What can we learn from visits to the FM website from interesting Internet communities

Summary: Here’s another year-end reflection on lessons learned from the comments in the FM website.  Here we look at some of the communities that comprise the greater Internet, and the qualities which make it unique.

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Contents

  1. Internet Communities visiting
  2. Contempt for Science
  3. Model Internet Communities
  4. Why don’t facts change people’s thinking?
  5. For More Information

(1)  Internet Communities visiting

Thanks to the magic of Google, websites occasionally get visits from specialist Internet communities. Often these bring valuable insights and information; sometimes brilliantly so.

One fascinating example: posts about genetics often receive visits from the sharp, intense people hanging out at the Gene Expressions website.  Website operators unwilling to acknowledge contrary evidence — and admit error — sometimes don’t handle this level of opposition very well. For example, see how Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) and his fans responded to their crushing onslaught at Ongoing Human Evolution. Eventually DeLong did a big purge of comments, then closed the thread.

Sometimes the FM website gets such attention, such as the threads about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

The MMT threads illustrate an interesting aspect of Internet communities: that they have different standards of conduct.  The reputation of the MMT community proved accurate, with lots of ad hominems: “spiteful error-ridden nonsense”, “pack of lies purposefully designed to conceal his extreme political agenda”, “extremely rude and self serving”, “horse’s ass” — and some rude ones. That does not affect the substance of the debate about MMT or the validity of their ideas; it shows how different communities have their own styles. Interestingly, the professionals in the thread (eg, Warren Mosler, Prof Dolan, Prof Black, Scott Baker) were courteous and restrained in their comments.

Another topic that brings visitors: climate science.  Mass visits by AGW advocates. The majority make reasonable points in this important, highly politicized, and contentious field. But in a large number of comments, their primary mode of argument is to lie. Most frequently to create stawman arguments for easy rebuttal (“You deny there’s warming!”). It happens too frequently to be inadvertent; it seems that false smears have become an accepted mode of defense in the AGW community.

An extreme example of this appears in the threads about conclusions of the IPCC and other climates-relevant professional organizations: incredulous refusal to even see where they disagree with “warmista” dogma, and somewhat deranged attacks in response.  Brad DeLong, speaking about a different dynamic in another community, gives a possible explanation:

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It appears to be a thing their sub-group does in order to close the circle of discourse against outsiders — just as economists close the discourse to outsiders by saying “they don’t have a mathematical model” and historians close to discourse to outsiders by saying “they don’t have any new primary-source evidence.” (source here)

To repeat, this is a feature (or bug) in the sociology of the lay community of global warming advocates (there are seldom widely accepted labels for groups in US political debates). It does not affect the debate among scientists; but it has helped poison the public policy debates about funding for climate science and responses to our changing climate.

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(2)  Contempt for Science

There is an interesting and perhaps significant trait common to both the MMT and climate science lay communities: contempt for scientists. To many (not all) people in these groups, scientists are authorities when they agree with the community’s dogma — but objects of contempt when they don’t. These are in a sense faith-based views; to that extent neither is a reality-based community (a generalization; of course does not apply to every individual). Quite odd, considering that their areas of interest concern science.

What we see on some of the websites about these areas is tribalism. Us vs. them. Service clubs are slowly dying, but internet communities thrive. People play MMT or climate science, cheering for “their team” like their parents participated in bowling leagues. Unfortunately bowling is fun to learn, while science is difficult and often boring. As we see in the threads on these subjects, people can immerse themselves in these subjects — avidly reading blogs on the subject — but remain largely ignorant about the basics of the science. The result is a loud discussion that amounts to nothing but a confident cacophony.

Worse, these partisans tend to reject the work of scientists who disagree with their dogma — and consider themselves too knowledgable to read introductory textbooks. So their thinking too-often becomes self-reenforcing loops, short-circuiting normal learning mechanisms.

(3)  Model Internet Communities

A model internet community: the Small Wars Council.  Good discussions, with many experts. Strong moderation. Great discussion software.

In the comments list your recommendations of model internet communities.

(4)  Update: Why don’t facts change people’s thinking?

There’s quite a bit of research about this.

