How to run a really bad infowar campaign.
It’s perhaps a debatable opinion, but I think the main way that a lot people found out there actually was such a thing as the climate skeptic blogosphere, was that its existence was highlighted by the alarmists themselves. In the complete absence of any PR budget, it was actually the alarmists who by attacking it, inadvertently spread the word that there was an alternative narrative on offer from a small skeptic community in the blogosphere. That mistake was the shape of blunders to come.
The alarmists, like all compulsive fanatics, simply could not abide any opposition, no matter how small, sciency or obscure it was, and let’s be frank here, in the early years, those three adjectives described the skeptic community quite accurately. Innocuous though it was, they just couldn’t leave it be and had to go after it, because that’s the elemental nature of fanatics.
Though a lone and solitary voice in the wilderness, it was still opposition and therefore had to be closed down. They felt obliged to crush the last one percent of resistance but in seeking to eliminate it, simply gave it a heightened profile, which it otherwise might never have had. Every attack led potential dissenters to skeptic sites, and nowadays the skeptic sites have grown and matured, eclipsing and burning brighter than the alarmist ones, who despite desperately talking up their falling hit numbers, are slowly shrivelling down into burnt out brown dwarves.
On one side you had the alarmists, who had all the politicians in their pocket, a massive PR budget which was usually and still is replenished by governments grants, all the mainstream media including the crypto-state television channels like ABC, CBC, PBS and BBC, pretty much the whole of the journalistic establishment, all the activist prominenti of climate science, the EU, NASA, NOAA, BOM, EPA, IPCC, pretty much anything you can think of which has an acronym, the seamier side of the investment industry, every environmental organisation right down to the smallest fruit loop loony tune outfit, all the major science journals, presidents, prime ministers, the world, his brother, his sister, their dawg and even the frigging cat, never mind their bloody hamster.
On the other side you had us and we had, umm, well, as a matter of fact we’d bugger all beyond the wit to point out the teensy-weensy cracks, nay yawning crevasses, in the science, and in a political sense, sound the alarm bell about the sort of Armageddon the hysterical bandwagon was slouching towards.
Given that match up, the obvious question has to be – how the hell did they ever manage to lose and why are we doing so well, while their once soaring ambitions now lay in smoking ruins?
I had a go a couple of years back at explaining why I thought a combination of things and they themselves had already brought about the downfall of climate alarmism, and last year restated those reasons in different terms here and again here. We’re now well down the time line, and looking around at how events are panning out, I see no reason to disagree with those assessments in any substantial way. The whole alarmist movement is majestically spiralling inwards ever more quickly towards that event horizon around the black hole of political oblivion. The skeptics have certainly had an influence, which is remarkable, given that the only outlet medium that wasn’t closed to them was the internet, which is not as yet a mass opinion former.
What I’d like to examine here is why, given their superior resources in pretty every much category, the alarmists never managed to close down the skeptic resistance to them in the blogosphere, nor to prevent it growing. They certainly tried but assessing their strategy in dealing with the skeptic community, it’s been a three-pronged disaster.
The first prong of that trident was to sneer at it without ever deigning to engage in any direct debate with it. The opposition was always to be denied any platform – standard infowar procedure. Pour scorn down from on high, while safely ensconced behind the battlements of establishment authority. However, by refusing to engage with the skeptic community, they effectively handed it a free run to slowly take the Manny Mouse science to pieces, which it proceeded to do with growing expertise.
What’s more, the skeptics could pick and choose their targets, while the alarmists were obliged to defend everything, because of the compulsion to support the science is settled meme. Not one weakness was ever to be conceded nor one pawn sacrificed. As Frederick the Great said, you can’t be strong everywhere, or to restate that in terms of asymmetric warfare, a small guerrilla force has the choice of attacking anywhere, which means everywhere has to be defended against them, especially if you’re not prepared to do pawn sacrifices.
