Countering A Vicious Meme

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James Taranto uses a particularly vacuous column by Ellen Goodman as a starting point to eviscerate a particularly vicious meme that the left is trying to implant in the public's mind. The column repeats the sickeningly un-American meme that global warming skeptics are equivalent to holocaust deniers. (And it absolutely is un-American, I don't really care how many outraged shrieks that comment provokes.) Taranto beats that premise like a rented mule.

Wow, Ellen, thanks for sharing! But a few paragraphs later she tries to make a serious point and ends up making a serious moral and intellectual error:

I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.

No, Ellen. Let's not "just say" it. Before we make a truly invidious comparison, let's think a bit, shall we?

On our shelf sits a book called "The House That Hitler Built." It is a 380-page study of Nazi Germany, written by Stephen H. Roberts, a professor of modern history at the University of Sydney. Roberts spent 16 months in Germany and neighboring countries between 1935 and 1937. "My main aim," he explains in the preface, "was to sum up the New Germany without any prejudice (except that my general approach was that of a democratic individualist)."

The substance of the book is alarming, although the tone is calm and detached–so much so that it is eerie to read with the knowledge of what happened in the years after October 1937, when it was published. One 10-page chapter is devoted to "The Present Place of the Jews." At the time Roberts wrote, the persecution of Jewish Germans was well under way:

At present, the German Jew has no civil rights. He is not a citizen; he cannot vote or attend any political meeting; he has no liberty of speech and cannot defend himself in print; he cannot become a civil servant or a judge; he cannot be a writer or a publisher or a journalist; he cannot speak over the radio; he cannot become a screen actor or an actor before Aryan audiences; he cannot teach in any educational institution; he cannot enter the service of the railway, the Reichsbank, and many other banks; he cannot exhibit paintings or give concerts; he cannot work in any public hospital; he cannot enter the Labour Front or any of the professional organizations, although membership of many callings is restricted to members of these groups; he cannot even sell books or antiques. . . . In addition to these, there are many other restrictions applying in certain localities. The upshot of them all is that the Jew is deprived of all opportunity for advancement and is lucky if he contrives to scrape a bare living unmolested by Black Guards or Gestapo. It is a campaign of annihilation–a pogrom of the crudest form, supported by every State instrument.

To equate a denial of history and a disagreement over an unknowable future is morally reprehensible. The attempt to stifle, pressure or deprive employment to opponents who do not happen to toe your dictated line is un-American. It is a hideous violation of the First Amendment and the first step down a road we should all – left, center or right -rightly declare to be wrong. Reasonable people can disagree, but an attempt to silence those who oppose you is anathema to what America stands for. Read the section of Stephen H. Roberts' work that Taranto quotes. Silencing people has been done before. The results have been hideous.

The left has made a huge show about declaring how they have been "silenced". Usually live on television, mind you. But now they demand the silencing of those they disagree with. Who is really doing the silencing? Who is really suppressing speech?

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33 Responses to Countering A Vicious Meme

  1. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    Some would have you believe that this is a partisan issue. Republicans passed the Clean Air Act (Nixon) founded the EPA, passed acid rain legislation. Teddy Roosevelt created national parks.

    This administration has indeed been anti-science: but no more than they have been anti any other experts: they also disdained the expert advice of military experts, the CIA, economic experts etc.

    This administration has badly damaged the concept of Republican expertise and responsibilty, which you need to reclaim.

    Conservatives from Teddy Roosevelt on have championed the idea of responsible stewardship of the earth, not denigrated it. From Science Magazine:

  2. Okay, I have no idea how to respond to the anonymous thing posted before I scribbled this….

    (Well, that’s not actually true; I could dismantle you, but that’s not here or there.)

    My big argument about this “consensus” among scientists is a very simple question: “do you believe computer models are the absolute truth?”

    If so, what if I plug in a variable that throws the entire thing out of whack? Let’s say a volcano blows and spews a gigantic amount of carbon MONOXIDE, as oppsed to DIOXIDE, into the ether. (they ARE different… you know that, right?)

    Takes the previous charts and projections and flips them on their back like a turtle trying to navigate whil resting on the crest of his shell.

    Would that make you change your tune?

  3. tamino says:

    What if a volcano blows and spews a gigantic amount of carbon monoxide into the ether?

    Each year volcanoes inject about 130 to 230 million tons of carbon DIoxide into the air. Human activity injects about 6 billion (not million) tons.

    And the carbon MONoxide from volcanoes is about 30 times smaller — roughly 4 to 8 million tons.

