Censorship: I’m guilty as charged

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2012

So, I stand accused of censorship by someone whose comment I declined to approve on this post. I figure anyone willing to throw around accusations of censorship is probably a big fan of radical transparency; hence, by way of amelioration, here is the digital papertrail for the full exchange. (Email headers available on request; they’re all archived. I’ve been doing this for a while, and some lessons get learned early.)

Unapproved comment left on The Future Always Wins, 8:27am PST, 24th February 2012:

  • Comment author name: “xd”
  • Comment author email: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com

Comment body:

wow. The video is so full of holes it’s unreal.

1. US oil production isn’t in permanent decline. Decline halted seven years ago.
2. Roads aren’t only made of asphalt. They’re also made of brick and/or concrete.
3. She says one year’s worth of oil is the same as fifty years of fifty nuclear reactors and yet she then says later than you need 10,000 nuclear reactors to cover one year’s supply of oil. So which is it? Sloppy math.
4. She points out that 95% of transportation energy depends on oil and there are substitutes in other areas. OK. Electric transportation works though is expensive. Electric transportation is also at least twice (and some would argue four times) more efficient than oil based. Thus we need HALF the current oil use to provide the same motorized transportation. Not to mention substitution to mass transit or bicycles. Or living closer to work.
5. She says that when you are using more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains, it will no longer be done. Wrong. We will use more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains if you can sell it for more than you can sell the energy used for extraction for.

I could go on, but why bother. The whole thing is ludicrous and full of holes if you think it through. Most people won’t though.

Which is not to say peak oil is a big joke. It’s not. If we don’t make necessary substitutions in time AND depletion is fast enough then we will see severe dislocations in the economy and perhaps large sections of the global economy collapsing accompanied with mass starvation. It is that serious. BUT there are solutions if we get our heads out of the sand.

Email from: paul.raven@futurismic.com

To: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com

Email body:

Hi Dan (I’m guessing that’s actually your name, so apologies if not!);

Thanks for your comment on the There’s No Tomorrow post from a few days back; I’d like to ask you to resubmit it with links or citations of your refutations, most importantly the one re: halt in discovery decline. Not picking on you individually here, but as I said in the post, I’m all done with hosting claims without citatitions after years of debating this stuff on Futurismic and elsewhere, but if you’ve got real data, I genuinely want to see it! (I work in infrastructure futures, so it’s not just point-scoring or pettiness; I need and want to see references when it comes to energy supply and consumption!

Re: your other points:

2 – well, yes, but ask any driver whether they’d rather drive on brick or concrete or asphalt. The former don’t handle heavy or fast traffic at all well; the latter is a crucial component of a car-based economy.

3 – I don’t see that those statements are necessarily mutually exclusive, as one is durational (50 reactors over 50 years) while the other is a straight like-for-like without temporal constraint; I’ll concede it’s poorly stated, but then it’s aimed at a lay audience, and the assumption (on both sides of the debate!) regrettably still seems to be that talking down to the public is the way forward.

4 – I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this one; can you expand?

5 – Oh, I fully agree that scenario might well occur, yes. But in my opinion that possibility only serves to validate the complete insanity of our hunger for petrochem, and the dichotomy as seeing it as anything other than one very out-dated energy source among many more suitable alternatives. It’s an issue of myopia, I think; same reason so few people save for the future, even though they know they should. If it’s there to use, we use it, and we only start thinking about alternatives when we’re down to the vapours. :)

Like I say, would love you to resub the comment with a cite for the first point so we can have it up there for everyone to engage with. In the meantime, thanks again for taking the time to drop by. :)


After that, heard nothing. Until this evening, in fact, when this arrived:

  • Email via Futurismic contact form from: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com
  • Subject: censorship

I’m going to respond to this in chunks; blockquoted material is courtesy Mr Browne:

I made a post taking apart the peak oil spiel using logic. You chose not to publish it.

Actually, you made a comment poking at the peak oil spiel using uncited claims, in direct contravention of my explicit request in the post in question for all debunk-type responses to include links and citations, and I emailed you politely to ask you to expand it to meet my criteria for publication.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t publish posts that don’t agree with your position you are effectively part of a “groupthink” and not coherent.

No, here’s the thing, my friend: you roll up to my blog and make an [an/pseud]onymous comment that completely ignores not only my request in the post body that counterarguments should contain citations, but also my clearly linked and labelled comments policy (which clearly and explicitly reserves me the right to publish – or not – any damned comment I so choose), using an email address that either doesn’t work or doesn’t exist (or that you just don’t check, perhaps); when said comment isn’t published, the same anonymised identity emails me to accuse me of censorship and groupthink.

Censorship I’ll cop to; says right there in the comments policy that I’ll do it, and even suggests as to what might provoke me to do so, and this is a classic case thereof. I’ll publish any comment that comes with data or research to back it up, though. Have a trawl through some old posts on this very site if you don’t believe me.

