2011-02-13 15:20:18Climate skeptic arguments in terms of smoking
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.86.177

It is broadly accepted nowadays that smoking is a health hazard and tobacco companies have been forced to put warning messages on smoke packets. Smoking is banned inside public buildings. Smoking is a proven hazard to health and is linked to over 40 diseases. However for years misinformation was peddled by vested interests and even actors were paid to smoke in order to encourage smoking. 

Below are common arguments peddled by climate change sceptics and vested interests but phrased in terms of the smoking debate. Drawing comparisons between smoking and climate in this way may be  helpful in demonstrating how misguided some of these arguments are. I have included just a few of the associated global warming arguments but I think you will get what I mean.

1. I know someone who is 90, has smoked heavily all his life and he is as healthy as anyone I know. So if smoking is as dangerous as they say it is why is he alright? There cannot be a direct link. There must be other factors leading to cancer so till we are 100% sure we should not ban anything.                        

This is similar to the argument which questions how come as CO2 increases steadily that temperature does not also increase steadily? Doesn’t this mean CO2 cannot be responsible? As we cannot link events directly with CO2 and warming it is unproven. CO2 was higher before and it wasn't warmer then!

2. Anyway smoke is a naturally occurring substance in the environment. It has been around for thousands of years.  Actually fire and smoke is necessary for some plants and seeds to grow in parts of Australia. It is vital so what can be wrong with smoke?

This is similar  to the argument that climate has been changing for thousands of years so what is new? CO2 is also natural so it cannot be harmful and in fact is essential to life. Increasing levels of CO2 is good for us. It actually improves crop yield so how can CO2 be a problem? 

3. Waterborne diseases are the largest culprit of death and morbidity in the third world. This puts the whole thing in perspective. There are far more influential factors in causes of death than smoking. Actually old age appears to be correlated with death more so than smoking.

This is similar to saying that the sun and the clouds all have far greater effects on the climate than a trace gas of CO2. Levels of CO2 are negligible so cannot have any effect on climate.

4. They reckon the poisonous chemicals in cigarettes can cause emphysema and bronchitis, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and cancer, hearing and vision loss, Arthritis, Diarrhoea, Wrinkles, Peptic ulcers, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, kidney and liver damage, oesophageal, laryngeal, lung, oral, and throat cancers, sudden infant death syndrome. Counter argument: Yes but all of these conditions have many other causes and people who never smoke get these as well. So there is a failure to prove actual causation.                                      

This is similar to the sceptic saying there is no proof that CO2 causes warming because so many weather events;  storms, cyclones, drought, intense precipitation, ice melting have been there since year dot so how do we know if it is because of warming- its natural. How is cat 5 cyclone Yasi any different from the cat 5 in 1870? 

5. By current estimates, tobacco use causes 440,000 deaths per year and costs about $157 billion in health–related losses. On average, men who smoke cut their lives short by 13.2 years, and female smokers lose 14.5 years. Since the 1964 surgeon general’s report, more than 12 million people have died from smoking–related illness. Counter argument: How can this be proved? No one knows when they are going to die so how can anyone say their life is shortened by this or that amount?  What about the chap who lived over 100? Was his life shortened by 13.2 years? Not likely.          

This is like saying the models cannot predict weather accurately for regions so how can we take them seriously. We all know extreme events have killed many in the past before warming so the latest examples don’t mean anything special. Its all a beat up.   

6. People have been smoking various substances in many communities around the globe for thousands of years. So smoking tobacco is a normal practice in many parts of the world so how can it be bad for you?               

This is like saying climate has changed before anyway. All variations in climate are normal and are nothing more than what has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It has been warm before.   

   

7. We can all relate stories about people we know who get cancer but have never smoked. So cancer is caused by things other than smoking. This “proves” that smoking is not the “bad” thing it is made out to be.                                                         

This is similar to the sceptic suggesting that we have had catastrophic weather events ie hurricanes and cyclones before so just because we get severe events again does not prove it is due to warming. We will get these events anyway.   

The arguments used here may seem reasonable and beguiling but they are misplaced. They appear to contradict the well documented fact that smoking is a health hazard.  So they must be false arguments.

As "smoking is dangerous" clearly cannot be rebutted by these arguments, how could  analogous arguments rebutt climate change?    

 

(((OLD ending here

The arguments used here are all incorrect and most are logically invalid even if they appear to make sense on the surface.

