I recently submitted an editorial to the Moultrie News in response to a deceptive piece written by Tom Harris and Tim Ball. In my response, I attacked the credibility of the two individuals and showed they have a history of deception. Harris then went on his Facebook page and asked supporters to go and comment on my submission. You can read my submission, with comments, here. You can read the piece by Ball and Harris here.
As you can see, the defenders of Ball and Harris had no science to support their objections, never countered any of my claims, and consistently claimed I was only making an ad hominem attack to make my case. This, of course, is a false statement and completely in line with the science haters who deny the reality of manmade climate change. What is particularly amusing is the way several of them made ad hominem attacks by claiming I have no published refereed papers. My publication list is not extensive (I concentrate on teaching more than research), but it is certainly there and the reality of the science is not changed by how many papers I have, or have not, published. So, according to these individuals, my statements concerning Harris and Ball are invalid because they can’t operate something as simple as Google Scholar (search “CF Keating physics”).
But, the question is still there: Did I make a personal attack on Ball and Harris? Let’s take a look, beginning with the definition of ad hominem:
ad ho·mi·nemadverb and adjective(of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.
A strict interpretation of this definition would mean any claim concerning any mention of anything about a person is an ad hominem attack and is, therefore, a logical fallacy. But, that is not correct. There are times when attacks on the individual are warranted. For example, it is perfectly acceptable in a court of law to examine the character and credibility of a witness. As a rule, it is admissible to attack the character of a witness when that character has been introduced as evidence. In other words, once someone makes a claim concerning the nature of their character, it is fair game to examine that character but not before. If a drug dealer takes the stand and testifies, you can’t attack him for being a drug dealer unless he claims to be an upright citizen (although there may be other ways the fact can be introduced).
What about credibility, though? Let me quote a law source:
The rules of impeachment allow an attorney to attack the credibility of any witness even a witness called in support of that attorney’s position. An attorney may use any evidence to impeach the credibility of a witness but that rule is not automatic. In most cases courts will only allow an attorney to attack a witness’s credibility using evidence of prior convictions involving dishonesty or untruthfulness. While a court may allow an attorney to question a witness about other incidents in their past, a judge will not allow this line of questioning if he/she determines that it is not probative (tending to prove) in establishing whether a witness is telling the truth or not.
That is all well and good, but the important point is that we are not in a court of law, we are in a public discourse and attacking someone’s character is not logically valid. But, I did not attack the character of either Ball or Harris. Attacking their character would be to make a claim about their private lives. What they do in their private lives has no bearing on the reality of climate change, one way or the other. And, I’m not aware that either Ball or Harris has made claims that they are wonderful people, so it wouldn’t fall under the category of examining their statements. They have both committed fraud concerning their credentials (Harris allows himself to be introduced as ‘Dr. Harris,’ ‘Professor Harris,’ and even as a ‘scientist.’ He is none of these. Ball claims to be a climatology expert and a professor of climatology. He is not.), but that falls under attacking their credibility and not their character.
What is important to understand at this time is that a character attack is usually a logical fallacy but credibility attacks are ALWAYS valid. Quoting from Wikipedia on the subject:
However, in some cases, ad hominem attacks can be non-fallacious; i.e., if the attack on the character of the person is directly tackling the argument itself. For example, if the truth of the argument relies on the truthfulness of the person making the argument—rather than known facts—then pointing out that the person has previously lied is not a fallacious argument.
Wow! Pointing out that the person has previously lied is NOT a fallacious argument! Unfortunately for Ball and Harris, that is an important point.
To make an example, let’s say Joe Smith (a fictional person) likes to kick dogs. This is a reprehensible act and reflects poorly on the character of Joe Smith. Then, Joe Smith takes the position that everyone should eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away. The correctness, or incorrectness, of his position on this matter is not affected by his actions in private. Incidentally, this would also be true if we were talking about Joe Smith spending his spare money and time to help the disadvantaged. It works both ways. Being a saint does not change the reality of the issue any more than being a villain.
But, let’s say Joe Smith has been taking money from the Apple Farmers Association to promote apple sales. Bringing this fact to light is an attack on his credibility – he has a financial interests in telling everyone to eat an apple a day. It is not a character attack, even though the argument can be made his financial matters are private. I think most people would agree with that this is, in fact, relevant information.
But, take it one step further. Let’s say Joe Smith, while in the course of his professional duties, states that he is a medical researcher and that he has conducted medical tests on the benefits of eating apples. It is then perfectly valid to investigate this claim. If it turns out that Joe Smith never did any of that, bringing this point to light is not a character attack, it is attacking his credibility.
And, let’s take it to the next step. Suppose Joe Smith is also found to associate with people and organizations that engage in activities that are valid credibility failures (for instance, someone who has been shown to falsify medical records concerning the benefits of apples). It is a valid credibility attack to show that Joe Smith not only has associations with these individuals, but has failed to distance himself from them in any way. In other words, if Joe Smith is keeping company with and supporting individuals with questionable credibility, then it is a valid credibility attack on Joe Smith to bring this association to light.
So, let’s see what I said about Harris and Ball:
These are two people whose job it is to deceive the public about climate change and are both paid shills of the fossil fuel industry. Tom Harris has strong ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, even though he continues to deny it. He also has a strong affiliation with the Heartland Institute which is currently recommending the EPA appoint a man who was arrested on charges of raping his own children and convicted of attempted sodomy on his own under-age daughter. (http://dialoguesonglobalwarming.blogspot.com/2017/11/heartland-institute-reveals-its-true.html) These are the people Tom Harris has professional association with. You can read more about his deceptions on climate change at http://tomharrisicsc.blogspot.com/2016/12/tom-harris-paid-shill.html
Contrary to his by-line, Tim Ball is a doctor of historical geography. He is not a climatologist as he claimed and was not a member of the Department of Climatology at the University of Winnipeg. There was no such department while he was there. He has never been a climate scientist and does not have any peer-reviewed papers on the subject. When Ball sued a paper for libel, the court documents stated, Ball "never held a reputation in the scientific community as a noted climatologist and authority on global warming." Continuing, the courts also stated, "The Plaintiff's credentials and credibility as an expert on the issue of global warming have been repeatedly disparaged in the media,” and "The Plaintiff is viewed as a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry rather than as a practicing scientist."
As you can see, I never said anything about the private lives of Harris or Ball. I spoke to their professional actions and attacked their credibility. In fact, both of these individuals have had their credibility examined and they are both found to have none. Click on the links I provided above to get started, if you need some help.
- Ball and Harris both have extensive associations with the fossil fuel industry and are paid to promote the interests of that industry;
- Ball and Harris have both lied about this association on numerous occasions;
- Ball and Harris have both lied about their credentials or permitted others to lie about them without correcting them;
- Ball and Harris are both listed as associates of the Heartland Institute and neither has criticized that organization for it’s actions or done anything to distance themselves from it;
- Ball and Harris have both, on numerous occasions provided false, misleading, or deceptive clams concerning climate change.
These are all actions taken in the PROFESSIONAL capacity. Addressing these issues is an attack on their credibility and is logically correct. To put it bluntly, they are both liars when it comes to making statements concerning the science of climate change. Pure and simple. And, that is NOT an ad hominem.
So, when you read anything written by either of these two, all I can say is, “Buyer beware!”