Andrew Sullivan on "Why I Blog"

Andrew Sullivan, a well-known writer, has been blogging since 2001 and won the 2008 Best Blog award (displayed at his site.) In November, prior to this competition, he published an excellent essay on blogging in the Atlantic Monthly, one that I read at the time and meant discuss. Give it a read.

While his lessons are conclusions are directed at literary and political writers, there are many well-expressed observations that resonate with me – now that I’ve been blogging for 4 years (hard to imagine.)

Blogging as a Form
Sullivan observes the importance of the reader community in the ethos of a blog and how the blog host can shape this ethos:

The role of a blogger is … similar in this way to the host of a dinner party. He can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate.

We can think of examples of other blogs, where one feels that the blog host/hosts fail to do that. One of the reasons for my insistence on readers avoiding food fights and my disappointment with readers when these happen is summarized in the above metaphor. You expect people to be polite at a dinner party; I expect them to be polite here.

He observes the sort of companionship that develops at a blog – something that I find quite noticeable here:

It renders a writer and a reader not just connected but linked in a visceral, personal way. The only term that really describes this is friendship. And it is a relatively new thing to write for thousands and thousands of friends….

Sullivan observes that blogs end up exposing the blogger’s personality:

the atmosphere will inevitably be formed by the blogger’s personality.

and

You end up writing about yourself, since you are a relatively fixed point in this constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world.

A reader recently questioned what a column on a squash tournament was doing on a climate blog. Well, I like playing squash and the tournament was a big deal for me, so I wrote about it. No one’s obligated to read it. I don’t read Lucia’s knitting posts, but I like the idea that she writes them. My editorial guess is that, while personal touches are distracting and irrelevant in a journal publication, they add to a blog.

Delicate Flowers
I’m continually surprised at what delicate flowers are modern climate scientists. None of them seem to like being discussed here. We’ve seen this recently with Steig’s intemperate reactions to online discussion; while Steig’s outbursts have been particularly extreme, we’ve seen surprising anger not just from the original Team, but from Santer, Peter Brown and other dendros, etc. In this context, it’s perhaps reassuring to read Sullivan’s characterization of writers as “sensitive, vain souls”, who’ve had pretty cloistered lives, and are not used to feedback that is “instant, personal, and brutal.”

Again, it’s hard to overrate how different this is. Writers can be sensitive, vain souls, requiring gentle nurturing from editors, and oddly susceptible to the blows delivered by reviewers. They survive, for the most part, but the thinness of their skins is legendary. Moreover, before the blogosphere, reporters and columnists were largely shielded from this kind of direct hazing. Yes, letters to the editor would arrive in due course and subscriptions would be canceled. But reporters and columnists tended to operate in a relative sanctuary, answerable mainly to their editors, not readers. For a long time, columns were essentially monologues published to applause, muffled murmurs, silence, or a distant heckle. I’d gotten blowback from pieces before—but in an amorphous, time-delayed, distant way. Now the feedback was instant, personal, and brutal.

My guess is that a considerable portion of the angriness that informs the animosity of a number of climate scientists to this blog is nothing more than an expression of this human instinct. Having said that, they’d also be wise to understand that belligerent and contemptuous outbursts, no matter how clever they may seem to the scientist, usually end up sounding as merely rude, subtracting from the dignity of the scientist involved.

Peer Review
We often hear about the wonders of journal peer review as a gold standard for quality, with pointed and often snide comparison to the fact that one can publish a blog column at the push of a button. Sullivan:

No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.

Sullivan’s description of the editorial overhead for a literary column sounds an awful lot like actual peer review (as opposed to theoretical peer review):

I’d edited a weekly print magazine, The New Republic, for five years, and written countless columns and essays for a variety of traditional outlets. And in all this, I’d often chafed, as most writers do, at the endless delays, revisions, office politics, editorial fights, and last-minute cuts for space that dead-tree publishing entails. …

Every professional writer has paid some dues waiting for an editor’s nod, or enduring a publisher’s incompetence, or being ground to literary dust by a legion of fact-checkers and copy editors. If you added up the time a writer once had to spend finding an outlet, impressing editors, sucking up to proprietors, and proofreading edits, you’d find another lifetime buried in the interstices.

Blogging seems to have a deceptive ease:

Blogging—even to an audience of a few hundred in the early days—was intoxicatingly free in comparison…

with one click of the Publish Now button, all these troubles [with editors] evaporated.

However, Sullivan found that he quickly received online reviews that were far more severe than anything from his editors:

Alas, as I soon discovered, this sudden freedom from above was immediately replaced by insurrection from below. Within minutes of my posting something, even in the earliest days, readers responded. E-mail seemed to unleash their inner beast. They were more brutal than any editor, more persnickety than any copy editor, and more emotionally unstable than any colleague.

He argues that this online immediate review is just as effective as anything from editors:

And so blogging found its own answer to the defensive counterblast from the journalistic establishment. To the charges of inaccuracy and unprofessionalism, bloggers could point to the fierce, immediate scrutiny of their readers. Unlike newspapers, which would eventually publish corrections in a box of printed spinach far from the original error, bloggers had to walk the walk of self-correction in the same space and in the same format as the original screwup. The form was more accountable, not less, because there is nothing more conducive to professionalism than being publicly humiliated for sloppiness. Of course, a blogger could ignore an error or simply refuse to acknowledge mistakes. But if he persisted, he would be razzed by competitors and assailed by commenters and abandoned by readers.

There’s a considerable truth to that – my slightest mis-step seems to provoke immediate and vociferous demands for correction. I certainly don’t claim infallibility (how could anyone who supports audits and due diligence), but I do try to be careful and the relative rareness of accusation of error may provide reassurance to readers. Plus I try very hard to provide original sources and documentation to readers.

Sullivan makes an interesting observation on the importance of the hyperlink and access to original sources as adding a depth to blog postings, that, in a sense, is unique to the form:

But the superficiality masked considerable depth—greater depth, from one perspective, than the traditional media could offer. The reason was a single technological innovation: the hyperlink. An old-school columnist can write 800 brilliant words analyzing or commenting on, say, a new think-tank report or scientific survey. But in reading it on paper, you have to take the columnist’s presentation of the material on faith, or be convinced by a brief quotation (which can always be misleading out of context). Online, a hyperlink to the original source transforms the experience.

Quite so. Even when I’m critiquing someone, I try as much as possible to make original materials (and calculations) available to readers. One can think of other blogs that don’t – which rely on paraphrasing and re-stating their opponents’ positions, rather than providing access and analysis of original materials. In a way, the extensive citation of turnkey R code can be construed as an extended riff on the hyperlink idea- it sure puts interested readers in touch with the original materials in a way that is incomprehensible in traditional publications.

Paddling
Sullivan observes acutely that blogging as a form of publication is not the same as a print article. He cites Drudge’s aphorism that a blog is a “broadcast, not a publication.”

as Matt Drudge told me when I sought advice from the master in 2001, the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.

I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but I think that I’ve sort of adapted to this empirically. I work in bits and pieces, I’ll work one theme for a while, abandon it for some months and perhaps return to it later. Annoys some critics and some friends, but things keep moving along – where, I don’t know, but they keep moving.

The lack of finish obviously annoys some observers, who point to my lack of output in the formal journals over the last few years, but, in fairness to me, this lack of output in formal journals has been accompanied by copious output in this forum.

Many readers are looking for answers and I warn such readers that, if they’re looking for “answers”, they’d better go some place else. My interests are in process and in questions. It seems that “meandering” and “unresolved” posts have some distinguished examples, with Sullivan contrasting the “meandering, questioning, unresolved dialogues” of one famous philosopher with the “definitive, logical treatises” of another. While I make no claim to special authority or accomplishment for anything presented here, Sullivan observes that “meandering, questioning, unresolved dialogues” are a “skeptic’s spirit translated into writing”, which is perhaps why I’ve become comfortable with the form.

