Friday, July 14, 2017

On the Evolution of Blogging

Subtitle: A Blog is Much Like a Social Club

Some things have become more and more clear to me recently, with the articles that are written, and the comments on various blogs.   This short article goes into what I see happening there and the good and bad ramifications. 

Start with a social club, a private club.  These organizations almost always are very much homogeneous.  People join who are of the same opinions, same social status, same economic level, same skin color, even the same religion in many cases.   It is rare to find much diversity in one of those clubs.  

How are blogs like that?  The topic for a given blog, or even a few topics if it is broadly based, has a certain point of view.   Some, especially in the climate science field, allow no contrary views to those of the blog owner or owners.   The comments also, where commenting is allowed, may have a common theme.  A dissenting viewpoint in comments is typically hooted at, or shouted down - as that is done in writing, anyway.   The dissenter is typically vilified, called various derogatory names, insulted, and sometimes libeled.  

I have watched this happen, in person, on a couple of blogs.   I make no claim to having participated in many blogs, as my time is limited.  I am limited to reading and commenting on just three, beside writing my own.  Those are, in no particular order, Climate Etc., Jo Nova, and Watts Up With That.   Still, although a small data set, there are common elements.  

I read each one, or at least that was my original intention, to keep up with developments in the climate science area.  I wanted to learn things.   Eventually, I gained enough confidence to leave a comment.   However, my commenting was typically to disagree with what was in the article, or with what a commenter had written.   It appears that most of us have a body of knowledge that we feel is true. When someone asserts an opposing position to be true, the choice then is ours whether to respond or not.   Most of the time, I did not.  But occasionally, I would respond to disagree.  I would give my facts and reasons.  I tried to be very courteous, not engaging in the vilification described above.   

I was then that  I found myself the target of the vilification and the rest of it. 

This is true, in my experience, on Jo Nova, where some know-it-all writes prolifically about the wonders of coal-fired power plants.  He claims some engineering background, but the evidence of that escapes me.  I pointed out a few times his wrong statements, for which I was roundly berated as a know-nothing.   After a few rounds of that, I confess I left that site and don't go back.    And that, the leaving the site, is very much what happens in a social club when a non-conformist enters the club.  The existing members will make the non-conformist so uncomfortable that he chooses to leave.   More on that in a bit. 

My experience at Climate Etc. was not much better, although I don't really read or comment there much.  There are a couple of regulars on that site that really blistered me with scathing comments when I pointed out their false statements.   The sad thing is, Dr. Curry allows both of those characters to post guest posts on her blog.   Well, that is her choice.    Again, I chose to stop reading and commenting on that blog, too.  

And then, there is Watts Up With That.   I have made more than a dozen guest posts on that blog, and left hundreds if not thousands of comments since early in 2009.   Anthony Watts, the blog owner and principal author of posts, has graciously allowed me space to write those guest posts.  At one point, Anthony also asked me to take a day off work and drive down to Anaheim to attend a lecture given by infamous Michael Mann, PhD.  see link I was also asked to ask Dr. Mann a question during the question and answer period.   I was happy to do all that, and I did.  The results were several guest posts on WUWT, and many hundreds of comments by dozens of people.  Some were positive, and many were negative, too.   

But, my point is that, over the years, almost all of the commenters that I enjoyed reading and exchanging views with have quit commenting there.  There is an entire new cast of characters.  And, they almost all have the same viewpoint: catastrophic man-made global warming is over-hyped (with that I agree), renewable energy is bad (with that I mostly disagree), and nuclear energy is good (with that I completely disagree).   

What is more of a dismay, though, is the writings as guest posts by three prolific, but usually very wrong writers.  I probably should not name them, but their identities are fairly easy to determine.  They all have one thing in common, though, they agree strongly with the three WUWT positions just mentioned: climate science, renewable energy, and nuclear energy.  

I wrote an article here on SLB about the one-sided statements and articles on WUWT, pertaining to wind energy projects.  see link   As background, several years ago, I had written and Anthony posted an article on the benefits from vertical axis wind turbines. see link  But, that was the only one out of approximately 50 articles on wind that were positive.   It seems that WUWT goes out of the way to scour the news for examples of wind turbine failures.  These are highlighted, for example with a photo of a helicopter in the air, from which a man is spraying some liquid (a de-icing fluid, it appears) onto the frozen, ice-covered blades of a wind turbine.   Another that comes to mind is a photo of smoke billowing from a wind turbine that caught fire.  

More recently, the economic troubles in Australia that supposedly stem from too many wind turbines have received much ink at WUWT.  