These misconceptions must be addressed in the warming debate simply because they are arise so often and have been effective for those who have only a limited experience with science and logical thinking.

We depend on what others tell us and hopefully the comparison with smoking may make it easier to see that those kind of arguments are wrong because they lead to wrong conclusions in the smoking debate and they are also wrong in the climate debate.   

The challenge for scientists when communicating in the media is to be relevant and present complex arguments accurately but bearing in mind the various spurious arguments use by sceptics. This is necessary as..

“ ..about 200 million Americans out there who cannot read a simple story in, say, Technology Review or the New York Times science section and understand even the basics of DNA or microchips or global warming.”  

Quote from “Technology Review Pub by MIT. David Ewing Duncan’s blog.21/2/2007 ))))

2011-02-13 16:03:38Welcome to the forum
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
124.186.217.214

Just letting everyone know that I invited mactheknife to join us on the forum after reading his insightful comment on Steve Lewandowsky's cancer/smoking post. That post has now been taken down and I asked mactheknife if he was interested in expanding his comment into a blog post.

Initial comment - would be great if throughout your post, it linked to specific arguments on Skeptical Science. Do you need help in making that happen?

2011-02-13 16:46:46
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.86.177

Thanks John. I think linking to the specific arguments on Skeptical Science would add to the usefulness of the blog. Help would certainly be appreciated on this.

2011-02-14 20:18:16Added links to SkS articles
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.71.130
I have added links to SkS articles and have also added a few more skeptic beliefs so more links could be included.
2011-02-14 21:09:35Rewritten the end
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.71.130

Have rewritten the end to make it more relevent and with a definite point. What do you think?

2011-02-17 16:42:51Cleaned up the code
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
144.131.205.143

I've cleaned up the code and tried adding some blockquotes for visual structure - let me know if you prefer it without the blockquotes. I also suggested a heading below which I thought might tease a bit more, attract interest. I also added a few more links to pages on SkS.

Skeptic arguments about cigarette smoke - sound familiar?

It is broadly accepted nowadays that smoking is a health hazard and tobacco companies have been forced to put warning messages on smoke packets. Smoking is banned inside public buildings. Smoking is a proven hazard to health and is linked to over 40 diseases. However for years misinformation was peddled by vested interests and even actors were paid to smoke in order to encourage smoking.

Below are common arguments peddled by climate change sceptics and vested interests but phrased in terms of the smoking debate. Drawing comparisons between smoking and climate in this way may be helpful in demonstrating how misguided some of these arguments are. I have included just a few of the associated global warming arguments but I think you will get what I mean.

1. I know someone who is 90, has smoked heavily all his life and he is as healthy as anyone I know. So if smoking is as dangerous as they say it is why is he alright? There cannot be a direct link. There must be other factors leading to cancer so till we are 100% sure we should not ban anything.

This is similar to the argument which questions why as CO2 increases steadily does temperature not also increase steadily? Doesn’t this mean CO2 cannot be responsible? As we cannot link events directly with CO2 and warming it is unproven. CO2 was higher before and it wasn't warmer then!

2. Anyway smoke is a naturally occurring substance in the environment. It has been around for thousands of years. Actually fire and smoke is necessary for some plants and seeds to grow in parts of Australia. It is vital so what can be wrong with smoke?

This is similar to the argument that climate has been changing for thousands of years so what is new? CO2 is also natural so it cannot be harmful and in fact is essential to life. Increasing levels of CO2 is good for us. It actually improves crop yield so how can CO2 be a problem?

3. Waterborne diseases are the largest culprit of death and morbidity in the third world. This puts the whole thing in perspective. There are far more influential factors in causes of death than smoking. Actually old age appears to be correlated with death more so than smoking.

This is similar to saying that the sun and the clouds all have far greater effects on the climate than a trace gas of CO2. Levels of CO2 are negligible so cannot have any effect on climate.

4. They reckon the poisonous chemicals in cigarettes can cause emphysema and bronchitis, heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and cancer, hearing and vision loss, Arthritis, Diarrhoea, Wrinkles, Peptic ulcers, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer, kidney and liver damage, oesophageal, laryngeal, lung, oral, and throat cancers, sudden infant death syndrome. Counter argument: Yes but all of these conditions have many other causes and people who never smoke get these as well. So there is a failure to prove actual causation.