Sullivan concludes:

For centuries, writers have experimented with forms that evoke the imperfection of thought, the inconstancy of human affairs, and the chastening passage of time. But as blogging evolves as a literary form, it is generating a new and quintessentially postmodern idiom that’s enabling writers to express themselves in ways that have never been seen or understood before. Its truths are provisional, and its ethos collective and messy. Yet the interaction it enables between writer and reader is unprecedented, visceral, and sometimes brutal. And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.

Blogs are not a substitute for academic journals. Readers are inclined to make much more grandiose claims in this regard than I do. They’re not better – they’re different. They are a sui generis form of publication, that is evolving pretty rapidly. The Sullivan article is here.

78 Comments

  1. Kohl Piersen
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent reference. This bloke Sullivan has nailed it to a considerable degree. In particular, I had not appreciated the ‘broadcast’ vs ‘publish’ analysis. Now I know why some blogs do not attract me and why it’s a bit like giving up smoking when your favourite blog(s) don’t put out anything new for a while – you know, don’t know what to do with your hands, fidgeting, wingeing etc etc.

  2. MikeU
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:38 PM | Permalink | Reply

    A very interesting, insightful article – thanks for excerpting it and giving your own perspective. It should of course be noted that many bloggers don’t get much in the way of “public humiliation” for their screw-ups and inconsistencies, at least on their own blog. Unwilling to face that, they turn off all comments, censor viewpoints they don’t like, etc. RC is a case in point. The fact that you debate with those who disagree with you, using facts and solid analysis to make your points despite the editorial control you could have here is one of the reasons I’ve been impressed with this place.

    The other point is that blog communities (like many internet forum communities) don’t seem to be willing to tolerate opposing viewpoints well. Even if the blogger is open to that, many of those the blog attracts aren’t. They’ll swarm on an opposing viewpoint like white blood cells converging on an invading disease, and attempt to destroy it. Lots of that at RC too. There’s certainly some of that here, although the general openness of the proprietor does tend to infect readers who participate over any length of time. As Mr. Sullivan pointed out, “the atmosphere will inevitably be formed by the blogger’s personality”. More like “heavily influenced” than “formed”, but it’s the right idea.

  3. Gerald Machnee
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Great thread. Although you have already expressed your openness, Sullivan adds to your statements. Yes, I did find the Squash entertaining, informative, inspiring, and a great lighthearted diversion. It told us you are serious about anything you do. I like to play slow-pitch ball the same way.

  4. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

    One thing implied by the post is that there’s very little overhead on starting a blog. Indeed there are places you can get one freely. But some people take advantage of the chance and others don’t. Some people here are heavy responders and others only chime in occasionally. Still others hang back almost all the time. And it’s not that those hanging back can’t write well, as occasional posts will show. Anyone want to chime in on why the do or don’t blog, twitter or respond to blogs?

    • Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 6:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Dave Dardinger (#4),
      @Dave,

      I’ve been online a very long time, from the old dialup 300 baud phone modem days of the mid 1980′s. I’ve watched the online world change from Apple On Line/CompuServe/The Source, fidonet and other bulletin board systems (ancient handle being Capitali$t Pig ;) and was a sysop to boot) to uucp and unix shell account internet access to the current hyperlinked WWW. I blog (have three of them) but spend most of my time reading the work of my betters. I mostly lurk and follow the arguments. I’ve always done this, wherever I’ve found and joined an online community. Only occasionally have I been moved to post, and even less have I been moved to publish/broadcast on my personal blogs. Since most of my interests are well covered by the blogosphere, I find it difficult to see where a post of mine couldn’t or hasn’t already been better done than my own effort.

    • rephelan
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:48 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Dave Dardinger (#4),

      Dave, I lurk here four and five times per day. I’m even starting to understand some of the technical issues. By trade, however, I’m a social scientist, interested in the development of paradigms, deviance, politics and public policy. Sites like this contribute to my understanding of the issues behind the politics, but I don’t really have anything to contribute to what SM is doing here. Anthony Watts and Pielke Jr. are perhaps a little too tolerant of the politics. I blurt out when commenters claim to be defending science but use ad hominem or appeal to authority arguments when they should be introducing empirical evidence. Quarling with trolls, however, can turn you into a troll and distract from the main point.

      Sites like this can make science better, but it requires a new set of ethics… or perhaps a re-commitment to an old set of ethics: a humble commitment to empiricism, openness and honesty. The readers of these blogs need to commit themselves to these principles as well and learn when to keep their mouths shut. Anthony Watts seems to be having thoughts along these lines even as we speak. We need to keep in mind that Hansen, Mann and Steig are in fact working at the cutting edge of their field trying to develop a methodology to answer questions that are really of interest to all of us. Some of us may not like the results, but that won’t change reality. The work of people like Steve M. can tell us whether the methodology is reasonable. If it is, so be it. If it isn’t, claiming that questioning “real scientists” is somehow unscientific is itself unscientific. Albert Einstein, after all, was just a patent office clerk, right?

      • Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: rephelan (#31),

        We need to keep in mind that Hansen, Mann and Steig are in fact working at the cutting edge of their field trying to develop a methodology to answer questions that are really of interest to all of us. Some of us may not like the results, but that won’t change reality. The work of people like Steve M. can tell us whether the methodology is reasonable. If it is, so be it. If it isn’t, claiming that questioning “real scientists” is somehow unscientific is itself unscientific. Albert Einstein, after all, was just a patent office clerk, right?

        Fairly put. I think what has happened is that the peer reviewed model for scientific integrity has collapsed as the political dynamic has invaded the scientific – and none more so than in the case of climate science. Its worth pointing out that Einstein’s 1905 papers were not peer reviewed, and nor did scientists at the time make extravagant claims about the veracity of their claims being based on where they were published.

        Its beyond dispute that the peer review model had been under considerable strain for some time, with some respected scientists referring to it as a form of censorship antithetical to the scientific method. In my view, as an outsider, peer reviewed science is rather like the stock market in recent times – where momentum of a particular set of papers provokes more papers in the same vein and a “consensus” emerges (more properly, a “fad” emerges) and woe betide any conscientious scientist who points out errors in the original because they’ll get run over by the mob.

        Its easy to see these sorts of things happening but very difficult to stop. It was apparent to me in 1998 that the dotcom boom was a classic speculative bubble when a talking head on CNBC when asked about the dotcoms lack of profitability responded that the new economic metrics for these companies were “eyeballs” and “stickiness” which didn’t apply to the “Old Economy” and that we were in “a New Era” – a statement that brought me immediately back to the stock market boom in technology stocks in the late 1920s and we know how that turned out. But the boom, as we know, didn’t top out until March 2000. Even after that, there were people claiming that the fall after March 2000 was a temporary correction and that people should pile in and buy these stocks as they would go even higher.

        Even today (Sunday 15th February), the BBC website has a headline of “Global warming ‘underestimated’” even as the satellite record shows no trend since the turn of the century (and some would argue, a slight cooling).

        Speaking at the American Science conference in Chicago, Prof Field said fresh data showed greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2007 increased far more rapidly than expected.

        “We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we’ve considered seriously in climate policy,” he said.

        Of course, during that time (2000-2007) no global warming has occurred. It then ends with two pieces of risible antiscience:

        The BBC’s science reporter Matt McGrath says the most recent data is also worrying because it threatens to kick-start what climate scientists call negative feedback effects.

        Prof Field says that a warming planet will dry out forests in tropical areas making them much more likely to suffer from wildfires.

        Its clear that Matt McGrath doesn’t know what a negative feedback is (and I’m not going to tell him, he’s a BBC science reporter don’t you know) and Prof Field appears unaware of what happened in past warm periods.

        Now all of this parallels very well the stock market cycle of boom and bust, except this market is a market of ideas or memes with massive public policy implications. People were never surer than in March 2000 that the falls in the market were temporary and that their investments could not possibly be wrong.

        Thus when Steve talks about the role of climate scientists and their feeble attempts to document their work as opposed to the requirements of the stock market in regard to the promotion of investments, he’s rather closer to the reality than most give him credit for.

