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Environment

Whose Team Are You On?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorApril 23, 2011 7:12 PM

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Distracted (excited?) by melodramatics, Lucia and Anthony Watts miss the most interesting part of this tantrum by Michael Tobis, when he says to Steve Mosher:

I believe you that you are not on Koch's team. I think you are on [Julian] Assange's team, Team Loose Cannon.

I'm interested in this because so many discussions involving Assange (and Wikileaks) conflate motivation and character flaws with deed. In my opinion, this conflation colors the perception of the big WikiLeaks "document dumps" such as the last one. Fortunately, plenty of journalists get the value of WikiLeaks; unfortunately, many don't, which has puzzled me. (The same split has occurred among transparency advocates.) So how does this relate to Steve Mosher and the climate debate? Well, Mosher is the co-author of this book, an unpardonable sin to many in the climate community, including Tobis, who consigns Mosher to eternal damnation,

Unless and until you find it within yourself to understand that you have major fucked up, big time, by throwing big juicy meat to the deniers to chew on and spin paranoid fantasies about for years, even decades...

Now if Tobis merely left it at that and didn't suggest (in a negative way) that Mosher was cut from the same cloth as Assange, I wouldn't find this outburst so interesting. So what is Tobis after here, more than two years removed from Climategate? He's grasping for an underlying motivation for an action that he finds contemptible. Typically, Tobis is prone to sweeping statements:

My point, alas, is not to revive the controversy (comments on that matter will be summarily booted) but to raise the question of Mosher's M.O. If he is a coherent and honest person, he has no respect for privacy, and explicitly holds that anything held in confidence is grounds for suspicion. This is totally out of keeping with existing culture, so much so that I suspect it is inherently inhumane. Of course, when we think about Assange, we have to raise exactly the same questions.

Leaving aside the "inherently inhumane" crack, which strikes me as pretty over the top, I think the most intriguing question related to all this was raised by PDA in the comment thread:

Let's assume Mosher is sincere in his stated motivation, and give the same benefit of the doubt to Assange. Now make the same assumption about Daniel Ellsberg, notably a supporter of Assange. What's the substantive difference between the three, when you abstract out your judgment about the actors themselves, and likewise the outcome of their actions? It's a real question, not a gotcha. Because I don't know the answer myself.

That's a good question to chew on if you're one of those people that likes to judge an action by someone's character. Personally, I'd rather a person's action, or blog post, newspaper article, or academic study be judged for itself and not on the basis of an inferred motivation.

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