The Case For Ad Hominem Attacks Against Antinuclear Activists
This will be just a quick post to log a thought that I just had on the web, where I can find it later. (By the way, that was one of the original purposes of a web log, aka a “blog”.)
There are many reasons to doubt the credibility of people who have made a profession out of fighting against nuclear energy. They frequently overstate their academic backgrounds (as is the case for Amory Lovins) and most members of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Sometimes they try to transfer credibility earned in one profession – like being a pediatrician – to imply that they are a credible source of information about nuclear energy or radiation health effects. Sometimes, they actually work for companies that sell competitive products or they have significant financial interest in keeping nuclear energy suppressed in the market.
However, when a nuclear energy advocate introduces these matters of credibility, they are often loudly accused of violating the rules of polite debate by engaging in ad hominem attacks. The concept of avoiding those kinds of personal attacks against their opponents rarely protects a pro-nuclear advocate from frequent accusations of being a mere “shill” for the nuclear industry.
I realized a few minutes ago that there are excellent reasons for addressing the lack of credibility of the opposition. First of all, deciding whether or not to use atomic fission energy instead of coal, methane or oil combustion is not simply an academic topic for polite debate. The fate of all humanity will be affected by the decisions made in the next few years.
Secondly, when you are doing battle with a guy who has a machine gun and uses it as indiscriminately as Lovins, Wasserman, Grossman, Caldicott, Gunter, Mariotte, Lyman or Lochbaum use falsehoods about nuclear energy, it is just plain dumb to aim at the bullets instead of aiming at the hands holding the machine gun. As my Marine Corps buddies have always told me – aim at the shooter.
I am not advocating ad hominem attacks that destroy my enemies, just attacks that effectively disarm them and remove their credibility layer by layer.
Have a great day. Keep up the good fight.
The term ‘ad hominem’ is flung about on the net with some abandon, and with the presumption that any sign of it automatically invalidates an argument. However it is not a logical fallacy if one is countering an attempt to argue from authority, which of course those that demand that their statements be accepted without question because of their status are doing.
One of the strange advantages of being a nobody, posting under a screen-name, as I do, is that one must make very sure that you are able to back up everything you write with facts referenced back to reliable sources, because your credibility is always going to be razor thin.
You know, I was kind of thinking something similar the other day, when reading your post where you had the statement by Karl Grossman about Admiral Rickover’s testimony to congress, and then the rebuttal by Ted Rockwell, where Ted shows how Grossman chopped up the testimony and re-assembled it in a *highly* deceptive fashion, and something occured to me as I was reading it:
Karl Grossman is a blatant, egregious liar who doesn’t give a damn about the truth. That is the only conclusion I can come to after reading the context of some of those quotes. So, I’m no longer going to WASTE my time considering any arguments he makes in the future – he might not be wrong, in every case, but I don’t have the time to waste to fact check every single statement or quote made by such an egregious liar, so I’m just going to ignore him.
That’s really what it comes down to – ad hominem is a logical fallacy where you assume someone is wrong, because they lack credibility. I’m not actually going to assume he’s wrong, I’m just not going to bother to listen to him in the future, because there’s just too much risk he’s lieing, because *he’s a liar*, and my time is to valuable to spend on him.
Rod, once you have nailed down the errors of nuclear critics, they have a choice to acknowledge mistakes, and modify their position, or to continue to maintain that they are right, by continuing to used demonstrably flawed evidence to support their contention. Such people deserve to be described as dishonest, or confidence men and women, because their intent is to trick people into believing things that they cannot prove are true. To describe demonstrably dishonest arguments as lies is not the same as using an Ad Hominem argument. An Ad Hominem does not rely on evidence for proof, rather it relies solely on an attack on someones character.
I struggle with this all the time in my blog. Rod…YOU wrote about Blittersdorf and Shumlin and their not-highest-level-of-ethics dealings about renewable energy. I stayed away from the subject, for fear of being ad hominem. That may have been a mistake.
I appreciate your bringing up this subject because it is a very important one. I think about it all the time.
