Mallen Baker is a commentator who runs a youtube channel called Dangerously Reasonable. He tackles contentious issues and tries to assess the various lines of evidence that may, or may not, support what someone is promoting. For example, Mallen did an interesting assessment recently of Bjorn Lomborg’s arguments in which he quoted some of my comments.
He also has guests and asked me if I would like to chat about science communication, with some focus on climate change and whether or not we can still have civil discussions about these kind of topics.
We recorded it last week, and it was posted last night. If you’re interested, the video is below. I don’t do this very often (at all, really) so I felt like I rambled a bit and wasn’t quite as coherent as I might have hoped. As with most people, I also cringe when I see/hear myself on a video.
I watched some of it last night and thought it went very well, Ken. It certainly attracted quiet a few deniers to comment, so you must have done something right.
Thanks. I did read through some of the youtube comments. Apparently, I lost credibility when I quoted the 97% figure 🙂
Yes, my comments sections can get lively. On the plus side, nobody could accuse me of operating within an echo chamber! Ken – thanks again for the chat, we all hate seeing ourselves on video, but you were very coherent and a great interviewee!
Thanks, it was a fun interview. I must admit to not having read many youtube comment threads. Maybe it’s where all the action is these days. I think blogs have gone somewhat quieter.
I call Betteridge’s Law.
I think Youtube comments are like comments in most online media sources:
…beware of the trolls hiding under the story.
I unfortuneately endured the recent one on insect declines by Mallen Baker. It was an appalling program, which used classic contrarian tactics to downplay what me and most of my peers in entomology know to be true: across many taxa, insect populations are in freefall. I have no doubt that if population ecologists and entomologists were to be polled on the question, “In general, in your opinion, are insect populations falling across much of the biosphere?”, the result would be ‘yes’ and very similar to the broad consensus among climate scientists with respect to anthropogenic climate change. As someone working in the field, and who discusses this among my peers across the world, the answer is quite clear. Biodiversity in general is declining rapidly. We are losing many genetically-distinct populations of vertebrates and invertebrates. Underlying these declines are a suite of anthropogenic factors including pesticides, other forms of pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species and climate change. Insects are declining, and Mallen’s shallow program cannot hide that.
What he does to create doubt is to take pages from the contrarian handbook. First, use the term ‘insectageddon’, which is largely a media construct. By framing insect declines in this way, anything less than apolcalyptic comes across as less of a concern. Second, in true ‘Serengeti Strategy’ fashion, he isolates entomologist Dave Goulson as if he is the sole voice among scientists raising the alarm. Professor Goulson is an outstanding entomologist, with a prestigious academic standing. Like Michael Mann in climate science, isolating prominent scientists and attacking them is a well-honed contrarian ploy. The problem is, as I said above, that the vast majority of me and my peers agree to a large extent with the opinion of Goulson. Mallen did not bother to contact any of us for interview. I or any number of hundreds or even thousands of my peers would be happy to set the record straight, but that would run counter to the aim of the program, so of course we were ignored. Then, Mallen cites a study by Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys, published in 2019, which supports the view that many insect taxa are declining, was mentioned by Mallen but with many caveats added in an attempt to suggest that the paper was flawed. Yes, there were errors in the way that the authors did their meta analysis, but this in no way undermines their argument that many insects are declining rapidly. By now the empirical literature is showing numerous examples of insect declines. Why were these ignored? Some of these studies have numerous authors. Lastly, Mallen cites a few dissenting voices among entomologists in order to suggest that the view among experts in the field is somehow ‘balanced’ on the question of threats to insects. It isn’t. The vast majority of us acknowledge that insect declines are very real and represent a serious concern.
The comments on the Youtube video of Mallen’s insect program follow a predictable pattern of ridicule and denial, in keeping with the thrust of the program. Mallen claims to have come to a very different opinion ‘after doing the research’. What research? I always find it amusing when laymen spend a few weeks or months reading bits and pieces and then wade in on complex topics claiming to have ‘found the truth’. This ‘truth’ is more often than not based on a few anecdotes, cherry-picking, logical fallacies and other tactics.
I therefore admire you, Ken for going onto Mallen’s program for an interview. Still, one wonders why Mallen decided that interviewing any number of ecologists or entomologists was not necessary for his shallow insect decline program. Perhaps therein lies the answer.
Hi Jeff – well, of course, you could have said all that to me directly. It’s fascinating to see how the us vs them mindset works on this – you’ve painted me as using “contrarian tactics” and then attributed to me various tropes associated with “the other side” that I don’t recognise. How would your interpretation of that video go if you assumed that it was an attempt at understanding the truth? You’ve made comments about “anecdotes, cherry-picking, logical fallacies” – I don’t believe you can place those on that video, which quoted relevant papers and discussion by entomologists. After all, if I spend half my time getting attacked by climate sceptics for videos upholding the reality of climate change, how does my position fit into your universe of ‘us vs them’?
I reviewed the script for that video after reading your comment here, and I still can’t see I would retract any based on what you’ve said. I “isolated” Dave Goulson because he has a book and a film launched this month saying that imminent human extinction is threatened by an ‘insect apocalypse’. I would have thought one could push back against such messaging whilst still talking (as I do) about the declines that are taking place in the different locations where studies have been carried out, and observing (as I do) that we need to do a lot more research to learn the state of play worldwide.
I finished quoting the words of Manu Saunders ““We disagree with the catastrophic decline narrative, not the concept of population decline or that individual studies have shown declines in some places. Declines are probably happening elsewhere too, but we have no data to prove it. Yet other insects are not declining, and some are increasing in population size or range distribution. New species are being named every year, most of which we still know nothing about. Presenting the global decline narrative as consensus or fact is simply misrepresentation of science. By continuing to promote the narrative, we may suffer from confirmation bias, potentially encouraging scientists to look for evidence of declines in their data where they may be none.”
That seemed in line with the papers I’d seen, and the other discussion likewise. Do you believe it to be wrong – and if so, what did I miss?
> I call Betteridge’s Law.
It’s kind of amusing to me that anyone would still be asking that question at this point.
Of course, there are all kinds of ways the answer to the question would necessarily depend on all sorts of starting parameters (Among whom? In what forum? Relating to which aspects?, etc.) but as a blanket question who doesn’t know that the answer is emphatically, “No!!” ?
I realise I need to say a little more on this in response to Jeff’s critique.
“What he does to create doubt is to take pages from the contrarian handbook. First, use the term ‘insectageddon’, which is largely a media construct.” Well, no. The video was a response to an article in the Guardian, drawing from a forthcoming book and film that talks in exactly those terms. That’s why it’s used. If we agree it’s an inappropriate media construct, it could be we actually agree.
“Second, in true ‘Serengeti Strategy’ fashion, he isolates entomologist Dave Goulson as if he is the sole voice among scientists raising the alarm”. He was the author of said article, book and film. So it seemed appropriate.
“Then, Mallen cites a study by Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys, published in 2019, which supports the view that many insect taxa are declining, was mentioned by Mallen but with many caveats added in an attempt to suggest that the paper was flawed.” You make it sound like this was at random. I looked at the claims made in the Guardian article I was responding to, and then looked to the sources it was quoting in support of those claims. Following the sources of claims seems a pretty basic thing to do – not part of a “contrarian playbook” as far as I can see. The paper doesn’t support the idea that worldwide insect species have declined by 75%. And, yes, the criticisms made against the paper by a number of entomologists were also relevant there.
“By now the empirical literature is showing numerous examples of insect declines. Why were these ignored?” As I said, I went to the source quoted in support of a claim. But I did then quote a number of other studies looking at this question as well, all of which are shown in the video and referenced in the video description. Including several meta-analyses on this question, e.g. “Trends in global insect abundance and biodiversity: A community-driven 1systematic map protocol”, Grames et al.
“Lastly, Mallen cites a few dissenting voices among entomologists in order to suggest that the view among experts in the field is somehow ‘balanced’ on the question of threats to insects. It isn’t. The vast majority of us acknowledge that insect declines are very real and represent a serious concern” Which is weird, because nowhere in the video did I suggest that insect declines AREN’T real. Numerous times I said that there was clearly an issue, and we needed more research worldwide to highlight the real picture. And I’m not aware I quoted dissenting voices who said anything to the contrary. Only that the ‘apocalyptic’ narrative wasn’t justified. But it sounds like you don’t think it is either.
“What research? I always find it amusing when laymen spend a few weeks or months reading bits and pieces and then wade in on complex topics claiming to have ‘found the truth’. This ‘truth’ is more often than not based on a few anecdotes, cherry-picking, logical fallacies and other tactics.” OK. Research = looking at the sources for claims made in the article under discussion. Looking for online discussion of said sources from the entomologist community, then reviewing the research papers highlighted in those discussions and other articles. Then carrying out an initial review for additional relevant content via Google Scholar. Oh, and a search for news articles on the topic and checking for any additional leads. Bearing in mind this is a video, not a life’s work, that seems reasonable to me. Should I have asked you for an interview? Maybe – I don’t know who you are – I’m sure you have an opinion. I was looking for what’s the published research, and what are entomologists that are talking about the ‘apocalyptic’ narrative saying online about it? If you’re not talking about it, then I’m not going to know that you’re there, itching to give your opinion.
The only anecdotes in the video were in response to Goulson’s use of the “I drove across France and didn’t have to stop to wipe bugs from my windscreen” anecdote – where I said that such anecdotes are not useful. I’m not aware I cherry picked anything, but if there are relevant studies you would point me to (rather than just a poll of your mates) then please do. If I got something wrong in the video, I will happily post a correction. But since I’m not saying what you suggest I’m saying, I’m thinking your beef is one of emphasis not exact words or references. And if there are any “logical fallacies” please do point those out as well.
This seems to be an area where we have a ‘snap-to-grid’ response to a narrative. In other words, we assume that it’s either for, or against, and you can quickly tell which is which because it will use familiar language and arguments. That’s not the spirit in which I do these videos. I am to get the detail right, and if I get something wrong, please tell me direct. I will happily correct errors of fact.
I don’t know if this is a good suggestion, or not, but part of our discussion was why climate researchers don’t seem to engage much with the arguments made by people like Lomborg. Jeff was actually involved in some of the responses to Lomborg’s 2001 book, the Skeptical Environmentalist. He might have some perspectives that would be of interest.
In this clip, you went from Zeke saying on Twitter that he didn’t comment on a topic, to Climate Feedback being used by Facebook as a way to measure what it will allow on its pages, to being “policed,” to a conclusion about what you are or aren’t “allowed” to say.
First, I’m not familiar with the situation being referenced, but Zeke not commenting on a topic doesn’t necessarily translated into Facebook “policing” because it uses Climate Feedback as a reference for moderating comments. Taken literally, you’re basically saying that Facebook polices anyone who doubts certain views on mass extinction simply because Zeke didn’t comment on a particular aspect of that issue. That looks to me like an alarmist take
But you then go further. You then equate Facebook, as a private company, with a variety of reasons in play as to how it decides what ways it does and doesn’t want to enforce its terms of service agreements with its customers, with some grand outcome of certain people not being “allowed” to say certain things.
Obviously, you can all sorts of things in all sorts of ways independently of what sorts of comments Facebooks removes from its pages. That isn’t to say that there aren’t important questions about the parameters of what comprises monopolies or utilities or whether there are important boundary issues with respect to the impact of Facebook moderation.
But facile rhetoric about how people are being “censored,” I would argue, is a good example of how “activists” can sometimes wind up contributing to counterproductive polarization of topics, and channeling the into simplistic and tribal bickering when a more nuanced discussion would be more beneficial.
My point being, not that the potential counterproductive effect of “activist’ rhetoric shouldn’t be examined – but that the discussion thereof should always be inclusive of looking at the tendencies to ignore the influence of whose ox is being gored.
I’ve been trying to work out why Mallen’s comments all ended up being moderated and that Joshua’s (which mentions Mallen) was too. I can’t see anything, so apologies for that inconvenience.
Ken, I’m up for an engagement with Jeff on any related issues of interest. Bear in mind, right now all I know about him is that he’s called Jeff, he’s an entomologist (or at least counts some amongst his peers) and he thinks I’m a bit of a scumbag. Fortunately, that latter part is no barrier to constructive and friendly discussion if he’s up for it.
Joshua – thanks for the comment (Ken, apologies – I didn’t intend to take over your discussion forum!). Sorry, I probably didn’t explain myself very well. Let’s see if I can do better.
So Facebook uses a number of ‘independent fact checkers’ to determine when it should slap a warning notice onto content that people share. One of the ones it uses, specifically for climate change issues, is the Climate Feedback website.
But my point was that some of the critiques that appear on that site are not purely fact-checking in nature. The one I quoted was where Shellenberger has stated that we are not in the middle of a 6th mass extinction, and quoted certain sources in support of that. Climate Feedback’s response to that article included one scientist who disputed that claim, and suggested that we are indeed in such an event. And yet Zeke, one of the authors of that page, agreed elsewhere that he personally did not agree that was true. A cursory look at the literature reveals that it is a point of some discussion. In other words, not really the sort of material for a fact-check style claim, on a site that will then be used as the basis for Facebook censorship.
Then there’s the other aspect, yes, about the fact that Facebook is a private company and can do what it wants. That’s true. But increasingly, politicians and others are starting to acknowledge that’s no more the end of the matter than the idea that energy companies are private companies, and can decide to do what they want. Whatever we say, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have collectively now come to make up an important part of the public square. Now maybe we’re happy for them to own that, and to make their own decisions about what is, or isn’t allowed to be heard. But it is an arguable position that they are stewards now of a public good, and there should be a better system for ensuring that the free exchange of ideas is facilitated. Even Zuckerberg himself has said as much “we shouldn’t be the ones making these decisions.”
I’ve probably put Jeff on the spot (apologies) but if he is keen, I can put you two in touch with each other.
Jeffh, Extinction is a serious topic with a huge element of finality …. until they start rationalizing it by the possibility of genetic reconstitution in the future. But that’s why YouTube videos are popular as anything goes when one is just discussing stuff.
Again, I think your take on this issue is a very good illustration of the complicated nature of “activist” involvement.
As Ken (I usually call him Anders) mentioned in the clip, the issue with activist involvement is that they can tend to look at issues like someone holding a hammer and finding nails, as opposed to how we’d prefer scientists approach issues.
Let’s take this case. In my view, you seem to be ignoring the other side of the coin, in that at least theoretically Facebook as an obligation to deliver a product that will add to their bottom line (and thus monitor that what is on their pages satisfies the largest % of its customers), as well as some degree of responsibility for taking a stand on whether they want to promote information that they consider materially harmful to a lot of people.
You and I have actually had a fairly long exchange on this issue at Twitter before, and as I recall I ran across this exact same roadblock with you then. And then, as now, I suspect that part of the reason is because of your personal investment in this topic, which is specific to your activity as a public figure discussing various topics.
IMO, this isn’t a cut and dried issue. It’s messy. And while I don’t object to people stressing only one side of the coin in their activism, I do object to (1) people arguing that it’s “activism” that’s the problem, as opposed to unbalanced activism and (2) people pointing fingers at certain activists as if they’re they problem even as they ignore the fundamentally activist nature of their own engagement.
We have discussed this issue many times in these pages in the specific context of “skeptical” activists blaming all sorts of issues on climate activists, then they actually haven’t even come close to establishing any validity to the cause and effect they’re so certain of. In that sense, I might be guilty of, at some level, lumping you in with a group and assigning guilt by association. But I do think that legitimately there’s a lot of crossover here.
I must admit to not entirely following your argument. I think Mallen’s main point was that a Climate Feedback article was used by facebook as justification for removing one of Shellenberger’s articles despite there not being unanimous views in the Climate Feedback article. I think that is a reasonable concern.
I’ll try again – maybe I can seem less confused. A couple of intersecting points.
I don’t see where it’s entirely clear (cause and effect) that Facebook removed Shellenberger’s article based solely (or even primarily) because of the Climate Feedback article. And perhaps to the extent that was a factor, it may have nonetheless been so even if Zeke’s views had been in the article. So I think it’s a bit tortured to say that the lack of Zeke’s viewpoint led to the article being removed
I’m sure that Facebook sometimes makes errors in what I’d consider to be pure fact-checking or drawing a hard line between true and false. But I think it’s a bit tortured to then claim that there are things that “cant be said,” because there are other channels of communication out there in the world.
Going further, while there are some troubling aspects to Facebook taking on a role of arbitrating between what’s right and what’s wrong, I’d say there are also troubling aspects in them not taking on any such role. That’s not an excuse for where they might have over-stepped. But I am saying “it’s complicated.”
We have seen, often, where climate skeptics focus on “activists” and “consensus police” and the like, where IMO, essentially what they’re doing is engaging in imbalanced activism as they lay the blame on “activism” for outcomes they don’t like. I see a parallel with what Mallen is doing here (and in the interview with you) and I see a very similar dynamic happening quite a bit these days in how people address the issue of “big tech censorship.”
I’ll take the example of Brett Weinstein and his activism related to vaccines, where he leverages outrage about “censorship” because Youtube takes a stance that material harm will come to people if they allow him to promote his views on their platform. I’m not saying that there aren’t troubling “slippery slope” aspects to that development. But I think it’s complicated, and that the issue isn’t well served by treating it as if it’s merely an issue of people being silenced or “censored” or being told what they “can’t talk about.”
hmmm. Not sure I did anything other than repeat myself?
Is this what you were talking about?:
Okay, I think I see your point. I agree that people can use claims of censorship, or being silenced, to generate outrage and that doing so is, itself, a strategy rather than some genuine desire for open discussion. I’ve probably made similar points myself at times. In some sense, it’s maybe similar to the kind of point I was getting at in this post. It often does seem that vocal complaints about some kind of treatment is often mostly an attempt to leverage something, rather than any genuine attempt to improve dialogue.
I will add, though, that I do share peoples’ concerns about social media sites getting too involved in fact checking, mostly because they have become quite powerful and what they do can have influence. It might be fine if they are careful and only remove what is genuinely regarded as harmful, but we can’t be sure that this would always be the case.
I don’t quite get this. I don’t think Mallen was suggesting Zeke’s viewpoint led to the article being removed. I think Mallen’s point was simply that the Climate Feedback article didn’t present a unanimous view about us being in a 6th mass extinction (Zeke being an example of someone who, apparently, didn’t agree that we were) and yet was still used as a justification for removing Shellenberger’s article (I must admit that I haven’t checked any of this myself, so this is based on what Mallen has described).
