RealClimate logo

Advice for a young climate blogger

Filed under: — group @ 9 March 2009 - (Italian) (Español)

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:

“In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge.”

Since you are presumably stuck with a coherent set of ideas, you won’t be able to adopt ten mutually contradictory inconsistent arguments in the same paragraph, or engage in the cherry-picking, distortion or deliberate misquotation. Though it is occasionally instructive to show what you could have claimed if you didn’t have such ethical principles.

Don’t let completely unfounded critiques bother you. If you speak out in the public sphere, as sure as night follows day, you will be criticized. Some criticisms are constructive and will help you find your voice. Many are not. If you are successful, you will start to come across an online simulacrum of you that bears your name and place of work but who holds none of your views, has no redeeming character traits and would be a complete stranger to anyone who has actually met you. Ignore him or her. There are some people who will always be happier demonising opponents than honestly interacting with real people.

Don’t defame people. This should go without saying, but trivially accusing scientists of dishonesty, theft, academic malpractice and fraud pretty much rules you out of serious conversation. Instead it will serve mainly to marginalize you – though you may gain a devoted following among a specific subset. Don’t be surprised if as a consequence other people start to react negatively to your comments.

Correct mistakes. Again, it should go without saying that maintaining integrity requires that errors of fact be corrected as soon as possible.

Realize that although you speak for yourself, if you take mainstream positions, you will be perceived as speaking for the whole climate science community. Don’t therefore criticize unnamed ‘scientists’ in general when you mean to be specific, and don’t assume that the context in which you are speaking is immediately obvious to casual readers.

Avoid using language that can easily be misquoted. This is hard.

Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.

If you get noticed by the propagandists, wear that attention like a badge of honor. You will be in very good company.

If you get caught in a blogstorm, know that this too will pass. Being targeted like this is not very much fun (ask Heidi Cullen). But the lifecycle for a blog-related kerfuffle is a few days in general, and the blogosphere as a whole has an extreme attention deficit disorder. After finding that your post and followups were all anyone can talk about on Monday, it likely won’t get mentioned again after Thursday.

Recognize that humor is far more effective than outrage. But try and rise above the level of the schoolyard. Think Jon Stewart rather than Rodney Dangerfield.

If all of the above doesn’t put you off the idea completely, welcome to the blogosphere! Your voice is sorely needed.

434 Responses to “Advice for a young climate blogger”

  1. 1
    Allen Varney says:

    Rodney Dangerfield is schoolyard-humor outrage? Did you perhaps mean Don Rickles?

  2. 2
    John A. Davison says:

    I think the advice you offer so freely to others you should consider for yourself. This blog is no more tolerant than any other internet venue, being largely a magnet for those who happen to share the same largely congenital worldview of what they perceive the world to be.

    “Birds of a feather flock together.”

    [Response: Each blog will have a certain appeal to a certain community and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. What we are discussing above is conduct, not audiences. But while this might be inevitable, it does not have to devolve into a dialogue of the deaf, and doesn’t if certain proprieties are maintained. – gavin]

  3. 3
    Steve Missal says:

    This is invaluable, and so true in every respect. My attempts to enlighten my local op-ed writers, not to mention the G. Wills of the world, have been a frustrating endeavor. All of the various negative ‘debate’ techniques you mention have been drudged up as though they were serious argumentation. One op-ed writer even averred that he had never been very good at science, and thus wasn’t too inclined to read a site like RealClimate. Hard to get someone like that to investigate reality when they make such a claim. I never, ever got any response from Inhofe’s office, even a negative one. Truth be told, America has a particularly lousy scientific grounding, and an awful lot of other agendas that find science (at least if it isn’t leading to making cell phones or similar ilk) threatening.

  4. 4

    Recognize that humor is far more effective than outrage.

    Effective at what? Solving problems?

    Sorry, nope. Outrage solves problems. Humor just illuminates them.

    I always suggest a two step approach, humor first, then outrage.

    It works every time.

  5. 5
    David B. Benson says:

    John A. Davison (2) — I’ll say we are mostly reality-based here and many indeed understand one or another aspect of climatology.

  6. 6

    I think I would add:

    Keep your posts short In this day and age people want sound bites not sermons.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  7. 7

    Thanks so much

    By “young” I presume you mean early to the endeavor of blogging, rather than age. I am a 59 year old rookie blogger and I think I have broken every rule. Nice to have it spelled out.

