Last week I wrote about the unchristian, indecent, ugly language at WUWT, in my post: The conservative family values of Christian man Anthony Watts. Just a sample: Pathetic whining, creature, sub-human, odious toads, evil, Hitler, Stalin and diseased narcissism (archive).
I just noticed that I had missed an insult by Anthony Watts himself, in his response to my request to remove a comment with the usual pun on my last name.
Looking at how often your cite WUWT in negative connotations, I’d say you have a fixation.To fully appreciate the insult, you need to clicking on the link to Wikipedia. (Let's ignore the irony of Watts linking to Wikipedia in a post about how unreliable Wikipedia is and how the evil William M. Connolley single handedly turned Wikipedia into an alarmist CAWG propaganda tool. In other words, how Connolley as one of the editors and backed by the scientific literature kept their nonsense to a minimum.) Wikipedia writes about fixation (psychology) (archive):
Fixation is a concept originated by Sigmund Freud (1905) to denote the persistence of anachronistic sexual traits. ... More generally, it is the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another person, being, or object (in human psychology): "A strong attachment to a person or thing, especially such an attachment formed in childhood or infancy and manifested in immature or neurotic behavior that persists throughout life". ... Fixation to intangibles (i.e., ideas, ideologies, etc.) can also occur.While minor compared to the language directed at Connolley and Mann, that is not a very nice thing to say. I would see it as an indication for a rather modest willingness to engage in a constructive dialogue to improve mutual understanding.
I guess a fitting reply would be: projection. Also part of Wikipedia's coverage of psychology.
Psychological projection is the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in oneself, while attributing them to others. ... Although rooted in early developmental stages, and classed by George Eman Vaillant as an immature defence, the projection of one's negative qualities onto others on a small scale is nevertheless a common process in everyday life.Climateball is hard to sustain if you are not having fun. Are we even now? #kindergarten
Had Mr. Watt chosen a nicer term, he would have been partially right. Let me try to explain in this post why I blog and comment on pseudo-sceptics and especially on WUWT. This post will finish with some ideas on how to do so effectively.
I like using the term WUWT & Co. for blogs that spread misinformation about climate science. It is a neutral and clear alternative to "denier blogs", which the speudo-skeptics claim points to holocaust deniers. It does not, but one should not give them too much opportunity to change the topic.
A reason to find WUWT somewhat interesting is that the pet topic of Mr. Watts is the quality of weather stations. That is how I got introduced to the man. After writing a paper on the homogenization methods to remove non-climatic changes from historical instrumental data, I wrote a blog post about this. Knowing that Roger Pielke Sr. was also interested in that topic, I asked if Pielke was willing to repost it. He referred me to Watts, who asked me for permission to repost it. He probably thought I was okay, because of Pielke. After reading that homogenization improves temperature trend estimates, he never published it. You have to set priorities.
The main reason for my interest, however, is probably my personality. I like to understand how things work. I like civilised debate. I like reason. Hearing or inventing a new strong argument is a joy, similar to the joy of listening or making music. When I hear a claim, no matter how much I like the person or claim, my brain automatically starts producing counter arguments. This is a very effective way to annoy people, my apologies to all my friends for that.
That is who I am, that is why I became a scientist. I also believe that reason, civilised debate and the power of arguments are what have given us the rule of law, democracy, human right and prosperity. They are the foundation of our open societies and they are what WUWT and Co. are destroying in their political battle against science.
Knowing a little about climate and knowing how science works, it is obvious to me how wrong most of the WUWT posts are. It would be hard for me not to refute this nonsense. As WUWT is the biggest blog of this community and can be seen as its mainstream, it seems to make sense to give it more attention as even more extremist blogs that not even pseudo-sceptics take seriously.
Creationism is even more irrational. The evidence for evolution is even stronger as for climate change, by orders of magnitude stronger. However, that is a local problem the Americans have to deal with. The misinformation of WUWT and Co. affects all. Climate change is certainly not the only important global problem, but a solvable one.
If people would decide that it is better to suffer the consequences as to solve the problem, so be it, that is democracy or as Jac. commented at AndThenTheresPhysics:
In a democracy, you have to respect if the people’s consent is that they will accept climate change with all its consequences to happen; but at least let scientists make sure it is an ‘informed consent’ then.That quote is the end of an interesting discussion at AndThenTheresPhysics. A discussion about the value of refuting climate "sceptics" and how scientists can contribute. As many people do not read comments, I would like to summarise this discussion below.