As to groupthink, here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster’s:

a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics

As I have a horse in the race, so to speak, I’ll leave the general public to decide which of us - if either – has earned that badge.

From that point of view you have no scientific validity and your blog is a waste of time reading.

So, hey – don’t read it. After all, my loss, right? If you wanna comment here, you play by house rules… and I’m all done with apologising to folk who want me to further their own agendas to the detriment of my own. My house, my rules. Suck it up.

To be doubly clear: the editorial policy of this blog is that climate change is demonstrably occurring, and demonstrably linked to human activity, with emphasis on the combustion of fossil fuels. Counterarguments are genuinely welcome, but without citations or references to back up what you say, you’re just another pseudonym with an unfounded opinion. The burden of proof lies upon those making extraordinary claims counter to the collective opinion of the vast majority of experts in the field. That may not seem fair, or nice. But that’s just the way it is round here.

Your First Amendment (or local equivalent) rights remain intact; the glory of the internet is you can set up your own soapbox for virtually zero cost and say anything you like to the whole damn world.

But this is my soapbox. Here, what I say goes. I stand by every word I’ve written here, under my own legal name. I stand by and take ownership of my errors as well as my successes. If you want to prove me wrong, then you do it with facts and citations (and you prepare to have their veracity probed); if you’ll spar with honour and integrity,  I’d be glad to enter the ring. If that doesn’t suit you, you should feel free to go elsewhere.

I’m all done with “balance”. You wanna throw around accusations of a lack of scientific validity, then be prepared to play the game that scientific validity hinges on: citation, citation, citation.

The ball appears to be in your court, Mister Browne.

Is it still OK to laugh at our fear of laughing at scary stuff?

Paul Raven @ 29-03-2011

I’m not sure, but I think I’m going to do it anyway. Via SlashDot, CNN reports that some European TV networks are yanking some old Simpsons episodes from the rerun carousel in case the nuclear-disaster related plots upset anyone in light of the Fukushima crisis. (Bonus and presumably unintentional lulz: check the URL for the CNN piece! Nuclear jokes? Ew!)

Look, I’m no expert on humour (understatement of the century, yeah), but I don’t think it takes an expert or a particularly thorough survey to say that a great deal of the stuff we laugh at is funny because we’re afraid of it. This is the root emotion behind unacceptable ‘othering’ humour like racism or sexism (The Other must be mocked, so that we can feel larger and stronger than it!) and disablism (we make tasteless jokes about less able people because, deep down, we’re terrified to think how badly we’d cope with the same disability); such fears divide person from person, and should be erased rather than strengthened.

But fear of disasters, of the world itself? I think that’s a uniting emotion rather than a divisive one; our fragility in the face of chance events is one of the clearest indications that we’re all in the same lifeboat.

To be clear, I’m drawing a distinction between jokes about a specific event (a stand-up comic making light of Fukushima right now would be pretty tasteless, for instance, and making light of the human suffering caused by 9/11 fits in the same bracket) and making jokes about generalised existential risks. There have been nuclear crises before now; if there hadn’t been, jokes about them probably wouldn’t be as prevalent as they are. But does a fresh disaster merit this kneejerk cotton-woolling response? Is there a period after which nuke jokes will become acceptable again, and if so, how long is it? When will it become acceptable to run shows or movies that have images of the World Trade Centre in them, or should we go back and sanitise everything, airbrushing the WTC out of history like the cigarettes of the stars of the silver screen era?

Isn’t humour one of our best ways of coming to terms with the essentially hostile nature of the world we live in? Can we not rely on ourselves and the reactions of others to police the boundaries of taste, or should we leave that to the media companies, whose definitions of taste seem increasingly defined by their need to pander to dwindling audiences defined by political demographics, or to governments (whose political motivations are even clearer than those of the media)?

I ask these questions because I honestly don’t know the answers. I feel instinctively that there’s a difference between making jokes about the suffering of specific individuals and making jokes about the sorts of suffering that might possibly assail any of us at any time… but that’s easy for me to say from the privileged position of having never lost someone close to me through a natural disaster or act of terrorism. But to come at it from the other end, if we start deciding that some risks are too serious or topical to make light of, where does the line get drawn? How many people have to be offended for a joke to be considered tasteless? Just one? A certain percentage?

And what would we have left to laugh at?

Rushkoff: abandon internet, build its successor

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2011

Over at Shareable, Doug Rushkoff crystallises a bunch of post-Wikileaks thoughts that have been knocking around in my head into one (fairly) coherent statement:

… the Internet was never truly free, bottom-up, decentralized, or chaotic. Yes, it may have been designed with many nodes and redundancies for it to withstand a nuclear attack, but it has always been absolutely controlled by central authorities. From its Domain Name Servers to its IP addresses, the Internet depends on highly centralized mechanisms to send our packets from one place to another.

