Dilemmas in science communication

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting on science communication and the increasing public distrust of science. Climate was not the major theme, though it did come up as an example (not least because I was an invited speaker, as a blogging scientist / scientific blogger).

The first speaker was professor in communication science, Cees van Woerkum. I attended his lectures 19 years ago. He explained how the old model, of a sender and a receiver of communication, was no longer valid (if it ever was). Modern communication is characterized by a much more active role of the audience in selecting what information to take in. Also, the message is not inert, but rather gets meaning in an active and social process.

Drawing on examples from biotechnology, carbon capture and storage, and vaccination he argued that scientists should take the concerns of citizens seriously. Laughing at somebody for calling biotechnology “unnatural” is not going to take their worries away or change their mind. Calling fears of side effects from vaccinations “dangerous nonsense” doesn’t quite work either, especially not if those concerns have already been anchored to a certain extent through social construction. If a scientist calls the chance of CO2 leakage from a storage facility vanishingly small, the response is “so it’s not impossible?!” A potential way out according to van Woerkum is to ask what’s behind their concerns: What do you mean by unnatural?” Then you can at least start to have a conversation.

This was followed by a presentation by author and historian Jona Lendering. Although the topic of his talk was something entirely different (about ancient Persia) the similarities with the climate debate were striking. He explained how this field of academic enquiry (about the origin of Western civilization) was being “attacked by anti-scientific tendencies” (aiming to glorify one culture’s role). The scientific establishment hardly participated in the public debate on the internet. As a consequence, the anti-scientific views got more traction and mainstream science failed in (what should be) one its core missions: Informing the public. He repeatedly stated the mechanism: “Bad information drives out good information”. He also mentioned the “intense hate” with which the “attack-machines” approach science. It was as if I was listening to Kevin Trenberth; the dynamic between a skeptical-cynical part of the audience and mainstream science was just too similar.

I talked about the dynamics of blog discussions and about the dilemmas that one encounters in trying to communicate scientific insights to a broad audience:

The last one I actually added based on the dilemma that van Woerkum alerted the audience to: As a scientist (or science journalist), you can no longer easily claim “listen to me, I’ll tell you how it is”. You have to take the concerns of citizens seriously. But what to do if those concerns are not openly expressed, but rather disguised in scientific sounding (but incorrect or sometimes even plain silly) arguments? “Climate change is due to the sun” or “Iran is the origin of Western civilization” or “vaccination causes autism”? The underlying reason for skepticism often remains hidden. As a scientist, you’re sucked into a quasi-scientific argument. How else can you react, than by saying: “no, that’s not the way it is. It’s this and this way, for such and such reasons”? But such a reaction is being characterized by skeptics ((mis-)using van Woerkum’s words) as “unjustified superiority of science”. Is explaining how science sees it a hopeless strategy?

In line with van Woerkum I think it’s important to focus on the underlying motives for distrusting science. We should really try and figure out and discuss why we disagree so strongly about climate change (e.g. due to differences in worldviews and in risk perception). Discussions about hockeysticks and feedbacks are all very interesting, but they are not the crux of why there is a such a heated and politicized debate about climate change. We don’t have a similar public debate about the mating behavior of fruitflies after all.

I also mentioned the issue of ‘false balance’: the journalistic tendency to give equal attention and weight to opposing viewpoints. For political topics (about what ‘should’ be done) that is often a laudable principle, but not so for scientific topics (about what ‘is’). Not every scientific sounding proposition is equally plausible, and good journalism ought to make a judgment call. Now that is easier said than done (though clues to do so exist). But already a much better picture of scientific insights is given if the microphones and writing space are distributed somewhat in proportion to how the scientific opinions about the topic are distributed. Assuming that the aggregated scientific opinion is strongly dependent on the strength and direction of the available evidence (i.e. having trust in the scientific process), this should give a pretty good picture of the robustness of scientific knowledge. Science is more than just another opinion.

(Borehole items)


  1. It is interesting to note how little constrained that science-communication malefactors, those constructing convenient misrepresentations or misdirections, are in comparison.

    Although they are relatively few and relatively unsophisticated in science, they continue to prevail. The list of dilemmas shows how they manage it.

  2. Pingback: Study Channels of PakistanDilemma's in science communication | Planet3.0 » Study Channels of Pakistan

  3. I take it that the listed dilemmas are those faced by the science communicator. Each is probably worthy of a separate thread. It would be nice to see the entire presentation you made.