This is similar to the sceptic saying there is no proof that CO2 causes warming because so many weather events; storms, cyclones, drought, intense precipitation, ice melting have been there since year dot so how do we know if it is because of warming- its natural. How is cat 5 cyclone Yasi any different from the cat 5 in 1870?

5. By current estimates, tobacco use causes 440,000 deaths per year and costs about $157 billion in health–related losses. On average, men who smoke cut their lives short by 13.2 years, and female smokers lose 14.5 years. Since the 1964 surgeon general’s report, more than 12 million people have died from smoking–related illness. Counter argument: How can this be proved? No one knows when they are going to die so how can anyone say their life is shortened by this or that amount? What about the chap who lived over 100? Was his life shortened by 13.2 years? Not likely.

This is like saying the models cannot predict weather accurately for regions so how can we take them seriously. We all know extreme events have killed many in the past before warming so the latest examples don’t mean anything special. Its all a beat up.

6. People have been smoking various substances in many communities around the globe for thousands of years. So smoking tobacco is a normal practice in many parts of the world so how can it be bad for you?

This is like saying climate has changed before anyway. All variations in climate are normal and are nothing more than what has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It has been warm before.

7. We can all relate stories about people we know who get cancer but have never smoked. So cancer is caused by things other than smoking. This “proves” that smoking is not the “bad” thing it is made out to be.

This is similar to the sceptic suggesting that we have had catastrophic weather events ie hurricanes and cyclones before so just because we get severe events again does not prove it is due to warming. We will get these events anyway.

The arguments used here may seem reasonable and beguiling but they are misplaced. They appear to contradict the well documented fact that smoking is a health hazard. So they must be false arguments. As "smoking is dangerous" clearly cannot be rebutted by these arguments, how could analogous arguments rebutt climate change?

2011-02-17 22:19:37Effective heading
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.188.197
John I think the heading is effective and I'm happy with it.   The block quotes also improve the appearance and readability. By the way I've noticed that the word "rebutt" should be spelt "rebut" (Third last word) Sorry but I thought it would be best to tell you as I cant edit your comment.
2011-02-18 14:33:51Set up as a blog post
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
144.131.205.143

I've set up a blog post under your name so you can edit the text if you like (I also fixed rebutt):

http://www.skepticalscience.com/Skeptic-arguments-about-cigarette-smoke-sound-familiar.html

Just look for the edit link at the bottom of the post. I'll publish on Saturday - but anyone want to comment on this before it goes out into the world?

2011-02-18 18:50:45Some constructive criticism
James Wight

jameswight@southernphone.com...
112.213.164.22

Hi, mactheknife.

I like the concept of your post, but in a couple of cases I disagree with which arguments correspond to which.

I think #1 corresponds not to “CO2 lags temperature” but “Extreme weather isn’t linked to global warming”. Also, I think the last sentence of #1 is a separate argument which corresponds to “The science isn’t settled” (which is really the umbrella of all their arguments).

I think #5 should read “This is like saying the models cannot predict regional climate accurately…” because the point you’re making is about regional climate, not weather vs climate.

In the final paragraph, I suggest changing “misplaced” to “misguided”. Also, saying “they must be false arguments” because they contradict a well-documented fact is too strong; you could be accused of circular reasoning. The actual logic is a little subtler than that: contradicting a large body of evidence makes the arguments unlikely to be valid.

2011-02-18 21:53:55Thanks for feedback
mactheknife

ejmak@senet.com...
124.171.185.78

Thanks James for your positive feedback and suggestions.

I have adjusted the last paragraph in response to your comment and replaced the "false" with" invalid". This softens the tone slightly without reducing the intended message that the arguments alone cannot invalidate the smoking is dangeropus argument. Also I like the idea of replacing "Misplaced" with "misguided".  ( I had that word in previous versions but for some reason changed it perhaps out of a thought not to judge the skeptic reader. ) Misguided has a bit more bite.

I intended to use weather in #5 simply because that is a skeptic argument bandied about and the SkS link delves into that.  (Even if it is not really weather we are about)

The argument in #1 deals with the smoking theme of "no correlation" etc. I think that  theme works okay with the "CO2 and temperature"  correlation arguments and the last line linking CO2 and non warming is of the same ilk.  

Probably more arguments could be put in " the science isn't settled" box but I have attempted to link as many skeptic arguments as I could and in the smoking debate the science is quite settled so where would they go??