In reality, how far reaching are science blogs?
Personally, I know that almost no-one I work with or in my social life makes a regular habit of reading or writing blogs.
As for reaching further – providing a reference source for other interested parties, I suspect that the vast majority of the blogging community keep tabs only on blogs that they like and agree with and at least one of the blogs that they love to hate. It’s sport.
Unfortunately the more famous may actually find themselves with a regular reader; some hack journalist, who faithfully propagates the post to a wider audience. As scandals and authority-bashing sells, these mediocre journalists are drawn to the less accurate / evidence-based blogs, such as Watts Up With That?
We’ve all been witness to this in one form or another.
You can be rich with evidence and informative; some people will thank you and some will be too overwhelmed to read.
You can be lighter on the technical evidence, more engaging and dynamic – linking to further reading and conversational in your approach; some people will thank you and add to the value of the post with their comments and some will argue that you’re completely wrong and not worth the debate.
You can forgo the technical element all together, suppose it as given, based on referred literature and argue simply on sound reason; you may be luck enough to have a single comment that states that your argument is weak and baseless.
In all cases however, come the next visit, it’s likely that your reader has already moved on from the last post – you could, if you had a wide enough vocabulary, probably write the same post in various forms and none would be the wiser. And as stated above, if you bother to read the tabloid rags, the most you’ll find in relation to all this is some cheap call for blood based on nonsense.
Yet the science blogging community is passionate about this environment of discussion. I guess it’s one of the only places where an angry individual has an outlet to attack a seasoned professional in some field (a faceless victim, one could argue, and the desire to inflate ones ego). It also brings together those from around the world, who are outraged that modern science challenges their scripture, into a community determined to undermine reason.
It is largely a hive of irrationality, mixed with well meaning informers, stewing itself in activity without focus or progress. Maybe it is just like other blogging communities and is merely entertainment with the stolen title of “science” (I do not agree with this however; there are a number of absolutely fantastic professionals who not only produce a plethora of literature that furthers our understanding of the world and greater universe, or teaches tomorrows scientists, but do both and maintain brilliant blogs at the same time!).
Still, I cannot help but feel that much of the science blogging actually is a discredit to science in general. The number of self-important writers who are eager to tell anyone who will listen that they are soon to write an Earth shattering book, or that the science is wrong because of what they have published (note that Microsoft Word now comes standard with the option to save a document as a .pdf and that these “published” people have merely provided a link to their document somewhere online and consider this enough to inflate). The fact that the sensational nonsense often makes its way into the media further reinforces this delusion of authority over experience, trial and error, peer-review and the other tools that hang from the belt of scientific methodology. Access to data and a spreadsheet seems to be enough for such self-proclaimed experts.
Another clear example is that in the comment threads of serious and informed blogs, such as SkepticalScience and Global Warming: Man or Myth? you find number individuals who openly scoff at the science. What kind of discussion are such individuals looking for, or truth to a subject, if they maintain that the science is rubbish?
It’s like someone who continuously knocks medical science and medicine on a daily basis, preferring to rely on natural therapy, who then is quick to demand medicine to be injected into their system after a violent gastro bug has caused many hours of continuous vomiting. It’s two-faced and counter-productive.
Returning to my original question; how far does scientific blogging reach? Does it reach it’s mark, or help to address critical issues, such as sustainability, stressed ecosystems, human health and a changing climate? So far, all I have witnessed is a whole heap of noise clouding reason and very little objective progress.
12 thoughts on “Where Does Science Blogging Lead?”
Some very good questions, and the same ones I’ve asked myself. My thoughts?
Some blogs have done an excellent job of informing the debate, in this John Cook’s blog has to be a model. When I first got interested in climate science his was the one the first I came across and poured over.
I also note how often his site is linked in forums and the comments section of online newspapers as a counter to the nonsense deniers spam in there.
Tim Lambert’s Deltoid, Climate Progress and Real Climate are all blogs the shape the debate.
Strangely blogs such as WUWT and Climate Audit are effective – for ill intent – and have been one of the main driving forces behind the denial machine. You can question their status as “science” blogs (anti-science is a better description), but you can’t deny their effectiveness.
OK, these are the “big guns”. Should the rest of us give up?
I read a lot of blogs, mostly the “smaller” ones as I find some of the most original and creative thinking is happening there. The larger blogs tend to be self referential, and discuss the same issues “de jour”.
I think you need to define “success”. Honestly mate, I’m a big fan of your blog. Your Innovation Series was brilliant. I learnt a great deal from it.
This blog, Small Epiphanies (which I came across via your posts on it) and others are amongst my favorites.
My goal setting up WtD was to reach one person per day. That’s 362 people per yer. I’ve done better than and have received email from people around the globe thanking me.
It is often said the only way to learn is to teach. Blogging is like teaching. Had I not started blogging I would never as much given serious thought to climate change, politics and economics. In order to write one must research and understand – that is if you are striving for accuracy and intellectual honesty.
The questions your asking have more to do with human nature than blogging. I have friends/family who faithfully accept “alternative therapies”, question the value of “science” and mock me with “science is your religion!”.