    There's been some discussion of robust knowledge vs news, robust knowledge vs uncertainties and risks vs uncertainties. They were not, however, from the perspective of a communicator deciding how to communicate.

    The other dilemmas look like uncharted territory. How about a sentence or two to explain each of the choices present in the dilemmas?

  4. Hi Paul,

    I didn't discuss the list of dilemma's to any length, but merely put them up as examples of many dilemmas faced when trying to communicate scientific insights to a lay audience.

    I did mention that imho mainstream media suffers from too much emphasis on news (as opposed to robust knowledge) and on mere facts (to the detriment of explaining the scientific process of getting to understand those facts). In the blogosphere I see too much emphasis on details (to the detriment of the big picture) and on uncertainties (to the detriment of robust knowledge).

    Of course, Schneider's "mediarology" had a very sharp description of the ultimate dilemma, between clarity/simplicity and completeness/complexity.

    I wrote about robust knowledge vs uncertainty here: http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/what-we-know-is-most-important/

    and dilemma's to do with comlexity/clarity here: http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/catch-22/

    For those who read Dutch (or trust google translate), my slides (in Dutch; sorry, no time to translate them at the moment) are here:

  5. Schneider’s ultimate dilemma between clarity/simplicity and completeness/complexity asks the question. Can a message that acknowledges and presents the uncertainties of climatology, of predictions and projections both scientific and social, and of the results of policy choices be successful in triggering the precautionary principle?

  6. I do like constructive commenters.

    Hey P3 folk, here's a somewhat silly question, but I'm curious as to whether it'd help, or if it (ultimately) wouldn't, then what the tree-lobster countermove would be.

    I've spoken with more than one person who is intelligent and yet doesn't trust the credibility spectrum, believing instead that the imperfections in how the scientific endeavor ends up running are great enough to overpower its successes. And the argument for the C.S. is basically a thought experiment, relying on understanding and not data.

    So my Q is, has anyone done a (retroactive) experiment looking at how John Q. Citizen would have done, accuracy-wise, by using different methods to choose what to believe, about topics that now have "settled" answers?

    And if that's too silly for words, how could I have explained why the C.S. is correct, in a way that someone who's convinced that the community-of-science doesn't work, could still grasp and accept? (For these sample listeners, assume a very confident do-it-yourselfer and an intelligent resident of the Fox News cocoon.)

  7. Bart Verheggen:

    In line with van Woerkum I think it’s important to focus on the underlying motives for distrusting science. We should really try and figure out and discuss why we disagree so strongly about climate change [...] We don't have a similar public debate about the mating behavior of fruitflies after all.

    Um, perhaps because there is a well-funded network of that pumps out climate inactivist garbage en masse?

    Why won't that be enough of an explanation?

    Why are we still looking for an alternative "explanation" that pretends that the misinformation mill doesn't exist?

    Seriously, I don't get it. There's rich people. There's money from rich people. There's shills who willingly take money from rich people. There's goons who blindly believe shills who willingly take money from rich people. None of this is particularly hard to understand. What's more, all this is extremely well-documented. So again, why do we insist on ignoring the very clear modus operandi of the inactivist 'institutes', and keep insisting on finding some deeper "underlying" cause?

    The Heartland Institute doesn't waste its time trying to figure out people's "underlying motives". It doesn't need to. We should be asking, why doesn't it need to?

    -- frank

  8. ahaynes,

    I don't know, but perhaps I'd try something like this. Suppose there's a new shiny paper about some aspect of climatology that just got published. Suppose further that neither 'side' of the 'debate' has written anything about it. How does your John Q. Citizen propose to evaluate whether the new shiny paper is any good?

    Hopefully this will at least provoke some thought, followed by some thoughtful conversation...

    -- frank

  9. Arthur Smith:

    In brief, my general idea is this: Examine what the inactivist 'institutes' are doing that makes them to effective. Try to do the same thing, but in the opposite direction, and with much more honesty. (And hopefully with less money.)

    For example, part of the inactivists' success stems from using (misleading) talking points that are simple and thus amenable to brute repetition, such as "climate changes!" "CO2 is plant food!" etc. We can try to accurately summarize certain aspects of climatology in such a way that they, too, are amenable to brute repetition. Then we do the brute repetition.

    Obviously I don't have the full solution to the communications problem, so these are just some initial thoughts.