    So it seems to me that your question is nonsense. What if the sky were green? Would that make you change your tune?

    Nobody believes that computer models are absolute truth. Nobody who knows what they’re talking about, believes that computer models are the basis of believing in global warming.

  4. Conservatives from Teddy Roosevelt on have championed the idea of responsible stewardship of the earth, not denigrated it.

    Reasonable people can disagree on how to responsibly steward the Earth’s reasources. Afterall, many Republicans and “right of center” folks are…gasp…Christians. One important tenant of Christian Theology is Good Stewarship of the resources that God gave us to use.

    Profilagate waste would be a sin; it was hunters like TR that realized that God’s bounty wasn’t endless and that conservation was required to insure that such gifts indured. I have an old book that is of Teddy Roosevelt’s illustrated letters to his son.

    Unreasonable people compare those who disagree with them to the monsters that killed over 6 miilion Jews and _millions_ of others. It isn’t only the ecoissues that the “Liberals” use the Nazi comparision with. Everyone that disagrees with the “Smart Set” about _anything_ is a freaking NAZI!

    What this does is set the claim that anyone who disagrees with the “Liberals” is an evil person. They do not ascribe to the notion that good people may disagree on the best way to accomplish the same good ending. To them disagreement makes you a genocidal maniac.

    It is such emotionally loaded speech, coupled with the lack of facts available to the average citizen, that allows them to succeed. No one wants polluted water, bad air, flooded cities, permanent underclasses, starving masses or nuclear destruction. But if you disagree with the “Liberals” ipso facto you are.

  5. Gaius says:

    Tamino, it seems you don’t understand TC’s point:

  6. tamino says:

    Tamino, it seems you don’t understand TC’s point

    Indeed I don’t. If he had asked, what if a large volcanic eruption injected a large amount of sulfates into the atmosphere, then I might. But he specifically mentioned “carbon MONOXIDE, as oppsed to DIOXIDE, into the ether. (they ARE different… you know that, right?).” That’s why his question seemed (and still does) nonsense.

    I’m aware of the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions; it’s due to the emission of sulfates (not carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide), which create reflective sulfate aerosols which block sunlight from reaching the surface and cool earth’s climate. That’s why there’s a noticeable cooling for a few years in the 1990s after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. But the effect of volcanic aerosols is brief; they only stay in the atmosphere for a few years, while it’ll take about 100,000 years for CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels if we halt all emissions today.

    On the subject of computer models: they do take volcanic aerosols into account. One of the causes of warming in the 1st half of the 20th century is an unusual lull in volcanic activity. When NASA’s James Hansen testified in congress in 1988 about predictions of future temperature, their model included three large volcanic eruptions in the next 50 years. Hansen’s prediction of temperature, made almost 20 years ago, has turned out to be right.

    The eruption of a giant caldera would kill us all, but that only happens on timescales of hundreds of millions of years. The eruption of ordinary volcanos, even large ones (like Pinatubo or Krakatoa), have a noticeable cooling effect, but only a very temporary one. They will not prevent global warming due to man-made greenhouse gases.

  7. Gaius says:

    And why do you believe this exact climate is the optimum one? That’s a question nobody seems to want to answer. Why was it worse for the planet when Greenland was arable and North Africa was a major grain producing region? Why wasn’t it better when glaciers covered North America?

    Why is this the perfect temperature?

    How do you know?

  8. tamino says:

    And why do you believe this exact climate is the optimum one?

    I don’t. I doubt that there is such a thing as an “optimal” climate.

    It’s not climate that’s the threat, it’s climate change. During a deglaciation, global average temperature changes by about 5 deg.C. This takes typically at least 5,000 years, for a rate of change of about 0.001 deg.C/yr. Sustained, such a rate of change is known to be a strain on ecosystems.

    The current rate of change is 0.018 deg.C/yr, 18 times faster than a reasonably rapid deglaciation. For ecosystems to adapt to such rapid change is extremely difficult. If the grain belt in the U.S. turns into a desert in the next 50 years, or sea level rises by a meter or more in the same time span, we’ll have precious little time to adapt, and much human suffering will be the result.

    A point I’d like to mention: it must be obvious that I believe strongly that global warming is real, man-made, and dangerous. But I agree with the theme of the post itself, that it’s both false and unethical to liken skeptics to holocaust deniers. I also object to putting anyone’s employment at risk because of a disbelief in global warming.

  9. Gaius says:

    Let’s not conflate things here. The Earth is warming. I am not convinced it is largely man’s fault. We disagree there. There may be a component, but we can not know how much it is given the complexity of the situation. It may be dangerous, but there are opportunities as well.

