How to Do Things with Claims

A recent paper introduced the idea of contrarian claim. Expectedly, contrarians raised concerns about it. A recurring one is: what if the claims were true? This note shows how this may lead to a head fake {1}. Let’s look at the following series of claims offered by J*, the most artful dodger of Climateball:

(C1) Since his rookie year, J* argues that AGW poses risks and requires significant action.

(C2) J* also argues that our response efforts to date have been woefully inadequate.

(C3) J*’s views, which he has not been shy to share, have led some to try to exclude or remove him from the discussion, with some considerable success.

Assume C1-C3 are true. How are they connected? Perhaps by this implicit claim: some tried to exclude J* because of his views, among them that AGW poses risks, deserves significant action in response, which so far have been inadequate. Is it credible? Not at all. Anyone with some Climateball experience ought to know that J* is in fact criticized in spite of holding C1-C2. How about this other one: nobody should criticize someone who holds C1 and C2. Unless J* is asking for preferential treatment, this does not work either. In-group criticism ought to be fine.

The reason why these claims are strung together is not made clear in the text. Despite two war stories told later on, J* did not disclose anything to support them, especially the last one {2}. What’s going on? The simplest explanation seems to apply – pure Climateball head fake. Nothing newsworthy there; some might argue it’s part of J*’s charm. Why mention them? Because AT’s latest post made me revisit the page, and more importantly because they illustrate a point related to AT’s previous post – what is being done with claims matters as much as what is being said. Let me offer two reasons why.

First, Climateball is a game of inference. Nobody’s an oracle. We’re more into reasoning, with arguments that we advance, support, and then evaluate. We seldom communicate using formal proofs, so we make judgment calls {3}. Look back at C1, C2, and C3. We posited them all true, however the conclusion eluded us. The disconnected claims failed to make a converging point.

Second, Climateball is also a game of interference. Instead of falling for the head fakes, look where the hips are going. In our case, notice the framing: J* agrees on AGW and that we should do more; yet he’s allegedly ostracized; why should he be when he’s been vindicated so often? The answer, in a nutshell, is because J* is whining once again. This is annoying, for if there’s one rule for contrarians, it must be:

1. Do not whine. That is all.

(Nathan Myhrvold)

Constant self-victimization might provide more adequate ground to criticize contributions from J* than some claims whose veracity could be granted with little effect.

* * *

Now, what has all this to do with C21? Take a good look at how the paper’s classifer:

C21’s map of contrarian claims

How is 1.1 (ice isn’t melting) connected to the idea that global warming isn’t happening, i.e. its superclaim {4}? Very loosely. There’s a big inference gap between the two ideas, so big in fact that often the dominating claim act is a dogwhistle to be voiced over by contrarian onlookers. Instead of crying out “non sequitur!” like Fallacy Man would {5}, ask yourself what’s the point behind the claims on the table. If no answer to this interrogation is forthcoming, expect more head fakes, in which case keep calm and move your own ball forward.

§ Notes

{1}: In sports, a head fake is a type of feint whereby someone moves the head to fake an intended change in direction to deceive opponents. The same logic applies to Climateball.

{2}: His first story is a “run-in” with the late StephenS. His second story recalls that his Kyoto paper was “not popular,” “controversial,” and “cited about 100 times in the decade after it was published, but then almost 300 times in the decade after that.” Only at the fall of his piece does he reveal: it was my work on extreme weather and natural disasters that ultimately led me to being ostracized from the climate community. He refuses to tell more on this, “as this is long enough.” Nevertheless, But Emails. Unfamiliar readers are thus left in the dark.

{3}: Even if we communicated using inferences closed under deduction, the world would remain messy. Except for Lionel on a soccer field. Elsewhere he’s messier.

{4}: Where are the claims simpliciter in that map and how exactly does it consist in a taxonomy are questions left as an exercise to readers. It’s quite obvious that the fifth branch would need more love.

{5}: I contend that fallacy fluff does not work. My justification has to wait.

About Willard
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19 Responses to How to Do Things with Claims

  1. russellseitz says:

    Crooked Timber’s link to the Myhrvold quote has gone 404, but even patent trolls can say sensible things at times

  2. Willard says:

    > 404

    I checked it again:

    and it seems to work on my side.

  3. Willard says:

    Dan gets it:

  4. Ben McMillan says:

    I had forgotten the part where this person had claimed that the scientists were just in it for the money.

    The scientists denied that, stating that they were driven by science curiosity.

    Which he then held up as proof that the scientists didn’t care about policy relevance.

    By comparison, the misleading juxtaposition of C1,C2+C3 seems pretty tame. The flagrant nature of the deception is a deliberate insult. As the OP puts it just part of the “charm”; helps get them attention.