I’m a big fan of this blog and the Mallen Baker podcast. Nice to see them come together. Well done on both sides.
Ken, I am more than willing to discuss insect declines with Mallen. As I said, by now the vast majority of entomologists are in agreement that, in general, insects are declining and that this represents a threat to communities and ecosystem functioning. The thing that annoyed me about Mallen’s podcasts about insects, bees and biodiversity were in how he framed the issues. In each instance, by setting them as ‘apocalyptic outcomes’ – primarily a media construct – he was creating straw men. By suggesting that the most catastrophic outcomes might be exaggerated, he then gives the impiression that there really is not a problem when there most certainly is. In his biodiversity video he downplayed extinction rates as being vastly exaggerated without nuancing the topic. His focus was on species, when there is already abundant and accumulating evidence that we are losing genetic diversity at an alarming rate. A species loses its functional ecological value long before it becomes extinct. Populations of species as divergent as adders, hedgehogs, skylarks, tree sparrows, monarch butterflies and African lions have declined by as much as 80% or more over the past several decades. A study in Science in 2019 revealed that there are almost 3 billion fewer birds in North America than in 1970. The extinction of genetically distinct populations poses a massive threat to species resilience and adaptability. This is vitally important in any discussions on extinction and biodiversity loss.
I do not think at all that Mallen is a ‘scumbag’. My apologies to him for sounding harsh. However, when non-experts wade into complex fields and come out with conclusions that run counter to the prevailing evidence, I tend to call them out for it. Last year I led a paper with 72 scientists from 21 countries in which we produced a roadmap for insect conservation and recovery. My co-authors – including Dave Goulson and many other leading entomologists and environmental scientists – all acknowledge that insects and other arthropods are seriously threatened by a number of human-mediated threats. The paper was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and received considerable media attention. I am currently preparing another with an even larger number of colleagues on the threat caused by climate change and climatic extremes to insects. Again, there is broad agreement that warming and extreme events threaten many insect species and populations. This threat is amplified by other anthropogenic stresses,
I know that anecdotal arguments are weak, but my concern is that those downplaying threats posed by human actions to biodiversity are dangerously misleading the public and by arguing that we need ‘more studies’, they play into the hands of inactivists anxious to promote the status quo. How much more do we need to know before acting? We know more than enough already. Biodiversity, including insects, is declining rapidly. There are occasional breakouts of species that benefit, at least transiently, from the human simplification of ecosystems. But as I explained with colleagues in another paper in Global Change Biology published last year, those species are likely to benefit only in the short term as food webs and trophic interactions are disrupted.
So yes, Mallen, I am most certainly up for a discussion with you! And once again, I apologize for my harsh initial reply. I had a few tough days under horrible conditions in the field. No excuse really, but at my age it isn’t as easy as it once was!
If you’re happy for me to do so, I can pass on your details to Mallen.
Happy to be put into contact with Jeff, and happy to accept the apology for the original tone.
I’m puzzled to find, however, that I have to repeat that nowhere in that video do I suggest that insects are not declining, I quote a number of studies that found exactly that. I repeat again, it was in response to a Guardian article that was framed in ‘insect apocalypse’ terms, in advance of the publication of a book framed similarly. So I absolutely hold it to be valid, in the face of those headlines to ask – is this what the science actually says? And the video says – no, there are studies that show evidence of declines, there are others where there’s a mix, and there’s a huge hole of information not available. But nothing that supports the contention made in the Guardian that within a hundred years all insects might be extinct.
I ignored the insult first time around, but won’t once it’s repeated. “when non-experts wade into complex fields and come out with conclusions that run counter to the prevailing evidence” I repeat again the video does NOT come to conclusions counter to the prevailing evidence. Neither does it argue anywhere that we need more information before doing anything – indeed, I mention the imperative for restoring habitats. Why am I defending myself against things I never said?
And, to be clear, the logic of this position is that no journalist can write about science at any time, and all they should do is publish the press releases of experts whose wisdom they have no hope of comprehending. Misrepresenting what my video said, and then claiming that it was wrong because I’m clearly too stupid as a non-expert to understand research – I would suggest that is not a winning approach to any subsequent dialogue.
I get the impression that Dave Coulson is a friend of Jeff’s, and maybe his mis-hearing of my video was based on understandable defensiveness on the part of his friend and colleague, and that could have led to the ‘snap-to-grid’ assumption about the message of the video. Anyway, happy to take the conversation off-line at this point and see if misunderstandings can be cleared up. I remain happy to correct any factual errors on things that I actually said, as I have always been.
Joshua – I hadn’t seen that recent case with the Daily Wire, so that wasn’t what prompted my observation, although the issue is tied in to the example I gave. It is a general point about how science fact-checking gets used by social media companies, and therefore the need to be very clear about the nature of the content the fact-checkers stick to. Politically-motivated fact-checking has become a point of contention in a number of circles in the US, the scientific community has an interest in avoiding getting mired in those arguments by being scrupulous about the process of what service it’s providing.
“It might be fine if they are careful and only remove what is genuinely regarded as harmful, but we can’t be sure that this would always be the case.”
Social media companies generally profit from the dissemination of misinformation. I’m not sure what the answer is (Cory Doctorow thinks it’s interoperability), but an unmoderated platform isn’t great either, and it’s probably what the social media companies would prefer.
> I’m puzzled to find, however, that I have to repeat that nowhere in that video do I suggest that insects are not declining.
Welcome to the Internet, Mallen. Please bear in mind that Jeff questioned your framing, not claims you make. I have yet to watch the video in full, so I’ll leave that one between you two.
Perhaps I can answer “how does my position fit into your universe of ‘us vs them’” from a Climateball perspective. Many contrarians present themselves as being the middle ground. In climate debates, it’s pervasive: we have luckwarmers who minimize AGW at every corner, honest brokers who keep attacking the IPCC, and other beautiful characters.
Mike Shellenberger is one of them. He keeps punching hippies by repeating contrarian talking points. The main contrarian talking point is “But CAGW,” where C stands for Catastrophic. It does not matter where Mike stands regarding AGW. If he keeps bashing same targets as contrarians and repeating contrarian talking points, he’s a contrarian. What goes for the duck goes for the talking head.
I guess all I’m saying is that to present oneself as the middle guy may not reach everyone.
You’re not overtaking the thread, btw. The floor is all yours. Dance! Dance!
> It is a general point about how science fact-checking gets used by social media companies,
So let’s agree that science fact-checking, mixed with social media companies, can produce troubling and unwanted results.
> and therefore the need to be very clear about the nature of the content the fact-checkers stick to.
Let’s agree that science-fact checking that’s used by social media companies should be done carefully.
> Politically-motivated fact-checking has become a point of contention in a number of circles in the US,
Let’s agree that political motivation thrown into the mix makes it that much more complicated and fraught.
> the scientific community has an interest in avoiding getting mired in those arguments by being scrupulous about the process of what service it’s providing.
Let’s agree that the scientific community has an interest in getting mired in those arguments, and that as an extension of that, should be scrupulous.
So all of that agreed upon.
I still say that social media companies have legitimate reasons to monitor the information on their platforms, and I think it’s good that they use scientific experts as a reference when doing so and I think that scientific experts can reasonably be a part of that process.
I’m basically saying, yes, the situation is fraught. But what is the alternative? Is it that social media companies have some obligation to allow whomever to use their platform to promote whatever? I don’t think that they do.
Is it that scientists should avoid any involvement in the process by which social media companies monitor what’s on their platforms? I don’t think that they should.
Those aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m asking you for answers. Do you think social media companies should not monitor what goes out on their platforms? Do you think scientists shouldn’t participate in the process?
This was meant to be..
Let’s agree that the scientific community has an interest in [NOT] getting mired in those arguments, and that as an extension of that, should be scrupulous.
“Mired” meaning getting involved in a counterproductive way.
Mr. Baker, as one of the lukewarmers mentioned and criticized by willard upthread, I’ll just take a moment to tell you that no criticism of doctrine will go unpunished.
The defense of doctrine is political. It is often correct–those challenging doctrine are frequently wrong. But the nature of the defense is political.
Is the earth a globe* or flat?
Some say the physics was decided 14 billion years ago
Let’s hear from both sides
*technically an oblate spheroid
That’s a really impressive cloaking yourself in victimhood right there.
Anyway, you’ve got a whole new IPPC report out to claim agrees with you when actually it doesn’t, which is the game you play.
Get to it on the new one, plenty to go at!
As VTG points to….
So Tom gives a nice illustration of the kinds of dynamics I was talking about.
Related to your interview with Ken, just as some people raise a legitimate and important question when asking whether Facebook goes too far, others go on to claim that rules are being laid down about what you “can’t talk about” when that clearly isn’t true.
In the climate change discussion in public fora, we’ve seen for years that some people raise legitimate questions about whether there is room for them to engage in reasonable debate, even as others – as Tom so well illustrate, -claim that criticism of their arguments is tantamount to “punishment.”
This isn’t just a one off. And what makes it even more vexing is that Tom, who’s trying to make much of his victimhood here, is among the most ornery and unpleasant and insulting interlocutors I’ve come across in blog discussions about climate change.
So we have a situation where people self-victimize about how terribly they’re treated even as they pollute and polarize the discussion.
Michael Shellenberger is among the best examples of that problem. I’m not saying that removing his article was something I’d agree with – as I’d need to have more information to assess that particular circumstance, but he regularly engages in some of the most hostile and unproductive and polarizing rhetoric even as he frequently self-victimizes. Yes, I wouldn’t doubt that sometimes he’s been treated unfairly or in ways I think aren’t for the best, but….
well, it’s complicated.
> That’s a really impressive cloaking yourself in victimhood right there.
It’s some kind of Law which, by serendipity, has been formulated ten years ago in a comment thread about biodiversity, extinction, and climate change. It also featured Jeff.
Let’s try to resist the law.
Oh dear. Jeffh makes the appendix of Baker’s latest video.
I was criticized recently by an ecology researcher for my video on the insect apocalypse. He started by accusing me of getting my facts wrong but of course, I didn’t.
He jumped to various assumptions because he’d made the assumption that if you were kicking back against extreme insect apocalypse stories then you must be arguing that everything was okay and nothing was declining. She’s not at all what i said in that video. And eventually, it became evident what was really burning his goat was that he felt the message kicking back against overclaiming was not helpful to “the cause”.
But it might feed those who do argue that we should do nothing. Which meant by implication he was happy with the lie about the insect apocalypse threatening human extinction, which he waved aside as a typical media exaggeration. That was okay as an untruth because at least it encouraged people to support the right actions.
I happen to believe that to be a flawed application of any justified principle of the noble lie. Probably why I get kickback from people on both sides of the issues that I cover here.
For noble lies that we might choose to tell ourselves about our sense of identity with a view to living up to an ideal that’s one thing tolerating lies and exaggerations about the nature of a practical problem that we have to solve is a wholly different category.
It is functionally stupid to believe that we should deal with anything but the nuanced truth with all of its uncertainties in that sort of situation. Because nothing undermines the determination to take action faster than the realization that those advocating for action have actually been lying to you.
All of this reminded me this week what a difficult niche it is that I’m trying to fill here. I recall when i did a video criticizing the BBC for climate activism and he got quoted approvingly on one of the climate skeptic blogs. And immediately someone jumped in and said you don’t want to approve of him he debunks videos on tony heller. Yes, I do, or at least I did.
And then this week (ATTP) mentioned his discussion with me on Wednesday’s video on his blog and that prompted the person I’ve just been talking about to jump in and say “this man Baker is terrible. He did this video on the insect apocalypse and suggested that insects are not in decline” which of course is not what I said.
Of course, that’s not really what Jeff said either. His argument wasn’t (even by implication) that lies are ok if they encourage people to support the right actions. His argument was that “those downplaying threats posed by human actions to biodiversity are dangerously misleading the public”
I think the video Jeffh would rather have seen would not get clicks on Youtube. Just the straight facts aren’t that interesting to an incurious audience. There needs to be an antagonist.
On the other hand, this blog didn’t find its popularity by posting straight facts either. It had an antagonist in the early days. It had big lies to debunk.
I watched the discussion of Lomborg and got through to the end – a compliment there given my anachronistic preference for the written word – and will try for the one featuring our host later.
A tough audience to please here Mallen and certainly in my own case, I am unashamedly a committed activist who thinks the IPCC AR6 at least should be considered Authoritative and that our political leaders have a Duty of Care to act like the science based advice they called for – because they aren’t climate experts – is true. Even if they don’t care they have a Duty of Care that is apart from and not less than any obligations in democracies to do the will of the majority of voters. Even where their own personal judgement can lead them to conclude otherwise they should act on that advice as if it is true, not because the advice is authoritative but because the advice is consistent and comes out of institutions and systems and practices that can be trusted.
Scientific scepticism is a valuable tool for scientists – mostly as an error checking method to prevent making fools of themselves – but widely used by laypeople it becomes a way to reject anything they do not, cannot or choose not to understand. That could be a criticism of your style I suppose, that does at least seek to improve levels of personal understanding but may inadvertently elevate inexpert personal evaluation over deferring to the experts.
Not the same argument as with Jeff above but I would expect any ecologist (well, a whole lot of people) would have serious problems with Lomborg’s use of GDP as a meaningful metric for a harm vs benefit analysis, even if there could ever be a single metric. And yes, you did say making it about any one thing is a problem – although not specific to that.
Not that Lomborg (or Ecomodernism) has ever offered a viable alternative way forward or can even be considered the better grade of Environmentalism that people who don’t like Environmentalism can turn to; clearly they haven’t turned to it, nor have existing Environmentalists who see a positive role for nuclear – and there are some. I think it was less a case of Environmentalism arrogantly and pre-emptively deciding our course as it was a case of mainstream politics letting them in “you care so much, you fix it” style – handing them the podium with alternating serves of empty gestures and gifts of enough rope. Lomborg’s “not like that” is way too little, far too late and doesn’t even advance nuclear-for-climate solutions.
He does manage to please both pro fossil fuels climate science deniers and advocates of nuclear – the opposition to renewable energy, the downplaying of the climate problem’s seriousness and urgency, the support for unconstrained fossil fuel use until everyone agrees just-use-nuclear is best and a shared dislike of Environmentalists all combine to make Ecomodernist style climate “policy” most popular with people who don’t want to do anything about global warming but think they’d prefer to use nuclear if they did.
As an aside, locally (a hot, dry, fire prone part of the world) we’ve gotten 1.4 C of warming for 1 C of global average warming and the prospect of droughts, heatwaves and fires with 3 or 4 C of global warming (delivering maybe 4.2 to 5.6 C locally) looks properly terrifying; there will be serious and enduring harms and costs that no average improvement in global GDP can possibly compensate for. I cannot treat global warming as hypothetical or the harms as exaggerated.
I’m a big fan of both environmentalism in general and biodiversity in particular. Harking back to the discussion willard so kindly linked to, I will repeat that discussions of both environmentalism and biodiversity are fraught when conducted within the framework of climate change.
It is intuitive and almost certainly correct to see climate change as a threat to the biome.
It is also true that most of the damage to our environment has other causes–the famous Four Horsemen of habitat loss, over hunting/fishing, invasive species and conventional pollution. Human contributions to climate change are too recent and, to date, too modest to account for what has happened to our world and all that lives on it.
Climate change and human contributions to it can certainly finish the job–and I truly hope it doesn’t. But the wreckage we see is from other causes. To say otherwise is to let developers, polluters, industrial fishing fleets et al off the hook.
As is the misrepresentation of science as doctrine Tom.
Are luckwarmers (or lukewarmers but as I’ve said before, only the Lewises and Currys bring evidence of a sort to the table; the rest bring a lucky rabbit’s foot) climate science’s Creation Scientists (oops, Intelligent Designers, shouldn’t forget the rebranding)?
Was that political too?
Ierpo, I am actually flattered to appear on Mallen’s video. It does not bother me at all; I clearly struck a nerve. I have had to deal with a lot worse than from him over the past 20 years. Scientists like Michael Mann, James Hansen, Paul Ehrlich, Edward O. Wilson, Dave Goulson and others are punching bags for daring to step out of the scientific herd to raise the alarm about environmental problems. I am proud to stand with them.
Regardless, it seems to me like Mallen still does not get it. I reiterate what i said above: it is all about framing. I put his in caps: FRAMING. Mallen framed his program on insect declines as ‘apocalypic’ or ‘insectageddon’. How many scientists are framing it that way in their peer-reviewed papers? I challenge Mallen to find and list all of the published studies which start off with the doom-laden world view that he did in his program. The answer, of course is none or very, very few. This was a media construct for the most part. If Mallen had instead entitled his program: “Insect declines: is there a real problem”? he would have had to completely overhaul his presentation, because the answer is most certainly yes, there is. There are certainly gaps in our knowledge, but by now know enough. The problem exists and we need to do whatever we can to solve it before it does become much worse. Certainly, Mallen argues that there is evidence for insect declines, but only AFTER ridiculing the insectageddon scenarios. and by then the damage is done. Mallen set up a straw man, burnt it down, and then anyone watching the program will believe that the issue is trivial. Read the public comments below the program. The vast majority congratulate Mallen for debunking another ‘fake environmental scare’. For instance:
“I love how they think they can know anything about what’s happening with insect species….. Studies say they know the extinction rate when we don’t even know how many species there are”
“Fear is a thriving industry … thanks for the usual sobering spotlight in the eye …”
“Fear porn is built on “could, might, and maybe”. Science writers love those words exactly as much as they love the clicks they get from them.”
“Rule of thumb, if it’s an environmental scare story published in the Guardian and supported by the BBC it’s usually BS.”
“In 1962 Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ said that birds would disappear through the same problem. Obviously, the birds ignored this apocalyptic nonsense.”
“I have just seen his book “Silent Earth” advertised for £20, you can’t blame David Goulson for pushing it can you.”
Etc. etc. etc.
Only the rapid general decline of insects isn’t fake. It is very real. Ask the vast majority of experts in the field. Their views would fall between ‘strong concern’ and ‘alarm’. If Mallen has bothered to interview any number of them, then his summary would have had to be very different.
Jeff – “I have had to deal with a lot worse than from him over the past 20 years.” A lot worse than what? Someone talking about the substance a conversation without any kind of name-calling, or disparagement? I expect we’ve all had a lot worse than that.
“it seems to me like Mallen still does not get it. I reiterate what i said above: it is all about framing. I put his in caps: FRAMING.” Gee, thanks. I didn’t get it before it went into all caps. Now it’s all so much clearer.
