Between Scientists & Citizens

Debate in the blogosphere: A small case study

with 27 comments

Steve Patterson over at RAIL recently wrote a typically fine piece on How Comments are Killing the Commons.   Coming at the subject as a student of public discourse, I find myself a little more tolerant of the blogosphere’s “partisan clowning” etc.  I’m more curious about specific communication strategies we can adopt to make comment threads work.  Steve McIntrye of Climate Audit recently referenced an essay by myself & Michael Dahlstrom, and my participation in the comment threads gave me an opportunity to observe close up several helpful and unhelpful strategies at work.  Here are three things I learned about blogospheric debate, especially in contrast to communication in more face-to-face settings.

Managing interpersonal tensions

It’s long been recognized that in online discourse, the “cues” we rely on in face-to-face talk get “filtered out.”  In a conversational debate, we have signals of intonation and body language that indicate how upset or angry our opponent is getting.  Online, without these cues, it is easier for speakers to lose track of their audience’s possible feelings, and for audiences to misjudge a speaker’s intention to insult.  One result:  “flame wars.”

Climate Audit manages this problem through what could be called an aggressive insistence on mutual respect, at least at the beginnings of posts.  After my comment, I was repeatedly greeted by name and “welcomed in.” For example:

Jean, thank you for joining the discussion,

jeangoodwin, Glad to see you join the CA discussion.

Jean: First it is great to have you engage directly on this site.

Less consistently but still noticeably, participants in the comment threads made an effort to avoid ad hominem attacks, identifying the target of their critiques as my work, as opposed to me.  For example:

I would be more intrigued with your taxonomies if your research… [NB:  not "you"]

That’s not really true.  [NB:  not "You are saying something false."]

all of your good ideas so far are totally worthless. I hate to be blunt… [NB:  not "You are worthless";  also note the hedge "I hate to be blunt"]

Both these are good strategies for maintaining a basic level of mutual respect and awareness of each other as living, breathing human beings behind the pixels. As McIntyre said during the discussion,

I try pretty hard to be polite and I think that it pays off over the long run. I know that I occasionally do not live up to this policy, but I also understand departures from this policy are counter-productive and self-indulgent and still try to adhere to the policy.

Managing misunderstandings

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that many disputes–online and in person–are driven more by misunderstandings than by actual disagreement.  In face-to-face conversations, misunderstandings can be managed by a variety of means.  Participants often know each other, reducing the frequency of misunderstandings.  Further, possible misunderstandings can be detected through body language, and repairs can be sought quickly and easily.  And in oral discourse at least the misunderstanding can disappear quickly as the talk flows on to another topic.

None of these conditions hold in the blogosophere.  People may not share much common knowledge, the comment threads lack interpersonal cues, and the statements at the center of a misunderstanding just hang there, perpetuating the problem.

The desire or even demand to be understood–perhaps characteristically American?–can lead to problems in the blogosphere.  Speakers, diagnosing their audience’s lack of agreement as a misunderstanding, can begin to repeat their points over and over again, cluttering the comment thread and eventually irritating their fellow commenters.

Climate Audit appears to be managing this problem well by a general culture of patience;  commenters just let things go.  One indication of this is the relatively short thread “depth”;  only occasionally does a comment thread go beyond 3 levels of responses, and there isn’t a conspicuous jockeying to have the last word.  It’s my impression (at this point, undocumented) that several of the commenters are blog regulars, and resolve possible misunderstandings by listening to each other over a relatively extended period.

So this, too, is a good strategy for comments in the blogosphere:  let it go, try again next time.

Managing argumentative responsibilities

Key to any successful debate is managing the basic responsibilities:  who is obligated to defend what.  If responsibilities aren’t limited, a debate e.g. over some immediate political issue can easily devolve back into a debate on how we know anything at all–philosophically interesting, perhaps, but far from the original topic.  And if the responsibilities aren’t clearly defined, participants can find the debate slipping from one issue to another in what may be an unproductive fashion.

The extended abstract of an as-yet unpublished conference paper by myself and a colleague had been brought into the conversation at Climate Audit by Steve McIntyre.  I entered the discussion understanding that I’m responsible for defending what my colleague and I said in that paper, and for clearly indicating areas where we remained uncertain/where the draft is under development, and for changing what we said if it turns out to be indefensible.