I have to admit to like reading comments (and call-in radio), especially at AndThenTheresPhysics. Most comments are not informative, but you have the chance of reading or hearing something you might otherwise not hear in the mainstream media.
Others disagree and like comments less.
"I saw a sound, well-reasoned argument in an internet comment, and it made me reconsider my position." -- Nobody, ever— Don't Read Comments (@AvoidComments) May 18, 2014
Click on the time stamp to see the comments on it.
The not yet very interesting opening gambit at AndThenTheresPhysics (ATTP) was by Mike Fayette.
So why not find common ground with the skeptics and actually try to get something useful done? .. Mock the folks that exaggerate the threat the same way you mock the folks who deny basic physics.The simple answer to the first part is: you can try to find common ground about political problems. Climate "sceptics" hinder this political discussion by refusing to talk about politics and claim problems with solid science. Unfortunately, you cannot negotiate with nature. Reality simply is.
The answer to the second part is that it is rare that people who worry about climate change make claims that are clearly untenable. Reality is sufficiently scary and is for them more then enough reason to act. Furthermore, climate change is a wicked problem with a lot of uncertainty and especially on the warm side it is hard to exclude much. Still, if people get too warm and fuzzy about climate change, I naturally do correct them.
My favorite future blogger, Mark Ryan, replies:
Mike Fayette’s comments, and his experience, are very interesting, [VV: If someone at a scientific conference starts a reply this friendly, expect a nasty comment or question.] and make me think about the problem of how scientific communities relate to evidence, compared with how the public –and particularly the political communities in the public- relate to it.A clear example of such a simple explanation is the meme going round that CO2 is heavier than air, will thus stay close to the ground and cannot act like a greenhouse gas. (This ignores turbulent mixing.) Do people really think that no scientist in all these decades has ever tried to measure up to which height CO2 is a well mixed gas? It is fine to ask such a question. It is insane to immediately claim to have refuted the greenhouse effect.
There is a lot of confusion about the fact that knowledge is fundamentally a social property –no individual can claim decisive knowledge across a domain (actually, some individuals obviously do, but they’re invariably wrong). What happens instead is that individuals [scientists] build on what they understand to be established knowledge, do their work, and add it to the constellation of previous and contemporary contributions.
Some elements within the knowledge constellation are much better established than others, and are therefore more likely to be true –with the well-worn caveat that no question is ever 100% closed. But this caveat is actually much more trivial than those who misunderstand it would have us believe; this point was never made better than in this short essay by Isaac Asimov. This is the best response I can think of to Mike’s earlier remark about competing theories in science.
There must be a hierarchy of knowledge for scientific knowledge to be possible. Core ideas support the contingent or peripheral ideas, otherwise every researcher’s work would arbitrarily re-establish first principles. ... Almost all research deals with anomalies or minor controversies, but based on established foundations; if someone wants to remake the foundations, they quite rightly find it hard going. ...
We have had over four decades now of a constant conflation of politics and science, a response to the culture of scientistic authority promoted in mid 20th century, and the new kinds of health and environmental risks that modern life has created. The net result is that complex and specialised knowledge is counterposed to commonsense and intuitive, easy to relate to, (but incorrect) alternatives. This is the “better story” that Mike mentioned, and large percentages of the public just buy into this without a second thought, because they are now conditioned to look straight past specialist scientific knowledge to project political motives onto the people making it. For people who buy into this politicisation of science, there is no need to educate themselves to understand the complex theories and jargon of the scientists, because in any case, they imagine scientists use facts the way we all see lawyers use facts in various media. It does not occur to them that the simple explanation has already been considered and improved on by the people who study the topic. ...
Mark Ryan continues to explain that blogging about science makes sense:
ATTP, you said in your post that you were going through a phase of wondering what the whole point is.Jac. had a similar experience as Mark Ryan and added:
It is a few years back now, but I started reading blogs like this one as a skeptic. My training is in politics and the philosophy of science, which at least gave me some basis for spotting patterns in the literature I was reading. My interest in climate came from my interest in the philosophy of statistics, but I had read social theorists like Thomas Kuhn, Harry Collins and Michel Foucault, and was predisposed to a very political take on the production of scientific knowledge.
Not having the appropriate scientific background, I needed to visit sites like this – at the time it was Tamino, Skeptical Science, Real Climate[,] etc, just so I could understand what I was looking at when I tackled even things like IPCC papers. Eventually, the most striking pattern I found in the so-called ‘mainstream’ climate literature was a constellation of arguments converging towards consilience [consilience refers to the principle that evidence from independent, unrelated sources can "converge" to strong conclusions], and a rigorous commitment to explaining the science. I didn’t find sites like Joe Romm’s very helpful, by contrast.
