Iceberg of disagreement

This was new to me. Not the differing forms of disagreement, but that someone bothered to put it into a simple but convincing hierarchy. Nice!

Graham's_Hierarchy_of_Disagreement-en.svgFigure: “Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement” from clear refutation to mere vituperation, based on the essay “How to Disagree” by Paul Graham (source: Wikimedia.)

 From the original article:

“…the first form of convincing disagreement [is] counterargument. Forms up to this point can usually be ignored as proving nothing. Counterargument might prove something. The problem is, it’s hard to say exactly what.

Counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence. When aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing. But unfortunately it’s common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another, but are so caught up in their squabble they don’t realize it.”.

Sounds so much like the climate debate. Sadly these days there’s so much noise and vehemence.

“The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It’s also the rarest, because it’s the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.”

Like an iceberg.  The major part below the water can do an awful lot of damage. Does Twitter count? Hard to refute well in 140 characters or less.

Do read the whole thing.

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27 Responses to Iceberg of disagreement

  1. Willis Eschenbach says:

    That’s a most excellent summation, thanks.


    • Verity Jones says:

      this bit in the original essay reminded me of you:

      To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a “smoking gun,” a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it’s mistaken. If you can’t find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.

  2. gallopingcamel says:

    I was afraid you were gone for good!

    One should attempt to operate in the upper 3 levels of the pyramid but it is hard to avoid engaging in “ad hominem” or worse.

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  4. I wonder where appeals to emotion–“Ooh look, isn’t that terrible?”–fit best into the hierarchy. Content-poor appeals to emotion are so common, perhaps they deserve a category of their own? Or perhaps should be explicitly identified as part of the Ad Hominem category?

    Non sequiturs and other forms of obfuscation are also very common. Separate category or an extension of one of the above?

    • Verity Jones says:

      Good point about appeals to emotion, although surely they occur more in original articles or in examples of agreement?

      Me, I like simple, which is why this held appeal. We could categorize based on contribution to argument, in which case non sequitur and obfuscation would be at a similar level to contradiction or responding to tone.

  5. Bloke down the pub says:

    Happy Easter Verity. What struck me about the image above is that refutation, especially on sites like yours or Wattsup, is often a crowd sourcing project. While one person’s comment may not find itself high up the pyramid, it may add weight to another and therefore be of use.

    • Verity Jones says:

      Yes indeed – Happy Easter!

      You make a good point. Sometimes there is complaint about comments from the ill-informed (putting it politely) at WUWT, however many are willing to learn and are there to do so. Got to start somewhere.

  6. russellseitz says:

    Baez’s Rules seem more germane to your case:
    The Crackpot Index

    John Baez

    A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:

    A -5 point starting credit.
    1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
    2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
    3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
    5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
    5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
    5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
    5 points for each mention of “Einstien”, “Hawkins” or “Feynmann”.
    10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
    10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
    10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
    10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don’t know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
    10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
    10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
    10 points for each statement along the lines of “I’m not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations”.
    10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is “only a theory”, as if this were somehow a point against it.
    10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn’t explain “why” they occur, or fails to provide a “mechanism”.
    10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
    10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a “paradigm shift”.
    20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it “suppresses original thinkers” or saying that I misspelled “Einstein” in item 8.)
    20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
    20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
    20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
    20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
    20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the “The Evans Field Equation” when your name happens to be Evans.)
    20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
    20 points for each use of the phrase “hidebound reactionary”.
    20 points for each use of the phrase “self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy”.
    30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
    30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
    30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
    30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
    40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
    40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
    40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
    40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is.

  7. russellseitz says:

    Try reading more than one paper next time ,Verity:

    DOI: 10.1039/c4ra08714c

    Here’s a real high-scorer in action

    Condolences , o son of the desert, on the general scampering away from Scafetta’s 200 point performance. Nobody much has paoid attention since Forbes new pay-for play business model for K- Street content providers was rumbled last year .