Other participants in the debate appeared to think that we had much, much broader responsibilities, however.  For example:

Many commenters complained that our paper was “irrelevant” to the topic at hand, and asked me to “address the main point made by Willis and Steve,” even though our paper had made no claims on that point.   Remember, the link between the paper and Steve McIntyre’s point had been made by Steve McIntyre.

Several commentators asked me to defend our claims with sources of evidence and methodologies other than the one we had chosen in the paper (conceptual analysis), and in particular to undertake specific case studies.  While that kind of work would certainly be valuable, I didn’t think that by submitting one conference paper we had undertaken responsibility to do all the work of an entire interdisciplinary field.

We had relied on one set of results from a very large poll;  one commenter asked for a response about a possible problem in an unrelated part of the poll analysis.

Finally, one commenter replied:  “I don’t know why Jean and other concerned parties don’t simply write to Briffa and tell them their data obstruction is hurting their cause”–apparently imposing on me an obligation to get the CRU to change its conduct.

Of course, sometimes participants in a blog discussion do attempt to evade their argumentative responsibilities, and in that case it is legitimate to call them out and demand that they defend what they said.  But in this case I believe we are seeing an un-helpful communicative strategy at play:  an attempt to insist that a commenter has a much, much larger burden of proof than she has actually undertaken.

My sense was that my audience at Climate Audit had placed me on “one side” of what they saw as a “two sided debate,” and held me responsible for everything “my side” had ever said.  That kind of refusal to allow a conversation partner to define the responsibilities she is willing to undertake is unlikely to lead to a productive discussion.  In this particular case, I think the demands for to defend things we hadn’t said occluded possible areas of agreement about what we did say.

McIntyre himself recognized a better communication strategy when he commented:

Most negotiations between suspicious parties work on trying to reach agreement on small issues as a start. … My own approach to a difficult negotiation would be try to see if you can reach agreement on about 2/3 of the problems and then just split the difference on the balance.

In the face of deep disagreement, in other words, small can be beautiful.  Allowing other commenters to limit their responsibilities, and not forcing them to defend things they haven’t said:  that’s a third communicative strategy for fostering online debates worth reading.

Written by jeangoodwin

July 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

27 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I think that the nature of CA, developed over several years, derives from its origins. McIntyre didn’t set out to sell a line or push an agenda. He became interested in the CAGW hypothesis because of its relevance to his work as a mining consultant. Early in his investigation of the field, he found flawed processes and data and a general lack of rigour in the statistical work underpinning climatologists’ work. He began blogging both to bring this to public attention and in an effort (not appreciated by many in the climate change area) to put the work on sounder foundations. Many of those attracted to the blog had a similar interest in good process and getting to the truth of the matters. Amongst them are a number of highly-qualified people, many, as McIntyre notes, far better versed in mathematics and statistical method than those undertaking the climatological studies. McIntyre’s integrity and rigour are obvious, and engender trust. People of a similar ilk are attracted. There is therefore a strong basis for continuing, positive interaction.

    As has been well pointed out in the CA thread to which you refer, many proponents of CAGW do not have the integrity, rigour and disinterestedness required to gain people’s trust. This is a major issue given their flawed work has been widely accepted by interventionist governments, at serious cost in many countries.

    As you say, you were not addressing this issue; but you can probably see why people thought that addressing more peripheral issues was a second-order issue.

    Faustino

    July 28, 2011 at 12:29 am

    • FWIW Eli doubts that. Before CA was Climate 2003 which had the same, let us say flavor, and, of course, we cannot forget Nigel Persaud, Steve’s avatar.

      Eli Rabett

      May 30, 2012 at 3:02 pm

  2. Hi, Faustino: I agree that my paper may be of secondary interest to Climate Audit readers (although more on that below), If so, then it probably should be ignored. The communication conduct that I’m identifying as a bad practice is a bit different, though.

    Basically, several people treated “Goodwin’s” appearance on the blog with a variety of demands. They spoke as if “Goodwin” had very large communicative responsibilities that she had failed to fulfill.