Reviews of the research:

A paper about this:

(5)  For More Information

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and post your comments — because we value your participation.  For about tribalism see At the Tampa Convention Right & Left display our great illness: Tribalism.

Posts about the sociology and politics of climate science

  1. A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
  2. An army of Davids storm the walls of the scientific establishment, 19 June 2009
  3. More attempts to control the climate science debate using smears and swarming, 19 October 2009
  4. Lies told under the influence of the Green religion to save the world, 30 July 2010
  5. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  6. Puncturing the false picture of a scientific consensus about the causes and effects of global warming, 20 September 2010
  7. Kevin Drum talks about global warming, shows why the Left’s credibility has collapsed, 17 October 2012

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7 thoughts on “What can we learn from visits to the FM website from interesting Internet communities

  1. FM offered: The reputation of the MMT community proved accurate, with lots of ad hominems: “spiteful error-ridden nonsense”, “pack of lies purposefully designed to conceal his extreme political agenda”, “extremely rude and self serving”, “horse’s ass” — and some rude ones.

    The tongue seems firmly ensconced in cheek here. Congratulations, sir: well played.

    As for the deluge of fanatical ideologues parroting slogans, this appears to happen on all blogs. Rather than offering evidence of tribalism, though, it seems more indicative of the fact that 73% of Americans get no education beyond high school. Absent critical thinking, people with a K-12 eduction get sucked in by the most rhetorically compelling propaganda. A few years ago this 73% of the population echoed vacuous slogans like “Democrats stand for cut and run” (the Iraq quagmire: interesting that we don’t hear this one any more now that American troops have exited that geopolitcal tarpit), while today we hear canards like “You can’t borrow your way out of a debt crisis.” (Indeed you can, as long as the borrowing gets used for investment that fuels economic growth — and the Great Depression proves it.) MMT represents the updated version of snake oil and phrenology, the quick easy solution to complex problems which prove impenetrable to people without the discipline or stamina to study a complex subject like economics.

    The kind of people who tend to leave vehement comments on this blog come straight out of the classrooms in the classic article “In the basement of the ivory tower” The Atlantic magazine, 2008.

    It’s actually encouraging that despite a supermajority of such uneducated people, easily gulled and effortlessly distracted by hype, America has managed to avoid going the way of Britain’s demented austerity economics or Pakistan’s slide into total collapse.

    1. (1) “As for the deluge of fanatical ideologues parroting slogans, this appears to happen on all blogs.”

      I obviously don’t get our enough! But not all blogs. Not the heavily moderated ones (eg, Brad DeLong’s). Not the ones without comments (eg, Instapundit, Lawfare, James Fallows at the Atlantic). And not the FM website.

      (2) “Rather than offering evidence of tribalism, though, it seems more indicative of the fact that 73% of Americans get no education beyond high school.”

      I am certain that most of the people commenting on the MMT threads have education beyond high school.

      (3) A sidenote, about which I’d like to write sometime.

      Many of America’s craziest are well-education. The most fanatical and ignorant of the Left (eg, some Greens and Warmistas) and Right (eg, some of the Tea Party) have superlative educations. I don’t understand why, but it is what it is. Nor is it a new problem:

      “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”
      — William Buckley, Jr (often said in the early 1960’s)

  2. The rest of the Blogosphere see you with a question mark .. eg Yves Smith: you are ‘known’ to have close lines to to the military/national security/etc/etc world. You post links, but here are very, very few cross posts. Some speculate that you are a CIA (FBI, etc) funded website, or even the Koch brothers.

    The interesting thing is that you have no close relationships with places like “The American Conservative’. Or (say) Philip Giraldi at the Council for the National Interest .

    There is a team at FM, who pays for it? And who are they? Names, not of currently serving officers of course. But those who have retired.

    But now I remember you from a long time ago, when we argued back in the old days, so I can personally debunk some of the FM myths (every post or email stored) .. and I remember a young(er) idealist.

    But it is now time for you to engage fully. I’d love to hear you (or one of you) on Scott Horton’s show. And a lot of people here would love to listen to you.

    Get out of the shadows you …. prat, you have a lot of wisdom to share.

    1. Oldskeptic,

      By the numbers, as usual.

      (1) “The rest of the Blogosphere see you with a question mark”

      Excellent. As a child, Batman was my favorite comic. Still is. Mystery!

