Morano Bridges the Climate Divide

By Keith Kloor | August 12, 2009 7:02 am

Yes, you read that right. Thanks to Marc Morano, people on opposite sides of the climate debate are now hearing each other out. They read each other’s rants, missives, spin, arguments and counter-arguments. If you think the public discussion of climate change is best served by a free flowing exchange of information and perspectives, then Morano’s Climate Depot is one of your gateways, like it or not.

I can hear the gagging among climate advocates right about now.

So be it. To appreciate Morano’s value, you have to appreciate the value of an aggregator.  Remember, we all live in our own private web ghetto. As Nicholas Kristof noted in a March column:

When we go online, each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about.

I think Kristof makes a mistake in lumping “news and opinion” sites together, but he’s right in observing that most of us read blogs that reinforce our own views and prejudices. An aggregator counters that tendency. Even an aggregator like Morano who has an obvious political agenda and bias. Yes, he links to stories and blog posts that he believes will undermine the legitimacy of climate change science and advocacy. The purpose of Climate Depot is clear: to create and build the impression that A) global warming concerns are unfounded and, B) to stop mitigation efforts underway in the political and policy realm.

So when linking to general news media stories and posts from climate advocates, Morano spins an angle–through a catchy headline–that he hopes will frame the reader’s interpretation of the linked-to piece or post. Some climate bloggers, like Joe Romm, make this easy work for him. Romm, who is smart and knowledgeable, is also often preachy and hyperbolic. If you’re a climate skeptic and you read Romm via Climate Depot, your worst biases about climate advocates are probably going to be reinforced.

But if, on the other hand, you read Michael Tobis, who Morano has linked to prominently numerous times in recent weeks, then you might be pleasantly surprised to find a civil, logical, and eloquent voice. That’s certainly not the impression Morano wants you to walk away with. He always prefaces his links to Tobis by labeling him a “climate fear promoter,” in an effort to bias your reading of his post. But those Morano-directed readers have also engaged Tobis in comment threads and have found an equally civil and reasonable forum. That’s valuable–this sort of engagement beyond the actual post. You don’t see that happening at Romm’s shop because he either censors his critics or bites their heads off in the comments section. It seems that blogging is a blood sport to Romm.

You can bet that Morano knows this aggregator gig cuts both ways. Yes, he’s got a a huge audience and a platform. His message is amplified in ways he could never achieve in his previous incarnations. But in order to thrive, Morano has to link out. Thus his readers are now being exposed to and engaging with the other side’s arguments.  That could be dangerous. That’s why Morano continues to write his own pieces and trumpet them on Climate Depot. The party line has to be represented.

And make no mistake: Morano is doing his best to create an echo chamber by linking often and regularly to anti-environmental blogs such as Planet Gore and Tom Nelson. In fact, if Morano opts at some point to fill up his page with only those types, he will cease being a true news aggregator.  His traffic will go down and his mission aborted.

But if he truly believes his side will win out, then he has nothing to fear by offering all perspectives of the climate debate and will continue to link to people like Michael Tobis, and not just the Joe Romms. I have no idea how Tobis feels about the traffic he’s been getting from Morano. He’s probably ambivalent. But I’d wager he relishes the opportunity to speak to people that don’t belong to his choir.

The question is, will it matter? Can people who disagree so fundamentally find common ground?

That might be too much to ask, but Nicholas Kristof, in that same column, offers an excellent starting point:

So perhaps the only way forward is for each of us to struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore. Think of it as a daily mental workout analogous to a trip to the gym; if you don’t work up a sweat, it doesn’t count.

It may be hard to swallow, but Marc Morano is doing his part to help develop that healthy habit.

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  • Steve Bloom

    A “free flowing exchange of information”?  Hardly.  Try doing a rough count of the number of links to each side.  It’s about three to one as best I can tell.  Did you even notice?

    You failed entirely to make a case that a site like that has any value whatsoever.  In particular, while there is some added traffic for the particular sites Morano chooses to list, it doesn’t follow that his readers are getting any added exposure to the “other side.”  People interested in engaging in that way don’t need Morano’s site to find a place to do so.         
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    “Ambivalent” about being linked by Morano is a good estimate.

