A retrospective about engaging online

Philip Moriarty wrote a post about engaging online called rules of engagement: seven lessions from communicating above and below the line. Philip’s experiences are quite negative, and he has mostly stopped engaging on social media. I had said that I would try to write something about my own experiences, so this is an attempt to do so.

One problem with trying to write some kind of retrospective about my experiences engaging on social media is that I know that I’m not the same person now as I was when I started; I’ve learned a lot, and how I respond to things is also very different. I’ve slightly forgotten how I would have responded to things in the past, so may not even correctly represent my own experiences. I’ll do my best, though.

I should probably remind people that I started doing this pseudonymously. I don’t have a really good reason for having done so. I think it’s partly my own nature, and partly I was aware that it could be a contentious topic, so thought that it might be better than engaging openly. If I had known then what I know now, I might have started differently, but I didn’t, so I didn’t. It only lasted about 18 months before I was outed and I think I was quite pleased when that happened.

Something else I remember is that I was very naive when I started (I may still be naive, but not quite as naive as I once was). I really did think that trying to remain civil, and trying to explain things clearly and carefully, would make a difference. It very quickly became clear that this was not the case. In some sense I learned, first hand, the failure of the deficit model. On the other hand, my interest was more in explaining/discussing science, than convincing people to do something. So, it’s still not clear to me what I – as a scientist – can do that is different to what I started doing. I still think that the best I can do is to simply explain the science as clearly and carefully as I can, even if that doesn’t necessarily achieve anything specific.

This is probably the bit I find hardest to write. I have found some of what I’ve experienced, extremely difficult. There have been stages where I have worried about the impact this was having on my general health and well-being. I have, however, partly learned to deal with this and partly I now know my limits. I am less bothered by the vitriol, and I simply post less and comment less. I also know when to simply take a break and recharge. The down side, though, is that I think I am far less passionate about this than I once was.

I also think that I’ve learned to recognise when something is worthwhile, and when it is not. Similarly, I think I know how to write things that will either provoke a response, or – sometimes – not. If I don’t feel like having to deal with predictable responses, I think I know how to write things in a way that minimises the likelihood of getting those responses. What worries me a little, though, is that I’m essentially applying some form of self-censorship. In some sense this can be good, because it might indicate that one has learned how to phrase things in ways that are regarded as reasonable. On the other hand, it probably also means a reluctance to address potentially contentious topics. I don’t have a sense of whether or not I’ve achieved the right balance, and this is something I do ponder from time to time.

Some positives. I’ve learned a lot. This can be challenging, and I do quite enjoy challenges. It’s also an important topic and I would like to think that I’ve made some kind of contribution, even if it’s not a very large one. I’ve encountered some people who I respect and like and from whom I’ve learned a lot. Sadly, I’ve also encountered some who I want little, if anything, more to do with. There are some who seem incapable of engaging in a reasonable manner, and it is – in my view – worth identifying these people as soon as you can and avoiding them if at all possible. These people are not all anonymous trolls, which did surprise me initially, but doesn’t anymore.

Okay, this is getting rather long, so I will try to wrap up. Do I have any general observations and advice for those who might be considering engaging on social media? It’s challenging, but can be very interesting and rewarding. However, it’s important to learn your limits and not to do too much; there are aspects that can be very frustrating and unpleasant. Given that I think I’ve reached a point where I now know my own limits and what I think I can do, I’m also trying to be supportive of others who are engaging online. I think it would be good if more were engaging on social media and I think it’s important for those who are more established to try and help those who are starting out. I’m also just trying to be nicer, even with those who I mostly disagree with; if the next thing I want to say isn’t very pleasant, then I simply try not to respond. This is partly because I do think it would be good if the dialogue were better and the only person you can actually influence is yourself, but is also partly because I’ve learned how much I dislike engaging in vitriolic discussions.

Anyway, those are some reflections about my own engagement on social media. This is, of course, simply one person’s experiences, so may not be the same for others, and others may have very different ideas and views. I also certainly don’t not claim that my own engagement is some exemplar of how it such be done, but maybe some will find these reflections useful.

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78 Responses to A retrospective about engaging online

  1. Brigitte says:

    You have had one impact at least – there is now an ‘And-Then-There’s-Physics-style’. Not everybody can achieve that. HT Victor Venema: http://variable-variability.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/geo-intervention.html?spref=tw

  2. Brigitte,
    I saw that. Not quite sure how my style is defined, though 🙂

  3. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Something else I remember is that I was very naive when I started (I may still be naive, but not quite as naive as I once was). I really did think that trying to remain civil, and trying to explain things clearly and carefully, would make a difference. It very quickly became clear that this was not the case.

    Hmmm. I think that remaining civil, and trying to explain things clearly and carefully most definitely does make a difference. I think the questions might be what difference, and with whom.?

    On the other hand, my interest was more in explaining/discussing science, than convincing people to do something. So, it’s still not clear to me what I – as a scientist – can do that is different to what I started doing. I still think that the best I can do is to simply explain the science as clearly and carefully as I can, even if that doesn’t necessarily achieve anything specific.

    Again – I think it achieves some specific things…it educates some people, it gets some people to engage more deeply to examine their own views (even if that isn’t always immediately apparent), and it increases your own knowledge. I’m not saying those are accomplishments that merit the investment of time and energy (psychic and otherwise).

    This is probably the bit I find hardest to write. I have found some of what I’ve experienced, extremely difficult. There have been stages where I have worried about the impact this was having on my general health and well-being.

    I would guess that you aren’t alone in that. In fact, I would guess that pretty much everyone who engages (somewhat) obsessively in these discussions has had similar experiences. Certainly, there are a whole lot of people expending a great deal of energy, and I would argue that for pretty much everyone doing so, there could be more productive ways to spend that energy. That doesn’t mean that it’s completely useless – but if everyone were to limit their metrics for evaluating these experiences to the amount of minds they have changed (where people explicitly acknowledge change), this is all a remarkably colossal poor use of time and energy.

    I also think that I’ve learned to recognise when something is worthwhile, and when it is not. Similarly, I think I know how to write things that will either provoke a response, or – sometimes – not. If I don’t feel like having to deal with predictable responses, I think I know how to write things in a way that minimises the likelihood of getting those responses.

    Another specific outcome, I would say.

    What worries me a little, though, is that I’m essentially applying some form of self-censorship. In some sense this can be good, because it might indicate that one has learned how to phrase things in ways that are regarded as reasonable. On the other hand, it probably also means a reluctance to address potentially contentious topics. I don’t have a sense of whether or not I’ve achieved the right balance, and this is something I do ponder from time to time.

    I think this is mostly a false choice, and I think that the frame of “self-censorship” is unnecessarily pejorative. Choosing to utilize strategies that achieve more desired results isn’t really “self-censorship,” IMO. And again, it is ALWAYS important to consider what audience your using to measure outcomes.

    … if the next thing I want to say isn’t very pleasant, then I simply try not to respond.

    Ah. The difficulty of accepting that someone is wrong on the Internet!

  4. @ATTP,

    Nice retrospective.

    I’ve engaged online in many forums for quite a while, not all regarding climate and weather. I began and continue partly because it is entertaining (for me), having been a debater when I was younger, but mostly because I learn a lot, not only directly from blogs like ATTP and Rabett Run, and Open Mind or Variable Variability, robertscribbler, and RealClimate, and Isaac Held, but also because, when I reply, I often need to research a subject, at least to remind myself of things I may have once known and forgotten, or to understand details of some phenomenon or mechanism.

