A recent post by Coby at A Few Things Ill Considered feeds into something I have been thinking about lately. He says:
I poke into Jennifer Marohasy’s blog from time to time, though I am no longer a regular commenter. I gave that up a couple of years ago but still take any special cases as opportunities to chime in again.
In the comments, Chris Crawford discusses giving up on participating at Marohasy’s site:
I finally gave up over there — despite my best efforts, it seemed that everybody was determined to be nasty. I seek out places where I can have a constructive disagreement with others, because you never learn from those who agree with you. I also continue in my naive belief that, if you maintain a civil tongue and concentrate on the issues, you can get through to people. I keep disproving it to myself, waiting a few weeks, then telling myself, “Gee, maybe if I were a little more tactful…” and off I go again, on another futile exercise.
Coby responded with this:
Keep it up! It needs to be there for the record and for the lurkers, the ones who don’t say anything but do read. You also admirably demostrated the required tactic of sticking to the point. These arguments get completely fruitless when all kinds of irrelevant tangents are introduced, drowning out any hope of real discourse.
And the discussion about the relative merits of continuing to post one’s disagreement or getting out of the debate has gone on from there.
Now, the same issue arises about a whole range of blogs dealing with a whole range of issues. Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend to post about my disagreement with what Andrew Bolt, among others, argues. Now, sometimes I will also post my thoughts in the comments at Bolt’s blog, but often I don’t.
Why not? Because, based on my experience of the responses to comments by “teh Left” (including myself) on that site, a comment is unlikely to either change opinions or open a meaningful debate. Bolt’s site is far from the worst on the Internets in terms of commenter vitriol – hardly surprising given the moderation at News Ltd’s “blogs” – but it still gives one the type of feeling that normally comes from banging one’s head on the desk.
In the comments above, Coby suggests that it is important to continue posting for the sake of the lurkers, even if the typical commenters on a site are vocally resistant to reasoned debate. I tend to think that posting a critique of someone’s work here strikes a compromise between Chris and Coby’s experiences. If someone is open to different information and interested in the topic, then hopefully they will find their way here. The search engine stats on this site suggest that at least some people are getting here while looking for information relating to a person and/or issue I have commented on – of course, if News Ltd would follow the lead of some other sites such as CNN and enable trackbacks. But obviously the only way to reach all of the people who read all of the material you are disputing is to comment at the source.
Possum Comitatus built a (well-deserved) reputation for polling analysis by posting critiques of the “traditional ” polling wisdom as put forward by Dennis Shanahan and others. But, to my knowledge, The Australian has never given him a direct mention despite publishing critiques of the shadowy realm that is the blogosphere. Similarly, Christian Kerr managed to attack Larvatus Prodeo without mentioning them. Now both LP and Possum’s Pollytics have built a substantial readership, but those readers already know and value the information and discussion at those blogs. How can they reach the people who have read Shanahan or Kerr’s twaddle and don’t know any better? Well, Mark Bahnisch has employed one approach – ensuring the content of the blog will be picked up by the likely terms people will use if they search for more information.
So, making one’s disagreement accessible is one important issue. Another is the question of how to avoid having to repeat oneself endlessly. Barry Brook has adopted an interesting approach in commencing his “Spot the recycled denial” series (Part I and Part II) – he is posting quotes of the content he takes issue with and embedding hyperlinks that point to rebutting evidence and arguments.
I still find that the decisions about when to disagree at the original source, when to post my disagreement here and when to just completely disengage from the process are far from straightforward. As much as anything it seems to depend on my mood – if I am riled up enough then I will want to make sure my disagreement is heard by the original author. But I don’t seem to have a clear framework for making those decisions. I wonder if anyone does?
ELSEWHERE: On the topic of debating global warming, Coby has compiled a useful “How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic” resource.