Okay, don’t get any wrong ideas here.
I am just trying to set the mood for the new commenting system that I know will make our conversations flow much better.
On the subject of comment threads, I suggest folks take a few minutes to read this excellent post by Bora Zivkovic, the blog maestro at Scientific American. He reminds us:
As many of you may already know, there is this thing called a 1-9-90 rule of online participation. In any given online community, about 1% of the participants produce most of the content, another 9% participate regularly by editing (e.g., on a wiki), commenting (on blogs and articles), occasionally producing new content (in forums, etc), and the remaining 90% are ‘lurkers’ who do not publicly participate but only read (though these days, many of them participate a little more publicly, if not creatively, by “Liking”, tweeting, and otherwise sharing the content in ways that are visible to others, but without adding any thoughts of their own). The exact proportions vary from site to site, but are usually close enough to 1-9-90 for the general rule to hold.
Now it so happens that there is a cross section of readers in the 9% who regularly participate in the comments section at this blog. Because people range across the ideological spectrum, sometimes the conversation can get a little testy. I’m just as guilty as anyone. But by and large, I think we manage to keep it civil enough to keep the conversation going with a decent signal to noise ratio. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Now that the new commenting software is implemented, which I like very much, I’ll be much more hands-on as both participant and moderator. I can’t promise you that this will always play out to your satisfaction or in as timely a manner as you would like, but you can be sure that I will be engaged.
Thank you for being a reader, for keeping me on my toes, and for helping to make Collide-a-Scape a lively place to debate science and environmental issues. Now, back to the conversation…
UPDATE: All the comments for previous posts will be migrated over in the next 24-48 hours.
We are trying to eliminate the artificial line between “blogging” and “journalism” and focus on good, accurate writing, no matter what form it comes in or what software is used to produce it. Our bloggers are a part of our team, as “˜continuous correspondents’ or “˜full-time freelancers’. Thus, I made careful choices keeping this in mind ““ I invited bloggers whose expertise, quality of writing, and professionalism fit well with the mission and general tenor of our organization.
I think it’s admirable that SciAm wants to professionalize “blogging” in a way that puts it on par with “journalism.” I’m all for it. Just one teensy question: So if science bloggers are being welcomed into the magazine fold, as “part of our team, as ‘continuous correspondents’ or ‘full-time freelancers,” I assume they’re being financially compensated as such?
Can I just share with you the exciting life of a journalist blogger? It’s way cool.
But you already know that, because we tell you when we’re heading off to conferences in Doha, or returning from other ones held in southern California resort hotels. You also know about all the book tour stops and speaking engagements, right? You get the picture. We’re important.
As for me, let’s see, where to start. Well, the morning is always the best time, when I make school lunches, serve Ms. Scape her coffee, and cajole my two little boys out the door. If it’s above 40 degrees and not raining, they like to (literally) jump on their scooters and give me my first adrenaline rush of the day, as I pant after them, yelling manically, “slow down!” at least 10 times during the five minutes it takes us to get to school, which is only a few blocks from our apartment. That never gets old.
On the way back, I sometimes stop off at the corner Starbucks, where one barista will have my “tall” coffee ready for me before I get to the head of the line. Kinda like that show where everybody knows your name. But I do miss the other barista who used to flirt with me. That always made me feel younger than I am, especially when I would show up sweaty and panting, scooters dangling in my arms. But she’s been gone a while; I think Ms. Scape had her secretly transferred to another Starbucks.
What comes after the coffee varies, depending on what far flung place I’m heading off to. Some days it’s to NYU, where I try to alternately entertain and educate a roomful of 20-somethings about journalism basics. Other days, I might grab lunch with an editor friend in Manhattan. One thing I don’t do is spend much time on Facebook or Twitter, because I’m deathly afraid of getting sucked into a vortex of endless updates and tweets and retweets that seem vital at that second, when instead I could be catching up on last week’s New Yorker.
I really don’t know where the day goes, until it’s time for me to pick up the boys from school. Then it’s homework and off to the playground where I relive the Darwinian, Lord of the Flies moments of my youth.