    This has broadened my outlook, and, over time, actually mellowed me. 15 years ago I believe I was much more vitriolic on things (not climate, for I didn’t engage much on that then). I’ve been able to learn a bit about energy systems and their economics and engineering, and that moved me to join, as an IEEE member, the IEEE Power and Energy Society. There’s also quite a bit of interesting Statistics related to these, notably, very short term forecasting of wind flows on turbines, and Kalman filter-smoother models for battery power management.

    I get very few comments at my own blog, probably because it simply isn’t that popular, possibly because it is an amalgam of policy and Statistics and climate things, as well as energy. My most popular post ever was a dissection of an American Petroleum Institute report claiming two million jobs would be created by expansion of natural gas in the United States.

    Overall, I’d also note that among the haunts (or is “pubs” a better descriptive noun?) cited about, there is a nice collegiality among commenters, not only among those I agree with, but some I disagree with. After all, once any matter gets detailed, there’s more and more cross-section which offers opportunities for disagreement. People have different knowledge sets and experiences which they bring, and it is impossible to know everything about any subject.

    I think this is important, because it is far more heartening and satisfying to discuss these kinds of things in these fora than almost anywhere else. For example, I’m giving a lyceum talk on 24the September regarding food supply chains, food resiliency, and possible impacts of future climate disruption upon them. Early reviews of the draft have urged me to take out charts and (contour) graphs showing, for example, distances typical products travel before delivery to a home table as a function of spatial locale. Sure, I can summarize that in bullets but why should anyone believe me? Here that kind of referencing would, I hope, simply be expected, as it should be. People, even environmental activists, dislike complexity, and I suspect I’m going to have a bit of a rough patch in my presentation when I insist that in some instances and purely from an emissions standpoint eating non-organic local chicken or fish is preferable to organic veggies sourced from far away. The same happens when one discusses capital requirements for rolling out renewable energy, which are generally (much) larger.

    Anyway, it’s warm and fun in these halls, and I thank you, @ATTP, and everyone else for keeping this kind of thing going. I have to believe this does a lot of good, but perhaps not as much good as we collectively wish it would.

  5. Phil says:

    Not quite sure how my style is defined, though

    ATTP, you frequently end your posts with a paragraph which essentially says

    “The above post is a summary of my understanding based on the evidence and arguments I’ve seen. Of course it’s possible I’m wrong and someone has some other evidence or argument which invalidates my understanding. If so please post it in the comments”

    This is, I think, what Victor means. Of course, such a closing paragraph could be appended to any scientific piece – be it a peer-reviewed paper, textbook, blog post or even a conversation. Generally it is implicit; scientists accept their understanding may be challenged by colleagues, and it demonstrates a willingness to at least consider ones own position in the light of new evidence.

    One of the problems in engaging in Climate science discussions BTL, is that people tend to “push” ideas that are not backed by evidence (e.g. “Its the Sun”) or for which the arguments are not sound (e.g. trying to apply thermodynamics to non-energetically isolated system). When you see these “Zombie” myths regurgitated time and time again, it cannot help but make you wonder about the integrity of those people who do push them.

  6. Willard says:

    > Not quite sure how my style is defined, though

    You learned nothing, it seems.

    Please, beware your wishes.

  7. David says:

    Explaining ‘the science’ to people who you know from the outset are determined to reject ‘the science’ anyway, no matter what, is bound to be problematic.

    I think you have come to realise, as I have, that debating the science of climate change with people who have already decided that it’s not a problem is as pointless as debating evolution with a young earth creationist.

    It’s a bit like a bar-room brawl. You go in and swing your fists around but you rarely connect with anyone and even if you do you’ve got no idea afterwards whether you had any impact on them anyway. (Not that I regularly engage in bar-room brawls; just sometimes.)

    The time is coming fast when history will leave these people behind anyway.

  8. David,

    It’s a bit like a bar-room brawl. You go in and swing your fists around but you rarely connect with anyone and even if you do you’ve got no idea afterwards whether you had any impact on them anyway. (Not that I regularly engage in bar-room brawls; just sometimes.)

    There’s always a chance that some observer might learn something, even if the person you’re debating with is unlikely to.

    The time is coming fast when history will leave these people behind anyway.

    Yes, I think this is probably right. I think I’ve already seen a bit of a shift; outright denial does seem rare, although it does still rear its head now and again.

  9. I am deeply appreciative of your style. It’s ATTP style. It is way beyond simple civility. Cheers, buddy.

  10. In the physics realm, I think there are two ways of engaging online. One is to engage in a casual fashion, where there is no real focus on the math or on a model. 99% of online discussion is this mode of engagement.

    The other is to engage in a focused way where everyone contributes to solving some sort of challenging physics problem over a long thread. That’s the 1% . For pure math discussions, this fraction is higher. For evidence of this, see the various recent discussions centered around Norbert Blum’s attempt at solving P=NP millennium challenge problem.

    Of course there are a couple of other categories. One is involving helping students solve their physics homework. Any discussion of cutting-edge research is discouraged here (see PhysicsForum). And then there are the “science” sites for crackpots (see WUWT, Talkshop, etc). These people think they are serious but are on most accounts delusional or have political agendas.

    You can guess which one I am interested in. Yup, the rare 1% of sites that actually encourage collaborative research. I know a handful of these forums, but if you know of any others, let me know.

  11. Willard says:

  12. Mal Adapted says:

    I’m among those who hope you’ll keep blogging. I’ve learned a great deal by engaging on climate blogs, yours especially. I also find it hard not to challenge transparently motivated falsehood. I support the knowledge deficit model, with the awareness that the relentless torrent of disinformation issuing from the Koch club leaves little room for correct knowledge. I’m skeptical (heh) that so much money would be invested in sophisticated bespoke AGW-denial if it didn’t yield positive ROI. At a minimum, I think that when AGW-denier memes are rebunked it’s important to re-debunk them, so they don’t displace hard-won knowledge gains.

  13. Susan Anderson says:

    I have a very different background and started a long time ago. One thing I did learn, though, was to ignore the in-your-face respondents and write for third parties one may never see or hear from. This is less important in a blog, where your audience is specific to you, but you’d be surprised at the impact you have. Your unflagging courtesy and no-nonsense intelligence are a tonic in a world bent on setting people against each other.

    That annoying people feel free to show up here and argue with you may be stressful, but it’s a feature, not a bug. Your refusal to lower yourself in your responses is an example to us all. I think I could even say that it has made me more patient/tolerant, and less ready to make assumptions about people’s motivations.

    There are other reasons for that, and we here in the US are in a slightly different world of trouble. My friends on the more liberal/progressive “side” are at each others throats, and that’s very difficult. It’s not all about Assange/Putin, but people are unaware they’re being played.

    I do feel that hating on people only increases the poison in our public discourse and solves nothing. in religion, there’s a saying: “hate the sin, not the sinner.”

  14. Harry Twinotter says:

    In my case I usually read the article to read the comments. If there were no comments, then I am less likely to read the article. So for me the comments and feedback is part of the product I am interested in.

    Moderation just has to be done to keep the quality of the comments high. Let’s face it the few trolls around have a lot of power (and the motivation) when it comes to the comment sections of articles. Does anyone get a 3rd party (or even a paid service) to moderate the comments on their articles? I suspect some do.