    (While I'm on the subject: Climate Progress had a thread on bumper sticker suggestions, but I don't know whether anyone followed up on those.)

    -- frank

  10. ahaynes,

    I suspect I'm missing some subtlety of your question, but might you point out what I recall postmodernist science studies types sometimes called the "but-it-works problem"?

  11. Frank: The recent book by Jonathan Haidt makes the case that conservatives have better intuition in understanding humans' deep psychology that liberals do. Review here:


    Perhaps it's not the messengers' fault for failing to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis. Perhaps instead, its the nature of the message itself that most people just reflexively tune out. The climate crisis is abstract and distant, requiring some thought and a change of moral perspective in order to grasp it and appreciate its urgency. Meanwhile, everyone has concrete problems to deal in the here and now, and, if they don't even want to face those problems, plenty of pleasant distractions to indulge in.

    Not everyone is WEIRD like us. (Western, Educated,Industrialised, Rich, Democratic).

  12. Bart Verheggen, Andy Skuce, Arthur Smith:

    Regarding this "underlying motivations" idea, let me put it this way.

    When you see someone bleeding from a gunshot wound, do you say "He's bleeding because he was shot by a gun!" Or do you say "He's bleeding because his skin isn't strong enough to withstand external pressure"?

    Now, when you see someone regurgitating climate denial memes, do you say "He's believing in this stuff because there are well-moneyed groups pumping out such misinformation day in day out"? Or do you say "He's believing in this stuff because he's predisposed to"?

    -- frank

  13. While normally I prefer the more moderate viewpoint, I'm with Frank on this one, guys. This massive conspiracy theory worldview didn't emerge from nowhere unbidden. It was manufactured.

    Communications advice from professionals is all about convincing people that my soap is better than their soap. It is totally the point for the opposition but it is not the point for us. The point for us is that their soap is filthy and they have an ethical responsibility not to be selling it. And the press has an ethical responsibility not to hem and haw. And so do the professional organizations. But for some reason it is left up to bloggers.

    It's not just Android vs Apple here, or Tide vs Gain. It isn't about the slight differences between two perfectly good products. It's about running the world based on facts versus based on systematic irresponsible lies. There's no use pretending that it's just that a lot of people are making a mistake.

    And this is why the advice of communication professionals is worthless. Just like economists, they are trying to apply generalizations from their comfort zone, and we're not in it.

    We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  14. Michael,

    I don't disagree with what you're saying. But the question following that, and where our views may diverge, is how to deal with that. How to inform the masses in the middle about the scientific validity of various viewpoints? And how to discuss most effectively with a diehard skeptic?

    Perhaps I should clarify some background to what I wrote in the lea article: It was prompted to some extent by a discussion with a Dutch skeptic who was also present at the meeting. He claimed that van Woerkum's words supported his view (that science can't claim superiority in knowlegde), whereas I claimed that he also supported my view (that the root of the disgreement is not scientific in nature and that to "solve" such disagreements we have to discuss the underlying motivations).

    About that last aspect we all seem to be in agreement here. Of course, like you, I also have some ideas as to what some of those underlyign motivations might be (http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/climate-skepticism-comes-in-many-shades-of-grey/ ). But when trying to discuss this with a diehard skeptic, the conversation would immediately stop when(s)he feels accused of all kinds of non-scientific, lowish motivations.

    I also see that asking an open question (such as van Woerkum suggested in one example), assuming that the person is well intentioned and honest about their motivations, may not work either (since in some or many cases, they may not be honest about their motivations, or may be in denial about their motivations).

    The other part of the discussion is, how to communicate all this to the disinterested public? I'm getting more and more convinced that they are not open to accepting that one side has ulterior motives and the other does not. People are deeply engrained with the "where two sides argue, two sides are at fault" line of thought. The false balance again.

    See also this fantastic piece about how (not) to communicate science to the public: http://www.gemeynt.nl/en/blog/2012/04/02/cassandra-science-at-planet-under-pressure/

  15. Bart,

    But the question following that, and where our views may diverge, is how to deal with that. How to inform the masses in the middle about the scientific validity of various viewpoints? And how to discuss most effectively with a diehard skeptic?

    But even before that, there’s a more important question that needs to be answered.

    Going back to my gunshot wound metaphor. When you see a person with a gunshot wound, of course you’d want to know how best to treat his wound.

