Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Climate Physics Forums now going public!

Climate is a hot issue these days. There's lots of people involved in talking about it and explaining various aspects from all kinds of perspectives.

There is a niche here for a place online where people can talk about it. I offer to those interested such a place: Climate Physics Forums.

There are already many ways in which discussions occur. Blogs are a form of discussion; and the comment streams have many exchanges going on all the time. Many bulletin boards exist which support discussions on climate as well. Having a range of venues is a good thing, and I think the new forum will be a useful addition.

I am planning to have a formal launch in late June, and will have more details about that as it approaches, but there is no need to wait until then. The board is open for business now, and now is the time to help join in and give suggestions for its direction and seed it with initial content.

The bulletin board format is a good one for managing threads of discussion. There's also scope for better and more efficient oversight, and lots of scope for supporting a range of parallel discussions of different kinds.

Climate Physics Forums is intended to work with two primary principles.

  • Courtesy for all contributors.

  • Focus on what is going on with working science.

(1) Courtesy

Climate discussions get very heated. Often there are strong mutual accusations of bad faith flying around. And indeed, there is a place for strident militancy in a flawed world. But that place is not going to be this bulletin board.

This is intended to serve as a safe haven for people to talk and express disagreements, family friendly, with young people welcome and encouraged. Taking a line from wikipedia, I ask people joining in to assume that everyone there is in good faith trying to be constructive. Even if they aren't, we still assume the unlikely and engage as if they are there in good faith. Pejorative speculations about other people's ethics or motives or intelligence are unwelcome; no matter who they are directed against.

Tear apart ideas by all means; but distinguish that from tearing up the person.

(2) Substance

This is not intended to be open to any old idea presented as if it was a credible scientific notion. The idea here is to support learning and investigation of what is going on in the world of science, and that means basically what gets published in the scientific literature.

This still allows for a huge range of topics and competing ideas. We often talk about "consensus" in climate, but this is not going to be a requirement. Science thrives on dissent and a range of views, and so if it gets published in legitimate scientific outlets, then we can consider it. This means, of course, a lot of claims that are incorrect can be raised and argued in the forum; since the literature is no assurance of correctness.

Scientific peer review does not establish ideas as settled and correct; it rather establishes then as worthy of consideration by the scientific community (ideally...). That's the way it is taken at Climate Physics Forums; what has been reviewed and published becomes worthy of discussion.

Hence, Climate Physics Forums is not a place to develop your own personal theories, or to reform the world of science. It's a place to consider what scientists are publishing, good or bad alike.

Regardless of my own views, the board has no policy on correct answers. Only on how issues are to be addressed. Neither is it presumed that there has to be a balance between opposing views. Some views are just wrong, and the idea of debate is to help sort out what's what. But the board does not declare as policy any of the acceptable answers, and it is expected that members will continue to disagree with each other, and hence that some members will be actually wrong about some things. No problem; you are still welcome!

(3) Moderation

The moderation policies are still being sorted out, but the underlying philosophy is this.

Moderation is there as a service to the community, not as a privilege to moderators. Moderation actions are never seen as "punishments". All moderation actions should be geared to helping people use the forum effectively.

Banning of members should be thought of as a case where the moderators have failed. They have been unable to help someone use the forum. It means that the workload of moderation has become too great, and time can no longer be allocated to helping that person. Normally, the way of managing members who need a bit of extra guidance will be to apply a moderation filter.

By default, anyone can register freely and post immediately; inappropriate posts can be reported and staff may choose to put some members on a filter so that their posts will be checked before appearing.

Feedback and suggestions will be very welcome, especially at this early stage.

Ideas for things we can do at the formal launch would be great. But for the next few weeks the board is up and being tested out as we see how it might all work.

I have deliberately refrained from adding all the features or forums or ideas that could be possible. It is best to start small, and add features with the help and the input of members. That's you, I hope!

I have found it is a very useful way to learn about a topic to practice explaining it for others! So I'd love to have people join in and try out their hand at explaining some topic or issue or question, in line with the guidelines. You can do this at any level you like. I hope you will get practice in explaining things, and take that experience away with you into the wider world. I hope you will get useful feedback and ideas for what responses you can expect.

I invite people interested to have a look, checkout the guidelines, and start to have an input. I engage there as the board owner, with user name "sylas".

The image associated with this post is the NOAA-19 satellite, the latest of this series of sophisticated monitoring instruments which is now helping gather data that helps sort out how the physics of our climate works. It an artists's impression used with the kind permission of Lockheed-Martin, who developed the satellite.

So, come one, come all. Climate Physics Forums is open for business and looking for content and ideas.