    PS I follow some of the anti-SJWs that Phillip Moriarty refers to. My motivations are entertainment, I do not know what motivates others. I agree with Phillip Moriarty than the anti-SJWs use EXACTLY the same tactics some of the SJWs use to maintain their own fanbase. It is all a little entertainment cottage-industry.

  15. Joshua,

    I think this is mostly a false choice, and I think that the frame of “self-censorship” is unnecessarily pejorative. Choosing to utilize strategies that achieve more desired results isn’t really “self-censorship,” IMO. And again, it is ALWAYS important to consider what audience your using to measure outcomes.

    Well, what I was getting at is that there are probably things that I believe to be true (or, at least, defensible) that I choose not to say because of the response it might get. This isn’t necessarily wrong and – as you say – may well simply be an indication of knowing the audience, but I do still feel that there is an element of avoiding things that might be worth addressing.

  16. dikranmarsupial says:

    Thanks ATTP, much of that resonates very strongly with my experience.

    “I still think that the best I can do is to simply explain the science as clearly and carefully as I can, even if that doesn’t necessarily achieve anything specific.”

    I fully agree with that, my experience (e.g. writing a peer-reviewed comment in response to the residence time argument of Essenhigh in the hopes that it might help skeptics less likely to waste everybodys time with it) it won’t be accepted by the person you are responding to, but it leaves a record that ther were told why they were wrong and it may be useful to lurkers who haven’t formed a position yet.

    IMHO the real problem is that there are too many on both “sides” that just want to have a debate (i.e. <a href="https://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdfwin an argument without unduly caring whether what they say is true or not" and give a cryptic supercilious response when they don’t have a good enough answer), which is the antithesis of a scientific approach. Science isn’t decided by debate, and for very good reasons.

    “I think I know how to write things in a way that minimises the likelihood of getting those responses. What worries me a little, though, is that I’m essentially applying some form of self-censorship.”

    A degree of self-censorship is a good thing, with the right to free speech comes the responsibility for what you say (and the reasonable response it is likely to provoke), so I think your approach is spot-on. Fight on the battlefield of your choosing (in this case the science) and don’t let your “opponent” draw you away onto a rhetorical debate about motivations and insults (none of which have any effect on the physics of climate).

    ” I really did think that trying to remain civil, and trying to explain things clearly and carefully, would make a difference. “

    It can and it does – keep up the good (excellent) work, provided the cost is not too high!

  17. angech says:

    “What worries me a little, though, is that I’m essentially applying some form of self-censorship”

    Something that we all do all the time in social settings, the only difference being that in your own house you set the rules, when you visit elsewhere you have to keep in mind the natives.
    Ouch.
    should follow your example.

    We have David Karoly coming to give a talk in 2 months to our science community group. His talk, his turf, his sort of audience so I will be very restrained.

    I have seen other blog sites, bloggers burn up or disappear with the pressure. Probably a good idea to have a holiday or hide the i pad for 2 weeks every 6 months. And pay more attention to the other half or family.

    A couple of comments on your comments. Blog wise you hit a pretty good median for a partisan blog, reasonable moderation and some tolerance of dissenting views. Generally on a par with Judith and The blackboard in the last year.
    Commenters here are a lot more civil than in earlier years which may reflect your evolving style and influence.Some sites are very toxic on both sides to any variation from the set views.
    It is a big step to go public, thank you for doing so, I could not /do not want to do it.

    The science is fairly matter of fact. The interpretations of course vary. What you attempt in asking the non science questions is the good bit, even if you do not always like the answers. Sometimes the big picture, other times the small pictures that do get missed.

  18. verytallguy says:

    One of the key things to remember is that the internet is a venue where green ink obsessives get a platform whereas in traditional media their missives would be quietly put away into the round filing cabinet in the corner.

    In other words, I agree with your sentiments on avoiding vitriolic discussions, and encourage you to keep up moderation. Civil discourse is impossible without it.

  19. “Brigitte,
    I saw that. Not quite sure how my style is defined, though”

    Easy to define a certain style. Just look for this phrase or variations of it: “Okay, this is getting rather long”.
    If you don’t believe me, Google the phrase and you will see. My advice is straight from Elements of Style, Rule #12

    BTW, the writer is many times the last person that will pick up idioms, so don’t blame me.

  20. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    but I do still feel that there is an element of avoiding things that might be worth addressing.

    I get what you’re saying…but I guess I think that there are three basic categories of audience in the climate wars arena.

    1. Those who are a priori receptive to what you have to say.
    2. Those who are a priori unreceptive to what you have to say.
    3. Those who might go either way depending on how you phrase what you say.

    In the real world, there probably isn’t an actual audience that you would reach by introducing those elements you are avoiding. So I guess I think it doesn’t make sense to try to assess “worth” by thinking of that non-existent audience. And I don’t think that recognizing that such and audience doesn’t exist, and adjusting accordingly, really fits the notion of “self-censorship” because I think that “self-censorship” has a negative connotation. I don’t see what’s negative about acting in accordance with reality. It seems to me that “self-censorship” implies a stifling of speech where the expression of that speech might have some real world benefit. What is the real world good that would be achieved if you could express those things that you’re stifling? Is there some message to that third group that you think they would benefit from, but that isn’t being delivered?

    Part of my reaction, I’m sure, is because of the recent focus of self-censhorship from many rightwingers, where I think some are cynically exploiting the notion of “self-censorship” to fight culture wars.

  21. Joshua says:

    I guess that the argument goes that you run the danger, if you keep retreating from lines of confrontation, of facilitating a negative shift in the Overton Window. But again, that argument needs to be viewed against what would realistically be likely to happen if you transgress that line between expression and “self-censorship.” I dunno that there’s a “correct” answer there,. Counterfactuals are tough. But I would suggest that you should trust your instincts based on what you’ve learned from experience.

  22. Willard says:

    ­> Counterfactuals are tough.

    They are also quite easy. Withness Freedom Fighters convincing themselves that Orwell would have hated Antifa:

    Witness also this other bunch of Freedom Fighters who argue that DACA is unconstitutional because, the Constitution says so:

    And speaking of self-censorship, one of them decided to put me into his terrorists’ list. I suppose that critical thinking can be seen as a form of terrorism of the mind.

  23. Joshua says:

    Interesting that in the article on self-censorship, Wikipedia references German scientists under the Third Reich withholding findings that would run counter to commonly held beliefs regarding the existence of racial differences, whereas now people are arguing that scientists are self-censoring by withholding evidence that would run counter to commonly held beliefs regarding racial similarities.

  24. @Joshua,

    Interesting that in the article on self-censorship, Wikipedia references German scientists under the Third Reich withholding findings that would run counter to commonly held beliefs regarding the existence of racial differences

    This does not need to be limited to such extreme social contexts. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, according to MIT’s Professor Sheila Widnall, found that responsibility for both that Shuttle tragedy and that of Challenger was due in part to engineers felling that organizational failures and social communication failures were not part of their responsibility and that, at least in the case of Columbia, they avoided confrontation with their superiors and supervisors who, for the most part, were not engineers.
    My older son, Dave, and I recently visited the Titanic exhibit in Belfast, N.I. They seem to be very proud of building the three White Star Lines behemoths. No doubt they were unmatched in size and engineering in their day. But there was no caution evidenced in taking control of these ships or in their initial operation. One would think lack of familiarity with such a large vessel like Titanic would suggest a long series of sea trials. This proved contributory to the fatal accident because no one really understood the response lag the ship had when commanded to turn, and had that been appreciated, another course (ramming the iceberg) might have been chosen, even if that would not have been without fatalities. There also seemed to be a deference up the engineering and ship operations chain to higher authority — not at all unusual for the time — including a deference on the part of engineering for the ships’ owners. And perhaps the owners were nervous using J. P. Morgan’s loans and money. Little or no testing was done on the metallurgical character of the rivets used for ship plating, and then there was all that engineering-be-damned desire to create luxurious accommodations, big rooms, and the like, as well as catering to the rich and famous. (Other ships which prudently chose to “full stop” in ice berg floes tried to telegraph Titanic with the caution and were told by Titanic‘s wire room to get off the channel because they were busy sending telegrams to recipients in Newfoundland.)
    Self-censorship can be a professional and ethical crime. At least Titanic‘s designer went down with the ship. The wealthy White Star executive who oversaw the project did not, however.

