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Neil Levy Again

Neil Levy of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, has a new article at the Conversation crossposted at the Oxford School of Practical Ethics blog here.

We’ve met Neil Levy and his views on climate catastrophe before. Paul, in this post drew our attention to this article at the Conversation crossposted at the Oxford Ethics blog here about climate sceptics, or deniers, as he prefers to call us.

An extremely lively discussion ensued under the article at the Oxford Ethics blog, involving me, Paul, Ben Barry, Jaime, Ian Woolley John Shade, ATT Physics and others, during which two things happened:

1) Neil Levy withdrew from the debate halfway through, with the comment:

I will leave you guys to play by yourselves now. I will only respond if someone has a substantive point to make (where asserting that I’m wrong, or stupid, or playing gotcha don’t count as substantive, by my lights). Have fun.

2) The blog site went down due to “technical problems” and remained down for five months. No explanation was given, and the opening post five months later was yet another climate sceptic-related one by Dr Levy, quoting Dan Kahan in support of the statement that “… Sceptics are not less intelligent or less knowledgeable.” Thanks for that Neil. I suspect that what happened during those five months while the blog owners were busy with their soldering irons was a lively debate at the Centre of Ethics about the ethics of allowing or not the comments to stay up. We won.

In his new article: Climate change: How do I cope with inevitable decline?” Neil Levy starts with a quote from Paul, 42, London who is moved by watching an interview with David Attenborough to say: It seems to me that this is the first time in history we have known things will get worse for the foreseeable future. How do you live in the shadow of such rapid and inevitable decline? And how can you cope with the guilt?

Neil Levy agrees with Paul, 42, adding:

Never before have we known that the deterioration of not just our countries, but our entire planet, will continue for the foreseeable future – no matter what we do...We can’t hide from the fact that Attenborough’s opinion reflects mainstream science .

This last, utterly false claim is backed up by a link to this article by Professor Lewandowsky, which dates from 2013 and is about the conspiracy theorising of us sceptics, and has absolutely nothing to do with whether future decline is inevitable.

Our debate with Neil Levy under his previous article centred around his belief that non-experts have a moral duty to accept the belief of experts, a belief that he was unable to defend. And among the experts we were expected to bow down to were Cook and Lewandowsky, which resulted in the shortcomings of these two experts being laid out in some detail in comments. It is extraordinary that Levy should come back, citing the same expert, in another, utterly indefensible article about how to cope with something that doesn’t exist, and for which Levy provides no evidence at all accept the belief of Paul, 42.

Neil Levy is an expert in philosophy – not climate science – in particular ethics, or moral philosophy, a subject which has its basis in the dialogues of Socrates, who prided himself in being a non-expert. I intend to discuss his latest article in comments at the Oxford Practical Ethics blog, and recommend others to join in.

79 thoughts on “Neil Levy Again

  1. “Practical Ethics” can join Ministry of Love, Ministry of Truth, and Ministry of Peace.

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  2. One of the worst of the Conversation’s continued publication of deluded climate crisis pieces (although probably topped by this- https://theconversation.com/ive-seriously-tried-to-believe-capitalism-and-the-planet-can-coexist-but-ive-lost-faith-131288).

    I posted the following comment which was taken down by the moderator within seconds. I see a few counter arguments have been left up, but every time I post a link to Michael Shellenberger’s article, it is censored. They really are desperate.

    A couple of days ago I heard an interview with Mary DeMocke, author of “The Parents’ Guideto Climate Revolution: 100 Ways to Build a Fossil-Free Future, Raise Empowered Kids, and Still Get a Good Night’s Sleep”. I thought her approach admirable and a useful counter to the irrational climate anxiety seen in many children and teenagers, often caused by tragic scenes of wildlife produced by Mr Attenborough. But she suffers from the same problem that this article has, an unexamined pessimism that decline is inevitable and that we are in the midst of a crisis.

    David Attenborough’s opinion is only that, and not shared by many other respected commentators Unfortunately this forum neglects to publish facts about the true nature of the impacts of climate change which would indicate that it s very unlikely to cause anything like the catastrophic impacts that are envisaged. See (https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/11/25/why-everything-they-say-about-climate-change-is-wrong/#51010a9112d6). Fact checking will show, for example that the health impact of climate change is insignificant compared to that of other air and water pollution, that species extinction is primarily due to habitat loss, and climate change while it may be negative is relatively minor. Potential economic damages are not catastrophic and probably an order of magnitude less than the growth that is expected through continued development of technology.

    Coping is then easy – because the decline is neither inevitable or even likely.

    [Sorry for delayed posting – rescued from spam bin. Also, you may have more luck getting your commented accepted at the Practical Ethics blog. PM]

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  3. ANDY
    Thanks. I’m optimistic about a useful outcome. The last discussion with Dr Levy three years ago resulted in Levy retiring from the discussion, leaving 150 comments which demolished his argument and contained unchallenged evidence that his preferred experts – Lewandowsky and Cook – were liars and charlatans. The scores of academics who share the Practical Ethics blog can hardly have failed to notice a post that received 150 comments, and, as I say above, the “technical problem” which led to the blog’s absence for 5 months can only have been the result of behind the scenes discussions. Not only did we thoroughly destroy his arguments, but I made many points about Cook and Lew which would be defamatory if untrue. They could have removed them on those grounds if they had wanted to, but they didn’t.

    A blog by and for philosophers is not like the Conversation. I’m hoping for another lively discussion, and imagine that there will be people at Oxford keeping an eye on things to make sure there isn’t another technical problem. I’ve already commented, and am on my best behaviour.

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  4. Andy, so far so good, Geoff has put a comment and Neil has replied.

