11 May 2012

What I Learned this Week

My tiff with Joe Romm and the Center for American Progress this week taught me a few lessons and put a finer points on ones that I have already known:
  • Political debate is rough business, politics ain't beanbag
  • There are people and institutions whose business is to try to tear people down, to savage their reputation in order to avoid a debate on policy substance
  • No appeal to reason, honor or dignity matters to such people
  • They will lie to your face and to everyone else without batting an eye if they think they can get away with it
  • When caught in an obvious fabrication they will pretend to make it go away and that it never happened, while doing everything possible to spread the lie far and wide
What can one do in such situations?
  • Recognize that your character is being attacked because they feel that they cannot engage you on substance, an implicit argument that they see your arguments as better or unimpeachable
  • Recognize that their megaphone is bigger than yours, always will be
  • Recognize that because they are more influential and connected than you are, that non-combatants will generally (often silently, but sometimes overtly) side with the more powerful -- this is a fact of life and no use complaining about
  • Recognize that appeals to reason, honor, dignity will be ignored or used as a means to further inflict damage on you
  • Recognize that you have choices -- to drop out of debate, ignore, joke, quietly correct or return fire-with-fire
I have tried a lot of these strategies over the past years to respond to efforts at character assassination, of which I have had my fair share of;-) I don't really like any of the responses, as they all have positive and negative outcomes. But, if one can't take the heat, one should get out of the kitchen.  And if one stays in the kitchen, then that means learning to cook with gas.

This week I respond to Romm and CAP's buckets of mud with an aggressive and loud response. Sometimes bullies should be stood up to.

Was it the right response? I am not sure, but it certainly was effective. Romm's dozen or more updates and changes to his post full of lies were undignified and embarrassing, and certainly an admission of wrong-doing. CAP's outright lie to me that they stood by their reporting even as they were erasing evidence of their fabrications was laughable.

For anyone paying attention -- and I don't blame anyone for not -- this week's episode shows clearly the moral bankruptcy of the vicious element of US political discourse, which exists on both sides of political debate. One organization used a billboard campaign to associate their opponents with mass murderers -- character assassination to be sure. Another organization then used lies to try to associate me with the first organization -- more character assassination. Apparently, appreciation of irony is in short supply these days.

I do not expect to have to engage in open warfare with Romm or CAP in the future, given the degree to which they have embarrassed themselves this week. However, should they continue to try to savage my reputation and harm my career, I will not take it lightly.

For my part, I will continue to call things like I see them, and will welcome debate with (and especially with) those with whom I generally disagree with, ideologically, politically or substantively -- and that means even with vile organizations like CAP and Heartland.

As I told Joe Romm and CAP, I am in the business of sharing ideas with people who I may have many disagreements with and interaction/exchange/discussion is a virtue in my world. Disagreement and conflict are to be expected. Malicious lying and bullying is not.


  1. As someone who has been hit by the same trash (albeit on a much smaller scale) from the same dirtbags, I'd like to offer a different perspective.

    Romm is just enforcing message discipline. I think he is self-appointed in that role, having learned all the wrong lessons from Naomi Oreskes and deciding to live his second life like a tobacco lobbyist.

    What is almsot as pernicious, IMO, is the cargo cultist commenters that take the message out to the wilderness, or blog comment world.

    But the worst of the group are those at the top of the food chain, who are perfectly happy to let Romm, Rabett, Lambert et al and the commenters do their dirty work for them. Big time media types can stay above the fray and use Romm etc to discredit all who disagree.

    My first instinct two and a half years ago was to confront lies in the same forum they were uttered. And at the beginning I tried to be far more polite about it than I am now. But there are too many blogs, too many Marlowe Johnsons Nevens, dhogazas, Secular Animists, willards, Michael Tobises, ad nauseum.

    So that's not a winning strategy. For the past few months I have instead tried to deal with these people as the climate cultists they seem to be. Just like the Iron Sun and Sky Dragon worshippers on the skeptic side, these bloggers and commenters who are attacking you do not care about the science. They care about advancing a political policy agenda.

    Your work on periodicity and force of large scale weather events is a threat to their policy agenda. They honestly don't care if your science is right or wrong. You're in the way. Your association with the Breakthrough Institute taints you in their mind, so there's no need for them to try and convert you.

