What good are the ScienceBlogs anyway?

Some group of bloggers has decided that today, Oct. 15, 2009, is "Blog Action Day." And this year's theme is climate change. Excellent, Smithers.

My instincts are to ignore such declarations. It's always an International Year of This or National X Awareness Month, or World Y Day. Community newspapers take advantage of free copy and extra revenue by organizing special advertising supplements around them. I've always thought that they interfere with genuine news values by wasting space and resources on what are more or less abritrary pet-project campaigns.

But I've been planning on writing a blog post about blogging for a few weeks now, so I'm going to exploit the probably increase in traffic that might result from the inclusion of the phrase "Blog Action Day" in this post. What I find remarkable is the relatively low profile that my particular pet project -- climate change -- enjoys at ScienceBlogs. Giving the importance of the subject, why, of more than 75 bloggers in this collective, am I the only one who writes frequent and lengthy pieces on the subject?

Or sure, there's William "Stoat" Connelly. Today he managed to provide an exception to his usual habit of writing infrequent, brief, cryptic and snarky dismissals of what others are saying about climate change by taking down the error-laden new book, Superfreakonomics. I never miss one of his posts on the subject, but that's easy because of their low frequency and brevity.

And there's Coby regular weekly news aggregator of the week in climate change news at A Few Things Ill-Considered. Greg Laden manages to write on the subject from time and it pops up here and there in a few other ScienceBlogs. The most prolific of my colleagues is Tim "Deltoid" Lambert, who keeps tabs on the situation in Australia and a few specific high-profile climatology issues. But again, compared to other, more arcane subjects, it just doesn't get that much attention.

This is good for me, I suppose, as it has pretty much made the Island of Doubt the go-to blog for climate science discussion within the collective. But I fear what it says about ScienceBlogs as a whole isn't that complimentary.


Consider that on any given the day the most active blogs posts not only have nothing to do with global warming, or even environmental issues in general, but they have nothing to do with science at all. At right is yesterday's five most active posts. This is typical. PZ Myer's sharp atheistic wit and Ed Brayton's anti-conservative (but not always progressive) references to the latest affront to reasonable political discourse are fine if that's what you're interested in. They just aren't what this blog collective is supposed to be all about.

Of course, we ScienceBloggers are all perfectly well aware why Pharyngula and Dispatches from the Culture Wars remain part of the collective. First and foremost, PZ and Ed are simply too popular to get rid of. In PZ's case, his traffic can be several orders of magnitude greater that the rest of the gang put together. I'm not exaggerating. Ed is also extremely popular. Their presence helps keep the overall traffic at ScienceBlogs as high as it is. It's kind of like old-fashioned newspapers. (Remember them?). The most popular sections of a typical newspaper were the classified, comics and the crossword. Next in line would be sports. "News," the ostensible reason for the medium, is usually the last thing most readers would miss.

Such a business model worked for decades, and only recently has it failed. So I'm not about to knock the idea, and I'll be the last blogger to insist that Ed be kicked out just because I can't remember the last time he wrote anything even tangentially related to science. (He was originally invited because of his posts on the evolution-creation debates that were big back in 2005 and thenabouts, but has since moved on.) And PZ? Well, if science is culture, then the whole "can a scientist be religious' thing will never go out of style. Besides, his rare science posts, when he finds time for them, are works of art.

Still, the Island of Doubt remains mired in a kind of blogging ghetto. Why isn't climate change as popular a topic as its import merits? Hell, this is supposed to be "Earth Sciences Week?" (Not that I care.)

I am hereby publicly asking SEED to invite some of the better climate-oriented bloggers who could use a group to hang out in. If they've already been invited and turned down the offer, invite them again. There's the established In it for the Gold, the new Climate Sight, the reliable Rabett Run, or James' Empty Blog. Just to name a few.

There are plenty of other excellent climate blogs, but most are either already within a group or are doing fine on their own. Which is good news. I'm just puzzled by the seeming lack of attention that climatology warrants in this particular corner of the blogosphere.


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Well said and I agree. It actually bothers me a little when I see how passionate people like PZ Myers are (and I'm a big fan of his blog) about all other issues that conflict with science, but barely comment on anything relating to climate change, despite it being the biggest and most important area of conflict with science going on at the moment (not just the conflict with deniers, but the conflict between the science and government policy as well).

I do read a number of climate blogs outside of science blogs to make up for this though (esp. Climate Progress).

As someone who is infact not particularly interested in this issue, I'll to explain why I at least, am not.