    Over at the Con there’s an excellent and substantial comment by Julian Cade going into the details of how things are improving rather than getting worse.

    Popcorn time. Geoff has just pointed out a spectacular porky from Neil, “most of the media routinely and dramatically underestimates the impacts of climate change”.

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  5. Alex Epstein”To teach you how to think more clearly”
    Her response was nuanced on the fact that if someone cannot even think..then they cannot be helped to “think more clearly”…they will just reach for their bag of ad hominems/logical fallacies and cliches..welcome to the decline 🙂

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  6. Levy is a science denying, fact denying censorious moron who thinks that inconvenient facts and scientific research which detract from his catastrophic global warming narrative are ‘denialist talking points’ to be airily and condescendingly dismissed out of hand. He prostitutes and twists science without ever understanding it, merely to suit his own academic and political prejudices, which he laughingly labels ‘ethics’. He wouldn’t be fit to polish the boots of Freeman Dyson, now sadly passed.

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  7. I’ve posted a response to Ronnie. I don’t expect it will last that long before it’s deleted, so I’ll paste it here.

    “Ronnie, I’d gladly discuss with you the ‘science’ of global warming impacts of 1.5C, but science, facts and data which don’t sit comfortably with the catastrophe narrative the author wishes to portray in this article are deemed ‘denier talking points’ and deleted. But do keep pretending that valid criticism of Levy is equivalent to ‘climate deniers ganging up on the poor guy’ and pretending that if you post a long list of links, then that proves the science is settled, that you have the authority to claim that it is settled and lastly, that it’s not just climate change, it’s a ‘climate crisis’.”

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  8. Well, the cowardly pork-pie merchant has thrown in the towel already, saying he’s going to delete comments.

    He posted a link to an IPCC chapter which he says is where his claim about 2-6% per decade loss of agricultural production comes from. Can anyone find that? Maybe I missed it but I didn’t see it there. I did however see on p 715 that mortality was decreasing and expected to continue decreasing, and on p 721 that mortality from floods and storms was decreasing. I have noted those two points at the Practical Ethics blog. I wonder if they will survive, or if quoting directly from the IPCC is regarded as a “denialist talking point”.

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  9. Jaime: “He wouldn’t be fit to polish the boots of Freeman Dyson, now sadly passed.

    I don’t think he’s fit to polish Alex Epstein’s boots either.

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  10. Paul:

    It would be odd to be in that chapter, which is the health impacts, albeit some overlap concerning crop yields and such in poorer nations. The agriculture chapter is 7, and the rural areas that has huge overlap, is 9. He may have posted the wrong chapter number. No mention of the text ‘%’ or ‘percent’ in Chapter 11 appears to be talking about the figure he mentions.

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  11. ah… Time Magazine August 2019 says: “Another recent IPCC report predicted a 2 to 6 percent decline in global crop yields every decade going forward”. So it will be a different IPCC publication way after AR5, perhaps SR1.5?

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  12. ANDY
    Full marks for finding the probable source of Levy’s beliefs. It was two thousand years before people started doing the same thing for Socrates. The thing is, Levy, as a philosopher, writing on a blog underwritten by one of the world’s oldest universities, is in some sense the inheritor of the Socratic tradition. I know it’s intellectually unfair, and snobbish to say so, but Lewandowsky, as a proponent of the crap subject of cognitive psychology at the crap university of Western Australia, can’t be held to the same standards.

    Can someone armed with a slide rule please do the arithmetic and confirm my hunch that a 6% decadal decline in agricultural production over eight decades would lead to an agricultural production of near zero?

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  13. Geoff, I calculate that 6 percent reduction each year for twenty years ends up at 29% of the original production.

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  14. Sorry your question was 6% per decade over 8 decades. Reduces 100% production to 57%.

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  15. Sorry, your question was 6% reduction per decade over 8 decades. Reduces 100% to 59%.

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  16. 60.95% actually. Having trouble with a tablet. Need a chill pill. But I swear this one is right.

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  17. Hawkins now claiming the ‘Assault on Levy’ by members of this blog is “socially organised denial”. The problem is, he hasn’t got a clue what it is we’re supposed to be denying, as he goes seamlessly from climate change impacts to all manner of man-made environmental impacts ‘on the biosphere’. Typical woolly-headed Greenthink and the usual accusations of ‘motivated denial’ on the part of those who don’t buy into the catastrophist BS narrative.

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  18. Dyson’s courage about climate science and policy was matched by his complete lack of embarrassment talking about other ‘unmentionables,’ as this Polish professor of maths (and climate sceptic) nicely shows. With apologies to Geoff (but none to Dr Levy) I may do one other comment on this thread on the great man – how a conversation he had with Michael Atiyah at Princeton led on to Atiyah being a great help to Roger Penrose’s Twistor team at Oxford. Because that, like so many interactions, also speaks of his humility.

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  19. Levy says:

    “Go and debate the science of climate change elsewhere. These comments are off topic and will be deleted (as will comments about whether such comments are off topic).”

    I replied:

    Neil Levy does not want any debate about climate science, which is fine. He sets the rules on his own blog. But he has decreed (falsely, as it turns out) that Attenborough’s opinion reflects “mainstream science” and has used that to make the sweeping claim that ‘inevitable decline’ is ‘baked in’ to our planetary future. No proper and rational appraisal of a representative sample of the huge volume of literature on climate change and associated possible future impacts would lead to that unshakeable conviction.

    “We can’t hide from the fact that Attenborough’s opinion reflects mainstream science. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, a significant degree of future warming is already baked in. Under the most likely scenarios, we’re set for warming of 1.5℃ or much more.”