But nothing beats playing with my boys. Today, I pretended to be a basketball hoop (hunched over with arms extended in a circle). They took turns shooting a blue dodgeball through my arms and really seemed to enjoy thumping me on the head or watching the ball roll around the imaginary rim.
After that, we each scarfed down a packet of Phineas and Ferb gummy bears (Ms. scape wasn’t home yet). On warmer days, we’ll get Italian ices.
This is followed by dinner and board games (we’re on a Zingo kick), and sometimes a TV show (Phineas and Ferb or Good Luck, Charlie) or wild hilarious gyrations to their new favorite group, the Beatles. Then, it’s book reading time (Captain Underpants or Phineas and Ferb) and a torturously long good night ritual.
If I’m still sentient after this, I’ll grade papers, think of some big thoughts for the next day’s blog entry, or catch up on news. Mostly, I fall right out and dream about the really cool places all the other science bloggers are heading off to.
And this is for real.
So I’m opening up a new shop in the blogosphere. (To add to this one.)
I’m teaming up with the Climate Central outfit, which is nonpartisan and staffed by people I have tremendous respect for, such as science journalists Michael Lemonick and Andrew Freedman. (My friend Tom Yulsman also writes for Climate Central.)
Click here to see my new blog called Frontier Earth, which will be a mix of reporting and commentary. The introductory post went up today. I’ll be posting daily to Frontier Earth, a minimum of one or two entries per day, Monday through Friday.
I recognize that many of us are already overwhelmed by the “firehose” of daily information, but I really hope to entice you all to become regular readers of Frontier Earth (while still checking in at this site). For those who can’t bear to add another blog to their RSS, have no fear, I’ll be cross-linking my Frontier Earth posts over here every day.
One last thing: I love the lively discussion we have at Collide-a-Scape and am looking forward to facilitating the same thing at the new site. So feel free to mix it up over there, too.
Lastly, Frontier Earth has a specific focus, which you will see. That means I’ll still be sounding off at Collide-a-Scape on the various topics that interest me.
A couple of months ago, I started thinking about a way to deal with anonymous commenters who are regulars at this site. This is mainly because I like to engage in comment threads but I’ve also become annoyed that many of the people I interact with are unknown to me. It’s made me feel increasingly foolish. What would make me feel less foolish is if I at least knew who I was sparring with.
So I came up with an idea. More on that in a second. First, here’s a perspective on anonymity from Jeff Jarvis that aligns with my own, especially the last sentence of the second graph:
One tactic to cope with the fear of exposure and overexposure is anonymity. Anonymity has its place. It protects the speech of Chinese dissidents, Iranian protestors, and corporate whistleblowers. It allows Wikileaks to expose secrets. It helps people share, for example, medical data and benefit others without having to reveal themselves. It lets people play with new identities. When the game company Blizzard Entertainment tried to bring real identity into the forums around its massive, multi-player games, including World of WarCraft, players revolted, and no wonder: Who wants everyone to know that in your other life, you see yourself as a level 80 back-stabbing night elf rogue who ganks lowbies at the Crossroads? Taking on identities””pseudonymity””is the fun of it.
But anonymity is often the cloak of cowards. Anonymous trolls””of the human race, not the WarCraft type””attack people online, lobbing snark at Julia Allison, spreading rumors and lies about public figures, sabotaging a politician’s Wikipedia page, or saying stupid stuff in the comments on my blog. I tell commenters there that I will respect what they have to say more if they have the guts to stand behind their own words with their own names, as I do.
Now I can appreciate and respect the need for anonymity by some commenters, because of job concerns and the like. So I would never want to exclude anonymous commenters from my blog. However, to ameliorate my own frustration, I thought about asking anonymous commenters to reveal themselves to me–if they intended on being a consistent commenter. I looked at it this way: if a source for a story I’m writing about comes to me with information but he or she does not want to be in the story, I still insist on knowing the identity of the person, so I can establish credibility.
Of course, comment threads at blogs are a different kettle of fish. And taking this step at my blog would have its complications, since some commenters might not want to reveal themselves at all–even in private, and perhaps wouldn’t trust me. So I ended up abandoning the idea.
