Monday, March 22, 2010

Andy Revkin, out in the cold

Andy Revkin has a problem. Actually he has several.

Ethon and Eli were sitting around popping liver in the microwave (messy, messy) when the subject of wither Dot Earth bubbled up. Andy was the "lead" science reporter at the New York Times, but took a buyout in December 2009. Ethon, who is pretty sharp with the numbers noticed that Andy's new home base, Pace University, has some really nice roosts but the Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, where he is Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding, has the stink of a soft money operation, which means no tenure and little, if any, direct funding from the University. You teach a course, on line or off, you get capitation. You want to support your salary, you got a hunting license, but that means you need land to hunt on and something to flush the game. Ethon, of course, was eager to offer his services. He hears there are some nice pickings, and he is sure he could flush a phoning Pielke or two.

In his new situation, Revkin needs visibility. Dot Earth is some of the best real estate in the blog universe and evidently the Times has given Andy squatting rights. What happens when the Times goes subscription again in 2011 might be another story so everything has to be in place by then, especially if he has to decamp for a new site, and maybe without the moniker.

Revkin trained as a reporter and sees himself as an intermediary. From his years as the NY Times' science honcho, Revkin has built a power address book. IEHO Revkin wants to position Dot Earth as a place where scientists and the public meet, where he can bring in a wide variety of scientists and policy people and they can interact with those who inhabit the comments. To Eli, he is less interested in controlling the discourse than at hosting it and identifying where the hot action is.

In contrast, Real Climate's owner operators see their job as explaining climate science to the readers.

RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science. All posts are signed by the author(s), except ‘group’ posts which are collective efforts from the whole team. This is a moderated forum.
Eli? Eli is in it for the carrots.

Revkin's dilemma is that he needs to maintain access to the scientists while attracting the broadest possible crowd. His balancing act is wearing thin. The Yale Forum had a fairly long article about the problems Revkin will have in Second Life

That is decidedly not how pro-climate-control advocate Michael Schlesinger of the University of Illinois sees things. He recently did an e-mail blast distributing his e-mail to Revkin specifically trashing Revkin for “gutter reportage” on Dotearth.

“The vibe I’m getting from here, there and everywhere is that your reportage is very worrisome to most climate scientists,” Schlesinger railed in his e-mail to Revkin. “I sense that you are about to experience the ‘Big Cutoff’ from those of us who believe we can no longer trust you, me included,” he wrote.

Like other reporters, Revkin is known to take such criticisms as an affirmation of his journalistic independence. But perhaps more surprising was a recent complaint from mainstream climate scientist Ken Caldeira, of Stanford University and its Carnegie Institution of Washington. Caldeira sometimes draws the scorn of those most committed to strong action on climate change, but few could seriously consider him a climate “skeptic.”

Addressing Revkin about his coverage of the e-mails hacking in a November 21 Times front-page article, Caldeira complained of “about the worst piece of journalism that you have ever published.” He complained that the paper, and Revkin in particular, had taken “a few lines out of context for maximum inflammatory intent.”

Caldeira also equated Revkin to widely quoted climate contrarian Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute, at one point asking Revkin if he had “let yourself be an operative of Pat Michaels. Truly disgusting.”

The problem, of course, is that most of the scientists and their friends and colleagues have been strongly and unfairly attacked by the Pat Michaels (and the you know who elses) of the world and they recognize the flim-flam for what it is. They are not going to take kindly to being asked to play with someone who gives Pat oxygen. The problem is also Eli and his dear friends who have spent the last six or seven years digging the moles out of the ground and do not care to extend what remains of the hand of friendliness after losing a fair amount of flesh.

But forget that, we all get Alzheimers sooner or later. Look at what has happened to, currently inhabited by a couple of indefatigable types on both sides who know how to work the ctrl-C, ctrl-V combination. There are visitors, passerbys and others, but the comments have become arthritic: swollen, painful and stiff. Andy is trying to losen this up by interjecting when a commenter becomes, well, imaginative, but he needs to attract another bunch and a greater variety.

The initially promising Climate Feedback died swiftly by dissing what should have been its natural supporters with a set of lamely wanna be contrarian posts by the usual selection of freakoscience posters. Everyone got a bad taste in the beak from that, and has stayed away in droves since.

Now Ethon has a few suggestions. Don't go where the heat is for a while. It's pretty clear that Revkin does not have the depth to see the rocks in the trickster's arguments. Recapture the right crowd, find a new one, get away from climate issues and emphasize environmental ones, at least for a while. Bring in experts on specialized topics and figure out how to get them to converse with the crowd. You probably should show them the flames, but you don't have to publish them. Recognize that, for example, there are a lot of birds out there who want to understand the environmental pressures on their roosts. Use that Rolladex.