    He’s not going to get anywhere with that kind of attitude. Maybe he will have more success spreading his doomer message at the Con.
    [ Not a lot, apparently! 🙂 ]

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  20. In response to a comment in which I suggested that Levy would do better by restricting himself to citing the statements of scientific bodies, I received the following response:

    “It’s really not hard to check for yourself, John. Here’s a link to get you started, for my reference that agricultural output will decline 2-6% per decade. For further information, you might look at the recent World Bank report.”

    My response to that was:

    “Actually, that’s a somewhat patronising response, if I may say so. You have no reason to assume that I am ignorant of the scientific evidence that lies behind your article’s thesis. I have merely suggested that when asserting the view of ‘mainstream science’ you would be better off citing authorities that may be considered representative of mainstream science (see Ronnie Hawkins’ list, for example). Citing non-scientific sources that cite scientists is problematic since it increases the possibility of confirmation bias and entrains other considerations that are not purely scientific, e.g. posited economic impacts, for which the consensus may not be as strong as that existing within the scientific community. May I also add that this is not entirely a question of maximising risk mitigation, since one will also have to consider the costs and risks associated with any risk management actions that are proposed. I could provide you with a link to ‘get you started’ on the finer points of risk management, but I would not deign to be so patronising.”

    My response has been deleted. Was this because I was persisting in ‘debating the science of climate change’? Obviously not. Was it because I was ‘off-topic’? Obviously not. Was it because he has ethical standards to maintain? Not from where I am standing!

    Methinks he is just sulking.

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  21. I replied to Ronnie Hawkins regarding ‘denialism’, but the comment didn’t appear. I guess moderation has been tweaked up. I know the post is in the queue because I posted again and it said I’d already made that comment 🙂 . Maybe it’ll appear later…

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  22. When I asked Levy for details of his position on moderation/ censorship he replied with a link to a paywalled article of his. In the abstract of the article he says this:

    In this article, I argue that there is a powerful consideration in favor of no-platforming some speakers: allowing them a platform generates genuine higher-order evidence in favor of their claims. When that higher-order evidence would be misleading, we may reasonably believe it should not be generated.

    Well that’s pretty clear. Lew, Cook and Leiserowitz are among the authorities cited.

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  23. Geoff, based on Prof. Levy’s explanation regarding debate, it is clear that Prof. Levy is to the ethics of philosophy what Prof. Lysenko was to evolutionary biology.

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  24. Geoff,

    “When that higher-order evidence would be misleading…”

    What? Like my misleading claim that citing scientific bodies is more reliable than indirectly citing them?

    I think what he should be saying is, “When that higher-order evidence would be a source of personal embarrassment…” That would at least fit the facts.

    Needless to say, I will not be commenting any further against Levy’s article. I wouldn’t want him to have to deal with any other higher-order evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. An interesting study eould be to find out why non-climate science academics seem to glom on to such a muddled, childish, faux scientific bunch of rationalizations to force the impossible apocalyptic crap they push?
    Doing so has turned Levy into the antithesis of an academic seeking understanding, not to mention how unethical his actions are.
    The heart of ethics is truth. The heart of truth is to be fact driven.
    Prof. Levy, and his ilk, fail at every test of that.
    Instead they are ideologues enforcing orthodoxy, authoritarian apparatchiks afraid to think beyond the circular confines of their failed dialectic.

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  26. Hunterson,

    “Instead they are ideologues enforcing orthodoxy…”

    This is your explanation, within your own question. Although typically used for secular and not spiritual cultures, ‘ideology’ just means strong culture. And all strong cultures feature (policed) consensus narratives, demonization of out-groupers (hence ‘deniers’) and the bypass of rationality within adherents (for culturally relevant issues, outside of those rationality will be just fine). All driven via emotive / subconscious means. My post at Climate Etc. lists a lot more expected characteristics…
    https://judithcurry.com/2015/11/20/climate-culture/

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  27. One of my comments has been deleted.
    It was in response to Ronnie Hawkins, saying that it was because we had read the IPCC report that we knew that claims of certain deterioration were false.

    It’s also ironic that Levy declares science off-topic, when his own post makes untrue claims about the science. I’ve put a brief comment saying that, which I expect will be deleted.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Andy,

    Well, our recent contretemps with Neil Levy certainly provided an ideal case study for your ‘characteristics of strong culture’ thesis. It was all there: policed consensus narrative, demonization of out-groupers, and the bypassing of rationality (albeit only for the culturally relevant issue). All of this delivered emotively — with the overriding emotions being contempt and annoyance. I’m beginning to get to the point where any interaction with those peddling the culturally endorsed consensus can only be justified as a social experiment. In fact, I have to admit that such has been my position for quite a while now.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. John, yep, you’re right. In principle, we can’t say anything about an individual, only about masses of them, because behaviours are a statistical distribution (and often more than one cultural influence is working at once.) However, some cases are so ‘classic’ so to speak, it’s very hard to avoid the conclusion that they are indeed exemplary examples of the generic model in every way. Which is to say, the very opposite of exemplary regarding any progress that might be made. And like you, this is why I very rarely engage unless within an environment where some plurality of views and an objective hosting prevents immediate shutdown (there are still views from across the whole spectrum at Climate Etc, for instance). However, encouraged by Geoff’s optimism and prior experience, I was tempted this time.

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  30. Geoff quotes Levy:

    “In this article, I argue that there is a powerful consideration in favor of no-platforming some speakers: allowing them a platform generates genuine higher-order evidence in favor of their claims. When that higher-order evidence would be misleading, we may reasonably believe it should not be generated.”

    This was his excuse for no-platforming certain commenters. I was perplexed by the meaning of “higher-order evidence” so looked it up and came across this study by Brown University, which is the same University, curiously, which the Guardian recently claimed as the authority that a large percentage of ‘climate denial’ tweets were generated by bots, but that only a small proportion of AGW consensus confirmatory tweets were bots – based on an unpublished study.