On the so-called “skeptical” sites, and in the small amount of scholarly literature, the pattern is negative -mutually contradictory arguments. This body of literature was not converging to an alternative, but was fixated on driving wedges into any cracks of uncertainty they could find. It was the comparative ‘shapes’ of the two different bodies of argument that convinced me.
I want to say I think what you do is tremendously valuable; it is clear, articulate, and sets a tone that encourages skeptical people, like the one I used to be, to stay with you. In this intensely polarised environment, that is a delicate act to pull off, but if I was running a blog, you would be one of my models. It is one of the unfortunate things about blogging, that you send your missives out into the void and never quite know whether you’re making any difference -it’s a kind of alienated form of social being, in a way. But you create a rare environment here, so well done.
... I am not a scientist. I am working in the legal/judicial system. The number of climate change cases that are brought to the courts is growing, and so is the body of literature about climate change liability that I am especially interested in. I think I am quite well informed on the legal liability aspects of climate change and the potential role of the judiciary. I started reading off and on some blogs about climate change some months ago, because I wanted to try to understand some of the science as well, and I also wanted to learn and understand about the way scientists and skeptics interact and discuss about their arguments and what these arguments are.Our climate philosopher, Willard, got scared:
So my background and reason to start reading this blog seems to be somewhat similar to Mark Ryan. I completely agree with what he wrote (23/5, 1.30 pm) about the ‘shape of the two bodies of arguments’. I made the same observations, and arrived at the same conclusion.
I also noticed that generally speaking there is a difference in ‘tone’ and ‘style’ in the way the scientists argue and the way ‘skeptics’ argue.
Typically, the question of the scientist is one out of curiosity, whereas the questions of the skeptic are typically more like an aggressive cross-examination. Also typically the skeptic is not satisfied with the answers he gets; there is always another question following, never mind if it is coming from quite a different perspective, or he just changes the subject or disappears. Therefore, in my perception the typical skeptic is not interested in finding common ground with the scientist; he is on a ‘fishing expedition’ to see if there are any contrarian arguments that cannot easily be discarded by scientists, so he can claim that the science is far from settled and too uncertain for political decisions.
So my conclusion is that the skeptics in the blogosphere are not genuinely interested in (the advancement of) climate science.
If that analysis is correct, scientists have little if anything to win in engaging in discussions with skeptics on scientific issues because the skeptic has nothing to offer there and has a different agenda altogether. I am not at all surprised then that for scientists, discussions with skeptics can be irritating and tiresome. I assume that is what ATTP meant when he started this post.
For me these discussions are not pointless. For me, seeing how the arguments flow was helpful in understanding the climate debate. Like Tucholsky said: the understanding that the people have is usually wrong, but in their sensing the people are usually right. This blog has been guiding my ‘sensing’ of the climate debate and who is right probably just as much as it has been guiding my understanding of the arguments. ...
I wonder what it would be like if scientists would not engage in discussions with skeptics with the intention of convincing them – they won’t allow you to – but with the intention to demonstrate to other lurking readers (like me) that science has better (and more polite) answers and deeper understanding to offer than the skeptics have. It might turn out to be a whole other kind of ballgame, one that is far less frustrating for scientists.
And if you don’t feel like playing anymore, I think it would be perfectly OK to say ‘we have tried to explain you the science more than once, but either you seem not able to understand the science which is regrettable, or you just do not want to understand which is fine, but either way and with all due respect you have offered nothing to this discussion that has any merits and you and your repetitive comments are becoming a bit of a boring noise, so thank you for participating, but we will block you from this post / this blog.’ I think scientists could be a little more assertive about sticking to the rules of their discussions.
No more ClimateBall ™ ?Jac. could reassure him:
http://www.khaaan.com/ [Warning sound]
Still Climate Ball I suppose, but how scientists want to play it. If scientists start perceiving (and thus expecting) that the game is not about trying to find common scientific ground with the skeptics or about advancement of science, but about proving how wrong/mistaken the skeptics are (while still maintaining the cool, rational, unbiased and open-minded, fact-based balanced way of truly scientific reasoning that, in my view, really is the stronghold of scientists that earns them credibility), scientists might find it less frustrating to be playing the game. In this other version of Climate Ball moving the goalposts is considered as acknowledging you have lost the previous argument. Don’t complain about moving the goalposts, but instead explicitly claim it as victory and as soliciting for another beating on another subject.AndThenTheresPhysics regular BBD followed the same route and wrote previously:
My selfish reason for suggesting this is that I would not want the scientists getting so frustrated that they are pulling out of the debate.
