BPSDB “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on…”
The past few years have seen the internet change fairly significantly with respect to the issue of climate change. As a tool for public education the internet is invaluable. Unfortunately as a tool for disinformation it seems that it is even more effective.
To what extent disinformation on the net drives climate change Denial as opposed to the reverse is a chicken and egg discussion. Undoubtedly they feed on each other in a classic positive feedback loop. The question is, what is to be done about it.
Not that any one thing is going to turn it around. There are a host of things the climate science community needs to do. However, I do have one specific proposal that I believe would be helpful and I would like some feedback on it.
Before getting to the proposal I want to look at some of the changes to outline my reasoning. Probably the main thing is that where once there were a limited number of sites and blogs about climate there are now many thousands. Coupled with that is that there is also much more information available on the net.
Even without the Denialosphere muddying the waters it can be very difficult to find what you are looking for unless you already know enough details to do a very specific search.
To the naive user it must seem completely overwhelming. Certainly the challenge of finding a good refutation of a specific Denier meme must defeat many internet users who are not aware of Skeptical Science and similar resources.
There are two large groups of web users that this is a significant problem for. The first are those who encounter some Denier meme on a forum or similar web space (eg Yahoo Answers). They want to reply to it with something factual and rational, but do not have the experience, motivation, time, or perhaps the even skills to track it down.
If they can’t find an answer quickly they will give up in frustration and we will collectively have missed yet another opportunity to combat disinformation (not to mention left someone feeling frustrated and disenchanted when they might have been empowered).
Another large group are the ones looking for an answer not for the purpose of learning it or even to use in reply to some Denier that they have engaged, but simply to be assured that it exists. They merely want to know that there is a rational, fact based explanation for whatever issue they are puzzled by. What it is does not even particularly concern them, they just want to see that there is one.
Typical internet users are not the only ones having difficulty, there is also the average journalist. Journalists who are not doing the climate story on an ongoing basis rarely have the luxury of sufficient time to ‘get it right.’ They will go with whatever seemingly acceptable sources they first encounter because they are typically under the gun.
- several key denier hubs (eg climatedepot, wattsupwiththat) whose posts are mirrored on hundreds of private sites;
- Denier memes turn over very quickly. The meme de jour used to last one or two weeks, now it is one or two days before it is replaced by the next one.
It seems to me that one of the things we need is a central hub that is in effect a directory to good, reliable, science based information.
Further, the hub should also track current Denier memes so that as soon as a fact based refutation is identified it can be broadcast to the wider community. In that way it would also act as a rapid response hub to provide reliable counters to the flood of disinformation.
I am not talking about a site with content, but rather one that helps people navigate quickly to the information that already exists and continues to accumulate. A hub that sorts, categorizes and catalogues what is already out there.
This is in no way meant to replace any of the existing resources, but rather to help people find the right resources quickly and easily. Part of that includes categorizing sources so that people can find material that is appropriate for them.
For example, Open Mind and Realclimate (to name just two) are awesome, but they are not for the average internet user. The site should include a broad range of sources that vary in depth and assumed familiarity with climate issues. Hopefully this would also generate more visibility for the many excellent, but relatively unknown resources that are out there.
So far I have focused on the aspect of the science and responding to the disinformation, but ideally the site would cover other aspects of climate as well, from policy to ethics to innovations and solutions. A section dedicated strictly to the all too rare good news would not be amiss either.
Having said that, it would need to be staffed, and I think it would need to be a restricted wiki.
The sheer volume of material is so large that nothing short of a community effort will suffice to handle what is being generated every day, never mind everything that already exists.
Restricted access for the obvious reason that an open wiki will get spammed to death by the trolls.
Further, without at least one person coordinating it full time I just don’t see it as possible. To be useful it must be consistent and current. Individuals contributors will come and go, but someone dedicated full time can keep the momentum going and recruit new participants.
I say a staff person for the sake of continuity. There are any number of examples of stellar achievements done by people who are dedicating heart and soul to a project on a volunteer basis. Unfortunately the moment they are lost for whatever reason, be it loss of interest or energy, health, or life circumstance, the project is dead.
For the same reason it would be best if it were a cooperative effort between a number of organizations. In that way it would not be a significant burden on any one, and also not as vulnerable to the vagaries of changing issue and funding priorities. It would also help to deflect the perception of partisanship.
So that is the proposal. In essence a climate dedicated wiki that is a cataloguing and navigational hub rather than a source of content. Something that in time would become “The Place” to look to find everything else.
So what do people think? I am seriously looking for input here, so please let fly!
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