That defend everything to the last bullet mentality, has often led to them making frankly laughable excuses as to why even the most indefensible papers were somehow actually good science. The growing disconnect between their predictions and everyday reality, is drawing them deeper and deeper into their own inward-looking world, which has a mad interior logic all of its own. We’re currently going through a propaganda phase telling us freezing winters and cold springs, as well as tepid summers, are all actually caused by global warming, which is going down as well as you’d expect with an increasingly incredulous general public. With spectacularly dumb moves like that, the damage they do to their own credibility far exceeds the impact of our own more modest efforts.
That wide open Serengeti of the skeptic blogosphere is by now strewn with the rotting corpses of the scientific reputations of people like Hansen, Mann, Shakun, Marcott, Lewandowsky, Gergis, Cook and many others. A fair few of them have received their Purple Hearts from Retraction Watch.
In the early years of the skeptic blogosphere, the axis of attack on climate alarmism was solely directed at the science. In the years that followed and as it matured, both in terms of diversity and experience gained in infowar, it now appeals to a much wider demographic base and poses multiple threats on a variety of fronts.
It’s a sign of the times that the no engagement policy is starting to fray at the edges. Nowadays there are opening moves by some of the alarmists wanting to try a bit of engagement, but that looks to be them simply edging towards some sort of accommodation with us. Whether they consciously realise it or not, it’s actually the stage three bargaining phase in the death of their belief system. They’re looking for a way to save something, anything from the wreckage. They’re losing ground and know it.
As far as I can see, there’s no advantageous deal to be made there for the skeptics, and anyway, irrespective of the result of any debate, it’s way too late in the day, even if they should perchance win it. Nowadays, very few ordinary people would even bother to tune in to such a debate, which is why it would be politically irrelevant, which means totally irrelevant. They’re now an egg shell in the path of a steamroller being driven by a largely indifferent popular sentiment.
The logical consequence of a no platform for skeptics policy, was not only to close off the mainstream media to sceptical articles, as the BBC did, but also the ordinary person raising awkward points. People who couldn’t get their questions answered or their opinions heard without being brutally censored, simply decamped to the skeptic sites, which of course helped them grow.
The second, and equally disastrous prong, was choosing to misrepresent the skeptic community as some simple monolithic force, orchestrated and financed by dark and shadowy forces behind the scenes. Again, that was standard infowar procedure, a way of isolating, marginalising and alienating the opposition as hate objects. It was the infowar equivalent of sewing yellow Stars of David onto a small segment of the population. Essentially, climate realists were accused of being part of some massive evil covert conspiracy to derail the righteous people’s coming green utopia. I may be wrong, but I think that’s what has come to be termed conspiracy ideation, by the psycho babble academic prostitutes of an alarmist persuasion.
Again, this policy helped the skeptic sites grow, since ordinary people doing nothing more than raising some reasonable questions, resented being portrayed by such ugly, and at times viciously presented caricatures.
By the way, they think of us skeptics, and only us skeptics, as being the root cause for the ass dropping out from underneath any popular belief in their cult, so it looks like our grand conspiracy worked out in the end. All you naughty skeptical boys and girls out there take note, it’s all your fault. You did a bad bad thing …
The third, more subtle, but to my mind the most disastrous mistake, was a direct consequence of allowing the propaganda representation of skeptics to become the operational basis of shaping plans to neutralise them. While it’s okay and in some ways desirable for your unthinking foot soldiers to believe in simplistic stereotypes of the enemy, the policy setting leadership should know better. They actually began to believe in their own caricatures of us. They allowed what has to be clearly recognised as their hatred of us to cloud their judgement. He who loses control, loses.
By following counter strategies aimed at simplistic cardboard cut out stereotypes of skeptics, they were shooting at illusory phantoms, and therefore obviously failing to do any real damage, which yet again allowed the skeptic community to grow unhindered. It’s hard to expose a gigantic conspiracy when there simply isn’t one, which was yet another infowar boomerang, that increasingly left them looking like paranoid conspiracy nuts.
Over and above that, by failing to acknowledge the growing diversity and sophistication of the threat facing them, they persisted in applying the same strategy to neutralise all flavours of opposition, and that was never going to work. I compared the skeptic community to a guerrilla force on a previous occasion, and in real terms, that is actually a very apt comparison. They all fight in their own distinct ways, and only rarely if ever work together, though they would be a much more effective force if they did.