“Mallen framed his program on insect declines as ‘apocalypic’ or ‘insectageddon’. How many scientists are framing it that way in their peer-reviewed papers?” So here’s the thing, Jeff. I say this again. It wasn’t a video on insect declines. It was a response to the populist message being pushed on people via outlets such as the Guardian and the BBC that there is an insect apocalypse that threatens human extinction.
“I challenge Mallen to find and list all of the published studies which start off with the doom-laden world view that he did in his program.” Yes, indeed. That’s the whole point Jeff. The “insect apocalypse” media stories are framed in a way that is not supported by the published studies. Now, it doesn’t seem to bother you that hundreds of thousands of people are being told that there may be no insects left in a hundred years, and that insects worldwide have declined by 75%. But it bothers you apparently if someone does a video saying ‘no, that’s not true – there’s a problem that needs action, but it’s not that bad’. Why does the latter bother you, but the former doesn’t? It’s a puzzle Jeff.
“If Mallen had instead entitled his program: “Insect declines: is there a real problem”? he would have had to completely overhaul his presentation” Yes indeed, because that would be a different topic. I know this is advanced stuff, let’s see if we can cover it without having to put it into all caps. The content of the video will differ depending on what the topic of the video is, which will be reflected in the title. Radical, eh? Advanced video-making instruction. You’re welcome.
“Certainly, Mallen argues that there is evidence for insect declines” Yes, although earlier you said that I was putting up a result against the prevailing view. But as you now acknowledge, that is not the case. The video does not mis-state the facts, you just don’t like the fact that it takes the time to argue against untruths that don’t apparently trouble you.
“anyone watching the program will believe that the issue is trivial” Again, you seem extremely concerned about the couple of thousand people who watch a video on YouTube, versus the hundreds of thousands reading the Guardian and listening to the BBC, being fed the armageddon stories you’re saying are such a straw man.
And this seems to be the problem. I happily debunk claims in both directions on my channel. I often debunk climate sceptic misrepresentations of the science, but will also talk about over-claiming on the other side. If a cause is right, it can be supported by the truth, not by exaggerations and distortions.
I try my best to get the facts right – I research with some care and pay close attention to what professionals in the field are saying in debates on any given issue. I am always ready to correct errors of fact, and to re-evaluate a conclusion. And up for hearing counter-arguments on any topic – no sacred cows. But here you attacked me in extremely dismissive terms apparently because you believe the only videos that must be made on the topic of insects have to take your framing, or else they’re demonstrably bad. You don’t worry about your field being brought into disrepute by high-profile over-claiming in the mainstream media, you worry about it being damaged by people pointing out that the over-claiming is wrong.
Oh, and you quoted some of the comments on my video, as though that somehow damns it. I get all sort of comments on my videos because I don’t serve an echo chamber. Pointing to YouTube comments to support an argument is ridiculous. Have a look at the comments on any of my videos debunking Tony Heller claims – it’s vicious stuff. If you want to talk about punching bags, you know nothing. Try doing a video pointing out that, no, Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab are NOT the heart of a conspiracy to keep the world locked down forever via The Great Reset and see what comments you get. YouTube comments is the wild west.
There is probably a way to push back against alarmism or contrarianism that doesn’t surrender the middle ground – the truth. I doubt that would get the clicks though. (yes, it’s possible to be factual but not truthful. I take Mallen at his word that there are no factual errors in his video.)
Social media survives on outrage. It relies on the framing that upset Jeffh. If you are upset at the end of a youtube video, it’s worked!
The video Jeffh would have rather seen is probably on the internet with 7 or so views.
I’m not saying I like it, but I can hardly blame content providers for pandering. What we really need is a better audience.
Lerpo – I did my share of worthy-but-dull videos that got tiny numbers of views, for sure. However, the brutal truth is that somewhere out there will be two videos, one will be ‘THERE’S AN INSECT APOCALYPSE COMING’ and it will have hundreds of thousands of views. And then there’ll be one saying ‘THE SCIENTISTS ARE LYING TO YOU’ and that will also have hundreds of thousands of views. Then there are my videos saying ‘actually, neither of those are true’ with just a few thousand views. Playing to a tribe and outraging them about ‘the other lot’ is the easy route to audience building. Irritating both sides with truths (or just arguments) that don’t fit their favoured ‘framing’ is an incredibly sucky way to build a large audience. In less polarised times, I think there would be a ready curious audience for all those grey-area discussions – right now, people want every video to be a campaign video on behalf of their side, not an exploration of all that fascinating nuance.
There will also be a video that titled BIG TECH IS CENSORING US (conservatives, non-hysterical environmentalists, anyone who isn’t work, etc.).
Joshua – ah, yes. But that one is probably true. The question in that case becomes not DO they, but SHOULD they? Twitter has banned Donald Trump but allows the Taliban. Hard to identify a consistent governing principle in that remarkable situation.
I must admit, that I find these kind of discussions hard to moderate. I think Jeff is quite right that the biosphere is under enormous pressure and that this carries enormous risks that we are probably under-estimating. However, I also like the idea of interrogating these kind of claims to see how they stand up. On the other hand, there is always the risk (when doing so) that you end up elevating flawed views expressed by people with agendas.
For example, even though Lomborg and Shellenberger are not completely wrong, I do think the overall message that they present (or how it is likely to be interpreted) is flawed. So, it is tricky. I think we should be willing to interrogate these various claims, but I also think we need to be aware that how we do so will probably influence what people take away from that interrogation.
I think it’s arguably true about whether they are “censoring” us. The language is important.
The pattern is also important. That headline assumes that the “grey area” discussion isn’t important, and instead what’s important is playing to a tribe and an audience. It’s a sucky way to build an audience.
> Hard to identify a consistent governing principle in that remarkable situation.
Well, that depends on how hard you try. Your implication is that Trump was banned because of his politics, and that there’s some political aspect to the Taliban not likewise being banned. It’s an arguable statement. It’s not entirely implausible. But arguing from personal incredulity is considered a fallacy for a reason.
> I try my best to get the facts right
Then I submit that insect decline could indeed be the topic of your video. After all, it’s the topic of the book you cover, not tribalism, activism, or else. If you’re only using the book to make that kind of point, then your “I try my best to get the facts right” becomes secondary.
I also submit that quote fests tend to degenerate. Exchanges split into side issues that are not that relevant, like your policy regarding sacred cows. Add snark and the tendency becomes a fixed point. I get that Jeff rubs you the wrong way. I mean, I truly get it – we had our moments. But that’s part of taking part in the wild west of comment sections.
Truth and facts can’t shield us from the reality that we’re political animals and that language is a social art. We’re all in the same boat. We all need to make editorial decisions regarding messages, frames and brands. You, me, the BBC, scientists, activists, everyone.
I really liked AT’s point at 27:25 that activists are entitled to their message. That should be extended to YT content creators. Titles as click baits have become the norm. Young game streamers openly admit to baiting. Since I assume that the kids are OK, that’s fine with me.
So in the end we’ll have to have civil conversations amidst a silly “culture war” with provocative claims advertised everywhere.
> I do think the overall message that they present (or how it is likely to be interpreted) is flawed.
I’d argue it’s not merely flawed, but it fits neatly in to Mallen’s sucky way to build an audience category.
What’s interesting, to me, is whether Mallen’s taxonomy is being selectively applied for some reason. But it doesn’t seem to me that he’s interested in interrogating that question.
Joshua – “Your implication is that Trump was banned because of his politics” I didn’t imply that at all. The argument for banning is the likelihood of incitement to harm. It’s hard to hear about how the Taliban has been using social media to co-ordinate and to conclude that it does less harm than Trump. Standards are not transparent, and are not applied consistently. That’s all.
Mallen, I like most of your videos. Some are straight on the mark. But your approach to the topics of biodiversity has been to frame them at the most apocalyptic extremes, to shoot these extremes down, and as a consequence to end up making the issues seem much more trivial when they are not. Look again at the majority of the public comments on your insect apocalypse, bee-pocalypse and mass extinction videos. They come from people essentially downplaying these threats on the basis of your so-called ‘balanced’ approach. I cringed reading some of them.
Some years ago, during the time I was involved in discussions over Bjorn Lomborg’s book, some guy wrote to me claiming that the threat of acid rain was exaggerated. He based this on one of the superficial chapters in Lomborg’s book, ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’. I disagreed, but as someone who lacks expertise in this area, I wrote to one of the leading experts on acid rain in the United States. His words resonate with me still today. He said this: ‘Debating these people is like trying to win a pissing match with a skunk. They want 100% unequivocal evidence or proof that acid rain damages terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. To get this 100% evidence would require many billions of dollars in funding and intensive, long-term research. But it will never be funded. I am confident that acid precipitation very negatively affects ecosystems. But to those who deny it, without that 100% proof, the problem does not exist’. Climate contrarians use the same tactic. They demand 100% proof – without it, there is no problem. I see the same now with those denying that we are on the brink of a mass extinction episode or that insect populations of many taxa are in freefall. I, and the majority of my colleagues, would forcefully argue that we know enough to say that there is a very serious problem and that we need to act now. However, in order to get that 100% evidence would not only require many more billions of dollars, pounds and Euros but more and more studies. By the time we get those data, it will be far too late to do anything.
An appropriate analogy is if someone runs to you and tells you that your whole house is on fire. You race home, and find that the fire has only engulfed the kitchen and a bit of the living room. Can you relax then and say that the problem is exaggerated? Clearly not. By now more and more journals are covering the phenomenon of insect and arthropod declines and the signs are indeed very worrying. Meta-analyses have yielded conflicting results, but trends for many taxa are of profound concern. Experts like David Wagner, May Berenbaum, Matthew Forister, David Kleijn, Teja Tscharntke, Daniel Janzen and other top scientists are writing papers in the most rigid journals raising the alarm about insect declines. Many of them were co-authors with me on the Nature Ecology and Evolution article last year. A large portion of an issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was dedicated to this issue last January. The opening paper by David Wagner and colleagues was entitled, “Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts”. It was a very balanced, and nuanced article, and was followed by others which strongly suggest that insects across many taxa are in retreat. Two year earlier, Matthew Forister and colleagues wrote an article in Conservation Science and Practice entitled, “Declines in insect abundance and diversity: We know enough to act now”.
If we put the so-called ‘insect apocalypse’ into its proper context, I reiterate that you should have started out with a program that said, ‘Insect declines: are they real and are they a problem’? Then you could have critiques the sensationalist nonsense but by then saying, ‘hold on! This is no reason to celebrate. The problem of declining insects is acknowledged by the majority of leading experts who say that the problem will get much worse unless we act now., Isn’t this the same mantra that climate scientists have been saying for several decades but which has fallen continually on deaf ears? And why exactly is that? It is because, as Naomi Oreskes and others have pointed out, contrarians know that they do not have to win the scientific argument to prevail. They just need to sow enough doubt about climate change and its causes to render mitigation mute. As long as the public think that the issue is not resolved, they will not think that action is necessary to do anything about it. Hence her book with Eric Conway was aptly entitled ‘Merchants of Doubt’.
I see a direct corollary with the merchants of doubt over biodiversity loss and insect declines. I am more than willing to discuss this with you in a civil fashion. I would like to present the other side – that we are approaching critical tipping points with respect to biodiversity loss. Insects play a vital role in ecosystem functioning and we know that declines of many species that perform vital ecological services will have potentially serious consequences.
> you should have started
I liked your paragraph where you cite your colleagues, Jeff. You should have sticked to that and edited the rest. Did you like that comment? I bet not.
What goes for the goose goes for the gander. If you dislike being told how to present science, content creators don’t really like to be told how to do their job. You know how to do science. Mallen knows how to do videos.
Besides, how do you know: does your prescription rest on any empirical evidence? That’s not a rhetorical question. I have recently been at Judy’s where Chief was touting an editorial by MikeH in an Aussie newspaper:
Scientists never win contests with armchair quarterbacks [add: unless they bring evidence to the table].
I’m aware that you’re responding on a couple of fronts. I’ll respond on this one piece and then see if other fronts resolve and if so, and if you still have any energy, i’ll jump back in.
> I didn’t imply that at all.
My bad. Apologies.
> Standards are not transparent, and are not applied consistently.
So we can agree that non-transparent standards aren’t good. But surely you’re aware of the incredibly pervasive rhetoric out there that Big Tech is censoring conservative (the anti-woke, anyone who doesn’t toe the Dem Party line, etc.).
In the very least, all you say on this issue exists in a context. Nothing you say on it has some immunity to enable it to be context free. You have to be explicit and you have to engage in the grey area discussion.
Even more to the point, someone like Shellenberger explicitly signals to the context. As such, by definition, you can’t engage with his being subject to Facebooks moderation without entering into that sphere. IMO, if you fail to interrogate the other side there, you’re effectively engaging in a politicized fashion yourself.
Given what’s been written here and elsewhere, it seems clear that defenders of ‘the consensus’ (whatever it should be called) truly don’t understand the motivations of what they have now started calling contrarians.
Certainly the writings of people like willard contribute to this and it’s quite possible that a deep understanding of contrarian motivations is not necessary. As FDR is reputed to have remarked about Hitler, ‘The only thing we have to understand is how to beat him.’ And maybe that’s the case here.
However, I would submit that most ‘contrarians’ (certainly the skeptics, but also many of my fellow lukewarmers) see messaging from the consensus that looks very much like agitprop and react against it, looking for holes. As so many contrarians are conservative, stating that they are reacting or even reactionary should come as no surprise. But it always does seem to cause consternation. Libruls like me are just dismissed as traitors.
At the risk of repeating what I have been writing for a decade, defenders of the consensus cause many of their own problems, extrapolating far beyond what the science actually says and creating a rich environment for critics.
It does not help that there are active propagandists on both sides who zealously try to find ways to dismiss arguments without examination.
But that’s where we are. I am happy that people like Mr. Baker are trying to find a way around the trench warfare that has dominated the climate conversation for over a decade. Good luck to you!
Jeff – OK, we’re making progress. Thanks for the altered tone to your comment. I think we have some space for a dialogue.
On contrarians, I absolutely agree. Indeed, I did a video a while back recounting the story of acid rain, what was done and how certain actors sought to impede progress, and I recognise that complaint you quote here about a tactic of the playbook to demand 100% proof, and always call for more research etc. We’ve both seen such things in action. It’s not what I was doing in my video that we’re discussing here, but I understand that the experience of such tactics can inform, maybe even provoke, reactions to anything that looks similar.
I have a principle of considering arguments independently of who made them – on the principle that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and nobody has a monopoly on wisdom. So, for instance, what I said in the Lomborg video was that he was asking a valid question about policy costs and benefits that we should be discussing – but it’s unfortunate that it was being used with cherry-picked and distorted figures to achieve a desired result. Since that would have the effect of cloaking the valid question behind a disreputable process. And the thing is that we won’t see these major changes in society being implemented without hard questions being asked – so it’s good if we can decouple the valid questions from the disreputable uses of those questions. To get there I had to consider his position with an open mind, and to review all the evidence supporting and opposing it. Doing so undermines nothing – he’s already all over Fox News and the like, making his points without challenge. If you ignore people, they still find a platform.
That’s different to the biodiversity topics, though. Let’s come to those.
I think you’ve highlighted something I need to be more alive to – which is that the drive to make topical content that will gain the interest of viewers very often leads me to do videos that are a reaction to a high profile public claim, or event. So Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam goes onto the BBC and says “the science says billions will die”, I’ll respond to it. Jordan Peterson talks about his scepticism on climate change being serious, I’ll respond to it. Climate is such a major high-profile issue, the balance rather takes care of itself.
But it’s fair to say that I’d seen high-profile insect apocalypse stories, but hadn’t especially had my attention caught by anyone making false claims on the other side. No doubt you see these things, because you’re more attuned, but I hadn’t. So I hadn’t done a video of that sort, and maybe that’s the flaw in being predominantly focused on reacting to topical headlines rather than seeking out underlying stories. It’s not that I never do the latter, but it’s fair to say I hadn’t done that on this topic.
I stand by the video I did as a response to a mainstream media narrative that I think is unhealthy. We’ll just have to disagree on that. But I agree that I should now be looking for an opportunity to be talking about this topic outside of that particular framing. In particular, focusing on what we know about what’s driving the declines and what’s the action that we need to be taking. Perhaps that would be an area where we could have an offline dialogue to get some sense of what that could look like. I would be up for that if you would.
> Certainly the writings of people like willard contribute
You’re trolling once again. Please desist.
Joshua – “But surely you’re aware of the incredibly pervasive rhetoric out there that Big Tech is censoring conservative (the anti-woke, anyone who doesn’t toe the Dem Party line, etc.).” Yes. It’s pervasive because it has a strong element of truth, albeit one which – as these things are in polarised political times – gets stretched to the limit in order to outrage one’s own supporters.
Woke cancel culture is a thing – it’s corrosive to our public sphere, and the sooner we get past it the better. The Big Tech aspect is more nuanced – I see a lot of people on YouTube ready to jump to conclusions about how they’re being censored and persecuted. Sometimes they are, but rarely because of their politics. It’s usually on some other principle around preventing harm (or protecting the reputation of advertisers). But those companies have created algorithms that, in order to maximise revenue, have added momentum to our political polarisation, so let’s not imagine there aren’t real issues to be tackled.
“Even more to the point, someone like Shellenberger explicitly signals to the context. As such, by definition, you can’t engage with his being subject to Facebooks moderation without entering into that sphere.” I believe in establishing principles – free speech, etc. – without reference to individuals because people seem to find it extremely hard to agree principles without being influenced by their individual likes and dislikes. So long as someone’s not advocated actual violence (and I don’t mean the “speech is violence” crowd) I would have them unhindered. Shellenberger makes a case, and I think he should be able to make it, and where his arguments are bad, they should be refuted by better ones. He’s a self-publicist, and a rather effective one, so he worked out he could get his book to the top of the New York Times best seller list with his cute “I apologise on behalf of environmentalists” nonsense. That was designed to provoke a response, and he got it. OK. Annoying. But I still want to look at the substance of his arguments, and when it comes to caring about the impact of what’s done on the poorest societies, and the case for an expanded role for nuclear power, there are some valid arguments that should be a bigger part of the discussion – whether his original take on those things endures or not.
The alternative is you gift him the power of the Streisand effect, and his book stays at the top of the lists for several additional weeks, because everyone wants to read “the book they tried to ban”.
> That was designed to provoke a response, and he got it. OK. Annoying. But I still want to look at the substance of his arguments
Michael is annoying but effective. Dave is alarmist.
