Name Calling

March 25, 2008

Ethics Daily ran my latest article today entitled "SBC Leader Has Penchant for Name Calling." It details a record of insults and ad hominem attacks leveled against various people by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Recently, I critiqued Land for calling a U.S. Senator a "schm***." Land later said he did not know the word was obscene and would not use it again. He did, however, remain unapologetic about saying he was trying to call the Senator a "jerk" and mock the Senator's name. Today's article demonstrates that Land often resorts to name calling instead of merely outlining his disagreements on the issues. Hopefully, he will take the ethical highroad and stop the insults.

In related news, Ethics Daily reported yesterday that a letter to U.S. Senators opposing a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions made significantly inaccurate claims. The letter was signed by Land and other prominent Christian activists like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer. The Baptist Press reported on the letter last week as part of a series of stories about climate change. However, the letter story and several of the others rely on individuals who work for organizations that have recieved money from ExxonMobil.

5 comments

  1. Brian,

    Again, I point out, a smart guy like yourself should know better than to evaluate evidence simply on the basis of who funds it. That is clearly an ad hominem. Evaluate the evidence based on whether it is accurate or not.

    If MM global warming is true, then it should be able to stand up to arguments by any scientists, despite where their funding is from. Though, I would like to reiterate that only 10% of the scientists who came out against MM global warming (among the 400 who recently were documented - some of whom shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore) could even be remotely linked to oil company money. And when you evaluate even that you find men like Fred Singer, who has admitted taking a whopping $10,000 from oil companies (yet he has been considered an oil lobby lacky because of it). Heck, that's less than 5% of what Hillary Clinton has received in campaign financing from oil execs.

    Now having said that, let's evaluate the significantly inaccurate claim that Ethics Daily made in its statement, "Today scientists agree there is no doubt the globe is warming and that humans are at least in part to blame."

    This is simply false. As I pointed out in my previous comment, I have links to dozens of websites and articles which completely deny this statement.

    And as for Richard Land's statement, I find it interesting that Ethics Daily didn't even attempt to deal with the radical departure from orthodox global warming doctrine it is for Oppenheimer to admit "that [the] latest data on NASA's Web site says the cooling has been about 0.5C, rather than .65-.75..." That statement alone says a great deal about the MM global warming hysteria.

    D.R. Randle

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  2. Brian,

    After doing a little research, I thought I would let you and your readers know just where Richard Land got his information, especially since Ethics Daily failed to do so (and I doubt they are going to share the whole story any time soon).

    Land seemed to based his statements on websites that attempted to sum up the work of Anthony Watts ("the meteorologist who last year famously forced Nasa's Goddard Institute to correct a fundamental error in its data on US surface temperatures, to show that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s but the 1930s").

    Here is Watts' website where he explains the data and how it came to be used in the manner it did.

    What is interesting is that while Land is technically incorrect in his range, so also is Oppenheimer in his average. Watts points out that the average temperature change based on the data is actually -0.6405°C. So technically Land's numbers are closer than those cited by Ethics Daily (-0.50 vs -0.65-75).

    D.R. Randle

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  3. D.R.: Thanks for the comments! This is not an ad hominem. That is when one attacks the person and not the issues. However, source credibility is at the heart of the issue. I am not calling them names or attacking them (or even saying they are completely wrong). I am saying that we need to look for evidence that does not have the appearance of being influenced by ExxonMobil. Paul warned us about avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing. An ad hominem attack is a logical fallacy. However, it would also be illogical to accept any claim without considering if that is credible. Thus, it logically cannot be both logical and illogical to consider the source credibility. The key to keeping it logical is to avoid the personal insults. Compare my comments with those of Land in this article and you will see a significant difference. I happen to know and respect some of those who signed the Cornwall Declaration. I am not attacking them but think we should look for other evidence that does not include so many writers and signers who work for organizations receiving money from ExxonMobil. You may not think it is a lot of money, but it should give us pause nonetheless. After all, ExxonMobil is not just going to give their money away for no reason. It may not be as much as Hillary has received (but it likely is a greater percentage of their budgets since Hillary has received a lot of money), but that is why I would not expect her or other politicians to make significant changes that would harm ExxonMobil.