  25. @Willard,
    >>Counterfactuals are tough.
    >They are also quite easy.

    I respectfully think not:
    * McconnachIe, et al, “Using counterfactuals to evaluate the cost- effectiveness of
    controlling biological invasions”, Ecological Applications, 2016.
    * G. King, L. Zheng, “The dangers of extreme counterfactuals”, Political Analysis, Political Analysis (2006) 14:131–159
    * A. P. Dawid,“Causal Inference without Counterfactuals”, Journal of the American Statistical
    Association, 2000, 95:450, 407-424. This received many comments, including:
    * G. Casella, S. P. Schwatz,
    * J. Pearl,
    * D. R. Rubin, and a rejoinder:
    * A. P. Dawid (2000) Rejoinder, JASM, 95:450, 444-448, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01621459.2000.10474218
    * A. Hannart, J. Pearl, F. E. L. Otto, P. Naveau, M. Ghi, “Causal counterfactual theory for the attribution of weather and climate-related events”, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00034.1
    * K. H. Brodersen, et al, “Inferring causal impact using Bayesian structural time series models”, Annals of Applied Statistics, 9(1), 2015, 247-274, https://research.google.com/pubs/pub41854.html, and https://google.github.io/CausalImpact/CausalImpact.html

  26. DM says: “IMHO the real problem is that there are too many on both “sides” that just want to have a debate … without unduly caring whether what they say is true or not”
    mike says: No doubt there are too many who just want to have a debate without caring about the truth. One of those folks is too many. I encourage you to rethink this and consider that the motivation of the folks arguing on behalf of aggressive action on climate change. I think that the vast majority of those folks are frustrated by the debate and just want to see changes in global human behavior that would slow the sixth extinction. Those folks (count me in that group) are really suffering as they watch the fossil fuel industry (and others with a strong economic stake in the status quo) do everything they can to prevent or slow our transition from a wildly destructive planetary economic model.

    Really, this global warming thing is so clear, how and why would I engage in a debate with a person or agency that chooses to deny it is happening and that it is disastrous? I think this position can be shortened up to “don’t feed the trolls.”

    With folks who do not have the background and/or intellectual wattage to process obvious data, we just have to wait for those folks to have a really bad global warming day (What do you think, Houston? Do we have a problem?) and then treat them as gently as we can, but encourage them to review other public policy positions that they may have guessed wrong about. I am encouraged that our species has produced so many really smart and kind individuals, but when I think about overall species wisdom and acuity, I can get pretty discouraged.

  27. Like your “this is getting a little long” meme, you might consider adding a “ok, everyone take a deep breath, I want to mention something that may set folks off, so deep breath, keep it civil, read more, think more, post slowly please” that seems it might fit with your style. I don’t know if it would work, but deep breaths are almost always a good idea.

  28. Willard says:

    Most self-sealing arguments rest on counterfactuals, Hyper. That includes millenia of magical thinking. Unless you argue that trivial arguments are tough to make, I think you need to concede my point.

    Thinking properly with counterfactuals is another matter.

  29. @Willard,

    Fabricated arguments, that is, with no evidentiary support, are simply falsehoods, not counterfactuals. Applying “counterfactual” to those cases is a gross abuse of the term, in my opinion.

  30. Joshua,

    Part of my reaction, I’m sure, is because of the recent focus of self-censhorship from many rightwingers, where I think some are cynically exploiting the notion of “self-censorship” to fight culture wars.

    Ahh, I see. To be clear, even though there might be some pressure, I’m simply blaming myself. I could always choose to address these topics, if I really wanted to; noone is actually stopping me from doing so, other than myself.

  31. Willard says:

    Here, Hyper:

    The origin of counterfactual thinking has philosophical roots and can be traced back to early philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato who pondered the epistemological status of subjunctive suppositions and their nonexistent but feasible outcomes. In the seventeenth century, the German philosopher, Leibniz, argued that there could be an infinite number of alternate worlds, so long as they were not in conflict with laws of logic. The well known philosopher Nicholas Rescher (as well as others) has written about the interrelationship between counterfactual reasoning and modal logic. The relationship between counterfactual reasoning based upon modal logic may also be exploited in literature or Victorian Studies, painting and poetry. Ruth M.J. Byrne in The Rational Imagination: How People Create Alternatives to Reality (2005) proposed that the mental representations and cognitive processes that underlie the imagination of alternatives to reality are similar to those that underlie rational thought, including reasoning from counterfactual conditionals.

    More recently, counterfactual thinking has gained interest from a psychological perspective. Cognitive scientists have examined the mental representations and cognitive processes that underlie the creation of counterfactuals. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1982) pioneered the study of counterfactual thought, showing that people tend to think ‘if only’ more often about exceptional events than about normal events. Many related tendencies have since been examined, e.g., whether the event is an action or inaction, whether it is controllable, its place in the temporal order of events, or its causal relation to other events. Social psychologists have studied cognitive functioning and counterfactuals in a larger, social context.

    Early research on counterfactual thinking took the perspective that these kinds of thoughts were indicative of poor coping skills, psychological error or bias, and generally dysfunctional in nature.As research developed, a new wave of insight beginning in the 1990s began taking a functional perspective, believing that counterfactual thinking served as a largely beneficial behavioral regulator. Although negative affect and biases arise, the overall benefit is positive for human behavior.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_thinking

  32. @smallbluemike,

    After trying for quite some time to move people into action on mitigating climate disruption, or even pushing for adaptation to present risks, even when the people accept the reality of both disruption and risks, and finding the going incredibly hard</em., I can only imagine what it must take with the audiences of people like Professor Katharine Hayhoe to get them to do something.

    Thus, and unfortunately, I am increasingly of the opinion that what it’s going to take is having Nature slap us collectively hard across the head several times (and it will and it will hurt, economically and everyone), pretty much what Prof Daniel Kahneman opined on the matter. And I think, therefore, that free air capture of CO2 as Wally Broecker, Klaus Lackner, and David Keith are pursuing is inevitable, even if outrageously expensive. In fact, my thinking on continuing to burn fossil fuels is that it is really stupid because we’re (collectively) going to have to pay way more than any benefit it has to get the CO2 back out of the atmosphere.

  33. @Willard,

    Then I’m wrong. When I hear “counterfactual” I think of it in terms of a narrow technical meaning, as illustrated by the references. The simplest and clearest example is what the response of an audience or market it without an advertising intervention, even if it such a control does not actually exist. This has been used with success by many.

    That there is a more general notion, which is essentially pejorative, is understandable, but annoying. In a technique discussion the distinction, I think, should be made clear.

