Wednesday, October 24, 2007

State of Fear - 2

Okay, I thought I was done with State of Fear, but there is one more element that I really enjoyed: seeing the various techniques of argument set against each other in a situation where I wasn't personally emotionally involved. I've been reading off and on recently about techniques of debate, recognizing some of them as things I've encountered without even realizing what they were (like the "say it enough times with great authority and you'll be believed" technique) and this book had some more examples.

What I'm seeing is that just because the listener reacts and won't listen or completely dismisses what the speaker says, doesn't make the speaker wrong or remiss.

In one sequence Evans, the main pov character and global warming advocate, has just been shown a page of fully documented references to scientific studies -- hard data showing that Antarctica, after 6000 years of warming is now actually cooling. Only a small localized portion of it is warming. Overall, it's the other way around. Evans ignores the information Kenner has given him, so Kenner says,

"You thought the Antarctic melting was something new?"

"I thought it was melting faster than previously," Evans said.

"Maybe we won't bother any more," Kenner said.

(His assistant) nodded and started to put the computer away.

"No, no," Evans said. "I'm interested in what you have to say. I'm not close-minded. I'm ready to hear new information."

"You just did," Kenner said.

So he looks over the references they gave him a little more closely and...

... folded the sheet carefully. "These studies are probably financed by the coal industry."

"Probably,"Kenner said. "I'm sure that explains it. But then everybody's paid by somebody. Who pays your salary?"

Kenner goes on from there to lead Evans into admitting that he works for an environmentalist firm, and inquires if it would be fair to say that his opinions are what they are because of it. Evans hotly denies this, but Kenner pushes him a bit more until he's really irritated. At which point Kenner says,

"Now you know how legitimate scientists feel when their integrity is impugned by slimy characterizations such as the one you just made. We gave you a careful, peer-reviewed interpretation of the data... Your response was first to ignore it, and then to make an ad hominen attack. You didn't answer the data. You didn't provide counter evidence. You just smeared by innuendo."

Evans's response to this to to swear at him, insult him further and conclude that "Nobody agrees with you." Another non-argument. When Kenner points out that the scientists who wrote the papers cited on his list of references do agree with him, Evans throws up his hands and with one final expletive, walks away.

Fascinating. I have been on the receiving end of this. I will express an opinion, and people will ignore it, belittle it, then make ad hominen attacks. Press them and they get madder, say "to heck with you," and walk away. The really bad thing is that I know that on occasion I have done the same thing when someone else says something I don't agree with.

It's because we get emotional. And when that happens we stop thinking. It seems enough to just say "That's ridiculous! Nobody agrees with you! Everyone knows the Bible is true!" (or whatever). But it's not. You have to keep thinking and leave the emotion out of it. Emotion has no thoughts, no standards. It just sputters and shrieks. Instead of thinking about the issue, it attacks the person who is not agreeing.

Which, strangely enough, is exactly the subject we started studying in Bible class tonight. The doctrine of emotion... Though when I sat down to write this blog, I had no idea I was going to make this connection... :-) Really!