Burning Down the House

Michael Tobis impresses with this nuanced explication of a sticky issue. He asks:

The question is how we should be thinking about extreme events. Notably, extreme weather events, and extreme environmental events of sorts that are connected to weather and climate, such as wildfires and infestations.

There is a tendency for those of us who are alarmed to look at every such event, and say “See! We’ve gone too far already!” Meanwhile those who tend to be more sanguine will flip through the history books, find analogous events, and say “it was ever thus”. These claims seem like they ought to be reducible to objective questions. But there is considerable controversy within science as to how to think about them.

After shaking the Monday blues with this classic, I encourage folks to go over there and weigh in.

43 Responses to “Burning Down the House”

  1. Tom Fuller says:

    Just be careful about investing time and energy about commenting. Doctor Tobis still plays the Romm game of censoring, refusing to post or inline commenting on comments, no matter how on point they are.

    I’m not saying ignore the site or don’t comment. Just save your post in Notepad if you put a lot of effort into it. 

  2. […] Keith’s post “Burning Down the House, I surfed over to planet 3.0 where I found discussions of flooding in […]

  3. Howard says:

    Keith, you picked the wrong Talking Heads song.  The only popular song about hydrogeology:

  4. peetee says:

    If a TomFuller post doesn’t make the cut, why would one bother to save it… is there a TomFuller hall of fame for dispatched posts?

  5. Tom Fuller says:

    peetee, no, they are buried in the deleted files at Joe Romm, Real Climate, Only in it for the Gold and now at Planet 3.0. 

    As for the quality of what was deleted, I’m probably not the best evaluator. But I strongly suspect that the quality was not important insofar as the decision to delete is concerned. 

  6. Thanks, Keith!
    I did in fact handle Fuller’s first contribution badly and have apologized to him privately. (I do not have the original, owing to WordPress having clobbered it when I edited it.)
    At John Mashey’s suggestion I subsequently implemented “shadow threads”.  Every comment which doesn’t make it into the article (except for those caught by the spam filter) is nevertheless posted, and a pointer from the main article is provided. (This is a bit tedious. I hope to have time to write code to facilitate it, someday, or find a volunteer to do so. But it is the right way to handle controversy.)
    That said, please understand that contributions are expected to be interesting and on topic. There’s no specific rule that guarantees acceptance of a topic. Owners of threads may set their own rules. But if they leave control of the thread to me, my objective is to find comments that maximize how interesting the conversation is and minimize how irritating it is.
    If the site is ever to support the work put into it, it will require a large audience. And while it isn’t an entertainment site as such, or only is for those who find a pursuit of truth entertaining, I operate largely as much in terror of boring the audience as of feeding them misinformation.
    So there is no set of rules that guarantees your comment being accepted. Just be more interesting and truth-seeking, and less rude or self-aggrandizing.

  7. willard says:

    Keith, I want my weekly the Who video!

    Perhaps on Wednesdays? 

  8. EdG says:

    “But there is considerable controversy within science as to how to think about them.”

    Unbelievable arrogance! Those ‘scientists’ whose livelihoods depend on the crisis mentality always think like Chicken Little and have nothing objective to say to anyone else about how they should think.

  9. You’re a real sweetheart, EdG. 
    Damned if you make a decision (‘arrogant”) and damned if if you don’t (“nothing objective to say”) I guess.

    Talk about useless advice.

  10. EdG says:

    No problem, Michael Tobis.

    I know useless advice when I see it, and advice from a dedicated AGW missionary on how to think about it is the ultimate example of it.

    If you wear AGW-colored glasses – as you do – everything and anything aurtomatically looks like AGW. 

    What exactly was this “decision” based on? Nothing scvientific.

  11. EdG says:

    Michael Tobias

    Correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t what we think be based on evidence?


    Same story for hurricanes and tornados. No demonstrable link at all.

  12. huxley says:

    But I can hardly read a paragraph from Curry about an actual scientific question without finding gobsmackingly sophomoric mistakes.

    Michael Tobis @ 6: Your comment in The Radical Climate Scientist topic was so partisan, incautious and false that I got the impression that your blog would be yet another propaganda arm of the climate orthodox with severely moderated discussions to insure that readers reach the proper conclusions.

