The propaganda website ‘SkepticalScience.com’, or SS.com in short, strives to serve as a ‘one-stop shop for all consensus communication needs’ kind of an outlet. Emerging ideas based on published papers or opinions, that run counter to a perceived consensus are monitored for, and various authors who work for the website churn out superficially plausible, scientific-sounding ‘rebuttals’ to these positions.
One of the main selling points of the website, is a falsetto neutral demeanour in design and tone.
More recently however, the tone at SS has turned shrill. The main proprietor John Cook, who is a climate change communication award winner, apparently approves. These changes have especially been noticeable after a certain ‘dana1981’ – likely referring to the author being born in 1981, began his contributions to the website.
An example can be seen in this passage:
It’s been a rough few weeks for climate “skeptics.” The first week of September began with the editor of Remote Sensing resigning in order to take responsibility for publishing Roy Spencer’s fundamentally flawed paper. Just a few days later, Andrew Dessler’s paper was published, demolishing the flawed Spencer paper, another flawed Lindzen paper, and the “internal variability” argument in general. Climate “skeptics” did not react well to the news, attacking the journal for publishing the paper at its normal pace (how dare they!?). With Spencer and Lindzen debunked by a peer-reviewed publication, it’s only fitting that the other prominent “skeptic” climate scientist, John Christy, would join the party.
In science everyone has opinions. These are expressed, generally, in the strongest of terms when addressing the argument whereas the gentlest of words are in turn, are reserved for the people making those arguments. In the real world sometimes, the line between the two is not fully respected – sometimes your reasoned counter-arguments are taken personally by your opponent. At other times, you are driven by anger to attack your opponent personally. Famous feuds in science rage for years. Battles in academia can be among the nastiest – because what is at stake is the realm of ideas, personal pride and reputations. But the attempt is always made – scientists, more than anyone else, recognize how their ideas can grip and consume them and seek to defend against it.
Those outside this process however, can simply fail to distinguish an attack on a person, and attacks on ideas. In other words, this distinction is habitually missed. From a systematized demonology instead, a simplistic world-view arises: “wrong ideas are expressed by bad people”. Such a demonology finds it easy to attach labels or tags to individuals.
An example can been seen on the SS website sidebar graphic, which contains such puerile captions as shown:
The juvenility on display was objected to, by climate scientist Roger Pielke Sr. He observed that SkepticalScience.com had failed in its mission to “explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation”, if it had sections running tittled “Spencer Slip-ups” and “Christy Crocks”., and cast aspersions on scientists Roy Spencer and John Christy. The post was published on the 12th of September.
Several interesting developments have followed. SS.com replied with an article on the 16th of September, written by ‘dana1981’, with the interpretation that the Roger Pielke Sr criticism was misplaced. SS.com never attacked the satellite temperature data presented by Spencer and Christy, and therefore Pielke Sr’s criticism was invalid – the article declared. Pielke Sr’s larger point that Skeptical Science.com had failed in constructive engagement and in its own stated mission, was lost. Responses from several commenters suggesting that calling scientists names being a bad idea were overturned as well.
What was more, the website moderators allowed Pielke Sr’s posts to remain, but struck out the text, for the purposes of thread moderation. A persistent, repetitive demand, worded in un-parliamentary language, was attached to his comments:
Dr. Pielke, this thread is about your selective and one-sided skepticism and misplaced accusations of ad hominems towards SkS. Now please begin to address those. Sir.
The crossed-out posts:
A bizarre and Kafkaesque scene unfolded as different commenters repeatedly demanded Pielke Sr answer the single question: “why did you say we attacked the (Spencer and Christy’s) UAH temperature work when we did not?”. “Answer us or apologize”. “Retract”. The same commenters logged in as moderators themselves, inserting editorial comments, and replying to each others queries.
One may perhaps be very convinced of being right and express opinions strongly, but to indulge in a blatant, abrasive attempt at censorship and controlling replies posted by a senior scientist … I cannot recollect a similar obnoxious event in the climate debate in the recent past.
Indeed, those who are familiar will no doubt be reminded of the notorious blog Realclimate.org which practices a wide array of similar ‘moderation’ practices on comments difficult to its stance.
And to top it all, in their narrow and monomaniacal attempts at interpreting Roger Pielke Sr’s blog posts, the readers/moderators and authors including ‘dana1981’ were completely blinded to the fact, that one of them – ‘dana1981’ – had in fact, carried out the very same thing they so vehemently denied.
In a post titled: “Santer et al. Catch Christy Exaggerating” published on the 14th of September, under the article category “Christy Crocks”, author dana1981 wrote the following, about Spencer and Christy’s UAH record:
This article appeared after Roger Pielke Sr pointed out the ad-hominem nature of using derogatory labels, and defending Spencer and Christy against insinuations about their UAH temperature work – a clear indication that his message to SkepticalScience.com had had no effect.