FoxGoose, it’s an open secret that I used to be a fake sceptic. At one time, it was something of a USP [Unique Selling Point], even. Quote mining my past is an old, tired tactic. It also reveals something rather unpleasant about those doing it.Rachel naturally asked: "Wow, BBD. What made you change your mind?"
But to answer the question:
- I’ve learned more than you in the last three years.
- I’ve demonstrated that I am intellectually honest enough to overcome my denial.
- I’ve got the balls to keep the same screen name and own every statement I’ve ever made in public using it.
- Once I discover that I have been lied to and manipulated, I never forgive and I never forget.
I discovered that I was being lied to. This simply by comparing the “sceptic” narrative with the standard version. Unlike my fellow “sceptics” I was still just barely sceptical enough (though sunk in denial) to check both versions. Once I realised what was going on, that was the end of BBD the lukewarmer (NB: I was never so far gone as to deny the basic physics, only to pretend that S [the climate sensitivity] was very low). All horribly embarrassing now, of course, but you live and learn. Or at least, some of us do. ...Thus maybe the information deficit model is not that bad. At least when people have to time to gather all information, hear all sides and think it over. Thinking deficit model might be a better name. How do we get people to start thinking? One way would be to reduce the vitriol in posts about science, this reduces critical thinking and strengthens tribal thinking. (Hard to do, the dramatic opening helped to get you to read until here.)
Always check. Fail to do this in business and you will end up bankrupt and in the courts. I failed to check, at least initially, and made a colossal prat out of myself. Oh, and never underestimate the power of denial (aka ‘wishful thinking’). It’s brought down better people than me. ...
There wasn’t a single, defining eureka moment, just a growing sense of unease because nothing seemed to add up. ... Once I eventually started to compare WUWT [Watts Up With That] with RC [RealClimate] and SkS [Skeptical Science], that was it, really.
It also points to the importance of trust. Being lied to is not nice. In that respect I would not expect BBD to ever go back to the climate "sceptics". If BBD detects an inconsistency, I would expect that he would simply point it out to scientists. The way scientists do. If the evidence changes, you will hear it first from scientists.
Building up trust again will be hard for the pseudo-sceptics after having displayed how untrustworthy they are. But it would help if they would stop their disinformation campaign against science, stop repeating their completely idiotic talking points, and would start to make scientifically valid points about real uncertainties and weaknesses. They would be welcomed back home. Unfortunately, that is somehow a huge if and I do not expect this to ever happen, just to see the group get smaller and smaller, being laughed at by their neighbours and die out.
Steve Bloom wondered:
Jac, as I’m sure you know, most scientists, even climate scientists, choose not to play [Climateball] at all. But is it helpful to imagine the response to this blog (and the climate science blogosphere generally) of such a non-player who is considering starting to play? Is the lesson that other forms of engagement and outreach (e.g. reaching out to their local media and giving community talks) are a better use of their time? Or maybe it’s most effective to instead focus their research efforts onto things that will inform a better policy direction?Many scientists are introverted or otherwise not interested in a public debate. That is fine. As a community we should be present, but people should do what they do best. Most "challenges" by pseudo-sceptics are so basic and repetitive that many lay people following the climate "debate" may well be better suited to reply.
Outreach will not help you avoiding the pseudo-sceptics. They will be the ones motivated to ask the questions. Expect some creative and weird ones. But eye to eye even pseudo-sceptics know how to behave. Youtube suggests that the main exception to that rule is Lord Monckton. (Highly recommended funny video about the comedian behind Monckton).
To close, Willard summarised the climate "debate" as:
ClimateBall™ can be fun! Stripped down to its bare essentials, ClimateBall ™ is just a conversation disguised as a scientific discussion.More seriously, Jac. closed with the main purpose of the "debate":
In a democracy, you have to respect if the people’s consent is that they will accept climate change with all its consequences to happen; but at least let scientists make sure it is an ‘informed consent’ then.What did I learn about the climate "debate" from the above comments?
1. Do not expect to be able to convince the people that have being a climate sceptics as their identity. Explain the science and explain why the climate "sceptics" are wrong for the lurkers. Explain why science is fun and why it produces reliable knowledge. Show you are open and interested in a better understanding.
