"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

End-Times and the Anti-Morano

The Anti-Morano?

There is arguably a need for an anti-Morano (or two or more) out there, as was pointed out by Chris Mooney in conversation with Steven Andrew:

Chris pointed out here that climate change denier extraordinaire Marc Morano may be dead wrong, but he’s articulate, well funded, and there’s no one on the science side that competes with him. What specifically can be done to change that?

It’s simple: Things won’t change until the world of science invests in creating counter-Moranos. There are many talented and extremely young intelligent people in science today who could fill that role, but there is little training available for them, and even less of a career trajectory for them to get there.

Generally, young scientists have been exposed to a very traditional academic menu of courses, when instead it would behoove us to offer more interdisciplinary and media skills to those who are asking for it. And that’s not just to create counter-Moranos; it’s fundamentally necessary to address an imbalance in the academic pipeline today.

Just consider: The last assessment by the National Postdoctoral Association reported that only 7% of those who earn a PhD in science will someday achieve tenured faculty status. Not everyone studying science is interested in that, but the reality is that there simply aren’t enough positions in academia for all the scientists that the system is currently producing. Meanwhile, at the very same time, we need better science communicators, better teachers, and more outreach people who are really good at taking science out into our society.

So the answer is simple: We’ve got to offer today’s young scientists more ways to get to very different careers from the standard academic one. And then we will have our counter-Moranos, as well as many scientists engaged in other important tasks to reconnect science and society.

(David Appel thinks the idea stinks, but let's leave that aside. Presumably we are not talking about a counter-liar, but about an equally dedicated and funded counterweight.)

So am I the one? Shall I rise to the occasion?

Me and My Buddy Marc

It turns out that my name has been bandied about in connection with Morano's today. Keith Kloor wrote an article in defense of Morano's role in the climate debate, and his main case in evidence is that Morano occasionally links to me. Far be it from me to divert attention from myself, a favorite topic of mine. And even Andrew Revkin, who has never publicly acknowldeged me (though we've had a couple of minor email exchanges) and my strange disgruntlement with him, sees fit to point to Keith's article in a tweet.

To those of you unfamiliar with Morano's career, here's a rather generous MSM piece from the Times about him and a couple of pieces from Wonk Room, where Brad Johnson has been keeping an eye on the fellow. The latter refers to my prior history with Morano, back when he was still a staffer. If you really want to spend a few hours thinking about the interface of politics and science, the story of my own 15 minutes of fame (or is it infamy) will provide you plenty of grist for the mill.

A couple of nominations have come my way. This is from Anna Haynes:
Can you get a grant to do this? I had a talk with a member of the good-faith public this morning, and she's got opinions and views and qs that need to be addressed (by an Authority) before her understanding can move forward. But there's noplace online that's expressly set up for serving that purpose. IMO you'd be good at it. Basically, to move the public forward I think we need 4 sites: 1. the Climate Dear Abby blog, for questions from the confused public 2. the Denialist kibble-o-the-day debunker (which could just be pointers to where each bit of kibble is _being_ debunked) 3. the "OMG the press screwed up again" shame-the-media blog and 4. the strictly-moving-forward, "here's what's new and how it fits in with what we already know" news blog. and maybe 5. Here's what we _do_ know. It seems to me there's a LOT of duplication of effort online, right now, plus gaps as with the nonexistent Dear Abby blog; the public's need would be better met by a reorg and retrenchment(?) to better cover the need. So a) does it sound like I'm right about what's needed, and b) if so, how do we make it happen? (I ask InIt's host, because InIt is the Churchillian Blog) thanks Anna PS - It's not enough to pull drowning victims out of the river; we need to walk back upstream and find out who's throwing them in.
The second is at least an implicit invitation from Marc Morano himself. He links to me almost every time I mention him, and he has definitely greatly increased my visibility over the months. I think Joe Romm thinks of himself as the obvious contender, and I am surprised Morano doesn't prefer Romm as a fellow polarizer. Perhaps he does. He's never sent me an invitation in the mail to spend more time bashing him directly, but the fact is that he unambiguously likes attention, and like Kloor I find myself developing an odd affection for him. Sometimes his tricks are amusing enough I find myself grinning. I have to remind myself that I am not dealing with a good person.

(Is it true that he has something to do with the Swiftboaters? What an amazingly destructive career!)

So what would the counterweight website to Climate Depot (in my mind it's called Climate Max, by analogy to the almost indistinguishable Office Depot and Office Max chain stores) look like and what would it do?

Where We Stand

Let's think about where we are, and why there is a perception of something missing.

So far there have been a few efforts to compose counter-denialist FAQ's and climate news aggregators. Fellow Canadian Coby Beck, notably, has a hand in perhaps the most successful of each of these. Here's his FAQ, called "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic: Responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming", and here is H E Taylor's "Another week of GW News" which Coby mirrors on his blog "A Few Things Ill-Considered". Taylor is the true anti-Morano, serving tirelessly in aggregating information and yet in relative obscurity. Perhaps he is too good at what he does! (Don't miss "You Say Tomato", my nomination for headscratcher of the week.)

And of course there is RealClimate, which is what it is. I certainly hope it doesn't go anywhere. Indeed, I hope it gets revitalized a bit. In my current job, I'm really finding it hard to stay connected to the scientific community. (Which is why I tried to import some actual scientists, to no avail.) RC has been able to generate rapid responses to denier pseudoscience, as the recent episode with the McLean/deFreitas publication demonstrates. And RC in turn has an excellent list of resources, including introductory articles and FAQs. Wikipedia, of course, is no slouch either.

Then let me point to a couple of my favorite resources, both unfortunately getting a bit stale. There is GlobalWarmingArt , which has some brilliant examples of graphic art that tell the story well to those with the patience to look, and there is Sparrow's consensus document . I hope both of these will be maintained.

Finally, in addition to news sites like Grist and deSmog and WorldChanging (which occasionally slip into excessive political correctness in my opinion) there is a growing range of excellent news sites and blogs. Ones I consider the old guard by individual scientists (yours truly with an asterisk, Rabett Run, Stoat, Deltoid, Tamino, Maribo, Grumbine and far too occasionally Climate Spin) and others from (I think) nonscientists with an uncanny sense of balance (Thingsbreak, Carl Zimmer, Greenfyre's, Fleck, Ill-Considered, Int. J. Inact., Deltoid, Scruffy Dan). A couple of excellent aggregators, notably Yale Forum, Energy Collective, The Oil Drum, all linked at right, and a special shout-out to Climate Central, pioneering breaking the monopsony and creating several first rate climate resources as a private nonprofit.

And of course, the breakthrough YouTube works of Peter Sinclair and Greg Craven are very promising, and hopefully the beginning of a trend.

So, What's Missing?

Yet, amid all that bounty of information, the perception that "something" is missing persists.

Of course, it's clear that nobody knows the solution to the alternate-news-universe provided by Rupert Murdoch. And in fact if the world doesn't make it through the narrows, Murdoch and his "news" outlets will deserve as much blame as anybody. But there seems to be a hunger for some sort of alternative that is still missing.

One thing an anti-Morano would do would be just to monitor Morano and take advantage of his efforts as an early-warning system for new denialist nonsense. It certainly worked to the advantage of the truth in the case of the McLean noise. But that doesn't constitute an activity.

Anna's suggestion of a site that would make an effort to be responsive to queries is interesting. Google is not about "search" it's about answering questions. Both Twitter and Wolfram Alpha are efforts to answer questions of sorts that Google and its competitors can't. In the end, some sorts of questions require someone with enough expertise to detect good answers from bad ones and enough context to contact the right people otherwise. A somewhat different role than is played

Finally, though, someone needs to have some skills in making the information attractive. Here is where I have some skills that few scientists or, um, counterscientists do. Of course, the design standards of the right are for some reason notoriously low. And I have several projects in mind for display tools. A virtual science museum is a tricky thing. And I have been thinking about how to set up and fund an information business, some of which I'm still going to keep to myself.

I was gratified to see some interest in In It For the Gold t-shirts, though.

Some Questions Intended to Seed Discussion

Anyway, I'd like to open a discussion for brainstorming. For the purposes of this argument, let's agree or at least presume that mainstream earth system science is reasonably healthy and contrarianism as practiced by Morano et al is not. People disinclined to go with that presumption are invited to participate in some other thread; don't expect such comments to appear here. Given that presumption, what exactly is missing and how should we go about filling the gap?
1) What www and other media services are missing from effective communication of actual science, especially earth system science with policy implications?

2) What funding sources would be available for such an effort outside the government?

3) How can best information effectively be aggregated and redistributed?

4) How can the social roots of false paranoia and misleading evidence be identified and revealed? Can we make it newsy enough for what is left of the press or is that an impossible task?

5) How can tools for collective decision making be designed and implemented? The basic idea is crowdsourcing with quality control.

6) Are there any existing funded organizations that might be willing to take on some of these projects?

