When trolls lose it gets personal

My morning ritual includes letting the dog out and feeding him, numerous cups of espresso and an on-line trawl through Facebook, a few blogs and various magazine and newspaper sites. I read a reasonably broad spectrum of opinion, from the Telegraph to the Guardian. I even look at the Daily Mail, if just to know today’s cancer count. As I write this the word “cancer” appears on its front page 11 times. I’ve never seen it drop below 3.

I spend more of my time looking at the single topic of climate change or global warming than anything else. I read the mainstream science in the likes of Nature. I read the contrarian blogscience. Occasionally I’m drawn into the discussion – the usual trigger is some excruciating mistruth or cherry-picked half-truth. I may make two  or three comments a day.

The climate contrarian memes have their fashions:

  • Three years ago they said the Arctic ice melt would recover. It hasn’t, of course. You measure it at its minimum, in September, and there the volume is down about 80% since 1979. The IPCC, the UN body that monitors climate change, had been estimating that the Arctic would be ice free in September around the mid-century. They were too conservative. It’s unlikely to see out the decade. That meme has pretty well died.
  • A couple of years ago it was that sea levels had stopped rising altogether. Well, they’re back to rising, after a few months of more water being retained on land. That meme is dead.
  • The current assertion is that the world hasn’t warmed in 15 years. Of course, the warmest years were 2005 and 2010 and the warmest decade was the last decade, as measured at the surface. But, 1998’s surface temperature was pretty high – so if you draw a line from 1998 to now the increase is slow. If you look at over 30 years or so, as climate measurements are made, the warming is unequivocal. And if you look in the oceans the oceans are both rising and becoming less alkaline. But, still, “it’s stopped warming” is frequently posted even today, wrong as it is.

Whilst the scientific journals and institutions are absolutely clear that the earth warms due to man’s emissions of CO2, the Daily Mail, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and their ilk seem to find a new headline every month declaring “Anthropogenic Global Warming is finally dead”. Yet, somehow, the real world and science refuses to heed the anti-science headlines and op-eds.

By now you get the idea. I see the errant nonsense and, more often than I care to admit, I comment back with the facts and the links back to the science.

Often the response is…nothing. In many cases people post their propaganda and depart, not wanting to know. Anyone who has ever taken a media relations course is probably well aware of the technique. No matter what the question is, your mission is to recite and repeat your chosen soundbites. “Q: Why didn’t you see the iceberg, captain? A: We have the best deckchairs on the ocean. Q: But didn’t may people die? A: We reupholster our deckchairs every year.” You get the idea – repeat the assertion regardless on the premise that no-one will remember the question, but they will remember something you stated three times.

Sometimes, the original poster of the fallacy returns to argue. And, at that point, the mood may change.

I’ve been accused of being of all manner of things. I’m a member of the liberal conspiracy. I’m a sheeple – conspiracy theorists love this one. I’m a shill of the illuminati. I’m a watermelon – green on the outside, red on the inside. I can’t follow new science (usually nonsensical Youtube fantasies with portentous music). All I want to do in life is raise taxes. I’m just trying to kill the economy. (Many contrarians are right wing Libertarians.)

Some of you may be aware that amongst my meagre supply talents is, I think, a modest talent for sarcasm and mockery. That talent has been known to slip its lead. I’ll cite yet another piece of evidence, this time with sting. For example, a number of studies have determined that climate contrarians often believe other conspiracy theories, such as the moon landings being faked – and I may twist that tail by citing those studies – infuriating them further.

One of my good friends have pointed out to me that I should never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. She has a point – not that she’s immune herself. On the other hand, in the on-line world allowing the comment “all up is down” to stand seems, to me, to acquiesce to a falsehood. Yes, there is the risk of appearing a fool – or just confirming that I am one. That’s a risk I take with the onlooker. Agreed. I run that risk instead of Burke’s “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

But the really interesting risk is that quite a few of these people get personal, quickly:

  • One tried to clone my Facebook persona, and started to contact my friends and family. That kindly Mrs Facebook promptly slapped him. He then complained to me that I was being very unsportsmanlike by reporting him for cloning.
  • A few message me privately, haranguing me.
  • A couple have tried to slur me professionally. They declared I was sacked from Herbert Smith – if only I had been I might have been paid off!
  • One seems convinced that Herbert Smith, as a firm, has failed commercially because of me – when it’s been growing and now has some 5,000 personnel.
  • I know one is disappointed I’ve retired so can’t complain to my employer.
  • Many say I’m lying that I’m an engineer. Or that I’ve never written code. Or that I’ve never done any computer modelling. I guess working on CSMP III at IBM doesn’t count.