Interestingly, that disunited vulnerability was never exploited by the alarmists but at the same time, it gave the skeptics what would be termed in military circles, more than one axis of attack; political, scientific, economic, cybernetic, statistical, engineering and infowar, to name but a few. If you look carefully at some of the more notable coups of the skeptics, many were simply pulling up a supposed expert, who through arrogance at never having any of their pronouncements questioned by their devoted following, was making very definitive but very silly statements in areas well outside their domain of expertise.
The most cursory glance at comments under some skeptic articles, points to a diversity of specialist expertise in the sceptic community that far exceeds anything to be found in the alarmist camp.
Even at home in areas of their own supposed expertise, the alarmists weren’t safe. The solid job of statistical work that Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre did to debunk Mann’s paper, which derived the iconic hockey stick, is a notable case in point. Using nothing more than statistical numeracy and an admirable degree of persistence, they took a hard look at what was supposed to be a landmark paper, and ended up with Mann’s head mounted atop his own hockey stick. When it comes down to anything to do with hockey, and two Canadians versus a slightly rotund little fellow from Massachusetts, my money’s on the two Canucks.
The infowar blunders in dealing with the skeptic blogosphere were multiple; failing to strangle it at birth before it could grow, actually promoting its existence while intending to kill it off, handing it the initiative by refusing to engage with it and an unbelievably massive failure to honestly profile it in anything other than childish terms. The grand error was then to proceed to fight such an imaginary chimera.
Not only did these strategies fail, they actually helped the skeptic community grow by acting as recruiting sergeants, funnelling and concentrating the scattered opposition around the globe towards the obscure skeptic sites. That trend was aided and abetted by a complete and utter failure to provide a meaty alternative blogosphere in which the science was being honestly discussed, as opposed to acting as an obsequious mouthpiece for science by propagandist press hand-outs. It was all too blatantly fashionable science lite, so they lost the unaligned professional science demographic.
What has been the result of failing to initially suppress and then to constrain the growth of the skeptic blogosphere?
The first is that it has undeniably become a major influence in the world of climate science. Given how truly dysfunctional the peer review process has become in that area, effectively it’s now the skeptic blogosphere which is doing that job and it’s doing it in public. Gaia help any activist scientist caught trying to slip past the sort of slipshod rubbish that used to be waved through the pal review process a few years ago. Nowadays, they’re like little school children, fearfully eyeing a stern teacher, who they know will really mark their homework very severely. It’s all a bit scary for the poor little darlings.
Every year, it’s become almost routine for skeptic sites to make a clean sweep of the Bloggie Awards in the science category. This year, the one alarmist “science” site in contention, insisted its nomination be withdrawn from the contest, deeply afraid of how the voting judgement of the online science community would make it look.
A second emergent phenomenon is that as resistance to climate alarmism is now appearing in the mainstream media, many of the arguments advanced by the online skeptics are providing the intellectual basis for the political, economic and scientific objections to climate orthodoxy. That trend will grow, and although climate skepticism will eventually edge climate alarmism toward the political fringe in the mainstream media, the future for scepticism is, as for all infowar campaigns, on the internet.
In the coming years, the organs of the legacy media will wither on the vine and movements like the skeptic blogosphere will increasingly start to have a direct influence on the broad mass of public opinion. If you doubt that trend exists, ask yourself how many twenty somethings you know who regularly buy newspapers or watch television news. Those young people are the future and already their prime information source is the net.
The third and much more fundamental effect is a lesson to be learnt, which is as old as political dissent itself; any small group of people determined to resist what they consider to be a bad thing, can make a difference. They may have no representation politically, or any voice in the media, or anybody prepared to speak for them, but nowadays they can go to the mattresses by heading off into the blogosphere and doing it for themselves.
Yes, they’ll have to learn a few new techy things, find out how to effectively present their views, put up with being slandered, libelled and generally be prepared to take a few drubbings, but if their cause has merit and above all truth, they know it can eventually win, because they’ll have already seen it done.
The climate skeptic community was the first to blaze that online trail.
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