May 20, 2008
There's been quite a bit of nastiness going on in the intertubes over the past few days. Great, long comments threads full of insults, name calling, defaming, bullying, bitch slapping, hair pulling, all the kind of stuff you can reasonably expect when people start discussing the weather.
"Hi, nice to see you. Isn't it a lovely day for this time of year?"
"Quit it with the hysterical global warming fantasy, you Stalinist hippy nazi."
See? You're better off sticking with harmless topics like politics and religion.
Graham Young got upset with the ABC because he didn't like the way Robyn Williams introduced Don Aitken on Ockham's Razor. Aitken doesn't believe in anthropogenic global warming. Young also had a go at John Quiggin, Clive Hamilton and Tim Lambert. AGW believers are apparently bullies. The article isn't as interesting as the comments thread which gets quite nasty, despite the fact that Aitken weighs in to say he wasn't bothered by Williams' intro.
Lambert chimes in and the language turns decidedly blue. I don't know what he's supposed to have done, but Lambert seems to have upset some people to an alarming degree. Daggers at three paces and so much for rational debate.
John Quiggin dusts off Godwin's Law, which says that the minute you accuse someone of being a nazi you lose the argument by default. Young called him a brownshirt, which counts. The weather seems to be the last remaining topic where the language and ideas of the culture wars survives, although anything to do with evolution vs creationism gets a fair run at On Line Opinion, which seems to have attracted more than its fair share of Christian fundamentalists for some reason.
Geoff Davies had a go at changing the subject, via Aitken's piece, from brawls over whether climate change is caused by human activity, to the unsustainability of our indulgent lifestyles. It's pretty obvious by now that spats between believers and skeptics are obfuscating the main game, but commenters don't want a bar of it. It's Bolt versus Flannery or bust regardless of how it's approached.
Clive Hamilton also has a dig at Aitken in New Matilda, in one of the longest pieces I've seen published there. Hamilton argues that Aitken ignorned the science in favour of promo pieces distributed by fossil fuel industries and their less savoury connections with the tobacco industry and conspiracy theorists. Not a good idea Don, to side with the environmental equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan.
The arguments over ABC bias, parts per million and the rigour of peer review don't do much for me, rather it's the ways a big topic can gain momentum, develop and shift distributions on the internet. What are the social functions involved here? What do people get out of it?
Compare these brawls among a few high profile figures, where expertise is guarded with complexity and specialist terminologies, and the amazing collective intelligence at the psephological blogs before the election where both sides of politics left with more than they arrived with. People who just wanted to know who was going to win came out of it understanding some pretty sophisticated stuff about stats, demographics and strategy, and they could join in and learn even more from one another. The whole became more than the sum of its parts.
If it's true that the denialist side comes down to an organised campaign from corporate interests they're doing a damn fine job of it. The whole thing, peak oil, unsustainable consumption, environmental damage and the associated costs get sidelined in favour of bickerings over science very few of us can understand. It starts as a brawl between experts, so there's no space for anything or anyone else. It's not at all constructive. It insists people take sides and locates all usefulness in obscure expertise. Bloody great waste of time.