7) How much would you pay for a nice blue-on-black initforthegold t-shirt, with the space-dawn logo on the front and the URL on the back?
Thanks, all. I will greatly appreciate responses and thoughts, inbound links and retweets.

PS - Let me add that my current circumstances leave me sufficiently isolated from the climate community that I feel my capacity for contributing is at risk. I don't think I should proceed in the current vein indefinitely. Still, relentless heat or otherwise, it looks like Irene and I intend to stay in Austin.

Update: Here's an open thread for people who feel an urgent need to say something off the present topic.

Update: Thanks for the excellent conversation! There's more. I'm trying to maintain momentum and nucleate a mailing list. Any interest?
Photo: NASA


Anonymous said...

A Wiki or something in that vein, coupled with a front news / blog site is one possibility. Y

ou have to "outsource / crowdsource / scientistsource" the work since the truth takes always much more work than simple lies.

Realclimate has a wiki already, but it's not well publicized.


If you could somehow couple that with expert review (as opposed to peer review, since in this case you can't really choose your writers to be experts)...

James Annan said...

(Honest question) Aren't Romm, Grist and Fred Pearce anti-Moranos enough? From where I'm sitting you seem more interesting in thinking than hectoring and preaching.

(FWIW I also think that Mooney stinks.)

Hope the change of title doesn't indicate anything too serious.

Unknown said...


It's true I used you as primary evidence to make my case. That's partially because I wanted to shine a spotlight on the intelligent and civil dialogue that you fostered.

But I also try not to write long posts (and even that one was too long). Look, I hope it's clear from my post that I'm under no illusions about Morano and what he's trying to achieve. I spelled that out.

bigcitylib said...

You don't need a blog. You need an aggregator that:

1) publishes links to new papers dealing with the issue (including Pielke Jr. but excluding folks like Monckton).

2) publishes rapid response refutations of junk science papers as soon as these are available. Often times this simply means watching Annan or Tamino's sites for material (others too, but these are two good examples), and then linking. It might also involve co-ordinating with them/soliciting responses. Of course this is all volounteer, but some of the climate science writers might be more inclined to write on a topic if they knew their stuff would get more attention.

3) Prank and ridicule AG denialists. For example, Buzz Aldrin has come out against AGW. He also thinks there's an alien monolith on Phobos. Publish pictures of Monckton as many times as possible. Each time he loses cred.

You are still thinking education and science and you should be thinking politics. What you need is a war-room.

Unknown said...

This post is unnervingly close to thoughts that have consumed me for the last few weeks while I've struggled to find a way to do something more effective in the energy and environmental arena.

I've been writing a blog on these topics, The Cost of Energy, for over five years, and I've finally come to the conclusion that the number one thing we need is coordination. (The list of needed sites from Ana Haynes is a very good starting point, IMO.) The deniers don't just have money and an all-too-compliant media--they're coordinated and relentless. Witness how debunked pieces of nonsense from them never disappear--the deniers simply repeat them endlessly, knowing that every time the message will be new to a few more passers by.

I'm willing to devote whatever time and effort it takes to counteract the deniers and push for meaningful change in individual behavior and public policy, as I have for the last five years. Anyone interested should contact me through the About page on my site (http://www.grinzo.com/energy/).

Michael Tobis said...

As for me, everything is fine, which is why my ambitions are bubbling up.

I really am, at this point, holding on to my job in the interests of health coverage ("benefits" as they say herabouts). Neither the work nor the pay are particularly fulfilling. I swore to myself long ago not to become a second-rate scientist, but I didn't mean by that to settle for third-rate hanger-on.

I am sure I could replace the income freelancing, and the scientific ambitions I still hold are, at this point, more likely to prevail outside any formal institutional structure than in one.

It seems to me that rather than health insurance, being in charge of my own time would be a better prospect of maintaining and improving my health.

It's absurd, really. The opportunities in America are so vast, yet the prospect of bad health care is sufficiently frightening as to tend to squelch them. Perhaps I can treat my Canadian passport as a backup policy.

Michael Tobis said...

I don't want to discuss the problem with Romm here. For one thing that's one of Keith's favorite topics. For another, evidence shows that if I do, Romm will show up like a ton of bricks. I don't need Joe for an enemy.

If I thought his approach worked, I'd be 100% supportive of him. The trouble is not the science, it's the information channel between science and politics, that has always struck me as the crucial piece of the puzzle.

The fact is that the question that started this blog is still there: how do we reach people who are indifferent or suspicious? How do we counter the Moranoites invitation to "think for yourself" leading to their polished misinformation? How can information win the PR battle with misinformation?

This is really the key question of our day. Perhaps it ought to fall in Roger Jr's purview, but somehow at this point I don't think he is going to help. More likely it has to be addressed outside traditional academic channels.

As for Mooney, I am a big fan. I think he is one of those untrained people with an uncanny ability to separate the science from the nonsense. We need to figure out what those people have, and bottle it. Mooney is particularly articulate among that group.

I am very confused as to why he generates such controversy. I suppose some of the militant atheists have a reason, but I'm not in that group. Chris is a valuable ally.

But the fact remains that the situation is unsatisfactory. We have to outsmart the Singer/Morano axis, not just whine about them.

They may be deluded. It's hard not to suspect them of deliberate lying but maybe it's possible that the bizarre thought process they promote is actually the one they use. But lying or crazy they are a real problem, since they have sort of a judo hold on the world via a substantial minority in the US and other English-speaking countries.

And even once the climate comes to the rescue from their lies by becoming an increasingly obvious problem in more important sectors than, say, rural Wisconsin winter tourism, the methods they have worked out will remain a threat until a way of countering them with truth emerges.

There is no guarantee that this will be possible. We already know it won't be cheap or easy, as someone might have done it. Real creativity, a real connection to the science, and a real appreciation for the potential of social media, are the necessary ingredients. The financial cost may be relatively small.

Anonymous said...

Dangerous going offtopic, and I haven't read any of Chris Mooney's books, but basically what I've read excerpts, his point, very crudely simplified is that scientists should be better communicators.

While the scientists point is that it's not their job, their job is to do science and it's the journalists' job to be the expert communicators.

I think we need a third job - people who can be experts in science but don't have to be producing it themselves at the bleeding edge (then they wouldn't have time for much else) - and still can communicate. You can't communicate something you don't understand.

Enter Michael Tobis.

Expert journalists. Communicating scientists. Whatever. People who both "get it" and "write about it".

Michael Tobis said...

I agree with gl here. Obviously.

Unknown said...


Why are you so resistant to being the anti-Romm? Or providing an alternative forum that isn't barking mad? What's up with the blog name change? Here I've been touting you as the Serious, cool-headed one, and you suddenly become impetuous.

You don't want to discuss Romm, yet you want to start a climate clearinghouse that serves as a sort of ground-truthing squad? You envision it as a counter-force to Morano. But unless you and your like-minded readers are willing to call Romm on his BS and stand up to him when he starts slinging mud, then all you'll likely become is a mirror image of Morano.

It won't be honest because you'll shy away from being critical of your own side. And why? Because you don't want the big, bad Romm to come down on you like a ton of bricks? Please. Haven't you and anyone else observed how he tries to shut down all debate that doesn't conform to his prescribed opinions on climate change policy.

You're going to tiptoe around that 1000 pound gorilla with this new initiative?

Make up your minds on what you all want. You want a propaganda site to counter Morano or do you want a Romenesko-like operation? (He's the must read aggregator for all of journalism, for those of you not familiar with him.)

Don't think for a second you can pull this off without dealing with Romm.

Aaron said...

So, Mother Nature needs a PR firm! Well she does. At one time that role was filled by Land Grant Universities. However they are now off doing research funded by private parties - and no longer put public outreach as high on their agenda.

PR is not about facts! It is about making selected ideas resonate with the public or segments of the public. Making facts available does not help.

Michael, Romm, Grist, RC &etc. do a good job of reaching people that already accept climate change. We need a real PR pro that can reach out and "harvest" people that do not yet accept the concepts of climate change. We need someone that is to PR what Feynman was to physics. We need somebody that can invent the necessary PR as it is required.

Our PR team needs a war room that gets its facts correct, but which uses human emotion to sell them. None of the climate "experts" does that, it is against their culture. The science culture that does not want use emotion to "sell" the truth is about to lose; game, set, & match.

Michael Tobis said...

Romm asked me (amid the ton of bricks) whether I thought he was fighting the good fight or not.

It's a hard one. His approach is one that rubs a lot of people the wrong way, you and me included, but his grasp of the facts is solid.

He is a tad on the alarmist side of where I sit.

For instance, I have my doubts about the big MIT study which is sitting next to me at this minute as part of my journalistic debt, but which Joe treats as gospel because it is pretty darn scary. On the other hand, I don't think anything out of MIT that talks about 7 C global mean increase by 2100 is something to be shrugged off too lightly.

