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Whenever media headlines announce a major unexpected snowfall, many people exclaim, "Aha, global warming is a hoax!"

Their logic is simple: Snow requires cold weather, therefore, record snowfall must indicate record cold, not warming.

But the apparent logic is deceptive. Snowfall is also determined by other variables, including precipitation. In fact, global warming models predict more erratic weather, with increased drought in many locations along with increased precipitation (including snowfall) in others.

Is there a philosophical term for the deceptive logic or "pseudo-logic" described in the first paragraph? Can we call it logic to begin with?

  • 1
    Deceptive logic is usually called a fallacy of some kind. The premises are made to get attention and the conclusion might not follow as required. Another term used to be rhetoric or Sophistry. This is misleading because some rhetoric is good reasoning. That is why Aristotle wrote a treatise on Rhetoric and some texts about Logic. The subject is not inherently bad. How an individual wrongly uses the tools should be noticed. – Logikal Apr 22 '18 at 15:07
  • Interesting, especially your last sentence. A propagandist could intentionally use this reasoning as a fallacy, while an innocent person could unwittingly use it, thinking their logic is sound. – David Blomstrom Apr 22 '18 at 15:21
  • I'd just call it poor thinking or a lack of it. It doesn't seem clever enough to be called sophistry. – PeterJ Apr 23 '18 at 14:34
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This could fall under a few different types of informal fallacies, but the strawman fallacy is likely the best fit:

...whenever you attribute an easily refuted position to your opponent, one that the opponent wouldn't endorse, and then proceed to attack the easily refuted position (the straw man) believing you have thereby undermined the opponent's actual position.

Put more simply, the responder creates a misrepresentation of the original argument, then attacks that weaker version.

Your argument is that global warming exists. They don't reply to that. Instead, they define global warming as "warm weather", then illustrate that the weather isn't warm by pointing to snow, therefore global warming doesn't exist.

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1 They are assuming that if the global warming theory is correct, only a particular causal outcome is to be expected, namely and crudely that everything and everywhere warms up, there are universal rises in temperature. It's a brutally simple application of modus tollens :

i. If p then q

ii. not-q

iii. Therefore : not-p

If there is global warming (p) then there are universal rises in temperature (q)

There are not universal rises in temperature (or we wouldn't have major unexpected snowfalls) (not-q)

Therefore there is not global warming (not-p)

2 This misrepresents the global warming theory which does not hold that there are universal rises in temperature but only that there is a general and persistent rise in average temperatures.

3 That aside, what this type of argument plainly and slightly infuriatingly omits is that global warming involves multiple causal mechanisms by which a general global warming can cause local downgrades in temperature.

I am not sure if there is a specific term for the kind of false reasoning you describe but there does seem to be an error of over-simplified causation.

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I would call it a Hasty Refutation: rejecting a general claim on the basis of a single or a few cases that seem to go against that claim.

It is the refutation counterpart to the Hasty Generalization, where you point to just one or a handful of cases to justify a general claim. We would be making the fallacy of Hasty Generalization when we say: "Look at the warm weather we've been having over the past 3 days: must be global warming!"

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"Fallacy" is the general term for misguided logic, but not necessarily deliberately deceptive. If you're interested in these, there is an amazing little book "An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments" which can be read online here. If your interest is in deception, you might find the short book "On Bullshit" by Harry Frankfurt interesting/helpful.

Although, you might also be looking into the problem of hidden premises. This is known as an enthymeme ("en-thee-mem"). An example of reasoning using an enthymeme would be as follows:

  1. The art was made by a Frenchman C. Therefore it is a bad piece of art.

Here, the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise. The Reasoning seems to contain a hidden premise (2.) All art by Frenchman are bad pieces of art. This form of reasoning is sometimes used to conceal often crucial premises from the immediate eyes of opponents, but they tend not to be too difficult to spot.

Hopefully one of these routes will get at what you're looking for.

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    Good tips. I'm trying to get a handle on the entire spectrum of internal and external mental roadblocks, and adding new terms like enthymeme to my vocabulary is a big help. – David Blomstrom Apr 23 '18 at 0:28
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If your objection is that the evidence presented is not in fact inconsistent with predominant global warming models, then it would be a strawman. If they pick particular pieces of evidence that are contradictory to global warming, but aren't representative (e.g. "Yesterday was really cold"), that would be overgeneralization or cherry picking.

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