I can’t say I am completely unaffected by this. I can say I am mostly unaffected. But it does make me snarl.

Hence this post. Hopefully the crazier contrarians, often with silly pseudonyms, might read this and hold back.

If they don’t, I may unleash the dogs of mockery. I’d rather not name and shame, even by pseudonym, but those dogs have been known to jump fences too.

There may be others of my friends who read this and respond differently. Some will take it as a warning and stay away from arguing on the internet. Others may say, ok, at least I know what to expect. To some of you this is probably old news and expect the abuse. And I think a couple of you will have a “Meh, can’t make an omelette of facts without cracking the shell of the odd crazed conspiracy theorist, go for it. If they aren’t reacting you aren’t trying hard enough.”

Edit 31 July 2013: I appear to have picked up some followers on Disqus. That’s ok per se. But one is a gun nut. And another is making veiled, but nasty, threats to crazy socialist, one world government, Agenda 21 mainstream climate science followers. So I’ve made my Disqus profile private. Their malevolence is disconcerting.

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8 Responses to When trolls lose it gets personal

  1. Had a good laugh about this one. Fantastic post!


  2. The traffic to this post is higher this week. I’ve had three trolls lose and get very personal indeed. I’ve referenced all of them back here.


  3. And now I have a couple of followers on Disqus – who also follow WND and other far right sites.

    There’s a fairly regular swarm of deniers who haunt the Independent and like to bully people off. I’ve just posted a picture of the newly formed lake at the North Pole and asked if they’d like to name it. I expect the usual incantations of Al Gore, socialism, who’d believe a scientist, temperature precedes CO2, my charts are all wrong, we didn’t have thermometers a thousand years ago, the second law of thermodynamics is being broken, I’m a sheeple, Climategate, Dana is an oil whore, the hockey stick is broken, etc.

    Will I change their mind? No.

    Will they change my mind? Not with the regular bleatings and ritual chants.

    So why do I do it? I guess I must have a bit of troll in me. It’s fascinating to watch the intellectual minnows attempt to devour the body of two century old science, not leave a single mark and watch them swim away, convinced they have fatally holed some very smart people. I guess it’s the same part of me that feels I have to visit a WalMart at least once every time I visit the USA. Maybe I need reassurance that I’m not as stupid as I sometimes think I am by simply gawping at those who are so ill-equipped yet so convinced at the same time.


  4. > I may unleash the dogs of mockery.

    I suggest Love and Light:


    Be kind and have fun,



  5. Martin Lack says:

    I wish I could remain so cheerful as you seem to… I know I am in danger of being obsessed by this subject – I literally find it hard to focus on anything else. However, I really find it hard to understand why – 25 years after the debate was ended by James Hansen – there are still so many ‘zombie’ arguments going on… N.B. I am not questioning anyone’s intelligence here; I am simply alluding to the fact that arguments used by climate change “sceptics” never seem to die…


    • It is quite reasonable to question both their intelligence and their motives. And levity lightens the mood.


      • Martin Lack says:

        Given that it is possible to be both socially-conservative and anti-Growthmania (i.e. as I am), is it possible to be both socially-progressive and libertarian (i.e. as Oakwood claims to be)? …Now that I have posed the question, it would seem obvious that the answer is unequivocally, “Yes”…. Libertarianism is essentially selfish – the only difference is that right-wingers are focussed on maximising business profitability; whereas left-wingers are focussed on maximising personal freedom. Thanks John, this has been really helpful of you to allow me the space to think this through! 🙂


  6. Rachel says:

    Very entertaining post, thanks. I enjoyed reading about the changing focus of the contrarian voices over the years. I’ve always accepted AGW and wasn’t really aware of the loudness of misleading voices until recently. In fact, I wasn’t even really aware these loud voices existed. I’ve got small children and so have spent the last five years up to my elbows in dirty nappies and snotty noses and even missed the whole climategate saga. Now that I am aware, I’ve become obsessed with it. It makes me so cross that these squawking voices have been so influential and have so far managed to prevent every attempt to change our future for the better.


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