    Trying to assign a very high burden of proof to the other side is a very common strategy in a debate. If they don’t meet it, they lose, automatically, without you having to do anything. Although this strategy is obviously tempting, I’m advising people not to take it, for these reasons:

    First off, it’s available to both sides. “You haven’t proved that AGW exists!”–”You haven’t proved that AGW doesn’t exist!” This kind of debate clearly isn’t getting anywhere. Worse, it can degenerate into a debate about who has the burden of proof. When people stop arguing about a subject and start arguing about each other’s communication, it’s even less likely to be a productive debate.

    Second, it means that people stop being curious about what others are saying in detail. If someone hasn’t met her burden of proof, it’s appropriate to denounce her. But what if one thing she’s talking about is interesting or useful in some small way? That could get lost in the demands for total proof. And in fact, I think it did get lost in the discussion of my study.

    Third, accusations that someone has failed to meet her burden of proof are just that–accusations. They are a form of personal attack, and unlikely to make people feel respected and welcome.

    There are alternatives to imposing big burdens of proof on every blog commenter. Instead, why not let participants undertake small burdens of proof? If they say one thing, they can be questioned and challenged on it. The largest questions don’t have to be debated every single time.

    There’s also an important communicative strategy which is to undertake a large burden of proof oneself; I may try to talk more about that at some point.

    jeangoodwin

    July 30, 2011 at 7:16 am

    • When you want people to change their lifestyle most need to understand why. Only a few trust authority explicitly when if comes to huge lifestyle changes.

      A couple of Feynman interviews are helpful to me to understand the questions.

      DaveR

      July 31, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    • Thanks, I appreciate your paper and its context, I was merely pointing out that the CA denizens were somewhat different from the broader intended audience and saw it in a CA-specific context.

      Faustino

      August 7, 2011 at 2:09 am

  3. It’s always a good idea to be reminded of the core issue at the heart of the entire AGW debate: What is climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere? Everything else is secondary to this most important question. Keeping the eye on the ball. The second most important issue is feedback responses to forcing, and whether, or when, feedback responses become forcings in themselves.

    I don’t see how these physical processes can be horse-traded (for want of a much better term) to appease or assuage one side or another, lest we simply get it very wrong, not just wrong. And total proof is a red herring. There’s no such thing as total proof on these matters, only our best estimates, and that’s probably how it will be for the rest of humanity’s time, or until an icecap melts ;) The introduction of that demand into the debate is seen by the pro-AGW-consensus as either ill informed, or simply dishonest.

    J Bowers

    July 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

    • Hi, J Bowers! Speaking from the point of view of communication theory, two questions that your post raises are these:

      What communicative strategies are available to a blog commenter for leading other commenters to pay attention to the issues that he/she thinks are central?

      What communicative strategies are available for defining the weight of evidence/arguments that should be sufficient to resolve a particular issue?

      These are both very, very large questions that a group of us working in argumentation theory have been talking about for a while. My point in Principle #3 above is much simpler, though.

      The strategy of announcing the issue and demanding that other blog commenters address it is not likely to work. Further, it is likely to undermine the conditions for useful debate in blog comments–in other words, like ad hominem attacks and excessive demands that others understand, it is likely to make the blogosphere worse.

      jeangoodwin

      July 31, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      • Jean, I think one of the issues is the amount of credibility given to expert opinion. This does not imply an argument from authority, but a simple method of evaluating which is/are the best decision/s to make, practised pretty much every day by most of the planet. It’s been observed that, when asked whether AGW is happening, members of the general public seem to feel there’s a legitimate 50/50 debate. However, when it’s pointed out to them that every single national scientific academy in the world, without one single exception, agrees with the IPCC, they go along with that consensus opinion. Come to think of it, it may have only been pointed out to them that the NAS supports the IPCC’s position. I’ll try to find the reference, but it’s late here in the UK.

        On point #3, the expectations of burden of proof are not only scientifically impossible to achieve, but are also inconsistent. Proof is for maths. The best you can get, practically, is a high probability (90-95%). In normal arenas of policy debate, for example, that would be more than enough to base a solid decision on. However, in the climate change debate it’s become less than sufficient.

        The IPCC set out its level of confidence terms, which can be read in the Guidance Notes for Lead Authors (PDF).

        But this kind of extreme debate over science isn’t a new one. Einstein faced the same issues. Many were offended by the debunking of luminiferous aether and the idea of relativity.