      (2) “Yves Smith: you are ‘known’ to have close lines to to the military/national security/etc/etc world.”

      Yes, most people have very low standards of evidence and a weak grasp of epistemology. Our rigorous standards of proof is a distinguishing feature of the FM website, and a frequent source of outrage for people whose beliefs on which we shine a harst light.

      (3) “You post links but here are very, very few cross posts.”

      (a) False (your accuracy tends to be abysmally low). We post very few links to the “blogosphere”. Which is one reason reason we get few cross posts. Most of our posts are journalism, citing mostly authorative sources (government data, major news media, etc).

      (b) The blogosphere consists largely of teams. Whose main form of debate is name calling (like in your new comment here: “stupidity, “paid hack”). We don’t belong to either team, adopting heterogeneous positions (ie, from all points of the political spectrum). Worse, we criticize all sides. Neither of these behaviors makes us popular.

      You can roll around in the mud. We’ll stand for Truth, Justice, and the American War (As a child I never enjoyed the Superman comics, but it’s a great tagline).

      (4) “Some speculate that you are a CIA (FBI, etc) funded website, or even the Koch brothers.”

      Some people speculate very oddly: massive contrary evidence, little or no supporting evidence. Oldskeptic presents himself as a poster child of this problem.

      (a) What is the basis for this belief. We’re not funded at all. The website shows no signs of custom work, or funding.

      (b) “CIA funded website” There are 21 posts about the CIA; all are brutal criticism.

      (c) “FBI funded website” There are many posts here about our domestic security agencies (including the FBI); all are brutally critical.

      (d) “funded by the Koch brothers”

      The Koch-related project most frequently discussed here is the Tea Party Movement. Twenty-one posts, all brutally critical.

      More broadly, the Koch Brothers are mentioned here as part of the 1% (eg, this post), that are described as (in a sense) the Republic’s greatest foe.

      (5) “The interesting thing is that you have no close relationships with places like “The American Conservative’.”

      I date only girls. What does this sentence mean?

      (6) “There is a team at FM, who pays for it?”

      America has a long strong tradition of voluntary service. I guess that baffles someone like Oldskeptic. How sad.

      (7) “And who are they?”

      Not many. I’ve lost authors, horrified by the personal attacks, hate mail, and ocasional death threats they get. My guess is that this will only grow worse in the years ahead.

      (8) “I can personally debunk some of the FM myths”

      You can try. As we see here, your weak logic and difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction don’t give the result much credibiity.

      (9) “But it is now time for you to engage fully”

      Why bother? You example shows the futility of it. We’ve engaged quite a bit. I’ve dubunked a massive amount of false statements you’ve made. I’ve seen no sign that it’s had the slightest effect on you. (note that, unlike you, I recognize my mistakes)

      (10) “on Scott Horton’s show. And a lot of people here would love to listen to you.”

      Have them post an offer. My guess is that the form of analysis presented here is a minority taste, with no mass market appeal.

      (11) “you have a lot of wisdom to share.”

      You are a counter-example, showing the futility of even trying.

  3. “(2) Contempt for Science” ect.

    I think its not a contempt for science per se, more a difference in how truth is defined.

    The Conventional thinking has it that truth is defined by what happened in the past. For example, was napoleon bested at Waterloo? by careful consideration of the history books, all broadly in agreement that Napoleon was bested, we can come to the conclusion that, (subject to new information) that yes he was beaten. This can now be viewed as established fact.

    Another way of establishing truth would be to look at the effects of napoleon winning or losing. If you decide that it would be better for humanity that napoleon won, then if you have the ability and power then you can create a community that believes and acts as if Napoleon has won. In this case if everyone believes that napoleon won, this becomes established fact. This obviously runs counter to a scientific method.

    Some true believes in Global Warming fall into this second group. It is the effects of Global Warming which will possibly happen in the future that they use as there way of establishing there truth. For them the bad effects which will happen in the future define what is happening in the present. There view is that it is better to view Global Warming as true because the beneficent effects of believing it is true out way the effects of not believing it is true. Thus truth becomes subordinate to the greater good.

    It has to be said this is a interesting view point. If absurd.

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