    Perhaps the best thing is to start talking about how to best grasp those and minimize the dangers.

    The hysteria (global warming causing gingerbread houses to collapse, for example) is not the right way to do that and in fact shuts down reasonable discourse. The demonization of those who do not toe the line is over the top and should be condemned by reasonable people on both sides of the issue. Thanks for doing so.

  10. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    Gaius, do you have a source for this idea that we who are understandably “alarmist” about the truly alarming truths of global warming believe that it will cause “gingerbread houses to collapse”. I have never heard that: certainly it would seem to be the very least of our troubles global warming will bring us all as a species!

    And I agree that deniers is a bad term as it invokes holocaust denial. I think “fossilfuel shill” or “unwitting stooge” is more accurate for the varying motivations for those who won’t accept the science on this matter.

    For instance TC who does not accept any scientific findings involving computers:

    Would he rather scientists compute their data using the back of an envelope?

    Doesn’t he ever get on a plane?
    Doesn’t he ever get a Cat Scan?
    Doesn’t he ever drive a vehicle?

    Since he doesn’t accept scientific modelling, I guess most of modern life is off-limits for TC.

    Good luck TC inventing substitutes on the back of your envelope!

  11. Gaius says:

    Do you actually click any of my links, Sweet? I linked the gingerbread house piece in the first post you commented on:

    But TC (who can amply defend himself, trust me) is (I think) also trying to point out a fact. The basic rule of computers, that is always, always true is, “Garbage in-Garbage out”. Your results are only as good as your input data. The US weather service spent large sums of money and came out with a super-whamadyne hurricane predicting computer that would tell forecasters where the hurricane would hit. They proudly demonstrated it.

    It was accurate 50% of the time.

    So is calling a flipped coin.

  12. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    I clicked the gingerbread link: it’s to some yahoo news thingie, but is even more devoid of information than usual from yahoo….ie blank

  13. hellloo, Sweet Land Of Liberty.
    He’s right, our landlord here.

    I can tear your rhetoric apart in a heartbeat.

    “For instance TC who does not accept any scientific findings involving computers:”

    Never said that, skippy. But, as someone who spent more time jerking commodity charts around until they told me what I wanted to hear, I KNOW if you add a variable not in the equation, the construct goes to hell.

    But you are A TROLL. Which means “dumb as a rock.”

    Bye now.

  14. E-mail is free.
    Hell, websites are free1
    But you? Anonymous skippy punk.

  15. PS: Tamino? Tell me what the mean temperature will be at noon in the city of Atlanta, Ga. 86 hours from now.

    You get a plus/minus “3” variable.

    I got five large says you can’t pull it off.

    (you gotta come to NYC to collect if you score)

    Wanna play?

  16. and the prediction needs to be in by five ayem, Monday morning

  17. “Let’s not conflate things here. The Earth is warming.”

    Who decided the baseline temp?

  18. Gaius says:

    The Yahoo links expire, unfortunately. Trust me, the report blamed the collapse of gingerbread houses in Sweden on global warming.

  19. tamino says:

    I think perhaps some of the commenters have missed the point of the post.

    As Gaius said (quite well, in my opinion), “The demonization of those who do not toe the line is over the top and should be condemned by reasonable people on both sides of the issue.” I would extend that to both sides. Inflammatory rhetoric and blatant insults do not serve the cause of intelligent debate, and move us further apart at a time when we need to find common ground and address issues rationally.

    When I see such phrases as “fossilfuel shill,” “unwitting stooge,” “dumb as a rock,” and “I can tear your rhetoric apart in a heartbeat,” I doubt that the level of discourse is either intelligent or productive. I’m far more interested in finding the truth than in winning the argument, especially when the argument deteriorates to name-calling.

    I believe that most activists do not want to ruin the economy, or enforce a socialist agenda through enforced regulations on lifestyle. Rather, they are genuinely afraid of the consequences of climate change. Likewise I believe that most skeptics do not want to ruin the environment for monetary gain, rather they’re genuinely afraid of the consequences of economic change. Fear is a powerful motivator, but more often leads to invective than to reason.

    Here’s my suggestion: the next time you encounter an argument from an activist/skeptic which you consider mistaken, rather than assaulting them with insults, disagree with as much respect and deference as you would show to your own sainted mother.

  20. I was ready to blame the little girl in the red hood.

  21. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    an interesting idea here: we could use Co2 as a fuel…

    And again, research the actual papers climate scientists (not weathermen! 12% or fewer tv weathermen have meteorological degrees) have written since the 70’s and find me one wrong prediction.

