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Sunday, April 12, 2009

My revised mission statement on the global warming series

I think I've had an epiphany.

I have a confession to make. My intent with the global warming series was that I would attract partisans on both sides to argue their points on Da Blog, using my sources and the strip as a jumping-off point. My hope was to depict an argument so complete and convincing even hardcore partisans would be forced to rethink their positions if they disagreed with the final result (or even if they agreed). As such, I didn't want to leave any information on the table, and partisans wouldn't allow any argument to go unchallenged, lest it help serve to convince me that they were wrong, and thus allow the strip to convince others. So whenever I posted a round of the argument, people disagreeing with it would post a rebuttal, which would then get incorporated into the strip. That strip would provoke rebuttals, and the process would continue ad infinitum. To save time and blunt the impact of the argument in the strip, people might even respond directly to the original posts and vice versa, creating a full-on debate that would be mirrored in the strip.

I would need those partisans in order to have that debate, though, so last weekend I picked a fight at Newsbusters and posted a thread at Democratic Underground hoping to bait and guilt-trip them into coming here and at least starting the debate. Then I sat back and watched... absolutely no one from either side showed up.

Yes, it was always far-fetched in retrospect because the strip wasn't likely to convince much of anyone with its lack of readership, not to mention the inherent silliness of a freakin' comic strip being so world-changing. In fact part of the plan was to build that readership that would be convinced by bringing in the people that would help make it convincing. I never said it was a flawless plan. Still, I grumbled as I set out to try to use Google and my existing sources to fill out the arguments, perhaps a little bit relieved at not getting chewed out by the partisans for a month or two but otherwise disappointed I couldn't get them to do my research for me.

Another problem was that although I tried as hard as I could to create a balance between skeptical sources and environmentalist sources, between partisans on the left and right, I wouldn't be able to be a neutral judge on the matter, because I myself was coming from a liberal background. In fact I portrayed my project to the people at Newsbusters as them debating me, neglecting to mention my trip to DU. But in truth, part of the reason I started the series in the first place was that I found skeptical arguments compelling and felt I could potentially be convinced. In fact I often find myself emphasizing with whatever side's information I'm reading at the time. I thought this fact would help convince skeptics I really was interested in their position and my neutrality could be trusted.

After my attempt at bringing people to Da Blog to debate was a bust, I still maintained e-mail contact with one right-wing partisan, the maintainer of that last, lengthy skeptical source, arguing more about the merits of debating here and via e-mail than about the actual matters at hand. I insisted the point I made in the previous paragraph, and Thursday I got this unexpected response:

"If the side you take is based on whoever you read last then I am sorry, that is pathetic and you are absolutely hopeless at analyzing information. In this case I will not be able to convince you of anything."

My mind raged with responses. Most people are probably like that (that, or it's based on whoever they read first)! If the balance of arguments ultimately tips one way or the other, sure I can eventually be convinced! My plan was to collect all the information over the course of the series, then reread the whole thing, churn through the arguments in my head, and decide on a position! It's not that I don't have critical thinking skills, I just need to give them a workout, and this series is part of that!

So why don't I?

In the end, I decided, he's right. I shouldn't just take whatever I'm told as given, I should work through the evidence myself. I shouldn't need the partisans to tell me what to think. If I'm going to give my critical thinking skills a workout, I need to give my critical thinking skills a workout. And since I hope to do a lot of thinking over the course of my life, this should be an important and positive excersize for me.

So you know what? I don't care anymore that no one's pitching in at the Global Warming Open Thread, or e-mailing me with their arguments. It's going to be a bit more work for me, but it's work I probably should do. I'll still look through and take into account the comments on the Open Thread, but I won't be as upset if there aren't any, I'm not going to be specifically looking for them, I'll work through the research myself to the extent that Google and my existing sources allow me to, and I'm no longer checking my e-mail on a daily basis, but at the rate I normally do. It'll be a more fulfilling experience for me, building skills I'll need to do more of these series in the future, perhaps even skills that will prove useful for snagging a real job or at least doing well in college.

If there's a downside, I might not have as much information as I'd like if it doesn't pop up right away in Google, and I want as complete a picture as possible for this heady issue. But I think it's worth the risk from a personal growth point of view, and I hope you're all along for the ride.

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