    But suppose the shooter is still shooting at the victim in the meantime. Then surely then the most urgent task at hand, first and foremost, is to get the victim out of harm’s way. You can’t omit that step and pretend that the shooter is no longer around, and go straight to treating the wound!

      * * *

    And this is where I think van Woerkum’s communications model is lacking.

    Yes, there are messengers of science, and there’s the audience. But the rich deep-pocketed purveyors of misinformation have found a way to corrupt this very model. Instead of merely presenting themselves as messengers of ‘alternative’ science, they’re using various tactics to insinuate themselves into a position between the communicators of science and their intended audiences.

    You don’t stand a chance in “informing” or
    “discussing” the public if your message is being drowned out by paid shills even as you speak.

    Ergo, the very first thing you need to do is to create a clear path for communication and interaction with your intended audience. This is the very first problem that must be solved.

    -- frank

  16. As a clarification: I'm not saying that van Woerkum, Haidt, and Sennett are totally wrong. Rather, I think that their work, while valuable, doesn't tell the whole story. As with all things, we should consider their work in the context of everything else we know, and that includes the very well-documented misinformation tactics of the Heartland Institute, Tom Harris, etc.

    -- frank

  17. Speaking of Jonathan Haidt, I posted this a while ago at Keith's:


    > [T]here is an interesting question as to whether left-wingers and right-wingers actually do think differently, and if so, which way the causal arrow goes.

    The first part of that question is indeed quite interesting. Jonathan Haidt presents some evidence that left and right thinking patterns might be related to the five foundations of morality:


    In a nutshell, everyone relate, in one way or another, to issues framed with concepts associated to:




    authority/respect, and


    To test the robustness of this framework, we could read back the arguments at Keith’s and find that those who generate the most discussions show that people take antagonistic stances on one of these five dimensions.

    In fact, we could surmise that these moral stances could act as predictors of what kind of political framing they are related. This might not help solve the causal arrow part of the problem, but it would still be interesting.

    Scientific debates are never what we think they should be. Auditors should wonder why.



    Considering the way BDD got baited over there, I suppose I might follow through this discussion over here.

    More on that later,

    Enjoy your Easter eggs,


  18. Bart, as a reminder of Heartland's tactics:

    For years, the chief opponent of global warming evidence has been the conservative-libertarian Heartland Institute in Chicago, which endlessly issues "scientific" papers questioning any global increase in temperatures, or doubting that such increase is caused by human air pollution.

    Recently, internal Heartland documents were leaked to news media, and they show a new strategy. The think-tank supposedly has prepared a $100,000 curriculum for public school science classes, designed to teach children that grave suspicions mar global warming evidence -- even though thousands of climate scientists say the opposite.

    The courses were prepared by Dr. David Wojick.

    This is what they're doing.

    Meanwhile, you (Bart) propose that we each try to intuit the "underlying motives" of each individual 'skeptic' we come across, and somehow address them.

    It doesn't take a genius to figure out which of these two methods is easier, quicker, and more effective on a macro scale.

    -- frank

  19. At the risk of repeating myself yet again:

    There's a very deliberate and very well-moneyed network of groups pumping out climate misinformation day in day out. No purpose is served by responding as if this network doesn't exist.

    -- frank

  20. There is also real benefit in repetition. Like, well, getting my point across.

    While you're busy thinking about "five dimensions" and stuff, the Kochs simply throw more money to people to do copypasta jobs. Repetition works.

    -- frank

  21. I agree that there are benefits in repetition, Frank, and I agree what mindframing is an important business.

    I hope you do agree that mindframing risks putting a communication closure in our discussion.

    So while you are busy mindframing on about every commenter's back, I'll simply ignore you and keep myself busy doing something else.

  22. Frank (and others),

    I'm well aware that there is a well-organized fossil-fueled misinformation campaign. See e.g. my essay Clogs in the works, posted on planet3.org http://www.desmogblog.com/spinalysis-heartland-s-echo-chamber-shifts-target.
    That said, many participants in the climate debate are unaware of this campaign. But to a large extent, they may be unaware of the underlying science as well, and are entitled to well-communicated science stuff, as Bart argues.
    Therefore, my sense is that two things are necessary here:
    1) continue the discussion on the level of arguments, content, science. Make clear what the science really says, when you try to see through the clouds of deliberate spin and sloppy journalism
    2) analyse and show the backgrounds of misinformation, strategies, sponsorships, and the like.

