Category Archives: Blogging

New comments policy for the blog: factual accuracy and false claims made by sceptics not allowed

Freedom of expression, even putting forward minority and unpopular views, is without doubt a universal right. It is a fundamental belief of mine, and shared by all readers of this blog.

Over the years I’ve received notes from readers about the sometimes rambunctious nature of comments on WtD. I’ve allowed many comments from climate sceptics due to my passion for freedom of expression. I’m aware it can result in long discussion threads, which on occasion become heated. There are community standards for WtD which I developed to help manage this issue, and based on these I’ve banned certain readers.

it is worth stating I have not allowed these long threads to boost blogs numbers. Long comment threads add nothing to the overall traffic of WtD.

Which brings me to my point.

As some of you may have recently heard, the Sydney Morning Herald (see here) and Los Angeles Times (see here) have made a stand on printing letters sceptical of climate change. Put simply, they will not print factual inaccuracies.

To quote the letters editor of the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Climate change deniers or sceptics are free to express opinions and political views on our page but not to misrepresent facts. This applies to all our contributors on any subject. On that basis, a letter that says, “there is no sign humans have caused climate change” would not make the grade for our page…”

I strongly agree with the stance taken by both the SMH and LA Times. It is a wise move, and one that can help rid the internet of information pollution.

Truth matters, as do facts.

This is especially true in the climate change debate.

The discussion about climate change is not helped if it is polluted by misinformation, which is really the intent of climate change deniers.

So for this reason, claims such as “global warming is not real”, “global warming is a hoax” or “there has been no warming for 15 years” will not longer be allowed. I’d much rather the WtD comments section reflect what we all want the debate to be – about an appropriate response to climate change. 

While some may claim this as an act of censorship, I think it is beholden upon myself and other commentators to now take a much firmer stand. The SMH and LA Times have shown wisdom, and I believe it is worth following their example. 

We’ve been far too forgiving of the deliberate attempt to mislead and lie to the public. For the acts of climate change sceptics are just that – acts of deception. 

Perhaps I should have implemented this policy from the outset or much sooner. Nonetheless, I think my original intention to allow free-for-all debate was well intentioned and was acceptable in the first years of this blog.

Deniers of course have their own blogs and space to make there case, and they’re welcome to prosecute their case there.

I’ll be watching comments closely and implementing this new policy – however if a false claim slips through, please let me know and I’ll attend to it. WtD is a solo effort, thus it is not possible to monitor comments every moment of the day.

it will take a few weeks to fully implement, but I hope this change in policy makes reading WtD more enjoyable.

Thanks to the many readers of WtD over the years, and for those who emailed me with their concerns.

I’ve listened to your voices.

~ Mike @ WtD

[Correction: initially I made reference to the number of visitors when I fully intended to make reference to the number visits. A small distinction, and a genuine error on my behalf. I fully intended to state the later.]

Time for a new name and direction? Readers insights, thoughts welcome

Dear all,

As you may have noticed the pace and number of posts has slowed somewhat. There are good reasons for this, primarily work commitments and my own fatigue.

In retrospect I needed a short sabbatical. Producing regular content for a blog is hard work, especially if it is done outside of work and in the late evening or very early morning.

During this fallow period I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about the future direction of this blog – or at least my writing efforts. I’m not shutting down WtD or giving up blogging. Nothing that dramatic!

However, I’ have become frustrated with the narrow constraints the name “Watching the Deniers” can impose on my writing, the themes of this blog and the topics I wish to cover (cue claims I’m giving into pressure to give up the apt description of climate sceptics as “deniers” or some such nonsense).

I’m not shy in saying I want to broaden my audience: a writer writes to be read.

So one possible strategy that may help me reach a broader reader base is a new name and redesigned blog/website. But as we all know re-branding efforts are always tricky – just ask Coca-Cola. “New Coke” anyone?

Given blogging is a collaborative process between blogger and audience, I’m asking for your thoughts.

Potential names I’m kicking around in my head include:

  • Ecopolitics
  • Climate versus Politics
  • [The] Political Climate
  • [The] Climate Political
  • Upon This Earth/Face of the Earth (yes I’m drawing upon images and phrases found in the King James version of Genesis)

The topics I want to focus are broad but reflect my general interests: climate science and science generally; the politics of climate change and environmental issues; the media’s role in reporting climate and environment; the issues; the public’s perceptions of said issues; history and philosophy of science; conspiracy culture and extremist politics and their intersection with the climate change and environmental debate.