The rabid antis should be shown that as long as they illogically deny that atomic energy is clean energy they should expect a fight.
If I was a Chief Nuclear Officer in a company that was being pinned down in court by obstructionist objectors, in the spirit of the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense, I would hold them legally accountable for any falsehoods they propagate, and drag them into court to defend libelous attacks against my company or my choice of technology. Actual costs for the delays, including purchased power, and not insignificant damages, would be sought. Knowingly spreading demonstrable falsehoods is not free speech, it is defamation.
If we could find a nuclear CEO with the cajones of Lincoln, he/she would march his legal Shermans into the obstructionist heartland, challenging tax-exempt status, organizing letter writing campaigns to the funding foundations, and publicizing the unwitting taxpayer support propping up these organizations.
Unfortunately the current strategy of lying low and accepting the abuse has just encouraged the opposition, and may ultimately result in second-class status for this country as Asia and the rest of the world rapidly modernize their atomic energy infrastructure.
Indeed – as George Patton would say “The best way to defend is to attack. The best way to attack is to attack.”
What kind of resources would be needed to investigate anti-nuclear politicians and discover if they had been bought by fossil fuel money?
First, I’ll take credit for the guest post above – I didn’t realize I *wasn’t* logged in at the time I posted it earlier.
Over the last, I dunno, 3 or 4 months, as I’ve been learning more about nuclear energy, and trying as best as I am able, to pursue the truths about the matter, one thing has occured to me time and again: there is a virtual army of anti-nuke advocates out there ready to repeat the half-truths, bogus studies (like the one that the NIRS people use for telling our government that solar is now cheaper than nuclear), and outright lies of the anti-nuclear ‘think tank’ organizations. They have money, and lawyers, to tie up nuclear projects in court.
But there’s not really any pro-nuclear ‘citizens’ groups’ out there, at least not that I see as being of any significant size or activity level. I’d like to be part of such a group, I’d like to donate to such a group, and participate in letter writing campaigns, and education campaigns, and demonstrations in support of nuclear energy. But, I can’t find anywhere to sign up! I don’t feel I am experienced enough to be the primary founder of any such group, or the public spokesperson, but I would be happy to volunteer to be someone who participates in helping to build such a group. Right now, it’s the fledgeling nuclear industry (much of which are utility companies which aren’t particularly comitted to nuclear energy (I mean, I suppose anyone taking responsibility for billions in financing to build a nuclear plant is very comitted, but that the same time, most of those utilities also have a lot of coal and gas plants too – they aren’t dedicated just to the proposition of nuclear power) vs. the well-organized, somewhat well-funded anti-nuclear lobby. It gives the anti-nuclear people the illusion of being ‘the people’ vs ‘the big rich greedy corporations’.
Well, darn it, *I’m* ‘The Reople’ too, and I *want* nuclear power in my backyard. I think nuclear power is clean, safe, and can provide benefit to our nation, and to people around the world, by securing their energy future. But, I need an organization to help give me a voice. . .
Man, I dunno how “The People” becomes, “The Reople”, lol. Anyhow, that last paragraph is supposed to say, “I’m ‘The People’ too, and I *want* nuclear power. . .”.
I have often written letters to my Congressmen, Senators, Secretary Chu, and President Obama. May seem futile, but as usual if there are enough such letters they have some effect. Back in 2008 I was so frustrated with idiotic articles about ‘hydrogen’ in C
I believe you might find such a group at http://nvnuclearenergy.org/default.htm
They’re led by a Nevada businessman as opposed to someone from the nuclear industry.
@Jeff Schmidt – I have some friends in Vermont that shared your frustration about the lack of organized groups banding together to fight FOR nuclear energy. They recently joined forces with the Ethan Allen Institute for The Energy Education Project. http://www.energyeai.org/
Here is some information about that effort:
“What We Do
We assess energy sources and participate in the debate about energy in Vermont. This includes:
Informational meetings describing nuclear power in terms of cost and environmental effect
Expert descriptions of the advantages and drawbacks of nuclear power
Environmental effects of various energy projects, including wind farms, and biomass
Debates between advocates of different energy sources
Guest lectures by energy experts
Workshops on deconstructing energy rhetoric
Training in how to affect the energy debate
Opportunities for friendship with others interested in similar subjects
Possible site-visits to renewable and traditional energy plants
Websites, blogs, newsletters and in-person meetings for friends and members”
They accept donations.