But I’m still curious what folks think about it and I’d also like to hear from anonymous commenters–in the thread–as to why you choose to remain anonymous.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t the lefty/socialist/Marxist world domination cabal that got to Jeff Id:
The idiots pushed me over the edge tonight.
So Jeff’s turning his blog spurs in. I will miss him. Really. I need good foils.
Seriously, I’ve read Jeff’s blog enough to know he has a young family, so here’s my parting advice: Don’t follow Ben Stern’s parenting example:
UPDATE: So much for transparency. Jeff Id deleted the thread that evidently pushed him over the edge. He claims he did this because of technical issues. Anthony Watts tells Jeff no explanation required, and that, besides, it’s “his house, his rules, his right to do so.” A WUWT reader sees through both Jeff’s and Anthony’s hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, a commenter of my post recalls what was perhaps the exchange on the thread that led Jeff to disappear it.
there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information “” but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.
What greater proof than most climate blogs. And if you disagree, just spend a few moments reading the comment threads at WUWT and Climate Progress, two of the most popular blogs on opposite ends of the climate spectrum. The question I explored with Bart Verheggen and Lucia Liljegren in Part 2 of our conversation (here’s Part 1) was why their own blogs didn’t attract the same huge readership as WUWT and Climate Progress.
After all, if we want to ratchet down the hyperbole and partisanship in the climate debate, shouldn’t we be paying greater attention to bloggers like Lucia and Bart, both who write in a civil tone and often dive deep into the vexing subtleties of climate science issues? If we paid more attention to them, wouldn’t that help elevate the public discussion?
Here’s the second and final part of our conversation.
Keith: Why does the climate debate seem so antagonistic in the blogosphere? Why isn’t there more civil, nuanced dialogue?
Bart: I think the blogosphere is not made for nuance. It draws in people who are more opinionated, sometimes to the point of their opinions being set in stone. Of course the internet is very anonymous. The more extreme commentators are very anonymous. That’s another thing.
Lucia: Bart, what percentage of your commenters do you think are anonymous? I’m sure a lot of mine are.
Bart: Maybe a third are anonymous or pseudonymous. I’m not sure.
Lucia: I’m not sure either. Mine might be a third, too.
Keith: How can we then raise the level of debate, given that the extremes on both sides seem so strident, in part because of anonymity?
Bart: Yeah, that’s a tricky one.
Lucia: One of the problems with seeking a way to raise the debate is also the question of”¦if someone becomes more moderate and nuanced, will they just lose all their audience. It’s not as if I’m thinking, I want to have audience, so I’m going to write posts with titles like ‘Godwin’s Law Alert: Monckton cries “Goebbelian”‘ or “Joe Romm offers a (lame) bet!”. I write those because I think the titles are appropriate.
Bart: Exactly. And I’ve seen that with blogs””and I’ve noticed myself””that the things that get most viewers and most discussions are the posts that are a bit more polarizing and perhaps even playing a little on another person. Those are the posts that get the most exposure. I think it was some well known climate blogger who wrote once, what’s the point of a blog, if you don’t write in a little bit of a sharp tone, or something like that. Blogs are kind of made to put a sharp edge on your words. Like who’s going to read something with a lot of nuance?
Keith: But I think Andy Revkin is fairly nuanced at Dot Earth. He seems to be trying to facilitate serious discussion. And he’s got quite an audience. Of course he’s got the NY Times imprint, too. But even if you took Andy away from the Times, don’t you think he’d still have a good audience?
Lucia: Well, there is something in the blogoshphere, that once you have critical mass, you won’t lose your readership”¦but if Andy Revkin were reincarnated as somebody else,with no reputation, and he’s not from the NY times and started a blog like that, he might very well have great difficulty attracting a large audience. You’d like to think that that’s not true, but it is unfortunately the case that it is extremely difficult for people to start a blog, be nuanced, write long posts and get lots of people coming to the blog.
Keith: I wonder to what extent the blog format exacerbates ill will and misunderstanding between people. Because we process written communication differently than we do the kind of real-time conversation we’re having now.