In short, do what others can't and you can. At least for the next half year, the emphasis should be on protecting the guests on the Andy Revkin show and establishing a dialog between them and the audience. The goal is that visitors would learn something on every visit.

Oh yeah, most importantly, add Rabett Run to the blogroll.


Hank Roberts said...


It's like a picnic over there -- with yellowjackets.

It only takes a few.

Getting scientists to actually talk to each other where people can watch is way more educational than listening to them give presentations, as long as there's an explainer around to help follow the back and forth.

I'd suggest he enlist a panel of explainers (maybe David Brin, Peter Watts, Eli, and let them name another few). Then follow Ethon's suggestions meticulously. Bring scientists in, help them converse with the crowd. Show them the flames but explain the pattern, and don't publish them.

Heck, set up a parallel forum for "fierce debate" -- kind of a roach motel for those who like that kind of stuff -- and encourage that as the balcony seats. That's from dolphin training: put the behavior you don't want on cue, then don't give the cue. Let'em do it over _there_. And let the scientists do conversation and education and explanation.

It's tough convincing the audience they're really important. But heck, the world wrestling federation and the teabogglers do it successfully, keep their head count up and sell enough ads to profit.

The NYT beancounters must be shaking in their shoes about how to make this pay off next year.

How else can we help?

Anonymous said...

Revkin's comments over at Joe Romm's site (Arctic sea ice story) are sure not helping Andy's case. Revkin is as unpredictable and fickle as Fred Pearce nowadays. So very unfortunate.

Apparently the loss of Arctic sea ice is mostly b/c of unfavourable wind regimes. Really, I had no idea that wind played a role with ice drifting on water.....what concerns the experts is the steady loss of MY ice in the last 10 yrs or so.

I can;t stomach going to WUWT, but I'm sure they are all over it. See, see it is not warming! (sarc)


Magnus said...

The problem with being sensitive and fair is attracting the crowd...

Anonymous said...

I used to go do battle over at dotEarth, but the Stupid is just too white hot. It appears to me that Andy has decided that is where the market is.

More fundamentally, I suppose the real problem is that media has never figured out how to spin a good science tale unless it involves a rivalry or a great breakthrough against an entrenched establishment. Somehow the idea that science usually just involves a steady struggle to figure out the world isn't marketable.

In the human psyche, a good narrative has to have a neat, tidy ending. Science doesn't end.

Ray Ladbury

Anonymous said...

This has some relevance to blog moderation, with which I'm struggling at the moment. (

Allowing any and all comments risks becoming a collection of talking points and being busy rebutting them. Tight moderation risks preaching to the choir.

How to find a middle ground, where discussion is constructive and provides learning, while not dissing those with different or unsettled opinions?

I'm currently inundated by "skeptics" and am rethinking the complete openess of my blog. Thoughts?


Arthur said...

Eli - I don't know that I'd characterize Revkin as ever being top "science" reporter at the Times - is that how he portrays himself? There are quite a few others who cover completely different subject areas - Gina Kolata, Henry Fountain, Dennis Overbye etc. He was definitely top on their environmental beat though.

On handling comments - I think part of the problem at Dot Earth was some software issues with the platform, which evolved over time. Ana Haynes wrote a beautiful Greasemonkey script to filter out the nonsense people, but it broke after they instituted the completely disfunctional recommendation system, and I haven't found it worth spending much time there since. But Revkin could have fixed things with a heavier hand on moderation, too. Sad, really.

chrisd said...

There's definitely been a change in the way Revkin responds to "skeptic" comments; he's saying stuff he never would've said before. I just posted on this myself, with a few examples. Sure seems like he's trying to do something.

Martin Vermeer said...


the meek shall inherit the Earth -- in patches of 2x1 metres squared, with a stone at the head end ;-)

Hank Roberts said...

Be smarter than I was at Revkin's place: don't list your city location. A nitwit there mistook my town name for a university affiliation, pointed it out, and may have gotten someone excited this morning. So far the hangup phone calls are from outside our area code. Coincidence, perhaps.

This stuff has happened before and it will pass. But caution would be wise.

Anna Haynes said...

> It's like a picnic over there -- with yellowjackets.



> How else can we help?