    And these cultists who are attacking you cannot find a scientific argument. So they lie about you. They will not stop, nor will they moderate. There probably isn't a happy ending for you in this mini-soap opera, Roger. They will paint you into a corner and use any reaction at all that comes from you to further sully your reputation. That's what they do. Joe Romm is the 21st personification of Cotton Mather or some Grand Inquisitor--in his own mind these would be compliments.

    You probably couldn't even walk away from the fight--they'll chase after you because they need to discredit what you've already done.

    These creeps have gone after your father, you, Lucia Liljegren, Judith Curry and on a lesser scale chased small fry such as myself--and that's just in the blogosphere alone. And that's not to mention their ongoing attacks on actual skeptics.

    I think you need to accept that you packed for a debate and accidentally showed up on a battlefield.

    If thou wouldst have peace, prepare thou then for war. You're going to have to beat them in the arena.

  2. Ya gotta learn to ignore Joe Romm. The rest of us have.

  3. Roger - CAP is not a three letter word. It is an organization run and funded by particular people. Could you talk about who these people are who stand by Joe Romm's smears of your reputation?

  4. Punch back, twice as hard. Don't ever back down. People like Romm need to be confronted precisely because of their reprehensible tactics. I'm inspired by the following video, specifically the last three words...


    They'll either be at your throat or at your feet.

  5. When Nebraska passed its ban on 'reverse discrimination' in 2008, I was one of the few proponents of the initiative who would debate publicly. In retribution, the opponents put up a vicious blog accusing me of sexually harassing my students and various other abhorrences. I learned right there and then how the American Left operates.

    Politics is a gunfight. Don't show up with a knife.

  6. I agree with Tom @1 for the most part. I think there should be solace in the fact that it is not your science, ideas or arguments under attack - it is you. That only means as Tom says that the smearers have zero interest in the science itself.

    I'd add that at first glance it seems odd that you'd be singled out, being un-extreme in terms of policy recommendation. But again, it's not about truth or understanding, it's about ideology and tribalism, which always reserve their most vicious intolerance for those 'not quite on message'. The most persecuted by Christians over the last 2000 years? Fellow Christians who have got it slightly 'wrong'.

    You might like to ask why you're not getting abused by sceptics so much, and do something to even up the score a little..

  7. -6-Anteros

    Thanks, but I think the score is closer that you think;-)


  8. Roger - fair point...

    "I'm afraid Pielke jr is in the Hansen camp and always has been."

    [a comment from your link]

    It reminds me of Keith Kloor being somewhat aggrieved a while back about the virulence from his critics (from both sides) often over a single article.

    I think there's a hint in there that you're doing at least something right.

  9. What I learned this week:

    "We stand by our reporting" means that we stand right next to the computer that has our reporting on it so that we can change it quickly if we need to.

  10. Roger:
    My assessment is that the choices you have made and the actions you have taken make sense and are effective. Having experienced a civil lawsuit where the other party simply told what I knew to be and I thought would be obvious lies, you need to muster as much evidence as you can. As a result we did not call sufficient witnesses to demonstrate how badly the other side was simply lying. I will never, ever make that mistake again.
    Do not hold anything back. For example, you need to keep reminding people of similar instances when Romm misrepresented readily verifiable facts. In this type if fight, you have to let your opponent know that you will use everything you have against him.

  11. Roger: It was the Warmists' persistant taking of the lower ground that brought myself from bystander to disbeliever of the warmists.
    I hope that what you spoke of as bystanders siding with the powerful, is a misperception caused by your position in the situation. It does seem likely to me that it is such a misperception. After all, I would never have heard of Joe Romm's misrepresentations if you or Anthony Watts hadn't mentioned them.

  12. I think Tom hits it spot on and your response is a classy contrast to the mud slinging of the attack.

    One question I continues to bother me though. The stridency, irrationality, and vitriol of the SkyDragon crowd was the first sign to me *not* to trust their conclusions. "Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus."
    Yet, the vitriol and dishonesty of the alarmists, their defenders, and the silent majority that fails to rise in protest; combined with your *personal* knowledge of misrepresented science never seems to dent you faith that we have a climate in need of a fix. The same maxim applies as it does for the Sky Dragons -- sauce for the goose.