        “This world is a strange madhouse. Currently, every coachman and every waiter is debating whether relativity theory is correct. Belief in this matter depends on political party affiliation.” — Albert Einstein to Marcel Grossmann, 1920.

        J Bowers

        July 31, 2011 at 7:55 pm

        • Hi, JB! We may be talking at cross purposes a bit. “Burden of proof” is a phrase borrowed from law, where “proof” means “evidence”, and the burden can range from a scintilla to beyond reasonable doubt. The technical term in my field is actually “probative obligation”–the responsibility to come forward and defend one’s claims with arguments.

          Probative obligations can range from very lightweight to very heavy. For example, if I suggest that we go out to dinner at the Thai place, I am likely not taking responsibility for defending my claim to the same extent than if I publicly impugned your good name. If you demand my arguments for Thai food, I can brush you off; but if you demand my backing for insulting you, I’d better have some or else I’m going to be held responsible for slander.

          Anyhow, to rephrase Point #3: It is a good practice in blog comments sections to allow people to limit their probative obligations. If someone only wants to comment on one tiny aspect of a larger debate, her choice should generally be respected, right? Won’t the bigger debate, involving thousands of commenters, go better if it can proceed in small steps? Notice this is a point about how people should be treating each other, not about the kind of evidence we need to establish a given level of (un)certainty.

          jeangoodwin

          July 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm

  4. Jean, thanks for the clarification.

    “If someone only wants to comment on one tiny aspect of a larger debate, her choice should generally be respected, right?”

    I believe it is, so long as the scintilla is held to be just that by its author. It’s when she claims that a problem with a tiny factor in the maths tears down the entire edifice of the science since the mid-19th Century and climate scientists are frauds that things get heated.

    “Won’t the bigger debate, involving thousands of commenters, go better if it can proceed in small steps?”

    Hypothetically, yes, but it would need to be organised and regulated, surely? I’m not sure how that could work in the blogosphere, but that’s already perhaps going too far (if I took your point correctly). How do you decide what the small steps should be? Who decides?

    “Notice this is a point about how people should be treating each other”

    Don’t say anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to their face. If you’re shown to be wrong or made a mistake, concede it, and if someone else concedes their mistake acknowledge it. Cite your sources, and equally so, demand others cite theirs, which is probably most directly related to probative obligations. When I’ve debated the subject where there was a strict rule that claims must include cited sources (with consequences if not, such as being banned for a period), debate was far more constructive.

    J Bowers

    August 1, 2011 at 4:31 am

    • Well, the blogosphere is going to be sprawling and wild and unregulated. Specific blog communities, though, can maintain good arguing practices–including the great ones you list–by modeling them to newbies and critiquing people when they get out of hand.

      For probative obligations or “burdens of proof,” one good practice is not to demand too much; let people take small responsibilities. But you’re also right, that demanding too little is also unhelpful. What if all the relatively senior members of a blog community had a practice of just asking, “OK, what’s your evidence/source for that?” and “So, what are that source’s qualifications/trustworthiness?”–not even presenting counterarguments, but just requesting (civilly) the person to fulfill their responsibilities.

      That maybe sounds too idealistic, but I think there are blogs that work like that, across the spectrum of opinion in the climate debate–what do you think?

      jeangoodwin

      August 1, 2011 at 9:29 pm

      • “What if all the relatively senior members of a blog community had a practice of just asking, “OK, what’s your evidence/source for that?” and “So, what are that source’s qualifications/trustworthiness?”–not even presenting counterarguments, but just requesting (civilly) the person to fulfill their responsibilities.”

        I think quite a few do already, too. However, some bloggers prefer to reserve strict demands for such from those who don’t play to their regular audience’s tune. In other words, they act as gatekeepers for their regular (usually partisan) commenters, many of whom will throw out all sorts of spurious and indefensible nonsense without backing up their own claims with evidence or citation, yet not get challenged. It’s fairly easy to tell what side of the fence a blogger sits on by who they themselves challenge and who they give a free pass to, regardless of how non-partisan they claim to be.