    Excellent advice and I thank you. Makes me feel young still.

  8. 8
    Chris Colose says:

    Thanks for the advice!

    I’ve had my own climate blog going for a year or so and I’m at the ~250 hits a day mark (which are probably mostly one click and X out viewers) but I get decent feedback elsewhere. Being just a student, it’s a good start I suppose, but mostly a great learning experience…not only getting “my name out there” but familiarizing myself with the political, propaganda, and other scientific views which always pop up. I hear something new quite often but am never surprised anymore. It’s also a great way to gather my own thoughts on the subject and figure out how to express them in a convincing but accurate manner.

  9. 9

    @2 World views are acquired rather than congenital.
    Some posters are more congenial than others, certainly.

  10. 10
    jcbmack says:

    Very sound advice. On my blog once people realized I was not denying global warming some of the responses became very strawman and sometimes downright nasty, but they did pass.

  11. 11
    Steve Horstmeyer says:

    Nice summary of the minefield those of us must cross to converse rationally.

    I am a TV meteorologist and my assistants are generally college students wanting to pursue degrees in meteorology.

    Two years ago I received an email from a former show producer who was working towards his PhD in meteorology. He called my attention to the forum of a competing TV meteorologist who had a large and faithful following of mainly young men.

    In his forum the weatherman frequently, to the point of absurdity, used phrases like “liberal lying scientists” when describing the apolitical work of scientists reporting results that supported an anthropogenic component to global warming.

    I decided to take him on, not on the science, but on the example he was setting for his young audience. By example he was teaching the “screaming and yelling” method of communication.

    The particular forum topic I unwittingly became part of was Eric the Red and “Greenland was green”. I had no intention of discussing the science, only the example someone of high visibility and influence should set for a young audience.

    To the essay above I would like to add the time consuming inconvenience of being sucked into the irrational morass of dogmatic denial.

    After weeks of carefully researching and writing numerous replies and citing the most up-to-date research I was frustrated by my opponent’s yelling and screaming (via email in all caps).

    Finally I was awarded a few positive comments by his faithful followers when I repeatedly ask him how 10,000 feet of ice accumulated in Greenland in 1000 years.

    After weeks of saying little more than, “he called it Greenland because Greenland was green” because four of his forum members admitted I had a point and asked my opponent to explain it his unresearched reply was, ‘I didn’t say all of it was green.”

    At that point with more than 100 hours invested I just dropped out.

  12. 12
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John Davison, Sorry, but I don’t see much point in being tolerant of those who are in denial of the evidence–whether that evidence is in favor of anthropogenic causation of climate change or of evolution. The community at this site is driven by a desire to learn about a crucial issue–climate change–and benefits from the attention of folks who study climate for a living. If learning is not your goal, you’ll probably be happier elsewhere.

  13. 13
    Gareth says:

    Re TLE at #4:

    In the case of a certain potty peer, I’ve tried humour, now I’m going for outrage.

  14. 14
    Tim says:

    I agree with Thomas L. E. on outrage (if it’s done the right way).
    Thanks by the way for this, it’s helping with my one.

    Tim M
    Heresy Snowboarding

  15. 15
    Arthur Smith says:

    Young, who you calling young? :-) If you took the average age of the climate bloggers I’ve been hanging out with my guess would be mid-40s…

    But good advice. Are you going to credit Michael Tobis with the Mamet quote, or did you come up with that one independently? It’s a great one, no doubt about that.

    [Response: I’m pretty sure that Mamet gets the credit, but I think we both noticed how apropos it is when we read it in Harpers. – gavin]

  16. 16
    Steve says:

    Wow – perfect timing. I just launched my own blog this weekend (, aimed at documenting my journey into the interdisciplinary world of software engineering and climate change. Let’s see how many rules I can break in my next few posts…

    captcha: storm $2-million
    (I think these are the two possible destinations for my blog…)

  17. 17
    Danny Bloom says:

    I love this advice. Who wrote it? It’s great and hope it gets spread around the net, too. Very very good ideas. Yes.

    I wrote a virtual graduation speech to the class of 2099, for use NOW as a PR wake up call tool, for those who still need waking up, NOT ANYONE HERE OF COURSE,

    and DeSmogBlog was kind enough to blog on the speech and take a look here: Reax from top people in the field ranged from “It’s prophetic, I fear” … to….

