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Reddit gives up on debate, bans “deniers” and repositions as low traffic propaganda unit

Reddit is a social media website which calls itself the “front-page of the Internet”. It’s possible you’ve even heard of it (but not from me.) One Reddit moderator proudly announced on Grist that climate change is the hottest battleground in all of science, and actual debate is too hot for Reddit.

I’d like to thank them for sending more traffic to skeptical bloggers as they stop pretending to be on the “front line” in science. Though to be honest, I don’t expect to notice the difference: their “environment” page is positively raging along, with most posts getting only 1-2 comments. “Front page of the Internet” my foot.

According to Nathan Allen, Reddit-science means following consensus polls and doing pop-psychology on your opponents , while allowing people you like to post conspiracy theories, but protesting when opponents do the same.

Here’s a wild idea, perhaps this debate is the hottest battleground in science because a religious theory about the climate has usurped real science, and thousands of scientists are rising up in protest? (If I’m right, the number of skeptics will be increasing and the tenor of the discussions will get more and more acrimonious. Oh look… UK poll suggests there are nearly five times as many skeptics as there were in 2005.  Australian poll showed same trend. * I’m just sayin’…)

I think the real issue here is that Reddit attracts a pretty low base “scientist”, and the flame wars make it pointless. Reddit’s answer was not to raise standards by insisting that both sides stick to logic and reason (which would have blocked most of the fans of man-made global warming as well) but to block one side and allow the other to keep parroting fallacies.

Allen seems to miss that most of the believers commit all the same mistakes as the skeptics he’s blocking. Mistakes that start with himself — he calls people who disagree with him names which guarantees a scientific conversation never even begins. As long as Reddit allows the use of “denier” it isn’t discussing science, but just letting bullies score points.

After some time interacting with the regular denier posters, it became clear that they could not or would not improve their demeanor. These problematic users were not the common “internet trolls” looking to have a little fun upsetting people. Such users are practically the norm on reddit. These people were true believers, blind to the fact that their arguments were hopelessly flawed, the result of cherry-picked data and conspiratorial thinking. They had no idea that the smart-sounding talking points from their preferred climate blog were, even to a casual climate science observer, plainly wrong. They were completely enamored by the emotionally charged and rhetoric-based arguments of pundits on talk radio and Fox News.

As a scientist myself, it became clear to me that the contrarians were not capable of providing the science to support their “skepticism” on climate change. The evidence simply does not exist to justify continued denial that climate change is caused by humans and will be bad. There is always legitimate debate around the cutting edge of research, something we see regularly. But with climate change, science that has been established, constantly tested, and reaffirmed for decades was routinely called into question.

But maybe the problem with Reddit was that it didn’t attract high quality thinkers in the first place. This was the first page I clicked on. Not exactly front line analysis. Look out, Allen says the most important thing is that your comment doesn’t contain any conspiracies – like this right?

mysticsmick -1 points ago

This comes from a self described “free market” orientated nonprofit that seeks to limit government in all areas of endeavor. It has been funded by Exxon/Mobile, The Koch brothers, and insurance companies.

This above mentioned bias is clearly expressed in the document. I would not call this science, but rather a presentation of information that supports a viewpoint.

Presumably in Reddit-science, these conspiracies are facts — turn off your brain — recite the litany.

Humans are masters of rationalization. Allen justifies one-sided censorship thus:

There is always legitimate debate around the cutting edge of research, something we see regularly. But with climate change, science that has been established, constantly tested, and reaffirmed for decades was routinely called into question.

It’s news to me that science had climate models that had been verified and working for decades. My understanding was that 98% of them couldn’t even hindcast the last ten years, let alone predict the next ten.

Allen seems to think Guardian articles and one-sided psychology  are scientific observations:

And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality.

Real scientists know that two minute Internet polls of scientists tells us nothing about the climate. We want empirical evidence about the real world around us, not the opinions of certified groups or one sided junk-surveys of “political inclinations”. Skeptics outnumber and outrank believers, but it’s a pointless competition in fallacies so we don’t bother to play that game.


Real debates are difficult. I sympathize with Reddit moderators. Propaganda is so much easier to moderate. The rules are simpler, just allow the politically correct team to run wild, block the opposition.

The answer to managing contentious debates is as old as human civilization itself. It’s called manners. The rules of etiquette have been hammered out over eons. If you call someone names and can’t justify it, you have to apologize. If someone asks you a question, it’s rude to ignore it or just change the subject. An honest conversation means if you want to be condescending, you have to earn it.

I won’t pretend moderation here is perfect, but anyone is free to post, and no one with good manners has ever been blocked. (Note, it isn’t good manners to turn up to a book club and dominate the conversation, not having read the books or listened to past discussions, and continuously repeat non-points in a condescending tone as if the other members are stupid. This is especially so for points which the other members agree with said poster on, namely that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and that temperatures have gone up in the last few centuries. The rest of us know that, but we also recognize the fallacy known as “correlation is not causation”. The group is ten years ahead of the dominating newcomer, and very very bored. You know who you are….).

Coincidentally I see the top-science-announcement is Subreddit Announcement: Nature Partnership with Journalists and Editors. I guess Reddit wanted to cement their position with the old decaying institutions of science as a new propaganda unit, and didn’t want to wait 140 years to achieve it. Er.. “congrats”.



*Obvious caveat: Just because skeptics are winning the polls doesn’t tell us anything about the climate. I’m talking about the state of science as a human industry here. Skeptics are right about the climate too but for other reasons…

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