    We have a planet to conserve and care for, but the 'fix'-ation on carbon has meaningful opportunity costs to that overall goal. If the fix isn't needed, are we not squandering that cost?

  13. I think you were as effective as one can be in the face of such a childish attack. But please, anyone, enlighten me. Does this sort of behavior occur in particle physics?

    I don’t know, I’m just asking.

    The really big difference with climate science is the interaction of science and policy: there’s a lot at stake -- money and political power -- depending on how the battles go, and you’ve just made it through a skirmish. It was important, given your scholarship, influence, and reputation, but the battles will decide whether I can keep grilling dead things or have the Kingsford pried from my cold, dead fingers.

    The battles not fought poured billion$ down the rathole of immature business plans for solar panel, battery, and electric vehicle manufacturers. What happens if opposition melts away and we go full Naomi Klein on an accelerated schedule? I foresee a dystopian nightmare of brownouts, blackouts, and, shall we say, much greater incivility.

    I appreciate that you’re more of a pragmatist, but you’re careful about matching what the science really says and what’s politically possible. That puts you outside of the major tribes. That allows you to remain independent, but it also means that when one side or another decides it’s time to punch the Pielke, you might not have allies already at your back.

  14. Am the target myself of a prolonged internet campaign by a journalist writing in national newspapers in Italy. She simply writes insane analogies and/or tries to link me to people I have nothing to do with.

    As others, I tried to respond at first. My impression of the reactions though was of them bordering on insanity. I presume that's a natural reaction when one forces oneself in telling lie upon lie to and about people. Call it the "Hal-9000 Syndrome".

    Engaging a discourse with an insane being a proof of even higher insanity, I have slowly left the smearer to her own devices, and if anybody asks I'm actually quite proud of having been singled out.

    If the entire CAP consider you an enemy, Roger, they must be afraid, very afraid.

  15. What John-in-Oz said.

    Roger, I know it's going to be really tough dealing with the mindset of extremists, but just remember what their noise actually means. It is an unmistakable sign of weakness.

    I was pretty much in the ‘consensus’ mindset until around 2005. It was the sheer intolerance, vitriol, bullying and general unwillingness to explain or debate, that I discovered on the Real Climate website that made me start looking at the science. And considering that that website was set up to shore up the ‘state’ of people like me you can see what an excellent job the bullying of Mister Schmidt and Coe has done.

    I figured, if they are that scared of arguing their case properly something isn't right somewhere.

  16. After reading 14 & 15, it seems to me that there’s a method to their madness.
    - Their predictions have not come true, at least to the degree, or with as many degrees C/F/K they fully expected.
    - The EU is discovering the true costs of cap and trade, some involved are even acknowledging that they’ve been snookered by some of the foreigners who’ve sold them credits.
    - Even politicians are disturbed by the costs of alternative energy, the failure of wind and solar to serve as a reliable baseload source, and the negative impact of these schemes on the health and welfare of the populace and profitability of businesses.

    They are so desperate that some researchers and their acolytes in the media have taken to exaggeration by trumpeting extreme weather events as proof positive of CAGW. Yes, there are a few “believers” who caution that no global warming signal has been detected in the storming and such, but there’s some evidence that the public may be susceptible to this argument.

    As it happens, you are a reliable, available, and outspoken source for sanity on this topic. You, sir, have the temerity to speak up and ruin their last-ditch effort to gain widespread public acceptance of CAGW. You and the few like you are now natural targets, so stay on guard until things really heat up…

  17. 1. Global warming is all about politics. CAP is all about politics. Romm is all about politics.

    2. "To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil." -- Charles Krauthammer

    3. You have been the recipient of the same tactics that are used every day in American politics. Romm and his friends believe that their tactics are moral because they operate on the foundational belief that their opponents are evil.

    4. Be happy you haven't been called a bitter, hate-filled, mean-spirited, racist, sexist, homophobic gun-clinger bent on starving kids, killing seniors, exploiting workers and raping the environment.

  18. Dear Roger,

    You are one person 'on the other side' of the CAGW debate that I admire for your principled and fair-minded approach and evidence based positioning. Chin up as we say in Britain.



  19. As long as they don't find out you eat babies you'll be fine.

  20. 'Recognize that you have choices -- to drop out of debate, ignore, joke, quietly correct or return fire-with-fire'


    Recognize that a grain of sand can become a Pearl.