Carl Sagan the Skeptic

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Why do people who want us to believe that we cause global warming and can avert the end of the world only by drastically cutting CO2 emissions insist on appealing to Carl Sagan and to “scientific consensus” as supporting evidence for their beliefs?  Why the hell don’t they read Sagan’s Baloney Detection kit before talking about his theories?

The astrophysicist Carl Sagan was also a prominent scientific educator, whose TV series and books informed us not only about the cosmos but about the nature of science itself – how it works and why it is so effective.  He was a strong and consistent advocate of scientific skepticism, and an opponent of pseudo-science.  His book “The Demon-Haunted World” is but one example of his determination to promote scientific reasoning over superstition and credulity.  The book provides a “Baloney Detection Kit” to be used when assessing arguments.  You can read it here.

Carl Sagan is also widely credited as one of the originators of the theory that man causes global warming by CO2 emissions.  His authority is used as evidence supporting that theory, and those who are skeptical about it are cast as opposing Carl Sagan.  Oh come on – he would be appalled by that reasoning!  “Appealing to Authority” is the number two fallacy on Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit list.  (The number one fallacy in that list is ad hominem.)

Understandably we are in awe of Carl Sagan.  Men of his intellect, eloquence and commitment to the truth are rare.  Yet in his own writings, he warns us against awe-inspired credulity.  He clearly demonstrates that all theories and postulates, including his own, should be viewed with scientific skepticism.

This is what he said in his book “The Demon-haunted World”:

It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion….  Superstition and pseudoscience keep getting in the way, providing easy answers, dodging skeptical scrutiny, casually pressing our awe buttons and cheapening the experience, making us routine and comfortable practitioners as well as victims of credulity. The tenants of skepticism do not require an advanced degree to master, as most successful used car buyers demonstrate.

For crying out loud, Chicken-Licken was no scientist.  But some scientists have become Chicken-Lickens.  They seem to have forgotten the fundamentals of science.  More and more of them use the “We must act now before it’s too late” line.  You know – the time for skepticism has passed.  Don’t oppose us, else we delay and fail to prevent catastrophe!  That is not only alarmist, it is also a logical fallacy.  Sagan calls it “Argument from adverse consequences (putting pressure on the decision maker by pointing out dire consequences of an “unfavourable” decision)”.  It is listed as number three fallacy in his Baloney Detection Kit.

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