by Judith Curry
After almost four years of blogging at Climate Etc., its time for some reflection
During the summer, I have a breather from the normal academic schedule of meetings, students, etc., and I choose to strictly limit my professional travel during summer. Hence I have additional time not only for blogging, but also for reflection. Further, on Jul 1 I am stepping down as Chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (after 12 years). So I have begun thinking about what I want to do professionally over the next few years while I remain a Professor at Georgia Tech.
Unless I write a journal article on my blogging and get it published in a high impact science journal, I get exactly zero academic credit for doing this (and in the views of at least one Georgia Tech administrator, I get negative credit for blogging and for my position in the climate debate). At this stage of my career, I am no longer driven by the academic reward structure (which I think is way outdated). A big part of what I know I want to do is to continue to explore social media as a tool for engaging with with public, group learning, exploring the science-policy interface, and pondering the wicked climate problem.
It has been very gratifying to build a community of such interesting individuals who participate as commenters and guest posters. I also appreciate the lurkers, and those that contact me via email in response to my blog posts.
On the right hand bar of the blog home page, near the top, is a link ‘Denizens’. Early on, I requested that participants and lurkers state something of their background and perspective on climate change. Yesterday I went through the Denizens thread to clean it up (spam, extraneous comments). It would be nice if relative newcomers could submit a brief bio-post on this thread.
Over the years, individual Denizens have come and gone and returned. Sometimes I wonder when a regular disappears from the comments. Often it is extended travel or illness. And sometimes . . .
I have some sad news to report about Denizen Max Anacker. Tony Brown informed me via email:
I have just received the sad news from his wife that Max Anacker passed away yesterday morning through heart related problems. I met up with him and his wife in Switzerland around four years ago and found him to be a charming man who was ever helpful. Climate Etc was his second home and some may be wondering at his recent absence.
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It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Max passed away at the Stanford Medical Center, Stanford, California this morning, June 5, 2014 and after a short stay. He had suffered from heart issues that have worsened during the past weeks very quickly. He was a great man with wit, humor and high intelligence. His loss is painful for his family and friends and he will be missed dearly. Please be so kind and inform the community accordingly, since I only have your contact.
Max’s contributions to Climate Etc. were greatly appreciated and he will be missed for his clear thinking, summaries of key issues arising from the discussion, and his unfailing courtesy and civility. My condolences to Marianne and to Max’s family and friends.
With regards to guest posts. A few academic scientists/engineers/social scientists have posted here in their area of expertise or have provided general commentary, notably Andy Lacis, Garth Paltridge, Dave Rutledge, Douglass Sheil, Roger Pielke Sr., Marcia Wyatt, Ed Dolan, Shaun Lovejoy, Marshall Shepherd, David Gushee, Anastassia Makarieva, Peter Hartley, Paul Farquharson, Paul Matthews, David Douglass, Richard Tol, Mike Zajko. Why don’t more climate scientists participate? Relatively few climate scientists have any presence in the blogosphere (although engaging with Twitter is becoming increasingly common). The biggest issue, I imagine, is that few can afford the time.
Other professionals/academics from other fields have applied their expertise in blog posts that conduct original analysis/research, including Tomas Milanovic, Rutt Bridges, Vaughan Pratt, Steve Mosher, Pete Bonk, Zeke Hausfather, Tony Brown, Frank Lemke, Steve McGee, Greg Goodman, Andy West, Richard Saumarez. And other professionals have contributed guest posts that synthesize or explain research, including Rud Istvan, Robert Ellison, Donald Rapp, Dagfinn Reiersoll, Euan Mearns, Clive Best, Mark Goldstone, David Ritson, Roger Caiazza, Johanna, Patrick Brown, Doc Martyn, Brandon Shollenberger, X Anonymous, Michael Cunningham, WebHubTelescope (apologies if I have inadvertently left anyone out).
It is this broader group of professionals (outside the climate field) that are conducting analyses related to climate science, some of them publicly for the first time at Climate Etc., that I regard as one of the most significant accomplishments of Climate Etc..
I am very grateful for all of the guest posts. At the same time, I don’t publish all the posts that people email to me. I look forward to more of these posts and I hope that additional Denizens will take a stab at writing a guest post.