And I'm withholding my opinino on Waxman-Markey, but obviously I'm unenthusiastic at best.

But Joe is not WRONG the way Morano is wrong, neither ethically nor substantively. It's a matter of tactics, and perhaps of personality, that separates me from him.

If I do manage the transition to professional communicator, I would consider myself in competition with him, but I would hope it would remain a friendly competition. When push comes to shove on real issues we'd be pulling in the same direction, so why make enemies?

In short, you pick your battles. I have some reservations about Romm, and he asked me pointedly whether I wanted to air them publicly. I decided he was correct, and that it was not to my advantage to do so.

We may have disagreements on important substance. I support CCS. I think Joe doesn't, nor does most of the green web. So be it; I think it's too important to leave out of the discussion. I expect to cordially disagree with Joe on substance some of the time.

But we do agree that something like an 80% global cut in net emissions by 2050, difficult as that sounds, is actually a necessity. We agree that significant policy choices are needed very soon to make that feasible. We agree that the existing discourse is drastically flawed, especially in America.

Most people either don't understand those things or don't believe them. Those of us who get it can't afford to waste our ammunition on each other.

Regarding your bottom line, that is a good question. I don't want counter-propaganda. But while I enjoy intelligent conversation and want more of it in my real life (as opposed to just on the internet) that is a bit self-indulgent in the face of the enormity of the circumstance.

An aggregator already exists, as I pointed out. Perhaps we should do more to promote H E Taylor's work.

What we are looking for is a way to connect people to science. That's really two problems: people who know some science and have a high opinion of their abilities to make judgments, and people who avoid science and still like to participate in policy.

I'm especially worried about the former group,as they are influential on others. Our dealings with them have been a failure. Talk to a few engineers or MDs about this subject and see what they think. For the most part it will be drastically wrong.

Arthur said...

Oooh, Keith Kloor is doing the concern troll thing! We'll do really well if we get 5 or 6 anti-Morano's spending their time attacking one another now, won't we!

Joe Romm may tend to emphasize worst-case scenarios, but he has perfectly valid reasons for doing so (which we can get into - it's another of those distinctions between science and effective communication), and he rarely gets the science actually wrong. I've been reading his blog for a few years now. His traffic and his media presence is quite a bit more than Morano's (I've even heard Romm on the radio a couple of times recently, never heard Morano), so I actually find this focus on Morano a bit silly - just ignore the guy, he'll dry up and blow away now he doesn't have his senate perch to pontificate from.

But Michael has an excellent point here generally about the need for effective communication of the science, and much more could be done than is now. The trouble is, any sort of large-scale coordination would be evidence to the deniers of another of their favorite subjects - conspiracy! The "team" and all that.

The real issue is the conflict between trust and power. We have at least 2 good reasons not to trust the powerful. First, the old truism that power corrupts still holds. Second, at least one mechanism for that corruption is through others with power or wealth - they have strong motives and abilities to twist the interests of the newly powerful in their direction. Direct or indirect, the self-interest of the powerful in maintaining their power leads naturally to collusion, except in rare cases where their goals are too obviously in conflict.

Unfortunately those who gain widespread trust join the ranks of the powerful as a direct result. How long can they maintain the integrity we trust before they necessarily degrade into collusion with the rest of the powerful, at the expense of all others? Witness the necessary cycles in the fate of brands, celebrities and individual leaders, media, political parties, and so on.

The cycles are probably inevitable. Morano is on the downward trajectory, clinging to the powerful at the expense of any reason for anybody to trust him. Peter Sinclair's videos have also been tremendously effective - at least helping give Watts a big push down that curve.

But the problem is, some fraction of people have been persuaded by arguments from deniers to lose their trust in scientists and journalists who cover this stuff properly - and many of the denier arguments come down to the point that scientists and these others have been, to at least some degree, among the powerful, and so obviously in collusion in some way. Even those who are "only in it for the health insurance".

There's not a need for one anti-Morano, in short, but for continually arising, independent, unknown, powerless ordinary folk to point out the falsehoods and fakery being peddled by deniers. And it would be good to have a place to highlight all these new folk, as Michael makes a start on in this post.

Unknown said...


You write:

"But Joe is not WRONG the way Morano is wrong, neither ethically nor substantively."

The way he slimes The Breakthrough Institute and Roger Pielke Jr., in addition to deliberately mischaracterizing their respective views is pretty WRONG in my book.

You write:
"We [you and Romm] agree that the existing discourse is drastically flawed, especially in America."

It's flawed, in part, because of the way Romm conducts himself. That goes to the heart of my beef with him. You're interested in communicating climate science to the layperson. So what I'm asking is this: how do you communicate honestly when one of the more prominent, knowledgeable players on your side is relentlessly hurling untruths about people he disagrees with? And stretching the science for rhetorical reasons? You won't address that in your new incarnation, if that comes to pass?

Unless you're going to pull your punches with Romm, I don't expect you to be able to "cordially disagree" with him when you make the switch from blogger to science communicator. Well, maybe you'll remain cordial. But he certainly won't--at least if he remains true to form.

Michael Tobis said...

There really is no way to measure traffic. Technorati has me climbing steadily in the 5 digits range Alexa has me down below slot 500,000 . I conclude that these numbers are complete nonsense.

Days when I am on Morano's site triple my traffic. Being prominent on RealClimate is slightly less productive of hits, even though Morano's site has, like, a zillion links. I think he is doing surprisingly well. When I was prominently mentioned on Romm's blog I got maybe a dozen hits from it.

It's true that the media elite read Romm; at least Revkin and Tom Friedman do. That's worth something, I guess, but not as much as it used to be.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

Michael Tobis:

Something I was thinking about: Does Morano's power come from his own words? Or does his power really come from the hordes of climate inactivist goons who participate willingly in the great campaign of "information sharing" + "coordinated local activism"?

If the latter is more true -- and I suspect it is -- then perhaps we're looking at the problem the wrong way. It's less of "How do we deal with Marc Morano?" and more of "How do we deal with the huge network of 'information sharing' and the hordes of 'coordinated local activists' who go around spamming blog comments at every opportunity?"

Which leads me to...

* * *

"3) How can best information effectively be aggregated and redistributed?"

I don't have the answer, but one thing I'm trying with my blog -- as you probably know -- is to spin off a new 'sub-blog' for the express purpose of Mindless Link Propagation. So, I don't know -- Is it worthwhile to do such a thing on a larger scale? Will it help to have a section of, say, americanprogress.org dedicated to MLP?

-- bi

Anonymous said...

The fact is that the question that started this blog is still there: how do we reach people who are indifferent or suspicious?

This misses the point, at least in terms of the science. I'm working on a long, long post on this, but the short and sweet of it is that getting people to accept the mainstream (e.g. IPCC, joint science academies, et al.) take on the science will do practically nothing to push the US (or Canada or Oz) towards meaningful policy action. This is due to the demographics of those who are unaccepting of the science, who they vote for, and the institutions that shape the type of politician these people vote for. Unless we can not only convince these people of the science and the necessity of mitigation and convince them that it's important enough to be a top tier voting issue, such outreach is pointless.

I am growing increasingly convinced of and passionate about the position that education in the face of deliberate, well-funded, highly-coordinated, societally accepted noise is pointless, in the same way that Jerry Coyne recognizes about evolution.

This, I imagine, is the position that Romm reached- hence the ridicule and vitriol directed at denialists and their fellow travelers. Unfortunately being laughably wrong about science has no (or at least not nearly enough of a) social downside. Mainstream politicians can talk about literally believing in a talking snake or that the planet is "CO2 starved" and nothing bad happens to them.

I do think, like Romm and Eli, and for that matter Coyne and Myers, that public mockery is an effective tool provided it's being employed at the right target for the right reason.

As I commented at Mooney's blog:

There are clear antiscience forces at work... The idea that successful communication training and outreach by the scientific community will be sufficient to rollback these forces is... naive. As long as there are religious, political, and economic interests threatened by the conclusions of science, science will be under attack.

[Pro-science advocates] would do well to focus their efforts on reducing the undue influence these groups wield in our national discourse by whatever means they feel are justified if they are truly interested in seeing science communication at its most effective.

Convincing the people is not enough if the politicians they will vote for are persuaded to do nothing. Convincing politicians is not enough if they will be replaced by politicians who are persuaded to do nothing. We need to defang/co-opt/bribe the interest groups opposed and their mouthpieces or else nothing meaningful will get done.

Arthur said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Tobis said...

Keith, if you can come up with a useful way to characterize RP Jr's views, more power to you. I myself discovered that any effort in that direction was a very bad idea.

I would not, myself, discuss the Breakthrough Institute in the way Romm does. I am not sufficiently familiar with the argument to choose a side, and I must say that Romm's approach to it does not tend to convince me of it.

In short, I think we should neither dismiss the possibility of technical breakthroughs nor rely on them, so my first blush opinion is that I agree with neither position.