    “We will know by 2030 whether this boat heads in the right direction or not. If no one is decreasing fossil fuels by then, its an automatic ride with the tipping points gaining momentum.”

    “That’s an excellent commencement speech — better than almost all the ones i’ve ever heard”… — said a well-known environmentalist and climate activist, author and speaker

    When asked what comment or message he would like to give to students graduating today, 2009 or in future years, 2010, 2011 and 2012, etc, Dr Jesse Ausubel, quoted in the speech, in a very central part of the speech, said: “My message is this: ‘The Earth should stop smoking’ just as individuals
    should stop smoking tobacco. All this combustion of carbon is
    bad for planetary health of our planet Earth.”

    A noted climate research and climate modeller, tops in his field, told me in a private email: “Danny, you asked for my reaction to that imaginary speech? Prophetic, I fear….”

  18. 18
    pete best says:

    Everything is politics in todays world and vested interests seeks to expose every weakness or magnify/amplify every error or even worse it invokes counter argument. Talk radio stations thrive on topics that require debate as does the media in general, when it comes to climate change, the science itself is sometimes debated but only in a loose political context full of vitriol and spite a lot of the time. Why is this ?

    So lets face up to the facts of climate change. It seemingly undermines the western way of life, requires us to not know our future, sees us as not having come up with or neglected energy sources other than those based on fossil fuels which makes everyone look stupid or worse greedy and short sighted including politicians, energy companies. lobbyists, scientists, environmentalists and strategists for we have little in the way of keeping our life styles but we stil sell the message.

    During the second world war the USA used up over 1/3rd of its oil reserves but carried the day (thank you) but it was then that it was known that oil was everything and hence 60 years on it still is. Roosevelt did the deal with the Sauds (Saudi Arabia) to keep it flowing and deal in dollars and hence the USA is entrenched in this substance and totally reliant on it to the tune of 20 million barrels a day. Its entire post WW2 outlook and foreign policy even has been about it.

    All of a sudden along comes climate change and fortells of a possible future that is bleak for the entire world and that is what is causing the problem of turning it all around. An empire does not turn easily and even though Europe seemingly is starting to turn it is nothing compared to the USA for it has spilled its mantra to China and India and demand for black gold grows.

    So for anyone blogging they just possibly come over as naive, silly, adolesent and need slapping down whatever why it takes. This site has more mettle than most for it is manned for those with knowledge of the subject far above most other people and has held its own. Good job but as yet no emissions controls and no alternative energy to curb fossil fuel usage even a little bit except for a recession.

    Here is hoping.

  19. 19
    Adam Gallon says:

    How about not overly censoring (Under guise of “moderation”) well thought, polite & accurate comment that disagree with your blog’s position?
    Not evading answering or ignoring such questions?
    Not entitling threads “Stupid is and stupid does” (Just as an example drawn at random) And insulting those who hold views opposite to your own?

    [Response: Ok, this is a typical example of the kind of comment that adds nothing to any conversation. Trivial accusations of ad hom arguments that you demonstrate by finding a title that is not to be found on our site at all – who is being insulting here?. There are plenty of comments that are polite and accurate disagreements with our points. But comments that simply dredge up nonsense that someone has cut and pasted in order to vent are just not interesting. Comments that accuse as of bad faith, fraud and dishonesty are not ways to move forward any conversation – how can you have a dialog with people who don’t believe a word you say? We choose to try and create a space for genuine conversation, which means weeding out the trolls and the noise. This is an imperfect process, but the alternative is a free-for-all that quickly deteriorates into a food fight. There are plenty of places to indulge in that kind of crap. There are only a few places where it’s not and we are not embarrassed to try to make this site one of them. Finally, stating that someone’s argument is bad, or logically incoherent, or internally contradictory or simply irrelevant is not ‘insulting’ people we disagree with – it is simply stating the case. If you have any real examples (as opposed to simply making some up) then let us know and we will endeavor to fix things. – gavin]

  20. 20

    Thanks for the advice.

    But give it to everyone, not just the ‘young ones’.
    We’re generally pretty onto it as far as net-ettiquette goes, and quite professional too.