        Sociologically this is a fascinating time which is why I read Benny Peiser, a social scientist, and what he has to say on CCNet.

        • Bernie
          Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 12:09 AM | Permalink

          Re: John A (#48), John, I saw the same Prof Field story. Do you or does anyone have a link to what he actually said? It seems awfully unequivocal given recent measurements of surface temperatures, satellite temperatures and ocean heat content.

        • Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 12:17 AM | Permalink

          Re: Bernie (#51),

          Dunno. The fun thing is that BBC will make these sorts of crappy articles without attribution to where they came from – which makes it worse than then blogosphere in that regard. I’ve lost count of the number of searches I’ve had to make, and number of e-mails to the BBC asking them for a reference (some of which just get ignored, natch). You’d think the BBC would have discovered hyperlinks by now, but noooo.

  5. Kohl Piersen
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:57 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Must be the season for evaluation of blogs. Anthony Watts is asking people to think about issues in relation to his blog. There is an issue with repetitive argumentation in relation to certain issues.

    It regularly comes down to “Yes it is!”. “No it’s not”, “Tis”, “S’not”. The subject is important, but the argumentation itself is not.

    I’ve been guilty of engaging in it. But it does become all too predictable. That is boring but it is also a waste of time for the moderator and the reader both as it too often devolves into a but fight.

    The problem is – how to keep the free flow of ideas and discussion whilst at the same time censoring out repetitive, unproductive argument.

  6. Kohl Piersen
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 5:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re #5 That should be a ‘bun’ fight (!@$$3##!*)

  7. Andrew
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 6:35 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m not exactly a Sullivan fan, but I can tell he knows what he is talking about. There are some pearls of wisdom in their for any blogger. I especially understand the whole “paddling” thing-keeping up a pace to stay relevant and to satisfy the reader’s insatiable appetite for new information is hard work, especially for someone without nearly enough time on their hands (say, a student like me).

  8. Anthony Watts
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 7:26 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve – the point from Drudge:

    …the key to understanding a blog is to realize that it’s a broadcast, not a publication. If it stops moving, it dies. If it stops paddling, it sinks.

    That idea spoke to me a long time ago when I first started. Having done TV for 25 years, blogging seemed much like my daily weather broadcast. As Kohl Piersen points out in #5, I am reevaluating how I work at it. The difference between doing TV and running a blog is the audience interaction. Interactive TV was tried, but never caught on. My guess is that it was because you couldn’t hurl the equivalent of rotten fruit back at the host as some commenters do with words.

    IMHO, the key to a successful blog is promoting expression of ideas without the hurling of fruits and vegetables.

  9. NickB
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 7:28 PM | Permalink | Reply

    An interesting thread, Steve!

    It must be remembered, though, that all successful blogs are agenda-driven. That may be a personal agenda or a broader public agenda. If a blog is inaugurated merely for fun or curiosity, it will inevitably fail.

    Climate Audit, to my mind, is driven by your quest to ferret out the truth and to uncover scientific error, whether accidental or intentional. Whilst you may have your own views on the broader AGW argument, you try hard not to let them influence the debate that goes on here. Often, (and sometimes infuriatingly!), you come across as a paragon of open-mindedness. Naturally, skeptics (like me, I admit!) will follow this site on a daily basis, looking forward to the next revelation of Mannian ineptitude. And yet, that’s not the aim of the blog, as I see it. You come across as seeker of truth, whether such revelation supports the AGW bandwagon or not. Climate Audit does what it says on the tin!

    On your mission to uncover “real” science (the choice of adjective is intentional!), you have shown that you do not suffer fools gladly. My response to Dave Dardinger’s (#4) question is that my contributions here are few and far between because my scientific expertise falls well below the average on here and I would not wish to make a public fool of myself!

    My initial comment, that all blogs are agenda-driven, naturally draws a comparison between CA and RC. If CA’s agenda is, as I suggest, scrutinizing climate science, what is Real Climate’s agenda? Surely, its nomenclature should suggest a similar mission? Real science must surely be science that can freely be subjected to audit – and the result, whether favourable or not, must be acknowledged.

    Anything less is surely not “real” science.

  10. jae
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 7:30 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks, Steve. That was absolutely fun to read. I think Sullivan was especially prescient when he stated, “And make no mistake: it heralds a golden era for journalism.” And not just journalism, but science, also. Peer review will never again enjoy the undeserved awe among the public (and even scientists) that it used to.

  11. Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 7:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    There is one aspect not mentioned in the Sullivan article that is the key reason why I encouraged Steve to start blogging using WordPress: instant rebuttal

    It seemed to me in late 2004 that the key problem in climate science was that Hockey Team were using the media, print and internet to get almost pre-buttal to what became MM05a and b. The journals were no help, they were much too slow (and not very helpful). The print media and some internet media were in the thrall of the Hockey Team. The Team had just launched a very slick weblog of its own (but with bizarre and heavily pre-censored comments as it still does today).

    Steve needed an outlet to get his message out unfiltered and blogging (it seemed to me) provided that outlet. My experience came from message boards, but I did have a reasonable idea of what a well-done blog could do, even if I’d never done one myself.

    Sullivan is certainly right about blogging becoming a game changer in journalism. But what also happened with Climate Audit was that it changed scientific journals as well, as the inner machinations of the peer review process itself came under scrutiny – and this was all Steve McIntyre’s work, nothing to do with me.

    Along the way we also had the exposure of Hwang woo Suk by bloggers in South Korea and the continuing train wreck of Wahl and Ammann’s attempt to resuscitate the Hockey Stick (aka the “Jesus Paper”). We also watched the launch of SurfaceStations.org and Anthony’s blog “Watts up with that” which has even higher stats than CA (but is aimed at a much larger audience)

    Steve McIntyre’s greatest tribute is that CA is read just as assiduously by its enemies as its friends – so as you’re watching: “Hello Mike and Gavin! We could never have done it without you” ;-)

  12. Pat Frank
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 7:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve M. wrote, “My guess is that a considerable portion of the angriness that informs the animosity of a number of climate scientists to this blog is nothing more than an expression of this human instinct.” …

    … in reaction to Sullivan’s observation that, “Writers can be sensitive, vain souls, requiring gentle nurturing from editors, and oddly susceptible to the blows delivered by reviewers. They survive, for the most part, but the thinness of their skins is legendary.

    This correspondence between writers and some climate scientists raises a very provocative point. In the sciences, right or wrong is not a matter of personal opinion, but matters of falsifiable theory and replicable fact that are entirely indifferent to personal prejudices, feelings, and expectations.

    Literary writers, however, produce virtually nothing except opinions. Every novelist is writing an opinion about life and behavior. Every art critic is expressing a personal view of art and artist. Every literary critic, polemicist, and political writer is expressing nothing but personal views and opinions of some subject matter.

    Of course they’d be thin-skinned about rejectionist criticisms, because every negative critique is about them, by way of their most considered, and even most intimate, personal opinions. Every negative criticism is easily taken as a personal insult. And, of course, every positive criticism as a personal compliment (at best, sycophancy at worst).

    As a scientist, I have learned to not take scientific criticisms personally because little of what I produce is my personal opinion (it’s admittedly hard sledding). Every discussion point is already strongly filtered by theory and data over which I have little control. All the meaning in my data is derived from theory, not from me. All I do is interpret the theory correctly, with respect to my data, or not. Being wrong is tough to swallow, sometimes, but being honestly wrong is an honorable estate in science. With discerned mistakes comes advance. Most scientists I know have very similar attitudes about their work, because they’ve passed through the same fire of indifference, exhibited by their results toward their fondest apriori expectations.

    So, now, let’s look again at the behavior of so many climate scientists. They are behaving like literary scholars, rather than like scientists. Criticism is met with hostility and scorn, in just the way an insecure person defends a personal and subjective opinion. The scathing retort “Philistine!” has power only within a field driven by learned aesthetics.

