When I asked his views on the “really energized global warming movement on the web” at around minute 31:30, Mann suggested something that has been on a lot of our minds—namely, that although it may appear that online climate deniers are really fired up right now on the web (hence all the comments on everybody’s blog), he suspects some of it is astroturfing:
The anti-science industry has fully exploited the resources made available by the World Wide Web. So it isn’t coincidental. It isn’t like that’s an organic thing that has emerged from grassroots anti-climate change activists….
In the exchange, which runs about 2 minutes, I tell Mann I too have my suspicions, but at the same time, am skeptical and would want to see some solid proof before I fully buy into this idea. After all, there really is a groundswell on the political right at the moment (see the Tea Party movement) and that is surely also spilling over into the climate denial blogosphere. And that would be, I guess, “organic.” So the question is, how could we tell the two apart?
In our book Unscientific America, we devoted an entire chapter to discussing the merits and limitations of science blogging. Here’s an excerpt:
The single-biggest blogging negative, however, is the grouping together of people who already agree about everything, and who then proceed to square and cube their agreements, becoming increasingly self-assured and intolerant of other viewpoints. Thus, blogging about science has brought out, in some cases, the loud, angry, nasty, and profanity-strewing minority of the science world that denounces the rest of America for its ignorance and superstition. This ideological content, which inflames audiences, is often the most likely to draw attention outside of the science-centric blogosphere—meaning that out of the many contributions made by science blogging, the posts that non-scientists (or people who don’t follow science regularly) will probably come across are those skewering religion.
Needless to say, while I was not surprised at the response to Chris’ announcement, I am extremely dismayed. Discussion of each post is anticipated, but baseless personal attacks demonstrate the trouble with blogging.
Chris has been blogging for nine years and I began in 2006. The blogosphere is changing, growing, and evolving. In just the past few years, we’ve watched the number of science bloggers swell, while the tone of much of the commentary changed. Most disheartening, the relationships between bloggers fractured across once cohesive networks as small friendly communities chose sides in a growing culture war. (Those involved understand what I mean).
Science blogs themselves continue to afford a wonderful medium for scientists and science writers to reach broad audiences, but they also tend to result in groupthink and often deconstructive or off-topic, rather than constructive discussions. Recently, several science blogs and popular discussion forums such as RichardDawkins.net have been grappling with how to go forward. Multiple science bloggers I admire have retired their sites after frustration with the status quo. So I’ve been pondering the value of science blogging itself.
Much of the time, the blogs have become sport and spectacle. The highest traffic ensues when shots are fired between folks who like to spat angrily across their sites from behind the safety of their desktop. The funny thing is, we assuredly agree on far more than whatever we’re at odds over on any given day. So in the big picture, I often wonder if all the in-fighting does science a great disservice.
What do readers think? Do the positives outweigh the negatives?