A reflection

With regard to our BAMS paper, and the links to various commentaries at the bottom, John says: I actually have begun to feel despair every time I read a comment thread on a blog post about the paper… people generally don’t read it, but rather use it as a starting point to share the opinions they already had, informed or not. This is frequently the case even with those who agree with us. Sigh.

Alas, its too true, and not just about our paper: people are just looking for excuses to push their own views. Except me, of course, or my respected readers.

6 thoughts on “A reflection”

  1. are people lazy or stupid?


    To which you can occasionally add any number of less than flattering adjectives, some centring around mendacity or similar such nouns.


  2. Personally, the only indication I had in the ’70s that there was talk of an impending ice age was from reading Niven, Pournelle’s Fallen Angel. I thought it was an interesting story but didn’t pay attention to its message. Obviously, I wasn’t paying attention. But from what you’re telling me, many others weren’t either.

    Now that I am paying attention, I get the impression that the scientific literature was saying one thing while political interests were pushing another message (surprised?). It didn’t help that the major climate experts were co-opted to secrecy in a giant govt. conspiracy.


  3. Regarding comment threads on blog posts and how frequently the commenters actually read entire papers, What proportion of these people are scientists? Likely a low proportion. To me that suggests less interest in looking at the details — they’re interested in the outcomes of science in trying to patch together an understanding of the world that brings them some comfort. While that statement may be somewhat unjustified, this one is more reliable: they’re probably not entirely interested in how science works, how data get collected, analysed, and interpreted. So I think it’s quite odd to expect commenters on blogs to read papers. I’m a scientist and I rarely read the papers people describe in blogs! My focus is population genetics of salmon, so I don’t have much time to dedicate to detailed examination of pretty much anything else, but I do need 5-10 minutes of distraction every once in a while so I read some blogs that describe topics that interest me. I would hope John doesn’t find my perspective depressing.

    [I think the idea is less that we hope people will read entire papers; more that we hope they might pay some attention beyond just the headline, before launching off into whatever it is they want to talk about. How else is anyone going to learn? -W]


  4. “How else is anyone going to learn?”
    My guess: Sadly, the same way they learned prior to web logs. Scientists will read full papers and the good researchers will advance their fields. Eventually those advances will work their way into the public understanding. Although the number of regular people who learn via primary articles is probably 100x what it was before blogs, this is still a small proportion of regular people and even a small proportion of blog commenters. It’s still worth trying to get blog participants to dig deeper, though, especially with review papers. It’s a bit sad that people don’t take full advantage of the opportunity to learn, but I’m not depressed when I think about how many people are given that opportunity now compared to previously.


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