26 Feb 2020

“Quick, what’s the conversion factor?”

All Posts, Climate Change 22 Comments

The obvious point of this clip was to ambush (in 2015) the then-head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, for not knowing the % of atmospheric CO2, but what’s really embarrassing is that she (apparently) didn’t know that you could convert ppm into %. I sympathize with someone not having such a factoid at her fingertips, especially in a hostile testimony, but it really does seem as if she doesn’t realize what these concepts really mean.

22 Responses to ““Quick, what’s the conversion factor?””

  1. Harold says:

    I rather thought that she not so much didn’t know it could be done, but that she did not know how to do it, but that is open to interpretation.

    The question is entirely stupid, of course. The science does indeed say that 0.04% is enough to make a big change on the climate.McCarthy showed herself up, but Rohrbacher did so even more by arguing from personal incredulity and displaying a total ignorance of the subject.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      ” by arguing from personal incredulity”

      And by the way, complaints about “arguments from personal incredulity” are nonsense: ultimately, anyone who doubts anything does so from “personal incredulity.”

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Gene, people are using incredulity not in its original sense of “lack of belief”, but in its other sense of amazement/outrage. The complaint is that the Congressman is making an emotional appeal to outrage, rather than presenting a substantive argument against EPA policy. It is perfectly possible for the EPA to have put a great deal of thought and reached the correct decision about how to deal with Global Warming, without the head of the EPA knowing off the top of her head what percentage carbon dioxide makes up of the atmosphere.

        He’s basically saying “Wow, you don’t know that carbon dioxide makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere! No wonder the EPA imposes such draconian policies to regulate carbon emissions!” Which is just sheer demagoguery.

        • Harold says:

          ““Wow, you don’t know that carbon dioxide makes up a tiny fraction of the atmosphere! No wonder the EPA imposes such draconian policies to regulate carbon emissions!”

          It is much worse than that. He is saying “0.04% is a really small number. I can’t see how such a small thing can have a big effect. I won’t bother to look it up, but I will go with my initial feeling that small numbers can’t lead to big effects.”

          That is the personal incredulity. Because you found something difficult to understand, or are unaware of how it works, you made out like it’s probably not true. Which is exactly what he did.

          This fallacy is not nonsense, as Gene said above. It is a logically fallacious argument.

          Anyone who doubts anything does so from personal incredulity. They then have the option of actually finding out if their incredulity is justified. If they just say it is not true because it seems unlikely to them, then they are committing the fallacy. Which is exactly what he did.

          • Craw says:

            I cannot believe you would say such a thing about Gene!

          • Gene Callahan says:

            So the problem is he hasn’t examined his disbelief, not “personal incredulity.”

            See, for instance, M. Polanyi, _Personal Knowledge_.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          I’m not claiming he had a good argument. Just the “personal incredulity” angle is itself fallacious.

          • Harold says:

            The argument from incredulity is also known as the argument from common sense and is widely recognized as a fallacy. It is included in Wikipedia list of fallacies, Hubspot “15 common logical fallacies” and “logicallyfallacious.com” as well as many other sources.

            It is essentially a label to describe a bad argument and allows a short-cut – at least usually it does. We describe the fallacy and everyone can recognize what we mean and it helps us understand where he went wrong.

            However, the purpose here is not mainly to discuss the nature of fallacy. You may have philosophical reasons to dislike this nomenclature. If you wish to use a different label to describe the thing in this instance we don’t need to get too much into it. I am happy to say Rohrbacher showed himself up by making a really bad argument by not examining his disbelief.

      • Tel says:

        I thought that merely getting offended was sufficient to win the argument.

  2. Gene Callahan says:

    Nah, she had no idea there was a connection. She actually thought ppm was an amount, like “80 gallons”.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Yeah that’s probably true, I hadn’t thought through to what she must have been thinking–I could just tell she didn’t see the connection.