The ease with which a Senator can make a phone call to have a website such as Wikileaks yanked from the net mirrors the ease with which an entire top-level domain, like say .ir, can be excised. And no, even if some smart people jot down the numeric ip addresses of the websites they want to see before the names are yanked, offending addresses can still be blocked by any number of cooperating government and corporate trunks, relays, and ISPs. That’s why ministers in China finally concluded (in cables released by Wikileaks, no less) that the Internet was “no threat.”

I’m not trying to be a downer here, or knock the possibilities for networking. I just want to smash the fiction that the Internet is some sort of uncontrollable, decentralized free-for-all, so that we can get on with the business of creating something else that is.

That “something else” is basically a peer-to-peer network similar to the existing internet, but one that is completely unreliant on corporate/gubernatorial/non-commons infrastructure like optical fibre. Rushkoff is honest enough to admit he doesn’t have the answers, but he’s surely asking the right questions:

Shall we use telephony, ham radio, or some other part of the spectrum? Do we organize overlapping meshes of WiMax? Do we ask George Soros for some money? MacArthur Foundation? Do we even need or want them or money at all? How might the funding of our network by a central bank issued currency, or a private foundation, or a public university, bias the very architecture we are trying to build? Who gets the ability to govern or limit what may spread over our network, if anyone? Should there be ways for us to transact?

To make the sorts of choices that might actually yield our next and truly decentralized network, we must take a good look at the highly centralized real world in which we live – as well as how it got that way. Only by understanding its principles, reckoning with the forces at play, and accepting the battles we have already lost, might we begin to forge ahead to create new forms that exist beyond any authority’s ability to grant them protection.

I’m no network engineer, but I’m pretty sure that an ad-hoc and rhizomatic peer-to-peer network based on some cableless connection like wi-fi is possible, at least in theory. Anyone in the audience able to tell me why I’m wrong? Or, better still, how we can build it?

Genevieve Valentine on the future shape of social media

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Super-awesome science fiction webzine LightSpeed has a non-fiction piece from Futurismic veteran Genevieve Valentine (“Is This Your Day To Join The Revolution?”), who looks into the imminent future of even-more-ubiquitous social networking. I’m not sure I quite agree with her template for excellence, though:

But frankly, an ideal template for the future of software responsiveness is actually already here: Apple’s App Store. The Store itself is a social network of user-generated content that provides both marketing and moneymaking opportunities (a holy trinity of market appeal). Populated by techies for techies, the App Store contains single-click download options for other platforms (Twitter, Tumblr), market-friendly apps (entertainment-blog feeds, Yelp) and even reference guides (sky maps, bird-call encyclopedias).


In some ways, it’s a comfort to see the emergence of technology that supports a concept rather than a user; the App Store technology has spread to other smartphone platforms, and the idea of individual, crowd-sourced utilities is the sort of technology that, because of its immediacy and flexibility, could develop smoothly as the years go by, until the next thing you know it’s the future, and social networking is easier than ever before. Right?

I suspect my objection hinges on an aspect that Genevieve wasn’t considering, but even so: if Apple’s App Store is the shape of the future, then the future will be a walled garden full of things that Apple has deemed safe, suitable and sanitised for our consumption.

In the Apple future, you won’t be able to read material from Wikileaks, or stories with cuss-words, or graphic novels with gay themes (whether in an explicitly erotic context or otherwise). Apple’s App Store decides what’s best for you, and limits your choices accordingly; it’s the gated community of the post-geographical web. That’s comforting to many people, which is fair enough; personally, I think I’ll outsource my content curation over a wide range of unfettered independent channels. Maintaining your own filters is harder work, sure, but it means you know what’s coming through and what’s getting turned back at the borders.

And as for technologies that support concepts rather than users… well, give me the user support every time. :)

I suspect Genevieve’s praise is directed more at the basic concept of “the app store” (uncapitalized, non-proprietary): a marketplace where all manner of useful things can be found. On that basis, I agree: we already have the ability to search for content, and app store systems allow us to search for functionality in the same way.

But I expect it’ll surprise no one when I say I think the ideal social media of the future will be built spontaneously from multiple platforms and networks, created and reformed on an ad hoc basis according to the needs and interests of its users from moment to moment. It is to be hoped, then, that open alternatives to the corporate solutions will remain available; the best way to ensure that they do so is to find them, use them and support them.

The Net interprets censorship as damage…

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2010

… and routes around it. So runs Gilmore’s old theory, anyhow, and it looks like we get to witness a full testing of it as the Wikiwars roll on. Too much happening for me to be able to do any sort of coherent commentary on it, really; I suspect we’ll still be picking apart the fag-end of 2010 a decade from now. So instead, a bunch of links:

Interesting times ahead…

chaotic system hazard sign

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