Friday, November 28, 2008

Where Matt Nisbet fails

I've been a regular reader of ScienceBlogs for about two years and I've always found Matt Nisbet's Framing Science blog to be something of an oddity on that site. Nisbet and Chris Mooney (of The Republican War On Science fame) have been pushing a concept of science framing that has rubbed a lot of people in the science and skeptical community the wrong way, since it seems to be unrelentingly accommodationist, and tends to prefer subtle ways of undermining people's prejudices. Overall, Mooney (and his blog partner Sheril Kirshenbaum) is actually quite an enjoyable writer, and although I may disagree with his concept of framing he's mostly fairly reasonable. Nisbet, however, is another story.

Nisbet has made quite a few enemies on ScienceBlogs (including PZ Myers, Mike the Mad Biologist, and PalMD), and has even alienated people like Orac who sympathize with his aims but don't like his approach. But now I think he's worn out his welcome, at least in this lurker's eyes; he has tried to make the case that the term "denialist" is a Godwin. Wait, what?

He's completely serious about this -- claims that we shouldn't use it because it lumps in creationists, anthrogenic global warming deniers, germ theory deniers, etc, etc, etc with Holocaust deniers. And he actually quotes people who fall into one or another category of denialism to support this. Mark Hoofnagle at ScienceBlogs' awesome Denialism Blog responds. Hoofnagle's response, as well as his analysis of Nisbet's unrelenting obtuseness and evident incompetence as an expert in communications, is pretty much as you'd expect, and I more or less agree. I posted the following on Nisbet's response to attacks on his position, which seems to be little more than the old conservative canard that amounts to "I may be wrong, but at least I'm more civil than you":
Matt, if there's one thing I've noticed about your work it seems to involve bending and accommodating, defending and (attempted) desensitizing, but it constantly and consistently shies away from going on the attack and trying to reclaim the high ground from the anti-intellectuals and shills who have stolen it. We've seen from the last three US Presidential elections that your strategy tends to fail miserably in politics; the main reason Obama succeeded where Kerry failed had at least as much to do with promoting his message in states where no one expected it to take hold as it did any of the candidate's personal charisma (even though Obama has way more of it than Kerry).

It's as if you're teaching an MBA course and telling your students the importance of turning a profit without explaining how to create income. There are no tools for success in your concept of framing, only those to keep the skeptical side from being marginalized too quickly. (And not only that; you've shown yourself to be terrible at the very communication skills you're trying to convince people to have.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What was so great about esr, anyway?

Seriously. I look back on it and realize that my first post here about him aside, really I've only ever lined up with him on one issue, the value of open source software. On that he's pretty sensible, but the man has completely lost his fucking mind, stuck somewhere between libertarian and neocon.

He opposes net neutrality and he's bought into a lot of the right-wing talking points about Obama. The latter is pretty ridiculous; though he doesn't go so far as to buy into the hysteria of Obama's "associations" with terrorism or his alleged religious preferences, he is completely sold on the whole ACORN lie. But the net neutrality thing -- that's a headscratcher from a practical standpoint. To him it makes sense -- he proposes working around the current internet situation with things such as white space and mesh networking. Uh...

Well, there's more to it than those two, but think about just those items. White space networking does not even exist yet in any meaningful sense; IEEE 802.22 has existed for four years and I had never heard of it until just now looking up the Wikipedia article above. As for mesh networking, well... it's a nice thing overall, and an important part of the OLPC initiative, but when you get right down to it, mesh networking is little more than a hardware-level elaboration on UUCP. Store-and-forward (even if it's almost realtime) is, by its very nature, ad hoc, and -- here's the kicker -- it still has to go out to the public network somehow. You can't route around it, simply because that's where all the content is. White space is fine as well -- I can think of at least a few good uses -- but the very agency that is making the white space initiative possible, the FCC, is one of the agencies that libertarians like Raymond want to get rid of.