    The scornful and rejectionist attitude endemic in climate science appears to be the response of a subjectivist literary elite. It may be evidence of a nagging personal insecurity that the field rests upon a negotiated subjective convention rather than on an objective base of replicable fact and falsifiable theory.

    After all, in science demonstration is everything, and confidence in a result is to have a demonstration in hand, Critics are met confidently — even eagerly. Not so in climate science. In a negotiated convention, climate meaning becomes asserted (literary) rather than demonstrated (scientific). When the theory is not falsifiable and the data are muzzy, argument is not in terms of theory but of viewpoint. Criticism becomes a personal attack rather than a culling of impersonal discordance. Polemics and the politics of gotcha, dissent suppression, and personal triumph reign. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

    • jae
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Pat Frank (#13),

      The scornful and rejectionist attitude endemic in climate science appears to be the response of a subjectivist literary elite. It may be evidence of a nagging personal insecurity that the field rests upon a negotiated subjective convention rather than on an objective base of replicable fact and falsifiable theory.

      FWIW, I think this is a brilliant, true, succinct assessment of the situation.

    • BarryW
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:52 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Pat Frank (#13),

      The scornful and rejectionist attitude endemic in climate science appears to be the response of a subjectivist literary elite. It may be evidence of a nagging personal insecurity that the field rests upon a negotiated subjective convention rather than on an objective base of replicable fact and falsifiable theory.

      My first thought was that the reaction of climate scientists was based on a small fraternity of closely interconnected individuals who are not used to criticism or argument (re: Wegman social networking). I still think that’s true, but your comment hits even closer to the mark. I wonder if other disciplines that have the same “lack of replicable fact and falsifiable theory” react in a similar fashion?

      • PaddikJ
        Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 2:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: BarryW (#19)

        I wonder if other disciplines that have the same “lack of replicable fact and falsifiable theory” react in a similar fashion?

        And: Steve’s paragraph about “delicate flowers” – I’ve been wondering for some time now if the sloppiness & touchiness of the paleoclimate crowd is an aberration within the academic research community, or if it’s BAU which had gone unrecognized until something developed (AGW, or course) that affected the rest of the world a great deal. I mean, it’s strictly academic at the moment if some physicists postulate 11 dimensions, while others yell “Bunk! It’s just untestable speculation!” I think this deserves careful study.

        Similarly, with respect to Steve’s comments on Peer Review, it appears that the sanctity of the PR process is being seriously questioned. The invitation to an upcoming symposium leads with this remarkable statement:

        In a survey of members of the Scientific Research Society, “only 8% agreed that ‘peer review works well as it is’.” (Chubin and Hackett, 1990; p.192).

    • davidc
      Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 1:38 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Pat Frank (#13),

      Good points.

    • Kenneth Fritsch
      Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Pat Frank (#13),

      So, now, let’s look again at the behavior of so many climate scientists. They are behaving like literary scholars, rather than like scientists. Criticism is met with hostility and scorn, in just the way an insecure person defends a personal and subjective opinion. The scathing retort “Philistine!” has power only within a field driven by learned aesthetics.

      The scornful and rejectionist attitude endemic in climate science appears to be the response of a subjectivist literary elite. It may be evidence of a nagging personal insecurity that the field rests upon a negotiated subjective convention rather than on an objective base of replicable fact and falsifiable theory.

      Pat, I think as a generalization that what you say has merit. While I would prefer to look at individual cases of climate scientists and judge their reactions to the discussion/criticisms of specific papers, what I generally observe with climate scientist posters who come to CA with counter POVs is that they contribute less to the technical discussion and spend a major share of their time criticizing other posters’ attitudes, motivations and knowledge of climate science.

      Some seemingly come to contribute to the technical knowledge base here and then inevitably get sidetracked into the more subjective topics mentioned above or just disappear.

      My main interest in CA is the peer reviewed paper analyses and reviews that are undertaken here and it is in this activity that I see having climate scientists (and particularly those that might defend a paper or have a countervailing POV) contributing to those discussions as a major positive development. What has been disappointing is that this seldom happens and most notably because when the scientists arrive they allow (a true contributor learns quickly how to either ignore provocations or quickly put them away) themselves to be sidetracked.

      I do find it curious and disappointing that a number of climate scientists seem to come here to discuss personalities and policies and let us know that they do not like what they see – to the detriment of discussing ideas. I think in a number of cases the scolding scientist comes in a role as a policy advocate and not as a scientist. It appears to me that they would otherwise prefer to handle scientific exchange with peer review and forego the exchanges of blogging that Andrew Sullivan and many of us see as a positive attribute.

    • stan
      Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Pat Frank (#13),

      Pat,
      All good points, but I think the “thin-skinned, literary opinion writer” explanation for the reaction of climate scientists to criticism from this blog and others fails to account for other factors which are also at play.

      1) The comment feature of blogs not only provides feedback for the author. It also provides a forum for readers to express opinions to the world. Those reader opinions influence the preception of the blog, too. Despite Steve’s best efforts, because most of Steve’s readers are skeptics of one sort or another, the blog is perceived that way (especially by alarmists).

      2) The subject matter has tremendous political implications. Blogs on this subject are inevitably going to be viewed as being on one side or the other of the political divide. Just as political partisans have a tendency to stereotype opponents, blogs get stereotyped too. If a blog is perceived as a skeptic blog, alarmists are often going to attribute to it all the aspects they attribute to other blogs they see on the skeptic side of the fence.

      As for the literary writer type “hurt feelings” of climate scientists because of their perception of critical treatment from blogs, they are really due to a failure on their part to understand the arena they have chosen to enter. You can’t play politics on offense and expect to play science on defense. When alarmist scientists participate in politics, they have to expect that they are going to be on the receiving end of politics as well.

      And given the policy implications, the quality of their science must meet far higher standards. I don’t think they really understand that. As Steve has pointed out, society demands that the science involved in public offerings undergo stringent audits. The science involved in bringing new drugs to market must meet the most stringent standards for replication and review. Alarmists scientists are advocating in the political arena for policies which will have impacts which dwarf those of a securites offering or a new drug. Yet, they don’t seem to appreciate that their studies and conclusions ought to be subjected to a level of inspection commensurate with the extraordinary impact of the policies they advocate.

      • BarryW
        Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: stan (#62),

        The science involved in bringing new drugs to market must meet the most stringent standards for replication and review. Alarmists scientists are advocating in the political arena for policies which will have impacts which dwarf those of a securites offering or a new drug. Yet, they don’t seem to appreciate that their studies and conclusions ought to be subjected to a level of inspection commensurate with the extraordinary impact of the policies they advocate.

        But neither do the policy makers. A defective drug brings relatively quick consequences that feed back into the political system. The affects of policy actions in relation to climate are long term and don’t have a direct effect on the near term.

        For example, they are planning to release Asian oysters into the Chesapeake Bay, because the oyster harvest has been reduced due to decimation of the oyster population. The effects from this wouldn’t be known for years or decades. Introducing alien species has a terrible track record, but that doesn’t seem to stop this madness. Yet, stopping the pollution of the Bay is beyond them.

      • Pat Frank
        Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 4:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: stan (#62), wrote, “As Steve has pointed out, society demands that the science involved in public offerings undergo stringent audits.

        This point goes right to the heart of the matter, Stan. In typical cases, science is never involved in public offerings. Involved in public offerings is engineering, backed up by science. That’s true in electronics, medicine and drugs — your example — dam and bridge construction, and everything else. Public policy proceeds with engineering quality studies, in which all the manufacturing details have been worked out and all the tunings, tweaks, and adjustments have been examined, understood, and justified within bounded engineering models. The engineering models use as much physics (chemistry, biology, genetics) as they can do, but after that there are the empirical rules and complex engineering studies (elegant kludges) to meet the specification standards and solve the production problems that the available science cannot address or has not addressed.

        That’s how public policy has typically worked. Climate science is virtually unique in having been levered into public policy; and that without the strength to support any of the necessary engineering. It has been forced forward in a very inappropriate way. Public policy demands climate engineering. Dan Hughes has made this point repeatedly and very astutely, and he’s right. But climate science has been forwarded as though it were climate engineering, and all the while it is not developed enough to even start supporting the as-yet entirely non-existent field of climate engineering. It’s a mistake of double fundamentals, intermixed. It’s a mistake that could not be worse for science.

