Over at Linked In, the professionally oriented social networking service, there’s a discussion group called “Climate Change – I care!” Most of its members are those who share a concern for what anthropogenic global warming is threatening to do to civilization as we know it. Until this week, membership was open to anyone. But the moderator just ejected one member who has, shall we say, a contrarian point of view. Was that a wise thing to do?
The member, Leigh Haugen, only posted pseudoscientific rants about the conspiratorial nature of the entire climatology community, and if he does actually care about climate change, it’s clearly a different sort of care. At the beginning his occasional post was little more than annoying. It was a relatively simple and quick exercise to post a rebuttal with a reference to peer-reviewed science. Not that that would change Haugen’s mind, but at least the exchanges had the appearance of respectful back-and-forth.
But over the past weeks, Haugen’s posts became increasingly offensive. His last missive, apparently offered him as a farewell before being removed from the group, included a series of links to stories about the recent cold weather that has taken hold over much of North America and Europe, a plea to “spare me one of your ridiculous lectures about the difference between weather and climate,” an implication that one scientist quoted in a story about snowfall was getting rich off his research grant, and this sign-off:
Silence all Dissent! Avoid all debate!
Joseph Goebbels would be so proud of you!
…enjoy lying to each other – how fun and productive for you.
One could argue that his membership in “Climate Change — I care!” is inappropriate, but perhaps Haugen really does believe that people are being misled by thousands of scientists who are only in the game to enrich themselves at the generous trough that is the climatology research grant pool. His posts were easy to ignore, too. Accusing fellow group members of implicitly embrace of Nazism and “lying to each other” is another thing entirely, though, and I find it hard to fault the moderator for removing the offending member.
I remain a little uncomfortable with the decision, however. Haugen’s right-wing politics clearly are at odds with most of the rest of the group. He’s a member of ResistNet, a reactionary social media network that is dedicated to opposing “the efforts to move our nation away from our heritage of individual liberties toward “brave new world” of collectivism. ResistNet is designed to give citizens a new level of networking resources to organize the Patriotic Resistance.” But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have a right to engage those of us who think such opinions are silly and/or dangerous. Indeed, I still think it’s important to understand where our debating opponents are coming from, and I found Haugen’s posts quite informative — not on climate science, but as a window into the psychology of those who can’t bring themselves to believe the preponderance of scientific evidence.
There are plenty of examples of similarly misinformed commenters at this blog, but it was still interesting and sometimes amusing to read Haugens attempts at persuasion. And I will miss them.
I expect some related discussions will come up next week at a ScienceOnline ’10 session I will be attending called “Online Civility and Its (Muppethugging) Discontents.” If you’re not registered, it’s too late to get involved, but hopefully there will be robust followup at the conference wiki.