"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Kloor: An Appreciation and an Apology

My troubles with mainstream journalism (Kloor prominently included) and my frustration with their obtuseness will have to await another day, as for the moment I owe Keith Kloor an apology.

So first, let me accentuate the positive.

Keith Kloor consistently writes interesting articles about interesting topics. The only way the world will grapple with its sustainability issues is if it finds those issues interesting. Keith and I and I hope most of you share the goal of getting people to understand that the future of our suddenly finite planet is a topic not just worthy of contemplation, but one that is deeply fascinating and engaging as well. (As Lou Grinzo once said "The future will be many things, but boring ain't on the list.")

Secondly, whatever else you can say about the conversations he starts, they attract a far more varied set of participants than any other venue in the sustainability space that I know of, with the possible and notable exception of Andy Revkin, who is in some ways a similar writer but has the advantage of a higher profile. Apparently there are advantages to the studied neutrality of the journalism culture in engaging a broad range of opinions. Score one for the old school over the untutored blogs, you have to admit.

As regular readers know, I have a lot of complaints about old school journalism as applied to science, too, but this is not the occasion for it.

Conversation about Keith came up on the back channels yesterday as a consequence of his new blogging venture at Climate Central. In the course of that conversation I was reminded of Arthur Smith's blistering rant about Keith last year, and like anything I might want to refer to later, I added it to my reader feed. ("mt's shared items" on the right over there ===> )

Now, the reason that Keith came up in mailing list conversation is precisely the reason that my noting this criticism was ill-timed and boorish.

Keith has started a new blog at Climate Central, and announced it with some enthusiasm. I think he expected some words of congratulation from some quarters. I think perhaps the lack of a substantial response stems more from a lack of enthusiasm for Climate Central (which I share) than form a lack of support for Keith among his readers, but it must sting a bit nonetheless. So, amid all that, to see an old and harsh roasting recycled here was the icing on the cake.

Keith contacted me in email quite upset disappointed, and I have to say I see his point.

Our tech is pretty overloaded. (Doc Searls has an excellent rant about that today, by the way.) Most readers of this blog aren't interested in my occasional gems of software engineering and Python coding that make it onto my reader feed, but I haven't bothered to maintain multiple feeds. Sometimes I add things there for you all, sometimes just for my own reference. Usually, though, I can handle multiple contexts for one item better than that, and I should have seen how reviving this item at this time could be taken as a slap in the face.

While my fundamental disagreements with Keith's journalism-ism have not gone away, I really didn't intend to actually stir up bad feelings. As I've said before, I like the guy. This despite the fact that he has occasionally said quite nasty things about me; in a way that's fortunate because I had some room to even the score. But I really didn't mean to do that.

In fact, it is possible that Keith's presence at Climate Central will help them both. My problem with Keith is the one I have with most good science journalists (and this, by the way, is where John Fleck shines as an exception): they love a good question more than a good answer. My problem with Climate Central is its consistent violation of its motto ""Sound science & vibrant media". True, they have decent design, and true, their take on climate is reasonable, but their text tends to the ponderous. Seriously people, this is the future of the whole world! It does not have to read like a sophomore textbook. (Maybe journalists have missed that most people associate this type of writing with dentists' waiting rooms!)

If Keith's knack for interesting writing can combine with Climate Central's unambiguous realism on climate matters, so much the better. (So much the worse for me in trying to design and bootstrap a viable competitor to CC, as well, but the world needs more and better communication nonetheless.) I for one will be hoping for positive synergies from this relationship and will be a regular reader, disagreements notwithstanding.

I doubt that my strong disagreements with Keith are over, but I'd appreciate if any comments on this article refrained from criticizing him. I don't want the flamefest to start just now.

My apology for my lack of consideration at this moment is sincere, and my slightly jealous congratulations on the new enterprise almost as much so. I will be watching Frontier Earth with interest, and I recommend that you do so as well.


Unknown said...

"Keith contacted me in email quite upset, and I have to say I see his point."

Feel free to quote any part of my email exchange to you backing up the "quite upset part."

Disappointed was more like it.

Anonymous said...

up·set \ˌəpˈset\
Noun: A state of being unhappy, disappointed, or worried: "domestic upsets".
Adjective: Unhappy, disappointed, or worried.


Arthur said...

Michael, you're much more forgiving than some of us! Which I think is commendable, but I'd like some more concrete evidence of Keith's actual positive contributions to communication before I can think more kindly. You refer to his blog as posting on "interesting" subjects. I just visited (first time in a long while) and the only one I found somewhat interesting was the one on suicides in India. Which turned out to be an apology from Kloor for yet more "speed-reading" and misinterpretation.

So, can you point me to specific recent posts where you find he has legitimately raised something interesting that others haven't, where he hasn't added his own skewed interpretation, and the comments have been in some way a positive exchange?