Willard – “Michael is annoying but effective. Dave is alarmist.”
I said Michael was an “effective” self-publicist. I’m very happy to extend that description to Dave as well.
And I would argue equally vigorously for both that they shouldn’t be censored, regardless if I agree or don’t agree with their arguments.
I always wonder how one does this without ending up doing the very thing you’re trying to prevent. I realise that you’re probably not suggesting some form of legislation to prevent people from trying to cancel others, but in some sense free speech means that we should accept that some will argue against someone else (for example) being platformed. Institutions should try to avoid giving in, but sometimes those presenting the arguments have a point.
My own impression is that some of this is overblown. I recall seeing some numbers about how many people had been de-platformed on university campusses, and it was really small relative to the number who had been invited to give talks/presentations. That doesn’t make it right, but it might imply that it’s not quite the major issue that some imply.
Thank you for quoting me and responding to what I said. I like that:
> Yes. It’s pervasive because it has a strong element of truth, albeit one which – as these things are in polarised political times – gets stretched to the limit in order to outrage one’s own supporters.
The crux of the biscuit. I’d say your argument there lies somewhere in between arguing by assertion and just avoiding the necessary grey/gray area. Unfortunately, what I think you’re effectively doing here is laying one grey area on top of another without digging in.
What does a “strong element of truth” mean? What is “strong?” How do you support that assertion here? I have yet to see what I consider convincing evidence in that regard. Everyone can cherry-pick examples to enhance the comparison they want to make, for example Trump vs. the Taliban, but how do you establish that you’ve done anything beyond that? Beyond that, IMO, you start moving towards mere argument by assertion. At least you should dig in and give it a try, and not just reverse engineer from what seems to be your preferred narrative.
> Woke cancel culture is a thing – it’s corrosive to our public sphere, and the sooner we get past it the better.
And here you lay one gray area onto another. This is a big problem. This issue is basically like the previous one. What does “woke” culture mean? What does “cancel” culture mean? Does it include the centuries that people were “cancelled” because of “identity politics” merely because of skin color, or gender, or sexual preference? How do you know what you’re calling “woke culture” isn’t merely a shift in who gets to wield power?
I’m not saying that there aren’t real issues beneath your argument by assertion. I’m saying it’s complicated. It’s gray. And, IMO, when you embrace what I consider to be simplistic narratives in these areas you’re effectively entering into the polarized narrative in a big way. You’re taking sides. And that’s certainly your right. But then, IMO, you shouldn’t try to pitch your tent in the category of the non-polarized, the non “woke” so to speak, You’re pitching your tent in the land of the “work,” albeit a different land that the “work” that you object to.
> The Big Tech aspect is more nuanced – I see a lot of people on YouTube ready to jump to conclusions about how they’re being censored and persecuted. Sometimes they are, but rarely because of their politics.
Here again, you pass right over the gray area. What is “censored?” You necessarily are embracing a particular definition. Doing so is not bias free. It puts you in a category. Since you embrace a scientific orientation towards these issues, you should, IMO, engage in the gray area of defining that term.
> It’s usually on some other principle around preventing harm (or protecting the reputation of advertisers). But those companies have created algorithms that, in order to maximise revenue, have added momentum to our political polarisation, so let’s not imagine there aren’t real issues to be tackled.
It really doesn’t help when you explain things to me. I’d rather engage from a place of exchanging viewpoints. Unless you’ve established some kind of expertise that I really can’t possibly possess. Let’s try to establish which areas might fit that description.
> I believe in establishing principles – free speech, etc. – without reference to individuals because people seem to find it extremely hard to agree principles without being influenced by their individual likes and dislikes.
So do I. So then, the question should be, how do we reconcile that we wind up in different places despite that shared belief? Your argument is based on some assumption that I disagree with you about that. Or maybe that my follow-on views are not consistent with that belief. That may be the case. Or it may not be. How would you know?
> So long as someone’s not advocated actual violence (and I don’t mean the “speech is violence” crowd) I would have them unhindered. Shellenberger makes a case, and I think he should be able to make it, and where his arguments are bad, they should be refuted by better ones. He’s a self-publicist, and a rather effective one, so he worked out he could get his book to the top of the New York Times best seller list with his cute “I apologise on behalf of environmentalists” nonsense. That was designed to provoke a response, and he got it. OK. Annoying. But I still want to look at the substance of his arguments, and when it comes to caring about the impact of what’s done on the poorest societies, and the case for an expanded role for nuclear power, there are some valid arguments that should be a bigger part of the discussion – whether his original take on those things endures or not.
So this might all be relevant, but I’m not really asking you for an explanation of your view. I’m asking you to interrogate what the range of arguments might be. Honestly, I don’t think your view is particularly relevant. I highly doubt that it’s a view that I haven’t seen expressed many, many times. What I’m more interested in is an engagement about the rationale behind those beliefs. An exchange. A shared exploration. You elaborating on the specifics of how you see a particular case is relevant, but it’s only really interesting to me once we’ve discussed the gray zones.
Here’s what I see. I keep picking issues and saying it’s complicated. I’m extending an invitation to discuss the complications. And in response I get a further laying on of un-interrogated grayness, a grayness that functions as a kind of black box, along with the opinions you formulate out of that grayness. Let’s talk about the grayness.
> The alternative is you gift him the power of the Streisand effect, and his book stays at the top of the lists for several additional weeks, because everyone wants to read “the book they tried to ban”.
I’m sorry, but this is just an incredibly simplistic cause-and-effect scenario. You’re interested in nuance. Then I offer you an invitation to enter into the gray world, Just explaining simplistic cause and effect related to the incredibly complex nature of how people formulate opinions on complex and polarized topics just doesn’t work.
And Mallen –
> so let’s not imagine there aren’t real issues to be tackled.
Is a big problem. Like I said, I appreciate that you quote what I say as you respond. But then it seems like you’re responding in a way that indicates you’ve only read at a surface level.
I repeatedly say that there are “real issues to be tackled.” Repeatedly. Maybe in every response I’ve made to you.
How should I interpret that you say that to me?
I’ve also offered invitations to discuss the successive list of gray areas. But you have moved past one invitation to the next.
Is it woke culture that is corrosive or the conservative interpretation of it? I agree with Joshua here, something rare enough to be celebrated.
Being awake and aware of how the various -isms have dampened participation in our culture is a good thing. Ranting about how it is canceling other voices might not be.
As a progressive liberal I am really surprised and more than a little embarrassed by how much I have learned about suppression of alternative voices in recent history. It kind of woke me up.
Joshua – I have no idea what you want me to respond to, sorry.
Joshua and Thomas – OK, the woke discussion could easily take off into a long thread of its own. It wasn’t discussed at all in my video with Ken, which provoked this thread. Let’s not drop that into a place it wasn’t invited. A discussion for another time, another place.
Mallen, that’s certainly fine with me. I will note that there is a fractal quality to many of the contentious issues that are discussed in the blogosphere, or whatever remains of it. Perhaps if we resolve one it will provide the key to resolving all.
I think we could start with what “censored” means. The biggest proximal issue is whether there are lines to be drawn between when it’s legit for Facebook to monitor context and when it isn’t. I think if there’s disagreement whether it’s ever legit, then that question should be engaged. I think if there’s agreement that “it’s complicated” then the complications should be unpacked.
All built on a baseline agreement that monitoring should be transparent.
Anyway, taking a break now. Tropical Strom moving in and much gardening to be done beforehand.
…and Then There’s Physics – Ah, I didn’t see your comment on this when I said to the others ‘let’s not do this here’.
“I always wonder how one does this without ending up doing the very thing you’re trying to prevent. I realise that you’re probably not suggesting some form of legislation to prevent people from trying to cancel others, but in some sense free speech means that we should accept that some will argue against someone else” No, indeed. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Arguing against someone – fine – piling on to get them sacked, not.
Partly this comes down to social norms – how much we accept and approve a pile-on based on what somebody tweeted eight years ago, even what somebody said when they were a teenager two decades ago. It didn’t used to be that we would expect someone should be fired from their job for some random thing they said long ago that doesn’t fit today’s fashion for what’s considered perfect.
If we all agreed that we don’t much care what people said decades ago, then it would go away. Or if they make a slip of the tongue and say something, and apologise. But instead it gets reported as news, and various institutions show craven cowardice by sacking people in the face of the mob. So activists on several issues use it as a standard technique, and it works.
Barack Obama felt moved to advise his supporters to be more accepting of people’s weaknesses and imperfect past. And he’s right. The things people are getting “cancelled” for are trivial and ridiculous. But it destroys their lives just the same.
“My own impression is that some of this is overblown. I recall seeing some numbers about how many people had been de-platformed on university campusses, and it was really small relative to the number who had been invited to give talks/presentations. That doesn’t make it right, but it might imply that it’s not quite the major issue that some imply.”
It’s a huge issue, but it’s less about invited speakers and more about day-to-day expression. A poll last year found that ‘62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share’. You don’t need censorship if people will self-censor through fear. It’s no longer just on the campuses, because those people graduate. You now have publishing houses where young staff try to have certain writers dropped, an opinion editor of the New York Times fired because they ran an opinion piece by a Republican, and various teachers / lecturers sacked because students accused them of micro-aggressions or the like.
And then add to that all the historical figures ‘cancelled’ because, in common with every other human being alive during their age, they didn’t have modern 21st century woke sentiments on all topics. And, again, the institutions just give in to it, renaming buildings, tearing down statues of Gladstone and putting up new ones of Greta Thunberg (until she gets ‘cancelled’ – only a matter of time, surely). We are not behaving like a sensible people, right now. Not on either side of the political divide.
> Happy now?
It’s better, but I still don’t buy your branding. You defend a guy who keeps decrying climate alarmism. You attack an ecologist you find alarmist. The very first question you ask Ken is if Dominic Cummings has a point. So there are guys who are alarmists and those who have a point. And now you use the W word and cancel culture. That does not spell “I’m only here for the Truth” at all. I’d rather put you in the Freedom Fighters box:
Don’t get me wrong. You’re far from being a guru. Speaking of which, you might like the Decoders:
You’re still a culture warrior. I suppose that the right should not have a monopoly over the space, and you’re doing it better than many. But that’s still what it is.
But isn’t this how social norms change? It depends on what it is that they’re afraid to say. If it’s things that many would regard as, for example, discriminatory, then I don’t have as much of a problem with this as I would have if it were simply a different view about how we might solve some societal problem.
I actually don’t have much of a problem with this. I don’t think we should rewrite history, but I don’t see any real reason to laud people who did things that, today, would be regarded as objectionable.
Well, ATTP, unless you’re a vegan, we’ll probably both be canceled in the future as meat eating barbarians.
“But isn’t this how social norms change? It depends on what it is that they’re afraid to say. If it’s things that many would regard as, for example, discriminatory, then I don’t have as much of a problem with this as I would have if it were simply a different view about how we might solve some societal problem.”
I don’t think it likely that 62% of the population are all bigots who have been justly chastened into silence.
“I actually don’t have much of a problem with this. I don’t think we should rewrite history, but I don’t see any real reason to laud people who did things that, today, would be regarded as objectionable.” OK, so long as we’re clear that that’s literally every human being that lived before the modern era. We’re judging people for conforming to the norms of their age – as we do in our age. Let’s hope future generations are less censorious towards us than we’re being. Do you have any heroes from times gone past? Any at all? If so, do you think they would survive scrutiny to check whether they fit with today’s taboos and sensitivities?
The ‘Product of Their Age’ defense is, I think, valid in some instances. Not all. Judgment is required. It is quite possible that whatever judgment we render may not prove to be the last word.
> We’re judging people for conforming to the norms of their age – as we do in our age.
What if we only judged positions and not people?
What if we judged actions instead?
> A poll last year found that ‘62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share’
I made the mistake of looking
What is the realistic alternative here? In a way, the large number could be a good thing. It means that a large % of the public stop to think about whether they want to say might be offensive, whether it’s rooted in a legacy of racism, whether it’s merely based on antagonism.
Perhaps the alternative is what we had for hundreds of years, where large majorities felt free to say whatever they fucking wanted with no consideration of its impact on people who weren’t’ members of that majority, and a small minority had to be very careful to limit what they said so as not to rile up the majority. I remember as a kid not standing up for the national anthem at a basketball game and getting all manner of insults lobbed in my direction.
Perhaps what’s new here, is that someone like Mallen, for the first time in history, is expected to have some accountability for the impact on other people to what he’s saying?
Beyond that, even if there is a troubling implication to that figure, it comes in the context of more people having more agency than ever before to affect their life outcomes. Maybe it’s just a disturbing noise in the larger signal of the long arc of history bending towards justice. Or maybe its the beginning stages of a slippery slope to fascism. How would we know? By asking questions, not by using factoids to argue conclusions without entering into the gray zone.
Of course, I don’t think that potential trends suggested in that polling aren’t worthy of discussion. But it’s obviously just a cherry-picked stack, plugged from context, used to score a rhetorical point? How do I know? Because its use was imbedded into a conclusion about what it means, rather than an invitation to interrogate the meaning in context.
I certainly wasn’t implying that, but it’s seems likely that there would often be a phase when more than 50% of a population may regard something as acceptable that today we would regard as unacceptable. I do agree that we seem to have become more polarised and that we’re not as open to other views as we probably should be. On the other hand, I do think that changing social norms will lead to people feeling that there are things they really shouldn’t say. This is probably similar to the grey area that Joshua was mentioning earlier.
Except, I wasn’t suggesting judging them now on the basis of our norms. I was simply saying that I don’t have a problem with some now no longer being regarded as people we should put onto pedestals (there’s a better way of saying this, but it’s escaping me now).
Good question. I don’t know. Maybe none would, but that’s probably related to the point I was making in our discussion when I suggested that I was uncomfortable with elevating people to the level of public intellectual; few then seem to be able to live up to the expectations. There may not be any I would regard as heroes (Nelson Mandela, maybe), which doesn’t mean that I don’t find it interesting to understand what has happened in the past, or that we shouldn’t be aware of our history.
All our heroes and heroines have feet of clay. Perhaps we should look at what we want from iconic figures instead.
As for people realizing there are some things that are better left unsaid, I have hopes that that will carry over into the climate conversation. But not for the immediate future.
> Let’s hope future generations are less censorious towards us than we’re being. Do you have any heroes from times gone past? Any at all? If so, do you think they would survive scrutiny to check whether they fit with today’s taboos and sensitivities?
There’s that word again.
Such a casual approach to evaluating level of “censorious.” Imagine the hundreds of years where one feared for their life for saying “I like to have sex with men.”
“In less polarised times, I think there would be a ready curious audience for all those grey-area discussions – right now, people want every video to be a campaign video on behalf of their side, not an exploration of all that fascinating nuance.”
Yup. I’m hopeful that the pendulum will start to swing back the other way. People must be growing tired of the “Freedom!” vs “Justice!” debate. The answer is “both”. Obviously.
People eventually get savvy about when they are being provoked vs informed, though there will always be warriors on both sides keen to keep the blood boiling.
> What if we judged actions instead?
If you judge my actions, you judge me. That’s the people box. Nothing much has changed in the public sphere since Aristotle’s Rhetoric as far as types of judgment we do in them.
However, who’s “we”? If I tell you to stop trolling here, at AT’s, I do it because it’s my role. We have a variety of judges to take into account. Also, if you tell me that Feynman was a womanizer, it’s on me if I am the one who appealed to his authority. If you burden me with Dick’s actions when I never mentioned them or him, then you’re acting like contrarians who never lose an opportunity to peddle their favorite scapegoats.
So we need to take into account what these judgements do in the economy of our online transactions.
* * *
If we’re only interested in positions, claims, ideas, and statements, there’s no reason to mention who say them. There’s no reason to epilogue on what their evaluations imply in the grand scheme of things. Complete depersonalization comes at a cost. No more editorializing, no more punditing.
I could live with that if it was possible. It’s not: humans will find a way to express themselves come what may, be it with arithmetic statements like “2+2=4.” So my own answer to my question is: good luck with that.
> I made the mistake of looking
[CAT] Tell me about it.
[AUDITOR] Hold my scotch.
When I was a kid I’d call anther kid a “faggot” without a second thought. Ah, the good old days. Before we became so censorious, doncha know.
Now I actually think that’s an invalid argument for a number of reasons, but imo, it’s the same form of argument you’re making.
It ignires nuance, or the gray areas.
Limiting expression is sad. The harm it avoids is greater than the sadness it causes.
The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors.
> The harm it avoids is greater than the sadness it causes.
Seems to me that would be ENTIRELY context specific and not a general principle as you stated.
But I’d be happy to see evidence otherwise. Or even an argument that’s been articulated. Even if it’s an articulated argument by assertion it would be preferable to just taking your word for it.
> Limiting expression is sad.
[Snip. Sometimes it’s called for. Let’s play nice. -W]
It was a joke. But no problem.
I know, J.
What if I told you that “Limiting expression is sad” could be a way to play the ref?
I just got the email about this new blog post and watched the video, straight away, with few preconceived notions about Mallen Baker. Being in the US, I’d frankly never heard of him. If I had any ideas at all before watching, it was perhaps that I’d like Mallen Baker and would add his shows to something I’d visit from time to time, when I had a moment. Mostly, on the simple strength that Ken lent himself to the show.
I listened, mostly casually at first. But when Mallen started on about “policing” and the telltales of a certain slant became clear, I simply stopped watching for a few minutes. I needed to sort through the details and organize my thoughts better before proceeding. I then re-started watching, but now with a more attentive and thoughtful mindset.
In the end, I made the decision that I won’t independently choose to revisit anything from Mallen Baker for at least a few years’ time. I’ve decided it would almost certainly be a waste of time.
(In fact, I only skimmed what he wrote in this blog, acquiring only slight glimpses, enough so that I could understand better the remaining comments here. I saw how Mallen twisted Jeff’s position into an unrecognizable form before flogging his newly constructed Jeff-strawman to his audience. This firmed things up. He’s not getting serious attention from me for a while.)
Ken: There are many avenues towards reaching different audiences and I’m sure you did a yeoman’s job considering your reasons before appearing. I don’t question for a moment your decision to appear and I think you handled yourself on the show as well as any. It was wonderful to see you and to hear your mind think. So I very much appreciated the opportunity Mallen’s show offered and, for me and for that one reason alone, I have to say I’m glad I took the time to watch it!
Jeff? All I can offer are my sincere thanks for your work. It’s not much. But there it is.