However, they didn’t shape their views from reading blogs. It is because most information comes to them in a social form: they learn from listening to friends, family and associates. They absorb opinions via informal social networks. That is how a great deal of information is still transmitted. Yes, people use the Internet a lot more but they rely on their personal networks to shape their world view:
“Well my mate Bil is smart and rejects climate science, so yeah I do as well….”
But blogging we can help shape these conversations by drip feeding in good information:
“Well, my friend Jane is well read and seems informed on climate change. She thinks it’s a real issue, and I trust her opinion.”
A persons social norms influence their acceptance and/or rejection of facts. Yes it’s a slow, painful and ad hoc method of transmission but that’s how it’s always been.
At some point someone has read your blog and said to themselves “Well that makes sense!” and repeats it casual conversation. Then those people discuss it and adopt it.
One of the most amazing things I saw happen with my blog was when a group of former fundamentalists-Mormons discussed an article in a discussion forum (I followed the track backs). In it they discussed how and why they had unquestionably accepted the word of authority figures, and somehow a point I’d made had chimed with them.
Then I saw a group of people in Poland discuss the same article in another forum… but from the perspective of Polish national politics!
The “idea” or meme I had planted grew…
Your ideas are out there mate, you just cant see how they’re changing the world.
I have to agree with you on the leaders of the science blogs – they are very good blogs (I’d also point to Scott Mandia and also MT’s: Only in it for the gold).
I certainly don’t consider WUWT as a science blog – but many do and so we find ourselves answering the misinformation that spews out from it.
Graham is an excellent writer – I enjoy reading his work on Small Epiphanies as I do the content.
You’re very right about learning/teaching. My training and working history was based on climate change as a given (only going into the basics), but to answers some questions I came across, I had to do better than that and have learnt a lot. There’s a book recently released that argues that this new technology has lead to attention spans decreasing and suggests that it dumbs us down a bit – I couldn’t disagree more, I find that this new social technology has caused me to learn and interact more than I ever had before.
I’m sorry if I give the impression in the post of, “why bother?”
That wasn’t my aim. I guess, the denial movement is getting sillier by the day and it’s seeming to take the lot with us. In that way, I think we need to remain mindful of this “strawberry path” they leading us on.
As for the Innovation Series, cheers. I really want to build on it. It more or less is a summery of my views and what I’d like to do now is work on progress from this point. The fact is, I disagree with many of the other blogs interested in planning (I often find them to be fanciful; holding onto some notion of business-as-usual or too radical) and the ideas I start to discuss tends to make me look like the dreamer. Fossil fuel addiction is still too strong I think.. C’est la vie – just keep talking about it hey? 🙂
I didn’t think it was a “why bother” post, but I don’t want to see you get discouraged.
Re: planning and design discussion I have to recommend “Lifeboat Cities” by Brendon Gleeson: http://www.unswpress.com.au/isbn/9781742231242.htm
I found it very interesting, and immediately thought you’d be interested.
In short, Gleeson talks about adaption to climate change and what it means for both the cities and suburbs – his argument, the city is where we live and where civilisation will find refuge through the coming climate “disruption”.
It is a deeply humanistic work, discussing how GW will impact democracy, the provision of welfare services etc. and how it may change our view of the Earth.
If offers no grand schemes to save us, but takes a pragmatic approach.
I’ll post it to you (you’ve got my email to send details)
I’ve given consideration to the future of my blog, and have questioned the value of debunking. It can be valuable, but increasingly I’m starting to think the *real debate* is about adaptation and mitigation.
Perhaps if I was to start again I write about the geoengineering debate, mitigation strategies, urban planning, transport and energy, food security etc.
The debate over the reality of AGW will collapse as we begin to experience more and more extreme weather events. It will move on to how we should respond to climate change.
We’ve got 2+ degree locked in by 2030 (ish). That’s not that far away:
Personally I see things panning out this way:
– while we will see a spate of trading schemes and taxes on CO2e come into force around the globe it won’t be sufficient to really slow down emissions. We will stay on a “business as usual” emission path for longer than we really should (IPCC AR4 SRES A1FI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Report_on_Emissions_Scenarios#A1)
– by that point enough CO2 will “locked” into the atmosphere to cause at least 2-4 degrees of warming
– within the decade most people will experience a “Oh shit!” moment when the reality of AGW will hit home. Much hand wringing over “We should have acted earlier!” and blame thrown around
– investment in alternative energy (even nuclear) will be a growth area, but again not enough to pull down emission levels in the next ten years. This will speed up investment after the collective “Oh shit!” moment
– mitigation will then be a case of quickly reducing emissions before it gets worse, a further “Oh shit, we better do this quick and NOW!!!!” moment in most advanced economies
– Chuck in peal oil to really spice things up and the collapse of marine stocks as well…
– this will cause economic and social disruption of varying degrees: for some mild, for others catastrophic. Expect globalisation to go into reverse, it will be about power blocs
– Because of the disruptive nature of AGW, we will see local communities and states bear the brunt of mitigation efforts. Political power will be much more devolved due to the need respond quickly to local events, rather than wait for large cumbersome national governments to respond. Think New Orleans after Katrina but replicated many times. People will question the necessity of governments that “keep failing them” and seek to take control of resources and politics at the local level
– The worlds poorest will really get the raw end of the stick… famine, plagues more common. So much so future generations will be deeply ashamed for “not seeing this coming”. And rightly so…
– Advanced economies will fare somewhat better, but take a battering. They have deeper pockets, but mitigation will be a an ongoing drain on national wealth
– Economic and demographic growth will slow and perhaps decline so that by mid-century demographers and economists will be deeply concerned over “negative trends”
– After a century or so our civilisation come out the other side, chastened, bruised and maybe wiser.
