A Good Batch of News

Today’s batch of news feeds was great. I have not one, but two, posts to comment on from elsewhere in the climate blogosphere.

Firstly, James from The Island of Doubt has written a fantastic article on the new line of denialist attack. This is the best bit:

“Here’s IPCC author Phil Duffy, whose thoughts on the subject inspired mine:

Things happen, but let’s react appropriately. Medical doctors make mistakes every day. (In fact, medical errors in the US alone kill hundreds of people daily–the equivalent of a jumbo-jet crash.) And no doubt many of these errors happen because established procedures are ignored, sometimes knowingly. Does this mean the entire edifice of western medicine is wrong, or prejudiced, or the product of a conspiracy, and should be rejected? Of course not. Furthermore, the medical profession as a whole is still held in high regard, as it should be.

No one worth listening to is calling for a massive inquiry into the science underpinning modern medicine, or the engineering foundations of the car industry. But pseudoskeptics argue that the IPCC is systematically fraudulent simply because a couple of statements among thousands of pages of heavily edited and re-editing (and re-re-edited) documents cite gray literature instead of the peer-reviewed literature that supplied the science in the first place.

Is it controversial among those study such things that 40% of the Amazon is susceptible to drought? No. Is it controversial that Himalayan glaciers are receding? No. Only the way in which that science was presented and attributed was found faulty. To thrown out anthropogenic global warming because of such missteps is the climatological analog of dismissing an entire faculty of medicine because someone correctly diagnosed a patient because of a story they read in New Scientist instead of the medical journal article on which the story was based. Bad judgment? Yes. Fatal error? No.”

And one more:

“This isn’t about censorship. Thanks to the Internet, everyone can find a way to spread their point of view. It’s about applying the same standards to coverage of climate change that “respectable” media apply to fields like sports, business and other fields. Sports bloggers and journalists for major news organizations couldn’t get away with making up baseball statistics for long. They’d be laughed out of the office. Business reporters can’t supply false stock market numbers because that would be a violation of very essence of what they’re supposed to be doing. And yet climate science is somehow different. If you work for theDaily Mail or Telegraph in the UK, or Fox News (or the Washington Post‘s op-ed section) in the U.S., you can say or print anything you want about climatology, without regard for the facts. That should not be tolerated.”

Read the rest of the article here. While you’re at it, see if you can get the New York Times to print it.

James’ last point about censorship leads nicely into the second post I want to discuss. DeSmogBlog is having some problems in the comment section, and plans to tightly moderate comments in the future.

I certainly sympathize with the DeSmogBlog writers. I find that the vast majority of Internet discussions regarding climate change turn into such a food fight that reasonable and insightful discussion falls through the cracks. Well-meaning and fact-checking people are so busy responding to the same old objections, or are so intimidated by trolling commenters (quick poll – who here has been called a Nazi for explaining basic atmospheric science?), that they do not post the wonderfully thought-provoking things that they have to say.

Keeping comments completely open and unmoderated, therefore, is catering to those who wish to waste others’ time, hold nothing back in their criticisms of individuals, and can’t be bothered to check citations before spreading something around. I don’t think it’s necessary to give that kind of discussion any more space. Instead, I wish to cater to those who have insightful (and accurate!) things to say, by providing a supportive community for them to do so. RealClimate sums up my feelings on this topic quite well:

“Comments that accuse as of bad faith, fraud and dishonesty are not ways to move forward any conversation – how can you have a dialog with people who don’t believe a word you say? We choose to try and create a space for genuine conversation, which means weeding out the trolls and the noise. This is an imperfect process, but the alternative is a free-for-all that quickly deteriorates into a food fight. There are plenty of places to indulge in that kind of crap. There are only a few places where it’s not and we are not embarrassed to try to make this site one of them.”

By the sounds of things, DeSmogBlog’s comment policy is going to be much more stringent than mine. I don’t “tightly” moderate comments – on the contrary, there are many remarks that, in retrospect, I realize should never have passed moderation. But I do have two basic rules that I try to adhere to: 1) provide legitimate peer-reviewed citations for your claims (unless they’re common knowledge – I won’t make you cite Fourier and Arrhenius), and 2) refrain from personal attacks, aggression, etc. I like to show when a person’s comment has been deleted, and give a brief explanation why, so readers can see what’s going on without having to go through the agony of actually reading it.

The first complaint when a policy like this is enacted is invariably “censorship!!!!”, and, almost six months later, I still get those complaints. But “censorship” is not an accurate term for such policies. You can still go and say whatever you want about climate change elsewhere – on your own blog, on YouTube, in a national news release. There are infinite other ways to make unsupported claims and spread rumours about people, so filtering them out of my own blog (or RealClimate, or DeSmogBlog) in effort to promote a decent discussion is by no means totalitarian.

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11 thoughts on “A Good Batch of News

  1. Kate,

    I like your posting policy of having to provide citations for claims based on physical science for the very self-centered reason that it promotes the habit of good scholarship.

    In answer to your poll, no one has called me a Nazi, however I was scolded for refering to NASA (GISS) because, as I was told, everyone knows that the moon landing was a hoax. “If NASA would do that, how can you trust them!” I think that I was having my leg pulled, but you never know with some people.

  2. It actually provides a whole lot more freedom, since it permits a greater variety of commenting-culture alternatives to exist. If the kudzu commenters had their way, there wouldn’t be any such choice.

