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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/28/19

Forum Perversion: Why Progressive Media Should BAN Climate-Troll Comments

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Now, basing themselves on Mill, readers might object that climate-troll comments at least have the value of teaching us what our opponents think and help us better understand our own reasons for embracing the scientific theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), now usually called climate change-- or, more properly, humanity's climate crisis or climate emergency. In my view, readers who overextend Mill's meaning in this way are woefully, self-defeatingly wrong about three things: 1) the nature of a complex scientific theory, 2) the perverse sophistication of billionaire-sponsored sabotage of that theory, 3) the nature of the forum provided by political articles about climate change.

I effectively summarized my views on all three points earlier by writing that "every political article mentioning humanity's climate emergency risks degenerating into unqualified amateur debate over the merits of billionaire-sponsored climate pseudoscience." Letting brainwashed or ill-intentioned--and possibly paid-- climate trolls sabotage political forums for general, educated readers and warp them into barbarous amateur science hours is exactly what I mean by forum perversion. The comments under political articles about humanity's climate crisis are simply not a proper forum for refuting the elaborate pseudoscience concocted in billionaire-funded think tanks. The task is endless (as the billionaires planned), most commenters (including the trolls themselves) utterly unqualified to debate sophisticated, specialized science, and the lost opportunities for fruitful discussion--above all, of political solutions--utterly tragic.

Simple common sense should show that climate trolls are not engaging in legitimate expressions of personal opinion. What normal, sane, well-intentioned person, untrained in specialized science, rushes to public forums to offer refutations of quantum theory, the germ theory of disease, or plate tectonics? Practically no scientifically untrained people have the motivation, and the few who might are likely deterred by the fact that their utter ignorance would expose them as ranting fools.

But climate pseudoscience--while equally dubious as legitimate science--differs radically from these hypothetical "refutations" in terms of both motivation and the protective cover it offers for foolhardy amateur trolls. For true believers in climate change denial, there are potent political motivations, as Naomi Klein brilliantly explained--especially since the political necessities of climate action threaten not only the wealth of the overly rich, but deeply held conservative worldviews that are part of people's very identity. And oligarchs whose wealth is threatened are obviously glad to pay non-oligarch true believers to "play the troll" on behalf of their pseudoscience--adding a monetary incentive for people already strongly motivated by ideology.

And oligarchs don't merely pay their trolls; they spare them the humiliation of exposing obvious ignorance by funding think tanks and pseudoscience research that provide them with plausible arguments not at all obviously stupid to readers untrained in climate science. Even producing plausible bad science requires scientific training well beyond that of most educated general readers; the question is, why should such general readers, in the context of political articles, be faced with the on-the-spot task of refuting plausible bad science that corrupt or misguided researchers trained in science have spent years perfecting? The answer is that they shouldn't; it's a question of the wrong readers and the wrong forum. By allowing climate-troll comments to waste valuable space under political articles--and to appear victorious if sensibly ignored--progressive editors (too broadminded to take their own side in a life-or-death quarrel) are simply allowing sinister genocidal oligarchs undeserved cheap victories.

In closing, I'll offer two important exceptions to my case. As I've argued, climate-troll comments under political articles that treat humanity's climate crisis have no function other than forum sabotage and should be banned. I mean, of course, political articles appearing in progressive/leftist publications for general, educated readers. Should such publications decide to publish expert articles debunking climate pseudoscience--to take the bullshit by the horns, as Yogi Berra might have said--readers are forewarned, the forum is changed, and comments attacking mainstream climate science are clearly relevant and welcome. Ditto for progressive publications establishing a separate forum specifically for debating the merits of climate science. If they properly ban climate pseudoscience from political articles, they may choose to show that they have no fear whatsoever of such pseudoscience while giving general readers a choice about avoiding its worthless, juvenile rants. But clearly, without expert climatologist contributors, such a forum will bear the stigma of an amateur science "romper room."

In my next piece, I'll make the case that if progressive editors continue to allow climate-troll speech in political articles, they'll have no legitimate grounds to exclude a flood of comments from the likes of the Flat Earth Society--even if such comments are intended (as climate-troll comments clearly are) as a time-wasting attempt at forum perversion.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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