But as Arthur says, when Romm is close territory I do understand, he is not totally off in deep space like the Singerites.

It is a totally different kind of disagreement that we have than with people who say we can relax because it's obviously cosmic rays or El Nino or little green men or some damned stupid distraction like that, therefore not the IPCC. And as long as those people have any substantial influence on the scene, everything else is just quibbling.

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...


"We need to defang/co-opt/bribe the interest groups opposed and their mouthpieces or else nothing meaningful will get done."

That certainly sounds like a plan. :-)

If we can pull it off, then we'll have succeeded in arresting the problem of "information sharing" + "coordinated local activism" right at the heart.


-- bi

Michael Tobis said...

TB, that's Sheril's posting, and it's Mooney & Kirshenbaum's blog.

Still reading, but thought I'd make the connection. I don't fully understand the alliance, (they aren't, um, a romantic unit AIUI) but Sheril is bright and promising on her own. (I met her through the brief but fascinating KCET Correlations blog episode, and only met Chris through her.)

Sheril probably might want to get out from under Chris's shadow, actually. But anyway, not a Mooney item.

Anonymous said...


that's Sheril's posting, and it's Mooney & Kirshenbaum's blog

You're right of course. I unconsciously associate the scientist-nagging with Mooney. My apologies to Sheril, no slight intended.

Sheril is bright and promising on her own.

I very much liked her AAAS presentation on new media outreach.


It is a big if. It's the greatest source of pessimism for me. I think that more lawsuits with more discovery documenting deliberate manipulation of public opinion can be a great help. No one likes to admit to being incredibly wrong, incredibly loudly about things, so giving the public an "out" in terms of really mainstreaming the deliberate misinformation campaigns might help. Unfortunately the best targets for such suits are also those most capable of undermining the tentative political progress made so far, so that might be quite a difficult needle to thread.

Michael Tobis said...

"Nickname Unavailable" sends a thoughtful skeptic comment, so I somewhat regret purging it.

But this thread is not for debating the evidence. I hope NU submits it to another thread, for instance the one just before this one, or gives me permission to do so.

Dano said...

The fact is that the question that started this blog is still there: how do we reach people who are indifferent or suspicious? How do we counter the Moranoites invitation to "think for yourself" leading to their polished misinformation? How can information win the PR battle with misinformation?

Well, I'd like to trot out my favorite Margaret Mead quote for part of the reply, but that's already happening.

But for societies or groups to move, there is a sequence of events that must happen:

o realization
o galvanization
o motivation
o organization

There must be a realization of a threat or opportunity, galvanization to move, then sufficient motivation to move, and organization to keep everyone going in a direction.

Vested interests - see health care "debates " for the past week (altho I've been in the woods and missed it developing) - seek to inject FUD into the realization and galvanization portion of the sequence first.

Regarding the Mooney sidebar, he's trying to go at it from a perspective that mt and JA don't come from; that makes him different and not like you two. That doesn't make the approach bad.



guthrie said...

I thought we have science journalists? I appreciate that many newspapers have spent the last decade or two cutting interesting and in depth reporting in order to make bigger profits, then have been surprised when people stop reading them, but there are still magazines out there and people writing popular science books. (I am in the UK and have no direct experience of life anywhere else)

I do agree with BigCity LIbs suggestion of an aggregator. Those of us who argue online need ammunition, and it saves us all time if someone provides it. So when the latest denialist meme is propagated we don't have to spend a hour reading through the IPCC report, then a day or two getting our heads round how wrong the denlialists are, we can just read the cogent explanation from Tamino or some othe and rephrase it for the audience.

Yes it isn't ideal. Yes it isn't exaclty scientific. But this is politics, not science.

The odd thing about the internet is that despite its usefulness for decentralisation, I keep seeing things getting centralised because it is more efficient that way. This is a case in point.

Unknown said...


Roger's views are well known. As are the positions of The Breakthrough Institute.

In one of his comments, Arthur is parroting practically verbatim Romm's talking point: "The way Roger Pielke(s) and TBI deliberately slime and mischaracterize the efforts by Democrats and environmental groups to get climate legislation passed is very very WRONG in my book."

In another comment, Arthur writes: "Joe Romm may tend to emphasize worst-case scenarios, but he has perfectly valid reasons for doing so (which we can get into - it's another of those distinctions between science and effective communication), and he rarely gets the science actually wrong."

On the contrary, he gets the science dead-wrong when he overemphasizes worst-case scenarios." He presents those catastrophic scenarios as fait accompli.

But let's examine that other bit of reasoning in Arthur's comment, which is revealing of the game being played here: that Romm has "perfectly valid reasons" for overemphasizing those worst-case scenarios. Presumably you mean this to be politically. Didn't Bush & company apply that same logic to drum up support for the Iraq war? The means justify the ends, right? Liberals (including me--I'm a liberal) didn't appreciate the scare tactics on that one. So why is it acceptable to use the same scare tactics in this debate?

Also, Bush was sure those WMD's were going to be found. Are you sure we're headed for doomsday if we don't take the exact course of action prescribed by Joe Romm, and him alone? Nobody else in this debate can offer an alternative view?

Because the bottom line, for me, is inclusion of all voices.

Michael Tobis said...

Voices not important. Minds important.


Am I "sure we're headed for doomsday if we don't take the exact course of action prescribed by Joe Romm, and him alone"? That sort of a question hardly deserves a response, but to be totally pedantic, no, obviously not. But that is a straw man if ever I saw one.

Consider this:

Am I "sure that if we take anything close to the course of action advocated by Heartland we are taking enormous and unjustifiable risks"? On current evidence, yes, absolutely sure. The doubt I have is really really small. New evidence may change my mind but it will change the question.

I am absolutely certain of the fact that the weight of the current evidence that I have seen, which is more than most people have seen, requires vigorous and increasingly urgent action to reduce net emissions.

On this point Joe agrees with me. Or I agree with Joe. Whatever.

If you know what Roger's position is on this, let us know, do. And fill us in on your own while at it.

Do I defend Joe's every action and every word? No. Do I feel it is my responsibility to pass judgment on everything he says or does? No, why should it be? If you pin me down on this or that, why shouldn't I reserve judgment?

As for voices:

Do I feel it is Joe's obligation to run every comment that comes his way? Absolutely not, and I don't do so either. I am not providing a publicly funded service here. I am trying to 1) be constructive and consistent with that 2) build my audience.

Arguing with every half-baked troll that comes by is not my job. It now appears that not even politicians can manage it. How could I possibly?

I think you have identified a possible www resource: someplace where every half-baked troll has their say regardless of what it might be. I am not willing to provide this service; others are. Tony Watts, for instance, will publish anything, so long as it concludes "not the IPCC". Go there if you have the taste for that sort of thing.

This is exactly the problem. Every vote counts the same in a democracy. But if the social fabric breaks down, people don't have genuine community leaders to inform them of their actual interests, so people are vulnerable to charlatans and fanatics of various sorts, and democracy breaks down. In a situation like that, inclusion of "all voices" leads exactly to noise.

It is essential for people to understand that for any given issue it is almost a certainty that somebody else knows more about it than they do. What they should do with their voices is ask questions, not waste everybody's time telling us what they "feel".

We need to count ballots on election day, but in between times we need to evaluate voices, not just count them.

tidal said...

I kind of like the idea of incorporating some aggregation as well.

Personally, I like the format and general focus at The Energy Bulletin. Contributions from various blogs are highlighted, along with lots of news articles, IEA reports, etc., all sorted by category. I think a lot of the content originates with users making recommendations for site content. That may make for a lot of work for whomever has to vet it all, but I personally like the format. And it allows bloggers to keep their own site, but maybe get some boosts to traffic from those browsing just the aggregator. And, notably, the site does not provide a comment function*. For that, you have to go to the blogger or news site. This is similar to Climate Depot, afaict. (* You can occassionally make a brief comment on the site by contacting the site admins - they took a brief correcting comment of mine when an article went through suggesting that decreasing GHG emissions by 20% would decrease concentrations by 20%...)

W.r.t. the "science communication to public" strategy, or a "Morano/Watts/wingnut Audit" - I think that would be simply be the call of the site organizers/owners...

I am not sure that this is what mt has in mind - I think it is something more than this - but it's an interesting model. W.r.t. costs, etc., I see that they take no advertising (just a choice I suspect), but are associated with Post-Carbon. Bart Anderson seems like an approachable cyber-individual, so might have some insights to share... particularly as to what the "business model" is...

(fwiw, it would also solve the "Mashey has no blog!" problem ;) )

Where I see a problem is that if you model it like this, or Morano, or Drudge... you don't tend to build up any coherent body of knowledge. It just ends up being a blizzard of "new". Maybe that is where the RC wiki and the like come in.