  3. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    I think someone on her staff just handed her a note saying “The amount of carbon dioxide is 400 parts per million.” and she just read it. If the Congressman had given her a bit more time to process she may have realized “Oh wait, that’s not an absolute amount, it’s a concentration.” It happens to the best of us.

    But he was more interested in the gotcha moment.

  4. Transformer says:

    ‘And by the way, complaints about “arguments from personal incredulity” are nonsense’

    OK, then I can prove this statement to be untrue on the basis that I I find it utterly unbelievable.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “Personal incredulity” is not a proof of anything!

    • Gene Callahan says:

      And… this idiocy has a familiar stench to it…

      • Transformer says:

        You said: ‘“Personal incredulity” is not a proof of anything!’

        This is exactly the basis for it being a logical fallacy for which Harold called Rohrbacher on !

        Your initial comment on the matter : ‘And by the way, complaints about “arguments from personal incredulity’ are nonsense” are hard to interpret in other way than that you hold the view that a proof based on personal incredulity is not a,logical fallacy. If you reject this fallacy then you would accept arguments based on personal incredulity as true !

      • Transformer says:

        Not quite sure what you mean. Did my comment offend you in some way ?

  5. skylien says:

    Well, obviously that doesn’t mean she is wrong in what she is doing, but it shows that Gina McCarthy isn’t willing even as Head of the EPA to do her due diligence in the face of the so called “BIGGEST” threat to humanity. She just goes with her gut feeling blindly following people whom she wants to trust based on her bias.

    It is completely beyond me, how anyone being vocal about this/being in charge of a position connected to this issue doesn’t do that. On the other hand, that explains a lot about what happened in human history… Most people fall into two categories: Useful and useless idiots, she seems to belong to the former.

    @Harold
    Before you say something, yes, useful idiots can be used for bad and good ..

  6. Harold says:

    I agree that McCarthy should have known about levels of CO2 – in ppm and %. That is what you get for appointing arts graduates to head technical departments.

    The counter argument is that as head of department she does not need to know the technical details – she has experts for that. This is a common argument also.

    She is therefore not going with her gut feeling and blindly following people because of her bias. She is listening to people who work for her and who’s job it is to inform her.

    The exact level of technical knowledge any boss needs is always going to be subjective. If someone wants to know technical details they should ask the technical experts. You might not ask James Hackett, the boss of Ford, about the speed of the combustion wave in the cylinder of an engine.

    If you appoint a technical expert they get caught up in detail, if you appoint an administrator they don’t understand the details. There will always be a tension. I think McCarthy fell on the wrong side of this one.

    • skylien says:

      She is not just the boss of some firm making some product. She is the head of an organization that needs to make decisions about life and death. Get this thing wrong and lot’s of people will die/suffer. Also I am not asking for going into the details.

      Even a manager of a car manufacturer should have basic knowledge of how engines work, how many strokes, what is diesel, what is gasoline. What’s a gear box etc.. Knowing the amount of CO2 and other stuff really isn’t too much. You can’t just be a boss without any knowledge of what your firm/agancy actually is doing.

      And no, if you don’t care to know about anything, then you are following your gut feeling und trusting people blindly. You are listening to a certain group of people with a specific opinion. There are others with a different opinion (Lindzen, Freeman Ddyson, Willie Soon, Judith Curry etc…!). She is a sheeple, that’s it..

      • Anonymous says:

        ” Knowing the amount of CO2 and other stuff really isn’t too much. ” Which is why I thought she was on the wrong side of the line in this insatance.

        “You are listening to a certain group of people with a specific opinion.”

        It is not listening to a select group of individuals when you have an entire department which is in agreement with every other countries’ similar departments and every scientific organisation, almost without exception.

        If you select a small band of dissidents and listen only to them, then you are doing exactly as you describe.

        • skylien says:

          Dissidents hu?

          No I did my due diligence I am not following my gut feeling..That doesn’t mean I can’t be wrong. But I did my home work!

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