    See the international (but mostly US) youth climate movement blog at

    Second most popular climate blog in the world, after Grist.

    [Response: The ‘young’ part of the title is just a reference to a common title (see here for instance). It should not be taken to imply that ‘older’ bloggers are not in need of advice. – gavin]

  21. 21
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Adam Gallon, hard as it may be for you to believe this, most people come here to learn. And when you’ve got people posting the same discredited idiocy they posted 2 years ago, it’s sometimes kind of hard to discern that their learning curve has a positive slope. We do not owe politeness to willful ignorance. We do not owe politeness to denial of the facts. What is owed is the science as we know it, and that includes correcting those who misrepresent the science either willfully or unknowingly. The contributors and moderators of this site do that admirably.

  22. 22
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    As a neophyte climate blogger, this is certainly advise to take to heart!

    Its always interesting to see how things get twisted as they pass though the
    blogosphere. For example, a rather farcical argument (and later proof!) on
    my part with Lucia that Leprechauns showed a better correlation with 20th
    century temperatures than cosmic rays somehow turned into this gem:

    Then again, there are moments when you finally find common ground on an
    issue with a well-spoken but stubborn skeptic you have been arguing with in
    the past (for example, on Will’s misleading sea ice claim:
    that can make your day.

    I do have to agree with John Davison that climate blogs are often a bit too
    insular, and echo chambers like WUWT or Climate Progress often seem a bit
    dull. Part of that relates to the fact that climate science is not
    particularly conducive to amateur efforts (compared to, say, astronomy).
    There is also the concern among blogging scientists that what they say will
    be taken out of context or used inappropriately, which is why you wouldn’t
    see the type of frank discussions that happen in Global Change (see,
    for example) on RealClimate that often.

  23. 23
    spilgard says:

    Re #19,
    RealClimate’s malevolent censorship was shockingly exposed long ago by the Orwellian incident wherein a post was submitted on Christmas eve and failed to appear on the site until the following afternoon. Gavin, with his usual cunning, hid behind the flimsy excuse that RC staff were preoccupied with other matters on Christmas morning.

  24. 24

    It would be interesting to hear what other people have to say about the linked paper, how science makes environmental controversies worse by Sarewitz.

    I first read this a few years ago but my feelings for it have not changed. First of all how would it be possible to do what is suggested when people like Spencer uses his title for authority trying to promote science that does not exists or at least only exists in the margin. Secondly take for example the tobacco scandal where science where misused. It started when scientists recognised that smoking gave a higher chance to get cancer. Then the industry spin started… not doing science here would only let the industry have a higher degree of freedom to chose their own science. And what should a scientist that does health research label himself as? I think that saving life is important, who would not agree with that?

    Minimizing climate sensitivity uncertainty should not stop just because the results can be used in different ways. I mean just because we can not decide how much a life in Africa should be worth in an economic model or weather we should act on behalf of saving endangered species or just so future generations can chose for them self if they want climate change or if it purely is down to economic development scenarios we should not slow down? Stating that uncertainty not is a valid reason to not act is not necessarily linked with science? And it is possible that the uncertainty on economic impacts from a global warming is uncertain and needs further investigation but that we know it will trouble the developing world especially they who live in the costal areas. So who then should take a brake and who decides what area of research should be labelled in what way… I see no end to the spinning…

    I do think that a better way to get around this is to understand that science will change, it is a good method but can be twisted. So get some sort of more objective media that can be put on some official wall of shame… I do not know why the difference between Scandinavia and the US looks so big… size might be most important… education and media? Who knows…

    What a mess this became :) well it is fitting… after all it is abut the climate debate… Have I completely misunderstood the article?

  25. 25

    Good stuff here, Gavin. I am sending others a link to it.


  26. 26
    Mark says:

    “Part of that relates to the fact that climate science is not particularly conducive to amateur efforts (compared to, say, astronomy).”

    Uhm, there’s plenty of opportunity. Chirping baby birds in mid-Feb? That’s a bit early. And something that is as obviously observable to the man-in-the-street as a bright comet.

    Problem is, there’s plenty of money to lose if climate change is mostly anthropogenic in origin. So there’s lobbying. Which politicises and brings out polemic in refutation. And for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction that acts on different bodies.

