The Ergosphere
Sunday, May 09, 2010

The enforcement of orthodoxy at The Oil Drum

You may have wondered why I haven't been posting much lately.  Well, I've actually not been idle.  I've had a very important multi-author post ready to go at The Oil Drum since roughly last August.

You haven't seen this post, you say?  That's right.  You haven't.  Why?  The road to that point is a bit rough.  I'm going to digress a bit before I get there.  Just hold on through the bumps and keep reading.

I don't remember exactly how I came to this comment, but I think it says a great deal more than the author intended (emphasis in bold added):

This site does not take any of the many positions possible on the AGW debate. This article is not intended as a statement on AGW. Oil Drum staff members have a wide range of beliefs on the subject. HO is by no means alone in his beliefs.

I think an AGW agenda has been pushed by those who do not want to talk about peak oil. We can disagree on how important that agenda is. I personally think the direct and indirect impacts of peak oil will trump the impacts of AGW, so AGW (whether true or not) is of vastly less importance than the information in the press would suggest.

Those pushing the AGW agenda would also like to promote the idea that BAU can continue, if we only adopt renewables. I think that is just a bunch of hype, to make politicians look good, and avoid facing up to the real issues.

Here we have the thinking of the Editor-In-Chief of The Oil Drum laid out in so many words:  AGW is a denial of Peak Oil, and it's an excuse for BAU.  In other words, it's some variety of heresy (gnosticism, whatever).  The main point is that Gail Tverberg appears to see herself as holding the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the [One True Peak Oil] Faith.  In Catholicism, the office of that name was held at different times by Joseph Ratzinger and Torquemada.  (That will be relevant later.)

Which brings us to my various rebuttals to false claims and ill-supported arguments made by Michael Dittmar.  He makes a lot of those.  Dittmar was shredded in the comments to his 4-part series posted on TOD.  His economics, his timelines, his resource projections... every bit was shown to be based on little more than wishful thinking and the desire to continue Megatons to Megawatts.  None of it held up under examination.  His remedy to this was to sneak comments in just before the discussions closed, so that his claims would stand without response and give him the last word.

He didn't limit himself to his own guest posts.  He tried it with this comment to another post in January.  I caught him, and posted a reply showing that his claims were not firmly supported even by his own reference if one took more than a selective reading.

See it?  Neither do I, because my rebuttal was "hidden" (censored) by an Oil Drum editor.  Not even I have access to what I posted there.  And I've been asking for it to be returned, either reposted or mailed back to me, from a few hours after the act until April 27.  I posted it under the terms of the Creative Commons license, essentially giving it to all of humanity so long as credit is given.  I never thought it would be stolen from everyone including myself, but that's what happened.

Rather, that's what some editor did.  Exactly which editor, nobody will tell me.  Nobody will take responsibility for the act.  This conveniently relieves them of the need to justify it.

Since I brought this up, I've heard from other Oil Drum contributors.  One said one of his comments was censored for being "too pro-nuclear".  Another said that his comments in Drumbeat had been censored, but ad-hominems aimed at him were left standing.  Both have stopped posting at The Oil Drum.

There appears to be a growing pressure toward doomer orthodoxy at TOD.  This is not unlike creationist orthodoxy:  inconvenient facts, no matter how obvious, are shoved underground even if they must be removed by editorial fiat.  Gail Tverberg appears to be the main force in this direction, though she could not exercise this power without Kyle Saunders and Nate Hagens being complicit.

This overt bias has the effect of making people angry.  The blatant half-truths and untruths and artless evasions of Michael Dittmar in his four (four!) guest posts of last year got a great many people angry too.  The response of TOD's doomer-editors was to censor his critics for tone, regardless of the facts.  I didn't even think this could have happened until much later.  I had been going over the comments to those posts looking for pieces of analysis posted in rebuttal to Dittmar's claims to collect them for a multi-author response, and couldn't find ones I recalled.  I thought that I was just not remembering them clearly enough to find them in the tsunami of words which followed each post.  I now realize that they could not be found because they were censored.