    Anyway, it seems higher order evidence is a peculiar form of newly introduced evidence which does not qualify as ‘undermining evidence’. You’ll have to read the whole article to believe it but it seems to me that philosophers have invented a new category of evidence which conveniently allows them to marginalise contrary opinions and contrary evidence which challenges the prevailing narrative. So what Levy is saying is that he justifies no-platforming opponents of his distorted catastrophist narrative on the basis that they generate an inferior form of evidence. That, I guess, is a prime example of Levy’s ethics in practice.

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  31. Jaime,

    In the context of climate change, higher-order evidence would be, for example, the evidence revealed by Climategate, since it calls into question the evidence offered by those whose reputation suffered from the Climategate revelations. There is a view that the Climategate revelations are irrelevant since the initial evidence was already self-evident, i.e. even if the scientists involved are subsequently discredited, then the initial conclusions still stand. To that extent, the higher-order evidence is considered misleading and so should be disregarded. Furthermore, those who had promoted such high-order evidence should have their own motives challenged, presumably also on the basis of higher-order evidence, such as the claim that the Climategate evidence was gained through hacking.

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  32. I also posted at Levy’s site this morning, in response to the “denialist” claim. I think my post was fairly modest and polite, simply pointing out that the denialist argument can be turned on its head, since many who are concerned about climate change are in denial regarding such things as:

    1. The financial costs of “net zero” to the UK economy;

    2. The profound impact it will have on UK society;

    3. Consequently the risks of serious unrest when the implications dawn on the electorate (who have never been asked to vote on these issues); and

    4. the futility of such expensive virtue-signalling, if the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit,given that UK emissions represent only around 1% of the global total.

    My comment hasn’t appeared either, so the polite and reasonable comment of an Oxford University graduate is censored from a site hosted by Oxford University. These are sinister times. Climate hysterics don’t allow debate. What’s the point of writing an article, inviting comments, then sulkily deleting comments that don’t agree with you? My alma mater is reaching a very low point.

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  33. As no comments are appearing there currently, it’s possible that, being a university run thing, it doesn’t actually operate over the weekend and all comments are simple piling up in moderation to be dealt with on Monday morning.

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  34. Andy, you may be correct, but given the timing of the last comment, I fear you’re not:

    “Neil Levy says:
    February 29, 2020 at 8:51 am
    Go and debate the science of climate change elsewhere. These comments are off topic and will be deleted (as will comments about whether such comments are off topic).”

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  35. Mark,

    My last comment was deleted, but only after it had initially appeared. If your comment is simply not showing up, then that might be for a more innocent reason. There again, he could just be now redirecting all comments into ‘trash’, I suppose. I’m not that conversant with how these things work.

    If he is censoring, then I’m sure he will be justifying it to himself by arguing that his statement that the science is beyond dispute is beyond dispute. Unfortunately, he also appears to be refusing to discuss any ethical issues other than the ethical issues raised in his article.

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  36. Thanks John, so that seems to imply that higher order evidence is evidence which brings into question the first order evidence on the basis of proven bad faith, evidence of wrong doing, unprofessional behaviour etc. Which means that Levy considers all contrarian views to be based, not on the presentation of contradictory factual evidence, but on the demonstration or accusation of faulty reasoning/bad faith, etc. on the part of climate scientists and climate campaigners. Essentially, this leaves ‘the Science’ intact and unassailable and any and all attempts to fundamentally question ‘the Science’ become, as he sniffily states, just ‘denier talking points’. This is how they go about trying to insulate their dogma from criticism and it demonstrates the profound lack of understanding of science and empirical evidence which characterises virtually all of these climate crisis fanatics.

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  37. Jaime,

    To be fair, it should be said that an awful lot of the sceptic’s arguments are based upon higher-order evidence. That, of course, is not a problem in itself (after all, much of the evidence presented in the courts is what the philosophers would call higher-order). Levy and his ilk, claim only to be censoring higher-order evidence when it would be misleading. The problem is that it is they who get to decide when it would be misleading, and when one assumes the first order evidence to be inviolate, then all higher-order evidence can be presumed to mislead. The logical error should be obvious here, but it seems it isn’t, even to Oxbridge philosophers.

    Whilst I’m here, can I remind everyone that my ‘like’ button has still been confiscated by WordPress. I am, to coin a phrase, still in denial.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. John,
    The good perfessir does not seem to be able to critically analyze evidence much at all.
    Evidence hierarchy, by the way, is very interesting. Definitely something for climate cult enforcers to rigorously avoid.

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  39. By way of a social experiment, I have posted the following comment at The Conversation:

    “Neil,

    We need not overcomplicate this. Your article discusses the ethical implications of dealing with a problem that is no longer subject to uncertainty, i.e. it is no longer a question of risk. You take as your case the prospect of reaching 1.5°C, and the attendant impacts of such warming. You state that ‘mainstream science’ maintains that there is no longer any uncertainty associated with the view that a certain degree of further warming is inevitable. This is not a controversial claim, but to then suggest that the 1.5℃ threshold is now generally held to be unavoidable certainly is controversial. The IPCC’s headline statement on this subject (to be found in SR 1.5) is:

    “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate (high confidence).”

    The key words here are ‘likely’ and ‘if’, since they clearly indicate the presence of uncertainty and risk. The premise of your article is therefore wrong. You cannot be worried about the ethical implications of dealing with a problem that is no longer subject to doubt, when it clearly still is. This is not a ‘denialist’ talking point, nor is it off topic. It is central to the logic of your argument. You cannot use the 1.5°C threshold as the yardstick for demise and then claim that such demise is already inevitable.”