    You overstate what Watts did (http://mediamatters.org/items/200708120001). Even NASA's Goddard Institute disputes that this was a significant change (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/updates/200708.html). Note the important update on Watts' page. He explains that the number cited by Land and others in the letter are a misrepresentation of his numbers. Thus, even Watts is discounting the claim being used by Land and others. Before sending a letter to U.S. Senators to influence policy decisions, Land and others should get their facts correct. Also, note that Oppenheimer is using a different reporting group than Watts and that explains the difference in number. But at least he is accurately reporting the number. So technically, Oppenheimer and Watts have correct numbers and Land and the others do not.

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  4. Brian,

    First, I think you are incorrect about ad hominem's. The definition you gave is far too narrow. Ad hominem's don't just involve name calling, but also circumstances surrounding those presenting evidence when one does fails to deal with the evidence at hand, as you had clearly done here.

    Had these scientists merely offered an opinion or philosophical position on the matter, then you would be correct that you had not committed an ad hominem, but since they offered evidence, you have failed to deal with that evidence, and thus only dealt with the circumstances surrounding their data - a clear logical fallacy.

    For more on this, see this site, particularly subcategory of "Circumstantial".

    Furthermore, if all circumstances need to be placed on the table, why doesn't Ethics Daily, yourself, Bruce Prescott, and other liberal and moderate bloggers when speaking about Al Gore not add the caveat, "who is currently making billions of dollars running his clean energy Wall Street hedge fund." Isn't that a conflict of interest that should be made mention of more often?


    Moving on...you said I "overstated" what Watts did, but that was actually a quote from the U.K. Telegraph article on the negative temperature changes which Watts had shown through the postings on his graphs. So your beef is with the U.K. Telegraph, not with me.

    As for the "Media Matters" link, could I just say it's a liberal website and therefore I can discount it as a legitimate source without dealing with the evidence it presented? Sorry man, had to do it - it was just too easy.

    Finally, as for the numbers used and Land's responsibility, again, let's go back to the numbers. Land was quoting sites like Daily Tech and Michael Asher (hardly a oil company lacky). So it's not like Land was intentionally trying to mislead (though I am sure it is hard for yourself or the folks at Ethics Daily to assume otherwise) - he was indeed going with a reputable source.

    As for Oppenheimer, he didn't offer (at least in the Ethics Daily article) the specific source of his evidence, and Land's numbers, as I stated earlier were closer to the actual evidence compiled by Watts than were Oppenheimer's.

    Furthermore, when we examine all the overblown theories (like the disproven hockey stick), misleading pictures (like the ones taken of polar bears on ice islands in the summer), and junk science (much of it used by Gore in his film), Land's comments are unbelievably tame in this debate.

    But maybe it goes to show that all theologians, those on the left and those on the right, need to take a step back and wait to see how the scientific community shakes out over the next 5-10 years before we go out in support or opposition of global warming.

    D.R. Randle

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  5. D.R.: You had better hope my definition of ad hominem is correct or you are guilty of it in this comment. Since those types of attacks are unethical and illogical, you would not want to use them. Your definition is too broad because source credibility is an important part of considering what information to trust. It would be illogical to not consider source credibility (especially in the Internet age) and thus your definition forces one to be illogical by taking away the ability to look at source credibility. Just questioning a source is not enough to prove that one is wrong, but can be used as part of an overall argument where you also have facts contradicting the questionable source.

    It is relevant to point out that Gore has a personal financial gain. It does not mean he is wrong, but it not illogical to mention that. Your definition, however, says you cannot use that as an argument.

    My "beef" is with the Telegraph and anyone who passes on their poor analysis. You cannot pass the buck here because you are responsible for what you argue. Maybe you should have checked out the source to make sure it was correct!

    Good point on Media Matters. If I had more time I would have looked for another source because their bias does call them into question (I did actually hesitate using that link for that reason). It does not mean they are wrong, but that we should be cautious. Now, you did not deal with the other side. That is the important difference you are missing in my argument on those accepting money from ExxonMobil. There is a lot of science on the other side that contradicts those accepting money. You simply discount Media Matters without offering another voice. Thus, you are left only with a questionable source but not counter voice. I not only question a source but have lots of other evidence contradicting those questionable sources. It is in that way that questioning source credibility can logically and ethically be used as part of a larger argument to prove that one side is correct in a dispute.

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