Dittmar's whining about tone (backed up by editorial censorship) came back to mind when I saw this Pharyngula piece about a Carlin Romano review of a Massimo Piliucci book.  Just a few minor substitutions in the final paragraphs aim them precisely at the target:

RomanoTverberg has written a kvetching reviewabused her editorial power in which she reserves all of his bileher censorial impulses for the fellows promoting an evidence-based view of reality, and provides nothing but gentle strokes for people who favor fantasiesdoomer porn over hard truths…and hisher complaint is that scientistspro-nuclear, pro-wind realists are insufficiently conciliatory to those deceitful purveyors of faith and fablesdoom and anti-nuclear dogma. Tone does matter when you use that brand of argument to beg special treatment for liars, and to justify chastising those who deliver a blunt truth — it means one is pandering to faith-baseddoomer folly.

Tone matters, because too many have been insufficiently fierce in their criticism of pious excuses for sloppy thinking. Tone matters because we haven't been rude enough in the face of special claims of privilege for religiousdoomer inanity. We need to flip that tone argument around 180°—the problem isn't that our tone is so harsh, it's that yours is so inappropriately soft towards people who lie....

Tone matters.  Lies deserve the most hostile tone, because treating lies leniently is corrosive to principled debate.  The censors who protect lies from refutation owe the censored, and the public, both an immediate reversal and a very public apology.  Then they owe us their resignations.  No forum where they exercise such power can be trusted, and The Oil Drum discredits itself every day it allows such people to hold authority.

That multi-author post will never appear at TOD under the current editor.  But look for it here in the near future.

I am saddened but not really surprised to learn that the bias and censorship on TOD has reached this level.
Hi EngineerPoet,
There is so much to agree with in your article, I hardly know how to genuflect fast enough!

Here we have the thinking of the Editor-In-Chief of The Oil Drum laid out in so many words:  AGW is a denial of Peak Oil, and it's an excuse for BAU.  In other words, it's some variety of heresy (gnosticism, whatever).  The main point is that Gail Tverberg appears to see herself as holding the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the [One True Peak Oil] Faith.

I take peak oil to be a significant threat, but one that we can and must address. All the “BAU MUST END!” types are using the geological fact of oil decline to justify their ideological positions. I’ve heard cycling enthusiasts insist that bikes and extreme localism are the answer. Now I love New Urbanism as much as the CNU guys, and love the idea of cycling, but not if we’re going to be dishonest in the debate, or use peak oil to deny other possibilities and solutions.

I’ve heard tree-hugging hippies already living in the woods use peak oil to justify their mid-life crisis and career burnout. I’ve even met up with the father of a sad young 19 year old who, after studying peak oil for 18 months under the doomer-guru’s at ROEOZ decided to end his life!

And now you’re saying that TOD has been taken over by doomerism? When will it end?

The more I read about Gen3 and Gen4 nuclear power and the rise of Better Place electric cars, the more I think that peak oil might not even bring on the Greater Depression I've been ranting about for the last 5 years.

But no. According to the Gail’s of the world, one has to leave an office job, sell up, move out to the woods, and stock up on tinned food and ammo. They’ve got a severe case of Y2K, and I’m just plain over it!

I'm convinced that there are 'doomers' that while pessimistic about the outlook would LOVE there to be a solution. But the doomer I really despise, well, that's got a world-view name. A friend of mine did a Phd in "Millennial fears" about the end of the world, and he calls them "Apocalyptic Outsiders" which I wrote about here.

IN summary:

The characteristics that mark the Apocalyptic Outsider are:

* a tendency to gloat smugly over the coming destruction of civilisation.
* a judgemental attitude to the uninitiated (and even non-Doomer Peakniks are scolded for their inferior position.)
* a tendency to kick back and enjoy esoteric discussions over the end of civilisation — rather than actually doing anything about it
* very harsh criticism of those who do try to mitigate peak oil
* can be obstructive, critical, destroy group moral, and is ultimately attention seeking.