I’m still not convinced I’ll change the WtD “brand”, but I feel the need to freshen up this blog and my writing.

Mike @ WtD

More thread: let’s talk climate politics down under

Sorry guys, but personal matters keep me from blogging. so more thread for discussion. Let’s talk about the state of politics in Australia. Some food for thought:

Clive Hamilton has a great essay on The Conversation on why Australia’s politicians have turned their backs on the climate change issue:

The truth is the Australian public does not know what it wants its government to do on climate change. A large majority wants it to do something, but the government seems to lose support whenever it does anything. The only notable exception (and perhaps because many people don’t know it exists) is the Renewable Energy Target, first introduced by the Howard Government as a sop to public anxiety. For any political leader unwilling to exercise leadership on the issue, trying to respond to climate change leaves them uncertain which way to turn

Which is all the more interesting as Australia has experienced it’s hottest 12 month period:

It’s official, the past 12 months have been the hottest in Australia for more than a hundred years. Temperatures averaged across Australia between September 2012 and August 2013 were hotter than any year since good records began in 1910. The previous record was held by the 12-month period from February 2005 to January 2006.

While Tony Abbott has stated he will abandon emissions targets:

Amid its bitter campaign against the carbon price the Coalition has  maintained one significant foundation – ”we may hate the method, but we will  achieve the same outcome”.

That outcome is at least a 5 per cent cut to emissions by decade’s end on  2000 levels, and more ambitious reductions if the world takes actions to curb  climate change. These targets have enjoyed bipartisan support for about five  years.

But in his National Press Club address on Monday, Tony Abbott has cast doubt  on his commitment to these goals. And he has lifted the lid on one of the  fundamental risks of his ”direct action” alternative to an emissions trading  scheme.

Abbott told the audience the Coalition would not increase its spending on  cutting carbon dioxide under direct action, even if its efforts were going to  fall short of what is needed to meet the 2020 target.

”The bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and  no less. We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions  reduction as we can for the spending that we’ve budgeted,” he said.

Such is the state of politics down under.

I’ll be honest, not having to take an active part in the debate the moment is a blessing.

Note: remember to keep the debate friendly, I’ll be watching comments closely.

What leading voices in the climate debate should do – lead. Can Anthony Watts do that?

Anthony has again hurled another insult:

Repeated insult

Watts has moved from calling me an idiot to labeling my ideas idiotic, a move designed to shelter WUWT from legal action. One could consider that a small improvement. 

However, that is insufficient.

Anthony, I will state the following for the record: I unreservedly apologise for the charge made and have done so already. It has been withdrawn, and your comments allowed on WtD.

In return I expect  the gracious acknowledgement of this; a public apology for the defamatory insults directed at me by you and posters at your blog; their withdrawal.

I also request future references to this episode to cease, as your record and those of (some) of your followers does not reflect well.

I will continue to be critical of the ideas and the information presented on WUWT were debate warrants this.

Where I believe you or a guest poster is in error I will call attention to that.

As many others (on both sides of the debate) have suggested, prominent voices in the climate debate need to assume the role of leaders.

I may not have the volume of visits of sites such as WUWT have, but that does not matter.

Therefore Mr. Watts I will lead if you cannot: I will take that leadership role.

The choice is now yours.

It is time to move on from this event, which I am now doing. It has been far too distracting.

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Hypocrisy over at WUWT? Will Anthony Watts remove the personal and defamatory insults made against me on WUWT and apologise?

The difficulty in occupying the moral high ground is when you make the following comment: 

Watts

Example 1: name calling

This from a gentleman who stormed onto my blog and demanded immediate edits, all the while questioning my professionalism? I responded immediately and promptly.

Despite this Mr. Watts decides not to acknowledge my response, but instead rounds out his actions with a public insult.

Not very gracious behavior is it?

One could be tempted to call them the actions of a bully.

Not a good look is it Mr. Watts?

The comments on the WUWT post are also illustrative, as this one clearly shows:

More_hate

Example 2: homophobic insults

What does a persons sexuality have to do with the debate? And why should such a charge be even considered an insult? As far as I’m concerned both gay and straight are normal, healthy expressions of human sexuality.  But not for this poster, who clearly thinks being labelled “gay” is a form of insult. 

Such defamatory and prejudicial material should be removed from WUWT.

As should Mr. Watts ungracious insult directed at me. 