  23. willard,

    The way I see it, each of us is framing the issue in terms of what each sees as being important. The difference is that I actually provide my rationale for my framing.

    For, if the simplicity and effectiveness of Heartland's tactics isn't a good enough reason to pay attention to them, then what is?

    -- frank

  24. Jan Paul, I can agree with the need to communicate science well and in a way that minimizes misunderstanding.

    Therefore, my sense is that two things are necessary here:
    1) continue the discussion on the level of arguments, content, science. Make clear what the science really says, when you try to see through the clouds of deliberate spin and sloppy journalism
    2) analyse and show the backgrounds of misinformation, strategies, sponsorships, and the like.

    This I can also agree with -- and it's what I've tried to do. But the question is how to do so prominently enough for a large enough segment of the public to notice, given that politicians, professional organizations, and journalists have little or no clue when confronting anti-science.

    If we are to interact with the public, we need to be able to interact not only with one or two persons, but with thousands -- even millions -- of people all at once. Any solution to the communications problem must work on a large scale. And that I see is the problem.

    -- frank

  25. Certainly there's enough intelligence here to create a communication about climate that is accessible to the average Joe. I'll start.

    Our current climate era is called an interglacial. How much of the earth is covered by ice is an important factor in climate. The current era started about 15,000 years ago, following a very long glacial period. Estimates of when the current era will end, and a new glacial era begin, vary.

    [ "estimates vary" is the kind of lazy reporting we want to get rid of around here. Why do they vary? Whose estimates are most credible? That is what we need to know. What "estimates vary" really means is "I'm not the right person to write about this topic." -mt ]

  26. I've offered an opening paragraph for a collaborative effort to create a communication about climate that is accessible to the average Joe. Since your only criticism is that it is not sufficiently specific about how and why "estimates vary", please take the opportunity to add those specifics. After that, we can move on to forcings, feedbacks, impacts and and other points of science.

    In fact, I encourage everyone here to contribute how they would communicate about climate to the average Joe. Then we can kick it all around and maybe come up with something that can win in the marketplace of ideas. Or, we can wallow in the comfort of defeatist conspiracy theories.

  27. Paul, I blogged and email-listed for four years about "how to communicate".

    This site is the result of my ruminations and those of others.

    We don't want to communicate about communicating anymore. We are on to the experimental phase.

  28. We don’t want to communicate about communicating anymore. That's surprising. This post and the Cassandra Science at Planet under Pressure post, both of which specifically address communication are prominently displayed on your homepage. I'm sure I could find other communication related posts in the archives. Did someone sneak them in without your knowledge? Well, perhaps you're using the royal we.

    On the other hand, if you are on to the experimental phase, I'd love to know what those experiments are and which posts are about them.

  29. OK, fair enough, but still you never actually get around to saying anything.

    "Opinions differ" is your starting point? And you want to give advice about communication?

    Paul Kelly. Please. Stop pontificating. You are not qualified.

    There is no shame in being a newbie. You are a newbie about the science, the technology, the politics, and mediacraft. You have never said anything that I have read that most of the readers here haven;t thought of six ways from Sunday.

    We like newbies here. We want to try very hard to be newbie firendly. Please, hang around. Listen, ask questions, make observations.

    But please refrain from giving advice around here for a few years and do some learning first, please. Maybe read a dozen books or two. Because so far you have been on the edge of the borehole every time. Every single time.

  30. I hope Michael Tobis will forgive me for quoting him, since to my ear he has illustrated one basic truth as simply and directly as possible. It's past time to be coddling people, but I do think listening can be useful at times. I watched a presentation earlier in which a nice young girl was forced to listen to Marc Morano declaim about subprime climate change science, and I thought, that's not the act of somebody desiring a civilized conversation. But it was meant to be civilized, and that's just the problem, that Marc Morano can be a playing piece in some kind of chess game and the truth doesn't really get a seat.

    It isn’t about the slight differences between two perfectly good products. It’s about running the world based on facts versus based on systematic irresponsible lies. There’s no use pretending that it’s just that a lot of people are making a mistake.

    And this is why the advice of communication professionals is worthless. Just like economists, they are trying to apply generalizations from their comfort zone, and we’re not in it.

  31. Susan, mt,

    The advice of communcations professionals is far from useless from the perspective of enhancing (climate) scientific literacy.

    Esp not because there are communications professionals who work exacly on issues outside the comfort zone (opposition to new technologies and new insights): Van Woerkum is just one example. (Implicitly) equating all communcations professionals with PR and advertising folk is way too broad of a brush.