        The huge fight about AGW turns on this point. The science used to back human endeavor is always incomplete. So we use engineering for the specifications and crucial details. It works very well. Policy-advocate climate scientists have invited critical review because they have abused their science. They have forced it into an arena where science does not belong; all because in their activist passion they have decided that they know the answer without having the knowledge.

        Precocious knowledge is called revelation. Who knows, maybe some climate scientists really do get messages from god, but they’ll have the usual hard time demonstrating that; and disbelief of blindly asserted knowledge is the only rational position (thank-you David Hume). But this, plus the above indefensible mistake, perhaps explains the thin skins of the AGW activist cadre.

        There must be a saying about confidence battening on ignorance. Today’s climate science circus is a prime example. There’s going to be hell to pay.

        • Mark Smith
          Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 9:01 PM | Permalink

          Re: Pat Frank (#72),

          Darwin:

          “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge:…”

          though he continues:

          “.. it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

  13. steven mosher
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:10 PM | Permalink | Reply

    WRT the bloggers personality.

    At some point you realize that the time the blogger spends snipping your comments or running the zamboni through the thread is a waste of his time, time that is better spent on substance. So even mohpit learns to behave. for now.

  14. George M
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Adding to Pat Frank’s assessment. I believe most (?) all(?) of the team climate scientists are of the old school, in regards to publishing in refereed journals. If they ever relinquish their stranglehold on the field, their replacements are likely to be a lot more amenable to instant criticism. And we may have to wait for that transition to see the ‘Tipping Point” back to sanity in the field.

  15. Allen63
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:28 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Very informative. It resonates. I am currently far from qualified to blog on a topic. And, I wilt thinking of the scathing commentary I would get if I made a serious attempt to “publish” a half-baked idea on line.

    Perhaps, formal on-line publication (with instant review through comments) should eventually take the place of classic “printed paper” peer-reviewed journal articles — because instant review by all interested parties on earth could dramatically improve the quality of scientific (and other) presumably-factual publications. Moreover, printed paper really has no use anymore except as a “back up” information storage medium — assuming one can get used to reading off a screen. For example, I no longer bother with printed-paper media or on-air television for news.

    Anyhow, this article makes me appreciate the good blogs all the more.

  16. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 8:42 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan writes

    I remember first grappling with what to put on my blog. It was the spring of 2000 and, like many a freelance writer at the time, I had some vague notion that I needed to have a presence “online.”

    As I have never set up a blog, I wondered what he would say about motivation. One can form an impression that a person with a special interest, seeking to become more wise, can do so very quickly by blogging. Ideas, angles, perspectives, data come flowing in from a variety of sources.

    So I would be motivated to blog if I had a special interest plus the ability to make it prosper. That is the strength of CA – mine host is so skilled to prosper intellectually.

  17. Bernie
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 9:15 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Science, I think, has yet to accept the major opportunities WEB 2.0 technologies presents. Blogging is a fantastic way for the great unwashed to engage with (and view) the science. It broadcasts not just the facts but also the style of the scientists and bloggers. It allows me to decide not just what I believe but also (and to me more importantly) who I should believe.

    Climate Science seems to be leading this charge as it is these scientists who are attempting to prove that we need a wholesale change to the way the world operates. Unfortunately the style and tone of their blogs is often didactic, even downright hostile and contemplates no chance of fallibility. It is this that diminishes their arguments for me.
    CA has an easier job as it is more about questioning than creating but it does this in a more open and transparent manner and as a result imbues more credibility on its host and contributors.

    • Bernie
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Bernie (#20), Now here is an interesting slightly off thread blogging issue. As you can see we have arrived at the same “handle”. Since I did not write this I assume someone has accidently joined the discussion. I am certainly not as prolific a contributor as some others – typically once or twice a day where I feel I can add something or need to ask a question. It would therefore perhaps minimize confusion if you could perhaps add another letter so will not be confused. I do not disagree in principle with your comments – though I do think there is considerably more investigation and education at CA compared to RC. A great case in point is to compare the current thread here on Gavin’s article and the same thread on RC. The thread here has and has spawned far more investigative discussions that RC – in fact apart from Nicolas and obvious CA alums there are no questions, no explorations of method and certainly no additional contributions. RC has become what every blogger must fear: boring!

      My thanks to Steve and to all those who make substantive contributions.

      The original “Bernie”

      • Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:03 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: Bernie (#30),

        Steve could, of course, require all commenters to register an account before commenting. But its more bureaucratic to do so.

  18. aurbo
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 9:19 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Sullivan is a gifted writer and I was an avid reader of his blogs for several years. However, it seems to me that a couple of years ago he let emotion rule his mind and he became a victim of, if not a poster boy for BDS. It’s hard to imagine that one who could write so fluently and decorously, for example, in the referenced piece of this blog, could have become so virulent in his political diatribes in the published media as well as in the blogosphere. My impression was that he started thinking with his crotch instead of his head (and I’m sure he knows what I mean by that). If now (possibly, because of a new Administration) his brilliant mind is again in charge, I may start to read him again.

    As for the need (or lack thereof) for an agenda, I think that an agenda of some sort is practically a prerequisite for maintaining a coherent series of blogs. The agenda can be broad such as Steve’s pursuit of truth as being the only acceptable target for scientific investigation, or it can be narrow, such as, is there is or is there ain’t AGW. For RC, its agenda seems clearly focused on maintaining the welfare of the team irrespective of the validity of the science to whatever interpretation welfare may connote. In this regard, I can think of several goals. The first would be Mark Felt’s immortal phrase…”Follow the Money”. One could add to that, “Maintain and Advance one’s Esteem”. Truth cannot be obtained by censoring contrary or simply disagreeable points of view. An honest search for truth should invite debate. As Richard Fineman once observed (I’m paraphrasing here) The highest station a scientist can aspire to is that when he has discovered an error in his published work, he should not admit it, he should proclaim it! It’s clear from this that RC is not even a contender.

    If I’ve strayed from the original concept of this thread, I apologize. It’s simply that I may be too passionate about my own agenda; a search for the truth in my professional field, which is weather and climate.

    • Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 9:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: aurbo (#21),

      …it seems to me that a couple of years ago he let emotion rule his mind and he became a victim of, if not a poster boy for BDS…

      TLA check: BDS?

      • aurbo
        Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

        Re: John A (#23),

        TLA check: BDS?

        Bush Derangement Syndrome. It’s a common and well understood acronym in the right of center media.

  19. Mark Weston
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 9:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Anyone who’s read some of the history of science knows how often past controversies have been marred by vicious academic politics, personal feuds, bloody-minded defence of pet theories and secretiveness about methods and data compared to which “team” behaviour seems mild indeed. The ideals of the scientific method and of honesty and objectivity are pretty hard to live up to; most people, most of the time, will suffer the odd slip. It’s in the nature of ideals.

    What’s more, most of those historical controversies were between scientists and behind the closed doors of academia. This is one of the first such debates where the scientists are facing direct scrutiny and criticism from the peanut gallery. It’s not surprising that they’re finding it to be an uncomfortable experience. Nor that they’re often impatient when dealing with it; the quality of input from the peanut gallery is pretty uneven.

    And finally we have the problem that the science is inextricably tied to politics and ideology, making open-mindedness and objectivity that bit harder to achieve.

    What’s my point here? That I think it’s a mistake to pick out the “team” or climate scientists in general as unusual in their reaction to criticism and opposition. They’re just people doing what people do in many other fields. The scientific method works over the long term, as the less ideal behaviours of individuals are sort of averaged out. When you look at the process on a day to day basis, it’s bound to seem a lot more messy and unpleasant now than it did in the past. But that’s mostly because the past is further away, and we’ve forgotten all the messy detail.

  20. steven mosher
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 9:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re 23. Bush derangement Syndrome.