    But indeed, these kinds of claims are mostly not aimed at formal proofs. More often straight mudslinging, distraction, trash-talk, flag-waving, or swagger.

  5. Willard says:


    The juxtaposition reminded me what the Auditor once told Luboš:

    A copper trader once told me: people who cheat on big things cheat on little things.

    While there’s no law against decoys, there seems to be some kind of relevance gap when raising concerns with “I’m not a denier/I’m on your side, but” – why should anyone care about the first part? Self-identification often works as attention-seeking behavior, as you underline.

  6. russellseitz says:

    Willard, I meant CT’s ” Viz Nathan Mhyrvold:” link- which still protests:

    You 404’d it. Gnarly, dude.
    Surfin’ ain’t easy, and right now, you’re lost at sea. No worries, though—simply pick an option from the list below, and you’ll be back out riding the waves of the Internet in no time.

    Hit the “back” button on your browser. It’s perfect for situations like this!
    Head on over to the home page.

  7. Chubbs says:

    The claims make better sense if RCP85 is substituted for AGW in claim 1.

  8. Willard says:


    I’m quite sure J* would agree to disagree!

    That reminds me of a point I did not make explicitly in the post. In C1 and C2, the topic is J*’s beliefs, not state of affairs. Beliefs are notoriously hard to corroborate.

    I would suggest that the question if AGW poses risks is more important than if J* believes so.

  9. Steven Mosher says:

    most people pick on J cause hes a punk ass bitch
    W mpicks on J because W is a bully at heart

  10. Joshua says:

    Poor J. Such a victim.

    The whole idea of contrarianism is that you’re “attacking the conventional wisdom”, you’re “telling people that their most cherished beliefs are wrong”, you’re “turning the world upside down”. In other words, you’re setting out to annoy people. Now opinions may differ on whether this is a laudable thing to do – I think it’s fantastic – but if annoying people is what you’re trying to do, then you can hardly complain when annoying people is what you actually do. If you start a fight, you can hardly be surprised that you’re in a fight. It’s the definition of passive-aggression and really quite unseemly, to set out to provoke people, and then when they react passionately and defensively, to criticise them for not holding to your standards of a calm and rational debate.


  11. Willard says:

    Ever since my first comment in 2009 I have argued that contrarians had something to contribute to Climateball. I’ve also argued that our response to tap into contrarian energy has been woefully inadequate.

    My views, which I have not been shy about sharing, have led some exclude or remove me from the discussion, with some considerable success.

  12. Ben McMillan says:

    The ‘do not whine’ is a strong marker for bad-faith contrarianism: witness how focused Mhyrvold is on complaining about how mean people are to him. While ignoring the fatal flaw in his argument, which is that the albedo impact of solar PV is 10,000 times smaller than the CO2 forcing from coal.

  13. russellseitz says:

    2009 is pretty ancient lore. Has Nathan said anything more recently on PV? Perovskites are taking a bite out of the numbers.

  14. Willard says:

    I must admit that I have not paid much attention to the Myhrvoldiana, Russell.

  15. Ben McMillan says:

    Haven’t paid much attention either, and from the look of it Myhrvold (sorry, misspelled his name) just stopped talking about PV: if all you have is whining, people stop paying attention to you after a while, and since he was smart enough to realise he messed up, thus probably pretty embarrassed, that suited him fine.

    That is ‘ancient history’, but there were a bunch of people who were publically wrong about various climate/energy stuff over the last 20 years, and rapidly went from being seen as ‘reasonable centrists’ to fringe figures when they resorted to just whining how mean people were, or doubled down with even-more-obviously-wrong stuff.

    There is a social cost to being obviously and stubbornly wrong, which is how it is meant to work…

  16. Willard says:

    Just recalled that Nathan had a cool cooking journey:

    His TED bio reads:

    Nathan Myhrvold is a professional jack-of-all-trades. After leaving Microsoft in 1999, he’s been a world barbecue champion, a wildlife photographer, a chef, a contributor to SETI, and a volcano explorer.

    By that time he wrote it his Climateball stint might have been past him.

  17. Mal Adapted says:

    Ben McMillan:

    There is a social cost to being obviously and stubbornly wrong, which is how it is meant to work…

    Well, yes, that’s how it’s ‘meant’ to work. At least we’d like it to work that way. Sadly, there is sometimes a social benefit, as well. The obviously and stubbornly wrong about climate change are often celebrated as heroes by their fellow denialists, who are legion in the US.

  18. russellseitz says:

    His cookbook has more pages than an IPCC report , but they’re ahead on citations

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