I would like to acquire and read some of your work product. I know very little about your field. And I feel I should change that. Would you post the title of the paper, the one from last year that you mentioned here as appearing in “Global Change Biology?” I’d like to start with that one.
Jon Kirwan. Well, you managed to convey a truly damning verdict, and I’m none the wiser for what it was that you hated so much.
Scratching my own itch, here’s a summary of what Zeke thinks of MikeS’s article:
Sez the wielder of the Lucky Rabbit’s Foot…
On a lighter note*, will Droughtageddon get us before Insectageddon?
Or rather an unintended consequence thereof. Came across this the other day (paywalled, amusingly dated 1st September 2021 – is that evidence of non-causality?): The 2011-2019 Long Valley Caldera inflation: New insights from separation of superimposed geodetic signals and 3D modeling. It’s a more sophisticated analysis which supports and extends an earlier (open-access) paper: Drought-Triggered Magmatic Inflation, Crustal Strain, and Seismicity Near the Long Valley Caldera, Central Walker Lane
Some may recall an earlier discussion of the existential risk from a KT-sized asteroid impact or a supervolcano, and why do we want to act against climate change but not them? The answer of course is that one is certain, the other very, very unlikely. And one is in our control, and the other not. There has been one mass extinction since Snowball Earth caused by an impact; all the rest can be tied down to Large Igneous Provinces and CO2, sulphate, mercury etc. emissions. Which can’t be controlled either but happen slowly, on a tens of thousands of years timescale, and we’d notice and act on certainty not precaution. None were caused by supervolcanoes, which happen several times per million years, not once or five times per 650 million years.
Yellowstone is always mentioned because of Yogi Bear and tourism, but I said Long Valley was more likely because its magma chamber has double the melt fraction. One triggering model is magma buoyancy breaching the overburden strength, which is linked sorta-but-not-quite to overburden load, via Poisson’s ratio: Supervolcano eruptions driven by melt buoyancy in large silicic magma chambers. When it does finally pop, I expect it to pop during a drought.
*Literally. It’s the weight wot duz it.
On the Insect Apocalypse or Existential Climate Threat front, I think a good indicator (or not) of the sincerity and even-handedness of a player is whether (s)he also deploys the supervolcano or asteroid card as
a squirrelan argument.
Not that I’m accusing Mallen here – I’ve not reviewed his playlist. But we’ve all seen those cards played, including right here on this site.
Mallon: “The danger is you miss the distinctive voices who have something interesting to say” ….
That danger is minimal with climate contrarians and is more than balanced by the amount of boring rubbish that is avoided.
“On the Insect Apocalypse or Existential Climate Threat front, I think a good indicator (or not) of the sincerity and even-handedness of a player is whether (s)he also deploys the supervolcano or asteroid card as a squirrel an argument.” I’m not even aware of what the “supervolcano or asteroid card” is, or why I would “play” it.
Off topic ATTP – actually I suppose not wrt my digression because worrying about a collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field during a reversal is another, less popular squirrel. But that’s happened almost as often over geological time as supervolcanoes. Would play merry Hell with the satnav though!
There’s a recent paper calibrating the Precambrian magnetic field which finds it fell to about 10% of today’s value around the time of the demise of the Ediacaran fauna and the Cambrian evolutionary explosion. But that was a smooth fall as the Earth cooled and core convection weakened. Core convection was rejuvenated when it had cooled enough to form a solid inner core. There’s speculation it may be implicated either by killing the Ediacarans with radiation (or their photosynthetic food chain which didn’t have the option of hiding in deep water), or by favouring escape by burrowing which destroyed their ecosystem which had relied on a stable sea bed. So maybe loss of the magnetic field did cause a mass extinction, but only once, and it was a fall to 10% for a very long time and not just a short reversal. There is also rock-core evidence for very frequent field reversals around that time, so the speed of change and lack of stability may also have been a factor in disrupting ecosystems (IIRC it doesn’t actually go to nothing during reversals, but to weak quadrupole and octopole modes which would have been starting from a much lower base than today).
Anyway what prompted my comment was another recent paper in EPSL you may be interested in from a planetary evolution/exoplanet POV. Based on recent (2019) experiments refining the Fe-dependence of olivine thermal diffusivity, you can reconcile Mercury having no widespread mantle convection but a strong magnetic field, with Mars having no widespread mantle convection but a very weak magnetic field, based on Mars having a more Fe-rich mantle but Mercury’s being Fe-poor and allowing efficient heat conduction (which would also suppress convection). Did the cessation of convection in Mercury’s mantle allow for a dynamo supporting increase in heat loss from its core? Conduction through an Fe-poor mantle can be more efficient than stagnant-lid convection – I love counter-intuitive science. Cool! Or hot. Actually both are required for the gradient 😉
That’s why I didn’t accuse you Mallen 😉
It was more in reference to the general discussion about hyperbole being used by the contrarian side: “Why are we worrying about a few degrees of warming (or even CAGW) when we could be hit by an asteroid tomorrow or Yellowstone could explode and wipe out civilisation? Oh and BTW did you know the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening and all our electronics will be fried, but anyway we’re all going to die of acute radiation poisoning and skin cancer?”.
> “Why are we worrying about a few degrees of warming (or even CAGW) when we could be hit by an asteroid….
Or why are we worried about the effect of climate change on species, when habitat degredatiom/loss, over-fishing, pollution, etc. can also cause extinction?
Is there a square on the bingo card for inaccurate representation of another’s position?
“Is there a square on the bingo card for inaccurate representation of another’s position?”
It’s the one with the center at the periphery, and the periphery at its center.
It arose from the evolutionary pressure of trying to avoid climateball while paying a mortgage.
The Climateball Bingo is about topics. The Climateball Manual will be about the game, i.e. the goals, the moves, the tricks, the strategies, the principles, my own playbook, some Climateball characters (think La Bruyère), and some odds and ends.
Let’s analyze “Is there a square etc.” As a move, it is a query. As a trick, it mixes squireling, casting, and waving. Contrarian snipers use that strategy all the time: just shoot a bullet in the air, see what happens.
Here are some ways to counter that kind of trick. One can ignore it, as it’s just harmless noise. One can take the bait and ask what’s the matter; it is ill advised considering the Law above mentioned. One can take the opportunity to explain that snipers sometimes operate by asking empty questions.
There sure are many other ways.
And not one person commented that Ken doesn’t sound like Benedict Cumberbatch? Seriously, I felt let down. 🙂
Mallen, I am trying to understand just why your discussions are generating a lot of objections here; Jeff’s to that on insect population decline, Joshua (iiuc) over your focus on the excesses of climate and/or “Woke” activism and myself over the treatment of Lomborg’s ‘better off burning fossil fuels to make prosperity than use renewable energy to reduce climate harms” arguments.
I can only answer for myself but, given that you did demolish Lomborg’s numbers (and I thought, his key conclusion) and ultimately you did say we are justified to commit to the actions we are currently seeing emerge – the conclusion I thought correct – why did I nonetheless come away with the impression you think Lomborg has a real point and even that further asking of such questions could get answers prove him right?
I had thought maybe it was that I wanted to argue with Lomborg – who’s arguments beyond just those addressed (but are relevant) are familiar and flawed – and you were just collateral damage but it is because I think you ultimately chose to maintain the doubts about the course we are taking rather than come to a clear and unequivocal conclusion. Maintaining Doubt – when in the real world of climate politics Doubt contributes much less to achieving better outcomes than to preventing them – becomes, irrespective of the intent, an argument in favour of Delay.
I note that Lomborg’s Ecomodernism (if that correctly describes his position) has never been the viable, credible alt-climate policy that renewables led policy unfairly displaced; it was this way or no way, not because Environmentalists chose but because mainstream politics failed to choose anything else.
That governments are now willing to even SAY they will commit to zero emissions is in large part a consequence of the successes of the renewables led approach that Environmentalist have consistently championed, successfully countering the alarmist economic fear of going without fossil fuels that has been one the most potent anti-action messages. It is an anti climate action message that Lomborg and Ecomodernist heavily promote – that could even be considered their core message.
Ecomodernism and “just use nuclear” have contributed zero to zero emissions policy – LESS than zero – all their “successes” are effectively lauded by opponents of climate accountability for providing justifying arguments for preventing and slowing commitment to zero emissions energy. As well as contributing to public perceptions that unreasonable and unreasoning Environmentalist – but not mainstream politics or those in the halls of power – are somehow to blame, for pretty much everything that isn’t going right. Environmentalist/activist blaming could also be considered a central tenet of Ecomodernism.
There are good and sound reasons – beyond being a practicing activist – for not giving Lomberg or other Ecomodernists oxygen; they’ll just combine it with fossil fuels and make more CO2.
mrkenfabian – “Mallen, I am trying to understand just why your discussions are generating a lot of objections here;” Yes, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Thanks for the thoughtful question.
I honestly think it’s because these things are a lot more tribal, and a lot less based on reason and rationality than we like to think. I mean, we know enough about how humans form opinions to know that’s often the case – much more influenced by the opinions of our peer group than by data – it’s just not how we rationalise it to ourselves.
I referred to the ‘snap-to-guide’ approach – seeing the world as a binary, us and them, you have your arguments, they have theirs. As soon as you encounter someone, they make one argument or even, in my case in this interview, ask a question a certain way – and people allot you to your position in the binary and assume all your other opinions will fit the pattern, and consequently decide whether you’re a good or a bad person or not.
So, for Jeff, the fact that I was calling out a representative of ‘your side’ for over-claiming, must mean that I was representing ‘the other side’ and using the typical playbook (even though I demonstrably wasn’t using that playbook – the cognitive dissonance meant that was the only way to rationalise what I was doing).
You mention Lomborg – he’s become a hate figure for your community. I disregarded that and took his argument seriously, to be judged on its merits. That, of course, revealed the cherry-picking and showed him not to be a reliable narrator. So all good reinforcement for your priors. But you then can’t divorce the question from the man. I said – ‘this value for money question is worth asking, we just need people to do it in good faith and with proper skill’. You, however, are representing that here as “the impression you think Lomborg has a real point and even that further asking of such questions could get answers prove him right?” I thought it was relatively clear. Right about it being a good question to ask, perhaps, and that it wasn’t being asked robustly so far. Not remotely right in the answer that he came up with, which gives all the appearances of being moulded to suit the interests of his tribe.
I am signed up to an interesting news app called “Ground News”. It shows some of the current news items of the day and how they are reported by news media on the left and on the right, particularly identifying blind spots for each. Some news stories are exclusively reported by one side or the other, and some that are reported by both are nevertheless reported very differently. This tendency, exacerbated by social media, means we’re increasingly not only diverging in terms of our political opinions, but also on our understanding of reality. And both sides, of course, explain this on the grounds that the other side has gone completely crazy.
The woke stuff is a case in point. I think the crazy egregious examples of this in action get much more covered in the right wing press than the left, the examples of genuine discrimination get more covered in the left than the right. Both sides think the other is exaggerating and going crazy. The statistics suggest genuine discrimination is significantly less a factor today that it was just a couple of decades ago, but every case is one too many. But the incidences of ‘cancel culture’ have been increasing, and institutional capture seems to be increasing. There are people on the left who see this as a problem as well, but the few that are prepared to call it out (I recommend Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog’s podcast) get the same reaction that I got from Jeff and others here, and worse.
You said: “There are good and sound reasons – beyond being a practicing activist – for not giving Lomberg or other Ecomodernists oxygen” I happen to believe in free speech (which some now think is for people on the political right, that snap-to-guide logic again, but it used to be something the left championed back in the 1980s – Indeed I first realised its importance over the Salman Rushdie affair). I fear that, between Covid and climate, we are creating an establishment orthodoxy that no longer treats debate and criticism as something which improves ideas and accountability, but instead is “dangerous” and therefore must be silenced (or, in your more genteel phrasing, “not be given the oxygen of publicity”).
I disagree, and I think you set yourself up for failure if you take that approach (and if it goes very wrong, you even become the problem). Let’s talk about cost. Now that Net Zero is being actually implemented, it will get a lot of kickback, because that’s what happens when something big is attempted. Can it really be true that the Committee on Climate Change (whose work I have promoted several times on my channel) cannot provide the figures to justify its estimated costs of its programme? Can it really be true that they refused to disclose those figures, and have had to be ordered by tribunal to do so? And won’t it be far more damaging for the cause if it turns out that their figures were junk, and this has to be dragged out of them, than if they had had to answer to robust and critical questioning at an early stage, and hence pushed to do the work, and sell the case properly? Did you even know that had happened? Now, maybe there’s more to that example than that, I just use it as an example. Declaring scrutiny as ‘dangerous’ does not do you favours.
My fear is that climate action is more likely to be undermined by incompetent policy makers making a hash of it and losing the support of the public than anything else. The UK and US governments are low on competence and not keen on subjecting themselves to the usual level of scrutiny right now. The US programme in particular is incredibly weak. And it matters. I read today that California is about to bring in new natural gas plants because it so badly implemented its move to renewables its grid can’t cope with demands. It’s not enough to have good intentions, the execution has to be competent. Again, maybe there’s more to that story, but that’s why you have to get beyond the tribal stuff and ask hard questions of both sides.
So that’s where I am with this. No doubt I make errors of judgement from time to time about what to challenge, and whose arguments to give credence to. I may be aiming to be non-tribal, but I’m no more immune to bias and error than anyone. But the aim is a non-tribal inquiry into what does the data support, what are the good questions to ask, and are the solutions being offered actually likely to solve the problem they’re meant to be addressing? The fact that such a project makes people bristle is interesting information in itself.
anoilman “And not one person commented that Ken doesn’t sound like Benedict Cumberbatch?” My understanding is that Cumberbatch has employed a voice coach to sound more like Ken. But it’s just a rumour, to be fair.
I tend to think that it’s impossible to be non-tribal, but that this doesn’t imply something bad if it’s open. One problem I have with some people in the climate context is that they try to imply (or even state) that they’re simply stating things that are true, but what they say is regularly highlighted by one “tribe” to support their arguments. If you then point this out, they get very cross. However, they never seem to try to say things in ways that don’t appear to support one “tribe” rather than another. They must know that their narrative appeals to one “tribe”, but they don’t like being directly associated with that tribe. If this were a rare occurence you might regard it as something that they maybe didn’t realise. If it happens regularly, you start to think that they this isn’t an accident.
I guess my point is probably related to what Ken Fabian was getting at. There probably isn’t a truly objective way to frame something. There are always judgements to be made and this will influence how people interpret what is being said.
The ‘ecomodernists’ largely split a few years ago into people actually optimisic about technological solutions (who would probably be embarrassed to be called ecomodernists now), and the only-nukers who are just interested in hippy-punching.
There is an interesting debate to be had between those on the degrowth side, and those who think that continued growth in material wealth is compatible with sustainability, but you don’t get it by interviewing Shellenberger again.
> . The statistics suggest genuine discrimination is significantly less a factor today that it was just a couple of decades ago, but every case is one too many. But the incidences of ‘cancel culture’ have been increasing, and institutional capture seems to be increasing.
Birh sides of that statement require scrutiny and data.
The first step in that process (imo) is to draw lines of distinction and agree on definition of terms. Otherwise (imo) you’ll just continue to argue by assertion (and anecdote) as indeed you have done despite numerous invitations to take an alternative path.
As such, it seems to me that the pigeon-holing which you (rightly) find counterproductive will only continue. And if anything, despite you’re intent you will only contribute to the tribalism.
Joshua – “Birh sides of that statement require scrutiny and data.”
Probably, but my mention of it here was tangential to the point I was making, and I doubt it benefits us to introduce yet another substantive topic. I covered the first side in my video looking at the evidence and the arguments around the Sewell Report back in April which you can find easily on my channel, if you’re interested. Happy to engage in discussion with you there.
“you’ll just continue to argue by assertion (and anecdote) as indeed you have done despite numerous invitations to take an alternative path.” No idea what your “numerous invitations” were. Plain language rather than coded language will get better responses.
I said numerous times that to engage on the topics of censorship or cancel or woke you need to define terms and talk about how you’re measuring.
In response I got nothing but more arguments by assertion or a handwave to some video.
Again, this conversation takes place in a context. Part of the context is the pervasive, constant rhetoric about the dangers of the “woke left” (for one example) . You can’t embrace that rhetoric without placing yourself in that politicized and tribal context – unless, perhaps, you take more of a scientific approach. Part of what’s necessary is for you to stop assuming you have some verifiable perspective. In part by basically “explaining” arguments we’ve all seenaube hundreds of times.
Now I get you were responding on a lot of fronts and my comments are long and complex. So maybe you missed it above.
So why don’t we start now? We can start with “censorship.” You are assuming that you’ve defined the term in a clear way and established in some meaningful way how to measure it. How are you defining the term? Without doing thst all you’re doing is repeating the arguments of a particular tribe.
Its your right to do so. But what doesn’t work is for you to do so and then point the finger at others for their tribalism because you’re also assuming a tribal stance.
It’s rather like when Sam Harris handwaved to his meditation practice to argue that he’s above tribalism because he’s not part of a tribe.
” You can’t embrace that rhetoric without placing yourself in that politicized and tribal context – unless, perhaps, you take more of a scientific approach.”
Like the Spanish IPCC IPCC members who leaked AR6 to Extinction Rebellion in Barcelona?
Climate anthropologists have noted some very tribal behavior in London , too
Mallen Baker — what tribe are you in?
Jon Kirwan, thanks for your support. I am working on several manuscripts right now, including one on the threat posed by climate change and climatic extremes to insects and other arthropods. This one with 75 authors from numerous countries. I will keep you posted.
Mallen, I have no malice with you. I was just disappointed that you constructed your programs on insect declines and biodiversity loss by posing them as ‘apocalyptic scares’. Had you taken a neutral approach, stating that one side says that there is ‘no problem whatsoever’ or that it is ‘vastly exaggerated’ (see climate contrarian blogs like WUWT, recent articles by Jon Entine and Matt Ridley, Patrick Moore, Bjorn Lomborg), and then contrasted that with media pronouncements saying that we are on the ‘brink of an apocalypse’ with our ‘own extinction a possible result’ (and this is a popular refrain among some media outlets but very few scientists), then I would not have said anything. But you did not do this, and my guess was that you saw the ‘insectageddon’ framing as a way to reel in a larger audience. So be it. Judging by the comments under your YouTube video, over 90% of those fall into the denial camp. You were preaching to them. Their ridicule of the issue and attacks on esteemed scientists like Rachel Carson were disturbing, to say the least.