        J Bowers

        August 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm

  5. Jean:
    This is an interesting bit of reflective thinking. As you can probably guess, I do like the case study approach.
    You have accurately captured my own response to your essay and appearance at CA. Your caution about criticizing an author or commenter on things they have not said or areas they have not addressed is well taken and that unfortunate tendency is part of the tribal (viz., Judith Curry) process that is current in discussions on CAGW. On the other hand, the point I was trying to raise in my response to you essay was, I believe, methodological and relevant to your topic. I am not sure what a “conceptual analysis” amounts to when it has little appropriate empirical and contextual data. Having worked in and around the field of applied social psychology for many, many years I much prefer taxonomies/conceptual frameworks that (a) have an explicit empirical, context rich basis and (b) have the appropriate mix of state and process descriptors for the phenomena under consideration. This is why I thought that Willis’ point about building trust after trust had been lost was such a critical issue that any taxonomy around building trust needs to address.
    As points of reference, I did graduate work with Elliot Jaques, David McClelland and Chris Argyris. The former were very much “static” taxonomies. Chris’ work is I think the most relevant to your essay – with his HBR article “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” , IMHO, a classic and readily accessible.

    Bernie

    August 5, 2011 at 8:30 am

    • Hi, Bernie: Thanks for your kind words!

      I think we are in agreement that the long-range goal for a new, interdisciplinary field (like the study of science communication in the midst of civic controversies) is to integrate conceptual work with empirical work. And I’d add, empirical work with many different methodological approaches: discourse analytic case studies, corpus-based discourse studies, survey-based mass media effects studies, experimental work on message uptake….and whatever else I’m not thinking of at the moment. I’m a method pluralist: I like them all, well used (although I can deploy only a few myself).

      Does the empirical work have to come first?–and the conceptual work be built later, on top of it? Well, I think that preliminary conceptual work (like our paper) can help point empirical studies in interesting directions. Like if you’re going to measure “trust” (in a general population or experimental group), what are you going to look for? Of course, the initial conceptual work may be totally overthrown by later empirical or conceptual developments. But that’s how scholarship works! (I hesitate to say, “science.”)

      Plus our paper, although introducing a new view of trust in the context of science communication, is based in existing literatures across a bunch of humanities and social science fields, which we cite very briefly. So we’re not totally making it up from nothing.

      Finally, I guess my perspective here is basically selfish. I want to be part of making the new field happen, and so I just naturally think that what I’m capable of doing (conceptual analysis, discourse analysis) is useful!

      Willis’ point about building trust after trust had been lost was such a critical issue that any taxonomy around building trust needs to address.

      As I said in the original discussion, I think our paper gave an account of one method for earning trust, whether the initial “trust state” (?) is zero (no prior contacts), positive but low, or even negative (active prior reasons for DIStrust). Indeed, one of the examples we used involved earning trust during a permanent state of war. So I still don’t have a “feel” for what the problem is that people are finding in our work.

      jeangoodwin

      August 5, 2011 at 8:51 am

  6. Jean – I’d be interested in your assessment of the following discussion at ClimateAudit which concerned a blog post I had made, and where I joined in the comments and was, as far as I tried to be, exceedingly polite while taking exception to what had been said, and was extremely rudely treated…:

    http://climateaudit.org/2010/06/23/arthur-smiths-trick/

    Arthur Smith

    August 5, 2011 at 9:31 am

    • It looks like you were trying to lump in CA with someone one else’s errors (from a commenter on that site and some other folks). You probably should have apologized to CA and retracted it rather than unrelenting commenting like you did. I stopped reading after it started to get repetitive.

      DaveR

      August 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      • What Arthur tried to do was to tar steve mcintyre with my mistake. What Arthur fails to point out is that I admitted my error. Thanked him for pointing it out. This was not enough for Arthur. It’s still not enough for him. Go figure, in the history of all debates over climategate I’m probably the only person to acknowledge having made an error. Two actually. And in both cases I credited the person who pointed it out. Arthur Smith in one case, Gavin Schmidt in another. However, if you were to ask Arthur to acknowledge that Mann made a mistake ( Let’s say in reporting the position of a certain proxy) and that McIntyre deserved credit for pointing this out, Arthur could not bring himself to do that. In a wonderful exercise Amac and I tried to have a reasoned conversation at Arthur at his blog after this incident. you can ask Amac how that went. Even when Arhur controlled the battlefield ( his house his rules) he wasnt what I would call a reasonable individual. That’s ok. People get to be unreasonable.

