Friday, May 10, 2013

The "doing something that's short of everything is nothing" fallacy

Above is the best name I've got for the fallacy I keep seeing in many contexts. Somebody else should come up with a better name.

There are some good arguments against expanding nuclear power as a solution to climate change (economics economics economics), but saying we shouldn't do it because by itself it won't solve the entire problem isn't a good argument. I've also seen it locally when some people argued that funding to remove barriers to fish passage is useless when it removes 90% of the barriers on a stream but not 100% of the barriers.

There's some inability to see one effort as part of a broader effort instead of being the magic solution. Maybe the name is "You're Not the One, So Go Away Fallacy"? "Magic Solution or Bust Fallacy"?

The latest manifestation of this is Dan Kahan, who should know better, and his unhappiness over/despite the spate of publicity for the Cook et al. survey of climate abstracts (see Kloor for the same but there's little hope for him). Eli's been blogging about our prequel survey - I would've pushed harder if I had realized how much coverage it could have received.

In essence, Kahan visually demonstrates all the media this study's achieved in a short time period and then says it hasn't solved denial of climate change, so what's the point? To be fair, he isn't claiming ownership of the Magic Solution himself and just poses questions.

Maybe my best response to Kahan's question are a few of my own. Let's forget the rejectionists right now and focus on the fence-sitters and those who generally accept climate change. Do all of those people understand just how strong the scientific consensus is? They're not the ones predisposed to reject these facts.

I'm just a lazy blogger and won't dig it out, but my guess is the Pew and Stanford polling would show that a large fraction of them don't know the strength of the consensus, and those are people that should be receptive to this information. Getting people to move from wishy-washiness and tribal loyalties to increased personal understanding and commitment to the issue is a significant part of the battle.

As for the Magic Solution, you got me. I think we do have to beat the drums for the truth, and having a consistent story that 97% of the abstracts and 97% of the relevant climatologists and over 95% certainty in the IPCC all say the same thing, is really helpful. We have a complete story that satisfies the need for closure while rejectionists have coincidences and conspiracies. The 97% agreement among abstracts reinforces the story.

UPDATE:  and this:
Republicans’ aggressive campaigning against Obama’s clean-energy agenda was “an overreaction,” Feehery said. “It made us seem like enemies of the environment. The idea that government has absolutely no role, that the climate is absolutely not changing—it’s not smart,” he said. “It’s also not smart if you’re talking about all the farmers in red states that make money off windmills. A lot of the base is there.”
The Magic Solution might be to quintuple wind production in Texas.