A recent paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution by Alexander Lees and colleagues at UEA may interest you. In it, the authors describe the rising evidence for ‘extinction denial’. The paper is entitled, “Biodiversity scientists must fight the creeping rise of extinction denial”. The short abstract reads-:
‘Efforts by conservation scientists to draw public attention to the biodiversity crisis are increasingly met with denialist rhetoric. We summarize some of the methods used by denialists to undermine scientific evidence on biodiversity loss, and outline pathways forward for the scientific community to counter misinformation’.
I see this same pattern emerging among those denying or at least downplaying insect declines and their implications. Again, among the vast majority of experts in the field, there is little doubt that we stand on the cusp (or are already into) a major extinction episode. Rodolfo Dirzo and colleagues emphasized this in their 2014 Science paper, “Defaunation in the Anthropocene”. The paper has thus far been cited (on Google Scholar) some 2700 times. The abstract reads:-
‘We live amid a global wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss: species and population extirpations and, critically, declines in local species abundance. Particularly, human impacts on animal biodiversity are an under-recognized form of global environmental change. Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change’.
The paper includes a section on insects and other invertebrates and reports a huge loss of genetic diversity among monitored populations. I agree that the data are far from complete, but the message, regardless of that, is unambiguously clear. There is a problem, it is growing, and society needs to address it urgently right now if we want to prevent it becoming ‘apocalyptic’.
Again, I am more than willing to discuss this with you. I do not know how to reach you but I am sure that Ken can give you my email or me your email and we can proceed from there.
As Willard often reminds, we need a better class of contrarian. Climate science isn’t new or complicated or proceeding differently than predicted. A myopic view is needed for long-term climate contrarianism. Not surprising that the myopic view extends beyond climate to economics or energy technology, with Lomborg and MikeS being good examples.
RCP85 has become unrealistic in the past decade because coal is an economic laggard. Oil is likely the next fossil fuel domino to fall. There are no more Saudi Arabia’s. Meanwhile with government support favored clean technologies have gotten better. That’s why net zero is finding more takers. Its a win/win, more government support leads to better long-term economics. The idea that milk and honey awaits in a 3C fossil world is perplexing to me.
Jeffh – Hi Jeff
I find this exchange extremely discouraging, since I say things that are apparently simply ignored. Over and over again.
So here you say again “I was just disappointed that you constructed your programs on insect declines and biodiversity loss by posing them as ‘apocalyptic scares’.”
I have explained three times now, so I guess a fourth is going to make no difference, that I was responding to the apocalyptic framing used in articles in the Guardian and on the BBC. You have ignored my question – again and again – as to why you are disinterested in apocalyptic scares being spread in the mainstream press, but you are so ‘disappointed’ in someone thinking that it should be countered with a call to the published evidence.
You’ve then signposting me to a paper talking about “extinction denial”. I’m curious to know why – you’re surely not suggesting that my video engaged in such ‘denial’.
They say there are three forms such ‘denial’ takes.
1. Literal denial – saying something is just untrue. Certainly I have never done that.
2. ‘Interpretive denial’ – in which raw facts are not disputed but given a different spin. “For example using evidence from temperate ecosystems to make claims about reduced impacts in the tropics”. I certainly didn’t do that either, but it works two ways, right? The Guardian article that quoted a paper showing a 75% decline in certain locations in Germany to argue generically that there’s a 75% decline of insects worldwide, and that this constitutes a straight-line decline that means all insects may be extinct within a hundred years. That’s the same sort of process, I would have thought.
3. ‘Implicatory denial’, in which data are not denied but implications are, for example arguing that transformative changes to socio-ecological systems are not required to avert species extinctions. I didn’t do that either, although I have to say that comes close to saying “if you don’t agree with our political opinions on what should be done on this issue, then you’re a denier”. I doubt that’s what they thought they were saying, but I’d be interested to know where one draws the line on that sort of provision.
But in any case, I did none of those things, nor did I quote anyone doing any of those things, so why are we talking about it?
You say you wouldn’t have minded if my video was contrasting the apocalyptic stories with those put out by people on the other extreme – the ‘deniers’. I find that baffling, since that would have been platforming deniers’ arguments in ways I didn’t do. How is that better from saying – here’s some hype, here’s the facts? And why can’t we just disagree on that being the way a video gets framed without it becoming a moral bad that I’ve allegedly committed?
“Again, among the vast majority of experts in the field, there is little doubt that we stand on the cusp (or are already into) a major extinction episode.” You seem to be fond of these very broad polemical statements. I’m more interested in the studies and the data that are used to support that rather widely framed suggestion. The debate around whether we are in a “sixth mass extinction” is one that seems to be a live debate – I get that you have an opinion, I’m open to arguments and evidence either way.
I quoted Manu Saunders in my video because she highlights studies and research looking at the data and what it does or doesn’t tell us. So far the references you’ve given me have been political in nature – they may be absolutely correct, I’m interested in the studies to back them up.
What I’ve seen so far seems to be clear that habitat destruction has been driving many of the declines, and the one study I’ve seen that mentions it, did not detect (yet) a specific influence from climate change. You said you’re working on a big paper on that – I’d be very interested to know how that’s going and what evidence is coming out. Because obviously that’s the game change. If declines are mostly about habitat, then that is only a straight line ‘apocalyptic’ scenario if we continue to destroy habitats without let. Which we seem to be pulling back from. If, on the other hand, there are declines arising from a wider phenomenon – happening as much in Indonesian rainforests as in an increasingly urbanised location in Europe – then that’s a different game all together.
If that analysis is wrong, then I’m happy to hear the practicalities of why it’s wrong. I wouldn’t mind if we could end the political scolding though. As I said, I’d be happy to collaborate on something that looks at the issue more broadly, but I’m tired of being told how disappointed you are. It’s not likely to make for a fruitful exchange.
I have your email – I’ll contact you in a few days when I’ve met a few deadlines I have looming. I’m interested to get a sense of what hook a future video looking broadly at the field might hang on to make it interesting to viewers. If there’s a story coming up about impact of climate currently detectable in insect declines, that could well be it, even if it means putting it off for a while. But we can explore possibilities.
gator – “what tribe are you in?” I am ‘between tribes’. I expect there’s a tribe of non-tribalists out there somewhere, and we can all get together and be non-tribalistic and laugh at all the tribalists. Until I find them, then I just have to make a simple living by annoying everyone. It’s a unique business model, for sure.
Mallen Baker “I am ‘between tribes’.”
I think this puts you in the ‘Honest Broker’ tribe, which is the tribe that pretends they are not part of a tribe. Interesting how you frame everyone who disagrees with you as being in a tribe yet you manage to rise above.
I agree. See articles on Sam (no tribal aims because no tribe) Harris. Pretty much what I’ve heard virtually every climate “skeptic” and dark-webber I’ve ever run across.
You can’t talk as you do about “censorship” and claim you aren’t in a tribe unless you actually engage in a nuanced discussion about the related gray areas.
I could be wrong but it seems that you’re committed to not doing so. I’m guessing because you think no such discussions is necessary – after all censorship is censorship – which, imo, just means that you believe your own argument by assertion.
Mallen, my fault for beiing unclear. You have made a lot of relevant points. I apologize for my responses, I am just exceptionally busy. No excuse really, but I have numerous deadlines looming.
My main point I guess was to ask why you take the BBC or Guardian to account, but not Jon Entine, WUWT, Patrick Moore, Mark Ridley, any number of think tanks on the corporate payroll and others who constantly argue that insect declines are fake scares or are exaggerated. Entine’s numerous articles border on libel, because he constantly refers to Dave Goulson as a ‘controversial scientist’ while providing no definition of what that means. My guess is that Entine, a pesticide defender, believes that anyone who thinks that pesticides have a harmful effect on biodiversity is therefore ‘controversial’. He also wrongfully claimed that Goulson was not well known until publication of the 2017 PLoS One paper on which he is a co-author. This is totally untrue. Goulson has been a leading expert in entomology for 2 decades. His citation and publication record is outstanding. Incidentally he is not a personal friend of mine but he is a colleague whose expertise I very much respect.
With respect to Manu Saunders, I have mixed opinions. She makes some very relevant points, but she is still relatively inexperienced. I notice that she crops up in most of Entine’s articles, and that makes me wonder if she would be happy knowing that people like him are using her to defend their arguments. The fact that a relatively inexperienced entomologist is repeatedly being quoted in questioning the seriousness of insect declines, however, also suggests that there are indeed not many qualified experts in the field who necessarily share the same perspective. If there were, those downplaying insect declines would undoubtedly be quoting them as well.
This is not to say that your program was anything close to those of Entine and others and again I apologise for making it sound as if this is what I believe.
As for factors underlying insect declines, I agree that habitat loss and fragmentation, along with intensive agriculture, are the main culprits. However, as my recent paper in Global Change Biology, as well as other reviews by Ma et al. (Annual Review of Entomology, 2021) and Gonzalez-Thokman et al. (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 2020) point out, climate change, and in paricular climatic extremes, pose a very real threat to ectotherms like insects and other arthropods. Upper thermal limits for survival and reproduction in insects may differ – indeed, recent studies are showing that thresholds for sterilisation of insects exposed to heat wave conditions are lower than for survival. In other words, heat exposure does not necessarily kill insects but can destroy their eggs and/or sperm. Right now I am finding that extended exposure to relatively low heat (32 degrees) can destroy the eggs of spiders – something that was totally unexpected. As habitats are destroyed, cooler micro-habitats in which insects depend to see them through extreme heat are also disappearing, forcing them to endure these conditions. The prognosis is not good,
As for longer term warming, this may amplify the effects of other anthropogenic threats. Biodiversity is already faced with numerous human-mediated stresses and the loss of genetic diversity renders many population less well-equipped to deal with them.
In a galaxy far far away exists a tribe of non-tribalists that get together and be non-tribalistic and laugh at all the tribalists.
They call themselves libertarians.
When I was younger, I longed for meeting left libertarians. Then I met some. I do not long anymore.
Jeffh – OK, Jeff, I’ll be in touch soon. I look forward to an interesting discussion.
I will defend Manu Saunders though. Calling her “inexperienced” is an uncalled for ad hominem attack. She was a co-author on a study that looked at exactly the question of insect decline, and her posts quote specific studies and make arguments drawing from them. If her arguments aren’t wrong, then maybe there’s still more to be said, but dismissing her as “inexperienced” isn’t really something I would expect of scientists discussing colleagues. My position for all these videos is that I’m interested in the arguments and the evidence that supports them more than I am about what people think about the person making them – positive or negative. People that are deservedly held in high esteem produce work that is high quality – usually, and vice versa.
And yes, I am pretty sure you’re right that she wasn’t thrilled to be extensively quoted by Jon Entine – she did a blog post soon afterwards without naming him but expressing frustration about being quoted in ways that she wouldn’t support. If what she said about the research was accurate and good faith, the fact that Entine quoted it shouldn’t be an issue you have with her. Any more than if I get comments on videos you don’t like, that’s actually not an issue with me.
If she’s quoted on this topic, it’s because she’s written on this topic, and published on this topic. Those of us looking to get a sense of where the discussion is at amongst the professional community have limited means to sniff out those with a strong view that are keeping it to themselves. As you said, if I’d been doing a different video on insect declines, I would have ended up with different content, and no doubt that would have resulted in quoting different experts.
All right – look forward to chatting.
Willard – “In a galaxy far far away exists a tribe of non-tribalists that get together and be non-tribalistic and laugh at all the tribalists.
They call themselves libertarians.”
Hmm, not really what I had in mind, no.
Joshua – “You can’t talk as you do about “censorship” and claim you aren’t in a tribe unless you actually engage in a nuanced discussion about the related gray areas.”
I don’t see I’m obliged to enter into a long discussion here and now because you demand that I do so. I likewise don’t see why how you perceive your identity (vis a vis membership of a tribe, however we define it) has anything to do with opposition to censorship, which is a topic with all sorts of questions and definitions, but nothing that should be context specific on identity. The ability to say what you like, offend who you like, (while taking the social consequences for your speech), so long as you don’t urge people to actual harm – that is a generic principle. The nature of any grey areas have nothing to do with what ‘tribe’ I do, or don’t, belong to.
I think I’ve invaded Ken’s space quite enough on all this. If you want to chat, you know where you can find me. Apologies, but there has to come a point where I get back in the hamster wheel!
Funny thing is, I think I’m probably pretty much a left libertarian, although the label wouldn’t apply because I disagree on a lot with people who call themselves (left) libertarians.
> I don’t see I’m obliged to enter into a long discussion here.
I never meant to suggest that you’re obliged to do anything.
When I was saying that you have to do something I just meant I’d you’re going to be logically consistent.
> I likewise don’t see why how you perceive your identity (vis a vis membership of a tribe, however we define it) has anything to do with opposition to censorship,
Of course not. My point was that how you’re defining “censorship” says a lot about how you align with a tribe.
… if you’re going to be….
> not really what I had in mind
It’s what I have in mine tho.
The very idea of tribalism presumes that humans can and should transcend their social nature. It is also opposed to an individualist framing. The Dank Web sells it. Both MRAs and the Wellness movement sells it. To try to empower people with the Sapere Aude mantra is all well and good, but at some point we need to get real. That’s just not how it works empirically. There are steep limits to what we can judge by ourselves, and we all rely on our networks for trust or distrust.
Perhaps I should add it to But Consensus.
> the label wouldn’t apply because I disagree on a lot with people who call themselves
There is a theorem according to which a liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. A corrolary is that a libertarian quarrels with his own side all the time.
It seems to me that treating the climate problem seriously enough to advocate for strong action – and leaving aside just what those actions might be – and being critical of opponents to and arguments against strong action – makes me tribal, then I’m tribal. I use working renewable energy every day (and night) and that is the emissions reduction pathway that is actually on offer when I cast any votes. Nuclear is not. If choosing renewables – and thinking that building as much as possible as fast as possible is an expression of tribalism – then I am tribal. But I would much prefer that taking the problem seriously were not deemed tribal.
I don’t oppose nuclear, even if I don’t agree that “just use nuclear” has been shown to be essential or even better. I think any nation that has a strong and comprehensive nuclear energy industry will have the capability for developing nuclear weapons, so I think nuclear does involve important considerations apart from emissions and must always be treated differently, with higher levels of government oversight, planning and intervention. Renewables are thriving despite the conflicted politics but I think nuclear cannot; it needs far higher levels of bipartisan mainstream commitment and advocacy based around how serious and urgent the climate problem is, not appeasing deniers (who like nuclear) by downplaying it. Despite bonding over dislike of Environmentalists climate science deniers and nuclear advocates are at cross purposes. Is it tribal to point that out?
I leave it to others who DO think nuclear is essential to promote it. Not promoting nuclear myself isn’t censorship or hypocrisy or necessarily a consequence of being tribal.
The policies I would choose to be put to voters would feature carbon pricing – which the World Nuclear Association (and Lomborg btw) see as essential for growing nuclear – and it would be a ramping and inexorable carbon pricing applied at the producer/wholesale level and designed to influence the future investment decisions of producers and would not even attempt to aim at consumer level choice. But I am not getting to choose that.
If I could go back I would change the phrase “not give oxygen” – not because I think that choosing NOT to give special attention to Lomborg is censorship (rather than a legitimate element of exercising of free speech) – but because I meant “give oxygen to his arguments”, NOT deprive Lomborg of oxygen. I don’t like “better if they were dead” rhetoric and deeply regret typing a turn of phrase like that. It was not intentional.
Which sorts of egregiousness are triggers that make you want to step up and speak out does reveal a lot.
Mallen, my point about Manu Saunders is to ask why she appears to be an almost lone voice who is quoted by you, Entine and others on the subject of ‘insectageddon’. She has been quoted on this topic quite extensively, and as I said, many of her points are very valid. Still my argument was to suggest that when one side of an issue relies extensively on one individual scientist to support their view, then this strongly suggests that the vast majority of their peers don’t. And my comment about inexperience is not about knowledge, but about public application of that knowledge. Scientists are indoctrinated with caution. We rarely agree on anything, which makes the broad consensus on climate change actually quite remarkable. But excessive caution can cut both ways. As I said the other day, how much knowledge is enough before society should be inclined to act? I am not going out on a limb when I assert that the vast majority of my peers think that we know more than enough to say that there is a problem with respect to insect declines and that we need to act now. By procrastinating until more data are in, we are simply fiddling while Rome burns. The problem has not yet become an apocalypse some in the media suggest, but it certainly can become that way if we continue along the current trajectory. Cautious scientists who are concerned with overselling a problem need to bear that in mind when they speak out, at least in my opinion. They need to balance their caution with how some groups with vested interests may exploit their caution into promoting the status quo. I can give you several examples when we chat.
When it comes to adhom attacks, no need to tell me. Since reviewing Lomborg’s book for Nature in 2001 with Stuart Pimm, and for daring to take on those who distort science, I have been personally subjected to all kinds of attacks over the past 20 years that go well beyond professional.
Jeffh – Jeez Jeff. Again? “Mallen, my point about Manu Saunders is to ask why she appears to be an almost lone voice who is quoted by you, Entine and others on the subject of ‘insectageddon’. She has been quoted on this topic quite extensively, and as I said, many of her points are very valid.”
She’s quoted because she’s done three peer-reviewed studies in the last couple of years on the topic of insect decline and particularly in the context of the apocalypse narrative, which is the exact topic we’re talking about. In those, she reviews the pool of studies that show insect decline and talks in very specific terms about what the evidence does or does not show.
How is that hard to understand? I’m interested in what the studies show, and what they mean.
I quoted Manu Saunders words because she’s written about her work on a blog that provides some good quotes, but I also talked about the decline study by Hallman et al 2017, the butterflies decline study by Warren et al 2001, the insect declines / increases paper by van Klink et al 2020, and the stable insect populations of Crossley et al 2020. I didn’t quote the authors directly, I talked about their papers, but it’s still a reference to a wider pool of experts that have studied the exact question I’m discussing.
With respect, so far all you’ve done is tell me your opinion in the broadest of terms, backed with your contention that it’s also the opinion of your equally qualified mates. Your arguments about ‘groups with vested interests’ and how they may mis-use what you describe as ‘caution’ but really is scientifically precise language, is a political one. You’re arguing against “procrastination” – ok, but I’m not clear what action it is you want us to be taking that we’re in danger of not taking by the simple act of being precise about what analysis the data does or does not support. That’s the argument of an activist – and fine, I’m separately interested in what people think should be done. But I try to separate that from the science of what is happening, why, and what it means.