Again, fwiw, a lot of your readership - and the readership of the other sites you mention - is already "doing" this aggregation on their own, via RSS, bookmarks, etc. But to increase readership by browsers - and for some of the "junior" blogs - it might be worth considering, as least as part of what you have in mind.

guthrie said...

I entirely agree with ThinkgsBreak when they talk about trying to reduce the influence of the anti-science forces. Ironically some of the strongest pro-science people used to be on the conservative side, but since conservatives have forgotten how to conserve they have dumped the commitment to attempt to follow rational debate and thought. (Or at least even more so than they used to)

This is a problem so big that it may well doom us. Obviously getting all us wonderful rational people to take over in a coup isn't going to work and is against our principles. But unless enough people get together and demand a more rational public discourse we're screwed.

Unknown said...
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Michael Tobis said...
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Anna Haynes said...

@James Annan, do you know if Fred Pearce has a blog?

Regarding aggregation, for those who don't already know this, I have a climate aggregator at warming101.com, currently updated once a day, and in need of some more blogs, I see.

It's automated, which is a plus and a minus.

IMO, the most important thing we can do is to talk to the befuddled public, from authority, without honoring the anti-science folks with any publicity - and the most effective way to do this is with an Ask Dr. Climate Science column, available free of charge to newspapers through ProPublica or the like.

(I registered the URL BTW, and will delightedly bestow it on Michael or whoever.)

Me, I'd like to see the Knight Foundation fund it, or provide matching funds, or something.
Or maybe Craig Newmark? especially since he gets pounded on for destroying newspapers; here he'd be injecting a much-needed improvement.

Unknown said...

Since virtually no one here has heard my five-year-old spiel about my site, let me use it as a launching point for this comment. The goal of The Cost of Energy has always been to help educate and activate mainstream voters and consumers.

The core idea is that we're in so much trouble thanks to both peak oil and climate change that we can't rely on just a grassroots movement or just a top-down effort spearheaded by large concentrations of power (governments, corporations, universities, NGO's, etc.). We need everyone pulling on an oar, thanks to all the time we've squandered over the last few decades.

The number one problem I've found in my presentations on energy and enviro issues is getting past the wall of indifference. You always get some people who genuinely want to hear what you're saying, and will go home, fire up Google, and start researching things. But a distressingly large number of people are "too busy", or they think you're a kook, or they do a quick Google and find one of the wackaloon doomer sites which then leads them to conclude you're a kook.

In terms of a web site, I think we need to serve several needs at once:

1. Provide accurate, short comebacks to the usual denier nonsense we see spewed everywhere online. This should allow for quick, simple, cut-and-paste replies.

2. Provide tutorial and reference information for newbies who genuinely want to learn.

3. Provide reference information for those of us who can't have an E+E conversation without a calculator in one hand. (This is obviously more advanced than the material in #2.)

4. Provide freely downloadable presentations and short reports on specific topics: e.g. comparison of various motor vehicle technologies, life cycle analyses, etc. Probably include fact checks of public claims, like GM's 230MPG Volt thing from the other day.

5. A bunch more stuff I haven't thought of.

And most of all, it needs to be publicized! There is no point whatsoever in creating a new web site on this topic if it will remain an invisible gem in the vastness of netspace.

Michael Tobis said...

Note: I removed the last four comments, including one of my own.

I don't want to discuss individual personalities here and who is or isn't playing fair.

Hank Roberts said...



Early in 2008 a report was released based on a University College London (UCL) study, Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future,
which examined how young people and school children look for information in comparison with older generations. The report was commissioned by the British Library and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of the British government’s effort to understand how information literacy is changing alongside technological developments.

The UCL report concluded that the majority of online information seekers look at only a percentage of an e-book or electronic journal article’s content before moving on, usually never to return. The study also points out that young people (born after 1993) “tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevant judgments about the pages they retrieve.”

Spoiled for choice when it comes to finding content online, digital natives often have difficulty evaluating the information they find, according to the UCL report....

Michael Tobis said...

I did some undergrad teaching at a second tier urban university fairly recently.

I can vouch for the fact that the kids don't much know how to think.

To some extent it's a temporary phenomenon: the kids are digital natives and the teachers have no clue. I don't think some of these kids even understand the concept of plagiarism.

I actually have some ideas how to address that.

Hank Roberts said...

I think you're doing good, Michael; can't even recall if anything I wrote was edited.

Can someone come up with a "Widget" climate bloggers could all display that links to H.E. Taylor's compilation? Something like that clickable CO2 counter showing up more places?

Because you're right, he does a hell of a good job; I don't read enough of his stuff often enough. But if he were a click away on all the serious climate bloggers' pages who wanted him as a source, much more of what he writes would be remarked on.

Hank Roberts said...

> how do we reach people who are
> indifferent or suspicious?

Emote. Seriously. Opined at greater length over at Keith Kloor's thread.

But let me tell you a little Southern story here.

Some of my high school years I lived in a very small town (about 3,000 people) in a county that had less than 50 percent indoor plumbing. Except during the school year when the two colleges brought in another 8,000 people.

And there were the tourists.

And one day a week all the farmers came into town.

So on market day, I was downtown (all four or five blocks) and three farmers were sitting on the steps of one of the old buildings waiting for someone. Usual passers-by, nice afternoon.

Big sedan pulled up to the curb and parked, wife went off to look at something, and the husband -- he got out and stood there for a while looming over the farmers, and then started 'asking them questions'.

Insulting ones.

He built up for a while being snide and obviously thinking he was talking over their heads, because he didn't see them getting mad.

Toward the end -- by which time all of us watching knew he was getting into real trouble without a clue -- it went something like this:

-- "I guess you guys don't get to town very often."

== "Well, no sir."

-- "You like the bright lights?"

== "Well, sir, most all of us have electricity now."

-- "Yeah? And do you have indoor plumbing by now out there?"

== "No, sir."

And the farmer stood up and punched the guy out; he fell over the hood of his big car and almost off the other side.

And the guy started to get up irate.

And everyone else on the street applauded. And he looked around, found his wife, dragged her to the car and roared off.

He simply had never had a clue that -- to these folks -- politeness really mattered.

And -- to these folks -- when a person finally does blow his top -- that's how you know they're sincere about being angry.

Like I said on the other site, demagogues counterfeit this very effectively.

But climate needs some of that.

Huxley, remember?

Michael Tobis said...

Hank, was with you 'til the "Huxley" at the end. Huh?

Steve Bloom said...

Hank channels Eli at times. :)

guthrie said...

I've read a fair bit of what Aldous Huxley wrote, but I'm nost sure what Hank is on about with that mention.
On the other hand I think he's probably right about meeting people and connecting with them face to face.

bigcitylib said...

Further thoughts here:


Arthur said...

Regarding Romm's "worst-case-scenario" emphasis, compared to Bush-era Iraq doctrine... I believe it was Cheney who declared that even a 1% chance of significant harm was worth battling against. Romm tends to emphasize things that are at the upper end of the IPCC (and subsequent analyses) range of expected problems, but given that these are generally 90% CL ranges, there's at least a 5% chance of Romm's scenarios playing out, in most cases. So his worst cases are actually far more likely than Cheney's "1% doctrine" range (if Cheney's 1% was even actually based on any factual analysis in the Iraq case - unlikely I think).

Romm's reasons for doing this, in my view, are simply to balance essentially every other media outlet that far more often emphasizes the low range, and ignores the high range of estimates altogether. Given that potential damages at the high end are very severe, and there is a 5% or more chance of us experiencing them, including the extremes in the discussion is very important.

When you talk to somebody who's thinking of playing Russian Roulette, it's pretty important that you highlight the 17%-likelihood worst-case outcome, and don't just mention the 83%-likelihood nothing-wrong outcome. That's Romm's job as the anti-Morano, and he does it extremely well.

Aside from which, if people are already calling you and all your colleagues "alarmist", you might as well make that an accurate claim by sounding the alarm on the things that are really potential outcomes if we don't act to prevent them. It also helps to move Overton window so that real solutions become that much more likely.

jules said...

One thing i didn't see appearing in the discussion yet is participating on internetforums.

On Flanders biggest political forum me and some others, for three years now, have been explaining what is wrong with all the usual bad science the skeptics present. In those discussions, i use my blog only as underlying reference material.

I think it has proven to be a rather effective way of communicating. There was p.ex. a rather strong libertarian colony on that forum, but none of them still dares to express climate skepticism aloud.

I'm not going to say that by now they embrased science wholehartilly, and yes you still can feel the topic makes them feel uncomfortable. But they did learn that they should not copy everything morano-like websites present them. And they did learn there's a machinery going on that is trying to mislead the audience.

The skeptcis remaining on that forum are people who are hopeless and who, no matter what the subject is, are not taken serious anymore by anyone else on that forum.

As said : it has been the most effective way of communicating i know. No blog will ever be able to do that, because if someone enters a blog telling something he doesn't want to hear, he simply clicks away. And he will google for a blog that does tell him what he wants to hear.

