Fairly early on, in my venture into the blogosphere space, I used to follow a scientific communicator with avid interest. Everything he wrote seemed so painfully obvious that it was difficult not to be drawn into his perspective… Well, almost everything.
One passing sentence he wrote sounded a little funny to me. So I did what many people would do; I asked for further clarification.
Up until that point, the only comments I had provided to his space were trivial points of approval. I’d even quoted his writing in what could rightfully perceived as advocating his views, which until that point, I was in complete agreement with. But I saw a new side following my simple question.
As far as it can be said within the blogosphere, I was “shouted out” of the conversation. Note; I hadn’t posed any real criticism, but merely questioning the views of the author was perceived as such and was treated with hostility.
I saw introduced to the echo chamber.
You would think, as I initially started out attempting to do what many science communicators have also tried – clarify the needlessly hotly debated (publically and politically but not so much within the science community) subject of anthropogenic climate change – that my first encounter with an echo chamber would be at such places like WUWT or Jo Nova’s space. Indeed both are notorious echo chambers, as I later witnessed firsthand. However the first encounter was a blog I largely agreed with by a writer who knows the science.
No-one is free from potential creation of an echo chamber.
This has worried my in the latter months of the now retired space of MothIncarnate and now New Anthro but more so for Gen[A]. I’m not interested in only attracting a readership (and authorship as I’m hopeful that both New Anthro and Gen[A] attract greater input by the readers) which only agrees with the views of the space and shouts out opposing ideas, but equally, I’m not interested in a game of Hathos or entertaining those trolling in their desperate need for attention.
It’s a tightrope between an echo chamber and opening the floodgates to debate for debate’s sake.
We often hear repeated ad nauseam the same old debunked climate change scepticism or unreasonable fear of a western economic collapse as a result of action. However, it’s very difficult to tell which is the misinformer and the misinformed or the fear-monger and the genuinely worried.
Arguably, it’s a much smaller group, who are beyond reason or are intentionally misinforming, that perpetuates a pointless discussion which not only leaves the general public saturated and disengaged (which also assists their purpose) but also sets the scene for a greater divide; what too often is labelled as “my side and your side”, as though it were a sport.
When the genuinely interested, albeit misinformed, approaches such an echo chamber, ultimately, they will feel more at home with a space such as WUWT or Nova, because their views, questions and fears are less likely to be shouted down than an echo chamber such as that spoken about above.
In short, we do ourselves and the science a great injustice by applying a hard and sharp rule of rejecting anyone and everyone who disagrees.
I’ve tried throughout to engage with everyone who has appeared on any of my posts, in comment threads I’ve contributed to and even those whom I’m made aware of via pingbacks. In some instances, I’ve gone to great lengths on what I can now see were merely merry-go-rounds by people whom are obviously just trolls seeking attention. It is easy, after all, to stir up such a person as myself to continue a silly debate, if you push the right buttons.
Run thin from all of that, I found myself disinterested in engaging with such people, but also worrying about the potential creation of an echo chamber.
Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have occurred on New Anthro as yet.
However, I caution that if we wish to remain effective scientific communicators, we must remember that nothing is beyond question in science; anyone is invited to test the theory of gravity as much as the greenhouse effect until they’ve taken “planking” to a new level or cooked themselves silly (preferably not doing such a test on our communal atmosphere, of course).
We mustn’t, therefore, take ourselves so seriously – it’s not an ideology but only sound advice based on the best possible evidence collected from the most stringent investigative methodology we have yet derived.
The word “only” is key – it’s really up to all of us whether or not we accept such methodology, but not to disregard the evidence without a sound understanding of the scientific approach undertaken (eg. you have the right to personally feel that evolution is rubbish, but not state the evidence is lacking without sound understanding of the fields of science applied).
Asking questions and debating rigorously are part of scientific exploration. We must be careful never to shout someone down, but to engage with them positively and enthusiastically. It won’t take long to work out if the other is genuinely interested in the science or is fighting from an ideological perspective and selectively plucking a small handful of points that fit their view.
We can spend a small amount of time working out which is which.
Those who fall into the latter group too shouldn’t be treated with hostility – it only makes those who lash out look foolish. However, you can laugh and walk away as you would someone who insists that the Earth is flat or only six thousand years old. In doing so, they lose attention, they lose the Hathos game play but most importantly, we can effectively defuse the war of this insane divide. “My side and your side” is the advent of the climate change sceptic which entrenches the people involved on both “sides” and wrongly inflates the small amount of contrary scientific evidence that the climate sceptic insist to be correct.
It needs to be put in perspective as does the whole crazy sport that has resulted from it. We will not achieve this through echo chambers.
If we wish to do science any justice, we need to get off our soap box and remember that science is about finding the “most likely” not absolutes. We should engage and lose interest when we realise that the conversation has stepped out of developing conclusions based on the evidence and into finding evidence that supports the held conclusions. Otherwise we are no better than the hostile climate sceptic, in fact, we’re worse; we risk shouting down reasonable, yet misinformed individuals whom may have only required a little of our time.