Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Once again, I've noticed that "fisking" is seen by some as a complete rebuttal and debunking of someone's arguments. It isn't, of course; it's merely a debating style, and a ridiculously flawed one at that- it usually misses the forest for the trees, and almost always leads to back and forth ping-pong quotation. That isn't new.

What is new is that pretty transparent strawman or simply weak arguments are now getting the "fisking" label for some reason. Indeed, if anything this was an anti-fisk argument, because H.D. Miller managed to somehow write page after page of lengthy rebuttal to convenient points that have little or nothing to do with the argument at hand!

For those who didn't follow the link, he basically pulled out the old "Malthus was wrong before, so he must be perennially wrong forever" argument, which seems to imply that the Earth could support an infinite number of human beings. Ludicrous, yes, but especially when it has little or nothing to do with the material arguments actually being made by his target. What were those arguments? You've got me: this is the entirety of his quotation:

A study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), to be released on Tuesday, warns that the human race is plundering the planet at a pace that outstrips its capacity to support life. In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels, it adds that the extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted.

That's it. This is fisking? I mean, at least Julian Simon actually engaged Paul Ehrlich's arguments, even if his infamous "bet" probably had more to do with lucky economic timing than an actual lessening (?) of scarcity. Miller pulls off the Bush-esque tactic of answering questions that were never asked, and ignoring ones that actually are. Like Simon, he either forgets or ignores the simple truth that substitution only goes so far, and trying to extending current trends indefinitely would earn any stats student a vicious smack on the back of his head from the irate professor.

Whenever I read something like this, I too often thing "why am I even paying attention to this obvious tripe?" Then I remember that people believe it. And people link it. And therefore other people read it, and often haven't the faintest idea that there might even be a debate on the subject, let alone that arguments like Miller's are of questionable worth.

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