I wouldn't mind resurrecting Dot Earth Defender (thanks Arthur) though surely by now there's a commenting setup out there somewhere that'd do it more effectively. Plus there is the trust issue; I'm really leery of pouring my efforts down the drain again, & I don't trust the NYTimes folks further than I can throw them.


> set up a parallel forum for "fierce debate"...and encourage that as the balcony seats

That would be the smart thing to do, if the goal was a higher one than eyeballs.


> I'm currently inundated by "skeptics" and am rethinking the complete openess of my blog. Thoughts?

Brad DeLong's aim: a seminar, not a food fight.
"The trouble with having a discussion with people who don't share your basic principles, is that you never get past arguing about the basic principles".

Especially when there's money involved.


Re Pace U. - that's interesting, about the soft money aspect, I hadn't considered that.
How do we shine a light on "interested" funding going to universities? esp. now that the Us have set up nonprofit foundations to do their laundering?

guthrie said...

I think it is Greenfyre that has a "challenging the core science" thread, in which nutters who wish to argue about the hockey stick get their off topic posts confined. Very few hang around once their posts have been moved there, since their aim is to dominate conversation, not have it pigeonholed.

So that way you pay obeisance to the appearance of free speech, but get to keep your threads fairly clean.

Hank Roberts said...

Andy establishes that he's in the middle (regrettably his inline comments don't have a number so can't be linked to directly).

He writes in this thread:

"Andy Revkin
Dot Earth blogger
March 22nd, 2010
8:22 pm
Man, if I've been carrying water for apocalyptic screamers, why do people write things like the following?" citing:

Thank God the middle can be defined as usually within two standard deviations ....

dhogaza said...

"I think it is Greenfyre that has a "challenging the core science" thread, in which nutters who wish to argue about the hockey stick get their off topic posts confined."

Sounds similar in practice to Panda's Thumb's "bathroom wall" thread, which no one (in practice) reads.

Hank Roberts said...

> nutters

Deltoid gives each of them a topic of his own and forbids him from posting in other threads, once he establishes his ability to fill entire threads on his own. Then people who want to engage with the guy can go over there.

(I realize climate nuttery is not purely Y-chromosome-related, but ....)

That would work well for Revkin, if people were willing to help him out by keeping them stirred and shaken from time to time instead of ignoring them, to keep clicks up for the beancounters.

Perhaps we need more cynicism here about how to keep Andy in business. Anyone good at click-counting and eyeball-tracking for moneymaking purposes?

The 'personal topic' method certainly helps keep Deltoid readable (but, again, Deltoid has killfile, so one can omit a lot)

Brian Schmidt said...

I agree with Eli that Andy should try some non-climate topics. Conservation biology is sexy and charismatic and less political, and I think Andy's written along those lines before, so that's the direction I'd encourage.

Anna Haynes said...

> "Andy should try some non-climate topics. Conservation biology is sexy and charismatic and less political"

"Do what you do best, and link to the rest" is generally good advice.

(so yes, put Eli on the blogroll)

Hank Roberts said...

So I'm trying to run up the tally for Andy's beancounter, whoever that may be at the NYT. What the heck, maybe it's a contribution.

So I've been suggesting sources to the new mathematical physicist in comments. Very bright guy from all indications, who's starting from absolute scratch posting the usual "no trend in the raw data" and "antarctic sea ice growing" stuff always brought in by people who come to the science via a long stay among the smoke and mirrors.

Y'all come.

guthrie said...

I've seen a few arguments on the bathroom wall thread in my time.

Anonymous said...

Has Eli seen this?

What will Loehle think of next to obfuscate? Don;t worry folk, CO2 levels are now going to be nowhere as high as estimated by the IPCC scenarios. So we are saved. (sarc)

Expect to see this at WUWT very soon.


Hank Roberts said...


Yep, sure been seeing _that_ source cited a lot lately.

The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement was "established in 1943 by the pulp and paper industry to provide technical assistance for the industry’s goal of lowering the ecological impact of its spent pulping liquors." [1]

Craig Loehle is their Chief Scientist, according to Sourcewatch.

EliRabett said...

The referees should be shot. It is entirely an artifact of the period of the fit. If you use the ice core data and fit back to 1850, the quadratic fit is significantly worse, and the exponential and what Loehle calls the saturation fit overlay. If you extrapolate them to 2100 you get 950 ppm and the quad is 550 ppm.

In short crock of the week. Eli might post this results tomorrow.

Jim Eager said...

"The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement was "established in 1943 by the pulp and paper industry..."

