Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The message or the messenger

The online uproar over the new Superfreakonomics book is a welcome sign. The climate change section of the book is based on lousy and lazy research. Thanks to the thorough debunking in the blogosphere, the problems with the book are receiving public attention. The authors will certainly be asked about this during their promotional radio and television interviews in the next week.

All well and good. A case where science blogging serves an important function.

Unfortunately, as happens all too often in online debates, the argument quickly shifts from the message to the messenger. For a tale of the tape, take a quick glance at the recent posts by Roger Pielke and Joe Romm. This is not to specifically impugn them, the argument like many spills over into a number of blogs.

The anti-Romm posts now seem to be about how Joe Romm got a quote from Ken Caldeira, whose research on carbon dioxide is misrepresented in Superfreakonomics [encapsulated in the mis-quote "carbon dioxide is the wrong villain"]. Important? Yes. But is it also Beside the point? Definitely.

Caldeira's written important papers on ocean acidification, a problem that would not be addressed through geo-engineering by sulphate aerosols. Pay any attention to the literature and it's abundantly obvious that the "wrong villain" quote goes against the results of his group's research. When I first learned of that Caldeira was a major reference for the chapter in Superfreakonomics, my only thought was "what?".

Is anyone else concerned that worthy online discussions on science are descending into this schoolyard stuff? Are science blogs turning into Cable TV? You don't have an argument, you attack the person.

To some degree, it is the nature of the medium. Bloggers tend to insert themselves into discussions out of some mix of genuine interest, outrage and the push for more hits. Plus, it's easy to get self-righteous and bash someone when all you see is a name in 12 pt font on a laptop screen.

1 comment:

Chris M said...

Here's a summary of some of the environmental threats to our oceans. The way things are going, there could be no fish left in the oceans in as little as 40 years.