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kuze said...

Great post Michael,

The reason I enjoy Keith's blog is the interesting, contentious dialog between people of obvious intellectual talent. Whomsoever believes in the integrity of their argument should perpetually be engaging with those who disagree. While I recognize this attitude can be susceptible to the argument to moderation fallacy (I have recently noticed this tendency within myself) ultimately, I believe contentious but respectful dialog is a fundamental component of intellectual progress and a genuine safeguard to the ever-present, inescapable prevalence of human bias.

Put plainly: homogeneity is boring and often fruitless to the individual looking for truth.

Kind Regards.

Michael Tobis said...

comment slightly amended for clarity:

William Gibson tweets today: "The why's of disliking something are easier to find, and make for quicker, juicier copy." It applies.

I like Keith's blog. I am not sure I can explain why in much detail, but his is one of the blogs I follow most closely, and is one of those I find most interesting.

Keith's blog mostly isn't reporting at all, so to rate it on that axis seems to miss the point. He asks provocative questions and succeeds in engaging a wide variety of opinions.

Where it becomes frustrating is not a topic I choose to dwell on just now. Some other time, I promise.

I think his point in the comment here is that I don't need to assuage his feelings, just that I looked pretty obnoxious. I see his point. Perhaps I'm not in a position to assuage his feelings after being rude.

I'd rather have my apology accepted than be driven to picking nits. I don't want to argue about whether my insulting action caused offense, or only might have been construed as an attempt to do so.

This isn't a battle I would choose. I would prefer to keep my powder dry for a later occasion. Please just substitute "disappointed" for "upset".

I was inattentive and insensitive, and I wish it were otherwise. I am glad Keith was not upset but merely disappointed in me. In his shoes I would likely have been quite angry.

My point here is only to express regret and try to make amends as best as possible. This is a truce, not a surrender. There is much that remains to argue about. But I violated the rules of engagement that I would hold others to and I regret it.

Unknown said...


My initial brusque response to this post has more to do with seemingly related events than the generous words you wrote.

I touch on them here:

What gratifies me most about your post is the expressed willingness to stay engaged as a reader despite our deep disagreements. So for that I thank you and look forward to you helping make Frontier Earth at Climate Central a vibrant corner of the climate blogosphere. I know that you have helped collide-a-scape become one such place, no doubt to the chagrin of some of those folks in the "back channels" alluded to in your post here.

Your complaints and perspective strike me as phony. I offered a very specific rebuttal to your critique, which you chose not to engage. I think you were just interested in scoring points with your cherrypicked examples. In fact, it's deeply ironic that your critical post of me suffers from the same things you accuse me of.

The fact that you would single out a recent post of mine in this comment thread, where I offered an apology to someone, is also telling.

Here's another reason why your high and mighty critique of me is phony: you have expressed no moral misgivings at the tactics employed by a certain famous climate blogger, who is famous for his slash & burn style. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (and you're a scientist, right?) to recognize this famous blogger's cherrypicking, personal attacks, and misrepresentation of views, but you choose to ignore it.

That tells me what I need to know about your sense of righteousness.

Paul Daniel Ash said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Tobis said...

Well, that's awkward.

I'm glad you accept my apology, Keith, and I'm glad you separate me from Joe, from whom I am very different in my own estimation.

But while Arthur and I differ on this matter, we are very closely aligned on almost everything else. So it seems the distinction between who is fair-minded and who isn't boils down to whether they find value in Keith's efforts.

As I've said, I'm keeping my criticisms off this thread.

I am not surprised that Joe took off on a tear. He sure looked like he was going to do that. The whole point here is that I agree that Romm's timing can be taken as personal, and that I inadvertently reinforced it. But Arthur's reinforcement was not public and can't therefore be taken as part of a broader concerted attack.

Life is like that sometimes. If you try to be openminded you will end up liking people who don't like each other. I like Joe and I like Keith. I understand what each is trying to do and why. I understand why they loathe each other, and also what it is that each loathes about the other.

It's similar, but harder for me, with Arthur. He and I have so much in common in what we think, what we think about, and what we think ought to be done about it. One of us reads Collide-a-Scape despite its flaws, the other is fed up.

So, Keith, please think twice about what Arthur got fed up about. I agree you've been ambushed, but neither Arthur nor I was part of the ambush.

The main trouble now is that I can't really imagine a world in which I am a good guy and Arthur is a bad guy. There aren't a lot of people as close to me in opinion space as Arthur is, even if we disagree about you.

So please don't make me choose between a peace treaty with you or continued close cooperation with Arthur. I am not sure you consider me a great prize, but I promise you won't win that contest.

That said I am glad we are reasonably patched up. I don't plan to stop reading or commenting and you remain welcome here.

Unknown said...