I believe an apology is in order, or there is a real risk of Mr. Watts looking like a hypocrite.

One would hope Mr. Watts responds with the same requisite promptness and diligence exhibited at WtD. 

 

[Note: see WtD discussion guidelines on the use of language. Some off colour language is permitted, but I strongly urge all posters to refrain from personally insulting others.]

WUWT attacks WtD: I learn the only thing to fear from the sceptics is your own fear

Holding the line against the sceptic army

An interesting day in this small, and for some obscure front of the climate change war.

As some readers may have noticed, Mr. Watts of the sceptical blog Watts up with that? and I have been engaged in some friendly debate over the nature of sea-ice graphs.

I believe the matter to be resolved on my part, having replied to Mr. Watts requests.

However I do earnestly hope Mr. Watts responds to my suggestion and ensure his blog presents data in a manner not to confuse the public. A reasonable request one would think.

The experience of being in the sceptic cross-hairs

It was fascinating being the recipient of the full weight of the denial machine for an afternoon. 

How was it  you may ask? Stressful? Hardly.

It was is interesting to see the empty bluster, cheap bravado and vile insults pour into the comments section of WtD (still are by the way).

In fairness, I will note most comments were polite and simply stated their views. I have no issue with that, so my thanks to those who acted with respect. We disagree about the science, but at least you have been respectful. Many of those I’m allowing.

But I was left with a strong impression, and not the one Mr. Watts or others may have intended.

The only thing to fear from the sceptics is our own fear. 

“These are the dreaded climate sceptics, who like He-Who-Cannot-Named we’ve ascribed almost mythical powers and influence?” I thought to myself.

These are the people who so terrified and cowed some in the science community?

How disappointing; how underwhelming.

That the worst I did was make a throw away line in jest, and then saw thousands descend upon my blog with vile and enmity…

And what was their intent?

To force me to stop writing? To shed a tear? Did they force such things?

Hardly.

Longtime readers know I’ve always drawn from the lessons of history, and rightly or wrongly draw analogies with past and present events.

As the day passed an image formed in my mind – that of the 93rd Highland Regiment at the Battle of Balaclava (1854). Between their own rearguard and camp they stood in a ragged line, forcing back thousands of Russian cavalry.

From a distance they looked like a thin red line, standing against enormous odds. 

For me, today was about being that thin red line. 

Not that hard really.

What I learned today, and what you should learn from this

Lesson the first – the only thing to fear from the sceptics, is your own fear.

Lesson the second – don’t stop.

That is all, now carry on.

[Note: thanks John B for helping me hold the line as well]

A note on who tipped off Mr. Watts

Finally, some house keeping.

The WUWT post has been useful in showing me Mr. Watts source:

Erric Worrall writes:

An Australian alarmist blog, Watching The Deniers, has just accused Anthony Watts of photoshopping one of the Sea Ice Graphs.

Eric, I was about to email you this week and release you from the temporary ban.

It was never intended to be permanent, and I believe I treated you with respect. I also gave you enormous latitude when you posted here – to the extent other readers expressed frustration with me.

You were given three chances to modify your behavior, which you ignored. The rules of engagement were clear, and plenty of warning was given.

In light of today (and the great latitude I once gave you) your ban will be extended another three months. Such are the consequences of your actions. We all make choices Eric. And we must live with them.

Actually, that is light punishment considering your actions. But fortunately for you I’m made of stern stuff and remain unfazed by today’s events.

I’m also grateful for the small bump in traffic Mr.Watts links afforded me.

That is all, now carry on.

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Brief sabbatical…

Dear all, taking some time to meet professional and study commitments. I’ll post interesting stories/links as much I can but writing is on hold for a few weeks.

Cheers

Mike @ WtD

 

 

The Ides of March come more than once a year down under

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

And so it is done.

We have removed another Prime Minister from office. I was also part of the chorus calling for her resignation.

Did I feel my reasons were justified?

Perhaps.

Pragmatism tells me a hard choice had to be made.

Pragmatism tells me it was needed to avoid a forthcoming decade or more of conservative rule.

Without doubt we would have seen the stripping away of environmental and social protections under an Abbott led government with a super-majority.

Pragmatism told me something had to be done to avoid – or blunt the scale of – the victory of politicians beholden to mining billionaires.

Pragmatism called for the sacrifice of the individual for the sake of many.

But my conscience knows something very wrong took place, that all of us – every adult Australian – was complicit.