A second thing associated with this forum-talking is that indeed there's a strong need for a "climate encypclopedia"

People entering my site often are desperately looking for a source to debunk the things they meet on the net, especially fora & message boards.

It would be a tremenduous help if every time they need something, they could be find it on one single site with correct information.

Don't know about who links to your blogs, but i have the feeling allover the net there's a whole bunch of people talking on fora who are dying to find an expanded version of a thing like coby becks 'how to talk to a skeptic' guide.

Hank Roberts said...


C'mon, guys. This is exactly what you're talking about needing, someone like Huxley.



Aside -- anyone who thinks Morano is cute and cuddly should remember what he uncorked with the 'Swiftboating' stories, which were intentional and quite effective at riling up people who believed them --and who still believe them and much else that isn't true. It was a cynical move, one Morano never backed off from.


Michael Tobis said...

I was thinking Aldous; Brave New World, etc.

Hank Roberts said...

Chuckle. I was raised by and as a biologist.

For those who weren't -- this is the person you want for this job.

From that link -- seriously, think about this. This is someone as different from Morano as you could imagine, in all respects.

Your job is to find him today.


"Thomas Henry Huxley, such an aggressive defender of evolution that he was known as "Darwin's bulldog."

The early life of Huxley (1825-1895) was much different from the privileged existence of Darwin. He was one of eight children, growing up outside of London without much money. He left school early, trained to be a doctor, and educated himself in science, history, and philosophy, becoming one of the most broadly informed and influential figures in Victorian science.

Like Darwin, Huxley studied natural history while traveling on a naval ship. Initially, Huxley did not accept evolution at all. But Darwin converted him with the On the Origin of Species, and Huxley mused afterwards, "How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!"

Although he was much more than a defender of Darwin -- he led the movement toward the professionalization of science, for example -- Huxley is best known for his public exchange in 1860 with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. The bishop, a clever, witty debater, opened himself to attack by making a gentle joke about Huxley's ancestry. Huxley, furious, replied famously to the effect that he would rather be descended from an ape than a bishop.

Huxley, the first of a family of important scientists, is also known for coining the term "agnostic" to distinguish skeptics like himself from atheists, who denied the existence of a god. To Huxley, agnosticism was an acceptance of the idea that the human mind could not go beyond certain limits, namely the ability to analyze actual experience. To the confusion of his religious opponents, however, Huxley was very much a moralist and intolerant of sin."


Huxley would not be fooled by Morano.


Dano said...

I'm enjoying this discussion.

One of the things that strikes me is that in Hank's excellent comments we see a wide range of thought, then synthesis.

What the public needs is the ability to synthesize and analyze. Else the whiz-bangiest aggregator is nothing more than yelling at a brick wall. And the slickest writer is ignored in favor of mouth-breathing while texting/twittering.

My 2¢



Hank Roberts said...

Er, of course, you also need the Darwin -- separate from the Huxley.

No human being is going to be able to do both the appropriate enormous anger and the necessary calm precise science, without help.

Helping someone with separating the two may be the real challenge, for the scientists.

Because you've got the people with the public anger and the ability to draw the attention of the media.

You've got the people who respect the science.

You've got people who both respect the science and are righteously, effectively, publicly angry, but who need a better back team to keep the science precise and well cited, a firewall between the science and the anger. Badly needed, hard to convince.

Heck, I'm nobody, I nitpick accuracy and grammar and clarity and citations. I've emailed every one of the big names mentioned here so far, at least once, to point out something they wrote that needed help. Ton'o'bricks? Oh, I only got one or two. But it's _hard_ to tell people who are out in public, prominent, and well rewarded that they could do better, without seeming to be the enemy.

“Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side.” (Teresa Nielsen Hayden).

And then you've got the Huffpost umbrella which is a disaster and discrediting even the good science that shows up there because of their tolerance for woo-woo-woo.

Hank Roberts said...

PS: first 2 hits for
morano swiftboat:

Marc Morano - SourceWatch
CNS and Morano were the first source in May 2004 of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election [1] and in ...

Memo to media, blogosphere: Swift boat smearer Marc Morano has no ...
Apr 7, 2009 ... And yet Swift Boat smearer Morano leaves out of his emailed bio that on May 3, 2004, he wrote the CNS article “Kerry 'Unfit to be ...

This is where Joe Romm's approach succeeds. Worth remembering.
Just Google it, whatever it is.

Oh yeah -- try 'Huxley'

Anna Haynes said...

I didn't know you was a biologist Hank - cool.

If we get the discussion up & running and it's making progress, we might consider (but how to do this?) gently and constructively and effectively critiquing the climate outreach that our govt is doing. It's our money, after all, and they're spending quite a bit of it, to minimal return in some cases.
(examples provided upon request)

Actually, that's another idea.
Confidential to Steven Chu, Barack Obama, John Holdren et al.: please make Michael Tobis our Climate Outreach czar.

(If anyone has a silo, to the corridors of power, could you send that message through the pneumatic tubes?)

That is all.

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks again Anna! Your faith in me is perhaps excessive but I hope not entirely misplaced.

bigcitylib said...

An advantage of an aggregator vs. encyclopedia format is that you really want the front page to change with the news. A piece of crap gets passed off as science at CD or Icecap or on one of the many lists and forums, and as soon as there is a response, up that goes in response.

Think of a website that looks like Drudge where the headline reads:

DeFreitas Recants Own Paper

(although encyclopedia type thingies are good too. There's a few out there)

Also, traffic quantity is much less important than who reads. If you get 5 journos reading regular thats worth 500 knuckle-draggers.

Hank Roberts said...

> If you get 5 journos reading
> regular thats worth 500
> knuckle-draggers.

And if you can get the scientists and journalists posting but filter the knuckle-draggers -- the journalists might read the thread.

John Mashey repeatedly suggests "shadow threads" -- it would be a good idea. Needs a programmer?


I also recall John Mashey commenting that it'd be great if all the rebuttals were correlated.

"Mars is warming!" --
reply "16"


"It's the Sun!" --
reply "1" from skepticalscience,
reply "6" from http://royalsociety.org/page.asp?tip=1&id=6233

And there are so many refutations that aren't organized, that should be indexed or tagged somehow (more programming?).

This one collects a lot of them:


We could share our collections.
Or figure out how to tag stuff.

The only good tool I know of for shared citation collection, Zotero, is from where Wegman works, and he's Mr. Data Mining. If its collections are being data-mined by someone, I hope it's someone smart enough to care about speaking truth to power.


We need to simplify the responses to cookie-cutter stuff.

Otherwise you can see their evil plan working:
-- get everyone who blogs and cares about science caught up in retyping the same answers over and over,
-- flood the blogs with new userids repasting the same assertions.
-- steal the next election, while we're all preoccupied with the arranged distractions.

Every time there's a blog kerfluffle, I want someone to stand up and say WAIT, LOOK BEHIND THE FOG to remind us that the real action is probably elsewhere.

Always look for an upcoming hearing, or an election, or the public release of an important paper (perhaps with a good or bad PR release along with it).

We really need to pay attention to the ...
.... ooooh, shiny! ....

Ever wonder why bulls always lose?
They're suckers for charging the rodeo clowns instead of going for the guy in the fancy outfit hiding behind the big red cape holding the sword.

Hank Roberts said...

PS, the list "by myth" at the RCwiki is another one worth correlating.

Hank Roberts said...

OK, last one for a while, too much me.

But DeSmog illustrates why I think capitvating the bloggers and tying them down to their computers is part of the game. Look up your location and if it's among those on the target list, leave your computer and go to the public meeting.


guthrie said...

Ha, this thread is coming back into my world. We've got Hank talking about the first famous HUxley, (I'm sure I have some of his esssays somewhere) and then mentions TNH, and I hang out at Making light a bit.

Jules said:
"One thing i didn't see appearing in the discussion yet is participating on internetforums."

I applaud him for doing so, because it is what I have been doing for the last 5 or 6 years. And many other people have been doing it too, often for longer.

It is a mix of the usual desires to be right, to correct people who are wrong, to push political or scientific points across. Decades ago you of course had usenet etc.
I remember when the Scotsman newspaper opened a bulletin board in 1999, and I started posting on it. But in the last 8 or so years things have really taken off, because of the proliferation of newspapers, forums, and everything. THese have been eagerly siezed upon by opinionated people to push their message, and in the case of climate change I was very glad when RealCliamte started up, because it provided a nice central point source of real verified and explained information. Even so it was a few years after the denialist sites.

We have I think been in stalemate online for sevearal years now. There are information sources and explanatory places. In terms of the evolution/ creationism non-argument, I think the climate related blogs and sources have only now reached the maturity of the evolution etc ones. What this means is that there are standard resources, we are all singing from pretty much the same song sheet, as are the denialists.

So on almost any newspaper, bulletin board, or other multi-purpose internet discussion venue, us pro-science people can squish the arguments of the denialists. Most of the time, although the cunning ones cause a bit of confusion. Thus the denialists complain about persecution.