    There’s also a lot of personal need for disbelief. God Wouldn’t Do That, for example. I Want My Four-By-Four for another. I Hate EcoNazis. And so on.

    It isn’t that people can’t have input, it’s that the need for some sections to shout it down and the money available to fund obfuscation mean that the ordinary person can’t get on with it at a level needed to avoid the half-truths and old-wives-tales on the denialist.

    For the pro-side, they can’t refute these elements because doing so requires knowing more.

    For the anti-side (where this is genuine), the reams of information, counter, and so on require a much greater investment to work out whether you’re right in thinking it all wrong.

    For the truly undecided, there’s TOO MUCH information. And to tell the difference between muck and brass takes a greater investment in time and effort than they can afford.

    The denialists don’t need to win, they just need to throw enough midden-content about to slow down acceptance. They don’t need to prove their case, just ensure the case for the pro side is left sitting in a puddle of misinformation indistinguishable from good information.

    NOTE: this also ruins the chance of genuine issue with AGW hidden in a midden full of codswallop and finding, assessing and inclusion of this genuine issue is harder to start, if it even gets that far. Which is less likely because there are so many repeats of the old chestnuts and demands for unnecessary work that inclusion of the true nuggets of real information in the anti- side is nigh impossible: there are only 24 hours in a day.

  27. 27
    Paul says:

    Re: the section “Don’t expect the world to be fair”

    Can i point out that having a solid position that is reasonably unified can be an advantage if you want to attack rather than defend.

    I realise that scientists may need to continually defend “a coherent set of ideas” but us non-scientists are free to attack the “mutually contradictory inconsistent arguments”.

    I have done it successfully a number of times, resulting in silence in many cases. Once you have found the weakness, you just keep pounding the same point of weakness and because the opponent wants the last word, they have no choice but to back off.

    OK it isn’t science, but then a lot of the time you aren’t dealing with scientists.

  28. 28
    wmanny says:

    #19 “Stupid is as stupid does” is a thread over at Tamino’s “Open Mind”, as Adam should know and Ray definitely knows!

    I would characterize RC as preaching to its own choir, as does any blog, but decidedly getting into the science as well as the politics. That this blog does not suffer [who it perceives to be] fools easily is to its credit, and even more to its credit, I believe, is its disinclination to support any and all arguments “on its side”. Gore and Hansen, for example, when at their [edit] worst, don’t do well here.

  29. 29

    Is the following assertion true? It seems phoney to me.

    “James Hansen, the notorious NASA astronomer who has urged that global warming skeptics face a Nuremberg-style trial for crimes against humanity, in 1971 warned of a coming deadly ice age,… .”


    [Response: Good call. None of the assertions in that sentence are true. Hansen is not an astronomer. He has called for accountability of fossil fuel company executives for promoting junk contrarian science, that they should have known was junk, in order to advance their business interests. He has never said that skeptics in general should be put on trial. In the early 1970s worked on calculations of the properties of aerosols. He has never written anything warning of a ‘coming deadly ice age’. This reference is probably to the Rasool and Schneider 1971 paper, which he was not an author on, and which in any case does not warn of a coming deadly ice age either. – gavin]

  30. 30

    mark wrote: “For the truly undecided, there’s TOO MUCH information. And to tell the difference between muck and brass takes a greater investment in time and effort than they can afford.”

    Luckily, the bulk of denialist posters will do some of the winnowing work themselves by the (poor) quality of their argumentation. I think the number of those who really understand the issues yet deny the science is pretty small, and the result is a lot of denialist posters who are pretty clearly clueless–“clearly”, even to those who don’t have the background themselves to understand every nuance.

    It is often possible to effectively refute the nonsense without sucking up all your time by simply highlighting the contradictory and the rhetorical, and by providing good information (or, better, access to same.) (I also think it is important to be clear about whether you are attempting to convince someone or simply to counter their propaganda.)

  31. 31
    Hank Roberts says:

    The main thing I’d add is this pointer:

    That is excellent advice to beginners about how to ask good questions.

    This bit from the very end is also helpful:

    How To Answer Questions in a Helpful Way

    Be gentle. Problem-related stress can make people seem rude or stupid even when they’re not.

    Reply to a first offender off-line. There is no need of public humiliation for someone who may have made an honest mistake. A real newbie may not know how to search archives or where the FAQ is stored or posted.