I don't believe I ever gave the impression that I was asking you to pick who you want to be allied with. The modus operand at my site is that your enemy is NOT my enemy.

So don't worry about making any loyalty oaths. In fact, the world would be a better place if more of us could straddle different spheres.

My comment about Arthur was just addressed to him and him only--and only because he piped into this thread with what I consider a gratuitous, point-scoring drive-by. I think his pleating about my so-called offenses are hypocritical and stated my reasons why. I look forward to seeing his response.

Michael Tobis said...

About back channels.

Paul your request is so seriously so not funny that I erased it.

But send me your email address (mtobis; gmail) and I'll gladly add you to the list that I control.

There are about a half dozen active climate communicator email lists I'm aware of, one which I run and one of which I am a member. If you read Kloor carefully you will see that he and Yulsman and Fleck (who seems to have soured on me a bit, more's the pity, since I remain an admirer) and I think Revkin have some sort of old-school environmental journalists list. They also admit to some weird mystical rituals but I think that is a joke.

There is probably other implicit coordination among that crowd through their professional organization, the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Sort of remarkably, I invited Keith to my list in the first place. Who knows where it would have gone had he accepted. The other list that I read has a few more prominent members (it was not based on blogging but on AGU membership), but its tone seems to me rather more partisan and intemperate.

Though membership is by invitation, my list was publicly readable for a while. I wish it were again but there's resistance from some of the members.

It's pretty much inevitable that the Heartland gang has their own list or lists wherein they collate their nonsense and try to hush up its bizarre contradictions. I suspect they also have some political list which dreams up and coordinates their random ambushes on innocents and serious researchers.

Anna Haynes said...

I've responded over at Kloor's; in short, in sleeping on it, I too had formed the opinion that he doesn't qualify for a SourceWatch page, so I'd logged on this morning to take it down. Then found all this...

(if he'd responded to my email, I probably would have come to the realization sooner)

Anna Haynes said...

BTW re SourceWatch activity, in poking around Guidestar I've stumbled on some intriguing stuff re the Idsos' Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change and Bob Ferguson's Science and Public Policy Institute; e.g. Idsos paid Ferguson almost 250k last year, and, according to one of the attorneys listed on VA docs (but not on SPPI site) as director of SPPI, it's just a shell corporation with no income or expenses.
And there's more, re the Idsos' Center...

Anna Haynes said...

Correction, s/last year/in 2009/

Arthur said...

Keith, I posted here to better understand Michael's reasoning. I was hoping for at least one good example of something interesting you had done. Your latest, filled with more misinterpretation, conspiracy-thinking, and absurd over-estimation of your own importance, definitely doesn't qualify.

The "back channel" Michael referred to here consisted of precisely 2 messages, the second of which was from me, and in it's entirety was:

"Kloor the speed-reader :)



Your over-reaction to this speaks volumes to me, but I'm sure Michael will try to find a kind interpretation.

Feel free to post again on my blog if you think I didn't respond last time. Others in the comments said as much or more than I would have.

Unknown said...


I'm not sure what I'm "overreacting" to. You mean your comment on this thread, Michael's post, Anna's SourceWatch page...?

It must puzzle you to no end that lots of people from all over the ideological spectrum come by my site to engage in discussion. You want to be stubborn and stay in your safe little space, by all means continue with the pretend pose that you can't find anything interesting at Collide-a-scape. You do realize you're not fooling anyone, except perhaps yourself.

Now how about answering my assertion that your righteous indignation at my so-called offenses are hypocritical, in comparison to what's regularly displayed at climate king's site.

Just be straight, Arthur. I'd have a lot more respect for your criticism of me if you could just call it like it is.

You want to engage, I'm here to engage.

Paul Daniel Ash said...

Michael, my apologies if my comment sounded a false note. I found the dark intimations about "back channel" on Keith's post - picked up by Dr. Curry's comment, which I referenced - to be kind of silly, and I was just having some fun with it.

I appreciate the invitation, and I'd certainly take you up on it if I felt I had more of substance to contribute. Again, I was making a (very) little joke, and sorry for taking away from the general drift of this thread.

EliRabett said...

Never encourage a drama queen

Steve Bloom said...

Michael, FWIW I agree entirely with Arthur's view. Expecting the same from you is obviously not realistic, but I would point out that actively enabling people like Kloor (what you do when you spend time at his blog(s) and devote posts to him) who at a root level don't get the problem *and aren't going to* (is that not clear by now?) is counter-productive since all he will do is use the gain in exposure and credibility to promote the views of the Breakthrough Boyz et al.

Michael Tobis said...

I am operating on a self-imposed constraint on this thread. It's not as if I don't see problems with what Keith does. I just don't want to discuss them this minute.

Arthur said...

