"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Stray Late Night Thought

More wild speculation, but it seems like this may be a part of our problem

Bloggers mostly read other bloggers and write to impress other bloggers.

Economists mostly read other economists and write to impress other economists.

Scientists mostly read other scientists and write to impress other scientists.

Journalists mostly read other journalists and write to impress other journalists.

Republicans mostly read or listen to other Republicans and write or speak to impress other Republicans.

Democrats mostly read or listen to other Democrats and write or speak to impress other Democrats.

And so on.

By dividing up into our little hermetically sealed subcultures and sub-subcultures do we stop making sense to other groups? Inside vs. outside the beltway barely begins to capture it.


Tom said...

I read you every day. I read Climate Audit every day. I write to please myself.

Anonymous said...

Tom (Fuller?), you reinforced the first part of Michael's first point: Bloggers mostly read other bloggers.

And by extension, they base their opinions to a large extent on (what they read, i.e.) what other bloggers write.


Dol said...

Same happens in academia: I've always pictured it like speciation. If different sub-groups end up on different sides of an intellectual mountain range with no-one nipping back and forth to keep some memes crossing, their language just evolves off into its own little world. If that were true, the good news would be - it wouldn't take many people crossing boundaries to keep everyone more or less able to understand each other. I think we just have to value that role - as a link - more than we do. It doesn't need to be everyone's job, but a few people need to do it.

Anonymous said...


That's a good point. The practical hurdle that quickly comes up is that the way academia is structured (e.g. very strong emphasis on number of papers and respect of your immediate peers, but also the reductionist nature of science) actually encourages people to stay in their own little world.

It seems extremely hard to build a career on building bridges. Not only between different academic fields, but also between science, the public, politics, business, etc.

It's one of the reasons why this whole discussion is so difficult.


Steven Sullivan said...

Do you mean tribes? ;>

Michael Tobis said...

krabapple, yes, very much the same idea.

I think the novelty is realizing just how many tribes there are in a complex issue.

Steven Sullivan said...

btw, I'll try to remember to sign my posts since I'm here under a nick, whereas on other climate blogs (like Kloor's) you might see me as:

-Steven Sullivan

guthrie said...

Well of course? Who else has the experience and ability to appreciate them and their writing?

Personally I think one reason for it is the way that there is a tendency to specialisation in every activity. The more you specialise and concentrate on it, the better your chance of winning or differentiating yourself from everyone else.
But because you are more specialised, fewer people can talk to you. People find it easier to talk about their work with their colleagues, leading to the formation of professional associations and more conferences, since they can't just go to the pub and hash things out with their friends, none of whom would understand their job without spending days in background reading.
However the tendency is most dangerous when it extends to functions which are ultimately supposed to be integrative, such as goverment. So instead of listening to the professional specialist advice, it is ignored. INstead of sensibly examining and debating a bill, it is either needlessly abused and voted against, or rammed through without any discussion.

I count science as an occupation which splits things up and puts them back together again. This process takes time and effort.

word verification is 'audicing' which is probably the practise of carrying out an audit but slicing everything so fine that it is meaningless.

Aaron said...

In grad school, people learn more and more about less and less. When they know everything about nothing, they are given a PhD.

The problem is that our experts are no longer in touch with reality. MT knows about programming climate models, but he does not spend much time on the environmental toxicity or fate and transport of surfactants and hydrocarbons. However, that is OK because that is not his job. In fact, that is the job of 2 different teams of PhDs. Now, it becomes clear that communications overhead becomes an over whelming factor. (The Mythical Man Month of computer programming) By the time the engineers have worked out a solution, somebody will have gone and tried a “cowboy solution” – i. e. BP hired a rig to go out and drill deeper without giving the engineers a chance to really think about what could go wrong and how they would fix THAT.

jg said...

I usually don't come here to feel good (nor do I end up feeling bad) but this post made me feel good about my projects. I live in a very conservative community and I've taken upon myself the role of climate and science informer via school astronomy nights. I've probably presented to a couple thousand students, teachers and parents just this past school year. I always have a little section about the application of astronomy, in which I show how orbital factors are a foundation in climatology. This has led to many good discussions with people who approach me afterwards to ask "do you believe in global warming?" I wouldn't have been able to do this without all the climate scientist bloggers who've helped me to better understand the science and to stay current on the anti-science talking points. I've also learned to never underestimate the extent to which the amateur denialists I meet don't understand their own talking points.


guthrie said...

Aaron - communication overhead sounds like a good label, but what I think of in this context is the time it takes to try and communicate different stuff to people who don't have a background in the area. You end up spending much more time absorbing information and learning stuff, which of course takes away from your own specialism, and so on

Mitchell said...

It suggests that when outgroup communication does occur, it mostly happens due to combat. One group hates another enough that they feel compelled to engage with it.

Anonymous said...

While there is probably some division between, say, astronomers and statisticians, it's at least surmountable in principle -- you need to know the notations, the definitions of terms, and some things about the different academic cultures, but fundamentally there's no great problem.

The real challenge is in bridging the gap between (let's put it this way) staunch Republicans and, well, just about everyone else. Look at this. How can we talk to someone whose very epistemology, and whose processes for chaining up arguments, bear zero resemblance to what we know as logic? And I think even if a Republican were to one day start writing a book Republican epistemology for Democrat dummies, they'll also fail quite miserably.

As for reporters, I don't know. Perhaps reporters such as Pearce and Kloor still have a vague idea that there are such things as "facts" that don't depend on what people say into a mic. If not, then epistemology-wise they're not that much better than the staunch Republican.

(word verification: "verse")