By now, you all know about the emails stolen from East Anglia University’s Climate Research Unit and published on the internet. From more than 4,000 documents stolen, only a few phrases and sentences have made their way into the right wing echo chamber. To climate change deniers, the most damning of all the evidence is the sentence:
I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.
Two elements of this sentence sound dirty enough to put sooty stains on the pants of the denialist community. The “hide the decline” phrase refers to a discrepancy between data from thermometers and data gathered from tree rings. Not being an expert in dendroclimatology, I can’t really comment on this, but it has been explained to my satisfaction elsewhere.
What I am concerned about is the word “trick”. It has been held up as smoking-gun evidence that the scientists play fast and loose with their data. Certainly, that could be the case; a trick can be an act of deceit. But it isn’t necessarily an act of deceit.
The deniers are committing the logical fallacy of equivocation. They take one reading of the word “trick” and disregard the possibility that alternate definitions apply. You can’t do that. They might as well insist that “Mike’s trick” refers to the sexual favors Mike performs for cash.
An ad that is currently in my gmail inbox promises to teach “7 blues guitar tricks”. Applying the logic of the deniers, this ad is for “7 ways to fool people into thinking you play blues guitar”. But it could also mean “7 ways to get rub-and-tugs from your guitar” or “7 nifty techniques to play blues on your guitar.”
The fact that people are so doggedly committed to one possible reading of the word that they reject other plausible meanings shows them to be sloppy polemicists. If you’re not a fucking inbred, this isn’t a tricky concept to grasp.