But it is a stalemate, they get their new lies from Morano or Plimer, we counter them with help from the climate scientists. All over the world. 24 hours a day and all that. In thousands of venues, and I've no idea what is going on in the non-english speaking world but I think the processes and outcome will be the same.

Why it is a stalemate is I think down to several things. 1) the hydra headed denialist talking points. 2) the bone headedness of people who fear they have something to lose. 3) the simple fact that the climate and its issues are very big and scary and not inmmediately important to normal people. (I make no claim to being normal) 4) The poverty of public discourse, as exhibited by the sheer lies put about regarding health care in the USA and elsewhere.

The thing is, we have enough support as it is that if the politicians were up to doing their job in a semi-rational fashion, we'd have a good chance, and damn the denialists and their cronies. But because of the mess of politics, I'm a little worried.

Michael Tobis said...

as for "need a programmer", of course! Give me more programmers and I can move mountains! But at present, alas, I only want ones that will work on spec, for an outfit that's going to be a nonprofit, at best...

Dano said...

Let us not forget that despite API ginning up astroturf oppo, we have come a long way and the Senate will vote on a climate bill in several weeks. This is not a stalemate.



Michael Tobis said...

It's not a victory that will hold if perceptions don't change. The trend of late has been that powerful people are convinced but the hoi polloi not.

guthrie said...

Ahh, the Hoi Polloi. Rule 1 or maybe 3 or 8 or something is don't call people hoi Polloi online, because someone will use it against you.
There are polls to look at, and you mentioned one before IIRC. But from my basic pottering about the internets, talking to average people at work and so on, most people, whether 51% or 89%, don't want to be bothered by climate change very much. If you can keep the necessary changes down to a minimum they won't notice and won't complain. They will get annoyed if people talk down to them, assume they are stupid, or ignore them completely. But we have various green organisations putting across various messages, and I think most people are aware of climate change.

The tricky bit is in formulating actions which are useful and yet don't cause massive dislocations to your average citizen. Which unfortunately involves politics, although a sensible bunch of scientists, engineers and economists could work it out, and lots of people have done so already in various ways.
The simple fact is that we right now have the technology to deal with climate change without either destroying our economies or driving everyones material living standards down to the level of your average citizen in 1900. And with the expected technologies in the next 20 years or so, (Not the techno utopians dream stuff but what is in the lab now and will probably work in real life) we can make more last for longer.

And yes maybe in 10 years time personal cars in the UK will be more rare, or at least there won't be 2 or 3 per family. And perhaps in 30 years time you won't own your own car at all but merely hire it for special occaisions. And you certainly won't get shirts for £5 each.

But its that or die.

Dano said...

It's not a victory that will hold if perceptions don't change. The trend of late has been that powerful people are convinced but the hoi polloi not.

OF course we are open to th' gummint coercion arguments from the willfully ignorant here, but plenty of laws have been passed in the face of opposition. Isn't this why we have leaders?

Yes, yes, I know: we have few leaders. Is there no one with cojones anymore?



Hank Roberts said...

Apropos Huxley:

James Annan said...

@Anna: no, I suspect the bully pulpit of newscientist and the Independent newspaper are enough that he wouldn't want to bother with a blog.

Hank Roberts said...

That little Southern story I told ya -- here's a true voice, a wise one, making the point far better:

September 14, 2006

... there’s not much of a consciousness about what I consider the problem that will matter the most to people a hundred years from now, and a thousand years from now, namely that we are pauperizing the earth in an irreversible way, and ecosystems are being wiped out, can never be reconstituted, species are being lost at an accelerating rate, and that’s well documented, and that’s what I’ve spent a lifetime studying, and this is a concern primarily of a small—-you know, proportionate to the huge American and world population—-a quite small number of people who are devoted conservationists and conservation scientists, and professionals, and real hardcore environmentalists in our midst, and they’re doing a wonderful job as best they can, but they only represent a very small percentage of the public. And as I went along, I was worrying about this, you know, I think my colleagues keep thinking that maybe “one more book, one more book,” like General Haig at Verdun, (laughter) “one more charge, one more battalion of men and we’ll break through, one more charge,” and it hasn’t been happening. The atmosphere has been changing very well, Americans are becoming green, I mean, generally.

But it occurred to me that there is one enormous group of people in this country that really should, and probably do if you ask them, care about the Creation, and that of course is the great, well, I started to say Christian, Judeo-Christian, but why not just say those of the Abrahamic religions, it includes Islam, they care, but they don’t have it articulated, and furthermore they just don’t seem—-they don’t see the need to really move on this one now. If they could be recruited, if even a tiny fraction could be recruited, then, it could tip the balance, this could be a tipping point.

Well, that was my dream and that we shall see what happens. And I might say that, because what I’m calling for is irenic, and it is meant to be an exchange of mutual respect on common ground, the hopes that we will get this kind of engagement are high.
... If you can make it with the evangelicals, you know, the fundamentalists included, you can make it with the rest of the religious community.
... I knew that-—I know my people, I grew up in Alabama. And I knew, furthermore, and it’s just common sense, that if unless you enter into a discourse of this kind, unless you put—-first you put the cards face up on the table, and you don’t get mealy-mouthed about anything, but present it exactly as it is, as you see it, and the second thing you do when that is done, is you extend the hand of friendship, of mutual respect, as every one of them deserves ....

Hank Roberts said...

Google "Pielkes all the Way Down"
-- that is spreading.

Via a couple of links, the Google search led me to this invitation.

If you don't recognize the name, or haven't seen their videos, don't fail to look.


Sorry to say the deadline is today; I hope someone noticed it.

Here's their description:

"... Note: it's not satire! The idea is to really appeal to people who don't believe in climate change, or don't think it's important, and to communicate why it is and why it's better to do something about it than not... and to do that in a voice they enjoy.

Winning bits will be part of a climate-change-oriented, New York City-centric tabloid website and devious email campaign we're launching this month - and we'll send you something nice in the mail, too.

Pieces should feel at home in a tabloid (funny, angry, etc.), should be about climate change (the disastrous effects, cool initiatives to fight it, etc.), and should be fully based in reality. Again, not satire! (Please include, with your submission, any URLs that will help us to see how it's based in reality, if it's not obvious.)"

Hank Roberts said...

PS, you really should know about this -- what's impressive is that they work _very_ hard at getting the science and citations correct.

Accuracy and satire will eventually trump exaggeration and calumny.


"On April 28, 2005, at a London banking conference to which they had accidentally been invited because of their satirical website, "Dow representative" "Erastus Hamm" unveiled "Acceptable Risk," a Dow industry standard for determining how many deaths are acceptable when achieving large profits. The bankers enthusiastically applauded the lecture, which described several industrial crimes, including IBM's sale of technology to the Nazis for use in identifying Jews, as "golden skeletons" - i.e. skeletons in the closet, but lucrative and therefore acceptable ones.

Several of the bankers in attendance then signed up for licenses for the "Acceptable Risk Calculator" and even posed with Acceptable Risk mascot "Gilda, the golden skeleton in the closet," for photos. ...."


Dano said...

Speaking of my favorite author list, Wendell Berry also echoes and amplifies the message of EO Wilson, but gives practical solutions, and has for decades. Wilson tries to change our thought processes, Berry our actions. A good duo.



Michael Tobis said...

Berry is a fine poet. As far as advice for the future goes, he fails to do the arithmetic.

I do sympathize. I'm all in favor of reducing use, informal recycling, rebuilding communities. I'm all in favor of learning to make do with less impact. But these are grossly inadequate solutions given the state of the world.

The sustainable human population of a pretechnological earth is already established as under a billion, so limiting our response to the romantic green program implies a mortality on the order of 80 to 90 per cent.

Get back to me in 200 years after the population has gradually subsided and maybe we'll talk.

For now, the solution isn't agrarianism, it's urbanism. It isn't disestablishing the market, it's broadening it; it isn't localism, it's global sharing.

guthrie said...

Michael - who is advocating mass dieback and agrarianism? No one on this thread that I can see.

We have to use technology, but we don't have to keep using it all the same way that we have done. It would be more efficient in terms of fossil fuel and other materials if we dumped the 1 person 1 car ideology we seem to have today, and go back to buses and trains, at least for urban and suburbanites. And working from home, and so on.
Global is not necessary for everything. The point is to do what works best locally, and in large parts of England that means growing most of their food locally instead of importing huge amounts of it.
And so on. Its yet another area I simply don't have time to become expert on. There is plenty to be done, but we have to be aware of pitfalls, such as assuming that such and such technology will turn up and fix things for us.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm not advocating pixie dust the way Nordhaus does. I'm advocating realistic plans that recognize global constraints.

Libertarian/hippie romanticism is helpful. But it doesn't suffice.

