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Pedantry Makes Rational Debate Easier
Raymond Long's blog: 2016-Jan-26
Pedantry

Humans very often use language imprecisely. Examples include saying everyone to mean "most people", nobody for "only a small proportion of people", and using the term a day for both a period of 24 hours and the shorter period from sunrise to sunset. This sort of slackness causes major problems when trying to have a discussion based on evidence.
I remember hearing a particularly egregious example some time in 2015. On the radio, an environmental campaigner said something like: "The debate on climate change needs to be based on the facts. I mean, 95% of the scientists now say that global warming's man-made." When challenged about the origin of this figure 95%, the campaigner became evasive and tried to change it to "a lot".
I found it dismal in the extreme that someone could call for fact-based debate in one sentence, then in the next assert a blatantly made-up number for an ill-defined group, "the scientists". Does that mean anyone with a science degree? Does it mean all holders of scientific posts worldwide, in academia and industry? Is it restricted to climatologists?
Anyone who makes a statement like "95% of the scientists now say that global warming's man-made" should be able to give a source for the figure 95%, and give a limiting definition of what is meant by "the scientists".
When campaigners make stupid claims that can be easily destroyed by opponents, they undermine their own campaigns. They damage their own credibility.
They also damage the whole concept of evidence-based debate. They make these vague claims seem acceptable, which will encourage others to be equally vague.
Humanity needs to cast out the vague and to embrace pedantry. Only pedantry can ensure that factual claims are rightly made.
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Reply: 2016-Feb-09
Stephen Richards
True up to a point. Pedantry can also mean the debate get bogged down in issues like worrying what kind of degree counts as science. Though I agree the 95% of scientists claim should have been referenced.
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