The steady stream of nonsense in the comments by “Victor” (most definitely not Victor Venema) at the RealClimate blog makes me wonder once again, what is our purpose, and how do we best accomplish it?
Not too long ago, I decided to moderate comments on my blog with a heavy hand. Gone is almost all of the nonsense junk, idiocy like claims the greenhouse effect doesn’t even exist, or volcanoes emit more CO2 than man, or insistence that global warming stopped in 1998. Of course the nonsense has been refuted again and again, of course like zombies it refuses to die, I decided I wanted my blog to do something other than provide a forum for zombie stupidity and an arena for us to beat them down again. I occasionally still allow such a comment when the refutation is entertaining (like the claim that Lyme disease has only increased in Maine because of hysteria spread by Oprah and Dr. Oz).
Gone too is most of the comment traffic on my blog. Readership has declined only modestly, but comment threads are miniscule by comparison. Other blogs, by allowing inflammatory rhetoric, garner reader comments by the hundreds, even thousands. The immense comment volume comes from battles over stupid claims. As Stefan Rhamstorf has said, “Those who do not have the facts on their side or who do not know them well, like to conceal this with pithy rhetoric, with general instead of specific statements or with personal attacks on climatologists.” I’ll disagree in this one particular; their pithy rhetoric doesn’t just conceal the poverty of their arguments, it also inflames the will of their followers.
That can make for interesting reading, and we all feel the urge to step on cockroaches. But it reminds me of the saying, that when you argue with an idiot most people can’t tell which one is the idiot.
What is our purpose, and how do we best accomplish it?
In my opinion, the purpose of RealClimate is to educate about the science, and report new developments about the science. They do this better than any blog I’m aware of, and I’ve learned so much from them over the years I can never repay the debt. I occasionally even learn from the comment threads, but more often those are just endless bickering between the sensible and the nonsensical. Still, I urge RealClimate to keep doing what it’s doing; the value there is not in the comment threads, but in the blog posts.
In my opinion, the purpose of Anthony Watts’ “WUWT” blog is to maximize confusion; doubt is their product. How many times has Watts himself defended posting something so stupid even his followers can’t swallow it, under the pretence that he wants all ideas to have a voice? What he really wants is to increase doubt and confusion with a “throw anything at the wall and see what sticks” approach, opening the firehose so there’s too much nonsense for anyone to resist. And it works — it’s surprising how many people will take the idea that “2 + 2 = 5” seriously! Tony Heller will tell us that 4 is just a fraud anyway, while Tim Ball will posit that actually, 2 + 2 = agenda 21.
Also my opinion: meanwhile, Judith Curry will suggest that the level of uncertainty in “2 + 2” is so great, we can’t really know what it is. We certainly shouldn’t use “4” to guide policy! Besides, the variation in 2 + 2 is all just natural anyway.
It has taken me a while to realize what my goal is: to persuade Americans to make climate change their #1 issue in the voting booth, and to get those people to vote. The real problem, as I see it, is the host of climate-denying politicians who have paralyzed the U.S. I’m especially keen to get youngsters to make their voices heard. Even those too young to vote can impact elections — they can speak, they can march, they can protest, and they can show their parents just how much it means to them and how important it is.
I urge you all to do the same. Continue to enjoy learning new science, keep doing battle with deniers in comment threads if that’s what you want, but do more. Help the kids at your local high school get organized. Donate to ThisIsZeroHour. March yourself. Write letters to the editor. Don’t just “speak up” on twitter and blogs, speak up in person, and don’t let nonsense in casual conversation go unchallenged. Talk to your kids about the importance of voting and of activism. Talk to youth in general, not just about the heavy price they’ll pay for the folly of older generations, but about the power they possess to make a change, if they will only use it.
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