Every politician, every journalist, every pundit and every voter: we all have blood on our hands.

The Ides of March come more than once a year down under.

We have revealed our dark hearts: a nation of assassins.

Angry badgers: trolls, sceptics and distracting voices in the climate discussion

angry_badger

A lot of energy has been spent by myself and others on comments made by sceptics – both here and across the internet.

There are four things we should remember, established scientific facts beyond dispute: 

  • CO2 is a heat trapping molecule
  • We are emitting CO2 and other Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through our activities
  • This is influencing the planet’s climate system
  • The scientific consensus on this is near universal – 97%

Understanding the science of climate change is about being an informed citizen. The deniers want to deprive you of the right to be informed about an issue of fundamental importance to our civilisation.

Merchants of FUD and their motivations

Skeptics employ a tactic called FUD.

Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

Create enough doubt about the science (so it is hoped) and action on climate change will be stalled long enough. Some want to do this for ideological reasons; others because they have a vested interest. Some trolls enjoy being contrary and love the attention.

Here is the thing. You will never know their motivations. But that does not matter.

What matters is your response, to engage or not.

What is happening here mimics the broader climate debate: a tiny minority disturbs the majority

I like to think I’ve gained some experience in the debate having run this blog for three years now.

Form what I see, perhaps 1-5% of the readers of this blog are sceptics. And yet those threads go on for hundreds of posts, consume the energy of many people and confuse, enrage and disrupt the tone of discussion.

This is symptomatic of the broader climate debate, where a tiny minority is distracting the majority.

When you find yourself dealing with troll behavior remember the cardinal rule of the internet “DO NOT FEED THE TROLL.”

Provide counter information, but remember you’ll never convince them. I’ve been a great deal of thought to this issue, especially as it pertains to WtD.

While I don’t believe in silencing dissenting voices (no matter how unpopular) I will be applying the WtD community guidelines with greater rigorAll posters, regardless of their views should take note.

Angry badgers and the Nasty Effect: how online discussions are derailed

Recent research has shown how the comments section of an article can influence the average readers perception:

“In a recent study, a team of researchers from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and several other institutions employed a survey of 1,183 Americans to get at the negative consequences of vituperative online comments for the public understanding of science. Participants were asked to read a blog post containing a balanced discussion of the risks and benefits of nanotechnology (which is already all around us and supports a $91 billion US industry). The text of the post was the same for all participants, but the tone of the comments varied. Sometimes, they were “civil”—e.g., no name calling or flaming. But sometimes they were more like this: “If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these products, you’re an idiot.”

The researchers were trying to find out what effect exposure to such rudeness had on public perceptions of nanotech risks. They found that it wasn’t a good one. Rather, it polarized the audience: Those who already thought nanorisks were low tended to become more sure of themselves when exposed to name-calling, while those who thought nanorisks are high were more likely to move in their own favored direction. In other words, it appeared that pushing people’s emotional buttons, through derogatory comments, made them double down on their preexisting beliefs.”

See the study here, The “Nasty Effect:” Online Incivility and Risk Perceptions of Emerging Technologies:

“Uncivil discourse is a growing concern in American rhetoric, and this trend has expanded beyond traditional media to online sources, such as audience comments. Using an experiment given to a sample representative of the U.S. population, we examine the effects online incivility on perceptions toward a particular issue—namely, an emerging technology, nanotechnology. We found that exposure to uncivil blog comments can polarize risk perceptions of nanotechnology along the lines of religiosity and issue support.”

Angry Badgers: a denier tactic

While many of you are familiar with the tactics of think tanks, I thought it worth drawing attention to a recently uncovered Heartland Institute propaganda initiative.

Called “Operation Angry Badger” it was designed to derail a debate in the US over collective bargaining in the education sector:

A Chicago-based free-market think tank has prepared a strategy to sway the recall debate in Wisconsin, including detailing “the shortcomings of public schools,” according to leaked documents that appeared this week on the Internet.

“Operation Angry Badger” purportedly describes a Heartland Institute proposal that would cost about $612,000 and focus on promoting Wisconsin Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining for most public-sector workers.

Heartland is one of the foremost think tanks behind the campaign to deny the science. The above is SOP, or standard-operating-procedure.

The Angry Badger tactic is one that seeks to inject distracting facts into a conversation.

Picture it this…

Imagine you are having an amazing discussion with someone.