MT, I probably ought to apologize for disrupting your apology (as well as helping create the need for it) here! Thanks for your kind comments on our thinking - I mostly agree, though we do have some differences besides over Keith. Like brothers - between ourselves, we can fight :) For example I'm much more optimistic about the long run prospects for humanity than I get the feeling you are - and I think we discussed the question of continued economic growth on your blog here a while ago.

My philosophy on this is summed up best by John Holdren's words:

"We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be."

and I have made the moral choice to do all I can to reduce that suffering, and to avoid the smaller risk of much greater suffering that it entails.

I applaud other people acting in that direction, including Joe Romm who I also feel considerable kinship with. I frequent a number of "skeptic" or "lukewarm" blogs, at least as a reader, and read an awful lot of "skeptic" comments here and there, just to see if anybody has anything that actually can allay Holdren's central conclusion. Sometimes there are interesting ideas that might suggest things aren't as bad as it seems. So far none of them have panned out, but I'll keep looking.

That's what I find interesting in climate blogs - indicators concerning the degree to which we need to worry, and actions to move things in the right direction. I think other stuff is a waste of time - but hey, it's a free country :)

EliRabett said...

Eli must admit that he finds this all very confusing. It is clear that Mr. Kloor is no friend of MT. Indeed, as Arthur pointed out, he is a straightforward enemy, wasting no opportunity to distort and twist anything that Michael writes.

Now Michael must realize that at some point unless he stands up for himself, others will cease to do so. Still, you kind of see why being nice is self limiting.

Michael Tobis said...

Criminy. Can't we just turn the internet over to the women for a few years?

EliRabett said...

You really need to meet Ms. Rabett. Compared to her Eli is, shall we say, very forgiving.

Anna Haynes said...

> "Can't we just turn the internet over to the women..."

um, Judith Curry and me? That might not be an improvement.

FYI/for the record, in the Kloor comment thread, Dr. Curry had stopped in to explain that/why she no longer intended to answer my questions regarding her & partner/spouse's potential conflicts of interest; I've responded there (& notified her of it by email):
Apologies to Dr. Curry at #10 above (link), who was displeased that I'd
changed her SW page (the day before her comment above) to note that my questions regarding her potential conflicts of interest had not yet been answered; [I did so since] I'd assumed that, as she was posting on her blog and responding in the comments section there, ... she (or her business partner/spouse, who I'd also asked, in emails more than a week ago) might have time to give at least a quick answer.

(Maybe I'm reading things into the situation, but it did feel to me
like a brush-off, of indeterminate length. But in retrospect perhaps
I should have handled it differently.)
(she'd indicated she didn't have the time, when I'd emailed back on 3/23; and I also got a "not now" deferral from her spouse)

Steve Reynolds said...

"We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be."

That statement leaves out the other major choice (that many may not want): growth, that can reduce suffering by billions of people in the near and long term, and make adaptation and later mitigation much easier.

Anna Haynes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anna Haynes said...

Catch-22: if you email about a private manner, it's called "using back-channels" and frowned upon; if you post, it's an invasion of privacy. MT, could you use your judgment here please, & delete my (April 4, 2011 12:51 PM) comment if it seems inappropriate?

Tenney Naumer said...

Anna, they should turn it over to you and me!

Tenney Naumer said...

Ok, back to the situation at hand.

I don't know why you all are beating up on poor Keith in the present instance.

The real problem is the incredibly poor judgment of the person over at Climate Central who hired him.

So, who hired him, anyway?

susan said...

I'm puzzled. There is a through the looking glass problem with all this "reporting". There are facts and there is reality, and then there is the either-or reporting that allows substance to be trumped by illusion. While this "conversation" continues, enabling fake skeptics to pose as real skeptics, reality will continue to develop. Lies need to be called lies. Truth needs to be heeded. Reality is in front of us, and temporizing is just exacerbating the situation.

Susan Anderson

Michael Tobis said...

It's a temporary truce, not a surrender. Keith has not convinced me that the mainstream media are not largely at fault for our absurd existential dilemma. As far as I can tell he has referred to a couple of legitimate small-signal studies and think that settles the bill. It surely doesn't, and I am not sure how to make the case to someone who thinks it does.

I wish I could explain to muggles about nonlinearity, tangent linearity, and system regimes. But that is pushing consilience pretty hard. It takes more than a few words and more than a little trust.

susan said...

I find that in my conversations with ordinary observant people the way that weather has changed worldwide, the mounting emergencies, the dangers in plain sight, can be communicated. Look outwards some more. Time to step outside the controversy and focus on reality.

Anna Haynes said...

Among the funders of Climate Central is George Mason University. I've emailed asking for a little more info.

Tenney Naumer said...

Looking for extended tentacles, are we?

They don't seem to leave many definitive footprints.

Best of luck!

Anna Haynes said...

Tentacles typically don't...