    There are plenty of environment and climate blogs like that and I’ve been censored and deleted by more than a few of them. This bunker mentality is part of the reason I don’t trust climate science or the climate change movement. If the orthodox can’t handle open debate, I have to wonder how strong the underlying science is. I also question giving such people more power in our society.

    Your proviso for commenters, “Just be more interesting and truth-seeking, and less rude or self-aggrandizing,” isn’t reassuring. It sounds like an open door to censor whatever displeases you.

  13. Anteros says:

    Michael Tobis. Many of us with a sanguine perspectives have the backing of history. I recommend reading ‘The Doomsday Myth – 10,000 years of economic crises’ as a primer that can be extended to crises of pretty much anything you like over the same period.
    Without the history, many people saying ‘We are on the brink of Catastrophe!’ don’t realise that someone has been saying the same thing with similar certainty every day since man learned to speak. And always, without fail, when pointed to the previous certain prophesies, say ‘But it’s different this time!’

  14. Choosing good comments is not censorship. It is a service for the reader.

    However, so that people can see what sort of submissions don’t make the cut, the unchosen comments are also published as I explained.

  15. huxley says:

    Choosing good comments is not censorship. It is a service for the reader.

    Michael Tobis @ 14: That’s a wonderful rationalization. Your readers, especially the ones who write, may feel differently.

    I have hosted various online groups since the Eighties. I see my role as facilitating discussion rather than choosing the “good comments.” I only censor comments that are personal attacks or spam.

    Exiling unchosen comments to blog Siberia where with some amount of trouble can be viewed is, I suppose, better than nothing, but not much.

    When I comment on a blog I prefer the metaphor that I’m at a dinner party where I can converse freely with the host and other guests, not where I have to clear everything I say through the host’s filter of what is “interesting and truth-seeking.”

    Speaking of which, by your immoderate comment about Dr. Curry, I have difficulty believing that you are a truth-seeker.

  16. Tom Fuller says:

    There may be readers who want and need the service provided by censorship. I am not sorry that I am not one of them.

  17. willard says:

    > When I comment on a blog I prefer the metaphor that I’m at a dinner party where I can converse freely with the host and other guests.

    Yes, and huxley can break any conversation with the guests when he sees fit.  

    And when the guest gets tired of huxley’s rudeness and shows him the door, well, that’s something else.

  18. willard says:

    In that second sentence, I meant host, not guest.

    Perhaps we should pursue the discussion we had the other day about communication closure.  It might be worthwhile to revisit the conversation between guest huxley and host Gavin.

  19. willard says:

    > There may be readers who want and need the service provided by censorship. I am not sorry that I am not one of them.

    There may be people like Tom Fuller who wants and needs to beat his wife.  I am not sorry to say I am not one of them.

  20. Tom Fuller says:

    Willard, thank you for so eloquently proving everything I had suspected of you. Anonymous graffiti from intellectually vapid cowards. 

    When you have homogenized discourse in the same way Tobis is trying to Lysenkoize the science, you may sit at the right hand of Hansen’s throne while Tobis sits at his right.

  21. Tom Fuller says:

    As for Dr. Tobis and his so-called private apology for his public treatment, he apologized for being wrong about the subject–yet again–not for censoring a post, not for editing a comment, not for saying I wanted to repeal the Second Law of Thermodynamics by acknowledging the existence of Combined Heat and Power plants on this planet. 

    Dr. Tobis, until you realize that your treatment of me would have been just as shabby had I been wrong, you are not really fit for civilized discourse. 

  22. Keith Kloor says:


    The irony is that your reactions to your detractors suggest you are not fit for civilized discourse, either.

    The public display of animus between you two is so tiresome. I wish you still had your own blog to vent all this stuff.

    Michael has established his commenting criteria for his new site. Only time will tell us whether it is is successful in helping to achieve his objective.

    Meanwhile, I’m rooting for it to succeed. 

  23. Tom Fuller says:

    Great, Keith. Willard accuses me of beating my wife. I call him an anonymous coward.

    One of us is not fit for civilized discourse.

    Tobis spends a year writing that I do not understand the science, once under a picture of Jack Abramoff. He does the same to Pielke, Curry and anyone else who disagrees with him, and often suggests we are in league with the Koch brothers.

    But I’m the one not fit for civilized discourse. 

  24. willard says:

    Tom Fuller,

    I’m not accusing you of beating your wife.  I don’t even know you have a wife.