If you do have such experience with adhom attacks, which I have no doubt, then I simply suggest you don’t do it to others. Doing it and then justifying it because others have done it to you first is an argument from the playground.
Mallen, Geez? Mallen again? You are writing in here a lot more than I am.
To reiterate: scientists are taught to do science, not advocacy. Few of us are trained in public relations. My concern with scientists saying over and over again that ‘we don’t know enough’ or that ‘we are exaggerating environmental problems’ is that we are playing straight into the hands of those who do not want to change anything. Whereas over-exaggerating a problem is bad, underplaying it is worse, because by the time we acknowledge the seriousness of the predicament then it is often much too late to do anything about it, This is all about semantics. The Crossley and van Klink studies were both criticized as much as the Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys study was for methodological and analytical flaws. Why focus on mistakes made by one but not the others?
This argument about what the data does or does not support is like being unable to separate the wood from the trees. Paul Ehrlich appropriately described the human assault on biodiversity as like a fire that is spreading through a library. The skeptics demand to know the exact temperature of the conflagration at every place in the library and also want to know the titles of which books are burning, the exact pages of these books etc. Without this precise information they claim that there is not a problem. This approach leads to us doing nothing until we are sifting through the ashes. It is hardly surprising that the denial of insect declines has been taken up by climate change contrarians like Marc Morano, Anthony Watts, Patrick Moore, Jim Steele, Matt Ridley and others. It is just another form of denial.
One thing that we know for sure is that many well-studied temperate vertebrates are in freefall. I grew up in southern Ontario, Canada, and emigrated to the U.K, in 1983. When I went back to visit a friend in 2019 I was shocked to find that once-common farmland countryside birds had become rare. Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks could be seen and heard multiple times daily when I was a teenager in the 1970s. Now both species are gone from much of their range. One birding friend said he had not seen a Bobolink in two years. When we heard the song of an Eastern Meadowlark it was the event of the day. I was flabbergasted. Insectivorous birds like warblers (Parulidae) have declined precipitously since I lived there. Cerulean Warblers are disappearing across their entire range. Ovenbirds, Canada Warblers and others have declined rapidly. Certainly some species have fared better, but there are far more losers than winners. In the Netherlands, the Black Godwit, our national bird, is faring very badly in recent decades. I spoke with a colleague here about it. He said that godwit habitat is now much more strictly protected, but chick mortality is high. When I asked why, my colleague said that it appears the adults are having more trouble now finding enough invertebrate food to nourish their young. This is because the birds require extensive natural grasslands that are rich in insects. Neighboring pastures are dominated by rye grass that contains low insect diversity and biomass. There is a strong correlation at the landscape scale. The black grouse is doing even worse here. Although native, it declined so rapidly that birds from Sweden were released to supplement the Dutch population. The birds bred successfully and produced a number of chicks, but all of them died. Insufficient invertebrate food has been cited as a very probable cause of this mortality.
As I said the other day, the refrain of skeptics is that without 100%, unequivocal proof, that a problem does not exist. Mallen this also has nothing to do with what me and my ‘mates’ believe. By writing comments like that, suggesting this is some form of pub dispute over a football match, you are losing any credibility. I will say it again: many insects, and much of biodiversity, is in deep trouble as a result of multiple anthropogenic threats. The growing effects of rapid climate warming are likely to amplify the other threats. There is no way to sugar coat the predicament. Sure, let’s do more studies but at the same time we need to set in motion measures to protect and conserve insect populations now so that numbers stabilise and recover. Have you read my paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution from last year in which we formulated a roadmap for this? We explain what measures are necessary and argue that we need to act now.
> Have you read my paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution from last year in which we formulated a roadmap for this?
URL or it does not exist.
Mr. Harvey, I think perhaps you are mis-hearing what contrarians are saying (or perhaps I am mis-hearing, or need to read and listen more widely).
What I read and hear, including from some of the names you mention (specifically Ridley, Steel and Moore) is that biodiversity is indeed threatened by human actions, but that most of our damage is caused by habitat destruction/conversion, over hunting/fishing, invasive species and pollution.
What I read and hear (and have been saying myself) is that climate change is very real but in the context of biodiversity is best understood as something the consequences of which will be felt mostly in the future. This is not meant to diminish the scope of damages that will be felt because of climate change. It is meant to maintain what little focus we have on the forces causing current damages.
> What I read and hear
A quote might be nice, especially for PatrickM. As for Jim, here he is, playing Climateball like a Boss:
Do you really mean Jim Steele and Patrick Moore?
Jeffh – “Whereas over-exaggerating a problem is bad, underplaying it is worse” That’s an opinion. I thoroughly disagree with it. I think the measure of someone’s integrity is the willingness to call out bad behaviour on your own side. Otherwise, you’re just unconditionally supporting a team, and therefore why should I trust anything you say? I see climate scientists calling out the exaggerations of people like Extinction Rebellion from time to time – doing that is always a process that builds trust in your objectivity.
“The Crossley and van Klink studies were both criticized as much as the Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys study was for methodological and analytical flaws. Why focus on mistakes made by one but not the others?” Because I wasn’t aware of that. Can you give me references for the criticisms please.
“Paul Ehrlich appropriately described the human assault on biodiversity as like a fire that is spreading through a library.” He also said that hundreds of millions would starve to death unless we had population control in the 1970s. This is why I prefer research over opinions.
“It is hardly surprising that the denial of insect declines has been taken up by climate change contrarians like Marc Morano, Anthony Watts, Patrick Moore, Jim Steele, Matt Ridley and others.” Yes, but here’s your problem. The Covid lab leak hypothesis was taken up (badly) by Trump. More than anything else, that fact meant that everyone discarded it as a “conspiracy theory” until one day he wasn’t president any more and suddenly people started saying – well, actually, that MIGHT be a valid possibility. When you start discrediting ideas based on your personal opinion of some of the people who support them, then you are on very sticky ground. Most binary positions have good and bad people on both sides – easy to point at the bad (in your opinion) on the other side. Makes no difference to the validity of the argument. We know that arguments from authority are a fallacy. Surely the reverse is also true – damning from (negative) authority.
And nobody here “denied insect declines”! You’re equating balance and precise language with “denial”. Seriously?
“As I said the other day, the refrain of skeptics is that without 100%, unequivocal proof, that a problem does not exist.” Yes, but those people are not here, and nobody is arguing that here.
“Mallen this also has nothing to do with what me and my ‘mates’ believe. By writing comments like that, suggesting this is some form of pub dispute over a football match, you are losing any credibility.”
Oh really. Let me remind you. You said: “As someone working in the field, and who discusses this among my peers across the world, the answer is quite clear. Biodiversity in general is declining rapidly.”
You also said: “I, and the majority of my colleagues, would forcefully argue that we know enough to say that there is a very serious problem and that we need to act now.”
And then you said: “I am not going out on a limb when I assert that the vast majority of my peers think that we know more than enough to say that there is a problem with respect to insect declines and that we need to act now. ”
So if you stop making arguments from the authority of you and your colleagues, then I’ll stop referring to it. It’s not my credibility at stake here – making an argument in such general terms based on what you suggest your “peers” and your “colleagues” believe is not the sort of thing I’m used to seeing from scientists. Hence I refer to the research, not broad generalisations about what I think, and that “my colleagues” all agree with me.
“Have you read my paper in Nature Ecology and Evolution from last year in which we formulated a roadmap for this? We explain what measures are necessary and argue that we need to act now.” I hadn’t, but I now have. Will be interesting to discuss. I’m intrigued at some of the items in “no-regret solutions” – for example “phase out pesticide use” – well, as we’ve seen in the last couple of years, doing that brings with it a number of regrets for farmers. So I’m curious as to the detail that went into the formulation of the proposed solutions. I assume there’s good detail behind all of these, it’s just not in the paper.
I mean, sometimes some “regrets” have to be balanced against bigger regrets, but that’s not how you framed it there.
> We know that arguments from authority are a fallacy
No we don’t.
[Self-snip. – W]
> The Covid lab leak hypothesis was taken up (badly) by Trump. More than anything else, that fact meant that everyone discarded it as a “conspiracy theory”…
I’m shocked to see an appeal to TDS.
No mention of those who said that the leak theory was relatively implausible (not simply that it was a conspiracy theory, please note the Lancet article is not the sum total of all responses). Or those who pointed to the conspiracy theories directly associated with the lab leak theory (e.g., that it was deliberately released as a bio-weapon). Or that some of those who were promoting the lab leak theory also promote a host of other conspiracy theories (like that the election was stolen from Trump).
See how easy it is to COMPLETELY avoid gray areas, and as a result have the effect of INCREASING tribalism? It’s black and white. TDS explains it. But that’s not being tribal, just being factual!
It’s so easy even people who don’t have a tribal bone in their body manage to do it.
> The Covid lab leak hypothesis was taken up (badly) by Trump. More than anything else, that fact meant that everyone discarded it as a “conspiracy theory” until one day he wasn’t president any more and suddenly people started saying – well, actually, that MIGHT be a valid possibility.
Just to show how wrong (and tribal) that description is, please consider how when Trump suggested treating COVID with bleach no one rejected it reflex….
Well, maybe this example:
“They call them therapeutic, but to me it wasn’t therapeutic,” he said in a video he tweeted on Wednesday, five days after receiving the experimental treatment from the biotech company Regeneron. He claimed that he felt better immediately. “I call that a cure,” he said. “It’s a cure,” he said…
Did people just reject monoclonal antibodies until suddenly one day Trump wasn’t present anymore?
Along with your tribalistic lumping together everyine who doubted the lab leak theory (is there anything more tribal than lumping people together in a facile and antagonistic and inaccurate way?) also leveraged the standard rightwing rhetoric where anyine who doesn’t agree with Trump about anything doesn’t agree with him simply because they have to reject anything he says.
That’s standard rhetoric or the owning libz crowd. Should I lump you into that category?
That isn’t to say that TDS doesn’t exist at all. It’s just to say that it’s complicated and that no one is served well by simplistic finger- mpointing that skirts the gray areas.
I don’t doubt your goal is to be non-tribal and promote non-rribaliam but I don’t think you’re going to further those goals by parroting tribalistic and un-nuanced rhetoric
In an ideal world we would all present as balanced a message as was possible. We don’t live in such a world, so people make personal judgements as to what to stress and what to ignore/downplay. The standard argument against exaggerating is that it can seem extreme, won’t appeal to many people, and is unlikely to be an effective way to motivate action. The potential irony, though, is that this almost implies that if people exaggerate, we may ignore the problem, and the outcome may well be much worse than if people had presented a more balanced message that might have been able to reach people more effectively and motivate action. In other words, if people exaggerate, the outcome may end up being closer to what they’ve claimed will happen than if they didn’t. I’m not sure I’ve explained that all that clearly, but the argument against exaggeration potential involves implying that those who exaggerate could end up being more right than we might like.
The reason I tend to agree that underplaying is worse (in the context of climate change) is that it’s clear that there is a serious issue that we should be addressing. It’s hard to see how underplaying this could end up with a better outcome than exaggerating. I’m not advocating either, but I tend to agree with those who regard underplaying as worse than exaggerating, especially given how little we’re doing now, it’s hard to see how taking the exaggerators more seriously will suddenly lead to us doing way too much.
Joshua can speak for himself. But it’s likely a reference to “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Okay, that makes sense. Thanks.
I guess the other lack of symmetry between underplaying and exaggerating is that noone ever says (AFAIA) don’t underplay the risks, because if you do, people won’t take you seriously and we may end up taking the risks more seriously and acting promptly to minimise them.
Joshua – “Along with your tribalistic lumping together everyine who doubted the lab leak theory (is there anything more tribal than lumping people together in a facile and antagonistic and inaccurate way?)” It’s very well documented by numerous scientists and journalists about how what was said publicly about the lab leak hypothesis was affected by the political context of the time. I did my first video on the lab leak hypothesis before it was respectable to talk about – I’m extremely well aware of the dynamics of the moment. But I’m not going to go chasing references to back up the obvious just because you call me names.
ATTP – Overclaiming destroys public faith in the integrity of the message (boy who cried wolf). It also has negative consequences vis a vis the rise in eco-anxiety in young people. If it were an isolated example, it wouldn’t be such an issue. When you have Extinction Rebellion actively telling children that they won’t get to grow old because of climate change (and a good number believing them), then articles talking about the ‘insect apocalypse’ adds to the barrage in a way that arguably does real harm, and doesn’t serve that much benefit. Can we not motivate our public policy sufficiently with accurate descriptions of the actual significant declines?
That isn’t an argument for “underplaying”. It’s an argument for caring about getting it right. Ironically, we’re in danger of underplaying the damage of exaggeration. Even notwithstanding that, it provides prime ammunition for those arguing against action. It’s not my objection to the over-claiming that hands them that ammunition, it’s the over-claiming in the first place.
Yes, I get the argument and I largely agree (I especially dislike the narrative that children won’t grow old, not only because it’s an unpleasant thing to say, but also because it’s wrong).
My point was more related to this
This may well be true, but it suggests that the more people exaggerate, the more we run the risk that some of what they suggest may materialise (not all, of course). In other words, if the above is true, then exaggerating is going to lead to more severe climate impacts (it is a cumulative problem, so – in a simple sense – the less we do, the more severe the impacts are likely to become).
Maybe I’m making my point poorly, but I just find it a bit ironic that some of the arguments against exaggerating almost seem to involve implying that the outcome might tend towards the exaggeration (by “tend” I mean get closer to, not become what is claimed).
To be clear, this isn’t an argument in favour of exaggerating (I think we should aim to get it right) just a suggestion that some of the arguments against it seem a little ironic.
As I said in our chat, I’m more than happy to correct claims that are simply, but I think there is an interesting issue as to how we respond to messaging from activists. I am very uncomfortable with some of the claims being made by some climate activists and I do dislike when these imply unfounded near-term risks to children. However, there is a difference between correcting a claim that is simply wrong, and objecting to the manner in which they’re presenting a message.
However, I do think we are doing too little to address climate change, there are serious risks associated with climate change, and there are indications that some of the more severe outcomes are materialising sooner than we might have expected (heatwaves, wildfires, etc). This could just be random chance, but maybe not. So, at the end of the day, I do think that those who significantly underplay the risks are putting us at more risk than those who overplay them, even if I’m more than happy to see people call out their exaggerations (or to do so myself).
To get back to what I think Joshua’s point might be. I think it’s difficult to avoid our biases influencing how we respond to, or interpet, what some say. For example, even though some of what Shellenberger/Lomborg/Pielke say is correct, I still disagree with what their message seems to be, or (maybe, more correctly) how their message seems to be being interpreted (resilience is key, to paraphrase how I generally see it being interpreted, or climate change isn’t impacting extreme events, etc). Similarly, I’m very uncomfortable with some of the messaging coming out of XR, but I generally agree with the basic the message they’re trying to get out (this is a serious problem, we need to take it urgent action, etc).
In my view, we should just be open about this. However, none of this means that I think we should excuse exaggerations, or not try to correct them. It’s just a suggestion that failings in an organisation doesn’t necessarily completely invalidate their message and, similarly, that what some say is true doesn’t necessarily validate their message.
> It’s very well documented by numerous scientists
I thought appeals to authority were fallacious, Mallen.
Willard – “I thought appeals to authority were fallacious, Mallen.” Is that the level now? Baiting? Scientists and journalists were the ones whose reluctance to speak out / consider valid questions was the phenomenon I was referring to. So it’s not an “appeal to authority” to point out that a number of said people have talked about the fact that that was the case. And you’re suggesting that WASN’T the case? I find that extraordinary. It wasn’t hard to spot for the last 18 months. But all right.
The Vanity Fair investigation talks about a lot of the context at the time, including that Robert Redfield, former CDC director got death threats from scientists when he suggested he believed in the lab leak theory, along with a lot more of the background environment. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/06/the-lab-leak-theory-inside-the-fight-to-uncover-covid-19s-origins
Separately, this article covers the way it was dealt with in the mainstream media (mostly dismissively, but not uniformly) https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/05/lab-leak-liberal-media-theory-china-wuhan-lab-cotton-trump.html
Now that’s sorted out, I will say adieu. I’m not interested in hostile baiting conversations, and that seems to be where we’ve gotten to. Thanks again to Ken for an interesting interview, and constructive exchange. I’m sure a fruitful and interesting dialogue will continue in the future.
There’s no conversation to speak of, Mallen. You’re not listening.
Jeff appeals to scientific results, that’s an argument from authority and it’s invalid. You rely on scientific results to punch hippies, that’s trying to get things right and the only way to restore faith in the INTEGRITY ™ etc.
I mean, c’mon.
If you keep punching hippies, what do you think will happen? Hippies will get more ice time. That’s exactly what the Streisand Effect is all about.
And since the lab leak thing has been mentioned:
Is amplifying contrarian talking points a way to restore faith in the INTEGRITY of science?
I have my doubts.
Yes, TDS = Trump Derangement Syndrome. And just to be clear again, I think it’s a real phenomenon where there’s quite a bit of unfortunate political activity that can be boiled down to reflexive reactions to Trump (just as Obama Derangement Syndrome and Bush Derangement Syndrome were also real and fairly predictable outcomes of tribalism).
But the problem there is that accusations of TDS have become an unfalsifiable tribal weapon that gets OVERCLAMED to explain pretty much anything people want to use it to explain. That’s why I am calling out Mallen for his simplified use of that phenomenon to push his political agenda as I describe below.
> It’s very well documented by numerous scientists and journalists about how what was said publicly about the lab leak hypothesis was affected by the political context of the time.
Much is affected by politics, but that’s not really on point with my comment.
You characterized the response as being (1) nothing other than a rejection of the idea of a lab leak as (2) a “conspiracy theory” because people (3) didn’t like Trump (and because Trump/Trump officials pushed a lab leak theory).
This is problematic at multiple levels.
The first is that not everyone just rejected a lab leak theory as a conspiracy theory – but as a theory that was implausible. Now maybe many of them underestimated the plausibility, and maybe there are a variety of unsupportable reasons why they did that. But at the bottom line, you were pushing tribe-adjacent rhetoric.
So (1) you were OVERCLAIMING.
The second is that there’s some validity to connecting the lab leak theory to conspiracy-mongering in the sense that some of the pushing of the lab leak theory was directly connected to conspiracy theories (related to China deliberately leaking the virus). At the bottom line here also, you were pushing tribe-adjacent rhetoric..