    I’m on my way to the emergency room to get stitches in my tongue. And anyone who thinks I would have stooped to making a joke about Sullivan and Bush should just examine their own twisted sense of humor. I’m taking the high road.

    What’s DDS?

  21. Jon
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I like the honesty of this post. It’s bang on.

    Andrew Sullivan is in essence a self-admitted troll:

    Andrew sought, earlier this week, to explain why he published this article. He explained that it was “provocative.” Full of lies, to be sure. Lies, in fact,that were exposed at the time, and not only by Andrew’s employees, but publicly, by James Fallows and the White House, and many other. But no matter. The article was “provocative.” And that’s what mattered. Not honesty. Not impact. But provocation.

    It’s a peculiar quirk of Washington that repeatedly being wrong doesn’t harm your reputation for accuracy or prescience. Indeed, if you leverage your poor predictive abilities correctly, and always stay in a safe mainstream, they can even do something more important: Make you seem courageously honest.

    Sullivan hangs his hat on a reputation for honesty that comes because he constantly shifts his opinions as each, one after the other, is proven flagrantly incorrect, and the mainstream moves to reflect that. Then Sullivan spends a lot of time writing about his anguished evolution, and eventually settles in the new center. This was true of Bush, true of Iraq, true of some of the largest issues of our time. It’s telling, though, that when wrong opinions serve his career, as happened in the case of No Exit or The Bell Curve, then honesty is subsumed beneath a higher value: “Provocation.” Sometimes the truth is dull, or politically marginal. At those times, being honest and being provocative conflict. And we’ve seen which Sullivan chooses when pressed. It makes him, to be sure, a fun and interesting writer. One I rather like to read. But it doesn’t leave him in a position to throw stones at the integrity of others.

    Let us all know how your Heartland “conference” goes, by the way…

    • Greg F
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Jon (#26),
      Jon,
      Do yourself a favor and try addressing the merits of someones argument instead of engaging in ad hominem attacks.

      Steve’s post is not about Andrew Sullivan. It is about a piece Andrew Sullivan wrote that struck a cord of familiarity with Steve. Andrew Sullivan may write a lot of crap but even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. Unfortunately for you Jon, you do not appear to consider the merits of someones argument as important as who is making the argument.

  22. Kohl Piersen
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:08 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Re Pat Frank #13

    “The scornful and rejectionist attitude endemic in climate science appears to be the response of a subjectivist literary elite. It may be evidence of a nagging personal insecurity that the field rests upon a negotiated subjective convention rather than on an objective base of replicable fact and falsifiable theory.”… and the comment goes on.

    This is very interesting! I hadn’t considered it in this way before but I have wondered at the attitude to proof and demonstration and the lack of precision in measurement against the claimed precision in projections etc etc.

    This approaches a ‘general’ explanation which might make some sense of it.

  23. Jeff Alberts
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:32 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’d say it’s more like a combination of publication and broadcast. As a publication it can be re-read and re-read by people even years down the road. A broadcast is typically gone after being broadcast (unless it’s recorded and made available to the general public.) But really, a publication, more correctly a periodical, has to stay current as well.

    And the ferocity of responses is directly proportional to the anonymity of the Web, and the ease of posting knee-jerk reactions. A letter to the editor takes a lot more effort, and more than likely you’d re-read it a couple times before popping it in the post, which means it may never get sent once the initial outrage died down.

  24. ScotchTapeSmell
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    the atmosphere will inevitably be formed by the blogger’s personality

    I have wondered if some of Steve’s snips were dependent upon his mood.

    Steve: yes. Also whether I’m online. Sometimes I have a backlog of 200 posts.

    • Greg F
      Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 10:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: ScotchTapeSmell (#33),

      I have wondered if some of Steve’s snips were dependent upon his mood.

      This may come as a shock to some, but Steve is human like the rest of us here.

  25. Jeff Alberts
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:04 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve watched the online world change from Apple On Line/CompuServe/The Source, fidonet and other bulletin board systems

    Heh, I used to work for The Source. Was a tech support guy there starting in 1988 until they were bought and dissolved by Compu$erve a year and a half later. If you were a customer, we might have talked on the phone. Back then, AOL was a small company based out of Tyson’s Corner, VA known as PC-LINK and APPLE-LINK. I worked with some of their tech support folks face to face when they started ramping up a bit more (I was working for Telenet/Sprintnet then). Then they launched AOL, and Sprintnet couldn’t keep up with the dial-up demand.

    I also ran a 2-line BBS based out of Northern VA. Was great fun, and I learned a lot about computers and modem communications. Was also a Fidonet node. Good times.

    Sorry, this is all OT, just had to make the connection.

  26. J.Hansford
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Good points by Sullivan, well dissected by you Steve.

    I concur with the broadcast as opposed to publish, analog. It is a good way of looking at it. It is probably why talk radio is so popular also…. Participation is the key, even if they don’t agree that’s why people continue to listen… or write.

    Also the “Delicate Flowers” observation….. Painted many writers and commentators to a tee, in my opinion. Yes it is easy to write monologues of your own ideology, complete with every self justification under the sun and then stay cloistered in your own egotistical bubble…. But on a blog! Oh boy. If you wrote it, then it will be thrown back at you with every nuance that can be attributed to it, in every diverse viewpoint. If one is not conversant in the topic written about, it quickly becomes apparent…. I think many a delicate flower has had it’s ego bruised with the extent of their own ignorance. They have, with gay abandon, perambulated their delicate infant thoughts down the grand promenade…. only to have them laughed at ; )

  27. Bernie001
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Reply

    John A: (Your Name provides an excellent example of a reasonable solution and one that herewith I have now adopted. )
    I abhor bureaucracy and do not look to Steve to resolve this by adding overhead. I think this particular marketplace will adjust once a free flow of information occurs. I am sure the new Bernie will respond in a way that will make this marketplace function effectively.

    The original Bernie

    P.S. I selected Bernie001 just in case CA is plagued by more Bernies!

  28. Jon
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:37 PM | Permalink | Reply

    snip – this has nothing to do with this or any climate topic. In addition, I ask that policy not be discussed.

  29. Bernief
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:45 PM | Permalink | Reply

    re Bernie #30,38
    oops used my first name, kinda expected to be asked for a unique handle but as one anonymous bernie to another happy for you to the more original :-)
    Never been part of a plague before , quite pleased.

    The newish Bernief

  30. Jon
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:46 PM | Permalink | Reply

    In reference to #41, he deleted a link to Heartland’s past activities promoting cancer in post #26.

    Steve: actually I didn’t. But cancer is not an issue covered at this blog and I don’t want to discuss it here. I personally don’t smoke. If the Pew Center or Aspen Institute invited to me to speak, I’d be very happy to accept an invitation. Unfortunately I don’t get many speaking requests. I think that it is important that scientists address hostile audiences as well as preaching to the faithful.

  31. ScotchTapeSmell
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:54 PM | Permalink | Reply

    To the charges of inaccuracy and unprofessionalism, bloggers could point to the fierce, immediate scrutiny of their readers.

    “Critics are our friends, they tell us our faults.”
    ~Benjamin Franklin

    • Mike W.
      Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 8:23 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: ScotchTapeSmell (#41),

      The Ben Franklin reference is quite pertinent. The closest historical corollary to blogging is Franklin’s contemporary London coffee house scene of the 1700s, and to a certain extent the salons of Paris around that time. Lurking here, as I do, must be much like it would have been to sit on a back bench and listen to Dr. Johnson’s exchanges with his critics in the 1760s.

      Some of those conversations found themselves in the Spectator or other papers, some in Boswell’s writings, but most were lost. Yet, the intellectual vigor generated there was such that the period is still referred to as “The Enlightenment.”

      Would that blogging, with much larger participation and audience, could do the same for our time.

  32. J.Hansford
    Posted Feb 14, 2009 at 11:56 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Jon:
    February 14th, 2009 at 10:04 pm
    I like the honesty of this post. It’s bang on.

