Much Ado About Blogging

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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16 responses to “Much Ado About Blogging

  1. All things I consistently wonder about and think about myself. I have certainly quit reading a lot of drivel I used to.

    That said, 2 + 2 also = 10, = 11, and = 100 in quaternary, ternary, and binary respectively. So that gives the Curry’s of the world MANY options to sew doubt without saying anything actually provably wrong.

    I don’t know when the present madness will pass. I personally think we will be going a bit deeper along the present route for at least a while. The young are the only hope. The Baby Boomers–my own too, I guess, since I am one–years of disruption are slowly coming to an end however. There’s hope in that.

  2. quite right on all points! I appreciate that you and ATTP don’t allow the comments to collapse to the lowest form of public forum. I think it is a mistake to give the Victor-not-Venemas a platform for their ignorance and stupidity. Keep up the good work.

    I personally think it is now very late for us to respond appropriately. The moment came and went with Obama’s election when he decided to take a middle road and bail out banks instead of committing billions to a green energy and sustainability jobs approach. Then the 2016 election appears to have pounded more nails in our collective coffin. But, be that as it may, I appreciate anyone who has retained any energy for the political struggle to help americans understand that the big task in front of us to make the planet great again. Getting late, friends. Do what you can, enjoy our brief moment in the sun and share the planet willingly with as many beings as possible and with the generations to come.

  3. I think that, besides community action, there is an increasing role for so-called citizen scientists. There have been articles written on the viability and need of doing that, including providing associated training. At first, these are most valuable in sciences where field work or field monitoring is essential.

    First of all, there’s a book:

    Cooper, Caren. 2016. Citizen science: how ordinary people are changing the face of discovery. The Overlook Press, Wooster, New York. 320 p. $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-4683-0867-9; $28.95 (e-book), ASIN: B01F0DFLZU.

    It was reviewed at “Importance of citizen science for science, individuals, communities, and the planet” by Kerry Griim in Ecology, 2017.

    Second, Aceves-Bueno, Adeleye, eraud, Huang, Tao, Yang, Anderson offered “The Accuracy of Citizen Science Data: A Quantitative Review” in Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America also in 2017. This is importance since accuracy of such data is probably the biggest concern
    professional scientists voice. Also see

    Kosmala, Wiggins, Swanson, Simmons, “Assessing data quality in citizen science”, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2016.

    Third, Schuttler, Sorensen, Jordan, Cooper, Shwartz, “Bridging the nature gap: can citizen science reverse the extinction of experience?”, from 2018, also in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

    This is an area of keen interest for me, and I am working outside of my professional statistical employment, heading for a publication submission. My area of interest is both assessing quality of citizen science data, and at the same time devising means of fixing blemishes. For example, periodic monitoring is sometimes interrupted because, well, for reasons beyond their control, an observer doesn’t get to doing the observation on a particular day. This kind of missing data happens all the time in medical work, and, while it isn’t the easiest thing to fix, it can be fixed.

    All that said, and as a professional statistician, people who are interested as eager and educated citizens to participate need to be aware that sometimes a thick skin is required …. Not all scientists are as willing for people to participate in their research as others. Most of their interactions are with graduate students and post-docs and the social relationship between the professor and these candidates is medieval. On the other hand, there are many fine instances of scientists who encourage and train and celebrate people coming onto project to help them.

    My take is, as not only a statistician but also as a once-upon-a-time test engineer who had technicians reporting to him, if an experimental procedure demands high skill or is hard to explain, while there are some instances where that’s unavoidable, in general it’s better to have an experiment where that kind of skill isn’t necessary. It’s hard to find and is not always true, the evidence that’s out there says the lauded high data quality of professional technicians, students, and scientists in the field isn’t that much better than fhose from citizen scientists. But YMMV.

    [Response: the best citizen science I know of is in astronomy. You might want to acquaint yourself with AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Obstevers).]

  4. I consider a very important aspect of this blog to be not only the information it provides about climate change, but also the exposition and discussion of the ways (especially statistics) with which to study and evaluate climate change, methods that can be applied to other fields.

