Saturday, March 19, 2011

People having a bad day: Muammar Gaddafi and Anthony Watts

For those not following the news from Libya, Gaddafi's foreign mercenaries have been rolling over poorly-equipped and mostly untrained rebels. Yesterday, however, the UN approved a no-fly zone and Britain, France, and the United States all declared their intention to pound the snot out of Gaddafi's forces.

This has, of course, provoked more invective and threatening from the Libyan dictator, but Gaddafi is smart; faced with the bully's nightmare, somebody bigger and stronger coming down on him, with him as little able to resist as the people he has been bullying, he declared a cease-fire and played for time.

Watts is not so wise. Google has struck fear in his heart, and so he has unleashed a Gaddafiesque rant, making not an iota of rational sense, but expressing the same fears -- nobody bigger and stronger better get between him and his lunch money racket. So he has unleashed his most moronic acolyte, Willis Eschenbach, to proclaim:


My goodness, how dare they . . . what, exactly?, the technology giant's philanthropic arm, has hand-picked a team of 21 fellows working in climate research to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated to the public and lawmakers through new media.

So it is not Google's search engine, but a raindrop of the money made off the search engine, which is going into this effort. It is not policy advocacy, but rather an effort to improve science communication. They did not chose sides in a scientific debate, they chose scientists over non-scientists like Willis who mistakenly believe that they are engaged in a scientific debate.

Nobody, not even the late and lamented Steve Goddard, can compete with Willis is sheer fallacy density, which is no doubt why Anthony picked him for this assignment, pitching "An Open Letter to Google" in which he drops the bombshell that he doesn't trust Google any more:

In fact, that’s why up until now I trusted Google, because I always felt that I was being given the unvarnished truth. I always felt that Google could be trusted, because you didn’t have a dog in the fight.

Willis thinks Google searches return only "the unvarnished truth." That certainly explains some of his odder opinions.

Seriously, though, what is going on here? Well, they're scared. They're scared, because Watts measures his importance according to the only metric by which he is successful; his presence on the internet:

No other climate related blog has a 50 million hit number. Some, like Joe Romm try to claim the numbers don’t matter, or try to claim that some other number matters more. But (and it’s a big one) he doesn’t show his own number counter.

Watts uses this internet presence to bully others, from threatening commenters he doesn't like with letters to their workplaces, to slandering other bloggers, to attacking people with his readers, as he did when he urged them to visit Discovery blogs and "shout them down."

Google's tiny project to improve science communication scares Watts because in his imagination, he has transformed web traffic into the be-all and end-all of significance. It's not degrees, scientific expertise, or other accomplishments, it's not business success, political office, or general respect of the public. It's not, needless to say, a reputation for honesty or integrity. Watts is a giant zero according to all those conventional metrics. Page traffic is the one thing he can point to.

So it's not hard to see why Google taking notice of climate science is as disturbing to Watts as the warplanes of the Sixth Fleet are to Gaddafi. Because if the measure of a man is his page views, who gets more page views than anyone?


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