So, I sometimes join in the comments and give various facts, such as how no grids are destabilized in the US due to solar or wind energy at grid-scale.  And, how the economics of both solar and wind energy have dramatically improved in the past decade.  Also, how there are yet more technical improvements to be had that will improve the annual output and reduce installation costs.    I also comment, as appropriate, on the nuclear power articles.  

And the vilification, berating, belittling, and sometimes libeling begins again.  At one time, I swore off ever reading or commenting again at WUWT.    I discussed that with Anthony, too.  He encouraged me to stick with it, as he himself has had much worse thrown his way.  On that, he is absolutely correct.   He has been the target of some truly vicious, illegal, and sickening behavior.   

So, how is this like a social club?  And, how does that impact anything?   I'll use the WUWT as the example.  Years ago, as I said, I was a frequent reader and commenter there.  I found lots of kind, friendly commenters, and a few guest authors, that responded to my comments.   However, those commenters are gone, from what I can see.    A few old-timers are still there, but they are not the kind people.  These are the opposite. 

Why would the commenters, and the guest authors, become so very homogeneous?  There are various terms for it in the social science literature, group-think, echo-chamber both come to mind.   More fundamentally, it is simply very difficult to accept that one's personal bias is not correct.   It is very hard to give up long-cherished ideas, to find that what one thought was true was actually false.    A famous quote is along those lines, I'm not sure who said this.  "When new facts present themselves, I change my mind.  What do you do, Sir?"  I like that quote, because I like to discover the facts, and form my opinions based on the facts.  And, it is perfectly ok with me when the facts change.   I don't mind.  

As examples, it was a fact a few decades ago that wind turbines were very expensive to construct and had low output.  Those were the facts.   I would not have wanted huge amounts of electricity input to a grid with those wind turbines.  However, being an engineer and seeing what those designers were up to, I knew that they could do several things to improve the designs.  And, they did.  As the improvements came, so did the cost reductions and efficiency improvements.  As I knew they would.  Their track record now is almost 8 years in a row of reduced costs and improved output.   And the improvement is impressive.  The break-even economics have plunged from 30 cents per kWh 8 years ago, to 4.3 cents per kWh today for wind turbines.  The cost to install has dropped by a factor of at least 6.  Recent figures in the US have installed costs at $1600 per kW of nameplate capacity.  That compares to almost $10,000 per kW just 8 years ago.   The facts have changed, so my opinion has also changed.  I also happen to know (and write about this) that intermittent wind energy on a grid does not harm the grid, nor does it increase prices to the customer.  There are abundant, actual real-life data to support that.  

The same, or rather the opposite, is true for nuclear power.  That industry, over the years, has had an increase in installed costs per kW of nameplate capacity.   In the late 1980s, the plants were being built for $3 or sometimes $5 billion each, for 1000 MWe (electrical output).  Today, they cost $10,000 to $12,000 per kW to build.   Even allowing for inflation, that does not show any cost reductions over time.    

As many readers of SLB know, I have also written a series containing 30 articles on The Truth About Nuclear Power.  see link  (those articles have now had more than 27,000 views to date).    I have made comments at WUWT with references to those articles, as appropriate.  What is puzzling to me is the absolute refusal by the commenters there to scrutinize and dig into the nuclear power data and the issues surrounding it, with the same intensity they devote to climate science data, climate models, and climate predictions.   Instead, the derision, the name-calling, and other insults are flung my way.  

It is more than puzzling, it is astounding to me, that so many people who comment at WUWT have such misplaced faith in the nuclear engineers (they are not making better power plants), and so little (or zero) faith in the renewable power engineers.  This, even though the facts are quite clear that renewable energy trends are better and better.  

In conclusion, it appears to me, based on personal experience, that the blogs have devolved into echo-chambers, just like a social club.  A dissenting viewpoint is met with insults and worse.  Those who at one time contributed greatly to the comments have left.   As have I.  

And that is a thing to invoke dismay.  How can those who are very wrong ever know they are wrong, if there is no one to say so to them?  To put it in literature terms, where will we find the "boy who could see no clothes, and said so?"

Ah, well.  Being blissfully wrong, and not wanting to know it, is probably something that will never change.  As for me, there are plenty of other interesting and rewarding things to do in this life.  Onward, and upward.   SLB will continue with articles on climate science, nuclear power, fresh water, renewable energy, engineering, Free Speech, and a few others.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyright (c) 2017 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

Topics and general links:

Nuclear Power
Climate  and here
Fresh  and here
Free Speech.................... here

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