  5. When I was more active online, I found RealClimate to be a useful place to send people for good, well explained articles. The comments not so much, but comments are useful when there is a large number of less well educated people. By now most folks engaging online are educated enough that there is no need for most of them to comment, except to whack the trolls, liars and idiots who persist in trying to spread fud.
    Your blog has also been useful in that way, so thank you for that.

  6. Wise decision!
    On our site, Resilience.org, we explicitly banned climate denial comments.

    “Resilience.org is not the place to debate the reality of climate change. If you want to argue about it, please go elsewhere.”

    The response from our readers has been very positive. I had noticed that discussion forums which allowed such comments quickly became an unpleasant waste of energy.

    https://www.resilience.org/about-resilience/commenting/

  7. In one sense, Roe v Wade has been bad for good governance. Instead of becoming the law of the land, it became the battle line in a never-ending war, a permanent mole that required the women’s rights movement to consume its resources whacking the mole continuously to defend Roe v Wade. So too have political battles over science become bad for good governance. The lengthy vaccination schedule for infants recommended by the CDC just plain inspires doubt when it is questioned in light of reports of infant deaths after this or that vaccination, and then a whole anti-vaccination movement starts. Fossil fuel interests sponsor people who know how to speak and write effectively about a few errors that made their way into an IPCC report, and then why do climate scientists refuse to release their email correspondence with each other? The Merchants of Doubt have won, up to this point. I have newly come to the conclusion that fighting the whack-a-mole wars not only can’t work, but it actually works FOR the anti-good governance side. The “hockey stick” has been replicated over and over again; it is scientifically correct. The sea ice and the ice sheets and the glaciers are melting; the sea level is rising. That all this is happening and at such high rates is explained by AGW and nothing else. And yet, right now, the political battle is lost. Scott Pruitt was forced out, not by his astonishingly anti-science beliefs and behavior, but because of his silly scandals that he could have easily avoided. And yet the guy who replaces him is even more anti-science and pro-fossil fuels, if that’s possible. We are losing the Republic.

    But last week, when Trump had his day of misogyny (no need to review all that), I wrote to my friends asking if that was the beginning of the end of the nightmare. Would it further motivate the women’s rights movement? I didn’t get a lot of agreement. Trump really can say and do anything and get away with it. Even Mueller’s report won’t tip Congress into action. We are losing the Republic.

    But now it seems clear that Roe v Wade will be overturned, and this will galvanize the women’s rights movement into action. Overturning Roe v Wade won’t make abortion illegal, but it will allow states to make it illegal, and the estimate I’ve seen says about half the states will move that way. A few have already passed laws that make abortion illegal immediately upon the end of Roe v Wade. We are already seeing many more women running for state offices and for Congress and Senate seats, and there have been some notable victories. The Equal Rights Amendment lost in the states, not at the federal level. The women’s rights movement is the key to saving the Republic now, by taking control of state governments and ending gerrymandering laws. Then women will take back seats in Congress and the Senate. It will be about women’s rights at first, but it will bring governance based on science back as well.

  8. The fact that most blogs have comments at all is mostly down to how broken the web is in the first place.

    Ideally people would own their own comments, blog owners would not have control over what comments people make and readers could choose for themselves what to look at. However, current search engines and browsers make that very difficult. Maybe one day…

    In the mean time, yes, it’s entirely appropriate for blog owners to restrict comments to those which they think will be of interest to the people they’re trying to communicate with.

    But ”to persuade Americans to make climate change their #1 issue in the voting booth”. Only Americans? I hope a few of the other 95% find this blog helpful, too.

    • @Ed Davies,

      While technological outcomes are difficult to explain even in hindsight, since it involves entertaining various counterfactuals, things needed have gone this way. There were once other ideas like transclusion, perhaps impractical, but, in all likelihood, these wouldn’t have gone well with the well worn tendency of netizens to eschew paying for anything. Had it happened, though, then a number of present day problems would have been solved:
      * People would be assigned immediate responsibility for anything they wrote, since it would be inextricably linked to a payment.
      * Spam would be prohibitively expensive to send.
      * The writers of better content, more widely read content would automatically be paid more for their writings.
      * Web drivel would hardly get paid anything at all.
      * The Russian attack and stuff like Cambridge Analytica would be impossible.
      * Denial of service attacks would be prohibitively expensive.

