Eli shakes his head in bewilderment over my efforts to maintain a civilized relationship with Keith Kloor. Let me begin by reminding Eli that my allegiance is split between the scientific and the journalistic community.
In thinking about what I am doing here and why, specifically in trying to keep the channel to Keith’s empire open, a number of points have come to mind. Seventeen, to be exact.
1) I hope not to lose Eli’s support altogether over my next article, wherein I say nice things about Roger! This will offend him far more than any buttering up of Keith I might have done today.
2) It’s a human failing to focus on a peripheral statement rather than the core of an argument. I have been noticing this for years.
3) Journalists actually pride themselves on something akin to missing the speaker’s point. Often it is some peripheral statement they find more interesting and revealing. When the speaker or writer is trying to get across some very serious point, these diversions can be infuriating. That doesn’t make them intrinsically valueless, but they can subtract net value by failing to understand and propagate the more serious core argument.
4) If you write totally pedestrian stuff like most of the pablum on Climate Central, nobody will miss your point; that is not entirely because hardly anybody will read what you have to say but it sure figures in.
5) Therefore, the more interesting the stuff you write, the more likely it is that the journalist will derail your argument. This is not because they are pernicious, this is because it is their job to make NEW observations, just as it is with scientists.
6) Both scientists and journalists should get over it. We have serious problems to address. We can do this by identifying and highlighting the best things other people say, not by constantly striving for originality.
7) It is ridiculous to suggest that everyone who writes about a subject should be an expert on that subject. If nonexperts do not write about a subject, experts cannot identify the key misunderstandings and try to repair them. The more so when the Moranos of the world are out there promoting misunderstandings.
8) Asking good questions is a valuable and useful skill in itself. Keith and Andy Revkin are very good at this. I like to think I have this talent too.
9) The reluctance to go dig up answers is a sort of laziness, and the reluctance to stick by answers is a sort of cowardice. I am not saying anything bad about Keith in this thread, but I will say that Andy Revkin has shown signs of both of these. I have the first problem (but not the second); I hope to overcome it in my future work.
10) The reason John Fleck is a gem is that he established some turf and is actually digging up answers in it, some of them a bit disconcerting. He has shown both courage and discipline.
11) John thinks he is writing for the people of Albuquerque, because they pay him. In fact, John’s writing on water issues is influential globally. But nobody has found a way to make that pay. Back when he still sort of liked me, John explained to me the attractions of the local newspaper as an information delivery package. But this model is broken in his case, because at least some of the principal beneficiaries don’t contribute to paying him at all.
12) State research universities in America are broken in the same way. The beneficiaries of (non-profit or very-delayed-profit) research are global; the costs are regional. The parochial interests of each jurisdiction are toward free riding. The universities try to cover this embarrassing situation with bullshit, especially in meetings with state legislatures, where they try to cover up with ridiculous talk of “training the next generation of leaders” &c. But of course, research and training are not the same. This leads, through a convoluted path that any American academic will understand instantly, to cruel absurdities like undergraduate meteorology degrees.
13) The Tea Party types think they are being bullshitted even when they aren’t. In this case they actually are being bullshitted.
14) But in this paranoid era, nobody wants to even begin to imagine a globally funded research system.
15) I think I learned this a long time ago from Stanislaw Lem, or maybe Lec Walensa, but I think some famous Polish dude anyway. The way to live is to live as if you already lived in a civilized society, even if you don’t.
16) So we should find ways to give a fair share to our global journalists as well as to our global scientists, as if there were a world tax authority arranging for it.
17) But we journalists and scientists, in turn, should also act as if we were more civilized than we actually are. We should, (and here I regard myself as awkwardly on the margins of both groups but surely a member of the union of the two sets) in the present circumstances, recognize that there are more important things than our respective egos. Thus, when a rival says something valuable, we should spread it and encourage it rather than desperately seeking something wrong with it.
Summary: In short there is altogether too much sniping and not enough listening on almost everybody’s part. This traces back to some extent to the stresses of previously successful and now unexpectedly broken business models. (There’s also a peculiar atavistic obsession with respective kinds of thing thing called “papers” that no longer are made of paper in both camps which is sort of a weird coincidence.)
Anyway, I really do hope Keith livens up Climate Central. Of course if they really want to fix the thing they ought to be giving me a call.