That means we are stuck with dams, or wind farms, or CO2 pipelines, or nuclear plants, or at any rate something that Wendell Berry does not want in his back yard.

Also, perhaps England can be self-supporting, but London can't. And if everybody in London fanned out to the coutryside, things would get worse, not better.

There are now 25 million people here in Texas and a severe drought that we hope is temporary and not a harbinger of things to come. If everything were localized half of us would be dead this very minute.

Hank Roberts said...

> global sharing

Two problems. Overshoot, and lag times.

Whenever transportation is interrupted, the local population hits whatever local limit it has overshot.

"Aid" that encourages building with the assumption that transport will always be available is extractive. And quite profitable. See the "golden skeletons" reference.

By the time outside aid is delivered, the transportation problem has been resolved -- whoever was going to die from the shortage already did, and the aid merely reestablishes the overshoot condition.

Just paraphrasing from memory, but it's one of the cold equations.

Michael Tobis said...

This has become the monster thread that ate my life!

Yes, I am a bit of an outlier on this globalism localism thing. I think it's way way overstated. I have no expectation that transportation will shut down unless/until the decline has dropped into catastrophic proportions.

Please, let's drop the topic for now, pending another thread. I'm swamped, please don't encourage me on new stuff. Sorry I mentioned it!

Dano said...

mt doesn't have to respond here.

Guthrie: Berry is an agrarian, and 'his failure to do the math' is not a failure but rather an implicit recognition of limits - Mathusian limits - and for such a system as he often proposes to work there must be far fewer folk on the land; this has been discussed here before with 'hard landings' and 'soft landings'. Nonetheless, his essays about capitalistic exploitation are directly related to the topic(s) of this thread.

Krugman and DeLong have recently briefly explored the 'Malthusian trap' that was a limiter on human population until the relatively recent discovery of how to find and exploit cheap energy. We have used cheap energy to escape the trap, and here we are today.

Hank's 'overshoot' and 'lag' are a recognition of the ecological issue at hand (and personally I would replace 'transport' with 'energy').

OK, back to the garden.



guthrie said...

Yes, this thread is too big now and I'm not sure where things started.
Ahhh, it was mention of Berry. I am not familiar with him, but I do have a clue about farming, well not a huge one but more than a lot of people. But being just an amateur looking in I don't get all the technical language.

Michael Tobis said...

The Charney sensitivity is the number of degrees the "climate system" warms, all else equal, if CO2 doubles.

The "climate system" is defined as atmosphere, ocean, and sea ice. Land ice changes are excluded, and carbon cycle feedbacks are essentially factored out by definition.

You cannot have a policy position without an implicit position on the sensitivity. If you say no policy action is needed, you are saying that the sensitivity is certainly near zero, NOT that you don't know what it is. This is the central misframing of the denialist camp.

Anna Haynes said...

FYI, here's a direct link to H.E. Taylor's Another Week of Global Warming News

H.E. Taylor is a treasure.

Michael Tobis said...

[cowboy hat]
Yep, looks like he's gone. Fancy that.

Want to talk about all hat and no cattle? How bout a feller claims to be a physics grad from some big deal muckety muck school over in England? Now I know I've stretched a tale here and there, sir, but I swear with the Lord as my witness, that feller took off outa here the first time anybody asked him to talk about a number. The first number!

Yep, took off outa here like a jackrabbit with his tail on fire. Err, sorry Eli.

Whatsat ma'am?

Nome. They shore don't. They don't make Ox-Own-Yuns like they useta.

Paul said...

This thread should be titled “Tobis Agonistes”.

Focus on doing in the unwashed and presenting cogent arguments for the sincerely unconvinced. Keep giving ammo to us in the wilderness speaking to our unconvinced brothers and sisters. Keep up the drumbeat on sustainability and climate change as a piece of a much bigger problem. Keep up the pressure on the nonsense of classical economics which recognizes no limit on resources. Keep up the pressure on Revkin to reduce the balance and focus on the science. Stop being fearful of talking about the high end of the risk curve.

Ignore folks like Keith the Koncerned. Listen to Arthur. Keith is not here to be convinced or to learn. He is here to confound and confuse.

Your antipathy to Joe Romm is of long standing and one for which I hold little sympathy. You are obviously a nice guy and you promote civil discourse. That’s good up to a point. You have been burned badly by Rodger the Dodger in the past. Roger has recently covered himself with glory through the misuse of Google. Feel free to go for the throat—or not. But give Joe his due, he takes on Roger and all the other purveyors of FUD in real time.

If I could send one message to Joe it would be: Get an editor!. Cut your output in half and spend the time you gain on self editing and word mechanics. My god, I am over a 100 posts behind on Climate Progress!

If you want folks to communicate the issues to people who will count, start courting and instructing John Stewart and Steven Colbert. Facts have a liberal bias.

Paul Middents

Michael Tobis said...

Thanks for the advice, Paul.

I like Keith Kloor, and am softened on the journalistic quandary through conversation with John Fleck, who threads the needle more elegantly than any other American self-identified "journalist" I know of. These guys have a strange ethic that they hold to, even though it doesn't really work anymore.

Anyway Keith has done me enough good this past week to make up for any harm in the past.

As for Romm, when push comes to shove we are both on the side of coping with the situation rather than running away and burying our heads while it gradually gets worse.

I have no intention of picking fights with Joe Romm. More times than not, I agree with him, and sometimes he does very good investigative work which I very much appreciate, as do most of us.

However, I am not a regular reader of his; his style is not to my taste. It's just a matter of style. That's all I have to say about it.

Jim Acker said...

Over on Real Climate I made the following outrageous suggestion, er, modest proposal, and somebody else actually liked it. So I'm spreading it (thick) here:

"So here’s a modest proposal (and I’m not Jonathan Swift). A reality-based TV show (or Webcast) where a group of actual climate skeptics come to real science class about climate. In each episode, one or two or three of the most popular circulating misconceptions is presented by one of the skeptics to the instructors of the class. The instructors calmly, methodically, and systemically deconstruct the misconception, explain why its wrong, and then explain the proper and correct scientific understanding of that particular topic. After the whole class (8-10 episodes), the skeptics are then asked to honestly assess what they think about climate change now. (Kinda like “The Biggest Loser” — which one of the skeptics attending the class would end up being the “biggest loser” of their host of climate change misconceptions? Of course, there would have to be an emotional angle, but I can leave that to the producers.)"

Ennui, er, enjoy!

Unknown said...

Hey, Michael, yes, I guess that was me you were accusing of ducking the Charney number question. But you neglected to say here that it was an absurd question you asked in the context of the discussion - which was absolutely nothing to do with policy - and an impossible question to answer (without an absurdly large range either side) if you'd been following what I'd said.

Remember, you couldn't rebut what I'd said about the huge uncertainty of climate models, nor could your regulars here. Reframing the discussion into something entirely different that you feel more comfortable with - which is always the pro-AGW way - doesn't actually help your cause.

There's a very big elephant in the corner of the pro-AGW room, and trying to ignore it won't help. You'll certainly have me labeled as a sceptic or worse, but my pointing out that AGW advaocates adopting the moral high ground from the position of a molehill in the middle of a blank area captioned terra incognita doesn't make me a sceptic - it confirms my position as an agnostic who wants to fill in the blank areas.

I wish that you and your fellows here felt the same way. And then the bloggers you accuse of lying may have less of a large target to aim at.

Michael Tobis said...

If you're going to set up a straw man I'm going to "change the subject" by representing the actual argument.

Unknown said...

Michael, you'll probably want to dismiss the sentiment, but I wanted to say how much I appreciated the fact that you didn't drop or censor my comments. That's not true of every blog out there! Your forum does appear more open and civilized than the rest (on both sides)and I shall do my utmost to ensure I don't abuse your tolerance.

Michael Tobis said...

Alex, thanks for the kind words.

Fortunately for my sanity, the crude blogger interface is an all-or-nothing affair. I can't edit your submission.

I do occasionally exercise editorial judgment and not let stuff through, more often than not, but not always, against postings that don't think vigorous policy is indicated. Things that push me over the edge are rudeness, stridency, imperviousness to argument, and redundancy. Things that pull the other way are fundamental decency, a good sense of humor, and a little bit of humility.

You are a bit close to the edge on the perviousness to argument at this point.

I am insanely far behind on intended postings but I will try to come up with another discussion of sensitivity and why I think it is crucial at some point. A related brief argument is here.

Anna Haynes said...

Three things.

First, a response to Oakden Wolf's suggestion of a Reality TV remedial "skeptic's school" - I think it's a great idea, for public TV. (It probably wouldn't have enough action/violence for a normal TV show, unless you could throw someone off the island.)

Second, re my email that Michael reprinted in this post: for the record, the original did have whitespace.

And third, in a comment above, Hank Roberts suggested that we have an H.E. Taylor "Another Week of Global Warming News" widget like the CO2 level ones - I've created it, and you can fetch the HTML for it here.