        Steven Mosher

        August 15, 2011 at 3:29 am

        • Hi, Steve: As I told Art, I’m not going to be able to work through all the comments on those two blog posts. But it is very cheering to hear that anyone admitted to making a mistake! That’s hard enough in the real world, and harder still in the blogosphere–I’m wondering why.

          jeangoodwin

          August 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

        • Jean – notice how Steve is trying to push responsibility on me (“ask Arthur to acknowledge that Mann made a mistake (Let’s say in reporting the position of a certain proxy)”) – and I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about here (‘position’ ? What? When did that come up???). It would require considerably study and effort on my part – in fact Steve and “Amac” succeeded to some extent in doing that on the “Tiljander” issue though I still have not straightened that out for myself. I never could get sufficiently clear arguments out of them to convince me – especially given the history of admittedly false statements, their claims require some reputable source for proof. And essentially every reference they make is to McIntyre’s blog, so disavowing McIntyre as the source of Mosher’s misunderstandings is something I’ve always found odd. I find McIntyre’s blog extremely confusing – it’s hard to tell what he’s talking about 90% of the time, it’s often veiled references and snide side-commentary that only the “in circle” can figure out – if they. I hardly ever visit any more, it’s not worth it.

          And “I’m probably the only person to acknowledge having made an error” on climategate. Um – Phil Jones? And on other topics I’ve frequently acknowledged my errors – I was essentially laughed off Lucia’s blog a couple of years ago for a post I put up that contained an algebra error that negated some of my conclusions. I fixed it and got to the end of the business, but again that was a distasteful experience – and that’s hardly the only time I’ve acknowledged being wrong. Scientists do it all the time – we expect to be wrong, in fact we know everything we say is wrong to a small degree. The question is are we getting closer to the truth – getting “less wrong”. I hope so. Blogospheric contexts like McIntyre’s don’t seem to help in my view though…

          Arthur Smith

          August 15, 2011 at 11:51 am

          • Arthur. you can address me rather than jean or both of us

            ” Jean – notice how Steve is trying to push responsibility on me (“ask Arthur to acknowledge that Mann made a mistake (Let’s say in reporting the position of a certain proxy)”) – and I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about here (‘position’ ? What? When did that come up???). It would require considerably study and effort on my part – in fact Steve and “Amac” succeeded to some extent in doing that on the “Tiljander” issue though I still have not straightened that out for myself.”

            1. I am not trying to push responsibility onto you. I am demonstrating that you are unwilling to do what you demand of others. That is, accept any responsibility to acknowledge mistakes either on your own part, the part of Mann or the part of anybody on OUR side of the debate.

            you forget Benders question
            “Dodge Artist. What’s your balanced assessment of Mosher’s error in relation to, say, the errors by Mann and Jones?
            and you forget that you wrongly believed that I had been misled by Mc.
            and you forget that you accused me of lying about returning to Brian’s site.

            2. This issue has been discussed repeatedly. It is one of the main issues. It will not require considerable effort on your part.
            http://climateaudit.org/2008/11/09/the-rain-in-spain/
            The point of this issue is rather simple. You are unable to clearly and simply say that Mann made an error, McIntyre found it, Mann refused to correct it, finally did correct it, and refuses to acknowledge the facts.
            The point of this is that it is iconic of the attitudes of some people, who like me, believe in AGW. we refuse to use best practices, refuse to criticize any mistakes, either ours or our fellow tribesman.

            3. Tiljander. finally a few people are seeing that the Tiljander series should never have been used. In fact Most recently in a paper Mann co authored on reconstructing Sea level rise you should have a look at the SI.

            ” I never could get sufficiently clear arguments out of them to convince me – especially given the history of admittedly false statements, their claims require some reputable source for proof. And essentially every reference they make is to McIntyre’s blog, so disavowing McIntyre as the source of Mosher’s misunderstandings is something I’ve always found odd. I find McIntyre’s blog extremely confusing – it’s hard to tell what he’s talking about 90% of the time, it’s often veiled references and snide side-commentary that only the “in circle” can figure out – if they. I hardly ever visit any more, it’s not worth it.”