Once again I'm reminded of the conversation I once had with a chemist who worked at the EB Eddy toilet tissue mill in Hull, Quebec directly across the Ottawa River from the Parliament buildings. Turns out one of his duties was determining which color dyes to add to the effluent to hide the color of the tissue they were producing on any given day.

It's a tough job lowering the ecological impact, but somebody's got to do it..... or at least make it look like they're doing it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rabett, this is great. You and the set of crazies here get all a dither because one good man has seen the light-

Its always great to come past the Rabett warren- ah well as long as you play amongst yourselves, nobody gets hurt too much.

By the way, how did the ice go Rabett. The world didn't come to the end? polar bears still prancing around and not breaking through tissue thin ice? Never mind.


Sou said...

Andy is keen to keep the comments coming and he only seems to be able to do that by encouraging all the crazies to his site. He has to pander to them enough so as to not scare them away.

That's being kind, maybe, because some of his comments indicate he really doesn't know the science; but if he's been following it for a while he should be on top of it by now, even though he pretends not to do so (or actually doesn't - who knows).

Anonymous said...

JohnS, do you verbally masturbate in public often?

just one of the bunnies

Anonymous said...


There seem to be a lot of these blind data-fitting "faux-analyses" going around these days. A little thought about the forces driving CO2 growth would quickly narrow down the choice of model used in the fit. Anyone can play around with statistical analysis to get what they want - however if they ignore physical reality it's just mathematical masturbation.

William T

Anonymous said...

Sorry to keep going OT, but it is important that James Annan et al. see this.

McLean are pouting, and like Pielke Snr, start throwing mud instead of rolling up their short sleeves. They talk about censorship, but do not allow any comments at the above link?!

History precludes deFreitas from critiquing editorial practices, but here they are slinging mud.

Who can forget what John Mashey found concerning the Climate Research fiasco?

"03/28/02 DeFreitas submits paper, Soon & Boehmer-Christiansen review.
04/11/02 Soon& Baliunas submit paper (whose first-acked sponsor was the API) to de Freitas
06/23/02 DeFreitas paper published
01/31/03 Soon&Baliunas published by de Freitas.

So, thats 2.5-month overlap, where Soon&de Fretias are both reviewing each others (dodgy) papers."


C W Magee said...

Hasn't the victory of trolls been the same story over and over again since the days of usenet? I don't see how Andy is particularly unique in this way- all discourse seems to go to the dogs once the interface becomes paw-compatable.

Hank Roberts said...

> ... going OT, but it is important
> that James Annan et al. see this.

The James does have a blog, you know, where you can bring things to his attention directly. It's not really as empty as he claims it is.

I tried, Eli. But it's just spooky over there at this point.

Poor Andy. has been like a reverse Pandora story. He opened the box and all sorts of bad stuff flew INTO it.

Ah, but Usenet had truly effective killfile tools; you could block by subject or real author with 'nn' or 'rn' quite effectively. I was able to learn science from people by just killfiling all the nonsense.
Anna did something like a killfile script for but the NYT defeated it. The standard Firefox killfile would, I guess, have to be installed by the NYT.

They're selling eyeballs to advertisers, standard model.

Marion Delgado said...


We read it, alright, over at After The Bar Closes on, and make snarky comments.

but that's not what you or the hapless cranks meant by "read," I imagine.

Anonymous said...

Dear Hank,

I am familiar with James' blog, I was going to post there, but I do not have an OpenId, so I posted it here and at Tamino.

Yes, I know it is lame that I don't have an OpenId, did try but "MapleLeaf" was taken.

Anyhow, I see that today James posted a reply to McLean et al's slander and whinging.


Hank Roberts said...

ML: try the other three ID/blog services you see icons for down there besides "W"; one may be available, and any of them will work here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hank.


dhogaza said...

Marion Delgado:

We read it, alright, over at After The Bar Closes on, and make snarky comments.

You guys are hopeless :) You need to get out more ...

but that's not what you or the hapless cranks meant by "read," I imagine.

I was thinking of mmmm more like ummm ... reading for enlightenment. In regards to climate science, not the deviant psychology of serially-lying anti-science types. :)

dhogaza said...

Well, in the bathroom wall's case evolution, not climate science, but I think the principle's the same.

Hank Roberts said...

> ... what John Mashey found concerning the Climate Research fiasco?... 2.5-month overlap, where Soon & de Fretias are both reviewing each others' (dodgy) papers."

Got a handy clickable link to wherever John Mashey posted/published that? It's an important observation, and I don't want to copypaste it without a cite to the source.