  34. Willard says:

    Will try my best, Hyper, as I’m used to the neutral terminology:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_conditional

  35. Joshua says:

    Oops. Weird. Didn’t clear out the clipboard, apparently. Much appreciated if you could just delete that most recent comment of mine.

    The except should have been….

    Willard –

    They are also quite easy.

    No doubt. What I meant is that it’s tough to construct counterfactuals that are comprehensive enough to be worth taking seriously. It takes a lot of work. Most people aren’t sufficiently serious, IMO, to put in the work.

  36. Willard says:

    > Most people aren’t sufficiently serious, IMO, to put in the work.

    Agreed. MT’s on the case since this morning:

  37. Steven Mosher says:

    interesting

  38. Philip Moriarty says:

    Thanks for this great post, ATTP (and for the link to the LSE Impact blog post.) Lots to digest, and much of it strikes a deeply resonant chord with me, including:

    … trying to explain things clearly and carefully, would make a difference. It very quickly became clear that this was not the case. In some sense I learned, first hand, the failure of the deficit model.

    Nowhere is the failure of the deficit model more striking than in almost any type of online debate/exchange! It’s an exceptionally naive model that, rather paradoxically, fails to take account of the subtle, and none-too-subtle, sociology and psychology that underpin so many attempts to communicate about science. I have this blog post pinned to my bookmarks bar: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/ I return it every time I waver and think it might be a good idea to start pointing out the deficiencies in a particular argument in a comments section.

    The “education, education, education” mantra of the academic simply doesn’t work in so many cases. The recent Google manifesto/James Damore furore re. gender differences in STEM is a great example. It doesn’t matter what the science says (or doesn’t say); it doesn’t matter what evidence there might be (or not) one way or the other; and it doesn’t matter how carefully the evidence is presented. Ideology will trump the science almost every time. (There’s a PhD thesis or two to be written on Damore and his new-found fame as poster boy for certain rather aggrieved cliques online.)

    I have found some of what I’ve experienced, extremely difficult. There have been stages where I have worried about the impact this was having on my general health and well-being. I have, however, partly learned to deal with this and partly I now know my limits. I am less bothered by the vitriol, and I simply post less and comment less. I also know when to simply take a break and recharge. The down side, though, is that I think I am far less passionate about this than I once was.

    This resonates with an exceptionally high Q-factor. As I’ve mentioned to you previously, when one finds oneself arguing with Louise Mensch on Twitter at 01:30 am, with “LOLOLOLOL!!!” (or tweenage memes) delivered as responses, it’s time to step back from the keyboard and reappraise what the heck one’s priorities in life might be. Moreover, when online abuse tips over into threats then it becomes an even more pressing issue to address. (I have little time for the “sticks and stones” argument that’s trotted out with tedious regularity by so many online. Given a choice between the physical impact of a smack in the gob and the psychological impact of a threat to those around me, I know which I’d prefer. By many orders of magnitude.)

    I empathise entirely with your comment about general health and well-being. It’s a question of priorities, as you say.

    I think it would be good if more were engaging on social media and I think it’s important for those who are more established to try and help those who are starting out.

    Here’s where I’m not entirely in agreement. Is more social media activity really a good thing? If I’d known what I know now, I’d never have gotten involved to the extent I did. The key problem is that university management and funding bodies (including HEFCE and RCUK) very often see only the upsides of social media — they encourage early career researchers, in particular, to get their “research” out there and market themselves as much as possible. Depending on the research area, this can be problematic advice at best. For example, let’s just say that sociology is not exactly the most beloved field of research in certain corners of the internet. (And don’t even think of mentioning gender studies. Those two little words are enough to invoke a sustained howl of online rage, as a thousand spittle-specked keyboards are hammered in unison…).

    Hopefully, some of EPSRC’s exceptional £5M investment in the “Inclusion Matters” programme (which I discuss over at Peter Coles’ In The Dark blog — https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/conservatism-is-the-new-punk-rock-discuss/ ) will focus on examining the cultures underpinning so much of this online toxicity, rather than once again adopting a deficit model to treat the problem. Education is not enough.

  39. Steven Mosher says:

    ‘The “education, education, education” mantra of the academic simply doesn’t work in so many cases. The recent Google manifesto/James Damore furore re. gender differences in STEM is a great example. It doesn’t matter what the science says (or doesn’t say); it doesn’t matter what evidence there might be (or not) one way or the other; and it doesn’t matter how carefully the evidence is presented. Ideology will trump the science almost every time. (There’s a PhD thesis or two to be written on Damore and his new-found fame as poster boy for certain rather aggrieved cliques online.)”

    The video above addresses this particular episode.

  40. Philip Moriarty says:

    @Steven Mosher

    “The video above addresses this particular episode.”

    Indeed. From a certain perspective. Always good to keep an open mind and be open to evidence one way or the other. Peterson is intriguing — a conservative Christian with deeply postmodern views about the nature of truth, who nonetheless rails against postmodernism (and, of course, all the other evils of the “cultural Marxist SJW” academics who are responsible for the downfall of civilisation as know it…). I also discuss Peterson in that blog post over at “In The Dark”: https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/conservatism-is-the-new-punk-rock-discuss/

    I’d be interested to hear your views on Peterson. I find the sociology of his YouTube/Patreon following amazing. This comprises a significant number of avowed “rational skeptics” who are nonetheless more than willing to accept Peterson’s arguments on the value of religious truth. The lengthy podcast he did with Sam Harris is well worth a listen.

  41. Philip,
    Thanks for the comment.

    Here’s where I’m not entirely in agreement. Is more social media activity really a good thing? If I’d known what I know now, I’d never have gotten involved to the extent I did.

    Yes, I was probably too glib here. I think social media is here to stay, for the moment at least and I think that probably means that academics will need to find some way to engage. However, it’s clearly not for all, can clearly do more harm than good, and those that do engage should do so with their eyes open (which is partly what motivated this post, and – I think – yours). What I would dislike is for us to evolve to a scenario in which the only academics who engage are those who have thick skins, or those who particularly like the brutal encounters. It would be nice to think that there must be ways for others to engage, but it is probably a difficult problem to solve.

    The key problem is that university management and funding bodies (including HEFCE and RCUK) very often see only the upsides of social media — they encourage early career researchers, in particular, to get their “research” out there and market themselves as much as possible.

    Indeed, and I think this does illustrate a lack of understanding of the pitfalls of engaging on social media. What I find particularly frustrating are those who’ve neve really engaged, or haven’t done so in areas that are contentious, thinking that they can tell people how to do so. I guess this is just an extension of deficit model thinking, but it would certainly help if those who promoted the use of social media, or thought they were in a position to advice how to do so, gave some thought to all the downsides, as well as the potential positives. As you suggest, there may well be occasions where the downsides outweigh the upsides.

  42. Steven Mosher says:

    “Peterson is intriguing — a conservative Christian with deeply postmodern views about the nature of truth, who nonetheless rails against postmodernism (and, of course, all the other evils of the “cultural Marxist SJW” academics who are responsible for the downfall of civilisation as know it…).”

    It was my first exposure to him.

    i will have to watch more of him. A lot of what he said resonated, but I’m an ex- christian and more of a pragmatist, ex deconstructionist

    on fitness and truth?

    he did grate on me a bit when he went off on marxists. That said, the acedemia I left in the 80s was already way too left for me.
    I’m also not too keen on the Jungian stuff, spent too many years battling them in literature classes. There is however something to it.