So, (2) you were OVERCLAIMING.
The third is that there were valid reasons to reject much of what Trump and Trump officials say because in fact they do promote conspiracy theories on a regular basis. So yo were pushing tribe-adjacent rhetoric and…
(3) you were OVERCLAIMING.
> I did my first video on the lab leak hypothesis before it was respectable to talk about
I’m glad that you did a video. That doesn’t make you right. I”m glad that you did it before it was respectable to talk about it…but therein you make it clear that you have a stake in this, as we see with someone like Bret Weinstein. Your agenda is that you saw something that others didn’t see and it’s because you maintained your focus despite potential reputational risk that an important idea didn’t get buried beneath tribal reactions. That’s great. But it’s a particular angle. It’s a lens through which you’re viewing this issue. And it’s not the only lens. And because of the limits of your lens and your resistance to considering other lenses ,you’re missing stuff and you’re OVERCLAIMING.
You’re pushing an agenda, and in that we can see a through line to your viewpoint on “censorship.”
> – I’m extremely well aware of the dynamics of the moment. But I’m not going to go chasing references to back up the obvious just because you call me names.
I’m not asking you to go chasing references. I don’t need you to do so to know that you’ve treated this issue in a selective manner as I outlined above.
>Overclaiming destroys public faith in the integrity of the message (boy who cried wolf).
As with your OVERCLAIMING of TDS as a political tool, I think that here you’re OVERCLAIMING about OVERCLAIING.
No doubt, overclaiming has something of a boy who cried wolf effect, but I think that for the most part overclaiming doesn’t “destroy public faith” because most people just roll with the punches. Instead, those who have an agenda to push, OVERCLAIM about overclaming because it serves their agenda to do so. We’ve seen this a lot in the climate wars, such as the claims that “Climategate” destroyed public faith in climate science. There’s little evidence to support that claim, even though we see “skeptics” often saying that they their view on climate change because
Climategate” destroyed their confidence in climate scientists. The point is that it’s politically convenient for “skeptics” to make that claim as support for their preexisting views which are largely associated with a preexisting political/identity signal.
This is what you’re doing here, IMO. You’re pushing an agenda and using OVERCLAIMING as a way to justify your activism.
I hope you come back to discuss this because I think it’s important and thus far, IMO, your engagement on this issues as been really, really shallow. As far as I can tell you haven’t actually addressed the issues I’m raising.
> Now that’s sorted out, I will say adieu.
“Now that I expressed my view, it’s sorted out, and because I OVERCLAIM about the value of my arguments by assertion, I can leave. My work is done. I’ve settled the issue.”
> To get back to what I think Joshua’s point might be. I think it’s difficult to avoid our biases influencing how we respond to, or interpet, what some say.
That actually helps me to see more clearly what my point was!
> In my view, we should just be open about this.
Yah. I agree. We need to acknowledge we have biases and to be open about them and be willing to interrogate them with others. Imo, that’s the only (albeit weak) antidote to tribalism.
Unfortunately, it seems to me that Mallen presents as if he doesn’t agree, and as resistant to discussing his biases (or how our biases interact)
Of course, that could just be a reflection of my own biases but I won’t be able to interrogate that more because Mallen is clearly not interested in having that discussion (with me).
Joshua, gator, mallen:
It’s interesting that someone posting on a site frequented by the authors of a well-known, partisan polemic based on stolen, cherry-picked and misrepresented data should choose as a throwaway criticism of one tribe a random alleged leak that no-one on the site had heard of – probably because most of don’t frequent the sort of place where that sort of thing is banner headlines but discreetly funding disinformation is not. In part because experience has taught us that most such claims prove on investigation to be untrue. (I presume we were supposed to take the claimed leaking of data that was going to be published anyway as a signalling of that “virtuous” tribe’s lack of virtue – but see “am I my brother’s keeper?”.)
I’m with those who call “Roger’s Tribe”. Now you know my tribe. Not that that feat required the assistance of the man with the pipe and deerstalker.
Thanks for the references Jeffh. I’ll follow up and see where the Google Scholar breadcrumbs lead me next (OMG, already have 115 tabs of which probably 100 are “look at later” 😦 ). Just as well I have 32Gb memory. Not only is Chrome a resource hog, I still have the extra sandboxing I implemented during the Intel memory leak time, and that makes it worse. I presume you meant Insect responses to heat: physiological mechanisms, evolution and ecological implications in a warming world by González-Tokman et al.?
mallen, if you’re still here, youth (hence stage in the research career) is relevant in science and need not be ad hom. Most researchers go from being the smartest person in the class to being the smartest person in the undergrad class to being the dumbest person in the department as a PhD student. And it takes years more to reach average smarts and decades to become the smartest person in the room. Same as an industry scientist. Straight to dumbest person on the team, and that ends when a dumber recruit arrives, not because you’ve become the smartest person on the team within five years. There are very, very few Einsteins. That’s one reason his annus mirabilis is so famous.
On the lab leak, I’ve been following the scientific literature, not Vanity Fair, and it’s been obvious for well over a year that the overwhelming consensus among the most knowledgeable (I’m tempted to say 33:1, like climate science), particularly geneticists but also virologists, has been from very early on that a lab leak is very unlikely. Mainly because it was such an implausible way to engineer a virus, and to have its nearest wild relative 50 years removed would require not an accidental lab leak but a conspiracy going back decades, because it’s inconceivable had it come from the caves they visited that they would not have found much, much closer relatives. Since their business is, in part, publishing those DNA sequences, they’d have had to know which strain they’d engineer far enough back to know what related strains to conceal and not publish. By that stage you’re in “they faked the thermometer records” territory. And of course if it was an accidental leak, they would not have known ten years ago which strain would leak, so would have needed a fortune-teller to tell them what not to publish. The more analyses have been carried, out, the more outlandish it looks. Which is how “normal science” works. If your initial hypotheses was right, additional observations strengthen it. If it was wrong, they weaken it.
That Trump endorsed it is irrelevant. And of course the intelligence services have now turned up zero evidence. Bet a lot of people are disappointed. Not that it will change their minds, of course.
ken’s point also applies. You should stop and think about why the best climate deniers can do by way of polar-bear ecology experts is a DNA-lab-jockey whose animal work was co-published with bona fide field researchers, and extend the process to other fields. I bet the closest she got to the field was some dirt on the outside of a sample container (in part because for protected species you’d need permission, and like a tourist she wouldn’t qualify to do independent work). I’d take her word in an instant for the quality of a DNA finding and the presence or not of contamination. But on questions of ecology or of threats to the species, I’d go with the field hand every time. In a sense relying on the same-old-same-old names demonstrates the thinness of the contrarian bench – the consensus really is a consensus, otherwise they could vary their team according to circumstances, make tactical substitutions, and rest the entire first team and send out the reserves for a League Cup game.
> It’s interesting that someone posting on a site frequented by the authors of a well-known, partisan polemic based on stolen, cherry-picked and misrepresented data should choose as a throwaway criticism of one tribe a random alleged leak that no-one on the site had heard of – probably because most of don’t frequent the sort of place where that sort of thing is banner headlines but discreetly funding disinformation is not. In part because experience has taught us that most such claims prove on investigation to be untrue. (I presume we were supposed to take the claimed leaking of data that was going to be published anyway as a signalling of that “virtuous” tribe’s lack of virtue – but see “am I my brother’s keeper?”.)
I couldn’t follow that.
Joshua, it was in the vein of (I’ve not seen the video) the comments (accusations?) that one side was getting a freer ride than the others, or having a few unrepresentative outliers confounded with the mainstream view hence leaving viewers with the impression that the mainstream view was exaggerated.
Hence my juxtaposition of a mote (some IPCC people releasing information before the embargo date to an organisation they by inference favour) with a plank (Climategate).
And anyway can’t anyone get onto the IPCC panels just by applying? So even as guilt-by-association it’s a minuscule mote.
Oops, I now see that was from russell. My bad. Doubly bad. The reason for my error was that I was skimming the dialogue and, not paying attention, missed a change of interlocutor. Committing a cardinal sin in the eyes of my earlier self as a journal editor. Referencing a paper as if it supports your own, but having not properly read the paper, failing to realise that it doesn’t or at least that it’s more nuanced. 😦
Triply bad, or perhaps only two and a half times because I at least admitted up front that I hadn’t watched the video and was going by what others said about it. Which is equivalent to referencing a paper you haven’t read at all but which you think supports your case based on the context in which someone else referenced it.
It’s actually interesting to see Susan Crockford libeled and vilified for being a credentialed scientist who has accurately shown the world that polar bear numbers are increasing despite sea ice decline. Especially when these cheap slurs come from people who passionately clutch their pearls when a word of criticism is uttered against any of the leading lights of the consensus.
You have learned your lessons well, young grasshoppers. If you can slime a scientist you don’t have to read her papers. More importantly, you can tell the world they don’t have to, either.
I have spent a considerable amount of time telling skeptics that, despite the foibles and foolishness of some members of the climate consensus, the world is warming and CO2 is one of the primary causes. They don’t like it when I do so.
But you should also benefit from this sage advice, even if you are certain to like it even less. Pointing out that Crockford works from behind the desk throws shade at all the climate scientists that do likewise. Pointing at a sparse publication record will expose Michael Mann’s meager output when he was plucked from obscurity to lead the charge of the Hockey Stick brigade.
Far better to look at published output.
We’ve been over Susan’s hall of mirrors many times already, e.g.:
Our luckwarm fellow has been ripping off his [shirt] for decades now. Don’t fall for his bait.
[No more food fight. Please return in the next Climateball episode. -W]
“I actually don’t have much of a problem with this. I don’t think we should rewrite history, but I don’t see any real reason to laud people who did things that, today, would be regarded as objectionable.”
I don’t think we should rewrite history, but …. I do.
An interesting discussion up blog with an inevitable conclusion.
One does not have to rewrite history when we continually repeat it.
Thank you for putting up the clip.
A bit like reading the book then seeing the film.
I was not even close in my assumptions.
Long comment prompted partly by JeffH’s contributions.
A good chat that quickly reminded me how far meta-issues of science communication and public controversy are from actual policy discussion. Ken is as usual careful to avoid over-generalisations, makes important distinctions, and says things like ‘it’s maybe unfair’ immediately before a comment that seems scrupulously fair.
One of Mallen’s concerns is what’s been referred to, often pejoratively, as ‘stealth issue advocacy’. I personally see a clear distinction between informing and persuading, which the Nature ‘five rules for evidence communication’ lays out (Blastland et al, 2020). Browbeating someone’s feelings with science (for instance over their reaction to social distancing or vaccines) might have a negative effect on them and on their openness to new information. How far the use and abuse of scientific evidence in polarised discussions contributes to a minority’s distrust of scientists is something worth researching, if it hasn’t been already.
On the other hand, I’d like to express great appreciation for JeffH’s role and his informative contributions here, and for directing me as a reader to the succinct ‘roadmap for insect conservation and recovery’ (full-text preprints online). Here I see the science communicator role to inform fairly – the consensus is of large-scale invertebrate declines and increasing threats, even though there are some pieces of conflicting evidence – but also bridged to other communication that makes those objective statements more salient. I see the decline in house sparrow colonies that is attributed to lack of invertebrate food in cities. I read Jeff as expressing understandable concern and worry in this public forum, which in no way undermines the rigour of scientific papers. In itself, that informal reaction of an expert adds value and values to the dry science and is the first step in motivating action and prompting policy dialogue. It helps to make these values explicit – biodiversity and species abundance are by themselves of value to us as individuals without having to engage in Hollywood or Biblical metaphors. Also by proposing a set of actions, motivated by a combination of detailed knowledge and values that most would share, we lay people are given an approximate idea of the scale of what we want to do. (The choice of research questions involves values in a way the results do not.) There’s no problem with science, but a common human frailty is to under-react to dry facts like population declines or infection fatality rates when ‘no regret solutions’ would have helped enormously with SARS-CoV-2 (see Jeremy Farrar’s _Spike_). Actually understanding relevant policy probably strengthens the grasp of the science, even if not its detail. This is far from there being a simple position of ‘following the science’ – I’d be pleased if politicians just followed the science in the sense of understanding it. Requiring absolute certainty before action is a common case of ‘impossible expectations’ in the FLICC taxonomy.
Therefore, the types of interview and dialogue I’d like to watch and recommend are a) those between two or more experts in the same domain, which would reveal areas of agreement as well as uncertainty and concern; b) between an expert in, say, ecology and another in physics that would show interaction between different facets of an issue. In particular, a) solves the framing problem because it locates the reasonable questions among experts while avoiding the problems with controversial news and social media takes. ‘Do editors write exaggerated headlines?’ obeys Betteridge’s Law no more than do typical ones about pontiffs and ursine toilet habits. I come away from Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’, typically featuring three academics on a single subject, feeling informed rather than misled and angry, and I would prefer not to waste my time on the latter. However, if I came away feeling informed and motivated, I would be even more inspired to share something.
Mallen’s other concern in the second half, which I largely share, seemed to be around social media content policy. The main motivation of social media companies is, besides increasing exposure to advertising, to reduce liability in general and placating politicians and media. This hasn’t stopped UK politicians coming up with an Online Harms Bill that could be used to chill if not censor. The usual answer to this is ‘not less speech, but more speech’. I wouldn’t agree with that difference on facts among Climate Feedback reviewers automatically makes something political, but a Climate Feedback analysis is well worth linking to. However, Ken mentions some pitfalls of interpreting ‘more speech’ as adversarial debates or excessive concentration on opinions that are not interesting outliers, but rather non-expert and often deceptive (characteristics which can be decided by listening to expertise in detail whether or not it engages with the particular non-expert opinion). A good editor will include limited clarifications for the benefit of readers, and try to focus on not misrepresenting and instead focussing on substantive, well-supported concerns.
Maybe the medium is the message as regards concerns about social media disinformation. Some forms and norms of (internet) communication are likely to limit errors, others to propagate them. The continuum stretches from high-quality open access journals to, at the other end, YouTube comments. Usenet seemed by its nature (oriented towards subject and detail?) to be better informed than Facebook. Comments don’t fairly represent the real-world balance of opinion; maybe it’s something about the immediacy of stimulation even if I’m not convinced of significant trollbot farms spreading disinformation and moving the Overton window. Trying to set an example of faithfully citing and examining sources may be futile in some media.
(Data point on the issue of the use of science around protests: there may be a perception of unfairness from anti-lockdown people, but at least one virologist, Trevor Bedford, warned of infection risks of BLM demonstrations in 2020; this kind of thing informed decisions not to participate. By the nature of their cause anti-lockdown protests of course tend to be more risky, whereas I saw mitigation actions by BLM like distancing and masking.)
Looking at the opening headline here ‘Is there any critic that the climate science community is prepared to respect?’ This of course depends how you define ‘critic’, to avoid the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. You will find references to Lindzen’s ‘Iris Hypothesis’ by experts in climate sensitivity and IPCC AR6 WG1 refers a Lomborg publication on econometrics. And this is despite AFAIK every detailed analysis of cloud feedbacks coming to the opposite conclusion to Lindzen. I could mention other examples, but that would risk tangents. Is what makes these ‘critics’ that they have no (longer) any motivation to scientific rigour, and instead are motivated by the attention of contrarians, politicians or publishers or by being paid and promoted by ideological groups or fossil fuel interests? That in itself is not necessarily a cause to lose respect, but if you are faced by flawed positions being repeated ad nauseam it is understandable to see a loss of patience. And here my main reference is to Twitter (mt): https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1132276922396958721.html
To attempt to clarify another point, I don’t think any of the professionals and critics Mallen mentioned would accept something like the (Knut) Ångström ‘CO₂ saturation argument’ used in non-expert online contrarianism: as far as I know, it hasn’t been worthy of expert respect for around a century, and many empirical disconfirmations and lay resolutions exist, such as the useful emission layer displacement conception.
As for Lomborg, if the most you can say for him is that he raises questions that would interest non-specialists about international development and climate and energy security, then let’s acknowledge that this is a huge field of professional study some of which will be summarised by WG3, and in which Lomborg is a poorly-supported outlier however popular his books and specious his referencing. I have to ask why in that context he is so well-known that Mallen implies he is a lone voice questioning assumptions. It probably is a combination of the illusion of academic rigour (detailed in Lomborg Errors and Lomborg Deception), being politically convenient and capitalising on the resulting exposure. Ken puts forward with typical mildness, and Mallen I think agrees, an argument against aphysical economic extrapolation and complacency. It’s quite worrying when cornucopian economists are insisting scientific ingenuity can sort this out later, yet the scientists are either calmly explaining that it can not, or understandably shouting for urgent action.
Books in brief: Andrew Robinson reviews five of the week’s best science picks (in Nature).
Guess who’s first on the list?
I just watched Mallen Baker’s interview with Jon Entine on his ‘Dangerously Reasonable’program. Pretty appalling stuff really, especially when Entine gets to his insect narrative. He says at 27 minutes that [Dave Goulson] is not an entomologist’ (Goulson did his PhD at Oxford Brookes University in the 1990s on butterfly ecology), says that Goulson only became known for being one of 7 co-authors on what he refers to as ‘an obscure paper’ (that ‘obscure’ paper has 1892 citations on Google Scholar since its publication in 2017, including 453 this year alone, placing it in the top 1% of cited papers since then in ecology), refers to Goulson as ‘the least qualified one’ [author] which is ridiculous as Goulson had by then established a major reputation in insect ecology and conservation (in 2016 alone – a full year before publication of the PLoS One paper, he had 2694 citations on Google Scholar and as of now he has 36,319 career citations with an h-index of 96, putting him among the leading entomologists in the world (on Google Scholar he would rank at # 12 among all entomologists), claims that the paper was ‘eviscerated in the entomology community’ (a patent falsehood), refers the mainstream corporate media source Le Monde as part of an ‘anti-science Marxist organization’ (which is beyond parody), and then he argues that ‘the insect apocalypse does not hold in the entomology community’. This, of course, is a deliberate attempt to take the scientific high ground, and completely ignores that fact that the vast majority of my peers in the field recognize that insect declines are real and represent a very serious problem. Indeed, Entine would have very few allies in the entomology community.
Baker did not challenge any of this, but let Entine continue his spiel. I won’t even go into Entine’s background, but it is available on Sourcewatch and elsewhere (e.g. article by Paul Thacker in Huffpost in 2019):
Thanks very much for the update, JeffH. (And I’m not surprised.)
Pingback: 2021: A year in review | …and Then There's Physics