    If you don’t know for sure, say so! A wrong but authoritative-sounding answer is worse than none at all. Don’t point anyone down a wrong path simply because it’s fun to sound like an expert. Be humble and honest; set a good example for both the querent and your peers.

    If you can’t help, don’t hinder. Don’t make jokes about procedures that could trash the user’s setup — the poor sap might interpret these as instructions.

    Ask probing questions to elicit more details. If you’re good at this, the querent will learn something — and so might you. Try to turn the bad question into a good one; remember we were all newbies once.

    While muttering RTFM is sometimes justified when replying to someone who is just a lazy slob, a pointer to documentation (even if it’s just a suggestion to google for a key phrase) is better.

    If you’re going to answer the question at all, give good value. Don’t suggest kludgy workarounds when somebody is using the wrong tool or approach. Suggest good tools. Reframe the question.

    Help your community learn from the question. When you field a good question, ask yourself “How would the relevant documentation or FAQ have to change so that nobody has to answer this again?” Then send a patch to the document maintainer.

    If you did research to answer the question, demonstrate your skills rather than writing as though you pulled the answer out of your butt.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    Other excellent advice on basic good practice here:
    as endorsed here:

  33. 33
    Pete K says:

    Can RC take the chance to do some peer review:

    “Good news! Fred Singer and NIPCC will soon publish the main (”real”) report on climate change. The report is now available for peer-review. Those interested should contact Joseph Bast at Heartland,

    [Response: Ooooh…. Can’t wait! Let’s see how many of the people who criticised the IPCC or the CCSP summaries for allegedly being written before the main reports step forward to make the same points now (maybe someone could make a list?). But maybe it’s still premature – the current evidence that such a thing exists is about as solid as a photo of the Loch Ness Monster. – gavin]

  34. 34
    Jim Norvell says:

    From an article published by the The Guardian UK, June 23, 2008,

    “CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

    Jim Norvell

  35. 35
    Mark says:

    re Kevin #30, the problem is that you STILL have to read it. And assess it, even if it only takes five seconds to go “nah, that’s obviously bullshit”. And that five seconds multiplied 100 times means it takes 10 minutes to winnow out just the obvious ones.

    That’s more time to merely learn what’s NOT going on. Learning what’s going on takes more time on that.

  36. 36

    Naive question — How do you respond to someone offline? I don’t see any email addresses anywhere.

    Burgy (

  37. 37
    Andy says:

    Mark #26. Your post is befuddling. But I would like to just point out, there’s a lot of money to be lost if it’s NOT AGW. Again to imply that skeptics are solely tied to industry (particularly fossil fuels and related fields) is misleading and not to mention wrong.

    And in reality, there’s been as much “wrong” science published over the years as “right” science. (Easiest examples are the hundreds of contradictory medical studies that get published year after year.) Just because a scientific journal accepts something to publish doesn’t make it “right.” Science is an evolutionary concept and in all honesty, those who feel AGW exists and we’re heading for disaster should be glad there are “deniers” (skeptics) looking at things as it should force you to either improve your research or analysis.

    [Response: You confound all criticism with useful criticism. People who continue to claim that the CO2 rise is of natural origin or that the planet has not warmed in recent decades or that CO2 is not a significant greenhouse gas add absolutely nothing to the science and only noise to the discussion. Skepticism, practised well, is immensely useful and good scientists have to be masters at it. Conflating that with the daily grind of talking points that pass for discussion at Heartland for instance is as valid as comparing the Hubble telescope to “Twinkle Twinkle little star”. – gavin]

  38. 38
    Chris Squire [UK] says:

    Re: ‘don’t assume that the context in which you are speaking is immediately obvious to casual readers.‘, one example of what not to do is your immediately preceding, Feb 28, post [‘What George Will should have written . . ‘] which assumed that your readers had heard of Will and had been paying attention to him, so that no context was required.

