Advice for a young climate blogger

Congratulations! You have taken the first step towards attempting to communicate your expertise and thoughts to the wider world, which remains poorly served by its traditional sources of information when it comes to complex societally relevant issues like climate change. Your aim to clarify the science (or policy options or ethical considerations or simply to explain your views) is a noble endeavor and we wish you luck and wide readership. But do be aware that you are dipping your blog into sometimes treacherous waters. Bad things can happen to good bloggers. So in a spirit of blog-camaraderie, and in light of our own experiences and observations, we offer some advice that may be of some help in navigating the political climate relatively unscathed.

Be honest to yourself and your readers. If your aim is to educate, say so. If your aim is to push for more funding for your pet projects, or advocate for a specific policy, be upfront about it. Don’t however be surprised if people spend their time trying to find hidden motives in what you do. There is a school of thought had has decreed that any public speech must be directed towards public action and that there is no such thing as a pure information supply. In the widest sense this is probably true – everyone blogs, writes or speaks out for a reason. However, this is often interpreted as implying that all public speech must be either pro-or-con some very specific proposal. This is nonsense. One can criticize George Will’s or Alexander Cockburn’s misuse of climate science without agreeing or disagreeing or even having looked at their public policy proposals. Of course, the corollary of this position, that any such criticism of your statements must itself be directed at supporting the opposite political action is very rarely appreciated. On the other hand, assuming that criticism of your statements must be politically motivated is usually a mistake. Sometimes that is true, but there are enough exceptions that it should not be assumed.

Know that there are people who will misrepresent you. Climate science is perceived to have political, economic and ethical implications. Most of the what gets discussed really doesn’t have any such implication, but the ‘scientization‘ of political discourse on this issue means that micro-parsing of published work and blog postings is a common practice. Advocates of all stripes (though predominantly those outside the mainstream) will examine whether a new result or comment appears to project onto their particular agenda, and trumpet it widely if it does. The motives can range from specifically political to a desire for publicity or position, though the exact reasons are often obscure and mostly not worth debating. Thus 15th Century tree rings become an argument against the Kyoto Protocol, just as bacterial flagella are whipped into service when discussing the role of religion in public life.

In the specific world of climate-related blogs there are a number of conduits by which misrepresentations gain wider currency. Matt Drudge for instance, spends an inordinate amount of time finding crackpot climate science stories in fringe media and highlighting them on the widely-read Drudge Report. Marc Morano (who we hear is leaving his post as a staffer for Senator Inhofe) is a very diligent reader of the climate blogs (Pielke2, WUWT, RC etc.) and any misrepresentation found there, or criticism that could be misrepresented, will quickly find its way into many email in-boxes. From there, if you are lucky, further misrepresentations might find their way onto the Rush Limbaugh’s show (via Roy Spencer), or Glenn Beck as throwaway lines confirming (to them) the perfidy of mainstream climate science.

Be aware that the impact that you have might be very different from the impact that you think you should have. Over time, if you find yourself constantly misquoted or used to support positions or ideas you don’t agree with, think about why that might be. You will likely find yourself accused of ‘stealth advocacy’ i.e. of secretly agreeing with the misquoters. If that isn’t actually the case, remember that the abandonment of responsibility for your words (i.e. “how was I to know I would be misquoted so often?”) is not an option that leaves you with much integrity. Being misquoted once might be a misfortune, being misquoted more often smacks of carelessness.

Don’t expect the world to be fair. Read Mamet’s “Bambi v. Godzilla“, and in particular the section containing this line:

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