Bart: I think that’s true, because I sometimes see examples [on blogs] where I see people reacting to someone else and I think to myself, hey, you’re reading something into it that the other person didn’t necessarily mean, or your’re prejudging. The blog format is definitely very conducive to blowing those things out of proportion and misunderstanding each other.
Keith: Recently Judith Curry suggested something that I found intriguing:
Maybe we should try a “blog of bloggers” whereby the blog owners from across the spectrum participate in a dialogue, perhaps with a few invited guests, and then the dialogue can be continued also at the individual blogs with the commenters. The polarization will be difficult to overcome, but I think with the waning of climategate that the blogging community is looking for something new, maybe this is a fertile time for cross-camp communications.
What do you both think of that?
Bart: I thought it was a great idea when I read it.
Lucia: I thought it was a great idea, too. Now we just have to figure out how to do it. (laughs). How would we implement it? That’s not to say it can’t be done. I think it would be a useful thing.
I’d like to hear from readers on Judith Curry’s “blog of bloggers” idea. Is such a thing even viable? Additionally, please offer suggestions on how to make the bloggy climate debate more civil and constructive.
Are traditional journalists who take a vow of objectivity walking around like libido-suppressed priests? Except that reporters struggle to keep a lid on their opinions? Here’s Matt Welch, a former UPI reporter, on the Helen Thomas eruption:
I am tempted to feel bad for an 89-year-old lady getting caught in what might be passed off as a senior moment, but there’s no reason to believe that her statement and tone don’t reflect her basic views.
They also, I believe, reflect an interesting, under-appreciated, and ultimately impermanent media phenomenon: The longer someone is submerged in what they and their organizations regard as traditional “straight” reporting, the more gruesome the results are when the gloves come off.
Welch’s hypothesis is worth considering in the blog age, in which “straight” mainstream reporters are increasingly shedding their neutrality belt. While I think he’s on to something, I also think his journalistic psychoanalysis goes a bit too far:
Straight reporters have been taught for six decades to submerge or even smother their political and philosophical views in the workplace. Like all varieties of censorship, this process creates resentment and distortion. Whatever it is that you feel prevented from saying, you will be more likely to scream once given the chance.
As for myself, this blog does serve as both my shingle on the web and a platform for expression. But mostly I do it to keep myself intellectually engaged in a variety of topics that interest me. Not to vent my spleen. I tend to have long deadlines as a freelance magazine writer. And I usually teach one course every fall and spring semester at NYU. So this blog is an outlet that allows me to participate in the daily conversation.
On that note, I’m aiming to serve up less opinion and instead use the space more as a forum for those who have varying (and informed) opinions on the subjects that interest me, like climate change and sustainability. I’ve been experimenting along those lines the last few months and will contintinue to do so.
If anyone has any suggestions on how to foster constructive dialogue that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse perspectives, please do share them in the comments. Over the next few days, you’ll notice some changes in the site, including a comment policy that will set out civility guidelines. And there are great exchanges coming up between some very smart people, so stay tuned.
I’m ambivalent about the value of blog comments. Part of me loves Andrew Sullivan’s blog because he spares us from having to wade through the bushels of crap he undoubtedly receives– though Sullivan often highlights and edits the best of his reader emails in a way that provides excellent counter-perspective to a particular topic or thread.
The other part of me enjoys reading comments at Dot Earth, Real Climate, or academic sites, such as Savage Minds (even though I’ve lately been critical of them), because the comments are generally intelligent.
But at so many blogs the majority of comments are either 1) inane, 2) rah, rah, 3) churlish. They add little value to the original post. They don’t foster constructive conversation.
And I haven’t even started in about comments to newspaper stories. Troll around there for a few minutes and you’re bound to drown in a cesspool of nasty bile. It’s not the best face of humanity.
Still, as a journalist, I mine blog comments the way I mine policy papers, journals, goverment docs. There’s always buried jewels for the taking. And ocassionally, revealing debates break out in a comment thread that sometimes take on a life of their own. There’s value in that.
For anyone interested in how to become a quality commenter, this post is worth a read.