    Hint: Don’t look for scientific papers at yahoo, or on ebay, or on Rush Limbaugh.

    Go to

    + plug in your searches.

  22. Gaius says:

    If they can make it work, they have a 25 million dollar prize waiting.

    Remember one important fact, scientists come up with concepts. Engineers have to make the ideas actually work. And I would really like to see how much energy has to be expended to take out the CO2.

    Want to bet it is quite a lot higher than burning the fuel to make the CO2 in the first place? Thermodynamics takes no prisoners. There is no way to get something from nothing. Free lunches are not free.

    What they are proposing may indeed capture carbon. But how much does it cost to do it? How much more energy needs to be expended to capture it?

    And where does it come from?

  23. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    Yeah, that 25 million is a pretty decent incentive! Thought you’d find that interesting.

  24. “Remember one important fact, scientists come up with concepts. Engineers have to make the ideas actually work.”


    Explaining/describing is always simple; actually building the thing is where the rubber hits the road.

    Oh, and the clock’s still ticking, skippy.

    (I’m gonna nip off now and watch my “Midnight Special” DVDs… got 1974 thru 76!

  25. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    To Tamino:
    Point taken… I won’t call the other side “fossil fools”

    But one correction about us “alarmists”:

    We see non-action will bring on a disaster on a scale unseen in human history. Famines, crop failures, drowned cities, desertification, dead lakes, fishing depletions, storm bankruptcies, insurance company failures.

    These things are very economic consequences.

  26. Pingback: Blue Crab Boulevard » Alternate Theories

  27. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    The equivalent experiments that showed in a laboratory setting that CO2 was a greenhouse gas were done almost 150 years ago. Since then, there have been huge refinements to the theory, demonstrations in the real world, observations of radiative changes in the atmopshere (Harries et al, 1997) and observations of predicted consequences (strat cooling etc.). Cosmic ray ‘theory’ is not even at the point Tyndall was in the 1860s – it has a long way to go before it gets taken as seriously.

  28. Gaius says:

    No, that is not what I said. Read the last post I just put up.

  29. tamino says:

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    "To my knowledge nobody has ever shown experimental results that prove that 300 or so parts per billion of CO2 actually creates a major difference in greenhouse effects."

    A vast number of such experiments have been performed. The first were done by John Tyndall in the 1860s; he pioneered not only the measurement of CO2 absorption, but experimental procedures for spectroscopy in general A fine example of recent work is Energy levels, intensities, and linewidths of atmospheric carbon dioxide bands, Rothman, L. S., Hawkins, R. L., Wattson, R. B., Gamache, R. R., 1992, Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer, vol. 48, pp. 537-566.

    By the way, current atmospheric concentration of CO2 isn't 300 or so parts per billion, it's 380 parts per million.

  30. Sweet Land Of Liberty says:

    Oh I see this has been answered,
    I was looking through my kids old school science book for the name…

    John Tyndall

    Also, Svand Arrhenius, Swedish, look him up, and Fournier (French)

    The fathers of climate science…centurys ago.

  31. tamino says:

    A few minor corrections:

    The Swede is Svante Arrhenius, nobel prize winner, who first suggested in 1896 that not only could CO2 warm the planet, it had actually done so, being a leading cause of ice ages. He also derived the absorptive behavior of atmospheric CO2; Arrhenius was the first to show that the global warming due to increased CO2 is proportional to the logarithm of the CO2 concentration. In a popular book in the early 1900s, he suggested that atmospheric CO2 concentration would double in about 3000 years due to human activity (we’ll almost certainly hit that mark this century). He regarded this as a good thing, as it would stave off the next ice age.

    The Frenchman is Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, one of the most famous mathematicians of all time. He was the first to suggest that gases in the atmosphere could affect global temperature. By all accounts, Fourier was a “heat freak” who kept his home at a temperature which was unbearably high for most of his guests. He also spent a fair amount of time in Egypt, as a member of Napolean’s administration. Fourier was a pioneer not only of mathematics, but of physics as well, deriving the fundamental equations of conductive heat transfer.

    To my knowledge, neither Arrhenius nor Fourier ever did experiments in atmospheric absorption of infrared radiation.

  32. Gaius says:

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    And that is the last comment on this post. Frankly, the call for attacks has gotten out of hand, but does show the extremely unlovely side of the extremist's positions.

    (Oh, and you have not reached a tipping point, kidz.)

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