    What I’m saying is that you’re presuming what you have to prove.

    And the usual argument for that is

    > When have you stopped beating your wife?

    You’re accusing MT of censoring.

    You’re presuming what you would have to prove.

    You’re conflating moderating with censoring.

    You’re recalling old stories in a most unpleasant way.

    You’re saying things like “MT often suggests we are in league with the Koch brothers” with absolutely no evidence, and no ground except obnoxious repetition.
    You’re doing this all the time.

    Your last praises to both Anthony and Gavin do seem to hint at the fact that every blogger can be criticized, but should be respected, for every blogger has a niche to fill up, and as such contribute to the betterment of society.  Or something like that.

    You don’t like MT, OK, I believe readers do get that.

    But why the hell do you need to use these cheap and dirty rhetorical shortcuts all the time? 

  25. Tom Fuller says:

    Willar (Michael, whomever I’m really addressing) Tobis deleted a post that was polite, on point and concluded by wishing him well in his new venture. Which he (or you) admitted upthread. Bit your tagteam takedowns go a long ways towards obscuring all of that. You take the low road so your alter ego can stay above it all. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if you’re Tobos or his wingman–as long as you do the hitjob.

  26. willard says:

    Tom Fuller,

    MT deleted one of your post. 

    MT later admitted it, and said he regret it.

    You’re telling us you noticed.

    And you’re still hectoring about it?

    Come on, Tom!

    This answer is so unresponsive and full of side issues (I am not MT and you know it, I’m not MT’s wingman and you know it, your victim parade still turn another thread about you) that it can’t come up as being sincere. 

    So more lobster chess to play.  Sigh.

    Best of luck,


    PS: You can ask Keith if I am MT. 

  27. thingsbreak says:

    Does anyone else find it gobsmackingly hypocritical (though not terribly surprising) that the same delicate little flowers who get the vapors when they hear “denialism” (because it’s supposedly the second cousin fourth removed of Holocaust denial or something) have no problem blithely accusing scientists of Lysenkoism, which contributed to millions of deaths?

  28. Sashka says:

    I don’t think the line between censorship and moderation is thin. Any popular site needs some moderation lest the trolls and idiots take over. The censorship is needed where the owner selects the winning ideas, typically his own. Telling one from another is very easy by examining the quality of the discussion. I fully agree with Fuller’s (16).

  29. Sashka says:

    @ TB

    Lysenko was indirectly deadly but not nearly in millions. Even thousands could be a stretch. Read a book or something and come back with your facts checked. (Not to defend Lysenko, of course, just to rub it in.) Surely the alarmists are not as bad he was. But only because they don’t have the same means at their disposal. Not yet, that is.

  30. thingsbreak says:

    @29 Sashka:
    Lysenko was indirectly deadly but not nearly in millions. Even thousands could be a stretch. Read a book or something and come back with your facts checked. (Not to defend Lysenko, of course, just to rub it in.)
    It seems someone has never heard of the Great Chinese Famine. To be sure, Lysenkoism was not the sole cause, but nor did I claim it was. It was unquestionably a contributing factor.

  31. I could not fracture the language the way Willard does. Not if I tried.

    Anyway, Tom Fuller has a knack for making threads be about Tom Fuller, and seems especially interested in making threads about anything to do with me end up being about Tom Fuller. I find this more than a little tedious.

    Sometimes I handle it badly. But we’re trying to attract a broad, scientifically sophisticated audience for P3. I haven’t really done any focus groups among the target demo, but I imagine “more about Tom Fuller, please” will not come up very often.

    Tom has succeeded in a way, though. He caught me enough off balance that I regret it, and he is using that regret to derail conversation about the ambitions of P3 here at Keith’s. This is, among other things, an example of why people don’t apologize anymore. It’s unfortunate.

    As for making sure it doesn’t happen again, I will post all rejected or edited comments on the shadow thread. You’d think that would count for something.

    But anyway, if anyone actually wants to discuss the site rather than what Tom Fuller thinks of Michael Tobis and vice versa, please do chime in.

  32. Tom Fuller says:

    You’ve got the meme down, Dr. Tobis. Funny how when you, willard, thingsbreak NewYorkJ, etc.etc. attack me, the thread becomes about me. I’d be more interested in an example of when you handle it well. 