    The social experiment is this:

    What will it take to get a comment moderated on this subject and what does that tell you about the basis of the beliefs being defended?

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Why bother offering up your heads to be chopped off? Leave them to their echo chamber of delusion if that’s what they want.

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  41. The more one reads of Prof. Levy, the more it seems that he was somehow the ethicist for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

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  42. John: “The social experiment is this:”

    If, per your up-thread, the cultural template holds in all ways (which for an individual of course it may not), your identity alone (having now been firmly established as out-group, probably as hostile), will be sufficient to cause censoring. So whatever your comment says, will be irrelevant. As Levy’s last post indicates, some comments already made are acknowledged as intelligent and thought-provoking, hence needful of researched answers. Nevertheless, their motivation *must* be suspect, a trick, a cynical means to subvert. The questions cannot be saying what they mean, so they can’t be genuine questions in fact. Don’t look at the illusion, it says, don’t engage with the lures of the enemy in order to fight him, or like Saruman, you may fall into evil and be consumed by the eye of Sauron.

    As others have commented, it used to be the case that those critiquing the IPCC were labelled ‘deniers’. Now, if one quotes almost anything the IPCC says as an *accepted* starting base for discussion of the implications from that point on, one is already a ‘denier’. The culture of catastrophism is fundamentally in disagreement with mainstream science.

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  43. He’s now whining that rebutting the ‘denialists’ is difficult and time-consuming. I’ve replied that rebutting his falsehood of inevitable deterioration is simple. One merely has to look at the IPCC SPM, as pointed out by John above.

    His latest comment is quite a remarkable admission if you think about it. He’s saying that he, allegedly a professional philosopher allegedly with science behind him (supported by another such professional) is unable to refute a bunch of amateur ‘denialists’.

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  44. Andy,

    I’m sure you are right about the importance of being previously associated with a position. That was certainly my experience over at ATTP, for which the mere knowledge that I blog here at CliScep seemed to be sufficient justification for their refutations. Willard, in particular, has the favourite tactic of pointing out one’s sceptic history, as if that is all he has to do to win his argument. However, the ultimate censorship I received required a little more than that (though not much).

    Paul,

    My experiment is ongoing. Levy has responded to my first comment. My follow-up is currently under moderation. I eagerly await the test results. It’s a particularly interesting experiment because I’m not actually taking a ‘denialists’ position (unless you can say that I am denialist by claiming that extreme weather event attribution is actually less reliable than predicting future warming). Instead, I’m simply trying to explain why his argument is logically inconsistent. I also suggest that his response simply replaces one source of uncertainty with another, and so doesn’t help his case as much as he might think.

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  45. I got a comment let through this morning, after many here reported having comments held up in moderation, presumably because I used a big philosophical word, and Neil replied, saying not only that I can’t talk about climate, but I can’t talk about epistemology either. He says he’s binning all our comments, but the fact that he let that one through suggests to me either that he is not sole master of moderation, and that certain rules have to be followed, or at the very least that he realises it wouldn’t look good if he was censoring on-topic, purely philosophical criticisms.

    I’m beginning to think the Andy West Way. Strong cultures have strong rules. It’s worth learning what they are and how to play by them.

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  46. I haven’t located the SR1.5 quote on the 6% per decade agricultural decline, but I note from the SPM it’s not likely to be just about climate affecting crops (per above, the impacts for main crops on *existing* farmland are far more optimistic, indeed net beneficial for 1.5C). But… in order to ‘limit to 1.5C’ there are assumptions about very large amounts of pasture being devoted to bio-fuel crops and afforestation. Yet these assumptions are the result of policy choices rather than being inevitable; for instance nuclear plus hydrogen would avoid the need for any bio-fuels at all. At any rate, this angle may help to explain such a sizeable number.

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  47. “Neil Levy says:
    March 1, 2020 at 10:02 am
    Since others have protested that they’re not climate change sceptics and want to rebut those who are, let me say a few words about why I don’t think this is helpful. The climate denialists brought here by a coordinated effort are very good at what they do. They aim to give the appearance that central issues are unsettled, when they’re really not. They are intelligent and well-informed, and they use their skills well to kick up dust. There are a few instances of their comments above for those who want to take the time to check them out. Showing how each of these comments is misleading is difficult. Rebutting just one of them takes time and effort. I suspect that’s a waste of time for those who engage in it. Of course, I don’t get to decide how you spend your time, so if you think it’s a good use of your time that’s your call. But I still won’t allow you to do it here. Reading through these comments, the agnostic reader is left with the impression that there are good arguments on both sides unless she is sufficiently expert or sufficiently dedicated to follow up on each comment in detail and see how it is cynically motivated. Allowing the denialists a platform is unethical, I believe. If you disagree with me, you can go and debate them elsewhere: it’s a big internet.”

    Wow! There is so much wrong with that, I barely know where to start in criticising it. If that’s the level of brainpower at what used to be one of the finest universities in the world, then I am truly worried for our young people being “educated” there.

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  48. Oh well, at least he’s consistently wrong:

    “November 6th 2019
    No-Platforming and Higher-Order Evidence, or Anti-Anti-No-Platforming
    Journal of the American Philosophical Association 5 (4): 487-502. 2019.
    No-platforming—the refusal to allow those who espouse views seen as inflammatory the opportunity to speak in certain forums—is very controversial. Proponents typically cite the possibility of harms to disadvantaged groups and, sometimes, epistemically paternalistic considerations. Opponents invoke the value of free speech and respect for intellectual autonomy in favor of more open speech, arguing that the harms that might arise from bad speech are best addressed by rebuttal, not silencing. In this article, I argue that there is a powerful consideration in favor of no-platforming some speakers: allowing them a platform generates genuine higher-order evidence in favor of their claims. When that higher-order evidence would be misleading, we may reasonably believe it should not be generated.”

    https://philpeople.org/profiles/neil-levy/news

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  49. Mark,

    On previous occasions when I have resorted to disparaging my opponent I have always regretted it in the morning. It is always better to maintain a moral high ground if one can. However, this is one of those occasions where I am inclined to agree with you Mark – Neil Levy isn’t the smartest guy I’ve ever dealt with. As for his pious claims regarding the ethics of giving a platform to ‘deniers’ – well don’t even get me started on that one.

