All arguments are not equal

Published 12:04 pm Friday, December 20, 2013

Lately American media seems committed to advancing all arguments as though they offer equal validity, an assumption entirely without merit. The truth is some arguments simply lack credibility either because they confront research or facts that offer far more compelling data, or because they defy the kind of common sense expressed by the late Groucho Marx “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

And sometimes the arguments are so uninformed as to suggest an ignorance that is baffling and amusing at the same moment, were people not listening as though merit existed where it did not.

Consider Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann on climate change: “Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” -Rep. Michelle Bachmann, April, 2009.

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Of course there are countless studies that explain the harmful effects upon climate by carbon dioxide (CO2) and about 84 percent of all human emissions into the atmosphere are a result of CO2 emissions according to the EPA.

Further, on the broader issue of human influence on climate change there is little scientific disagreement. According to a 2010 survey published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is being influenced by human activities.

Since 2007 there has not been a single scientific national or international body making claim against human causes on climate change.

And then of course there are the Groucho Marx examples of climate change in the reduction of the polar ice caps and the rise in sea levels and increase in water temperatures.

Yet we still have the world’s only organized body of opposition to the knowledge base, the Republican Party, where knowledge is trumped by claims that 97 percent of scientists have been “bought off” with grant bribes and 3 percent of non-climate scientists have somehow managed to reach more informed counter conclusions without conducting any peer reviewed research. This approach represents a reasonable counter argument based on that old sixth grade claim “because we say so.”

Then there is the recent argument about the claims that increases in breast cancer come as a result of abortion. Last week a Chinese review of 36 studies concluded a strong link between breast cancer and abortion. Anti-abortion advocates flocked to acknowledge the study as conclusive because it supported what they wanted to believe.

But 34 of the 36 studies cited use the case-control study design, dis-favored for its strong proclivity for recall bias.

Standing in contrast with this review are studies in Denmark of 1.5 million women from case registries; a 2007 Harvard study 0f 100,000 women; and a 2008 California teachers study of 100, 000 women, all of which reached conclusions of no link to breast cancer and abortion.

Similar conclusions have been reached by the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

The data in opposition to the new summary report is statistically overwhelming and the organizations in support of the conclusion of no linkage suggest the argument is closed and the research conclusive.

But in American politics today there is a strong and vibrant anti-intellectual movement in the political Right, one that honors any statement of any degree of absurdity if the conclusion matches the desired outcome.

Groucho has his true believers today among those who find science troublesome and distracting from their arguments to the contrary.

Scott Adams, an American cartoonist wrote it this way: “If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?”


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.