Climate Etc.’s Blog Roll has undergone N (large number) modifications over the years. When I was first exploring the Climate blogosphere, I found the blog roll at Real Climate to be very useful. When I first (accidentally) landed at Climate Audit, I wondered why this blog wasn’t listed on RC’s blog roll (ha ha) – this changed my view of blog rolls. When I started Climate Etc., I listed a range of blogs, trying to be ‘balanced.’ Then, when I realized that hardly anyone was linking to anything on my blog roll, I changed my objectives to a more personal one – blogs that I personally wanted to book mark to follow (some of these were a bit far afield from climate science). The list became unwieldily and I periodically weeded it out.
With the advent of my becoming active in the twitosphere, it became much easier for me to follow the news and what was going on in other blogs via twitter. The current incarnation of my blog roll addresses the following objectives:
- highlighting blogs that I think are interesting and relevant
- promoting female bloggers
- blogs that produce original material that I don’t pick up on twitter
So I’m not sure if anyone uses or otherwise cares about my blog roll; if you do, I’d like to hear about it and I would be interested in any suggestions.
At first, I didn’t ‘get’ Twitter, and I resisted getting involved. Last August, I made the effort to get involved with Twitter, and it has definitely been worthwhile. I am tweeting at @curryja. I mainly tweet notices of new blog posts, and retweet occasional tweets that I find interesting. The people that I follow provide lots of ideas and source articles for blog posts. I don’t engage too much in twitter discussion, although I have engaged in several, notably with Victor Venema and There’s Physics.
I’ve taken to posting my latest tweets at the top right bar of the blog. If you are following twitter, or have suggestions for integrating twitter onto the blog, I would appreciate hearing about this.
I am spending more time monitoring the blog, trying to minimize incivility. Things are better than they were say 6 months ago. Thank you for your continued efforts to keep the blog civil
I have decided to add one additional layer of nesting. My original hope was that reducing nesting would reduce p*ssing matches (didn’t really help), and that people would focus more on posting stand-alone comments rather than replies (they didn’t). So I am adding another level of nesting (effective with this thread) to facilitate following side-threads, lets see how it goes.
Long time contributor to Climate Etc. Pekka Perilla has made some interesting comments about the blog that have triggered some reflection, first on a thread at ATTP and then on a CE thread:
You know that I have been following Climate Etc for long and commenting there. For quite a while I accepted what Judith Curry did as a genuine attempt to maintain a site that people of wide range of preconceptions may follow, and to to which they can contribute. On such a site it would be possible to influence at least a little also people with predominantly differing views. Gradually her own contributions have, however, moved too strongly to the skeptical direction. Whereas she once proposed an uncertainty that’s larger in both directions, she has recently been promoting lesser uncertainty on the upper end, and more on the lower end only. In my view, her arguments in support of that are really weak, essentially non-existent.
JC comment: Misunderstanding here. I am arguing that climate model and observational inferences of high upper end sensitivity are falling apart. However, in my writings on climate surprises, catastrophes and fat tails, and abrupt climate change, I clearly do not dismiss the possibility of something really extreme happening to the climate. However, it makes no sense to think about these concepts in terms of our traditional understanding and calculation of ‘climate sensitivity’.
Thus I have concluded that Climate Etc is nowadays too strongly one-sided to serve as a forum for discussion that can maintain a wide audience and promote properly critical thinking. That kind of forum would, however, be valuable, and one of the potential ways of communicating to an audience that could make some difference. No site, where modestly skeptic contributors get ridiculed by the regulars (not necessarily by the host) can help much in that. A good site in that spirit must be tolerant of views that are reasonable based on some common set of attitudes. It’s not necessary to tolerate comments that are effectively trolling (whether intentionally or due to a real lack of understanding, what others do understand), but genuine differences in point of view must be tolerated, and ridiculing them by regulars stopped.
The point is not only one of tactics in getting a particular message true, but it’s also of learning. None of us should feel too self-righteous. Even people with very different views may have valuable points that we should learn to understand.
Maintaining such a site is certainly difficult. One essential point seems to be that the host concentrates more in keeping the discussion going than in declaring, what’s correct and what’s not. She or he can put limits and use moderation to prevent trolling, and to cut off argumentation with a fool, when that argumentation is not any more of value to others.
You have obviously achieved something of interest on this blog. To continue for long you may need some rethinking on what you wish to serve. That may mean less frequent blogging with more work in preparing each post, or perhaps you’ll choose some other approach.