I respectively take another tact on this. Such attacks do not necessarily have their intended consequences. It often adds to the centrifugal nature of such discussions. I don’t mean in ‘a blog post’ per say, but during a discussion.
The arguements, dishonest or not, put forward by antis resonate because they *sound like they make sense*. perception being ALWAYS more important than reality for most. So…simply attacking credentials isn’t going to persuade the univolved observer either of the falsity of the anti-arguments ore even necessarily that the person making those arguments, by virtual of their in-expertise, are not valid.
We have to attack the *central* arguements of the antis that DO in fact effect people’s judgements: safety, SNF, costs, reliability, etc etc. Only be doing this can we really win over people who have an impassioned position (slightly in favor or slightly opposed) on nuclear energy as an energy solution and a CO2 solution.
@David, that is certainly a valid, and good point. It is possible, that if you are seen as making ad hominem attacks, people might just think you are mean and petty, and it might backfire. I guess, my thinking on the matter is that, mostly, ad hominem attacks should be avoided, but sometimes, they really are valid and necessary. Particularly in a case where someone makes an ‘appeal from authority’ – e.g., “You should believe my opinion because I’m an expert”, but that person is mis-representing their actual expertise.
Where someone makes an actual argument from data, logic, science, etc, where you can attack the argument, then by all means, concentrate on the flaws in the argument. In the case where someone does like Karl Grossman did, and makes dishonest quote-salad, it should absolutely be pointed out A) what the reality of the context of the quotes is, and B) you should further point out to the audience that to make quote-salad like that is fundamentally dishonest and deceptive.
There are other examples – it doesn’t have to be quote-salad. It could be like that NC WARN study where they used state and federal subsidies to try to show that solar was cheaper than (unsubsidized) nuclear power. That’s not just a mistake – that’s outright deception. If it *is* an honest mistake, people should still be aware that the study authors make such bad mistakes, so perhaps they aren’t really qualified to be cited as an authority in congressional testimony, public discourse, etc and any future studies from that author should undergo a very high level of scrutiny before being believed.
Just keep people accountable for their deceptions. See the thing is, and this is very frustrating to me – I’ve been in at least onel case (and I’m sure I will again in the future) where I’ve been sharing things I’ve learned about nuclear power, in some sort of discussion forum. Some anti-nuke will show up and throw out a very plausible-sounding ‘fact’, without any links/citations of where those facts come from, and it often seems like the anti-nukes aren’t as concerned with the truth as I am. They sometimes seem to just want to keep people from thinking any pro-nuclear information is worth listening to, and if they can muddy the waters with some half-truths that no one is in a position to immediately refute or answer, well they’ve accomplished their goal – to make people think that they know more about the problems of nuclear than the pro-nuclear advocate knows about the advantages and safety of nuclear, and that there is a fundamental problem that just can’t or hasn’t been dealt with.
It would be nice if the public started to become aware of any particularly un-credible anti-nuclear ‘experts’.
Off topic but it may be worth digging up the actual study :
‘Naked’ scanners at US airports may be dangerous: scientists”
A give-away is in the first few sentences :
They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays, Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, told AFP. “No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he said.
Though that guy may have a point :
Biochemist John Sedat and his colleagues said in the letter that most of the energy from the scanners is delivered to the skin and underlying tissue. “While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” they wrote.
I’m not a fan of those scanners but those ‘warnings” smell to me like yet another application of the discredited LNT hypothesis.
If anyone cares to follow me into the belly of the beast, I? going to start posting here:
I will do all I can to avoid going ad-idiotem, I mean ad-hominem.