      There are practical questions to be worked out … Obviously, network infrastructure would have be compensated in some manner. One can imagine the intermediate nodes intercepting transclusion micropayments and taxing them a portion, although it’s not clear how they could be made transparent. Also, it’s not clear how different modes of content would be differentiated … Text versus video versus widgets versus games versus applications.

      Still that people like Ted Nelson thought hard about these and proposed these principles is a testimony to their genius.

      Now, of course, the Web gets paid for, but people are its product. And then, of course, they complain about being its product, expecting to get something for free.

  9. You talked about how you demolish the arguments of deniers on the WUWT comment forum.
    But you won’t allow any dissent on your comment forum.
    I admit you are very well informed but
    I prefer to hear both sides of the argument.
    Even though there is untrue extremism from both sides.

    [Response: You prefer to hear “both sides” of the 2 + 2 = 4 “argument.”

    As long as you maintain that attitude, you will be unable to make any progress. Or is that the point?]

    • the earth – flat or round?

      let’s hear both sets of arguments, then you decide

      fair and balanced

      or nonsense – you decide

    • The amount of climate warming and
      the amount of CO2 contribution to the warming and
      the amount of harm this will do to humans society and ecosystems and
      the best way to respond
      are not 2 + 2 = 4 arguments and still requires further research and debate.

      [Response: Why did Anthony Watts avoid the global warming trend — what counts — by a blog post about nothing but fluctuations? It’s the trend matters — that’s 2+2=4.

      Why does Tony Heller’s blog refer to climate science with the words “tampering” (3 times), “fraud” (14 times), and “scam” in his banner at the top of every post? Why does he say that the 3rd-hottest June on record was only the 46th-hottest? His claims of fraud are bullshit, and that too is 2+2=4.

      Why did Tim Ball, just last week, post at WUWT that “The entire policy of using anthropogenic global warming as a false front to implement global governance and impose how we will all live …”? That’s conspiratorial bullshit, 2+2=4.

      Why do Andrew Montford and Willis Eschenbach continually tell us (at the WUWT blog), based on irrelevant data, that sea level rise won’t submerge coral atolls? Why does that blog refer to Pacific Islands seeking help as scam artists trying to bilk the world out of money? Rising sea level is a genuine threat to the habitat of Pacific Islanders, that’s 2+2=4.

      Why did Ross McKitrick and John Christy denigrate James Hansen’s 1988 forecasts with bullshit? Hansen’s forecasts were remarkably prescient for 30 years ago, and yes that too is 2+2=4.

      Why does Jim Inhofe, U.S. senator from Oklahoma, call global warming the greatest “hoax” ever perpetrated on the American people? Why did he and three other senators (Jim Lankford, R-OK, Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Rand Paul, R-KY) call a climate science education program “propaganda”? It’s education, not propaganda, 2+2=4.

      Why did Donald Trump, president of the U.S., say global warming is a Chinese hoax designed to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive? That’s not just bullshit, it’s stupid bullshit, a fact which is 2+2=4.

      If you really want to have a productive discussion about what to do, you have to begin by putting a stop to all the stupid bullshit arguing over 2+2=4. You have to help us get rid of the politicians who continue to spread the stupid bullshit arguments over 2+2=4. Their idiotic distractions are what make productive discussion impossible. Until you do, you have no place at the table for rational discussion.

      While I’m at it, why did you come here to tell us all that the increase of Lyme disease in Maine was because of hysteria spread by Oprah and Dr. Oz? Good job preventing any useful discussion of what to do about it.]

      • There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
        Isaac Asimov,

        Jeff should put aside his tribal loyalty and examine the arguments of each side with a dispassionate eye.

        Worth a read is the short essay The Relativity of Wrong By Isaac Asimov

  10. Michael Sweet

    Jeff,
    I know many people who have been banned at WUWT for posting science. If you think they do not delete material you are deluding yourself.

  11. One small criticism: Bob Carter will not be doing anything anymore, since he passed away. Also, I’m not sure he commented much on Agenda 21. Did you perhaps mean Tim Ball?

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