We were encouraged to notice how such writers constructed their arguments - what techniques they used in their attempts to persuade the reader. Did they appeal to emotions or to the intellect? If they cited authorities and authoritative texts, how apt were their choices under the circumstances? Were they careful about not overstating their facts, charitable toward those with whom they disagreed, circumspect in their choice of words?
Today, two decades later, whenever I read a newspaper opinion piece, these ideas still jump to the foreground. They remain the criteria by which I judge a person's argument.
Sadly, there's no shortage of folks whose thinking doesn't measure up when judged by these standards. Yesterday, while conducting research for a book I'm writing about the global warming debate, I started keeping track of examples of the outrageous hyperbole that now dominates this topic in the popular media.
What struck me most is the tone of certainty with which people are making pronouncements. These folks sound as though they have access to a crystal ball whose reliability has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
They know what the future holds. They know how a fundamentally unpredictable system such as Earth's climate is going to behave if we fail to reduce C02 emissions. They know the results will be catastrophic. They know, well before it has transpired, that humanity will have a last chance to avert disaster. They know, before future generations are even born, that those generations will be powerless to affect their own fates.
Right. And if the fortune teller down the street could actually predict the future, she'd buy a lottery ticket, collect her winnings, and abandon her tacky storefront.
Far too much of what is being published about global warming is utter nonsense. It's a waste of readers' time. The media needs to get a grip. Wild-eyed, apocalyptic predictions about the future are not news. They amount to overwrought speculation - nothing more.
So here's the list I compiled yesterday, as I worked my way through a few days' backlog of reading:
[hat tip to a gent named Tom Nelson, who collects these stories from far and wide and shares them here]