    We (ie those who try to improve the public's science literacy) should listen more, rather than less, to communcations professionals and social scientists.

  32. Bart Verheggen, I do apologize, I learned from your article but was so shocked by what I found on your blog comments that I should probably have simply left it alone. I was very impressed by what you had to say, and I agree with your point about listening.

    What I do not agree with is that it is OK to imply that there is any substance in the echo chamber, which uses tactics and insults, veiled and unveiled, to get people off balance in these discussions. They twist and cherrypick constantly. I have spent years trying to be "civilized" and find that the more effective whatever I have to say might be to my jaundiced eye, the more it is attacked. While many respondents are innocent, there is a seeding of experts in creating communication mayhem.

    An example would be the girl I talked about. ABC Australia ran the project, and like her I was shocked that Morano would be considered a legitimate voice of denial. He is certainly a leader, but there are some people who serially promote lies.

    When you get someone like Tom Fuller, who descends from sounding a bit open to calling people kikes, and the people he enrages who would benefit from some restraint as well, you have nothing but a donnybrook, and the old adage about not feeding trolls comes into play. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I feed the fires, for which I apologize.

  33. One more comment. We are all a little tired of the carefully collated facts available, for example, at SkepticalScience or at a higher level, RealClimate. Perhaps, for example, it is necessary for the many thousandth time to explain the actual research that has been done about the glacial cycle, and what has been done to incorporate understanding of it into the current understanding of where we are headed.

    New arrivals on the scene don't know how tired these arguments are. When we hear "it's been cooling since 1998" for the umpteenth time, we want to look instead at the recent developments in climate science about oceans, available, for example, at Tenney's blog cited below, which actually refine what we know rather than going around the merry-go-round.

    It's about being tired of the same twisted manufactured debate.

    In my conversations with repairmen and others I meet in my daily life, I talk about how weather is not climate, but trends can be seen in one's daily life, and that while these particular extremes will come and go, we will see more of them. They are very open, compared to the "experts" that comment on blogs.

  34. oops, mentioned this eclectic collection, with index at left, posts actual science in a contemporaneous fashion ("Tenney's blog"); here's the link:

  35. Susan,

    No need at all to apologize.

    I'm not sure where in this post I implied that there is any substance in the echo chamber, although indeed I think that chance should never be completely discarded. For one, because science will lose out if arguments are reflexively dismissed, even in situations where there's an ocean of bathwater with very little baby in it. But also because doing so provides a very powerful PR weapon in the hands of the naysayers. Even if, based on history, arguments could easily be dismissed without actually checking them carefully, doing so adds to the mistrust of defenders of mainstream science.

    Regarding the first reason, quite often it's the framing which is offensive and the interpretation which is streched, rather than that the facts presentedare wrong. Ie half truths, misleading statements, logical fallacies etc, rather than outright falsehoods. Sometimes, the finger is indeed being put on a weak spot (ie uncertain aspect) in our understanding. Dismissing that all too easily is imho not smart. Neither for the science itself, nor for the public understanding and credibility of science.

  36. Bart, I wonder where you think we should stand on requiring self-moderation on the part of those who want their criticisms to be treated with respect?

    I agree that dismissing, out of hand, arguments that turn out to have some validity provides a propaganda coup for those who want to increase doubt about the need for action. But treating every argument with respect also plays to their goal of creating an exaggerated impression of the degree of debate there is on the issue, even if it were realistic to do so.

    Is there a mechanism for ensuring an element of good faith from credible critics? Is peer review an element of such a mechanism?

  37. On the internet, people often do not separate the substance of articles from commentary, and also don't specify to whom they are responding. Confusion between responses to other commenters and to the author ensues. I thought the whole communication article on Bart Verheggen's site was of great value, both his and other people's offerings.

    I am deeply concerned that people who are doing valuable work are being forced to spend a lot of their time responding to what is just nuisance amplification. I do not believe this is unintentional.

    When there is a positive thing to do and a negative campaign to prevent it getting done, the latter has to do very little to trip the former up. It is easier to destroy than to build.

    Michael Tobis, in his first comment, again nailed it:

    It is interesting to note how little constrained that science-communication malefactors, those constructing convenient misrepresentations or misdirections, are in comparison.

    Although they are relatively few and relatively unsophisticated in science, they continue to prevail.

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