Suddenly, a stranger walks up and shouts “Oh my god look over there an angry badger!!!!!!”

You’re distracted, and stop talking. The flow of the conversation is broken. You have to start all over again, missing some points.

This is exactly what trolls and sceptics want to do. Distract the flow of conversation with a dramatic, yet irrelevant fact (the Angry Badger).

What matters is your response.

The Maginot Line Defence and moral imagination: climate change isn’t real; maybe it is; we should all give up!

Give_up

Mark Lawson is a journalist at the Australian Financial Review noted for his climate scepticism and frequent posts on any climate change thread on The Conversation. Indeed, he is the frequent target of criticism by other posters for making basic errors of fact.

Be that as it may, in the comments section of the post reprinted on WtD, Mark made the following comment in relation to the challenge of establishing global agreements:

I have no quibbles with the article but the main surprise is that anyone seriously thought that an enforceable, global system for limiting emissions could be put in place in the foreseeable future. The immense difficulties were apparent before the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. Activists are only now reluctantly acknowledging this reality.

Getting the US to agree to anything nationally is simply impossible for the reasons the author sets out. Even the well-supported multi-state programs are largely tokens. As for the Chinese, there is big talk but mostly it’s all just hot air. A pilot program for emissions trading in a few cities doesn’t even apply to power stations.

Basically forget it. Come back in a few decades.

Yes – let’s just “basically forget it”.

Indeed, let’s do nothing at all.

Let’s be like Mark and throw our hands in the air and say, “To hell with you humanity, I can’t be ars*d!”

I’m certainly not underestimating the challenges climate change presents – it is truly a problem from hell.

Indeed, there is a real possibility it is beyond humanity’s collective efforts to respond adequately.

However there is a difference between articulating the complexity and scope of the problem and giving up.

Mark employs what I call the “Maginot Line Defence”: it is not so much an argument but the psychological process of moving from denial and/or indifference to defeatism:

Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Maybe it is real? > Oh cr*p it is real! > It seems like a hard problem… hmmmm > We should all give up!

The Maginot Line, for those who don’t know, was a line of fortifications built by the French between the First and Second World War to protect themselves from another feared German invasion.

When war broke out again, the Germans simply – and quite literally – drove around it.

This led the dispirited French armies to collapse in confusion. France fell in a matter of weeks, and the rest they say was history.

At the time the French army was regarded as the most effective fighting force in the world, however the French national psyche had been badly mauled during WW1. Millions had died in the trenches.

Those losses haunted the French in the decades following the Armistice of 1918.

And so, the idea of fighting another such bloodbath was intolerable to many of the French populace.

So they built a wall and hid behind it, feeling safe behind the imagined security it offered.

The rise of Hitler, new developments in military technology and the innovative combined land-air tactics of Blitzkrieg (not a term the German’s used themselves by the way) was a reality many people did not want to face and refused to even see.

Hence the inflexible, supposedly invulnerable, wall of defence built to shelter them from a threat without having to directly confront it.

Those who employ the Maginot Line Defence in the climate debate are doing likewise, but at the individual level – primarily to protect themselves from the uncomfortable thoughts about the future (something akin to terror management theory) or having to address thorny questions about justice and lifestyle change:

“Climate change real? That’s a change not worth thinking about!”

For many, the response is to hide behind a reflective – and reflexive – wall of indifference in order to avoid disquieting feelings.

But reality can only be kept at bay for so long: eventually it circumnavigates even the most artful defences.

It is then people can resort to defeatism:

“Climate change!” you now hear many sceptics and defeatist cry “…even it if was real, way too hard to solve! What are going to do about it?”

The solution they offer:

“Forgot about it – give up! Come back in a few decades!”

Perhaps these people won’t ever personally know someone forced to relocate due to rising seas, floods or collapsing regional economies in drought-impacted areas.

They may regard these as other people’s problems.

Do not they not have the right to ignore the suffering of others and prohibit such trivia punctuating their consciousness?

Of course they do: there is not – nor should there be – any compulsion for them to do so.

The garden of our soul is for us alone to tend.

But should we only consider our own well-being and short-term needs?

Is that an ethical way to move through the world?

Denial is not so much the refusal to accept scientific facts, but a failure to employ the moral imagination.

Those who employ their moral imagination have the capacity to imagine different futures and the suffering (or flourishing) of others; to pay attention to the pull of their individual conscience; and to acknowledge the impact they have as they move through the world.

Or – we could all just give up.

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