    However, I think the most telling point here is how spooked he is by the fact that this was ‘coordinated’ denialism. It is true, of course, that we visited Levy’s post because Geoff suggested we should; he obviously felt we might find it interesting. To that extent, we are guilty of being organised. But isn’t it funny how an innocent word like ‘organised’ or ‘coordinated’ takes on a sinister connotation only when it applies to an outgroup? It’s Mann’s Serengeti theory all over again. A dark group of lesser people, possessing only superficial credibility, hunting in packs to bring down a great man.

    So it’s not just the stupidity that disappoints me – it’s the arrogance.

    Liked by 2 people

  50. It’s hard to believe any “pro” philosopher would be in favour of no-platforming:

    1) No-platforming is no more sophisticated than “shut up,” the original way of defending weak positions.

    2) To be in favour of it you would have to believe that you had a “monopoly on truth.” Plenty of people have believed that in the past, and have been wrong.

    3) Not only that, but to advocate no-platforming you would have to have the confidence that you’ll never be on the wrong side of it.

    I’ll make a wild stab in the dark here, and state that no sceptics would ever want to silence their opponents.

    Neil Levy was right that the commentary was coordinated. But as I read them the contributions were rather polite. Nevertheless, it seems that his response to being challenged was an emotional one, not an intellectual one (i.e. the very sort of challenge philosophers are supposed to live for).

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  51. Neil has not allowed my comment on the blog a reprint of the one deleted by the conversation. Meanwhile at the conversation, any attempt to post a link to Michael Shellenbergers article from last year is automatically deleted, in keeping with their commitment to open and honest exchange of views.

    See (https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/11/25/why-everything-they-say-about-climate-change-is-wrong/#51010a9112d6).

    [And even here, wordpress keeps putting your comments in the spam bin! PM]

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  52. So, Levy says:

    “Reading through these comments, the agnostic reader is left with the impression that there are good arguments on both sides unless she is sufficiently expert or sufficiently dedicated to follow up on each comment in detail and see how it is cynically motivated.”

    I don’t know what “follow up” Levy has in mind that can lead to a determination of the motive behind my commentary. Less still, do I understand how this “follow up” is supposed to be able to discern cynicism. Thankfully, I am in a much better place than Levy when it comes to ascertaining my motivation. I don’t have to resort to some dodgy Theory of Mind; all I have to do is reflect upon my own thoughts. If I was being intentionally disingenuous, then surely I could expect to be self-conscious of this. After all, isn’t that the very definition of intention? And yet when I introspect, I find no evidence of the cynicism he assumes. My mental diary of disingenuous scheming is largely full of blank pages, at least as far as my interest in climate science is concerned.

    I could, at this point, go dildo pink with rage at the slur I have received, but I prefer instead to see the funny side of an Oxbridge philosopher being so spectacularly wrong about me. After all, I have my blood pressure to worry about, and dildo pink is a very difficult colour to carry off.

    Liked by 1 person

  53. John: ‘Less still, do I understand how this “follow up” is supposed to be able to discern cynicism.’

    Most such tests via which this is attempted, whether informally or formally (supposedly) derived, are utterly worthless, usually completely lacking any basis in objective principles. For instance, the tests for ‘denialism’ here: https://judithcurry.com/2016/04/21/the-denialism-frame/

    ‘Follow up’ often boils down to essentially an identity search, or at least an identity association with the ‘wrong’ sources, because what of course is well-established for adherents, is which sources are in-group and which sources are out-group. You may sometimes have seen the interesting spectacle of in-groupers being heavily dissed when for whatever reason they were misidentified as out-groupers, to be followed by enormous back-tracking and sudden justification as to why the point they made was relevant after all, when their correct identity surfaces. This emphasises that (assumed) identity and not argument is what ultimately matters.

    The bypass of rationality for culturally relevant issues, appears to be achieved by a raft of mechanisms, of which amplifying biases in the right direction and suppressing those in the wrong direction is part. But assumption of nefarious motive is also key, because this allows any submission by challengers to then be dismissed out of hand. It would be better if he assumed your *subconscious* motivation not conscious motivation, because for instance if you came from the US and weren’t particularly climate literate, your position could plausibly be ascribed primarily to Rep/Con cultural allegiance, and your internal register would be unaware of inconsistencies in such a case. At any rate, given all strong cultural narratives are straight wrong, it is absolutely critical for adherents to avoid any challenges to same – their very identity (as part of their in-group) depends on this, and hence defence will be tenacious yet internally perceived as both noble and a defence of ‘obvious’ rationality.

    There are other culturally prompted options for bypassing challenges, for instance that the challengers are as a group must be stupid. Despite for most groups so accused this is massively unlikely, it often surprisingly works well to other followers. It’s not a position you espouse, but this is the reason why I constantly intervene here to point out that the climate catastrophists as a group are jam packed full of intelligent people and are most certainly not stupid, however irrational some of their arguments may be; the tendency to assume this is itself highly likely to be a cultural bias of some kind. [there’s no guidance of course, on the potential stupidity or other wise of any single individual!]

