In this verbal trap, if you answer ‘Yes‘ you are admitting to having beaten your wife before, and if you answer ‘No‘ you are admitting that you still beat her.
The climate change Deniers love to use logical fallacies, and this one is the Loaded Question. It is “loaded” because if you answer it in the way that it is posed, you lose no matter how you answer it. In this example the question is ‘loaded’ with the assumption that you were beating your wife before, and there is no way to answer the question as asked without accepting that premise.
With respect to climate change science the loaded question comes packaged in various forms of “the debate is not over” canard, but really they all boil down to the same ‘Loaded Question’ logical fallacy.
Have you stopped debating your climate science?
If scientists say ‘No‘ then the Deniers claim that climate science is still in dispute and we need more research. If they say ‘Yes‘ then the Deniers cry that this is not science because in real science all questions remain open; nothing is ever settled.
The latter sounds convincing because it is trivially true. That is to say that as a broad abstraction it is true, but in practice you have to actually use your brains when applying it. The actual application of this axiom is somewhat nuanced and depends on understanding how the question is loaded.
The “debate is over” question is loaded by equating “the debate is over” with “the debate is permanently closed“, and they are NOT synonyms. Those are actually two different statements.
The debate is never over
1) If new evidence arises that makes us question the existence of atoms, that shows the periodic table is total nonsense, or that matter actually repels matter (ie gravity is wrong), or that the Sun doesn’t actually exist, then we would reopen those debates and try and figure out what the hell is going on. Equally we would do the same if a new hypothesis was put forward that better explained the evidence that we already have.
Of course no one would be happy about it in the examples given, but science would do it all the same. Even though the debates on these questions have been over for a very long time, Science would resume the debates because the debate was never permanently closed. No scientific debate ever is.
2) We never know absolutely everything about anything. Even as we answer macro questions we encounter questions on smaller scales as well as more questions about how it fits together. For example the discovery that tissues were made of cells led to questions both about what were cells were made of, as well as how cells interacted to make tissues.
Thus even as our knowledge of a particular system or topic increases every day, there are always unanswered questions. As long as there are questions there is debate, or at least the possibility of debate.
The debate is over
1) The key phrase above is “If new evidence or a new hypothesis arises…” Scientists do not sit around faculty lounges and Institute lunch rooms arguing matters that were resolved centuries, decades or even days ago. Why would they?
Science would never progress at all if every day was spent debating (again) whether water really was composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms, or if the laws of thermodynamics really are true. The whole notion is completely idiotic (but then what part of the Denier Canon isn’t?)
In science you stop debating the evidence you currently have when it is satisfactorily explained by the prevailing hypothesis. The debate is not permanently closed (ie new evidence or a better hypothesis can change everything), but you stop debating the current evidence and the existing hypotheses because rehashing the same old stuff over and over is completely pointless and a huge waste of time, ie the debate of the existing evidence is over.
Of course not every piece of new evidence automatically re-opens a scientific debate. Every new piece of evidence showing that water really is composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms causes no more than a shrug, if that.
Equally, all new evidence that is consistent with our current understanding of anthropogenic climate change is added to the already vast body of existing evidence without reopening the debate. It is only evidence that is inconsistent with the current understanding that would cause the debate to resume.
2) We never know everything about anything, but we know some things. The Denier claims to the contrary are an Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy (for the record, I do not find any of the Denier ignorance to be appealing).
For example, there is still a huge amount we do not know about elephants, such as the sequence of their genome, but not knowing that does not mean we question whether elephants exist or not. There is a huge amount that we do not know about the Sun, but we know that it exists, that the Earth orbits around it, etc.
Thus “the debate” about many questions at many levels of a given topic can be “over”, even as many other questions about that same topic rage on. The two are not mutually exclusive at all. In fact within the sciences it is the norm.
The debate is over, but not closed!
In climate science there are many aspects of anthropogenic climate change that are still being hotly debated. However, although aspects are still being hotly debated, given the existing evidence and hypotheses the debate about anthropogenic climate change itself is over … but not permanently closed, nor will it ever be.
Huge thanks to In it for the Gold who pointed me to NASA’s Unresolved questions about Earth’s climate for those who are curious are to what some of the major scientific uncertainties about our current understanding of climate are.
Closely related to the concept of “the debate” are the concepts of “settled vs unsettled science”, and the infamous “scientific consensus.” Intertwined though these are, there are nuances that make them different concepts, and as such that discussion is best left to another time.
Incompetence, malpractice, or fraud?
Of course the reason that the “debate is over” false argument works is that most people are not aware of how the sciences actually work. Members of the general public and anyone who is not a scientist would not be expected to know this; that is a given.
However, anyone who is or was a scientist should know this perfectly well. It is mindboggingly basic; remedial first year level at best. Anyone working within the sciences should know this as well as they know the scientific method. Broadly speaking it is part of the scientific method.
As such any scientist making this argument is either incompetent, and/or guilty of malpractice and/or fraud (ie deliberately lying to mislead the public). There really aren’t any other options, and I see absolutely no reason to pretend otherwise.
So, in the absence of some new hypothesis or evidence, any time you hear or see a “scientist” making this argument you know exactly what you are dealing with.
“Since 1982, spring in East Asia (defined here as the eastern third of China and the Korean Peninsula) has been warming at a rate of one degree Fahrenheit per decade.” Earth Gauge
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
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