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Environment

Our Uncivil Climate (Debate)

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJune 14, 2010 10:45 PM

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Maybe I'm whistling Dixie with this modest attempt to bridge the climate divide. Consider what Nicholas Kristof wrote last year, in an op-ed column titled, The Daily Me:

there's pretty good evidence that we generally don't truly want good information "” but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.

What greater proof than most climate blogs. And if you disagree, just spend a few moments reading the comment threads at WUWT and Climate Progress, two of the most popular blogs on opposite ends of the climate spectrum. The question I explored with Bart Verheggen and Lucia Liljegren in Part 2 of our conversation (here's Part 1) was why their own blogs didn't attract the same huge readership as WUWT and Climate Progress. After all, if we want to ratchet down the hyperbole and partisanship in the climate debate, shouldn't we be paying greater attention to bloggers like Lucia and Bart, both who write in a civil tone and often dive deep into the vexing subtleties of climate science issues? If we paid more attention to them, wouldn't that help elevate the public discussion? Here's the second and final part of our conversation. Keith: Why does the climate debate seem so antagonistic in the blogosphere? Why isn't there more civil, nuanced dialogue? Bart: I think the blogosphere is not made for nuance. It draws in people who are more opinionated, sometimes to the point of their opinions being set in stone. Of course the internet is very anonymous. The more extreme commentators are very anonymous. That's another thing. Lucia: Bart, what percentage of your commenters do you think are anonymous? I'm sure a lot of mine are. Bart: Maybe a third are anonymous or pseudonymous. I'm not sure. Lucia: I'm not sure either. Mine might be a third, too. Keith: How can we then raise the level of debate, given that the extremes on both sides seem so strident, in part because of anonymity? Bart: Yeah, that's a tricky one. Lucia: One of the problems with seeking a way to raise the debate is also the question of"¦if someone becomes more moderate and nuanced, will they just lose all their audience. It's not as if I'm thinking, I want to have audience, so I'm going to write posts with titles like 'Godwin's Law Alert: Monckton cries "Goebbelian"' or "Joe Romm offers a (lame) bet!". I write those because I think the titles are appropriate. Bart: Exactly. And I've seen that with blogs"”and I've noticed myself"”that the things that get most viewers and most discussions are the posts that are a bit more polarizing and perhaps even playing a little on another person. Those are the posts that get the most exposure. I think it was some well known climate blogger who wrote once, what's the point of a blog, if you don't write in a little bit of a sharp tone, or something like that. Blogs are kind of made to put a sharp edge on your words. Like who's going to read something with a lot of nuance? Keith: But I think Andy Revkin is fairly nuanced at Dot Earth. He seems to be trying to facilitate serious discussion. And he's got quite an audience. Of course he's got the NY Times imprint, too. But even if you took Andy away from the Times, don't you think he'd still have a good audience? Lucia: Well, there is something in the blogoshphere, that once you have critical mass, you won't lose your readership"¦but if Andy Revkin were reincarnated as somebody else,with no reputation, and he's not from the NY times and started a blog like that, he might very well have great difficulty attracting a large audience. You'd like to think that that's not true, but it is unfortunately the case that it is extremely difficult for people to start a blog, be nuanced, write long posts and get lots of people coming to the blog. Keith: I wonder to what extent the blog format exacerbates ill will and misunderstanding between people. Because we process written communication differently than we do the kind of real-time conversation we're having now. Bart: I think that's true, because I sometimes see examples [on blogs] where I see people reacting to someone else and I think to myself, hey, you're reading something into it that the other person didn't necessarily mean, or your're prejudging. The blog format is definitely very conducive to blowing those things out of proportion and misunderstanding each other. Keith: Recently Judith Curry suggested something that I found intriguing:

Maybe we should try a "blog of bloggers" whereby the blog owners from across the spectrum participate in a dialogue, perhaps with a few invited guests, and then the dialogue can be continued also at the individual blogs with the commenters. The polarization will be difficult to overcome, but I think with the waning of climategate that the blogging community is looking for something new, maybe this is a fertile time for cross-camp communications.

What do you both think of that? Bart: I thought it was a great idea when I read it. Lucia: I thought it was a great idea, too. Now we just have to figure out how to do it. (laughs). How would we implement it? That's not to say it can't be done. I think it would be a useful thing. **ENDNOTE** I'd like to hear from readers on Judith Curry's "blog of bloggers" idea. Is such a thing even viable? Additionally, please offer suggestions on how to make the bloggy climate debate more civil and constructive.

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