I used to help lead Sydney Peak Oil. When I realised that my friend and webhost / Senior Admin of Sydney Peak Oil had decided the Apocalyptic Outsiders had as much right to post their anti-activism, it's all gonna burn crap, full of carping cynicism and criticism towards any activism or action plan I could suggest, I decided to leave the group. It's largely stagnated now, and is just a bunch of navel gazing doomers congratulating themselves on their clever insights about the end of the world. Blargh!
I have long thought that the doomer position was effectively a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I've seen nothing to make me reconsider that conclusion.
We're in furious agreement then! Anyway, I'm a burnt out activist cranky at the doomers that made activism so hard, but now am just going to let the inevitable government rationing and market forces do their thing. When we've made all the mistakes and there's only the right thing left to try, then we'll finally do it! (And adopt nuclear power and EV's and a bit more New Urbanism etc).

Thing is... Better Place EV's may just be so cheap, and so fast at the battery-swap station (faster than refuelling a car!) that people flock to them anyway, especially when there's rumoured to be priority parking at the shops for EV's (when Better Place works over your city).

Canberra is 2012, so I wonder when they'll hit Sydney? Can't wait.
Hey, you might like this New Scientist article on the psychology of Global Warming Denialism. I was wondering if you thought it applied to Doomers as well, practising their own form of conspiracy-theory 'Denialism' of peak oil solutions?
It would appear to apply to all kinds of groups, not just doomers and denialists.  "Groupthink" is very powerful, especially when tribal identification is a stronger part of a person's makeup than critical thought.  Combine that with the need to identify someone or something to take responsibility for troubles... no surprises.
EP, why dont you publish your censored replies to Dittmar at your blog?

I would be happy to publish them, but I didn't save any copies and both the editors and SuperG at TOD have ignored all my requests to give them back (not just mine, but everybody's).

I think this is much more of a political problem than a technical problem; if people got all their censored comments mailed back to them, they would see just how bad the censorship is.  That would cause a real scandal, and Gail would be forced to resign.  Of course, I think that's what she should do.
Even worse is Huffington post. Even though they claim:

"...We never censor comments based on political or ideological point of view. We only delete those comments that include the following transgressions:

• are abusive, off-topic, use excessive foul language
• include ad hominem attacks including comments that celebrate the death or illness of any person, public figure or otherwise..." [etc. comments that are pro-Nuclear is not on the list]

Pro-Nuclear comments are routinely blocked, I was getting 3 out of every 4 comments blocked. And the anti-Nuclear types get to call you abusive names, where a pro-nuclear comment will be censored if it even is remotely derogatory. Like calling this Research character, who just keeps repeating easily-refuted nonsense, “No-Research”.

More on this here:
Hello Engineer-Poet. I don't know if you'll read this because the post I'm replying to is kind of old, but maybe you get some kind of message when you get a new comment so it's worth a try. I suppose I could just e-mail you, but it seems like more fun this way.

I remember when you used to post on the oil drum. I always appreciated the pro nuclear posts from you and Jeppen. I joined in 2011 so the things you talked about in this blog post were already underway, but during the time that you and Jeppen were still regulars on the site it was still at least somewhat balanced. Now days when I check the site I find that the comments have really gone downhill, in my opinion at least. It was my goggling something to that effect brought me to this blog.

It's funny that since I've become interested in energy I keep encountering the same people on different sites. I've encountered your posts on atomic insights as well, and I ended up on heading out's blog once when I was looking up information about Operation ploughshare. I guess it's a small world for certain types of discussions.

I don't know if you remember me from the oil drum. I went by the name Binder. If you do remember me I hope it's positively because I got caught up in the whole doomer vibe for a while and ended up saying some stuff I regret. That's why I finally stopped posting there. I'm a little ashamed that I ended up contributing to that particular frenzy.

I just want to say again that I appreciate your comments, and tell you that you are largely responsible for me being pro nuclear.

Well that's all I wanted to say really. I've been commenting on Atomic Insight as EZ lately so I'll probably see you there.
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