As I see it, there is basically no real chance of a political solution of this problem. By that I mean for people to decide to stop burning fossil fuels even if the alternatives are more expensive and the fossil fuels haven't ran out yet. Even if you could somehow convince people in the US to do this (which I don't think is possible), the developing world has far less options than us, and the fossil fuels will be used by them one way or another. And frankly I don't think that we in the developed world have either the moral standing or practical ability to stop them from doing that, even if we wanted to.

The only way I can see a political solution coming into play is if global warming starts having an undeniable and very large impact on the world (i.e. large coastal areas submerged, vastly expanded deserts etc.). We're still not there yet and probably won't be for some time - and of course if we do get to this point it will take more then just stopping further CO2 emissions to do anything.

With politics pretty much out of the picture, the solution has to be technological - to get to the point where one of the other sources of energy are more efficient. I think this will happen in the not-too-distant future, if it hasn't happened already and it's mostly our inertia and the current subsidies for fossil fuels masking it. In any case, in the future oil prices will eventually start going up as oil runs out and we should be getting incrementally better solar cells so at some point non-fossil fuel sources of energy will clearly be better. Whether this happens before or after we change the climate to a large degree, well, we'll have to see.

The bottom line as far as I'm concerned is that if this was in fact a big political issue I'd be interested in it. But politics are largely incapable of solving this problem, so there's not much of a reason for having alot of online arguments. Combined with the likely solution of this problem by technological means eventually, and I just don't see what there is to be arguing over.

Perhaps the reason sciencebloggers are reluctant to write on climate change is because it's largely a political/emotional/religious debate (the comments on stoat, for example, being an excellent example) rather than a scientific one. Any post on the subject is likely to attract the various more enthusiastic frothers from the 'opposing' side, and tar the poster with a political viewpoint rather than a scientific one.

A few pennies in the jar:

- Symptomatic of the larger disconnect in the science community between awareness and action? Climate scientists and researchers from other disciplines routinely call climate change the most pressing issue facing the planet today, but one hardly ever sees them taking the political action this ought to imply. Blogging would be one type of that action.

- Because getting climate right takes time and hard work; and unless you're decently paid, it's just not worth blogging about.

- Maybe there's nothing more to say? Climate models are fuzzy with details, but the big picture seems pretty clear: we're screwed, and nobody's doing anything much about it, at least not quickly enough. Repeat ad nauseum.

Anyways, just thoughts. No claim to rightness made.

They just aren't what this blog collective is supposed to be all about.

Why criticize Myers except if to bring google traffic to your blog? Does scienceblogs have a "this is what we're supposed to be about" mission statement?

By SplendidMonkey (not verified) on 15 Oct 2009 #permalink

Don't forget that there are lots of people who find the other ScienceBloggers through PZ or Ed Brayton. If you removed them, I suspect ScienceBlogs traffic would drop by a lot more than just their dedicated readership.

I agree that climate change should get more attention, but on the other hand, I don't read any climate change blogs regularly. RealClimate, the only one on my RSS reader, posts very infrequently now. And unlike creationism-bashing, climate-denialism-bashing doesn't really seem to bring in the readers. Maybe because it's a lot more dry?

Lylebot makes a good point, but on the whole I have the same problem - some of these "science" bloggers fill page after page of parochial politics, personal politics, and all sorts of other non-science.
Who cares about the status of homosexuals in Burundi or the price of shoes in New York? Why is the profession behind Rorshach tests still trying to pretend it's a "science"?

I can understand somebody like Myers concentrating on Creationism, and I do read it and enjoy a wallow in schadenfreude at the awesome retards you Yanks have to deal with, but it really is a very tiresome subject at the end of the day.

My favourite blogger would have to be Ben Goldacre who picks excellent topics and gets the balance between topicality and science about right for my taste.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 15 Oct 2009 #permalink

Way to dis your co-bloggers dude :-)

Seriously though, thanks for the vote but I think I was invited some time ago and see no reason to change my mind. I suspect Eli is also of the "wouldn't want to join a club that would have me as a member" persuasion, but Michael Tobis might appreciate an invitation. On the internet, surely no-one cares what the domain name is, and please feel free to link, amplify, and hype anything I happen to say that takes your fancy, as I don't actively discourage traffic :-)

You should be more appreciative of Stoat's cynicism, though - he's (much) more often right than wrong, and if you want breathless hype over the latest press release, you can always read Nature or indeed much of the (UK) mainstream press. Note that his prediction for this year's sea ice was better than many of the "experts" (but not as good as mine, of course).

I've aggregated a bunch over at warming101.com - it's not perfect, but I'm not aware of any aggregator that does better.

(fyi, its "custom search" is missing a few more recently-added blogs)

p.s. your comment preview's still broken.