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  54. Andy,

    I suspect that the perceived intelligence of the outgroup is strongly correlated with the perception of nefarious intent. If someone holding something to be very obviously true (as do those in thrall of a strong culture narrative) sees intelligent people appearing not to appreciate such truth, then they have two hypotheses at their disposal:

    a) The strong cultural narrative may not be true after all.

    b) The strong cultural narrative is true and the dissenters are using their undoubted intelligence to pursue an agenda that starts with a disingenuous challenge to the strong narrative.

    Since (a) is, by definition, highly unlikely, then (b) must be the case. As Sherlock Holmes said, “When the impossible has been discounted, what remains, however unlikely, must be the truth”. And, of course, there is a moral peril here as well. We all know how clever the devil is. The more reasonable we appear, then the more devilish we must be. That is why the likes of Neil Levy see this as a question of ethics. He will ignore us because that is what Jesus (or Greta) would do!

    Liked by 3 people

  55. “Reading through these comments, the agnostic reader is left with the impression that there are good arguments on both sides unless she is sufficiently expert or sufficiently dedicated to follow up on each comment in detail and see how it is cynically motivated.”

    This must mean that Levy thinks he is an expert on all those issues raised by us in the comments (deleted or left on site) because it is almost certain that he has not dedicated the time to investigating the validity of the issues raised. Not only is he a multi-faceted expert capable of dismissing easily all our sceptical objections (which by his own admission are intelligently constructed), he is also an expert in reading minds. Wow! Who is this guy?

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Your Sherlocking is brilliant, but I think underestimates the sheer irrationality of (issue relevant) cultural influence. Not only is option c) ‘they must be too stupid see the truth’ available and used, it is frequently used *simultaneously* with b). Sometimes, this has a semi-rational justification, i.e. the clever ones are nefarious and the others are just the useful idiots to them, though usually and obliviously interchanging individuals between these categories as fits the circumstance at hand. Or sometimes, both are applied in a completely indiscriminate manner, without seeing the rather massive contradiction.

    You’re dead right about the ‘devilish clever’ meme though, ears and eyes must be shut to his wiles. A whole raft of memes of this kind co-evolve under a main narrative umbrella, most are exceedingly old even if they’ve had a lick of modern paint. They only have to be emotively compatible, not logically compatible, per the case above. I have a feeling it’s the more intellectual types defending a cultural position, who tend to see more (nefarious) intelligence in serious challenges to that position, but I have no data to prove this.

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  57. John Ridgway (at 8.54pm yesterday).

    You’re correct, of course, that when disparaging opponents, regret usually follows. I try not to do it (I don’t always succeed), and hope that I do it less now than I used to. On this occasion, however, I don’t regret it. Re-reading Neil Levy’s words seeking to justify censorship of a view with which he disagrees, finds me even more irritated by what I perceive to be a combination of ignorance and insufferable arrogance. As Greta might say – “How dare he?”.

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  58. Sorry, I can’t leave this alone, I’m so angry! I’m genuinely concerned that people with the attitudes of Neil Levy are in the positions they are to influence young people, apparently without any counter-balance.

    I arrived at Oxford University as a respectful and over-awed working class young northerner, and one of the greatest things my time there did for me was to encourage me to think for myself. In an early law tutorial we referred to a law report of a decision of the House of Lords in a complex legal case, and discussed it for a while. I was shaken out of my comfort zone when our tutor turned to me and asked if the House of Lords decision was correct. If I’m honest, it had never occurred to me to question it. The House of Lords was the highest Court in the land, and its judges contained some of the finest legal brains in the country. I was aged 18 and had just started studying law. How could I question the correctness of their decision? And yet we (the tutor and the 2 or 3 of us students in the tutorial) started to analyse the decision in depth, considered searching questions, and (I doubt if my brain had ever worked so hard) concluded that there was at the very least a strong argument that the House of Lords had erred. What an eye-opener. Experts, people in authority, might be wrong. There is more than one side to an argument. Arguments can be nuanced. Think about it, always think for yourself, and question, question, question.

    That’s what we were taught at Oxford University – to think for ourselves. Now it seems if you go to Oxford University, you’re taught what to think, and on no account ask any awkward questions. This is deeply depressing.

    Liked by 6 people

  59. JOHN RIDGWAY 2 March 2020 3.17pm

    The more reasonable we appear, then the more devilish we must be. That is why the likes of Neil Levy see this as a question of ethics. He will ignore us because that is what Jesus (or Greta) would do!

    It’s also what Lew recommends doing. Neil’s article on non-platforming to which he links cites Lew on countering misinformation, as well as Cook and Oreskes on consensus.

    My comments (and Barry’s) under Neil’s 2016 article
    http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2016/10/cross-post-what-do-sugar-and-climate-change-have-in-common-misplaced-scepticism-of-the-science/
    in which we took Lew apart are still up, which is odd, given that they would be defamatory if false. It seems certain that Lew would have been informed of their contents. The fact that Neil didn’t remove them seems to me to be proof that he is answerable to some superior authority, presumably the directors of the Uehiro Centre.

    The contact addresses given at the head of the blog are miriam {dot} wood {at} philosophy (dot) ox (dot) ac (dot) uk, who is the administrator of the blog, and Deborah Sheehan, administrator of the Uehiro centre for Practical Ethics: Email: firstname.surname[@]philosophy.ox.ac.uk.

    I’m thinking or registering some kind of complaint. Meanwhile I’ve put in a comment that’s entirely philosophical.

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  60. Geoff,

    Though it may be difficult to discern the hidden motives from the comments that individuals post, it is much easier to discern them from the comments they choose to delete. Deletion tends to reveal one’s inner thinking and emotional state.