Good luck. As I recall, Greenpeace imposes severe moderation on their blog. At least, they’ve never published any comment that I’ve submitted there.
There’s more than ideology involved here; there are literally tens of millions of dollars at stake, and this is just the relatively tiny US organization (Greenpeace USA, formerly registered as Greenpeace, Inc.). The real money is overseas for tax reasons.
Greenpeace isn’t tax exempt?
Yes, it is, and that’s exactly the problem. Greenpeace USA’s status as a 501(c)(4) entity puts too many restrictions on what they’re allowed to do. They have run into problems with the IRS in the past.
The solution? Move most of the money and operations to Greenpeace International, keeping Greenpeace Inc. … er … USA as a relatively small branch of their business.
The IRS can’t touch Greenpeace International, since they’re located in Amsterdam.
Thanks for the info. I was always curious on why Greenpeace stuff originated from Amsterdam not D.C. or New York. Now I understand, it’s because their tax exempt status would be threatened if they used the US as their base of operations.
Anyone want to open a book on how long before the greenpeacers ban (or otherwise censor) harlz? *grin*
As of just now, I have not yet been turned into a non-entity. Maybe the irony of the post was lost on the moderator, or maybe he has the weekend off after an exhausting week of train blockading.
Coincidentally, as I write this today is Amory Lovins birthday, Nov. 13. Amory’s argument against nuclear energy has changed over the years. He now sticks to the argument “I just do a cost analysis of nuclear – I don’t need to go any further”. However as he has appeared on various comment threads from time to time we can see that he’s being disingenuous. I’d rather just hear him say “I hate nuclear power with a passion and I’ll say anything to discredit it no matter what.” At least that would be honest.
Whoever said “without the devil the church would be out of business” was onto something with a larger scope than religion. Amory Lovins and others have made nuclear energy “the devil” to be feared in order to sell their philosophy. Fear sells just like sex sells.
There’s no doubt that Lovins is a good salesman. The used car sector really lost a potential star.
He has even managed recently to sell the NeoCons on his nonsense.
Here’s the take-away for Rod:
“Meanwhile, the chairman of Exelon, the top U.S. nuclear operator, says cheap natural gas will postpone new nuclear plants for a decade or two.”
Traitor Gerhard Schroeder imposed a nuclear phase-out in Germany. We need politicians to impose a natural gas phase-out instead, and thwart Gazprom’s dastardly plans to dominate Europe!
Or, more briefly, when a bad argument is being backed up by an argument from authority, and the arguer is insisting that the AfA isn’t invalid, it’s helpful to be able to deconstruct the authority instead.
German author and TV moderator Charlotte Roche just trumped your ad hominem attack threat, Rod. She’s offering to jump in the sack with Christian Wulff, President of the Federal Republic, if he refrains from signing a law to increase the length of time German reactors can stay on line. If you read German, you can find the story at:
I, for one, didn’t need any additional evidence to know that the anti-nuke folks are a bunch of whores, but for those that do, how is this for proof?
Concerning ad-hominem, perhaps you’ll appreciate this gem:
Author’s sex-for-nuclear-veto offer to German president
BERLIN ?German writer Charlotte Roche offered in an interview Sunday to spend the night with President Christian Wulff if he votes against government plans to extend the lifetime of Germany’s nuclear reactors.
I am offering to sleep with him if he does not sign, the 32-year-old anti-nuclear activist told the weekly Der Spiegel.
My husband agrees. Now it is up to the First Lady to give her consent, she said.
Didn’t Robert Redford, Demi Moore, and Woody Harrelson already make this movie?
Perhaps it was never dubbed into German.
Brian – It was dubbed into German.
ABison – The Bundespr?dent does not vote, he just signs the new laws into existence. He has to sign them without room for a decision of his own. He can only deny that, if the bill was not adopted in the formally correct way.
If your adversary has a machine gun, just bring out your Dillon Aero mini-gun (3,000 rounds per minute) to even the score. They (mini-gun) are in fine use on Blackhawks and AC-130’s.
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