“Look over there, a badger!” Lomborg’s latest piece of faux myth-busting distraction in The Australian

The self-professed “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg had a piece in yesterday’s The Australian which perfectly encapsulates his penchant for obscurification, distraction and framing arguments.

Titled “Thirst for facts should override myths about water and climate“, Lomborg begins his piece with a curious analogy about the myth of drinking eight glasses of water a day:

“EVERYONE knows” that you should drink eight glasses of water a day. After all, this is the advice of a multitude of health writers, not to mention authorities such as Britain’s National Health Service. Healthy living now means carrying water bottles with us, sipping at all times, trying to drink our daily quota to ensure that we stay hydrated and healthy. 

Indeed, often we drink without being thirsty, but that is how it should be: as beverage maker Gatorade reminds us, “Your brain may know a lot, but it doesn’t know when your body is thirsty.” 

Sure, drinking this much does not feel comfortable, but Powerade offers this sage counsel: “You may be able to train your gut to tolerate more fluid if you build your fluid intake gradually.” 

Now the British Medical Journal reports that these claims are “not only nonsense but thoroughly debunked nonsense”. This has been common knowledge in the medical profession at least since 2002, when Heinz Valtin, a professor of physiology and neurobiology at Dartmouth Medical School in the US, published the first critical review of the evidence for drinking lots of water. He concluded that “not only is there no scientific evidence that we need to drink that much but the recommendation could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough”.

The “eight glasses a day” meme is nothing more than a piece of folklore, discussed in this article from The Guardian and whose history is explored by the dissembler of urban myths Snopes.com. However Lomborg is not actually interested in myth busting: his attempt as always to distract and confuse the issue.

He’s only using it because of a recent surge in media stories about this: so, taking cue from what is buzzing around the zeitgeist Lomborg uses it for his own purposes.

Essentially, Lomborg is framing the issue: ” You might have believed this one thing, but let me tell you it’s a myth… and hey this other thing you think might be true, well that *might* also be a myth!”

Watch Lomborg set up the framing device in this paragraph:

The drink-more-water story is curiously similar to how “everyone knows” that global warming makes climate only more extreme. A hot, dry summer (in some places) has triggered another barrage of such claims. And, while many interests are at work, one of the players that benefits the most from this story is the media: the notion of “extreme” climate simply makes for more compelling news.

Ah Lomborg… ever so rational and wielding his incredible mastery of facts!

Lomborg isn’t really myth-busting, he’s claiming the mantle of myth buster but using a variety of framing devices. His “everybody knows’  and use of air quotes around the word “extreme” are classic rhetorical tricks taken straight from the Fox News school of injecting misinformation into a debate by saying “Some people say…”

I hear some people say “Bjorn” Lomborg.

But is “Bjorn” really your first name?

Or is that what “everybody knows”?

Inquiring minds want to know…

He then goes onto to suggest all this concern over the increasing incidents of drought, mega-fires and the like is nothing more than alarmist piddle – just like the “eight glasses of water myth”.

Association fallacy

Lomborg is indulging in the association fallacy: “The association fallacy is an informal version of the fallacious argument known as affirming the consequent. It consists of promoting an opinion or philosophy by recounting the values a specific person or a group that held that opinion or philosophy.”

To give an absurd example:

  • Some people like drinking water
  • ZMOG! Hitler liked drinking water
  • Therefore people who like drinking water are just like Hitler

The most common form of this association fallacy we see in the denier community is “green baiting”, equating environmentalism with terrorism, socialism and the Illuminati.

Lomborg lite:

  • “Every body knows” drinking 8 glasses of water a day is good – no a proven myth
  • “Every body knows” that climate change will increase extreme weather events – Lomborg implied myth
  • Therefore, climate related extremes will be proven to be a myth

Lomborg takes the same approach in disputing the arguments by noted economist Paul Krugman and others attributing the emerging pattern of extreme weather events to climate change:

…Consider Paul Krugman, writing breathlessly in The New York Times about the “rising incidence of extreme events” and how “large-scale damage from climate change is happening now”.

…Remember how, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Al Gore (and many others) claimed that we were in store for ever more devastating hurricanes? 

…Since then, hurricane incidence has dropped off the charts; indeed, by one measure, global accumulated cyclone energy has decreased to its lowest levels since the late 70s. Exaggerated claims merely fuel public distrust and disengagement. 

That is unfortunate because global warming is a real problem, and we do need to address it. Warming will increase some extremes (it is likely that droughts and fires will become worse towards the end of the century). But warming will also decrease other extremes; for example, leading to fewer deaths from cold and less water scarcity.

Look at that parade of alarmist myths!

After all, the last thing the denial machine wants is people to look at their windows see the dramatic weather events and make the connection between these, climate change and halting the rise in CO2 emissions.

Heavens, people might want to actually do something about that.

But that’s what some people say.

The continuing Lomborg deception: “Look over there, a badger!”

Lomborg’s strategy is best summarized as “Look over there, a badger!”

When your arguments are so weak, and you have nothing more than rhetorical tricks to argue your case then throw in some random statistics, claims that distinguished scientists and economists are “alarmist” its time to pull out a distraction.

Sure, maybe climate change is real but really if you just look over here….

A badger!

The Skeptical Environmentalist is on the attack!

2 thoughts on ““Look over there, a badger!” Lomborg’s latest piece of faux myth-busting distraction in The Australian

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