    [Response: Kind of a fair point (though we did link to the columns and the wider response). But I think it is useful to assume some background – otherwise you can never get past the basics. But more generally, we could certainly do more to be gentler on the novice reader. – gavin

  39. 39
    Adam Gallon says:

    Since I took this thread as being, as it’s title says, “Advice for a young climate blogger”, my comments may not apply to anything that’s appeared on this site at all.
    The blog that many of my comments apply to has been correctly identified by someone.
    I’ve seen rudeness directed at posters on all types of Blog, pro-AGW, anti-AGW, cycling, wargames and other, rudeness to the level of profanity for that matter.
    Likewise, editting, deleting of posts for no good (IMHO)reason.
    Thus, my comments are general.
    One good one would be, if you’re setting up a new blog, on any subject, make it original. Is their room for an original blog on the subject of climate? Looking at the list to the right here, add in missing ones like WUWT, CA, AV, the 2 Pielke’s (? Spelling) etc, etc and it’s a crowded field, even for the varied spectrum of views.
    Oh, good spam blocker here, that stuff’s a bane on any website!

  40. 40

    mark, you are right (and I can hear my wife moaning, “You’re not on RealClimate AGAIN, are you?”)

    However, most of the “casual uninformed” don’t, and won’t, seek to sort it all out. They will form their opinion based on the newsthreads they happen to read. Yet they are the ones most needful to convince. I think there are some efficiencies possible in responding online in that kind of situation, and that’s what I was writing about.

    There’s a greater burden–as you describe–on thee and me, since we are choosing to participate actively.

    Hope that clarifies what I meant.

  41. 41

    John Burgeson #36: Not naive at all. It’s rarely possible for a blog owner to “reply to first offenders off-line” because typically you don’t have any contact information. This is really more applicable to membership-type forums than to blogs.

  42. 42
    wmanny says:

    Coincidentally(?), Pielke, Jr.’s “Prometheus” has put up a thread on the topic.

  43. 43
    Mark says:

    “But I would like to just point out, there’s a lot of money to be lost if it’s NOT AGW.”

    There isn’t. There’s a lot of money to go ELSEWHERE if AGW isn’t right.

    Heck, if anything, there’s a lot of money to lose if scientists and everyone else all agreed AGW was happening and then went on to do something about it. Why get a grant to prove what everyone already things is proven? There’s no money in proving the earth is round any more.

    There’s money to be lost if what we DO to combat/reverse/reduce AGW and *do it wrong* because of a misunderstanding, but that’s where GENUINE skepticism comes in. Someone to point out where you could be wrong, show how that could happen and help to produce a better description. “IT AIN’T HAPPENING” isn’t that.

    But not burning fossil fuels will hurt the fossil fuel industry. And they make a LOT of money. What’s the average turnover each year in “street price” of oil alone in the amounts of 20Gt of oil extracted? TRILLIONS. Maybe QUADRILLIONS.

    Much more than governments spend on weather forecasting IN ITS ENTIRETY. And climate is the cheaper section of it, much smaller than observing in how much money is involved.

    So on one side you have maybe tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of pounds, most of which will be spent anyway if AGW isn’t happening.

    On the other side, a multi-trillion-pound industry that will lose most of it if AGW is happening.

    Who has most to lose? Who would make the biggest fight? Who has the biggest reason to scream loudest to make their side “right”?

    Fossil fuels.

  44. 44
    Paul says:

    Andy 37 said:

    “Again to imply that skeptics are solely tied to industry (particularly fossil fuels and related fields) is misleading and not to mention wrong.”

    Depends what you mean by ‘industry’. I have come across a trawler owner that is a skeptic. But after the encounter i realised his views were based on work experience and dealing with weather out at sea, combined with skepticism about over-fishing.

    Anyone that runs a business would prefer not to change. It takes a lot of guts to change. eg. it takes many years to become an organic farmer.

    So in reality most skeptics are tied to ‘industry’.

  45. 45
    Hank Roberts says:

    For John Burgerson and Chris — you can always post a reply asking a new and awkward commenter to contact you (use something like — then you can turn off that address before the spammers get it). Then hold further problem posts til they get in touch. That’s a wacko filter method too.

    Many many blog tools do require an email address (as RC does, not for publication but for the hosts). If your software doesn’t, it at least records an IP address. That can help catch people trying to confuse things by using names recently used by other people. Google “troll faq” and study this if you don’t have long experience in newsgroups. The same tricks are played and naive bloggers can get taken for a long interesting ride.

  46. 46
    Georg says:

    The whole thing jsut because I started a blog? *lol*

    Seriously, thanks for advice!