    Andrew Sullivan is in essence a self-admitted troll:….. Well Jon, “self-admitted troll” is your interpretation. Sullivan admits no such thing.

    An excerpt from your linked article…. “Sullivan hangs his hat on a reputation for honesty that comes because he constantly shifts his opinions….” John Maynard Keynes has a quote on the topic of changing opinions. He replied, “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”… I’d say Sullivan should be afforded the same answer with the same merit.

    …. and to sum up your linked article by Ezra Klein, he finishes with this… “”Provocation.” Sometimes the truth is dull, or politically marginal. At those times, being honest and being provocative conflict. And we’ve seen which Sullivan chooses when pressed. It makes him, to be sure, a fun and interesting writer. One I rather like to read. But it doesn’t leave him in a position to throw stones at the integrity of others.”

    … Now considering that Sullivan is arbitrarily locked into never being able to change his opinion as the facts change, as Ezra Klein dictates, Sullivan can conveniently be called a liar and Klein can take a bow.

    So Klein abuses us with thousands of words, to in effect say, that Sullivan doesn’t let a few facts get in the way of a good story…. Well how convenient it is, when you don’t afford Sullivan the benefit of those facts ‘eh Jon ; )

  33. J.Hansford
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Permalink | Reply

    An excerpt from your linked article…. “Sullivan hangs his hat on a reputation for honesty that comes because he constantly shifts his opinions….” John Maynard Keynes has a quote on the topic of changing opinions. He replied, “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”… I’d say Sullivan should be afforded the same answer with the same merit.

    that makes it clearer… included my words with Jons quote… Doh!

  34. ScotchTapeSmell
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 12:40 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Looks like Steve will be coming home to another food fight tonight.

  35. davidc
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 2:18 AM | Permalink | Reply

    In a way, the extensive citation of turnkey R code can be construed as an extended riff on the hyperlink idea- it sure puts interested readers in touch with the original materials in a way that is incomprehensible in traditional publications.

    Absolutely. I’m new to R and can say “Hello world”, add 2 vectors and do a linear regression and plot it. But I copied and pasted some of your PCA R code and it ran! But we should be looking for more than an “extended riff”, rather a hyperprocedure. I click your link, it loads the relevant binary R code, the data and displays the results. I click a button to see the original R code, another one to reverse engineer that into mathematical expressions. Another to see the data. Another to see what others have done with the same data. Another to see intermediate results. Another to look at all assigned variables with an option to change them to rerun with my own. Etc.

    Looks to me that R has the structure to do those kinds of things. Fascinating stuff. A hint of chaos but we’re used to that.

  36. James Erlandson
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 4:34 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Re: Publication vs. Broadcast.

    Blogging is often referred to as a conversation. CA reminds me of a group of researchers who work in the same building on different but related projects getting together in the cafeteria for lunch. The conversation includes trial balloons, early results, technical questions, new papers, diagrams on napkins, rumors and sports. Except I’ve never seen a real food fight in the cafeteria.

  37. Nicholas
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 5:38 AM | Permalink | Reply

    But some people take advantage of the chance and others don’t. Some people here are heavy responders and others only chime in occasionally. Still others hang back almost all the time. And it’s not that those hanging back can’t write well, as occasional posts will show. Anyone want to chime in on why the do or don’t blog, twitter or respond to blogs?

    Probably they, like I, have other things they’d rather be doing than writing. That, and I don’t want to post unless I feel it will really add to the discussion.

    • Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 5:55 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Nicholas (#72),

      I think also that many blog posts are fairly technical and require some familiarity with previous posts stretching back quite a while – so unless you’re very familiar with the subject matter then you’re going to be lost.

      Because I’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, certain references to previous works are easy for me to pick up, but not for others. This is where CA is a tougher pickup than WUWT, where people can dive in to the discussion more or less immediately.

      It is four years since this blog started and it feels like yesterday in some respects.

  38. Nicholas
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 6:06 AM | Permalink | Reply

    John, you’re right. I’m fairly familiar with the history of Climate Audit, and I know some mathematics, but I don’t understand a lot of the statistics jargon used in the more technical posts. Thus I often feel that I’d only confuse matters by chiming in, so I tend to stick to replying to posts discussing the scientific method etc. which requires less technical knowledge to discuss.

    I did start my own blog at one point (on a totally different topic to CA) but I’m always too busy doing stuff to post at it. I guess blogs are more for people who enjoy writing as an exercise in and of itself. I find writing long, coherent posts to be mentally draining – and those are the kind I feel are most important.

  39. Edward
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 8:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Mike W. #54
    I think some cultures in the business world may also have lost the “coffee House” flavor of interaction between departments of the same company. At my company, we all used to eat in a big cafeteria. You could sit down next to managers 3-4 levels above you from different departments and learn more during one lunch hour than you did from a dozen memos. When the cafeteria was eliminated everyone took lunches individually or in pairs or very small groups but usually with mates from your immediate area. A lot was lost from the culture from the “cross-pollination” between the disciplines. I consider CA a great lunch hour crowd to sit in with.

  40. Paul C
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m not buying the “broadcast vs publication” bunk about a blog. Its a false dichotomy. This argument simply reduces the difference between the two to nothing more than one is printed on paper and the other isn’t.

    The analogy is better when you compare the two to “digital film” vs conventional film. In both cases, the content makes the relevance, not the medium. The medium can impact the distribution, and hence, the impact, but not the significance of the content. Andrew Sullivan is only a small sample of what constitutes a “blog”. His use of one is biased by his perspective, being closer to a supermarket tabloid than a learned journal. Is he still insisting Palin’s daughter is the real mother of Trig?

    Other bloggers, CA especially, and WUWT, produce blogs that are much closer to periodicals than tabloids. Any standard of “meaningfulness” can and will apply equally to any blog OR publication. The immediacy of feedback on blogs only changes the dynamics of the information exchange, and its redistribution. What is done with and about the info exchanged is sociology, and applies equally to either publication form. The peer review process is arguably more exhaustive for blog articles than many peered journals.

    Blogs have long left the simplistic definition of “diary” behind, even though that form still exists too. Most professional publications are now “desktop published”. Some still go to press. Many now go virtual only. What’s the difference?

  41. Paul C
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Reply

    No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.

    This actually isn’t true. They will if they publish them. The favourite targets of many bloggers arecolumnists or reporters, or novelists, and they are pursued relentlessly. CA, in fact, is an example of how this is true, as the writings of “reporters” of science are carefully dissected for validity, appropriateness and technical regimen, by the site host and its many participants.

    What blogs suffer from is incredible competition, competition unlike anything seen in the print media. The currency of a blog and its subsequent popularity are driven as much by competition as by any specific connection with a viewer. People visit blogs the same way they pick up periodicals at the newsstand: based on personal biases and relevance of info. The principal difference being that the personal investment is much smaller and so therefore, the commitment.

    While Sullivan may make some good points in his article, the article is (IMO) largely sophomoric and not really very reflective of what actually is happening in the blog world.

  42. Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Why do I do this “Blogging” thing??? The answer is here!

    But seriously, when I started blogging in 2005, my motivation was to become a better writer. My grammar was good, but my spelling has always been, let just say, suspect. In college, in an ancient time before the use of computers and word processors became commonplace, one of my professors chided me for my many spelling errors in a term paper (typed on a Brothers typewriter purchased from the local Target). Her exact words were “Your spelling is atrocious. You need to make a dictionary your best friend”. Well, I didn’t really care then – follies of the young. But now that I am pursuing a teaching career, I care. During the last four years, my spelling has improved dramatically because of my blog. And, as a bonus, I have had the pleasure of finding great blogs such as CA and WUWT, and gleaning info from writers of high integrity such as Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre. And though I disagree with him more than I used to, I still hold Sullivan in high regard. This blogging thing has been a real adventure.

    PS. Special thanks to Jeff Alberts, who has lately been visiting my blog, and pointing out some of the more recent silly errors.