            Arthur this is false. Essentially every reference is to McIntyre’s blog? I’m afraid you didnt read the book and didnt understand that the majority of references are to the mails. In this specific case, I also explained to you and shared private emails showing you that I was not misled by CA, that the mistake was all mine. In short, I made a rash statement. I realized that I hadnt really done due diligence. I wrote to steve and asked if he had looked at this. He said no. Then you wrote your article trying to tar him with my mistake. Your accusation is false, and you have no grounds to make it.

            “And “I’m probably the only person to acknowledge having made an error” on climategate. Um – Phil Jones?”

            DROLL Arthur. Let me be more specific. made on error in representing historical facts about climategate. I stated that briffa in Ar4 had also done the trick. He did not. I made that error all on my own. There was never any discussion of this on CA ( OTHERWISE I WOULD HAVE CITED IT ) I looked at the chart, and jumped to a conclusion. I repeated this error on a blog I rarely visit. you found the error and tried to drag steve into the mudpit. I explained the error was all mine.

            “And on other topics I’ve frequently acknowledged my errors – I was essentially laughed off Lucia’s blog a couple of years ago for a post I put up that contained an algebra error that negated some of my conclusions. I fixed it and got to the end of the business, but again that was a distasteful experience – and that’s hardly the only time I’ve acknowledged being wrong. Scientists do it all the time – we expect to be wrong, in fact we know everything we say is wrong to a small degree. The question is are we getting closer to the truth – getting “less wrong”. I hope so. Blogospheric contexts like McIntyre’s don’t seem to help in my view though”

            Arthur, you were not laughed off Lucia’s. I wondered where you went to. Look, only the Lamberts of the world will hold an error against you AFTER you correct it or admit it. Lucia wont, I wont. We actually think admitting your errors gives you credibility. So look. We can all see that Tiljander should never have been used. Even Nick Stokes finally agrees. Even the latest paper by Mann has suggestions that the recons are better without it. The world wont end if a mistake gets fixed. But when we have to fight tooth and nail to get the tiniest admission or correction, then we have good reason to question your commitment to best practices. Or take the FOIA. How many years did it take for people to give up their stupid arguments against data sharing. 5 years. and in the the ICO says we were right. Well, gosh you all knew we were right 4 years ago.

            steven mosher

            August 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    • Hi, Art!–thanks for coming by, and for sharing your own Climate Audit case. A full analysis of this obviously complex debate would take a lot of time, but here’s a quick once-over of the comment threads using the three principles above:

      1. Manage interpersonal tensions. I note that you came on the blog at 6:30 with a comment that started and ended with a “thanks,” in a good attempt to maintain civility. The immediate response from this blog’s community was to talk about you fairly negatively in the third person, which doesn’t even acknowledge you as a worthwhile conversation partner. That’s not welcoming.

      2. Manage misunderstandings. The comment threads look like they went down to something like 11-12 levels; it’s hard to count. Although occasionally an interchange of that depth can be productive, more likely it’s a result of people talking across each other, and both unwilling to give up; or of some kind of piling on. Not a good sign.

      3. Manage argumentative responsibilities. McIntyre frames his post as an accusation, asserting that you made “untrue allegations” and expressing his outrage. You come back with a straight-up denial, and demand an apology and correction. At this point, McIntyre has the burden of proof; he is obligated to lay out why he thinks your allegations were untrue. I’m not going to assess whether he met this burden of proof–I’m not the judge! But from looking over the thread, it looks like you think he didn’t. At that point, you could consider yourself justified in announcing that McIntyre’s claims were obviously unsupportable and without basis, and that McIntyre himself was…however you’d like to call him. And then you could declare victory and go back to your blog.

      It looks like, though, that around 10:40 pm on the first day you kept going, and by the next morning were agreeing to answer some of the community’s questions. In other words, you were taking some responsibility here. I’m curious–why? It was unlikely that anyone in the blog community was going to admit errors or apologize. By taking on these extra responsibilities, you put yourself on the defensive. Why not just let it go?

      jeangoodwin

      August 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      • Good question! If you read on you’ll see there were a few of McIntyre’s regular commenters who came out pretty strongly on my side. But I was mainly trying to understand what Steven Mosher was trying to do by making the claim he did, and so at that point my attempt was mainly one to interact with him. Unfortunately mediated rather inappropriately by a number of McIntyre’s folks. Anyway, you’re right, I should have just claimed victory on the main point (which I pretty much did) and gone home :) In the end, McIntyre closed comments at a point in time where many of his commenters had had their say and I’d not had a chance to respond. So in effect I left the discussion at mid point anyway, though not of my own will.