2. Stay on topic to be able to go in depth like scientists would if they have a dispute. Pseudo-sceptics like to change topics before acknowledging that they were wrong on this first one. Make this strategy clear to the lurkers and explain that this suggests that the pseudo-sceptics are not really interested in understanding the problem. If necessary "answer" new topics with links (e.g. to the Skeptical Science list of Global Warming & Climate Change Myths).
3. Be friendly to people you do not know and might be honestly interested in the answer. There is no need to accept any kind of abuse, but try to make sure that there is a clear difference in tone between science and non-science.
4. Search for the name of your discussion partner and the topic. Very often he has discussed the topic before somewhere else and already knows all the answers. In this case, point out to the lurkers that your discussion partner is not interested in the answer, but just wants to create doubt.
5. Be fairly strict with moderation on your own blog, if you have one. The ugly language at WUWT we started this post with is great for stroking tribal feeling and very effective in reducing people's ability to think rationally. Not something you would like to see at a science blog. Personally, I also remove a large part of the comments without arguments, they waste the time of the reader looking for a real discussion. If you do this, you will only have to remove few comments, because people will adjust their tone.
6. Another function of the ugly language may be to discourage scientists from taking part. Try to ignore the misconduct and not to take it personally. These people do not know you and are only demonstrating their own problems. This is clearly illustrated by the hilarious puns on my last name. If those people would know me only a little bit, they would at least write something about homogenization or about my fixation with WUWT.
Try to have fun playing climateball and keep your eye on the WUWT ball.
[UPDATE. Maybe this and the previous post worked. Anthony Watts created an Open thread and asked what could we do better? He gives some suggestions himself.
3. I’d like less name calling. The temptation is great, and I myself sometimes fall victim to that temptation. I’ll do better to lead by example in any comments I make.Let's see, how this works out. I am somewhat sceptical because they need the tribal atmosphere to suppress critical thinking. ]
4. I’d like to see less trolling and more constructive commentary. One way to achieve that is to pay attention.
[UPDATE: Just found an old post on Skeptical Science, Understanding climate denial, that mentions three more people that changed their mind based on the evidence, D.R. Tucker, Craig Good & Nathan McKaskle. It is not impossible, but probably still rare. Ironically Nathan McKaskle used to be a blogger, but gave up not knowing whether he had changed a single mind. That is a pity, changing people's minds does not happen immediately after reading an article, it takes time, if only to be able to say that one has always held the new position.]
[UPDATE 2016. Just found two more people convinced by science: Windchasers and Tadaaa. It does happen.]
Willard and the rabbit):
* Science journalist Dan Vergano as a young man working for the Pentagon thought that "global warming was pure crap", now he writes: How I Came To Jesus On Global Warming. "How people think about ideas that challenge our beliefs: Mostly, we just don’t." Climate denier finally convinced him, by failing the nut test.
* Conservative geochemistry professor Barry Bickmore.
* The conservative Richard Muller, known for his physics classes for future presidents: The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
* Conservative D.R. Tucker was defeated by the facts after reading the book Disconnect and the IPCC report.
* Sceptical Science writes about D.R. Tucker and how Craig Good and Nathan McKaskle were convinced by the evidence.
* Oceanographer for the U.S. Navy, RADM David Titley on his journey from climate "sceptic" to accepting the science.
* For Michael Stafford a former Republican Party officer and conservative Catholic the message of Pope Benedict XVI on climate change was important.
* Andy Skuce working in oil exploration writes that he was something of a climate sceptic because of his "inherent optimism bias, a tendency to discount threats and instead always look on the bright side." He is now member of Sceptical Science and writes:
Every time I examined a denialist argument, a little research quickly convinced me that they were wrong; invariably their references were unreliable and their arguments incoherent. When it came to disagreeing with the alarmists, even if the worst outcomes they predicted were questionable and sometimes overstated, their overall case was coherent and based on solid references.
The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies by Anderson et al., in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication
Andy Skuce tells how finding climate sceptics to be chronically wrong turned him from being a lukewarmer that did not expect much to happen to an active member of the Skeptical Science crew.
A scientist with a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology was a climate change denialist and explains how he got out of it in his essay: Confessions of a Former Climate Change Denialist.
The conservative family values of Christian man Anthony Watts
NoFollow: Do not give WUWT & Co. unintentional link love
Anthony Watts calls inhomogeneity in his web traffic a success
No trend in global water vapor, another WUWT fail
Blog review of the Watts et al. (2012) manuscript on surface temperature trends
Investigation of methods for hydroclimatic data homogenization
* Photo, Anthony Watts giving presentation in Australia, from Wikimedia commons. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.