    • Verity Jones says:

      Well thank you for the DOI link – but I still see only impracticality. Perhaps you can enlighten me how this can be tested practically in the real world in great enough quantity and for long enough duration to have any quantifiable effect, never mind the cost or environmental implications?

      As for your other comments, it is very disappointing for a man of your supposed stature to belittle himself with name-calling, with a bit of Ad Hominem thrown in. If Soon and Scafetta have got under your skin so much that you need to toss rocks at them, you must think they matter in some way.

  8. russellseitz says:


    You’ll have to ask Baez how many points you get for combining Einstein & Curie in a single opening paragraph:

    A troll by any other name
    Posted on December 10, 2014
    Einstein’s advice for dealing with ‘reptiles’ over a century ago. A letter to Marie Curie, found among a newly published collection of Albert Einstein’s papers, was written at a time when she was facing vilification by the press. It begins: “Do not laugh at me … Continue reading →

    • Verity Jones says:

      Are we dealing with my sanity or yours? Even if I was writing about physics rather than about wildlife, I only get 5 points for mentioning Einstein and since I start with -5 that puts me at 0 on the Crackpot scale.

  9. This is a great day for agnotology:

    Congratulations on another 30 points for failure to read through Baez’s Rules to :

    “30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.”

    And a further 15 for the other 3 mentions of Einstein in your piece.

    John Mashey really should write a program to count up and compare the Baez scores of climate blog posts and responses — he might even be able to sell the app to Google to augment its facticity ratings .

  10. So an inability to count can be added to Russell’s list of symptoms of senility

  11. gallopingcamel says:

    Russell Seitz has an interesting blog:

    Russell is a worthy opponent so It would be great to debate the issues that interest him but his own blog is not configured to allow comments so one is forced to use third party sites to refute his arguments. The problem is that he runs and hides when things are going badly for him.

  12. tempestnut says:

    Hi Verity good to see another post from you. A lot to agree with in the Hierarchy of disagreement. However perhaps what is missing is a way in for the more philosophical answers that may not have references and workings but are put in to try and get people to think for themselves and not parrot others thinking. Thinking is more important than anything else.

    Perhaps why we find this hierarchy of any interest at all is due to the fact that one particular subject within science has been the subject of more debate and rancour than any other in modern history, namely climate change/ global warming. Part of the issue for science is that this is NOT a scientific argument, it’s a political one, which means anything goes and the above hierarchical rules do not apply. Some people, and many scientists in particular can never come to terms with this.

    The other issue that negates much of the hierarchy when it comes to discussing a lot of subjects in science is that we have little or no understanding of many of the fundamentals in science, or more properly physics and cosmology. Our engineers have demonstrated that we can master all that we can directly measure as exemplified by our ability to land on a comet some 300 million miles away. But when it comes to admitting that the comet is not what you thought it was, the heads are still in the sand.

    So even when a group correctly predicts what will be found on the comet, those that are clever enough to get a probe there still struggle to come to terms with the fact that all their preconceived ideas are absolutely wrong. So irrespective of presenting all the arguments it still comes down to those that control the scientific establishment. In some ways we are still back in Galileo’s time, it’s just they can’t put us all under house arrest, but it doesn’t stop some prominent people suggesting worse should happen to us.

    When we misunderstand the fundamentals, all that follows may be completely wrong, even if everyone thinks it right. Our understanding of gravity or more correctly misunderstanding is probably the classic of all classics in this category.


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  14. Attentioin silent readers says:

    May I draw EVERYONE’S attention to the important comment ..


    Reply: No DOUG Cotton, you may not!

  15. Another Ian says:


    Put three dimensions on the diagram and we have a pyramid.

    Years ago I was at a management course which introduced the pyramid principle of management – i.e. one chief, many Indians of various grades.

    A comment (with a Yorkshire accent) was

    “So that is how it is supposed to work? I thought it was more like a vegetarian’s dunny – the turds float to the top”!

  16. Verity Jones says:

    There is also the monkeys in the tree principle of mangement. Those at the top looking down see a sea of faces. Those looking upwards see only a**holes above them.

  17. Another Ian says:


    Thanks – I’ll use that too

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