        Anyway, you seem to have had a much more positive experience, I wonder why…?

        Arthur Smith

        August 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm

        • The overall discussion in your case was framed by McIntyre’s accusation that you had said “untrue things” against CA, and your original statement that Mosher was “wrong”. (Note: In those circumstances, I don’t think you’re likely to be able to get a straightforward answer. The discussion may start resemble a criminal proceeding, with everyone trying not to “incriminate himself,” if you see what I mean.)

          In my case, my work was brought in as relevant in a minor way to a point. So the discussion didn’t start off on a win/lose, “you’re wrong”/”no you’re wrong” basis.

          Anyhow, that’s one guess. If it’s valid, then it’s another example of the importance of managing responsibilities. People can choose what they say to get the discussion going; e.g.:

          -”Smith said untrue things, and he’s a ….”
          -”Smith’s points weren’t true; here’s why…”
          -”I doubt whether Smith’s points are true, and it’s something I’d like to explore…”
          -”Goodwin’s points are platitudinous & polysyllabic, but they suggest….”

          In each of these, the speaker undertakes different responsibilities and invites people in to take different roles. And at least for newbies like myself, the smaller the responsibilities, the more welcoming the comment threads are going to feel.

          Thanks again for the nice comparison case, Art!

          jeangoodwin

          August 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm

  7. While I agree with most of what you say, I think it’s important to distinguish “What well-informed people might agree or disagree about after courteous and reflective discourse” from “What is likely to happen, no matter whether well-informed people agree or disagree.”

    The former is a communications issue, where human agency is central. The latter may be a physical science issue and human agency may be irrelevant. While many of us care about our own beliefs and some of us also care about others’ beliefs, the physical universe doesn’t care about our beliefs at all. If you step off a sixth-floor balcony, your belief or disbelief in gravity will not affect the outcome.

    When “What is likely to happen, no matter whether well-informed people agree or disagree” is dangerous enough, we must try to avoid or mitigate that threat – take the stairs rather than stepping off the balcony – even when well-informed people have not yet reached agreement.

    NCrissieB

    August 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

  8. Moshpit:

    I’ve dealt with you and I think you are way too fast to pat yourself on the back for intellectual honesty. Yes, McIntyre is worse. But you had to be mercillessly pinned down before you admitted an error. And it was not a conceptual problem but a reticence to admit something. I find this disgusting. I think having a nutsack means walking into the captain’s stateroom and saying “I threw your damned palm trees overboard and what is this no liberty crap”.

    The guys I respect are Zorita, Huybers, Stokes, Bronberg.

    Not you. Sorry hippy wildcat. And not Lucia. Nope. That whole shit about “wow TCO, look at all the incredible insights from Lucia on trend anamolies…and she didn’t even understand basic concepts…AND was not able to make a clear hypothesis to defend (like which fucking blog post…I’m referring to years ago, by the way.)

    And bender ain’t shit. Seriously. A little yapping puppie. I put up with him in one thread and he was faced. He’s like one of the worst for trying to shift the debate. Probably a physical coward in real life.

    But then…everyone is a badass on the Internet…

    Fuck you, jerks. I’m going to walk to the downtown YMCA and do some deadlifts.

    TCO

    November 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    • TCO,

      You need to revisit the facts

      I made a comment in haste on a blog.
      I realized that I made the comment in haste without checking my facts.
      I went to my book. I saw that I had written the same thing there, but I had no citation
      I wrote to Mcintyre ( and published that personal mail ) asking him about the issue because I was
      doubted whether I had a basis to say it.
      Arthur found my error and wrote a post trying to blame Mcintyre for my mistake.
      I responded immediately that the mistake was mine
      people argued that Steve influenced me and I produced the personal mail that settles that matter.

      Now, let me ask you, have you ever posed in your underwear and posted those pictures on the web

      be honest.

      steven mosher

      December 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

  9. [...] comment:  analogies are Scott Denning’s experience at the Heartland Conference and Jean Goodwin’s experience at [...]


Have your say!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.