  43. H. Patrick Boru
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I think Mr. McIntyre has performed an honorable duty by explicitly limiting the scope of his criticisms. He has examined (audited) and disagreed with the application of statistical analysis. I remember few instances of Mr. McIntyre concluding anything other than statistical analysis being flawed and not reliable. I remember quite a few instances of Mr. McIntyre disagreeing with posts claiming that flawed models prove hypotheses wrong.

    As far as criticism of the actions of individuals (Gavin),
    I find that to be quite entertaining.

  44. Shaune Stoddard
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I see an interesting link between blogging and the The Socratic Method. It is a form of argument/dialog that was instrumental in the birth of modern philosophy, science and democracy. The parallels are many:

    * Questions are a (…if not the) central part of the method (An audit always starts with questions and Steve asks many good questions…)
    * A dialog typically starts with a preconceived premise that is then questioned (i.e. Premise: Human action is now the dominant signal in long range climate….)
    * The questions expose inconsistencies and contradictions
    * The simple act of questioning brings out great emotion and hostility (Read Book 1 of ‘Plato – The Republic’)
    * Aporia is typically the end of the argument for the interlocutor (i.e. Don’t expect the interlocutor to say “I’m wrong” … Emotionally, he cannot let go of his premise)
    * Although it may be long and often meandering … ultimately it brings transparency, rational debate and as close to truth as possible in the face of the establishment

    As a long time lurker I am almost more interested in watching CA from this perspective than the actual originating premise.

    Thanks Steve for providing such a great vehicle.

  45. stan
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 1:12 PM | Permalink | Reply

    BarryW (63)

    So true! Of course, I have higher expectations of scientists than I have of politicians. My hopes for scientists include that they possess at least a tiny measure of self-awareness and moral maturity. If they demand that the world make extraordinary changes on the basis of their work, perhaps it might be wise to make sure that their quality control is meticulous, their work completely transparent, and confirmed by replication by other, disinterested scientists.

    Instead of demanding that they be viewed as authorities incapable of error.

  46. Barclay E. MacDonald
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 5:53 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I’m continually surprised at what delicate flowers are modern climate scientists.

    I agree with your characterization. I too have been very surprised by this.

    In the early days of the blog, I could understand the unfamiliarity of some who had obviously walled themselves off in their academic ivory towers suddenly being subjected to very public scrutiny and criticism. But, consistently, by their own actions they had thrust themselves into a very important, public and political issue. Public scrutiny is absolutely to be expected, especially scrutiny by those who may be skeptical.

    On the other hand I never anticipated that a blog would prove to be such an effective form of scrutiny, as this one or Anthony Watts’ is proving to be. Worldwide scrutiny! And I again compliment you on consistently providing such a unique and incredible source of information. I am a dedicated fan.

  47. steven mosher
    Posted Feb 15, 2009 at 6:28 PM | Permalink | Reply

    think about the arguments made against bloggers, the citizen journalists, by professional journalists. The citizen journalists made their bones by attacking the professional journalists.. think about rathergate. And think about the attacks made on citizen journalists, they sit at home in their pajamas, they dont do original reporting. Think about those memes.
    1. Professional journalists are educated in journalism
    2. Professional journalists do original research

    citizens journalists are just gadflies without the proper credentials. citizen journalists are derivative, parasitic.

    Now think about citizen scientists. I count SM as one of them. How many times has his background been questioned.. silly mining guy trying to do climate SCIENCE. how many times have people pushed him to do original research.
    “core your own damn bristlecones”, “publish peer reviewed articles”

    Print journalism is dying

    • PaddikJ
      Posted Feb 17, 2009 at 2:38 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: steven mosher (#67),

      Memes, schmemes – those are just plain old conceits.

      Print journalsim is almost certainly dying, but that doesn’t neccessarily mean that Professional Journalism is.

      The Blogosphere has changed everything – much more nonsense, but also more sense (Sturgeon’s Law: 99% of everything is crap). It’s the best form of Peer Review, because much of it, like Steve’s, isn’t by peers.

  48. aurbo
    Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 12:19 AM | Permalink | Reply

    A common assumption seems to run through many of the posts above. It starts with discussing the responsibilities of a scientist and the necessity that when taking positions on subjects like AGW where the political implications are immense and the impact on society so substantial it behooves those engaged in climate science to take special care in acquiring, processing and anlayzing their data and characterizing their work only to the extent as to where the objective evidence leads. The posters then seem to assume that when procedures and conclusions seem questionable, giving one the benefit of the doubt is the high road, that truth is the actual goal of the researchers’ work and those that stray from the tenets of solid science need only to be informed of their indiscretions and they will react accordingly and correct their errant ways.

    IMHO, this is a fantasy. Sometimes people have to face the fact that there are people, in all walks of life, who are not motivated by such noble ideals as the pursuit of truth or justice, people whose self-interest trumps any sense of integrity. It’s a question that needs informed discussion as to how you determine these differences in motivation and what can be done about it.

    How do you distinguish between delicate flowers and cactus?

  49. Edward
    Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 8:41 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve participated in discussions on CA and RC for about two years. I try to keep a few Dale Carnegie quotes in the back of my mind while observing and interacting with Climate Blogs:

    1) “Fear not those who argue but those that dodge”
    2) “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion”
    3) ” A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”

    I think these apply equally to scientists, bloggers, “warmers” and “skeptics”.

  50. MikeU
    Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 10:28 AM | Permalink | Reply

    snip – editorializing, too close to policy

  51. Gary
    Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Reply

    How do you distinguish between delicate flowers and cactus?

    Same as always; by their fruits. Just as it takes a season for the flower to develop into a fruit, so it takes a while for the quality of a researcher to become evident. Some earmarks of quality? Inquisitiveness, rigor, openness, graciousness, tight logic, tight writing, cross-disciplinary associations, good humor. And maybe the most important is self-knowledge, especially of limitations, and the willingness to acknowledge them and work to remedy them.

  52. Greg.C
    Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 9:24 PM | Permalink | Reply

    From a reader’s perspective, I’ll read about 4 articles a day including all of the feedback by readers. I get to work early because it’s convenient to do so, and either read some blog articles or some bulletin board threads. At smoko and lunch I’ll read some more.

    There are many reasons to do so; it’s more convenient than trying to read a book while eating lunch. It can be educational, it can inspire, it can broaden ones outlook, and it can help eliminate prejudice and logical fallacies.

    I love science but am not a scientist. I can’t add anything to an argument, but I love the journey.

    • Jeff Alberts
      Posted Feb 16, 2009 at 10:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: Greg.C (#74),

      You’ve pretty much summed things up for me too. About the most I can add is the occasional spelling correction or smart remark, the latter of which I need to keep in check.

  53. JPK
    Posted Feb 17, 2009 at 2:43 PM | Permalink | Reply

    #72

    Pat,
    It is becoming more and more apparent -at least to me- that Climate Science is going the way of economics; one must draw up sides. When I was a very young weather forecaster I read the occaisonal Climate Science article in a trade journal. Most thier work back then (mid 1980s) dealt with very specialized matters (dendro studies, statistical analysis of ice cores, etc…). Very little of this stuff ever made it out of the journals or the universities. This was before Hansen et als made Climate Science engage . Since that time, Climate Science has left the Ivory Towers and entered the public sphere.

    Twenty five years ago, I could never imagine a Climate Scientist every blogging. But again, he was never aked to save the world. And like the economics, there now “liberal” Climate Scientists and “conservative” ones. Blogging has its own pitfalls (just ask George Will, who just incorrectly attributed an iceflow statistic from the NSDIC). Personally, I don’t know where Gavin Schmidt and Mann find the time. Both are supposedly busy saving the world as we know it.

    Back to lurking.

    • Pat Frank
      Posted Feb 17, 2009 at 5:59 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Re: JPK (#77), “Twenty five years ago…

      … back when climate science was science and not politics. :-)

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  1. […] the article itself, as well as the many responses in other blogs such as Steve McIntyre’s Climate Audit. But this is what blogging is; it’s self-referential and self-aware, but rarely […]

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