  43. Steven Mosher says:

    “This comprises a significant number of avowed “rational skeptics” who are nonetheless more than willing to accept Peterson’s arguments on the value of religious truth. The lengthy podcast he did with Sam Harris is well worth a listen.”

    Ah without listening to him ( and from bits and pieces of the Rogan piece) I can tell where he would go with it.

    I once had a friend and he told me that his god was a door knob
    I asked him if that worked for him
    he said yes
    he was happy and productive
    he never tried to encourage me to become a knobologist
    no one elected me to correct him.
    I was going to suggest he read william james on the will to believe,
    but he didnt need a defense. what he knew worked. it was true enough.

  44. Joshua says:

    Re: Peterson in that video.

    The Nazis marched in Charlottesville because left wing campus snowflakes.

    Remarkable.

  45. Mal Adapted says:

    mtobis, linked by Willard:

    If it isn’t OK for Inhofe to use a snowball to refute climate change consensus, why is it OK to use a single hurricane to prove it?

    It’s not, but claims that Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented rainfall was unrelated to AGW are easily countered by contemporaneous sea surface and air column temperatures.

  46. Steven Mosher says:

    One can always rely on Joshua for comprehensive, fair and well reasoned comments.
    not our Joshua
    a different guy named Joshua

  47. Willard says:

    Here’s my take on Peterson and Freedom Fighters in general, Philip:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2017/05/13/freedom-fighters/

    The phenomenon is intriguing, their positions have little merit.

    Please don’t start me on Sam Harris.

  48. Joshua says:

    Both Peterson and Weinstein make poor arguments in that video. It isn’t that their points are complete non-starters, or uninteresting, but they go reductio ad absurdum at the drop of a hat, their analysis of evolution and what is biological versus environmental are often broadly overdrawn, and they constantly employ tribalism to complain about the problem of tribalism.

    The best part is where Peterson complains that as hard as he tries, he just can’t figure out how to not fall into tribal battle lines when he goes on rants about SJW’s.

    I loved that part.

  49. Steven Mosher says:

    Where is the other Joshua who respects the opinions of experts?

    Seems to me Joshua that when it comes to climate science you seem to expploy this elaborate mechanism and eventually in the end accept the considered judgment of climate scientists.

    But when it comes to a professor of biology, well, that’s another matter.

    And yes, I loved the way peterson struggled with the tribal identity issue.

    One day I expect to see such honesty from you. one day.

  50. Steven Mosher says:

    ‘Please don’t start me on Sam Harris.”

    dont start any of us on Harris.

  51. Joshua says:

    Steven –

    Why is it always about me with you?

    I respect the arguments of experts when they are well made, even if I disagree with them, be it climate science or biology.

    Here’s just one example of many from the video. Peterson says that 5% of two year old boys are hyperagressive because of “biological programming.” htf does he know that? How does he eliminate environmental influence?

    If he stated appropriate caveats, that would be fine.

    The video is chock full of just-so reverse engineered stories about evolution. And they are blind to their own tribalism as they complain about tribalism. How about where Weinstein argues he knows that people think that porcupines throw their quills because thinking that serves an evolutionary purpose? It’s like a bad joke. Rogan even calls him out on it (indirectly) Actually, Rogan wasn’t that bad. But notice the overall near complete lack of skepticism about any of their simplistic reductionist completely confident arguments on vastly complex topics. Watching tribal group think is like watching sausage getting made. It’s ugly.

  52. Steven Mosher says:

    “Here’s just one example of many from the video. Peterson says that 5% of two year old boys are hyperagressive because of “biological programming.” htf does he know that? How does he eliminate environmental influence?”

    A couple things. In an ordinary conversation one does not go around providing citations for every claim. Imagine that! On the question of how you eliminate enviromental influence. Well, thats the standard stupid pet trick objection to any observational science ( like climate science) where you cannot do controlled experiments. Of course you could do somewhat controlled experiments on people, some guys tried that before. was it nazis? I can’t recall. But if that is what it takes to convince you, well then, that’s good to know.

    He’s got about 118 peer reviewed papers, maybe the citation is in there somewhere. since a large portion of toddlers ( both male and female) exhibit agressive behavior, I’m supposing his
    definition of hyper agressive at age 2 would be interesting to look at.

    The larger point however is that this type of work or anything that hints of biological essentialism
    is attacked as being “nazis” or responded to with stupid pet trick skeptical arguments, like yours.

    As for Brett, you totally missed the point of his analogy, he didnt argue that he knew that. he was trying to explain the difference between literal truth and metaphorical truth. Poorly explained, but any charitable person would get what he was talking about.

    Its a common myth that porcupines can throw their quills. Comes the questions.
    How do these myths start? why do they persist?

    People do get to have theories about how stories develop, where they come from and why
    they persist throughout time. For example a marxist gets to argue that a text comes from
    class struggle and gets its meaning through that. A historisict gets to explain the historical
    conditions that created the text. A Jungian or freudian will try to explain textual production
    in terms of the unconscious (personal or universal) and evolutionary biologists get to explain the phenomena in their system. If you are a happy warrior you just see how these different systems
    work and you note the areas where they have to stretch and the areas the work really well
    and cohere together. Checking the ‘Truth” of the account is rather the wrong kind of question.

  53. Steven Mosher says:

    And Joshua if you want the specific genes for agression and even criminal behavior in men
    just ask.

  54. It might be worth reading this. I’ve just finished it and I don’t think the general view is that genetics is quite that simple.

  55. Hey, Joshua
    If you add Kill File to your browser you can control and maybe improve your blog life at ATTP. https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/blog-killfile/
    Cheers
    Mike

  56. Joshua says:

    Heh. Well, that might have been an all time worst in terms of html tags. Maybe it’s a good thing that it wound up in moderation. Let me try again and ask that the previous effort be deleted?

    Steven –

    A couple things. In an ordinary conversation one does not go around providing citations for every claim. Imagine that! On the question of how you eliminate enviromental influence. Well, thats the standard stupid pet trick objection to any observational science ( like climate science) where you cannot do controlled experiments.

    Of course you don’t need citations in “ordinary conversation,” but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t add caveats where appropriate. I’m tempted to start counting the number of non-sequiturs here to see how high I’ll get.

    I respect the arguments of experts when those experts properly acknowledge uncertainties.
    On the question of how you eliminate enviromental influence. Well, thats the standard stupid pet trick objection to any observational science ( like climate science) where you cannot do controlled experiments. Of course you could do somewhat controlled experiments on people, some guys tried that before. was it nazis? I can’t recall. But if that is what it takes to convince you, well then, that’s good to know.

    You don’t need to do controlled experiments. You can do things like look for biomarkers or use fMRIs, but even then you run into trouble when you’re making facile assertions about causality.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923092030.htm

    The pre- and postnatal environment could cause these differences in biomarkers associated with chronic aggression,” Szyf added. Various studies conducted with animals show that hostile environments during pregnancy and early childhood have an impact on gene methylation and gene programming leading to problems with brain development, particularly in regard to the control of aggressive behaviour.

    And the point about Nazis is basically what I’m going for also. Peterson and Weinstein talk about the danger of going too far into the realm of biological determinism, with reference to Eugenics, but then they carelessly cross that line in service of their partisan agenda, and then to top it off, they hand-wring and pearl-clutch from their fainting couches about being called Nazis. That isn’t to defend calling them Nazis, but what they’re doing is poisoning the well and then complaining that the well has been poisoned. Of course there are real problems where people reject open conversations on these issues, but those problems are bilateral.

