by Judith Curry
We are starting to see blog discourse making it into academic papers, being the subject of presentations and conference sessions, and the development of blogs specifically to analyze the dynamics of other blogs. So, lets address the question raised in the recent presentation by Franziska Hollender:
What are blogs good for anyways?
WUWT reports on a seminar given by Franziska Hollender based on her MS thesis, entitled The contrarian discourse in the blogosphere – what are blogs good for anyways? The premise behind this study was an interesting one, although the study (focused on the comments for a few posts at WUWT) was rather limited. The key conclusion of the presentation is that “Finally, it is concluded that the climate change discourse has been stifled by the obsession of discussing the science basis and that in order to advance the discourse, there needs to be a change in how science as an ideology is communicated and enacted.“
The ‘obsession with discussing the science basis’ deserves comment. I wish the IPCC were more obsessed with the science basis. But I agree that fatigue is justified regarding skydragon type arguments about the greenhouse effect and second law of thermodynamics. But that kind of discussion seems to have pretty much disappeared from the main stream skeptical blogs? In the recent thread Skeptics: make your best case. Part II , I don’t recall seeing any greenhouse effect refutations, mainly there were discussions about solar, ocean oscillations, sea level rise and other impacts. Is it possible that the blogospheric discussions on the greenhouse effect ( at Climate Etc, Science of Doom, etc) have actually slain the skydragons? And John O’Sullivan’s threats of legal action that resulted in my removing the skydragon threads from Climate Etc. — has this resulted in the burial of the skydragons and arguments that there is no warming of the earth and atmosphere from CO2? If so, this is a major victory for the blogosphere.
Another victory for blog climate science is the land surface temperature data. Owing to the FOIA requests, surfacestations.org, and the Climategate motivated Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, we have much higher confidence in the land surface data set, and better analysis techniques are being developed.
And the overall accountability of climate science is starting to increase, with the growing trend of auditing. Steve McIntyre is the master, with strong contributions from Jeff Id, Lucia, and others.
The staunchest political opponents of curtailing fossil fuel use no longer deny that humans contribute to climate change; the issues are how much relative to natural climate variability, whether warming is ‘bad’ or ‘good’, and whether we can afford to do anything about it in any event.
The public science debate seems to have shifted to extreme weather events, since these are the most ‘visceral’ impacts of a climate change. On this topic, there is plenty of room for genuine scientific debate, which occurs abundantly on the climate blogs. Given the immediacy of the impacts of an extreme event, interviews with scientists and blog discussions arguably have a greater overall impact on the public debate than journal publications and assessment reports.
Seems to me that the climate debate is becoming more sophisticated, as the public science debate focuses on the actual uncertainties and policy makers on both sides of the political spectrum grapple with both economic realities and risks associated with climate variability/change.
JC comment: A few additional comments addressing what I think blogs are good for. Blogs allow for much more rapid discussion of breaking science than the conventional method of conference presentation, journal publication, and subsequent comments in the journal. Not only do blogs engage a wider range of scientists than the say a specialty conference, but they also engage the public on current research. There is also an increasing tendency to use climate blogs for propaganda. Propaganda is pretty much the mission for ClimateDepot, but stealth propaganda is becoming increasingly apparent on the ‘science’ blogs, as revealed by the recent SkS hack of their Forum. NOTE: I use the Wikipedia definition of propaganda here; I realize this term has a range of connotations.
What do I get out of the climate blogs? They keep me up do date on the current literature and issues of interest to the broader public. Because of my blogging, I’ve developed a network with some fantastic people from around the world, with whom I would never have otherwise engaged. I’ve learned alot and broadened my intellectual horizons. And finally, blogging sharpens your written communication skills. To the extent that you engage in the dialogue (I did this more at ClimateAudit and Collide-a-Scape, prior to Climate Etc., than I do now), it sharpens your critical thinking and rhetorical skills.
And finally, its an opportunity to engage in discussing and understanding issues related to the social dynamics of science in the 21st century with social media, extended peer communities, etc. The internet is changing the sociology of science in ways that are rapidly evolving and poorly understood. Engaging in the blogosphere is a way to be part of that.