I don't know what kind of world libertarians think they're out to create, but Raymond's idea of dealing with a lack of net neutrality regulations really seems to eventually lead to the same sort of corporatist, quasi-feudalistic society that every other libertarian plan seems to. (For that matter, I'm not sure which is worse -- if most libertarians don't realize this, or if they do.) I do know that there is one hell of a lot of rank dishonesty in the anti-net neutrality crowd (comparing it with the fairness doctrine? what the hell?!), but I'm inclined to think that people who take a stand like Raymond's -- principled, but completely and absolutely bonkers (not to mention breathtakingly ignorant for someone who has for years sought but never quite attained the status of alpha hacker except as a historian of the field) -- do more good for the pro-neutrality side by coming to conclusions that make no sense except in light of their fringe politics.

White space networking will be great. (And I'm hoping for some 4m amateur radio as well.) Mesh networking isn't too shabby either. But let's not kid ourselves -- a future of tiered public net service and a cluster of second-class users skulking around on darknets isn't the connectivity DARPA was hoping for when they opened the net to all comers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Eight years redux

In the world of the blogosphere, there's usually someone better-spoken and more popular who probably said what you intended to say better than you did.

The Rude Pundit, in this case, is that person.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The day after

A few things:

  • The John McCain we all thought we knew returned for the concession speech last night. Unfortunately, his thuggish supporters showed up too. Was that disgust on McCain's face as he tried to quiet the boos from a crowd it had been obvious for weeks that he didn't like? I honestly can't say -- I'm a terrible judge of expressions. But let's hope this is a rebirth of the post-Keating McCain of 2000, where even Democrats were impressed with him. He was a better man then, and he can be again.
  • I'm done with Caribou Barbie. If we're lucky she'll go back to sportscasting. Unfortunately, I fear she'll replace Ann Coulter as the figurehead of the anti-feminist female Right. Fortunately, with the generational shift away from religious fanaticism, it may be a few years until we have to take the extreme Right seriously again.
  • President Obama will have a long, long laundry list of things to deal with. Let's hope community issues like effective affordable health care (preferably to both the people and the government, nothing like that enormous hematoma that is Medicaid), veteran's benefits, labor rights, and discrimination issues get a chance to take center stage. (If he can do all this and do it on the post-Wall Street bailout shoestring he'll be stuck with, he will be the greatest president ever. That might be aiming a little high.) After that, there's a massive amount of other things that need to be done. But that's where he ought to start.
  • Obama is one skinny bastard under that suit. Just sayin'.
  • I mentioned community issues above. In practice, community often means urban, and we've placed far too much focus on a nonexistent ideal of small town America. That needs to go away -- our cities are in dire need of help, and I'm tired of people from the sticks saying that the cities aren't worth saving. But that goes both ways -- methamphetamine, for example, is the public health scourge of small town America, so while we're putting money into the cities, we can't forget how much poverty, violence, and drug use our countrysides see as well.
  • President Medvedev delivered a scorching address attacking US foreign policy today. While some of the decay of US-Russian relations has to do with Vladimir Putin's rolling back of the clock on Russian democracy, the bulk of it is George Bush's fault. That's a relationship that both Obama and Medvedev are going to have to work hard on repairing.

Well, time to get this show on the road. It's not over; it's just beginning.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Eight years in the making

To the hatemongering wingnuts who have spent the last fourteen years polluting the media with hate and bullshit economics...

To the sniveling rat bastards who forwarded every nasty email you got about liberals you've ever heard...

To every last goddamned one of you who try to force religion down our throats in the voting booth, in the classroom, in the courtroom, and every other public space you've been constitutionally barred from since the passage of the First Amendment...

To those willfully ignorant people who can't comprehend the value of science done for its own sake, science done for no reason other than to see where it leads...

To the rich scumsuckers who funded the Clinton witchhunt while finding ways to kick unions when they're down and screw your workers ever more and more while your allies in Washington cleared out all the barriers...

To the neocons who somehow thought Pinky and the Brain were valid models for foreign policy...


It's our turn. We're watching your violent psychos and zealots to make sure they crawl back into the caves where they belong. We're putting the US back on the map.

We're done with you. Time to bring the US into the 21st century.