    What makes the irony here particularly beautiful is that they, themselves, talk about the importance of being open to uncertainties. Peterson drama queens quite a bit about how we’re in such an unstable time, and that in such unstable times, little infractions can have an outsized effect, and then he is sloppy and imprecise to talk about an issue that skirts biological determinism in a way that ignores uncertainties, when it is easily predictable that such sloppiness will engender over the top responses, and then goes even further to drama-queen about how horrible the world is because people are so tribal, and as a kicker, these are the folks who pearl-clutch and hand-wring about being called Nazis even as they hand-wring and pearl clutch about the horrors of political correctness. It’s flat out irony-a-polooza. Reminds me a bit of RPJr.’s style of honest brokering.

    And like I said, that was just one of many examples. Another was when he talked about a “biological problem” where women are more agreeable than men because of biologically mediated, large and profound differences between men and women. It isn’t that it isn’t an interesting idea that is worthy of examination, it’s that it is important to recognize that in fact, he has no idea to what degree the average differences between the “agreeableness” of men and women is attributable to biology or environment. When you pass over such important caveats, you lose the opportunity to focus on the uncertainties and the importance of those uncertainties. That he goes on to then drama-queen about how the Google guy was fired just for expressing opinions, he compounds the problem.

    (Of course, even that doesn’t beat holding left wing campus radicals “clawing out” territory as accountable for Nazis marching in Charlottesville).

    He’s got about 118 peer reviewed papers, maybe the citation is in there somewhere. since a large portion of toddlers ( both male and female) exhibit agressive behavior, I’m supposing his
    definition of hyper agressive at age 2 would be interesting to look at.

    I’m sure it would be good to look at. But again, the problem is when people are overcertain about such complex issues, then throw their uncertainty into a polarized context, and then complain because the context is so polarized, and then complain because people are accusing them of being polarizing.

    The larger point however is that this type of work or anything that hints of biological essentialism
    is attacked as being “nazis”

    That’s one side of the problem. [edit – note the use of “anything” there, Steven. Again, such broad stroke generalizations are tells for “motivation.”] The other side is when people treat the science cynically, by ignoring important uncertainties, to pursue an ideological agenda which can easily be predicted to get reactions and concern from people w/r/t the historical roots of the issue, and then complain because they’re being treated badly because people are calling them names(all while ridiculing people for taking offense to language).

    As for Brett, you totally missed the point of his analogy, he didnt argue that he knew that. he was trying to explain the difference between literal truth and metaphorical truth. Poorly explained, but any charitable person would get what he was talking about.

    And Rogan pointed out the obvious flaw in his analogy (his facile conflation of a “metaphorical truth” and a falsehood) in order to confidently invent a just-so story where he reverses evolution to fit a nice picture he wants to paint. Should we assume that all superstitions aren’tjust pure ignorance that don’t actually serve any evolutionary function, and just call them “metaphorical truths?” Again, it’s just sloppiness. That isn’t to say that there isn’t something important about recognizing that sometimes myths and superstitions are rooted in a societal or evolutionary function. That’s important, if not exactly a profound revelation. But the real lesson to be learned from Weinstein’s fable is that even experts are can be willing to step over the lines of good science when doing so meets their ideological agenda, and to then reverse engineer and tailor evolutionary processes in order to meet their desired outcome.

    People do get to have theories about how stories develop, where they come from and why
    they persist throughout time.

    Of course they do.

    Checking the ‘Truth” of the account is rather the wrong kind of question.

    But my point wasn’t to check the “truth.” My point was to check the the way that the arguments are laid out And in this context, the overcertainty when dealing with such sensitive and uncertain issues was problematic. That doesn’t make any of what they were saying uninteresting or unimportant.

  57. Joshua says:

    mike –

    If you add Kill File to your browser

    I quite enjoy Steven’s comments to me…until they just get boring because one-sided convos do get boring.

  58. Joshua says:

    Steven –

    And Joshua if you want the specific genes for agression and even criminal behavior in men
    just ask.

    Once again, I’m not saying that there aren’t genetic characteristics that are associated with behavioral differences between men and women. I’m saying that I don’t respect arguments from experts on the topic when they ignore the uncertainties about the related causality, particularly when they do so in service of an ideological agenda. It isn’t just Peterson. It’s just that it’s rather ironic because of how he’s blind to the problematic dynamics – which to some extent he correctly identifies, IMO, but only on the other side.

  59. Willard says:

    STOP THE PRESSES!

  60. cool, I get and read your responses and find them interesting. Your observation about service of an ideological agenda is the primary criteria that I use with employment of the kill file. I like science and physics. The relentless push of an ideological agenda? Not so much.

  61. I’m saying that I don’t respect arguments from experts on the topic when they ignore the uncertainties about the related causality, particularly when they do so in service of an ideological agenda.

    My understanding – after reading the Adam Rutherford book – is that the relationship between genes and charistaristic is probabilistic. You can identify genes that are associated with some characteristic, but you can’t really say that someone with those genes with definitely have that characteristic – it’s too complex for anything quite that simple. I should add, that I although I found the book quite interesting, I did find it quite difficult to read and wasn’t always concentrating as hard as maybe I should have. My understanding may well be (probably is) flawed.

  62. Philip Moriarty says:

    Joshua (Sept 6 2017 at 4:37 pm):

    What makes the irony here particularly beautiful is that they, themselves, talk about the importance of being open to uncertainties. Peterson drama queens quite a bit about how we’re in such an unstable time, and that in such unstable times, little infractions can have an outsized effect, and then he is sloppy and imprecise to talk about an issue that skirts biological determinism in a way that ignores uncertainties, when it is easily predictable that such sloppiness will engender over the top responses, and then goes even further to drama-queen about how horrible the world is because people are so tribal, and as a kicker, these are the folks who pearl-clutch and hand-wring about being called Nazis even as they hand-wring and pearl clutch about the horrors of political correctness. It’s flat out irony-a-polooza. Reminds me a bit of RPJr.’s style of honest brokering.

    This is exactly it. Great synopsis, Joshua — thank you for this.

    Amusingly, the beautiful irony also extends to Peterson’s pearl-clutching about the evils of postmodernism. See https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/conservatism-is-the-new-punk-rock-discuss/#comment-231964 for an exchange on this.

    And, of course, it’s hardly the least ironic of situations when so many of those who subscribe to Peterson on YouTube (and/or contribute to his ever-expanding Patreon coffers) loudly proclaim their rationalism and skepticism while supporting a man who places religious truth on a higher footing than the scientific method…

  63. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    …these are the folks who pearl-clutch and hand-wring about being called Nazis even as they hand-wring and pearl clutch about the horrors of political correctness.”

    Why won’t those nasty liberals show the same respect to Donald Trump and Republicans as they did to that Kenyan-born, communist, secret-Muslim, founder of ISIS, and ‘Lock her up!’, pedophile-trafficking, Benghazi!-denying, “crooked” Hillary?

  64. I gotta get me a string of pearls to clutch when occasion arises.I am under-dressed for the demands of the modern world it seems.

  65. Joshua says:

    Phillip –

    Yes. It didn’t even occur to me just how explicitly postmodern Peterson is.

    I used to think that Peterson is just a really smart guy that I disagree with. But as I’ve looked more deeply, I do think that there is something a bit unhinged and maniacal about his rants.