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  61. Andy,

    You are quite right regarding the ubiquity of option (c). The only reason I had not mentioned it is because I was commenting solely upon Neil Levy’s tactics, which he claims to be appropriate when dealing with the intelligent ne’er-do-well. Yet it does seem sometimes that one stands accused of being both clever (or cunning) and stupid at the same time. Even Levy indulges himself by claiming he was dealing with ‘deniers’ who were intelligent and well-informed whilst patronising me by suggesting it isn’t difficult to obtain the right information and offering me a link to ‘get me started’.

    Others, however, are quite consistent in their accusations of inadequacy. Take, for example, Willard over at ATTP (yes, I know I keep harping on about him, but I have been studying him for quite some time now, so he has become something of a favourite lab monkey). Articles such as ‘Contrarian Models’ (“We need better ClimateBall contrarians”) are typical of his output recently and are clearly aimed at deprecating the intellectual capacity of the standard contrarian. Even though he takes a different starting point to Neil Levy, he ends up drawing the same conclusion: One shouldn’t take the bait and argue with a denier. In his case it is because he claims the stupidity of the contrarian arguments has already been well established – nothing more needs to be said.

    With Levy and Willard, different reasons for not wanting to waste time are offered, but I suspect the not-so-well-hidden ‘rationale’ here is the cultural imperative to render the outgroup ever more estranged.

    Liked by 1 person

  62. Mark, great story. Sounds like you had a good education. Maybe Richard Feynman’s famous quote, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” should be applied to academic study more generally.

    Meanwhile, in other news about the University of Oxford’s Philosophy Department, one of them has been in court on child porn charges.

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  63. Paul,

    “Peter King, a philosophy tutor who published a controversial paper on the ethics of child pornography in 2008, appeared at Oxford crown court last week.”

    There’s those ‘philosophical ethics’ again. Anyone might get the impression that the current crop of highly educated Oxford boffins use ‘ethics’ to justify what most of us plebs might consider to be highly unethical decisions and behaviours.

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  64. In Peter King’s 2008 paper on child pornography he stated:

    “My approach involves an objectivist metaethics and a utilitarian view of practical ethics, and I bring out the advantages of these theories to the consideration of moral issues such as this one.”

    This seems to illustrate how the application of arcane rationality can inoculate an individual from appreciating the sheer wickedness of his behaviour. I think it is quite legitimate to generalise (as per Jaime’s recent comment) but we must make it very clear that we are not seeking to use Peter King’s egregious example as a backdoor attack on Levey’s character. I’m sure he is as disgusted as we all are.

    Liked by 1 person

  65. Agreed John. Levy is using “practical ethics” to justify censoring his critics and by logical extension the censoring of all critics of a socially regressive and environmentally and economically ruinous response to a mythical ‘climate crisis’ which is supposedly legitimised by the unquestionable authority of expert scientists. People will die if this eco-socialist agenda is implemented. Real damage will be done to the real environment and no doubt many plants and animals will die too. 14 million trees chopped down so far in Scotland. The government has now given the green light to another possible 78 onshore windfarms in Scotland in order to save us all from Levy’s imagined 0.5C ‘catastrophic’ additional warming. This is bad enough, but it’s not in the same category as a scumbag using his academic position to argue for paedophilia on the basis of those same “practical ethics” considerations.

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  66. ANDY WEST 02 March 11.47am

    There are other culturally prompted options for bypassing challenges, for instance that the challengers are as a group must be stupid. […] this is the reason why I constantly intervene here to point out that the climate catastrophists as a group are jam packed full of intelligent people and are most certainly not stupid, however irrational some of their arguments may be; the tendency to assume this is itself highly likely to be a cultural bias of some kind.

    When I (and John?) call them stupid, I mean it of course in the sense of “in thrall to a strong cultural narrative” 🙂

    This usage is more common than you’d think. It happens every time someone denies the obvious. Levy’s remarks about 6% of agriculture may just be mistaken; his statement that he knows that things are going to get worse is the kind of error that philosophers are good at spotting; he has mistaken a belief for knowledge. When you and I and Paul pointed out that his belief is not supported by mainstream science, he can’t “see” it. This is the very definition of “thick.”

    When you pointed out on another thread that surveys may produce useful information even if poorly conducted, and that I was therefore wrong to reject them, I went “Oh dear, Andy’s right. I’ll have to go away and think about this.” I may not be more intelligent than Levy, but I’m definitely less thick.

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  67. Jaime,

    Absolutely. This has nothing at all to do with opprobrium through association. The point is that if one academic can use a particular school of philosophy to justify something as abhorrent as paedophilia, then it isn’t too much of a leap of imagination to think that similar tricks of intellectualism couldn’t be put into action to justify the relatively innocuous practice of denying freedom of speech. Furthermore, the whole thing suggests that people who intellectualise on ethics do not have an automatic right to claim a moral high ground. The likes of Neil Levy seem to assume that they think the way they do because they have an ecological conscience and yet ‘denialists’ do not.

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  68. Geoff, “When I (and John?) call them stupid, I mean it of course in the sense of “in thrall to a strong cultural narrative”…”

    Cool 🙂

    Re: ‘thick’

    But notwithstanding the usage you point out is valid, this vernacular has a wide range of application, of which most people will still presume ‘stupid’ or ‘unintelligent’ as the intended meaning (both are given in the definition for ‘thick’), unless there is strong context every time. Which is too tedious to always provide. Better to use ‘irrational’, which avoids ambiguity for readers who do not know the above convention you are using, even those who dip briefly in and out so can’t possibly pick up the context. And persons of any intelligence from the lowest to the very highest, can act irrationally. This term also helps emphasise that the loss of functionality (which we might say if the subject was a computer), is topic dependent. So…

    Mr Levy might well be more intelligent than either of us, but on the topic of climate change, he is hopelessly irrational.

    Like

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