    I have posted here already about two things I believe would help Planet3: A section called Minority Report and a no-comments-allowed monthly debate between invited scientists.

    If you hadn’t amused yourself by insulting me over there, I would have happily offered more suggestions. But as usual, I post on topic, I get flamed, I react, the ref catches the second foul, and the usual gang of idiots snigger.

  33. Øystein says:

    Tom, just to give you a new target..

    You need to give it a rest. Your contribution on Keith’s blog the last couple of pages have had an enormous noise-to-signal ratio. Anytime you show up in the comments, you are caustic, rude and self-centered.

    Back off. You are currently just destroying conversation – and no, it has nothing to do with others. You initiate and follow up.

    I’m not going to respond to your following comments, btw, so you’re free to vent whatever you want about this comment (provided Keith allows it, of course).

  34. Tom Fuller says:

    Oystein, thanks for your comments. I assume still haven’t learned what a troll is and what one does. Take up your comments with NewYorkJ, Marlowe Johnson, etc.

  35. BobN says:

    Tom – I am with Keith.  This is tiresome.  It would make this blog if you, MT, NewYorkJ, thingsbreak, etc. kept your mutual animosity and disparagement away from this blog.  Not one of you is “right” in this situation and just remember, just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.

    As to the original post, I agree that it is a tough thing to ponder, both in terms of how to evaluate the issue and how to communicate the issue.  Relative to doing studies, I think the approach used by the two USGS hydrologist in the recent report highlighted by by Pielke Jr and Keith is reasonable method though it has it limitations.  For example, if I read it right, they only looked at annual peak flows, which may be appropriate for some drainage basins, particularly those dominated by snowmelt, but may miss significant events such as the back to back floods in many areas of the Northeast due to Irene and Lee.   Using river levels instead of precipitation is probably right because rivers, particularly larger one act as integrators over a wide area while rainfall amounts during a storm can vary by several inches within miles.  Another thing that needs to be further examined and studied is to what extent, if any, does climate change attenuate extreme events.  Why is it taken as a given that everything, from droughts to floods, is only going to get worse.

    As to how to communicate the information to the public, I don’t have a good answer other that to say that  Romm’s method of quickly blaming climate change for every extreme event just doesn’t work.

  36. BobN says:

    should read ” would make this blog much more readable and enjoyable” in third sentence above

  37. lucia says:

    If set up the shadow thread, are you going to write a WP plugin to organize that? I’d honestly like a plugin that recognizes email addresses from certain “throwaway” domains, and — provided they don’t use obvious ‘bad words’, automatically put those on the “shadow” thread for comments by people using emails from “throw-away” domains. These people nearly always exhibit behavior ranging from “faint wiff of troll like on first comment” to “increasingly troll like by 3rd”. 
    In fact, I have the habit of checking the @wherever.com domain when I smell “eau de troll” on the first few comments, and guess what? Often, they are on throw-away email domains. (I have a list of roughly 10 throw-away domains in my moderate list at this point. They just get moderated for now.)

  38. Tom Fuller says:

    BobN, I understand your frustration and I’m sorry I have contributed to it. May I ask why you address me, rather than NewYorkJ, Marlowe Johnson, willard, thingsbreak and the others who troll here and fill the thread with attacks on me? I do respond, and I understand that that adds to the word count, but if you are a regular reader here you will know already that I almost always start on topic and try to resist–but as you can see on the Green Heretic thread, anyone can be hijacked into responding to attacks–even our host.

  39. willard says:

    I have a copy of that last comment of yours, Tom, if you need it for your archives.

  40. NewYorkJ says:

    I, for one, do not mind a Fuller Filter.

    The discussion over at Planet 3.0 is very good.

  41. Harry says:

    “I have posted here already about two things I believe would help Planet3: A section called Minority Report and a no-comments-allowed monthly debate between invited scientists.”

    You would run out of opponents on the ‘skeptic’ side pretty quick.

  42. BobN says:

    Tom – re-read my third sentence.  I ask that all keep their mutual animosity in check.

  43. Tom Fuller says:

    BobN, that’s not really an option, but if you check today’s thread I am trying to ignore these… people… humans with hopes, dreams and desires not that different from my own… souls that may be lying in the gutter but are capable of looking at the stars… yeah. That’s right.

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