    :) Georg

  47. 47
    Andy says:

    Gavin, please don’t take me for an idiot who doesn’t understand the difference in skepticism. In reading several blogs on this topic, you can see that even the notable skeptics (including several affiliated with Heartland) don’t deny that and they’ll correct those idiots that say those things. My point was to those people on this site that just because someone is skeptical or disagrees does NOT mean they’re “wrong” They may have a valid reason as to why and to dismiss a skeptical point of view simply because it doesn’t conform to your own view is bad science. Science shouldn’t be about sides and winning or losing(it really really shouldn’t).

    And Mark #42…again implying a fossil fuel connection as the sole reason for the skeptics is incorrect. See how little they actually contribute any more to climate science, as they themselves no longer want to be accused of “rigging” the science.

  48. 48

    Great Post from the group!!!

    I would add some things I’ve found along the way.

    Be careful posting on blogs where the denialist can control the argument. btw, I’m not saying that a blogger should not have some control freedom to keep an debate relevant, but when it is used to hinder the debate or eliminate opposing relevant views and context, it is sad.

    I post on other blogs once in a while to see how they are arguing. In one case, the blogger kept throwing links at me that he was pasting out of a denialist site.

    This is a bludgeoning with irrelevance technique and can eat up your time.

    In the end, when I posed an attribution question that he could not answer, he did not post my question and proceeded to post to final posts that made it look like I gave up and he won the argument.

    His arguing style is generally to use red herrings and straw man technique, as well as facts out of context. He claims to be a conservative and probably my biggest fault was saying he was a liberal, as in liberal with the truth. It is challenging not to attack an ideal when it is part of the background for the argument, but it should be avoided and I learn from my own mistakes.

    It is also noteworthy to understand the length of deception in the denialist blogosphere. They even make up their own charts that are not based on reality.

    In his blog, he references a site (see first link above) that is loaded with media stories and tired old regurgitated arguments, as well as science out of context. That was where he would cut and paste his claims from.

    Perfect example of context destruction of a real quote, the denial site says:

    QUOTE (American Geophysical Union – 2007)

    “With such projections, there are many sources of scientific uncertainty…”

    But the sentence is cut off? Why? Here is the actual text, not cut off:

    “With such projections, there are many sources of scientific uncertainty, but none are known that could make the impact of climate change inconsequential. Given the uncertainty in climate projections, there can be surprises that may cause more dramatic disruptions than anticipated from the most probable model projections.”

    From this we can see clearly the tactics used to remove relevant context to claim AGW is unfounded.

    It is hard to believe, but that is what they are doing. I am personally amazed that they don’t read the actual relevant context while the are in the process of destroying the truth and say, ‘wow, we are really destroying the truth’.

    Hard to fathom.

  49. 49

    #37 Andy

    You are missing an important point imo. Scientists are the most skeptical breed already. They go for peer review but the next best test is peer response. And peer response does not usually get much press. If a bit of science is not relevant it just fades out into the past.

    #47 Andy

    It’s not about opinions, it is about contextually relevant science that is considerate of the big picture. Scientists are conservative by nature/training. Good scientists are very conservative and very considerate.

    You say it shouldn’t be about sides but what is your context? Do you mean sides of liberals/conservatives, or believers vs. non-believers, or do you mean sides as in relevant understanding vs. irrelevant understanding. Because if it’s the later, then yes, it’s about sides; if it’s the former, then no, it’s not about politics or beliefs.

    On the other hand, reasoning needs to be applied and that is where policy making comes in based on relevant understanding.

    As to the fossil fuel connection, it’s rather obvious on a reasonable basis alone. I was in Europe a couple years ago and spoke with a person related to the fossil fuel industry. That person ‘generally’ confirmed for me that their position was that the industry wanted to keep things confused while they figured out how to make money with alternatives. That is still in process.

    It’s an evolution with agenda attached. Sure they are getting in line with the debate as they learn more about how to gain advantage. That’s the way the world works, generally speaking. As to those not connected with fossil fuels that are arguing AGW is not real, that’s mainly because they don’t have enough of the relevant context yet. Once one gets there, it is illuminating.

  50. 50
    José Larios says:

    Thanks for the advice!
    Thank you for your excelent job, I´m forn Spain and mi blog is in spanish 100 hit/hour in 2008
    I read all your execelent post and I’m reading now “The Long Thaw” from David Archer.
    Sorry for mi english.