  3. Their house their rules, this is your house so your rules.

    It is tiresome reading the same old bull again and again and again. The dyed in the wool pro polluters will never be convinced, even when Washington is underwater, so why wate time on them.

    There is so much to learn, so much to plan for. Block the bull and progress the knowledge.

  4. ‘Censorship’ is called editorial oversight and every newspaper does it. Nobody has a ‘right’ to have a letter to the editor published. It’s your site.

    If you want to continue attracting interesting comments, go on exercising this oversight; you are a journalist. Try to be a good one.

    About explaining the reason for deletion, I like that. It illustrates the rules that apply in real time.

  5. Good post Kate! Do any of you know a good reply to this email I received re: the Dr example?

    “Here’s the big difference between doctors and the IPCC: there isn’t a small group of doctors that want congress to enact laws that will fundamentally change our lives with excessive taxes, based on un-provable predictions about the future, and use the revenue to support them and their own cause.”

    [A classic example of the confusion between science and policy, and the means and the ends. Read about the IPCC’s purposes, first of all. Realize that most carbon tax schemes (as well as cap-and-dividend) involve no net changes in taxes and revenue, as income taxes are lowered. Realize that models, although cutting-edge (and accurate!) are not necessary to prove that this problem exists – the work of Arrhenius and paleoclimatic analogues (eg Younger Dryas) are all we need. And, finally, understand that the only “cause” scientists have is to understand and discover, and if they really did want more money put into research it would be more efficient to say that this problem was still uncertain and required more investigation. (paraphrased from Andrew Weaver)

    However, I detect a bit of UN-communist-new-world-order paranoia here, so it might not be worth it. -Kate]

  6. I commend you for your site and your maturity in dealing with the folks that show up just to disparage it or the science.

    I’m much older than you, but have been in the trenches, as a software engineer, in climate science for more than 20 years. Your blog is a real high point in addressing the complicated issues involved in humanity’s effect on our climate.

  7. “Here’s the big difference between doctors and the IPCC: there isn’t a small group of doctors that want congress to enact laws that will fundamentally change our lives with excessive taxes, based on un-provable predictions about the future, and use the revenue to support them and their own cause.”

    Oh really? By the same standards, I can also declare the US Food and Drug Administration a pork-barrel agency that’s there merely to protect the Inquisitional priesthood of the medical profession.

    And there are real, known scandals in the medical and biological communities (unlike the totally blown-up ‘scandal’ that is SwiftHack/ClimateGate). Check out the Elsevier scandal, for one. (Here’s a Guardian article, in case a more reputable source of the story is needed.)

  8. I think it’s almost a necessity to have some kind of policy rules on websites. Nice to have it in words like you have.

    Actually you don’t have to read through many comments on some sites (try YouTube) to realise that it should be implementet in wider degree on the internet. This kind of policy and an implementation of such rules do in my mind create a higher form of communication between people and in my opinion doesn’t exclude anyone per se.

    The extra benefit of comment policy, is that people will maybe bother reading the comments on the site, which is a positive thing.

  9. I find your comment policy too binary. As a blog community develops, the pool of information that group considers “common knowledge” grows and changes; anybody coming here with roots in some other community may not be able to reliably guess what you consider “common knowledge”.

    Might you consider leaving up a post that you think “needs citation” for a little while and simply flagging it as such? Thereby giving people a window of opportunity in which they could post a followup that provides support for whichever claims are bothering you?

    Or maybe you could distinguish by poster rather than by post – if I’m on a list of posters who have a history of providing refs on request, you could leave the post up and just ask for the ref expecting that I’ll provide it in a few days (or that I’ll rescind the claim if I can’t find a good ref). Delete the post after the fact – and take me off the list – if the ref you want to see doesn’t show up in a timely fashion. Or is that too much work?

    The trouble with the current policy is that skeptical commentators need to keep around a copy of their entire post for an unknown length of time or risk losing and having to redo work if some subitem they thought was uncontroversial turns out by accident to trigger flagging the post. Or I suppose they could post multiple tiny, bite-sized comments so that if one part gets nixed the others survive – but I’m not sure that’s behavior you want to encourage.

    (another problem is really technical: checking the “notify me of follow-up comments via email” box does *not* mean I get notified when my post goes through, with or without a “cite required” flag. So *noticing* that you’ve asked for a ref requires coming back to the page repeatedly to see if you’ve gotten to it. I don’t know if you can fix that. If not, it’s an argument for posting “claim X needs a cite” as a separate message.)

    As a more general concern, requiring posts to be entirely self-contained in their references eliminates one of the “wisdom of crowds” benefits of blog discussion. If you have a generally helpful and friendly community, one of the *other* commentators might be able to find and post the necessary cite…but only if others are allowed to see (a) the claim, and (b) the request for a cite.

    [When in doubt as to whether or not something is “common knowledge”, especially if it’s highly technical, always provide citations. The three most common reasons for needing citations have to do with 1) speculation, 2) technical/statistical practices especially in paleoclimatology, and 3) trolling commenters. What I consider to be “common knowledge” on a public-outreach blog like this is more along the lines of the greenhouse effect and the basic conclusions of the IPCC – that human activity is causing warming.

    If an entire comment is related to the claim needing citation, I will delete the whole comment. If it is just one unrelated part, I will delete only that part. If I’m doing this inconsistently, I apologize, and I’ll try to improve.

    The reason I put a brief explanation of the reason a comment was deleted is so that others can find the citation if they know of it.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know how to fix the RSS comment feed so it includes edited/deleted comments, that’s up to the WordPress software. -Kate]

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