    Steve, the point that Morano drives traffic to me is something that hasn’t escaped my notice. So that’s nonzero value. Though some of the traffic is not from intelligent, sane adults, actually some of it is. That’s the short version of the ambivalence.

    More to follow.

  • http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/ John Fleck

    Steve – I think you miss Keith’s point.

    You are right that people already interested in engaging will find Michael’s site, or things like it. The point of Keith’s argument is that Morano’s site is also driving people to Michael’s site who would otherwise not be expose to the set of ideas Michael presents.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Keith:

    Your turn.

  • http://www.osta.com/gw Dr. Heinz Lycklama

    Marc is doing a good thing by providing pointers to both sides of the argument on Climate Change. I tried to do that as well in the publication of my open letter to Climate Scientists posted at http://www.osta.com/gw. Let’s get all of the arguments pro and con on the table so that we can have an intelligent discussion.

  • http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com bigcitylib

    Morano’s site does not aggregate anything that would discomfort its readers.  For instance, there was lots about the De Freitas paper, but nothing about its subsequent demolition and the retraction of its main claims by De Freitas and co.

    The links to Tobis tend to be when MT expresses some nuance in regards to some aspect of AGW theory, nuance that Morano spins as being “doubt”. 

    I do find value in Morano’s site in that now all the baloney is in one place, and you know the stories that are going to circulate in the deniosphere for the next couple of days.  As an aggregator, though, it stinks.

  • http://climatecrisisgenesis.blogspot.com steve smyth

    Marc has shown the common sense to present differing views since day one…as shown by my early CD headline saying that
    “Climate Depot is Homo Sapiens record of Earth’s final verdant gasp, with insights into Homo Technus plans for the future”
    It brought several hundred clicks within a few days of CD ‘s inception.
    Good on ya, Marc…

  • Roald A

    Commenter Bloom implies ClimateDepot.com has no value whatsoever. It’s a guess on my part that Mr Bloom either favors an elimination of Morano’s site, or he wishes that there was an equal yet opposite web site to counteract Morano, much like Chris Mooney suggested at a discovermagazine.com bog.

    I submit that Bloom’s and others’ criticism of Morano only serves to divert the public’s attention from the 800lb-gorilla-in-the-room problem:  the human-induced global warming proponents have not only abysmally failed to disprove skeptic scientists, they actively seek to prevent the public from listening to them.

    The question I posed over at Mooney’s blog in comment #6 ( http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/07/11/qa-with-steve-andrew-the-orlando-science-policy-examiner/#comment-24361 ) is worth paraphrasing here:  If IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri and Al Gore are so confident in their position, why is it not child’s play for them to point out how they listened to skeptics and summarily disproved their criticisms, while also revealing tell-tale errors in the skeptics’ reports (like the Singer / Idso NIPCC 2009 Report – see:  http://www.nipccreport.org/ ) that is irrefutable proof of unethical influence from big oil companies? Surely people like Bloom and Mooney would want Gore and Pachauri to take this leadership action, to wipe out the skeptics once and for all. But where is the nationwide plea for Gore and Pachauri to do this?

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Sigh.

    There’s some military expression for this asymmetry I can’t quite recall. Just as it’s much cheaper to be an insurgent than to wipe out insurgents, it is much cheaper to make up nonsense than to refute it. This is especially so in the case where people refuse to acknowledge nonsense regardless of the efficacy of the proof.

    A big part of the problem is that a lot of people, by now most people, come in to this area trying to understand the science behind climate change before they understand the science behind climate. Explaining the nature and origins of what is well-known and what is poorly known is an involved process.

    Nonsense like NIPCC is not aimed at people who have a scientific understanding of climate, but at people who don’t.  It carries no weight with competent scientists because it is not coherent with scientific understanding.

    Explaining the nature of the problem is easy. Defending it against sophisticated attack to an unsophisticated audience is not.

    Most of the points raised by Singer an dthe like have long since been refuted. Presumably they will keep coming up with new ones. It is more work to refute them than to come up with them, and in any case the refutations are not sufficiently widely understood and are often ignored.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Bigcitylib:

    I agree with you here: “Morano’s site does not aggregate anything that would discomfort its readers.”

