Do Trolls Make Us Dumber?
February 3, 2014
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”― Aristotle
“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.” ― Winston Churchill
“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so sure of themselves and wiser people so full of doubt.”
― Leah Wilson
“Wise men profit more by fools than fools by wise men.”― Cato
“We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.” – Johann W. von Goethe
“Life teaches us to be less severe with ourselves and others.” – Johann W. von Goethe
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”- W. B. Yeats
As many of you know, I’ve been mulling over my policy on open discussion, and whether there should be some kind of screen or control on trolls and those who abuse the comment threads.
I’ve come to a policy that I’ll call “modified open door”. You may be aware that we haven’t seen a couple of the more obnoxious posters in a few weeks. That’s because I’ve blocked them – or at least, insofar as I understand WordPress’ tools for screening comments.
Whereas formerly I left the comment threads almost completely unsupervised, except for the very occasional trashing of comments that were threatening, or that I deemed racist, sexist, or otherwise beyond the pale. Occasionally I have edited comments that were book-length Gish gallops – if you want that kind of space get your own blog and develop your own readership.
Agnotology is the study of misinformation, and using such misinformation to gain better understanding of a topic.
The direct study of misin- formation—termed agnotology (Proctor 2008)—can potentially sharpen student critical thinking skills, raise awareness of the processes of science such as peer review, and improve understanding of the basic science. – Daniel Bedford
The bedrock impulse behind the Climate Denial Crock of the Week series was my idea that an industry had sprung up devoted to the generation of ignorance, thru the use of carefully crafted “climate crocks” – climate denial memes, simple enough that Rush Limbaugh can speak them in 15 seconds, but which often take an honest scientist hours to explain – and communication skills that are beyond most science experts.
This blog is a teaching tool, first, for myself, in that I use it to track down, spotlight, write about and discuss the various subjects that eventually make their way into the video series – but also for readers – readers that I hope will take knowledge gained here to the water cooler, the mailing list, the holiday dinner, and the cocktail party, and become themselves better communicators of the actual science behind this most important of issues.
For that reason, I find it useful when the occasional highly motivated misinforming poster crops up on these threads, as sometimes happens, and we hear new wrinkles on the disinformation, new blind alleys to track down, and new distortions of scientific papers and writings. In my experience, when I follow these threads up, I not only learn something myself, but I’m able to bring that insight to others. One good example of a classic climate denial crock is the “CO2 follows Temperature, not the other way around” crock – which I treated in the video here.
One nice feature of the ‘hands off” policy was that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time supervising nonsense and could devote myself to other things. Over the last few years, however, we’ve developed such a strong community of well informed posters, many of whom know way more than I do – that the site has developed a pretty strong immune response of its own. You know who you are.
Many of you have been writing me about this or that troll that is disrupting discussions and refractory to any kind of normal reasoning process. The worst of those are, I hope, now gone – we’ll stay alert – always open to nominations.
Some of those will stay, because as much as its a pain in the ass as the repetitive circular reasoning, bonehead misconceptions, and egotistical puffery sometimes is, I do still find that by tracking some of this stuff down, or better yet, when a motivated reader tracks them down and shares the results, I learn something, we all learn something, and we are better prepared for our work in dispelling ignorance among our circle and in our networks.
I welcome any and all comments, and hope that I’ll continue to get alerts when commenters or comment threads get out of control.
DFTT remains a good operative principle, unless one thinks that by creatively FTT, one can learn more, or demonstrate something to the wider readership. Thanks to all who have made comments during this process, and continue to make this a beneficial tool for me, and I hope, others.