye “the Science Guy” could fill an auditorium at the Creation Museum is hardly surprising. What is more interesting is that Christians were disappointed in Mr. Ham. The Rev. Alan Rudnick, a blogger on timesunion.com, faulted Mr. Ham for doing a bad job.
The results of debates like this do not matter much. All of us rely on the results of evolutionary research, for example, when we take our annual flu shots, or when we wisely refrain from asking for antibiotics to treat a viral infection, or when we eat one of the many products derived from corn. To insist that teachers tell public school children that all this is based on an illusion is to advocate lying to them at government expense. To the contrary, we need to teach them about humanities, history, mathematics, and science, as they really are.

This appeared in the Albany Times Union, February 17.

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