    On the surface, this would appear largely true. However, I’ve read the Tobis posts and subsequent comment threads that Morano has linked to. Of course, Morano has an ulterior motive for linking to these posts.

    But there is organic discourse that develops over at Tobis’ that is intelligent and serious-minded. I think that sort of cross-exchange is worthwhile, if nothing else than to foster a modicum of respect. The bottom line: people talking with one another and not past each other strikes me as a good thing.

  • Roald A

    What I have consistently noticed about those who say critics like Singer print nonsense, is that they fail to point out which of the peer reviewed, scientific journal- published papers that Singer cites is nonsense.

    To borrow your logic, it follows that in the opposite situation, where skeptics hold the high ground and Gore / IPCC followers are subject to unsubstantiated smears and outright censorship, the skeptics aren’t obligated to refute their critics because it is too hard to do?

    You may say Singer & others are refuted in places like realclimate.org if it makes you feel better, but nowhere in the mainstream media does that happen. Thus, legions of people around the world are not reassured that simple due diligence has been performed to show EVERYONE that Al Gore and the IPCC are above reproach. When the general public discovers this hasn’t been done, you will have a monumental problem on your hands in trying to explain why this didn’t happen at the IPCC level in the first place, and why there has been an on-going attempt to censor skeptics, rather than prominently wipe them out in a hugely public forum.

    If the NIPCC is so easily seen as nonsense, then it should be just as easy to discredit it and the thousands of scientific papers cited in it. When Al Gore and Pachauri refuse to even acknowledge the existence of skeptics, it doesn’t bolster their positions, it looks like they have something to hide.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Gore has little to do with whether bad science is refuted!

    More to the point, neither does the mainstream media.

    The cultural mismatch between the media and science is indeed a problem, but that is exactly the problem that the Singers of the world exploit.

    In fact, no diligence is required for an expert to identify false expertise. A bottomless amount of effort is required to refute it successfully. Chris’s point is that nobody is paid to do that. It’s also a point I have been making for a long time.

    I made that point, among others, in my unpaid spare time, and substantially to the detriment of my formal career on occasion. Singer and Morano are doing their jobs, and for all I know Roald A is too. Arguably Keith is. But I’m not. Nor are the RealClimate folks. There is not a career path for defending science against lies. We do not have the capacity.

    If that makes us look bad, it shows that Singer et al are clever tacticians. But it doesn’t make them right on the matter of substance.

  • Francis

    Agree 100% with Ronald A.
    As long as the holy grail of CO2 induced Global Warming isn’t found, a.k.a.  “The Hot Spot” and as long as global temps keep coming down,  Morano’s side of the story makes a whole lot of sense for the general Joe in suburbia.
    If Gore would finally accept to debate Monckton and he clearly convinces me that he’s right I will change position.
    Until then, I will firmly stay in the skeptics camp.

  • Roald A

    Tobis: “Gore has little to do with whether bad science is refuted!” Quite the contrary. You and I and practically everyone knows that Al Gore, as the default spokesman for the IPCC version of the issue, has all the power in the world to gather almost instantaneous mainstream media attention to how he can refute his critics. All he has to do is announce a news conference about a comprehensive list of how, why, and where skeptics are wrong. Anyone care to wager that the MSM won’t take him up on that offer? Do it as a joint conference with Pachauri, Henry Waxman, and Obama’s science adviser John Holdren, and it’s guaranteed headline news across every form of media you can imagine.

    If nobody is paid to offer due diligence of IPCC Summaries, then nobody is reassured that their conclusions are above reproach. That is the 800lb gorilla that Gore / IPCC followers doesn’t want anybody to notice.

    Not sure what point you are trying to make about Morano, Singer, and myself ‘doing our jobs’. Marc works for his web site owner, as near as I can tell, but Singer is living off a pension and his life’s savings, and I have had virtually no income since January 2008, my previous job income allows me to pursue this on a semi-retirement basis. Having met Dr Singer and Dr Idso personally just recently, I can tell you firsthand that there is not a dime of big industry funding to be seen in either of them. Dr Singer allowed me to drive him to the airport to save a cab fare. Where was Exxon’s free limousine?