Our response over the next century will be ad hoc, piece meal and more reactive. There will be no grand Utopian technology silver bullets to “fix the climate problem”.
Just adaptation and mitigation.
Call me alarmist, or call me a pessimist… but the science looks like a 4 degree world mid-century is the most likely outcome.
I don’t think we’ll see our extinction, after all H.Sapiens is a very adaptable species. But it will be a “brave new world” in every sense of the word.
Geoengineering is, as far as I’m concerned, a pipe-dream… but I might learn more about it if I got involved in that debate! lol
I have to admit that your vision of the future is much like my own. I’d add that water security and the results of climate change will effect develop nations harder not only geo-politics and environment, but exploitation of cheap overheads by moving practices to such places – and as globalisation retracts it’s scary to think what will be left in such regions. The real tragedy is that change requires energy – we’ve still got relatively cheap and abundant supply. The longer we leave it, the more difficult/expensive.
I kind of see nuclear like the situation with the person getting the injection – you hear so much nonsense about it, but it’s a safe bet we’ll run to nuclear and celebrate when we’ve got no other options.
We certainly won’t go extinct – but we won’t be as happy as we once were.
WTD essentially sums up my feelings also. In my own case, I began my blog as a reaction to climategate. My GWMM Website was “the science” but there was no place there for me to inject my personal viewpoints. I was also challenged by readers at WUWT to “put up or shut up”.
Commenters such as Moth have educated me and my readership and that could never have happened on a static Website.
It is unfortunate that many of us read our blogroll and comment on those same blogs so we may be preaching to the choir. As you have seen, I have taken to using my blog as a vehicle to get people to write to their government reps and media outlets so the blog is serving a “higher purpose”.
Scott, you’re blog is definitely one I look up to. Like yourself, I chose to start my blog in response to irrationality – in my case, it followed the disturbing sideshow of Christopher Monckton’s presentation. Up until then, working for state gov and my time at uni, that climate change never seemed like it was in question to me. Naivety on my part…
My feelings of late, as both you and Mike from WTD might of noticed in my comments, are that I’m becoming fairly bombastic. I’d like to be patient and calm in my replies, but I find it a little irritating that there is a seemingly endless wave of people who disregard science on nothing substantial at all. All the while, we make the necessary transitions ever more difficult in our delaying.
I should probably take a leaf from your book and focus on my ideas, using them to channel the appropriate people. 🙂
Geo-engineering is a fallacy, but one that people will (mis)place their hopes of technological “quick fix”.
Interesting post, Tim. Having just started my Science Communication course I’m getting my first readings about communicating science and the models used to see whether it ‘works’. Very interesting stuff, but I’m early days so far!
On a personal level, my blog is very much a travel log at the moment, with a few bits of science thrown in. I think it will take a turn for the scientific soon though, and in doing so, my readership (which is largely people who know me in real life, plus a few others) may learn some things they otherwise wouldn’t have. However, I don’t think that science blogs, overall, are a major source of public eduction about science – perhaps I should study it for my thesis!
If you do – you’ve got to keep me in the loop. My my aim in starting this blog was to provide an accurate source of information, so if I could do it better, I’ll be happy (I’ve been growing in other media outlets too).
You’re blog is pretty clear from the off that it’s about your life in general, from surf to science and currently your travels. I think in my case, I couldn’t have a personal blog – I’m not interesting enough (I actually stated this blog as an outlet for my creative writing, but scrubbed that pretty quick and soon after saw Monckton’s presentation and had an outlet ready…). That said – while travelling, it’s a great way for people to see how you’re going when they have the chance.
Hi Tim , Where Does Science Blogging Lead? , I think it leads to people like me with only a basic Yr 12 science education but a long time interest in the ability of science to explain the natural universe to read and maybe ask questions and get feedback from people about aspects of ClimateChange .
I did try reading WUWT for balance lol but after reading SkepticalScience I just found their opinions obdurate to any science that didnt agree with their world view and that politics infected WUWT arguements with an obsidian like veil that was impossible to lift.
These blogs arm me with some facts to argue the for the science in AGW and I notice the conversation quickly turns political .
WTD i think your timeline of the next 100 Yrs is unfortunatly too true , I remember a TV show in the late 80’s about AGW David Attenbrough ? I think , predicting just whats happening now does anyone remember it? Id like to see it again .
Do you think I can go and live with Monckton when my house is underwater ?
Thanks Tim I try to come here and SkS everyday and sometimes comment if time allows ( it takes me ages to write something semi coherrent )
It’s good to here that all this has helped!