While I haven’t been happy on everything what has been going on at Climate Etc, I do still think that it’s a site, where people with very different opinions can discuss without the need of either one to feel ridiculed. Some other commenters may try that, but they remain exceptions and therefore don’t cause the feeling. (Joshua and some others get a lot of reaction, but I think they don’t worry about that.) For anyone wishing to have open discussion it’s worthwhile to think what Judith Curry has done right, and where she has perhaps failed. I think that the site was better during it’s first year or two and has deteriorated then. One change is that several climate scientists contributed in the beginning, now the science is defended almost solely by others. Also the writings and public appearances of Judith Curry herself have gone in the wrong direction to my taste.
I discussed in that length Climate Etc, because the thing that I really wish to see on the net is open discussion of points that involve genuinely outstanding issues (as opposed to fake controversies). Everyone who has spent an effort to learn about the issue and who is sincere (not obviously trolling) should be allowed to participate without getting ridiculed. There are too few sites that achieve that. This site is better than most, but could be even better. The number of people participating in the discussion is important in that, and only the quality of original posts is likely to keep that number and the spread of views high enough in the long run.
Reflecting on Pekka’s comment that the blog was better the first two years, I went back to check my earlier posts. The first 6 months were definitely different from the rest – I posted twice per week, and it was nearly all original material. The source of original material was my year long research related to the uncertainty monster paper.
I was unable to keep that up owing to time constraints, and the fact that much of my primary research/academic efforts are on topics for which there isn’t much public interest (e.g. hurricanes, physical chemistry of clouds, ensemble interpretation methods, South Asia, wind power forecasting).
Blog traffic is about 5 times greater now than during the first 6 months, with a tripling in the number of comments. Not that I’m playing to numbers, but threads with more than 500 comments are very unwieldly, and at least 4 posts per week seems about right given the traffic.
Climate Etc. is about the dialogue (the comments are a key element); its not just about me providing original research/analysis or making proclamations. That said, the lead posts need to be interesting, relevant, and/or provocative. Although recently I prematurely pushed the ‘publish’ button on the draft post Climate Casino, which only had an http address – the post elicited over 100 comments. So to some extent, the community here is self sustaining, not needing much in the way of stimulation from me!
I originally envisioned Climate Etc. to have a strong component that was sort of a climate dynamics version of Science of Doom, but quickly abandoned that when we got stuck on the physics of the greenhouse effect (‘stuck’ in the sense that skydragon theories seemed to multiply). Further, I became more interested in the sociology and philosophy of climate science – thinking around and about the science, not so much the science itself. I’ve struggled with balancing what interests me personally versus what is newsworthy and timely. I currently have a backlog of 77 draft posts, and new topics pop up weekly. When thinking about my next post, I have to decide what is interesting and worth my effort, balanced by an element of timeliness in terms of topics being discussed in the news or in the climate blogosphere (that the Denizens want to discuss).
What else has changed? I have become increasingly appalled by the infiltration of UNFCCC/IPCC ideology into the scientific community and institutions and the lack of genuine debate about key issues that I regard as highly uncertain. Following Marquis de Condorcet, I am spending more and more time on “the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them.”
Efforts by Romm, Mann etc to marginalize me and label me as a denier have pushed me into engaging more with what is regarded as the skeptics community. In terms of my evolving assessment of the science itself, the deficiencies of climate models are becoming increasingly apparent and a number of things have moved from the ‘known’ into the ‘unknown’ category. We have vastly oversimplified the problem of climate change. I am probably becoming more strident about this particular issue.
And finally, I suspect that the field, the public, and the Denizens have changed, perhaps more than I have?
Climate Etc. seems to be having some impact on the public dialogue surrounding climate change, if nothing else as reflected by my media interviews and invitations to present Congressional testimony. Is Climate Etc. having any impact on the climate science community? Well a significant number of climate scientists tell me that they read the blog regularly, and a number of them communicate with me via email to discuss. If nothing else, I think the Uncertainty Monster now has a more prominent place at the climate science table.
So, what do I want for the blog? I will continue to reflect on this. Mostly, I want to keep the dialogue going (and even grow the dialogue), and to continue to learn about the increasingly broad range of topics that are intersecting with climate science. I am hoping to maintain Climate Etc. as a safe place for an honest debate about the genuine outstanding issues in climate science, including those that make climate scientists uncomfortable, and the public debate about climate science, its implications, and proposed policies.
I look forward to your assessments, comments and suggestions. And finally, THANK YOU for your participation and contributions to Climate Etc.