    Singer et al are NOT clever tacticians. Gore and Pachauri are simply blowing the opportunity to reassure all of us, including yourself, that skeptics can be wiped out with evidence of industry-influenced “lies” as you call them. Gore and Pachauri are the ones driving this issue, so they are the ones who should have had this due diligence aspect of it already wrapped up. As I said before, you would probably expect no less of Singer and the skeptics, if they were the ones at the top of the heap.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

    Michael,

    I’m not sure what you mean by the “job” I’m doing.  This blog is a labor of love.  My sole income for the last ten years has been derived as a science writer and magazine editor, and more recently, as an adjunct journalism professor at NYU.

    This past academic year, I took these hats off to be a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder.

    That recently ended. I’m now freelancing as a magazine journalist full-time. Any opinions expressed by me on this blog are merely the musings of a sleep-deprived father of two young children. Or to put it another way, I blog for free, much to my wife’s chagrin.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    All in all, I think Keith is too kind to me. 

    I find conversation with people who are totally convinced of a wrong world view very  frustrating. I have already done my time on this in the nineties. I learned a lot from it, but lately the debates have taught me nothing of value, and have taught the people I’m debating nothing of substance. 

    This is why being linked by Morano is a mixed blessing. For every reasonably open-minded person it brings to my audience it brings ten actively hostile people.

    The implicit obligation to respond to people who think I am part of some sort of evil conspiracy is about as much fun as oral surgery. 

  • John Thorpe

    I find the discussions about Morano linking into this site and others like it strange, as surely while the link may point to an area he thinks may make a skeptic case it is not beyond the capability of the follower of that link to read everything else on the site and indeed read things they would never be exposed to if Climate Depot was just a repository of skeptic writings. By that method anybody may be drawn into a mine of information that surely any peddler of “lies” would not want their readers to be exposed to?
    By highlighting the linking and discussing it you enhance the perception of Morano’s ability to change opinion beyond its true extent.
    However the real issue remains that by putting so much emphasis on the activities of Morano you inadvertently help to plant the seed of doubt that there just might be something in the skeptic viewpoint. After all does he even have a fraction of the $300 million budget Al Gore mustered to put across his point, let alone the $7 trillion that has been thrown at AGW in all its forms in the last 20 years? You would think that with a spend like that you could convince anybody black was white and Morano would just be an annoying tick you could flick away with indifference.
    The fact you cannot seem to do this only accentuates the cracks in the AGW case to me and to blame one man, no matter what his connections, for the cracks in what is being billed as incontrovertable truth is quite startling.
    I think if it is the case that AGW is a fact and the growing skepticism diverts us from a path of being able to do something about it in time you should not look to Morano but to ranting idiots like Ban Ki Moon with his “Oh my God, we’ve got 4 months to save the planet or Biblical catastrophe will ensue” speech to the World Environment Forum. I can tell you now that the average man in the street looks at that and smells a big fat rat because if that really was the case something WOULD have been done about it – you wouldn’t need to co-opt public opinion it would just be done. End of.
    But this is not the case, so the gernal perception is that the UN Secretary General is basically lying, and why would he do that? At this point you have lost Joe Public who has gone on to worry about his next paycheck…
    Good luck with your fight. I for one will continue to hope it is all baloney, and hopefully out of it will come the next phase of energy production, energy conservation, and the sensible winding down of the carbon based fuel sources we all know are finite. I just hope that in the process science isn’t so badly damaged by this that scientists join bankers, lawyers, and politicians in the “slime on my shoe” category of the public mindset – THAT would be the ultimate disaster for a species reliant on technology to survive it’s next phase of development. 

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Michael,

    It’s fine to become frustrated. That certainly shows from time to time. But you don’t become unhinged. Big difference. I’m also measuring you up against your fellow climate advocate bloggers. There’s a thoughtfulness and honesty to many of your posts. You’ve won me over.

    Per the climate skeptic camp: You shouldn’t confuse the minority of people you engage as representative of the whole. That would be the case for the other side, as well. Yes, it appears that both sides have a fair share of hard-headed people who won’t budge from their respective positions. But I also bet a sizable percentage–who never comment–are listening carefully to the arguments made, and how they’re conducted.

    That’s one of the reasons I think Climate Depot is a net good—for now. I’ve pointed out in my post how that could change.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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