The XKCD comic by Randall Munroe is often informative, and often smart. Today, though, it misses the mark.
It starts of like so...
And it continues on at 500 year increments to the familiar "hockey stick" projection at the end:
But the problem isn't the length of the graph, nor the bottom of the graph. Personally, I doubt anyone would dispute the contents of the graph itself at all. It's the caption at the top of the graph:
WHEN PEOPLE SAY "THE CLIMATE HAS CHANGED BEFORE"
THESE ARE THE KINDS OF CHANGES THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT
And the problem with it is that this is not true. Not by orders of magnitude. It's a blatant falsehood.
THESE are the kinds of changes they're talking about:
When you do that, here's what it looks like to the person you're misrepresenting:
The problem with strawmen such as this is that you can never get away with it, and it never makes you look smart. The people who you're misquoting know that you're misquoting them. The end result is that you either look hopelessly ignorant, or you look like a liar. It's not a false dichotomy. You either didn't know the actual argument (i.e. you're ignorant) or you did know and you chose to replace it with some other argument you just made up (i.e. you lied).
I've read XKCD for a very long time, and one thing that you cannot say about Randall is that he's ignorant.
This post is not about whether climate change does or does not occur. For that matter, Randall's comic is not about that, either. He concedes that people say it does. But what he's doing is misrepresenting their views to make them look as if they've not done their own research. In doing so, he paints himself as the little kid in the corner who doesn't know jack shit about what the grown-ups are talking about. That's unfortunate, because he could have instead focused on their actual views and the numbers that they actually use.
But he didn't, and as a result he proves nothing.
He doesn't even make them look ignorant.
He actually makes them look more informed than he is.
* On further consideration, it could be a false dichotomy in a sense, if we consider that Randall's engaging in a completely different logical fallacy. He could be using a faulty generalization. That is, taking the opinion of a minority and applying it to all people who say that the climate has changed before. However, a faulty generalization is simply another form of ignorance... ignorance about the ubiquity of your sample as opposed to ignorance of their views. So nu...