    Check this out –

    where he explains why the dangers of postmodernism on college campuses “can’t be overstated:”

    The whole video is great, but perhaps the best part is at around 22 minutes in ….where he explains the deeply dangerous nature of the Ontario Teachers Federation..

    “…the teachers have already decided that the goal of the education system is to indoctrinate children, from kindergarten, from kindergarten into radical postmodern leftist, communitarian equity-oriented ethos, That’s what they’re doing, they’re even subsuming the teaching of mathematics and science under that umbrella.”

    And he goes on to explain that the Ontario Commission for the Studies of Education is a “fifth column” …whose members should be put on trial for treason….

    It’s also very interesting how he co-opts a response to his rants that “you must be insane” and uses a self-sealing argument to explain why he isn’t a demagogue exaggerating the danger because of his own problems . No, he explains, that isn’t a valid concern regarding him because it isn’t.

  66. Joshua says:

    mike –

    Don’t forget the fainting couch. Self-victimization just ain’t the same experience without one.

  67. got one, spending a lot of time on it these days!

  68. Joshua says:

    For a less postmodern take on postmodernism.

  69. Willard says:

    Meanwhile, scientists rediscover postmodernism:

    I guess it’s possible to value truth even when the point is to lose oneself into one’s stupid morass. If that guess is correct, then judging pomo stuff based on its implicit conception of truth is just wrong. If that guess is not correct, it’s still wrong, as pomo’s about epistemic status.

    You got to admit that scientists being wowed by what everybody learns in their first art lessons (wink wink, SusanA) reinforces the irony-a-polooza.

    Appeals to the numinous are here to stay. What Peterson does with them stinks. He doesn’t own sacredness. All he owns is his [Speedoscience] act.

    Let’s hope undergraduates won’t have to suffer this kind of act for long.

  70. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    I guess it’s possible to value truth even when the point is to lose oneself into one’s stupid morass. If that guess is correct, then judging pomo stuff based on its implicit conception of truth is just wrong. If that guess is not correct, it’s still wrong, as pomo’s about epistemic status.

    Frankly, Willard, I’m deeply troubled by this logocentric, bi-valent, meta-narrative.

    As our historico-linguistic constructs are always in a state of flux, pomo’s not “about” any constant thing – certainly not ‘status’, a specious, time-dependent, socio-economic construct if ever there was one.

    However – Since no distinction can be made between things and our representations of them, I will happily and ironically admit that your guess is as good as mine.

  71. Willard says:

    Well, Rev, and yes I’m gonna well you on this, there’s no need to deny the existence of an external world or that Truth represents the correspondence between things and our representations of them (although Frege was quite doubtful this idea made sense) to understand that our theories are more social constructs than idealized and lifeless abstracta. To name one name, Foucault started as a Kantian, and remained more or less faithful to him if we accept that his own research programme was more than just a wall of long and loud words and was meant to improve the lives of abused people. What’s crucial behind the Aufklärung crap lies not the absolute clarity of our knowledge and our crisp connection to reality but the emancipation of our epistemic predicament. (This may explain why Foucault snickered at the label “postmodern” as we never were modern in the first place.) In other words, from greater power comes greater responsibility.

    People trust more Spiderman than Kant, but the subtext looks similar.

  72. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    …our theories are more social constructs than idealized and lifeless abstracta.

    Maybe, Willard, and yes I’m gonna maybe you on this, some social constructs ‘are’ idealized and lifeless abstracta, so I’m fairly sure that “more” is appealing to a false, or at least slightly slippery, dichotomy.

    My previous comment was Foucaultian chain-jerking. If the social construction of theories is anything “more than just a wall of long and loud words” then abstracta are the conceptual products of processes where generalities are developed from the usage and classification of specific examples, literal (“real”, “concrete”) signifiers.


    What’s crucial behind the Aufklärung crap lies not the absolute clarity of our knowledge and our crisp connection to reality but the emancipation of our epistemic predicament.

    C. S. Pierce, whose works probably ought to be read by more scientists and, well, philosophers, wrote in his First Rule of Logic (1899):

    Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy:
    Do not block the way of inquiry.


    People trust more Spiderman than Kant, but the subtext looks similar.

    Having, sadly, no spider-sense to tingle, my experimentum crucis in matters of trust is:
    What would Scooby-Doo (and Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma) do?

  73. Willard says:

    Velma, being more of a Humean, would find inducing anything quite enigmatic.

    Peirce read Kant when he was 13 or so, if memory serves well.

    As for the chain jerking, challenge accepted.

    Stay tuned.

  74. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    Peirce read Kant when he was 13 or so, if memory serves well.

    And Kant read Hume and Hume read Berkeley and Berkeley read Locke and Locke read Descartes… etc.

    There was an old lady that swallowed a fly.

  75. Willard says:

    The relationship between criticism (no idea why the anglosphere still speaks of idealism) and pragmaticism goes a bit deeper than that, Rev:

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/peirce/self-contextualization.html

    Also note that pragmaticism and pragmatism are two different beasts. Peirce is nearer to Kant than to James.

    Maybe it’s just a vocabulary thing.

  76. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Thanks, Willard.
    It’s a deep ‘well’.


    Also note that pragmaticism and pragmatism are two different beasts.

    Pierce himself birthed the second beast after the first was “abused” away from his original meaning.


    Maybe it’s just a vocabulary thing.

    It’s at least just a vocabulary thing.
    Proximity amongst thinkers can be measured along many axes.

    It’s worth noting in that context that both Kant and Pierce, while primarily regarded today as philosophers, each made original and lasting contributions to multiple scientific disciplines.

    From teh wiki:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sanders_Peirce#Pragmatism

    Scientific method excels over the others finally by being deliberately designed to arrive — eventually — at the most secure beliefs, upon which the most successful practices can be based. Starting from the idea that people seek not truth per se but instead to subdue irritating, inhibitory doubt, Peirce showed how, through the struggle, some can come to submit to truth for the sake of belief’s integrity, seek as truth the guidance of potential conduct correctly to its given goal, and wed themselves to the scientific method.

    and

    Peirce’s pragmatism was the first time the scientific method was proposed as an epistemology for philosophical questions.
    A theory that succeeds better than its rivals in predicting and controlling our world is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth used by scientists.

  77. Ragnaar says:

    Joshua:

    Try 36:15 of the Peterson video while thinking of Trump. Peterson is describing our conservatives. Their problems countering equity arguments. How in the heck did Trump get elected? Push back from what Peterson is talking about. I admit Peterson is not in his best light here. In that prior video, he explained his point of view better.

  78. Mal Adapted says:

    aTTP:

    My understanding – after reading the Adam Rutherford book – is that the relationship between genes and charistaristic is probabilistic. You can identify genes that are associated with some characteristic, but you can’t really say that someone with those genes with definitely have that characteristic – it’s too complex for anything quite that simple.

    A few human traits (characteristics) show Mendelian inheritance, i.e. are inherited in simple ratios of dominant and recessive alleles at one or a few loci: blood type is one, adult lactase persistence is another. They’re not necessarily the ones I learned about in my undergraduate Human Genetics course 40 years ago, but all scientific consensus is tentative, and conditional on available data 8^}.

    As that Wikipedia article says, however, “most phenotypic traits exhibit incomplete dominance, codominance, and contributions from many genes.” Of the latter, some are determined quantitatively, but many are non-additive.

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